You play a variety of different instruments including banjo, guitar, bass and dobro,
correct? Do you consider one to be your main instrument? How/when did the dobro enter
into the picture?
My first instrument was classical piano, which I played from age 12 to about 14. I started
playing folk guitar at 16 after the required and ubiquitous exposure to camp counselors at
Girl Scout camp. I pretty much taught myself the guitar, with one lesson on fingerpicking
to get me going on the right hand. Figuring out chord progressions by ear and learning to
transpose was a really great experience. Playing classical piano was I think fundamental
in my understanding of time, and the folk guitar was great for establishing a basic
understanding of chord progressions. Those two experiences provided the foundation for
my later musical work.
I started learning bluegrass banjo in 1976, eventually teaching banjo lessons full-time for
a few years. During that time (early 1980s) I also returned to playing guitar, picked up the
dobro, and learned bluegrass bass.
I started transferring banjo licks to the dobro while I was teaching at Tiny Moore‟s studio
here in Sacramento (my first tune was “Pickaway”—a natural start for a banjo player).
There was always a dobro or two hanging on the wall at Tiny‟s, and during breaks
between students I would pull one down and play banjo on it. I had a banjo student who
attended a weekly jam. I asked if I could go along, he said no (he wanted to be the banjo
player in the jam). When I asked if I could go as a dobro player, he said ok. That was
really fun and perfect for me. It was kind of an intermediate-level jam, nothing too fast.
So I got to play dobro in a comfortable environment and pretty soon there were people
who didn‟t even know I played banjo.
I became a “real” dobro player in the mid- to late1980s. I was in two bands during that
time (The Bluegrass Philharmonic and The All Girl Boys) where I started out playing
banjo. In both instances, I moved over to dobro in order to make room for someone else.
In the Philharmonic, I started out doubling on banjo and dobro; Robert Bowden played
mandolin. When Joe Craven moved to town, he became our mandolinist, Robert switched
to banjo, and I became a full-time dobroist for the first time. With the AGB, we simply
couldn‟t find a female fiddler that was available at the time. Debby Cotter is not only a
great banjo player, she‟s also a great singer and songwriter. So again, I moved to dobro
and by the time the mid-90s rolled around I hadn‟t really played banjo for ten years
(except at 3 in the morning at a bluegrass festival after enough Bushmills to override my
usual good sense). I actually don‟t even own a banjo anymore, which is a bit traumatic.
At this point it‟s hard to say which is my “main” instrument. In band and performance
situations, I‟m most often on dobro. But, at home and for fun it‟s usually guitar. And
underneath it all and in my head, I‟m still a banjo player.
How did you learn to play? Did you cop licks off of recordings, take lessons, etc…Were
there any practice tools or techniques that you found particularly helpful?
I‟m pretty much self-taught on the dobro, as I am with all of the instruments I play
(except for the six months of banjo lessons from Allen Hendricks). In my brain, it‟s all
banjo (except I guess when I‟m playing bass). It seems that the banjo neck was the one
that I learned, and everything else—especially flatpicking—stems from that. There‟s the
obvious transferability to the dobro. I have been trying to play fewer notes, as the sustain
on the dobro reduces the need to play so much all the time. I don‟t think I‟ve gotten there
yet but I keep trying. I still think too much like a banjo player on those up-tempo
I‟m ashamed to say that I have not studied the early dobro masters as I should have. I‟d
say my training as a dobro player consisted mostly of studying the heck out of the first JD
Crowe and the New South album (Rounder 0044), with a relatively-early and still-
somewhat-accessible (to me anyway) Jerry Douglas for a teacher. I heard a lot of Mike
Auldridge and studied him a bit, mostly for tone. Because I haven‟t really done my dobro
homework, I‟m pretty unaware of the origins of some of the licks I use. It‟s my hope this
winter to spend some time listening to Josh. I think I‟ll hear lots of familiar things that I
didn‟t know were his.
I did take a lesson from Sally Van Meter, probably sometime in the later „80s. And, being
from northern California, Sally has influenced me in a fundamental way, as she was the
only player I really heard much locally. Sally sets such a high standard for tone; I‟m
continually striving to get that sound. (There was a reviewer in a Canadian bluegrass
magazine that mistook me for Sally when reviewing the All Girl Boys CD. That was
nice…for me, anyway!)
