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Archive for September, 2011

Magpies on the Court

Our first gig in a playground didn’t go that well. So when Yvon, our drummer, asked if we would consider playing at his community league function, we were lukewarm at best. We haven’t played with Yvon with quite a while so we thought it would be a chance to get back together. Playing with a drummer, instead as our normal trio, is different and can be enjoyable. And Yvon has a really good voice and it is fun to do harmonies together.

On arrival, we confirmed we were playing on a basketball court. But the day was nice, it was not too hot and there were people there who actually appeared as though they wanted to hear us play. The community league had paid for a sound system, which included monitors and a mixer. Yvon’s son Ryan was helping as sound guy. So off we went …

On the Court

And you know, it wasn’t too bad after all. We played a number of our originals as well as some cover songs. It was nice to be able to hear ourselves and I, for one, thought we did pretty well.

Yvon

Jim

Don - A job well done

I think we have more become confident in our abilities and the way we play together. This makes for a more enjoyable experience for all. I know that personally, three years ago I would have been a wreck doing something like this … but now it is familiar territory and a good time being up there. It may not be the big time but I can’t think of much else I would rather be doing.

The crowd goes wild!

P.S. Thanks to Wanda for the pics and Happy Birthday, Jim, Yvon and Natasha!

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Three New Family Members

I can only play one at a time … but that doesn’t stop me from adding to the collection.

Behringer Strat Copy

My second son works in an antique mall and so I get quick notice when something interesting is brought in. I saw this Behringer Strat copy a couple of months ago at one of the booths. With Ian’s help, I picked up the guitar for a net cost of $50 as he picked up some of the tab as a father’s day gift. This isn’t a great guitar to begin with and my friends at Acoustic Music suggested I had paid about the right price for it. The neck wasn’t very good but I approached it as a project guitar. The one thing I do like about it is the sound I get when playing slide.

As mentioned, the neck was not great and the guitar would not stay in tune for any reasonable length of time. I swapped out the strings but the guitar would still not stay in tune. So, I purchased a reasonable set of tuners and with the help of a friend, installed the new tuners a couple of days ago. This was a bigger job than I expected since we had to drill slightly larger holes for the new tuners. It helps when the friend is a sculptor who has worked a lot with exotic woods. I haven’t put strings on it yet but I am sure the new tuners will help.

Hohner Mandolin

The next toy instrument to join the collective is this Hohner Mandolin. I didn’t even know Hohner made mandolins. I have been keeping an eye out for an inexpensive mandolin to learn on and was very surprised to see this one hanging up at Acoustic Music. It was taken in as a trade in and was in the right price range. And, it has a pickup. It certainly isn’t the quality of Don’s Eastman, but played through my Fishman Loudbox Mini amp, it sounds pretty sweet. Penny, our yellow lab cross, howls when I start playing – I think it is the combination of the high pitched sound and my proficiency on the instrument. Still, it is fun to muck around on.

Lero 4-string Banjo

The newest addition is a 4-string Lero Banjo. From what I could find on the net, this a Japanese instrument from the late 70s, early 80s. It even has the classic “Made in Japan” sticker on the back of the headstock. This is a “long term loan” from my sculptor friend who said it should be with “someone who will actually play it”. Again, this is not a high quality instrument but for the purposes of learning, I don’t need the very best.

So, at last count, we (between my sons and I) have four electric guitars, two acoustics, one classical, two bass guitars, a mandolin, two banjos, a lap steel and a charango. And this doesn’t include the two keyboards and baritone horn. Oh, and Ian brought home a violin a couple of days ago. Never a quiet moment 🙂

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Quality

I started off with a simple, cheap guitar. From there I went through several different instruments before I chanced upon a Gibson B25-12. What caught my attention was the price … it was around $250. Now this was big money for the early 70s, but this was a Gibson. Turned out that it was a factory second. However, the Gibson representative was in the store and said that he couldn’t even see why it was marked as a ‘second’. That was good enough for me and I bought it. It was a beautiful instrument that sounded wonderful and was really easy to play. Sadly, it was stolen out of my car during a camping trip to Mosport.

