On my mind

Random thoughts, mostly musical 







Let me know what's on your mind  or topics that you'd like to see addressed. This page doesn't need to be a monologue.

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Posted in reverse chronlogical order 


Last night I played at the Blue Collar Happy Hour, Bank Street Cafe, New London, for the first time. Thanks to Ken Atkins for the great job on sound, and to Corrina for setting up the gig. New London has an active music scene, and many if not most at the show were musicians, I learned later. This coming Friday, Ken and his band, The Honky Tonk Kind, will be playing, scheduled for 6-8, though it may start a bit later and run a bit later. If you like twang, heartbreak and the good kind of country music, check it out. I'll try to get down there. 

This afternoon The Bristol Boys will start recording in Manchester.  Also, I'll be doing some solo recording at a free house concert in Manchester on Nov. 10. If you're interested in coming, let me know. As of now, a few seats remain.



I competed in the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society Blues Challenge in Greensboro, NC., last weekend, and finished 3rd.  I'm very pleased and honored, especially given the quality of the competition. I entered the contest because were going to be in the area visiting my wife's family.

The folks at the PBFS were very welcoming, and made me feel right at home. I owe them a huge debt of thanks.


I've set up a page on myspace. Please check it out, if only to get to some of the friends that have been added.

The gig at Java Room in Chelmsford, Mass., went very well, and I had the chance to meet the owner, Candy, after trading numerous emails over the course of several months.

Saw Paul Murray, who runs a jam in the area. He was with me in the Jim Heffernan workshop at Joe Val.



Catching up after a long Joe Val festival weekend and a subway show the following Monday. I took the all-day Friday workshop with Jim Heffernan, a great player and teacher. I came out realizing that there are some things I'll probably never be able to do, but I did leave with the somthings to work on that helped to make my playing cleaner, crisper and smoother.

Our vendor stage show with Charter Oak went well, especially for 11 a.m. Sunday and with most of us fighting some sort of infection. Thanks to those who came out, including fellow reso players Richie (reso-man) and DanT.

Monday in the subway was a bit slow. I thought there'd be a lot of school field trips, but I did have someone do a sketch of me and another guy took a photo. Both said they'd send them to me -- I hope they keep their word.

The highlight was meeting a new member of the Metropolitan Opera, soprano Teresa Zugger. She came up to me and asked about "Walk on, Boy" which I had just finished. She said she's a bluegrass fan (I hope James Levine doesn't mind). She'll be in the Wagner opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in March.

Good luck, Teresa, and just remember that the Bill Monroe version of Die Mesitersinger holds on the Am an extra beat.

Played a few tunes with Julian Brolaski, who came down after I finished. We made a total of $6 for the session! 


I met a couple yesterday who actually came to Union Square specifically to see me play. Thank you very, very much, Judy and Jim. Judy had seen me last fall at 28th Street, and brought her husband out yesterday afternoon. They caught the last hour or so, and by then, the cold was getting to me, so I may not have given them the best show that I could. 

Also had the chance to jam with Julian Brolaski, a young writer and fan of the Carter Family, Gov. Jimmie Davis, Hank, Jimmie Rodgers. We may try some freelancing aside from my MUNY schedule.



I learned today that I did not get accepted onto the Connecticut Commission on Arts and Tourism's Directory of Performing Artists. Among the factors cited were: most of my experience has been as a sideman, and that I need a better press kit, which I'm ashamed to admit because my day job is in PR.

It's a disappointment, but not a setback. I'm in store for a busy year, which will only get busier. Thanks to very much those who wrote letters of recommendation for me.

On a more positive note, my wife has posted a video clip from the 2/2/07 Sugar Cube Cafe show on YouTube.  It's also accessible through the Music page.



I inaugurated the music series at the Sugar Cube Cafe in Cromwell last night. This is a very cozy coffeehouse with a couple of couches, several small tables, wireless, and most importantly, friendly and hospitable people. It's great to nave another acoustic venue in the area.

I also had the chance to see Eben and Terry from Second Circle, who were nice enough to brave the snow and head north. Also re-connected with John and Debi Friedlaner, whom I hadn't seen in years. John and Debi are the folks behind the Church House Concerts in Haddam. Both are talented photographers and also work together in their real estate business. They're good people, and I was glad to see them again.


