December 2016 Baltimore and New York

Last year I wrote an early January blogpost and I thought I would do another one this year that has turned into an early February post. Last year I wrote about Jeni & Billy, tea, my high school best friend, Cotton and some of my instruments.

Quickly I’ll mention that I did some solo touring to start the year off in Florida at venues that usually host Jeni & Billy. I performed songs from the last J & B CD, Heart of the Mountain, some songs that I wrote or co-wrote before I knew Jeni that are folky, country, bluesy, a few instrumentals on banjo and guitar and a few earlier J & B hits.  A big thanks to all of the presenters for supporting live music and hosting the concerts for me solo this year. Here are a few links to some Youtube posts that my friend Chuck Levy recorded when I performed at his house concert. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vaz_hZtXH4     The Four Word Letter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDIcMb0fiwc&t=35s     Janesville

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq2PbI_hJAk     The Heart of the Mountain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vj2qjOyevA    Goldie’s Chase

Tea is always in the mix and this year I can mention a new tea that I am drinking compliments of Jeni’s Mom, Marcy. She sent me a one pound bag of a loose leaf tea called Guayusa from a company called Runa. http://runa.org/guayusa/  Check it out. It is a good tea to start your day off with. The company name, Runa, means fully alive. This is a caffeinated tea that Amazonian folks drink to get their day going. And no jitters like you can get from coffee. And it has anti-oxidants.

The stories I want to share this January have to do with my trip to New York and Baltimore in December.

My trip north began on Friday, December 9th. I left Nashville early in the morning, around 6 am and drove straight through to Baltimore stopping only for fuel. I had packed plenty of food and had a thermos of the above mentioned tea, Guayusa. That trip makes for great radio listening with WDVX in Knoxville and WETS in Johnson City. I also had a mix CD that my good friend in Scarborough/London/UK, Peter Knipe, had put together for me. It was a second volume of Forty-One Songs that Peter likes to do. Thank you Peter, the J & B number one fan in the UK.

Arriving in Baltimore in the early evening I went straight to my sister’s home in Catonsville on the west side of the city. Jeanne is an artist and a teacher and she is always fun to be around. She has plenty of stories, most of them hilarious, and with big doses of exaggeration and loads of memory distortion which make for lots of laughs. Thank you Jeanne for making me smile during my one night stay before heading to NYC the next morning.

On Saturday morning I left Jeanne’s to go to Jersey City, New Jersey to stay with my Nashville songwriting friend, John Manion, who I was close with in the eighties during my first stint in Nashville. John and I have written a few songs together and he writes songs in a genre he calls folk/broadway. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/manion On his Fireworks In The Rain CD I co-wrote the title track with John. A big thank you to John for hosting me while visiting points north.

John’s neighborhood was super nice and he lives in a studio apartment in the basement of a brownstone. After getting settled in we did a song swap and reminisced about the earlier Nashville days when Amy Kurland had just opened the Bluebird Cafe. I sometimes would play or host the writer’s nights on Sunday.

billy-at-the-bluebird

That evening John took me to his local pub, Pint http://www.pintbar.com/, which served local craft beers and we went to a Christmas party at the historic Barrow House, http://www.barrowmansion.org/index.html The mansion built in the nineteenth century still has the original two lane bowling alley that was built in the basement. The Christmas party featured a local Choral group that was singing Christmas carols that transported me into the holiday spirit that reminded me of the Christmas stories that Washington Irving wrote about  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/opinion/nyregionopinions/how-christmas-became-merry.html?_r=0  since we were not terrible far from Manhattan, just across the river. At the party I even met someone from the UK that used to frequent the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire where I have played with Jeni & Billy for the last six years. 

