I spent the night before last and last night hanging out with my old pal Herb Reith, in town to seek gainful employment upon the conclusion of his MFA from the University of Cincinnati. I’ve known Herb since he was about ten.
Indirectly Herb helped introduce me to the mandolin. He and another younger friend, Joe Zagorski, had started playing bluegrass and old-timey music after I’d moved out to Seattle. They were known as the Squash Blossom String Pullers, and the concept was pretty good: take punk rockers, add whiskey, now play bluegrass, but seriously and without mockery.
I visited my hometown around the time I was getting divorced, like 1992, I think, and I beleive that Joey had written me about what they were doing. He was living in the house I had last lived in in town and Herb and I went by with some beer.
Joe’s younger brother had just bought a Neapolitan-style ‘watermelon’ mandolin that day and no-one in the house knew how to tune or play it. I picked it up and it was working for me, somehow. It was the second time I’d ever touched one.
Later that night we went to a bonfire party with pumpkins and bales of hay under the full October moon. We sat on the hay bales and ignorantly assaulted the fastnesses of American traditional music, not really knowing that we were already inside the keep.
Last night Herb and I played music together for the first time since then. He was playing guitar and I was playing mando and guitar. He’s a hilarious singer. I don’t mean that his singing is poor, although others have gently disagreed (do a page search on ‘Pony Stars’ if you follow the link). He has always had a surplus of nervous energy and that frenetic quality comes through in his performance. It was a pleasure and I hope we have the opportunity to play again while he’s in town, although he should certainly concentrate in schmoozing at the conference.
Like a doofus I ran out of time to get the camera ready, so alas, no pix.