Musicians Rock Music

David Lindley RIP

After posting last week’s blog, I then learned of the death of David Lindley. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you have definitely heard his definitive work on classic rock radio over the years.

David was a true character in the rock-n-roll world. He could play just about any stringed instrument that was handed to him, but his forte was lap steel guitar. His distinctive long curly hair and muttonchop sideburns were as obvious as his taste in clothing, always seen with colorful Hawaiian-style shirts and clashing pants. His bandmates and the music press tagged him “Prince of Polyester.”

However, it was his playing that made him legendary. While he did work with Warren Zevon, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, and Bruce Springsteen, it was his lap steel guitar playing for Jackson Browne during the 1970s that David is best known. And his best known work during this time was the solos on “Running on Empty.” It is a great song, indeed, but those lap steel solos truly make it a classic. Upon first hearing it, you question what kind of instrument it is. It doesn’t sound like a guitar, a keyboard, or any horn instrument. That sliding-note fill fits the mood of the song perfectly. Only one man could have created that sound, it was David Lindley.

I had the pleasure of seeing David once at The Ark in Ann Arbor about a decade ago. The man was a true wizard on stringed instruments. To make matters even more crazy, he never played the common Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul for an electric guitar choice. No, it was usually some off-the-wall Japanese or Korean clunker from the 1960s that he straightened out and hot-rodded.

The music world needed someone like David to chuckle at itself occasionally. We can take ourselves seriously with our top-notch equipment and poetic songwriting, but there needs to be that point where we realize that we are human as well, and do silly things. David could do that, but with professionalism. He was equal Paco De Luca and Spike Jones. He knew what sound fit in at the right time, but could make you laugh at a dissonant but intended note.

There will never be a rock-n-roll character like David Lindley, so seek out an album of his (El-Rayo-X and Win This Record are good choices) and put a smile on your face.

Chew on it and comment.

Live Music Musicians

“And Bring Your Own PA!”

As I continue to clean out my house, there are more artifacts from my past that make me reminisce about why I became a musician. One of the items that I am cleaning up and looking to sell is a small PA system.

Back in the mid 1980s, when everyone was forming a band, one of the stipulations was that someone in the band had to own a decent PA system. You needed it to practice the vocals, and more importantly, you need one to get a gig many times. Bar owners were willing to let any four kids with guitars and drums take a corner of the bar up for a night, thinking that they would bring in their friends who would drink and spend money. However, only established live music bars usually had a PA system to provide. Most dive bars told the band to bring their own.

Of course, to prove my worth as a reliable musician, I made sure that I had a small one handy. It served its purpose for the small 50-person dives, but for any larger bar that didn’t have a PA, you either looked to do a shared booking with some other band that did have a better PA, or you lost the gig. Back then, I had a mini-truck that I could haul a whole PA as well as my gear and a drum set around. I traded the truck days for a subcompact about the time that I left the electric band life for playing bluegrass.

Why I kept the PA system I don’t really know. Either I figured that one day I would need it for a gig, as if I was ever going to play in a band again, or was just too lazy to pull it out of my attic. The PA speakers were the biggest concern, in more ways than one. The two that I have were from the 80s, probably from Radio Shack, that I know that I bought used from someone. Covered in gray carpeting, they have 12-inch woofers. One has the original radial tweeter, and if I remember correctly, the other one had a blown tweeter that I replaced with a horn and some plywood. These are the small venue size PA speakers meant for basements or small dive bars, handling probably 100-150 watts total.

I have a few variants that I used for the mixer/amp configuration. The most useful proved to be a four-channel Kustom PA head. Small in size, 80 watts, it was easy to carry around. The downside was if I needed more than four microphones. I do remember connecting a six-channel ROSS mixer from the 70s to it for more flexibility, but it started to look like a mad scientist setup after a while. I also have a few power amps around that I would hard-wire into the system if I needed more power, but I do know that I had to either borrow or rent out larger speakers for those gigs.

