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My own blog? Who would read this stuff?

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Hmmm, let's see now, I guess I should start with a biography. My personal musical history. I just watched Mike Marshall's 'live interview' from Germany (October 2014). And I recalled what I was doing when he described his musical background. It is far more interesting... but I'm a little older than him.

Anyway, in high school I began in earnest playing guitar, a hand made classical guitar from a luthier neighbor. I then bought a Gibson J40 adjustable bridge steel string from a folk singer named Loren Janes. (James?) in Detroit. I sang with Paul Irwin and Jennifer Cutlip at coffee houses in the 1970's. I sang because my parents were Barbershop quartet singers so I knew harmony. We would often go to see Claudia Schmidt and Sally Rogers at the Raven Cafe in Southfield MI.

Later, about 1977 I learned clawhammer banjo from Mike Seeger and Stan Werbin as a volunteer at Hiawatha Traditional Folk Music festivals in Marquette Michigan. I met a number of musicians as a volunteer including Peter O. who invited us to see the Prairie Home Companion in 1979 or 1980.

I moved to Minneapolis in 1981 and played guitar at the old 'New Riverside Cafe' on the 'west bank' along with others like Dean McGraw, Tim Sparks, Peter O. I took lessons from Adam Granger at the Homestead Pickin Parlor and volunteered at the Coffeehouse Extempore and Cedar Cultural Center.

I should mention that I met a couple of Irish Fiddlers at Northern Michigan University gigs sponsored by the Hiawatha Festival in 1978. They just 'blew my mind' about Irish fiddling and I had to learn somehow. I got to hang out with them, (can't believe it now...) one guy was Frankie Gavin and the other who turned out to be my idol, was Kevin Burke. Kevin used to play fiddle with a friend named Steve Sleight at the Brown Stone Inn in Au Train and up at the Big Bay hotel.

I was still singing 'In the Pines' every Thursday night in Marquette and playing my old Gibson J40.

Enough for now. I need to describe the Irish community in St. Paul and meeting my violin teaching wife and mandolin origins at MacPhail Center for Music.

Woah, what memories!

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  1. DougC's Avatar
    After some work in the yard on a beautiful fall day in Minnesota, I remembered that my high school friend was Janet Cutlip. She could play open tunings and sing with the same charm as Joni Mitchell. Quite talented that girl, I miss her.

    Another detail was that the Raven was called the Raven Gallery. A magic place where I saw Josh White Jr. and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.

    Speaking of High School, (yeach...) I knew a guy named Marshall Crenshaw. Because we were involved in music and had names that started with a 'C' we were often together. He knew rock music even back then. He introduced me to the Mothers of Invention.

    I think we hung out at a guitar store called Strings n' Things on Woodward Avenue, Detroit, (Birmingham?) Michigan. That would be 1969-71.
  2. DougC's Avatar
    I don't know how to add to my own blog. So another comment, and this is sort of a comment anyway.
    I remembered the maker of my first guitar, excepting an awful Kay guitar that hurt my fingers at age 13.
    Somehow, I was VERY lucky. My friend Paul Irwin knew a classical guitar luthier, right in our neighboorhood. I met and bought a fine classical guitar from George Gould who made instruments in his home in Huntington Woods, Michigan. I'd love to have that guitar now... But I remember that he was just starting to have guitars built in South Korea. He made my guitar in his home and sold it to me at a very nice price. He was a very nice guy.
    I went to steel strings shortly afterwards to get the James Taylor sound. But another high school buddy studied classical guitar on one of George's instruments and later bought a really expensive guitar. A big name now, as I recall. Another direction I guess. But I really wanted to learn more from George about building and never had the opportunity, or courage to ask him.
  3. catmandu2's Avatar
    Cool--thanks for those nice memories Doug. I bought a Guild D-50--my first good guitar--in 1977 and later a Flatiron pancake--my first mandolin--from that Strings'n Things. I studied classical guitar at Fava studios around this time. I miss WLBS, in Mt. Clemens.. (heavy )
  4. DougC's Avatar
    I think Strings n' Things later moved to Ann Arbor. I went to California in 1974-6 and later I moved to Marquette, MI. That music shop was a great inspiration. I remember playing a 1936 Martin "Bruno", I think it was a 0-0 series. It was an amazing small guitar.
    In Marquette a friend named John Warstler flatpicked some nice old time stuff with a mandolin player, whom I forget his name. But they played Barlow Knife and Temperance Reel on the college radio station, probably in 1979 and that just blew my socks off. I was at the radio station WNMU, and I remember it - like it was yesterday.
  5. catmandu2's Avatar
    Do you know, it was an inspiration for me too. I think it was my first "acoustic shop"...of course, Fava's was filled with guitars--Pimentel was their favorite line at the time (and, oh the aroma of all those guitars!) ...

    But, when I hit on Strings... I was just getting into acoustic steel, Scruggs fact, I even studied with a banjo teacher--might have been there at S&T...I was 16, and ready for my first good dreadnaught--John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein had just blown my mind at the Royal Oak theatre..
  6. DougC's Avatar
    Ah the smell of new instruments! In a small shop like Strings n' Things in the early 1970's was just intoxicating. I don't think you get that smell in a big store. That smell is the fresh carved wood drying out, I guess. Opening the case of a new instrument, can't beat that aroma.
    However, I'm now a coffee snob and fresh roasted beans have a smell that is, well, addicting. ha, ha.

    I made a visit to Jim Olson's shop a few years ago and that wonderful smell was all over his huge shop. He had so many guitars, the smell was everywhere. I think I was pretty light headed, just smelling the air! He let me play Leo Kottke's guitar, in the white. (He made a bunch of guitars for Leo). What an exciting experience. A tremendous big sound and a 'heady' smell too!

    That experience brought back memories of the old guitar shop on Woodward Avenue. There are others, The Podium in Minneapolis is one for example. It's my source now. I suppose a trip to Elderly Instruments would be worth the effort. I've watched them grow from a distance for all this time. I'm a big fan of mail orders however. Ha, ha.
  7. catmandu2's Avatar
    In Fava's, I think it was all that cedar...they were pretty much all classical and flamenco guitars..

    Of course, S&T was modest compared to the shops we enjoy now...I live just down the street from Greg Boyd's...
  8. DougC's Avatar
    I moved out of Michigan around 1974 and returned to Marquette in 1977-81. So many of the places like the Royal Oak Theater are only names to me. Fava's probably was around then but I don't remember them. A lot of the big guitar / folk related shops and theaters seemed to go to Ann Arbor. The Ark comes to mind but I was in Marquette by then and I did come to work at the Wheatland festival a few times. One year I played an open mike just before David Grisman's Dawg band came on stage. I'm glad that, at the time, I did not know they were next on the stage, or I would have just freaked out. Their show was just electrifying. Gawd, what was I thinking.
  9. DougC's Avatar
    The Marquette Organic Food Co-op was a central part of our lives in 1979. I wrote the newsletter and we managed the food and beer for the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival. So we were all early founders of the festival and we had great opportunities to meet people like Kevin Burke, who is the reason I started Irish fiddle later in Minneapolis. But then I learned to play frailing banjo or old time banjo in workshops with Mike Seeger and others. Stan Werbin's band called 'the Lost World String band' from East Lansing Michigan kept us busy clogging. And then we met Peter Ostroushko from Minneapolis who invited us down to see the Prairie Home Companion.