Sunday I had an appointment to meet with Denis Petrov, a software designer, musician and analog tape recorder repair person, who had repaired my Tascam 238 Analog recorder in years past. Denis and his wife Vijaya had invited me and John to lunch at their apartment on the upper east side. We decided to drive into the city since it was Sunday so I wouldn’t have to carry the recorder on the subway. We found parking a few blocks away and made our way to their apartment. Denis had a small workshop set-up for his repair work and he immediately went to work on the recorder while Vijaya prepared the lunch. Vijaya’s niece was visiting who was a student at college in Philadelphia. I watched Denis work on the Tascam while John watched the lunch preparations. Denis was intimately acquainted with the problem the recorder was having and was able to do the repair in less than an hour. Then we sat down to the best Indian meal that I’ve ever had. And then we found out that Denis is also an instrument builder, a luthier, and had built an instrument called a Veena for Vijaya, which is a multi-stringed lute like instrument that is played sitting down with the fingerboard horizontal across your lap. Vijaya seemed a master of her music and instrument and she played several pieces of classical Indian music that were articulate and passionate. Her performance was captivating. I noticed a nylon stringed guitar also in the music room and I asked if I could play some music with her. Before each piece we played she would show me the scale and then we would play, with me improvising and accompanying her music. It was great fun for me. And then Denis and I spoke about the blues scale, Vijaya was interested in learning that scale, and we played a Willie Dixon song, A Good Understanding. Vijaya had great fun and Denis joined in on his electric guitar. It was a wonderful afternoon of conversation and music. A big thanks to Denis and Vijaya for their hospitality and friendship.

Monday, December 12 was a day without much of a schedule. I practiced most of the day, had a bagel, got produce at the grocery, moved the car three times because of a two hour parking limit. Dinner was with John at Ibby’s, a mediterranean restaurant in John’s neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 13 I took the Path train into the city with John. He was going to do some Christmas shopping and I was going to MOMA to meet a friend from Yorkshire, England. One of my favorite exhibits was one called Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter. It was an exploration of the ways architecture and design have addressed notions of shelter in light of global refugee emergencies. One image that struck me was a collection of art supplies for the refugees to use to make things. The collection was in open boxes where you would see the usual art things, paper and pencils. But there was also a smaller box that had tubes of paste and erasers called Magic Rub. I thought about how that is exactly what many refugees need to hold their lives together, their families together and the idea of erasing things they have had to endure. Here are a couple of links: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1653  https://medium.com/insecurities

img_9792

Another exhibit I liked was the Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts. I wanted to see his exhibit because he was also a musician. I enjoyed the design of the presentation. Many items laid out on the floor made you feel like you were on the street. Mostly muted stuff, prints, textiles and paintings. My favs were two sculptures, a yellow vintage car and a blue & red vintage cash register. The exhibit was accompanied by a soundtrack of the artist’s design. It was minimal, round drones or pads mostly, digital and very low sounds. Here’s a link: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1655

One more exhibit to mention was called How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior. It featured over two hundred works in drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, film and photography. It explored the materials and processes that have shaped modern interiors. One artist that struck me was Eileen Gray an architect. For some of her work she would study the environment for two years before building would occur. She sometimes would put the kitchen separate from the rest of the house because of smells- combining indoor and outdoor possibilities. Here’s a link: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2714

After seeing some of the exhibit I met with my friend Jade Montserrat. As mentioned previously, Jade’s digs are in the U.K. and she was in New York for a performance of her Shadowing Josephine at the Panoply Lab. http://www.panoplylab.org/pplspace/events/shadowing-josephine-jade-montserrat Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see her show as I had to be in Baltimore for a recording session the night of her performance. We did get to spend some time at MOMA and then dinner at Chez Josephine. The dinner was fun and the piano player even played one of my favorite Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer songs, Skylark. Thank you Jade for sharing your story about Josephine Baker.

On Wednesday I drove back to Baltimore to visit with family for the holidays and to do some recording and performing with my friend Troy Hanna. My next blog will continue the stories that happened in Baltimore.

Thanks for visiting and Much Happiness to you!

Billy

   

Advertisements

December Leaves

December has arrived and the backyard here at Artland in Nashville is filling up with wet leaves. The rains have also arrived. We’ve been in a bit of a drought which has been unusual and everyone is thankful for the rain. Last December in 2015 I wrote a short poem about the leaves after having raked them up just before the New Year. My arms were tired but I was able to scribble a few lines down. The sound of the rake pulling the leaves across the thinning grass can sound like percussion, a scraping after an initial strike. A rhythm can start to happen and even raking the wet December leaves can be enjoyable as the music starts to happen. It’s like a December dance. Here is my poem, “December Leaves.”

December leaves are wet and heavy,

Your arms and rake have to work a little bit harder.

December leaves are finished falling,

They just about cover the entire yard.

December leaves the trees so bare,

The winter wind blows a little bit easier.

