Tuesday, November 29, 2011


[L.E. Leone is never afraid to tackle the big questions in short poems—one of the many reasons we love her & her work both!  Enjoy!]


Apple falls exactly under
the apple tree, rolls a little
Bees get into it.

You see a rotten apple, danger
dead dog, and say, “Amen.”
I see the light, a future tree,
and say, “Shit.”

Man, what’s the difference?

L.E. Leone
© 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Any Womans Blues #16 – Ruthie Foster

A happy Monday to you, friends!  The Monday Morning Blues are coming down here, so get ready for some great tunes.

Yes, it’s time for the monthly installment of the Any Woman’s Blues series, our own tribute to women blues guitar-slingers, & this month’s featured performer is truly electrifying.  Ruthie Foster is probably thought of first & foremost as a singer, but she accompanies herself on guitar, & does so very well indeed.  After all, for all that we think of many of the classic bluesmen as guitarists first, blues was historically vocal music—the notion of the blues as a vehicle for guitar pyrotechnics & virtousoic extended solos more or less came into the genre when it hybridized with rock.  The genius of the country blues guitarists was not in their solos, but in their ability to accompany themselves in effective ways—the ability to build riffs & call & response that was the basis for so much playing that’s heard on early recordings.  Of course, early recordings were restricted to a three minute format, & it’s quite possible that in actual performance there was a lot more soling.  Still, when we read accounts of no less a blues personage than Charlie Patton, we learn that often when playing extended pieces for dances he would use the guitar essentially as a drum, beating out a rhythm on the soundboard to stretch out the music.

In any case, Ruthie Foster for my money most definitely belongs in this series.  Of course, as a vocalist, she is nonpareil—her singing has been compared to that of both Ella Fitzgerald & Aretha Franklin, & in this case you can believe the hype—except as you will hear, Foster has a passion & power that’s completely her own.

Foster grew up in Texas in a family of gospel singers.  She studied music McLennan Community College, did a stint in the Navy, & then in the 1990s began a performing career—including a recording contract with Atlantic—that was put on hold for a few years when she took time to care for her mother in her last illness.  However, since the release of Full Circle in 1997, Foster has gone on to win acclaim as a performer, including the Blues Music Award as Best Traditional Blues Female Artist & the Blues Foundation’s Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year, both in 2010; Foster has also released at least eight other albums, with the most recent being Live at Antone in 2011 on  Blue Corn Music.

Ruthie Foster keeps up a busy touring schedule, & if she’s in your area, make a point to check here out—you can find out her tour dates here.  In the meantime, please enjoy these two great numbers—I know you will!

Photo of the Week 11/27/11

Apartment Interior
Mississippi Neighborhood
Portland, Oregon
Monday 11/21/11

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Happy Saturday, friends!  For those of you who haven’t yet gotten the news: I’m moving into my new apartment today.

Once things are starting to look home-like inside I’ll post some more interior pictures; in the meantime, here are a few of the unadorned space & environs, along with a big thank all of you who’ve been so encouraging here, on other online venues & in 3-D life!  This has been a major adventure, with a number of highs & lows—as adventures are wont to have—& all the support I’ve received from folks in both the cyber & 3-D realms has meant a lot to me. 
Given the strain on resources & the social service funding cuts here in the States, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found housing I can afford in a span of less than four months.  Section 8, which allows low income/fixed income renters to get assistance with qualified units on the open market, is closed in Portland & many US cities due to funding cuts; that was a strike against me, because two rental possibilities came up early on that would have worked had Section 8 been available to me.  A number of units also are available—theoretically, at least—where the rent is 30% of the person/family’s income.  These are designated, of course, for low income people, including seniors & the disabled (I am in low income bracket, & also disabled; & by some definitions also a “senior,” since some properties class anyone 55 & up in that category.)  This was the type of housing I wanted most to obtain, since it would have been the most affordable; unfortunately, the waiting lists for most of those units are closed in Portland (& other US cities), due to high demand.  When the waiting lists are open, the wait time is typically years, not months.

My new place is for low income residents, tho within the complex itself there is some range in income—units vary in their cost depending on where the person or family’s income falls in relation to the median area income.  I was extremely fortunate that one of the lowest priced units was available when my turn on the waiting list came up.  Tho things will be tight, it is a rent that I can sustain with a very “no frills” lifestyle. 
The complex has a lot going for it—everything’s on the “ground floor,” including the laundry facilities.  This is important to me, because with COPD, stairs are not my friend!  The apartment itself is very trim & well maintained, & the grounds seem pleasant & well kept (even in the Portland November rain.)  I also like the fact that the complex has a mixed population—families & younger people, as well as banged-up old codgers like me!
 One practical note in terms of the blog: I wasn’t able to schedule the wireless hook-up until Monday morning.  As of this time I don’t anticipate any off-days; I’m expecting that I’ll be able to get the Photo of the Week & Monday Morning Blues features scheduled ahead of time.  However, I may not be able to moderate comments using my phone, which will be the only ‘net access I have between Friday evening & Monday morning.

Thanks again, & hope you enjoy your weekend!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beatles on the Banjo

A happy Banjo Friday, friends!  If you’re one of our Stateside readers, sure hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day—I can attest that I certainly did, with lots of good food topped off by the best jam of all: a music jam, & one that included some banjo playing by yours truly along with the standard guitar fare.

This month we’ve been listening to the banjo in unusual musical environments, & today’s video is no exception.  When I heard Tony Trischka medley “Ticket To Ride,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Drive My Car” & “Lady Madonna,” I knew this would be a fun way to wrap up the month, & a nice light-hearted post to come down off the Thanksgiving holiday.

