Out with the Old and In with the Old-Time!
Happy New Year Old-Timers!
2016 was quite the year for us at the Tiki Parlour. We released critically-praised CDs and DVD sets from Bruce Molsky, Joe Fontenot, Spencer & Rains and myself. We filmed many musicians this year as well. We also saw the revival of the Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention. In an effort to bring old-time music to a larger audience I took part in some amazing concerts and recording sessions with Social Distortion and Bad Religion's Greg Graffin. This year also saw the birth of a new ensemble at UCLA: The UCLA Old-Time String Band Ensemble. We just finished our first quarter.
The Season of the Tiki
Life in the Tiki Parlour can be bustling with excitement at times. This is one of those times. We’ve had two CD release parties, an old-time festival and an extra special release in its final stages.
Our most recent release is The Spotted Pony by Spencer & Rains. FolkWorks’ reviewer Pat MacSwyney wrote a wonderful piece on it recently. Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains recorded two sessions at the Tiki Parlour over the period of a year.
The Return of the Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention
The 45th Annual Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention & Festival (located in Goleta) is coming! On Sunday, October 9th, history is about to be remade. I am so pleased and proud to announce that I’ve been appointed the artistic director of the festival. After a strange turn of events over the last few years, the festival is now under the patronage of The Goleta Valley Historical Society! With the GVHS takeover and founder Peter Feldmann’s full blessing, I’m bringing back the original vision of the festival: Old-Time Music!
What to expect:
THROUGH THE EYE OF THE TIKI:
Bruce Molsky and the LAOTS Photographs
There have been two colossal old-time events in Los Angeles recently and I can’t wait to show them to you. But first, a smidgen of background. We just had two huge “gatherings” in Los Angeles: The Bruce Molsky Release Party and the 11th Ever Los Angeles Old-Time Social.
The 11th Ever Los Angeles Old-Time Social:
Concerts, Workshops and Dance!
We are now in our second decade of the Los Angeles Old-Time Social! For those of you who are new to the Los Angeles old-time music scene, we’ve got a lot going on here from weekly jams and a thriving community to concerts/films/lessons at LA’s own Old-Time Tiki Parlour. And once a year we pool our resources and put on this huge volunteer-led event: The Los Angeles Old-Time Social! People from all around the country come to play, dance, learn and perform for this three-day event! Acoustic Guitar Magazine even included us on their Top Ten Festival Bucket List! The Social will be held May 12-14th!
THE REVELERS: CAJUNS, GRAMMYS, A SAXOPHONE, AND THE TIKI PARLOUR
On February 12th, Louisiana's Cajun Swamp Pop supergroup The Revelers were in Los Angeles for the Grammys. The Revelers are a band of brilliant young musicians composed of ex-members of the Red Stick Ramblers and the Pine Leaf Boys. Their instrumentation: accordion, fiddle, guitar, saxophone, electric bass and voices! As a hardcore traditionalist, I give these guys my stamp of approval, big time! Collectively, they are masters of older music styles such as Cajun, Zydeco, Swamp Pop, R & B, Old-Time and Jazz. Each member composes original songs and sings with passion and might.
When the Grammys called, I jumped at the chance to host them for an Old-Time Tiki Parlour show. The event was held at a very unique concert venue: Timewarp Records, one of the last bastions of vinyl records and vintage sound systems in Los Angeles. Timewarp has turned into one of the great underground music venues in LA and the Tiki Parlour will be hosting many more shows there.
The evening began with a new local traditional Cajun band, the High Life Cajun Band. They got the crowd peppered up and in the mood for some Cajun rock fantastic.
A Big Fancy Celebration:
The Impossible Solo CD
Since the inception of this column I’ve been reporting on many of the old-time happenings in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Old-Time Social has been instrumental in bringing out musicians from all around and exposing Los Angeles locals to their fantastic sounds, stories and art. I’m so lucky and honored to be the workshop coordinator of this festival. About a year or so ago, I decided to kick my musical contributions up a notch, by bringing out musicians from around the country to record, teach and perform via the Old-Time Tiki Parlour.
ECHOES FROM THE TIKI PARLOUR: THE ERIC & SUZY THOMPSON RELEASE
Old-time music is a wonderful thing. It’s a musical genre with many faces. One of my earliest exposures to this behemoth of a genre was through the Harry Smith Anthology. Soon after, the Doc Watson Family recordings rolled into my life and then a ton of Lomax recordings hooked themselves into my ears and heart. Southern fiddle tunes, banjo songs, fingerpicked country blues guitar, early Cajun fiddle and accordion, heart wrenching ballads, blues mandolin, jug band wonders and shredding flatpicked guitar were all part of this huge chapter in American old-time music. To think, I only had a handful of these recorded documents at that time. What else was there to seek out and discover? I’ve spent over a decade obsessing on this music, studying and, now, teaching it. However, I’m always learning…so much music and so little time.
So last year, I was given a golden opportunity when Eric & Suzy Thompson accepted my invitation for a special visit. These two masters road tripped their way down to the Parlour, packed to the gills with lovely, well-worn instruments. Why? So I could capture some of their wild musical prowess and repertoire for a DVD release.
