Gunter’s Ingenious Home Made Two Story Brick and Screened- In Porch

Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:05 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo : My last posting was about Gunter’s portable homemade workbench on a wagon. If you missed it, go back and read that post. It is a shining example of what can be done with little money, creativity and a bit of effort. My observation is that one reason that these people can make anything they want boils down to attitude.
Like all of us, they want things that they cannot afford. But instead of going in debt (most of them have no credit), or just whining about it, they have an attitude that says, “I’ll get it, even if I have to make it myself.” And then, they do exactly that.
Today I want to show you a picture of his two story enclosed porch that he made for family activities and an exercise room. He did it with used brick, discarded windows and other used materials, and some other materials that he got very cheaply. Gunters Porch
Doc had told me about Gunter on several occasions, and then one day he took me over to Gunter’s house to see firsthand what he is capable of.

I have to confess that I believe that this man is a creative genius. He has an old Mercedes Benz in his garage, from the 1960’s. He has rebuilt the engine himself and has also repainted it there in his garage. It actually looks very nice, because he has hand rubbed the finish to a deep luster. He also has a coupe of old VW’s that he has restored, and several extra VW engines that he has rebuilt, just in case one goes bad.

His house started off as a mid size house and he has added on to it regularly. That is a common occurrence out here in the country. You see houses that began as shacks, and then have had room after room added on, to meet the needs of the inhabitants.

From the front of Gunter’s house, you can see where he dug out the front garden to make a driveway that leads to a two car garage that he added on. It is a very professional looking job. Along the edge of where he dug out his garden is a four foot high brick retaining wall on one side and a two foot high one on the other. He fabricated steel steps to get you up to the level of his original walkway, and he has made storage under the steps for his garden implements.
In the back, Gunter has built a two story porch as you can see in the picture. The ground floor is made from discarded bricks from demolition sites, as well as discarded windows. The floor, as you would have read in my former post is made from bits of 2X4 that he cut and made like a parquet style flooring. 

Upstairs, it is more interesting. As you can see I the pictures, the screened walls angle out. Why is that? Because Gunter got a good deal on 13 wooden screen doors, and they were too tall to go straight up and still give him the desired roof pitch for drainage and for snow to slide off. So he angled the walls out. 

You can also see the inner railings he made so his children and grandchildren won’t fall against the screen doors and get hurt. Since the wind blows from the north, he covered the north end of his porch with transparent fiberglass roofing panels. They let in the light, but keep out the blowing rain.He fabricated the steps out of scrap steel.

On the porch is a porch swing, a patio set, a brick barbecue set up and exercise equipment. And all of this cost him less that $2,000! He spent his Spring and Summer building it a few years ago.

In Gunter’s back garden is a home made garage/shop that also has been built for little money and has been added on to over the years. It started as a shed. He used privacy fencing to build exterior walls, adding three bays to it. Then he insulated the fence panels, added vinyl siding to them, and a roof! Now, he has a very cheap garage and shop!

Gunter’s Home Made Portable Workbench on a Wagon - Cheap, easy and handy

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 10:42 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I never cease to be amazed at the creativity of some of these uneducated rural Americans. Many of them nave finished secondary school, and are not informed about (and indeed have no interest in) world events and politics, but they can invent and make almost anything. 

Below is a picture that I took of a workbench on a wagon that was built by one of Doc’s friends, Gunter (yes, Gunter, not Gunther). Gunter is handy and creative and always has some new invention he has come up with. 

Gunter is a family man, and like a lot of rural people, he keeps working on his house to improve it so it will be bigger and better for family gatherings over the holidays. He has added on an attached two car garage. He finished out his basement by adding a brick fireplace, a bar and family room. Across the back of his house, he has added a two story enclosed porch with a barbecue pit and exercise room. 

No plans or blueprints were used. Indeed no building permits were obtained. Gunter pictured these things in his head and commenced to build them.

He made a portable workbench on a wagon so he could transport his tools easily and have a work surface to use them on whilst working on his projects.
Doc: Yeah, that Gunter can make anything and fix anything. He’s smart, and like the rest of us, he don’t have any money. When you ain’t got money, you gotta use your brain more. You can’t let it hold you back just ‘cause you ain’t got any money. Country boys can SURVIVE, Tondy!
That wagon workbench of his is really nice. He got the wagon part of it at a tool sale. Then, he took scraps of one inch angle and welded up a little table to fit just inside the edges of the wagon. He put a frame about 8 inched or maybe ten for support, and also to hold the Pepsi cartons that he uses to hold his hand tools.

The Pepsi cartons are held in with zip ties, so he can remove them if he wants. The workbench is not welded to the wagon, even though welding is faster and easier. He bolted it in, in case one day he wants to take it off and do something different with his wagon. 

Gunter has a shop out back and he needs those wagon wheels to get his workbench from the house to the shop and back. Little wheels would get stuck in the mud.

This here picture is made under his porch what he built. Look at that floor! That didn’t costs him even one thin dime! He made it for free by pickin’ up old 2X4 scraps from off of construction sites and then cuttin’ them up into 10 inch sections and layin’ them on the sand what he put under his porch. That’s a good lookin’ floor, for free. 

Gunter’s a smart one, for sure. You ought to show people the picture of his porch from the outside, how he framed out the screening by using wooden screen doors.

He got all kinds of things what is worth writin’ about. He can fix cars, weld, do masonry work, electrical work, carpentry work, all of it. And he does it good. Write about him, Tondy.

Doc Stevens on How to Keep Warm in the Winter Without a Woodstove or Furnace

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8:40 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I just got off of the phone with Doc. He was telling me that cold weather had finally hit Southern Maryland and how he had been over to a friend’s house to check on her to make sure they kept warm.

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, I been over to Estelle and Vince’s all day. With that weather drop, they been freezin’ at night. Their wood heater ain’t no good; it’s gotten old and rusted out. Right now, he ain’t got no money. They’re just doin’ without heat. So I been over there helpin’ ‘em make sure they make it through the winter. 

I brung over some plastic what I got at the Home Depot and stapled that over all the windows on the inside, to keep the wind out, but let the sun in…

Tondeleo: Like home made double glazing?

Doc: I don’t know what that is, but yeah, I guess…Doc Stevens and Estelle Be fore we did that, we stuffed rags in around the edges where they had cracks. That helps, too. And we put a piece of old rug along the bottom of their doors. He cut it into strips and I doubled them over and nailed ‘em to the bottom, to keep the wind out. 

We took some old blankets an’ quilts an’ put them behind the curtains on the north side windows, because the sun doesn’t come in on that side anyway. That will keep a lot of the heat in. A set of heavy curtains can block a draft. On the south side windows, we cut back the tree branches so the sunlight could get in. And you want to keep the curtains open when the sun is shinin’ so the heat will come inside.

Here’s somethin’ we done at our bungalow a long time ago. Planted cedar trees along the north side of the house, to block the wind, and regular trees what lose their leaves along the south side. In the Summer, those trees give us shade and keep it cool. But in the Winter, they lose their leaves so the heat can get in.

We put old newspapers what she’d been collectin’ and laid them under all the rugs. She got about three layers of rugs down, to keep it warmer. She gets ‘em at thrift shops and yard sales. 

Another thing they done was got another dog. They gots about four of ‘em now. They all keep warm by stayin’ together all the time. I THINK she lets ‘em in the bed with her when he’s workin’ on a job what takes him away for a few days. ! I mean she ain’t got no ‘lectric blanket, so what else can she do? It keeps her warm and alive and helps those dogs, too. Plus they keep each other company.

One thing we all do down here in the winter, is we go visit folks what gots heat!  Some of my friends got pretty good heaters, and we go to their houses to play music and sing as much as we can in the winter. You can’t work much with it getting’ dark so early anyway, so what are you gonna do? We go to church, too, cause it’s pretty warm. And that’s a good thing to do anyway, and we play music after church a lot of time. 

When it’s cold out an’ you don’t have any heat, you can go to McDonalds and hang out there, or Burger King. The Post Office is always heated and you can go in there at night.  That’s what we got up in Bryans Road. And there’s the library during the day. You can go to the laundromat and sit in there for a little while.