If you’re not familiar with Tony Trischka’s work, it must be said that he is one of the best five-string banjo players going, & has also been influential as a teacher—Béla Fleck was one of his students!—who has produced a lot of instructional material, in both book & dvd form, & who now heads up the online Tony Trischka School of Banjo.  But Trischka also has had a long & successful performing & recording career as a session player, solo artist & performer with bands like Country Cooking, Country Granola & Skyline.  He has also been involved as a producer, & in fact was in charge of production of Rounder’s fun & successful 2011 Rare Bird Alert album featuring Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin, who can play some banjo!) & the Steep Canyon Rangers.  Coincidentally, you can read an excellent review of Rare Bird Alert by  Robert Frost’s Banjo’s Rockstar Poet, Barbie Dockstader Angell, here.  

Trischka’s playing style is based on bluegrass techniques, but like Bill Keith & Fleck, he takes these techniques to whole new places.  As an aside, I was fascinated to learn that Trischka first became interested in playing the banjo not by listening to Earl Scruggs or Ralph Stanley, but by hearing the Kingston Trio play “Charlie on the MTA!”  The song does have a fun banjo part!

OK, folks: it’s late on Thursday evening, & my computer has already crashed once, taking much of the original version of this post with it.  So let’s say: hope you enjoy the music—I know you will!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"I Forgot...."

[I doubt that Barbie Dockstader Angell is ever really at a loss for words, but her persona claims to be here; a lovely, bittersweet poem from our favorite Rockstar-Poet-in-Residence!]

I Forgot….

I forgot who I was for a moment
And what I wanted to say,
But I’m certain that it was important.
The one thing so you’d want to stay.

Just look on the floor all around you.
Just check on the stairs and the ground.
‘Cause I know when you hear all about it,
You’ll be happy that I’m still around.

I remember the feelings you gave me.
They’re safe in my cigarette pack.
They’re the paste that’s holding my dreams.
I’m afraid that I can’t give them back.

I’ve misplaced the words that I wanted.
They’re the reason that I want to smile.
So search out the places around you.
I’m sure that I’ll be worth your while.

I forgot who I was for a moment.
I forgot who I wanted to be.
If you find that one phrase that I’m missing,
Please remember that it was from me.

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present

[This will be the last post before Thanksgiving, so a very joyful holiday to all of our U.S. friends.  See you on Friday—but please take a moment to say "hey" to Barbie Angell, our favorite Rockstar-Poet-in-Residence, in the comments!]

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the Trail of the Gibson L-1

It’s the Monday Morning Blues here on Robert Frost’s Banjo—in case you can’t hardly find your Monday morning shoes.

If you’re a regular follower of this series, you know that once a month we check in on one of the renowned guitar models that have helped shape the blues sound we know; & today’s model is a truly beautiful guitar that was played by a number of blues musicians—including one who has attained such a stature that if he’d been the only guitarist to play this instrument, it would still deserve to be included in the series.  That one musician is Robert Johnson, & that guitar is the Gibson L-1. 
See pic below for famous studio portrait with the guitar in question, & pic above for a beautiful if well used 1928 L-1.

I should point out that Johnson was joined in using the Gibson L-1 by other well known blues players, including Scrapper Blackwell & Big Joe Williams, tho in those cases they are much more associated with other guitars (a National Triolian & various deformed Harmonys respectively).  & some less well-known blues players used this—like Johnson—as their main instrument; these include John Henry Barbee, Bill Williams & Clifford Gibson (see second video below.)

As I understand it, Johnson played other guitars as well.  His sometime playing & traveling partner Johnny Shines claimed he played a Kalamazoo, which guitar aficionados will know was a less expensive Gibson subsidiary—however, I had the pleasure of playing an old Kalamazoo in a guitar shop here in Portland, & I can tell you they are beautiful playing & sounding guitars!  There apparently also is a rumor that he played a 7-string brass-bodied National—the high E string was reputedly doubled to increase volume! By the way, the site at that last link has been a major source in this whole series. I should also point out that
—as far as I knowthere's no definite proof Johnson used the guitar from the studio portrait when he made his recordings.  But the consensus seems to be that the L-1 was his main instrument.

Depending on the condition, a Gibson L-1 from the series manufactured between 1926 & 1937 would cost you anywhere from $4,000 to $4,500 & up on the vintage guitar market.  Those figures are based on 2009 estimates, by the way, & th guitars appreciate at about 5% per year!  While I can’t readily find an original list price for the L-1, I can tell you that the very similar, if somewhat less fancy L-00 retailed for $25.00 around 1930.  If we round that up to $30 for its somewhat more ornate sibling the L-1, we find that such a guitar would have cost the equivalent of $387.95 in 2010 dollars.  Now, this is the price of a decent student model guitar these days: you can find some Recording King & Blueridge models in this price range, as well as several other very serviceable brands.  Meanwhile, a new Gibson L-1 (Gibson reintroduced the line in ) retails for $2,100 & up—the actual list price is closer to $2,800.

Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs in his short lifetime, so of course there are 29 great choices for a video to illustrate here!  I chose “Malted Milk,” which features some characteristic riffs but isn’t one of his better known pieces—I love it myself!  & I’ve included Clifford Gibson & his L-1 telling us about “Blues Without a Dime” (recorded for Victor in 1929.)



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I’m a Stranger Here

For those folks who don’t interact with me on other social media sites, & hence to whom this still will be news: I have the apartment.  As of Monday, I will be in possession of a place of my own.  It’s an exciting prospect.

The actual move won’t happen until after Thanksgiving for logistical reasons, but by this time next week (or a bit later in the day!), I will be living on my own, in my own digs, for the first time since I lived in San Francisco in 1998.  That seems like a lifetime ago….

But for all the sense of excitement, I’ve found myself subject to melancholy since yesterday.  Part of that is simply exhaustion: I had a long day of medical appointments on Friday, leaving the house at 8:30 & not getting back until close to 5:00—these were all routine by the way, so no worries on that front.  But it was draining; & today I meet with my uke student in the town of Milwaukie, which is almost a sort of Planes, Trains & Automobiles venture—actually, just substitute “bus” for planes” & you have it.  So no rest for the weary.  At least when I have my new place, new students will be coming to me!