The same situation was with monitors. I have a few homemade ones along with a compact Peavey pair that I would also use as main speakers for really small/solo acoustic gigs. I would get lots of snide remarks about my mismatched equipment, but I always said the same thing back: “Next time, YOU bring the PA!”

Finally, microphones and cords. I have well over a dozen dynamic mics laying around now, even after selling off some over the past few years. I have put more on Craigslist, hoping to clean house a bit. As for cords, those have always worn out or shorted out faster than you could buy new ones. I was a bit of a wiz with a soldering iron, so I could repair some of them, but not many. As for mic stands, those would occasionally disappear at gigs (i.e., get stolen) to the point where I was tired of replacing them. Over the years, I probably had 20 or so in my arsenal, and now I have two or three.

I really don’t ever see myself performing live again, especially with a band, in which I would need a PA system. I laugh because the bar scene has shrunk to about 10 percent of what it was when I was in my 20s playing in punk bands. I don’t miss much of it, especially working with other personalities. However, there are some memories within those PA speakers that will never go away.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Musicians

Bluegrass Jamming

Another Casino Guitars video, another comment from me.

This time, Baxter and Jonathan discuss ways that musicians can meet other musicians to jam with or form bands. They recommend the usual options, such as guitar stores having a bulleting board, open mics at bars, and searching the internet. They also suggest hitting community colleges that have music programs and talking your friends into learning an instrument.

My one and only gripe about these guys is that they are too electric-centric. They never really look at the acoustic side of guitar music. Within the video, they talk about finding the local blues music society for seeking musicians. Now Casino Guitars is a store located in North Carolina, which is in a region big on bluegrass music. There are loads of festivals in the area, and there is a rich bluegrass history from North Carolina (Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson for starters).

As for bluegrassers, we are a well-informed community regarding musicians. Even up here in Michigan, which is definitely not a hotbed for bluegrass business, there is still enough communication going around to know what is out there. There are three viable bluegrass associations in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula that spread news as well as make available to their memberships scheduled jam sessions.

Best of all, bluegrass festivals are a fantastic resource for musicians looking to play with others, whether it be to just jam or perhaps start a band. This has been going on for decades, and will surely continue now that restrictions from the pandemic are slowly being lifted. Bluegrass festivals are unique regarding these amateur parking lot jam sessions. You never see anything like this at rock, country, or jazz festivals. People go there to listen to the music, period. Bluegrass audiences have a high percentage of people that also play musical instruments. Many show up at the festivals with the only intention of jamming, not really caring if they see a band on stage.

I have mentioned it before, that the professional bluegrass musicians performing on stage also like to walk in the parking lots and jam along with the amateurs. There is a great bond with professional bluegrass artists and their audience members. They all get to know each other personally, and part of that is jamming with one another after shows. That is something you do not see at other music festivals.

A few weeks back, I posted a video of a jam session at the SPBGMA conference that happened in January. This is a great example of what makes bluegrass people unique. Music is in the blood, heart and soul of bluegrassers. At SPBGMA and IBMA conferences, jam sessions happen in every corner of the sponsoring hotel. Rooms are set up just for late-night jamming. Old friends reunite, and new friendships are created continually. I miss the early days of the Americana Music Association’s conferences. There would be a number of jam sessions going on, but that seemed to disappear as the organization grew. Fortunately, jamming is still encouraged at SPBGMA and IBMA.

Jamming has become so much a part of bluegrass that Pete Wernick, whom we all know as Dr. Banjo, created three jamming videos and has established a classroom setting program to instruct people on the principles and etiquette of bluegrass jamming.

So if you are beginning to learn guitar, banjo, mandolin, or violin/fiddle, and want to learn what it is like to be in a ensemble situation, consider bluegrass music. We bluegrassers are a welcoming community. I leave you with a great example of this community feeling. Alan Bibey (mandolinist with Grasstowne) is having a great jam session with some very young pickers.

