Welcome to the second half of my 2nd banjoversary reminiscences. In the previous post, as you'll recall, I walked through the first six months of this past year in banjo. Today I'll do the same for the rest of this past year. In a coming post I'll get all critical and will see what lessons I can learn from my past year and what I'm going to do differently moving forward.
But for now, let's roll back the clock six months. The time was late December 2008. I'd been with my new banjo teacher, Dave, for 5 months. My year-long Banjo versus TV project had just wrapped up its 50th week. I'd been preparing and preparing for the multi-family vacation for which I was preparing jug band instruments for everybody. We'd decided to call ourselves the Royal Moose Jug Band.
At my banjo lesson Dave, who is also a recording engineer, gives me advice on how to record.
The big day finally arrived. We did our semi-annual multi-family vacation, this time at the Royal Moose Lodge in Branson, Missouri. And the Royal Moose Jug Band...
...made its debut.
We playedDuelin' Banjos for banjo, jugs, gutbucket (washtub bass), spoons, kazoos, xylophone and the three-headed guitar.
(Turn on Closed Captioning to see the instruments names.)
We also played Wabash Cannonball and I'll Fly Away. We decided that some of our more challenging songs (Underdog, I'm Satisified with My Gal, others) will wait for the next time.
"What," I hear you ask, because I listen attentively to everything you say, "is a three-headed guitarist?" It's my creation for people who don't really play the guitar. It requires a little planning and three willing guitarist-wannabes.
Take three cheap toy guitars. Tune one to open G, one to open C and one to open D. Then play. The G guitar strums when you're in G, the C guitar strums when you switch to C and the D guitar strums when you switch to D. They'll be able to strum an awful lot of bluegrass songs. Add three capos and they can do fiddle tunes, too.
For jugs, we filled metal Mountain Dew bottles with sand to varying level, creating a set of pitched bottles that you blow across to play.
My brother gave me a sorta-banjo-themed comic for Christmas:
2009 came to a close and I wrapped up the Banjo versus TV project with the banjo ahead, 319 hours versus 305 hours.
In jug band class I learned to play kazoo, spoons and jaw harp. I play just a little banjo in the classes, but mostly this session is about learning the non-store-bought jug band instruments.
Overall, though, not much happened this month, banjo-wise. I was slow to realize it, but without a project (Banjo versus TV, Royal Moose Jug Band, recital, banjo camp, etcetera) to keep me going I was neglecting my banjo. You should probably imagine the sounds of crickets chirping for this entire month, until...
At a banjo lesson I talked with Dave about how my banjo playing had slacked off since I ended the Banjo versus TV project. Dave asked the obvious: Then why not start it again? Why not indeed! So I start it up again. Thanks, Dave!
Instruments we learned to play at jug band class: jug, washboard and washtub.
Hump Night Thumpers founder Arlo Leach announced that he's moving to Portland, Oregon, and that the jug band class session starting in May would be his last at the Old Town School of Folk Music. As part of his farewell to Chicago, Arlo highlighted a different Chicago-based (or Chicago-connected) jug band each week of the class. (Arlo drew much of this material from the book Today's Chicago Blues.) This month's highlighted jug band artists: Washboard Sam, Kansas Joe McCoy, and Memphis Minnie.
For the last day of vocal class we had to sing a solo. I picked Wabash Cannonball and had the rest of the class join in on the chorus. I also played along with the banjo as I sang. It went very well. I signed up for Vocal Techniques II for the next 8-week session.
. Remember how I took guitar lessons in the fall and had been practicing with Pete Wernick's jam DVDs, all so I could learn to recognize guitar chords at a jam? Well it all paid off when I played along and didn't miss a single chord of a song that I'd never heard before, just from following the guitar. Seven more stamps until my free sandwich.
I had my banjo professionally set up by Tom Nechville (for free!) and it sounded oh so much brighter.
Among the changes Tom made: he replaced my 1/4" bridge with a 5/8" bridge' something I've been thinking about doing for a while. I like the change and it doesn't take me long to adjust to it.
I played the banjo (regular and sawed-off), jug and kazoo. We changed the lyrics to a bunch of classic jug band songs to tell the Passover story. My contribution was a modification of Good Old Mountain Dew to Good Ol' Seder Plate. Some sample lyrics:
Some herbs are bitter, you bet, Like maror and chazeret. They really do not taste great. But dont be a quitter Recall that slavery was bitter So these herbs are on the Seder plate.
My stage name for the performance was The Bluegrass Goy.
Some other topics from my banjo lessons: playing with a mandolin, fiddle tunes, Cripple Creek, why a song is played in the key it's played in, finding the I-IV-V for a chord, string bending, how I'm too timid to string bend properly, cheap tricks to spice up a song for a performance, microphone technique, how I'm too genteel and how I need to "let my jazz out."