In addition, there’s stress associated with finding a place, as potentially liberating as it is.  Indeed, my expenses while staying with friends have been limited, & the rent I’ve been paying is itself over $100 less than what I’ll be paying for my own apartment.  The only downside of finding the place relatively quickly is that I didn’t have time to build up much of a reserve.  But there was no question of not walking into this opportunity, even tho from a financial viewpoint it is going to be difficult.

& it’s difficult too from the perspective that this move brings an even more conclusive finality to the end of my relationship with Eberle as it existed in the past.  While we remain friends & friendly, there’s a distance that often seems far greater than 434 miles.  But that’s the reality of things. 

Finally, I’ve been living in the lap of luxury here in many ways—I have daily friendly companionship, great food, even lovely pets with I can interact.  I’ve entered into routines that are integrated with this part of town—the bus routes, the stores, the walks & so forth.  These are just now becoming familiar, & are about to change.

So, from the perspective of the blues driving blues away, here’s a little Ramblin’ Jack Elliott with the great old song, “New Stranger Blues.”  It does sum up something of what I’m feeling—but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual “sunshine self” soon!

Hope you’re having a great Saturday; if not, hope Ramblin’ Jack lifts your spirits!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Happy Banjo Friday, folks!  Things are all a-bustle here around Robert Frost’s Banjo Central, & I have a busy day ahead of me—so apologies in advance in comments aren’t moderated in a timely fashion!  More news in the near future, tho I can tell you that today’s specific bustle has to do with more mundane matters than apartments.

Fortunately, I do have another entry in this month’s series on the banjo in unusual musical contexts that I think you’ll enjoy a lot!  This features banjoist/composer/singer Abigail Washburn & the other three members of the Sparrow Quartet: Béla Fleck (also on banjo, of course), Casey Driessen (violin), & Ben Sollee (cello).  The Sparrow Quartet released one album, a self-titled collection, in 2008 on the Nettwerk label. 

Since last week’s post featured Fleck’s work, today I want to focus on Abigail Washburn.  While Washburn is not a virtuosic player in the sense that Fleck is, she is a musical force to be reckoned with: a talented composer & someone who has been able in her songwriting & arranging to bring together very disparate elements into an always intriguing sound.  & she is a very good banjoist at that.  While she is usually thought of as a clawhammer style player (& that is the style she employs in her part on today’s selection, “Captain”), she also plays fingerstyle—not really the 2-finger Scruggs style that Fleck & Bill Keith use as a starting point, but something a bit more like guitar fingerstyle playing. 

Washburn first developed an interest in the banjo when living in China during the 1990s—she had a family connection to that country & was considering becoming a lawyer & practicing law there.  The banjo apparently served as a bridge for her between the cultures, but despite exploring the banjo—& also some gigging experience in the past as a back-up singer—she didn’t pursue music professionally until later when she was working as an activist in Vermont.

Washburn has brought the banjo into any number of unusual music contexts—the Sparrow Quartet explored Chinese melodies, avant-garde sounds & a fascinating combination of improvisation & “string quartet” settings to create a really singular kind of music.  Washburn also spent several years with the old-time band Uncle Earl, & has since gone on to continue her innovation by heading up a recording project that produced City of Refuge on the New Rounder label.  Here continues her innovative sound, mixing elements of old-time music, World music, pop & much more to create a unique singer-songwriter song: a singer-songwriter not wielding a 6-string, but playing clawhammer banjo, with various backing configurations. 

Hope you enjoy this exciting performer & the formidable Sparrow Quartet!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A happy Thursday, friends.  I’m writing this on a rather wet & gloomy Portland Wednesday afternoon, but I do have some further news on the possibility of a place to live—I hasten to add, however: nothing definite yet.

But good news all in all.  On Monday I traveled across town to the Maya Angelou Apartments in the Northeast/North section of the city, met with the manager of the apartment complex, which takes up an entire city block!—filled out more paperwork, & had the pleasure of hanging out at the local Social Security office to get a copy of a paper I’d misplaced—actually, the latter experience was not that bad: the line wasn’t too long (perhaps a factor of the downpour happening outside!)  I think the meeting went well, & the manager told me her process would take a week or less.  If all goes well, I should have a place of my own
—possibly as early as next week!  You can see the complex in the lead-off photo.

N Mississippi Ave - Gumbo Gifts & Gallery
 In terms of geography, Portlanders I talk to seem firmly conviced that the address is Northeast, but the streets are actually prefixed with North, so go figure!  As I’ve mentioned in the past, Portland is divided into quadrants: northeast/southeast/northwest/southwest, with the east-west dividing line being the Willamette River & the north-south dividing line being Burnside Street.  But it's not really quadrants, because there’s also North—still Portland proper, but given its own geographic designation—it’s sometimes called “the fifth quadrant.”  As far as I can determine, streets that are west of Williams Avenue are more often than not designated as “North,” but this isn’t a hard & fast rule.  Fact is, until you get way up by the Columbia River (which marks the boundary between Oregon & Washington state), much of the “Northeast” section is just as far north as the “North” section, & it’s all on the east side of the river! 
Mississippi Studios!
Further complicating this is the fact that, while the streets around that area almost all have the “North” designation, the neighborhood itself—the Boise neighborhood (coincidence indeed for someone moving from Idaho)—is part of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods.  Again, go figure!
Food Trucks!
The area has been subject to a good deal of gentrification over the past several years, but in fact a high percentage of Federally subsidized & Federal low-income housing is still found in the Northeast & North parts of town.  The two areas that have seen the most gentrification are the Alberta Street area, especially from streets numbered in the teens on up, & the Mississippi Avenue area, & in that case especially between Skidmore & Fremont.  Historically, these areas of north & northeast Portland had a predominantly African-American population, but at this point the population would be considered—for lack of a better term—“mixed.”  In this sense, it very much resembles the Western Addition of San Francisco where I lived in the 1990s.
Display in the "Light Bulb Store" window - N Mississippi Ave
I’m hopeful, I really am.  The apartment is a bit more than I’d hoped to spend, but I am confident I can afford it.  Things will be tight, however!  Some local folks are chipping in some much needed furniture, & I have a shipment of various household items coming this way Thanksgiving weekend with an Idaho friend who also has a Portland connection & was coming here on her own business anyway.  Because I know at least two people who travel from the Council, Idaho area to Portland with some regularity, I should be able to get most of my remaining belongings over here in a piecemeal manner.
Miss Delta - a promising eatery - N Mississippi Ave
But first things first!  First I need the place itself, & while things look good, it never pays to count on something till you’re sure.  So I continue to ask for your good wishes, positive vibes etc!  I hope to check in with some definite news within the week!