When it came to a replacement, I was faced with a difficult choice. Get something that was more in line with my budget or find a guitar of similar quality. I did track down a Gibson B45-12 in a local store. It was more than I really could afford but after trying cheaper instruments it was really difficult to play something that wasn’t the same quality. And really, it wasn’t like I was a pro, but the quality of my Gibson made it hard not to stay at that level. So, I bought the B45-12 (the same guitar that Leo Kottke played for years and the one on the cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown album). My Dad could never figure out why I ‘needed’ to spend that money, but I never regretted buying that guitar. And after about 15 years, I traded it for an anniversary Ovation … another story.

Which brings me to last night. I went over to Acoustic Music to get some parts for a project I am working on. While there, I went into the acoustic showroom and tried out a couple of guitars. There was a Martin D-28 that had a price tag of $625 so I took it off the wall and started playing. It was beautiful … the tone, the ease of playing … beyond good! I started to fantasize about how I could afford the guitar when I looked at the price tag again … it wasn’t $625 – it was $6250! Very gingerly, I put the Martin back and tried to come back down to earth … you do get what you pay for!

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I have had a number of ‘careers’ over my working life. The first part involved maps and aerial photography. From there I moved into the administrative end of things. I might have continued along that path except I saw the job being phased out. So, asking myself what I liked to do, I went back to university and earned a two-year diploma in Adult and Continuing Education. That was probably one of the smarter things I have done in my life. It led to getting with a position in environmental education and then a secondment and finally a permanent position working on the climate change file. And now I have sort of gone full circle.

I received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from a friend who had retired and is teaching at MacEwan University. Due to circumstances, they were in desperate need of a lab instructor. So, with the help of my section head, I am teaching a lab in Earth Science to first year students. In the interview for the job, my adult ed diploma did count so it came in handy again.

It frankly has been a blur for the last two weeks but I did my first lab this morning – 8 to 11. It was a busy time but it was fun. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed teaching and to be able to teach a geography themed class was even all the better. This could be the start of another career and then again … but no matter I will enjoy the experience. Thanks Don for recommending me. Life just got a bit busier!

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Truckin’ on the Manitoulin

When your father is a long-haul truck driver, driving vacations were not always the first choice. However in 1966, Dad borrowed a pick-up camper from one of his friends at work for a family vacation on the Manitoulin Island.

Now this was a TRUCK. It was a 50’s International 4×4 that was used for snowplowing in the winter. It was not the most comfortable ride – in fact it was noisy and rode like a … truck. But for us riding in the camper, it was the greatest. Along with Mom, Dad and my sister, we took along the son of one of Dad’s friends, Bill Cunningham.

Me, Bill and Lori on the International

Dad knew really knew the Manitoulin, having worked in a variety of jobs there when he returned home from the war. What I remember about the trip was stopping all over the place and visiting Dad’s friends. (A highlight was spending the night in a beer store parking lot – Dad was a driver for Carling Breweries). But the most memorable part of the trip happened as were heading back to Little Current on our way home.

Little Current was the gateway to the island and I think we were about 10 miles away from town when the truck quit. Dad got it on to the side of the road and started trying to fix it. Of course this was the day when a car broke down it was more than likely a mechanical failure. Dad finally figured out that the fuel pump had quit. Again these were the days when you could easily reach everything in the engine compartment so trial and error led to the fuel system being the culprit.

Now, Dad was not the sort to spend money on a tow if he didn’t have to. He figured out the fault was intermittent and if you tapped on the side of the pump with a wrench, it would work. This was still a problem because when you stopped tapping, the pump would quit.

No matter – Dad took the hood off and put it in the camper (again this is something that was not hard to do with the International). Then I was instructed to get up on the fender and wrap my one arm around the snowplow frame on the front of the truck. The rest was simple. As we drove along, I would tap the fuel pump for a bit. If it started to quit, I would just start tapping again. So, this is how we made the last 10 miles into Little Current where we stopped at a gas station and replaced the pump.

I remember Mom looking quite concerned as we drove in, but Dad thought it was just fine. Hey, it worked and I lived to tell the tale. Surprisingly, we never did borrow the camper again though.

In Sudbury, Ontario - Me, Lori, Mom and Bill

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