Today, a revival of traditional music is in full swing and gritty, soulful mandolin playing is again at the forefront. At the top of the list of new masters is David Long. Mentored by Wakefield and Compton, David brings incredible energy and enthusiasm to his music. His playing is confident and forthright, and his knowledge of the Monroe songbag is second to none. Add to his amazing right wrist and super strong attack and you have one of the best tradtional mandolin players to come along in recent memory. His stints with Karl Shiflett and his full time gig with The Wildwood Valley Boys, where he displays a very good tenor harmony voice, have brought him a degree of recognition on the festival circut.
Q - Are you and Mike planning another tour this season? It sure would be cool to
be able to catch a show, I've heard you guys put on a great one.
A - Well, I don't know how great they are.... We sure have a lot of fun doing it. It's pretty raw: two mandolins and some mando/tenor guitar and lots of duet singing.. It's been the greatest musical experience I have ever had. I've learned more in the last year than I did in the previous 7. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to play this thing. As for bookings, I'm working on some stuff this summer in the Colorado area. I also have some more offers in the North West and North East.
Q - I think it's pretty obvious that Bill Monroe and Mike Compton are influences to your style of playing. Are any other mandolin pickers an influence to your playing?
A - You bet. Frank Wakefield was a huge help. I spent a week with him out in California a couple years ago which is where he open the door to the whole "right hand" thing. That was when I was really getting into Monroe style and I knew Frank had a good take on it. I love Earl Taylor and Buzz Busby, and David Davis. Matt Flinner helped me a bunch when I first started playing too. I really admire anyone who makes the instrument their own. Now it seems I'm as easily influenced by old, black string bands. Charlie and Joe McCoy are two of favorites along with Blind Blake, Willie McTell, Gary Davis, King Solomon Hill, Andrew and Jim Baxter. I could go on and on..... heck, Mark Twain.
Q - I know you used to play an "Old Wave" but what mandolin(s) do you play now? Do you have any on your wish list?
A - I have 4 now that get used most regularly. I'll list in order of most recently aquired:
1) Gilchrist Model 5 #03550
2) 1924 Gibson A-Jr. Snakehead.
3) 2003 Gibson F-5 Varnished Fern
4) 1924 Gibson Mandolin-Banjo w/ trap door.
It's a pure joy having two F-5's handy. I can leave one in standard tuning and put the other in whatever tuning comes to mind. The A-Jr is great for Old Time and blues. Plus it sounds great crossed tuned as well. The MB is great for scaring off burglars, tearing the paint of the walls, and makes for great back ground music when the telemarketers call. It also works as good turkey caller. As for a wish list, I'd like to have a good m'dola and m'cello. I think I have enough now that can keep me busy for a while. But who am I kidding, you can never had too many mandolins.
Q - What has been the the most valuable lesson you have learned from studying Bill Monroe's playing?
A - I'll try to list as many that come to mind. I might add, I don't feel I've "learned" anything yet. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface.I'll list as many as I can and can go into further detail if anyone wants.
1) Note selection: Playing the quality notes and not the quantity.
2) Using the mandolin a vehicle of self expression.
3) Right hand (for obvious and not-so obvious reasons)
4) Trying to figure out how to make the mandolin sound like a fiddle shuffle
5) Different tremelo styles
6) Knowing when and when not to use down strokes (see #1 > note selection)
7) Trying to figure out what Bill was listening to when he first started to play. (i.e. fiddle styles, blues guitar, singers)
8) Using the proper technical skills to produce the best emotional content
These are some. Like I said, I can elaborate more on any of these if anyone is interested.
Q - You've studied with both Matt Flinner and Mike Compton. How would you compare their respective approaches to the mandolin and music in general and what you think you have learned from each?
A - When I first started playing around 1996, I was living in a small town in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There was a local jam every Monday night and I started showing up and playing with who ever would let me. I kept asking around if anyone knew of any players in town that would teach lessons and someone told me about Matt Flinner who was living literally minutes from my house. I went to see Matt play several times and he was the first mandolin player that I saw up close that really made me think about the instrument. He had his own style and could play all kinds of music. I think I maybe had only two lessons with Matt. Plus I would go see him whenever he'd play within a 8 hour radius of Jackson. I remember once driving 8 hours to see him in Ft. Collins, Colorado. So, I can't say I ever really "studied" with Matt. For some reason, seeing and hearing Matt play really inspired me to practice and want to be a mandolin player. I was more of a mando-stalker.
