Tag Archives: music


My experience at the Mid-west Banjo camp kick-started my learning and since I returned home I’ve wanted to play and play and play. With that kind of immersion experience you get exposed to a lot of ideas, but most of them require plenty of practice to make those ideas part of your playing.

I’ve been learning clawhammer in isolation and suddenly I was exposed to jamming. Wow, was that ever fun! It really changed my whole experience of the music. I’d love to play with other people more often. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on adding some new tunes and ideas (to me at least) to my little repertoire.

I love learning new things, and when I take on a new challenge I like to jump into it with a lot of effort and enthusiasm. I started playing music – button accordion – in my early 40s, and now over the past year and a half I’ve jumped into playing clawhammer banjo. I’m encouraged that I can hear my playing improve and the more I improve the more I want to learn.

How music works

I just finished reading How Music Works, the 2012 book by David Byrne. I’d like to thank Hobie Post up front for recommending this excellent read.

For those who saw the name of the author and immediately thought the question, yes, it is by THAT David Byrne, the one from Talking Heads and loads of other excellent projects.

This is an ambitious book. It talks about so many aspects of music, from the creative process, performing live, recording, to the business end, the various types of contractural arrangements, and how the business has changed radically with technology. This is all mixed in with autobiography. Byrne shares his own experiences generously throughout.

One of the key ideas Byrne argues is that he believes we “unconscously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats”. He starts the book out by laying out this argument and in doing so he caught my attention right away.

“In a sense, we work backward, either consciously or unconsciously, creating work that fits the venue available to us. That holds true for other arts as well: pictures are created that fit and look good on white walls in galleries just as music is written that sounds good either in a dance club or a symphony hall (but probably not in both). In a sense, the space, the platform, and the software “makes” the art, the music or whatever.”

How Music Works is written in a fairly conversational way. It is intelligent and thoughtful but at the same time it’s his own story and all the bits are mashed together. I think this kept the book from becoming too dry and as well it flavoured Byrne’s ideas with his experience.  The book is peppered with illustrations, although I  thought many of them were superfluous.

I think How Music Works could be improved with a little editing aimed at reducing the scope somewhat and shorting the whole business by a few chapters. Still, I found it to be informative and thought-provoking, and I recommend it highly for anyone who loves music. I’m giving Mr. Byrne the 27th Street Stamp of Approval for How Music Works. Read this one.

T-Model Ford

At one time I listened to a lot of blues music. Back in the early 80s when I was in university, I would go into the listening room at the York U library and sign out all sorts of obscure blues records, and sit down at one of the listening stations – each one of them had a turn-table and head-phones, and listen while I worked on assignments (some days I may have done more listening and less working).

I was attracted to blues that emphasized the song and the groove and I was never much interested in extended blues guitar solos.   Over the years, my musical tastes changed quite a bit, and I found myself listening to less and less blues, but still there are some performers who get my attention anytime I hear them. T-Model Ford is one of those. Ford was born in the early 20s and passed last summer. He didn’t start a musical career until he was in his early 70s. Here are a few performances I really enjoy, found on YouTube…


The Log Jam Song

I like log driving songs almost as much as I like train songs. Here’s legendary Canadian songwriter Wade Hemsworth.

Here’s my favourite of Mr. Hemsworth’s tunes, The Land of the Muskeg

Of course he also wrote the Log Driver’s Waltz and the Blackfly Song, both tunes I’ve known as long as I can remember.

Valerie June

Tuffy P came across Valerie June’s music recently and we’ve been giving her recording, Pushin’ Against a Stone a good listen. She sings with a lot of confidence, strums guitar and uke, and carries around enough hair for 5 or 6 performers. I think maybe she’s the real deal.

Just because nobody writes songs about trains anymore….

…doesn’t mean we should forget all about the great train songs we have….

Tonight I’d like to feature some songs about train wrecks.Let’s start with Vernon Dalhart performing Wreck of the Old 97 from 1924…

I was just 3 when the great Hank Snow recorded the Wreck of the Number 9 in 1963

Here’s the Grateful Dead performing Casey Jones from 1978

And finally an earlier take on the Casey Jones story from Memphis bluesman Furry Lewis

Diamond Joe X2

There are two different tunes that I know called Diamond Joe.

I first heard this one performed by Ian Tyson…

Here’s another version, by Sam Bush..

This tune is apparently fairly young, written in the 1950s, possibly by Cisco Houston.

Now much later I heard a different Diamond Joe altogether – an older song that dates back at least to the 1920s. Here are Bruce Molsky and Ale Moller performing Diamond Joe and Blackberry Blossom

and here’s Bob Dylan performing it in his oddball film Masked and Anonymous

Curiously enough, Mr. Dylan also recorded the other Diamond Joe on Good as I Been to You

Dream, Dream, Dream

Let’s start off with Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys performing the Old Time standard, John Brown’s Dream

Then let’s slide into Series of Dreams. Somehow or another this fantastic song never made it onto the Oh Mercy recording and was only released later on. I think Old Weird Bob had a great groove going on this one.

Here’s Dinah Washington performing Dream

All I have to do is dream – The Everly Brothers

There are dozens of “dream” songs around, and some of them are even good. What are you favourite dream songs?