Tuffy P has a blog…

Sheila Gregory, who many 27th Street visitors know as the fantastic Tuffy P, has a blog. Initially it was a place she could send people who wanted to look at images of her paintings. Recently though, she has started a series of photo posts she calls The Left Overs.

Please take a few minutes to pop over for a visit and say hi!

Forked Deer

A fiddle tune is like a cool drink of ice water – always welcome here at 27th Street. Here’s Spencer Branch playing the Forky Deer. Check out the way Kelley Breiding attacks the tune on clawhammer. Wow!

Spencer Branch do songs too, not just tunes. Here’s Black Widow Lady

Martha Spencer appears in this trio as well as in the Whitetop Mountaineers and in The Whitetop Mountain Band. Picking is a family business for the Spencers.

Good Morning Long Branch from Anchovy World Headquarters this morning 7:39 am

George Feb 25 Bruce Feb 25Georgie and Bruce listening to Mister Anchovy playing the banjo this morning on 27th Street.

Books I never got around to reading

I enjoy reading and while I’m not as voracious a reader as some people I know, most years I read several novels  sprinkled with a healthy dose of non-fiction. Still there are a lot of great books out there I’ve meant to read along the way, but just haven’t got around to. Then of course new books come along to catch my interest.

Sometimes I read slowly, especially if it is a long and complex novel. I like to savour the tone, hear the cadence, relish every second of my experience in that world. And yet there are times I’ll gallop through books, hardly putting them down until I reach the final page.

Sometimes it seems there is a “right time” for me to read certain books. I can think of a number of novels I’ve had in front of me that I couldn’t settle into, only to gobble them down a few years later.  My reading choices are eclectic and I bounce in all directions from book to book. .

Until a year or two ago, I had never read anything by Mordecai Richler. How could that be? I rectified that by digging into the fantastic Solomon Gursky was Here. What a great book that was! And now I just read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Oh that Duddy – I admired his drive and his ingenuity but he was so caught up in his quest for land it blinded him, rendering him incapable of caring for the important people in his life.  What a setting too, Montreal in the 40s, a city divided along wealth and ethnic lines, and Sainte-Agathe where young Duddy the waiter dreams of being a landowner, remembering the words of his grandfather – a man without land is nobody.

Now I’ll go back to my list of books I plan to read, and books others have suggested I read and maybe I’ll tackle one of those next, or perhaps I’ll stumble into the work of an author I’ve never even heard of before.


Tuning Tangle

Old Time banjo players use a number of different tunings as a matter of course, compared to bluegrass pickers who typically use one standard tuning and do all their work within that.

First you have your basic G tuning, and if you capo up to the 2nd fret and tune or spike your 5th string up to A from G, you have A tuning.

There is Double C tuning, which is handy for quite a lot of fiddle tunes. If you capo up in that tuning, you get to Double C capo 2 or Double D tuning.

Then there is Sawmill tuning, used for modal tunes. It is also called G modal or with the capo on 2, A modal. Sometimes it’s called mountain modal, just because.

Most clawhammer players familiarize themselves with the tunings I mentioned above and so they learn three sets of fingering (if you use a capo, the fingering stays the same).

Last year at banjo camp I learned a couple tunes in Standard C tuning. That looks like G tuning except you tune the 4th string down a full step.  Again with the capo, you have Standard D tuning. I’ve been learning Arkansas Traveler in Standard D.

Beyond this it starts getting both confusing and interesting because there are in fact dozens of old time banjo tunings that have been used in this musical tradition. Some of them are named after certain tunes such as Sandy River Belle tuning and Cumberland Gap tuning. Of course there are multiple tunings that go by the same names just to be confusing. One player’s Cumberland Gap tuning is another player’s Sandy River Belle tuning.

Here is what is likely a partial list of old time banjo tunings. This is from the Zepp website. There are a staggering number of possibilities. I wonder if there is anyone out there who can play something in all of them?


Cold Sunday morning – let’s warm up with some music from Texas. Here’s Butch Hancock

And here’s Texas Tornadoes performing Mr. Hancock’s best known tune, She Never Spoke Spanish to Me.

Meet me with your black drawers on….

Jackie Richardson sang Meet me with your Black Drawers On tonight at the Salah Bachir show, fronting the Toronto All-Star Big Band – a show-stopper, and just one of many highlights at this gala to support the Bachir Yerex Family Dialysis Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Centre here in Toronto.

Gavin Crawford did some stand-up, Louise Pitre sang, Billy Newton Davis sang, Theo Tams sang, Lorraine Segato sang. Then there was Man Murray…

Tuffy P with Deb Pierce AKA Man Murray
Tuffy P with Deb Pearce AKA Man Murray

To explain what Deb Pearce AKA Man Murray does on stage does not do it justice. Man appears in full polyester regalia and lip-syncs to Ann Murray songs. It is disarmingly funny and wonderful.

Of course the important thing is that Salah Bachir and Jacob Yerex are making the new dialysis centre at St. Joseph’s happen, with a little help from their friends and the broader community. Great job guys!

27th Street Tales

IMG_3147Mr. Grizzly has been sleeping in the Imagination Station. He decided to stretch and walk around the yard before the snow gets too deep.

IMG_3136O’er yonder, Cowboy Bob crosses the planes on his trusty horse, but the trail is getting snowed in and Bob is thinking about setting up camp, starting a warm fire and cooking up a cup o’ mud.

IMG_3144Maybe there’s room to camp in that old imagination station. Better watch out for Mr. Grizzly though. He gets cranky after a long sleep.

IMG_3137Mother Goose surveys the situation and wonders, “why didn’t I fly south this year? I could have been in the Everglades right now.

Snowing all day

It’s been snowing all day around 27th Street. The roads are pretty bad. I had a close call driving on the Queensway, even though I have snow tires on my Forester. I touched my breaks and I guess there was a patch of ice under the snow. Fortunately there was no traffic, as I did 3/4 of a spin, came to a stop, repositioned, and continued on my way.

The partners of course love the snow. Here’s a very brief video of Memphis and Georgie goofing around…

Button accordion for a Saturday morning

Since I immersed myself in clawhammer banjo music I haven’t listened to nearly so much button accordion music as I used to, and haven’t played my squeezeboxes so much either. That doesn’t mean I love those musical traditions any less. Let’s listen to a taste of Quebec button accordion. This is Éric Gagné. There are a couple videos on Youtube featuring him performing. M. Gagné is about as good a player as I’ve heard. Check out how his whole body is involved with the music.