On the dobro, most of my practice time is spent playing along with CDs. Mostly Blue
Highway. Or Jeff White‟s two bluegrass CDs with Jerry on dobro. The Gibson Brothers
with Junior Barber. This helps me warm up, and I find myself playing differently. When I
hear something I like, I‟ll stop the CD and figure out what‟s going on. Or I find myself
spontaneously copping a lick; then I need to stop and figure out what it is and why it
works so that I can use in another context. Otherwise it‟s gone. I‟ll take an idea—or an
approach—that I figure out this way, and try to focus on it for a while (during practice
and performance) to see if I can integrate it into my playing. That takes quite a bit of
focus. I can spend a whole evening trying to incorporate one new idea into my solos. I
don‟t typically try to learn licks note-for-note. More often I try to get the general shape of
it and try to get the overall idea in a way that comes naturally to me, sort of put the idea
through a “Kathy filter.” Those ideas are more likely to become part of my playing.
How would you describe your style/approach as a player? Who are the players that
influenced you when you were taking up the instrument?
My style is very simple. I think the essence of it is tone, phrasing and rhythm (of course,
intonation is a fundamental here). I don‟t spend as much time working on the dobro as I‟d
like to—and certainly not as much time as I should. I rely instead on playing notes that
sound good and putting them in interesting places time-wise. I play lots of octaves, and
sixths. The octaves give neat opportunities to play with time and slide around.
One of the things I like best about the dobro is the texture it gives to the overall sound. I
was really surprised when I first heard the AGB rough mixes on our CD. I really didn‟t
have much of an idea of what we sounded like until then. And the thing that struck me
was the texture the dobro provided. Part of that was our producer, Jim Nunally. I was
surprised at how far up in the mix he set the dobro chop. But I grew to like it, and since
then have been more aggressive in playing rhythm almost right into the mic, where
before I would have backed away. Also, I love the dobro for its rhythmic possibilities. I
loving chopping rhythm and find all kinds of interesting things to do there.
I do think it can be difficult for a dobro player in a bluegrass band to find space to play.
You can roll like a banjo, chop like a mandolin, play sustained notes like a fiddle (ok,
almost like a fiddle!) and rhythm like a guitar. You‟re right there in the same sonic space
as banjo and guitar… so sometimes it‟s a little frustrating to find the right thing to do to
add to what‟s going on. Mountain Laurel banjoist Paul Siese is really good at providing
me with some space.
A good place to find that space is outside of bluegrass. I‟ve lately been backing up local
singer/songwriters, and that‟s been really fun. I‟ve also played recently with Sal
Valentino (your older readers will recognize the name from the Beau Brummels and,
later, Stoneground). Sal plays simple rhythm guitar and sings like the dickens. When it‟s
just the two of us, I have all the space in the world to back him up (or leave space), and
his emotional vocal delivery inspires me. A funny thing though about Sal, he really
messes with the melody. So my melody-focused approach can be really fun, as Sal and I
switch roles—I play melody, he improvises around it. It‟s neat.
I find that technique is an interesting phenomenon. It‟s generally very personal, everyone
develops their own over time. Because I teach, I‟m more aware of certain features of my
own technique than I would be otherwise. I believe many of the fine points of someone‟s
technique comes from a biofeedback mechanism. You do stuff spontaneously, and if your
ear likes the sound, that reinforces the technique and over time, voila!
For instance, I have a habit of using rest strokes with my thumb. To do it, I push the
thumbpick down into the guitar, and after pushing through the target string, the pick
comes to rest on the next string. A string picked this way will be quite a bit louder than
one picked the regular way. I don‟t know if a lot of people do this; I‟ve seen videos of me
playing and it‟s kind of striking, my hand actually kind of splays out (usually it‟s kind of
curled up over the cover plate. I‟m guess that motion also brings more power into the
thumbstroke. It looks pretty wasteful in terms of right-hand motion but it doesn‟t seem to
hold me back much.
