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Teaching the Kid - VII

by Bill Gokey





I had been out of town for three weeks and was riding my moped around on the riverfront when I was set-upon by The Kid dashing out from the marina bait shop pointing his banjo at me...

“Everybody’s wantin’ me to play what my father calls The Foggy Mountain Breakdown, play me that tune from Bonnie & Clyde…” It was almost the end of summer, The Kid claimed he had mastered Shuckin’ The Corn, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, and Jesse James – or so he thought he had mastered them.  “The guys at the marina all ask for that – they even want to hear it up at the V.F.W. fish-fry’s on Friday nights.  I’ve been learning it on my own, but I’m not sure what that off chord is.”

The Kid was now in the habit of taking his banjo everywhere he went and incessantly playing the three tunes he thought he knew for anyone that would hold still long enough for him to sooth their savage souls with his dinner music for people that ain’t very hungry.  The fishermen on the docks at the marina had to listen to him or quit fishing – there he had a captive audience!  Some of them had been accusing him of scaring away the fish with all the racket he was making, but some of them acted like they actually enjoyed it.  A teenaged gum-chewing daughter of one of the regulars at the marina wooed and cooed over The Kid’s banjo playing – he really reveled in her sub-standard awe!  Only four months and he was already getting caught-up in the glamour of the spotlight; it was going to his head!  He needed a lesson in humility…

I shut off the moped, snatched the banjo out of his hands, played The Foggy Mountain Breakdown, handed the banjo back to him, cranked-up the moped, and roared off down the road without ever saying a word.  Before he realized what had happened, it was over with and I was gone.  He had asked me to play it; I played it, and then left him catching flies with his mouth wide-open. 

The next day, the Kid showed-up at my house brow-beating me to “play” The Foggy Mountain Breakdown for him.  Finally, I took my “6” out of the case, played it through once, put the banjo back in its case, and went on drinking my coffee.  The Kid said in a pleading voice, “I want you to play it more than once so I can learn it.  How can I learn it if you only play it once?”  I told him to pay attention in his high school English class.  “I’m not a mind-reader, you asked me to play it and I played it, not only once, but twice!  You didn’t ask me to teach it to you!  Learn the English language – be clear and concise so people know exactly what you want.  Speaking English is just like playing music; you have to play the correct chords in music and define the tune exactly, otherwise nobody can tell what you’re playing and you won’t get the reaction you want; in your case, it’s recognition, glory, and gum-chewing teenaged cuties!”  His face turned as red as a cooked lobster, but he didn’t say anything – he knew I had hit the nail straight on the head. 

The Kid told me that Donnie Reynolds, one of the St. Lawrence River master musky fishermen, had witnessed yesterday’s moped deal at the marina from the front door of the marina bait shop.  Donnie had asked the Kid as I rode out of sight, “Who was that lone masked-man, Kemosobbee, that guy knows how to play a banjo…” The Kid indignantly said that he had told Donnie it was Bill Gokey – not Kemosobbee, and he had a helmet on, not a mask.  He told me Donnie just turned around and walked away shaking his head.  The Kid had concluded that he thought Donnie was nuts calling me Kemosobbee until I told him who The Lone Ranger and Tonto was.  This Kid was also badly in need of a well-rounded education in the history of The United States and its trivia.

I got out the “6” and showed him the chords to The Foggy Mountain Breakdown – all three of them!  He couldn’t believe that it only had three chords and accused me of “holding out” on him.  Being the son of a policeman, he was always suspicious of anything he was told. 

“G, E-minor, G, E-minor, G, D-7TH, and back to G – that’s all there is, unless you want to put the D-augmented in the up the neck part before going back to G from D-7TH.  A lot of the bluegrass guitar players won’t play that chord because they claim it isn’t bluegrass if you put that in it.”  I demonstrated the D-augmented chord on the 11TH fret as I went on, “Earl Scruggs played it, Don Reno played it, and Bill Monroe played it in his Bluegrass Breakdown – if it was bluegrass to them, then it’s bluegrass to me!”

The Kid looked confused and exclaimed,  “What’s The Bluegrass Breakdown – you’re supposed to be showing me The Foggy Mountain Breakdown!”  I explained to him that Earl Scruggs Foggy Mountain Breakdown is the same as Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Breakdown, except Monroe used an F-Major chord and Earl Scruggs used an E-minor chord.  “If you ever get to play with Monroe, and he calls the Bluegrass Breakdown, just play The Foggy Mountain, leave out the E-minor and replace it with F-Major and you’re in business!”  I played both tunes for him and spent about an hour showing him the finger work of both hands - the Kid was really excited.  He looked as if he had just landed the biggest pike that had ever been caught.

The Kid kept pausing and writing something down in a tablet as I was walking him step-by-step and note-by-note through the music.  When I finished instructing him with what I thought was enough for one day, I told him he ought to learn music notation or tablature.

I asked him what he was writing and he said,  “I’ve got my own system and it’s better than learning all that music stuff.  All I have to do is watch you, write it out in my new system,

and then I can go home and play it!”  He was as serious as a Priest saying vespers - I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair…

The doorbell rang – it was Jim Fletcher, Secretary of our local Masonic Lodge, wanting me to help him with something at the lodge.  I told the Kid he ought to go home and study the logistics and make-up of his revolutionary new breakthrough in the music writing system instead of going to the marina trying to impress a gum-chewing, hair-flipping teenybopper.  As he went out the front door he quipped,  “You old guys in your forties are all the same – jealous of us young guys ‘cause you can’t cut the mustard anymore…”

He had one coming, and he’d get it a few days later when he returned with his “revolutionary new music writing system.”






Text Copyright ©1987 by Bill Gokey. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. Reproduction in any form prohibited.

Edited 17 Jun 2007 by WF