Early January usually has me thinking about the year ahead for Jeni & Billy, which tea to drink, my high school friend Cotton who’s birthday is on January 7th, and stringing up instruments with new strings. This year is no exception.
Jeni and I headed to Florida on January 14 to play seven concerts over a two week period beginning in Gainesville at the home of our good friend and banjo buddy, Chuck Levy and his wife Sandy.
Our touring this year will take us to Florida/Alabama, Mid-Atlantic/Merlefest in North Carolina, England/Wales/Scotland, the Mid-Atlantic again, the Mid-West/Canada, and then the West Coast. Please visit our website for more info at: http://www.jeniandbilly.com/tour/
On our final tour last year, on the West coast we took our older guitars, a 1957 Gibson J-50 and a 1930 Martin 2-17 parlor guitar. During our winter break we played our Collings guitars and we decided on bringing them out for the Florida/Alabama run. We found our Collings CW and C-10 at Cotten Music in Nashville. Here’s a link: http://www.cottenmusic.com If you haven’t been it’s time to head over to their new location at Houston Station. We love the new shop and always enjoy our time visiting with Kim, Rick, Kit, and Andrew, the Mudge.
I put on some D’Addario light bronze strings, before the tour, on both Collings guitars and our National Resophonic, Natty Boh. I remember the days when I liked new strings, crisp and clean, with lots of overtones and partials. But these days I’m into strings that have been played for at least a week so that they are a bit tamed. Our rehearsals were a bit challenging because of the new strings, but they calmed down by the end of the week.
I’m excited about the new songs that we’ll be doing this year. We’ve written a bunch of songs about Jewell Ridge again, Jeni’s hometown in Virginia, and we’ll be recording them in February for a new album release in the spring. If you haven’t heard our recording, Jewell Ridge Coal, please check it out at our website and have a listen. http://www.jeniandbilly.com/listen/
We have a fan club that gives folks a chance to hear unreleased recordings over at Patreon. Please visit us at: https://www.patreon.com/jeniandbilly?ty=h There’s even a pledge where you can have a two hour lesson from yours truly on guitar or banjo. It would be my pleasure to spend a couple of hours with you exploring the strings and sounds.
And finally we have something new over at Mixcloud. Jeni and her Dad, Greg, came up with the idea of doing a podcast once a month to share songs and stories about folk music. I have a small bit that we’re calling The Country side of Folk and, for our January podcast, I feature songs by Bob Dylan, Bobby Bare, Hank Snow, and Willie Nelson.
Please check it out. Here’s a link: http://goldenbiscuithour.blogspot.com
When we were in California last fall we got to stay with our good friends Ali and Craig. Craig is Craig Eastman, the fiddler, who played on our Picnic In The Sky record we recorded in 2014 in Los Angeles. During our stay, Ali introduced me to a tea sometimes known as southern ginseng. The plant or vine has saponins which are also found in ginseng. It is a tea that sweetens on its own as it sits in your cup. It is officially called jiaogulan. It comes from Southern China and other parts of Asia and is known to have numerous medicinal effects. Here is a link: http://www.healthline.com/health/is-jiaogulan-the-new-ginseng#1
I ordered some when I got home from the 2015 fall west coast tour and it took about a month to arrive. It came from Malaysia. The package had these really neat stamps in a soft bag. It has been my go to tea of choice for the afternoon. I’ve been brewing about two cups in my Japanese tea pot with about two teaspoons of the tea for just a minute. I really enjoy it because you don’t have to add any sweetener and it supposedly can have life extension results. But the main reason I enjoy it is because of the taste. It’s smooth, round, and has a simple, herbal sweet flavor. Ali had a jar from Teavanna and the tea came in small compressed balls about half the size of the ball used for playing jacks. I checked with Teavanna to get the same jar Ali had but they didn’t have it available so I just bought some bulk from a place called TeaCuppa. Here’s a link to this tea: http://www.teacuppa.com/Jiao-Gu-Lan-Tea.asp
I went to high school in Catonsville, Maryland just on the west side of Baltimore, Maryland, between 1970 and 1972. My best friend during those years and several years after was named Jonathan Karrer. But I knew him by his nickname, Cotton. I think about Cotton every January because his birthday was on January 7th, the day before Elvis’ birthday. Cotton passed away suddenly in February of 2011. We were friends because of art. We liked a lot of the same music, film, and architecture. We loved going downtown in Baltimore on Saturdays and walking around Mount Vernon visiting the same shops every week.
