Categories
bluegrass bass Bluegrass Music

My Charlie Daniels Memory /Bluegrass Bass Part 4.1

Last week, the music world lost a legend when Charlie Daniels passed away from complication of a stroke on July 6. There have been hundreds of blogs and tributes on Charlie, so I hope that you don’t mind if I throw in my thoughts and history.

I can still remember hearing “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” on just about EVERY radio station in Detroit! Country stations, rock stations, and Top-40 stations were all playing it. You could not help but love the song. It was a great storyline, the fiddle playing was plain crazy, and that gravelish voice was one that cut through skin. Charlie was the true connection between country and rock music, more than Hank Jr or Skynyrd. You knew that there was a good time when a Charlie Daniels show was scheduled. I went to one and was drained afterwards. I still remember the baseball caps and T-shirts that were in every truck stop during the 70s: “I party with the Daniels – Jack and Charlie!”

My sort-of connection with Charlie came in the mid 90s. I was sending out some demos of my band at the time to various record companies. Back in the day, you sent out a query letter, included a return postcard that they could reply with a yes or no on your stamp, and if they said yes, you sent off a cassette. I sent off probably a hundred or so, and one of the few that wrote back with interest was Blue Hat Records, Charlie Daniels’ private label. They were interested in hearing us, so I sent off a tape. A few weeks went by, and I got back a letter saying that they were not interested, signed by Charlie. I wish that I could find that letter, I know that I kept it.

Charlie was a true gentleman, and he will be missed. His first love was bluegrass music (his first band as a kid), but his long-time love was the USA. I hope that he knows that there are still people out there playing the fiddle breaks from “Devil.” He will never be forgotten.


I was looking over my bluegrass bass blogs a few days ago, and I forgot to mention what can be used for an amplifier until you secure a proper one.

Since most of us listen to music through our iPhones or computer, we have most likely relegated the old home stereo system to storage in the basement or garage (if it wasn’t thrown out in the garbage). If you still have it, then put it to use again! Check the back of the receiver/amplifier to see if there is an input marked AUX, TAPE IN, or PHONO. If so, you can plug your guitar cord into one of these inputs by using an adapter that converts a 1/4-inch plug to an RCA phono plug. You can probably get one of these from an audio store, I’m sure you can order one off of the internet (I do miss the old Radio Shack stores). Check which channel you plug into, Left or Right, and that should coincide with that channel’s speaker output.

NOTE: Turn the volume all of the way down before plugging in or turning the stereo on. The speakers for home stereos are not designed for musical instruments, and you could blow the speaker. Also, you will notice that the overall volume is quite low unless you are using a PHONO input that has a built-in preamp. You may also need to cut back on the bass tone control so as not to distort the speaker. You can also use the headphone jack to listen without disturbing others.

This setup should suffice for a while until you secure a decent portable amp. BTW, if you have the proper cords and adapters, you may be able to run the bass through one channel and plug your iPod/iPhone or even a CD player through the other channel and play along with songs.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

New Grass Revival and The Johnson Mountain Boys

So the 2020 International Bluegrass Music Association’s 31st Annual Awards nominees have been announced. I won’t go into them big here; you can take a look at them at https://bluegrasstoday.com/2020-ibma-award-nominees-announced/ . However, one thing that I do want to address is the Hall of Fame inductees, specifically two of the three that truly deserve more recognition than they have gotten from the bluegrass community.

First is New Grass Revival. Sam Bush started this band back in the early 1970s, and while there have been a number of great musicians that have served time in the group, its most famous lineup is of mandolinist Bush, bassist John Cowan, banjoist Bela Fleck, and guitarist Pat Flynn. During their tenure in the band, these guys made listeners from all different genres come to love bluegrass! They were amazing soloists, Cowan and Bush sang like their lives depended on it, and they could kick anyone’s ass when it came to live performances! Their audiences ranged from old traditionalists to mohawked punk rockers. Leon Russell took them on tour with him in 1980. Each album they put out reflected their approach with one foot in old school, the other foot aimed at the moon! What other band could cover Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Bill Monroe’s “Wicked Path of Sin” and make it all sound like their own as well as showing respect to each original artist? They gave the progressive “newgrass” format a whole lotta class!

Unfortunately, they decided to call it quits in 1989, right when they finally achieved some chart success with “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” Garth Brooks respected them so much that he asked the band to regroup for his 1993 recording of the song.

