Friday, April 24, 2009

Mountain Dew Throwback update

That good old Mountain Dew-Dew-De-DewMy administrative assistant has gone above and beyond the call of duty in trying to track down the elusive Mountain Dew Throwback. She contacted Pepsi, who told her that nobody within 50 miles of us is distributing Mountain Dew Throwback. Why I stumbled across a stray bottle at that K-Mart remains a mystery.

In addition to that sad news: The stuff is only available during a 12 week promotion anyway. has more information.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jug band Seder

I had a blast at the jug band Seder thrown by my friends (and fellow Hump Night Thumpers) Fran and Skip.

Here are some selected photos from the ones I took at the Seder. That's me in the black fedora, pin-striped suit jacket and Mountain Dew T-shirt.

2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 018

2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 015 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 002 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 035 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 033 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 016 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 034 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 017 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 022 2009-04-11 Jug band Seder 020

Here's a quick summary of the haggadah for the event, with a excerpt from each song. The songs are set to (more or less) jug-band-style tunes.

Candlelighting“Lighting the Candles”
(“This Little Light of Mine”)
Ba-RUCH a-TA Adonai Elo-HAI-nu MElech ha-o-lam
a-SHER keed SHA-a-nu b-mitz-VO ta-a-av
Intro to the Seder“God and Man”
So man made an image and he gave it a name,
But this man-made god brought nothing but pain.
Man started shouting "God! Where can you be?"
"I'm right here man, inside of thee."
Intro to the Seder
by Petrie Fishman
“Hurry Down to My House”
(“Richland Woman Blues”)
Come on over to my house, It's Passover time.
We'll ask the four questions and then we'll have some wine.
Oh hurry down to my house, where you’ll relax and recline.
You know relaxing is royal, to recline is divine.
Four Cups of Wine
by Jacob Fishman
“Let Us Drink Four Cups of Wine
(“Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear”)
We don’t drink that whiskey
Whiskey is way too rough
We don’t drink that Vodka
Sweet wine is the kind we love enough!
Dip Karpas in Salt Water and
Explanation of the Seder Plate

by J.R. Jenks
“Good Ol' Seder Plate”
(“Good Old Mountain Dew”)
Some herbs are bitter, you bet,
Like maror and chazeret.
They really do not taste great.
But don’t be a quitter
Recall that slavery was bitter
So these herbs are on the Seder plate.
Hold up Matzo
by Ruth Weinberg
“Passover Still Lives On”
(“Battle Hymn of the Republic”)
As slaves so long in Egypt, Jews know not where to turn.
They toil for the Pharaoh and for their freedom yearn.
The bitterness of bondage tonight is what we learn.
The lesson still lives on.
Break the Afikomen and
Find the Afikomen

by Jonathan Nachsin and Fran Landt
“Hide the Afikomen” and
“Find the Afikomen”
(“Eentsy Weentsy Spider”)
Take the afikoman and hide it in a chair.
Take the afikoman and hide it by the stairs.
You can even hide it underneath the pears.
But YOU need to be sure that you remember where!
Four Questions
by Richard Stowell
“Why Is Tonight Different?”
(“Soul of a Man”)
Tonight we eat no hametz
It’s matzo all the way
Grandma was in a hurry
She had no time to bake
Four Children
by Michelle Weinberg
“The Four Children”
(“Teach Your Children”)
What, Says the Wise child?
Is the meaning of
All these ceremonies?
Thou Shall, explain to him
the laws and rules,
down to the last one
Telling the Passover Story
by Fran Landt
“Retell The Story”
(“Jug Band Music”)
We were down in the delta and beginning to swelta
As we slaved in the hot Egyptian sun.
When Pharoah started dreamin’ that the Hebrews were a schemin’
And that he’d be the targeted one.
So he sent out an order from border to border
Hebrew baby boys would all have to die
And every year since then, we retell this story
To remind us how we all survived.
The 10 Plagues
by Fran Landt
“Ten Time Loser”
(“Two Time Loser”)
First the water turned to blood,
And then there were frogs.
Oh Pharoah can’t you see that things are goin’ to the dogs?

