Category Archives: music


I took the day off work today and spent a good part of it working on a mosaic project. I did manage to find the time for a couple practice session on the banjo though. I’ve been playing some tunes from Illinois that I learned back in June at the Midwest Banjo Camp. I like that mid-west old time music a lot.

Here’s a video I came across on YouTube featuring the late Garry Harrison and his band the Indian Creek Delta Boys performing Waterbound. Great tune and very fine band…

I’ve been learning a tune on clawhammer written by Garry Harrison. It’s called Dull Chisel.  Here’s a great driving version by Hopping Jenny…

French bagpipe polka music?

I came across this strange video tonight. It features a duet with French bagpipes and accordion doing a polka suite. OK, it’s a bit off the beaten path. What’s really strange though, is the video is full of bizarre visual distortion –  the background around the players is constantly shifting. I was starting to feel sea-sick watching it.

It would be interesting to explore some of the various bagpipe traditions around the world. For the longest time I thought the only bagpipes were the Scottish Highland pipes, but not so.  I bet trying to trace pipe traditions would also teach a lot about world history.

The Thunders

I recall the day I made the decision to give up my record collection. My cat William sat transfixed across the studio from my turntable. I was playing Old Corrals and Sagebrush by Ian Tyson on the stereo. Suddenly and without warning, William sprinted across the room and leapt upon the turntable, causing a sickening screech as the stylus scraped across the Tom Russell Mexican polka, Gallo del Cielo.

I gave my collection to my friend Stan Repar, who I figured would be the last man standing in the record department. IMG_2038 Today we had lunch with Stan and another painter friend Claude Breeze, and Stan presented me  with a bag containing a number of records. (Those of you too young to know what a record is can tune out now).  Stan was culling his collection and asked if there were any I wanted back. I had told him that if he still had a few of the special ones, some of which were signed by the artists, I’d love to play those records again.

Stan, aware that we now once again have a turntable, put a package together with those special records and a number of others he knew we’d enjoy.

The highlight of the package to me is Zydeco Thunder by Fernest and the Thunders. It must have been back in the late 80s when Fernest Arceneaux and his band came to town, and it was a fantastic show. I met the band – some of them joined us for a beer between sets – bought their album, and had the whole group sign the cover. I’m no autograph hound but this is a momento of a great night.

One of the reasons it is important to me is that I formed a vague idea in my little brain that night that I’d like to learn to play the button acccordion. It wasn’t until around a decade later that I actually bought a button accordion and learned to play, but I recall thinking, 31 buttons, how hard can it be?

Usually in a Zydeco band, the singer stands front and centre with the frattoir player at his (or her) side. In this case the frattoir player was centre stage, ,and Fernest stood off to the side where he sang and played button accordion.

Ah, this takes me back. Anybody else out there at that show? It must have been at the Horseshoe Tavern. If you were there, stop by and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Keep on Drinking

David Bromberg has had two music careers – he took a break for something like 22 years. I loved his music back then and since his re-emergence, I’ve been hoping for a chance to see him perform live, because he’s even better today. Here he is with Larry Campbell on mandolin performing Keep on Drinking….

Mr. Bromberg is coming to town October 30 at Hugh’s Room. We’ll be there!

Ottawa Valley Old Time

I have a soft spot for old time music from the Ottawa Valley. Come on in and join me for bit and let’s listen to some fantastic Canadian folk music…

That was Mac Beattie and his Ottawa Valley Melodiers. Mr. Beattie’s fiddle player was a fellow named Reg Hill. Here’s his Madawaska River Breakdown…

Let’s hear one more fiddle tune, if you don’t mind….it’s Ward Allen performing Frenchie’s Reel

Finally, here’s Hank LaRiviere – AKA Hank Rivers, performing Maple Sugar Sweetheart. He took the melody from Ward Allen’s Maple Sugar and added lyrics – that mention Allen of course.

Off the mainstream and into the ditch?

A few months ago, a friend of mine said, “hey Eugene, you just like music that is outside the mainstream just because it’s outside the mainstream.” I protested. “No I don’t think so, I just like what I like.” After some consideration though, I wonder if there isn’t just a little bit of truth to what he suggested. After all, by the mid-70s, I found most of the music coming out of the star-maker machine pretty hard to take. I recall taking refuge by listening to Joe Louis hosting Folk Music and Folk Ways on “Ryerson Radio” every Saturday. That’s where I first heard Doc and Merle Watson. That was an eye-opener.  And U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest. That was a mind-bender.