Had a real professional-like week last week. Played Friday with the Remnants; Saturday with the Bristol Boys; Sunday solo at Banjo Jim's in NY; Monday at Grand Central; Wednesday at Griffin Hospital and Thursday at Midstate Medical Center in Meriden. Midstate has started a music therapy program, and for now, I'll be playing there once a month or so. I have to say that it doesn't even seem like work.

Gear:  Dobro players can be obsessive about not only what instrument they're playing, but which picks, bar, capo and strap they use.  Recently, for solo, I started using a small bullet-type bar. I'm not sure why; I think I was thinking that it had heavier mass, and also because I may have been seeking a connection with players gone by.

I dug out an even bigger bullet steel, like the ones that pedal steelers use; I like the mass and tone that it imparts. When playing solo, I'm not doing that many hammer ons and pull offs and other single string work. I like the fat chords. I've found that the larger bullet is actually easier to grip.


Happy New Year.

Saturday, I played at Grand Central, near the Shuttle to Times Square. A young fellow came by carrying a guitar case. He asked me about regulations concerning playing in the subway, permits, etc. I told him that he was free to play pretty much anywhere, subject to certain restrictions. He had a painted trumpet, and a beautiful Fender Strat that he he had hand-painted in a folk-artish manner.

His name was Bobby Love and he was in town from North Carolina  to visit his daughter, a student at CUNY. We had fun jamming on some blues, and did some of my stuff. He has an excellent ear and was able to fit right in, both with trumpet and guitar.

On New Year's Eve, the Bristol Boys played first night in Westport. We had good turnouts for all three sets, and by the third, we were just up there to have fun. We took requests and tried songs that we never attempted (and barely knew), but I think we got some points for trying.

Going to work today on setting up a Bristol Boys website on Google Pages. Stay tuned. 



Went to NYC Sunday. I was scheduled to play at the Grand Central holiday market from 3-5, so I wanted to get in some freelancing beforehand. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm day, but I decided not to go to Union Square Park, and instead stayed underground.

A violinist was playing on the 4-5-6 platform, and it could be heard on the 7, so I headed toward the Shuttle and found a spot against the tile wall in an corner that was angled at about 130 degrees, which made for nice acoustics.

The highlight of that session was when two boys, maybe  6 and 4, and their mother came by. The boys were playing those wooden railroad whistles. They played along with me as I did "I Heard the Lonesome Whistle Blow." When we finished, the 4-year-old asked, "How long will you be here?"

I answered, "Why, do you want my spot?"

He paused for a second, looked at the couple of singles in my case and said, "Not right now." 



Played at the Java Room in Chelmsford, Mass. (just south of Lowell) last night. It's a modern-style coffeehouse in a small plaza near the center of town. Only a couple of people were there at first, but it picked up and turned out to be a good evening. Most of the audience seemed to be there to listen to music, and the few that were talking kept at a very polite level. I hope to get back there.

Also met and discussed sound systems and other music matters with Rahel, who had happened to stop in before the show. She performs in a variety of situations, including folk and Hebrew. She'll be at the Java Room with her duo later in the spring.



Catching up from Thanksgiving weekend in NY. Played at the Union Square stop for the Friday a.m. commuters (8-noon) and then met Natlia Paruz, the Saw Lady. She is a most gracious and experienced busker, and offered some helpful advice in the time I was breaking down and she was setting up.

The day was warm, so I went above ground and played in Union Square, or rather on the sidewalk admidst the holiday market.

The next day, I reversed the order, playing in the park and then going to 28th street later in the afternoon.


New York was a long, fun time last Saturday. Played noon-6 at 28th and Lex. That was the longest ever in one spot in one day. It went by much quick than I thought it would.

That was followed by a trip to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the Stain bar, a comfy lounge. Thank goodness Meredith and the other members of her band, Violet, were there, or there would be no audience.  

This coming weekend (Thanksgiving) I'll be doing my first freelancing in the subway, in addition to the Music Under New York program.  


I've been remiss in not acknowledging the death of "Josh" Burkett Graves. Were it not for him, there'd be no other dobro players.

Josh rescued the dobro from oblivion, especially through his work with Flatt and Scruggs. He created much of the instrument's vocabulary, and everything that he played was just dripping with the blues.

