09 5 / 2014

… . . at the post entitled “Specifics.”  I’m still working on those same specifics, and that was almost a year ago.  My tenor banjo playing has really improved since I wrote “Specifics.” My left hand is moving so much better.  The vibrato and palm blocking on lap steel have not moved forward as much as I had hoped they would.  I’m starting to think I will struggle in  those areas forever.  My single string stuff has gotten a little better, but improvement is slow going without gigs to reinforce them.  Gigs where I do single string soloing have been hard to come by in the last year.  I’ve done about eight since “Specifics” was posted.  That’s simply not enough to make significant progress.  Of course, the good news is that I haven’t done those gigs because I’ve been doing three or four tenor banjo gigs a week, which is why my tenor playing is soaring right now.

19 7 / 2013

Tomorrow (Sunday, July 21, 2013) will be interesting. Chuck and the Kings were offered a great opportunity to play from 11:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. at a great restaurant called Five. Chuck couldn’t make it, so Mike and I decided to do play this one with a replacement. Mike, as you know, plays bass for Chuck and the Kings. What you might not know is that Mike is an excellent saxophonist. We decided to get the great Jon Ford to play bass for the Five gig.

This particular lineup has never played together before. I can’t wait to hear how it sounds tomirrow.

07 7 / 2013

In my last post, I said that I had much more work to do. There is no question. My musical re-education is nowhere near complete. The following are a few thoughts on what I need to work on in the coming year.

Lap Steel - Any conversation about lap steel (at least for me) begins and ends with blocking and vibrato. Both need serious attention. The vibrato is certainly getting better, but one specific aspect of my vibrato is really weak: chordal palm blocking past the 12th fret. I’ve gotta get better at that stuff!

Tenor Banjo - My main issues there are tremolo and left hand smoothness. I need to get smoother when I make difficult moves. I want to eliminate those extra sounds and noises that I make when I attempt a difficult transition.

Guitar - my main area of need here is single string improvising. I need to really work on my soloing.

Tenor Guitar - I don’t actually own one, but I want to change that fact in the next few months. To me, that instrument brings out the best of my guitar playing and my tenor banjo playing. When I get one, I’ll need to work on havIng a much lighter touch with both hands. The right and left hand techniques for that instrument are much lighter that the ones used for the tenor banjo.

Anyway, that’s what I’m gonna work on, and I’m gonna start right now!

Stay Tuned
Tony L.

05 7 / 2013

Today is the one year anniversary of my first post in my Re-Education of Tony blog. I’ve enjoyed working on my Tumblr blog, and I’ve learned much from creating these posts. My original plan was to produce a year’s worth of blogs, but I can’t stop now. My re-education is nowhere near complete. I have so much work to do, so many ideas to consider. I won’t quit until I feel like I’m at least close to where I want to be.

Stay Tuned
Tony L.

27 3 / 2013

Let me first say that I hate the Rebel flag.  For me, that image represents a plethora of negative parts of America past and present.  With that said, I must say that I’m a walking contradiction.  For many people, the negative imagery and thought associated with that flag is also present in the song “Dixie.”  I should hate that song, but I don’t.  It’s just such a lovely melody, and that is exactly why I love “Dixie.”  In the right hands, it’s beautiful.  Comedians say you never cut funny.  Well, I believe musicians should never cut pretty no matter what.

Here’s Kendel Carson absolutely killing on “Dixie.” I try not to play it (except for requests) on gigs, but it sure is pretty in Ms. Carson’s capable hands.

15 3 / 2013

I become quite obsessed with the songs that feature the lyrics of Gus Kahn. I’m not sure how many people know the name Gus Kahn. but trust me we all know his songs. The short list would include “It Had to Be You,” “My Buddy,” “Pretty Baby,” Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Goofus,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and that’s just the beginning. The guy wrote many amazing songs.

I saw a movie about Mr. Kahn’s life last week. Danny Thomas, one my all-time favorite performers, played the part of Mr. Kahn. That movie got me started on my research on Gus Kahn, and what I’ve learned is that many of my favorite songs from the American Songbook are indeed Gus Kahn tunes. It’s like that final seen from You’ve Got Mail. You finally find the person who’s right for you, and it turns out you knew her all along.

One reason I love these songs is because I like the way they sound on the tenor banjo. I’m currently working up as many chord/melody arrangements of his songs on that instrument as possible. As I polish some of these arrangements, I’ll post a them here.

Check out out Mr. Kahn’s tunes. Within minutes, you’ll be saying, “Wow, I didn’t know he wrote that!”

Stay Tuned

Tony L.

