The Frequent Fryer
A BLOT - Blog (about, mostly) Old-Time

I've got a little pile of photos, news items, blah, blah, blah. I'll post that then try to put up something interesting (maybe just to me) every now and then. I also like to give a shout out to people that make (sell) something of quality that I enjoy and think you might as well.

 


Rickard Banjos

I was talking to Sean from Rickard Banjos and he asked if I would write a review for their banjos. That seemed fair...since I own, uh, several and I tell everybody how great they are anyway. Funny thing is that after I sent something to him I decided I'd post it here. When I scrolled down I saw that I had written almost the exact thing about four years ago. I guess I must believe it as much now as I did then. The picture below is of a bloodwood slot-headed banjo with is 12" spunover pot, not the Little Wonder mentioned in the review.

Bill Rickard Banjo

I should start by admitting that I have owned a couple dozen banjos from some great builders. A well-built, great sounding banjo is a thing of beauty and I have more than one from Bill Rickard's shop. Of all those banjos I have owned the one I'll never sell and that I take to every jam, festival or gig is one of Bill's. His spunover banjos not only look awesome and play great but they also have a clear, powerful sound that can't be beat. I like how the Dobson or Bacon (my favorite) adds a bit more mid-range and a little bit of that warm hum/reverb. I recently bought one of his Little Wonders and it has the same great neck and playability but has a rounder, darker sound for when I feel like something a little different. One of his banjos is always out and next to my desk.

Having a banjo you love is one thing but being willing to recommend a builder without reservations is another. When somebody asks for banjo shopping advice I don't hesitate to tell them that they can't go wrong with one of Bill Rickard's banjos. I've seen enough of his banjos to know that the fit, finish, and playability are going to be perfect. I even went so far as to convince my friends (and former employers) at Gryphon Stringed Instruments to carry his banjos. Everybody that has taken my advice is happy and it's no surprise to me.

 


Howard Rains and Tricia Spencer

Blue Eyed Susie - Elmo Newcomer - Fiddle Transcription and Banjo Tab
Johnny Walk Along With Your Paper Collar On - Duck Wooten - Fiddle Transcription and Banjo Tab
Ladies In The Center Three Hands Round - Lake Porter - Fiddle Transcription and Banjo Tab
Porter's Reel - Stafford Harris - Fiddle Transcription and Banjo Tab
Stumptown Stomp - Eck Robinson - Fiddle Transcription and Banjo Tab

Update: I went to a fiddle workshop in Berkeley with Howard and Tricia. I don't play fiddle but what the heck. They taught several tunes off of their new album so look for those soon in the fiddle section. I'll probably work up something for the banjo pretty soon. The CD release concert was awesome as well. Go see them if you can.

I asked Howard if it was OK to post one of his tunes and he said OK. Here's Chicken In The Garden. It's a great tune and still didn't make it onto the album. They sent it out as a bonus for people who preordered the CD. Right click and save it on your computer. It's a nice bouncy tune and I highly reccomend playing it while you go for a walk.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that several tunes from Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains' new CD are going to end up on my playlist. You might consider purchasing "Old Texas Fiddle Vol II." It's the best CD I've bought in a while....and I've bought a lot.

You can get it from their web site http://spencerandrains.com/store/. If you'd rather download it I assume it will be available on iTunes and CD Baby soon (I prefer to give my money to CDBaby). Their other albums are already there and only $9.99 to download.

Speaking of other albums...I also highly recommend the other three as well.

Tricia Spencer: Fiddling Like There's No Tomorrow
Howard Rains: The Old Texas Fiddle
Spencer and Rains: The Old Man and the Old Woman

The latter has more singing than the others. But, in what is sometimes seems to be an exception for old time, it's quite good. All of them have great versions of some tunes you've probably never heard. And...they mixed the banjo high enough that you can actually hear it. Good stuff.


Hilarie Burhans
I meant to post this picture. I moved to Portland at the end of October but before I left I had a nice picking party with some friends. Hilarie was in town and joined us. She had the same Glenn Cronkhite case as me and snapped this photo. She also brought some tunes that were new including Three Thin Dimes and it's counterpart Two Wide Nickels. She teaches both on Her YouTube page. I tabbed them out and posted them in case you would like the tab to go with the video.

New Tunes
A new music scene means a lot of new tunes. I've already got a couple of dozen that I didn't know and have been working through them as well as posting updates to ones I hadn't played for a while. You can find those on the banjo page. Mark has been keeping up even though he's back in CA.

One of my methods for learning new tunes is to create a play list and listen to the new ones over and over until I can hum the melody. Then...I pick up the banjo.

