that diagram may be a little off ratio-wise but i think that’s generally the deal with that overall correspondence. a couple points appear in considering this. [and of course it seems like if someone is really into music they kind of are from birth, and if they aren’t they just aren’t.] one point is that i think if a person was interested in music, it would be good to fall in love with it. i guess i’m speaking to the fan impetus, which comes before the desire to play an instrument, in my experience.


two things that i think help a person to get the idea of possibilities in music:

  1. locate some symphonic/orchestral/composed music they can really dig.
  2. find out what’s going on with poetry as a form, and find you a poet that you can really appreciate.


for a. the reason why is, the sense of what the frequencies are doing has been greatly skewed by the whole sub sub-woofer business. the average joe has a 5.1 tv etc., new car stereos are EQ’d like this etc. in order to make an unscrupulous end user think they are REALLY GETTING SOMETHING, an attempt is made to create a bit of an audio spectacle. one way to do this cheaply is to make the sub bins rattle off boatloads of low end, like an action movie in the theater, or a video game with the explosions going to the computer sub speaker. {i think it would be really awesome to put out a record that was nothing but an 80hz sine wave from a bench oscillator for 40 minutes. i also think it would be funny to have a feature film where a guy goes into a scary house and the whole thing is set up really tense and the protagonist says screw it i’m outta here and he leaves and the movie is 12 minutes long.} anyway it would be good to reacquaint oneself with what the frequency range actually is. what does the low end of the orchestra actually sound like? what instruments make up the middle part? what is on the high end of the spectrum? if you listen to 100 hours or so of orchestral stuff at a pleasant volume you can get a good handle on what the frequency ranges are. [hopefully you have full range headphones or regular stereo speakers that don’t have bass boost or any of that hoorah.] try to get a good feel for what an upright bass sounds like recorded very well in a nice room. this will help you because you can develop a mental reference of EQ curves etc. this way you can begin to understand the palette. what does a real piano sound like?

there’s a lot of insight to be gained in relation to what makes recorded music interesting. there’s only so much room dynamically and frequency wise on a piece of recorded medium, so some calculations have to happen to fit it all on there, a bit of robbing peter to pay paul with frequencies and so forth. it’s like watching a good baseball manager they can be brilliant at how resources are allocated.


as to b. there’s been a few things that have hurt the collective understanding of poetics and one is there’s been some really awful songs that become huge. and that’s all fine i’m not complaining about that, my point is that people may forget or have forgotten what actual poetry does or sounds like. the syllables have weight and function like a musical note does. so the lines are constructed with small parts, while keeping an eye on the overall whole, like writing for string quartet or making a computer program or a cake or fixing a transmission or whatever. [if i had a student that wanted to learn about writing songs i’d have them study poetry for a long time.] 


now of course there are some forms where there’s a type of naiveté ….and some forms that are built to be sort of terrible and fantastic at the same time and that’s all cool of course, so i’m speaking in a very general sense just about ideas towards understanding, and these aren’t absolute terms by any means. 

in taking a look at some of the various smaller music scenes around the country, a possible conclusion to be drawn or point made in regard to outcomes, would be the construction of a somewhat complex formula, describing the interrelation of the componentry. it would appear to be a bit of a “soup” with different elements tossed in or available, and if one aspect is a little shy, compensation can be made by goosing one of the other variables. like a lot of small social constructs, there are a bunch of little factors added together or strung together somehow, that influence the result on the right side of the equation.


a + b xc………etc. = the trip

example: an interesting scenario to ponder is greenwich village through the 50’s and 60’s. {one of the first transmissions from outer space i got as a young man was the village voice.} not to suggest there weren’t difficulties and flaws and so forth, but there were several phenomena and features that contributed to that being an explosion of great music etc. here’s a rough list:

a. affordable housing

b. high population of master musicians

c. contexts with economic compensation

d. a diverse population

e. public transport or some way of getting around or other logistic ease

f. radio to educate and inform

g. knowledgeable journalists

h. an interested/interesting populace 

i. plenty of regular jobs to get in a pinch

j. availability of academia, museums, etc.

k. easily accessible nearby large cities with vibrant scenes of their own, to work in/with, interface with.

l. record companies looking for art, with the ability to distribute it.

m. non-chain entities.

n. many touring bands coming through. 