December leaves fill the wheelbarrow,

January will be happy when December leaves.

leavesdecember2016gartland

treesbeardecember2016gartland

wheelbarrowandleavesdecember2016gartland

This wheelbarrow always makes me think of William Carlos Williams though it’s not red and there aren’t any white chickens, in fact there aren’t any chickens within earshot. The wheelbarrow was discovered under the house in the crawlspace and I’ve depended on it ever since. The wheel has a slow leak and I’ve tried repairing it with fix-a-flat but to no avail. So every other use has a need for air from the bicycle pump. I like being in the outdoors even if it’s just in the backyard and I don’t see raking leaves as a chore but an opportunity to be outside.

 

The Story of Natty Don

Earlier this year in June I was in the UK touring with Jeni & Billy. On June 16 I read the news about the passing of Don Young. Don was the co-founder of the National Resophonic Guitar Company which started making guitars in 1989. Jeni and I got to meet Don in 2010 in San Luis Obispo in the central coast of California where the National guitars are made and where he lived.

imgres

A composer friend, Garry Eister who is a National endorsed artist, helped set up a tour of the guitar factory for Jeni and me. Don gave us a personal tour on a Monday, a day the factory was usually closed. I must have played ten guitars that day and wanted to buy one that I liked. But Don’s policy was you had to buy one of his guitars from a retailer, even if you were an endorsed artist, because he didn’t want to undercut the folks that kept him in business. He also pointed out on the tour how important safety was to him and how he made sure that the safety of his employees always came first. He was gracious, passionate, colorful and a fan of life and music. We visited with Don on subsequent tours on the west coast after that initial meeting. I will miss him dearly.

Two weeks later, after we took the tour with Don in 2010,  some friends took us to a guitar shop in Palo Alto called Gryphon’s. They had a “vintage” room and there was a 1930 National Reso 12 fret Style “O” hanging amongst other elders. I picked the guitar off of the rack, sat down and played one note and knew immediately that I had found an instrument all musicians hope to find. One that has something to say and knows how to say it. The instrument was responsive and had a wonderful tone. I responded with generous amounts of pleasure and music making. It was quite ironic because I had been looking for years for one, met Don, and then found one two weeks later. It was magic. I have named my guitar Natty Boh, after the Baltimore (my hometown) icon who represents the National Bohemian beer company founded and brewed in Baltimore.

dscf2581c image

I wrote a finger style guitar instrumental for Don Young called Natty Don in southern Wales the day Don passed away. Thanks to Tony and Angela near Cardiff for hosting us and allowing the opportunity for me to write the piece for Don.

Here’s a video I made at our Artland Studio in Nashville in October.

 

Toad Suck Campground & the Arkansas River

Good morning! It’s Thursday, October 6, and I am in the Natural State of Arkansas. I camped last night in the Toad Suck Recreation Area and Campground http://www.arkansas.com/attractions/detail/toad-suck-recreation-area-campground/94004 near Conway, Arkansas where I will be playing a concert tonight at the Faulkner County Library. http://conway.fcl.org/events/page/774/billy-kemp-in-concert-conway. Jeni and I have stayed here many times and always enjoyed it.

img_2586

I drove from Nashville yesterday and arrived at the campground in just enough time to set up camp before the sun went down. I brought along a small two-person tent and a screen tent for dining, practicing, yoga, writing, and general privacy. I  set up the smaller two-person tent first and discovered I had left the rain cover and vestibule back in Nashville. I thought well at least there’s no threat of rain tonight. And now I’ll be able to really see the stars as I’m going to sleep. Then I set up the larger screen tent and then had the brilliant idea of seeing if I could put the smaller sleeping tent in the screen tent and still have room for my other activities. And I did! My friend, Si Kahn, wrote a song called It’s What You Do With What You Got and it worked out for me on this first night of camping.

Since my blog is a sound blog I wanted to write briefly about the sound of Toad Suck and share a little bit of the history. The campground is right next to the Arkansas River and the sound of the river is ear candy the way I hear it. Ever since I was young I have had a love of rivers. I grew up in Baltimore and frequently visited, hiked and fished along the Patapsco River in Baltimore and Howard counties.

