Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Holland Fiddlers Picnic Labor Day 2014


a big thank you to all the friends that have sent their thoughts and prayers to me since Lonnie’s passing in June.  My heart has been touched by so many people from all walks of life and from around the world.  The music community has been my rock of strength for all the fast changes that have been made in my life.  

It seems everything these days comes to me in a song, the meaning of the lyrics, and the timing of the music.  The pain, sadness and ultimately the joy that music can bring to your soul is something we feel deeply as musicians…music is our passion…a passion we need to share with others.

So much has changed in the span of a few short months, yet some things have remained the same…MUSIC…it is always about the music.  The annual New Holland fiddler’s picnic was always the high light of the Labor Day weekend and this year did not disappoint.  

Yesterday I got to once again play music and jam with some of the very best musician; it brought great joy to my heart to be “back in the saddle” as they say. 

Billy Lee Cox, banjo – Remington Ryde

Warren Blair, fiddle – Fastest Grass Alive, Special Blend

Special female guest guest on fiddle (sorry, no name)

Tim, guitar

David Robertson, mandolin- Fastest Grass Alive, Harold Tipton and friends

Wendy Staley, 1941 Epiphone B-1 Bass…my faithful old friend that never lets me downs

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cabin Fever Picking Party 2014 in Virginia Beach

Ahhhhhh…temperatures finally in the 60’s today.  Spring must soon be on its way!!!

Needless to say it has been a long, cold, snowy winter and we all have a bad case of cabin fever.  Well the best way to cure that is to play some great bluegrass music with friends from near and far.  And that we did.

We have returned home from the 2014 Cabin Fever Picking Party in Virginia Beach, VA and I can say it was awesome.  We had some great jams, good food and visited with friends old and new.  I have looked forward all winter to seeing my young friends from the band Lonesome Sound from Sylva, NC.  Last we saw them we had jammed into to the wee hours of the morning at the IBMA.  We had a repeat performance at Cabin Fever.  I stayed out way past my bed time and had a blast. 

This video is snippets of the entire indoor event.  There is a few seconds at 8:51 of me jamming late Saturday night with Will, Mike and Robbie Benzing on banjo, Alby 'Bugsy' Lopez on mandolin from Marv Ashby and 
the High Octane band 

We met Jacob Jones and Will Howell four years ago at Cabin Fever when they were part of the Rye Holler Boys.  These are very talent musicians that are only out done by their politeness and charm.  They were barely 16 years old when we first met, now just into their 20’s they are road worthy musicians touring on the festival circuit.  We have run into these young pickers at Cabin Fever, Myrtle Beach and the IBMA’s.  We always have a great jam and lots of good times when we are together.  Jacob gets some drooling time over Lonnie’s Stanleytone banjo and I get to hear Will sing me “Free Born Man”.  This year we had the pleasure to meet their parents and visit with everyone.  Mike Morgan is the newest member of the group and every bit the gentleman and great lead guitar picker.

Their current band is Lonesome Sound that includes Wayne Crowe of “The Crowe Brothers” on upright bass.  We got to see them showcase on Saturday evening and they did not disappoint.  I had strict instructions from Will to be in the front row or he would not pick with me Saturday night…I listen real good…Lonnie and I were front and center for the show.  The crowd loves these young fellows and gives them lots of hoots and hollers during the show.  I got a real nice surprise when Will closed the show by saying he was asked to play a special song on Friday night when we were jamming…that would have been me…so he closed their Saturday show with Free Born Man but forgot to clue Jacob in before the song started.  Lonnie kept nudging me during the show saying Will was gonna sing that song for me…and he sure did.  He put it all out there, it was great!  After the show he jumped out from behind the stage and gave me a big ole hug.  He is going to be real lady killer some day…”sing me a song that will make me cry!” is what he always says.

After the Lonesome Sound show we caught the last show case band Kody Norris with our other favorite Stanley style banjo player Matthew Henderson.  Matt is another special young man with talent just pouring out of him.  There are two great Stanley style banjo players, Steve Sparkman and Matt Henderson.  They can play Ralph Stanley banjo just as good or better then Ralph.  Matt is just an awesome young man, very sweet and so very polite.  We got to jam a bit with him and his Daddy Herb on Friday afternoon.