This morning I woke up with a tune in my head. I couldn't figure out the title but I sat down with the banjo and worked out the half that was in my head and as much of the B part as I could remember. I went to find the tune assuming it was on my list and it wasn't there! I checked a few old lists including one of tunes I'd played at jams but didn't intend to work up. It was Old Piss! I had decided I wasn't going to learn that one because, frankly, the juvenile glee that some people get out of announcing the title is odd. Worse yet, I had figured it out in G and it's actually in D. I was already committed so here it is in the proper key. Old Piss for banjo and Old Piss for fiddle.


 

2015 Update Number One
Well, there's been nothing here new for months so I wouldn't blame you if you stopped coming back. We moved to Portland a couple of months ago. It sure is easier to just stay where you are...but we couldn't be happier with the new house and Portland is going to be just fine. I've found a few folks to play with and hope to find more. The big Old Time Gathering is right around the corner and I expect it will be a ton of fun. See you there? http://bubbaguitar.com/gathering/

Updates...
I've been a little absent from the site the last month or so. We're considering re-locating to Portland OR and it's been a bit of a distraction (if you're in the Portland OT scene let me know, I'm nervous about finding new friends!). Anyway, I've got a dozen tunes or so to post, a few corrections, and so on. Here's some of the news in brief. I'll fill in details later.

Sound files?
Ed Cirimele has put a good number of tunes into Band In A Box files. So, if your one of the people who would like a rhythm track to play along with it you you have an option. He'll be adding more tunes but you can download the current batch. Ed is also creating MP3s of some midi files for a number of the tunes. If you prefer to learn a melody by ear, or just play along, you will have an option for that. I'll eventually add those to the fiddle transcriptions page next to the version that they are drawn from. If I decide to quit my day job maybe I'll record each of the tunes. Go to the Sound Files Page.

I talked to Sean from Rickard Banjos a month or so ago. He said Mark Olitsky ordered a banjo from them. I'm interested to hear how that turns out.

Walker Creek Music Camp is going to feature the Canotes and Candy Goldman this October. If you want to go, sign up soon as I'm sure that they will sell out quickly!

Chris from Switzerland eMailed to let me know he liked the site and wanted to pay me for my efforts. I didn't do any of this with any intent of making money. But, I told him he could buy me a beer through PayPal if he really wanted to do that.


Walker Creek Music Camp with Candy Goldman
Writing up my thoughts on Mark Olitsky's class reminded me of the "ah-ha" moment I brought home from Candy's class. Candy tends to use a lot of Alternate String Hammer Ons (ASHO) which is something I didn't use much. An ASHO is when you hammer onto a string that you have not plucked. Sometimes that is the only way to get a melody note and the chromatic crowd uses them all over the place. I tend to find another way rather than complicate things. But, she pointed out that an ASHO can substitute for a drop thumb. They can be faster and less likely to tangle your fingers. I was working with one of the students and told her that I didn't use them much but suspected you couldn't get as much volume. But, I said, let's give it a try. It only took a few minutes of practice before I couldn't really hear the difference between the two. Now I use them here and there and sometimes one time through versus drop thumbing...without really thinking about it. When I tab something out I don't specify one or the other. Some of the tunes on the Fall 2013 page go into a little more detail.

Gryphon Stringed Instruments
In my ongoing effort to recognize the folks that provide a quality product...a shout out to Frank Ford, Richard Johnston and the fine folks at Gryphon. I used to work there part time and they still treat me like they treat everybody else. Which is good. I don't get a penny from them but feel free to shop there and tell them I sent you.

They also are carrying Bill Rickard's banjos (at my request). They've had a dozen or so pass through, they've all been good, and they've got some now. Once in a while they get a spun over! Give them a call. I bookmark Gryphon's Open Back Banjo Page so I can run over and check out what's new before it disappears.


Walker Creek Music Camp with Mark Olitsky
I've attended or worked a dozen or more camps and the fiddle and banjo portion of this camp was a real highlight. The Earl White String Band was great fun. I'm working on compiling recordings, videos, banjo tabs and fiddle notation on the Walker Creek Spring 2014 page.

I really enjoyed talking to Mark about banjos and such and he was a bit smitten with my Rickard spun over. I've always said that it was my favorite and I've played a lot and own more than I should say. But, when Mark Olitsky says it's the best sounding banjo he's ever played, that's high praise. Mark was happy to pose for the picture to the left, until I told him it was for the police report in case my banjo came up missing.

I always say that you should be happy with any musical, educational endeavor if you take home some nugget. Sometimes they are brand new ideas, sometimes they just remind or hammer home some thing you already knew. Mark provided a few that I want to remember (and share, for what it's worth). I've got a few for now so let's go....