The Legend of Toad Suck

There are two stories about how the area got its distinctive name. In the first account, it is said that steamboat captains plying the waters of the Arkansas regularly stopped here and drank at a local tavern nearby. Supposedly residents commented on the propensity of these captains to “suck on the bottle ’til they swelled up like toads.” Bolstering this explanation, the term taudis sucre is also said to be a corrupted French expression meaning “sweet water” and possibly referring to rum drink. The second, and more likely, account explains the name as a common name for a protected eddy in the river where boats might be tied up. A map of the river dating to 1853 also purportedly shows a Bear Suck and a Cow Suck. From Wikipedia

There is a Lock & Dam at Toad Suck and at different times in the night I could hear the Lock & Dam open and really hear the river. I’m one of those folks who likes to have a little white noise when I sleep and the river gave me plenty last night.


Well that’s all I have time for this morning my stomach is making noises almost as loud as the Lock & Dam and I’ve got to get ready for tonight’s show. Till the next time-

Much Happiness,

Billy

The Number Three

Edgar Cayce said that if you eat three almonds a day your health will be better. Earl Scruggs popularized the banjo with a three finger picking style. And the Golden Biscuit Hour is hosted by three music purveyors. The list could go on. But I want to write about something I heard and observed on the Golden Biscuit Hour (GBH) in January.

http://www.edgarcayce.org/are/holistic_health/data/thalmo1.html

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scruggs_style

http://goldenbiscuithour.blogspot.com

I have a small segment, the Country Side of Folk, on the GBH but I also edit and mix the show. That means I probably listen to the show more than anybody. And I listen to the songs repeatedly. In January there was a segment about Saro songs. And two particularly caught my attention because of their juxtaposition – something that Jeni and Greg had decided on. Jeni and Greg are Jeni Hankins, my true love, and her Dad, Greg Hankins, and they are the main hosts of the GBH.

The songs featured were My Saro Jane by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Rock About My Saro Jane by Uncle Dave Macon. They were played in that order and when the Uncle Dave song came on, I immediately heard something in the recording that reminded me of Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Unknown

Unknown-1

Unknown-2

I don’t have to explain to many of you who know the importance of that instrumental tune, but for those of you who don’t know here’s an explanation. Earl was a banjo player from North Carolina who played with Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, and later left Monroe’s band to form a new band – Flatt & Scruggs. These two bands were playing the music before it was even called Bluegrass. They collectively informed the genre more than just about anyone.

Flatt and Scruggs recorded the tune, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, first for Mercury records in 1949 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fast forward a few years to around 1957 and in a high school classroom in Northern Virginia Pete Kuykendall gave a presentation about music for his classmates. http://www.bluegrassmuseum.org/pete-kuykendall/

One of his classmates was the actor Warren Beatty. Pete played that original 1949 recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown as part of his presentation. Fast forward ten years to 1967 when Warren Beatty is starring in the film Bonnie and Clyde and they are looking for music to support the score for the film. There are car chase scenes in the film that are wild, fast, and dangerous. Warren remembered the banjo music from Pete’s music presentation and believed it just might support those scenes. He gave Pete a call to find out where he could get a copy of that recording. And the rest of that story is a good one for everyone who loves film and music.

images-1

The soundtrack to Bonnie and Clyde was award winning and it was a game changer for lots of folks including yours truly. I had a paper route in 1967 and being independently wealthy from my earnings, I went and saw the film Bonnie and Clyde fourteen times at the Westway movie theater in West Baltimore. And the reason for the fourteen viewings? Because of that 1949 recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I went out and bought a banjo – I was playing guitar at the time – and I taught my little brother, Dougie, the chords to Foggy Mountain Breakdown on the guitar. From there we played at a couple of coffee houses in the local churches and the Catonsville library. I loved the sound of the banjo and played it for a couple of years but then put it down to spend more time with the guitar. And then I met Jeni in 2005, and after a thirty-five year sabbatical picked it up again and now I play it almost everyday. It’s been really fun to write tunes and songs on the banjo.

IMG_1616

 

Fast forward to January 2016 to the Golden Biscuit Hour. I hear the Uncle Dave recording, Rock About My Saro Jane.

http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-RockSaroJane.html

I hear a sound in the Uncle Dave recording which was recorded in 1927. Now I’ll try and keep this short, which isn’t an easy thing to do for me when it comes to explaining musical sound. Here’s another reference to three. In Western music, some say there are three sounds in music: Major, Minor, and Dominant. The letters of the musical alphabet, A,B,C,D,E,F,G  can also be referred to as the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Those three musical sounds are defined by the letters/numbers.

