Category Archives: guitar

John Renbourn Guitar Pieces

front coverI’ve had this book since sometime in the late 1970s, when I was learning to play more intricate finger-picking guitar songs. ย I don’t remember where I found it – at that time I was living in Flagstaff, so it could have been there. I didn’t read music, but this book is all in standard notation, so it gave me the incentive to learn how to read. Now I find it much easier than tablature, which I think is the scourge of all guitarists everywhere and should be banned by law.

Back then, the first one I learned was Judy – I still play it occasionally. I also took on “A Day at the Seaside”, “Debbie Anne”, and “Ladye Nothynges Toye Puffe”. A lot of them are in the English Renaissance style he is known for, but there are a couple of the folkie ones.

Anyway…I have never seen this book anywhere else and it is certainly out of print now. Early on, I made a copy and bound it and used that for my main book. Recently, I figured I should find the original again in my stuff and scan it. If you want the hard copy, real book, there are a couple available on Amazon…used, of course. My book has the binding apart, which makes it easier to scan page by page.

I’ll post the book here for all, because I love Renbourn’s music and more people should be able to play it. ๐Ÿ™‚ He has other books on his own site and there are various tab books from records he did with Stefan Grossman (I have some of those too.)

John Renbourn – Guitar Piecesย (25M PDF).

Enjoy,

Chris

Grey Fox Festival 2012

Walsh Farm, NY. July 19-22, 2012. We attended the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival this year. I’m just getting around to writing it up, but it would certainly take a long time to capture all its awesomeness. Summary version: 4 days of listening, picking, and sweating. Yes, it was hot and dry for the most part, which was good, but it also forced you into the shade quite a bit. Luckily the Creekside Stage (aka Masters) was under a tent.

We arrived Wed about 6. J and Jennifer had already staked out a campsite cuz they got their earlier. We were next to 20+ year GF veterans, who had an bunch of campers and giant tents. They drank, swore, and were generally loud, but seemed to settle down over the week perhaps as they became more hungover and subdued. In the Picker’s Paradise, there is always a low hum of banjo and fiddle it seems.

Here’s the list of folks I was able to see:

Creekside Stage

  • Michael Daves Workshop (with Chris Thile)
  • Della Mae
  • Jessie McReynolds
  • Last part of Tim O’Brien cuz I was at the main stage watching Tony Trischka
  • Frank Sollivan
  • Dixie Bee-liners
  • David Bromberg (he was late and the sound on his guitar was horrible, so left)

Main Stage

  • Thurs: Dixie Beeliners; Thile-Daves; Bromberg Band
  • Fri: Deadly Gentlemen; Noam Pilkeny; Tribute to Scruggs, Watson; Del McCoury; David Grisman Sextet; Punch Brothers
  • Sat: Tony Trischka; Hot Rize

I posted some pics on my tumblr page.

When not attending concerts or workshops, J and I jammed, mostly in our campsite area, once with some friends we knew there. The whole idea was to play as much as possible, so we did that.

The food at the midway was excellent. I didn’t feel that compelled to cook at the campsite – who wants to do dishes and whatnot?

That’s it for now. Sorry I can’t review every concert we went to…no time, gotta practice!

Chris

Peter Rowan and Tony Rice at the Wilbur Theatre

Peter RowanApril 21, 2012. Boston, MA – Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, along with the Travelin’ McCoury’s came to Boston’s Wilbur Theatre for a night of “The Music of Bill Monroe”. They played 2 sets of just under an hour, including the encore number. All of the tunes were songs written or recorded by Bill Monroe.ย We were sitting right in front of the stage, so had a good view of everything, although the sound was mostly behind us. Still, you could definitely here the acoustic instruments from where we were sitting. There were only a handful of mikes on stage and the members of the band moved around to get into position to play or sing. It was quite the ballet sometimes. And did I mention that Tony Rice was right in front of me!! Playing the 1935 Martin D-28 (58597) he got from Clarence White!! What a treat!

