Music From 6 Potomac: Amped Up

It has been an interesting couple of weeks here in Crisfield, Maryland.

The other day, there was a car accident right in front of our house. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. There was no anger. Nobody took videos. It was simply hugs and prayers all around until the police and tow trucks arrived.

Dad said that The Reverend Pillsbury did good. I must admit, I was a little proud about that.

I met with a new doctor, and the visit went well. She is setting things up for me to get transportation to appointments, so dad won’t have to drive me around. She is also coordinating with pain management, physical therapy, and other fun stuff. It won’t be an easy winter, but maybe the doctors can keep me making music for a bit longer.

Speaking of music, now that the electric banjo is where I wanted/needed it to be, the next challenge is controlling the beast. While the gold foil style pickups do the trick tonally, they are hot.

Some of the more experienced players may be puzzled by the idea of a hot gold foil. I should clarify.

The old-school gold foil pickups used rubber refrigerator magnets and were, to be honest, as awful as being trapped in an elevator with Andy Dick. I know this because I spent my high school years skipping class to hang out in a disreputable music store stuffed to the gills with vintage junk gear. The old pickups were as unpredictable as a rabid squirrel—but when the stars aligned, and they managed to work, oh my goodness, they could be sweet.

By the way, vintage quality gear, if maintained, retains its quality and value. Vintage junk is always going to be junk. Something to remember when you encounter funky instruments in your travels.

Anyway, the pickups I installed on my banjo look like the old-style pickups, but under the foil is a massive Alnico V magnet inside a bobbin. The coil is scatter wound and then wax-potted so that it won’t pick up the thumping of my thumb on the body of the banjo. The resulting pickup has the vibe of the original pickups, but with a greater range and power.

The gold foil in both new and old styles of pickup is just decoration. I guess even rock n’ rollers want to look pretty.

While these new-style gold foil pickups work for me, they may not be your cup of tea. Never copy another player’s rig blindly. Take the time to develop some knowledge so that you can make informed decisions.

In addition to getting used to the hotness of my new pickups, I am slowly getting used to using the four floor controllers I have set up for my amplifier. My right foot works the two expression pedals I have programmed for various things, and my left works a pair of Boss effect/channel switchers. I don’t use many effects, but because I am playing solo, I need to be able to control both the volume and the feel of the electric banjo.

In other words, the amp is as much a musical instrument as my banjo. It’s not just plugging in and playing. Even without effects, you must have some control over what the amp puts out. It’s a blend of technique, using the pickups, the volume/tone controls on the instrument, and working the amp.

It sounds complicated, but there are just as many variables at play with an acoustic. Making music with a banjo, any five-string banjo, is not just playing notes. You must generate melody, rhythm, harmony, and percussion in a flowing and improvised groove. While this is happening, we must control the volume, sing, play a solo, and work the crowd. If anything, the electric is less complicated!

Dad and I will, hopefully, get some recording time in tomorrow. I have some gospel tunes, folk songs, and a few cover songs I want to play on the acoustic before we do the deep dive into the electric.

Well, the temperature is dropping, so the nightly round of pain is starting to kick in. I’m off to curl up with three cats and a cheesy movie. Tonight, I’ll kick things off with Rattlers. It’s about out of control rattlesnakes. Then probably Ghosthouse. That one is about a house, ghosts, and radio geeks.

Rocky is letting me know it’s time to crash. Meatball and Pooka are already fighting for position on the bed.

Goodnight, and God bless,

Music From 6 Potomac: On All Fronts

While the weather has been stomping me into the ground with arthritis and neuropathy pain, we have been making steady progress.

Amidst the progress was some positive feedback from musicians I deeply respect and admire. I am nearly deaf and playing slide—a tool that requires intense precision. It’s nice to know the music sounds like it feels. I needed that.

I have to admit, it is fascinating to work in a medium I cannot fully experience. With the addition of excruciating pain, any effort or ambition I apply to the task works against me. All I can do is something Elizabeth Cotten told me a very long time ago, to let go and have faith. Bottleneck is perfect for that kind of playing. When it works, it feels like flying. When it won’t work—usually because I can’t do that letting go thing, I bicker with dad like characters from Father Ted. That’s almost as much fun as music.

In other news, the parts are here to get the solid-body electric five-string banjo working. As much as I would love to do the work myself, my hands are just about useless now. It would take me forever. So, we are running it up the road. It should be in my hands at the end of the week.

The cool thing about the delays with the electric is that I used the time to strengthen my skills with the acoustic. I guess we should thank dolphins. They say everything happens for a porpoise. 

There will be music hitting streaming services over the next week or so. We also have tracks on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. If you want to avoid the whole media thing, you can download the files from Dropbox.

I can always find strength to continue despite disability, pain, or anything else life throws at me. What I have a hard time with is self-promotion. If this is going to work, I need your help getting the word out. Share links. Post honest reviews. Let people know about this music.

Dad and I can’t do it all on our own.

God bless,

Glass Pinky!

If you haven’t been following us on Patreon or on streaming services, my father and I have been working in a little home studio. Here’s your chance to tune in and hear some bottleneck banjo.