Another cheap way to keep warm is to ride the Van Go bus all day. Costs like a buck. It's heated and there's always someone to talk to, or you can get dropped off at the mall. It's warm, too.

Church is a good place to go for heat on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. it's out of the cold, and some of them serve free coffee, and there's some nice people to meet at the churches.

At night, you just got to bundle up. Put on long johns, extra socks, a hat and sweat shirts, whatever you got. Bring the cats and dogs to bed with you if that’s all you got. 

If you can, you can make a wood heater outta an old oil drum and then get some pipe to make a stovepipe to go out through a window pane. But we didn’t do that at Estelle and Vince’s. But that’s what I done in my shop. And if you ain’t got a chainsaw, you can do what a lot of people do, which is collect old pallets and burn them. One of my friends got a pellet stove. My other friend, Big Dave tells people he gots a PALLET stove!

But basically you just got to burn what you can to get warm and stay warm. It ain’t not good bein’ cold, that’s for sure. And it don’t do your guitars any good to get too cold neither. When it’s that cold, you can’t play ‘em anyway. I cain’t hardly play when my hands is warm. When they get cold, I sound even worse. And I ain’t room to GET much worse!

Doc Stevens and the Famous (well, it SHOULD be) Old Panel Truck

Friday, December 2, 2011 8:37 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: It seems like there are common interests that run deep in many rural Americans. Things like guns, “hot rods” and music. Some of these people are working jobs that pay very little, and are renting small bungalows, but they may have thousands of dollars tied up in their gun collection, musical instruments and their hot rods. It’s all about values; what’s important in life.

Of course none of these people have investments in the stock market and don’t have money in the bank or even a retirement or pension fund. All they have are their cars, guns and instruments. 

Building a hot rod is not cheap. Some of these work two or more jobs so they can buy the parts to build a hot rod. And some of these cars, trucks and race cars are well worth more than the homes they live in.

How do they achieve this? First, by bartering goods and services with each other, maybe trading welding expertise for painting or bodywork, or for electrical or interior work, or mechanical work. Doc’s friends say that this is how the early car clubs got started. There would be 5 or 6 guys who wanted to build hot rods but didn’t have the money they needed or the skills. So different ones would each make his contribution to then others, so all could get their cars built. If you didn’t have a needed skill, you couldn’t join the club.

Some people may sell or trade drugs, from illegal street drugs, to selling their prescription pain killers for speed equipment, engine and body modifications and custom paint, wheels and high performance tires. When a person is addicted to building a hot rod or race cars, he would rather be in physical pain than to do without the parts he needs to go fast.

Doc’s truck didn’t need to be financed in any illegal ways because he doesn’t have much money in it, according to him. The body is nearly perfect because for much of it’s life it has sat in a barn, so it never got rusted out. 

Also, it has been in his family for many, many years and did not get the rough life of a vehicle used commercially by drivers who didn’t care about it.Doc and Bruce
As for the mechanical work, he and his friends did all it themselves, so it did not involve much actual cash. Doc already had the engine, which is a 406 cubic inch Chevy engine. It was a 400 “small block” that has been “punched out to a 406.” It came out of what is called a “pro street” car. Doc traded an old car that he had for it. 

His friend Pat Stone did a lot of the mechanical work on it, and his friend Bruce Williams did work on the frame  and other welding that Doc wasn’t sure he could do and still have it be safe. “Bruce is a real welder, like for a living. I ‘m not. All I know how to do is stick two pieces of metal together,” Doc said. 

Doc has put  his 1951 Chevy panel van (or panel truck as they call it in the US) back on the road after having it torn apart in his shop for a few years. It has been in his family since the late 1950’s or early 60’s, he can’t remember. It’s been driven, parked, stored, painted, sign written and used in different ways throughout it’s life.

During his more recent modifications, he has put it on a newer Chevrolet chassis, installed the powerful V-8 engine, a different transmission that has been modified, a new rear axle and other mechanical mods, most of which I don’t understand.

He has kept the old paint on it. and the old signwriting which is not quite so old as the paint. I don’t know much about hot rods, but I can appreciate it as a piece of Americana. Inside and out it is like a time capsule to days gone by.
Panel Truck and Doc - Small
Doc: Well, right now, Tondy, the panel truck is back on the road because we are getting’ more indoor gigs and I’m usin’ it to carry our guitars and amps instead of my pickup truck which is what I been usin’ to play local. I need to get someone to take some more pictures of it for you to put on that interweb.

A panel truck to me is better than a pickup truck, cause you can carry your stuff in it if it’s rainin’ and it won’t get wet. Like a deer what you just shot, and you ain’t want to leave it in the bed of your pickup truck overnight ‘cause vultures might get into it by mornin’.  But you ain’t gotta worry about it with a panel truck.

Also, for me it is a place to sleep when I’m travelin’. I got a [guerney] out of a old ambulance a long time ago and I keep that in the back to sleep on. I can pull it out in warm weather and sleep under the stars. Or pull it out when we got all our ‘quipment in it and need he room.

We got our letterin’ on the side of it what lets people know who we are and that we are playin. I can park it out in front of where we’re playin’ and it makes it easy for people to find us. It’s part of the show, so to speak. You gotta have somethin’ to make you stand out.

We got the phone number on it, too so people can write it down an’ call us if they want us to play for them. We got on the hood, “We don’t play bluegrass, so do not ask.” People always is askin’ if we play bluegrass. We don’t. 

We play downhome blues, roots and gospel music. We got that wrote on the side, too. And some other stuff, so people ain’t got to ask too many questions. They can just write it down.
That truck gets a pretty good amount of attention, and the hot rod guys like it real well. 

It may be ugly but it is well put together. When they first walk up to it, they think it is a junker, but then when they get up close they can see that it ain’t no junker. The body is perfect – no dents, no rust, nothin’. And if I let ‘em look under the hood, they can see how much work has been put into it.

I like my trucks sittin’ low, so we lowered the body over the frame six inches. It still has a good ride, because we didn’t cut the springs. It’s still got the full springs but it sits low. 

You can’t tell that til you look under the hood and see how it looks like the engine is sittin’ higher than regular. A lot of guys ask about that.”Why does the engine sit high?”  “It don’t. The truck sits low!” We had to raise the floor up six inches in the back part of the truck to get it to sit this low! But we used the same old floor what came from the factory so you can’t really tell it. I mean, it DOES still look like an old junker – but it aint.  

Doc Stevens on Bosses, Teamwork and Good Luck.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 5:25 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I was going through some of my recordings of talks with Doc and ran across this short little story. It typifies Doc's sense of humor and initial aggressive attitude, which mellows if you don't overreact immediately.

A lot of what Doc says is purely for effect, or because he likes to hear it said, and nobody else is saying it. Here’s an example is:

Doc: "So the boss man is tryin' to get me an' the other boys what worked there to come in on Saturdays and Sundays cause he cain't figure out how to make enough money Monday through Friday.

And that's with him already over charging the customers, and payin' us as little as he can get by with, and even then not payin' us our full paychecks every week. And that was only payin’ us minimum wage. You can’t live on minimum wage even if you got maximum hours. When they keep you broke, Tondy, they got you over a barrel.

So he says to us on Friday afternoon, as we was pickin' up our pay, "Hey, y'all's comin' in to work tomorrow and Sunday. Everybody is. Be here at 8 o’clock."

The other guys just moaned under their breath, but I weren't comin' in. I had a lady's car to fix on Saturday, and needed to go to the laundromat on Saturday nite. Sunday morning I was helpin' my buddy pack his things up, over to the trailer park so he could move, Sunday afternoon, I was invited to a Gospel concert and picnic with free food. I like Gospel music, and I like free food. Them church women can COOK! ANd they usually give out doggie bags full of leftovers, what become my lunch the next week. I ain't had no time to come in on Saturday or Sunday, Tondy.

So I said to the Boss Man: "I ain't comin' in. I ain't got time to work here for you seven days a week."