I do some pick blocking but not consistently; I generally do it when a ringing string is
bugging me and I just want it to stop. A benefit of the rest stroke I just described is that it
will stop the string the thumbpick comes to rest on. This benefits me a lot when I use a
rest stroke when playing the 3rd string and then it comes to rest on the B string, stopping
it from ringing. That‟s usually the note that I‟m conscious of not wanting to hear
I never tried consciously to learn these techniques, but I think I developed them
unconsciously. Lots of right-hand stuff develops this way. As a banjoist, I remember
having lots of trouble getting my thumb up to the second string. When I look now at what
my right hand is doing, the thumb is not only playing the second string, but also the first.
There‟s a different sound and emphasis when it goes up there, and who knows when it
learned to do that!
I have another habit of curling my left-hand index finger so that instead of laying across
the bar, only the base and the tip of the finger touch it. I don‟t know why I do this, and
occasionally my finger will lay down into the groove. Who knows why, seems to work
for me though.
Another feature of my dobro style, and this might not always be the best thing on the
dobro, is play what in banjo playing would be called “melodic” licks—where you might
arrange a sequence of notes in a way that doesn‟t require playing a single string twice in a
row. So, a G scale would be, open 3rd string, 4th string 7th fret, open 2nd, 3rd string 5th
fret, open 1st, 2nd string 5th fret , 1st string 4th fret, then 1st string 5th fret. You get a lot of
open string ringing but as a former banjoist I‟m as likely to play around frets 5 and 7 as I
am to do hammer/pull-offs by the nut. I figured out Curtis Burch‟s “Rainbow Bridge” for
a student and was pleased to find at least one other player using these positions. At any
rate, I‟m so much better with my right hand than I am with my left, and this kind of
approach lets me play to my strength.
Final thought on technique and style, I‟m somewhat known for my rhythm chops. I do
them differently than most folks though; I use only my thumb, and do a backstroke with
the back of the thumbpick. (No wonder my thumbpick‟s always slipping!) More often
than not, I‟ll do this using the “universal chord” rather than fretting a chord. I find that‟s
pretty much my only opportunity to look up and around (and hope the photographer grabs
a shot sans double-chin—sigh). I also don‟t care much for the sound of a chop anywhere
lower than the 4th fret and higher than 10.
Do you write your own tunes? Can you give us any insights into how you approach
arranging tunes for the dobro?
I hadn‟t written many tunes until a few years ago. I found that a skill that‟s very useful in
improvisation—hearing similarities between tunes—was hampering me on the
composing side. Everything sounded too much like something else to me. Then, a couple
of years ago, I became obsessed with Ivan Rosenberg‟s tunes on his “Back to the
Pasture” CD. I had the opportunity to talk with Ivan at length about how he composed
those tunes. He really inspired me, and I went right home and started writing some tunes.
I lost the first one, because I started working on a B part before I recorded the A part, and
lost it. I never got it back. But during that fall, I wrote five or six tunes I still haven‟t
recorded yet (except in my home studio). Ivan really helped me get over the barriers I had
built against writing tunes.
Arranging tunes for the dobro…first and foremost for me is finding the melody. I think
chord first, then scale. The open scales are, to me, derived from the banjo (which explains
why I‟m only now learning scales other than G). For closed positions, I think, chord, plus
“notes around the chord I can use”—which are, of course, scale notes.
The other scale thing that I do is have a mental picture of the scale steps; that is, whole,
whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half (for a major scale). A short cut way of thinking
about this is to think, where are the half-steps? So where I end up at the end of a phrase
or lick is in fact a particular point in the scale. So I can drop into using the scale wherever
I end up. I‟ll slide along using a scale till I get to a point where I want to play a roll in a
closed position (say, where the melody stops for a few beats), so then I‟d jump to that
chord. A lot of this is by feel, using my ear, and from experience.
I‟m not the kind of improviser that hears something in my head and then goes to play it. I
actually have the feeling a lot of times that I‟m actually part of the audience. I hear it
when they do; sometimes I like it and sometimes I don‟t. My approach to the neck is
rather mechanical, that is, I use certain rules (chord, scale, melody) to find things and
work through the solo that way. It seems to me that whatever “creativity” I bring to a solo
has more to do with phrasing and time than it does with melodic content. That part of
creating a solo is very in the moment, and I‟m often very surprised when I hear a
recording of a solo performed live. In fact, I “learned” the second solo on “Powder
Creek” from a recording of the AGB Strawberry performance in 1994. I had a lot of
trouble figuring out something interesting for that solo, and when I heard the performance
tape, I knew I had it. The solo is all about phrasing and time, and I think this is where my
early classical training really benefits me.
