Pantaris and Velocity

The bottle came down on the table with a thump: Saint Pauli Girl. It was a very special night and the energy was high. The Gem Sisters, Pearl and Ruby, were playing and everyone it seemed needed to be there. Word was out all over Erosion Canyon and beyond in the hidden whereabouts that grace the wrinkles of Appalachian topography: the happening scene would be at Woodlands (pig-pickin’ and barbeque) in Blowing Rock, this Friday night. And what a fine scene the Gem Sisters put on with their homespun duet of sincere Americana from Steven Foster to Hank Williams sprinkled liberally with their own original compositions. Before the night was through, many a cross would be peeled from the bottle. (During deep tavern confessionals, the paper cross always gets peeled off the bottle; Miller and ‘the Girl’ respectively.) Pearl and Ruby always evoked a Mood.

Pantaris and Velocity would surely be there. They had been studying the Sisters for months, now; analyzing everything about their performance because they were singer/song-writers, too. Well, Velocity had written the most, while Pantaris fancied himself a lead player. And all this didn’t happen by accident; surely there was some Invisible Hand, guiding their destiny towards a big Future.

Pantaris met Velocity while working in the kitchen of The Tack Room (number 3 restaurant in the US, at the time; whose various incarnations include Fabian’s, and the Ruddy Duck. Fabian was quite a good guitarist, himself.). Fabian Botta’s father (Oscar) had given Velocity his nick-name (‘Velocito’, in Spanish). Velocity was going through a rough divorce from his former wife and was out of a home and Pantaris was recovering from a similar tragedy and looking for a room to rent, so the two pooled their struggling-artist resources and rented a trailer on the edge of Boone, NC. Pantaris had recently acquired his Harmony electric in a trade for his electric bass (with Bright Forward; see Mountain Rain) and also a Gibson amp (with tremolo) from Dean, a locally famous Dead Head who actually knew Uncle Tom (Dr. Thomas Hosicke), but that is a whole other, completely weird story that we won’t go into.

The Three of us (Pantaris and Velocity and Dean) were having toast and coffee at a local restaurant (the Mountain House Restaurant, near Southend: see this review, and here) one morning when Dean said, “See that elderly gentleman over at the next table?”. We all looked around, but nothing unusual registered; there were many elderly mountain folk in Appalachia. Dean continued, “That’s Doc Watson (here and here) and his family. (Wife and son, Merle). They drive up here about once a week from Deep Gap”. Man, Dean really got around. Dean taught Pantaris how to play Franklin’s Tower. And Velocity had a book of scales that he gave to Pantaris, who studied them religiously during that era of music-making. It had a picture of this lead guitar-player on the front with the coolest-looking ‘fro: who could resist learning from that book!

Now the trailer park was outstanding in the field of strangeness. For example, during a typically heavy Boone snow, Pataris built a snow-hive beside their trailer. How peaceful and quiet it would be to sit inside in muffled solitude and contemplate the wonders of Nature. Within an hour of its completion, millions of indigent Appalachian children swarmed the area (like ants at a picnic) staying at all hours day and night, hollerin’ and generally raising cane to the point that, sleep-deprived and irascible, Pantaris had to charge the youth and  stomp down the snow-hive into mushy powder before they all would leave (as Pantaris yelled at them, shaking his angry fist). Another thing that made that particular trailer-park special was that, for some inexplicable reason, Velocity turned out to be a Chick-Magnet. He was on special terms with literally scores of the lovliest, most fascinating women from all over the Watauga Valley. In puzzling over this feature, we decided it must be his irresistible charm, his knowledge of Dr. Who episodes, and his affection for Chocolate cake (which we lived off of with a steady diet: breakfast, lunch and supper; starving musicians that we were).

Velocity’s songs were deep and locally famous: Barlow (which was later developed into a sport), Yellow Flowers, Cotton Jenny, Mullah of Qintar, and Baseball Player. I ran into Velocity, arbitrarily, one day in Charlotte NC while standing in line at a movie theatre. Later on, he sent me a compilation of his latest work: a masterpiece featuring something akin to British Punk. Velocity told me one night on Hobo Hill (in Boone) that he had a disdain for playing the same old styles from bygone years and liked to continue his Intellectual growth, His new compositions reflect this Ideal.


Authentic Native Tarheel Ubi-Jubi (part 1)

The first thing that crosses someone’s mind when encountering this phrase, and certainly the most natural, is: ‘what is it’? But this is not an easy question to define because the answer lies in that fact that it is a style of Music and Music needs to be listened to to be understood, more so than described in words. That having been said, it could also be noted that Musical styles and categories are often things developed by Theoretical Musicologists or perhaps promoters within the music industry and Ubi-Jubi is something acquired and developed by the Practical Musician: the Player of Music.