Their 1986 self-titled album is still in heavy rotation on my CD player and is definitely one of my Top 20 of all time favorites. Their original albums are hard to come by, even in used bins. There are a few different “Best Of” compilations floating around, so be sure to grab one if you don’t have anything by NGR.

Second is the Johnson Mountain Boys. What NGR was to progressive bluegrass in the 1980s, the Johnson Mountain Boys was to neo-traditional bluegrass. While other bands were dressing casual in blue jeans on stage, the Boys dressed as if they stepped out of a time machine from the 1940s. They approached each of their songs, whether it was an original or a cover, with the same attitude that Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs would use. Formed in the mid-1970s by guitarist/vocalist Dudley Connell, other notable members included Eddie Stubbs on fiddle, Tom Adams on banjo, David McLaughlin on mandolin and Marshall Wilborn on bass. Like NGR, they had their big break about the time they decided to break up when their live album At the Old Schoolhouse was nominated for a Grammy in 1988. Fortunately, they re-formed a little while later and recorded another Grammy-nominated album Blue Diamond in 1993 before calling it quits for a second time.

After the 1996 final breakup, members secured various music jobs. Connell works with the Seldom Scene as well as worked for Folkway Records. Eddie Stubbs still handles the weekday evening hours DJ-ing on WSM in Nashville. The band was signed to Rounder Records, a label that respects all of its artists, so fortunately music of the Boys’ back catalog is still available. Anyone wanting to know how to effectively cover a bluegrass standard and not make it sound amateurish should listen to an album from the Johnson Mountain Boys.

Chew on it and comment. Have a good 4th of July!

Categories
Bluegrass Fiddle Bluegrass Music

My Favorite Beginner Fiddle Books

When I started writing for Fiddler back in 2012, after two or three articles, I figured that I better actually learn a bit about the fiddle so that I knew what questions to ask and not be confused when an artist or luthier mentioned some strange term. I played guitar, bass, and mandolin at the time, dabbled a wee bit on dobro, and looked at a banjo that I owned more than touched it.

I purchased a student model with soft case off of eBay for about $42.00, and from the stories that I later heard, I lucked out. The 4/4 model was no Strad, but the nut was properly cut, the bridge was satisfactory (I purchased a better one about a year later), and it was definitely playable. While it was able enough to kick out a jig or reel, I sure the heck was not! I picked up some books and videos, then tried my best to hack through a few old-time tunes. I was able to play about a dozen songs without too much squawks, but due to matters beyond my control, I let the fiddle practice slip away a little while after my bridge replacement.

Fast forward to about a year ago. I haven’t been living in my own house due to caregiving my elderly mother. Little by little, I found that I had time on my hands, though not enough to drive back to my house to make use. So among the items I brought over to mom’s place was the fiddle and books. I also started following some YouTube videos for instruction, and found one gent who calls himself Fiddlehed (www.fiddlehed.com) that was quite entertaining with his instruction. One suggestion he made a few months ago stuck with me – pick up your fiddle every day, even if it is just for a minute or two to drag the bow across an open string. That regimen stuck with me, as before I would play for an hour or so once a week. Now, I found myself doing 20 minutes or so every day, and it is part of my daily schedule just as morning exercise or evening dinner is. Plus, it has made me love playing the fiddle!

I pulled out the old lesson books and started from scratch. Lots of rust in many spots, but a few bright spots as well. I want to talk about the four instruction books that I have used for my lessons, which I recommend (in no particular order). I got them years ago when they came with play-along CDs. I believe all are still available, but you have to download the audio tracks from the websites on three of them.

My First Fiddle Picking Songs by Steve Kaufman and Conny Ottway (www.melbay.com) – Very easy to follow. It does not take too long until you start diving into easy songs. The accompanying CD has all of the songs played at a slow speed. Unfortunately, while there are short instructions on the musical notes and where they appear on the fingerboard and music staff, once the songs start appearing, you have to know where to finger as well as the notes on the staff. Also, there is no guitar chord markings on the songs for someone to follow along.

