Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Using Technology

I love the stories of people who learned to play old-time music by slowing down their record players to figure out passages from tunes on vinyl, or even shellac. Those of us learning today have it so easy by comparison.

In addition to the great instructional resources available by the likes of Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, Erynn Marshall, Wayne Erbsen, Mike Seeger, Ken Perlman and Dan Levenson — just to name the few I've used myself — we also have a treasure trove of written documentation, recordings and videos available on traditional media and online to help us learn technique and tunes.

On top of these source materials, there is a wide variety of software and technology tools that we can harness to improve learning. Not to mention, the internet makes it far easier to connect with other people who share similar passions and can help by providing one-on-one instruction or feedback on our playing.

While I have taken one paid lesson and attended a few different workshops, I've p…

Vinyl Hunter, Part 6: Portland, Maine

Earlier this month, I was in New England for work. As has become my custom, I scoped out a couple record stores to seek out some vinyl for my collection. I visited two stores in Portland, Maine: Strange Maine and Moody Lords. I walked away with two albums from each store.

Strange Maine had a huge inventory and fairly cheap pricing, mostly specializing in rock, punk and metal. This is your typical crate digger's paradise, with albums crammed tightly into dozens of bins around the store. I picked up two post-"Pet Sounds" Beach Boys albums. But you probably don't care about that.

Moody Lords had a much smaller selection, but it was well-curated and very clean in terms of decor and vinyl condition. The shop also doubles as a vintage clothing store. There, I stumbled upon two nice old-time compilations: "Echoes in the Ozarks, Volume 1: Arkansas String Bands 1927-1930" (1970) and "More Clawhammer Banjo Songs & Tunes from the Mountains" (1969), both…

Rhiannon Giddens Wins MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant'

Rhiannon Giddens has been on a roll this past year. In 2016, she was awarded the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. In February, her third solo album, "Freedom Highway," was released on Nonesuch Records. On Sept. 26, she was selected as the keynote speaker at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) conference. And today, she was named among the recipients of the MacArthur Foundation fellowships, the so-called "Genius Grants."

Of course, like many of you, I first became aware of Giddens' work with the wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that studied under the late, great fiddler Joe Thompson and sought to reclaim the African American tradition of Appalachian string band music. Along with founding bandmates Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons, Giddens won a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album with "Genuine Negro Jig."

The Chocolate Drops were among the earliest influences that sparked my love for th…

Erynn Marshall, Mark Olitsky, Doug Unger: An Old-Time Smorgasbord in Peninsula, Ohio, for Music on the Porches, Sept. 23

Old-time music and banjo fans alike would do well to aim their GPS units toward Peninsula, Ohio, the historic village nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron. This Saturday is Music on the Porches, which features a number of musical acts playing all around town, starting at 11 a.m. 
The showcase event is Saturday night at the G.A.R. Hall, an evening concert that will feature fiddler Erynn Marshall and multi-instrumentalist Carl Jones, the married old-time duo based in Galax, Virginia; followed by Sean Watkins, formerly of the progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek; and finally headliner Tim O'Brien, who has recorded with everyone from Steve Martin to Dirk Powell, including the excellent "Songs From the Mountain" album with Powell and John Herrmann (one of my all-time favorites). Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with Marshall and Jones set to start at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online via Eventbrite
But wait, that's not all! 
Marshall wi…

Doug Unger to Host Clawhammer Banjo Workshop at Blue Sky Folk Festival, Sept. 16

Master banjo builder Doug Unger will be presenting a clawhammer banjo workshop Sept. 16 at the Blue Sky Folk Festival, in Kirtland, Ohio. Unger is a former Kent State University art professor and an Ohio Arts Council grants and fellowships recipient, as well as an accomplished banjo player in his own right.

Unger will be leading a clawhammer banjo workshop with Paul Kovac under the "Small Tent" from 2 to 2:45 p.m.

Established in 2010, the Blue Sky festival is hosted at the East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church on Chillicothe Road in Kirtland. The event features concerts, workshops, community jams, family crafts and other fun activities. Tickets are $15 at the gate or $12 if you purchase online. Get a $3 discount at the door if you bring and instrument to join in the various jam sessions. Youths age 12 and under are free.

Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. With multiple indoor and outdoor jam areas and an inside main stage, visitors will have plenty o…

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Tomahawk

My latest Ward Jarvis tune is "Tomahawk." Jarvis learned this tune from Tommy Jackson, either on record or radio, according to the field recordings David Brose made in the 1970s. Jackson was a prominent Nashville session fiddler during the 1950s.

The tune appears on Jackson's "Square Dance Tonight" album, released in 1957. Jarvis can be heard playing it on the Field Recorders' Collective album (FRC402), from the recordings of Jeff Goehring. Brose's recording of Jarvis can be heard on the Slippery-Hill website.

Jarvis plays "Tomahawk" in AEAE tuning and is credited for making the tune old-time. There's another variant usually attributed to Missouri fiddler Bob Holt, available on the 1998 Rounder release "Got a Little Home to Go To."

I took my first crack at "Tomahawk" on June 18. Below is my first attempted recording of the tune, which is only twice through because of a major flub in the third repeat of the A part. (Here…

Stuart Brothers Collection Now Available

About a month and a half ago, GBB reported that the Old-Time Tiki Parlour was at work producing a CD and DVD set on the Stuart Brothers. Well, that collection is now available, as you can plainly tell by the video above.

Trevor and Travis Stuart were renowned for their banjo-fiddle duets until Trevor's tragic death in March last year. The previous May, however, Tiki Parlour founder David Bragger recorded the duo for what has turned out to be the brothers' final release. The CD/DVD set contains 23 tunes played in their traditional North Carolina style.

Right now, the Tiki Parlour is running a sale, so you can pick the Stuart Brothers set up for $20.

It's also worth noting that the Tiki Parlour also recently released The Skeleton Keys collection, featuring Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains, along with Charlie Hartness on ukulele, Nancy Hartness on guitar and Brendan Doyle on banjo. The group plays 17 tunes that are accompanied by a full-color, 40-page booklet of illustrations…

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Tune Collecting

Ever since embarking on my Year of Ward Jarvis, I've made a concerted effort to collect as many recordings by him and by those who were influenced by him.

I already owned the Field Recorders' Collective release (FRC402) of tunes collected by the late Red Mule String Band fiddler Jeff Goehring in the 1970s. And as mentioned in a recent post, I received digital copies of the David Brose recordings from some charitable folks at the Fiddle Hangout. The files also included the associated albums Brose produced "Rats Won't Stay Where There's Music" (1979, Ohio Folklife OF-1003) and "Traditional Music of Central Ohio" (1979, Ohio Arts Council TALP-001).

I'm still looking to acquire physical copies of these albums, as well as "Visits" (1981, Heritage Records), produced by Ray Alden. I believe that would complete my collection of the recordings made of Ward Jarvis. I have not heard of any others.

In the meantime, I've also tried to collect …

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Icy Mountain (UPDATED)

Three months have passed since I provided my last update on my "Year of Ward Jarvis" project. As you may recall, I targeted six tunes to learn by Athens County, Ohio, resident and West Virginia native Ward Jarvis. The first one I learned was "Head of the Creek." Next up is "Icy Mountain," another AEAE tune.

My source recordings were from Jeff Goehring via the Field Recorders' Collective and from David Brose via some kind folks at the Fiddle Hangout. I also referred to the notation from the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes and a YouTube video by David Bragger.

I took my first crack at "Icy Mountain" back on April 22, but I didn't really focus too hard on learning it until mid-May. I struggled with it for weeks, but then my progress took a major leap on June 6. I feel like I finally have a handle on the full tune, though I’m still working out some kinks in the B parts.

A quick banjo note: I have also figured out both &quo…

Postcards: Just the King and a Banjo

New Old-Time Music Roundup

This seems like an especially fertile time for new old-time music being released. In addition to the Mark Olitsky and Cary Moskovitz album we featured recently, here are a few other new or upcoming notable albums.

Trevor Hammons & Benjamin Davis, "The West Virginia Way"
I recently received a copy of this album as a prize for answering a trivia question on the Banjo Hangout. It's a stunner. Trevor Hammons is the great-grandson of legendary banjo player Lee Hammons. Benjamin Davis has been playing fiddle for five years and has studied under Pam Lund and Jake Krack. Both grew up in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. They're playing fits together so well that you might be shocked to learn that both Hammons and Davis were 15 years old when they were recorded for this album. Fifteen! If I had a time machine ...