[Note: Apologies to folks who already saw these pix on Facebook!]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


[Hot off the press, & with best wishes from L.E. Leone to y’all—enjoy!]


The chicken farmer’s husband, a carpenter, is building her a new coop. People crave chicken and her business is expanding.

But that’s in France, where I left my dirty boots, in a region famous for butter.

Here, in Century City, the word on the street is: “Dentistry.” Yes, the dentists of L.A. can (and will, it is said, for a price) turn you into a Christmas tree. Flash, blink, gleam, you’ll be the belle of the ball, and once a year small children will run to you.

“What happened? Who is he?” your girlfriends will say, while meanwhile in the buffet line lead guitarists and lesbians fight for your hand.

A tin of ziti is overturned, almost without you even noticing.

“My dentist!” you will shout, over the racket and with a twinkle, to your girlfriends. You will put your fingers on their arms, in English.

From now on . . .

Wherever you go, even France, you will be the toast of the party. Nay, you will be the part of the breakfast that toast longs to be dipped into. Only white, instead of yellow.

And gorgeous instead of over, or easy.

Imagine: you don’t need braces, caps, or bridges. Your smile is whole milk, honey; your bite, the best! Everyone says so. You’ll be eating spare ribs at ninety. More to the point, you will be able to sink your teeth, finally, into poems like this.

L.E. Leone
© 2011   

Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Sidewalk Blues"

The Monday Morning Blues is upon us, friends!  We’re here with this month’s edition of the Jazz Me Blues feature, which means an exploration of the musically delicious point where blues & jazz intersect.

You really can’t talk about the history of jazz without talking about Jelly Roll Morton—the self-professed “inventor” of the idiom.  Jelly Roll’s claim is of course spurious; still, he was a larger than life figure—a combination of musical genius both as a composer & a performer, promoter (mainly of Jelly Roll Morton), pimp, pool shark, hustler, nightclub owner & legend both in his own time & in his own mind.  If you are interested in learning more about him, more about early jazz or turn of the 20th century New Orleans culture, or simply reading an amazing story, I highly recommend Alan Lomax’s biography (much of which is in Jelly Roll Morton’s own words) Mister Jelly Roll

Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in New Orleans in 1885 (or possibly 1884, 1889 or 1890), & didn’t become Jelly Roll Morton until he began work as a brothel piano player in his teens.  He continued to work in the fabled New Orleans red-light district known as Storyville, but toured the south with various minstrel shows (& also as a general hustler & pool shark—apparently his pools skills were considerable.)  Later in the teens he spent time in Chicago, California & Vancouver, British Columbia, always finding work in nightclubs & in vaudeville shows based on his extraordinary piano playing abilities.

He returned to Chicago in the mid 1920s & he assembled one of the most important bands of the “hot jazz” era, the Red Hot Peppers.  The personnel of this band shifted considerably over the years (& was based both in Chicago & later in New York), but among the notable musicians who joined Morton in the Red Hot Peppers were trombonist Kid Ory, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, banjoist Johnny St Cyr & drummer Baby Dodds—of course all of these musicians also played with Louis Armstrong around the same time.

Jelly Roll Morton & the Red Hot Peppers recorded a number of sides between 1926 & 1930.  The Chicago sessions of 1926-1927 are especially renowned, & today’s selection, “Sidewalk Blues,” comes from those recordings.  “Sidewalk Blues” was recorded for Victor Records on September 21, 1926 in Chicago.  According to the Doctor Jazz website, Victor based a large ad campaign around “Sidewalk Blues.”  According to the Music Trade Review in November 1926, “Upon its initial release it enjoyed an unprecedented demand for a “blues” number.”

“The Sidewalk Blues” is essentially a 12-bar blues in its bare musical bones, tho there are some interesting harmonies that complicate the basic structure.  It’s also a bit of a novelty item, with the opening dialogue & the sound effects—but then, Jelly Roll was always a showman!  

Great song here—hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Photo of the Week 11/13/11

Cat & Computer
Robert Frost's Banjo Central
Portland, Oregon
Wednesday 11/9/11

Saturday, November 12, 2011

There & Back Again

Happy Saturday, friends!  I’m checking in as usual with a bit of an update on exactly how things are progressing here at Robert Frost’s Banjo Central, & I must say I’m hopeful that some good news is near at hand.

I got a call yesterday afternoon from the management of one of the subsidized housing complexes to which I’ve applied telling me that my name has come up on the waiting list & there is a vacancy.  Now, I have to admit a few things to you folks: first, I was entirely flabbergasted, as I didn’t expect such a call until at least some time well into next year; second, I had that heady mix of elation filled with a gnawing dread that somehow, something will go wrong, this will all come crashing down—in fact, I wasn’t going to post this good news feeling that to do so might somehow “jinx” me.  Of course, as friends who already have heard the news have pointed out, I am who I purport to be in all senses of the word, & as such am qualified for the housing.  & while my past may be undistinguished as far as the public record goes, that also means I have no significant “skeletons in the closet” that should affect this.  So I’m taking the advice of a good friend on Facebook & trying to “entertain success.”  I meet with the manager on Monday afternoon, & hope to know something certain by the end of next week—I must admit to a good deal of excitement about this prospect!