TWO CAJUNS AND AN OLD-TIME STRINGBAND WALK INTO A BAR
VIDEOS FROM A CAJUN TIKI PARLOUR CONCERT
The year 2015 has been particularly intense at The Old-Time Tiki Parlour and it’s not even over! Among the wonderful old-time artists who visited for recording, concerts and workshops this year, we had a special visit by the Cajuns in June! A few years ago the very first OT Tiki Parlour workshop was led by Cajun fiddle master David Greeley.
OLD-TIME MUSIC IN LOS ANGELES
Old-Time music in Los Angeles has a long and wonderful history. It is a genre and culture that really thrives here. I’m often asked by musicians and newbies what it’s like out here in the West. I’ll often cite the names of great SoCal musicians who have had a huge influence in the area such as Earl Collins, Mel Durham, Tom Sauber, Ed Lowe and others. Lately, an 81-year old Cajun/Creole accordion player, Mr. Joe Fontenot, has swept many of us off our feet (literally) and is inspiring local Cajun players and novices, myself included!
PEOPLE GET READY FOR THE
10TH EVER LOS ANGELES OLD-TIME SOCIAL
Folks, this is a big deal. Ten years ago, a homegrown Los Angeles old-time music festival sprouted in Historic Filipinotown (just up the hill from downtown Los Angeles) from a desire to have an old time party ahead of the Topanga Banjo - Fiddle Contest. The First Ever Los Angeles Old Time Social (LAOTS) was a Friday night concert and then a Saturday backyard jam party/ square dance and was inspired by the spirit of the Portland Old Time Gathering and Berkeley Old Time Music Convention festivals. This is the tenth EVER and it’s time to really celebrate!
FIDDLE LESSON: HOG-EYED MAN
Over here at the Old-Time Tiki Parlour we’re gearing up for the big Dan Gellert DVD and CD release! Since the last column, we've had many visitors here! We recently had a wonderful 2-day, 10-hour singing workshop with old-time masters Joe Newberry and Val Mindel. Eric, Suzy and Allegra Thomspon came by for more filming and jamming! Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones even passed through for an evening of hanging out and playing tunes during their big US road trip/tour!
OLD-TIME TIKI PARLOUR FILMS AND WEBSITE LAUNCH!
I am thrilled to announce the dual launch of a film production company and website, both devoted to old-time music in Los Angeles and beyond: Old-Time Tiki Parlour Films and OldTimeTikiParlour.com.
The OTTP is the music and living space of yours truly. As referenced in earlier columns, it’s where I teach old-time music, host workshops and house concerts with the greatest musicians in the genre, and film them as well. A year ago, I realized that so many of the great OT players are still under-documented. Sure, there may be shaky iPhone videos out there, but very few videos exist that are shot in high quality sound and visual. We missed the chance to get attractive archival footage of Fred Cockerham, Joseph Spence, Mississippi John Hurt and many others. So, I believe the world will be a better place if we can preserve the sights and sounds of the great active musicians around today, by shooting them in a controlled environment where they do what they do best: play old-time music.
KISS ME QUICK, MY PAPA’S A COMIN’
THE 9TH EVER LAOTS OLD-TIME FIDDLE LESSON
This year’s Los Angeles Old-Time Social was another banging success! For those of you who missed it (or last month’s column) we showcased many talented guests including Brian Vollmer & Ben Townsend, Howard Rains & Tricia Spencer, LA’s own Triple Chicken Foot, Paul Rangell, members of Sausage Grinder, cloggers Ruth Alpert and Rebecca Stout, banjoist Steve Lewis, queen of all callers Susan Michaels and the list goes on! It was even extra special for Yours Truly. Three of my old-time music students/alumni performed in various bands at the Social too. It was proud papa time! I also had the honor of playing banjo with Howard & Tricia Spencer for the square dance. She is a powerhouse dance fiddler!
Old Time Music and Dance Workshops
9th Ever LA Old Time Social
I'm all about old-time music. FolkWorks is all about folk music in Los Angeles. So, for me, it naturally all comes together at the 9th Ever Los Angeles Old Time Social. We're bringing in some great players from Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and New York this year! And of course, several awesome players from our own backyard! Each year we're getting bigger and better while keeping it a volunteer-only, community-driven event.
The routine goes as follows: Thursday, May 15 is the big kick off party with live music. This year it's at a new location: 1642 Bar at 1642 Temple Ave Los Angeles. Friday, May 16th is the formal concert featuring Spencer and Rains (KS & TX), Brian Vollmer & Ben Townsend (NY & WV), and Los Angeles super trio Triple Chicken Foot! We even have live intermission music by the ragtime duo, On The Ragtime! Finally, we have Saturday, May 17th, the big daddy of the OT Social. There will be workshops galore, a family dance, a cakewalk and an epic square dance featuring performers from the Friday Night Concert!
For the Love of Wade
I love Wade Ward! When I started immersing myself in old time music, I first heard Wade Ward on an out of print compilation of Lomax recordings. Soon after, I picked up the Smithsonian Folkways recording Uncle Wade - A Memorial To Wade Ward: Old Time Virginia Banjo Picker, 1892-1971 and was blown away at the sophisticated simplicity of his playing on both fiddle and banjo. Something about his bold, archaic style just sent lightning bolts right through my body when I first heard him.