Without fail we would go to a record store on Mulberry Street just west of Park Avenue called The Back of the Moon. It was a small store on the ground level of what was probably a row home at an earlier time. The shop was filled with vinyl and magazines with posters on every possible piece of acreage on the walls. A guy named Glen would always be there sitting in the back of the store behind the counter. Cotton and I loved perusing through the records looking for something different to listen to. We would each buy an album and share the records with each other after we had listened to the record for a week or so. Cotton introduced me to the music of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. We both loved folk music and we both played guitar.
In 1971, in my junior year of high school, I was dating a piano player named Sara Huff and the three of us formed a trio with Sara on piano, Cotton on bass, and yours truly on guitar. I loved the sound of those three instruments together. Cotton aptly named the band Po Buckra which he said he’d read in a John Steinbeck novel. We were white, and being only fifteen or sixteen we were poor and that’s what Po Buckra meant. We played songs by Woody, Leadbelly, Dylan, the Band and even wrote some of our own. Unfortunately any cassette recordings that we made haven’t survived. We never recorded in a studio. We only played a few gigs and didn’t stay together very long. But Cotton and I remained friends and shared art with each other and enjoyed going to films and concerts.
We would also go to Ted’s Music Store on Centre Street just east of Charles next to the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Ted’s was like walking into a museum that had filled all of its floor space and had to go vertical. There were stringed instruments hanging above over the entire footprint of the place. Someone at Ted’s, and it might have been Ted, was an instrument maker and they called their instruments Martini. I think Cotton might have bought one of Ted’s guitars. Ted’s is still open but I haven’t been in years. Maybe on our next visit to Baltimore in the spring, Jeni and I will stop by Ted’s and brush a few strings.
By the way for all of the folks that will be in the Baltimore area in April we’ll be performing at the Paradise Festivus on Sunday, April 24. The festival is from 2:00 until 7:00. Here’s a link to the festival webpage: https://www.facebook.com/ParadiseFestivus/
We would also go to a Jewish charity shop on Eutaw Street, just off of Mulberry, called Hadassa. Hadassa means compassion in Hebrew and the folks at the store always extended that expression. Cotton and I would buy our entire wardrobe there – shirts, trousers, vests, hats, sports jackets, and winter coats. It was one stop shopping for us. There was another threads shop on Park Avenue also just off of Mulberry called The Bead Experience that had a totally different vibe. They were a new clothing shop with lots of hippyish kinds of things. I bought my first pair of bell bottoms there, polyester black, grey, and white lined print. I only wore them once. That’s another story.
After going to Back of the Moon, Ted’s, Hadassa, and the Bead we would usually end up at the Peabody Bookstore on Charles Street. The store opened in 1922 and was full of old books. I believe they had concerts also. You could sit, have a tea, read a book, and listen to music. It was a great way to finish our usual Saturday ramble.
Then we would catch the number 23 bus on Franklin Street or the number 8 on Lombard Street and head west back to Catonsville about ten miles from the Inner Harbor.
And now back to January 2016. We’ve played four concerts already, the Chuck Levy House concert in Gainesville and the Garage Mahal in San Antonio, plus two in Naples. San Antonio, Florida, is a very cool town with very cool people. Thanks to Jim and Jeanne and Rochelle and Norman for hosting us again this year at the Garage. And thanks to Chuck and Sandy for hosting another J & B concert.
Today, we play at the Headquarters library for the Collier County Friends of the Library. And the strings on Eck (my Collings dreadnaught CW, named after Ezra Carter the brother of AP Carter of the Carter Family), Maybelle (Jeni’s Collings parlor C-10, named after Maybelle Carter, wife of Ezra “Eck” Carter), and Natty Boh (my National Resophonic guitar named after the Baltimore beer National Bohemian, colloquially known as Natty Boh) seem to be in good shape and ready for Jeni & Billy.
Time to go play some scales and get ready for the show.
Until next time.