In other news: I decided a little while back to re-read The Hobbit & the Ring trilogy this winter, & just this past week I began this venture.  It really takes me back.  I’ve read the entire cycle at least twice before—once when about eleven & then again in my late teens or very early 20s.  The fact is, had it not been for the Tolkein books, my life might have taken a much different path, because I was so enthralled with them that I decided at age eleven (not ten as previously reported to a friend) to become a writer & composed an entire novel called The Township Travelers that was based rather closely on the events in Tolkein’s Hobbit—in fact this manuscript still exists, but it will not be posted to a blog near you! 

Of course, subsequent reading of the Trilogy made me expand my vision, & throughout my teens—even in the early years of my drug & drinking dissolution which lasted from around 16 to 23—I thought of myself as a fantasy author.  I read everything Ballantine Books published along those lines & more besides: from Lord Dunsany to Ursula K. LeGuin, & feverishly composed all sorts of fantastical scenarios.  Later I turned my hand to more conventional short stories, & around the time I sobered up, I began writing poetry almost exclusively.  Now you really know “the r4est of the story!”

So in addition to being the sub-title to The Hobbit, this excursion really is “There & Back Again” for me.  As I re-read the story, sometimes I wonder if I could see myself as a fantasy writer in my golden years.  What do you think?

How “there & back again” fits with this news about possibly having a place of my own in the not-too-distant future may be more difficult to express, but there is a feeling of “return” to this—return to a life I’d led earlier as a single person in San Francisco.  Of course, I’m significantly older now & much of my life circumstances have changed.  At any rate, it promises to be a true adventure.

Please wish me luck, friends!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Prelude from Bach Violin Partita #3

It’s Banjo Friday again, folks, & we’re here with some banjo music for you that’s both unusual & inspiring!  Yes, this month’s selections of the banjo used in uncommon contexts continues with Béla Fleck’s version of Bach’s “Prelude from Violin Partita #3.”

Béla Fleck is a major force in the banjo world both because of his remarkable proficiency & musicianship & also because of his innovative vision.  Although Fleck’s playing style in many ways hearkens back to the three-finger bluegrass style of Earl Scruggs—with very large doses of Bill Keith’s melodic style deplyed as well—he has taken the banjo into new realms, especially in his forays into jazz & jazz fusion with his band the Flecktones, & in both live & recorded sessions with Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty & Stanley Clarke.  But he also plays bluegrass (& “newgrass”) with the likes of Doc Watson, Sam Bush & Jerry Douglas & has also been active in World Music circles, in part thru his exploration of the banjo’s African roots, which was captured in the documentary Throw Down Your Heart.

Bach’s "Prelude from his Violin Partita #3," in E MajorFleck is adapting a well-known piece from violin literature to the banjo.  Of course, Fleck is far from being the first to bring classical music to the banjo.  Popular classics were a big part of the fare of the turn of the 20th century banjo orchestras, & in an example that’s closer to home (involving as it does a solo banjoist), Pete Seeger performed an arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring,” which was originally released on his Folkways album Goofing Off Suite  in 1954 (this was re-released on cd in 1993 by Smithsonian-Folkways.) 

In some ways, the banjo seems a very odd choice for playing a violin piece.  The violin, because of how the bow produces notes, has a great deal of sustain & is a highly melodic instrument, while the banjo’s notes tend to be crisp, percussive & with little sustain—in that sense, it in some ways resembles the harpsichord. 

Bach, however, himself arranged the partita for lute, which is of course much closer to the banjo, tho it also has greater sustain, & in addition a lower bass range than either the violin or the banjo.  As is common with Bach’s lute literature, this arrangement has been frequently adapted for classical guitar as well.  If anyone is interested in listening to other versions, here is a link for Jascha Heifetz playing the Prelude on the violin, as well as a classical guitar version & a lute version.  It’s interesting to me that the violin versions on YouTube all clock in at around three & a half minutes or slightly less, while Fleck’s & the guitarist's version each extends to around four.  In part these tempo differences are caused by the exigencies of the instruments.

As commentors on YouTube have noted (leave it to YouTube commentors to find anything negative), Fleck’s version loses much of the counterpoint & other nuances of the original.  Still, Fleck displays much more musicality than if this were merely a tour de force, & he brings a fine spirit to his rendition to go along with his amazing banjo chops.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

“On Raglan Road”

A happy Thursday to you friends!  Last week I discussed some urges I’ve been having toward composing my own songs—thanks for all the great feedback & encouragement.  While I haven’t yet made a foray into this project, the fine poet Mairi Graham directed me to a heartbreakingly lovely example of a poem set to music, & it impressed me so deeply I thought I’d share it here today.  By the way, if you are interested in poetry in any way, you really should be reading Mairi Graham’s poems on her Secret Poems from the Times Literary Supplement; they are poems of the first order.

“On Raglan Road” is a poem composed by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh.  The poem itself is a beautiful lyric about lost love that was first published in 1946 as “Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away.”  It’s just the sort of purely romantic poem one might aspire to write—clear in its emotion as a mountain stream, but still refracting what’s below the surface—but I’m perhaps too much of a post-modern at heart to compose anything quite so unabashedly & unselfconsciously romantic as this. 

At Kavanagh’s urging, “On Raglan Road” was set to music by Luke Kelly, who performed with The Dubliners from the 1960s thru his death in 1984.  The tune is that of a traditional Irish air, "The Dawning of the Day" (“Fáinne Geal an Lae” in Gaelic).  There are several versions of this setting available, as it has been covered by a number of artists, including Kelly, Roger Daltry (backed by the Chieftains), Sinéad O’Connor, Van Morrison, Billy Bragg, Loreena McKennitt & others.  But I was particularly captivated by Mark Knopfler’s version.  The backing, with fiddle, bouzouki & uilleann pipes is beautiful, & the whole treatment is understated, which to my mind gives the lyrics that much more power.  The fact that Knopfler comes from the “talk-singing” school of vocalists appeals to me not only because I believe it helps the lyrics come to the fore, but also because I myself am of that school!