The American Fiddle Method Volumes 1 and 2 by Brian Wicklund (www.melbay.com) – This is probably my favorite of the lot! Wicklund has a good sense of humor, supplementing the lessons with cartoon drawings and witty thoughts. Like the other basic books, it covers the parts of the fiddle and how to position the hands. His instruction mirrors Mark O’Connor’s teaching philosophy, where you jump right into a popular fiddle tune that makes people dance (“Boil ‘em Cabbage Down”). With each new song comes a new technique, and all of the songs are fun (you can conjure up only minimal smiles for perfecting “Twinkle, Twinkle” taught through the Suzuki method). He also covers slides, drones and double stops, which is what makes this style of fiddling unique. Volume 2 continues with even more old-time and bluegrass fiddle tunes for intermediate players. There are also videos available for both books.

Fiddle Primer for Beginners by Jim Tolles (www.cvls.com) – This one is probably the most basic of the books listed. A lot more coverage of the rudiments on bowing and hand positions. It also moves slower, so if you are complete beginner that has no musical experience whatsoever, this may prove to be a good starter. There is also a companion video, and a very similar book (about 90% in content) entitled Violin Primer for Beginners by Tolles as well.

Bluegrass Jamming on Fiddle by Wayne Erbsen (www.nativeground.com) – This is a lot less of a beginner instructional book and more of a fiddle tune compendium and a simple way to play them (it even states in the introduction that this book is for those who have their feet wet, or at least “moist”) . Erbsen is laid back in his presentation, and gives some great information on bluegrass history. The music staff and tablature are a bit confusing compared to other books, so it takes some time to figure out. However, the songs are more bluegrass jam-centric than the other books, and he includes chord charts for the popular fiddle tunes. Erbsen is old school, so he still includes a CD with the book. He does have a beginner book called Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus.

The first three books listed have a lot of the same songs (“Soldier’s Joy,” “Old Joe Clark,” “Cripple Creek”), but it is interesting to see the variants of them. As I have all three books, I like to pull ideas from each one (i.e., whichever looks easiest) and work out my own version. What all of them do have in common is that they shy away from teaching via the Suzuki method, which may be fine for a three-year old but is monotonous to an older student.

I have enjoyed getting back to the fiddle, and still keep in touch with a few former co-workers that were also beginner fiddlers. In many ways, I could kick myself for thinking that the violin was a sissy instrument back in grade school, taking up saxophone instead and failing miserably. Perhaps by the time I was a teen, along with playing in high school orchestra, I would have been skilled at “Jerusalem Ridge” and found a great bluegrass band to work with.

Here’s “Forked Deer,” performed by Brian Wicklund. The music staff and notations appear in The American Fiddler Method Volume 2.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Where is the Next Bluegrass Generation?

This weekend I attended a meeting for the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (http://www.smbluegrass.org/). While discussing elections of new board members, we talked about the age relevance of the membership. Of those attending, I was one of the youngest at the meeting, and I’m 55 years old!

Why aren’t younger music fans attracted to bluegrass? There are a lot of negative factors, I suppose. It is not like there are not enough young bluegrass players making names for themselves. Molly Tuttle, Billy Strings and Sierra Hull are three of many that come to mind. However, it also matters how the older crowd reacts to them as well as how they are promoted within the community. The three above can easily perform any bluegrass standard asked of them, but they also look outside of the box, performing more progressive forms of bluegrass, which traditionalists tend to shun. A tree that is not allowed to grow will eventually die.

I have mentioned the Junior Appalachian Musician program (www.jamkids.org) in an earlier blog, and I must say, this program has its ear to the ground! Right now, JAM has satellite programs throughout the Tennessee/Virginia/South Carolina/North Carolina area. However, programs like this need to be in other areas of the country where bluegrass is popular (Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Northeast, California). Young students would truly appreciate people who take the time to teach them music as well as encourage them to learn about their culture.

It could be that bluegrass still has that stigma of being “old folks music.” The stigma is heightened usually by these older people turning a cold shoulder to the younger crowd. I used to see it a lot when I attended a monthly jam session in Flint, Michigan years ago. I haven’t been there in years, and hopefully the attitude has changed. But in all honesty, I don’t see much of that “transfer of knowledge” from older generations to the next. I am always reminded of that scene from Fahrenheit 451 in which an older man on his deathbed is reciting the book that he memorized to a child so that the child can continue the book’s importance.

How many older bluegrass musicians are actually sitting down with a youngster to show him/her the beauty of the bluegrass sound on a guitar, banjo, or mandolin? Does apathy live in the senior, the youngster, or both? One can learn to play an instrument from hundreds of videos, either purchased or on YouTube. There are thousands of teachers at music stores. Of course, that costs money, and are you getting a bluegrass guitar teacher or one that teaches rock, jazz, blues, classical and other genres? Whatever happened to the joy of seeing a student successfully learn and play an old folk or bluegrass song and that serving as payment received?

