Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bluegrass Fever

On stage at the Minden CVIC building, Minden, NV, Andrew D. Barron©3/9/13 [Hipstamatic 261;; iphone 4s]
I’ve been a photographic hiatus for a month or so. But not really, mostly a scanning and making blogs hiatus. There are loads of Impossible films I put through my SX-70 and Spectra cameras. Soon I will be seeking out some new photography locations and such. I am still adjusting to the new reality I have found myself in.

Look at this. Life is good!
Townes Van Zandt reissue 180g vinyl, Andrew D. Barron©3/21/13 [645 Pro; iphone 4s]

I have been doing lots of little things, like rebuilding old computers. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life. I recycled up parts and put together my old home theater PC in an older Silverstone LC19 case. It runs on a mobile processor (a core duo T2500) and allows for a tiny form factor. The whole computer is smaller than an average DVD player. The cpu fan included with the AOpen motherboard is irritatingly loud. When I built it 6 years ago, I ran a Celeron 1.4GHz cpu and left the fan unplugged. Not sure what to do about the noise, but it is kind of important that your music player be silent sitting there between the speakers.

The other computer I restored is an ancient Dell Dimension 4600 I picked up when I moved to Reno in 2002, ‘to get me through my PhD.’ It runs windows 7 off the hard drive salvaged from my dead VAIO laptop. This morning I put in a slightly faster 3.0GHz Prescott cpu. These two machines effectively replace two machines that died in Gold Beach. I swear there is something funny about the power in that electric company in Curry County.

I fixed a floor lamp that has been broken for six years with the circular base from my first microphone stand I bought at Radio Shack in 1993. The base was originally a concrete filled plastic thing that split and broke; it was a lot like those DP free-weights from the 80’s. Random. It was always a nice lamp.
Out in the parking lot, Reno, NV, Andrew D. Barron©3/20/13 [645 Pro; iphone 4s]
A cold one, Reno, NV, Andrew D. Barron©3/22/13 [645 Pro; iphone 4s]
I have been playing lots of mandolin and singing some too. After many years of absorption, I am finding the feel for late-era Monroe instrumentals. I am still very much interested in bluegrass music. It has been ten years since I started to play mandolin. That first year wasn’t too productive with the exception of loading up on listening, primarily to Bill Monroe. I moved to Kentucky in a bluegrass frenzy in 2007, only four years on the instrument. Between 2008 and now, well, it has been a time of figuring out where I wanted to go with music in general. Here are the tunes that have made their way into my repertoire this year. There are some very beginner tunes that I had not really worked out before in addition to the Monroe instrumentals I like most of all.

Back Up And Push
Cripple Creek
Cumberland Gap
Down Yonder
Kentucky Mandolin
Methodist Preacher
New Camptown Races
Old Dangerfield
Road To Columbus
Shenandoah Breakdown
Tombstone Junction
Whiskey Before Breakfast

A ‘bluegrass boy’ is someone who played in Bill Monroe’s band and there are hundreds of them. There is a great resource I often use here made by Stewart Evans. So anyway, there are great bluegrass albums out there that I have not discovered. I started to look for out of print vinyl ones, but haven’t decided on any. But as an mp3 download, I picked up the amazing gem by former bluegrass boy Butch Robin’s Grounded. Centered. Focused. It has been one of the most enjoyable listens for me in a long time. Somehow, in a weekend, I became a huge Butch Robins fan. The other mp3 download I picked is by bluegrass boy Jimmy Campbell called Young Opry Fiddler. Both of these have either Bill Monroe himself, or interesting very late tunes from Monroe. These are:
Old Ebenezer Scrooge
Old Tanyards
The Old Mountaineer
My Father’s Footsteps
Old Lonesome Waltz

I don’t know what is with Monroe putting the word ‘old’ in the title of nearly all of his late-era tunes. These albums were recorded in the early ‘90’s and have my flatpickin’ hero David Grier, and another mandolin hero, Mike Compton, playing on them. I was lucky to meet both of those guys hang out with some during in my time in KY/TN.

