Pity the Fool

Our houseguest, Anthony Stagg from planet Chicago, has turned our handy Mr. T in your Pocket into an instrument of sorts. Presenting the Mr. T in your Pocket Stagg Remix AKA Stagg vs Mr T

Songs for your local log-driver

I was talking with my friend (and current houseguest) Anthony yesterday about Wade Hemsworth and how a couple of his tunes, such as the Long Driver’s Waltz and the Blackfly Song seem like they have been part of the Canadian experience for a very long time. Maybe they’re embedded into our genetic code by now. I think that has a lot to do with the National Film Board shorts created around these tunes. Here’s the Long Driver’s Waltz. I’ll bet most of my Canadian friends are very familiar with it, even if they don’t know Wade Hemsworth wrote it and Kate and Anna McGarrigle who performed it.

How many songs can there be about being a log-driver? As far as I know there are two, although maybe there are others I don’t know about. The other one is also a great tune. It’s by Mac Beattie and was recorded with his Ottawa Valley Melodiers.

I love these tunes about a Canadian way of life from another time. Who writes tunes for a resource-based economy these days?

CORRECTION…of course there is a 3rd log-driver’s song, The Log Jam Song (Whitewater). Here’s Mr. Hemswoth…

We interrupt regular programming….

….for a brief dance interlude. Hop into my Tardis and let’s go find Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Groove me.

Saturday morning Boogie

Here are the North Mississippi Allstars…

And let’s go back in time to 1953 and Little Junior Parker and the Blue Flames…..Feel so Good….

And a taste of John Lee Hooker, live in Montreal in 1980…

Just for fun, let’s include Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Shotgun Boogie…

Finally, let’s go out with Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana band….Shake it don’t break it. I love the accordion in this boogie…

Banjo Practice – it’s back

Those of you who dropped by the other night know I was foiled in my attempt to videotape more banjo practice when my trusty old point-and-shoot camera bit the dust. I was thinking today that I carry around a phone that takes pretty good pictures and video – if only I had some kind of device to hold it in place, I could shoot banjo practice videos on my phone for now.

I stopped into the Apple store after work and picked up an item that clamps onto my phone, sits like a tripod, sticks like a magnet and can grip by wrapping around almost anything. Back in business.

In last night’s post about my camera I posted a couple versions of Bonaparte’s March. I have a ways to go to really relax into this tune, but that will come with time and practice. My banjo is in sawmill tuning with a capo at the second fret, and the 5th string tuned to A (A-modal tuning). I like this tune because it is haunting and hypnotic and repetitive. Unlike a lot of Old Time tunes which are up-tempo and suitable for square dancing or flat-footing, this one is more like a relentless dirge.

I mentioned in the post the other night that I learned this tune from Cathy Barton Para at the Midwest Banjo Camp last June – in a class about banjo tunes from the Midwest.

Lucky you (saved by mechanical failure)

I had every intention tonight of recording more banjo practice on video. Specifically I wanted to record myself playing a tune called Bonaparte’s March on clawhammer banjo. I’ve learned that recording myself is a great learning tool. It encourages me to listen carefully to how I actually played the tune rather than how I imagined I played it. I can see what I need to do to improve. If I managed a half-way listenable recording I planned to post it here on 27th Street.

I know, because I look at my stats from time to time, that is a dumb thing to do (it seems everytime I post banjo practice, visits tail right off…haha) but I was going to do it anyway. So I set up a tri-pod and attached my trusty low-end point and shoot digital camera, set it to record, and sat down to play. I no sooner started into the tune when the camera gave me a tadringggg kind of happy sound that meant whatever I was trying to do I wasn’t doing anymore. I got up to look at the camera. It was now set up to shoot panoramic stills. I reset and started again. Tadringggg. Tadringgg. Tadringgg. Tadringgg. No matter what I tried, tadringgg. I shut it off and turned it on. I fiddled with the settings. My camera refused to record more than 3 seconds of video. Was my playing that bad that even my camera refused to listen?

