Friday, November 30, 2012

“Where They Do Not Know My Name”

Hi, friends! A belated Banjo Friday post today—my time got a bit away from me, with a morning (?!?) band rehearsal. But banjo is always better late than never, like so many things.

All this month we’ve been featuring the music of Danny Barnes, & I thought it would be appropriate to end with Barnes’ cover of a more traditional tune; but then I decided it would be even better still to end the month with two Danny Barnes’ covers of the tune—one is a straight version, with just singing & banjo, while the other features his looped electronic sound.

If you’d like to find out more about Danny Barnes, please check out his full service website, or you can also read my write-up about him here. & be sure to check out his tour schedule, because Barnes is a performer you definitely do not want to miss if & when he pulls into your town. His playing is superb, as is his singing & songwriting, & his sense of orchestration using looping technology is always inventive. But perhaps most importantly, Barnes always reminds us that we “play” music—his joy in music & love for it come through with virtually every note & phrase.

We’ll be heading back into the classic banjo next month, as we feature the excellent playing of Rob MacKillop, so be sure to tune in for that—& enjoy these fine performances by Danny Barnes!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

“Vaseline Machine Gun”

Happy Thursday, folks! A short guitar-centric post with some wonderful guitar-picking & slide playing by the great Leo Kottke.

If you like fingerstyle guitar playing, chances are you’re familiar with Kottke. If you’re not, you’re in for a treat (& you can get some background about him from Wikipedia.) Kottke is a marvel—I was most happy to get a chance to see him play this summer at a show (with Jake Shimabukuro) at the Oregon Zoo; a wonderful show by both performers.

This should put a good charge in your day

Image links to its source:
Leo Kottke photographed at the Clearwater Festival 2007 by Anthony Pepitone: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wiki Commons

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Photo of the Week 11/28/12

Bandstand at Dawson Park
Portland, Oregon
Tuesday 11/27/12

Hello friends.  Yes, you're reading that correctly—Photo of the Week is returning, but now on Wednesday rather than Sunday. I'll also endeavor to post Rose City Wednesday as a monthly feature; those stories tend to have a lot of photos anyway, so once a month it will be a sort of expanded Photo of the Week

Hope you enjoy your day!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“berceuse with passenger train”

  berceuse with passenger train


contingent whip-poor-will in those woods where “lonesome” is the response to all questions—
in woods where the question always sounds like “green” and “saturday”—
this humungous luna moth in the porchlamp, this bottle of milk of magnesia—

everything happens in threes along that specific riverbank—
a chalkboard, a rowboat, a sawhorse notched from cross-cuts and gray from sun and rain—
to say “i love you” or “i love you” or “i love you” in this actual yellow meadow—

blackeyed susans contigent on goldfinches contingent on a clapboarded folly under the elms—
that was your day, and this is your night, a brass floor lamp, a vinyl LP record, a bookshelf—
everything subsides to birdseye maple and a piano key and then another piano key—

crescent moon contigent on cows in the neighbors’ pasture contingent on a grackle—
those same white birches, these mason jars phosphorescing with fireflies and stewed  tomatoes—
veni, veni, midnight train and hold my child in your wings without contingencies—

A.K. Barkley
© 2012


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons   
Dampf auslassende Lokomotive bei Nacht (Evaporating locomotive at night) – 1896:  Hermann Pleuer [public domain]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Any Womans Blues #26 – Beverly “ Guitar” Watkins

A happy Monday, friends! We’re here with the Monday Morning Blues, Any Woman’s Blues edition, & we’ve got some smoking hot guitar playing.

Beverly Watkins has had a long career as a blues guitarist, but for much of life she’s plied her trade in obscurity. While still in high school, she began playing guitar with Piano Red & toured with his band the Meter-tones until the combo broke up in 1965 (the group was also known as Piano Red & The Interns, Dr. Feelgood & The Interns, & Dr. Feelgood); following this she performed with such groups as Eddie Tigner & the Ink Spots, Joseph Smith & the Fendales, & Leroy Redding & the Houserockers.