consequently a person of even limited means could go and see john coltrane and doc watson on the same night in the same neighborhood. and ride a bicycle. {the point in invoking the names of those two icons is a general one not a specific one. they are used as variables herein.}


now i’m not saying that time period and/or physical location was perfect or that what we find today/now is bad, or any of that type of reduction. the idea is merely to state that there’s a type of equation of music scenes that produce varying types of results. the variables are interdependent. {and as always, i could be wrong about the whole thing alphonse.}

some of the smaller less influential scenes have [or have had] very similar “builds” in various time frames. right now portland has a bit of a vibe. what are some others? why and why not?


perhaps if a person were to find themselves in such an equation/scenario, a good productive response is to do the very best you can and keep working on things because in a sense, when the “scene” does good, “you” do good. 


example: if a person was a dj on a local fm radio station, a good healthy response to this is a realization that they have a unique opportunity to make a huge positive impact. what are things to be played for the audience that will challenge them and inform them? what have they not heard? what events are coming up that can be talked about that bring all this together? {example: the punk rock show on a local radio station out of seattle is really good.}

let’s say i’m a musician. being a content creator can have a huge impact on this hypothetical equation. how can i get as good as i can possibly get on my instrument or in my writing? where are the smartest people i can find to study with? how can i challenge, uplift and empower my audience? what other art can i talk about that would benefit from some more attention? what local artists can i support and encourage myself? what are some other things outside of my discipline i can do a project with? 

and so forth. what “needs” to be done that others aren’t doing? where are things going? 


an audience member also has quite a bit of power here. depending on things, they can have a multiplication factor rather than addition so to speak. what’s the coolest thing i can find that is playing to an empty house? what/where is the pure vision?


club owners, sound guys, neighborhoods, weather, all these types of things are accounted for. record store owners. taste makers.


in my own job of traveling, i get to witness things like this: a person comes to a show and perhaps mention they are thinking of starting a coffee house, then the next time i came through they started it and their kids work there, then the next time i come through i play there and they are expanding the building and have a poetry night and open mic night. so some things are getting done by smart people that care. at least in the subset of my touring world. i see this energy all over the country thankfully. 

it’s not perfect, there are bumps and ebbs and flows of course. i’m not even sure if this kinda stuff makes a difference, if it’s pencilled all the way out. {a certain type of person would say “so what?” to the whole setup.} but it sure makes living in a place a lot cooler. man art is what makes all this life hassle worthwhile! {a conclusion my nine-year-old self came to.}


sometimes you play a little place or small event and they just don’t have a way to get the word out yet, or the method they had just went away or something. or perhaps they couldn’t get the day they wanted and now have to go up against another bigger event. the variables in the equation have slightly different values across time. sometimes there are big changes. but overall there are some cool things going on in the music scenes around the country. i’m proud to be a part of that. it takes a lot of work. and sometimes you kinda wonder. but i gotta say i’d prefer to swing the bat rather than try to crowd the plate and get hit by a pitch so to speak. you kinda gotta go look for yourself. i recently played at a small festival and every band i saw was interesting. that was really nice to experience. 


the older scenes are always ebbing and flowing, and new scenes are popping up. i’d say the trend is to more de-centralization. {not many new art ideas come out of places a regular person can’t afford to live in.} the four or five scenes that kind of defined american music for the last few decades still have interesting stuff especially if you dig around. it’s weird there’s lots of cool stuff, but you have to dig much harder. what other response can one possibly have other than to dig and to create?



awright back at it.

i’ve heard tell of music festivals and look forward to going to one someday! ha just kidding. i just wanted to write a little thing about
music festivals, it being that time of the year and so forth.

first off, one of the cool things about going to a music festival is you get to just focus on music, for several days at a whack. it’s nice to spend a few days listening to, and making music. from a performer aspect the schedule alternates between clubs and festivals, and the clubs are more of a one nighter trip so there’s travel every day. it’s nice when you get to stay in one place a couple days.

another cool thing is seeing this whole family of musicians that i strangely only see at festivals. considering thirty or forty years of elapsed time you get to see folks’ kids, and see them grow up and all that. they go from being grubby booger-encrusted kids pawing over the backstage catering, to grubby booger-encrusted adults sucking up all the backstage beer. but nonetheless it is interesting to see. haha.

the “secret music.” this is really my favorite part. see, there’s all this stuff that artists jam and play around on when no audience is there. it’s a really cool repertoire. that’s the funnest bit for me the jamming.