Chew on it and comment.

Musical Instruments Musicians

Musicians Gifts from Non-Musicians

Last year, Baxter and Jonathan of Casino Guitars put up a video debating what are good and bad gifts for someone to give a guitar player for Christmas. They were talking accessories, not buying the guitars themselves (who wouldn’t love having a relative or friend buying him/her a Fender Strat or Martin acoustic for a gift?).

Overall, they were comically correct. However, I did disagree with them on one item – the guitar pick maker. They called it the worst gift to give. While it isn’t the greatest musical item to give, it does serve a great purpose. First off, rather than throwing out those expired credit cards and fake ones that companies like Xfinity send through the mail, you can cut the waste in half by making four picks out of a normal-sized credit card. Then you can quickly sand the edges and you have some picks that cost you nothing. The maker will pay for itself after a month or two. Also, if you have some moocher asking you for a guitar pick, you can give him one of the credit-card ones and keep the good ones for yourself.

This leads to a thought that I have had for years. If there is a musician in the family, be it son, daughter, husband, wife or other, and you really care about them as well as know his/her love of music, be a bit more learned about his/her passion. My father (God rest his soul) used to buy me loads of cassettes and CDs from the dollar store because he knew that I loved music. However, there was a reason these albums were at the dollar store – it is crappy music.

Now I admit that if I’m at the dollar store and see a bin full of CDs, I will definitely check it out. I remember snagging a half dozen CDs by NRBQ (one of my favorite all-time bands) and giving them out to people. However, 99.9% of the time, it is music that I have absolutely no interest in.

Now I will only get into stringed instruments here. However, I am sure that keyboard players, woodwind and brass players, and percussionists have similar paths that are followed.

There are some things that stringed musicians always appreciate: strings. Just make sure that you are purchasing strings that the musician can and will use. Don’t buy electric guitar strings for an acoustic guitarist, tenor banjo strings for a five-string banjo player, or electric bass strings for an upright bassist. Even if it is not the exact brand that the musician prefers, he/she will appreciate that you considered the correct instrument.

Picks: These are a lot more personal than even strings. Everyone has seen the bargain ads on Wish and eBay of a box of 1,000 guitar picks for a reasonable price. However, the picks vary in thickness, and unless the musician is one who uses thick picks on guitar, thin picks on mandolin, etc., most of them will never be used. Instead, get to know the particular pick used, and buy a dozen of those instead. Banjo and dobro players are very particular about the finger and thumb picks that they use, so if considering a purchase, really get to know what brand is preferred.

Clip-on tuners: These are a Godsend, especially if you can have one in each instrument case. They are becoming affordable, as low as $10.00, and they are now being made to tune other instruments besides guitar (bass, ukulele, violin) as well as tune chromatically. Also, musicians never fail to lose or misplace them, so having an extra one around is great.

Instructional books/videos: This is a really shaky area for gift giving. If you have a musician who has been playing for a dozen years in a number of bands, you wouldn’t want to give them a copy of Let’s Learn to Play Guitar, Volume 1. However, if the young one has just gotten a guitar as a gift and doesn’t know where to start, that would be the perfect present. This line of accessories has lost a lot of marketability with the rise of YouTube and online lessons, but it is still viable. Here is another area where I am open to if it is a bargain. While I may not pay the full $29.95 for a video on playing heavy metal guitar, I would most likely pick it up if I saw it at a rummage sale or used book store for a dollar or two. My theory on that is, even though I am not into heavy metal guitar playing, I may learn a thing or two about technique that I could translate into my bluegrass guitar playing. Moreover, I can always pass it along to someone that is starting to learn electric guitar.

Guitar polishes and cloths: This is something that a lot of musicians do not consider but truly appreciate if gifted to them. Guitars, basses, mandolins, fiddles, and other stringed instruments get dirty from sweat and hand grime over months of use, and musicians tend to forget that part of maintenance. Besides the body needing cleaning, fretboard and fingerboard cleaners are appreciated. This is an area that one would want to talk to a guitar repairperson or at least do some online research.