With the Coronavirus pandemic still hanging above our heads, festivals that include workshops are pretty much cancelled for the summer and into the fall. Social distancing is another thorn in the side as far as teaching music. We cannot let these evils kill any enthusiasm that may come from an interested youngster with bluegrass music. We need to do what we can to encourage the younger generation that appreciates bluegrass music. It could be free basic lessons, free performances, showing them a bluegrass documentary and helping with references, setting up jam sessions just for kids, but mainly, showing how great the music really is.

It is rare that these youngsters will actively search out bluegrass mentors. They have that comfort zone of sitting in a basement and playing video games when not in school. We as the mentors have to be the active ones! Make yourself available, look for ways to get their attention (flyers posted at music stores or strip mall bulletin boards), reward those kids that DO show an interest and improve on themselves. These kids will decide the future of bluegrass music.

With that said, I want you to see this video of my friend Brittany Haas, along with Lauren Rioux, showcasing a young fiddler named Claire.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Review: Behringer Europort HPA40

I think that I may have found an answer for the bluegrass bassist playing an electric bass and needing amplification that is also portable, allowing to play where there is no power.

A few weeks ago, I won an eBay bid on a Behringer Europort HPA40 battery-powered PA system. Back when I was playing in electric bands, I remember the Behringer brand as a decent source for low-cost solid-state amplification, especially with bass guitar, keyboard, and PA system amplification. Phasing out of my electric guitars and moving toward acoustic instruments, I had forgotten about the brand and was a wee bit shocked that they were still around when I saw this item on eBay.

I got my model used, so it didn’t come with accessories. Brand new, it retails for about $150 at most of the online music stores. It is about the size of a toaster, is shaped like a torpedo head, and runs on a rechargeable battery (or AC adapter). The specs say that it has 40 watts of power through a 5-inch speaker. I assume that the 40 watts is peak, and probably runs about 10-15 watts regulated, which is still great for a battery-powered amp.

When I received it, I plugged my acoustic bass guitar into it and was surprised at the amount of volume that it kicked out. The speaker was more bass responsive than my Pignose, which makes it better for porch jams when some bottom end needs to cut through.

The controls are basic. Volume control (no EQ or tone controls), push-button power switch, 1/4-inch mic input, 3.5-mm line input, a USB input for optional Behringer wireless microphone, and an input jack for AC adapter/charger. LEDs light up for power as well as battery life. Accessories include a power supply, a dynamic microphone with a 3-foot coiled mic cord, and a carrying strap (which can be stored in the rear of the amp where the rechargeable battery sits). Plugging the bass guitar into the mic input gives a bit of distortion, so it would be wise to cut some volume from the guitar controls. If using the line input, you would need an adapter.

To be honest, this is the best battery-operated (albeit a rechargeable battery and not disposable ones) portable amp that I have seen in a while for the price. It has enough volume, and the specs state that it will go 8 hours on a full charge. The 5-inch speaker has enough low-end response to make the bass guitar sound like a bass guitar. While Behringer seems to have developed this as a mini PA system for a presenter to use in a small conference room, it does the job as a music amplifier. I also see it being used perhaps as a small outdoor PA by a bluegrass combo working a single microphone (NOTE: this doesn’t have phantom power), maybe not with the supplied dynamic cardioid mic but possible with an omnidirectional one. This is a great busking PA.

While $150 may seem pricy for a small unit, remember its portability. Also, you may find used or refurbished ones on eBay or your local Craigslist. Make sure that those versions work, as this unit does not look like an easy repair. If you get one, treat her kind and she will be good to you.

I also see that Behringer markets a similar model, MPA 30BT, which has a larger speaker, runs for 20 hours on a charge, and has a built-in 2-channel mixer for about $180 with no accessories.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Music Industry

The Hypocrisy of the Music Industry

I’m keeping this one short.

We all know what a senseless act it was for George Floyd to die the way he did. Now every corporation and industry is standing up against racial injustice.

On Tuesday, June 2, a number of music-related organizations and companies participated in the Blackout Tuesday to show their support for the racial injustice. These included musical instrument companies like Gibson and Epiphone, and perfromance rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP and BMI.