Here’s the set list:

Set 1
Long Journey Home
Bluegrass Breakdown
In the Pines
I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome
Groundspeed
Tony Rice Intro by Peter(21:30)
The First Whippoorwill
Used to Be (Uncle Jerry singing)
Uncle Pen
The Old Old House(George Jones hit)
Live and Let Live
Cheyenne (‘here that now, that’s the Indian sound’ Also where The Land of the Navajo originated, a song by Rowan)

Set 2
Blue Moon of Kentucky (in 3, then 4)
I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling
Walls of Time
Kentucky Mandolin
Beautiful Life (quartet singing, Pete and Tony accompany)
Blue Night (Jerry lead vocal)
This Land – bass/banjo duet
Molly and Tenbrooks
Footprints in the Snow (audience request – “you’re in New England, play Footprints!”)
With Body and Soul
Salt Creek
Muleskinner Blues – Encore

The concert started simply with just Peter Rowan(guitar, vocals) and Ronnie McCoury (mandolin, vocals) singing Long Journey Home before the band strolled on stage to kick it into high gear. Peter Rowan has a great voice and is still going strong from the looks of things. The rest of the band members were: Rob McCoury (banjo), Jason Carter (fiddle), and Jerry McCoury (bass). Jerry was apparently subbing for the regular bass player who had to be back home waiting for a baby delivery. This was some high caliber bluegrass!

The next song was “the first bluegrass instrumental ever recorded” with Earl Scruggs on banjo: Bluegrass Breakdown. This gave everyone a chance to blister the strings on a quick one. The band was tight! Of course, they were playing all these bluegrass standards, which they’ve probably played a million times, so even if they never rehearsed before, it’s okay! In fact, Peter noted that ‘we don’t have tuners on our instruments’ and that they also didn’t have a set list (at least one that was written down). He claimed that they never knew what Bill Monroe was going to play or what key it was going to be in – Monroe would just chop a chord and you better get goin’!

There were certainly a few tributes to Earl Scruggs, since he contributed mightily to the bluegrass sound, along with Bill Monroe. A tune written by Scruggs, Groundspeed, was led by Rob McCoury. Both Ronnie and Jason Carter had amazing solos on this with good support from the band.

Tony Rice
“The most influential guitar player in the history of bluegrass…” came on the stage after that – Tony Rice! I had never seen him play before (that I recall, anyway). I was getting goosebumps just watching him, and the guitar is legendary. Even while he was tuning up, you could hear its power. As Peter said while Tony was tuning on stage, “It doesn’t cost a thing, but I’d pay to hear that.” It took about the first set for Tony to warm up. He does not look in the peak of health, even though he’s only 60 yrs old. A couple of times you could hear him talk on stage from where we were and he sounded like Miles Davis with the croaky voice. I was surprised watching him that he actually flubbed a few notes! Others around me were speculating about arthritis – at times it looked like he was telling his fingers to do something but they were not cooperating the same way as in the past. What people may not notice immediately was that the rhythm playing added another dimension on top of what Peter was playing. There were times when he added these jazzy chords to the progression that caused everyone to smile. Over the course of the night the solos got better and better. In particular, Walls of Time and Kentucky Mandolin, Cheyenne, and Salt Creek, were highlights. It looked like the rest of the band was enjoying listening to Tony, too, almost in reverence.

Other highlights included the singing and bass playing of “Uncle Jerry” McCoury. The bass was solid throughout and he has one of those good country voices with a little bit of twang. Jason Carter on fiddle was inspirational in his playing, either as a lead or accompanying. I really enjoyed the song, Beautiful Life, which had a simple guitar accompaniment but the feature was the quartet singing around the microphone. And did I mention the awesome banjo and bass duet on This Land?

I guess there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this concert. The sound could have been better from where we were sitting, that’s my only complaint.

Here’s Salt Creek from that night – Enjoy. Salt Creek.mp3

	

I hope they make another visit up to New England soon!

Chris

The Splinters Play Oh Susanna

J and I played at the West Roxbury Open Mike, which J emcees each month. The video below captures our performance of Oh Susanna. We first played this tune up in Maine one weekend just goofing around and it stuck. After each taking a chorus for improvising, we play together in a counterpoint before taking it to the finish.