Suddenly I heard myself sayin' "Well, in the word 'time' there's a I and a ME, so I guess I am gonna have to quit to go work for ME..."

Boss Man points to a poster on his office wall. One of them ones with a picture of a eagle on a mountain and then at the bottom has a fancy sayin'. He had a lot of them posters what is made so bosses can take a vantage of they's workers.

He says, "Look at that, Doc. It says, 'There is no "I" in team.' What do you think of that? It isn't about YOU it is about US. We're a team and there is no I in team. You HAVE to make time to come in and work with the team.”

Suddenly I heard myself sayin' "MAKE time? Make time? Well, in the word 'time' there's a I and a ME, so I guess I am gonna have to quit to go work for ME, if you start this workin' all the TIME stuff."

An' you know what? He let us all not HAVE to work on Saturday an' Sunday, if we already had plans. An' he asked us not to plan much for the next two weekends. We could handle that, since he was givin’ us notice.

But sometimes bosses know what they’re gonna do and they like to show their power by not letting the workers know til the last minute.  He were a pretty good ol' boy after all, if you pushed him. No doubt. But you had to push him. A lot of bossmen are like that.

An’ I admit, I WERE kinda scared for a minute he was gonna fire me for sayin' that!

When I heard that come out of my mouth, I was scared, cause after the work on that lady’s car, I didn’t have no other work at the garage at the moment. I didn’t have no gigs to play, it was too cold and rainy to go to DC and sit out on the sidewalk and play… and the rent was due the next week. The landlord likes it when I work!

But somebody needed to say it and I guess it fell to me. That happens a lot. There’s something what needs to be said, and nobody’ll say it, and then I hear it come outta my mouth.

Cooking the Best, Most Tender Steaks EVER! In a Beer Cooler!

Saturday, November 19, 2011 10:28 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: One Saturday in September after playing at a small festivalBlues Festival 1 in Virginia, Doc and Marilyn and the band invited about fifty or so friends over for deer steaks and corn on the cob and baked potatoes and whatever else people could bring. None of them had eaten all day, other than a couple of hot dogs at the festival, so they were starved.

Doc, Thurman, Welch and Big Dave had the grills going and were handing out one deer steak after another. I couldn’t imagine how they were cooking them so quickly. Then, when I actually got to eat one, I was stupefied! 

It was the most tender, buttery steak I have ever eaten. And that says a lot because I eat in a lot of fine restaurants and attend some very classy events.

They served food for more than fifty people in a matter of less than a half hour. It was catered as efficiently as any event I have ever been to.

There were beer coolers all around the grills. That’s where the meat was kept prior to being thrown on the grill. But the corn on the cob and baked potatoes were just pulled out of the coolers and put on the polystyrene plates. And, they were excellent. So, I had to ask Doc what their secret was. This food was ALL excellent!

Doc: Ain’t no secret to it, Tondy. It’s just “cooler cookin’.”

Tondy: Cooler cooking? How does that work? I have never heard of it!

Doc: Well, everybody down here knows about it. Ain’t nothing to it.

Here’s how it works. You take your steaks and rub your seasoning on ‘em. We use mostly black pepper, woostershear sauce, and maybe some salt. Not much. Then we put each one in a ziploc sandwich bag.

After that we toss ‘em in a beer cooler with water that’s about 150 degrees and let them sit in there for an hour or so. We put these in a couple hours ago, while we were getting the grills goin’. That hot water cooks the food, makin’ deersteaksit as hot as the water is.

After about an hour, you take the steaks out of the bag and pat ‘em dry and throw them on the grill for about a half minute on each side, so they get seared. Just till they got the marks from the grill on ‘em. Only takes 30 seconds or so. That’s how we served all those people so quick.

Done the same thing with the corn on the cob, except you don’t need no bags with that and it only takes about 15 minutes. Pour hot water about 150 degrees in the cooler and then put the corn on the cob in. It’s done in 15 minutes.

Same way with the potatoes, too. But I leave ‘em in for more than an hour. Maybe two. I dunno. Then we set ‘em on the edge of the grill to get a little smoke flavor to ‘em.

We done it with the beans too. We put the beans in bags and then in a beer cooler with hot water. Just dish ‘em up right outta the bag. But we DO add a couple of cans of coke, chopped onions and some relish to ‘em for flavor.

Plus you ain’t need to have no ‘lectric cords all over the place. We heat the water either on the stove or over a fire, cause all it’s gotta be is about 150 degrees – not boilin’ so it’s easy. Sometimes we use a immersion heater for it.

Aint nothing to feedin’ 50 or a hundred people, Tondy. Just get the food, some zip lock bags and some coolers. And hot water and a grill. And plates and plastic spoons and forks. And something to drink.

We do the same thing at Christmas and all the holidays when you got kinfolk and friends comin’ over. DO the same things for weddin’s and family reunions. It’s the only way poor people can feed a whole lot of folks at once. I bet y’all aint do that over to England!

Tondeleo: I admitted that we don’t. Or that at least I had never heard of doing that. And, I must confess that is the easiest and simplest way  I have EVER heard for feeding large groups of people. And all of it was delicious. My steak was about an inch thick, and rare from one edge to the other – with just a bit of smoke taste. It was absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait to try this when I get back to England!

Doc Gets A Social Conscience (well, for him, anyway) AND sends an email!

Thursday, November 17, 2011 9:32 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Most of the time, it seems like Doc and his friends are too busy trying to survive to take much interest in the broader world around them. This trip had surprises for me in that I found evidence of him and some of his friends taking notice of the world beyond their friends, jobs, music and families.

Doc found an old Washington Post magazine at the Bryans Road library. Columnist Gene Weingarten wrote an article about not being Doc Stevens 02able to find jeans in his size, which just happens to be the exact size that Doc wears and can't find.

Apparently the clothing companies have found it easier to make fewer sizes of inseams. Doc wears a 31. He says 30’s are too short and 32’are too long. Sometimes he wears the 30’s lower non his hips to make them look right. But he doesn’t like the way they feel.

Marilyn had read the article to Doc and then he stumbled through it, and was moved to send an "e-letter" to Mr. Weingarten to help him out. Marilyn bcc'd it to me. Here it is, so you can sense the vast social consciousness that is developing in Doc.

Dear Mr Gene.

We was at the liberry over to Bryans Road and my neice Marilyn read to me your article about blue jeans not fitting good anymore. You are right. I am like you, but am a bit bigger at 200 pounds. I wear 34X31 jeans too. So we are maybe put together a bit different but the same size waste and legs. The same part of me and you is 34X31 and they do not make them any more. I play music , blues and country blues at festivles and fairs and BBQs and I travel all over the place doing it and one thing I can tell you is this.

If you find 34X31s you are not finding them brand new. You are finding them used and I don't go for some of those used jeans if you know what I mean, by the time some folks is done with them.   

In August I was coming back home from playing in SC and I stopped in NC at JRs big outlet there on 95 where they sell a lot of evrey thing except 34x31 which they did not have but they had like what you said, 30s and 32s which is either high waters or sissy looking.

I had almost lost haert but Marilyn took me over to that other store which sold carhartt ones. They is labled the same way without 31s but they is cut long so the 30s is really a 31 and fit good. I bought some at that outlet there and when we got back here to Nanjemoy I carried Marilyn up to the library in Bryans Road and she bought me 4 more prs of them on that ebay on the interweb. They was used but in good shape like just broke in good but not dirty or staned up.

Now I have 5 prs of jeans that fit good and they are just regular jeans color, blue. I wear crapenters jeans with loops and the extra pockets I need. They could be what you are looking for since Levis don't care about the little man any more unless he is way too little. Carhartt is the ones for men like you and me.  Your friend  Doc Stevens

I never thought I would live to see Doc so moved as to contact a perfect stranger try to help. Maybe he is finally getting a world view that is bigger than panelbeating and playing guitar and eating BBQ. But I doubt it.

