Banjo lesson. Chris and I just returned from his f…

Banjo lesson. Chris and I just returned from his first lesson with Roy Andrade. It was more than worth the time, effort, and expense. Roy is a very good teacher, able to gauge Chris’ abilities and needs quickly, and to give just enough instruction on a particular point. Not only will Roy be able to teach Chris some critical clawhammer techniques to add to his toolkit, he has already begun to teach him how to think more deeply as a musician.

Usually in such situations I make myself scarce. I stayed during this lesson, and since I wasn’t in the way I think I will continue to stay, because it was good for me in a number of ways. I watched a very good teacher at work, I watched my son as he learned, I learned a few things myself about music, and I got to hear a good deal of playing from one of my favorite players. We’ll be going back again next week.

Banjo lessons. It looks like Chris will have a cha…

Banjo lessons. It looks like Chris will have a chance to take some clawhammer-style banjo lessons from Roy Andrade of the Reeltime Travelers. Chris and I are both major admirers of Roy’s playing, so we’re pretty excited about this.

Pickin' in the Park. We did our last of the four p…

Pickin’ in the Park. We did our last of the four performances yesterday afternoon, and I think it was the best of them. We were more relaxed, and so we could pay more attention to the audience, who appeared to enjoy the songs. The set list was as follows:

Doin’ My Time
I Wouldn’t Mind Dying
Midnight on the Stormy Deep
Love Please Come Home

For our last set we tried to pick songs that are not songs that you can count on hearing, but are still crowd pleasers. Dooley was particularly well received, since everybody remembers seeing the Darlings (the Dillards) on the Andy Griffith show.

Although that’s it for Pickin’ in the Park, we may already have two more chances to perform in the near future. After we came off the stage, a lady who had performed earlier asked us if we would like to appear next month on her community access cable TV program, called Bluegrass in the Mountains, taped in Norton (near the Kentucky border). And the lady who had organized the Pickin’ in the Park programs asked us if we would be willing to play at a benefit show she may be coordinating at the end of September. We told both of them we’d be glad to oblige.

Cooking. I much prefer having someone else do the …

Cooking. I much prefer having someone else do the cooking, but I suppose every man should have a few recipes he is capable of executing. I’ll be smoking about seventy pounds of brisket for the baptismal feast we’ll be staging in early November, God willing. I also know how to make a fairly decent batch of biscuits, something that is helped by the fact that the recipe is dead simple:

2 parts self-rising flour
1 part whipping cream

Mix, roll, cut, bake and cook.

OK, a few more details. Use White Lily flour (“made from soft winter wheat”) if it’s available. Mix the flour and cream with a fork only until the flour is completely moistened (it will turn into damp clumps), then turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it as little as possible to get a lump of dough for rolling. Roll it to 1/2″ thickness or more (thicker dough, taller biscuits), then do the usual biscuit thing—cut as many circles as possible, re-knead and re-roll the leftover dough, then cut again, until you run out of leftover dough. Place the circles on a cookie sheet about 1″ apart, then cook in a 450 degree oven until the biscuits are golden brown.

I made these for supper. We had them with butter and some honey that a neighbor gave us, collected from bees that he keeps just across the street. They were very good.

Bookstores. There was a time when the opening of a…

Bookstores. There was a time when the opening of a Barnes and Noble would have been an event of major interest for us, especially here in a bookstore-poor area. But in the six months or so since one opened in Johnson City, I’ve never stopped by. There’s very little anymore that a physical bookstore can do for me that isn’t better handled by Amazon and its cyberspace companions.

Still, there are at least a couple of situations in which a physical bookstore is still better. One is when you’re in search of books on a general topic which you’d be better off examining before buying. Last night Debbie took Maggie to the B&N in search of books on knitting, which will be a skill she’ll be focusing on this year; large, expensive, heavily-illustrated instructional books are better evaulated in a hands-on fashion.

Another situation in which the physical bookstore excels (so far) is when you run across something you want that you weren’t looking for beforehand. These days this only happens for us when it comes to children’s books, but it happens pretty often. Last night they came home with quite a few excellent choices, including the first Borrowers book, and the latest addition to our small but growing Freddy the Pig collection.

Elizabeth. We celebrated her first birthda…


We celebrated her first birthday on Tuesday. She walks, jabbers, and stuffs herself full of just about any solid food you’ll put in front of her, with a definite preference for meat and bread over noodles and vegetables. As you can see here, we haven’t waited long to start her on an instrument.

Woodshedding. I've seen this term used a lot, but …

Woodshedding. I’ve seen this term used a lot, but a concise definition is hard to find. One on-line glossary defines woodshedding as “practicing an instrument for the purpose of significant improvements in technique, style, or speed.” One interview with Doc Watson uses the term to describe an intense period in the early 1950s when he set out to develop and nail down techniques for playing fiddle tunes on the guitar, something that hadn’t been done much up until then.

Both Chris and I will be entering a phase of woodshedding this fall. Mine will be a lot less ambitious than his, due to having fewer skills and less time—I’ll be working on timing, learning the neck, and constructing bass lines. Chris will be working in three different areas: rhythm guitar, clawhammer banjo, and Scruggs-style banjo. Much of his effort will be spent on learning to play existing pieces in their original form; e.g. at this moment I hear him trying to figure out J.D. Crowe’s parts on his recording of “The Old Home Place.” All this will be done by ear, not so easy when listening to a piece at its original speed, so we got him a copy of SlowGold, a software package that is capable of looping a segment of a song while varying its tempo and pitch; right now he has J.D. Crowe running at half-speed, three half-steps down from the original key, so that he can play along in G. It seems to be helping; what I’m hearing today has a much more bluegrassy sound than his earlier attempts to simply apply banjo rolls to songs he already knew how to play.

This marks a minor milestone for Chris. Until now he’s never had direct access to a computer; there’s never been a need yet, and we didn’t want him to be using one as a source of entertainment.