Watkins’ solo career didn’t really take off, however, until she became associated with the Music Maker Relief Foundation in the 1990s. This wonderful organization, which we learned about also in an earlier post on guitarist Precious Bryant, describes its mission as follows:

Music Maker Relief Foundation preserves and promotes the musical traditions of the American South. Since 1994 we have partnered with traditional artists over 55 years old who survive on a yearly income of less than $18,000, sustaining their day-to-day needs while building their careers. Through Music Maker, our rich heritage of folk music will not be lost with the passing of time.

Beverly Watkins is a truly remarkable musician. Still rocking hard in her 70s, she sings & plays guitar with great power, verve & energy. Watkins says of her music:

My style is real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues. I call it hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues.

Since joining Music Maker, Beverly Watkins has released three albums, & her 1999 debut Back in Business was nominated for the Blues Foundation’s W.C. Handy Award.  She has followed that up with The Feelings of Beverly "Guitar" Watkins & The Spiritual Expressions of Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. Watkins keeps up an active touring schedule.

Why is her middle name “Guitar”? Just watch these videos & you will find out! Enjoy!

Image links to its source at

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Allemande from Cello Suite in G Major, BWV 1007

A happy Sunday, friends. We of course have some lovely music for you here on Robert Frost’s Banjo.

Bach’s Suite for Cello in G Major, BMV 1007, is a staple of any Baroque repertoire & is probably the best known of his six cello suites.  Typically we hear these performed on the modern cello, but the contemporary instrument actually differs in some significant ways from the cello of Bach’s day. First, contemporary instruments use metal strings, while the baroque cello is always strung with gut strings; this has a significant effect on the sound. There are other differences in construction as well—perhaps the thing most noticeable when one sees is that the baroque cello doesn’t have an endpin to balance it on the floor—the instrument is secured solely by the cellist’s knees.  

Tanya Tomkins is an extraordinary musician & a virtuoso on both the modern & baroque cellos. She performs with San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque and Portland Baroque (! —in fact, she’s performing here this weekend, but sad to say, I will miss the show); in addition, she performs as a soloist & with other ensembles, & teaches at Juilliard, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, & San Jose State University; she also serves on the faculty of the American Bach Soloists Summer Academy.

I’ve chosen her performance of the Allemande from Cello Suite No. 1 in a 2009 performance for the Great Artist Series presented by San Francisco Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music; however, you can hear her perform the entire G Major Cello Suite on YouTube here.

Enjoy the music & your Sunday!


Image of the baroque cello links to its source on

Friday, November 23, 2012


Hey, folks, it’s time for Banjo Friday—& here to drive away the November doldrums for one & all & the post-holiday doldrums for those of us stateside is the wonderful Danny Barnes, our featured artist this month.

Today’s Danny Barnes’ selection comes from a show early this year, actually the same weekend as when I saw Barnes perform at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, & right down the road in Forest Grove, Oregon. The song is “Rocket,” the title track from his 2011 ATO release. This live version differs considerably from what’s on the record, as the studio version is a hard rocker with distorted guitars; here we have some of Barnes’ beautifully composed & conceived looping with live banjo, & of course his always delightful songwriting.

Hope you enjoy it, & have a great Friday!

Image of Danny Barnes links back to its location on his site

Thursday, November 22, 2012

“On the Sunny Side of the Ocean”

Hey, friends! Just stopping by to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving—hoping you’re “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” whichever ocean & wherever you may be!

Enjoy some “American Primitive Guitar” with your holiday.

Image of John Fahey links to its source

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

“intent unspoken”

intent unspoken

here the breaking of the bread
veiled in context of their stark hotel room
as she undoes her belt
he his buttons

he a poor and broken god
coming to her
in the shedding of clothes
the wary looks
quiet gestures
intent unspoken

this is my broken body,
for you

take this
for the forgiveness 
of whose sins?

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2012

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Egon Schiele: Schieles Wohnzimmer in Neulengbach - 1911, Public Domain

Sunday, November 18, 2012

“Diferencias sobre las folias”

A happy Sunday, my friends. Time again for some music!