(I don’t know why WordPress doesn’t display youtube videos sometimes, so here’s the link to it.)

Oh Susanna

We also played 2 medleys:

Cold Frosty Morning > Old Grey Cat – this one we played 2 choruses of each tune and switched back and forth. The first one is in Am and the second in Em, gives it a cool effect.

Blackberry Blossom > Kitchen Girl. Blackberry we did medium tempo 3 times through, then pick it up a notch for Kitchen Girl. It’s high energy.

Chris

http://splintersmusic.com

The Splinters Music at Nourish

J Johnson and I did a mini-set at Nourish Open Mike run by Ellen Schmidt. That means instead of the usual one song per act we got to do three songs before the feature act. We started with the fast fiddle tune, June Apple, then slowed it down a bit with Ook Pik Waltz, and ended up with the crowd-pleasing (we hope) Cluck Old Hen. These three songs pretty much sums up what we’re about.

I used my little Canon Elf camera to record it and it came out pretty good, except for the annoying glare from the mirror. Maybe I’ll get the official video from the soundman instead. I’m going to try to replace the audio on these videos with the one from the sound board – we’ll see how that goes in iMovie. ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoy. Here’s June Apple, a traditional fiddle tune in A.

Ook Pik Waltz, by Frankie Rodgers.

Cluck Old Hen, traditional old time song.

Chris

 

Stauffer Style Antique Guitar

I recently picked up this funky little guitar. I put some new strings on it (D’Addario Nylon Folk). Below are some pictures and a brief rendition of Freight Train – sorta – so you can get an idea of how it sounds. It is surprisingly loud for such a little guy. Of course, when it was built some 100 years ago, it was probably used for classical music, but I need to practice that before unleashing a recording. ๐Ÿ™‚ The neck is a lot narrower than my other guitars, so fitting my hands on it was my biggest challenge. The strings are fine to play up to around the 5th fret before they get pretty high.

The guitar has maple back and sides and a spruce top. You can see some of the cracks in the top, but they look to have been glued up a while ago. I couldn’t find any markings on the guitar even with a mirror looking around inside.

Stauffer style guitar

Showing the neck

Here’s the recording I made to give you an idea what it sounds like: Freight Train. I didn’t use any effects, just a couple of mikes about 2 feet away recorded to my Xoom H4N digital recorder.

Chris

Lowell Folk Festival 2011

The Lowell Folk Festival was held once again in Lowell, MA on July 30, 31. We ended up going on Sunday and met J and Jennifer there. There is always, always, always something interesting going on and new music to discover. Past groups I first heard at Lowell were the likes of Hot Club of Cowtown, Sierra Hull, Kekele, John Doyle and Liz Carroll, La Vent du Nord, James Hand, and a few I’ve forgotten (which is why I write these things down!)

This year there were a few groups I had already heard of that I wanted to see. It’s always hard to plan the schedule…I did hear a bunch of the groups on Saturday on WGBH radio, so some I was okay with missing.

First up was the fiddle traditions workshop with Michael Cleveland (bluegrass), the Quebe Sisters (Texas Swing), and guys from La Vent Du Nord (quebecois) and Dervish (celtic). This was really interesting because they went around and took turns playing songs in their own style. They also played together on a few common tunes that cut across the traditions.

Here’s the list I wrote down:

  • Yellow Rose Waltz
  • Sally Goodin
  • Fisher’s Hornpipe
  • Yearning
  • Flatbush Waltz
  • Sweet Georgia Brown
  • St. Anne’s Reel (and we were at St Anne’s Church!)

You could tell the Quebe Sisters were not too comfortable playing outside their carefully arranged songs for 3 fiddles in harmony. They really could not jump in a jam – or they were too intimidated to do so. They were good at what they did, however! It was fun to hear everyone together in this setting.

After that, we went to Boardinghouse Park for the Birmingham Sunlight, a gospel group, who were sensational. Very engaging group.