03 3 / 2013

As I’ve said before, My first instrument was 5-string banjo.  I was unsuccessfully trying to learn the Scruggs-style approach with a great jazz guitarist/teacher named Irvin Payne.  One day while practicing my square rolls and forward rolls in front of the television, an I Love Lucy rerun came on. The episode featured Harpo Marx playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”  I was blown away by the beauty of what I was hearing.  More to the point, I remember thinking, “I don’t know what this is, but I want it—but not on harp.”  When I arrived for my next lesson, I tried to explain what I had heard.  Irvin said, “Oh that’s chord/melody.”  He went on explain some approaches to chord/melody.  He explained how some string players do bass parts below their melodies.  He showed me how to voice a chord with the melody note on top, and how to use the strings and notes above the melody note when arranging a tune.  I was hooked. 

We stopped working on Scruggs-style that day and started putting together chord/melody arrangements (none of which I remember) on the 5-string.  When I moved on to lap steel and guitar, I took those chord/melody lessons with me.  I tried to adopt and adapt everything I learned from those lessons (and from that scene from I Love Lucy) to those instruments.

Much of my playing is now done on tenor banjo, and when I try to arrange a tune for tenor, I still find myself thinking back on that fateful day when I saw Harpo play “Ballgame.”  When I first saw it, I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing, but I knew it was the crux of what I wanted to do musically.  I still can’t do anything 1/1000th as good as what I saw Harpo do, but here I sit, working on a tenor banjo arrangement of “All the Things You Are,” and it’s not great, but it wouldn’t even exist with that episode of I Love Lucy.  Here’s the clip that started it all.

Thanks Harpo

Tony L.

03 3 / 2013

I was on a good musical path over the last month or so. There have been lots of gigs, and I played pretty well on most of them. My practice sessions have been consistently productive, and I’ve used many of those sessions to put together some interesting arrangements.

That musical path hit a high note last Saturday night. I played a great trio thing that was a real pleasure to do. That high note was also the (temporary) end of that fertile period. The next day, the coughing started. Then I got the sore throat and the achiness and all the other symptoms. Here it is the following Sunday, and I’m still not well. I’ve been really sick all week. As for music, the week was a washout. ‘No gigs. ‘Very little practice. ‘None of the strength or clarity needed to get an instrument out of it’s bag and try to do something.

Even though I feel terrible, I’m gonna try to play some lap steel now. It won’t be great (or even good), but it’s a start.

Stay tuned
Tony L.

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03 3 / 2013

I took my amp to Sam Timberlake, by far the best amp repairman/designer/builder in this area, the day after it started acting weird. As you may remember, I was practicing when the my beloved Polytone Mini Brute II starting acting crazy. The volume would go way down and, then it would go way up, and then the there would be no sound at all. I was definitely scared. I can’t afford a new amp. Even if I could a afford a new amp, I haven’t heard an amp as mellow as mine ever.

Sam did all kinds of diagnostic tests and concluded that problem rested in my (previously) trusty George L guitar cable. That old cable has performed admirably for years, but it had to go. Also, after some testing of my own, I learned that my surge protector/power strip had some problems. I replaced the cable and the power strip, and all is well in Ploytone land.

24 2 / 2013

"All the Things You Are" is definitely one of those test songs.  The melody, chord changes, improvisational landscape, and potential for chord/melody are all tough. They test the ability of anyone who takes it on.  I can’t solo over it worth anything, but here’s a chord/melody arrangement for tenor banjo that I just put together.  It was tough to create, and it will be ever tougher to play.  I’m months aways from even attempting it on a stage, but that’s ok.  Creating this arrangement was definitely beneficial.  I believe the act of creating a chord/melody arrangement teaches a musician all sorts of things that can’t really be learned anywhere else, and if the tune in question is one of those test tunes….. Well, all the better.

Stay Tuned
Tony L.
P.S. If you want to try this arrangement out, please note that I tune my banjo CGDA (standard tenor tuning) low to high.

"All the Things You Are" is definitely one of those test songs.  The melody, chord changes, improvisational landscape, and potential for chord/melody are all tough. They test the ability of anyone who takes it on.  I can’t solo over it worth anything, but here’s a chord/melody arrangement for tenor banjo that I just put together.  It was tough to create, and it will be ever tougher to play.  I’m months aways from even attempting it on a stage, but that’s ok.  Creating this arrangement was definitely beneficial.  I believe the act of creating a chord/melody arrangement teaches a musician all sorts of things that can’t really be learned anywhere else, and if the tune in question is one of those test tunes….. Well, all the better.

Stay Tuned

Tony L.

P.S. If you want to try this arrangement out, please note that I tune my banjo CGDA (standard tenor tuning) low to high.