I know we mostly write about banjo playing here, but I thought a word or two about Bob Van and his guitar playing was in order. Since he’s doing SO WELL.
As you may recall, Bobby has been taking guitar lessons from me forever. One of my favorite stories about him is when he came in for his first lesson, lo these many years ago, before either of us were wearing glasses! He’d been learning to pick the lead on some songs from our CASSETTE series, Carter Family Guitar. Songs like Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Worried Man. He said he’d gone through all the songs in the series. I was impressed.
“Play one,” I said. So he did. And, yes indeed, he had all the notes exactly right. But he was leaving out all the strums! And thus began our long-term battle over timing. Which happened again yesterday as he was working on the lead break to the Stanley Brothers song Could You Love Me One More Time. (His choice.)
“Bobby,” I said, “would you do me a favor and play again, this time using the correct timing?”
“Hell,” he says, “I’m having enough trouble remembering the notes. I can’t worry about the timing.”
“If you can’t play it in time, then you can’t play it.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. What else is new?”
It has always been thus. Fortunately we’ve always been able to laugh (and cuss!) at whatever is going on in the lesson.
But lately Bob’s lead guitar playing has taken quantum leap, due, in part I think, to his learning to pick Salt Creek. Note by tedious note. Let me be quick to say he didn’t do it without a monstrous amount of complaining. “I hate this song. It doesn’t have a melody.”
“Yeah, yeah. Try it again and this time get the pick strokes right.”
We latched on to Salt Creek only because he’d tried to pick the lead to Ashoken Farewell in the key of D. It’s a hard song on guitar to start with, and the key of open D is not an easy key to pick in. And did I mention he’s pretty bullheaded? So we went around and around with Ashoken Farewell for several months. Frankly, I think we lost.
So I said, “Next time, let ME choose the tune.”
Amazingly, he said, “Okay.”
So I chose Salt Creek. Why? Mainly because the banjo pickers that he plays with somewhat regularly (Ruth, Susan, Logan) all know this tune and he’d actually get a chance to perform it in a jam. And it has become sort of a flatpicking standard.
I taught him the old-fashioned way, by recording it onto a cassette! Explaining it note-by-note, including the directions of the pick strokes. And yes, it took a while, but, by Jove, he finally got it! And while he still professes to hate it, he can play it, chord it, and come back in for his break after the banjo plays. At least he could do that yesterday. Marty is coming for a marathon lesson on Saturday and I’ve arranged for some students to come jam with him. Bob is one of them. We’ll see how he does on Salt Creek then. Pressure’s on, Bobby! Step up to the plate!