Other accessories: Case humidifiers, rosin and shoulder rests (for fiddlers), string winders, musicians tools (like the Roadie Rench), velcro cable ties (found at dollar and discount stores), and even maybe a metronome are bound to be used eventually. If it means sitting down for a few minutes to ask the musician what he/she needs as far as “the little things” and putting it down on a list, the next time there is a gift-giving situation, there will be smiles and not embarrassment.

Chew on it and comment. And pray for the people of Canada.

Americana Music Musicians

Michael Nesmith RIP

This one made me heartbroken. Yesterday, December 10th, singer-songwriter and former member of the Monkees Michael Nesmith passed away at the age of 78. As a kid, I was a big fan of the Monkees. Yeah, the whole prefabricated set-up was frowned upon years afterward, but the band dressed cool, were funny, and made some great music.

As I got older, and started to get into country-rock music, I became a big fan of Nesmith. I looked back on his Monkees catalogue, and was surprised how many of the better songs from the band were written by him. He also wrote “Different Drum” for Linda Rondstadt and The Stone Poneys. When everyone in the alt-country and Americana was gushing over Gram Parsons as being the formats’ godfather, I was singing the praises of Nesmith and his influential work with the First National Band, later becoming the Second National Band.

Nesmith really never had to work in his life if he didn’t want to. He could have lived off of his mother’s fortune, as she was the inventor of Liquid Paper correction fluid. Before graduating high school, he enlisted in the US Air Force, and started writing songs upon discharge. He moved from Texas to California, got a publishing deal, then a friend told him to audition for a television show about a Beatles-type band. He beat out Steven Stills and John Sebastian (from Lovin’ Spoonful) and the rest is 1960s television history.

From the beginning, Nesmith pushed for the producers of the show to allow him and the other members to perform on their own instruments and write their own songs. By the time of the band’s third album, Headquarters, they got more freedom. However, interest in this pre-made band and internal conflicts were building up. The group made their own feature film, Head, that was panned by critics, but one could see where Nesmith would move to in the next few years.

After the dissolving of the Monkees, Nesmith formed The First National Band. If you ever come across any recordings of this incarnation or of the Second National Band, buy them! Pedal steel guitarist Red Rhodes was amazing to say the least.

Nesmith also got into video production in its early stages. He produced and starred in an hour-long music video montage called Elephant Parts, which won a Grammy Award in 1982 for Long-Form Music Video. For this and some of his other early work, he has been considered one of the fathers of MTV. He also had a short-lived television show called Television Parts that helped launch the careers of Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jay Leno. He produced a number of underground films, the best known being Repo Man and Tapeheads (in both he makes a cameo a la Alfred Hitchcock).

During the 1990s, he helped sponsor the Council on Ideas, which was a think-tank of intellectuals discussing the major concerns of the day and would publish the results. He was also involved in a lawsuit with PBS over video licensing rights. He won the case, and gave the best quote regarding the situation: “It’s like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You’re happy to get your stereo back, but it’s sad to find out your grandmother is a thief.”

It was Nesmith’s songwriting with what I am most impressed. The list is many that are now considered sing-along classics. “Different Drum,” “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere,” “Mary, Mary,” “Listen to the Band,” and “Some of Shelley’s Blues” are just a few. Besides the Monkees and Linda Rondstadt, other artists that recorded his song include the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lynn Anderson, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Frankie Laine.

I met Mike Nesmith in Chicago back in the early 1990s at a hotel. I went up to him and shook his hand, and told him how much I appreciated his songwriting. He was cordial but you could tell he had other things on his mind. I think that he was surprised that I didn’t ask to take a photo with him. I saw him in concert here in Detroit about five years ago. He was doing a tour highlighting songs of his career. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. He had Chris Scruggs playing lead guitar in the band (one of the best all-around musicians from Nashville, as well as being Earl Scruggs’ grandson), which was really cool.