Major and Minor sound are defined by the number three. This is a huge thing we’re talking about here. If the number three or the third in musical sound is not flatted or lowered the sound is Major. If the third is flatted or lowered the sound is minor. So the number three is probably one of the most important numbers in music. It’s that simple. Lower the third the sound is minor.

In Uncle Dave’s 1927 recording of Rock About My Saro Jane, it sounds like he is playing in the key of G#/Ab. I don’t know if they were using capos back then, but if they weren’t, then his banjo was just tuned up to the pitch of G#/Ab. He was probably playing with open chords. I don’t know if he was tuned to a “G” chord like they do in a lot of Bluegrass music, but he could have been. So Uncle Dave is playing Rock About My Saro Jane in G#/Ab. Throughout the song, every time he plays the 6 chord, it sounds like a major chord. If you are playing in the key of G then the 6 chord would be an E major, if you are playing a major sound. I’m calling it the key of G rather than G#/Ab for familiarity. Here is a link to the Uncle Dave recording: http://youtu.be/NqpP6zNuAXE.

Now let’s go to Foggy Mountain Breakdown. The 1949 recording by Flatt and Scruggs has the 6 chord in the progression and it also sounds major. Here’s a link for a listen: http://youtu.be/z_Y3mnj-8lA Here is a link to same recording with images from the film Bonnie and Clyde: http://youtu.be/3YXCjPgktQM

I’ve heard musicians, particularly banjo players, speak about whether to play the 6 chord with a major or minor sound in Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Here is a quote from an article I found about the tonality of the chord in the recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown written by Thomas Goldsmith for the Library of Congress.

“And in a musical oddity that marked the dying days of older tonalities in modern string bands, Flatt often plays an E major chord, creating a weird dys-tonality with the banjo’s confident E minor. In later years, Scruggs said that he had tried to get Flatt to play a consistent E minor during “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” only to become used to the unusual sound and even partial to it.”

Here is a link to the full article where that quote comes from: http://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/FoggyMtBreakdown.pdf

So it sounds like Earl Scruggs was playing an E minor riff on the banjo while Lester Flatt was playing an E major chord on the guitar. What a sound! A Major-Minor tonality. I think the dissonance works perfectly for the film Bonnie and Clyde and the tempo of the tune matches the speed of a get-away car racing to find the next state line And the sound they get has to do with the number three. Earl plays a major third while Lester plays a minor third.

So a big thanks goes out to Lester Flatt for holding on to the old ways and to Earl Scruggs for being forgiving about Lester’s persistence. And a thank you also goes out to Uncle Dave Macon for his 1927 recording that uses the major third on a six chord.

I would love to know if Lester Flatt listened to Uncle Dave and if his recording had anything to do with Lester playing the six major chord.

One contemporary song that uses the change 1 to 6 major in the hook intro is Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival. And that is also a song about a river boat like Uncle Dave’s Rock About My Pretty Saro.

I’ll end with a quiz. How many blind mice are there written about in song? How many bears did Goldilocks stumble into? And finally how many times does it take to be a charm?

Answers here:

http://www.storyteller.net/articles/222

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/third-time-lucky.html

Much Happiness,

Billy

Early January

January  2016

Early January usually has me thinking about the year ahead for Jeni & Billy, which tea to drink, my high school friend Cotton who’s birthday is on January 7th, and stringing up instruments with new strings. This year is no exception.

Jeni and I headed to Florida on January 14 to play seven concerts over a two week period beginning in Gainesville at the home of our good friend and banjo buddy, Chuck Levy and his wife Sandy.

Our touring this year will take us to Florida/Alabama, Mid-Atlantic/Merlefest in North Carolina, England/Wales/Scotland, the Mid-Atlantic again, the Mid-West/Canada, and then the West Coast. Please visit our website for more info at: http://www.jeniandbilly.com/tour/

On our final tour last year, on the West coast we took our older guitars, a 1957 Gibson J-50 and a 1930 Martin 2-17 parlor guitar. During our winter break we played our Collings guitars and we decided on bringing them out for the Florida/Alabama run. We found our Collings CW and C-10 at Cotten Music in Nashville. Here’s a link: http://www.cottenmusic.com If you haven’t been it’s time to head over to their new location at Houston Station. We love the new shop and always enjoy our time visiting with Kim, Rick, Kit, and Andrew, the Mudge.