For those who are inclined to read the poem &/or follow along, I’ve presented the text of “On Raglan Road” after the video.  & for the musically inclined, the tune itself (with chords) is in the lead-off pic
—the tablature is for mandolin.  Enjoy!

On Raglan Road

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day

Patrick Kavanagh

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“i measure my depth in centimeters….”

[I love this poem by Barbie Angell, with a persona who's a latter day female Chaplin, forlorn & funny & surreal.  Please remember to leave a laugh in payment!]

i measure my depth in centimeters….

sometimes i’m as deep as a puddle
and can’t fathom the fathoms you feel.
i’m the wittiest one in the huddle
but none of the ad-libs are real.

the names are all changed to protect me
from the youth that i gave up for lent.
and while it’s designed to deflect you,
the laughs that you pay are not spent.

they’re saved up for when i am lonely.
they’re stored up in brown, paper sacks.
and until i am my “one and only,”
i can barely afford the steep tax.

so i go out to bars in the evenings
and i banter with wit and small puns
’cause i know that the laughs you are leaving
will help when i get low on funds.

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2010-present

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #6 – Howlin’ Wolf

Hey, folks, it’s Monday, & we’re coming at you with a rocking version of the Monday Morning Blues!

It’s time for our monthly installment in the Poor Boy Blues series.  Last month we gave a listen to Booker T. White’s version from a Parchman Farm Prison redording made in 1935.  This month we jump even further ahead to the later 1950s (& in case you’re getting lightheaded from all this rapid time travel, I can assure you we’ll be staying in the 1950s for the next few installments.)  Today’s artist is no less than the great Howlin’ Wolf (AKA Chester Burnett), one of the pioneers of the electric Chicago blues sound & a man who really lets you know why R&B stands for rhythm & blues!  His version of “Poor Boy” was released on Chess Records in 1957, with “Sittin’ On Top of the World” as the B side.

Chester Burnett was born in White Station, Mississippi in 1910—odd to think of Howlin’ Wolf as a year old than Robert Johnson, since Wolf is so assoicated with electric Chicago blues & Johnson so much associated with the earlier Delta styles—& claims that the first guitar piece he learned was Charlie Patton’s “Pony Blues”—taught to him by Patton himself.  Wolf had deep roots in the old-time Delta blues & despite the electric sound he was so instrumental in developing, these roots are constantly on display in his music.  For instance, his version of “Poor Boy” is most similar to the very “rootsy” version of the tune recorded by RL Burnside a number of years later. 

Of course, in Howlin’ Wolf’s edition, we have a full-on Chicago style blues band: Howlin’ Wolf on vocals & harmonica, the great Hubert Sumlin on guitar (Sumlin was integral to Howlin’ Wolf’s sound), Hosea Lee Kennard on piano, Alfred Elkins on bass & Earl Phillips on drums.  A lot of writers talk about Howlin’ Wolf as a sort of primordial force, & at 6 feet 6 inches tall & “300 pounds of heavenly joy” (as he himself sang), he was unquestionably a formidable presence, with one of the most dynamic & forceful vocal styles among all blues singers; but celebrating this sort of “primitivism” may cause us to overlook the fact that Howlin’ Wolf was a talented composer who was able to synthesize the old Delta styles into a new sound, & also that he was great showman—in fact, in hearkening back to what he learned from Patton, he talked about the great Delta musician’s showmanship (what Son House called Patton’s “clowning”), & there is no doubt that this can bring a lot of dynamism to a performance.  It should also remind those of who play the blues nowadays—& especially those of us who come from a much different cultural background—that this music is fun: it’s party music.  Which reminds me of a great anecdote told by Elijah Wald in his book Escaping the Delta.  He tells how his friend, the great blues & folksinger Dave Van Ronk was once performing at a festival & gave a rendition of “Hootchie Cootchie Man” that was “full of aggressive macho bluster.”  To Van Ronk’s surprise, he was greeted by Muddy Waters when he came off stage—Waters, of course, had popularized this tune.  As Wald writes:

Waters, always the gentleman, hastened to put him at ease.  “That was very good son,” he said, putting his hand on Dave’s shoulder.  Then he added, “But you know, that’s supposed to be a funny song.”

With that in mind—enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Photo of the Week 11/6/11

Squirrel & Autumn Leaves
Kenilworth Park, Portland, Oregon
Saturday 11/5/11

Saturday, November 5, 2011


This is not the post I’d planned for today.  No, I was going to go in a much different direction indeed.  Then two things happened on Facebook.

First, a friend posted a link to this story detailing how a small Rhode Island café was bullied by ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) & SESAC (the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers) into stopping a long-running tradition of performances by local musicians.  I’ve heard such stories before: in fact, I know of cases much closer to what-used-to-be home involving venues in McCall, Idaho. 

Now as anyone who reads this blog at all knows, I’m a performing musician.  I’m certainly not a big-time musician & I’m not a professional in any real sense of that word, tho over the years between performing & teaching I have certainly supplemented my income a fair amount.  I am just another of these “local musicians.”  It used to be that “local musicians” who played both traditional songs & the “hits of the day” provided much of the music for people’s lives.  The music industry has changed this.

As a solo performer, I play cover songs, mostly old blues that were recorded in the the 1920s & 1930s.  Although by any sane definition, most of these songs are “traditional,” in fact most of them are under copyright.  The great irony is that many traditional musicians, & in particular African-American blues performers, sold their rights to these songs to recording companies because they were promised ready money for doing so—& the music industry folks wanted the copyrights because they knew they were getting a deal.  So much for the notion that ASCAP et al. are “only looking out for the artists.”

