2) Age 18, playing at the Chatsworth Pumpkin Festival with friend Chuck Dinsfriend (the infamous Memphis Chuck). I had finally managed to duck the HairWiz enough times to grow my hair nice and long. Though it was the mid 1970s, I was milking the end of the hippie era for all it was worth. Thanks to Andrea Lowe, one of the best girlfriends I ever had, for taking this photo.
3) One of the highlights of my hang gliding career was flying in Yosemite Valley. The top of this shot shows me launching from Glacier Point, and the bottom shows me heading out toward Half Dome. During the flight, I passed an mile-high granite cliff in the valley named El Capitan. I got as close as I dared, and when I saw some climbers making their way up the face, I yelled out "Hey! You guys are crazy!" One of my fellow pilots had an even better line. When he flew by the climbers, he yelled out, "I say, have you got some Grey Poupon?"
4) Bruce Molsky teaching a fiddle workshop at my shack in Laurel Canyon above Hollywood. It doesn't enhance the mood, but it's pretty normal in the Los Angeles area to play old-time music in a tropical setting. Bruce taught us some great old tunes - he's as amazing a teacher as he is a fiddler. If you want to learn old-time fiddle, you'd do well to attend one of Bruce's workshops.
5) A typical Friday evening jam at Steve Millard's house. From left to right: luthier extraordinaire Larry Brown, Steve Millard, yours truly, and banjo player Ira Kohn. If it wasn't for the barbecue behind us, you'd swear we were out in the woods somewhere. I can guarantee that we were playing a spooky, crooked tune from either Eastern Kentucky or West Virginia.
6) Weaverville, NC: It's taken me awhile to get used to some of these strange Southern customs: a tea party in the middle of an evening jam? From left to right: tea party hostess Emily (daughter of musician Randy Johnson), Mark Sewell, myself, and Marianne Kovatch. That there invisible tea sure is tasty!
Some folks have wanted to know a little bit more about the man behind the website, so here goes (photo captions are below this story):
I was born in a little log cabin... (I wish!). Actually, I was born in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 1958. My first few summers, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of sheep bells from the herd meandering over the foothills across the highway from my parents' tract home. Even though I was only two, I somehow knew this was one of the quickly vanishing sounds of a past way of living.
When I was ten years old, I was listening to an album by a local (Topanga, CA) band named Canned Heat. In between two songs, there was a snippet of an old 78 that quickly faded in and out. It made the hair on my neck stand on end. It was an ancient sound, crusty country fiddle with raw blues guitar and vocal. I later found out it was Charley Patton and Henry "Son" Simms on the fiddle. I had never heard anything like it, and I needed to find more. For a few years, the closest I got was a few Folkways recordings that had made their way onto some Capitol compilations: Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee. It was good, but it didn't have that raw sound that had affected me so strongly.
Luckily, I met some jazz musicians at a Christmas festival when I was 16. One of them, a drummer and guitar player named George Metz, invited me to his home in Glendale to listen to some records. When I got to his place, I was astounded by a 10 ft wall that was filled floor to ceiling with crates of 78 records. He had more of the Country Blues records I wanted to hear. In fact, that was all I wanted to hear, but George insisted that I expand my musical taste to include other styles of early recorded music. He spun pre-swing jazz, pre- and post-war blues, and what he called "hillbilly records". My ears became filled with McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, The Memphis Jug Band, Earl Johnson's Clodhoppers. Through George, I met the members of Canned Heat, Dr. Demento and other avid record collectors. I had already been playing music - Neil Young songs and the popular music of the time - but I soon switched to Country Blues finger-style guitar and harmonica. I began to play blues during the breaks for George's jazz band, and eventually played with some of the members of Canned Heat.
George Metz lived a fairly rough and tumble life as a musician, and it became apparent to me that it would be pretty hard scrabble living to follow in his footsteps. I contented my self to buy vinyl reissues rather than to sink all my money into a 78 collection. I formed a duo with high school mate Chuck Dinsfriend. Billed as Shakey Dave and Memphis Chuck, we played blues tunes wherever we could. I eventually fell out of touch with George. He was a hard drinker and a diabetic - not a good combination. The last time I saw him, he had gone blind and was sitting in his old Fleetwood Cadillac parked at a Chevron Station while his "old lady" pumped gas. I am forever indebted to him for the musical education he gave me.
I eventually went to junior college, cut my hair, got into fine art photography. I took a year off and lived in Yosemite Valley, but after a year of hiking, climbing, skiing and ice skating, I wanted to go back to school. I continued studying art and photography at Cal State Northridge, and even studied in Florence, Italy for a year. I took thousands of photos during my year abroad, only to have them lost in the mail when I shipped them home. When I got back, I switched majors and studied graphic design. I played guitar less and less, and focused on my career. I discovered hang gliding, and became obsessed with flying for about ten years. If I wasn't designing, I was off on hang gliding safaris. I flew Big Sur, The Owens Valley, Telluride, Colorado, Yosemite Valley, Fiesch Switzerland. I acheived my goal of flying over 100 miles in a single flight.
After a few years of working as a salaried designer, I decided to go independent. I got an office, built up a nice group of clients and prospered. I went hang gliding almost every weekend. I started designing the local Hang Gliding club's newsletter, and when the Macintosh debuted, I used the newsletter as a vehicle to hone my computer skills years ahead of my colleagues. I started using the computer to replace all the traditional graphic tools. My india ink pens and markers soon dried up. It was a comfortable life, but it seemed like something was missing. At my studio, my CD player always played old country blues, fiddle music, vintage jazz. I picked up my guitar every month or so, but was frustrated by how rusty I had become. My computer and my hang glider, and a girlfriend when I had one seemed to occupy all my time.
