Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I've been humbled

Mac Davis used to sing a song about how Hard it Is to Be Humble. I suppose we have all suffered from that condition at some point in our lives, and I have had my moments also. However, most of the time I would consider myself as a normal competent person and have gotten used to having a certain level of confidence in just about everything I do. Not cocky mind you, just confident.
 However, now that I have re-ignited my attempt to learn to play the 5 String Banjo, I have reached new lows in self confidence and esteem. Much like my first three attempts over the past 30 years, this one is just as rough. But this time I have a different attitude. I intend to stick with it and even if I come out only a little better than when I started, I will continue to work on it. This time I am not in a rush, and I accept that I have no skills going in with little hope of gaining any.
 It's gonna be different this time. For one thing, the frustration of tuning the damned thing is gone, thanks to the Intellitouch tuner life is much easier. I love this thing because I used to spend an hour trying to work with a pitch pipe to get it tuned, by the time I began the actual practice, I was frazzled. Now, tuning is a joy. I also remember the pain on the finger tips of my left hand in my attempts of the past, but this time I have none of that. It's probably due to my job in past years that always had me with a hundred micro-cuts on my finger tips making them quite sensitive, and the fine banjo strings would cut right through. Lastly, my attitude is different. It used to be that when my fingers didn't follow my desires I would get frustrated right away and push harder, getting even more frustrated. Now when I miss, I just do it again, and again, and again until it sounds better. (I'll let you know if it ever sounds better.)
 It also helps that we don't live in an apartment like we did for my early attempts. My wife quickly tires of my bumbling and has little sympathy. Now I can practice downstairs and not bother anyone. The dog doesn't much care for the banjo and always heads upstairs to be with Momma when I begin to 'play'.
 In all my life, the banjo is the only thing that I have tried and not be able to attain some level of competency with. It has squashed me at every attempt. I have been beaten and now think I understand the task, and will approach this on the banjo's terms instead of my own.
 If I were good at metaphors, I would say there is a life lesson buried in here somewhere. If I figure it out, I'll let you know.
 For now, I'm just gonna stick with a minimum of a half hour practice session everyday and see where it takes me. The goal now is to practice well, and I'm not looking any further.
 Let's see if this approach works.
Be Safe, Be Sharp,

Monday, August 1, 2011


 When I wrote the post about Grey Fox I mentioned that I had spent some time with my Bluegrass Legend Friend (heretofore referred to as my 'BLF') and that I had a funny story to tell. Well, let me work my way up to it.
 First, by way of background, let me explain that we live in a area that is just loaded with celebrities, mostly in the music field, but also from the stage, movies and television. It is not what you might expect. All of these folks come here to be away from the limelight and get some private quiet time. They are very low-key. You don't see any kind of celebrity galas or things like that. They buy a small (or large) house way back off the road and keep to themselves. Some build recording, writing, art, or dance studios to allow them to work in peace. As the years go by and they settle in and realize that they will be left alone, many of them are out and about in the community and are treated as normal neighbors. There are 6 world class recording studios within a 15 minute drive of my house and you would not recognize ANY of them if you drove up to them.
 My daughter works in a local place that designs and builds custom kitchens and bathrooms and she has a lot of these folks as clients. It's no big deal and most times she doesn't even realize that she is dealing with somebody special until it comes time to sign some papers.
 So it came as little surprise to me that when my daughter was to be married, they had selected a band of local guys which included my BLF. When I found out he would be playing, I literally teared up because I had no idea he played with these guys and at the time had little idea how much he had worked with my son-in-law. Turns out, they were good friends. At the wedding I was a google eyed idiot for a good part of it. I finally went up to my BLF and thanked him repeatedly for playing, told him how I had followed his career over the last 40 years, and thanked him for his lifelong contributions to the art. He blushed and in turn thanked ME for the privilege of playing at this particular wedding. He talked about how he watched the kids grow up and was so pleased to be able to share the day with us. Imagine that.
 Still, as humble and nice as this guy was, I continued to be awestruck. I kept thinking about all the places this guy has played around the world and all the names he has played with, not to mention his changes to the way bluegrass is played and enjoyed. I did not want to push my luck and be a pest, but I did want to learn more about this man. I waited a year, until Grey Fox came around and stopped by his campsite to offer a hand with chores, or a ride to dinner, or whatever else excuse I could think of that sounded plausable. I left it at that.
 This year I dropped him a note on face book and offered to lend him a hand setting up his camp. When I saw him on the first night he clearly remembered my name and face. he smiled, stuck out his hand an thanked me for offering to help. 'Wow" I thought, "He actually read my Facebook note and made the connection!" At this point I realized that his polite and gentle, friendly manner were not 'his public persona', it was the way he truly is. I began to relax and joke around with him a bit.
 Briefly, my BLF started his career in the early 60's in the northeast US. He made some fortuitous connections in Nashville and wound up playing with Bill Monroe for a while. I mention this name only because there are so many folks that played with Bill Monroe, that it doesn't help you focus in on who my friend is. Bill had a lot of good players circle through his band, but he didn't really pay them enough to live on, and many moved on to their own careers or started their own bands. Ricky Skaggs is an example of one of those folks. After the Bluegrass Boys, my buddy played with a lot of folks, did several books and records, played in MANY studio recording sessions, and started a business making a banjo device of his own design, which is how he supports himself today, along with doing banjo camps and clinics around the world, playing gigs with a local band, and the occasional appearance with some of the big commercial names.
 I told you all that so I could tell you this:
 I am not a name dropper that thinks association with famous people somehow makes me an important person. By now you have realized that I am trying hard to keep my BLF's privacy intact. Consequently, the fact that I am in the company of somebody well known has not really been something I have thought about in relation to the people around us who do not know this particular person.
 So we were up at the festival and had finished getting my BLF's camp squared away and decided to go get some pizza before the stand closed. We were seated at a picnic table with some folks we didn't know, it was my BLF, my daughter, and myself. I asked him about an album cover he had been tagged in on Facebook. I confessed that I had never heard of the band, nor did I see his face on the cover anywhere. When I mentioned 'album cover' I noticed that the folks at the other end of the table turned to look at us. My BLF started to laugh. "Well", he said, "That was in the late 60's or early 70's and I did a lot of studio work in those days. Some years I would have tracks on over a hundred different albums. I seldom knew or remembered who I was laying down the tracks for. I went in, got the music, listened to the tapes, and played my parts. Then I collected my check and left, usually forgetting about it before I got out the door." Now I noticed that the folks at the end of the table are staring at my friend and trying to figure out 'who the hell is this guy!?' He's kind of dirty and sweaty like the rest of us, wearing a worn out t-shirt and old jeans. It would be very hard to match him up to one of his OWN album covers, and in this environment, he was almost invisible.
 We finished our pizza, got up and left. The folks that were still at the table had to be racking their brains, but I doubt they ever figured it out, unless they made the connection when they saw him playing at the various venues in the coming days, still in a worn out t-shirt and jeans. I have to admit, it was great fun for me.
 Since the festival has ended I have gotten to see my BLF once again and we've had a nice chat about non-music related stuff. The repairs to his ancestral home in another state, which he now owns and other issues in life. I am beginning to lose my awestruck state of mind and sense that I have found a fine gentleman to be friends with. Each time I see him now, he seems genuinely happy to see me.
Another one of life's blessings that has dropped into my lap.
 Be Safe, Be Sharp,