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.

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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

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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

   

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

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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