Number 1
Rhythmic playing is the bomb. I've been really enjoying the mid-west stuff and I think that's because it has a lot of emphasis on melody and memorable melodic hooks. A lot of the melody-less standards don't do much for me. Part of that is that they aren't much fun to practice solo.

But, playing with a fiddler like Earl White, who plays with tons of rhythm and groove....well....I like it. A simple tune like Roaring River or Candy Girl is good stuff. Both are on WC Spring 2014.

Number 2
Mark's playing is very rhythmic and, I would attempt to summarize, he embraces articulate, clear single notes instead of notey melodies and/or brushy chords. When he plays a full chord it tends to be a crisp chop. The single notes are frequently harmonies and he's not a slave to the melody. It is not chromatic and when played all alone and slow it can be a little sparse. But, why play alone, or slow? Here's an example.

The first two measure are how Mark might play a chord. A more typical option might be 3-4, or the drop thumb in 5-6. In the version of Hollow Poplar that Mark taught he used this rocking chord. He also used some quarter note "runs" where you might use a series of hammer on's or drop thumbs to hit more of the melody. His version and recordings are here. Note: the fifth string is tabbed, but frequently not played and definitely not emphasized. My old version, while certainly not a notey, melodic study, is here for comparison.

Number 3
Hold the whole chord form if you can (it's easier if you're not playing notey melodies!). Mark didn't mention it but I've noticed that the banjo rings the whole chord and sounds different (better) even if you're not hitting the string. And, you might hit it by accident. Mark also tends to think chordally which is part of what takes him up and down the neck. When I played mandolin I almost only played "out of the chord" and I think that was a bit of a limitation. When I took up old time banjo I intentionally tried not to do that. I wanted to play more by ear, find the melody quicker and not just grab the chord and assume the melody notes are in there somewhere. Maybe it's time to go back and really learn the chords (and partial chords) up and down the neck.

Number 4
I'm re-thinking the two finger D7. I hate the way it sounds strummed. I noticed that Mark almost always plays that instead of the two finger D. I asked him and he says he dislikes the way the D7 sounds strummed as well...but he rarely or never strums it. Oh.

If you grab the two finger D or D7 there are some simple moves that you can always use. I was eliminating some of those options by never using the D7. Mark pulls off the second fret, first string with the ring finger while holding the D7 with the index and middle. It also makes it easy to get to the full C. It's not from any particular tune but there's a little demo below to get you in the groove. The notes in the parentheses aren't played, but shown so you know to hold the whole form and could play them.

Number 5
Mark talked a little bit about playing standing versus sitting down. The band wants to stand, Mark wants to sit. Mark noted that one aspect of sitting is that you hold the banjo away from your body and braced in such a way that you are affecting the sound. You definitely can hear more, or less, of your banjo depending on how you position it.

Number 6
Why copy somebody else? Mark certainly seems to be in the "it's all good" camp. He reminded everybody that you're probably not going to be successful at copying somebody else so do what works for you. Maybe if I could play like Mark I would. But, I'm happy to learn a little and try and incorporate some. It's a slightly different issue but I love the story about Frank Proffitt. When asked if he would like to be able to play like Earl Scruggs he said something like "I’d like to be able to do it and then not do it." It's good to have options.

That's all...


Glenn Cronkhite
Glenn makes a killer case. I'm not sure everybody is cut out to put their precious cargo in a soft case. But, if you think you are, and you don't mind spending a little dough, he'll set you up with a sweet leather ride. He made mine in the Pig's Foot colors and had it on my doorstep in a couple of weeks. My only regret is not checking to see if pig skin was an option. He didn't ask me to write this. I just like supporting people who do good work.

Cronkhite Cases
510-527-4490


BOTMC
Spring Situation
Mark and I were recruited to lead a jam in the lobby from 2:00 until 3:00. There's that, and other stuff going on, and it's all free. Come on by and pick a tune or just hang out.

Saturday May 10, 2014 from Noon to 4 p.m.: Old time Open House - it's free! More Info...


One Eyed Cat
It's a fun Dave Landreth tune we played with Alan Lubanes once. Then, actually learned from a Geoff Seitz recording called The Good Old Days Are Here. Now, I thought it was out of print and said as much on Face Book when somebody asked where to find the tune. Well, a couple minutes later Steve Goldfield said you can get it from ChildGrove.com. I ordered a copy since my recording was one somebody gave me when I couldn't find it at the usual places. A little later Geoff himself chimes in and says that "you can go to my shop's website seitzviolins.com and get the shop address and phone and order direct from me. $15 will get you the CD and shipping." So there you go.