I guess that my greatest personal tribute to Mike Nesmith came when my short-lived roots-rock band Two-Fisted Tales was asked to record a song for the compilation CD Papa Nez: A Loose Salute to the Work of Michael Nesmith. We did “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Take a listen.

Mike Nesmith made wearing a knit cap and playing a 12-string electric guitar cool. He rocked the long sideburns and big sunglasses. Your songwriting and spirit will live on forever in my rock-n-roll heart.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Folk Music Musicians

Phil Leadbetter/Paddy Moloney RIP

Last week just after I posted my blog, I learned of the deaths of two great musicians. This week, I will briefly cover the lives and influential presence of dobroist Phil Leadbetter and The Chieftains’ leader, Paddy Moloney.

Phil Leadbetter was a true traditionalist when it came to the dobro. He kept his feet firmly in bluegrass while others took it to other genres. He began playing the dobro at age 12, and soon after graduating high school worked with country legend Grandpa Jones. He spent his longest tenure with J.D. Crowe and the New South, often serving as booking agent as well, from 1990-2001. He helped form a number of superstar bluegrass bands, including Wildfire, Flashback and Grasstowne.

In 2011, Phil was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was part of trials that tested the drug Opdivo for his type of cancer, and became a five-time survivor. He returned to performing part-time in 2013, working with Dale Ann Bradley as well as his own band, Phil Leadbetter and the All-Stars of Bluegrass. Unfortunately, his health kept deteriorating, and there were a number of benefit concerts and funding pages. Phil passed away October 14 from COVID-19 complications working against his already poor health. He was 59 years old.

While Phil’s work can be heard on the aforementioned bands, as well as work with The Whites and Vern Godsin, if you want to hear probably his best work on the dobro, seek out his 2005 solo album Slide Effects on Pinecastle Records. The cut “California Cottonfields” was a Number 1 hit for two months on the bluegrass charts, and the disc won the Instrumental Album of the Year award that year at the IBMA World of Bluegrass show. He was a three-time Dobro Player of the Year winner, and both Gibson and Recording King released signature resonator guitars in the past few years.

Phil will definitely be missed in the bluegrass community. I had the chance to meet up with him after a Grasstowne show, and he was one of the most humble people you would ever get a chance to meet. Hopefully, there are a number of young dobro players out there listening to his fine work.

My first true experience in watching The Chieftains was when the band appeared on a special St. Patrick’s Day showing of Saturday Night Live back in 1979. By then, the band was just starting to get some notoriety in the US, after much success in Ireland and the UK. This was not the usual musical fare of SNL, and I was blown away. The sound was magical, moving, hitting at your heart strings. And in the middle of this ensemble sitting, playing the uillean bagpipes and with a big grin, was Paddy Moloney. One could tell after just a few seconds of watching that he was the leader, and that his direction was similar to a classical music conductor, but not as obvious. He knew where to guide the music, and everyone in the band trusted his instinct.

Paddy formed The Chieftains in 1962, but the band did not become full-time professionals until the early 1970s. They built up a large following in Ireland and Europe, but it was the band’s work on the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon in 1975. From there, it was international success. They have performed with dozens of other famous musicians and singers, have held concerts for Pope John Paul II and a number of other dignitaries, and in 1983 were invited to perform at the Great Wall of China, the first non-Chinese artist to do so.

Paddy was born in Dublin in 1938. He first picked up the tin whistle at age six, then the uillean pipes at age eight. In 1962 he invited local musicians Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy to his house for a jam session, and The Chieftains was born. The band signed with a local label Claddagh Records, and Paddy served as leader, composer, and arranger for the band’s music. His endless work to promote the band made it an international success. If any big-time producer or film director needed Irish or Celtic music, they would call on The Chieftains.

