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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FRED MCBRIDE'S LAST RECORDING

Halsey drug drivethru



This morning making a drug buy from my dealer, Chuck Byers, who's been my dealer for many a year, sitting in the car at the driveby window, I saw the 2 yellow posts, the silver post and the dark brown parallel line that runs up the side of the building. In the frame was 2 views of the brick wall, lines running in different degrees of slant in harmony with the others. It's good nobody was behind me. A minor suggestion of deChiraco in one moment in time. I was so excited and so in a hurry to get to the camera, get it ready, get the picture, the only thing that mattered was nobody was behind me, allowing a moment to see it. Plenty of time. Tina inside was probably wondering what that nut's doing. She already knows I'm nutty. No surprises. If a car had been behind me, I'd have been too inhibited to take the time needed. I drove out onto Main St satisfied I'd successfully made a picture with a rearview mirror in it that works as a complete composition. Too often when I see something like that, no camera is near or there's no easy place to turn around and go back. I've been thinking about driving from one end of Sparta to the other taking pictures out the front window, side windows, Sparta the way we see it, from the road in traffic. It would make a good video, too. Personalize it with your own soundtrack as it would be riding in the car.



The soundtrack in the house this evening is Fred McBride playing fiddle and Lucas Pasley picking banjo. Lucas gave me 2 cds of him and Fred from tapes he made of the two of them. Lucas was doing with Fred what Clif Evans did with several of the musicians in the county of his time. This is Lucas getting Fred recorded. He was getting old, and died not long after. They sat down and jammed, Fred going at the fiddle his own way that's the same as a signature, and Lucas right there with him on the banjo. There are moments the banjo and the fiddle blend their notes together making it sound like one instrument, neither banjo nor fiddle, a sound that transcends both. Then they separate and go back to their own sounds in harmony. Too, Fred is Lucas's mentor fiddler and banjo picker. From time to time Fred picks the banjo. He's like Esker Hutchins and Benton Flippen, plays both fiddle and banjo very well. Lucas plays both. Lucas plays all 4 old-time instruments well. Fred is Lucas's great uncle, his grandmother's aunt's boy, something like that.


They're picking Mississippi Sawyer. They play it especially well together, because they've played it probably several hundred times together. In the playing of old-time music this is right there with Tommy Jarrell and somebody like Andy Cahan or Blanton Owen on banjo, not Fred Cockerham. Cockerham's banjo is his own and nobody else comes near it. Jr used to say Fred couldn't play the banjo for shit, and my jaw hit the floor. I didn't test him or challenge him, accepting that's how he hears it. I think what I heard as artful playing Jr heard as sloppy playing. Jr's banjo ear was with an entirely different sound, though not entirely disregarding old-time which he first played when it was all there was. He told me Cockerham's nickname everyone knew him by was Chiselchin. He had a square, sharp chin. Jr also said once Ralph Stanley couldn't play banjo for shit. If it wasn't Ralph Stanley doing it, it probably wouldn't place at fiddlers conventions. I knew Jr was of the generation and culture that used exaggeration for humor and a measure of how something feels. If he liked somebody's picking especially, it was the best pickin he ever heard. It didn't matter that he might say that once a week about somebody different each time. It's a measure like giving it 5 stars. He didn't like the Stanley brothers, either one of them. My feeling is they were too much show people for his style, the kind of musicians who are on stage all the time, even when you're jamming with them. I don't know that. I wasn't able to find what it was he had against the Stanleys.



He told me Carter was mean and arrogant. Jr didn't value either quality. They were in the same extended music community. It could be the same thing I have with Willie Nelson. His singing largely makes me barf and I never enjoy seeing him. I have no reason to put my finger on. No bad experience around him. It's nothing I heard about him or any of his pop eccentricities or anything. Glen Campbell too. Something about his voice grates my nerves. And I can't find reason why. We all have our own wiring, nearly all of it unknown to us. One evening Ralph Stanley came on Blueridge Backroads on WBRF playing something like Backstep Cindy. I said to Jr, this just doesn't sound like bad banjo pickin to me. It sounded awfully good. He listened setting aside his prejudgment and agreed when it was over that was some good pickin. He could listen to Stanley with no problem, he just had that something unexplainable, possibly some tales on Carter he didn't want to pass on. I was with that.



It didn't mean he didn't like it that I disagreed. He couldn't see what I liked about Carter so much. I said I didn't know him and didn't travel in the same music world. I may have disliked Carter too. I don't know. I'm clear of impressions where Carter and Ralph were concerned. All I know is Carter can sing a bluegrass song and Ralph can pick a bluegrass banjo and sing to my complete satisfaction. I'm not carrying any of that baggage.



Fred and Lucas are at Cluck Old Hen now. Both know the song well enough to have their own ways of playing it and they flow like musicians who have made a lot of music together. Lucas accompanied Fred with stunning grace on that one. He does on all of them. I may be the only one that would ever think so, but it seems to me a good master for the Rounder label. None of that is my concern, however. I have a copy. I'd question it being able to sell enough cds/downloads to meet the expense of production. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I'm enjoying it, loving it. Thanks to Lucas, who thoughtfully made a copy for me of a record of Fred's fiddle. Fred's one cd, The Stone Mountain Old Time String Band, continues as one of great old-time albums with Jarrell/Creed's June Apple, Laurel Fork Travelers, Whitetop Mountain Band. Anyway, to my ear, the only ear that's listening, besides Tapo and Caterpillar, and the toad on the wet rocks outside the door where bugs are attracted to the light from inside.

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