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In the Tiki Parlour with Dan Gellert

For the first time in more than a decade, new recordings of Dan Gellert’s funky take on old-time music have been released. Thanks to the efforts of L.A.-based musician and teacher David Bragger and his newly launched Old-Time Tiki Parlour website, a CD and DVD set are now available to those who have been waiting for something new from Gellert since his 2004 album “Waitin' on the Break of Day,” which has been out of print for years.

Dubbed the “Epic Set,” the Gellert release contains two discs featuring 19 fiddle and banjo tunes and songs, as well as a booklet with extensive liner notes, biographies, art and photos. The entire package was produced, filmed, designed and written by old-time musicians, according to Bragger’s website. The whole shebang has been pre-released via Old-Time Tiki Parlour for $25 and will be available at Amazon, Elderly Instruments and County Sales by the end of February.
Artwork by Nick Bachman for the Dan Gellert "Epic Set" from Old-Time Tiki Parlour.

This is the second release from Bragger’s website, which was launched in September 2014 in anticipation of its first release, a DVD of Rafe and Clelia Stefanini.

“It's been something I've meant to do for about eight years as a resource for my students and others interested in old-time,” Bragger said of the website. “I teach old-time music as a full time job, seven days a week. I've wanted a place where students can easily go and get useful information.”

David Bragger in the Tiki Parlour.
In addition to the site’s commercial ventures, Bragger includes music sellers, instrument makers, biographies, notable performance videos, his own field recordings and instruction videos and a number of other resources. Because Bragger has been fortunate to never need to advertise his music instruction, he never had the motivation to establish the website.

“With the film production and our first release, I decided this would be the perfect time to get it up and running,” he said.

Recording Gellert took Bragger about a week to complete, but it took more than a year to get the material ready for release.

“Every single tune was one take,” he said, adding that he recorded so much material that he’s planning a second volume of Gellert goodness. However, this was not Bragger’s first attempt at documenting Gellert’s playing. That too was almost a decade ago.

An Anvil Crushing the Brain
Gellert’s fiddle and banjo playing have an unmistakable groove that is hard to resist. When Bragger first heard “Waitin’ on the Break of Day,” he was forever changed.

Dan Gellert in the Tiki Parlour.
Photo courtesy of David Bragger.
“It was like an anvil crushed my brain,” he said. “I couldn't believe that there was actually somebody alive that sounded like the old-time music that I love, but with a funky rhythmic bent that was jarring in its uniqueness.”

Bragger compares Gellert’s fiddling and banjo playing to that of Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Jim Bowles, Edden Hammons, Rufus Kasey, Bukka White and others who share the same strong, centered downbeat pulse.

“His syncopations sound so African,” Bragger added. “His ‘in-between’ notes are just perfectly felt and placed just right. This bluesy, archaic funk just oozes out of his hands and voice like a warm stick of butter.”

Gellert embodies so many things that Bragger loves about old-time music. At the time when “Waitin’ on the Break of Day” was released, Bragger said it seemed that a new wave of old-time music started to emerge that lacked those qualities.

“Banjo playing in particular has become much more gentle, melodic and movie soundtrack-y,” he said. “Not my cup of tea.”

By contrast, Gellert sounds vibrant, articulated, raw, syncopated, imaginative, complex and yet still traditional for old-time music. But still, 10 years later and there was no new release from him. Bragger decided to change that.

From Shaky iPhone Videos to High-Quality Production
Back in the mid-2000s, Bragger and some friends began inviting Gellert out to the L.A. area to perform and teach workshops.

“I spent quite a bit of time discussing, listening, filming, workshopping, performing, staring dumbfounded and thinking about his techniques and sounds,” he said. “It changed me as a player and teacher.”

After that, Bragger decided to invite Gellert back to film raw footage of “Dan being Dan.”

“No interviews, no fancy effects or studio. Just Dan playing music,” he said. “I thought it would make the world a better place. Sadly, shaky iPhone videos just don't cut it.”

(Bragger has posted some videos of Gellert from 2005 on his YouTube page.)

In a past life, Bragger “used to dabble a bit in ethnomusicology” to document musicians and magicians in India. He also used to direct music videos for MTV. But then, he said, “Old-time music derailed me from that path.”

Now, it has all come full circle. Inspired by such heroes as Mike Seeger, Chris Strachwitz and Alan Lomax, Bragger decided to start properly documenting his favorite old-time musicians.

“I'll do it until I go broke,” he added.

Next From the Tiki Parlour
While Bragger expects to produce a second volume of Gellert’s music, the next release from the Old-Time Tiki Parlour will be from Eric and Suzy Thompson.

“They are one of the finest, talented music duos in existence,” Bragger said. “Anybody that knows them would agree. They are true masters of old-time, country blues and Cajun music.”

Bragger is currently in the process of editing the project, which includes the duo playing fiddle, guitar, accordion, mandolin and “even the cuatro,” a small guitar-like instrument from Latin America.

In addition, he has been working on what he calls “an epic compilation” of old-time musicians from all over the United States, including the likes of Tom and Patrick Sauber, Joe Newberry and Val Mindel, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller, Ben Townsend, the Thompsons, the Stefaninis, Creole accordion player Joe Fontenot and others. He added that he has three other projects that he will be filming this year, but “those are top secret for now.”

[Editor's note: All photos courtesy of David Bragger and the Old-Time Tiki Parlour.]


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