Author: Martin, George

Nashville Cats, wannabe version

Playing banjo for 58 seconds -- how hard could it be? Well, if the tape is running, harder than one would expect.

I got an e-mail recently from a fellow who was making a CD and said he had got my name from someone who knew me and he needed 58 seconds of banjo music. Was I interested? Well, sure, even I should be able to play in time and mistake-free for 58 seconds.

He sent me an MP3 of the tune, with rock guitar and drums and some harmony singing. He said he wanted some fast arpeggios over the last part of the song and the outro. I spent about an hour Tuesday in front of my computer playing along with the track. I found two places on the banjo where the repeated riff sounded pretty good and I played them over and over until I thought I could produce it on demand.

Yesterday I drove to his home in the Oakland hills. I was impressed that Steve was doing this on an iMac computer similar to my own with Garageband software. I have that same software, but had never opened it. That’s going to have to change; Steve was able to record me several times, get me playing harmony with myself and even “punch in” a good lick to correct a bad note that had happened in the best take I had done. How cool is that? Very cool.

It took about two hours to record those 58 seconds. Two of the takes are going to go together, he said, for the harmony effect that he liked, so that makes 96 seconds of music, plus another little 10-second snippet that he thought he might add to the very end of the song. It reminded me once again how talented are the folks in Nashville (and right here in the Bay Area) who can make this stuff happen quickly and with minimum fuss.

As the Lovin’ Spoonful (and Del McCoury) sing: “Any one who unpacks his guitar can play twice as better than I will.”

Welcome 2.0: Remembering a Friend

Courtenay Peddle was a long-time editor at the San Francisco Examiner and later the Chronicle when the Hearst Corp. bought out its competitor/partner in 2001. Courtenay was a very thorough and meticulous editor. He had grown up in England, where they are especially serious about teaching the Queen’s English, and after a story went through his computer you could presume it was grammatically correct and usually better written than when it went in. (Oops, just ended a sentence with a preposition!)

Away from work, he played the bass, and sang harmony parts in a little informal band a bunch of us newsies from the Ex and and Oakland Tribune had, called The Usual Suspects. We played some weddings and friends’ parties and (this being San Francisco) the annual Gay Family Day at the big Unitarian Church on King Street.

Courtenay had lots of health problems after his retirement a few years ago; and he passed away last winter. Several of the Usual Suspects played the old songs for him in the hospital while he was on his deathbed, which he appreciated. Then last week, Pam, his widow, threw a Celebration of Life party for him in their Oakland home.

Old newspaper colleagues, neighbors, birders (he was an expert bird-watcher and helped in the annual Christmas bird count) and even some old pals from when he was in the U.S. Air Force turned out.

My singing partner, Pauline Scholten found and old song list from the Usual Suspects and we played about a half-hour with my ex-brother-in law on mandolin and Mark Hedin, from our current band, taking Courtenay’s bass slot. We had four good singers in the old band and we had worked out some Manhattan Transfer songs. Now Courtenay was gone and our friend Mary Ann is living in Florida, so we had only two-part harmony.

It was very moving to be singing the songs he sang in the back yard where he loved to sit on summer evenings. And later to be retelling with his old (in most cases literally) colleagues some of the stories of his work life.

I’m thinking a party is a great way to honor a friend who has left us.
Posted:  6/14/2012

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