Friday, February 29, 2008

Warning: dobro arcania ahead

Unless you're a dobro player or familiar with or care about Dobro/dobro history, the following is not likely to be of any interest. Please don't say you weren't warned.

The Dobro/dobro (I'll get into the reasons for caps-no caps in a sec) is a relatively new instrument, invented 80 years ago. However, it has a complex history of ownerships, and production rights. The Dobro is named for the Dopyera Brothers, who invented the coned, resonator guitar. Dobro also means "good" in Slovak.

For a long time, the only dobro one could buy was a Dobro. Therefore, the word became a generic term for a resonator guitar. The owners of the Dobro company vigiliantly tried to protect the name. Beverly King, a player of old-time country and bluegrass, once published a small photocopied newsletter called The Dobro Nut. Dobro made her change the name. References to Dobro had to be followed by the trademark sign.
Bluegrass Unlimited refers to dobros as resonator guitars, and will even put parentheses resonator guitar end parentheses in someone's quote if he or she says "dobro".

In the meantime, there are many luthiers making dobros, and there are several imports.
In the mid-90s, Gibson, makers of guitars, banjos, mandolins, bought the Dobro company and name and moved production from California to Nashville.
Gibson even went so far as to put its own name on the venerable Dobro logo.
Complaints about quality increased, and the number of available models shrank down to only 1.

I just noticed that for several months, Saga Music has been running ads in Bluegrass Unlimited for the Regal Black Lightning resonator guitar The ads refer to the instrument as "...a new Regal dobro..." note the lower case "d" and of course, the use of the word itself.
Is Gibson working to enforce the protection of its trademark, even though the Dobro franchise is a fraction of what it once was?
I would have to think that someone at Gibson has noticed the ads. In days gone by, the company would have swooped in with a cease and desist letter.
I think it's time to freely for any maker of resonator guitars to refer to these instruments as dobros.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

O, Canada

I came across a nice little site profiling Causway Artists Society - the buskers of the Inner Harbor in Victoria, British Columbia. I had Googled "suitcase drum" and came upon the site. One of the buskers is Dave Harris, a one-man band.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Aloha, Aunty Genoa Leilani Keawe

The Hawaiian music community is mourning the death of Aunty Genoa Leilani Keawe, who died at age 89. She was considered an icon in Hawaiian music, and her career began nearly 70 years ago.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rhythm challenge

Unlike the conventional guitar, which can be played in a bass-strum pattern, the dobro doesn't always lend itself to rhythmic patterns. I've always wanted a little more than the instrument gave me (or probably more accurate, I was able to get from it.)

I've had a drum pedal for several years (an ill-fated experiment involving the accordion) and am glad I held onto it. I've heard recently about suitcase drum kits, and they can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

For a solo musician, a $2 suitcase from Goodwill and a good drum pedal make all the difference. I tried it yesterday in public for the first time, at the Bowling Green stop on the NY 4-5 train. The rig drew considerable attention, which is the first step in getting someone to put money in the hat.

The photo below is identical to the suitcase I purchased, only the one pictured is much cleaner.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No R-e-s-p-e-c-t

Aretha Franklin, the acknowledged Queen of Soul, reportedly felt snubbed when up-and-comer Beyonce referred to Tina Turner as "the queen" during the Grammy awards ceremony.
Come on, Aretha. Time to take the high road. You've accomplished enough and have had enough recognition, awards, accolades, not to mention a body of work that will last forever. I may be venturing into cranky old man territory, but I would not recognize Beyonce if I ran into her on the street, nor could I name one song of hers, nor recognize her voice. Aretha, you sure don't need to worry about what some youngster does or doesn't say about you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Black & white

The relationship between black artists and white audiences is the subject of an interesting essay in Newsweek. The myth of authenticity as a white construct would not be surprising given our history of race relations.

Here's a Boston Globe review of Marybeth Hamilton's book, In Search of the Blues.