This points out something that I find interesting; that is, learning a solo from myself using
this process is kind of like learning something from someone else, which is a completely
different exercise than playing something spontaneously. Of course, in performance I
wouldn‟t play something that doesn‟t come naturally to me, so learning from myself is
easier than trying to figure out someone else‟s solo from a CD. Still, it feels like a
completely different kind of exercise than when I played it on stage.
One interesting thing (to me, anyway) that‟s happened to me lately: in my teaching, I am
emphasizing scales for my students much more than I ever did when I was learning. I
found that looking at scales was the only way I could compress decades of figuring stuff
out by ear (the David Bromberg “one tune at a time” approach) into something useful for
a student. I like to use scales as technique exercises, warm-ups, and as preparation to
learn a tune. So, if we‟re going to figure out a song, or try to improvise a melody (i.e.,
find it in real time), first we review the scale for the purpose of getting a visual idea of the
pattern on the neck. This is to increase the odds of getting the right note—and more
importantly, decrease the odds of hitting a clinker.
There are so few women dobro players! Why is that? Do you have any general comments
on women in bluegrass and/or the dobro?
Well, I don‟t know. That question is routinely brought up in flatpicking circles
(especially flatpick-l) and never results in an answer that seems to explain it. The lack of
role models is pretty fundamental to the issue of women playing lead instruments. I think
there are more women fiddlers because there are more women fiddlers. I didn‟t play lead
or go past the 5th fret on guitar until I saw Nina Gerber play with Kate Wolf. I don‟t
know why that is but I think we all build barriers in our minds to keep ourselves from
possibly failing at something. I think that dobro is physically less demanding than
flatpicking a guitar (at least it is for me). So it would be a natural for women. Still, the
most important thing is to dig into the dobro and pull tone and volume out of it, so it‟s
still a physical challenge.
There might be something about the competitive nature and raw power of bluegrass.
Bluegrass is simultaneously a cooperative and a competitive endeavor so you could look
at that either way. But my husband and I have talked about how there seems to be more
women in old-time music (and I have noticed the same in Irish/Celtic circles). In those
genres, the melodies are played as a group, and you aren‟t put on the spot. I think you
could think of them as more communal, and bluegrass as more individualistic. So I don‟t
know if this is the reason, but it‟s interesting to think about. You also have to be pretty
assertive to be a bluegrass player. (There‟s a certain amount of a “who does she think she
is” attitude that I‟ve dealt with over time. Just something I had to get used to; and it‟s
certainly way less now than 20 years ago.)
I guess a final thought is, there‟s simply not enough time in life to do everything—
especially if you‟re raising children, an important and time-consuming job. I don‟t think I
could hold down a job, raise children, and spend enough time practicing to be a good
musician. Two out of the three is hard enough!
I think another good question would be, why don‟t more guitar players also play dobro?
At least in bluegrass circles, there are many many more guitar players than dobroists, and
a lot of jams could use fewer guitars. Now I can understand that if you want to sing a lot
you might want to stick to guitar (Andy Hall notwithstanding), but it just seems to me
that you can make some awfully good music on the dobro if you learn how to make a
If I understand this correctly, you’ve been involved in bluegrass music for almost 30
years now; as a performer, band member, teacher, and also as a writer. What have been
some of the highlights of those experiences for you?
Gee, has it really been that long? I had the very good fortune when I was first learning to
be part of a bluegrass community that was not only supportive but full of really great
players. In Sacramento, I hung out with John Green and Greg Townsend, both fabulous
guitar players. My first band included Greg and mandolinist Stan Miller, both of whom
went on to play in Laurie Lewis‟s Grant Street String Band. I had played banjo for less
than two years at that point, and the education I got from my bandmates was priceless.
I played banjo (very briefly) in “The Barbelles”—a band put together for one gig, though
we played several more. That band included Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Sally Van
Meter, and Barbara Montoro (now Swan) on bass. That association brought me to a short
period during which Sally left the Good Ol‟ Persons. I filled in on banjo when they
needed a fifth person. Playing with John Reischman and Paul Shelasky was incredible.