- Tondeleo

Catching up: Doc Stevens on Socialism, the Economy and War

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 2:15 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I apologise for the long lapse in posting. Due to the poor economy my travels have been limited. I finally made it back to the US to complete some assignments and I was able to spend some pleasant time off with Doc and Marilyn and some of their friends.

I made several hours of recordings and took reams of notes so I should be able to post regularly again. Also, I was given several vids of Doc and Marilyn and their friends playing music, so I should be able to post them on YouTube soon.

One thing that I’ve noticed is the very clear disappointment that Americans seem to have with their government and the economy. I had thought it was primarily a European phenomenon, but it is widespread in America as well.

A lot of Americans blame President Obama for it and also their Congress. From what I can read, all this didn’t begin with President Obama. A lot of what they are angry about was initiated under President Bush, and President Clinton before him.

I asked Doc why he and his friends feel that socialism (they call it “communism,” by the way) is getting the upper hand.

His answer was actually well thought out and surprised me. Here it is:

Doc: Well, Tondy, I know everybody wants to be happy and the government is s’posed to make sure everyone has the chance to be happy. We learnt that in school.

But not everybody is gonna be happy. For me, I want to work and make a few dollars. I want to play music and be left alone by the government. I just want to live my life.

Other folks don’t wanna work and want the government to take care of ‘em an’ pay all their bills. Well, I ain’t wantin that. And the government don’t really have any money, ‘cept what they take from the people, which is by taxes. So really it aint the government what is payin’ those peoples’ bills, it is me an the other folk what is workin’ that is payin’ for all that.

Tondeleo: I can see where that is a problem for you: You and your friends don’t seem to make very much money in the first place…

Doc: You’re right, Tondy, an’ it’s not only the people what’s on unemployment what we gotta help support but we got wars goin’ on what is also bein’ paid for by the common man. I heard that a bomb costs about 3 million dollars. I ain’t ever gonna see that much money in my life. An’ we are payin the salary of every soldier, every general, every contractor…

An’ we are payin’ for all the ships and jet planes an’ tanksBodyshop2 an’ all the fuel what they use! Now how we gonna do that? That’s somethin’ I’m mad about. There ain’t enough people workin to pay for all the wars and bombs and soldiers and their families. No wonder we’re outta money. I caint even pay for the fuel in my panel truck!

It ain’t the immigrants what’s makin America broke, it’s the wars, if you ask me.  

Tondeleo: Well, that isn’t marxism, or socialism, or communism. That’s just part of living in a country with a huge military.

Doc: I don’t know about all those “isms.” An’ I gotta admit, we was trained from when we was kids to share with other kids. We had to share our clothes, our toys an’ all that.

But I learnt that some kids ain’t got no toys cause they broke their toys all up an’ now they want to take my toys so they can break them all up, too. And then they gonna holler for more toys to break. Well, they ain’t getting’ mine.

I gotta few nice guitars what I either made or bought cheap, an’ I ain’t givin’ ‘em to someone what broke his or tore it up. I would more likely give it to someone what took care of his own stuff.

In fact I done that a few times – give away guitars – to people what knew how to take care of ‘em but ain’t had one ‘cause maybe he just got outta jail or somethin; an’ he needed somethin’ to help him get started. But that’s it.

I’ll help ‘em get started but then it’s up to them. I found out this. When my stomach gets close enough to my spine, I’ll find a way to make some money so I can eat. That’s all I got to say about that.

Doc Stevens and Marilyn playing at the DC Blues Society jam…

Saturday, July 2, 2011 7:34 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am attempting to catch up on Doc Stevens and Marilyn’s activities. I have a lot of recordings and notes to transcribe and will do my best to get caught up, at least to some degree.

A few weeks ago, they were playing in Washington, DC and were invited to play at a blues jam of the DC Blues Society. They, of course didn’t know anything about it, and followed someone up to the location and played a couple of songs.

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, we was playin’ at this place in DC up to Lincoln Park, on a Sunday afternoon, playin’ some gospel music. This little black lady – she was cute as a bug! – come up and danced with Thurman an’ then said we had to get our stuff and head outta there as soon as we could.

I asked her how come we gotta go an’ she said ‘cause she had called up to the DC Blues Society and tol’ them about us an’ wanted us to go meet those people. I ain’t never heard of a Blues Society afore, so I was ready to go! We didn’t know how to get there so she drove up there an’ had us follow her. I woulda definitely got lost if she hadn’t drove an’ have us follow her. It was a long ways from where we was in Lincoln Park.

The other guys in the band couldn’t go – we ain’t really a band, we just play music together – so just me and Marilyn and Thurman went up there.

Doc Stevens & Marilyn at The DC Blues Society

We followed her up there, and it was a room full of people all takin’ turns playin’ and singin.’ It was some real good talent in there, to be sure! All kinds of people playin’ blues.

Well, we hung aroun’ a bit an’ I wanted to just go ‘cause I was tired but Marilyn said we oughta stay since that lady invited us up there. I had one of my home made guitars with me, the one with the bass strings along with the regular strings, but then right afore we got up to play it fell and got knocked outta tune, so I had to use my old Fender Frankenphantom which is a guitar I made outta old parts. Some of the guys had been lookin’ at my box guitar and was waitin’ to hear how it sounded. I told them it sounded like a poor man’s guitar. The Frankenphantom soundslike a poor man’s guitar, too, ‘ cause it IS a poor man’s guitar. Two bass strings and four regular guitar strings.

So near the end, they called us up there an’ we sang an’ played a little bit. Our drummer, Welch Simmons couldn’t come up there with us, so they had a real good drummer there what played with us and done a real good job. We done a gospel song, cause it was Sunday an’ you oughta honor God at least one day a week.

Marilyn sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and then we done “I Believe to My Soul.” Thurman was up there with us so he done a good man dance and ended doin’ the splits. Everybody loved that. He’s a good dancer, Tondy. You couldn’t have done the splits, not in jeans and work boots like he done.

They was all real nice to us an’ asked us to come back up, but it is more than a hour from here, so I don’t think we’ll be able to do it. I cain’t afford the gas to drive all the way up there an’ back. Not in my truck! But if we is ever up in that area again, we’re gonna try to find out where it is and go up there and get to know those folks. A lot of them asked for our cards what has our phone number on them.

I ain’t never seen that many folks in one room what played the blues so good. Never in my life, Tondy. Never.


The Doc Stevens and Marilyn “Show.” Now they have a band, well sort of.

Friday, July 1, 2011 9:45 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

By Tondeleo Lee Thomas

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated Doc’s blog. I have been busy with work and stuck in London. I am trying to catch up on his blog over the Summer.

I have been so bogged down with work that all I could do was post some vids that were sent to me of them on Youtube, but I’ve had no time for comments or blogging.

Last week I came to the States and have been catching up with Doc and Marilyn and their friends.

When I pulled up into their driveway, Marilyn came running out of the house to give me a hug and to tell me all the things that have happened since I had seen them last.

I pulled my digital recorder out of my pocket to make certain I could capture it all.

Marilyn: Tondy! Me and Doc got a band now! We ain’t mostly playin on the streets so much and we got more inside bookins. And we got real cards, too! And we been playin’ more gospel shows which I like better and things is goin good, Tondy!

Doc: Hey, Tondy – I thought you’d dropped of the face of the earth, been so long. Figured old England had swallowed you up.

Yeah, we got a band. Well, it ain’t really a band, it’s just a bunch of people we play music with, but it’s like a band. It’s a bunch of guys I been knowin’ but we started playin’ together here an’ there an’ people like it so we keep doin’ it.

Here’s who we got. We BEEN havin’ Thurman Goodlett as our man dancer an’ he still is with us. But now we got Homer and Wendell Green from Detroit, what is also called Motown. They come down here lookin’ for work an’ money ‘cause Detroit is broke.

Wendell got a deep voice and sings back up bass and some solo stuff. He come here first and got a job and a place to live and is a real hard worker.

Homer’s his little brother. He plays piano best you ever heard in your life. I ain’t never heard nobody no better. There weren’t no money to be made in Detroit unless you already got big money behind you so Homer come down here to see what he can do. He plays with us, and plays on his own and gives piano lessons, so he’s keepin’ his head above water.