Davey Come on Back
And Act Like You Ought To
This recent October was riddled with old time music action! First off, Rafe and Clelia Stefanini stayed for a week at my Old Time Tiki Parlour for workshops, a house concert and a ton of filming! To let you in on a little secret, we'll probably be releasing the footage as one of the first Old Time Tiki Parlour performance DVDs next year! Rafe was one of my living heroes when I started playing old time music, so it was a treat to be able to play tunes with him that I learned over a decade ago at his workshops. During their stay, many of us trekked up to the Santa Barbara area for the Goleta Old Time Fiddler's Convention. Rafe and Clelia Stefanini performed, as did my old time jug band Sausage Grinder. Rafe, Chris Berry (of SG) and I taught fiddle and banjo workshops there as well. At first, I was going to present just an audio lesson of my workshop tune, but something kept nagging at me.
SAUSAGE GRINDER: THE FOLKWORKS CONCERT VIDEOS
For those of you that missed the Sausage Grinder concert on September 7, 2013, here's a glimpse into what unfolded. It was another sold out, standing room-only FolkWorks show attended by lovers of music and many wonderful musicians. Thanks Steve and Leda, the king and queen of FolkWorks, for putting on some of the best shows in Los Angeles!
'Twas a night full of fiddles, banjos, resophonic guitars & mandolins, saws, bagpipes, golden throats, a rusty throat, jaw harps, washboards, kazoos and great big jugs!
A video is worth a million words, so here's six million of 'em!! Enjoy!!
LAOTS Workshop Fiddle Lessons:
Old Christmas & Old Sharon
As predicted, this year's Los Angeles Old Time Social was bigger and better than the last! It was graced by the presence of so many great musicians this year! Workshops, dances, parties and concerts featured the talents of Jesse Milnes & Emily Miller, Paul Rangell & Emily Abbink, Bob Carlin & Dan Levenson, Tom Sauber, Sausage Grinder, King Baby and many others!! The number of workshops were increased this year with a massive turnout! Two great CDs were officially released at the Social: King Baby's Oysters & Clams and Joe Wack's Yew Piney Melodies. Both CDs offer a wide variety of old time fiddle tunes that reflect repertoire from many parts of the country, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. These collections also give the listener a clear idea of the types of tunes and playing that one can find at any old time jam in the greater Los Angeles area! Go LA!
Workshops of the 8th Ever Los Angeles Old Time Social
My very, most favorite, super awesomest, out-of-control, spectacular musical event in L.A. is The Los Angeles Old Time Social. This year from May 16-18th is the 8th Ever LAOTS and I’m chomping at the bit to help get it started! It is a volunteer and community driven 3-day event that brings people together to listen, perform, dance, study and play old time music. So naturally it’s my favorite annual event in the city. Each year the turnout grows exponentially and I am proud to be teaching and coordinating the workshops this year.
Old Time Tiki Parlour
Kirk Sutphin and Bertram Levy
As an obsessive teacher and player of old-time music, it was about time for me to institute a location for secret (and not so secret) jam sessions, workshops and house concerts. For years, I’ve felt a strong urge to bring players, friends and students together where they can hear different perspectives and approaches to old time music through jamming, interacting and observing some of the best musicians in old time music today. The location: The Old Time Tiki Parlour in Los Angeles. Recently I’ve had the pleasure of hosting a multitude of Sausage Grinder-led jam sessions as well as workshops in fiddle and banjo by artists such as Cajun master David Greely and OT funk maestro Dan Gellert. Later this year we’ll be hosting a banjo workshop by Bob Carlin during the week of the Los Angeles Old Time Social. A concert by ragtime guitar wizard Craig Ventresco is also in the works. This year things were recently kicked off with a concert by a very unique duo, The Kirk Sutphin and Bertram Levy Duo.
Estill Bingham’s Cookhouse Joe
I’m jumpstarting the year with a tune by Kentucky fiddler Estill Bingham. I know tons of fiddlers that love his tunes. Tunes like Cotton Bonnet and Old Billy Hell are jammed frequently in many parts of the country. Los Angeles is no different. One of my favorites is Cookhouse Joe. It’s simple, crooked and modal! What more can you ask for? In a short bio from Jeff Todd Titon’s book Old time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes, one can glean a few tidbits about Bingham. He was born in 1899 and died in a car accident in 1990 at age 91. He was the youngest of thirteen children. He started learning fiddle at the age of seven and was initially taught gospel tunes to prevent rowdy behavior! He was recorded by Bruce Greene, a man who has given the world of old-time music more treasure than anyone I can think of. Thank you Bruce!! So here’s the fiddle lesson for Cookhouse Joe! Enjoy!
Thinking about the Goleta Old Time Fiddler’s Convention
Fiddle Workshop: Boatin’ up Sandy
On October 14th, the 41st Goleta Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Festival came around again. It’s a festival founded by west coast old-time/bluegrass legend Peter Feldmann: A stellar musician who believed an old time fiddle contest was the ultimate way to promote old time music and educate the non-converted. Over the years it has brought out many great artists and students of traditional music for competition, performance and jamming. When I started playing, I looked forward to it all year long. When I started teaching, I brought out my students, their families and friends. The contest always had a packed audience and there were jams in every nook and cranny. Great old time musicians were coming “out of the woodwork” from San Francisco, Oregon, Arizona and Utah to see what it was all about and take part!