You’ll be a ten time loser.
You’d better let us go,
Cause the plagues are gonna get you,
And you’ll be sorry you said no.
Crossing the Red Sea“Oh Mary Don't You Weep”
If I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood.
Pharoah’s army got drownded
Oh, Mary don’t you weep.
The Passover Symbols (matzo)
by Michelle Weinberg
“Bread of Affliction”
(“Sitting On Top Of The World”)
This Bread of Affliction
That our ancestors ate
they didn't have time
for their bread to bake
And now I'm free, I don't worry
Because I'm sitting on top of the world
Open Door For Elijah
by Fran Landt
“Open The Door For Elijah”
(“Walk Right In”)
Walk right in, set right down, Elijah won’t you drink some wine?
Walk right in, set right down, Elijah is it finally the time?
   Everyone is waiting for the messianic age,
   Come on, help us turn the page,
So walk right in, set right down, Elijah won’t you drink some wine?

Also in the haggadah were some straight-up songs: Dayenu, Welcome Table and a song that was a family tradition for the singer: A Bar Lach In Vald.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Banjo versus TV: Week 57

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/29/2009 through 4/4/2009.
Banjo 352 hrs, TV 333 hours

I owe you a link to a video for this week. It might take a while for the video to come together.

There's a Chicago artist who's proposed a whole-city-sings-a-song montage video and he's asked various groups at the Old Town School of Folk Music to help him create a demo. So this week The Hump Night Thumpers put on our jug band semi-finery and played Welcome Table on the street outside the school.

We recorded the event. Now the project guy is going to mix us together with other groups performing the same song and create one single video.

I'll provide a link to the finished product when it's been put together.

I'm told that the video caught a good shot of me nearly bonking another band member in the head with my banjo's peghead. I hope they use that part.

Also in the last week:

  • I've been meaning to go for some time, and I finally went to my first First Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
  • Speaking of the Old Town School of Folk Music, quite a bit of my banjo time lately has come from jamming at the OTS. If you're in the Chicago area you really should stop by the school. Great place.
  • I watched Joe Versus the Volcano. You'd think this would count as TV time and you'd be right, since the rules clearly state that videos count as TV time unless they're banjo-related. But it's got a music connection, too, because the soundtrack is just wonderful! I'd love to get a a soundtrack CD but it looks like there isn't one. There's only a promotional CD, of which only 3000 were created. Bummer.
  • Homespun has a series of books called the All Star Bluegrass Jam Along series. I got the banjo edition (written and performed by Tony Trischka) and got a copy of the mandolin edition (by Matt Flinner) so we can make it part of our morning practice. (Okay, I also picked up the guitar, bass and fiddle editions because I'm that way with books.)

    They did a really good job with this series. The play-along CD tracks are well thought-out and the tabs are very clear, even if they're probably a little beyond me at this point.

    I've been working on Blackberry Blossom from that book. Ouch, it's hard.

    Other songs from the series — and they all look just as hard: Bill Cheatham, Black Mountain Rag, Farewell Blues, I'll Fly Away, Footprints in the Snow, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, In the Pines, I Am a Pilgrim, John Hardy, Little Maggie, New River Train, Old Joe Clark, Pretty polly, Don't That Road Look Rough and Rocky, Sally Ann, Sittin' On Top of the World, Soldier's Joy, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Way Downtown and Down in the Willow Garden.

Banjo versus TV: Week 56

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/22/2009 through 3/28/2009.
Banjo 346 hrs, TV 326 hours

The scale tipped toward the TV this week, although the banjo is still ahead. But, c'mon. The finale to Battlestar Galactica? Jim Gaffigan specials on Comedy Central? Legally Blonde replayed for the zillionth time? I'm supposed to miss any of these?

Banjo versus TV: Week 55

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/15/2009 through 3/21/2009.
Banjo 342 hrs, TV 317 hours

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • I'm starting to do a morning bluegrass session with a developer at work. He's an accomplished guitar player who has his own band and who wants to learn bluegrass mandolin. So most of this week's banjo lesson dealt with the question of how to play banjo alongside a mandolin.
  • Dave recommends that any mandolin player ought to listen to the masters: Bill Monroe and Jethro.
  • Dave says I'll want to capo to A, mostly, and play a lot of fiddle tunes. The mandolin is usually tuned to GDAE, the same as a fiddle. Most fiddle tunes are in A, some in D and a few in G or C.
  • Most fiddle tunes have an A part and a B part and go AABB.
  • The mandolin player is a more accomplished musician than I am, although I've currently got more bluegrass study than he does. This will be good for me. I might want to show him some of my good tunes and we can work on those, since I'll have a head start there. (My good tunes, currently: Good Old Mountain Dew, This Land is Your Land, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Do Lord, and Hand Me Down My Walking Cane. I'm getting there on Wabash Cannonball.)
  • We explored Cripple Creek. Note: I might be the only banjo player who really doesn't know Cripple Creek. It's like being a pianist who doesn't know Chopsticks. So Dave set me up with a copy of Cripple Creek from Tony Trischka's book, Melodic Banjo. The tablature was kind of hard for me to follow, as it puts the notes between the lines and not on the lines like I'm used to.