Then we got Welch Simmons from Durham, North Carolina on the drums. He is a good man what also come up here lookin’ for work. They ain’t no work down there. But he got him a job up here and a place for him and his family so he’s doin’ all right. He is a real good drummer and keeps the rhythm right and tight like they say.

It’s a lot better with the piano and drums, Tondy. It frees me up a bit to not have to carry everything. You know, like when it’s just me an’ Marilyn, I’m playin’ the guitar, and also the bass with the two bass strings on the guitar, plus keepin’ the beat with the foot box with the tambourine what’s screwed to it. Now, I can put more into the singin’ and not be tryin’ to keep track of what I’m doin’ all the time.

Me an’ Marilyn still plays by ourselves a lot, but we got the band for places that want a bigger sound. All the guys is good guys what is livin’ right and trustin’ the Lord an’ tryin’ to do the right thing.

It ain’t like the old days when I used to play with guys what would be drunk and high an’ you ain’t knowin’ what they gonna do next. Nope, these guys is straight arrows an’ that makes it better. No cussin’ and fightin’ or anything like that. These is church goin’ guys, when they can make it. It’s a lot better, Tondy, for real. Wait til you meet ‘em. They’s good people. Holy Ghost people. So it’s all good.

Tondeleo: I can truly tell the difference in Doc and Marilyn over these past few years. Marilyn has definitely grown up into a woman and Doc is more mellow and civilised, at least to an extent. They’ve cleaned up their bungalow a lot, inside as well as outside. Some of the junk cars are gone now, and his shop/garage is a bit more orderly. It is interesting for me to notice people still growing and changing as they make better choices and different friends, and are offered better opportunities. I have witnessed them going from living in total poverty and playing music on the street corners to now having some semblance of a stable, albeit still very simple life. It is interesting to watch people grow in who they are and find better lives.

But, having said all that, Doc is still pretty scrappy and rough around the edges, and Marilyn is still giggly and funny – but there is a more civilised side that is developing in both of them.

Below is a video clip from one of their Gospel gigs: The third song on here is one of the many that Doc has written.


Porky Burch’s Clumsy Attempt at Auto Insurance Fraud–What Beer Does to the Mind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 7:34 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: The conversation about using deer hair as insurance led into another one relating to auto insurance, this one which was a clumsy attempt at insurance fraud by one of Doc and Big Dave’s friends.

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, here’s one for you. A few years ago, Porky Burch got drunk and wrecked his pickup into a tree. He had insurance on it, which surprised me. It was a new truck, at least new for what it was. Probably maybe five years old, It was worth puttin’ insurance on, if you had the money. But anyway, Porky was drunk and didn’t want the cops in on it. I didn’t know all that at the time.

Anyways, he walked over to Duncan Williams’ house, we call him Dunk, and gets Dunk to run him over here. It was about three in the mornin’ at that time. Porky asks me to come and drag his car over here and sit it behind my shop till he could get it fixed.

So I get out my loggin’ chains and we ride over there in my panel truck and we drug it back onto the road, and Marilyn sat behind the wheel to steer it, cause Porky was still drunk, and we drug it home and set it behind my shop. No problem.

Well, he came by and took his stereo and speakers out of it. Then it sat back there for a couple months and one night Porky and Dunk came by. They’d been drinkin’ and said they was takin’ Porky’s truck. They had Dunk’s father-in-law’s truck and a chain. I asked about how come he weren’t getting’ me to fix it and he said he WAS, but he had to take it somewhere first.

Well, what they did was, they towed it about ten miles on that chain, and then pushed it up against a tree, like it had just wrecked into the tree. Porky also put a guitar what he had broke one time when he was drunk and mad, and he put it in the passenger seat, like it had got broke in the accident.

Then, they went to Scott’s Store and used the pay phone out front to call the Sheriff, to report it stolen! Porky said he’d been in Scott’s all evenin’ and when he came out, his truck was gone! He was drunk, but he weren’t drivin’ so the cops let him alone on that one.

He told the cops what it looked like, Tondy, and they started lookin’ for it. About two hours later, one of ‘em found it, smashed into that tree!

Now, Porky figured he’d be able to get some ‘surance money out of it, and then they could bring it to my shop and get me to fix it for about half what he got paid for it! I didn’t know that at the time neither.

But guess what?

Tondeleo: What?

Doc: The cops called a tow truck. Tow truck driver pulled it back fromPorky Burch Truck the tree. Then they looked inside, and the keys was in it! Not Porky’s WHOLE key ring, cause he needed his other keys, just his truck keys! His keys were in the ignition, Tondy!

And the radio was missin’, but taken out real neat! And his guitar was in its case in the front seat! The case weren’t tore up! Just the guitar in it was broke up!

Worser than that, where the paint had gotten knocked off when he wrecked it a couple months before, was all rusted! And worser than that, the tree where they had pushed it into, wasn’t even scarred up or hurt! They had just pushed it up against the tree!

The cops figured out right quick what happened.

They went to Porky’s house to tell him they found his truck. Of course, Porky had drunk another couple of beers, thinkin’ about all that insurance money he was gonna get.

All they said was, “Mr. Burch, we found your truck…”

Old Porky’s first words to the cops was, “Did they wreck it real bad? I hope they ain’t stole my radio, it was worth a thousand bucks, which it weren’t, he’d got it on sale at the Wal-Mart. And then he kept sayin’ “How about my guitar? Was it broke up real bad?” and stuff like that.

The cops said it looked like it’s been wrecked a good long time, and that there was no skid marks, no damage to the tree or the guitar case, and whoever took the radio did a real careful job on it.

Porky kept sayin’ it had just been stole, and what was they gonna do to get him his insurance money for his truck, his radio and his guitar and was they gonna get him a rent a car.

Then the cops talked about lockin’ him up for lyin’ and filin a false report and a bunch of other stuff. Dunk said Porky just hung his head and cried like a baby!

I know he got charged with somethin’ on that one. He had to go to court. And he never got the money to fix it, neither! It sat back there in his back yard for a couple years. I ain’t never fixed it. He traded it for a old 4 by 4 that was a piece of junk, but it run good. Now that’s crazy ain’t it? Drinkin’ don’t pay. Not in the long run.

How a Baggie of Deer Hair in Your Car Becomes Insurance.

Friday, February 18, 2011 10:18 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am never certain when to take seriously the things said by Americans. They have an inherent love of taking the mickey out of you, and just about the time you are believing them, they begin to laugh and you feel a right fool.

Big Dave showed me a small plastic bag filled with stiff brown and white hairs, clearly from an animal. He asked if I knew what they were for, and I said that I didn’t.

Here is how the conversation developed:

Big Dave: Tondy, this is a bag of insurance.

Me: A bag of WHAT?

Big Dave: A bag of insurance. You carry it in your car or truck, Tondy.

Me: Well, it resembles a bag of bristles, of hairs, Big Dave.

Deer Hair 1Big Dave: To the untrained eye, that is exactly what it is. But to the expert eye, it is a bag of insurance. Here, look at it up close.

Marilyn: It’s a bag of DEER HAIR, Tondy!

Big Dave: It IS deer hair in its lowest form. Insurance in its highest.

Say, if a man has had a few beers, and ends up runnin’ off the road into a tree. If the cops come by, he’s gonna be in trouble. If he gots insurance, they ain’t gonna pay. BUT! If he kicks a part of his car, say the front fender, real hard, and then spits in the bag deer hairs, they become insurance!

Me: Insurance?

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, insurance.

Big Dave: You spit into the bag of deer hairs, then you take ‘em in your hand and smear a few in the dent you made by kickin’ your fender. Put a couple of ‘em in your headlight rim.

Then you, well, that man what hit the tree, can say that a deer run into his truck, and he hit it, and ran off the road and into that tree. That’s a lot better to a cop or a insurance company than you just havin’ a couple of beers and hittin’ that tree.