As for comparing Matt and Mike it's hard. Both are great players and teachers in their own right. From what I remember, Matt knows a great deal about music due to his formal education and his dedication to his music. I believe he does a good deal transcribing music for books. To me, his technique is very clean, his tone is sophisticated, and I don't recall him ever playing anything that was not perfectly tasteful.
As for Mike, his playing is less "heady" than Matt's. Matt's phrasing is more jazz oriented while Mike's seems more old timey/bluesy and more emotionally charged. I've seen him on occasions sore to the sublime often making tones I never thought a mandolin could make. (or a person for that matter) That's what I find so fascinating about this style. I think it pushes the limit of what a human and/or a mandolin is capable.
What have I learned from each? After I saw Matt for the first time was when I started walking around the house with the mandolin, quitting my job (or getting myself fired), and practicing for hours at a time and making my roommates crazy. So he gave me that which has stuck with me over the last 8 years. I'll always be learning from Mike (and Matt too) and it seems I'll be addressing it in the next question, so stand by....
Q - David- what was the most important thing you learned from Compton on your recent tour?
And if you asked him that, what do you think he might say he learned from you?
A - Most important thing? Don't go to Will Kimble's on an empty stomach.
Seriously..... I'm trying to learn to stretch out more. i.e. not to play the same thing over and over again.. With two mandolins, you'll find out really quick that playing a chop doesn't cut it. I'm having to figure out new voicing for chords, harmony lines, and different rhythm styles to back up whatever Mike is doing solo wise. I'm learning new songs/tunes and also relearning tunes I thought I knew but really didn't. We're working on "running" our show and trying to keep things moving while attempting to have a lot of fun at the same time.
I can't imagine what he is learning from me and can't speak for him. But you'll have to ask him that when he's CGOW next time. I'd like to hear the answer.
I hope I covered everything.
Q - When I met you last year you mentioned that you spent at
least 4 long years wood shedding Monroe right techniques. Could you explain
some of the techniques (tremolo, arpeggio, downstrokes, etc.) you focused on,
and how it assisted in your right hand development. Looking forward to your
returning to the Northwest.
A - The right hand idea took me a while to understand and still haven't got it where I would like it. I always heard people talk about how all the sound comes from your right hand. It's difficult to explain though email but I'll give it a try. Please forgive me if I start to ramble...
There are a lot of factors that influenced Bill's right hand. I'll list a few and try elaborating on why I feel they are important to me.
1) Making the right hand sound like a fiddle bow (shuffle). Bill loved old time fiddle music and probably listened to it enough as a youngster that he could mimic the sound of a bow. It's an implied accent on the up beat. There are some great live recordings (unofficial) of Bill doing it. Paddy on the Turn Pike and Katy Hill are two numbers that he played with that shuffle. This requires a constant tremelo and very loose wrist and grip on the pick. It's kind of an acrobatic style, a lope of sorts.
2) Monroe used tremelo to his advantage. He would bare down and play close to the bridge to get that really dark, almost mean sound when he wanted. Or he could get that nice "bell sound" playing up further away from the bridge around the scroll area. This can be heard on alot of gospel turn arounds that he did. It's lighter/softer touch but very appropriate in some cases. That has taught me to use all parts of the finger board with my right hand. There's a whole spectrum of tones in this little instrument. I think we should use them.
3) Down Stokes... Hmm... Downstrokes require a lot of self confidence and stamina. It's hard not to get carried away when using them. Deciding when to and when not to use them is very critical. Some songs require them while others don't. I practice along with Bill's (and others) records and try to play along using different down strokes. You'll be hitting the strings hard. Don't be timid about doing it. You're mandolin will not explode. It feels good especially if you had a bad day. Try to use your momentum coming out of one to go into to the next. It's like bouncing a tennis ball with a racquet and a slowly lowering the racquet to the ground. Think of your right hand as the ball. Confused yet? I sure am....