Fine, but what are they doing to help those smaller businesses that have kept these companies and organizations in their high-rise towers over the years? NOTHING. Hundreds of restaurants and boutiques were destroyed in the ensuing riots. These shops and restaurants have paid fees to the PROs over the years as royalty payments. If these were not paid, most likely the businesses would be fined or closed down. Now that these businesses have been ruined (on top of the months that they were closed down due to the Coronavirus panic), the PROs are doing NOTHING to help out. But, if these restaurants and shops are able to open up again, you can rest assured that the PROs will be the first people knocking on their doors to collect money.

In Emeryville, California, a Guitar Center was vandalized and looted of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of music equipment. Looters were seen carrying two guitars at a time leaving the destroyed store. Guitar Center stores are also known for selling other people’s equipment on consignment. I am sure that there were a few pieces like that stolen. What are Gibson and Epiphone doing to help out the store? NOTHING.

Think about it.

While you are thinking about it, remember David Dorn, Dave Patrick Underwood, Chris Beaty, Italia Kelly, and about a dozen others killed during this past week’s riots. Also keep Las Vegas officer Shay Mikalonis in your prayers. He was deliberately shot in the back of the head by Edgar Samaniego during violent protests in that city and is still in critical condition as of this writing.

Chew on it and comment.

6/7/20 Addendum: Now keep the family of Santa Cruz County (CA) officer Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller in your prayers. He was shot and killed yesterday (along with two other officers being injured) in an ambush set up by Steven Carrillo.

Categories
Songwriting

Woe the Songwriter: Part 2

As a songwriter, a dream is one or more of my songs being recorded by a big name in the genre for which I am writing. If Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, or Doyle Lawson were to release an album with one of my songs, I could die with a smile on my face. It wouldn’t even have to be the single (although that would be way too cool!), but just the fact that an artist that I admire considers one of my songs good enough to record, that is a great reward.

I have been fortunate that a bluegrass artist did record one of my songs. Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike recorded my co-write “Something About A Train” a few years ago for her album Small Town Heroes. To see your name on someone’s CD cover as a writer is a great feeling. I don’t care about the royalties at this time (I will if this becomes more common, of course), but to get recognized is a great thing.

So now what? Yes, I want more, so I send out more demos and queries. Lots of them. No replies. Send follow-ups, no replies. I realize that there are a lot more bluegrass artists writing their own material these days, and even a lot more songwriters clawing for recognition in the genre as well. There are a lot of factors playing against me right now (no longer an IBMA member, Coronavirus pandemic means less live shows to network at, less recording going on in studios), but I still keep trying. I post songs new and old to my music websites ReverbNation (http://www.reverbnation.com/mitchmatthews) and Songwriting Pro (http://www.songwritingpro.com/members/profile/692), hoping for at least some feedback.

Yes, the bigger-name artists can pick and choose a lot more, and are most likely going to work with established songwriters in Nashville. Many are even stepping outside of the bluegrass fold and recording bluegrassy versions of pop/rock songs. But what about the other bluegrass artists? I am talking about bands that do not have great exposure but are striving for it. They will put out a CD with a dozen songs, but all of them are old standards that Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs originally made famous. Other than aunts and uncles, who is really going to buy that CD when the original version has been available for years?

Maybe these C- and D-list bluegrass bands don’t want success – they just want to play live once in a while and put out a CD to show that they accomplished something. CDs cost money, even if you record the songs for next to nothing with your brother-in-law’s recording equipment. My advice? Save the money for strings, maybe a better PA system, or a case of beer. You won’t get anywhere in the business selling CDs for $15.00 that contain the umteenth version of “Doin’ My Time” or “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Play them for jams, occasional live gigs, and for tryouts of new band members.

For new and wannabe successful bluegrass bands, I would like to make a few suggestions. Write some original material. If you have people in the band that just want to play the same 20 or so bluegrass standards and do not want to learn new material, then try to find someone who does want to improve. I stopped working in bluegrass bands locally because of this. I am a songwriter, and I do not want to waste my valuable practice and playing time with musicians who want to stay in the cover-band box. Try writing a good song, you will see how difficult but rewarding it can be.