No Depression magazine has covered the alt-country scene for the past 12-plus years. It was pretty much the bible of the a genre that blended the honesty of country, the attitude of rock and the soul of bluegrass. Like many other print vehicles, it's falling victim to rising paper prices, but most interestingly, to the change in the music industry. As a former editor of two niche publications (Northern Bluegrass and Country Heritage), I know what a precarious existence such mags enjoy, especially those that don't feature the exploits of Britney and Paris, or the latest American Idol screamer.

Here's ND's news release.
At least it will still be available on the web.

February 19, 2008
Contact: Traci Thomas 615-664-1167


SEATTLE, WA - No Depression, the bimonthly magazine covering a broad range of American roots music since 1995, will bring to an end its print publication with its 75th issue in May-June 2008.

Plans to expand the publication’s website ( with additional content will move forward, though it will in no way replace the print edition.

The magazine’s March-April issue, currently en route to subscribers and stores, includes the following note from publishers Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild as its Page 2 “Hello Stranger” column:

Dear Friends:

Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of
No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.
In the thirteen years since we began plotting and publishing
No Depression, we have taken pride not only in the quality of the work we were able to offer our readers, but in the way we insisted upon doing business. We have never inflated our numbers; we have always paid our bills (and, especially, our freelancers) on time. And we have always tried our best to tell the truth.
First things, then: If you have a subscription to
ND, please know that we will do our very best to take care of you. We will be negotiating with a handful of magazines who may be interested in fulfilling your subscription. That is the best we can do under the circumstances.
Those circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March- April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.
The longer answer involves not simply the well-documented and industry wide reduction in print advertising, but the precipitous fall of the music industry. As a niche publication,
ND is well insulated from reductions in, say, GM’s print advertising budget; our size meant they weren’t going to buy space in our pages, regardless.
On the other hand, because we’re a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve.
That community is, as they say, in transition. In this evolving downloadable world, what a record label is and does is all up to question. What is irrefutable is that their advertising budgets are drastically reduced, for reasons we well understand. It seems clear at this point that whatever businesses evolve to replace (or transform) record labels will have much less need to advertise in print.
The decline of brick and mortar music retail means we have fewer newsstands on which to sell our magazine, and small labels have fewer venues that might embrace and hand-sell their music. Ditto for independent bookstores. Paper manufacturers have consolidated and begun closing mills to cut production; we’ve been told to expect three price increases in 2008. Last year there was a shift in postal regulations, written by and for big publishers, which shifted costs down to smaller publishers whose economies of scale are unable to take advantage of advanced sorting techniques.
Then there’s the economy…
The cumulative toll of those forces makes it increasingly difficult for all small magazines to survive. Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that’s what’s happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses.
ND has never been a big business. It was started with a $2,000 loan from Peter’s savings account (the only monetary investment ever provided, or sought by, the magazine). We have five more or less full-time employees, including we three who own the magazine. We have always worked from spare bedrooms and drawn what seemed modest salaries.
What makes this especially painful and particularly frustrating is that our readership has not significantly declined, our newsstand sell-through remains among the best in our portion of the industry, and our passion for and pleasure in the music has in no way diminished. We still have shelves full of first-rate music we’d love to tell you about.
And we have taken great pride in being one of the last bastions of the long-form article, despite the received wisdom throughout publishing that shorter is better. We were particularly gratified to be nominated for our third
Utne award last year.
Our cards are now on the table.
Though we will do this at greater length next issue, we should like particularly to thank the advertisers who have stuck with us these many years; the writers, illustrators, and photographers who have worked for far less than they’re worth; and our readers: You.
Thank you all. It has been our great joy to serve you.

No Depression published its first issue in September 1995 (with Son Volt on the cover) and continued quarterly for its first year, switching to bimonthly in September 1996. ND received an Utne Magazine Award for Arts & Literature Coverage in 2001 and has been nominated for the award on several other occasions (including in 2007). The Chicago Tribune ranked No Depression #20 in its 2004 list of the nation’s Top 50 magazines of any kind.