Pig's Foot String Band on KPFA

The Pigs will take to the air again on Sunday, March 23rd somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00. Ray Edlund has invited us to join him in the Berkeley, California studios of KPFA. Find us at 94.1 on your FM dial or kpfa.org for you out-of-town folks.

For more info about the Pig's Foot String Band follow the link, or scroll down this page!


The numbers tell the story! The statistic page for TaterJoes says that Mark's fiddle page gets more hits than my banjo page. Almost 25% more! He must know the people in Altoona that keep logging on. Anyway, tell your banjo friends to step it up.


What's up with the tater tots pic? That's for Barbara who claims that she checks in regularly. We'll see how long it takes her to mention the culinary side trip.


Feedback (not the squeeeeeeeeling of a poorly wrangled sound system) is welcome. I'm going to try out a guest book. We'll see.


Lynn "Chirps" Smith
(ChirpsSmith.com)

We carry on with more of the Illinois section of the country! I had a nice eMail conversation with Chirps (biography) a little bit ago. I was looking for his out-of-print Prairie Dog recording. He offered to send the files, I offered to send some cash for me and each of my friends that wanted a copy. There's nothing like cutting out the middle man. Anyway, he was very helpful and also directed me to some more Illinois music. Off we go...

We've worked up quite a few tunes off of his excellent CDs which I recommend highly. Down In Little Egypt (CD Baby, Elderly or County Sales), Midwestern Harvest (another out-of-print Marimac recording?), Shades of Death Creek (New Bad Habits with Dave Landreth on banjo - CD Baby) and the Field Recorders Collective - Chirps Smith - Illinois Old Time Fiddler (Introduces and plays 28 tunes with various accompaniment).

You'll find transcriptions for some tunes we found on his CDs including Tipping Back the Corn, Gilsaw, Hell On The Wabash, and Calico's Corn.


Garry Harrison

We seem to have gravitated towards the Illinois section of the country lately. We've worked up almost everything on the Bigfoot CD, we've got some Volo Bogtrotters in the mix and the Indian Creek Delta Boys rock. Top of the play list now...Garry Harrison. The out-of-print Red Prairie Dawn CD is mostly his originals and there are some good ones. A number of them are already on the fiddle and banjo pages and expect more to come. Find a copy of the CD if you can. And, look out for the also-out-of-print Dear Old Illinois CDs. There are three CDs with 121 tunes right from the old guys.

You'll find transcriptions for Red Prairie Dawn, Dull Chisel, Ol' Bob, Bone Yard and Muddy Boots. There's also Acorn Hill for fiddle but not for banjo yet.


Pigs Foot String Band On The Air:

KKUP had their Folk and Bluegrass marathon February 9th 2014. We be played a 45 minute set. The recording doesn't have the exact balance you'd want for a CD. But, it's not too bad and you get the idea. Here's the whole thing...

  1. Goodbye Girls I'm Going to Boston - Hunting The Buffalo
  2. Richmond - Reuben
  3. Snake Hunt - Bull at the Wagon
  4. Hangman's Reel
  5. Rock The Cradle Joe - Waiting for Nancy
  6. One Eyed Cat
  7. Gilsaw - Jonah and the Wind Storm
  8. Possum's Tail is Bare
  9. Indian Corn - Possum Up A Gum Stump
  10. Monkey in a Dog Cart - Knoxville Rag

The Pig’s Foot String Band is: George Bradshaw (guitar), Ed Cirimele (mandolin), Ken Torke (banjo), Mark Wardenburg (fiddle), Barbara Rosner (bass) and Linda Sullivan (fiddle).


OT Dress Code News Flash:

Don't worry, flannel isn't "out." But "in" this year, as demonstrated by our own Tom Culbertson, are snake skin slippers. That's our pal, Mark Wardenburg, giving him some props for his keen fashion sense.


On The Air:
Ed Cirimele and I sat in for Peter Thompson on KALW while he's out nursing a torn rotator cuff repair. What did we do? Spun some righteous old time tracks. You can hear all but the last ten minutes of the show here.

I Think this will stream

Or

Right click to download the show as one big mp3.

If you wanted the play list, here it is.


Rickard Banjos Are Coming To Gryphon:
Bill Rickard and Sean Sewell made my favorite banjo. I own more banjos than I should, and I've bought and sold a few others. The banjo Bill is holding is a 12" copper spun over with a rosewood neck and insert, brass hardware and a Dobson tone ring. From the day I got it it has been the most playable, cool sounding, and best looking of the bunch. It has some hum from the Dobson but mostly a lot of volume, articulate and clear notes, and a bunch of sustain from the rosewood. It certainly isn't for everybody but it holds it's own in one of those mutli-fiddle situations.