If you can’t write a song to save your life, then spend some time looking for original material. Check with songwriters in your area at open mics (when they become available again after the pandemic) or surf the internet. Go to pages like ReverbNation or Songwriting Pro and scout out songwriters. Talk to them about performing and recording bluegrass versions of their songs. Most songwriters will be more than flattered that someone is interested in performing their music. I remember one of my first experiences of someone wanting to perform one of my songs. “Built To Crash” was on a compilation CD released by NPR’s show Car Talk. It was an alt-country diddy performed by my old band Gravel Train. A band on the east coast loved it and asked if they could perform and record it. I gave them my blessing. Now that band’s version was a heavy metal-meets-rockabilly, but I was loving it! Totally different, but the fact that someone respected my songwriting enough to want to record it was an absolute honor.

I work with a lot of other songwriters, either through co-writes or just networking, and the consensus we have is that we want to get out work heard. Yes, we would love to have an A-list band record a song, but there are factors such as bands putting songs “on hold” so that they have sole recording rights to the song for months, sometimes years. In the end, the song may never get released, and you are back to Start. It takes a lot of work to get top artists or their management/publishers to lend a songwriter an ear. If a start-up band wants to record your song and you know that they are definitely going to release it, it may be more beneficial in the long run. That CD may get heard by a promoter/manager/artist and think that your song would be a good choice.

In short, as a start-up or struggling bluegrass band, take a step back and see what makes the successful bluegrass bands successful. It is originality, particularly in the choice of songs. Learn, perform, record, and release songs that will make you an original band. Songwriters like me will appreciate it if you use a song of ours. It is totally beneficial for both parties. My songs are available for the picking!

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Musical Instruments

Lutherie: My Coronavirus Stay-At-Home Therapy

Last week a buddy asked me to check out a mandolin online that he was considering buying. I gave him the pros and cons, and he eventually passed on the deal due to the asking price for its condition. That got me motivated back into one of my old hobbies – basic lutherie, or stringed musical instrument repair, building and maintenance. Ever since my first bass guitar (a Magnum short-scale Jazz copy that I re-wired with a 3-band EQ), I’ve always loved working on guitars and other stringed instruments.

I could kick myself that I did not pursue that interest when I was younger. I always saw myself with a small guitar shop that people would come to try out my work and perhaps have jam sessions on a Friday night. But alas, I went the college route, got a degree that proved useless, and have bounced around at various white-collar jobs ever since.

However, I continued my love on a small scale throughout my life, repairing electric guitar electronics, minor amplifier jobs, building effects pedals, and stringed instrument setups/maintenance. After the above talk with my buddy, I got to thinking that, because of this stay-at-home virus situation, I should do some basic lutherie work again. All of my current instruments are in good shape, and as I have mostly acoustic instruments, there’s not a lot of electronic work to do.

I went on eBay and found a Rogue A-model mandolin that needed some work done on the back of the body. I bid on it, my highest price being something that I thought no one would come near as the mandolin’s shipping cost was pretty high. I won the auction, and the total cost came out to about what would be average – $41.95 – not a bargain, but not killing the wallet either.

The mandolin arrived a few days later via FedEx, and when opened, I got to see the actual damage. About 1/3 of the back had snapped out of its joining with the side, which made it look like either the back or the side was shaped wrong. Inspection showed that the glue joint was bad, very little glue was used, and the wood joints were dry. At first I thought that I would have to re-cut that part of the back and glue in a 2nd piece, making it look like something the Three Stooges would have built.

Fortunately, before I pulled out the tools, I wedged my fingers into the soundhole, flexed the back a bit, and it snapped back into place. I carefully removed that part of the back again, put in some hide glue, re-snapped it in, clamped it, and let it dry overnight. Voila! It held, and all that I have left is to clean off some glue residue, check for any rough spots on the finish around the repair site (it may need some sanding and re-laquering in spots), and re-install the bridge for set-up.

This has motivated me to go back to eBay, and the internet in general, to start looking for repairable guitars, mandolins, and violins. It’s not that I want to have an arsenal of low-end stringed instruments, no way! What I would like to do is repair them and make them available to kids that want to learn bluegrass and folk music on the cheap. Making a non-playable guitar playable again is an emotional reward. I don’t see me making even a part-time wage from this. And even this simple repair and maintenance stuff takes time and some money.

It has got me to thinking that perhaps I could help start some form of non-profit group that repairs string instruments and donates them to a charitable music organization such as Junior Appalachian Musicians, which helps teach music to kids (if you haven’t heard of this group, you need to check them out at www.jamkids.org). Or perhaps starting a JAM type group in my area (I have discussed this idea with the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association, as well as local multi-instrumentalist Aaron Jonah Lewis). Or at least do it on my own one instrument at a time. Hopefully some of the free time I have now can be used to research such an idea.