Next up on the same stage was Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper. They played some hot bluegrass, including his signature tunes – Orange Blossom Special (“a guitar player killer”) and Jerusalem Ridge by Bill Monroe (J and I are tackling that one next…). He did that one as a duet with the mandolin player. I’d seen him do it like that at the Joe Val Festival earlier in the year – very exciting and fast.

As you can see, we were right up close, which is usually not possible at Boardinghouse Park. Maybe it was because we usually go on Saturday but this time was on Sunday = less people there = more space for us! Yay!

This band is really tight and I immediately went home to pick up their new album, called “Fired Up!” but pronounced “Fahrd up” of course. The guitar player does most of the singing and is a fine singer, indeed. They also seemed very humble and genuine, even thanking their festival handler and playing a song dedicated to her. Sounds like they treat the artists right at this one.

After this set, we wandered over to the dance tent to check out the zydeco, but no one was really into dancing anyway, so we moved on to Eddie Pennington (and his son). I’d seen him before at Lowell and since I’ve been known to do a little finger-pickin’ this appealed to me. (Plus, it turns out his guitar is a rare Henderson!) He seemed to be tired to me and kinda mailing it in. Just my impression…that was at the small Market Stage, then we moved on to the Kennedy Plaza for some Quebecois!

Le Vent du Nord was next. I saw them last year and really enjoyed it. It’s a fun group, and they were even on the opening of Prairie Home Companion last weekend!! JFK Plaza is an awful place, similar to Boston City Hall Plaza, only smaller. All concrete and sun! Anyway, lots of people were dancing and they were joined at the end by the Irish band Dervish for some numbers, which was fun. And yes, it was hot, too, at the end of a long weekend of music.

Until next year at Lowell….
Yours truly,
Chris

Splinters at IBM Centennial Celebration

As previously tweeted and facebooked, J and I played at the IBM Centennial Celebration at the Museum of Science. Both of us being IBMers made it convenient, for sure. The event was an “IBM’s Got Talent” show with about 10 acts, ranging from rock and bluegrass to show tunes and dance numbers. I especially enjoyed the Indian dances – one traditional and one Bollywood style. (Somehow I ended up without a program, so I don’t have all the details!)

Each performer had 4 minutes to get it done. This required quite a bit of editing on everyone’s part. That was a common comment backstage, for sure. For our part, we decided to string together 2 fiddle tunes: Salt  Creek followed by Whiskey Before Breakfast. We did the math and as long as the tempo was right, we’d be about 4:15. ๐Ÿ™‚ I guess it makes you focus and get to the point to have a time constraint.

We were fourth on the program, which was good – right after the solo singer doing “Memories” from Cats. After us was one of the Indian dances. The venue was the Cahners Theatre, which holds about 300 people. It was standing room only in there, maybe because there was no alcohol served at the party! Anyway, in addition, they also simulcast the show to screens throughout the museum.

Bottom line: we had fun and we nailed the transition to our satisfaction. One of J’s colleagues took a video on his iphone and posted it to Vimeo.


The Splinters at the Boston IBM Centennial Celebration from Paul Beaulieu on Vimeo.

Chris

The Splinters Live

J Johnson and I have been hanging out in my basement for a while shedding fiddle tunes. We debuted at the West Roxbury Open Mike night and have played at Roslindale too. One of these days, we’ll get more than 2 songs to play at a real gig. ๐Ÿ™‚ We typically include some form of improvisation after playing the melody a few times; and it’s fun to trade 4’s back and forth.

We’re making our way through the bluegrass top 20 tunes like:

  • St. Anne’s Reel
  • Salt Creek
  • Red Haired Boy
  • Billy in the Lowground
  • Whiskey Before Breakfast
  • Cherokee Shuffle
  • E.M.D.
  • Blackberry Blossom
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Soldier’s Joy
  • Temperance Reel
  • Prisoner’s Waltz (from Tone Poems 1)
  • I Am Pilgrim
  • Shady Grove

We still want to add some more vocals and probably some more swing. We’ve played All of Me and Sweet Georgia Brown, for example, along with Minor Swing, which seem to be popular with the bluegrass/newgrass set. I picked up the Fiddler’s Fakebook recently, so I’m ready to mine it for some of the more obscure tunes to go along with the fan favorites.