another cool feature of the music festival bag is getting to see new things with a soft ticket. in other words you can gamble on music you haven’t seen yet, it doesn’t cost anything extra to go and see an artist’s set on a side stage. i’m always on the lookout for something good music wise. sometimes you can stumble across the coolest stuff. it gives me a chance in my own work to have some folks hear my music without having to commit to a hard ticket until they get ready.

the first festival i ever went to was the glen rose bluegrass festival down in texas. there was so much to learn from all the musicians and bands that came there, a wonderful experience. about 1973-4. i got to see a lot of the great bluegrass bands play there.

as i write this i’m getting ready to go play the san fransico jazz fest next week with my good friend david grisman, then the string summit comes up outside portland, we done been out to delfest and so forth. a buncha cool stuff. anyways, hope to see you out there, it’s nice to get away from the doom. 

i kinda go through these different periods of study where i get on something and read and watch and listen as much as i can. that’s ONE good thing a person can say about all the computer hooraw and so forth. the average working person has access to books and music heretofore unavailable. the database of ALL that exists. {in a sense every guitarist/instrumentalist you see should be a flaming badass because there’s more free lessons available on the ‘net than you can shake a stick at. by the Masters.} therefore, it’s possible to study the best stuff like crazy.

so this one fellow i want to talk about is buck trent. first off, used to, before the bands had drums, they had this as a typical lineup: {country music} non-pedal steel, fiddle, electric guitar, upright bass, and the singer played acoustic guitar. and in dudes like hank snow’s case, some could pick the heck out of a solo on acoustic guitar adding another voice. if you haven’t spent a few years on this groove, i’d get with it. 

buck was the soloist on so much of porter wagoner’s stuff and was his musical sidekick. so many of porter’s hits were built around and/or featured buck trent’s really strange and hep playing. if you don’t know this guy, you best get hep. 

buck was a banjo player and electric guitar player, and he came up with this wacky thing that was built on a banjo frame. he took a sheet of plywood and put that on there in place of yon head. this allowed him to mount pickups in there like a ‘lectric guitar. he had some bending levers installed and scruggs tuners on every string {on the four at the headstock anyway}. he played drenched in reverb and would use either a scruggs tuner or one of the bendy pedal things to access every note he could, rather than just “play” said note. in other words, if he could bend INTO it, he would do that, rather than just pick it. so every line had this twisty snaky weird scene. notes could be mechanically accessed in sort of an arbitrary way. like generated music or something. 

the result was some really far out music. the thing that freaks me out is, this sound was on top ten big country hits, one right after another for many years. imagine a man playing a hybrid instrument that he had invented and built with some friends in a very experimental way and played in a very experimental way, on top ten country records today! 

if you don’t know about country music, you might want to go find some. porter and buck is a real good place to start. they used to come on the tv when i was a little boy, i think it was every day at 5am i would watch before i went to school. these characters were like biblical figures to me and they spoke of a world much happier and awesome than my real life and i adored them. 

my brother and i were discussing that from our birth till the time we was about 10 or 12 years old, pretty much ALL we heard was killer classic country. {it wasn’t classic at the time it was new!} every little farming town had a station that played the finest stuff. every restaurant had it on the jukebox. people went out to hear folks play. it was everywhere. it was kind of a religion. folks bought records. that’s where i got the idea that playing an instrument as good as you could, was a noble effort. and that being a musician was the best job one could have. and that music was really the greatest thing about life. and that these amazing musicians that had come before had made something truly great. this aesthetic i’ve maintained into my 56th year. 

one of the things i appreciate about actual country music is that it came from working folks [poor] and was FOR them. punk rock bluegrass blues gospel, so many of the forms was a bit of a salve or balm to the folks that worked hard. today that voice has all but disappeared. it’s sort of perceived as shameful nowadays when folks have hard times or need some help or fall between the cracks and so forth. the typical person is either rich, pretending to be rich or dying to be rich. this ethos is reflected in video games where you kill other players for resources and what not. {there is a very interesting book called the one-dimensional man by herbert marcuse.}

fortunately i’ve collected much of this stuff, and i was there and i can remember what it was like. i’m not sure if it’s just my frame of reference but that old stuff makes me happy and i suspect it was engineered for this outcome. used to, each network had an orchestra. 

i went and saw buck at branson at his showplace there with my friend mike bub a few years ago and buck sounded killer. 