I’ve thought about these issues for some time, & for some time I’ve thought about how it would be best for me to address them in terms of my own performing ventures, modest as they may be.  & for quite some time I’ve played with the idea of writing my own songs.  After all, I have composed a fair amount of music (all instrumental, & all designed for duet-playing in a very specific context) & I have written lots of poetry.  Given that, I should be a natural songwriter, correct?

Actually, no.  I’ve never had any success writing songs.  & this week on a late evening whim, I posted this fact as a Facebook status update. 

I received some amazing feedback, in particular from Scott Houston (whose songwriting talents were on display here a while back in the Homegrown Radio series) as well as blog friends Dominic Rivron & Dick Jones.  All three of these fellows are talented musicians & composers, & Dominic & Dick are also gifted poets.  I found their suggestions most inspiring—& also practical.  Dominic, for instance, talked about the different approaches to language songwriters & poets each take, while Dick talked about how words can grow out of the chords themselves & even defined how he hears different chords in terms of overall mood.  Scott also wrote about how the disciplines of poetry & songwriting differ in a very clear & thoughtful way.  Thanks, friends (thanks Michael, too!)

Now last year at around this time I pledged to make a good quality recording of my repertoire over the winter, & in fact I was able to do that.  Now I see this winter’s project: songwriting!

I’m excited.  It will enable me to market myself more online & probably also make me a more attractive performer to local venues.  Will it involve a lot of work?  Absolutely, but I’ve been feeling the need of a new creative challenge & I strongly suspect this is it!

Of course, as Dominic Rivron pointed out, sometimes poetry of the highest caliber also works as song lyrics, & he referred to a specific YouTube video—in fact, the very one which follows which by some strange coincidence or serendipity I’d already slated for the post I’d originally planned for today—Irish songster Christy Moore’s take on a beautiful setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Song of the Wandering Aengus.”

I clearly have a very long way to go!

Pic of yours truly performing at the Bare Bones Café on SE Belmont for the October First Friday Art Walk is by artist/photographer Mark Crummett—thanks, Mark!

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Night in Tunisia”

A happy Banjo Friday to you, one & all!  We’ve got an interesting line-up for Banjo Friday posts this month & a great one to kick it off!

In October, the Banjo Friday posts focused on some out-of-the-ordinary banjos, hybrid instruments that combined banjo sound & features with the features of other instruments.  This month we’re back to the regular old 5-string banjo—but we’re going to be considering how this instrument can be used to play types of music not normally considered banjoistic at all!

Let’s face it: when most people think banjo, they hear something like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” or “The Beverly Hillbillies Theme.” People who are more familiar with bluegrass & even old-time music will of course have more diverse sounds echoing in their minds, but on the whole, we’re talking about the mixture of African-American & Appalachian sounds that developed into these types of music. 

The fact is, the 5-string banjo is a quirky instrument.  Not only does it have re-entrant tuning (a 50-cent word for the fact that the string closest to your nose is high-pitched, as opposed to being a bass string as on the majority of stringed instruments)—that string is also short, which means if you’re left hand is playing in open position or even up to the fifth fret, it’s not possible to fret the 5-string & it will remain a “drone,” (standard procedure) or need to be avoided so you won’t produce a discord (as for instance when fingering on open E chord in regular G major tuning.)  Now there’s an old time saying: “there’s no money above the fifth fret,” which indicated that in many instances, the old time players like to stay mostly in open position & rely on lots of open strings & various techniques involving those open strings.

This is a generalization, of course.  Some old-time players played “up the neck.”  But as a rule, open positions were favored, which meant that the banjo was not suited for more harmonically complex music—the big reason why types of the banjo without a drone string were used in hot jazz: the banjo-guitar, the tenor banjo & the plectrum banjo.

However in the late 1950s & early 1960s a real innovator came along: Bill Keith had an interest in playing fiddle tune melodies & he found that existing styles simply couldn’t provide the flexibility he wanted, not even the then relatively new & exciting development of Scruggs picking, which remains the basis of most bluegrass playing.  Keith (along with Bobby Thompson, who played with bluegrass stalwarts Jim & Jesse Reynolds) pioneered the so-called “melodic” or “chromatic” or simply “Keith style” manner of playing.  Here’s a pithy definition from Wikipedia:

It centers on playing scales in a linear fashion. This contrasts with "3-Finger" or Scruggs style, which is centered around arpeggios, or chord tones played in rapid succession. Generally speaking, in the Keith style the fingers of the picking hand alternate between strings, rarely picking the same string twice.

Bill Keith became a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys for a period in the 1960s, & then made the rather unlikely jump to the Jim Kweskin Jug Band!  He went on to stints in the Blue Velvet Band, a major force in the development of “Newgrass” music, & generally has left an indelible mark on banjo playing both in the Bluegrass & Newgrass fields & far beyond.

Speaking of far beyond: here we have Keith taking his banjo for a spin on the Dizzy Gillespie standard “Night in Tunisia”—& what a delightful spin it is!  Just banjo & an off camera bass take us on a delightful jaunt thru this bebop classic.  What would Charlie Parker say?


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo

At some point last week I promised an announcement about Jack Hayes’ poetry—Jack Hayes equals yours truly, at least in the poeticizing world in case you didn’t know.  In any case, the announcement never materialized.

A transporter accident, as on one of the Star Trek shows?  Not exactly: in fact, I’m here with the announcement today, & that’s to let you all know that there is a new blog in the little Robert Frost’s Banjo solar system, & it’s called Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo.  Regular readers know that I self-published three books of poetry in 2010: The Spring Ghazals (poems from 2008-2010 written in Idaho), The Days of Wine & Roses (poems from 1990-1996 written in San Francisco) & Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo (poems written from 1984-1989 written in Charlottesville, Virginia.)  All three of the books are available at lulu.com here.

