Sunday, February 27, 2011

Strum And Dang And Oom Pah Pah: An Essay On Guitar, Banjitar, And Accordion Busking

Oom Pah Pah!

I am thinking of learning (again) to play the accordion. And yes, I've heard the accordion jokes:

What's the definition of a gentleman?

Someone who knows how to play an accordion, but doesn't.

What do you call an accordionist with a beeper?

An optimist.

What's the difference between an onion and an accordion?

No one cries when you chop up an accordion.

But wouldn't an accordion be the perfect gimmick to take along on a busk? Maybe my mission is to help elevate the accordion to its former hoedown apotheosis? Especially if I were to tog up wearing the big bow tie, the wide suspenders, the wrinkled collared shirt tucked into the too short, short pants, complete with the oxford shoes and checkered stockings? I have seen Mr. Dress Up, and that is not the persona I want to deliver, not even on a busk.

That squeeze box, the accordion, is a childhood anachronism and I shall explain why.

When I was 11 years old my grandmother encouraged me to take music lessons. After all, the brothers who lived next door, Larry and Brent Hopfner had already started. Mr. Tait, a gentleman I remember with an aquiline nose, drove out from the city to our town offering guitar and accordion lessons. Larry chose guitar, Brent chose accordion, and then did I. Within a month, my grandparents purchased from Mr. Tait, a gilded pearl white 120 bass Hohner accordion. It was soon after that, that Mr. Tait, for reasons unknown to me at the time, did never again drive back to our town.

And then I met Mr. Pollard, a music teacher from a village just seven miles down Highway #43, Pambrun, Saskatchewan. My grandpa, Sid, used to load me in the cab, and my Hohner accordion in the box of his '64 Chevy half ton, and taxi me to lessons. Besides being the perfect gentleman, Mr. Pollard was also the perfect accordion teacher. For each lesson, the gnarly blond-haired Mr. Pollard always wore his soft brown suit jacket, rolling it off now and then to show me, with his banana fingers, just how to staccato this key and how to press that bass button. I remember really liking Mr. Pollard, and for whatever reason, I remember his wife, too, being the most pleasant person on Earth. Mrs. Pollard had long and straight bister locks and her name was Ramona.

David and Ramona Pollard, wherever you are, you are always on my mind!

In my adulthood I've met just two accordionists, Freeman and Roland, neither of whom in the costume of Mr. Dress Up.

It was on the six hour ferry crossing from Prince Edward Island to Newfoundland that I met Freeman. Freeman was an accordionist who performed at the multitude of summer music festivals throughout the Canadian Maritimes. With my wife and my son, and my son's girlfriend, I was drinking a beer in the boat lounge listening to Joe Fahey, an islander from Cape Breton, belt out some familiar and some unfamiliar sea shanties. Between sets, Joe asked if I would sing a couple of songs (which I did – House of the Rising Sun and Knocking on Heaven's Door). Freeman, too was in the audience, and joined us with his accordion. Freeman was a barrel of a man who was a barrel of fun.

That kind of musical ability is very rare, even here in the Maritimes, stated Joe of Freemen at the finish of the set.

As for Joe, he was an excellent singer and wonderful entertainer. He had the folk look, the shining unruly, silver hair complementing his silver goatee. We chatted a couple times over the phone shortly after, but I've since lost contact. I'm sure he is still singing shanties and sea songs and selling CD's somewhere on Cape Bretan Island.

And to Joe and Freeman, if ever you are reading this blog:

May you both be in Heaven a full half-hour before the devil knows you're dead!

In Victoria, British Columbia I met Roland whose busking persona, is thee famous Pierre St. Pierre, mechanical musical marvel, L'Accordeoniste Automatique. (Google him – you'll love him!) Roland is an accomplished accordion virtuoso. As a statue he stands, rigid, in costume covering his demure stature and wire raven hair. When you toss coins into his busk/start box, he instantly becomes an accordion playing automation. Roland is a veteran street entertainer and spends half of each year busking in Paris, France.

As I practice, I am beginning again to acquire a liking for accordion music, but not for than more than two songs in a row. And I quite like the novelty of bringing an accordion out on a busk. In a way, bringing out the banjitar was a novelty during my guitar busking days. Now my banjitar is the norm, my 12-string the novelty.

Dang it all, when busking with my banjitar I do not want to present a hillbilly performance, and to avoid such, I dress crisply for the occasion. I always wear a long-sleeved white shirt, complete with starched collar. For leggings I wear the usual worn Levi's. On my feet I wear my walking leather boots, and on my noggin I always wear a bowler or a tam.

My choice of songs, while frailing my banjitar, is either familiar folk or a scattering of originals. Not strangely, nor does it matter, but when I play the banjitar I do not sing, because eveb if I did, no one could discern the words and melodies above the corny and tinny sound pickings.

It is time for a banjitar joke:

How can you tell the difference between banjitar songs?

By the song titles.

I am the most comfortable in my attire when I busk with my 12-string. I am in always the work boots, the faded jeans, and the t. More often than not, I wear the cool shades (a no-no I know when busking). With my guitar on a busk, I only strum, and I usually play and sing 60's folk songs.

And now for some guitar jokes:

What's the difference between a folk guitarist and a large pizza?

A large pizza can feed a family of four.

What's the difference between a guitarist and a savings bond?

Eventually the savings bond will mature and earn money.

How long does it take to tune a 12 string guitar?

Nobody knows.

And my favorite, What does a guitarist say when he gets to his gig?

Would you like fries with that?

I have it! Here is my hypothesis: I adjure that if you want to be successful as a street musician, you must learn to mix it up, learn new instruments for both yourself and your sidewalk consumers (though my proof is not yet in the pedestrian pudding)!

Buskers, let us band together, support one another, in our ambi-instrumentous ambitions!

I shall conclude with another accordion joke:

If you drop an accordion and a set of bagpipes off a 20-story building, which one lands first?

Who cares?

I wonder where one buys bagpipes anyway … Somebody stop me!

1 comment:

  1. I think you should go with the Bagpipes for $750 on kijiji Regina as the accordion brings back to many memories of lessons and the weight on the box.......See link for bagpipe sale...