hank snow has a very interesting solo guitar record and all the buck owens/don rich music is stellar. roger miller. i grew up with that as “mainstream.” a lot of the songs were around two minutes long. perfect little novels. thumbs carllile. 


music is good!


in the last few weeks i did this run up a section of the north east[dc-boston] then flew back west for three shows in the northwest. lots of ground covered on that. a bit of the old I 95 shuffle.  
it’s pretty fun and challenging to work solo. one of the main things i like is being able to just focus on the set, and hone it in. the whole day can focus on having your set together at exactly the right moment when it’s time to start, getting the songs in the right order and being warmed up and ready to go. having the exact amount of material for the alotted time. getting there in time to warm up. getting sleep and leaving at exactly the right time for the next day’s set. not forgetting anything or making any wrong turns.
on a lot of that stuff, the margin of error is pretty slim. like if that flight doesn’t take off, or if there’s a wreck the show ain’t gonna happen. it’s a little stressfull in that…’s all on your shoulders {paperwork says so} and so forth. you set it all up out there in the future and you hope it all goes well. but i gotta say typically i’ve had pretty good fortune.  
i’m thankful for the folks that come to my shows. it seems the small cross section of folks out there in the world that will come to see me work tend to be pretty good folks. readers. interested and interesting folks. i mean, in the past i have played in bands where the average patron just got a tooth knocked out. so i’m thankful that no matter what seems to be happening in the world, there’s still some folks that are trying to make a difference, even if it’s just expressing oneself as a good person. i’ve met some really smart folks, which is encouraging. 
the travel is a little intense. that’s all we need to say about that.
there’s in a sense, three things to be juggled on my solo show. the instrument, the voice, and the emcee work. it must be similar to how a baseball pitcher thinks, there’s the fastball, the curve, and the slider. at any one time, you may not have all three up and going. you may only have two, or sometimes only one that is in that effortless place. on rare occassions, all three {or none!} are in synch. {one of my art loving pals said “man when you just stand there and play that is the most out thing you’ve ever done!”}
it remains kind of a mystery. about the time you start thinking “wow i didn’t eat any food before the show i think things went better” then something goes awry and you abandon that and try ONLY SOUP! in a sense i feel a connection to all those old actors musicians comedians magicians and troubadors of the past. you just have to deal with things, which is to be expected on account of it being a noble endeavor and what not. you spend your whole life making things as a reaction to other things. 
thank you for keeping up with all this stuff.

when i was a kid back in the 60’s, my old man would play records on a record player that looked like a piece of furniture. you had to sit and look at it like you were watching tv. i got the idea from him, and my other family members, that there were these real Masters of music that we were hearing. and they deserved appreciation and study and repeated listening. my sense of them at that young age were that they were larger than life figures almost like bible characters come to life. i suppose that was a bit of Modernism there, the tv and magazines were filled with these images of great, larger than life musicians, actors, writers, architects, poets, politicians and so forth. [i’m of the age where i remember when the beatles had new records out, hendrix and so forth.] so i had a concept of these great Masters pretty early on and i’ve held this sort of...reverence since. [my folks had pretty good taste in music, especially country music.] i remember that live at folsom prison johnny cash record was a new release. when black sabbath was new that was pretty amazing. 
when i started collecting music on tape and LP’s and so forth myself [i got my first 45 when i was 5 etta james you got it on chess], my brother and i were always trying to find the best musicians. the perceived economic status of an artist in question had nothing to do with it, in other words, how successful the artist appeared on the outside or whatever. i didn’t think a fellow like slim harpo or skip james or wade ward would be considered particularly wealthy in that sense, nonetheless, they were Masters. and that was enough and in my brain i saw no difference between jimmy reed [who was on jukeboxes] and george benson [jukeboxes, radio and tv], or whatever, they both were Masters. all that mattered was aesthetics. how good was the art? money and popularity really never came up, as a matter of fact, i assumed my classmates at the local farming community high school were not going to be hep to augustus pablo and that was just fine with me. nor flatt and scruggs. nor ornette {even though he was from fort worth just up the road}.
in short many of the current, living Masters, were on tv and you could find their records at the library and at record shops and what not. of course they were touring too thank you mr. lightnin hopkins. and they were on the radio to an extent. earl scruggs was on tv and there were only three channels, so the entire tv watching population had a one in three chance of seeing a true Master of music. {i tried to explain this to several folks that are too young to remember, and i reckon it’s not really possible to grasp it except experientially, and perhaps that’s best.} there was a really good blues radio show out of austin my brother and i listened to religiously. and a great gospel station on the am during the day from marlin, texas nearby, which is where the great Master willie johnson was from. 
my thinking has been, if you really want to hear the best stuff, a good question to ask is, who are the Masters? both past and present. the True Masters of Music. if you want to learn to really play, you best get with a Master. [i study with a Master].
it’s a lifelong process to develop an aesthetic system. one has to keep refining and studying. but in a sense, it’s one of the most important things to work on. an early theory about art was that it was a balm to brutality of life and whatnot. so you’re probably going to need that ha! if a person wants to really learn about music, working on a sort of timeline through the decades, with the Masters of each period, is a very good study. this quest was sort of inculcated in me at a very young age and i’m still working on this. it’s a common sentiment if you study with a Master or if you have friends that are in that league. i’m still learning and finding out about so many musics. this is my main interface here with life this…quest of aesthetics. having a system, refining it and so forth. 
music is good!