He was my first inspiration. I was listening to  a Flatt and Scruggs record and heard the song "Papa Played the Dobro." To my ears, it sounded like "Papa Played the Obro", and I asked a guitar-playing friend, "what's an obro?" He set me straight pretty quickly.

When I was learning (Ok, I still am) to play, Dan Huckabee's instruction tapes that deconstructed a lot of Josh's intros, leads and fills was the second most important learning tool I had (the first was and is playing with others.)

Thank you, Josh.


I'm rooting for a subway series - Yankees and Mets, though without Pedro and El Duque, the Mets have it tough. 

Practice tonight with 2/3 of the Bristol Boys. It'll be good to get back in that swing. Have a few new songs I'd like to try out.


It's been quite a busy month, with two trips to Maine -- Thomas Point Beach bluegrass festival and a country jamboree/car show in Jefferson; a trip to see family in New Jersey, plus the usual other work stuff.

Had a chance to play the Java Hut in Worcester to a college-age audience. It was a late crowd, probably geared to those who were finishing up at the library.  Sold a few CDs and had some nice comments.

The Big E with Horizon Blue was fun, once we got out of the line of traffic trying to get to the faigrounds. Alas, they weren't all coming to see us play. Middle of the weekend found me at the Old Saybrook farmers market. Though it was rainy, I stayed dry under the tent. Tried the little Pignose (powered by 6 AA batteries). Used a 1/4-inch Y connector to split the signal. The voice mike came through but the dobro transducer didn't very well. The Crate Taxi is in the shop, so the Pignose is filling in. 



I've gone back to the D tuning on the McKenna. The D# ended up sounding a little brittle. Maybe it was the GHS white phosphor strings. Going to go back to D'Addario phosphor bronze for a much warmer sound.

Had a nice time playing at the Narrows Center in Fall River, Mass., with the Remnants, opening for Uncle Earl. We received a nice response, and Uncle Earl graciously complimented us from the stage during their set. The band is a talented, bright group of young women and I'm sure they'll make their mark. 


I haven't added anything in a while, so I won't try to catch up. Today is my parents' wedding anniversary. They would have been married 70 years. They were able to enjoy their 50th anniversary.

I've been playing with a different tuning on the McKenna. I capoed at the first fret, which results in an Eb open tuning. I liked the sound, especially the sound of the open chords, so I just tuned up a half-step from D to Eb or D#.



There's a lot to catch up on. I had an orientation meeting for the Music Under New York program. Among the 20 performers selected this year is the trio Red Molly. I've read a lot about them; don't think I've heard much of their music. They played the Sounding Board last year and are scheduled again next year.

At the Peter & Monique's Women in Music Festival, I had the chance to play a few songs with Gail Wade and Turning Point. She's a great singer, guitarist and songwriter, and has a wonderful band with Kevin Lynch and Rob Rainwater. Peggy Harvey was away attending a family wedding. Thanks for the opportunity, Gail. It was a thrill.


Just returned today from a wet weekend at Sterling Park Bluegrass Festival at the Sterling Park Campground in eastern Connecticut. This is a small festival that will be growing in coming years because the promoter is working hard to build the event and accommodations, and is not afraid to bring in younger, contemporary bands and mix them with more seasoned, traditional bands.


I was notified that I was accepted into the Music Under New York program after the audition a couple of weeks ago.  After an orientation session later this month, I'll start scheduling sessions at one of 25 or so stops in the transit system, beginning in late August. 

This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I'm finally getting the opportunity. 


Shirley at Jitters coffeehouse had a late cancellation for Friday night and put out a call for performers. I must have been the first to respond, because I was "hired". I tried to get the word out via WWUH (thanks, Steve Theaker) and my email, but only a couple of the regulars showed up. Anyway, it was a good opportunity, in a live situation, with sound, to run through 2 full sets of material; to see what worked and what I need to work on. With vocals I felt more comfortable playing the guitar (lap style, course). The instrumentals sounded good on dobro.



The audition in Grand Central Station was quite an exciting time. We arrived about a half-hour early, and the schedule was adjusted because of no-shows. 70 originally were scheduled to audition for the 20 available spots. I don't know how many actually showed up.

I followed a three-piece jug band -- guitar, jug and percussion. GCS is very lively, so I wanted to get used to it and the amp a bit. I started with Thursday's Fog, a slower tune, and then went into Silvertown Rag and then Uncle Sam (a Jerry Douglas tune from Slide Rule).