Like many others looking for something else, I listened to my share of punk and so-called New Wave, and I enjoyed a lot of that, though I obviously didn’t fit into that scene. Sorry sir, no nice sweaters allowed in here. Even today – I listen to a lot of hardcore old time music – I can’t help but think it’s not a big jump from there to punk, kind of like The Pogues and Irish folk music. I recall seeing Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Mink DeVille on one bill back in 1978 at Massey Hall. I was beginning to think pop music had a future. To this day I still love Nick Lowe’s music and all his recordings get a lot of play around this joint.

By university, I was a confirmed blues freak. I loved all the older obscure stuff (and I was sure it wasn’t just because it was old and obscure) and I wasn’t so crazy about “blues rock” and all the guitar hero blues guys. Toronto was a hotbed of the blues in those days. I got to see live performances by Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Sunnyland Slim, Bo Diddley, Eddy Clearwater, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Honeyboy Edwards, Son Seals, Mighty Joe Young, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and more.

And there was Zydeco too, Fernest Arceneaux and the Thunders at the Horseshoe, Queen Ida, Terence Simien and the Mallet Playboys. And R&B. Hank Ballard and The Midnighters came to town, with horn section and matching outfits and choreography and The Twist. And then in the 80s there was Handsome Ned playing Lefty Frizzell tunes for Queen Streeters.

At some point in the early 2000s, i fell hard for accordion music, especially all things button accordion. I bought one, a vintage Hohner Corona II, which I still have today and vowed to learn to play. How hard could it be with only 31 buttons on the right side. Piece of cake. Then I discovered it was bi-sonoric, meaning each button had two notes, depending on the direction of the air. Still I persevered and learned to play pretty well. It opened up a whole world for me, from the driving polka of Scrubby and the Dynatones to Portuguese corridinhos to the music of Uruguayan gauchos to Basque Trikitixas.

It was a whirlwind world tour of free-reed ethnic folk music and I was loving it. Sun Ra was right. There are other worlds they have not told you of.

And speaking of Sun Ra, who I saw live in NYC in 1983, I found a little room in there for jazz.

I blame my brother the trout, Salvelinas Fontinalis for re-sparking in me a deep interest in hardcore oldtime music and particularly clawhammer banjo. Since I started playing banjo less than two years ago, I’ve immersed myself in old time music and I’ve been playing constantly. I’ve even fooled a few people into thinking I’m doing OK at it.

The fact is I came by my eclectic musical tastes honestly. The first record I owned was a copy of Ernest Tubb’s Walking the Floor over You. I knew all the lyrics to The Wreck of the Old 97 by age 8. I was the only kid on the block who, from exposure to Dad’s Dixieland, knew my Kid Ory from my Wingy Manone. I don’t think I set out to stray from the mainstream as a strategy. Still, I’m very conscous that culture or some version of culture is marketed to us extremely heavily. Just consider that there are now game shows for becoming a pop star, and strangely, they are very very successful.

I suppose anytime you ignore all the mass market stuff and choose your music or your art or your literature on your own, regardless of how it happened, it’s a little bit revolutionary, don’t you think? The thing about folk music is that we own it together, and I like that. How many pop stars sue one another about a riff or a melody? Considering most western music, at least in a popular vein, is pretty simple with 2 or 3 or 4 chords, it’s reasonable to expect similar themes to appear time and again. In folk music, adding to the the pool of music we own together by changing around an existing melody is perfectly reasonable. I’m glad Woody Guthrie borrowed the melody of Wabash Cannonball and wrote Grand Coolie Dam with it:

In the misty crystal glitter of the wild and windward spray
Men have fought the pounding waters and met a watery grave
she tore their boats to splinters but she gave men dreams to dream
of the day the Coulee Dam would cross the wild and wasted stream.

Wabash Cannonball was a hobo song, about the train that would take the hobo from the Traveling Nation to a better place, to the other side, to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Grand Coolie Dam, of course is a whole different trip, yet they share a melody, and that’s OK by me. In Old Time music too, we see similar melodic ideas, and lyrical ideas as well, show up over and over again.