Bodywork 2Doc: I ain’t never did that, but I heard of people what done it. Lotta people carry a little packet of deer hair in they car or truck. Say it’s good luck.

I fixed plenty of peoples’ cars what had dents on ‘em and deer hair in the dents. A deer can tear up a car real bad. A deer hittin’ your car is bad luck.

Big Dave: But deer HAIR is GOOD luck if a man runs off the road. He sprinkles them deer hair on the dent and it brings good luck, Tondy!

Marilyn: Yes, but it ain’t right.

Doc: That’s why I ain’t never done it, Marilyn. I only hit real deers.

Big Dave: And I pull some hairs off ‘em for good luck. But I ain’t never did it neither. Just heard about it bein’ done by crooks. It ain’t right.

We do “not” play bluegrass, so do not ask.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 2:33 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: On the side of the bonnet (in the US, it is called a “hood”) of Doc’s panel van (in the US, it is called a “panel truck”) is signwritten “We do “not” play bluegrass, so do not ask.”

The panel van has been in Doc’s family since his father bought it in theDoc and Marilyn Barn wPanel3 1950’s. It has been driven and parked for sometimes years at a time, depending on the repairs needed and the amount of money available, for decades.

Doc has recently begun driving it again, and we will definitely interview him to find out the details on this interesting and unusual (and very fast) vehicle. He has put some kind of huge engine in it.

My curiosity was piqued by the phrase about not playing bluegrass music, so do not ask. He has explained to me at times what the difference is between the kind of country music that he and his friends play and bluegrass music. I understand the basics of what he is talking about, but sometimes I must confess that the line is very blurred to me.

I asked Doc if we could talk about bluegrass music just ONE more time, and for him to clarify for me what bluegrass is and isn’t, in his mind, and in the minds of his friends.

Tondeleo: Doc, your truck has written on it, “We do not play bluegrass, so do not ask.” Why is that?

Doc: Because we do not play bluegrass. I don’t want people asking us if we play it.

Tondeleo: But why do you think that people would even ASK you if you play bluegrass? That seems a bit odd, to me…

NO Bluegrass

Doc: I ain’t know, exactly. But like, I can go to a blues club, and when I walk in with my guitar, someone’ll say something about it being a blues club, not a bluegrass club. I have to let them know I ain’t play no bluegrass.

Tondeleo: Could be the way you dress? You don’t DRESS like people would expect a person to dress who plays the blues and the kinds of music you play. You DO look more like you would play bluegrass…

Doc: The way I dress? The way I dress is I get up in the morning and put my clothes on. Then I wear ‘em till I go to bed at night. What is bluegrass about that?

Big Dave: Yeah. If you play blues they expect you to be wearin’ a pork pie hat and sunglasses, like you’re an old man in the 1950’s. Or Hawaiian shirts. We ain’t dress up like that. We aint from Hawaii. We wear the clothes we got on. Mostly work clothes ‘cause we work hard.

Doc: People sees us and thinks they know what kind of music we play by lookin’ at us. Sometimes, people calls us on the phone or reads the side of my truck about us playin’ at festivals, or BBQ’s or pig pickin’s and such, and they ask if we play bluegrass. We don’t. So, I put that on there to stop ‘em afore they get started. That’s been on there a long time, Tondy. A LONG time. What’s new on that truck is my 406 motor.

Now, we play old COUNTRY music, like Hank Sr, Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce and them. But we ain’t play bluegrass.

Mostly with bluegrass, Tondy, it’s not what folks in the mountains is sittin’ around playin’. Bluegrass is more what people what’s moved away from the mountains is sittin’ around playin’. My daddy said there weren’t even such thing as bluegrass till about 1945. He ain’t never heard nothing like that growin’ up and neither did his daddy. He said Bill Monroe come up with bluegrass during the war [WW2].

Big Dave: Mostly people now what plays bluegrass take lessons, and try to learn to play like someone else. If they’re a banjo player, and I know a boy what is one, and they all want to play like someone else. Some of ‘em plays Earl Scruggs style, or Keith style or someone else they is copyin’. Note for note, lick for lick, tryin’ to sound like the record, or what they read in a music book.

Doc: Mountain folks ain’t do that. We ain’t do that, neither. We sing and play what we feel and it might or might not sound like anyone else and we aint tryin’ to. We’re doin’ the best we can to sound like whatever it is we sound like!

I mean, I LIKE how other people plays, but I ain’t copyin’ ‘em. Another thing is this, what is different. When folks what play the kind of stuff we play get together, we all got a part what we do. Like, I play good enough as a solo guitar player, meanin’ just me playin’ guitar. But I ain’t no LEAD guitar player at all. Big Dave is a good lead guitar player.

Here is the difference. I stick to playin’ rhythm guitar, and he sticks to playin’ lead. He plays the solo’s, I don’t. Marilyn sticks to playin’ harp and so forth.

Sometimes I play bass if they need it. But I ain’t play it like it’s a ‘coustic bass. It ain’t. I play like it is, a ‘lectric bass. But I stick to that. No bass solo’s comin’ outta me.

In bluegrass, it ain’t like that. They ALL want to play lead, and you can Doc Playing 5see ‘em movin’ all over the stage, each one tryin’ to move up to the mike – they ain’t allowed to use electric guitars and banjos and all that, they have to stand in front of a mike – but they all have to take turns at the mike, movin’ up to play a solo and then movin’ back so someone else can play a solo. It is all solo artists, pretty much. The faster they play, the better. We ain’t do that. We pretty much are slow compared to bluegrass. I’m slow compared to myself!

Big Dave: It is all music from the mountains, what we play and what they play,but it is all different. But we don’t play JUST music what comes from the mountains. Matter of fact, I’m sick of mountain music. I got too many bad memories that I wanna forget. You gotta play more than that. Well, WE do.

Doc: Also, bluegrass uses three or four people singin’ at the same time and one of ‘em has that high lonesome sound. We ain’t got that. One person sings mostly, or maybe like me an’ Marilyn, you switch off from each other. You have a lead singer and maybe someone’ll sing a harmony if you need it.

When people talk about old time country music, and they are talkin’ about bluegrass, you know they is from the city. Old time country music would be more like Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters, the Stoneman’s and people like that. What we play got more in common with Jimmie Rodgers, than with Bill Monroe. Jimmie Rodgers is like 20 years afore Bill Monroe.

So we don’t play no bluegrass and don’t ask, Tondy.

Why Doc Stevens and Big Dave Drink Gravy from their Thermoses instead of Hot Stew

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 10:13 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am not a hunter. I am an eater, but not a hunter. I don’t want to know where my food comes from or how it died. I don’t want to think about whether or not it was frightened when it died. I simply like to eat it.

Doc and Big Dave were telling hunting stories back in November and this one stood out to me:

When Doc and Big Dave go hunting, Marilyn makes each of them a sandwich and a thermos full of gravy to take into the woods with them to quench their thirst and to keep them warm.

I asked about why they didn’t take tea or coffee, and they both looked at me as like I was daft.

Big Dave said, “It makes you have to water the lemon tree too much.”

I said I didn’t see where that would be a problem, out on0 deer stand the woods.

Doc said that when you’re crammed up into a deer stand, you don’t want to be climbing up and down from it to go water the bushes – and it would scare the deer away. Soup or stew is better in the thermos than coffee or tea.

Big Dave said that a man wouldn’t drink hot tea, anyway.

Apparently Marilyn USED to make soup or stew for their thermoses. One day when they were hunting with Thurman Goodlett, he was drinking stew out of his thermos and got choked on a piece of meat.

It was only Doc, Big Dave and Thurman out there in the woods, and neither Doc not Big Dave were willing to do the “Hind Lick maneuver” to save Thurman. Doc decided that this was definitely the time to call on the Good Lord to save Thurman, if God didn’t rather have him in Heaven just yet. Big Dave agreed.

Doc and Big Dave laid their hands on Thurman and called out to the Lord to save him if He would. Doc said he even spoke in tongues just in case that would give their prayers a boost.

