Henry and I soon became fast friends and would often spend our spare time working out various fiddle tunes (by that I mean that Henry worked them out and then taught them to me). I was new to the fiddle tune business and Henry had been playing tunes for several years. This was great fun as I loved being a lead instrument again. One year early on in my "training", Henry took me to a new years music festival called "Brandywine" in a small town outside of Philadelphia, his home town. There were so many fiddlers playing that you couldn't hear the mandolin and so at some point I was drunk enough to pick up a fiddle and join in just bowing open D, G and A strings. Lewis, our banjo player was interested in playing with restoring instruments and had revarnished a fiddle he found in the garbage. He loaned it to me with no time limit on the return and so began a period fraught with many sour notes and scratchy bowings but within a year after that first time and many hours of practice (I played the fiddle to the Fuzzy Mountain String Band's first album at least once-a-day for almost a year), I was able to bring the fiddle on stage to play 2nd fiddle to Henry for a couple of tunes. I had also started to compose tunes on the mandolin and had added the washboard to my increasing musical instrument collection. After a few years of playing bluegrass and folk festivals, square dances, local fire department summer chicken BBQs and various other coffeehouses in the Northeast, we recorded our 1st album for Swallowtail Records in 1977 entitled, Cranberry Lake: Oldtime and Jugband music. The cover art was a line drawing by a friend of a rustic porch with a sign on the screen door saying "Gone Fishing" and so the album also became known by that title, as well. It was around this time that I picked up a nice classical guitar and decided to take classical guitar lessons for real. I spent a couple of hours every morning doing scales and simple classical pieces. I was taking lessons from a classical guitar student by the name of Jason. His teacher was based in Philadelphia so once a month he would go down there to study with him for a day. Sounded good to me so I tried it but the commute and my dedication weren't sufficient. Still, I did enjoy playing the pieces and practicing the guitar for a couple of hours and then switching to the mandolin for another couple of hours was really paying off in terms of my performing abilities, especially for improvs.
Another 2 years of performing and in late 1979 we were back in the studio to record our 2nd album, Lowdown Symphony, also for Swallowtail Records. By this time, Ken Coleman's recording studio was finished, Lewis had left the band, Harvey was also playing tenor banjo and we actually were able to move from Phil Shapiro's unfinished log house, where we recorded the first album, to the studio. It was still a bare bones outfit; the studio was located in a pear orchard outside of Ithaca, NY and was being heated by a wood stove. My unrecorded composition, Barrel Stove's Reel, was dedicated to that very important piece of recording equipment. My first recording of an original piece of music, a ragtime composition, Peach Marmalade-dedicated to a jar of homemade peach marmalade sent to me by my mother, appears on this album.
The band kicked around for another 7 years, (hey time flies when you're having fun) before we got back into the studio for album number 3. By this time we had played most of the major East Coast festivals in the U.S.of A. and Canada including the Philadelphia folk festival, Mariposa Festival and the Winnepeg folk festival. We had also played for Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, one of the true highlights of our performing careers. During this time, we still didn't know what a contradance was until we booked a dance at a hall in Nelson, New Hampshire. We showed up thinking it was going to be our usual square dance (that's what our booking agent had said) and when we started calling squares and playing oldtime appalachian fiddle tunes, the dancers looked very confused. One of them asked if we minded if one of them did the calling and we just played. Our introduction to contradance! Very polite and we did meet some great people and have a good time. Of course we gave our manager heck when we got back. But that just opened up another market for us and we jumped in with a vengeance. But I digress. The third album, called If This Ain't Genius, named for a tune Henry wrote about Albert Einstein, was recorded in another homespun studio outside of Syracuse but with much better equipment. We eventually got the now defunct Kicking Mule records to release it on their label. By this time, Sally had left the band and it was just 4 of us, myself, Henry, Harvey and Brian. Henry had been writing up a storm and the album contained 4 of his original pieces (Einstein the Genius, What the Barker Said, the Whendry Waltz and the All Night Diner) and another one of mine (Green Lakes).
Within 2 years, I decided to finally leave the band and start paying back the several thousand dollars of debt I had accumulated. I had been married and divorced and produced a daughter named Jaila-ki Rose, who later changed her name to Michelle Rose. As it said in one of our songs on that album penned by R. Crumb, Armstrong and Zwigoff, "We were sensitive guys playing old outdated tunes" and getting nowhere. I was basically sick of performing and had begun playing for contradances in Syracuse where I could just sit on stage and play music and noone watched me the whole night and expected to be entertained. All I had to do was play tunes and they danced. What a relief! I landed a job as technician washing glassware and minding experiments in a local biotech company which was eventually sold but that provided the experience necessary to find a position working as a technician in an HIV research lab at the SUNY Health Sciences Center in Syracuse. Working at the biotech firm opened my eyes to the necessity of having more than a B.Sc. if I wanted to make any real money so I decided to go back to school for at least a masters and possibly a PhD. Working full time and going to school part time was pretty grueling and my only leisure time was spent either with my daughter, my friend Strephanie, or playing for the local Syracuse contradance.
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