X Hooked-Luke Abbott
 
I've been playing music in one way or another as long as I can remember. My parents were not only very encouraging of my musical explorations, but also tried to make music a family tradition by having my brother Kyle and I attend our weekly (more or less) "family music time." Our grandmother would also come over (she lives two doors down the street) and play piano with us. The repertoire was *ahem* diverse: mostly old folk songs, blues songs, and gospel songs, with the odd Elvis or Chuck Berry number for good measure.

The rule back then was that we had to be in the room when it was music time; didn't have to play or sing, but we had to be there. I've been told I was more interested in playing with my toys for the first few months, but eventually I wanted to get in on the action and started to participate more.

Now, neither of my parents were very musically talented—my dad had been trying to play for decades and could barely sing in tune or keep the rhythm straight—but the important thing was that the desire was there to have music be a part of family life, so lack of talent was never an issue. I was also never taught or given lessons or instruction materials, but somehow I seemed to do just fine without them.

We had one Flatt and Scruggs LP which I really liked, with John Henry, Petticoat Junction, Salty Dog Blues, and Jackson, among others. I remember I used to have a "game" where I put on the record and ran around the living room with the music, jumping on and off the couch. I liked the banjo on it as well as the Dobro, although it took me awhile to realize what was making that "like a banjo, but not" sound.

A milestone that paved the way for the "hooking" was in 1997 when my dad and I went to a music store and found a $200 open-back banjo. I hadn't the faintest idea how to play it, but I figured out a few chords one string at a time and played the melody to East Colorado Blues (aka Spike Driver's Blues). By the end of the day we had both the banjo and a mandolin for Kyle to learn. Another seed planted.

A few months later we went to our first bluegrass festival, the SCBS' Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival in Hollister, CA. This was a big turning point for us. Until then, we hadn't been connected to any sort of community. Seeing how bluegrass brought people together in this way sold us. Plus, I was enthralled with the music itself coming from the stage. I also played with Frank Solivan's Kids on Stage program; I think I played John Henry, as well as Petticoat Junction in my own hybrid two/three-finger style and scratching the head of the banjo with my picks to make the "chugging" sound of the train.

Life took a new direction that day. For the next ten years, up to the present day, music has played a leading role in life. Between playing at home, busking on the street, going to festivals, and starting the Abbott Family Band, there's been plenty of playing to be had. And starting around 1999, we started working on ways of sharing this joy with other folks (especially other families) and restoring a tradition of music-making that is largely lost in modern times. What began as a small staple-bound songbook with a brief "instrument reference section" in the back gradually blossomed into a complete music method, which we eventually dubbed the ToneWay Music Method™. I've been teaching classes in Santa Cruz for the past couple years, showing folks how to use the Method. It's amazing to watch these people, most of which having never played an instrument, become intuitive music makers in such a short amount of time. And it's all based on how I learned to play as a young child, intuitively and without formal training...by ear—the same way my father, after decades of trying, was finally able to let loose and enjoy music. (And he can sing good and keep rhythm now, too!)

This old-time "mountain music" (as Carter Stanley called it) is part of what made all this possible. It's simple enough that folks of below-average talent can actively participate, yet deep and rich enough to hold the interest of accomplished musicians...and be so great to listen to. I can't imagine what my life would be like if this music wasn't a part of it.
 
Posted By:  Rick Cornish



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