We Should Build Mandolins — a nice short documentary on Tom Ellis’s career as a mandolin builder.

The Fretboard Journal posts one new, short documentary a month. This month they featured a film entitled “We Should Build Mandolins.”

I love the part where he say he just likes to make things — a man after my own heart. ALthough building an airplane I don’t think I need to do, but boats, right on.

For the record, I have no financial interest, I play BRW #30. which you can hear blurbs of over on vine…

Vine is weird.

The complete newbie’s guide to Bluegrass… the list of folks you should listen to and why.

A while ago a younger co-worker, who’d heard I played and listened to quite a bit of Bluegrass, asked me where he should start if he wanted to check out some REAL bluegrass. I was cleaning out my sent mail and found that email.

The following is what I sent him. with some updated notes of what to stay away from to spice things up a bit.

It depends on what you are looking for, there are in fact, a bunch of different sub-genres in the bluegrass realm. Primarily you have three groups — Old-School Traditional, Modern/Contemporary (but still fairly Traditional) and then Lunatic fringe Progressive Bluegrassers who branch out a bit  into other things (jazz-classical-fusion, that sort of thing)

Bill+Monroe+BillMonroe

The Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe

For the ORIGINAL Old School stuff you want the following:

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys – For Monroe the mid 1940s-1950s is best era, but its all good, he is the Father of Bluegrass after all, listen and memorize — it’s the truth.

Flatt and Scruggs – Everything is good but the older the  better, in the 70s they got a little “comedic” – but Earl is the man.

Jimmy Martin – Again older the better, Sunny Side of the Mountain and Freeborn Man — amazing stuff.

The Osborne Brothers – 1970s got a bit country with the addition of drums, so older is better.

JD Crowe and the New South – Everything is good, all of it, original line up with Tony Rice and Picky Ricky Skaggs is gospel.

JD_Tony_ricky_Jerry

Original New South: JD,Tony, Ricky, Jerry

Modern Progressive (Contemporary)

Lonesome River Band – Older stuff from Sugar Hill Records era

Nashville Bluegrass Band – Any Album is fantastic (my ringtone is NBB, Garfield’s Black Berry Blossom)

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder – any recent album is top notch it’s called

Del McCoury Band – Del and the Boys by far his best album, classic version of RIchard Thompson’s 1952 vincent black lightning

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver – Any album early stuff uses electric bass, look for stuff with Jamie Daily singing

The Bluegrass Album Band – it’s an all-star line-up playing it straight and traditional.

Sam Bush Band

Sam Bush Band

The Lunatic Fringe Progressive Bluegrass:

Sam Bush – Any Album, but most have drums and electric instruments so not strictly grass.

Tony Rice – Listen to as much Tony Rice as possible, nuff said.

Bela Fleck – the Bluegrass Sessions album is good (everything else is weird, and there’s a good chance not even close to bluegrass)

Jerry Douglas – Anything is great, but he wanders around into other stuff like jazz, just a warning.

Peter Rowan – his stuff with Tony Rice is the best, be prepared for some Native American hollerin’

Tim O’brien – He is all over the map but one of my favorites, really interesting blend of Irish and Bluegrass, very tasteful

*** Note: Ok so maybe calling the latter group lunatic fringe TODAY, is being conservative. There are quite a few NEW bands who are pushing the genre in a multitude of directions MUCH farther than the Mahavishnu Mountain Boys listed above, but you know, if you run into old folks at festivals, this is the way they think about this music. It’s still on the outside of the core of Bluegrass.

Things to stay away from as an early listener or participant (player/learner):

Old Crowe Medicine Show: It’s not Bluegrass, it’s an outgrowth of old time music and there’s too much irony in it. Hollerin and shouting and acting like a fool when you play fiddle may be entertaining in bar when everyone’s drunk, but in the REAL Bluegrass world it won’t engender much respect form the elders.

Mumford and Sons: Again not Bluegrass. It’s interesting music, but NEVER call it Bluegrass. Yes it has a Banjo but it ain’t Bluegrass.