4) Playing the melody with your right hand. Compton does this the best and I got this idea from him. Try playing your favorite tune or song while dampening all the strings with your left hand. Notice what your right hand is doing. Have your right hand play the melody line. It works with down strokes or tremelo. Then pick out the melody lines with your left hand and see what happens.
Q - Ive really enjoyed your solo album Midnight from
Memphis and your work with the Wildwood Valley Boys. Do you have any plans
(in addition to the project with Mike C.) for additional projects? I see you
have tour in Japan with Brandon Lee Folk of Open Road. How did that
partnership evolve and what types of songs/tunes will you play.
A - I'm always looking for things to do. I love working with different people. Mike and I have a project in the works. Other than that I have nothing going. I would like to do another solo project with some of my favorite players. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.
As for the Japan tour, Mike Compton and I were originally supposed to go but Mike got offered to do the Cold Mountain tour which was way more lucrative for him and his family. I thought I wasn't going to get to go until I called Bradford. His band wasn't working that week so asked him and he said yes. I first met Brad about a year ago when his band played here in Pittsburgh. We hit it off and kept in touch ever since. He's a great singer and rhythm guitar player. As for our material, I'm flying out to the Denver area before Japan so Brad and I can work up a show. I've been searching through the "deep catalogue" for material so hopefully we won't be playing Salt Creek for a whole week.
Q - Can you elaborate on right hand techniques you learned from Frank Wakefield?
A - Frank got me over my first hump so to speak. I got to see his right hand up close and see how he was hitting the strings. It was visual thing. That's pretty much it. Frank's tone is not only from his right hand, but from the mandolin which he's played constantly for more than 40 years. I wish I could tell you more and know that might be anticlimactical but it's all I have. I'm a very visual learner and I tend to visualize a great deal. I have a picture of Frank's right hand burned into my memory. I'd recommend anyone who's is interested in Monroe style mandolin to go see Frank Wakefield. It will be an experience you will never forget.
Q - Are you still with the Wildwood Valley Boys?
A - Unfortunately, no. I left the group around March. I just needed to try something new. I played with them for over 2 years and learned a great deal in that time period.
Q - Did you work on Busbys style? What do you feel are the characteristics his playing beyond the powerful tremolo ?
A - I never worked on his style. I'm just a fan. The characteristic that stands out to me is his intensity and feeling in his playing and singing. I love all the old Star Day recordings of him. Some favorites are Cold and Windy Night, Lost, and Lonesome Wind. He gives me chills. He was a very creative yet tortured soul. I think his addictions and lifestyle kept him locked in obscurity which is another reason why I admire him. Not for his addictions, but I have a feeling he didn't give a darn about getting famous or being successful. He just played the snot out of the mandolin. I could be wrong, it's just my take on him. I think a book is being written on Buzz now.
Q - Both Wakefield and Compton focus on the right hand, what did you learn from each of them and how would you suggest players use it?
A - I'm learning all the different ways it can be used. It's just another tool and for some an acquired taste. It's not always pretty. Use it to express your self through the song. That's the most important thing to me. Know when and when not to use it. When done correctly, it's very effective. When done incorrectly, you may scare off an audience member or 2. See my previous response regarding the technique. I hope I answered your question in here somewhere.
Q - How do you and Mike Compton back each other up as one takes the lead? how do you vary back up with just two musicians?
A - A lot of it is playing the mandolin like a guitar. Using guitar-like runs, different chord voicings, and rarely a chop. We play a lot of chords that have harmony notes in them that fit with what ever the soloist is doing at that time. It forces me to fill in the gaps. I think we are getting better at it. It was tough for me at first but Mike is very encouraging and we have a lot of fun. I wish we could do it more often.
Q - Will you and Mike release any recordings? Will you come to the west coast?
A - We're working on one now and hopefully we can get it finished soon. It'll will be mostly duets with some originals mixed in. We were on the West Coast in December of 2003 for about 2 weeks. I'll come back any time. I'll be waiting by the phone. Hopefully we can get back there this Summer some time.