A short blog post can’t do justice to any of the subjects involved in today’s video—La Folía, Antonio Martín y Coll, Jordi Savall or any of the other artists involved in this 2002 concert of Folías de España held at the Festival de Música Antigua de Lanvellec, France. But I will devote a little space to each, as well as provide links so that anyone who’s interested can find out more. I should start by saying that if you want to hear & see the concert in its entirety, you can find it at this link.

La Folía is the name given a series of musical themes based around a minor chord progression. This framework has been used not only as a vehicle for improvisation—in some senses as the 12-bar blues chord progression is used for improvisation in blues & jazz—but the themes that emerge have also found their way into well-known canonical works of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic periods & beyond—themes from La Folía have appeared in compositions by Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Liszt & Rachmaninoff, not to mention a number of other composers, especially from the Baroque period.

Antonio Martín y Coll, who lived from around 1680-1734, was one such composer. He was a Franciscan friar, but he played the organ & he published Flores de Música in the early 18th century. This contains his “Diferencias sobre las folias,” based on La Folía—or at least, it’s assumed to be his. Authorship was much different in the 17th century!

Jordi Savall is a major figure in Baroque & what we call “Early Music”—the music of the late Middle Ages & the Renaissance. He is known as one of the foremost violists in the world, & you will see & hear him playing viola da gamba (the tenor size, I believe) in this video. Along with his late wife Monsterrat Figueras, Savall founded the Early Music consort Hespèrion XX (since the beginning of the new century, Hespèrion XXI), which has done much to revitalize this wonderful ancient music.

The other performers at this concert are Jordi Savall's daughter, harpist Arianna Savall, lutenist Rolf Lislevand (who plays baroque guitar on this piece), & the amazing percussionists, Pedro Estevan & Adela González-Campa.

This is truly rich & compelling music performed by virtuoso musicians—enjoy!

Image of Antonio Martín y Coll’s Flores de Música links to its source at

Friday, November 16, 2012


Happy Banjo Friday, kids! & in order to ensure that it’s a happy Friday indeed, I have a sweet, sweet banjo love song for your listening pleasure today.

If you tuned in last week, you know that I designated November, at least in terms of the Banjo Fridays, to be Danny Barnes month—because I believe November is a month when we often need a mood boost, & Barnes is someone very capable of giving us that!

I’ve written about Danny Barnes in the past (& here), so rather than go back over old territory, I’ll simply say that this song, “Overdue,” comes off his wonderful 2009 release Pizza Box, & that this version was recorded right down the street from me at Mississippi Studios in Portland. “Overdue” features Barnes making full use of looping technology, & doing so to great effect. If you love great banjo playing & innovative music combined with excellent songwriting, I encourage you to check out more of Barnes’ music—& definitely catch one of his live shows if you have the chance!

But for now, have fun with “Overdue” & enjoy your Friday!

Image links to its source at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Last Night I Pedaled to the Moon"

Last night I pedaled to the moon.
I pedaled through black sky
toward the orange crescent,
no chart to compass by.
Uphill all the way it was,
’til—breathless—I arrived.
Just one small step for me
I took, so glad to have survived.

Returning—rolling on with ease—
‘til I was almost down.
I saw no sight I recognized
In sea or field or town.
Alone and GPS-less,
afraid and tempest-tossed,
I landed God knows where,
then woke at last,
still lost.

Carmen Leone
© 2012

Image links to its source
Voyage à la lune (c. 1865-1870) Wiki Commons - public domain

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Texas Blues #6 – Lone Wolf Blues – Oscar “Buddy” Woods

A happy Monday from the rainy Pacific Northwest! The Monday Morning Blues will be transporting us to Texas today, at least for the three minutes & 14 seconds of our featured song.

It’s a commonplace, of course, that slide guitar is a staple of the blues sound; it’s also true that while several of the best known slide players lived in the Mississippi Delta area, slide blues styles were found throughout the south in the first half of the 20th century.  However, in most cases the guitarists played blues while holding the guitar “Spanish style”—in other words, in the conventional manner. But slide guitar is also played “lap style,” with the guitar across the player’s lap, but while this style was common in Hawaiian music & in early Country (where it eventually developed into the related playing of dobro on one hand & pedal steel on the other), it was rather uncommon for blues guitarists to play slide in this manner (though blues historian Steve Calt claims that lap style, using a knife as a “bar,” actually pre-dated “Spanish style” slide playing.) Certainly many of the common riffs & figures in slide blues require the use of fingers fretting strings, & this really isn’t possible in lap playing—all the noting & chording is done with the bar itself. Of course the slide itself for lap playing is also different—it’s not practical to use a bottleneck or a copper tube, so usually players opt for a solid piece of metal (I have seen a video of Booker White playing lap style with a railroad spike!) 

