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Saturday, November 13, 2010

FILMING THE HIGHLANDERS

jimmy zeh at front porch gallery



Been looking at videos hearing the Highlanders from last night, playing every one of the tunes recorded, going through them, culling the ones that didn't take for one reason or another. Last night the music was good, but next day on video I heard a lot I missed. The Highlanders have been a band 40 years. From the beginning, I could hear these guys know how to play bluegrass together. I have a cassette of Highlanders music. There's none on cd. Last night's performance was better than the cassette. Last night was memorable. The recorded music is good, but there's nothing like a concert. The concert is the present form of theater. I've seen concerts of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Fats Domino, the Chantels (a black girl singing group I loved in high school years--had two hits, Maybe and Every Night), Bill Haley & the Comets, Ricky Nelson, Grand Funk Railroad, the Cars, Bob Dylan, Parliament/Funkadelic, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Burning Spear, Papa Roach, Bo Didley, Rufus, Kiss, Dr Hook & the Medicine Show, and a bunch more.



I've always found a concert a theater experience and tend to prefer concert albums by a band to studio recordings. Like Sade's concert gives her songs a dimension not heard on the studio recordings. In like manner, hearing studio recordings of the Highlanders is good bluegrass, but in concert with an audience of ten and the cat that lives there is another experience all together. A ways into the concert, a man in the audience said to the band they "would be a good professional band." The bass player picked it up and said, "Would be?" What the man evidently didn't know is they have been and have, in effect, had their day. They played at the World Fair in Knoxville in the 80s when they were a driving Galax band. I was seeing this concert as one of those great moments in the music of SW Virginia, a Galax bluegrass band that is mountain music as good as it gets, Willard the vocalist. Willard put up a display of posters advertising their shows in the past. Buddy Pendleton was their fiddler. He couldn't make it last night. Buddy Pendleton is one serious fiddler. The man knows how to get every note there is in a fiddle out of it. Scott Freeman played the fiddle.



I feel like I'm archiving this music at the Front Porch Gallery putting it on YouTube and on dvd disks. I feel like every one of these concerts is important to record the best possible. At Walmart on the way home picking up some dvd blank disks, I saw a small video camera for $500 and laughed passing by on the way to find the disks. What I have for a whole lot less does as good as that one does. It may have something about it that makes it better, but it couldn't give better visual quality. Only the sound could be improved and it probably is not much better on the expensive one, if better at all. The only part I'd want different would be silent gears zooming the lens in or out. On mine, the zoom gears get recorded into the soundtrack. As a result, I don't zoom during a song. I'll put it where I want it at the start and leave it there. I feel like this music happening at the Front Porch is a testament of mountain music as it is played in this particular time and place.



Willard has been with Highlanders 40 years. At the same time he was associated with that band, he was working with Skeeter & the Skidmarks in the early half of the 90s. Skeeter's 2nd album is titled Alternate Roots. When Edwin Lacy had to leave the area, Willard and Scott pulled together another band they called Alternate Roots. I think I saw AR in concert 15 times. I say freely that AR is my favorite band. They made 4 albums, every one of them a gem. It's funny about the Highlanders not having anything on cd. Bobby Patterson, mandolin in the band, has the recording studio where he records the old-time and bluegrass bands of SW Virginia. The magazine Old-Time Herald was begun in the basement of his Heritage Record Shoppe when it was in Galax. Now it's at Woodlawn, next to Willard's Front Porch Gallery. It's like the guy working at the auto body shop drives a car that looks a mess. The house painter's house needs painting. Bobby doesn't pay much attention to recordings of his own band.



Jimmy Zeh's banjo has a sound of its own. When he's playing it, it sounds good, but he makes it look like he's not doing anything. It doesn't look like he's doing anything complicated with his fingers or going for subtleties. Looks like he's just pickin, relaxed, riding the wave of the music, having a ball, doing what he likes to do best. When I hear it next day in the videos it feels like I missed an awful lot last night. His banjo today is much more intricately played than what I heard in concert. It's the same thing. Only difference is my own hearing at one time and another. His banjo in concert seems low key, takes the background. In the recordings that banjo is dancing all over the place. I hear much more deeply what he's doing. Perhaps there are a lot of distractions at the show, like holding the camera, but with or without the camera the music sounds the same. I may even pay closer attention holding the camera. My mind doesn't wander when I'm focusing on holding the camera still as possible.


Half a dozen of the videos are up by now. To find them, go to: http://www.youtube.com/ and write in the Search box, hobblealong1. There you will find near the top the music I'm putting in today and all that went before.



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