Avett Brothers: Again Do not call it Bluegrass. My old band used to open for the Avett Brothers when they came through Columbus. They are REALLY nice guys and I like them a lot. Was very fortunate to have that brush with greatness. But don’t barge into a jam circle around a campfire at a festival and expect everyone to join in why you bang away on every song you’ve memorized of theirs. It’s not going to go over well.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Good songwriters, but not Bluergass. I love them! But don’t call it Bluergass.

The Civil Wars: Boring, and again, not Bluergass.

Punch Borthers: Yes Mr Thile is a freak of nature, his playing is off the charts amazing and so is this whole band’s. But don’t try to emulate this, it will spoil you into thinking that everything in Bluegrass is a fireworks show. Monroe always said, play the melody, and if you listen close to what the Punch Brohters play, they play the melody, it’s just hidden in mind-blowing amazing-ness. But don’t worry you can’t play like that, so don’t try, there is a good chance it will suck.

Yonder Mountain String Band: These guys have wandered off the reservation into uncharted jam band territory. It’s cool, but there ain’t much bluegrass in it anymore.

Yo-Yo Ma / Joshua Bell et al: I like this stuff, but don’t call it bluegrass. It’s good for whatever it is, but please don’t tell everyone at work how much you LOVE this new bluegrass album by Yo-Yo Ma. Seriously, it’s like telling people how much fun you had at the “Football” tournament, but you were actually attending Rugby games. You’ll sound like an idiot.

A Bluegrass tribute to the fallen — Littlest Guardian Angels #newtown

My songwriter friend and Bluegrass collaborator Brink Brinkman wrote an amazing song that has a whole new meaning when they set some very special photos to it. Get out the hankies folks, this is a tough one to watch, but WOW, Brink can really write a song. It was originally written for Brink’s daughter Lindsey Jean.

Singing on this are Steve Gulley and Dale Ann Bradley along with Brink.

Thank You, that is all.

Sad news: Bluegrass loses another great, banjo player Dale Vanderpool, a good friend.

We lost another great one, one of the greats that I was lucky to call a friend.

Dale Vanderpool lost his long battle with cancer last night.

I am eternally grateful for his generosity in taking me under his wing and showing me what REAL bluegrass is all about. I knew I had arrived in the Columbus Bluegrass scene when I got a call from Dale to come over and jam.

I was as nervous as a guy could be to go jam with his crew, but he made feel right at home and we banged out a bunch of great tunes. Like in golf you tend to play up (or down) to the level of those around you they all elevated me to a new level entirely. After a few living room jams he asked me to play in his band at a few shows, and he didn’t ask many people to do that, so I was stoked. That’s when I knew had really gone from a parking lot picker to a stage dwelling, card carrying member of the Bluegrass Police.

Dale was generous, kind, humble, opinionated, sharp witted, quiet, and note perfect – pretty much all the time. Dale was Dale for every person, no matter who you were.

One time, an older lady walked in the Bluegrass shop where Dale worked carrying a 1930s Gisbon Granada Banjo worth more than most people’s houses and did Dale ask to buy for a few thousand doallrs, which the lady would have been happy with? No, he told her it’s real value and helped her get a life-altering amount of money for it.

Another time I was hanging out in the shop when George Clinton walked in. Yes, that George Clinton, the one from P-funk… yeah. It was only slightly awkward, but Dale was a cool as he was to any hardcore Bluegrasser and we laughed and joked and had a really nice time talking to George about music.

Here’s a good video of Dale playing Train 45 with Don Rigsby and JD Crowe among others. Dale takes the second banjo break. He makes that shit look so effortless… we should all add a little bit of that to our style.

Please keep Anita, and his whole family in your prayers.

For a trip back in time to July 14th, 2009, the first post on this blog featured me playing a show with Mr Vanderpool.

Bill Evans’s new album in “In Good Company” is one of the best and most surprising albums I’ve heard in a long time.

Every once in a while I’m just totally blown away by an album. I’ve heard and played A LOT of bluegrass. It takes quite a bit to blow me away these days. I’m not saying I’m the Bluegrass Police or an old, grumpy picker who hates anything made after 1960, but I’m getting there.