Fortunately, Thurman was so scared – or touched by the Lord -  that he was able to swallow the meat with little or no damage to his throat. Doc said he was real sure it was the Lord that saved Thurman. Thurman’s eyes had rolled back into his head and his face was getting blue. But then, suddenly there was a gulping sound, and Thurman was swallowing and breathing. “Had to be the Lord,” said Doc. “I was speakin’ in tongues out there.”

Since that day, Marilyn doesn’t put soup in their thermoses. Instead she fills them with red eye gravy so they can be warm and comfortable when they are out in the deer stand.

Of course, I don’t know what red eye gravy is, so Marilyn explains that it is made from meat drippings and a cup or two of coffee, some salt and flour until it is just thick enough to be like drinking hot warm silk.

I am not certain that it is better for a person than stew is, but Doc and Dave are settled on “no more stew or soup” when they go hunting.

Big Dave said, “I don’t care WHO it is what’s choking. I am not doing the hind lick maneuver.

Doc: Me, neither. I’ll pray for ‘em and ask the Lord to save ‘em. Or, He can call ‘em home. I ain’t doin’ none of that other stuff. I ain’t no doctor.

Doc Stevens and Big Dave–A little more on the music they play– and Mountain Music, not Bluegrass.

Saturday, January 15, 2011 8:49 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: This is a continuation on Doc and Big Dave talking about how they do NOT play bluegrass, and that not all rural Americans even LIKE bluegrass.

Doc: Tondy, like we been sayin’, not all mountain people plays bluegrass or even likes it as much as city people does.

Some of the places we playimage at when we was growin’ up and where we plays now when we go back down home, don’t allow no bluegrass, no country western and no electric guitars. Some songs ain’t got no instruments. Just sung. Some of the work songs and the sad songs is just sung straight from the heart. I do that sometimes.

This ain’t music for sellin.’ It’s gospel spirituals, work songs, coal minin’ songs and such. But up here, we play more songs what people want to hear. And we ain’t about goin’ out an’ showin’ our shame.

Big Dave: Yeah, we play what we got to play here, and we still draw the line ourselves on what we play. Old country, blues roots, Gospel and things like that. But we don’t do no new country western or bluegrass. Of course, we ain’t no GOOD at bluegrass! We don’t play it! (laughs)

Me and Doc, we like electric guitars and our friends do, because we like to be able to play loud and we like the tone that you get on a tube amp. We like a little distortion, but even that is the music we grew up playin’ with our friends and neighbors. You can play a acoustic guitar into a mike like they do at a lot of the festivals and places we play, but it just sounds like a louder acoustic guitar, which is what they want.

Doc: We like overdrive, Tondy! But we also grew up with fiddles, and I like fiddles if played right, and banjo’s and such. I like a mandolin ok. A banjo with bad tone don’t set well with me. If a banjo aint played right, it sounds like a bunch of bees stingin’ me in the ears.

But a lot of folks down home and in a lot of places ain’t got no electric, so they gotta play music without it. I take my ‘coustic guitar and dobro when I go down there, unless I know I’m goin’ where there is ‘lectric.

Doc Stevens Marilyn Big Dave 6Marilyn: I like playin’ harp. That runs in our family for back to my great grand dad and Doc thinks my great great grand dad. I like a dulcimer, too. Doc has one that he strung with guitar strings and plays with a bottleneck slide sometimes.

Another thing what runs deep is dancin.’ My aunt does flatfoot and cloggin’ but I can’t do none of that. I can yodel, and always could, but she cain’t yodel!!! Uncle Doc can yodel, but he don’t do it too much. 

Doc: A lot of the mountain roots music and blues roots is about the same thing. Bein’ broke. Havin’ a mean boss or bad landlord what don’t understand. Bein’ sick. Bein’ cheated on. Your loved one dyin’. Some is about just bein’ sick of this earthly life and wantin’ to just go ahead and go to Heaven. All the songs is about the basic thing about bein’ human and what goes on in your heart in hard times.

A lot of the sound comes from church where it gets blended, black and white folks, singin’ the same songs, and we pick up a little bit from each other, but we don’t copy no one. Most of us, at least my people is Pentecostal, too. Pentecostal folks whether white or black usually got a heart for music and have a bunch of good musicians and singers.

Tondeleo: Isn’t any music that’s made with banjo’s and mandolins by definition, “bluegrass?”

Big Dave: No. There’s differences. Bluegrass is more modern, like for city people that maybe came from the country and were missing home, and bluegrass was a way to sell that sound. I don’t know. I like Dawg Music, which has then same instruments, but isn’t bluegrass and ain’t quite country. David Grisman does it.

Doc: Well, as I see it, mountain music, roots music is more about bein’ music to dance to, more about a steady beat. That’s what we do in everything we do, keep a good beat. Mountain music uses more open tunings, which blues roots does, too. Both uses Open G a lot.

I grew up listenin’ on the radio and on the records when Daddy  could get them, and sometimes live to the Carter Family, the Mainer's, the Stoneman's, the Delmore's and the Blue Sky Boys,the Carter Brothers and folks like them.

I spent some time with Donna Stoneman and know her to be a good Christian and nice person. Her sister Ronnie was on Hee Haw. But all them people ain’t bluegrass. Mountain music and roots, I call it. We like that ok, heck we grew up on it. But we also needed to get away from it when we got out of there and done some travellin’ and didn’t want to be hillbillies.

Big Dave. He’s right, Tondy.

Marilyn: We live in the country and we ain’t got much money, but we ain’t hillbillies.

Doc Stevens, Big Dave on the Music They Play: Why they don’t like Bluegrass, and other observations.

Friday, January 14, 2011 9:38 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: As you know, I initially expected rural Americans, especially those from the southern Appalachian region, to all play bluegrass music, ad to only like bluegrass. That is why I was surprised when I first began meeting Doc, Big Dave and their friends, because not only do they not play bluegrass music, but they seem to have an aversion to it.

I have learnt these past few years that some of the aversion is shame. Shame for the poverty they grew up in, shame for being thought of as hillbillies, and shame for the memories that some of the bluegrass music evoked. I had never thought of these factors.

I always thought of bluegrass as happy, simple music that hearkened back to a simpler more honest and good time in simpler and more wholesome environments. But for many people who lived in those times and places the memories are anything but good.

Doc: See, Tondy, to a office boy what has never beenBig Dave & Doc Stevens Gig1a down to where we lived, it seems good and happy. Or if someone been away a while. But if you lived there and were dirt poor, and your daddy was a drunk, and your older brothers was drunks, and your grand daddy was a drunk and your uncles was drunks, you ain’t got to many good memories in the first place. ‘Bout nothin.’

You remember fightin’ and hollerin’ and women bein’ hit and ‘bused an’ getting’ your own butt whipped for doin’ nothin’ or for standin’ up to the old man when he was drunk and hittin’ your mama. And they was always bluegrass music bein’ played in the background.

Big Dave: Yeah, and when you go to town people look down on you for how you talk and how you dress and you don’t have any money to buy anything. You get ashamed of what you are and your family and everything you got. when people look at you and spit, and then cuss you, callin’ you a dumb hillbilly, you’re not going to do anything to make them think that even more.

Doc: We was poor, and we worked with other poor whites, poor blacks… anyone what wasn’t getting’ paid good or treated right. With all that pain built up, we needed to get it out, and we played music and sang about it. We wasn’t thinkin’ what KIND of music it was. We just sang what we was feelin’ and about what we was goin’ through.

Some of it was songs we learnt off the radio what was singin’ about how we felt. Some was songs from other people what talked about how we felt. Some was church songs, about the Lord or askin’ the Lord to get us through a hard time.

Some was about how good it felt to be in love. Some was about bein’ cheated on or bein’ brokenhearted. It was all kinds of music. Some Kitty Wells, some Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Bob Wills, Hank Snow and we listened to Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, John Lee HooBig Dave & Doc Stevensker. I always liked John Lee Hooker real good.

Big Dave: I like John Lee Hooker real good, too.