The 16 tunes include rousing renditions of "Juliann Johnson," "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps," "Last Chance" and "Falls of Richmo…

Vinyl Hunter, Part 5: The Young Fogies

Today I received a new addition to my old-time vinyl collection: The Young Fogies. This double LP compilation was produced by Ray Alden and released in 1985 on Heritage Records, based in Galax, Virginia.

The album features 41 tracks by the top old-time groups performing at the time, from veterans like the New Lost City Ramblers and Highwoods String Band to up-and-comers such as the Indian Creek Delta Boys and the Horse Flies. You have household names (well, in old-time households, at least) such as Art Rosenbaum, Brad Leftwich, Pat Conte, Alan Jabbour, Mac Benford, Bruce Molsky, Doc Watson, Paul Brown, Richie Stearns and so many more.

Perhaps what excites me most about this compilation is the Ohio connection. Between the first three sides, there are four Ohio-based performers. They are:
The Hotmud Family playing "Take Me Back to My Old North Carolina Home," featuring Rick Good on banjo and vocals. The Rhythm Gorillas playing "My Eyes Grow Dimmer Each Day," with Kerr…

Review: Olitsky and Moskovitz Weave Beautiful Banjo Harmonies on "Duets"

What's better than a banjo? Two banjos! That's the case with "Duets," the new album by Mark Olitsky and Cary Moskovitz.

What makes this album soar is the very different playing styles of Olitsky and Moskovitz, as well as the distinct tonal properties of the banjos themselves.

Olitsky is playing clawhammer on a low-tuned, minstrel-style banjo that he built himself. Moskovitz brings the brighter tones, playing with a flat pick on a trio of four-string plectrum banjos: a 1922 Bacon “Orchestra A,” a 1928 Trujo and 1920 Orpheum No. 3.

Olitsky and Moskovitz got together at the 2016 Appalachian String Band Music Festival (aka Clifftop) to play some tunes. Olitsky had recently finished building his new banjo, and Moskovitz brought one of his plectrum banjos.

"We found the combination of these instruments enchanting," Moskovitz says. "Our banjo styles, each quirky in its own way, fit together in a manner that was both natural and exciting. We played banjo duets…

Banjoversary: 9 Years on 5 Strings

Nine years ago is when I dipped my toe into the warm, welcoming waters of the banjo playing world.

I had spent the past six months researching and trying to figure which banjo to buy. At some point, I had ordered a set of picks and tuner as a commitment to myself that I was going to carry through with my plan.

The seed had been planted the year before when I read a blog post about buying your first guitar. The now-defunct blog specialized in Americana music and regularly featured groups like Old Crow Medicine Show, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Avett Brothers.

I had spent the the last four years building an obsession with the banjo through the music of those very same groups. Because much of the music that blog featured included the banjo, I wrote in asking if they had advice on buying a first banjo. Two of the blog's writers happened to play the five-string. One was a bluegrass player and the other was an old-time player.

I didn't know the difference.

Those guys gave m…

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Head of the Creek

Since declaring this The Year of Ward Jarvis earlier this year, I have dedicated myself to learning some tunes from the repertoire of Ward Jarvis, a fiddler who lived in Athens County, Ohio, and was an influence on a number of old-time musicians in the state.

Over the last couple months, I managed to track down the recordings of David Brose and digital copies of the two LPs he produced, thanks to some helpful folks at the Fiddle Hangout.

The first tune on my list was "Head of the Creek," played in AEAE. My primary source was Jarvis's playing on the Field Recorder's Collective release FRC402, with a transcription from the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes. I also have Jeff Goehring's version on FRC601.

In addition, there are some recordings available on YouTube, such as Jimmy Triplet, Kerry Blech and others. Some of those versions are played in GDGD. A few of the videos mention Lester McCumbers as the source, as in the Blech video he talks about t…

Event Preview: Lake Erie Folk Fest, Feb. 25

We've had a bit of a warm-up recently in Northeast Ohio. What better way to enjoy unseasonably nice weather than to hit up a music festival? If you're in the area, you're in luck. The second annual Lake Erie Folk Fest is Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Shore Cultural Center in Euclid, Ohio.