Ed Haley’s Rebel Raid
Old Time Grind House Fiddle Lesson
I’m ecstatic about sharing an Ed Haley fiddle lesson with y’all! He’s one of the very best fiddlers to have ever lived. Few people actually carry his torch in my mind. His recording of this tune features all the classic Haley elements. His control of melody, bowing and stream of consciousness variations are ever present and so wonderful to listen to. In this lesson, I present the tune with a few built-in variations. Nothing is simplified. A couple particular bow patterns are highlighted. The idea is to get you playing the tune without being overwhelmed by all the possibilities of Haley’s playing. I’ve selected one of his A Section melodies as the foundation for the section, which can be perfectly articulated with several shuffle patterns. The B section will retain its notey attributes with a focus on this shuffle bow pattern concept. There are many options but I’ve kept things under control so as not to create an hour-long lesson with too much of a focus on the infinite possibilities. So here’s Rebel Raid in a bite-sized tablet for your edification and enjoyment.
Hobart Smith’s Chinquapin Pie
As we all know many wonderful things come in 3s!! The last two installments of the Old Time Bang House have featured clawhammer banjo lessons of two prized Hobart Smith tunes Last Chance and Pateroller Song. This month, we’re exploring a third classic Hobart tune: Chinquapin Pie. It is tuned in G modal tuning just as Pateroller Song was from last month. Like many of his tunes, it’s very up-tempo and driving. Again, I believe certain characteristics of his playing often get lost in translation. Speed, clarity, and playing over the banjo head (not the scoop) are ideal for capturing a large part of his sound. Throw in some rapid pull-offs, drop-thumbs and left-handed plucks and you’re on your way to the land of Hobart! So this marks the end of the first Hobart Smith trilogy of banjo tunes. Enjoy this nice chunky slice of Chinquapin Pie, all you banjo pluckers!!
Hobart Smith’s Pateroller Song
Old Time Bang House Clawhammer Lesson
The previous installment of the Old Time Oracle featured the clawhammer banjo lesson for Hobart Smith’s Last Chance. It was a banging success so I’ve decided to make part two. This installment features a detailed lesson of Hobart Smith’s modal tune, Pateroller Song. It is tuned in gDGCD, also known as modal tuning, sawmill tuning, mountain minor, etc. Like many of Hobart’s tunes it is fast, feverish and intense. Many banjo players think of this tune when they think of Hobart. I’m certainly one of them. The use of drop-thumbs, pull-offs, and slides are addressed in the lesson as well as optional variations. To help achieve a sound similar to Hobart’s playing, it really helps to play over the head and NOT give it the “new old-time” plunky, over-the-fingerboard, over-syncopated, delicate touch approach that is in vogue these days. The right hand should “hammer” down and not lightly massage the strings, if the desired effect is to achieve a sound close to Hobart Smith. Good luck and bust it down!!
Hobart Smith’s Last Chance:
Old Time Bang House
For several years now, I’ve created numerous FolkWorks fiddle lesson videos. They showcase some very classic tunes, as well as some extremely obscure and eccentric ones. The idea was to present these tunes with bowing suggestions and instruction, since “bowing” remains the most elusive component of old-time fiddling. Throughout this endeavor I’ve received many requests for banjo tutorials as well. Today will be the first public offering of a clawhammer banjo lesson. Thus, the “Old Time Bang House” is now open for 5-string pleasure seekers!
Three Forks of Cheat
An Old-Time Fiddle Lesson
I love Edden Hammons. But I love Burl too! I’ve decided to close out a very eventful year with a Burl Hammons fiddle tune. Three Forks of Cheat is played out of Black Mountain tuning, aka Calico tuning, which from low to high is tuned AEAC#. I’ve detuned the fiddle for this lesson to GDGB. Like many of my favorite Hammons Family tunes, it has a beautifully eccentric melody that sounds wonderful played as a solo fiddle piece, a banjo/fiddle duet, or an old-time jam ensemble! It takes on new character with every tempo and makes delightful use out of the drone strings, especially the occasional high string drone. Let’s fiddle in the New Year with a tune by one of the greatest old-time dynasties ever!
Equinox, the Tiki Lounge
and an Old Time Fiddlers Convention
It’s been a wild time for old-time music lovers in Southern California lately. Two mammoth festivals and a series of secret workshops have recently taken many of us by storm!
On September 10th and 11th, we had the Equinox Festival of folk music, storytelling and dance. There was an endless roster of traditional artists and workshops in just about every folk style. This year, it was an old-time music lover’s dream. Old Sledge, Tracy Schwartz & Ginny Hawker and old-time music cult legend Dan Gellert made the trek! My brain was spinning by the end. I think I’m still suffering a musical hangover! Sausage Grinder ripped up a square dance with guest banjo player Dan Gellert and members of every act taught workshops, jammed and performed. See the video below!
“My God, French Carpenter
Two of the great old time music dynasties from West Virginia are the Hammons Family and the Carpenter Family. I’ve rattled on and on to students and FolkWorks readers about the greatness of the Hammons Family, especially Edden Hammons. However, now it’s time to discuss a very special Carpenter family member. Since I started playing old-time fiddle I was hearing endless praise about the fiddler David “French” Carpenter. He was born near the turn of the century in Clay County. He learned the tunes from his preaching fiddler father Tom Carpenter who learned them from French’s grandfather, the fiddle legend Solly “Devil Sol” Carpenter. In Gerald Milnes’ book Play of a Fiddle, you’ll get a great introduction to the wild oral history of this family, not to mention the Hammons family as well! It is highly recommended.
