Andy’s Notes ♪♪♪ – Earliest to Most Recent

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This page is a collection of all Andy’s Notes ♪♪♪, in the order in which Andy wrote them. The subject-matter skips around, chronologically speaking, depending upon when Andy was inspired to write on a particular topic. And the topics are wide-ranging – from biographical blurbs, to philosophical musings, to his report on a recent show, to music history tidbits – it’s all fair game. Check back every so often to see what Andy’s thinking about now!!

  • Playing Contra Dances
    Allan Block, 1969.

    Allan Block, c. 1967.

    There was a strong interest in traditional American country dance music in New England when I arrived in the 1970’s. There were wonderful old social clubs and community halls throughout the region where dances were held, friendly dancers, great callers,  and some fine old-time players like the Kaynor family, Peter Temple, and Allan Block – one of my all-time favorite fiddlers.

    I was lucky enough to be asked to play in some of these groups for a number of years, and as a result, I learned a lot of traditional tunes from the rich variety of musical heritages in New England: French, Irish, English and Scottish. I played mostly lead mandolin in those settings – or back-up guitar if Allan Block was fiddling – and I got to play for some great callers, including Ted Sanella. It was a fun learning experience.

    AndyMay-DanceofLifeA-150x150When I recorded my album, Dance of Life- a Mandolin Celebration, I included some of that repertoire and  many of those players – and so some of the “feel” of those New England dances – on the project.

    Here’s a taste for you:


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  • Defining Bluegrass

    Western Mass. and the Pioneer Valley area had a great music scene in the 70’s. When I moved there to attend UMass, Amherst, I found some fellows who loved bluegrass music as much as I did. While I was still a student we started jamming regularly and performing a few local gigs. John Bollard, one of these picking buddies, was a fine banjo player who also happened to be a linguist working for Webster’s Dictionary. One day, he told me that he had been assigned the job of writing the first definition of the word “bluegrass” (as in bluegrass music) for the Webster dictionary.

    I could hardly believe it  – how cool was that?!!  Here’s how he defined it:

    [from the Blue Grass Boys, performing group, from Bluegrass state, nickname of Kentucky] :  country music played on unamplified stringed instruments (as banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin) and characterized by free improvisation and close usually high-pitched harmony

    Cooler yet, John’s wording is still the current definition of bluegrass music on Merriam-Webster.com.


     

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  • Tabby Crabb

    In 1976 I found myself with a college diploma in fine arts, but also with a strong desire to play music and stay in Western Mass. I loved to hike the forests and trails there, and was enjoying getting to know the folks in my area. All I needed was a way to eat and pay the bills. Enter Tabby Crabb.

    Tabby Crabb (with banjo)- Medicine Wheel, 1974.

    Tabby Crabb (with banjo) and “Medicine Wheel,” 1974.

    I had heard through the music grapevine that a fellow had showed up in the Amherst area straight from being a member of a popular country rock band in Texas called Medicine Wheel. Folks said he could play pedal steel guitar, banjo, guitar and fiddle and was looking for work. I set up a meeting to visit and we hit it off very well. I had some pick-up work as a side man in a country band in Vermont coming right up, and I managed to get Tabby hired to play pedal steel for those shows. Tabby made that steel guitar smoke and also loved and respected the music enough to really make it fit in and get the job done right. After these shows, I lost track of Tabby for a little while.

    Tabby Crabb, 1985

    Tabby Crabb, 1985.

    Sometime later, I moved from Northampton to a little road out in the country in Belchertown. After I had settled in, I figured I’d check out who my neighbors on the road were. Lo and behold, Tabby had recently moved to the house across the road. An amazing coincidence! We had time as neighbors to jam, we both loved country music, bluegrass, rock and roll, blues, old-timey music, and the old fiddle tunes – and we both wrote songs. Since we played a variety of instruments, the music was always fun and interesting. Also, we both were financially stressed, to put it nicely.

    Andy May-Texas Tabby Crabb - (8)

    Tabby, in the Andy May – Texas Tabby Crabb Band, 1977.

    We heard there was a little honky-tonk in North Amherst called Mike’s Westview Cafe, that wanted music on the weekends. We added Tabby’s landlord, Joe Giandalone, on Fender bass, and landed a regular job there. Soon lots of folks started coming out to hear us each weekend. Wynn Fay, the godfather of traditional country music in that region became our fan, and dubbed Tabby,”Texas Tabby Crabb.” And so began one of the most intense and musically rewarding times of my life: the time of  The Andy May and Texas Tabby Crabb Band. I think I still have the tee shirt – if I can just find it!

    Tabby is gone now, but he left us some great music and wonderful memories. He also wrote a book about his life in the music business, The Music River of Life. There’s a lot of history in there, and on his website.

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  • Wynn Fay
    Wynn Fay-Andy May-c.1980

    Wynn and Andy, circa 1980

    In New England back in ’74, when I arrived in Amherst, Wynn Fay was already legendary among country music fans as a singer, guitar picker, country music stylist, and band leader. He lived one town over in Belchertown. When I finally got the chance to hear, meet, and pick with him, I quickly found out why he was so revered. He was the REAL deal: soulful, musical, knowledgeable, kindhearted, and humble. Wynn was also one of the best MC’s I have ever heard, and he presented wonderful fiddle contests and community musical events.

    Wynn asked me to join his band, The Ridegerunners, and I performed many a show with him. And, once you were asked to be a Ridgerunner, you were a Ridgerunner for life – and also a member of Wynn’s musical family. Ask other former Ridgerunners like Jim Rooney, Bill Kieth, Jim Heffernan, or Jeff Greenwood (who married Wynn’s daughter Zoe!) or many, many others, and you will hear them all agree. I picked and performed with Wynn whenever I could until I moved from New England in ’87.

    Wynn Fay and the Ridgerunners-Live Recordings-cassette cover

    “Wynn Fay & the Ridgerunners – Live Recordings” (1995)

    In the 90’s, I compiled and produced an audio-cassette release of some of Wynn’s music. All the tracks had been recorded at shows in 1979, 1980, and 1987.  Here’s a taste (That’s me on mandolin and harmony vocals on I’ll Just Pretend. Click on the cassette cover to left to see full credits):

    I’ll Just Pretend

    Little Whitewashed Chimney

     

    1995-06-03-Wynn Fay certificateI’d love to go back and do an MP3 release of Wynn Fay’s Live Recordings project. Interested? Let me know!

    Wynn was a great one and I sorely miss him.

    Newspaper articles about Wynn:

    Old Time Country Music in the Pioneer Valley – An Interview with Wynn Fay. Valley Advocate,  Sept. 19, 1979.

    The moos give way to the folk music muse. The Record, Jan. 21, 1979.


     

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  • Rick Lee – The Passing of a Friend

    August 27, 2014

    With the passing of Rick Lee this week, I have lost a great friend, and our world has lost a great singer, player, and advocate for the power and beauty of music in life. His musical genius informed and influenced me since we first met in the 1960’s. We were buddies, jammers, hikers, carousers, band mates, and collaborators on so many musical projects. I produced three albums of his amazing music for Swift River Music and Waterbug Records, and he contributed his keyboard skills to five of my Swift River Music albums and one currently in production. There is a big hole in my life that the passing of “Uncle Rick” has left behind.

    Rest in peace, Rick.

     

     

    A lovely tribute to Rick

    WGBH Profile

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