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Saturday, September 24, 2011



Back to work on the Howard Joines fiddler painting. Repainted the fiddle, all of it, with colors closer to my satisfaction. Also put in the chicken, a ghostly chicken of the imagination, white on a white roost. She's leaning down toward his ear like she's singing into his ear. I'm happy with it. The hen is white and transparent like a spectre, like a memory, or a thought. I have her singing her note into his ear, because when he plays Cluck Old Hen, Cacklin Hen and Chicken Reel, old-time fiddle tunes with notes in them that are chicken notes, he plays the note of a hen cackling. Howard kept chickens, and you can hear it when he plays those tunes. They have notes that sound exactly like a chicken when old-time fiddlers play them, fiddlers who grew up with chickens. In the old days, about everybody raised chickens. Howard's chicken notes were perfect. Tommy Jarrell played a good chicken note. All the old-time fiddlers found those notes. That's changing now. The new fiddlers don't live with chickens. You can hear it when they play these tunes, it's a note approximating a chicken's note, but there's no chicken in it.

It was a good project to set this one back in motion. Had it going good and then froze when it came time for the fiddle strings and the bow. I finished two others while it waited. Didn't get the f holes perfect, but I don't care. I don't want perfect. I don't even care if it makes it look "folk art." That's what it is, so it doesn't matter if somebody says that. I'd be as happy with that title as any. The fiddle had already been brought up to the final coat of paint, which was applied today. I was ready to go, knew what had to be done, bore down and done it. Something I've not articulated before is the risk involved in painting, the constant need to apply each touch of paint just right, or close.

Years ago, friend Don Smith who liked to climb rock cliffs straight up, loved the risk. He told me I needed to get out and do something that involved some risk. I couldn't ever explain it, so I didn't try, but I set out on an adventure every time I approach a blank canvas. And when it comes toward the end when I have to paint 1/4" slightly curved line on a white shirt, no mistakes, the line having to cross the fiddle too, the line 2 feet long, I get paralyzed mentally and can't start, though I know I can do it, know I will do it, know that when it happens, it will take no more than 5 to 10 minutes. That part just about paralyzes me from knowing I have one chance and one chance only. It can only be done when I'm ready. One day I feel it, and it gets done in just a few minutes. When I start, instead of holding my breath, I control my breathing, keep it going so I don't pass out from lack of oxygen.

And there was getting the chicken right. Again, one time only. It's not perfect, which means it's just like I want it to be. I've put on a cd of Howard Joines playing fiddle with Jr Maxwell playing banjo, and I'm guessing Richard Joines playing guitar. They're playing Bear Tracks, Jr's banjo in the lead. Sounds good. Now I won't be able to write for listening. They are so good their music draws all my attention. Jr is picking something else now, beautifully. If I'd ask him the title, he'd say, "You don't know the name of that?" and he wouldn't tell me. I'd have to ask ask again. It would be in fun, making fun of me for not knowing. Not that he knew the names of all the songs. Howard's fiddle is working with the banjo that is going where the fiddle takes it. I took a risk when I put this cd on of letting the music take me over and it has. It pulls my ears and occupies my conscious mind that shuts down and receives this something that is so much better than anything that runs through my mind.

They're playing Just Because, a song Bill Monroe also recorded. I knew it before from Elvis doing it early when he was on Sun label just before he became a household name overnight. Jr plays well with a fiddler. He supports the fiddler, keeps the rhythm for him, doesn't get in front of him. Dance All Night With A Bottle In Your Hand. Howard plays this one especially lyrically. What a great fiddler. Jr's banjo works right along with the fiddle. Howard was Jr's uncle. Jr's mother came from an especially musical set of Joineses in Pine Swamp township. Oh it feels good hearing this good music. They're bluegrassing old-time fiddle tunes about like Art Wooten did. Art made two albums in his later years, one old-time and one bluegrass. Same bluegrass bands both times. This is how Art played the old-time tunes on his album, bluegrassed them, keeping the dancers in motion.

This rendering of Howard Joines is looking at being finished tomorrow. Just a little bit more to do. Could have done it today, but I wanted to give it another day. Looking at it, the chicken is right. She is present, but not overtaking. She's whispy as a spectre. This is the chicken he's hearing in his inner ear when he's playing the chicken note in Cluck Old Hen and Chicken Reel. I had to listen to him playing his fiddle to remind myself I'm painting an icon of a master fiddler. The chicken is part of the whole. She belongs. Her presence adds a kind of living quality to the whole. She draws attention from Howard's face, when the eye reaches the hen, it's drawn back to Howard's face. It sets up a rhythm like that with the viewer's eye. Unconsciously. The hen became an essential element to the whole as soon as she appeared. A couple of brush strokes, 2 red dots and a tiny yellow dot, the combs and beak, leaning from the roost toward the fiddler's ear, singing her note to his inner ear.

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