I put on some D’Addario light bronze strings, before the tour, on both Collings guitars and our National Resophonic, Natty Boh. I remember the days when I liked new strings, crisp and clean, with lots of overtones and partials. But these days I’m into strings that have been played for at least a week so that they are a bit tamed. Our rehearsals were a bit challenging because of the new strings, but they calmed down by the end of the week.

I’m excited about the new songs that we’ll be doing this year. We’ve written a bunch of songs about Jewell Ridge again, Jeni’s hometown in Virginia, and we’ll be recording them in February for a new album release in the spring. If you haven’t heard our recording, Jewell Ridge Coal, please check it out at our website and have a listen. http://www.jeniandbilly.com/listen/

We have a fan club that gives folks a chance to hear unreleased recordings over at Patreon. Please visit us at: https://www.patreon.com/jeniandbilly?ty=h There’s even a pledge where you can have a two hour lesson from yours truly on guitar or banjo. It would be my pleasure to spend a couple of hours with you exploring the strings and sounds.

And finally we have something new over at Mixcloud. Jeni and her Dad, Greg, came up with the idea of doing a podcast once a month to share songs and stories about folk music. I have a small bit that we’re calling The Country side of Folk and, for our January podcast, I feature songs by Bob Dylan, Bobby Bare, Hank Snow, and Willie Nelson.
Please check it out. Here’s a link: http://goldenbiscuithour.blogspot.com

image

When we were in California last fall we got to stay with our good friends Ali and Craig. Craig is Craig Eastman, the fiddler, who played on our Picnic In The Sky record we recorded in 2014 in Los Angeles. During our stay, Ali introduced me to a tea sometimes known as southern ginseng. The plant or vine has saponins which are also found in ginseng. It is a tea that sweetens on its own as it sits in your cup. It is officially called jiaogulan. It comes from Southern China and other parts of Asia and is known to have numerous medicinal effects. Here is a link: http://www.healthline.com/health/is-jiaogulan-the-new-ginseng#1

I ordered some when I got home from the 2015 fall west coast tour and it took about a month to arrive. It came from Malaysia. The package had these really neat stamps in a soft bag. It has been my go to tea of choice for the afternoon. I’ve been brewing about two cups in my Japanese tea pot with about two teaspoons of the tea for just a minute. I really enjoy it because you don’t have to add any sweetener and it supposedly can have life extension results. But the main reason I enjoy it is because of the taste. It’s smooth, round, and has a simple, herbal sweet flavor. Ali had a jar from Teavanna and the tea came in small compressed balls about half the size of the ball used for playing jacks. I checked with Teavanna to get the same jar Ali had but they didn’t have it available so I just bought some bulk from a place called TeaCuppa. Here’s a link to this tea: http://www.teacuppa.com/Jiao-Gu-Lan-Tea.asp

 

image

I went to high school in Catonsville, Maryland just on the west side of Baltimore, Maryland, between 1970 and 1972. My best friend during those years and several years after was named Jonathan Karrer. But I knew him by his nickname, Cotton. I think about Cotton every January because his birthday was on January 7th, the day before Elvis’ birthday. Cotton passed away suddenly in February of 2011. We were friends because of art. We liked a lot of the same music, film, and architecture. We loved going downtown in Baltimore on Saturdays and walking around Mount Vernon visiting the same shops every week.

Without fail we would go to a record store on Mulberry Street just west of Park Avenue called The Back of the Moon. It was a small store on the ground level of what was probably a row home at an earlier time. The shop was filled with vinyl and magazines with posters on every possible piece of acreage on the walls. A guy named Glen would always be there sitting in the back of the store behind the counter. Cotton and I loved perusing through the records looking for something different to listen to. We would each buy an album and share the records with each other after we had listened to the record for a week or so. Cotton introduced me to the music of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. We both loved folk music and we both played guitar.