To do the phrase justice, we ought to note that there is a location attached to the ‘Ubi-Jubi’ part as well. In placing that location in the goodly land of North Carolina (from which many Authentic and Original Musicians hail) it is only fair that we include most of the entire Piedmont area of the Southeast; in particular North and South Carolina and parts of South-side Virginia. Coastal Plains communities with their Provincialisms are often masking enclaves of Ubi-Jubi as well. So we begin by noting enclaves and communities which are somehow tucked away and insular from the tide of blandness which sweeps across the more populated areas of mass transition. This would include the branch-heads and back-woods hollows as well as the smaller villages which still retain their original populations of pioneering families whether colonial or displaced by historical circumstances (richly diverse and many). That these communities are vestiges of fugitive conditions, as fascinating as that may be, does not necessarily impact the nature and style of the music, in my opinion. It only addresses the ‘why’ of insularity which helped to preserve its Authenticity because the refugees preferred the isolation. Now we understand the ‘where’ but let us pursue the ‘what’.

At its Living Roots, Authentic Native Tarheel Ubi-jubi grows out of the Rhythm. Therefore it is Rhythm first and foremost. Music without Rhythm is like a car with no engine: it doesn’t go anywhere. We must be straightforward in the statement that there is a special gift from the Mother Continent inherent in Ubi-jubi which is indigenous Afro-Caribbean. That Africa is the source of the special syncopation is easy to follow but why the Caribbean influence? It is my opinion that something Caribbean was acquired during the North American Passage while at way-stations in Haiti, perhaps. Without going into the scholarly details about the French, English, Dutch and Spanish imperialism and their respective Island provinces, it would be plain enough to set the Haitian influence into situations which resulted in influential New Orleans styles (and the Early Roots of Jazz). That these influences play a part in Ubi-Jubi is plain enough but does not entirely address the locational aspect of Piedmont Ubi-jubi. That the English colonization of Jamaica resulted in Cameroon insurgency may serve to explain the Roots of certain features of the Piedmont Ubi-jubi (more on this later) is not enough to explain the Indigenous influence on Piedmont syncopation. To explain this (in my very humble opinion) we would need to look to the Coastal Communities of South Carolina, even as far as Charleston and Savannah (Ga.). This opinion is because the Virginia Africans consisted of ‘Domestic Populations’ centered around Richmond. As painful as these theorizings are, it is just to proceed with an account of the Afro-Caribbean influence in Ubi-Jubi Music. Let us now consider something more comfortable about this influence.

The Magic Aspect of this Syncopated Jubi is that it ties together Strong Personalities of the Diverse Community in a Unified and Harmonious Way without sacrificing the Originality of the Individual Personal Resonance. Remember that the Indigenous African Tribesman was Strong and Indomitable but contributed Strength to his Community through the Tribal Council, and this council was underscored with the oneness of the Drum Circle. That the Celtic Scot could be assessed similarly might be addressed in a later essay, which speaks to the Piedmont refugee situation mentioned above. Anyway, for now: Okra, Syncopation, the Blue Note, and of course the People are the most precious gifts to come across the Atlantic from Africa and grace our fair land, contributing greatly to what we are (and where we are to go). And Syncopation, like Okra; is the Ingredient that thickens the Stew and holds the Pot together. During Improv, it is easy for the combo to come unglued (unrelated diversities) unless the Recipe is based on a syncopated root-structure. This Syncopated Root is what holds the Improvising personalities together during performance. It is really Magical.

What happened that brought the Coastal Influence upward into the Piedmont uplands? The answer is at once completely obvious and at the same time intensely personal and therefore almost hidden in secrecy. Without belaboring the point, it is clear enough to point out that this leadership by Tribal Council became incorporated into the Institution of the Church, especially via the fervent Independence of the Missionary Baptists. That the Local Church meetings play a crucial role in the operation of local black communities is perhaps an understatement. And what characterizes perhaps the second most beloved aspect of the local church-service? Why Black Gospel, of course! And so Authentic Native Tarheel Ubi-jubi has almost one foot still in the pew, as it draws heavily on the influence of traditional backwoods foot-stompin’ gospel styles. Though gospel styles are many, I would conjecture that the roots go back to a South Carolina Gospel style and become mediated as per the variant locations encountered along the way.

Part Two will continue with more on this elaborate and fascinating discussion of Authentic Native Tarheel Ubi-jubi, with respect to the Harmonic Structure.