Doc: So we played a bit of this, a bit of that. The whites and the blacks, they called themselves coloureds back then, all sang about the same things. Havin’ no money, mean bosses, mean women, cheatin’ women, whiskey, fallin’ in love. Tondy, all people feels them things.

We didn’t never put a name on what we played. Only when I come up north did they call it a name. It was just music what poor people knowed and sang.

Up here, in the 90’s they said what we played was blues. But not real blues, they said it had other names. We said it was “downhome” music. I still call it that.

Big Dave: They call some of it “country roots blues.” We play some of that, on acoustic. I heard that it is called Piedmont Blues, especially what Doc plays when he is playin’ alone at the house. That’s acoustic and they use the thumb for the bass line and the pointy finger for the chords or notes.

But most places if we are playin’ indoors, we use electric guitars and play old blues music that most people like. We play it because we know how and because we like it and they like it too. Blacks and whites. 

Doc: I heard that one before, Big Dave. Piedmont.A man in DC called it that. That is how whites and blacks played guitar down home. It’s how you play when you just sit down and start playin.

I don’t play that way out in public too much ‘cause I think it might sound too much like a poor man. But I do that on my ‘lectric guitars what gots bass strings. Nobody notices it, but it gives me that bass line and the rhythm guitar line and a little lead. When the guitar is set right, that is the best way to play if you come from down where we do.

Big Dave: But Doc is the onliest one I know with the bass set up like he has. It sounds real good, and it gives me somethin’ to play lead over. Makes a full sound.Big Dave & Doc Stevens Gig8

Doc: When we play Gospel music, it’s the same way. Old downhome songs from when we was kids. We ain’t do nothing new. We do a lot from the Gales…

Big Dave: Their real name is The Sensational Nightingales. I only learned that a few years ago, Doc.

Doc:  We do Gales’ songs. Spirituals. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Marilyn sings her stuff a lot. Just stuff we grew up on. People like it the first time they hear it, and the old folks love it ‘cause ain’t nobody do it anymore, but us. They see us and still think, “Look at those dumb white hillbillies, but when we start playin’ and the Spirit starts movin’ they are clappin’ and singin’ and stompin’!

Doc Stevens and Big Dave on the Odd Mix of Music That Many Rural Americans Play: Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Roots, R & B and more. And Drink Houses.

Saturday, January 8, 2011 9:12 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: One thing that fascinated me when I first began working around real American rural musicians is that they did not all play bluegrass music. That is the stereotype that we hold of them: blowing on moonshine jugs, playing banjo’s, mandolins, jaw harps, violins and guitars.

When I met Doc and his friends several years ago, they described what they played as “downhome country blues roots.” It is a mix of country, blues and a fair bit of early rock and roll. I was curious as to how this fit in with the stereotype that we have of these people playing nothing but bluegrass.

Following is an interview I had with Doc and Big Dave a couple of years ago.Big Dave & Doc Stevens Gig6

Doc: Why don’t we play bluegrass? Well, we ain’t got no banjo’s or violins or mandolins first off, Tondy. We got guitars, I got a bass and we got amps. Bluegrass don’t like basses and amps and electric guitars. But we do.

My family was tryin’ to get away from all that when we was comin’ up. People called us hillbillies and my Grand dad said we needed to quit lookin’ and talkin’ like hillbillies or we ain’t never gonna have anything or amount to nothin.’

Big Dave: I don’t like bluegrass. Ain’t nobody told me to. It just reminds me of my old man. He listened to bluegrass all the time. If it wasn’t his friends comin’ by and playin’ it at the house, it was on the radio. It got bad memories for me. It gets on my nerves.

Tondeleo: Bluegrass gets on your nerves? I thought all rural Americans thrived on bluegrass!

Big Dave: Well, you thought wrong, little buddy.

Doc: We don’t play bluegrass. I never learned it. When I was comin’ up I learned from my grand dad and uncles, and their friends. Some was white and some was black. We all learned each other’s songs. But he steered us away from bluegrass.

I been to places where all they play is bluegrass, and I can be playin’ along, and some office boy what took “bluegrass lessons” will watch me a few minutes and then tell me that I am not playin’ “bluegrass chords.” Bluegrass chords? What’s that? I never learnt no bluegrass chords. I ain’t never took lessons.

I learned a lot of what I play from being in the drink houses. That was whites and blacks and mixed people. Just poor people what had problems and still wanted to sing. Mostly they ain’t know what they was playin’ as far as chords go. They just figured out what sounded good.

I ain’t know the names of all the chords. I know more than some people does, as for the names, but not all of them.I just play what I seen other people play an’ I have some what I figured out, and I slide ‘em up and down the neck to make different ones. That’s what mostly I seen comin’ up.

We’d take our guitars and go to the drink house and eat and talk and play music.

Tondeleo: Drink houses. What are drink houses?

Doc: A drink house is what they have a lot of down south, in North Carolina especially. If they ain't a bar in the area where you can go down for a drink or play some music, a person might just open their house up as a drink house.

You can’t just go and hang out in a bar all night if you ain’t drinkin’ and if you’re dirty from work, they ain’t like that too much neither. A drink house is where poor folks go to hang out and talk and drink and relax.

It's just a person’s house, and they might have they livin’ room or back room with a little bar in it, and a few beers in the ‘frigerator, and maybe a few bottles of liquor in the cabinet. You give 'em a couple of bucks and they give you a shot of whiskey or a beer. Maybe even a dollar might get you a sip, if all you got is a dollar. You can just hang out there and talk of play music or whatever you want, as long as you're not causing any trouble.

Big Dave & Doc Stevens Gig3People in the neighborhood'll come by. Some will pull up in their car and come in just for a drink and leave. Others hang out there all day or evening.It’s a place to hang out, to talk, meet people and swap songs and learn a little by watchin’ what the other guy is doin’ and listenin’ to how he is playin’ and then do it yourself. You can learn a lot that way.

Sometimes they got a radio on, and you can learn some songs that way. That’s where some of the songs we play come from. That and old records we found here and there.

Big Dave: Yeah. I used to go to drink houses when I was in western North Carolina. It was just a cheap place to go and waste some time, and eat a sandwich and play music.

Some of 'ems open just some days or some evenin's and others is open day or night, seven days a week. Some's got a poker game in the back room or out on the picnic table in the back yard in the summer.

Some got a room fixed up where you can play music inside, with a little stage area over in the corner.

Some sell drugs, some don't. Some sell about anything a person could want, if they know you or you is family to a friend of theirs.

I never went for that. I just went for a sandwich, some music and some place to go before going back to my room to sleep.

Doc: You ain’t got to be a drunk or druggie to go to drink houses. I went for the food and music mostly and people what don’t have any money or good clothes got to be able to go someplace, too after work. Where else are we gonna go?

And that’s where we learnt to play and where we learnt the songs we sing. A bit of everything. Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and all them from my grand dad and uncles and they’s friends, and then John Lee Hooker, BB King, Albert King and a bunch of others from the drink houses.

Big Dave 6Really, you got to know all of it so you can make a few dollars. We play some places where it is mostly white people and they want that country music what they call roots. So we play it. Some people think we only play country.

Some places we play is like we are the only white folks there. We play blues; John Lee Hooker, Artie White and BB King and all those kinds of songs there. They ain’t never hear us play country.

Sometimes we play where it is mixed and we do mixed music there. A bit of blues, a bit of country. Whatever they want. We play Gospel too, Tondy! We learnt that at church. But also at drink houses and from family. Most poor folks go to church some time in their life, because life is hard and they need help from the Lord. I need help from the Lord.

And me and Marilyn like singin’ and playin’ Gospel music. It reaches down deep inside you.

Tondeleo: I know, I’ve heard you do that, and I quite like it, I do…

Doc: We like that Gospel, Tondy. Not the new stuff. The old stuff. When a man is poor and can’t deal with his problems, he can turn to drinkin’ and drugs, or he can turn to the Lord. I been turnin’ to the Lord when I get down in the mully grubs, and sometimes I can just pick up my guitar and sing a while and I feel all better. We play Gospel around the house a lot. A whole lot.