You couldn‟t play a cool lick without hearing it back moments later. And I was in way
over my head. It was great, and I learned to dive in and trust that I‟d be able to swim.
Another highlight was my first gig on bass, which I learned to fill in those long summers
when students quit their lessons. It was at the Freight & Salvage with High Country, and
it was mandolinist Larry Hughes‟ first gig as guitarist/singer for the band. Interesting
night, but it went well. I played a lot of bass with High Country for a few years, when
their regular bassist (Steve Pottier) wasn‟t available. It was really fun. And, to this day, of
all the instruments I play, I think I‟m best at bluegrass bass (not the Missy Raines stuff,
can‟t do that!). I really enjoy the challenge of negotiating the time with the other players
and deciding where to put the beat. A lot of people think bluegrass bass is easy, but that
time thing makes it a real challenge, and fun, for me.
I toured one summer (dobro and banjo) with Bill Grant & Delia Bell. That was fun. I
kicked off almost all the songs, with Delia humming the tune for me so I could get it. Or
she‟d tell me, it‟s just like some standard, and I‟d just kick that one off and hear the song
later. I had learned with the Good Ol‟ Persons just to dive in to a kick-off. Kind of like
diving off a cliff, not quite knowing where the water is.
The All Girl Boys did a few tours, including showcasing at IBMA (1991). An Alaska
tour was a highlight, as well as traveling to Vancouver BC. Playing the Strawberry
festival was a real highlight. Making the AGB CD in 1994 was quite an experience, and I
must say it changed how I hear things permanently. Maybe it was the 16-hour mastering
Another really great experience was performing with Pete Grant at the “Loud and Clear:
Resophonic Guitars and The Dopyera Brothers‟ Legacy To American Music” exhibit at
the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Pete and I played as a duo, and they enjoyed it
so much they asked us back for a second concert. This time we invited Steve Pottier to
play bass, and Jim Beeler on guitar. We played both times in the ballroom at the Crocker
mansion, and I was interviewed by the local NPR station. That always gets my work-
mates‟ attention, when they wake up to hearing me on the radio!
And, I have to say how much I enjoy playing in my current bluegrass band, Mountain
Laurel. We‟ve done a number of great shows here in northern California—at the Palms,
the Grass Valley Center for the Arts, and most recent but certainly not least, playing at
the California Bluegrass Association‟s annual Father‟s Day Festival.
I‟m also enjoying a renewed interest in teaching and mentoring. When I turned 50 (two
years ago) I decided that I better get a-goin‟—time‟s a-wastin‟! So I‟m trying to play as
much, teach as much, record as much, as I can. I am very much enjoying my current
work as a regular columnist for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Because I don‟t get out
much as a guitarist, it‟s been a great opportunity for me to get some exposure as a
guitarist and instructor. And I told you about the California Bluegrass Association Music
Camp, where I taught beginning dobro, just this last June. I really enjoyed that and hope
to return next year.
Tell us about Mountain Laurel (and other past projects such as the All Girl Boys)…How
have the musical demands of the different projects you have been involved with
challenged you as a player or helped you to grow as a musician? Are there any
relationships with other musicians that have had an especially big impact on your own
development as a musician?
I started my performing career with people who were much better musicians and much
more experienced than I was. I learned quickly to “get „er done.” No room for dilly-
dallying around, being scared (though I was terrified), or playing wimpy. I was extremely
fortunate to be invited into that circle and treated as an equal, and it was a challenge to
me to step up to the plate.
I have also been very lucky to play with great singers. I learned early on that I was an
instrumentalist, not a singer. So I am always trying to sidle up to good singers. For me,
hooking up with good singers is where it‟s at. In both The All Girl Boys and Mountain
Laurel, good singing was and is the primary focus.
Specific musicians, I‟d have to say my musical relationship with Mary Gibbons has had
perhaps the biggest effect on how I approach music, and, especially, performing. Mary is
not only a great singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist, she also has a keen ear for what
works and what doesn‟t. Perhaps most importantly, she has very high standards for her
music. I learned from Mary to bring my best to the table and leave the not-best at home.