I cannot begin to list the different artists that the band has worked with. Almost everyone from Luciano Pavarotti and John Williams to Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. While The Chieftains had never had a huge hit in the US, it did score minor hits with Van Morrison and The Coors in the UK. They also performed on the soundtracks for the films Gangs of New York and Bravehart. Paddy was a major reason that The Chieftains have such a huge following. His business head knew that it was important for the band to work with different people to get the best exposure, but his musical heart knew not to sell out. The sound of the band stayed pure and close to its roots, so that other performers gladly adapted to the band’s sound.

Paddy recorded 44 albums with The Chieftains, and there is not a bad one among them (although I can honestly say that I have not heard all of them, but trust me). If you were to pick only one, you might try to locate The Best of The Chieftains from 1992, which contains selections from the band’s 7th, 8th, and 9th albums. The 1993 disc The Celtic Harp is hauntingly beautiful. To hear how well the band worked with American artists, get a copy of Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions from 2002.

I only got to see The Chieftains once live. It was during a tour promoting Down the Old Plank Road with Allison Moorer as a guest. The sound of the band live cannot be described with words. One could close his/her eyes and be transported into a different world. If Ireland had a sound, it would be The Chieftains.

Paddy passed away at age 83 on October 12, and is now buried in Glendalough, Ireland. He was the last original member of the band. There will never be another band like The Chieftains, and definitely never be another beautiful man such as Paddy Moloney.

Chew on it and comment.

Music Musicians Songwriting

Perfect Song #5: A Taste of Honey “Boogie Oogie Oogie”

I have been debating for the past few days as to list this song as part of the Perfect Song series, or simply a guilty pleasure. It is both for me, so let’s proceed.

A Taste of Honey was one of many one-hit wonders of the disco era. Record companies were looking for anything that they could throw out on vinyl that would get people dancing at the discotheques. However, this band was different. The band actually had been around since the early 1970s doing USO tours and corporate shows in the Los Angeles area. The core of the band was bassist/singer Janice Marie Johnson and keyboardist Perry Kibble. The original guitarist Carlita Dorhan left in 1976, and Helen Payne replaced her. It was these three musicians (along with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell) that made “Boogie Oogie Oogie” the classic song that it is today, over 40 years after its release.

On the surface, the song is typical disco. Basic 4/4 beat with a dance tempo, moving bass line, and simple lyrics. However, there is a reason (in fact, a few reasons) why “Boogie Oogie Oogie” is still relevant today while thousand of other disco songs gather dust in the used vinyl bins at the local record store. First off, this was performed by the band, not a bunch of studio musicians backing a molded and shaped singer. When you have musicians that have worked together for a number of years, whether it is a tight-knit studio ensemble or a group like The Beatles, a good listener can distinctly tell that groove.

Turning to the song itself, it was written by Johnson and Kibble. Again, no record company tampering here. In the pop music world, having a team of songwriters is the norm. However, the Mizells and the A&R people at Capitol Records had a good ear this time.

Now, let’s look at probably the most important piece of this song – the bass line. Johnson laid it down herself. There was no bringing in a studio pro bassist for the recording, and that is a good thing. This bass line is beyond the disco dance groove. It is a line so catchy, that any beginning bass player HAS to learn it! For anyone that studies music production (like me), it is so damned refreshing to know that she got carte blanche with her bass playing. It is beyond a groove – it is a statement. I also love that, at the end of the second chorus, she sings, “listen to my bass, now!” Yes, I am listening!

Next, let’s check out the rhythm guitar. Again, laid down by Payne, not some studio guitarist. The intro has that slide that is sensual, then once the song kicks in, the staccato picking followed by the jangly Bb chord. What makes this sound so special is that the guitar sound is so clean. No distortion, delay, or dated effects like phasing or flanging. Just the guitar straight into the amp. Yes, there is that heavy-fuzz lead at the end of the first chorus, but it can be expected to create a different kind of tension. But Payne makes playing rhythm guitar sexy.

