Wow. Just wow,
Doc Moonshine writes:
This is an interview I recorded, during the station that I broadcast with’s previous incarnation. during this conversation, Patrick and I discuss what lead us to music, Patrick’s philosophy on banjo playing and on making music in general, and what sets his teaching apart. like any good friends, there are methods Patrick and I agree on and methods we don’t. but that doesn’t stop us having a good laugh and hopefully teaching you a thing or too.
Elizabeth Cotten was born today in 1893. She was, along with Peggy Seeger, the first person to show me anything about the banjo.
So I started out like most people probably do, learning songs from the tabs in The How and the Tao and from your other books. I’ve managed to memorize a dozen songs or so, but I don’t think it’s the right path. I can’t see how a person can possibly memorize the melody of every song that might come up at a jam. So when you’re doing an instrumental break like you did on The Wreck of the Old 97, are you playing that from memory / tab, or are you improvising it on the spot? Is it necessary to have the song memorized (like from tab) or is there some way to learn to play the melody break by ear?
I am working on a book about my adventures learning how to play the banjo, guitar and other folk instruments.
My circumstances as a young music student were unique. I was dealing with massive hearing loss and epilepsy. I had been exposed to Eastern philosophy as a young martial arts student. My mother taught me to use the tools the good Lord gave me, so I applied concepts from Kenpo karate and Taoism into my explorations into old-time banjo and country blues guitar.
Much has changed over the ensuing years and much is still the same. I am still learning new things every day, but now I am also a teacher. I have BAHA implants to help me hear, but new problems have sprung up to make my path more interesting. Neurological issues are making it difficult for me to type, so I am writing this new book entirely by hand in pencil.
I am writing at a desk that once belonged to my grandfather. He delivered it to me tied to the roof of his Dodge Dart on my eighth birthday. My great-grandmother helped my grandfather run his electrical contractor business from this desk. I feel them both with me as I work.
I write on Amazonbasics legal pads in pencil. I start out with a large quantity of sharpened pencils point-up in mugs and jars. As they go dull I drop them point-down in an empty container.
I am mainly using Blackwing pencils now and I can’t say enough nice things about them. Some of the nicest pencils I have ever used. The Blackwing long-point sharpener actually makes a difference. It is not fast, but the slow pace adds to my Steinbeck-style morning ritual of sharpening enough pencils to get through the day.
I use a shitajiki writing board under the page as I write to keep the pencil point from making an impression on the pages below it.
MUJI erasers work really well for someone who writes with a heavy hand like I do.
When I finish a chapter I pass it over to Dear Old Dad. He gives it a quick edit and passes it back to me for scanning.
I scan the chapter to post for our Patreon sponsors. They get the raw unprocessed data that will eventually be organized into a complete work.
To give you a taste of what our Patreon sponsors get, here are single-page scans taken from the first page of the first three chapters.
My father takes my handwritten draft and transcribes it into Word. Here us a sample of how that turns out.
I looked up and a middle-aged man was gawking at me like I was a geek in a sideshow. He started laughing and turned to Lefty.“Why is Pillsbury gnawing on a guitar?”
They both started laughing. He made fun of my Converse high tops. He made fun of my Miami Vice tee-shirt. He made fun of my guitar. I started to get mad.
“What’s your problem? Never heard somebody play the blues before?”
He didn’t just laugh at that. He screamed. I thought he was going to go into hysterics. He opened the shop door, leaned out and hollered to somebody, “get in here and take a look at Pillsbury. He says he can play the blues!”
The next thing I know these guys come marching in and all of them think I am the funniest thing they have ever seen. I knew that I had a lot to learn on the guitar, but this was serious ball-busting. I was being mocked and it didn’t feel good, so I mustered up my courage and said, “if you guys are so great, why don’t you teach me something?”
The guy who had started the let’s laugh at Patrick party looked at one the others. They had a silent conversation, with one pointing to his watch and signaling that they had some time. Laughing guy pulled up a stool and sat in front of me. He reached for my guitar, and while it was hard to trust him I handed it over. “Damn, this is a heavy guitar. Okay, Pillsbury, do you know any bass lines like Elmore James played?”
“Who’s Elmore James?”
“Who’s Elmore James! You want to play guitar and you’ve never heard of Elmore James?” The rest of the group voiced their disapproval. “Well, Pillsbury, this is what I’m going to show you.” He took my guitar and made the bass strings ring out in a boogie-woogie rhythm. He started simple and driving and changed the pattern each time through until he had this amazing walking bass happening.
“I want to play like that!” I said.
Several people have encouraged me to move away from my current analog approach to writing and switch to voice to text or write on a tablet computer. I appreciate the input, but I like the simplicity of working with pencil and paper – and I get to have another adventure with my father.
When I do have to type – and the keyboard is inescapable in 2018 – I just take things in very small doses. It took three days with help from Dear Old Dad to put this post together. I move a little slower, but things still get done. Life is good.
Let’s wrap this up with a complete list of my books and essays released under Creative Commons licenses.
- The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo
- A Book of Five Strings
- The Outlaws and Scalawags Songbook
- Mechanics of Frailing Banjo
- Songs For Sunday
- This is Not a Banjo
- Crisfield Banjo Retreat Songbook
- Four Seasons on Brick Kiln Road
- Frailing Banjo Backup Patterns and Licks
- Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar Basics
- Basic Frailing
- Calloused Ears: Tips on how to play the banjo “by ear”
- One Finger Guitar
Patrick just handed me the next chapter of his new book. This one is a doozy. I will have the first edit back to him tomorrow to scan and upload in longhand for our Patreon subscribers. Then back to me for transcribing and more editing. I am having a ball working with him on this project. As God is my witness it is all true and no names have been changed to protect the guilty.
To watch this book come to life go here
Two tests at our local hospital last week with one more (MRI) next week. Them back to the neurologist. Prayers welcome.
Peace to all,
Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)
For more than ten years my Father and I Have been hosting annual gatherings for folk musicians. These events were modeled after the jam sessions, retreats and shindigs we attended when we were first learning the craft.
Meeting so many of you has been a source of great joy to us over the years. Each event takes months of planning, organizing and just plain old hard work that contributes to my almost constant migraine headaches.
This year was no different. I was in severe pain when we arrived on Thursday to set up and in agony when we left on Sunday.
I can no longer put my body through this. I need to focus on work that I can do without triggering migraine storms.
After a great deal of soul-searching my father and I have decided that the 2018 Maryland Folk Musician’s Retreat just completed will be the last.
Thank you for all the happy memories.
The Daily Frail will continue, and I look forward to completing my next book which I am writing longhand as typing is one of the migraine and blackout triggers. Dear Old Dad will help with transcribing and editing.
Patrick and Dear Old Dad
Banjo and guitar workshop playlists for binge-watching.
Old Time Banjo with Patrick and Dear Old Dad
I love the way my dad teaches. The original tab folder for this CD ROM video workshop (we did this just before DVD burners hit the market), but you can find tab for the songs in these workshops in The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo and/or Crisfield Banjo Retreat Songbook
Patrick;s Guitar Stuff
A collection of folk and country blues guitar workshops.
Break out the slide and get funky with the banjo!
We passed fourteen thousand subscribers on YouTube.
Right now the official numbers at this moment for the channel are 4,801,058
views and 14,002 subscribers.
We are still growing, learning and sharing the joy of folk music together. With each new video and each new subscriber we take another step closer to my goal of making the art of frailing banjo universal and accessible to all!