Tell us about your instruments: what kind of dobros do you play? What does your live
performance rig consist of? Can you offer any general advice about things to consider
when shopping for a resonator guitar?
I bought my first dobro from mandolinist Tiny Moore, when I was teaching banjo at his
studio. It was one of those all-metal Nationals. What was I thinking? I was pretty
clueless. I traded that one in right quick. I‟ve had many older Dobros, the finest of these
was one I bought from Paul Shelasky. That one was stolen from my apartment (along
with a not-very-good 1976 D-18). I spent quite a few years trying to replace that one.
Trying to replace my stolen one, I bought and sold a series of old Dobros, including a
The instrument I used on the The All-Girl Boys CD was loaned to me by Sally. It was a
Scheerhorn Tim had given to her. I eventually purchased it from Sally and played it for a
few years. In the meantime, I had demo‟d a Randy Allen dobro at the Healdsburg Guitar
Festival. It was a maple guitar with a very deep body, with fancy gold (brass?)
appointments and a highly-engraved cover plate. This guitar was on the cover of a
Guitarmaker magazine (you can see a picture at
http://www.allenguitar.com/gtmkr36.htm). In the article, Randy talked about how he
picked the wood/finish to go with the gold. Well, that guitar haunted me, and I finally
bought it from Randy, but I made him take the gold off. Just too fancy for the likes of me.
I still feel kind of guilty about that. (You can find out more about Randy‟s approach to
building dobros at http://www.allenguitar.com/gtmkr41.htm.)
The Scheerhorn, and then the Allen, changed my playing significantly. Modern dobros
give their sound up much faster than the old ones, and I think the responsiveness
translates into better playing, kind of a bio-feedback thing. When I was first playing
Sally‟s Scheerhorn, High Country dobroist Jim Mintun looked at me and said, “you play
different now.” It was the guitar, and it did indeed change my playing. I eventually sold
that Scheerhorn to Ivan Rosenberg, who subsequently sold it to Janet Beazley. I‟d love to
have it back, but I think she‟s keeping it!
I now play the Allen almost exclusively. I recently acquired a new Scheerhorn L-body
but the Allen is still my main guitar, dobro-wise. It‟s really great to have a locally-built
guitar (Mountain Laurel has three locally-built instruments!). I can get it set up pretty
much any time. Plus, I‟ve dropped it three times and it‟s a hoss. A little beat-up at this
point (that last drop was a doozy) but as clumsy as I am, I‟m kind of afraid to take the
Scheerhorn out of the house. I plan to put the S.—which by the way is a fabulous
guitar—into D tuning and explore that for awhile.
Though both of my dobros have pickups (a Schertler on the Scheerhorn, and a McIntyre
on the Allen), I almost always use a mic in live performances, for two reasons. First, I‟m
used to it, and especially in the bluegrass band setting, I‟m accustomed to mixing my
own sound via using the mic. I‟m currently using an AKG C1000 my husband bought me
for recording. It turns out to be a great performance mic as well. The other reason is that
I‟m not a gearhead. This may be partly a gender thing, but I‟m being dragged kicking and
screaming into electronics (I‟m using a pick-up on my guitar now). I have a pre-amp, and
a volume pedal, but I‟d still rather just use a mic if I can get away with it. I do use the
pickup when sitting in with some young friends with drums; however, next time I do that
I‟m going to take the lap steel (I have a Vega New Yorker and an Oahu Diana from the
1930s, but I haven‟t messed around with them much).
I‟m not sure what advice I can give about dobro shopping—especially not being a
gearhead. For lower-end guitars (and there‟s some really good ones out there), I‟d just
say, make sure the bridge is high enough. Seems like a lot of them come with a lower
bridge, which makes it hard to keep your fingerpicks from hitting the cover plate. Or
maybe it‟s a different shape of cover plate, I‟m not sure. My own experience with
instrument shopping is generally that I buy the one that facilitates my playing. It‟s a feel
thing. It‟s really hard to shop for dobros though. We rarely get the opportunity to play
them first, and especially to compare side-by-side. I have had the opportunity to play a
couple of Gold Tones, and I think they‟re a mighty fine choice for a first dobro.