Matt playing Lonnie's Stanleytone banjo...sounded as great as always and me on Polly Pretty Polly the 1937 Kay M-4

Hope Matt left some notes on it for Lonnie

Some of our other great friends and pickers that we visited with included Billy Lee Cox who is an absolute monster banjo picker and jammer.  He was in jam’s everyday for hours and I do mean hours…8-9 hour marathon sessions.  When I talked with him Saturday night he asked if I had herd the jazz jam on the 3rd floor.  Apparently he did an all jazz jam with Dennis Lee on bass and a top shelf guitar player.  I missed it, I bet it was awesome.  We caught a good bit of his jams on Thursday with Scott Brannon, Tracey Dent Rohrbaugh on mandolin and the lead singer from Big Country Bluegrass Eddie Gill and others. 

We also had time to visit with the ever charming and down to earth Al Batten and his sweet wife Gloria.  We always enjoy talking and picking with them.  You could not meet two nicer people that always make you feel welcome to sit down at the table and share a meal…which we have done!

All in all this was a great break from the winter weather and a much welcome high quality jamming and picking session that I was in need of.  Now that we got some good music in us we can brave the predicted 17 degree temperatures later this week.  We can’t wait until the IBMA’s where we will have an opportunity to see all our southern friends again.

Cabin Fever did not disappoint us.  It made the long winter melt away for a short time.

It was all good!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New adventure

Ahhhh ole man winter...

…he needs to take a vacation with Mother Nature and leave us alone for a while!

Snow, snow and more snow
As we sit at home with another day off work because of 14” of snow and still snowing…last week it was ice and no power.

I did something new last evening; I laid down a bass track in a friend’s local recording studio.  I have never been in a recording studio and had no idea what to expect but I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  Our friend Dave is a local musician that we met at a bluegrass jam over a year ago.  He is one of the best rhythm guitar players I get to jam with and a wonderful guy to boot!  He is in the process of recording the Stanley Brothers song White Dove for a friend’s Father that passed away.  Dave was gifted this man’s mandolin and found out his favorite song was White Dove.  So as gift to the family he is recording this song with the special mandolin as a way to express his appreciation.  He is doing all three harmony parts as well as the guitar and mandolin tracks but still needed a bass…that is where I come in.

We went last evening to Dave’s home recording studio with my 1937 Kay M-4 named Polly Pretty Polly under the threat of an impending snow storm.  Once inside in the isolation of the recording studio all thoughts of a cold snowy evening quickly melted.  While the studio is small there was no lack of recording wizardry.  Dave has equipment stacked high around him in the engineer room while the studio is completely covered in paper egg cartons.  The room is completely dead and perfect for recording.

The wizard behind the glass

This is a new look for me...headphones

Dropping out the bad note and inserting the new note...amazing

My 1937 Kay M-4 Polly Pretty Polly

It took me a bit to get used to the head phones and studio microphone…which I kept bumping into with my bass.  After some tests, adjustments and placing a condenser mic behind the tailpiece wrapped in a towel I began to find my groove.  We did four tracks with each one getting better and my playing more comfortable.  I added a bit more walking on the last take but missed a note.  Dave asked why I wrinkled my nose…I said because I made a mistake.  He played the track back and I pointed out the missed note.  No problem.  A quick few notes re-recorded and he was able to drop out the bad note and drop in the correct note.  Watching him break down the sound waves, stretch them out, edit and drop the new note in was fascinating.  I have done a bit of recording with my Edirol recorder and used Audacity software to edit and burn a CD, but nothing like this.

The evening flew by quickly.  We learned much and now have an opportunity to be invited back for more recordings.  Dave has a plan to include a full bluegrass band on his all gospel recording.  It is a real honor and compliment to be included in his project. 

And the weather man was right this time.  We stepped outside at 9:45 pm and there was already an inch or two of snow on the ground.  Spring has to soon be on its way.  I am not sure how much more folks can take.  In 32 years I have never missed two days of work in two weeks because of bad weather.  It’s been a crazy, miserable, cold, snowy, icy winter and its only February 13th…SIGH.

Keep checking back…spring flowers are on their way!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Frixo, the 1940 Epiphone B3 #218

Well, here we are the last Sunday of January…whew.  What a month of cold, cold weather.  We have not had a winter like this one for quite some time.  Keeping the snow and ice at bay, keeping the cars warm and running, keeping the heat on have all been a challenge…and Spring is weeks away.

The last update in the workshop was Frixo, the 1940 Epiphone B3.  I have been playing this bass regularly since Lonnie finished it a month or so ago.  What a great bass with a warm complex tone.  This bass is so well preserved; in such great condition, everyone is amazed that it is a 1940.  I can absolutely say the bass is waking up and the volume and tone is getting stronger with every jam. 

I had some one asked if the bass was carved, it has that big of a sound to it…nope…it is a plywood bass.  A very well built plywood bass.  The neck is solid and more meaty then some of my other Epi’s.  The original rosewood fingerboard feels thick like it had never been scraped or dressed.  I really do think this bass sat unplayed for decades for it to be in this great of surviving condition.

