My long-time banjo student Logan graduated from high school last week and this past Saturday he had a picking party at his house to celebrate. Red and I attended as did my friend Janet (guitar picker and sometimes square dance partner), Logan’s Scout Master Gerald, also on guitar, and Chris Lovelace, high school buddy of our son Chris, who also plays guitar. Gerald and Chris both play some lead guitar, although not on the fast instrumentals. We played from about 4:30 till close to 8:30 and Logan was playing the best I had ever heard him! Go, Logan!
So, what did we play? Not in any particular order:
Lonesome Road Blues
Foggy Mountain Breakdown (which Logan still hates, but his dad wanted to hear it!)
Old Joe Clark
Old Spinning Wheel
Clinch Mountain Backstep
When You and I Were Young, Maggie (instrumental)
East Virginia Blues
Old Country Church
Hit Parade of Love
Rolling on Rubber Wheels
Will You Be Loving Another Man
Head Over Heels
Nine Pound Hammer
Take This Hammer and Carry It to the Captain
Over in the Gloryland
Foggy Mountain Special
Limehouse Blues (I was REALLY proud of Logan for remembering how to pick this one!)
Shucking the Corn
Darling Say Won’t You Be Mine
As I mentioned, Logan was playing great. Most of these songs he knew already, but a few he’d never played before and he didn’t shy away from improvising. (Except when we played in the Key of D. Then he went to get something to eat! Guess what his next lesson is going to focus on??) I usually played my break before he took his (I was sitting right beside him) and it didn’t take me long to realize that he was COPYING my breaks! Not exactly note for note, but he’d steal licks and use them in his own break.
I said to him, “Dammit, Logan, you’re stealing my licks. Stop it! Make up your own licks.”
His immediate comeback was: “You stole them from Earl first.”
Of course, I was only pretending to grouse because I LOVED IT!
And to be fair, I stole a lick from Logan which I now use in Lonesome Road Blues. He had learned part of Kansas City Railroad Blues (in C) from Casey’s Melodic Banjo Video [now retitled Blackberry Blossom on DVD], and somehow he ended up transferring one of those licks to Lonesome Road Blues. I liked it so well, I transferred it too!
As we were packing up to leave and saying goodbye, Robyn, Logan’s mother, was reminding me (and everybody else) that when she first inquired about lessons for Logan, who was 11 at the time, I told her no! I had a pretty full teaching schedule and I wasn’t very interested—at that time—in teaching kids. (I much prefer teaching someone who can carry on a conversation with me.) ANYHOW, I hooked him up with my excellent student Gina Furtado, who gave him his first lessons. Then somehow that wasn’t working anymore (too far to travel is what I remember), so Robyn asked again, and this time I said yes, with one huge caveat: if Logan ever showed any teenage "attitude” or surliness, he and I were through. Kaput. It would be over.
I don’t know if I scared him or it just wasn’t in his nature, but he never gave me one moment of trouble. (Okay, there was that time he thought he was right about the chords to some song and he was wrong and we made a bet and I won and became the Bluegrass Master....) This is not to say that we didn’t have some practice issues and some other banjo-related issues. For instance, sometimes he just HAD to do it his way and I just had to let him. Sometimes he was missing just one note in a song and I could NOT get him to fix it so I just had to let that go. (He did finally fix that one note in Clinch Mountain Backstep, I was pleased to see!) And there were timing issues early on. Once in a jam, we sat Logan by Bob Van Metre and his bass, so he (Logan) could, hopefully, stay in time better. But that was a failure because, at that point, Logan didn’t know how to even LISTEN to the bass to hear the beat. He learned though, and now has great timing.
And then somewhere along the way, Logan fell in love with the old, traditional bluegrass: Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and Don Reno. (He also likes the new stuff like the Avett Brothers and some group called Noah and the Whale.) He started listening like crazy to the old stuff and started asking me to teach him songs like Limehouse Blues, When You and I Were Young Maggie, and Old Spinning Wheel. I was delighted to do so, especially because he could pick them up so quick, and, if he forgot what I showed him, he could make up stuff well enough to fill in the blanks.
I guess you can tell I’m pretty proud of Logan. He’ll be attending Virginia Tech in the fall and I’m proud of that too. And he did finally buckle down and become an Eagle Scout. And, I think I told you this before, but Logan chose a picture of him and me playing our banjos to go in his yearbook. I felt so honored.
I can’t really think of a good closing for what has turned into a tribute to Logan. But these words from Ferrol Sams, one of my favorite authors (Run With the Horsemen), come to mind: He’s a Good Boy, he’s been Raised Right, and is bound to Go Far. And my guess is he’ll be taking his banjo with him!