It seems more likely that this camera has had the biscuit. I can’t really complain though. We bought it for around $100 and it has reliably taken hundreds and hundreds of quality stills and videos. Maybe it will continue to take stills for a while. Who knows. I do know it won’t take any more video. I like shooting video, so at some point I’m going to have to do something about this, but it can wait for a while until I figure out the best solution. Does it make sense to simply splurge and buy a better quality compact point and shoot camera, or maybe I should get something specifically for video.

The tune I was going to record is one I learned at the Midwest Banjo Camp, taught by Cathy Barton Para. It is one of the tunes that Garry Harrison and the Indian Creek Delta Boys learned from Harvey “Pappy” Taylor in Southern Illinois. Although you are spared having to listen to me play the tune, I would like to share the some version of the tune with you none-the-less. Here are Nathan McAlister and Sours playing Bonaparte’s March. No banjo on this one, but it does have a concertina – nice touch.

Bonaparte’s March is one of the tunes banjo players refer to as “modal”. We play it in a special tuning called sawmill or mountain modal tuning. It’s a hypnotic and repetitive tune. It’s got an A part and a B part but both parts resolve the same way. This tune is usually played in A-modal. For me that means I tune to sawmill tuning and capo up to the second fret. My banjos have “railroad spikes” and I used one of those to tune the fifth (drone) string up from G to A as well.

There is another video performance of Bonaparte’s March from way back in 1984, featuring the Indian Creek Delta Boys. What a great historical record!

This version is close to the way I learned the tune at banjo camp, as I have no trouble playing along with this video.


Johnny Can’t Dance

It’s about time I shared some button accordion music around this joint, don’t you think?

Johnny Can’t Dance

Ray Abshire

or how about Clifton Chenier?

I think the reason he can’t dance is he’s got a paper in his shoe… here’s the late Boozee Chavis

Banjo Practice (Cumberland Gap)

I recorded some banjo practice the other night. Here’s me trying to play Cumberland Gap.

I recorded it with an inexpensive point and shoot digital camera with not quite enough light, so there are limitations (besides the obvious ones involving my playing)

Harrington Valley Two-Step

Often when we talk about old time music traditions, the conversation is about players from West Virginia or Virginia or North Carolina, the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge and so on, and for some people it’s all about music from certain counties or one side of the mountain vs the other side.

When I was at the Midwest Banjo Camp in the spring I was introduced to another old time tradition – from “Little Egypt” in Southern Illinois, and I started listening to players like Garry Harrison and Chirps Smith. Aha, old time music is everywhere.

Here in Canada, it’s been my experience that many people are unaware of our own old time traditions, from Cape Breton, from Quebec, from the Ottawa Valley, and the fantastic Metis fiddle tradition in the west.

Here is a taste of Metis fiddle – it’s a video I found on YouTube featuring the wonderful fiddler Patti Lamoureux (aka Patti Kusturok). When I hear her music, I just want it to go on and on and never stop.

Safe haven for Toronto folk music lovers

When we go out in Toronto to enjoy live music, more often than not it’s to Hugh’s Room. We’ve been there for Ramblin’ Jack, for Ian Tyson, for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, for the McGarrigles back when Kate was still gracing the planet, for Stacie Earle and Mark Stuart, for John McEuen, for Valdy, for Leon Redbone – oh, and let’s not forget Tom Russell, and the Kruger Brothers and April Verch and David Bromberg and the late great Jesse Winchester – and so many more of our favourite performers.

For fans of what is now broadly called “roots music” or worse, “Americana”, it’s been the place to go for live music in Toronto for years. I get regular emails with updates on who is coming and when a show comes up we want to attend, I just call up and reserve a table for dinner. All the seats are good, the sound is fine, and unlike in the pop genre where the performer is a tiny dot on a stage in the distance, the shows at Hugh’s Room are friendly and so much more intimate.

There are a number of shows coming up that are right up our alley. The Banjo Special is February 8, Iris DeMent is coming February 27 and 28, the Kruger Brothers are returning March 8 – and it’s not up on the Hugh’s Room website yet but April Verch’s website says she is returning to town for some Ottawa Valley fiddle and step-dancing at the end of April.

We’re really fortunate here in Toronto to have many fantastic performers come through town, and to have a friendly and comfortable place to enjoy them.

UPDATE: got tickets for Iris DeMent…wahoooooo!