I’ve long liked the way the banjo and fiddle work together, with the banjo percussively nudging the fiddling forward, and the fiddle finding new and intricate detours through great old tunes.
I’ve been trying to stick to a schedule of a weekly visit my fiddler friend, Laurie Gundersen, owner/proprietor of Appalachian Piecework here in Staunton, VA.
http://www.appalachianpiecework.com/ Laurie spent a lot of time in West Virginia, knows a lot of old tunes, and is a pleasure to pair up with in a tune trading session.
Of course, life intervenes, and vacations, work schedules, family obligations have an impact on music-focused intensions. I’ve found that when I have to live without a few weeks of tune trading dates with Laurie, I can log onto the computer, and hunt down a good fiddle tune on Youtube, hit the “repeat” button and get a good workout that way. Not the same as playing with a real fiddler. Sometimes the cues that would come from sitting knee to knee while trading tunes don’t come quick enough, but it’s still a challenge.
(For example, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KF5ms_a6W8)
And the commitment to sticking with the “Tune of the Week” drill on Banjo Hangout is another way I’ve found to stay focused on learning new things, and deriving helpful guidance and inspiration from talented players.
Yesterday Laurie and I ran through our modest list of tunes we’re trying to work through: Big Scioti, Waynesboro, Redwing, Abe’s Retreat, and expanded that list with some tunes we will probably try to chase in the near future: Greasy String, Coleman’s March, Piney Woods. We often come to the table with very different versions of these tunes. I learned my simple repertoire from Dwight Diller and Bates Littlehales. Laurie had a lot of exposure to some great fiddling partners in West Virginia, and has taken some influences from two local Staunton fiddlers of note, Bill Wellington and Walter Hojka. The challenge is to find a path in and around the tunes we take a crack at that melds our two versions, without doing harm to the core of the tune.
I usually haul two banjos with me, one to keep in standard G which I can modify to Sawmill or Double C or other tunings out of G, and the other to keep up to A so I don’t have to capo – I never liked the way capos altered the responsiveness of my banjos, and I’ve long used that as an excuse to add “just one more” banjo to my arsenal. Yesterday I was able to test drive my A scale banjo, a Vega Style S Little Wonder pot hooked to a lovely Wyatt Fawley neck and wired up with nylon strings. It really popped and Laurie responded to it enthusiastically – I was worried how the fiddler would take to it. That Vega/Fawley banjo is a bit different than the Cloverlick I have strung up with nylaguts and keep cranked up to A. My new (old) Bart Reiter Tubaphone, not yet fully dialed in -- needs new strings, might need a new bridge, head needs tightening, etc – didn’t stand up too well in the hot sun of her back porch, especially when we retreated to a shaded area. I’ve clearly got some setup work to do there. I never owned a tubaphone before. Played plenty of them, but I’ve generally preferred simple wood tone rims or plain old rolled brass tone rings. I like the Bart Reiter tuba. Works nicely in either clawhammer mode or for up picking in any of several styles. But the fiddler preferred the thumpy sound of the Fawley/Vega Hybrid.
I’ll probably show up to the store once a week and if Laurie can tear herself away from normal Appalachian Piecework duties, we’ll play together. If not, maybe I’ll sit in her back “porch” at the store, overlooking the AMTRAK station, and play for the alley cats and the squirrels that have made their home around the railway.