I would love to see young people in my area spend a lot less time by themselves in the basement playing XBox and more time with others (hopefully with a lot less social distancing) creating art and music. With technology taking over our everyday lives, now more than ever, I would hate to see creativity and socializing become a thing of the past.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Why Won’t the IBMA Recognize Jerry Garcia?

There are a number of reasons why I am no longer a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association. I won’t get into the full story here; it would take five or six blogs, at the very least. However, one of the reasons I had become disenchanted with the organization is its lack of recognition of those outside the “norm” of the bluegrass community that have helped promote the genre in so many ways.

While I was a member, as well as a serving member of Leadership Bluegrass, there were a few of us who worked hard to get Hazel Dickens inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame. She had already been presented the Merit Award in 1994 (the first female to receive it), but finally, in 2017, she was admitted to the HOF (after a lot of hard work on many members’ behalf) along with Alice Gerrard.

The IBMA has been promoting itself as a diverse community, but as for as recognizing musicians from outside of the fold that have promoted bluegrass, they turn a deaf ear.

So how about this person – Jerry Garcia? Yes, he was the founder and guitarist/singer for the legendary Grateful Dead, the group that gave us the moniker “jam band.” Those who know rock-n-roll history are aware of Garcia’s demons, most notably heroin and cocaine, and mixing that with his diabetes condition, his body could only take so much. He slipped into a diabetic coma for five days in 1986, had a few relapses, and eventually passed away in 1995 at the age of 53 – way too soon. However, his musical career and scope cannot be ignored by the bluegrass community.

Years before he started the Dead, his main musical interest was bluegrass music. He learned guitar and banjo (playing Scruggs style despite missing a finger on his right hand), and formed the Hart Valley Drifters in 1962 with future Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. While the band never released a commercial recording, a tape from a college radio performance was recently discovered and released in 2016 on Rounder Records as Folk Time. While the performance at times stumbles, one cannot deny that Jerry’s singing and his playing has a true respect for the music.

Jerry was also passionate about promoting other bluegrass bands in the area, such as The Kentucky Colonels. In 1964 he was playing in The Black Mountain Boys on banjo. But while Jerry’s musical tastes turned more toward electric rock within a few years, he never lost touch with bluegrass. Around 1969 he played banjo in an offshoot band called High Country. In the early 1970s, the Dead began adding an acoustic set to its shows, which continued throughout the band’s tenure. Songs like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Ripple” have heavy bluegrass influence, and one can hear that sound influencing today’s young, progressive grass bands such as Hawktail, Mile Twelve and Steep Canyon Rangers just as much as Bill Monroe or The Stanley Brothers had influenced them. One also has to think about the numerous jam-grass bands that were impacted by Jerry, such as String Cheese Incident, Salamander Crossing and Yonder Mountain String Band.

Garcia had a number of side projects besides the Dead, such as The Jerry Garcia Band and New Riders of the Purple Sage. However, the one project that bluegrass afficionados pay attention to is Old & In The Way. Jerry played banjo and sang, along with mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist/vocalist Peter Rowan, bassist John Kahn and fiddler Vassar Clements. Rowan and Clements were former Blue Grass Boys, and Grisman had worked with Hazel & Alice among other bluegrass/roots projects. The band didn’t last long, only a few months, but a live recording released as Old & In The Way in 1975 would become the best selling bluegrass album of all time (until 2000 with the release of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?). Garcia and Grisman would continue to put out acoustic albums until Jerry’s passing.

Garcia never let bluegrass leave his heart. In an interview that appears in the 1993 documentary Bill Monroe: The Father of Bluegrass Music, Jerry talks about a time in the mid-1960s of approaching Monroe to possibly audition to be a Blue Grass Boy, but chickening out and going back to California. While he would pass away a few years later in 1995, Jerry left an impact on his fans. Many learned about bluegrass music and the magic of Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs through Garcia’s praises. Bluegrass mandolinist/pioneer Jesse McReynolds respected him enough to release a Grateful Dead tribute album a few years back.

So why can’t the IBMA pay him some respect with some award? Of course, Jerry’s in the Rock and Roll HOF with the Dead, and received the President’s Award in 2008 from the Americana Music Association. Is it because he’s a rock icon? His issues with drugs? Because he’s from California and not an Appalachian? He’s done more to promote bluegrass to the younger generation than almost anyone.

