Author: Daniel, Bert

Blackberry sitting on a bramble high /Iíve been reaching into the sky /Iím gonna pick me a bowl to stew/ And have some this morning.

We have a big blackberry bush in our back driveway and we pass by there often on our way to visit Grandma. My son Ethan noticed the blackberries the other day and pointed out that some are getting ripe already. He confirmed his suspicions by picking a big one and popping it deftly into his mouth. Listen to all the lyrics from Trisha Gagnonís (of John Reischman and the Jaybirds) song excerpted above, and youĎll get an idea about how big a deal blackberry season is around our house too. Soon Iíll have to scare up a few buckets and make preparations for my annual blackberry cobbler. Got to make sure I have enough vanilla ice cream on hand too. Itís a hard life, but itís worth every effort.

Trishaís song is only one of many great bluegrass songs about the humble blackberry. My favorite blackberry tune is probably the favorite of many of you too, the old fiddle tune Blackberry Blossom. Our own blackberry blossoms come in early May. They look a little bit like small dogwood blossoms with five points instead of four. Iíve never been able to get much of a fragrance out of them but then again my nose isnít very sensitive.

I remember one very special weekend with my daughter where blackberries were involved. We were on a self contained bicycle tour of the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County. Juliet picked so many blackberries from our campsite that I wondered (and Iím a doctor): is there a dose at which blackberries actually become toxic? Juliet did survive and her blackberry technique has always impressed me. ďGet the ones up high, Daddy. Other people canít get those, but squeeze them first and get the ones that are nice and soft.Ē

The tune Blackberry Blossom has special significance for me personally because it has become my symbol for authenticity in the music that Iíve come to love the most. Let me back up a few years. I had just acquired a new passion, playing my brand new mandolin and immersing myself in the traditional music of my youth. Until then my only real passion had been riding my bicycle, which was how I had met and married my wife Joyce, whom I still very passionate about. Joyce and I were attending a wedding for some bicycling friends of ours (I guess recreational bicycling inspires passion).

At the time, Bluegrass and Old Time music occupied an unusually significant place in my thoughts and actions (not that Iíve changed that much since then). Well, Joyce obviously had noticed this new behavior pattern, and obviously I was a real set up for a practical joke. We arrived at the wedding party and engaged in the usual small talk. Eventually Joyce and I found ourselves in different areas of the house engaged in different conversations with other wedding guests. I found my friend Tony, another bike club member whom Joyce and I both like a lot. He makes chocolate chip cookies to die for. We call him ďTug Boat TonyĒ because he pilots harbor boats for a living. Heís since ferried me from Larkspur to the Giants stadium for a game. Tonyís a great guy.

In the course of our conversation that day, I was surprised to hear Tony suddenly, and for no apparent reason, mention that he liked to play the banjo. He supposedly played when he had down time on his river barge. I told him about how I had recently picked up the mandolin and was trying to learn how to play it. I tried not to sound too enthusiastic because this was obviously too good a coincidence to be actually true. No doubt Joyce was up to a practical joke, having talked to Tony previously, and it was a good one.

It was just about then that Tony mentioned that he was trying to learn Blackberry Blossom in the claw hammer style. Now I knew for sure that Tony was the real deal. There was no way in the world that Joyce could possibly know or care that there was a tune by that name. Tony was the real deal! Now I could open up and share my innermost thoughts about the music that I love! Thank you Blackberry Blossom. I usually get pretty bored at parties but this particular wedding party turned out to be pretty amusing. Since then, Tony and I have played together many times. Itís fun to compare notes with an enthusiast who started about the same time as I did. Tonyís pretty good now and it inspires me to keep at it. By the time Tony and I are in our eighties, weíll probably be good enough to form a band and make lots of money.

I still canít play Blackberry Blossom very well. Itís not an easy tune for me. But Iíll keep trying and I admire anyone who can play it well. I think Iíll go out and check the blackberry bush now. While Iím gone, you might want to pick up your instrument and play a little of the Blackberry Rag. Or if you want to go for the real deal, try Blackberry Blossom.
Posted:  7/23/2009

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