In 1971, in my junior year of high school, I was dating a piano player named Sara Huff and the three of us formed a trio with Sara on piano, Cotton on bass, and yours truly on guitar. I loved the sound of those three instruments together. Cotton aptly named the band Po Buckra which he said he’d read in a John Steinbeck novel. We were white, and being only fifteen or sixteen we were poor and that’s what Po Buckra meant. We played songs by Woody, Leadbelly, Dylan, the Band and even wrote some of our own. Unfortunately any cassette recordings that we made haven’t survived. We never recorded in a studio. We only played a few gigs and didn’t stay together very long. But Cotton and I remained friends and shared art with each other and enjoyed going to films and concerts.

We would also go to Ted’s Music Store on Centre Street just east of Charles next to the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Ted’s was like walking into a museum that had filled all of its floor space and had to go vertical. There were stringed instruments hanging above over the entire footprint of the place. Someone at Ted’s, and it might have been Ted, was an instrument maker and they called their instruments Martini. I think Cotton might have bought one of Ted’s guitars. Ted’s is still open but I haven’t been in years. Maybe on our next visit to Baltimore in the spring, Jeni and I will stop by Ted’s and brush a few strings.

image

By the way for all of the folks that will be in the Baltimore area in April we’ll be performing at the Paradise Festivus on Sunday, April 24. The festival is from 2:00 until 7:00. Here’s a link to the festival webpage: https://www.facebook.com/ParadiseFestivus/

We would also go to a Jewish charity shop on Eutaw Street, just off of Mulberry, called Hadassa. Hadassa means compassion in Hebrew and the folks at the store always extended that expression. Cotton and I would buy our entire wardrobe there – shirts, trousers, vests, hats, sports jackets, and winter coats. It was one stop shopping for us. There was another threads shop on Park Avenue also just off of Mulberry called The Bead Experience that had a totally different vibe. They were a new clothing shop with lots of hippyish kinds of things. I bought my first pair of bell bottoms there, polyester black, grey, and white lined print. I only wore them once. That’s another story.

After going to Back of the Moon, Ted’s, Hadassa, and the Bead we would usually end up at the Peabody Bookstore on Charles Street. The store opened in 1922 and was full of old books. I believe they had concerts also. You could sit, have a tea, read a book, and listen to music. It was a great way to finish our usual Saturday ramble.

image

Then we would catch the number 23 bus on Franklin Street or the number 8 on Lombard Street and head west back to Catonsville about ten miles from the Inner Harbor.

And now back to January 2016. We’ve played four concerts already, the Chuck Levy House concert in Gainesville and the Garage Mahal in San Antonio, plus two in Naples. San Antonio, Florida, is a very cool town with very cool people. Thanks to Jim and Jeanne and Rochelle and Norman for hosting us again this year at the Garage. And thanks to Chuck and Sandy for hosting another J & B concert.

Today, we play at the Headquarters library for the Collier County Friends of the Library. And the strings on Eck (my Collings dreadnaught CW, named after Ezra Carter the brother of AP Carter of the Carter Family), Maybelle (Jeni’s Collings parlor C-10, named after Maybelle Carter, wife of Ezra “Eck” Carter), and Natty Boh (my National Resophonic guitar named after the Baltimore beer National Bohemian, colloquially known as Natty Boh) seem to be in good shape and ready for Jeni & Billy.

Time to go play some scales and get ready for the show.

Until next time.

Much Happiness,

Billy

I’m A Fan

 

I am a fan of recording devices, musical instruments, musicians, singers, songs, and new music. I became a fan of these things from the first time I saw or heard them. For example, my paternal grandfather was an attorney who practiced law from the 1930s until the 1970s. Early in his practice he used a wire recorder to record statements from clients and witnesses. Fortunately, for me, he left the recorder in the garage of our house. When I found it hidden under boxes of stuff, it was like finding gold. That was in 1968. I had just started playing the guitar. The recorder was a Webster Chicago Model 80. Here is a photo:

Unknown

My grandfather’s wire recorder was my introduction to recording and I am still recording all these years later and still a fan.

The Americana Music Conference was here in Nashville recently and Jeni and I went to see Ry Cooder interviewed at the Country Music Hall Of Fame and Museum. http://countrymusichalloffame.org/newsandupdates/posts/interview-ry-cooder-with-barrymazor#.VCqeMmK9KSM

The thing that struck me was that he was still a fan, and still a fan of many of the musical genres he discovered early on in his career. Kudos to Barry Mazor for covering an amazing career in one hour. And we got to see some friends from out of town that were here for the conference. It’s always inspiring to see someone who has been doing something for a long time and who is still a fan of what they do.