Artists who have appeared on the cover of No Depression over the years include Johnny Cash (2002), Wilco (1996), Willie Nelson (2004), Ryan Adams’ seminal band Whiskeytown (1997), the Drive-By Truckers (2003), Ralph Stanley (1998), Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint (2006), Gillian Welch (2001), Lyle Lovett (2003), Porter Wagoner (2007), and Alejandro Escovedo (1998, as Artist of the Decade).

Grant Alden,, 606-776-2383
Peter Blackstock,, 360-471-1295
Kyla Fairchild,, 206-789-5807

Traci Thomas • Thirty Tigers
1604 8th Ave. South 2nd Floor
Nashville, TN 37203
Wk: 615.664.1167
Cell: 615.473.6687

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's warmer there, too

Steve Morse, a 24-year-old musician from western New York has gone west to follow his dream as a street musician. We wish him all the best.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Long-time Tenn. player is profiled

James Stout, who's been playing Dobro for some 50 years, was the subject of this profile by the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville, Tn.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Harry Manx up for Juno

Harry Manx, a former busker, combines blues, Indian, folk and whatever music in a unique stew of slide. He's nominated for his fourth Juno (Canadian version of the Grammy) in the best group roots or traditional album. Here's a brief article on him.
There's also some great footage on Youtube.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Welcome back, Moondi

I'm very glad to see that Moondi Klein, one of my favorite singers, is active again, teaming up with his old Chesapeake bandmate , Jimmy Gaudreau. His voice is one of those that is instantly recognizable.
Moondi and Jimmy apparently recorded before a British Isles tour last summer. That album is being released in March on Rebel Records. With Moondi's and Jimmy's connections to New England, I'm sure that we'll see them this way soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Playing for Change

I just became aware of a film project by Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls called Playing for Change
The film depicts street musicians in the US and led to a film looking at street musicians around the world. Several of the them were brought to the US for a concert as the Playing for Change Ensemble. The filmmakers are also promoting a foundation to benefit musicians around the world.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Museum piece

Ground has been broken for a musical instrument museum outside of Phoenix. The museum, which is the creation of Target chairman Robert Ulrich. When completed, the museum will hold some 5,000 instruments, including several Dobros and Roy Acuff's ukelele.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Not to be confused with the zither

A dispatch from Croatia includes a list of "weird rock instruments."

Monday, February 4, 2008

First gig with Jon Swift

I've been playing solo for a couple of years, but I've always thought that a bass player would add a lot. When I heard that Jon Swift, with whom I've picked formally and informally over the years, was interested in playing out more often, I jumped at the chance to work with him.
Jon shares my affection for the blusier side of bluegrass, and the bottom end carries a lot of weight. Our first effort was a success, and I'm looking forward to many more opportunities to play with him, including this Friday at Gallery 53 in Meriden.
I'm still with the Bristol Boys and other projects that keep me busy.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Music-less coffeehouses

I just heard about another area coffeehouse (I'm talking coffeehouses as a business, not the non-profit ones that are in church basements) having to stop offering live music because of pressure from ASCAP/BMI to pay music licensing fees, which, I understand, run $300-$500 per year. I'm not sure who bears the blame, and this is an area that I'm not well-versed in. Can a coffeehouse afford the fee -- roughly equivalent to a cup of coffee a day? Many coffeehouses don't pay performers, anyway. The musicians play for tips and, perhaps, CD sales.
ASCAP and BMI seem to becoming more aggressive in trying to protect their turf and the interests of songwriters and publishers. How much of the fees they collect actually go to the composers of songs done in coffeehouses?

Friday, February 1, 2008


I freqently (perhaps too frequently) visit the discussion board at Someone posted a link to a Youtube video of Russ Barenberg and Jerry Douglas playing Big Bug Shuffle from the mid-90s album Skip, Hop and Wobble, which also featured bassist Edgar Meyer.
Stacy Phillips compiled a book of transcriptions from that album, but I never studied them. Watching the video has made me take another look at a new song to work on.
Because I don't play like Jerry Douglas, the song won't sound like Jerry Douglas, but perhaps the result will be a whole new song. We'll see.