As for the lyrics, there is nothing that is literary here. Simple words that people can sing along to. Johnson has a sweet voice that makes the verses flow smoothly. Then, when the chorus kicks in, Payne’s gritty backup harmony singing is beautiful. The vocal climax here is at the end of the chorus, when the words “more — boogie” is sung, it goes from two-part harmonies to a full, lush sound. THAT is a great production ear!

“Boogie Oogie Oogie” is sexy without being sexual. The arrangement is timeless, and again, that bass line makes anyone that picks up an electric bass want to learn that groove. Because the disco era was not kind to most artists, a group like A Taste of Honey felt the wrath of the recording industry. Fortunately, knowing that the song is still being played on classic R&B radio stations as well as appearing in a number of commercials and soundtracks, royalties are still going to Johnson and Kibble’s estate (he died in 1999). A wonderful thing would be to see Janice Marie Johnson receive more recognition for her amazing bass playing.

Chew on it and comment (and listen to her bass, yeah!).

Comedy Musicians

I Will Never Be a Good Fiddler / Norm McDonald

I know that I will never be a decent fiddler. Sure, I practice almost every day, but it’s usually for 15 minutes or less because of my schedule. It’s not like I’m not motivated, it just has a lot more to do with my life’s situation.

Age: I’m 57, and it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve been practicing regularly for about two years now, but it’s hard for a lot of things to sink in when you have so many other concerns in your life.

Health: I’m overweight, a diabetic, and the arthritis is starting to kick in. Time that could be spent practicing the fiddle is spent exercising just so I don’t have a heart attack in the near future. The arthritis is affecting not only my fingering of the violin, but fretting the guitar as well. I have a tough time playing simple bluegrass leads on guitar that were easy to do just a few years ago.

Responsibilities: I’m taking care of an 89-year-old mother now, pretty much all of the time outside of my job. I squeeze in writing, music practice, and lutherie whenever the opportunity arises, but it is usually just a few minutes each day. Even doing this blog, which I commit to once per week, has to be planned out by getting up earlier than usual. My laptop is always open because, if mom decides to nap for a few minutes, I can run over and type a sentence or two.

Lessons: I thought about getting lessons from a live teacher, but COVID killed that idea a year ago, and now that the possibility exists again, my schedule will not allow for me to drive somewhere else for the help. So I resort to my instruction books and videos, but there is not that extra care that comes from a live teacher. Moreover, a lot of the videos on YouTube lack motivation. You do a search for a certain technique, say, learning the Georgia Shuffle. So you find a dozen videos, but it seems that most of them are 10 minutes long with 7 minutes of rambling talk and 3 minutes of playing without any pausing for slow learners. Oh, there are some good videos, but slushing through all of the garbage becomes defeatist.

So I am pretty much accepting that I may not be able to play much with a band, do solos, or even learn tunes that I want. I will keep doing the few minutes every day, with the hope that things will change in my life for the better.

Last week, comedian Norm McDonald passed away form cancer complications at the age of 61. The man had the most dry sense of humor I have ever witnessed from a comedian. I remember his time at Saturday Night Live, although I did not watch it that much at the time. SNL hired in comic actors for their writing capabilites, ability to impersonate famous people, and of course, ad-libbing. Norm was stuck on the show doing impersonations of Bob Dole and Burt Reynolds, but his forte was anchoring the Weekend Update News skits. He could deliver fake news and truly make you believe it while you were laughing your head off. They kicked him off the show because he let it all out. He was a comedian’s comedian. His laid-back way of telling jokes was like a good friend telling a great story. There was no obnoxious, in-your-face delivery. He just stated the schtick in a matter-of-fact way that was perfect. You sat for a second wondering if he was serious about what he just said, then he would move on and you would finally get the joke. He never lamented on his cancer, and went on with his comic lifestyle as if nothing was wrong. More people should be so humble. Norm, your sense of humor will be missed, especially during these divisive times.