In any case, Oscar Woods is now thought of as one of the first players to popularize lap style playing in the blues. Although Woods hailed from  Natchitoches, Louiana, near Shreveport, he was part of the Dallas music scene in the 1930s, & even backed Jimmie Davis of “You Are My Sunshine” fame on several recordings between 1930 & 1932. He also recorded with such bands as the Shreveport Home Wreckers, Kitty Gray & her Wampus Cats—& had one recording session with Peetie Wheatstraw, the “Devil’s Son-in-Law” himself.  Wood also was a mentor of Buck Turner, AKA “the Black Ace,” who was another notable lap guitar Texas bluesman—& one who will soon appear in this series.  It's also clear that Robert Johnson was familiar with Woods' work, as one verse of his song "Love in Vain" was taken from the Shreveport Home Wreckers' "Flying Crow Blues."

But Woods also made a dozen records in which he performed either solo with just his voice & his slide guitar playing, or as the front man. Perhaps the best known of these is today’s selection, “Lone Wolf Blues,” which he recorded for Decca in New Orleans in 1936. “Lone Wolf Blues” was the A side, backed by “Don't Sell It - Don't Give It Away.”

“Lone Wolf” is played in open G, but not the common open G tuning that was used so much on the Delta (&, interestingly, in Hawaiian slack key playing, in which it’s called “Taro Patch”); here the guitar is tuned GBDGBD, which means that the low string is brough all the way up from an E to a G.  These days this tuning is usually only used on squareneck guitars, because of the stress put on the neck by this string (& to some extent by the low A string coming up to B.)



Image links to its source on That isn’t a photo of Oscar Woods on the album cover—no photos of Woods are known to exist. I believe that’s the Black Ace.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Allegro from Sonata in A Minor BWV 1039 (or BMW 1027)

Happy Sunday, friends. I’m back with some music for your listening pleasure today, & also a short post, which you may enjoy perusing as you listen.

Yes, I do indeed have a fascination with the viola da gamba, & it dates back at least several years, probably to about the time when I was most fascinated by the harp guitar. At that time, the Lark in the Morning stores were still open, & we were on the mailing list for their catalog—& yes, they did indeed sell violas da gamba! Pricey items (like harp guitars) even at the low end of the range.

The viola da gamba is properly speaking a “viol,” & while it looks very much like a 7-string cello with frets (!), it is as much a cousin to the modern guitar as it is to the cello. Both the viola da gamba & the guitar descended from a common ancestor called the vihuela.  The vihuela was played either with the fingers, a plectrum or after a certain point, with a bow—the vihuela de arco. Like the modern guitar, the vihuela was tuned in fourths with one interval of a third, & in fact, the viola da gamba also shares this quirky tuning. In addition, the viol, the vihuela & the guitar (prior to the advent of the modern steel string version) all had flat fingerboards, whereas the violin family all have fingerboards with a curve that’s visible to the naked eye. Steel string guitars also have a radiused fingerboard, though the curvature really isn’t that noticeable (unless you play slide); in the case of steel string guitars, the slight radius tends to facilitate playing barre chords—barring is done on a classical guitar too, of course, but not really as a way of playing closed position chords.

The “gamba” in viola da gamba simply refers to the fact that the instrument is held in place by pressure from the knees. Viola da gambas don’t have the end pin you find on modern cellos that rests on the floor—in fact, the baroque cello also didn’t have such an end pin. It’s also worth noting that viols came in different sizes—while we mostly see the tenor size nowadays, viol consorts consisted of treble, alto, tenor & bass.

