All posts by Eugene Knapik

Sawmill tunes

My brother and I were exchanging emails about tunes in modal or “sawmill” tuning. I like a lot of the modal tunes but I don’t play them that often on clawhammer. One I particularly like is Bonaparte’s March. Here are the Indian Creek Delta Boys.

Another great tune in modal tuning is Cluck Old Hen. Here’s Aubrey Atwater having a go at it. She also plays it slowly to teach the tune.

For a while I was playing Boatin’ up Sandy quite a bit – also in modal tuning. I went looking for a version on YouTube and realized that I posted me playing that tune quite a while ago….here it is.  For some reason I stopped playing this one – not sure why – it’s got a wonderfully hypnotic melody. I’ll have to add it back into my tune list.

On banjo, when players say they are in Sawmill tuning, they mean that tuned in standard G tuning, they tune the second string up a half tone from B to C.  That’s G modal tuning. To make it A modal, you can capo up to the second fret.

Monarch Butterflies, Sam Smith Park

Visitors to Sam Smith Park here in Toronto are being treated to a great show of monarch butterflies right now. We took a walk with the dogs a short while ago and saw butterflies anywere there were flowers.

DSC06988DSC06991DSC06981DSC06963DSC06993By the way, Sam Smith Park is currently being studied by the city for designation as an environmentally sensitive area. I’m not sure all this designation implies yet, and so I don’t have any opinion on it. I’m all for keeping lots of natural areas in the park, but I also appreciate the park is used for many things from playing sports to watching birds. There’s a yacht club in the midst of it and schools. There’s a balance in there somewhere. Is this designation the right thing in the long run?  There will be some public meetings in November, where we can find out more.

Morning trip to Jack Darling Park

At a certain point in his development, young George simply considered anything that moved to be an object of his doggy lust. This was a good indication it was time for his neuter surgery, which we had done in early August.

Yesterday we took the Newfs to the local dog park in Sam Smith Park to see how he would do with other dogs now.  He interacted very well with all the dogs there, so we’ve reinstated his dog-park privileges.

Our local leash free park is what you might call a minimalist park. The City did the least they possibly could do and still call it a leash-free park. In fact it started out without even a fence – just a sign. As dog parks go, this one is pretty sad. It has a fence now and a couple benches, but that’s it. There is no variety of terrain. In wet weather it gets very mucky. There is no lighting and although it is a stone’s throw from a water filtration plant, there is no water available. The location is part of a north-south wind-corridor between the water filtration plant and Humber College. In the winter, the north winds have nothing to block them on their way to freeze brave dog walkers.

For these reasons, the Sam Smith dog park gets fewer users than most. A lot of visitors to the broader park area have complained about dog-owners letting their pets run loose in the rest of the park, rather than in the dog park.  There are even new signs up in the park encouraging dog-owners to leash their pets and I’ve heard the City has sent by-law enforcement people out to Sam Smith recently to fine the miscreant pet-owners. Although I don’t expect it will ever happen, I’d like to see the dog park in Sam Smith relocated to the area on the east side of what is known as “the spit”, which forms the harbour for the yacht club. I think a better area for the dogs in a more suitable area of the park would attract a lot more dog lovers.

When we want to run our dogs, we like to take them west to Mississauga, to Jack Darling Park. Like the park at Sam Smith, this one is on the property of a filtration plant.

IMG_2178However, the dog area is fully integrated on the filtration plant grounds. There is a great variety of terrain, loads of space, fields, sandy areas, treed areas, brush and hills. There is even drinking water available.IMG_2175

The sandy area is where many dogs go to play. They like goofing about in the sand, chasing and wrestling. IMG_2184Other areas are more isolated if you want to run your dogs away from the crowd. IMG_2179I’m very impressed by what I can only call inspired design at Jack Darling Park. Somebody along the way thought it was a good idea to imagine up a dog park that was more than a patch of muck and grass with a fence around it – and they did it up right.

IMG_2186We like to do a circuit or two of the park, checking out all the different terrain, stopping for some playtime in the sand pit.

The dogs just love to go to Jack Darling. They get a car ride – they love car rides – and they get to goof around in an area with lots of variety and plenty of other dogs to play with.

I’m hoping the candidates for City Council in the upcoming Municipal race read this. Here’s my challenge – make a great leash-free area in Sam Smith Park.  Who’s up for this challenge? I’m not interested in hearing why this can’t be done, but if you can imagine it, and you think you can pull it off, I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments of this blog.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to drive out to Mississauga when we want a top-rate dog-park experience.

Blind but Now I See

Blind but Now I See is Kent Gustavson’s biorgraphy of the late Doc Watson. When I read about this book I was very much looking forward to it because I’ve been listening to and enjoying Doc Watson’s music for many years. I think my introduction to Doc and his son Merle was on the old Folk Ways and Folk Music radio show on CJRT Radio here in Toronto. That must have been the late 70s or early 80s. Host Joe Lewis introduced me to the music of many performers.