When I was 33, I got a call from Jennifer, a dear friend I've known since high school who has a knack for knowing when I'm at a crossroads and pointing me in the right direction. She asked me to come over. "I've got something new you must see", she said. She wouldn't tell me what, only that I had to come see. I went to her house and she showed me a battered old fiddle case. She opened it up, and inside was a violin - a little worn, but with a nice amber finish. I had been listening to lots of fiddle music at the time, but the violin had always seemed like a precious, complicated unattainable instrument to me. "What'dja do, rob a bank?" I asked. "No," she said, "these student violins are made in China - hundred bucks for fiddle, bow and case!" I suddenly realized this was something I could do. The next day, I went down to McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica and asked if they had any Chinese student fiddles. "Red Screamers?" the sales guy exclaimed. "Sure, we got plenty of 'em. There's a guy working in the back who plays fiddle - he can help you choose the least of the evils." When I picked up the fiddle and started playing the first few scratchy notes, it felt like I had reattached a limb that had been missing for years! I realize immediately how much I had missed playing music.
I started fiddling more and hang gliding less. There aren't many old-time fiddler instructors in Los Angeles, so I studied Celtic fiddle at first from a very talented fiddler named Cait Reed. I also took lessons from Frank Jaworsek, who ran a bluegrass shop in the San Fernando Valley. He did his best to teach me what old-time fiddle he knew. One day, he offered a workshop featuring Tom Sauber. When I heard Tom play, I knew that was the way I wanted to fiddle. Eventually, I progressed enough that Tom took me under his wing and gave me lessons. Cait Reed finally twisted my arm hard enough to get me to go to a music camp: Lark in the Morning, held in a redwood forest just inland from the Northern Calif. coast. I took workshops from Don Minnerly, a fiddler who spent a great deal of time with Tommy Jarrell. It rocked my world!
I soon discovered the Los Angeles old-time scene - a great community of folks who were very accepting of a newcomer like myself. I soon became acquainted with the local potluck and jam scene, and more festivals like Live Oak, Summer Solstice, The Santa Barbara Fiddler's Convention, and the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington. Los Angeles quaked - I fiddled. Los Angeles rioted - I fiddled. Los Angeles chased OJ down the freeway - I fiddled. I eventually moved up to a little shack in Laurel Canyon, above Hollywood. It had a nice deck and a great garden - perfect for fiddling - about as close to a front porch as you'll get in Southern California. It was the humblest home in the neighborhood of mostly entertainment industry people - one of my neighbors haughtily displayed his Oscars in his window! They didn't know what to make of my parties - folks lugging countless instruments up the hill to my house and playing old tunes until the wee hours.
When the internet started to become popular, I started tinkering with web design. I decided to create a web site devoted to old-time music. It started off as a couple scant pages and began to grow. Brad Leftwich liked the look of the site and asked if I would be interested in designing his next CD cover. This was the start of my mixing business with my passion for old-time music.
The music got deeper and deeper into my veins. During a trip to Washington, DC, I looked down at the Appalachians from my plane window and felt them pulling on me. I realized that to achieve that ancient sound in my fiddling, I had to get closer to the source. I decided it was time for a trip to the South. I enrolled in the Swannanoa Gathering Old-Time Week near Asheville, NC. After the Gathering, Brad Leftwich, Dave Murray and I trekked up to Mount Airy and visited many of Tommy Jarrell's relatives and played music with Chester McMillan. It was so hot in Mount Airy that the neck on one of my fiddles came unglued. When I returned to Asheville, I visited Steve Millard, and told him of my woe. "Shouldn't be a problem," he said. "My neighbor two doors up is a luthier!" I took my wounded fiddle over to the house and met Larry Brown. Sure enough, lutes in various stages of completion decorated his shop. He fixed my fiddle overnight, just in time to head up to The Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV. I was amazed at how many people knew me by name thanks to the notoriety of this web site!
On the last day of Clifftop, I drove back to Asheville and flew home to Los Angeles. It had been an amazing trip, but it wasn't over. After a night's sleep in my own bed, I packed my car and drove all day and night to Mendocino for the last half of Lark in the Morning music camp. It seemed strange to be in the redwoods of northern California after having been in the South barely two days before. While I played music with my friends under the stars at Lark, I realized that I wanted to move to Asheville and up my commitment to old-time music. I decided to move as soon as possible. Ashevillian Steve Millard found an apartment for me while I was packing, and by late September all my worldly possessions, my dog and I were in a rental truck crossing the country on 1-40. After 4 days of solid driving, I arrived at Steve Millard's place, and within an hour his house was filled with people and music. Steve is also a graphic designer and helped me get my business rolling here in town.
almost two and a half years since then, and I've been in Asheville ever
since. After almost 40 years in a perpetually pleasant climate, I love
watching the seasons change. The warm months here are a non-stop stream
of music gatherings and festivals. I guess I'm evolving (devolving) musically,
because people tell me my fiddling is sounding "really old"
(that's a compliment to me!).
In January of 2000, I bought an 80 year old bungalow style home with a great pickin' porch, shaded by towering old white oak trees. I'm going to have to put down my fiddle some to spruce the place up, but I look forward to mixing a little hard work with graphic design and fiddling - not to mention a traipse on the mountain trails every now and then.