You Will Be Bowled Over
Snapshots of Old-Time Music in Los Angeles
and a Fiddle Lesson
The legend of Jim Bowles… He’s a household name in many musicians’ homes but I’m still amazed at how many old-time players haven’t heard him. One reason may be the lack of available recordings. Old-time guru Jim Nelson recently informed me that he plans to re-issue the old Marimac recordings of this Kentucky legend in the not too distant future! This is definitely something to look forward to.
Jim Bowles was born in 1903 in South-Central Kentucky. Monroe County was a highly musical area and Jim had many influences, from local African American fiddler Gilbert Maxey to recording star Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith. He played clawhammer banjo, finger-style banjo, and sang but his fiddle playing is what caught my ear. It is infectiously rhythmic with a very deliberate use of blue notes that gives me goose pimples. His repertoire is also very interesting with crooked passages and bizarre melodies. I find many parallels between his playing and the playing of one of my favorite modern fiddlers Dan Gellert. In fact, you should check out Dan playing a Jim Bowles tune. There’s nothing like it!
On a Saturday night in Highland Park, dancers, musicians, hipsters, photographers, freaks, soldiers, artists and grandmothers descended on the American Legion Hall for a night of old-time revelry. A large antiquated ballroom full of history, honor, dust, foot stamping, alcohol, and the siren sounds of string musicians served as a classic American backdrop to the calls of the square dance…
The Squarevolution is on!!
The Unlost Dan Gellert Footage
When you search the Web for Dan Gellert, it’s shocking how hidden he is. Especially the lack of video!! There’s a minimalist website, references to his brilliant CD Waitin’ on the Break of Day, and colorful descriptions of his style and genius. On some of the fiddle and banjo boards you’ll find quotes like “Dan Gellert is a whirling dervish of banjo funkiness,” “He has a very blues-based approach to old-time music, often favouring ‘blue’ notes and African-style syncopated rhythms,” and “A few words that come to mind when listening to Mr. Gellert are syncopation, riffs, loose (NOT sloppy), and finally: James Brown.”
One of my favorite descriptions of his playing is:
"It's funky, it smells, stinks like a sweaty woman. That's the highest compliment I can give."
In 2005 a few friends flew him out here to Los Angeles for workshops and a house concert. I was able to video him for a few hours in an extremely casual setting and then during a workshop. After contacting Dan about releasing the videos online to spread the old-time wealth, I discovered them missing. Years later, I found them in a mysterious box. Don’t know how they got there, nor do I care. I’m finally presenting them for your enjoyment and fiddle edification. But first, a recent Q & A with the master himself.
Old Time Grindhouse – Paddy on the Turnpike
One of my favorite old-time music dynasties is the Hammons Family. If you haven’t heard the playing of Edden Hammons or Burl Hammons, you need to rectify this. They were magical beings. Recently, I acquired some field recordings of a different Hammons: Lee Hammons. He was a West Virginia fiddle and banjo player that can briefly be heard on the great out-of-print Library of Congress/Rounder Records release, The Hammons Family: The Tradition of a West Virginia Family and their Friends. These commercially unavailable field recordings are incredible. They, too, are magical.
Old Time Grindhouse
Can You Dance a Tobacco Hill?
On October 10 we had the 39th Annual Old-Time Fiddler's Convention in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. What a whirlwind of a day!! It took a few days to recover. Although the festival is branching out and allowing more "roots" style performers, Celtic/ Bluegrass artists and contra-dance bands to be part of the bill, old-time music was still well represented. The hardcore old-time music dimension was strong if you looked in the right places. Los Angeles-based trio Triple Chicken Foot tore it up on the main stage as did the Foghorn Trio. There were a few intense old time jams and the judges were awesome about holding the contestants to old-time repertoire. A recent addition to the festival is the inclusion of music workshops. Sausage Grinder's Christopher Berry and I taught two workshops in old-time banjo and fiddle. A ton of musicians of all levels attended. National Resophonic Guitars had a booth at Goleta for the first time and invited Sausage Grinder to play a set featuring some of our National instruments. Country blues legend Steve James joined us for the set playing slide guitar and resonator mando!!! To top things off, several of my students shredded on the contest stage and won awards including some 1st places!!! It don't get better than that!!
Louie Bluie Has Arrived
Put down your fiddles and mandolins for a moment and listen carefully. I'll keep things brief and I might even avoid the spoilers. The greatest music documentary of all time is now available on DVD. In fact, it has been accepted into the ranks of the prestigious Criterion Collection family of DVD releases. It deserves this recognition. Until a couple weeks ago you could only find horrible 10th generation pirated copies. If you were lucky you might find a used videotape version on eBay for over a hundred bucks. Briefly, one could find snippets of it on YouTube but sadly they were pulled by the filmmaker. Now, years of frustration have come to a screeching halt and Terry Zwigoff's directorial debut Louie Bluie is here. It is a documentary about an old-time musician.
