Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What's not to love about a steel guitar?

The title says it all. Over on the bgrass-l the debate rages....and yet I stand back, arms across my chest, rotating my head slowly from left to right and back again, a semi-irritated sneer of disgust marring my normally placid (ha!) expression. What's not to love about a steel guitar? I guess I have to ask that again and again and jump into any subsequent debates.

Mind, I have no idea how to play one. But the same way I love a dobro - or a resophonic guitar, if you must - in that bluegrass music I sure do dig those pedal steel guitars.

Heck, back when I lived in Nashville (1986-2001) Friday or Saturday nights would often find me backstage at the Opry presumably to snap candids of the bluegrass notables (and a few country ones) there, but I was really there hoping to hear some of those good (if not regular) jams in the dressing rooms. There were a few. Maybe one of the most memorable things I ever saw in one of those dressing rooms was Little Jimmy Dickens in his big boots, big hat....and underwear. I kid you not. I'm kind of short and I was so absorbed in this jam going on in his room - one which included a bunch of folks and I remember Eddie Stubbs on the fiddle - and there were loads of people crammed in there and I was in the back inside corner sort of pasted against a wall with my big Nikon, just listening and loving the old style country music that was happening in there....and maybe I was lost in some reverie, but all of a sudden I found myself looking up at Little Jimmy who was stood over by his clothes his skivvies, boots and hat. Lady that I am, I quickly averted my eyes for a long, long time though surely my face looked like some big red ball. Before my eyes turned, though, I noticed that I was the ONLY female still in the room, and being vertically challenged, I reckoned Little Jimmy, who seems like quite the petite gentleman whenever I've been around him, must not have seen me there behind the towering men. Pretty funny. Whenever I see Jimmy that moment flashes through my mind.

But I was talking about steel guitar and I'm thinking about various steel players I've known and enjoyed down through the years and many more I've not known but simply loved listening to. I sure did get to meet Kayton Roberts (probably misspelled that!) who played great steel table for Hank Snow those many years - what a character. Think I actually met him at a party over at Terry Eldredge's at one of his post-IBMA parties, but maybe it was one time backstage at the Opry when I snapped some silly photos of him with folks like David Crow. The memory fails.

And Weldon Myrick. The early years I went to the Opry how I'd rush to the stage to hear him play a break. What a sound! The pedal (or lap) steel in the right, tasteful hands is a powerful - and sexy - tool, you know.

It's perhaps funny that I arrived at this post from a childhood of screaming and sticking my head out the window during those long road trips (105 miles on little roads) to Grandma's house (a proper farm in upstate NY, not far from Lake Ontario) as my mom and dad in the front seat of the Impala sang vastly off key to the likes of George Jones, Haggard, and Loretta. One day when I was about 24 I woke up and LOVED country music, the proper honky-tonkin', cheatin', hating-your-day-job, wife don't understand you kind of heartbreak music. Nothing like that and a cold pint to make you feel real happy about your own life.

That love has never changed - and neither has the power of the steel, that metal bar sliding up and down and over and back those strings, pulling at my heart. That's country. I hope for a long time to come.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Watering Down and Gearing Up

So what is it about society today that seems to water everything down? Am I imagining this - or what? Take music, for example. I tend to like what people might call folk music - or the music of folk, you know, good old regional Music of the People, wherever the people might live. Now most folks I've met have televisions, radios, VCRs, DVDs, and a bunch of other stuff, not to mention newspapers, magazines, ezines and so forth, so it's pretty difficult to be unaffected by all the words and sounds and thoughts that fly out of all these contraptions and publications. Every now and then there's someone who seems kind of "pure" and unaffected (or untouched) by most of these conveniences many of us have come to think of as necessary to life these days.