Both The Spring Ghazals & The Days of Wine & Roses have been provided with dedicated blogs where all the content has been reproduced gratis.  For some time I’ve debated whether or not to do the same for Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo, & have finally decided the answer is “yes.”  While I believe the poems in the later books are more accomplished, I also believe the Charlottesville poems have their own strengths, & a number of people still like them.  I hope some of you will enjoy them too!

Poems will post on Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo each Wednesday & Saturday morning until all 36 poems in the book have appeared
(today's post is the exception that proves the rule, or something to that effect) , at which point the blog will become archival, as is the case with my other two poetry blogs—still available for reading, but with no further scheduled content.  There are two poems in the collection that are quite long, but I’m not getting into the business of serializing poetry.  They’ll post as complete poems & folks can wade in or not as their fancy takes them.

The first poem is titled "Aubade," & was written in 1987.  You can read it & also read a brief introduction to the blog at this link.

Have a happy Thursday, & hope you enjoy Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #43

Adams County Leader
Council, Adams County, Idaho
C. H. Wines, Lessee-Editor-Proprietor
Wm. Lemon, Owner

November 5, 1937

The streets of Council are unadorned with names to guide the stranger about town, and to a stranger this is a disadvantage.  While it is true that Council is not so large that one would be in any danger of getting lost and needing the police to get oriented again, yet it is a disadvantage to tell a stranger, or even some not so strange, the way about town.  To try and describe where So-and So lives, so many blocks south and so many blocks east of such-and-such a place is a poor way of telling one coming to inquire where another is to be found.

It seems that the main streets, at least, are named, and we have heard their names a time or two, but they are as strange to the ears of Council residents as they are to strangers.  Why would it not be possible for the village to have small signs painted and placed to designate the principle streets at least?  The cost would not be too great and the benefits certainly would be great.

January 28, 1938

Miss Trumbo in her talk at the dinner Saturday night, stressed some of the needs of the village and suggested that some of the civic and fraternal organizations might help.  Her suggestion that the streets of Council have signs placed on them was entirely in harmony with our ideas on the subject.  Some time ago, this paper mentioned the subject in an editorial, but to date, nothing has been done about it.  Again we urge this improvement.  Of course, there is no danger of losing oneself in Council, we all know that it is too small for that.  But what a convenience it would be to be able to describe where someone lives by giving the name of the street.  Besides, it would give strangers to our town a much better impression.  If the village board will not do this, why not some or all of our organizations get together and do it?  This improvement would not be expensive.  The streets are already named, but it is doubtful if there are many who know the name of the very street on which they live.  Let's have some action on this matter.


Fruitvale: Mrs. Caseman had a birthday, so last Thursday, in spite of the cold wind which held sway that day, a few of her friends gathered to help her celebrate.  Anna Kathrine McGinly brought her Aunt Jo a large platter of popcorn balls, which the whole crowd helped to dispose of.  They were delicious.  After singing, playing, telling stories and jokes, and doing a little sewing and tatting, a table was laid with good things to eat and twelve gathered around to eat in a merry mood.  About four thirty, the guests departed for home, voting a good time and the determination to have another surprise party some day.

Council to The Dalles, Oregon - By Telephone, $1.20

Wrestling Match at the Legion Hall: L. L. Noregaard of Willowa, Oregon, “Kid” Farrens of Mesa, Idaho.  Dance after the match.

Reports have gone the rounds the past couple of weeks that the children of the Fred Schultz family have had infantile paralysis.  This rumor is all a hoax as they have been under the doctor’s care for some time and have been pronounced physically OK.  The paralysis scare has frightened a good many people but as far as any one knows, there are no cases in the valley.

John Hoover says the worms are out and ready for a mass attack on orchards.  He is making ready for a vigorous fight against them with all the weapons of modern insect warfare.

Dale Donnelly has visualized spring just around the corner and in a spirit of preparedness has stocked up on a big supply of garden seeds.

Three cents a week.  That is all the Leader costs.  Surely you can’t afford to get along without it at that price.  Don’t borrow it.  Subscribe.  Do It Now!

Mrs. Jennie Braden, who owns the farm about three miles west of Council where Ben Gulliford farmed for the past several years, brought in two big ears of the corn raised on the farm.  The ears are about eleven inches long and well-filled.

On the Silver Screen at the People’s Theatre: “Park Avenue Logger,” a thrilling outdoor drama set against New York City and the rugged background of a gigantic lumber camp in the Northwest. 

Some County Expenses, 1938:
County Health, contagious diseases, etc.:
Rodent Control:  $504.22     
Grasshopper Control: $80.00          
Brand Inspector: $16.25      
Sheriff, wages: $1,497.00                   
Superintendent of Schools, salary:  $1,100.00 
Road and Bridge: $13,411.63                    
Charities (aid, medical, burial, temporary, children, etc.: $7,172.46

February 26, 1937

Leader Readers:
If Anyone
--Gets Married
--Has Guests
--Goes Away
-- Has a Party
--Has a Baby
--Has a Fire
--Is Ill
--Has an Operation
--Has an Accident
--Buys a Home
--Wins a Prize
--Receives an Award
--Builds a House
--Makes a Speech
--Holds a Meeting
--Or Takes Part in Any Other Unusual Event

That’s News

We Want It


compiled by Eberle Umbach

Thus concludes the series, Adams County Makes the News.  A big Robert Frost's Banjo thanks to Eberle for making this available to us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


[Hi friends!  A new month brings the return of a dear old friend, L.E. Leone, who herein contemplates love, sleep, spiders & light—enjoy!]


Spider on a lamp
next to my sleeping lover’s head
so big you could hear it
breathing. Shhh. Keep sleeping
dear heart, I said, unplugging
the lamp, lifting it like
a torch. There is too much
light in this world
as it is

L.E. Leone
© 2011