Chew on it and comment.

Americana Music Bluegrass Music Musicians

Bluegrass Unlimited/Billy Sheehan/MerleFest

A short but sweet blog.

While I am still on the fence regarding the Bluegrass Unlimited magazine’s format (, I truly appreciate the YouTube channel that the publication has established. Every few days they post a new video that is either a quick lesson on how to improve your playing on guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, or dobro, or it is a jam track. These consist of standard bluegrass instrumentals with a lead guitar handling the first verse, then followed by a few verses of just rhythm guitar, bass, and rhythm mandolin. Perfect for practicing your own lead work! Check it out at

Another likeable YouTube channel is the one set up by bassist Billy Sheehan. While I’m not big on “bass guitar as lead instrument,” I do know that Billy is one of the top bass players out there, and if he says something about bass playing, YOU LISTEN! His channel has only been up for a few months, but the videos up are worth watching. There are a few performance videos, but there are also some great videos on what he does to work on his basses to make them play better. Like me, he likes to get his hands dirty by working on things like setting up his guitars, setting intonation, and adjusting parts for better playability. He’s personable, humble, and appreciative of his success. Definitely check out his channel at

MerleFest is back on for 2021! Although the festivals is usually slated for the month of April, this year it has been moved to September 16-19. Unfortunately, anyone planning to attend AmericanaFest will have to either choose between the two, or hope that his/her boss will give them two weeks vacation. The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is also on, with entries being accepted April 15-June 15. For more information, go to

Chew on it and comment.

Coronavirus Musical Instruments Musicians

Creativity, and Ignorance

A few days ago, I was interviewing fiddler Tom Morley for an upcoming article. We got onto the topic of what he and other musicians that he knows are doing to keep the sanity during all of these pandemic lockdowns. He told me about a creative idea that his friend’s daughter thought of that consisted of purchasing a few small plastic greenhouses, pushing them together, and with one musician in each house, the band was able to perform together and hear each other while still keeping social distance.

The more that I watch the video, the more that I am amazed at the creativity some people have shown during these strange times. Yes, music can be performed alone, but the idea of two or more musicians creating music together is part of human nature’s bonding. The Coronavirus tries so hard to dishearten people by separating us, but we as humans are smarter than that.

As I still look for a job, I have been trying to keep my sanity by doing some lutherie work. Actually, more repairs are being done on guitar amplifiers than on actual instruments, but it is all good, right? One thing that I have noticed in my search for repairable beginner stringed instruments is that people think that the damaged guitars, basses, mandolins and such are really buried treasures. Sure, a 1959 Fender Stratocaster that has structural and wiring concerns can still fetch over $1,000 because of its pedigree, but there is no reason that an acoustic guitar with a brand name of Magnum, Lotus, Rogue, or no name whatsoever should demand a high price.

I scan Craigslist ads as well as check eBay and other sources, and I am puzzled when I see a 30-year-old Magnum acoustic guitar that has seen better days with a price tag of $100.00! Seriously, a guitar like this did not sell for much more than that when it was new, probably has loads of nicks and scratches, even a crack or two, and the neck is most likely bowing like a hill. One thing that shows like “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow” have done is get people to think that all of the junk they have in their garage is worth something. If I am going to spend 60 or 70 dollars on an acoustic guitar, I would rather go through a company like Glarry, where the guitar is new and has some type of warranty or guarantee with the manufacturer/distributor.

Advice: If you have one of these old acoustic guitars that you bought for your kid decades ago and he never took an interest, and it sat in the closet for 20 or more years, and it does NOT have the name of Martin, Gibson, or Guild on the headstock, it is most likely not worth more than 10 bucks. Go ahead and get it appraised, but there is a slim chance that it is worth something. Instead, sell it at a garage sale for a few bucks, so that either some other kid may try to play it, someone like me might be able to salvage it as playable and give to someone, or let someone else hang it on the wall.

Chew on it and comment.