Guess there's no way that music can stay "pure" but a whole lot of me wishes it could. I love regionalisms, not only in music but, for example, regional dialects. You've already realized I ain't no scholar and have no such aspirations, either, but I love a good country (or hillbilly) accent, for example. You can't beat a Radnorshire (Wales) retiree for an accent! But it's really more about the way country folk express themselves; many don't have a whole lot of education but they get their ideas across in ways anyone can understand (more than I can say for a lot of academics I know!) and many are very clever in vastly underrated ways as well. But really I'm talking about music and the way it used to be played in living rooms with the rugs (if the folks even could afford rugs) rolled up and pushed back so folks could flatfoot and buckdance to the sounds of fiddles and guitars and maybe an open-backed banjo. I'm talking about hoedowns and fai-do-dos (I bet I butchered that, but you know what I mean). I'm talking about ballads passed down on front porches and firesides, from old to young, a way of carrying on traditions, telling the past, and illustrating important lessons in life. Call me romantic. I wasn't raised in the country and my folks never buck-danced (or danced any other way that I know of) so just what am I all misty-eyed about? I feel a sense of loss for what must have been a much harder life but one that offered occasional moments of light and a sense of connection from past through present and carrying on to the future. You know?

Me? Well, I use them to my advantage to be sure, but I do try to stay away from television, radio, and the news media as much as possible and it's no secret that I despise and abhor cell phones - and even regular old phones. But then I do love my WiFi laptop internet connection; sometimes it seems like my lifeline to the people and places of the past and present as I move from location to location on new adventures.

Speaking of which, my time in Illinois is winding down and I'm fixin' to load up the old Toyota and head for the Catskills where I'll drop off my stuff and pack a couple of big fat suitcases and head off for (I hope) six more glorious months in Wales...following the horses and hounds. I've got to admit it: the "back to the past" kind of lifestyle in Wales is my kind of life; I've always dreamed of moving back in time and I think I've found the secret (not that I'm sharing). Only thing is the government doesn't seem to want me, so I remain a frequent (and appreciative) visitor to the land of my every dream. Call me romantic (unquestionably); when I'm photo-capable I'll post more of my photos of the place I love. I know how to use a camera, but the photos I get, I'll admit, are more a function of my openness to the sights around me at every turn...sights that refresh and soothe my old soul.

My blogging has dropped to nearly nil as I spend long days working on a big house, coordinating construction projects (for some friends) and just generally paving the way for new things to come. I hope I've helped them along their path in a new (and hopefully better) direction. That's the thing with clutter-cleaning - you open a path and clear spaces for new things that relate to your current (and possibly future) life to have room to come your way. You try to create a place that feels warm and open to guests and probably more importantly, to your own soul. I love this thing I'm doing and I hope if I keep at it long enough I may eventually achieve some small amount of success.

But meanwhile, my thoughts turn to the moors and dingles (and occasional forests) of beautiful, wild Wales. I'm looking forward to hugs from friendly horses, a good pint at the pub, the camaraderie of friends whom I've missed these many months, the thrill of a fox sauntering quietly past, the comments of flat-capped, keen retirees, and much, much more.

I might as well get on over to Wales for most of me is already there.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Autumn Leaves and Hunting

Here in Illinois we've had a hard frost already and the leaves have turned about as brilliantly as they probably will before succumbing to the onslaught of heavy rain and winter. There's simply nothing like a Catskill or New England Octobertime, but Illinois surely has its own kind of charm. These last weeks I've enjoyed even my trips across pancake-flat I-74 or down pancake-flat I-57, watching the corn and bean harvests, the dust clouds raised by the persistent combines, and the wholesome sight of the Amish at their harvest as well.

Music has taken a back seat after a busy festival-filled summer, and the sounds of banjos and fiddles continue to slide back into the depths of my mind as the thought of returning to Wales and following the horses and hounds lunges to the forefront. It has been a good six months away, but I'll confess: my heart lives in the hills and dingles of Wales amidst the cries of hounds and the fleet-footed fox, the herds of Herefords and wind-blown Welsh Mountain ponies. I hope it won't be long until I'm back in the midst of the outdoor life of the Welsh borderlands, hoisting a pint with my friends at the Roast Ox, rambling around the narrow lanes of Radnorshire, and yes, snapping away at all that appeals to me (and that, I'll confess, is a whole lot).

While America and its backroads still serve up many fine moments and beautiful vistas, my heart never strays far from the wilds of Wales and the half-time life I've made over there. If only....