In 2018 the IBMA restructured its award distribution. Gone are the Merit Awards (at least as far as I can see, it’s not listed on the IBMA website), replaced with more Industry Awards. Thus, anyone who had a previous impact on the bluegrass industry (more than a year ago) and is not a full-time bluegrass professional has very little chance of being recognized by the IBMA. If that person has passed away, the chance is even more scarce. Someone like Jerry will most likely never be recognized for his influence on bluegrass unless there is a big change in the powers-that-be at IBMA. Totally sad, since Garcia will not be the only one forgotten for his bluegrass work (except by me, I refuse to, as well as a few others). If the IBMA is so concerned with the diversity of its fan base and membership, maybe it should look at who it recognizes as those pioneers of diversity in the music itself.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Who’s a Better Musician? None of the Above (and a brief Glarry note)

So I recently read another WordPress blog by another bluegrass fan. His moniker is “Why Evolution is True,” and the blog centered on the great flatpick guitar abilities of Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings (https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/6177163/posts/293181). Now I have been a fan of both of these kids (they are both 27, but they could still be my kids age-wise) since first seeing them, and after learning that Billy is from my home state of Michigan, I take interest in him even more. The two of them have done a number of performances together, and have a great chemistry. I would LOVE to see the two of them record an album together, particularly a song-for-song remake of one of the legendary (yet underappreciated by a lot of bluegrass and guitar fans) Blake & Rice albums.

I was taken aback when the author stated “I think both are even better than the flat-picker par excellence of my generation, Doc Watson.” Now, with the statement “I think,” it becomes his opinion, and opinions are like belly buttons – everybody’s got one. However, I would never in a million years make such a statement. Billy and Molly are fantastic, but occasionally their picking is flashy, sometimes over the top. Doc never did that. They are playing to a different kind of bluegrass audience than what Doc had. They are excellent at their craft, different by far, but I would not say “better.”

My favorite banjo player of all time is Don Reno. He introduced a lot of techniques back in the late 1950s that were innovative to say the least. I love his style on the Reno & Smiley songs. But I would never say he is the best, because there are so many the have done other innovations, yet those players may not have some of Reno’s style down pat. Look at Bela Fleck, who literally took the banjo to a different planet, let alone a different level. Same with Jerry Douglas on the dobro, Chris Thile on the mandolin, and Michael Cleveland on the fiddle. But are they “better” than everyone else?

B.B. King was not the fastest or most melodic blues guitarist. But one of his notes could say more than 20 notes from some up-and-comer. When B.B. played a note, you listened!

It all comes with the times. There may be some younger people that follow Billy and Molly but have never heard of Doc. They could listen to Doc now and think that he couldn’t hold a candle to Billy or Molly. Yet Doc was way ahead of his time back in the 60s, and he had an amazing impact of Clarence White, Tony Rice, and Dan Crary, who in turn influenced Josh Williams, Chris Eldridge and Bryan Sutton, who in turn influenced Billy and Molly. Who knows what will come in the next flatpicking generation?

What I appreciate most about Billy and Molly is that they are getting young people to listen to and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass has changed, not in style or set-up, but in sound. There is a lot less high lonesome vocals and more instrumental solos. It is the evolution of the genre. Rock music doesn’t sound like it did in the 50s and 60s. However, the importance is to respect and learn from the elders. While there will always be a piece of the fan base that will thumb its nose at the progressive artists. However, if they are not allowed to grow, then the whole genre will die. There will never be another Bill Monroe, but that is the way it should be – appreciate the person for what he/she has done, and allow the next generation to blossom and not be compared.

Now, as for fiddlers, my favorite of all time is Kenny Baker. However, if you want to see some amazing work by my friend Patrick McAvinue with Michael Cleveland, something that will make you have to catch your breath when it’s over, check this out:

Chew on it and comment.

Glarry Addendum: Glarry has re-stocked much of its musical instrument lineup, however, some models are selling out just as fast as the re-stocks! NOTE: The GT-502 model that I reviewed here (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/03/02/glarry-gt502-good-first-acoustic/) went up in price to $59.99. I’m not sure if it’s due to demand, tariffs, or workers’ pay raise, but just be aware that it is not longer available at the price I previously announced.