"Went Out One Night for to Make a Little Round..."

...and came back five weeks later, with 5000 miles and many great experiences under my belt. My first destination was the fiddle festival at Mt. Airy, North Carolina. It was my idea of what a festival ought to be: a high ratio of pickers among the listeners, lots of jams and parking-lot picking, a dance floor for the cloggers and the jiggers, $20 admission for the whole weekend, trees, showers, and an atmosphere as mellow as a snootful of bougainvillea.

I had the pleasure of seeing "in the tin" an example of one of Dave Morgan's legendary washtub basses, as described by Cindy Harris in this post to the Cyberpluckers newsgroup:

[It's] made by a guy named Dave Morgan of Ellamore, WV. Dave's been messing with these things for nigh on 60 years and come up with a washtub bass with a sound that gives a real bass a good run for its money. Instead of a broomstick, it's got a board that rests with its bottom end in the handle of the washtub and fits into a bolt that sticks out of the side of the washtub. The tub itself is closed off with plywood set about 4 inches into the tub and separated from the ground by pieces of old garden hose slipped over the edge of the tub.

The cable is the stuff that airplanes use for control cable (Dave told me that he discovered after many years of testing that this particular cable makes the best sound). It runs through a rubber plug set into the tub, through a pulley set into the top of the board and then down through a bolt with a hole through it that is secured with a wing nut to tune it (usually to a low G). The end is secured to the board with a band aid (so it doesn't flap around in the breeze). It's played by pushing forward or pulling back on the board VERY slightly -- it doesn't take much to get a half-step change in pitch.

It was demonstrated for me by a charming lady by the name of Anne (if memory serves.) It does produce a remarkably good sound, and to changes notes requires only the most subtle of gestures: her hand hardly moved as she spanned the musical gap from 1st to 5th (boop to bomp). And there was the neatest little sound-box mounted to the neck that enabled her to produce a "plock" on the upbeat in the manner of a slapped bass. Too cool.

The next two weekends I went to bluegrass festivals in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania and Sidney, Maine. Naturally, I dragged my trusty Tub-O-Tone all over the campground and played it wherever I could find two other pickers standing within seven feet of each other (got to be a jam session, I figured.) I was beginning to remind myself of ol' Billy Speers (the grand-daddy of Kansas country-rock), who used to reach for his fiddle whever he heard a coyote howl.

The Tub-O-Tone was warmly received at both these places, but if I'd had a half-dozen instruments or so made up in advance, I could have sold all of them the next Saturday night, at the festival I went to in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. Enthusiasm for the Tub-O-Tone was still strong even the next morning, when everyone was considerably more sober-- by which time I had figured out that the price I was quoting ($150) was being understood, of course, as $150 Canadian (about $100 U.S.)

Well, I'm back in Kansas City again now, 'ligning html code and scrounging furniture off the curb for Tub-O-Tone legs. I've got travel out of my system for awhile, but I know I'll soon be ready for more. How about tomorrow?

Lauren Miller

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