Mountain Dew Throwback

Look what I found at K-Mart!

made with natural sugar

They're making a Mountain Dew with natural sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. This has been in the works for a few months now, I understand.

Don't know how long it's going to stay on the market, so I'm going to have to order up a ton of this stuff.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'll perform with the Hump Night Thumpers on Tuesday

Want a chance to see me and my fellow Hump Night Thumpers in all our jug-blowin' banjo-pickin' glory?

This coming Tuesday, April 21st, we open for The Barehand Jug Band at The Horseshoe in Chicago. We start at 8:30pm and play for a half hour or so before the Open Hand Jug Band takes the stage.

Here's our set list:

Banjo versus TV: Week 54

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/8/2009 through 3/14/2009.
Banjo 338 hrs, TV 315 hours

I've recently gotten Steve Martin's CD The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. The first track, Daddy Played The Banjo, brought to mind the cover of Earl Scrugg's book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo:

One day Daddy put my fingers down upon the strings
He picked it with his other hand; we made the banjo ring.

The possible connection to that cover art is made even stronger by Steve Martin's choice of singer for this song: Gary Scruggs.

I shared these thoughts with Dave, who told me the sad story of who that kid really was.

He was Earl's son Steve Scruggs who, as Dave described it, "had a lot of demons." Steve Scruggs died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 1992.

I'm not sure whether Steve Martin intended his song to make such a connection, but I found one. Listen to the song, think about that cover (and Steve Scruggs) and see if you don't find the same thing.

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • It's been easier to adjust to my new, higher bridge than I thought. I suggest that maybe this is because my fingerwork is kind of sloppy.
  • I'm not letting my notes ring; I'm changing my left fingers too quickly, causing the sustained sound to be the open string and not the note I'd played.
  • Where should I set the 5th string capo when I'm in other keys? Dave says that the Scruggs answer to that question is 7 for D and 9 for E.
  • My pull-offs aren't really audible. I need to angle my left fingers and pluck the string a little when I pull off.

Also in the last week:

  • TV really kicked the banjo's butt this week, seven hours to one-and-a-half. I'm really liking Dollhouse, which is excellent, and Tool Academy, which is pure trash.
  • At the festival I purchased a somewhat worn Lotus banjo from Shorty. I told Dave I'm thinking of replacing its strings with heavier ones, creating a lower-tuned banjo akin to Tom Nechville's Atlas banjo.

    Dave told me that John Hartford had a low-tuned banjo. Dave played a John Hartford record and we dope out that Hartford probably tuned his banjo low by 6 semitones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Banjo versus TV: Week 53

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution ongoing plan to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/1/2009 through 3/7/2009.
Banjo 334 hrs, TV 311 hours

This week's big event is my annual (twice now!) trip to Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival in East Peoria, Illinois. I'd gone to the festival last year and it was pretty nice to discover how much my jamming skills had improved.

Shorty puts on a great festival at the Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria. The festival opens Thursday night with a Branson show; she brings in an act from Branson, Missouri. This year, as last year, the Branson act was Goldwing Express.

Other acts this year:

Stage acts run all weekend and there are jam sessions throughout the hotel. Last year I spent most of my time watching the acts and only a little time jamming. This year I reversed that, spending way more time in the jam sessions.

You should definitely come to next year's festival: March 4, 5, 6, & 7, 2010

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson — mostly having to do with preparation for jamming at Shorty's:

  • It's time for me to replace my strings; especially #3.
  • We talk a lot about finding the melody and finding a solo for a song.
  • Scruggs style surrounds the melody with rolls. So one way to play a song, Scruggs style, is to pick a roll for each measure (or half measure) that starts on the melody note. So here are some of the rolls that you can use:
    this rollstarts on string
    Forward-reverse roll3 or 4
    Alternating thumb roll3 or 4
    Foggy Mountain Breakdown roll2
    Sonny Osbourne roll1
  • Dave has me find the melody for She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain, which I (eventually) do. Except for the lowest notes, which are too low for my banjo.
  • Then I find the melody for Camptown Races.
  • I try to find the melody for Crawdad Song, but I have a very different melody in my head than Dave does and I'm not able to find it.
  • Here's a trick that Dave uses for Charlie on the MTA:

    That's moving from one inversion of the C chord to another, which is a good trick.
  • Here's the conversation thread: We talk about Twinkle Twinkle, which leads to Mozart, which leads to Mozart's highly-driven upbringing, which leads to stage moms, which leads to Dave telling a story about his studio recording business.