We have been influenced by Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, David Grisman, Chris Thile, Bill Frisell, and Frank Zappa, among others.

We put up a web site under The Splinters name. Check it out to listen to some of the basement tapes.

Chris

Thile-Daves at Brighton Music Hall, Boston

On May 24, J and I went to see Chris Thile and Michael Daves at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston – actually in the neighborhood called Brighton on Brighton Ave and Harvard Ave. I’d never been to this place before; I think in previous incarnations it was a metal-band venue, or at least rock and roll, known as Harper’s Ferry. I don’t think folk/bluegrass artists are necessarily on the bill all the time even now. However, we got there about 8:10 for a 9 p.m. show and got a great spot right up front and center as you can see from the photo I took to the right. It’s a “standing room”; meaning, no seats to speak of and the sold out show of 340 eventually filled the hall. I think there are as many bars as there are seats: 3.

The stage looks relatively small for a band that has more than 3-4 people. Of course, that didn’t matter on this night, as the setup was a single microphone in the center. The sound was great, especially being so close, you could hear both the amplification over our heads and the acoustic sounds coming out in front.

As expected, they played a lot of tunes from their recent debut album, Sleep with One Eye Open. You can also hear a few songs on the official web site, but you’ll want to just buy the album. I was busy writing down the tunes in Evernote for later, but at the end I took a picture of the set lists that some folks snagged from the stage. First set is to the left. The opening number, Evening Prayer Blues, was a short, quiet instrumental that set the stage for what was to follow. It was appropriate that Bill Monroe made this one famous, as you could hear that influence in both the playing and singing.
Chris Thile is an engaging performer and very comfortable up there, while Michael Daves seems more reserved. Both play with passion and fire! Their voices are well-matched, to the point where sometimes I could not tell who was singing which part, and I was standing right in front of them. The playing was superb – this is why you go see live music – you get the spontaneity and humanity that only comes from a live performance. You could definitely see, as well as hear, how they communicated on stage and in the moment.
Check out this video of the first set fiddle tune request that someone was kind enough to post on youtube. It was pretty funny to watch them get requests from the audience, then choose a sequence and key for each one…and then play their asses off (I can say that on the web, right?). “Freebird has words, and is therefore: DISqualified!” The reference to 7 strings and all the tuning was about Thile breaking a string in the middle of the set, which he repeated in the second set too.
Okay – that was amazing! ๐Ÿ™‚ You could hear both the tradition and taking it to the next step. They must have played these tunes a million times to get to the point of turning them inside-out. They did the same thing with the second set fiddle tune request time, but took Arkansas Traveler even further “outside”. Check it out below about 2 minutes in. That deserves an OMG.
Speaking of live performances, they flubbed the transition from Camptown to Rebecca, which was going from key of Bb to B (of all things). Oops. In the video, you can see Daves trying to make the eye contact to signal it was coming. They made up with it afterwards by trying just that part – so we got to see the live rehearsal process, too. See below – pretty cool. I still can’t believe they played that tune in B – who does that on purpose??

“Wasn’t that cooool????”
You should really listen to some of the tunes with singing – it’s as big a part of the experience as the instrumentals. “Loneliness and Desperation” is a good example of how it can cook. It reminds me of early rock and roll feel, foot-tappin’ music….or maybe even foot-stompin’!
Finally, for completeness of the historical record, I present to you the second set list. Enjoy and go see some live music, people. Where else will you see the performers whip out a bottle of rye and start swigging it during the encores? And if you get a chance to see these two perform this summer, go for it!
All in all, both J and I were inspired by this performance and took some of it to the practice shed last week, as we forge our own identity on guitar/mando. I hope some of it rubs off on us.
Note to Thile/Daves: next time play at Passim – at least we can sit down.
Chris
P.S. Thile’s other band, Punch Brothers, is playing at the Lowell Summer Music series in August. There’s other great music there too.
P.P.S. We ate at the Sunset Grille, but don’t go there for the food. They do have 112 beers on tap however. Unless they are out of some, then there are 110.