Saturday, March 9, 2013

Another World

I had the pleasure of playing a little gig with the CHWN Combo the other night. Took off work at noon, and had a relaxing afternoon at home of a Thursday, including a nice hot bath and a bit of fiddle practice. Hadn't picked up the little wooden box since we'd played down in Aberdeen, NC, back around Christmas of last year. The pegs has slipped in the dry winter air and all the strings were loose, but otherwise the instrument sounded as good as I could make it, which is not at all as good as it might well sound under the hands of some other operator. And on the other hand, I've kept it in one piece, even when it decided to fly quite apart back in '08 or '09 I think it was, an event I discovered when I climbed up on a stage at a going away party for a great friend who was moving to Boston. I opened the case--it was August, very hot. The fiddle was there, but disassembled. I closed the case and went directly home. At least this had been at a party. The next week the CHWN Combo had a fancy-dancey concert at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, WV. If I hadn't happen to look in the case, that would have been a real problem. As it was, Mr. Newberry brought his fiddle along on the road trip and I had something nice to play that evening, in the hometown of Burl and Maggie Hammons.

You get to a gig well before it starts. This one was at a place called the Blue Note Grill. It's a nice restaurant/music venue/bar in a little strip mall off of 15-501 Business, in Durham. They have good burgers, very good beer, and a terrific wait staff. The owner really likes music. Mostly they have duos and singles, blues oriented. There's that famous picture of Robert Johnson, "King of the Delta Blues," in a hallway leading to the bathrooms. There were only two photographs taken of Robert Johnson, in his whole life of 27 years. Or at least only two that survived him. This one is probably on some wall in every state in the United States, and most countries in the world. Robert Johnson recorded only 24 songs. You would recognize quite a number of them I'd expect, even if you'd never heard the original recordings. Mick Jagger make one of 'em famous, and I was watching a bit of a Stones movie on one of the dish channels last night, and there was Mick, as beautiful as he was in 1972, singing the hell out of it, with Mick Taylor, stiff as a statue, bottle-necking between verses. "The blue light was my blues, the red light was my mind." That's as good a line as you can find in the history of poetry.

Before the show there's lots of little things to do. Mr. Watson does the set lists:

I didn't even see that my CD was in the shot when I took it with my phone. The other CD is Mike's newest. The other guys in the Combo are always putting out new CDs. I need to get with it. I have this notion--had it for a long time--that I have one good fiddle "record" (as the kids used to say) in me. But if I don't do it before long, I might find myself as broke down as that fiddle was back in '08, and that'd be that. After the lists and the sound check, which came after getting the sound set up arranged, came some really good complementary burgers. Then we were off to the races.

(I'm the fat guy in the foreground.)

We got done about 9 pm, as planned. Strangely, our audience has gotten older through the years, but I recognized quite a few faces from back in the day, when we were playing the Cats Cradle club in Chapel Hill, one weekend a month. We were doing that gig all through the late '70s. Set up a tour, go out on the road, then we'd get back and have that anchor to tide us over. We did a live record at that club in '79. It exists in a kind of out-of-print limbo. It's called "Chuckin' the Frizz," because at the time we tended to toss frisbees around to get exercise after long van rides. Probably one of the more obscure titles around. A guy named Dale Ashby did a great remote engineering job at the Cradle. He had a whole sound studio packed into an Air Stream trailer, backed it up to the back of the club. He specialized in recording gospel groups in churches, and had spent a year recording Laura Nyro at home. He said she would pick a particular phrase from a particular time through, cut it in. They made the record that way, bit by analog magnetic tape bit. Boy oh boy would Dale have loved digital recording. Six degrees of separation.

I was concerned, when I practiced in the afternoon, about being out of shape to play a whole show. Fortunately, I seemed to warm up quite well. The show flowed along, start to finish. We found our muscle memories, and how we connected in the music, piece by piece. Mike did a new song, a solo. He used to always do a solo, in the old shows from the Cradle days. It's a nice way to change the mood, add drama. Back in the day he used to do "Mythic Times" now and then. "These are the mythic times...." I can't get him to dust that one off. In the second set Joe set a much faster tempo for his song "Lonesome Dove," which was a great musical idea. When you change the tempo a lot of different things are affected, and you find (sometimes) new approaches to a line or a phrase. At least for me, this faster tempo beckoned my cajun licks, and I could hint at that from time to time, around the lyric, and in my break.

I got home about 10:30, got to bed by 11. Everything would have worked great except the three cats had been missing me all evening and wanted to poke at me and get me to pet them. The little grey boy, the one who worries all the time, has discovered that if he flicks at a human's face with his sharp little claws, they will by gawd get the hell up right away. What this human did was eventually put him behind a closed door into the living room. I'm not one to toss a cat at a wall. But the world of my job was not as easy, yesterday, as I'd hoped, even if the Momma cat was willing to come into the kitchen and eat breakfast as though she was a "pet" like her children to start off the day, which was pretty cool:

I sure do miss the life I used to lead, back before the economy changed so much that I wasn't able to make a living doing stone work and music, setting my own schedule, finding the spaces to think when I fancied. Not that I don't like and appreciate my day job. Far too many folks don't have day jobs. I think I read recently that we're down to just 20% of the manufacturing jobs we once had in the US in the '70s. There's too damn much desperation, and a stupid negligence on the part of the folks we've elected as stewards of the country, starting around, um, 1980. So it's great to know I've got an office to head off to, on Monday, and a paycheck to count on. But it's also quite nice to be able to step back into that other world, even if only now and then. It's way better than to just have a fading memory. I say to customers at work, "nice to see you." One guy, the other day, grinned and said, "Nice to be seen."

(There are more pictures, etc. posted over at the band site, which is linked at the top right. There's also ways to buy our CD over on that site, and other associated CDs. Craver might have a few copies left of that "Chuckin' the Frizz" CD at his store. We did a song or two from that CD the other night, including "Aragon Mill." I don't sell nuffin here.)

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