In today’s, Lucile Boulanger is the violist here, & she & harpischordist Arnaud de Pasquale produce a fine duet here. For those who are interested in the catalog number (the BWV, which is how Bach’s music is catalogued), the video itself titles this BWV 1039, while the IMSLP site calls it BWV 1027IMSLP states about BWV 1039: “Possibly an arrangement of a trio sonata for different instruments (e.g., 2 violins and basso continuo.) Later arranged for viola da gamba and harpsichord as BWV 1027.”

However it’s catalogued, this is sublime music  —enjoy!

Image Links to its source on Wiki Commons
"Various Viole da gamba/Viols" - public domain [the tenor viol is second from the right]

Friday, November 9, 2012

“Get It While You Can”

Happy Banjo Friday, one & all! We’ve sure been focused on both classical music played on the banjo & the “classical style” of banjo playing here of late, & I admit I’m really quite fascinated these days by both of these types of performances. But I also don’t want Robert Frost’s Banjo to turn into Robert Frost’s Baroque, & since I’m also posting music on Sundays these days& that may involve baroque & early music for a bitI thought I’d do something a little different on Fridays this month.

Truth is, November has always been a hard month for me. I have unpleasant associations with the Thanksgiving holiday that are very long-standing, & the diminishing light can make me blue. So what a perfect time to mention one of my favorite Charles Schulz cartoons (as pictured), & also to feature a performer who may illustrate Linus’ point better than anyone I’ve ever watched & listened to—Danny Barnes.

I’ve written about Danny Barnes before on Banjo Friday, both as a feature post & also in a post highlighting his wonderful song (& album) “Pizza Box,” but as I was surfing all manner of banjo videos on YouTube & feeling very dissatisfied with what I was hearing, I came back to Danny Barnes, & I realized he was the answer for this month! Yes, I'll be featuring Danny Barnes on Banjo Friday for the rest of November.

Although Danny Barnes often performs with extensive use of looped sound (which he handles beautifully—I had a chance to see him live, which I also wrote up here), this video features just his banjo & his voice & his fantastic songwriting.  “Get It While You Can” is from his 2004 release, Dirt on the Angel.

One thing about music: it gives us the capacity for joy in a way that few activities can. & anyone who has seen or heard Danny Barnes knows that to be true!

Image links to its source at

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Fairy Tale?"

Once up a time,
(or so the story goes,)

in a land so far away,
(or right here for all we know,)

there was a a great occurrence,
(or a mediocre one,)

a turmoil on the moon,
(or perhaps it was the sun.)

The country was in ruins,
(or it may have been okay,)

but I’m sure it was a country,
(at least that’s what they say.)

and the hero was a girl,
(or it might have been a guy,)

and they lived happily ever after,

no wait…I know they died.

Barbie Angell
© 2012

I love the wit & humor of this poem from Barbie Angell’s book, Roasting Questions! In fact, I love the whole book, & I recommend it highly! Roasting Questions is on the verge of going to press, but just a little more money is needed to make that a reality. If you’d like to know more about my thoughts on Roasting Questions, you can read my review here; if you’d like to know more about Barbie Angell (& about the publishing process), you can read my recent interview with her or look back at the many wonderful poems & drawings she’s contributed to the blog…but wait! I have a better idea: head over to the Roasting Questions website & take a look at the book (there’s a complete “look inside” option); I know you’ll fall for this book just as I did. Pre-orders & sponsorships are still important to meet the costs of the printing, but the goal is in sight.

Thanks, friends! & thanks, Barbie Angell, for all the wit & wonder you bring to this blog & to so many people’s lives.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Prélude et Allemande - Robert de Visée

A happy Sunday, friends. Since I haven’t been getting out on photographic expeditions as much lately, I thought it would be fun to have some musical Sunday posts interspersed when there isn’t a photo available. & because I like the idea of a Sunday post that is brief & to the point, I’ll try to keep these musical outings that way.

Thanks to the redoubtable musician & blogger Dominic Rivron for first making me aware of the theorbo. Here we have a piece by 17th & early 18th century lutenist Robert de Visée, who was a musician at the court of Louis XIV—Le Roi Soleil, the Sun King
& it is played by Swedish guitarist & lutenist Jonas Nordberg.