I use Tipton bars, the old-style Dunlop fingerpicks, and a Beard capo. I was complaining
to a friend, Jonathan Schiele, about not being able to get the 4-hole Dunlops anymore (the
new Dunlops, with the extra holes on the top of the wrap, really tear up my cuticles). He
went on eBay and found me a whole brand-new tube of the old ones! So now I‟m set for
life. I‟m now using the Zookie thumbpicks (thanks resoguit guys!). I do have difficulty
with picks slipping (especially on those rest strokes), and getting thumbpicks that are
small enough (for a big gal I‟ve got really skinny fingers!). So that‟s an ongoing issue for
me. Oh, and I use GHS 1650 strings. Turns out the .28 G string is really important to me.
I got my first Tipton bar from Ron himself, at IBMA in Owensboro (1991).
Unfortunately, I loaned my original Tipton bar to a student who moved away and never
gave it back (grrrr). The new ones are still good, but they‟ve moved a little more toward
the Scheerhorn bar shape (more slope on the shoulders). I‟d sure like to get that old one
I like the Beard capo but in fact I‟m trying to use a capo as little as possible. About the
only times I use one anymore are for fiddle tunes in A and sometimes D, folky tunes in E
or F where I want to use the open D scale, which I think has a great sound for folk, or
bluesy things in F or G where I want to use the open E stuff.
What kinds of things interest you or motivate you to learn new material on the dobro? Do
you have any closing comments for our readers?
Mostly, it‟s band- or performance-driven. I need to learn something for a gig. Otherwise,
the guitar actually takes up a lot of my practice time. This is kind of backwards, since
dobro takes up most of my performance time. But, and maybe it‟s because I‟m a bit
complacent on the dobro, the guitar is for me so difficult that I really have to practice it a
lot if I‟m to play it at all. I also have a recently-acquired interest in Irish music, which I
mostly prefer to play on guitar, though there are a few tunes (Shebeg & Shemore, Far
Away, Star of the County Down) that really sound great on dobro. Mostly, I‟m leaving
the Irish dobro slot to Pete Grant!
Occasionally a tune will really grab me and I‟ll learn it on a bunch of instruments to see
where it sounds the best, or I‟m just curious to how it would lay out on this other
instrument. “Powder Creek” is a tune I‟ve played on banjo, guitar, dobro, and even a little
on mandolin. It‟s fun to see where different instruments take you on a tune.
Here‟s the coolest thing about the dobro for me: it fits into all kinds of music. Phrasing,
timing, rhythm…. it‟s a great instrument for in-the-moment expression. For me, the
dobro kind of floats on top of things, so you‟re free to phrase things in the moment.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to sit across from Orville Johnson and pick a
few. It made me realize how much I have not been able to sit down with someone on
dobro and trade licks, like I do on guitar—though it was hard backing Orville up and
trying to check out what he was doing at the same time. I guess dobro players are still
few and far between.
I‟m also inspired by Andy Hall. While folks like Jerry and Rob are incredibly fantastic, I
am so beneath them that mostly I don‟t get it. Or perhaps we just think in different ways.
Andy on the other hand is incredibly fantastic but in a way that I can understand. So I‟m
really liking his playing, and because I do understand (most of) it conceptually, I can
actually take something away from what he‟s doing. It‟s also humbling, because I can
hear how much better I could be if I put more time into it.
Which brings me to a final thought, about focus. I have chosen to split up my very
limited time between several instruments. (I‟m lucky to have a good job but it sure takes
me away from the music.) Notice though that in the beginning of my musical career I
was a serial instrumentalist—focusing for several years on one thing. At this point in my
life I‟m pretty frustrated by the lack of time I have to keep everything practiced up, do
some composing, do some recording, teach more, write columns for Flatpicking Guitar
Magazine, garden. I love dinking around on the mandolin. But it seems like every minute
I spend on one thing is a minute not spent on all the others. It‟s pretty frustrating. I think
there are costs and benefits associated with being a multi-instrumentalist. I‟m ok with it
at this point with it but it‟s a constant struggle. Not to mention balancing the music with
the day job. And family. My husband, Jon Hartley Fox, a writer in the music business, is
incredibly supportive of my second career, so that helps a lot. There are benefits from
being a multi-instrumentalist, but sometimes I wonder where I might be if I‟d stuck with
one thing. Who knows?