this is likely going to sound like i’m telling you yesterday’s weather, but my feeling is that there is likely too much generated useless data in the physical/external realm. this idea came to me as i was walking in an airport and passed one of those news shows they mysteriously beam at you every 8 feet on a flat screen hi-def. there’s a robotic person talking, a crawl of oblique non-sequitur on the bottom going by, and a graphic pie chart PLUS a corporate logo. so that realization brought forth a somewhat intense appreciation of minimalism in art; which brought about my diving in and studying about the topic. {first time i heard the concept was in a music appreciation course in college.}

i used to teach banjo in a small store in austin, working for one of my best friends in his guitar shop, seeing about 20 folks a week. in a general sense, it was harder to help someone fix a tune they had learned incompletely than it was to show them a new tune from the ground up. which to me was a good lesson in the fact that it’s much easier to put an idea into one’s head than it is to take one out. therefore, a person has to be ultimate degrees of selective about what goes in there. this speaks to the value of minimalist art.

it’s vitally important really to search out the best stuff. the physical plane is stuffed with copies of copies whose copies eventually became ads for a concept that was not designed with the end user’s best interest at heart. so i think we really have to search out the best ideas. the best art. {what is that definition? a great question.} i think towards that end, at this juncture on the space/time continuum {in a sense we are all on a type of spacecraft} minimalism makes a big point.

the downside of having a head full of ad/ideas that get placed there, is that the person is thus forced into reacting. in real life as it were, an overwhelmed overly-stressed person reacts. whereas a calm mind can receive. for example, if you get a chance to sit down with a master musician to speak or study, if you do all the talking, it’s unlikely you will benefit of the opportunity. the same is likely true in reading a great novel or poetry or listening to a great piece of music. there has to be a limiting of non-essential head clutter.

one of the great things happening in music right now is the del and dawg duo. just seeing those two guys play by themselves is an amazing gift. here’s part of what you get: they have known each other since 1966 i think. those two guys together pretty much represent a large portion of acoustic american stuff and are direct links to the first recorded masters, who were direct links to the great unknown abyss of unrecorded masters that go all the way back to the beginning of the current cycle of time. in other words, this is about the deepest study a person could make today, if they are at all interested in american acoustic music, learning to play a mandolin banjo guitar sing folk songs, anything in that part of the library. certainly if you are trying to be a professional musician while holding a banjo or something. or even appreciate the form as a listener. the repertoire is really the finest stuff from that period all kinda distilled down into it’s essence. they play into a mic so the audience has to actually listen and pay attention. that way you are getting the full beautiful tone of the instruments and voices. and these two old friends tell the stories of the songs as well. it’s an intense experience because when there’s a band you can look over at player A for a while then look over at player B,C,D check out the light show, look at your phone, talk to your workmate, look around. but with just the two guys playing into a mic, it draws your attention on the music itself and what these two masters are doing. and why. 

i think their work is a beautiful perfect minimalist statement where the idea is laid bare and everything stripped away with nothing extra. my idea is that if a person was interested in any music remotely related to picking music, this would be a really good study. and then to research where the songs all came from. it would likely take a person about 5 years to “get to the bottom” of their 2 cd recording. not necessarily to able to duplicate it, but to be able to grasp it conceptually.

i think those guys are the greatest thing going on in the acoustic/picking music realm. this kind of pure uncluttered expression is a valid response to things.