My first exposure to bluegrass that I can truly recall was a concert called Master’s of the Banjo. It featured many types of music. For the bluegrass section the vocalists were Laurie Lewis and Dudley Connell. Mr. Connell sings on Butch’s album I mentioned, from that same period. There are some fantastic vocal performances there, particularly the end of Doin’ My Time. This last summer I was lucky to meet Dudley back stage at Grass Valley and we talked briefly about that concert some twenty years earlier. It took until about 1998 before I started to have an interest in bluegrass. I was into songwriter songs and would bring close-but-not-quite songs to the few bluegrass jams I attended. Anyway, I met a mandolin player that tried to straighten me out. He had recently been to Bill Monroe’s funeral, so I guess he was pretty legit. I didn’t really do much bluegrass until moving to Reno in ‘02. I always thought I would be a flatpicking guitarist, and indeed, do think I handle bluegrass rhythm and singing adequately. But not the soloing stuff; I just could never get with it. There is some of that in an older video with my buddy Jim Denoncourt a few years back. You can see what I mean about my shoddy flatpickin’, especially next to Jim.
Tiny spring flowers, Reno, NV, Andrew D. Barron©3/23/13 [645 Pro; iphone 4s]

Monday, March 11, 2013


Well here comes another written entry. I played mandolin with my friends in the band that I began with, The Back 40, on Saturday. It was a fun night of many kinds of live music in a great hall in Minden, NV.

Lately I have been into my bluegrass mode. I feel like I am playing pretty good. It is that time of year where I begin to think of things to work towards. I’ve been at the mandolin since the summer of 2004. It is the kind of instrument that can take years and years to get where you want to be. I have heard the same thing about banjo. I’ve had a year or so working through this particular performance plateau, though I think I got here shortly after moving to Kentucky in late 2007. There are things I would like to do on the instrument, but it really comes down to practice (which I never do). Jamming at a bluegrass festival is like practice, but more about speed, volume, and reactionary improvisation. That means I try to play stuff that is different than the other mandolin players in the jam circle. On stage, I find that loud gets more of a response than does correct. Plus, body language can go a long ways in assuring an audience that you know what you are doing (when in fact, you have completely messed up your break).

Music on Vinyl
In 1997 I had moved to the Silicon Valley and started to put a lot of pieces of my life together that are still with me. For instance, my Martin HD28 guitar has never left my side and sounds really great to me still. In the face of a lot of out-of-print music and a challenging cost of living (being a geologist during the dot-com boom after all), I started messing with vinyl records. The first out of print LP I got serious about was the legendary Buckingham-Nicks, recorded prior to their inclusion into Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, 2013 is the 40th anniversary of that LP and is rumored to be released on CD for the first time (but I wouldn’t hold your breath). The first turntable I used was a really junky thing, but I quickly moved to a yard sale Technics SL-Q2. I put on a decent cartridge, the Shure M97xE. Palo Alto was to birthplace of Windham Hill records, so it explained the great number of quality records I was finding in thrift stores. I wish I had been more serious about them at the time. I am trying to say that I was really after out of print, or not-good-enough-to-repurchase LPs. My next find was sitting in a record store in Santa Cruz, the amazing double LP set called URGH! A Music War, featuring live music from the 1980 rockumentary of the same name.

I got into songwriters which led me to great LPs like Rodney Crowell’s ‘Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.’ This may have well been my first experience with ebay, and shipped from Washington for ~$6. Texas songwriter Steven Fromholz was unknown to me before Lyle Lovett’s 1998 release ‘Step Inside This House’. It was about that time that I began the website for Guy Clark, and found that the artwork of vinyl records was a big part of the fun. Scanning in a 12’ record was not that fun on my little old laptop. 1998 was quite a while ago. The website is still up, though I don’t do much there.

In 1999, I traveled to Memphis to work on the New Madrid seismic zone. Through some amazing twists, I found myself in Nashville watching Guy Clark at the Douglas Corner Cafe. In 2008, I was briefly a resident of that neighborhood. But the point of these last few paragraphs is to try to set the stage for my random trip to the home of country music where I found out of print records I really wanted. The main one was Albert Lee’s solo album that featured the track Country Boy. I am a huge fan of Albert Lee’s and was ridiculously happy about finding that record. But tying back to something else I just wrote, I got three Fromholz LPs as well.