Sugar Foot Rag
May's 5th Ever Old Time Social was an explosive three days of hot old-time action!! On Saturday I had the honor of teaching some old-time workshops with another Sausage Grinder musician, Chris Berry, at this fabulous event. Collectively, we taught some great Kentucky fiddle tunes, Old Aunt Jenny and Going Across the Sea, for the fiddlers and some raggy old-time chord progressions for tunes like Carbolic Rag, Peacock Rag, and Alabama Blues. Before the workshops, I was able to hang out and play some music with some friends I rarely see, while sipping the awesome home brew concoctions of Triple Chicken Foot's Ben Guzman. During one of these impromptu jams fiddler Paul Jarrell was playing Sugar Foot Rag, a lesser-known Tommy Jarrell tune. It is already a staple tune in my fiddle lessons. Especially for students working on their "synco-shuffles." This particular bowing pattern is found throughout Tommy Jarrell's playing and is one of those grand rhythm patterns that can be thrown into a tune to give it that syncopated bite. Throw a little bow rocking into the mix and you don't sound like you're from California anymore!! I present Sugar Foot Rag.
LOS ANGELES OLD-TIME RENAISSANCE
For decades, the greater Los Angeles area has been an unlikely nexus for some fine players of old time music including legends Mel Durham, Ed Lowe and Earl Collins. Contrary to what some have thought, there has always been old-time music here. However, in the past couple years, things have dramatically changed. We are experiencing the first chapter of an old-time renaissance. I've added my two cents by teaching old-time music, writing this column, and co-founding the old-time string band Sausage Grinder. But others have made different contributions that have really brought the spotlight back to Los Angeles.
Old Bunch of Keys
For the last year, I've been posting lessons that often draw from the realm of obscure fiddle tunes. This month I'm presenting a substantially less obscure tune from the rhythm master Tommy Jarrell: Old Bunch of Keys. It is commercially available on the Oscar Jenkins, Fred Cockerham, & Tommy Jarrell CD Stay All Night and Don't Go Home. The first time I encountered the tune outside of Tommy Jarrell's recording was from the playing/teaching of Tom Sauber. Something about this tune on fiddle and banjo really grabs me. There are some other great versions available too. You can find driving modern versions on Bob Carlin's Banging and Sawing as well as Uncle Earl's She Waits for Night. I also can't get enough of Sidna & Fulton Myers' version from Peter Hoover's field recordings. These are available from the Field Recorders Collective website. The Myers CD conveys an explosive, earthy wonder that no old time music fan should miss. My favorite interpretation is found on the holy grail of modern old-time albums, Waitin' on the Break of Day by Dan Gellert. His version stays true to the tune as it swings and pulsates with a low, dirty, modal funk. I've never heard a treatment like it. So to get you started, tune your fiddles to AEAE and enjoy.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #9
One of my favorite fiddle tunes is Alonzo Janes. It's been that way since I started playing fiddle. There's something about its cyclical, repetitive and primitive attitude that grabs me in that "special" way. Edden Hammons' Digging Potaotoes and L.N. Porter's Blackjack Grove do the same thing for me. Alonzo Janes was one of the first tunes I heard played by a living old-timer so it really resonates with me. Before getting a primer in bowing via lessons and long distance travels to fiddler homes, I started attending a Sunday jam session at Highland Grounds in Hollywood. When Illinois fiddler Mel Durham, who lived in Orange County, was present, he started just about every tune. It rubbed some of the non-OT musicians the wrong way, but most of us loved hearing old tunes from the Durham family repertoire. I especially loved to see the elder fiddler lead the way. One of his tunes was Alonzo Janes. The Durham family learned it from an ex-slave named Alonzo Janes. Enjoy.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #8
The Horney Ewe
Goleta Fiddler's Convention
On October 11 we had another whopping old-time music infused day at the 38th Annual Old-Time Fiddler's Convention in Goleta. It is one of the biggest days of the year for me. Several of my students compete, many musicians jam throughout the grounds, and bands play on the performance stage. The line-up was strong as well as diverse this year. Molly's Revenge spun the audience into a Celtic frenzy, Laurie Lewis performed with her partner Tom Rozum, and finally Sausage Grinder pounded the audience with old-time string band music and naughty blues tunes. This year we introduced workshops led by Christopher Berry (old-time blues guitar) and myself on the old-time fiddle. I nearly lost my voice teaching everyone!! If you missed it this year, make a point of going in 2010. There are rumors of a square dance!!
For this month's fiddle tune, I'm going to teach something more approachable for the beginners and early intermediate fiddlers. It was a huge success as my workshop tune at Goleta this year. It's a tune by West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter called The Horney Ewe, pronounced Horny-O. It short, rhythmic and a little crooked. Enjoy!!
