Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


September 2015


Another random paragraph from my novel in progress.

He turned to look at Dani.

The glow from the street lights moved across her face, highlighting her features before leaving her obscured in shadow. As if there were two versions of the same person. The woman of light who quickens his heart and brings forth thoughts that he had willed himself to suppress. She of ankle boots and smooth skin and hair of fire. And the one who lives quietly in the dimness, who understands his thoughts and challenges his mind, who without even trying is as alluring and comforting as a soft song in the evening.

A friend.

copyright joseph e bird, 2015

Joe Dobbs


When was the last time you enjoyed a funeral? I did last night, at the funeral of Joe Dobbs.

I arrived ten minutes before the service was supposed to start. Ron Sowell, the leader of the Mountain Stage band, was front and center with his guitar, singing a melancholy spiritual. At one point the song morphed into Amazing Grace, and everybody joined in.

What else do you need to know?

Joe Dobbs was the owner of Fret n Fiddle, a music store in my small little town of St. Albans, West Virginia, that attracted real musicians as well as rank amateurs like me. The kind of store where honest-to-goodness jam sessions take place.  I didn’t really know Joe.  My wife bought my guitar there years ago and I would stop in every so often to look around.  I was too intimidated to pick up a guitar when Joe was around; too cheap to buy one when he wasn’t.

A couple of months ago my wife said she wanted to learn an instrument. She decided on the violin and we went down to Fret n Fiddle.  Joe was there. He was busy repairing an instrument and let us browse.  We found a reasonably priced violin and as we walked to the counter, I asked a dumb question.  “Do you think she can learn to play the fiddle?”  Joe’s answer, “Of course she can. I sell fiddles.”

I didn’t know his whole story, but his obituary filled in a lot of the blanks. The funeral even more.  As tends to be true with musicians, Joe Dobbs lived a colorful life.

After Ron Sowell finished, one musician after another came in from the make-shift “green room” and sang.  After each one the audience – yes, we were an audience – applauded.  A woman with a strong and unique voice led us in an a capella version of I’ll Fly Away.  Twenty minutes later all the musicians returned, and led by Jim Snyder, sang Will the Circle Be Unbroken, complete with guitar, dobro, harmonica, autoharp, mandolin, and drum solos.  A true musicians’ send-off.

After that, friends and family told stories of Joe.  Great stories.  Unexpected stories.  Again, I didn’t know Joe, but he would have loved it, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t?  Air Force Chaplain Matt Lanham, a one-time student of Joe’s and former employee at the store, gave a beautiful benediction.

And then one last song.

In maybe Joe’s last surprise, he had revealed that one of his favorite songs was not a bluegrass standard, but Louis Armstrong’s classic, What a Wonderful World.

A fitting end to a wonderful tribute.

Footnote:  I borrowed the photograph from Joe’s obituary.  I’m sure I’m violating copyright laws and I don’t do that lightly.  I would rather ask permission and give credit but I don’t know the photographer.  But you had to see Joe.

Walking in Memphis

My current novel in progress is heavily influenced by music.  In the scene I’m working on right now, Dani travels to Memphis on business.  I was reminded of the Marc Cohn song, Walking in Memphis. You can hear the song below.  But what’s interesting is that apparently the song is 100% autobiographical.  You can read the rest of the story here:


I stared at the screen,

waiting for words.


Ten minutes.

Twenty minutes.

Clickety, clickety, click.


But they’re the wrong ones.

Highlight, delete.

Stare at the screen.


Forty minutes.

And then the character says,

Talk to me.

I’ll tell you what I feel.

So I listened.

Clickety, clickety, click.

No, he said.

You’re not hearing me.

Highlight, delete.

I listened.

And listened.

And listened.

I heard.

Clickety, clickety, click.

Now, he said.

Tell my story.

I’ve got this friend.

One of my other blogger friends MY OBT, posted about the Civil Wars a few days ago.  The Civil Wars no longer exist as a musical duo. They will always be one of my favorites.  Here’s an example of why.