    Dave was recording a mother and her kids who sing harmony. Rather than arranging their physical positions around the microphones, he asked them to arrange themselves. Their arrangement? Mom in the front of the group to everybody's left, one kid to her right and the others in a row behind them. Just like they sit in the minivan. It's how they work.

Also in the last week:

  • A personal accomplishment: At Costello's Jam there was a song I'd never heard before but, by following the guitar chords, I played along and didn't miss a single chord. Yay me!
  • Tom Nechville of Nechville Music Products did an in-store event at the Different Strummer. In addition to showing off his really cool line of banjos, he offered to do setup work on the banjos we brought in, whether he made them or not. He made a few adjustments to my Oscar-Schmidt OB-5 banjo...
    • tightened up the head
    • changed the stock 1/2-inch bridge for a Nechville Enterprise Bridge
    • corrected a hard-to-find (for me, not him) buzz in the nut
    ...and it sounds SO MUCH BETTER.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Barely out of gas

I really shouldn't be proud of how today — for about the fifth time in my life — my car sputtered to a stop, running out of gas JUST AS I PULLED UP TO THE GAS PUMP.

I shouldn't take pride in that sort of thing.

Yet I do.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Good Ol’ Seder Plate

Seder plateMy friends (and fellow Hump Night Thumpers) Fran and Skip are throwing a jug band Seder. They've asked us guests to take jug band songs and convert them to a Seder theme.

Here's my contribution.

Good Ol’ Seder Plate

(With apologies to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the author of Good Old Mountain Dew.)

Oh, what’s on the good ol’ Seder plate?
Sit 'round and I'll give it to you straight
With a tune and some verse
That for better or worse
Will explain the good ol’ Seder plate.

We’ve all had some wine
Now some karpas, dipped in brine,
Should provoke an inquisitive state.
Perhaps this unique ingestion
Will lead to a question
That’s why it’s on the Seder plate.

Some herbs are bitter, you bet,
Like maror and chazeret.
They really do not taste great.
But don’t be a quitter
Recall that slavery was bitter
So these herbs are on the Seder plate.

The slaves by the Nile
Used mortar by the pile
To build Pharaoh’s real estate.
In remembrance of such
We put just a touch
Of charoset on the Seder plate.

In the old times they did
Take a lamb or a kid
And sacrifice it on a slate
But we don’t all eat meat
So we’re using a beet
As the z’roa on the Seder plate.

It was a terrible cost
When the temple was lost
And our rituals had to wait.
So please listen, I beg,
And don’t eat the egg!
Leave the beitzah on the Seder plate.

We should answer the call
To respect one and all
And never discriminate.
So we choose to in-clute
A small piece of fruit:
There's an orange on the Seder plate.

So that is our good ol’ Seder plate
And that’s all I have to relate.
You’re all very dear
And I’ll see you next year
In Jerusalem 'round our Seder plate.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The return of the Banjo versus TV project

I'm bringing back the Banjo versus TV project.

I was really pleased with the way the project worked out last year. Since I first made my resolution in January of 2008 and started tracking my banjo time against my TV time, I've really gotten a lot more banjo time in. Take a look at the numbers. On the right are my 2008 banjo hours (in blue) and on the left are my Q3-2007 and Q4-2007 estimated banjo hours (in purplish-red).

Banjo Time 2007 and 2008

See how much more banjo time I had in 2008? Great stuff! Pat on the back for me!

And then it stopped. Starting on January 1st, 2009, I hit a dry spell, banjo-wise. I was a much better player than I'd been one year prior, but I wasn't a better practicer.

So I'm bringing it back, maybe for good. Sunday March 1st, 2009, marked the beginning of week 53 of the Banjo versus TV project. That's the day that I picked up my old steno pad and started tracking my banjo and TV hours again. (Yeah, that means I'm a few weeks behind in my blogging. I'll catch up.)

It's the same plan — spend as much time on my banjo as I spend on television — and the same rules apply. I'll continued to post to both my personal blog and to my blog at the Banjo Hangout.

Big thanks to Dave, my banjo teacher, who suggested that I continue this project. "I'm a big fan of what works," Dave said. "And this works for you."