Among the free workshops, mini concerts, kids' activities, open jamming and the Grand Finale Concert, attendees will find plenty of old-time and banjo-centric fun.

Mark Olitsky will host two clawhammer banjo workshops, one for beginners and one for intermediate and advanced players. If you're a bluegrasser, don't worry. Paul Kovac will host host a pair of workshops to wet your appetite.

Dave Rice, Christina Tanczos and Joel Specht will host an old-time jam in what was once an orchestra practice room at the Shore Center, which was once a high school. If you're looking for something less structured, open jams will also be scattered throughout the building in various rooms, nooks …

Mark Olitsky, Cary Moskovitz Team Up for New Album

Once upon a time, I dubbed Mark Olitsky "the banjo wizard of Cleveland." Typically, he's the only banjo player in a group setting, so it might seem strange that he's joined forces with plectrum banjo player Cary Moskovitz on a new album, called "Duets," due out in April.

Instead of a crowdfunding campaign, which seems to have become ubiquitous in the old-time music world, the banjo duo has set up a page online to gauge interest.

You can visit the Olitsky & Moskovitz website (https://olitskymoskovitz.wordpress.com/) to sign up for a pre-order. Although this is not a true pre-order in the sense that it asks you to pay the $15, plus $5 shipping and handling, for the album. Instead, it's a pledge that signs you for email updates about album and how to order when it's available. Basically, it lets the musicians know how many CDs to produce.

According to their website, Olitsky and Moskovitz got together at last year's Clifftop festival to play som…

New Additions to My Old-Time Record Collection

A funny thing happened when I went to a celebration of my mother's 30-year work anniversary. I met a banjo player who just so happened to play with Tommy Jarrell. Near the end of the party, he comes back with a sealed copy of the 1976 album, "Joke on the Puppy."

Jarrell is backed by Steve Roberts on banjo and Chester McMillian on guitar. It's a solid album. I was most happy to have a version of Jarrell playing the eponymous tune, which I had picked up from Brad Leftwich's book, Learn Old-Time Fiddle: Round Peak Style. I've been trying to match my playing to the record, which has opened my eyes to some warts in my own fiddling.

Ever since my wife got me a record player for our living room as a birthday gift last summer, I've greatly expanded my old-time music collection on vinyl. Other pick-ups in the last year include Ed Haley "Parkersburg Landing," Grayson and Whittier "Early Classics, Vol. 2," Roscoe Holcomb "San Diego Folk Fest…

The Year of Ward Jarvis

As mentioned last time around, my new focus for old-time music is the Ohio River Valley, primarily Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Musicians such as Ed Haley, John Salyer, Burl Hammons and many others. As an Ohio boy, born and raised, my natural inclination is to start with some Ohio fiddlers, like Lonnie Seymour, Arnold Sharp, Jimmy Wheeler and Jeff Goehring. But first up is Ward Jarvis.

Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1894 and is said to have been influenced by Ed Haley. Jarvis then moved to Ohio for work in the 1940s, settling in Athens County. He was recorded by a few different people, including Jeff Goehring, Davis Brose and Ray Alden. His music appears on a release of Goehring's tapes by Field Recorders' Collective (FRC402), two LPs produced by Brose, "Traditional Music From Central Ohio" and "Rats Won't Stay Where There's Music," and one produced by Alden, "Visits."

My goal for the next year is to track down copies of those la…

2016 Year in Review / 2017 Look Ahead

Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? The last year has been difficult on many fronts. Playing music was no exclusion. The amount of time I spent playing banjo and fiddle suffered the most. I didn't blog much either, which you already knew. But it wasn't all bad. Here's a look back at last year and a look ahead to my goals for the year ahead.

2016 Notes
I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

Playing Time: Due to increased work travel and other factors, my playing time was dramatically reduced in 2016. As mentioned before, I log my practice time in the quest to reach that fabled 10,000-hour mark. This last year was my lowest (by far) amount of time spent on banjo and second lowest time on fiddle.

New Tunes: Despite my reduced playing time, I worked through two fiddle instruct…