In the nineties I lived in Baltimore and did a lot of producing and recording. Most of the work I did was on an eight track cassette recorder made by Tascam called the 238 Syncaset. Here’s a picture.

 

tascam-238-dbx-238607

 

 

I still love to record on that machine because it’s analog and it’s cassette. International Cassette Store Day just happened on September 27 http://cassettestoreday.com and I recorded a new banjo tune called “Goldie’s Chase” on the 238 in honor of the celebration. Here’s a Sound Cloud link: https://soundcloud.com/lifesaverbridge/goldies-chase-2-from-dat-mix-mix

Goldie is a golden lab who lives up on Smith Ridge with MawMaw, Jeni’s Grandmother, and Mr. Kyle, and is the only dog I know that can give a weather forecast. She’s an outdoor dog who is usually found sleeping by the front door looking out onto the road. But if she is ever turned around facing into the house, you better get an umbrella out ’cause it’s gonna rain. I’m a big fan of Goldie who inspired that banjo tune and, though she’s older, she is still a fan of chasing things up on Smith Ridge.

Repetition and fandom go together. I remember I did a gig once with the Hula Monsters, a Hawaiian swing band from Maryland that I used to sub for occasionally. The gig was in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, at the Dogfish Head Pub. The drive from Baltimore was about three hours. I didn’t mind the drive because you got to go across the Bay Bridge and the Chesapeake, across the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I drove a Honda Civic, Little Red, and it had a cassette deck in the dash. This was sometime in the mid-nineties and I was listening to a lot of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. My sister, Jeanne, used to listen to their albums when I was a kid. I listened to “Don’t Worry Baby” on repeat the entire drive. It’s about a three minute song, the drive was three hours, so I must have heard the song around sixty times in a row. It was fantastic. I like to listen to music about place in the places from which it comes. I thought, since I was going to the beach, I would listen to the Beach Boys. I love Brian Wilson’s vocal, the words (it’s about a race car driver and his encouraging girlfriend), the gorgeous melody, the modulation up to the choruses and back down for the verses, the arrangement, and the sound of the recording – the latter is probably the most important thing for me. http://vimeo.com/61585748

This idea of writing about fandom and repetition started when I saw the Ry Cooder interview. One of my favorite guitar riffs that he recorded was on his “Get Rhythm” record. He does a version of “All Shook Up” and the intro features a solo guitar that just gives me chicken skin every time. Eight seconds in, he strikes a string and gets this fabulous harmonic overtone that is way distorted. http://youtu.be/q-e0XvZHYGA

Last weekend we went to Vintage King for a gear expo and saw John McBride give a demonstration on drum sounds he had recorded at his Blackbird Studio in Berry Hill, here in Nashville. http://blackbirdstudio.com He also was quite the fan. For the demonstration he had Steve Jordan on drums and Willie Weeks on bass. It was a real treat to see John McBride speak about the process of recording the drum sounds and to hear him mix the Jordan/Weeks rhythm section while adding various ambient treatments to the mix. It was hard not to get caught up in his passion and enthusiasm about microphones, musicians and sound.

One last note about repetition and fandom. When I was thirteen I saw the film Bonnie and Clyde at the Westway movie theater in West Baltimore. I went back and saw the film thirteen more times. I had a paper route serving the Baltimore Sun and, with the money I made from serving the newspapers, I was able to go see the film that many times. I think I went with my brother on the first showing, but on the subsequent visits, I was solo. I was struck by the sound of the banjo. To hear the Flatt and Scruggs soundtrack behind the moving images of the chase scenes was the greatest thing I’d ever heard or seen. And I just had to see and hear it again and again. Here are a couple of links: http://youtu.be/YNrSGutBOlE  and http://youtu.be/SxhUvgQajE4

I’m still a fan and I could listen to “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Get Rhythm,” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” another three hundred and sixty-four thousand times and still want to hear them again. Don’t worry baby, the mountain may be foggy, but when you break the rhythm down and listen closely, it’s easy to find your way back home. Keep on listening. I sure am!