Just got the last dish put into the dishwasher after Red’s birthday party this afternoon. It was a picking party, of course. We don’t know how to have any other kind! What do you do at a party if you don’t play music? I played banjo all afternoon and one of my fiddle sisters, Charlotte, said several times that it sure was nice to hear me picking banjo for a change! (I took that as a compliment on my banjo playing and not a reflection on my fiddling!)
Our friend Scott Brannon came over and I had the BEST time singing with him. He also plays a rock-solid guitar which makes it really fun to play banjo. He’s a very genial kind of guy and most often lets me pick the songs for us to sing. So, naturally, I suggest as much Stanley Brothers as I can think of!
We did Riding On That Midnight Train, How Mountain Girls Can Love, If I Lose, and Hey, Hey, Hey. Then since those weren’t morbid enough Bobby Van and I did Sweeter Than The Flowers. Along with the non-Stanley and not quite as pitiful Mary Dear.
Other tunes we did included I’ll Go Drifting With The Tide, Kentucky Girl, I Want To Be Loved But Only By You, Pain In My Heart, Little Girl In Tennessee, I’ll Never Shed Another Tear, and East Virginia Blues, which Red and I did as a duet with Pete Kuykendall (General Manager of Bluegrass Unlimited) adding the baritone part, which he does so well. Instrumentals included Salt Creek, John Hardy, Wildwood Flower, and Foggy Mountain Special.
Logan was in on the picking, too, and he did great. We played some of the tunes--Shucking the Corn, Bluegrass Breakdown, and Old Joe Clark—fast as all get out and he hung right in there. He also took break after break to tunes he’d never heard before. But was he satisfied? No, he was not. He said, “All my breaks sound alike.” I said, “What did I tell you, Logan? You need to start learning to pick out more melody, then your breaks will all sound different.” “But I can’t do that,” he whined. “Yes you can,” I replied. “No, I can’t,” he insisted. “Get the duct tape,” said Bobby.
The only thing that irritated me was that I could NOT get my banjo to stay in tune. In fact, after we played through Shucking the Corn, Scott told me, in the nicest way possible, that I was about half a fret off! HALF A FRET! Luckily, Scott and I have a long-time playing and tuning relationship and I know he hates it when our third strings don’t match perfectly, so I didn’t mind one bit his saying that. And since my ear was apparently not as keen as his was today, he helped me tune it by saying “sharp” or “flat” or “close enough” while I eased the strings up and down. Those wires are deader than a doornail, deader than Scrooge’s partner Marley (to use a timely metaphor) and they will be coming off soon.
David McLaughlin came in later on and he and Scott teamed up to do some duets such as Don’t Cheat In Our Home Town, Talk Of The Town, and several others whose names escape me at present. David is one of my favorite lead guitar players and I could have sat there a long time just listening to him and Scott. Then for some reason David wanted to pick Lamp Lighting Time In The Valley as an instrumental—in D—so we did that. It sounded pretty good!
Then Scott had to leave so we closed out with an excellent rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” I think our version is patterned after Reno and Smiley’s so in one line of the chorus we have echoes after almost every word: Saints (saints), go (go), march (march), ing (ing) in......That is so much fun! I nodded at Logan to take a break and he nodded back with a terrified look “No!” and I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” and he took a fine break.
We still had birthday cake to eat and more food to nibble on, but the picking part was over. Years ago we might have picked till after midnight, but as the poem says:
Mary swallowed a little watch
Now the watch is gone
Mary walks along the street
Time marches on!
Indeed it does!
Happy Birthday, Red!