So fourteen or fifteen years ago I started to deal with vinyl again. My first allowances were spent on records in about 1979. I like vinyl fine, but I like digital music too. Sure enough, all of the out of print records began to reappear at amazon while I was in graduate school. A CD remaster pretty much always sounded better than a recording I made from a used vinyl on my modest set up. So this changed my perspective for a time. Until about 2006, when I found that some guys that had become my friends, The Loved Ones, had released their second LP on vinyl back in 1993 or so. (Better Do Right). I went to a reunion show on Valentines day 2007, and learned they had covered George Torrance’s version of Lickin’ Stick. That 2007 reunion really began my efforts on this blog as a matter of fact; it was my first entry “to go and do stuff and shoot pictures along the way.” Here it is. A few months later I picked up the George Torrance 45.

But then something happened. Oh yeah, love. Love makes you stupid. But Love was also the name of a great band and Sundazed had re-released their seminal album Forever Changes on 180g vinyl at that time. I picked it up and was beginning to really enjoy putting on a record and just groove out. Tom Petty’s then-new Highway Companion was great to enjoy on vinyl too. (It still is). Then I moved to Kentucky and everything went into storage, and life went to hell and back a few times.

Until three weeks ago. The turntable is back up, and spinning on what was supposed to be a campstove/utility table that I built last summer. (see that here). Even though my craftsmanship is rough, it is nice to have furniture that I made around. Sitting on the platter of the turntable was the same George Torrance 45 I left there when I left Reno for good in 2007. You can hear it here if you’d like. Momma come quick and bring your lickin’ stick. And I am back in Reno.
Turntable going again, Andrew D. Barron©2/25/13 [iPhone 4S, Hipstamatic 261]
I find vinyl to be exciting. Hell, I shoot with film cameras, and Polaroids for that matter. It just goes with the whole deal, that I did nerdy things well before it was cool or hip to do so. Now if only playing bluegrass music could become a hipster activity. . .

I inherited all of my grandpa’s Lps, most of which are Merle Haggard and Chet Atkins. My early days with country music can be traced back to those records I spun with him in about 1993 (wow, some twenty years ago). I later got more Merle LPs from a cousin name Nathan who used to play with my grandpa in the late 1970’s. All told, I have a few hundred LPs. The trouble is they are buried deep in a storage unit and I was only able to unearth one box of about 60. So I started getting some new vinyl. It is a trip to be right back in 1980, repurchasing a 2010 repressing of Devo’s second album Duty Now For The Future. I am unashamedly a Devo fan; it started so early for me.

There is a thing called Record Store Day, and in 2012, Sugar Hill released a repressing of 1000 copies of the 1980 seminal bluegrass LP Skaggs and Rice. This was very deliberately my first new vinyl purchase in six years. It’s great for a 28 minute long record. My worlds have recombined over music of vastly different genres but released at the same time. Other interesting 180g vinyl are reissues on Townes Van Zandt offerings, and for the first time on vinyl, Steve Earle with The Del McCoury band’s 1999 The Mountain. I am looking forward to spinning a these a few hundred times.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Back from Washington

I went to a bluegrass festival in Bellevue, WA, just east of Seattle. I had a good time. I mostly was playing mandolin. When I was shooting it was a couple of packs of FP100C in the automatic land camera 450. I am not having the best of luck with this one, and every pack has jammed at the beginning and lost the first two to three shots. I enjoyed the SX-70 and had fun with the black and white film from the Impossible project. I also shot the Instax 210 a lot and found it the easiest by far to deal with. The prints develop in short order, film loading is a breeze, and it is the most economical. The pack film was a bit of a drag because the developing chemicals were getting all over me and my bag during the Seattle chill around sunset.

Aside from a few shots out of the window, I didn’t shoot much. I took a super fast jaunt over to downtown Seattle on the 550 express bus. It was a beautiful sunset down there. I blasted through about two packs of film in an hour. I was alos shooting my Leica IIIf out there.

Until I get to scanning something, this will do. In the future, I think I would be fine shooting with the Instax 210 on a road trip. It doesn’t do the best job, but it is certainly the easiest, most reliable, and also economical of the instant film I use.

On the way back, I stopped off at the USGS where I picked up my long lost SX-70 Alpha 1 Model 2. If my notes are correct, I got that one for $6 in a Gold Beach thrift store.

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