Old Time Grindhouse
Fiddle Lesson #7:
One of my students just returned from the Swannanoa Old-Time week in North Carolina. After learning a few Bruce Greene tunes from me she discovered that he was teaching fiddle workshops this year at the Swannanoa Gathering. She packed her bags for a week and a half of concentrated old-time instruction. When she came back she brandished two CDs that Bruce made for her. They are copies of his earlier cassette tape releases, Vintage Fiddle Tunes and Fiddler's Dozen. Go to his website and order them if they're still available! Until now I've obsessed on his Five Miles of Ellum Wood CD, hoping to come across these earlier recordings. Both recordings provide an excellent window into the old Kentucky fiddle sounds Bruce is known for. One track in particular struck me this past week: Meg Gray. It's a tune by George Lee Hawkins. Bruce's rendition is moving. It's bouncy yet haunting. Today's fiddle lesson is that tune. It's in standard tuning and has two parts. Enjoy.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #6:
Tie Your Dog, Sally Gal
In this column, fiddlers can learn a tune found on Mike Seeger's Close to Home CD. It's from a 1952 field recording Seeger made of a guy named Will Adams. Seeger came across this black fiddler while recording others in the Rockville area of Maryland. Adams hadn't played in about 30 years when he was recorded. He even had to borrow Mike Seeger's de-tuned fiddle for the recording. This tune has circled its way through my brain for several years now. I recently had the opportunity to teach a workshop on black fiddle tunes for the Los Angeles Old-Time Social. This is the one I chose. Tie Your Dog, Sally Gal certainly falls into the category of circular, trance-like fiddle tunes. It has endless potential for melodic and bowing variations. Here are a couple videos to get you started. Enjoy.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #5:
Possum's Tail is Bare
Here's a beautiful Melvin Wine tune that I picked up from a visit with West Virginia fiddler Dave Bing. It's called "Possum's Tail is Bare." Not having heard it before on any of my Melvin Wine recordings I finally found a recording of it on MySpace. Go figure. The first time I heard Melvin was in a jam session at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival. If you haven't been, you must go. It's located at Camp Washington-Carver in Clifftop, West Virginia. The "Clifftop" festival set me on course for learning old-time music. It has changed the lives of many musician. "Clifftop" is a must go for any lover of old-time music, jamming and camping. If you haven't seen it, checkout the 30-minute documentary about "Clifftop." Enjoy.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #4:
The Wild Goose Chase
When I started playing old time music I heard mucho buzz about a fiddler named Bruce Greene. His CD Five Miles of Ellum Wood was highly praised. I purchased it and heard a disc overflowing with mesmerizing, crooked, de-tuned solo fiddle performances that blew my mind. It somehow functioned as an old time recording that demanded intense study and focused listening while serving as a perfect CD to play in the background at a dinner soiree. I have driven with it, read by it, learned from it, slept to it, taught from it and dreamt about it.
Here's the peculiar thing...
OLD TIME GRINDHOUSE
-- FIDDLE LESSON #3:
So let's grind in the New Year with a wonderful crooked tune by my favorite fiddler: Edden Hammons. Edden was a West Virginia fiddler who lived a colorful life. Much of it reads like a folktale. You can get a sense of his character if you read Play of a Fiddle by Gerry Milnes. There are also two volumes of field recordings available on CD.
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #2:
One of the great crimes associated with the mass production of traditional music is that one cannot go to County Sales or Amazon and purchase a Gaither Carlton CD. He is one of the greatest old-time musicians to have ever lived and echoes of his sound can be found on few compilations. Many have heard him on the Doc Watson Family albums. In fact Doc Watson learned how to pick many of his fiddle tunes on guitar after learning them from Gaither’s extraordinary old-time fiddle playing. Hopefully Doc or someone at Smithsonian will release a Gaither Carlton CD with dense liner notes. It is long over due.
Welcome to the
Old Time Grindhouse
-- Fiddle Lesson #1:
Old Greasy Coat
For nearly two years I've been getting requests to post instructional fiddle tune videos online. As a teacher of traditional music, nothing compares to the interactive process of live one on one interaction during lessons. In my opinion, a teacher who doesn't listen to his students is not really teaching. However, there is a great and growing number of people who don't have any kind of access to honest fiddle instruction. In desperation they're digging into the bowels of the internet only to come away frustrated and empty-handed. Under the guise of the Old-Time Grindhouse, I will start teaching fiddle tunes with bowing on FolkWorks. Each tune will have three videos: Fast, medium and slow with bow directions.
Old Time Music, Harry Smith and the Bluegrass Whipping Post
When my students ask me about the finest recordings of
old-time music available, I often have a lot to say. It’s difficult to
consolidate the gargantuan catalog of early American music recordings into only
a few CDs. Often I’ll recommend some contemporary artists for my newer students
such as the supreme fiddle/banjo deity Dan Gellert or the modern day virtuoso
Bruce Molsky. The New Lost City Ramblers are probably the best modern example
even though they started recording a half-century ago. Unfortunately the hiss
and crackle of the older recordings can be distracting to the untrained ear. So
I rope my students into the world of traditional music with today’s
torchbearers of banjo and fiddle majesty.
SWORD SWALLOWERS, SAUSAGE GRINDERS, AND LIGHTBULB EATERS OR THE STRANGEST GIG OF MY LIFE
When I entered the California Institute of Abnormal Arts (CIA) for sound check, I was greeted by the old time sounds of a calliope huffing and puffing the fiddle tune Arkansas Traveler. We seated ourselves on the stage and fumbled through our microphones and cables while the soundman frantically ran around trying to locate the source of feedback. It's still debatable whether the issue was ever resolved. While they were working on methods for amplifying the jug and slide whistle, I just stared into the weirdness that is CIA. This is a dream venue for the old time musician.
A BLACK MIRROR RESONATES WITH SONGS FAR AND ANCIENT
Once again, Dust-To-Digital (www.dust-digital.com) has delivered a kaleidoscopic ride into the other side of time: Black Mirror-- Reflections in Global Musics. Pat Conte's Secret Museum of Mankind series left me dumbfounded and wanting more old-time world music. Fortunately, we have Ian Nagoski, Baltimore record store owner/experimental musician. Nagoski is the curator behind this compilation of world music 78 recordings.