The book starts off with pages of accolades about Doc Watson. I thought it was overkill – I figure if you’re reading this book, you know. There are many photographs, which I appreciated, and also many illustrations, each of which is credited c. Kristina Tosic. This over-crediting was a little much. Having some illustrations was nice – you don’t see that so much these days – but I was more interested in the text.

Doc Watson was playing rock-a-billy on a Les Paul electric guitar when he was “discovered”, and only reluctantly switched over to acoustic guitar. The degree to which his career was steered toward traditional music to take advantage of the “great folk music scare” was fascinating. He was even coached on what tunes New Yorkers might be interested in. Watson was discouraged from playing some of the other more citified music he enjoyed, knew, and wanted to play, and it wasn’t until the Southbound recording with his son Merle that they played some of this other music. The music industry wanted us to think Doc Watson was playing traditional mountain music that was in the air around Deep Gap NC, and while this may have been true to some degree, it turns out that Doc Watson learned a lot of his repertoire by listening to records. Authenticity was an attractive attribute of this music to urban folkies, but even in this genre, audiences were being sold a story line. This doesn’t diminish Watson’s accomplishment. He was a remarkable performer, singer and guitar-picker.

This biography also provided a glimpse into a troubled Merle Watson, who struggled with substance abuse for years. I really knew little about Merle beyond his playing – but really it was just a glimpse we were offered. In fact in general, I learned more facts – the plot line of their lives – than I really learned about the people. I guess that’s the challenge with biography. Often when I read a biography I’m left with a feeling of something missing. It’s really difficult to capture the complexity of someone’s life, their thoughts and emotions and motivations.

If you’re interested in Doc Watson’s music and all that folk music history, this is an enjoyable, informative and readable account.

Red Prairie Dawn

Since I started learning to play clawhammer banjo, YouTube has been an incredibly handy tool. When I want to learn a tune, I like to listen to different versions of it, and fortunately there is a ton of Old Time music available.  It’s hard to imagine a time when the only way to learn this music was from other local players. I suppose the exchange is that regional identity gets washed into the mix.

I learned about the late Garry Harrison at the Midwest Banjo Camp in June. Not only was he a gatherer of great Old Time music from Illinois, he also wrote some excellent tunes. I’ve been playing one of them quite a bit lately – a tune called Dull Chisel, and now I want to learn another of his tunes, Red Prairie Dawn. So tonight I checked out some performances online.

Here are Mike Witcher – Dobro and  Grant Gordy – Guitar…

And here’s a really fast version by the Foghorn Stringband…

And one more, with John Jewell and Andrew Lovejoy…


Over the Waterfall?….

So there we were yesterday afternoon, fly fishing the upper Credit River, just a little ways below the former highway 24 (whatever they call that road now), when along come 2 guys each paddling a kayak. They each had a spinning rod ready to cast and they were all set for a leisurely float to the lake.

You guys know about the falls, right?
The falls?

Yes, the falls. It’s where the Credit River tumbles over the Escarpment. It is a very significant landmark, so significant they named the near-by town Cataract.  Hopefully these fellows paddled carefully, heeded the warning roar of the falls, and parked their kayaks and got out well before the abyss.  Now I suppose they might have picked up their kayaks and their fishin’ rods and carried around the falls. It is difficult but possible to get down there without hurting yourself if you’re really careful. But then they’d have to cope with the pocket water below, a dicey proposition, even in kayaks. I wonder how far they got? Did they look over the falls and carry their kayaks for a half an hour’s walk along the railway tracks back to their car? Or maybe they walked back up the river, dragging their kayaks behind? Or maybe they decided to try to portage the falls and navigate the pocket water.  Maybe they carried down the trail past the worst of the pocket water before re-launching.

The blind faith involved in decided to float a river without checking for enormous obstacles is great – but consider this – this was the third time I personally witnessed folks happily heading downstream hoping for a relaxing float to the lake. The best was the 3 guys in a 16 foot aluminum cartop boat several years ago. I was casting a dry fly to a rising brook trout when I heard the bumping and scraping of aluminum on rocks banging toward me. I told them they didn’t have a chance, but they kept on, wrong and strong.

On the River…

IMG_2132My neighbour’s son Ethan wants to learn fly fishing. I took him one day last year to the Grand River, and this spring I sent Ethan and family to a trout farm, where he caught his first trout on a fly. Today we went to an upper section of the Credit River so Ethan could get a little more on-stream experience and get an idea what it’s like fishing a stream.

The water was very high for this time of year as a result of the recent rain. It was also discoloured when we arrived. By the time we left, the water was still high but had cleared considerably. Fortunately the fishing is always good even when the catching isn’t so hot, as  I caught the only trout today and it was less than 4 inches long. Ethan was able to get some on-stream casting experience though, and I was able to show him typical trout habitat.

Ethan’s little brother and his dad came along and all of us went for a hike along the rail tracks to look at the falls, where the Credit River tumbles over the Escarpment. It may not have been the best fishing day but it was a lovely day to be out enjoying the day.