Texas Flood

This is an excerpt from my novel in progress. Trevor was a singer-songwriter until an accident forced him to give up his dreams of music. Now living in Nashville and working as an architect, he is with a group touring a part of the city they hope to redevelop when he happens upon a music store. The group moves on, but Trevor looks inside.

They moved on without Trevor, who was watching through the window as an old man sat playing a horizontal steel guitar. Another man sat behind the counter reading a magazine. He could hear the guitar through the glass windows. It was what he would have expected from a steel guitar, the kind of muisc he had heard before on an old country music show that he would see on television every now and then back in West Virginia. The man playing must have sensed Trevor watching and he looked up, waved, and kept on playing.

The group was a block away. Trevor opened the door and went inside.

There were about a dozen acoustic guitars hanging from the walls, another dozen electrics, a few dobros, and on the floor, maybe half a dozen steel guitars. He took one of the dobros off the wall and strummed it, more or less out of habit.

The man playing the steel looked up and said howdy, without missing a note. He was slight of frame and sat a little hunched over. He was wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt open at the collar, and on his wrist was a drug-store watch. He wore glasses with simple frames, and though his hair was thoroughly gray, he had a lively air about him that contradicted his elderly physical appearance. He could be anybody’s grandfather but most grandfathers would be sitting in front of the television watching afternoon game shows. This one was going from one song to another, his head bobbing to the beat as his mottled hands plucked the strings and slid up and down the fretboard. He ended a song that Trevor didn’t know with a long slide up, followed by a quick slide up and down that sounded more like an old whistle than a guitar.

“Yes, sir!” the man said. He looked up a Trevor and laughed, obviously enjoying his own music. Trevor smiled back. “How you doing, son?” the man said.

“Me? I’m fine.”

“You a picker or a slider?”

Trevor laughed. “Never really thought about it in those terms. I used to be a picker. Guess I’m a slider now. Or trying to be. I really just started.”


“Yeah. I bought one a couple of months ago.”

“What kind of music do you play?”

Trevor shook his head. “I’m still trying to figure what I can play on this thing.”

“Country? Blues?”

“Blues,” Trevor said. “At least that’s what I’m starting out with. Blues are kind of natural for a slide guitar.”

“Yeah, I know a little blues. Let me think. Yeah, how about this.” He started picking and sliding what sounded to Trevor like a standard blues opening.

“I know that one,” he said.

“A little Stevie Ray,” the man said.

“Yeah. I’ve heard that.”

“Texas Flood.”

He broke into the hard run just before the verse. Trevor couldn’t take his eyes off the guitar. Until the man started to sing. He could play, but he couldn’t sing. He sang the entire first verse and then started laughing.

“Now you know why I’m a guitar player,” he said. “I leave the singing to someone else.”

The man behind the counter shook his head and laughed without looking up.

“Let me hear you hit that a lick,” he said, looking at the guitar Trevor was holding.

“No, I can’t, really. I’m just learning.”

“Come on. Humor an old man.” He looked up with a smile that Trevor couldn’t resist. His enthusiasm reminded him of Jackson Little.

“Sure,” Trevor said. “I’ve been practicing playing old hymns. Do you know any hymns?”

“Goodness sakes, young man, I’ve forgotten more hymns than you’ll ever know. Lay one on me, now.”

“Ok. How about this one.” He started playing Softly and Tenderly. He was shaky at first, but midway through the first verse he found his rhythm and started to play with more confidence. By the time he reached the refrain, the man was playing along on the steel. He played the verse and the steel guitar faded to the background, but when they hit the refrain again, he was playing answer to Trevor’s call. It was haunting. Even the man behind the counter put his magazine down on his lap and listened.

By the third time through, they had found each other’s style and both were instinctively playing to the crescendo to end the song, until the last two lines of the refrain. The man stopped, and Trevor slowly picked the last line. The final note faded into the silence of the store.

The man behind he counter applauded.

“Oh, son, that was beautiful,” the guitar man said.