Keeping my fingers crossed.


Happy Mother's Day.  Through circumstance, I was in Fall River, Mass., last night and we happened to learn that The Mammals were playing at the Narrows Center for the Arts. The space, in a converted factory loft can seat a couple of hundred, it seems, in old church pews. I had heard a few Mammals tunes on WWUH and some other cuts, but was not quite prepared for the experience. The energy, commitment, musicianship and audience relations were amazing. This ranks as one of the best shows I've seen of any genre.

Opening the show were The Can Kickers from New London. If Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett were punk musicians, they'd sound like The Can Kickers. Nothing like the energy shown by 20-somethings to make you feel old. Or young. Or younger. 



While I've playing the lap guitar at Griffin Hospital, I usually don't sing there. So, the Earth Day event in Amherst was, in reality, my debut.

I had only 20 minutes, and it was a rainy day, so I brought only the guitar. The set list included: Uncle Sam (from Jerry's Slide Rule album), a slow version of Old Folks at Home; Last Thing on My Mind (thanks to Kevin Lynch for showing the instrumental possibilities of that); an original rag and an a capalla Down to the River to Pray. 

People seem to be at least curious by the lap-style guitar, and I think it went well, and the guitar managed to stay in tune. 


I received an invitation to audition for the Music Under New York program (see 3/34/06 entry). I have 5 minutes to prove that I'm worthy to play in the subway. At the very least, it'll be a fun day in the city. At the most it will be a life-altering experience. 


We took the train to NY to see a show by Pat Wictor, who plays lap-style on a converted Guild 6-string acoustic. He was very gracious before and after the show. We chatted a bit, and he essentially said that the D tuning is essential to getting the warm sound characteristic of Weissenborns and the lap acoustics. 

Since I traded an accordion for an Ibanez acoustic last fall, I'd been using open G tuning, the same as the dobro. I recently dropped it to F and then back up to F# because I was worried about tension on the guitar neck. I could use the same patterns as on the dobro, but the sound wasn't what I wanted.

This a.m., though, I took Pat's advice and tuned DADF#AD, and it was like a burning bush. The Ibanez gained a warmth and resonance that is addictive.

Moral - Pay attention to those who know what they're doing. Then make your own mistakes, then see why you were wrong.

On a sidenote -- Pat was playing at a coffeehouse on E. 22nd St. called 22 Below -- it's in Lutheran Church basement. I played there about 10 years ago with Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters - the only time we played NYC. It was during a monsoon and rain was streaming in through basement windows.


Maybe someone with more knowledge of the human ear can explain the following phenomenon. I was playing my weekly stint at Griffin Hospital. This night I was in the lab waiting area, which has carpet, comfy chairs; a lot of material to absorb the sound.  The guitar sounded deader than dead. About an hour into my playing, it seemed louder and clear to me. Was that just my ears adjusting to the sound? Just wondering.

On a related topic: At the hospital and at home I've been playing an acoustic guitar with an extension nut. I don't think the guitar had been played much before I picked it up. How long does it take (approximations are acceptable) for guitars to "open up"?


Well, The Bristol Boys made their debut last night at the White Lilac Tea Room in Stratford. The place seats about 40, and it was packed. They said it was the largest crowd they've ever had on a music night. We think we'll be there again, probably May 3.

We (I) had a few rough spots, but the overall feeling was a good one. Special thanks go to Suzanne Sheridan and Roz Gates, who sang their song that's received a lot of attention llately -- "90 Pound Suburban Housewife Riding in Her SUV." Roz and Suzanne have been featured recently in the NY Times, Fox News, and CNN, probably on Monday. 


This is the golden age of the resonator guitar, which I'll continue to call a dobro. The choice among manufacturers has never been greater and the quality has never been higher. Anyone just starting out has many many choices.

I'm waiting to hear from the New York MTA whether I'll be selected to be one of the 70 or so people selected to audition for the Music Under New York program. Thanks to my friend and Horizon Blue bandmate, Peter Hill, I was able to get a 2-song demo out. I think that it turned out OK, but we'll have to see. Nevertheless, I will be playing some solo slots this spring and summer. I'll try to keep the schedule up to date.


What I'm Listening to:

Some Hawaiian. I may try some on the tricone.