That being said, this morning I was totally blown away when I popped in the new Bill Evans album “In Good Company” for the morning commute.

From the first note it manages to strike the perfect balance of new grass mellowness, taste and restraint with solid traditional  Bluegrass drive. It’s dry but with a hint of moistened reverb, clean with specks of dust, edgy when it needs to be but traditional in just the right spots without ever being cliché or ironic. (Thank the lord, because I’m really getting sick of ironic)

Honestly, I try to take an open minded approach to these things and listen without any pre-conceived notions, so going in to this I had no idea what this album was all about. But when I got to the office I opened up the liner notes to find out it’s a smorgasbord of bluegrass deliciousness. I then understood EXACTLY why I thought it was SOOO good. Check out the listing of contributors…

Bill Evans with The Infamous Stringdusters, Tim O’Brien, Joy Kills Sorrow, Darol Anger, Cindy Browne Rosefield, Tashina & Tristan Clarridge, Stuart Duncan, Corey Evans, Matt Flinner, David Grier, Rob Ickes, Dominic Leslie, Laurie Lewis, Ned Luberecki, Mike Marshall, Todd Phillips and Missy Raines. Produced by Bill Evans, Stephen Mougin, Darol Anger & Tom Size.

Good grief if you can’t make a killer album with that line up, you need think about doing something else. That being said it even exceeds the sum of it parts by an order of magnitude. Bill Evans really has put a good one together.

The first track called the “The Distance Between Two Points” starts it off perfectly and from there it was a joy to listen to all the way through. From the first note you can tell it’s a technical masterpiece where every note is placed with perfection and care. It’s not just the musicianship that stands out either.

The engineering and production values are off the chart AMAZING! The complexity and space surrounding the instruments is phenomenal. There is serious subtly in the bass tone.The woodyness of each instrument comes through in all it’s sparkling glory. It’s a rare beast indeed that brings this kind of complexity to the table without becoming too tedious, wonky, over-complicated or esoteric. This album has NONE of that, and for that, it’s a breath of fresh air to be sure.

It also manages to hang together as a cohesive idea too, which is rare on these all-star projects. Sometimes these kinds of albums can fall apart and turn into a few decent tracks with some filler. However “In Good Company” manages to maintain a solid feel and vibe that is consistent through out the entire length of the record. It has a nice change of pace and mix of feels but at the same a uniformity that seems to be elusive in today’s scatterbrained culture. I love that!

This is an album that should have a place in every Bluegrass fan’s shelf, it’s the work of a master and his good company.

My Old Dog, a new mandolin tune, in an old style. Just a video of me messing around…

So in February my dog went Blind.

Just like that. Blind as a bat.

He has a disease called Cushing’s disease which causes sudden blindness in dogs. One day he just started running into things, and now he does it all the time. The technical term is, Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS).

He’s coping ok, and it’s not going to adversely effect his health beyond his eyesight and some lethargy. I hope to still get him out and hunt, but obviously in a more grassy environment, not so grouse woodsy. Downed trees and briars would not be fun for a blind dog, can you say headache?

To make dealing with it a little easier I named a little tune after that whole scenario and I recorded a video of it last night on the back porch.

It’s simple, easy, no frills, but fun to play. It’s the kind of thing you play and people ask, “what is that?” and you say, oh just something I made up. But now days, those kinds of songs don’t often get written down or recorded. It has lyrics but I didn’t sing them in this version.

The lyrics for it go like this:

My old dog he went blind
He went blind in a week or two’s time

My old dog he can’t see,
He runs into the old oak tree.

That’s it. Simple and Old School.

Who Dey Nick – Getting his sleep on.

What a terrible year for Bluegrass, we lost another original member of the founding generation last night, Doc Watson.

Here’s the intro to the obit from the NYTimes…

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician whose mountain-rooted sound was embraced by generations and whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman and his manager. He was 89.

Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalized recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days.

I had a few brushes with Doc at Merlefest over the years, but every time I’d see him I was so star struck I couldn’t even formulate words except, “good pickin Doc.” I bet he’d never heard that one before!