Saturday Nights With The Usual Suspects . . .

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Music is a big part of my life. My aunt bought me a little kid’s record player before I went into the first grade, and she provided three 45 records with it: One was Elvis, one was Patty Page, and one was country singer Claude King. Stunned me; I had listened to radio, but being able to pick what I wanted to hear played opened up a new world.

Later, as a third grader, I was walking in the French Quarter of New Orleans one afternoon and saw a group of older men sitting in chairs on the sidewalk, jamming on some blues tune. I was gobsmacked; you mean regular folks can make their own music? Astonishing! Soon I had my aunt’s alto sax and was trying to play what I heard from those guys at Preservation Hall. It was so difficult to learn to play but that was part of the fun.

Seeing The Beatles on TV one Sunday night in early 1964 was another seminal event; I knew I’d switch from sax to guitar and bass.

Here are some of my musical buddies last night, playing in John Sapper’s backyard gazebo in Silver Spring, Maryland. We have a group of perhaps a dozen friends who get together most weekends to jam and sing. We call this assemblage The Usual Suspects, and we never know who will show up.

Last night, at John’s, it was John, Dan Collier, David Martin and me. I had already packed up my Telecaster when this song began, so I filmed it with my iPhone:

I belong to a more conventional band called The Gizmos, which plays blues, Bakersfield country, rockabilly and classic rock. I’ll try to get some video of that group soon!

Gazebo Nights and Knights

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Last night, four of us gathered, as we often do, under the gazebo roof at John Sapper’s place. We’re preparing an acoustic-music set for the 23rd Annual Adelphi Music and Arts Fest that Dave Martin puts on at his place.

The weather was pleasant, the insects weren’t too intrusive, and the grove of trees behind John’s gazebo made for a relaxing atmosphere.

Here’s Dave Martin on his six-string banjo. Dave and I squabble like brothers; maybe because we’re as tight as brothers. We’ve been playing music and having adventures for a good number of years. As many of you know, Dave jokingly refers to himself as NFD (nine-fingered Dave) after a tragic woodshop accident in 2006. All of us were stunned when Dave was hurt, but none of us were surprised when he refused to let such a blow hold him down or keep him from playing music. If anything, his playing is better now than before the accident. Says a lot about the man:

Here’s John Sapper, our host for the evening. John is an absolute guitar wizard at tasty, perfectly articulated solos and has a deep repertoire of what he calls “fiddle tunes.” He augments these with elegant arrangements of classic and classy country and folk songs. His versions of Grandpa Jones’ Eight More Miles to Louisville and Are You From Dixie? are so good that I always insist on hearing them each time we get together, along with his flawless rendition of Machine-Gun Kelly. What a player and singer, and a genuinely nice guy. John’s playing his Santa Cruz here, for you guitar buffs out there, and he has a gorgeous old Gallagher guitar (think Doc Watson) I’ve been trying to sneak out of his house for years:

The most recent addition to our group is Doug Percival, seen here playing my cowboyed-up old Martin D-41, because we made him play some more after he had packed up for the evening. Doug’s singing and guitar playing are first rate, but we like him anyway. Doug has a knack for taking tunes you’ve heard a million times (or not) and reshaping them with novel arrangements and interpretations. He is also the only fellow I’ve met who, in a former band years ago, was flown by the U.S. military to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to play for a couple of weeks in the Naval Base service clubs there:

I think we’ll have a lot of fun next Saturday at Dave’s party and make some great music, too!