BLACK AND BLUES
About a month ago during an epic San Francisco tattoo excursion, I stopped by Amoeba Records. Despite the condition that the Japanese tattoo master Shige left my leg in, I still felt compelled to limp and whine my way into the Amoeba’s music megalopolis. As usual I picked up a couple JSP box sets. It you aren’t aware of this label you need to be. They reissue massive amounts of early country, old-time, blues, Hawaiian, bluegrass etc. The greatest aspect of JSP Records is the price. Usually the product is a 4 CD box set for $25! The sound quality is excellent, the notes are thorough, but the packaging is minimal. What do you expect for only $25? In the end, it’s the music we want and JSP really delivers. So. I finally picked up the Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell set and noticed something else available: That’s What They Want—Jook Joint Blues—Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943-1956. I was curious.
Marcus Martin: North Carolina Fiddle Mage
Marcus Martin was born August 2, 1881 in Macon County, North Carolina. He was a farmer, logger, postmaster, woodworker, and watchman. In my world he's a legendary North Carolina fiddler. My first introduction to him was through two tracks found on the classic American Fiddle Tunes LP. His Cotton-Eyed Joe and Sugar in the Gourd are mesmerizing renditions. By the way, if you don't have American Fiddle Tunes you're missing out on another wonderful fiddle collection. Soon after hearing these two tracks I started hearing some of his other well-known tunes surface at jam sessions, as well as on tenth-generation cassette copies of jam sessions. Happy Hollow Booth and Shove the Pig's Foot a Little Farther in the Fire top that list.
SOUNDS LIKE A LOAD OF BULL
The upright bass has been a source of great conflict in my life. Initially, I used it as a courtship device to meet girls in the high school orchestra. Even though it worked, I immediately realized those were NOT the girls I wanted to chase. Later on I realized that those were the EXACT girls I wanted to chase, but that's a "nighttime" story not fit for these pages. I once used my bass as a subject for a hand-tinted, first place photograph. The bass functioned as a spacecraft and Joshua tree simultaneously. I shot the instrument at the legendary Vasquez Rocks backdrop that we've all seen in a myriad of science fiction movies, TV shows, and commercials. My photography teacher hated it and the contest judges loved it. Typical. Soon after, my bass skills were used for experimental music recordings and other artistic musings until it drifted out of my hands and life altogether. The "bull fiddle," as it's often called, reappeared when I started playing old-time music.
FRIENDS OF OLD TIME or A FOE TO THE FOLKIES
For those of you that don't know the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, buy it and allow your lives to be changed. For those of you that have been infected by its sonic wonders, there's a new box set worth your time and cash. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings recently released Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961-1965. The 3-CD set contains the "historic concerts that introduced traditional music to city audiences." Usually when I spy a box set of American music that contains the words "folk arrival" I clench my guts in anticipation of an IBS episode. I can do without "protest" songs, Joan Baez, or Peter, Paul, and Mary. In fact if I even suspect a recording has any of the sap oozing from the pie-holes of the New Christy Minstrels or Ian & Sylvia, I'll buy some Death Metal to cleanse the palate. The "folk" groups of the 1950s and 1960s certainly destroyed the term "folk." But, moving on... This set, despite its neutered title, is one of the best recent releases I've heard.
The Banjo Tattoo
Dan Gellert's Mojo Alchemy Or An Introduction to Musical Homogeny and Mediocrity in Old-Time Music
One may recall the story from last issue about my meeting with traditional tattoo master/banjoist Scott Harrison. Since that article, I've revisited him in Portland, OR to complete the tattoo he started in December 2006. It was the most painful banjo experience of my life. He gave me a vintage style rose with a fretless minstrel banjo cradled within its petals. In fact, banjos were quite the theme of the day. I randomly met three clawhammer banjo players just hours before arriving at Atlas Tattoo. Portland certainly lives up to its reputation as an old-time music hub!
As Scott machined the ink into my inner arm, we discussed banjos and tattoo classifications among other things. He noted that the categories used to classify tattoos are very limiting these days. It's true. Most tattoo converts feel compelled to get some "meaningful" tattoo which then must fall into one of a small handful of genres (Japanese, black and gray, neo-traditional, bio-mechanical, etc.). In a moment of glorious insight he mentioned that clients never get a design simply because it's cool or has "soul." What a brilliant observation. I started to think about old-time music.
Ink, Banjos, and Crumb
For years I’ve loved folk art, old-time music, and comic books. As 2006 came to a close, these three interests served as backdrop for an intense December involving travel, peeling skin, visits with old compadres and two unexpected deaths of friend and kin. It’s been one of those months.
By David Bragger
Three summers ago, I spent a day with legendary old-time Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport. A friend and I spent a day in his home and listened in awe to his fiddle and banjo playing. His smooth slippery bow style and reedy tone left us mesmerized the entire day. His wife Lorene's surprise feast also contributed to the spell we were under. Homegrown supper, old stories and authentic fiddle playing are the recipe for old-time Heaven. An image that's burned forever in my memory is of Clyde playing a certain tune that day. Slouched back on his crochet-covered couch and draped in his trademark overalls, Clyde effortlessly sawed through the classic fiddle tune Ladies on the Steamboat.