The set up on this bass is lower then my normal, aggressive, dig in bluegrass playing style but I have certainly adapted to it.  It takes very little efforts to play and a great bass to walk and throw in good passing notes. This bass is destine to end up in the hands of a jazz player, someone who can really appreciate great tone and great low set up.

As soon as the weather breaks and we can get a full slide show completed I’ll post the finished pictures.  I am on the fence about keeping this one in the Epiphone collection because of its rarity or passing it along to a great player that can make some awesome music with him.  He is the lowest Epiphone production B3 model on record and by far the best example I have seen for excellent surviving condition.  There is not a finer B3 in the Epiphone database then this bass.

Stay warm and let’s hope spring makes and early arrival!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Years Yawl, welcome to 2014!

Wow, five years of the Bass Monkey Workshop blog…time has passed so quickly.  Though we have accomplished much, there is so much more work to do.  When I look back at the first day the blog was created in January 1st, 2009 until now, we could have never dreamed of the wonderful people we have met, the basses that we have been so fortunate to own and restore, but most important is the music that has brought so much joy to our life.

If you have read through the blogs, I have posted about everything from bass restorations to Lonnie’s passion for his beloved first car, his Mustang.  I have also posted about his work on banjos and my multiple comments about the weather (a favorite hobby of mine).  My favorite posts are about the wonderful people we have met along our journey and the joyous opportunities to make music with some of the finest musicians. 

We are very fortunate to live in a region that is rich with bluegrass music.  Any given night with a 100 mile drive we can play bluegrass music.  We are now jamming up to three times a week.  These local jams give me an opportunity to test drive all our basses in a live setting.  We get to hear the volume and tone of our basses against the other instruments.  Some of our jams get quite large and pretty “snappy” as our one friend likes to say, and my bass always gets the job done.

While I love all our basses some I favor more then others, mostly because of sentimental reasons.  Of course my number one bass is my Gunner, the 1941 Epiphone B-1.  He is my first Epi and the Epiphone that started the research project and the journey to study the Epiphone upright bass history project.  This bass will never leave our collection; he will be with me until my last day on earth.  He looks like he was drug behind a truck and has never had one cosmetic touch up.  The patina and wear on this bass is just perfect, I would not change a thing if we could.  He is perfect just the way he is…repaired neck, chipped edges, ghastly green brown finish…just the way a 1941 bass with a deep history and thousands of gigs should look and sound. 

One of my other favorite basses is my 1937 Kay M-4 named Polly Pretty Polly.  She too has a special place in my heart as my second Kay bass I ever owned.  Her flowered engraved tuners have always been a soft spot for me.  She is a beautiful dark honey blonde and her finish has aged with a nice cracked patina.  She too is a bass that has an awesome tone and is a joy to play.  I have been playing her exclusively the last few weeks and am being reminded why Kay was the Father of the plywood basses…she has such great tone and playability.  She is a sweet ole gal.

Then there is my 1937 American Standard with the humped shoulders named Elliot, he too was my very first American Standard bass.  He unlike Gunner or Polly has gone through a complete Bass Monkey restoration with a new finish and wears a full set of Gamut gut strings. He is a gorgeous, big, bad, bass that has that classic American Standard low end boom.  I don’t play this bass nearly enough as it is so beautiful I don’t want to get it banged up in public jams.  He tends to stay home and gets good “woodshed” time.  It also takes a few songs for me to get acclimated to the 43” string length verses the 42” string length of the Kay or Epi.  He too has a special spot in my heart as my first American Standard.

From that core of three basses are several other favorites like my pristine 1941 Gibson B-135 bass named Mother Maybelle to the 1941 Epiphone B5 named Big Daddy.  Both of these basses are in a time warp.  They have barely aged from the day they were made.  Both basses are completely original with no damage and no repairs.  Just stunning examples of two great basses from that golden pre-war era.  I could go on and on why each of our basses has a special connection for both of us.  Either by how we acquired it or the history and stories behind each bass.  They are all special to us in some unique way.  We hope once the holidays pass that we can get back to bass restoration projects.  Lonnie has been working on the Mustang this winter so the Bass Monkey workshop has been pretty quiet.

We are fortunate to have many visitors (and many international visitors) to the website and the workshop blog everyday.  We hope you have enjoyed reading our stories and share in our joy of American-made plywood upright basses.  We can only wonder and imagine what the next five years will bring.  

Our New Years wish for you is a life filled with good health, great music and the joy that you can bring to others by sharing a song, a smile and a kind word.

Happy New Year!!!