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Friday, May 21, 2010

STEVE LEWIS MASTER PICKER

scott freeman & steve lewis - 21may10 - woodlawn va





Music again tonight at Woodlawn in Jill Freeman's frame shop, The Front Porch. A big crowd tonight. 25 to 30 people. A little bit crowded. It was Steve Lewis night. Steve and Scott are something like musical twin souls. They play together well. Steve played with Alternate Roots during the time of their last 2 albums. He was a major addition to the band when he came in. I saw Alternate Roots play 14 or 15 times. Went to the Carter Fold at Hiltons VA to see them perhaps the last time. When the band ceased to be a band, I fell into a period of grief as though a close friend had died. They were a good band. If you ever come upon an Alternate Roots album, it's some good music, whichever album it is. Katy Taylor, Scott and Willard Gayheart did the vocals. All equally good bluegrass singers. And good bluegrass musicians. They are a band that will be appreciated in 20 or so years. Like Scott and Willard's band before AR, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, made 2 albums and the banjo picker was taken away. 20 years later they've made a 3rd album, by popular demand. More and more people are wanting something by Skeeter & the Skidmarks. Edwin Lacy, who played banjo with Skeeter, will be playing at the Front Porch June 4. It promises to be a night of good music too. Lacy has a style all his own and he composes songs with good words that sound like old-time songs. I could just about say his banjo style is much like his name, lace-like.

Steve Lewis is one of the great musicians of the moment in this region of the mountains. He's mid 40s and plays both guitar and banjo equally well. Doesn't sing much, but when he does, he's good at it, too. Steve grew up at Todd and will most likely always live there. He said he was recently in the recording studio with Doc Watson. Tonight, he played his Henderson guitar. He told some Wayne Henderson stories. When Eric Clapton was considering making the trip to Rugby to meet Wayne, Clapton's publicist called Wayne and asked him, "You think security will be a problem?" Steve imitated Henderson's voice saying, "Well, I don't think so." Security from what? Hillbillies? Not very good. I don't think Clapton made the trip, but he'd have loved it if he had, even though he is an old English urban hippie. I've heard him on the MTV Unplugged dvd and can only say he's got nothing on any guitar picker around here who plays in public. Acoustic. Electric, Clapton rules. I wished I'd never heard him play Layla acoustic.

Perhaps the Clapton I like the best is the studio jam session cd that came with the Blind Faith album when it became a cd with the original cover. It's like hearing Bob Dylan's Albert Hall concert when he first played acoustic, then electric. One of those great moments in time when rock & roll became Rock. There was something spontaneous about Dylan and the Band playing to the Boos and hollering against them. The electric band playing great Dylan music and the audience in all-out vocal resistance. It gave the music a spontenaiety to my ear, a spontenaiety like the jamming by the musicians in Blind Faith. Not that it sounds like it in any way. To my ear, they have a similar spirit. They connect, albeit by the thinnest of threads.

Steve and Scott are good comedians during a concert. They both have enough stage experience that they can work the humor like a stage comedian. They do it in banter. Steve, talking about an old picker said, "A groundhog delivers his mail now." Everybody in the audience set to laughing at that and couldn't stop. Steve went on talking and the people continued to laugh, like peepers, 1 or 2 over here, 2 or 3 over there, going through the audience like that, running through everybody several times. It rattled around in everybody's heads and every time they looked at it, it was funnier than the time before. He handled it well, too, like an experienced comedian.

Scott got a good one on Willard. Willard had just finished playing a couple songs with Scott before Steve came on. Willard said something about Scott being his partner. As Willard got up to put his guitar away, Scott said, "Willard, why don't you ever call me your son-in-law?" Willard bent over laughing. Willard was the one Scott told jokes on in Alternate Roots shows. They were always funny too. Jokes about being old, stage humor. Willard would hang his head like he was humiliated, though he'd be laughing because he didn't always know what Scott was going to say, and it was as funny to him as to the audience. All 3 of these guys have shared a stage for several years, have a good rapport speaking publicly with genuinely funny humor.

I actually got a video of Steve and Scott playing Clinch Mountain Backstep, and Steve talking about Ralph Stanley while he was tuning his banjo for it. The sound came out good enough. I attempted to upload it here for the picture, but it took way too long, so I cancelled it. I don't want to logjam your computer. This little ole camera does surprising things. It took a good visual and the sound was pretty good too, considering it's mic is a hole the size of a paper clip wire and I was at least 10-12 feet away. Again, I'm awed by the nearness of such good musicians, people who are not pretentious in even the farthest corners of their minds. Steve, Scott and Willard, such good musicians for $5.

2 hours of listening to Steve Lewis and Scott Freeman pick and sing in an intimate at-home place where everyone is snug and cozy, all enjoying superb music, and, like me, enchanted that it's right here. You don't have to go to New York to hear them. You don't have to go to Las Vegas to hear them. In the age of tv and pop music we don't tend to think of our neighbors as better entertainment than what is "out there." Out there is always better than where we are. Not so in these hills. I'd rather hear Steve Lewis play the banjo than Steve Martin any day. I can shorten it even further, I'd rather hear Steve Lewis play banjo than anybody. That doesn't mean I think he's better than anybody. His style and tone of banjo pickin suits my ear, and his ability is something to behold.

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