BlueSky Bluegrass Club
Family, Friends and Folk

Gizmo Bluegrass Bio's: Ken McDougall
Ken McDougall
Jo Ann Clark
Connie Calvert

Ken McDougall

For me it started with the instrument rather than the music. The first time I heard the banjo, I fell in love with the sound. This was in the folk music revival era with musicians such as Pete Seeger playing the banjo.

Unlike today, where the world of music is only a click away, my exposure to the banjo was limited to what was on radio and TV in southern Ontario. The first bluegrass I heard came when Earl Scruggs played with Lestor Flatt for the TV show "Beverly Hillbillies". His three finger style just blew me away. Doug Dillard played banjo with the "Darlings Family" on the "Andy Griffith Show". The odd movie, like "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Deliverance", had banjo prominent theme songs as well.

There were no record stores near where I lived that carried any bluegrass material. There was very limited use of the banjo in music I was exposed to. On occasion a banjo would show up in more popular music. I listened intently when any music included anything on the banjo.

In 1973 I bought a Framus 5 string banjo and a Pete Seeger instruction book to learn the 3 finger picking style that I loved. None of my friends played instruments, so I was on my own. The book just didn't cut it for me. I needed to hear what the sound should be. I did find a "play along" record but all tunes were at performance speed. After attempting to figure it out, I gave up in frustration.

Many years later, my wife decided to learn to play the guitar. She took group lessons at the local college and, through this, heard of a local banjo player/instructor. I dusted off my (by now old) banjo and signed up for lessons. From my instructor, I found out about the annual Tottenham Bluegrass Festival. There, as well as seeing top calibre bluegrass bands, I was able to buy many bluegrass tapes and CDís. My instructor taught me some 3 finger style basics and had me learn tunes from tablature. In hind sight, it would have been better for him to have taught me to recognize, in recorded tunes, the licks he had taught me and then (by combining these licks) apply them to recreate these tunes on my own.

The lessons were short lived when work requirements combined with family commitments all but eliminated any practise time that I had. The banjo gathered dust again.

A number of years later, Terry Calvert invited me to come out and jam with him and other bluegrass musician. I had never played with anyone else (other than my instructor) and had limited knowledge of chord formations, but decided to go and see what went on at a jam.

This is where my learning really started. While I still didnít have much time to practise, playing with others in a jam circle really helped with my timing, hearing chord changes (and recognising the chord) and doing basic rolls as backup to the lead instrument/singer. In addition, because of the regularity of the jams (once a month at that time), it forced me to put in a reasonable amount of practise time in between. The members of this group (Bluesky Bluegrass Club) were very accommodating and understanding of my limited ability to play the banjo. In spite of many of them being accomplished musicians, they offered advice and encouragement and allowed me to struggle through when it was my turn to take a break (and play the wrong chord/poor timing/etc. when they were taking their break). They are a great group of people who add to the desire to attend our jam sessions.

I sold my original banjo. I felt that, for me, the neck was a little too narrow with the strings too close together. It had a mellow sound and I wanted a banjo that had a deeper, more plunky sound. The one I have now is a 1970's Japanese banjo with some of the parts changed out by the prior owner. I am still very happy that I made the change.

Since joining Bluesky Bluegrass, I have retired. I now have more time to work on my playing. In spite of my prior comments on how I should have been taught, I did continue to learn to finger pick tunes from tablature (so much is available on the internet). I felt I had to learn new tunes so I wouldnít continually repeat tunes in subsequent jams. I am now in the long process of utilizing what I have learned and attempting to apply that to play by ear. It's coming but will take time.

Once I feel reasonably comfortable playing by ear, then I will consider myself a true musician.

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Jo Ann ClarkJo Ann Clark

I was one of those kids who grew up with one ear glued to the radio as WWVA Wheeling West Virginia faded in and out on Saturday night. My Dad played banjo and mando and I sang with him and his friends when they jammed at our house. Later on, I drifted away to other music forms, but came back a few years ago when I started singing with a bluegrass band in Florida. The bass player offered to teach me his upright bass. Three months later, I bought my own. It was a great instrument to start on, because you can play 2 note chords, and you don't need to worry about minors, sevenths etc. until you get into more advanced playing. The drawback was that still I needed other players to back me up when I was singing, so a few months ago I got a dobro, a type of steel guitar. I find it easier to chord with a metal bar than to try to train my old fingers to twist into those weird guitar shapes.

I love bluegrass for a lot of reasons. Harmony singing is one of the hallmarks of bluegrass and although I don't sing harmony, I absolutely love listening to it. I love the unique sound of bluegrass instruments, and I love the informal way of making bluegrass music. You don't have to read music. You play mostly by ear. You never know what someone else is going to sing; you play along if you know it, or just listen and watch for a while until you catch on. Bluegrass players are easy to get along with and we all learn from each other. We make mistakes, but we don't worry about it. We do it for fun.

This is a quick clip of Jo Ann Clark singing "Just Because".

Here is a link to the words & chords.


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Connie Calvert
 My introduction to Bluegrass was indirect. It came by means of folk music.  I remember as a young girl of seven, going to Mariposa Folk Festival for the first time.  Our family and a group of friends would ride the ferry over to Torontoís Centre Island, and take in such acts as Ian and Sylvia Tyson, John Prine and Doc Watson. My dadís interest in music ignited my interest first in Folk music with its story-based ballads, sung by such singers as Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot,  Judy Collins, and Odetta to name a few. When you add to this repertoire the harmonies of the Seeger Family, the Kingston Trio, as well as Peter Paul and Mary, how could you not be entranced?  Take the above and align them with fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and throw in a story of love lost, found or unrequited and Bluegrass naturally emerges.

As music evolved throughout the 80ís and 90ís, so did my fatherís musical tastes.  Although his preferences were eclectic at this time, we, (his children, family and friends), could see, and or rather hear Bluegrass replacing the light rock and roll and pop music performed by the Who, Genesis, Elton John and Billy Joel. He had always had a preference to groups with strong harmonies. However, if you were with him and he heard a fiddle, mandolin or banjo tune heíd grab one of us and start doing his two-step jig.  I may be mistaken but I think the pendulum swung back to its roots around the time The Rankin Family took the national stage and that would have been around in 1988 coinciding with The Traveling Wilburys' multifarious crew.  Whichever they seemed to be the catalyst that started him wanting to play an instrument again and his genre preference was Bluegrass. Why, thatís a story for him to tell.


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