A beautiful piece of music & a compelling performance—enjoy your Sunday!

Image links to its source

Ludovico Lana, Ritratto del liutista Girolamo Valeriani (Ludovico Lana, Portrait of Lutenist Girolamo Valeriani)     circa 1630: Wiki Commons – public domain

Thursday, November 1, 2012

“The Gun in Your Hand” – Danielia Cotton

In the wake of a howling guitar chord & drum roll,& over the top of a jagged & funky guitar riff, Danielia Cotton’s voice roars into the opening of her new album, Gun in Your Hand: “Somebody save me.” This voice come from someone who may be wounded, but is clearly not defeated; it’s s strong voice, a voice that asserts itself even in the face of a world that stops making sense.  Danielia Cotton has said that the message of “survival” is what she’d like people to take away from her latest album, & survival is clearly a central theme—but there’s a lot of salvation here too, even if under the surface. A voice that can rise up to sing “Save Me” in the face of tribulation knows: rock & roll can save your soul.

Make no mistake: while The Gun in Your Hand employs a wide sonic palette in painting its music pictures of loss, survival & salvation, it always rocks. Even its quietest songs, like the plaintive & acoustic “Boy Blue,” appear out of the silence with an underlying rhythmic urgency; at the other extreme, there’s the deliciously hardcore “Deep Dark Love,” with its lyric about Jesus & Mary Magdalene broken down by the side of the road, & a nod to Willie Dixon’s great “Spoonful.” One of the great interpreters of “Spoonful” was Howlin’ Wolf, & while Danielia Cotton is not a blues artist in a strict sense of the word, she absolutely can marshal the kind of elemental power that the great Wolf deployed!

But there’s so much here to discover. It’s an album that asks for salvation, for love, for understanding, but that also teaches: in fact, that also seems to be a central concept. & I don’t mean that Gun in Your Hand is didactic or preachy in the least; it rocks far too much for that, & the songwriting is far too good. Seven of the album’s 12 songs were either written or co-written by Danielia Cotton, while producer & musician Kevin Salem wrote or collaborated on six, & both are strong songwriters both in terms of lyrics & music. In addition, Cotton covers two standards: “Purple Rain,” one of the greatest rock songs ever written, & the haunting & disturbing “Strange Fruit,” known from the great versions by Billie Holiday & Nina Simone. The standard versions of these two songs are masterpieces in their genres, unquestionably; but Cotton truly produces exquisite versions that are completely her own & can stand alongside the best. 

To return to the teaching theme: in her song “Smile,” Danielia Cotton sings the apparently simple line, “In a good life there’ll be hard times.” This statement seems crucial to the album, which is so much about hard times & navigating them, even when the waters seem overwhelming; for instance, in the beautiful love ballad, “The Only Reason,” the lover may indeed be “the only reason anything good happens at all”—but the crucial point is that there is a reason in the midst of all the chaos & unreason. These thoughts don’t only apply on a personal level either; Cotton asks us to put ourselves in the place of lost souls in “Boy Blue”; she sings about the struggle for social justice in “Long Days”; the whole arc of the album, from the very personal “Save Me” through the historic & cultural touchstone of “Strange Fruit,” not only places suffering in various contexts, but it continues to raise a strong voice as a way of surviving & seeking a real form of salvation.

The Gun in Your Hand was co-produced by Kevin Salem, Cotton, & the band, & the production is simply superb. Salem & the others know when to layer on heavy sound, as in “Deep Dark Love” or “Save Me,” & when to pull back & let Cotton’s truly amazing voice stand out against a spare backdrop. This is done so effectively in the two cover songs, “Purple Rain” & “Strange Fruit.”  The playing throughout the album is top-notch; riff-driven, exact, clear gestures, even when the distortion is turned up highest on the guitars.

I highly recommend this album, & I predict it’s one that will stand up as time passes. Indeed, the sound is classic, without ever being dated. The Gun in Your Hand is available at iTunes & is also going into release today, November 1st, so do check out your local music shop—listen, learn, enjoy, be moved.

Images links to their source on Danielia Cotton's website