I convinced my friends at Gryphon to give them a call and work out a dealership arrangement. Sean and Bill are great guys and I want them, and Gryphon, to sell banjos! Anyway, they received four of his banjos a month or so ago and they were gone in a matter of weeks. I'm told that a half dozen are on the way including some fancier items this time. If you're looking for a great banjo I would keep an eye on their banjo inventory or give them a call.

Frank Ford (top luthier, fountain of knowledge, Frets.com) has been talking to Bill about their shared love of machining and instruments. Who knows what will come out of that. Some new tuning peg designs? Some wacky tool only a banjo mechanic could love?


Bluegrass vs. Old Time:
My bluegrass friends are mystified. Why give up a lucrative career playing bluegrass mandolin to play old time banjo? Really, it all comes down to comfort. You get to sit down. You get to wear flannel. Flannel shirts are like wearing your pajamas in public and getting away with it. Do you need more reasons than that?

Wait, there's that fact that you don't have to get it right the first time around. Twelve

chances should do it.

Update: Rumor has it that the fashion industry is into plaids and flannel this year. Damn it all.


Walker Creek Music Camp News:
Mark OlitskyThe Spring 2014 camp is already sounding interesting. It looks like Ingrid has lined up Earl White to teach fiddle and best of all (for banjo folks) Mark Olitsky on the five string for the April 11th-14th event. Mark is one of my top few favorite players to listen to. His album, Killer Grits, stayed in my car's CD player for several months and I recommend it to all my friends. One of them thought the fiddle was too angry. OK. I'm down with that. I still say buy it if you can find it.

Back to Mark, he plays a very articulate (not brushy) style that includes a lot of melody, counter-melodies, and just plain old interesting to listen to goodness. Here's an short article about him and his style. The Earl White String Band was at Grass Valley this summer (6/13) and I watched them practice, perform, play for the dance, and chatted a bit. He's also a very nice guy.

http://youtu.be/fs3E5vgECSk a YouTube from a set with (unfortunately) poorly mixed sound at the show.

Chips and Sauce a recording from the dance. Here's my tab (not Mark's, I can't play like that) and a fiddle transcription.



A fine fall camp out at Borgeous Ranch in Walnut Creek.

The bluegrass folks have festivals somewhere in California on just about every weekend of the summer. Maybe more than one. The old time crowd does it a little different. A few times each summer somebody reserves a spot somewhere and invites 50 or 100 of their closes friends out to sit around and play music. In this case, the rent on the location is bartered for supplying music for one of their events. The per-person cost for this event was $2 to cover the "liquor licence" for the weekend so we could legally enjoy a brew with our tunes. Three days of fiddle tunes for two bucks.


The Pig's Foot String Band Plays for a Barn Dance
(in a real barn)

The Pigs (Ed Ciramelle, Tom Culbertson, Ken Torke, Mark Wardenburg, Tine Gildersleeve and Vicki Frankel) got to play our first barn. Some friends were holding a little party outside of Petaluma to celebrate their land purchase and had a big party at their next door neighbors.

Andy Wilson did the calling, folks had a good time. Our host apologized that we couldn't mingle more. We only got to eat, drink, and play music. Score.


Pig's Foot String BandPig's Foot String Band
Mark Wardenburg and I want to take it on the road. Well, not really. But, we do want to have a "band" thing ready for the occasional opportunity. I suppose if we fell into a perfect arrangement we might be ready to work on a full blown string band but after six or seven years of the Mighty Crows we don't feel the need to formalize it. (besides, it's hard to find a committed guitar player. Go figure) So...we've got a name, a logo, and people we can call on to round out a group.

The only problem? After choosing a name, designing a logo, even ordering some swell pint glasses...another band contacts me. They weren't on the web when I set everything up but now they are there and have the same name! Their fiddler, Jan Howard, thought maybe it wouldn't be a problem. They are in Wales, so probably not. I suggested we be one band with a US and a UK division. We left it at that.

You can visit our minimalist web site. You can get t-shirts in your choice of colors, and pig colors, at Cafe Press. You can ask me about a swell pint glass. You can ask us to play for you. ken@pigsfootstringband.com


The Chubby Dragon traditional headstock inlay makes an swell t-shirt.
Only your banjo playing friends will know why it's cool.
 
 
 
 

NOTES:
Just some thoughts and stuff that I'd post on Face Book if I actually wanted anybody to read it.

Links and Resources