His Name Is Earl
Tinsel and Rot continues its reputation as a sharp observer of musical trends among the youth of America by reporting on the shows T&R attended during this year's CMJ Music Marathon in NYC.
Make that show. And it wasn't even linked to CMJ. Screw the youth of America. And, believe me, if I can get rid of this gut, I might just try.
So, yeah, anyway, last week T&R went to the bastion of hip, cutting-edge music in New York City, BB King's Blues Club in Times Square, to see 83-year-old banjo legend Earl Scruggs. And, as an extra added bonus, I got a table of 40-year-old frat guys behind me talking almost nonstop for three hours. Awesome.
There was an official opening act, too, but I may have enjoyed the table of talkers more. Uncle Monk consists of Claudia Tienan on guitar and frequently inaudible vocals and Tommy Erdelyi--better known as Tommy Ramone--on mandolin and vocals. I am hesitant to say anything bad about a Ramone, but this was my second time seeing Uncle Monk and, with any luck, should be my last. God bless the Ramones, but Uncle Monk's just not for me.
Luckily, Earl Scruggs was a lot better and, even at such an advanced age, plays a damn good banjo. Sure, there are some missed notes every now and then and he's a little less nimble than he was in his prime, but I suspect I will be similarly less nimble in 53 years. Actually, I can't imagine being less nimble than I am right now. But check back in 53 years and we'll assess where I'm at.
Scruggs was also helped by his ace band, with sons Randy and Gary on guitar and bass, respectively; Jennifer Kennedy Merideth on Dobro; Hoot Hester on fiddle; John Gardner on drums; and Bryan Sutton and Jon Randall on guitars. Everyone was pretty much spot on, with highlights too numerous to really mention. Sutton and Kennedy Merideth were particularly impressive on numbers like "Streamlined Cannonball" and "Foggy Mountain Rock," and the group's cover of Dylan's "You Aint Goin' Nowhere" was pretty damn cool, too.
My favorite song of the night, however, was, oddly enough, when Earl switched off to the guitar and picked an initially tentative but ultimately tender version of the Carter Family's "You Are My Flower," which is up near the top of my all-time favorite songs. And that's why, when one of the yahoos from the table behind me started singing his own lyrics to the song, I came as close as I have ever come to turning around and making a scene. Particularly when he was replacing "You are my flower..." with "I am a redneck..." Let's call this one Rule 4a: when a performer announces that the band will be performing a Carter Family, you shut your stupid, Bud-swilling mouth and don't open it again until the song's over. I don't care if you see a fire. Fire'll wait three minutes. And if it winds up consuming you, at least you will have died hearing a Carter Family song.
Luckily (though I'm not sure for whom...I can't imagine a fight would've gone my way), I was able to zone out the babble and enjoy the song and the rest of the show. It was my third time seeing Earl Scruggs and each time I wonder if it will be my last. I hope Earl has a bunch more in him...and that I get to see a couple.
Long live Earl Scruggs.