“Thanks,” Trevor said. “I just….I don’t know.”

The man behind the counter spoke. His voice was deep and carried resonance. “Coming from him, that’s one hell of a compliment, boy.”

“What’s your name, son?” the guitar player asked.

“Trevor. Trevor Larson. I’m an architect.” He felt silly for stating his occupation. The man laughed.

“Maybe you are,” he said, “but you’re a musician.” He stood as he reached his hand to Trevor. “I’m Maxfield Martin.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Martin. But no, I’m not a musician. I just mess around a little.”

“Mess around a little, huh. How long you been playing?”

“Dobro? Not that long. A couple of months, maybe.”

Martin studied on Trevor, looking him up and down. “You were in a fire, I reckon.”

“I reckon.”

“How long you been in Nashville?”

“A couple of weeks,” Trevor said. “How about you?”

“Me? I guess it’s been sixty years or so.”

Trevor was surprised by the answer and didn’t know how to respond.

“Let me help you out,” Martin said. “I’m eighty-five. I came here from
Abilene when I was twenty-four.”

“Are you in the industry?”

Martin laughed as he sat back down behind his guitar. He plucked the strings and moved the slide, making a sound that was as close to real laughter as an instrument could get. “Don’t you reckon I’m old enough to retire?”

“I reckon.”

“You talk like you’re from Texas, son.”

“West Virginia.”

“I’m not completely retired. I play some with Hank Willard’s band. He’s from Ashland, Kentucky, right across the river from West Virginia. We play a lot of the small places. Wheeling, Milton. Played in Charleston a few times.”

“That’s where I’m from. Well, down the river a bit.”

“And you didn’t move to Nashville to play music?”

“No. I gave up on music.”

Martin stroked the strings of his steel guitar, then whipped the slide up and down the fretboard, creating a wailing, howling song, then broke into the intro of Hot Rod Lincoln, his head nodding again as his fingers moved in a blur. Then he bounced his slide up and down on the strings, alternating with his finger picking, and created a machine gun staccato effect. He finished with another dramatic slide.

“That’s pretty good,” Trevor said.

“Aw, shucks. I’m just messing around,” Martin said with a smile, echoing Trevor’s words to him.
Trevor put the dobro back on the rack. “I guess I’d better catch up with my group.”

“I’m playing with Janelle next week at the Empty Glass,” Martin said. “You should come by.”

“Who’s Janelle?”

“I think you’d like her. She sings a bluesy, Bakersfield kind of country.”

Trevor shrugged. “I’ve never really been a fan of country. No offense.”

“You ain’t heard Janelle.”

“Fair enough.”

Trevor walked to the door, then stopped and looked back. He asked the question that popped into his mind when Martin told him how old he was. “You ever hear of guy named Jackson Little?”

Martin looked up from his guitar. “Little?” He looked down and to his right, thinking. “Little. Jackson Little.” He sat for a few more seconds, then looked up, his expression questioning. “Black feller?”


“Played guitar, mostly, I think. Maybe a little fiddle.”

“I don’t know about the fiddle, but he said he played here years ago.”

“Yeah,” Martin said. “Jacksie. Tall guy. He did a lot of session work. That was back when Nashville was country. It was hard for a black man to get work in a band, but Jacksie was good. He was primarily a studio man.”

“Did you ever play with him?”

Martin shook his head. “Have you heard of Percy Rivers?”

Trevor had heard the name. Maybe on the late-night infomercials selling boxed sets of old artists. “Sure,” he said with more confidence than his answer deserved.

“I played with him almost exclusively for twenty years. That’s when old Jacksie was in his prime. But, no, I never played with him. You know him?”

“I did. He lived in Charleston in his later years.”

“Oh. He died, I reckon.”

“I reckon.”

He didn’t tell him the story.

Sunday Morning Run in West Virginia.

Sunday Morning Run for web

Another good reason to run the hills.

For those of you familiar with the area, this is from Dry Ridge Road, just above City Park.

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