Power Pickers
of the '60's

Musicians of the Flower Generation


Keeps on Roland; Fanfares for the Duke of Pearl/”My Son’s First Concert”

Had several exchanges with Diane Bouska,  mandolin-player Roland White’s wife,  over the last few days. Among the many tasty morsels the two of them have put on his website,  http://www.rolandwhite.com/,   is a brand new demo of Roland slowing down and explaining his instrumental version of Danny Boy.

I wish I were  still trying to learn mandolin, because he makes it all so clear.  All, that is,  except the part where his signature knack for beautiful note choices kicks in, and you know you’re listening to the real deal in Bluegrass playing. Remember, Roland played guitar and toured with Bill Monroe before Bill died (as opposed to after), and is one of the last men standing in the world of genuine Bluegrass players. (Roland didn’t study the genre in college, like most of us ex-hippies;  HE  was who we studied).

It’s a wonderful learning tool, but I want him to put back his visual demo of  how to tremolo on the mandolin.  It fell off the screen for some reason,  and I’ve asked him and Diane to put it back. You’ll see what  I mean when you go to the site.  And if you agree with me, that it’s an important part of the lesson, email them and tell them. They love feedback from fans, and they respond. Also, you’ll see one of the classiest Sites in all of Roots and Folk Music and hear and learn about one of the half-dozen or so greatest  mandolin players in the whole genre.

This just in. It’s part of Roland’s wife’s answer to my email requesting a visual of the tremolo: “[Though] I didn’t like letting it go that way, I didn’t think we’d
get another decent take without somebody losing patience.
Some other people have asked to be shown tremolo and given
some tips.  It’s on the list.  Roland also addressed this in the Mandolin
Christmas book and recorded a track demo-ing and talking about it.
If you have that you might want to go back and listen.”

My guess is you can get these items from the site for the asking.

*                       *                        *

Same time as I got the Danny Boy demo from M/M White, I heard from old friend Chuck Erikson, one-time banjo-maker and now king—or should I say “Duke?—of the mother-of-pearl business worldwide. Yes, planet-inclusive.  And that means the Far East, too, an area you might guess would be harvesting and selling the most pearl of all.

Anyway,  Chuck just got a….y’know what?  I’m going to let him tell about it thru the e-note he sent me yesterday:

“Here’s a nice little article on Duke of Pearl that just came out in Acoustic Guitar Magazine:” http://www.acousticguitar.com/article/default.aspx?articleid=25360

The Acoustic Guitar article  does justice to a man that, so far, has had  one of  the most colorful and variegated lives of anyone I know.  And now one of the hottest.  Not only has AG seen fit to profile him in depth, but it looks like Fretboard Journal is going to do a piece on him. Why are all my old friends getting writ up, while the only one writing about me is me?  Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, not a mandolin player or mother-of-pearl tycoon. Yeah, that must be it. A writer.

Chuck’s trippy website is http://www.dukeofpearl.com/. Prepare to spend some time there.

*                         *                         *

Speaking of writing—like that segue?—,  I continue to make good on my promise (threat?) to publish short stories I’ve written over the last couple decades. After all, I’m having an interesting life, too. At least my therapist tells me I am. Here’s a short-short tale of my youngest son’s first music  concert (he’s a sax player, but he loves pickers from our era. He’s the one that got me to start this blog in the first place). He hadn’t been in this country very long (both my sons are adopted Korean brothers) when the following action took place:


I was at the computer when Ben, my younger son, kicked open the front door and announced his candidacy for the Lewisboro Little League All-Stars Team. “I’m a slam-dunk,” were his exact words, and I felt my stomach tighten as if to counterbalance his own breezy assurance.

Little League is very political, and our family was not good at that artform. I desperately looked for a way to support and yet still prepare him for a painful letdown.

And then, from out of nowhere, came this guided missile of a gift: “Oh yeah,” he said. “I’m supposed to tell you guys the concert is May 29th. What’s to eat?”

The annual Katonah-Lewisboro Elementary School Musicale is not an eagerly awaited event. But I saw in it a chance to balance the ledger in case the All-Star team somehow overlooked Mr. Dunk. I said, sharing a thick slab of firey kim-chee (both my sons are Korean), “you’re going to do something nobody expects.”

“Whuzzat,” he said?

“You’re going to be good,” I said, my eyes tearing from the food. “And I’m going to help you do it.” His eyes rolled back in his head as maybe he remembered my helping him with his pinewood Derby car; or maybe it was his Styrofoam solar system for a Third Grade science project. No matter; I had a plan. And he was already a good saxophone player.

We picked two songs to go straight for a forty-something audience’s jugular:  The theme from “Casablanca” and “I will Survive,” the Donna Summer crowd-pleaser of the early ‘Eighties (or was it the late ’70’s; would you pls look it up and tell me? Thanks.)   “Mr. Feldman [the music teacher] said only one song each.”  The kim-chee welts were finally responding to the yogurt I was shoveling into my mouth, so I was able to say,  “you’ll need an encore.”

And then we did something almost unheard of in public school music education: we practiced.   We put in half an hour a day for two and a half months, Ben on my King “Slip-action” E-flat alto sax, me on my ES-335 Gibson Electric. Although the ritual brought us together, Ben couldn’t see any glory dividend to compare to making the All-Star Team, and didn’t hesitate to tell me so.

Son Ben practicing on my King alto sax

Son Ben practicing on my King alto sax

[ This is where I wish  I had some shred of  aural  record of us working on those two songs, but I don’t. So I’m sending you the next best thing I can think of, a fragment of the CD we sent to Colgate to help Ben get accepted there. My wife still seems to think it was the difference between him getting and not. Who knows?]

The night of the concert was hot and airless, perfect accompaniment to the evening’s program: phalanxes of otherwise harmless American youth committing felonious assault with rented musical appliances;  until it was time for Ben. He was nervous in the wings, always a good sign. I told him to take a deep breath and think about center field. The music teacher introduced us, and unlike anybody else, we tuned up. Then I counted down to the pickup note to “As Time Goes By,” and Benny began to play.

We didn’t go for anything fancy, just straight melody, good tone and the sure-footedness that comes from the unmistakable sound of woodshedding, what musicians call (usually) catch-up practicing. We reprised the last four bars for a “professional” treatment, and went out on a retard with a sustained closing note and chord.

The audience was on its feet before Benny took the mouthpiece from his lips. I told him to bow. They clapped and yelled for more. They wouldn’t stop. The music teacher asked Ben if he had an encore. Ben looked at me, smiled, and began playing the Donna Summer piece. When he finished, the crowd went wild all over again. Why shouldn’t they? With school taxes averaging $10,000 per household (it was 1987; that was a considered a lot of money then) weren’t they entitled to something more for their money than the cacophony  of  80 students playing every cent (one one-hundredth of an octave) of pitch on every single note they collectively hit? I mean, what were these kids supposed to be learning to make in music class, music or sonic mayhem?

Later that night, over a pie at La Famiglia Pizza and Pasta, Ben learned he didn’t make the All¬ Star team. I tried to console him, but his friends were also there, and they kept interrupting me to tell him how good he sounded up on the stage “and everything.”  Between mouthfuls,  he eventually said it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, not making the All-Star team. I think his exact words were, “I’m re-thinking my priorities. Could you pass that piece with the pepperoni?”

© Allan Ross 2010

  1. Jason Odd Says:

    Go team Al!

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