Elwood H. Smith
RATS & NAILS
OCTOBER 21, 2006
I learned to play guitar when I was about 15 years old and I've continued to play music in one form or another throughout my life. My brother, Dave (about 18 months my junior & my childhood sidekick) learned to play drums in high school, but lost interest in performing once he headed off for college. I guess the ham in me kept me going. Over the years, I harbored a dream that Dave would learn to play guitar, mandolin or banjo and, whenever he would trek from Michigan to visit me in New York or I would end up in my Michigan hometown to visit him, we'd haul out our instruments and, much like the Everly Brothers, we'd create the special kind of music only family members can make.
But Dave didn't learn to play the banjo or the mandolin. Not even the ubiquitous guitar turned his head. No matter, my dream, like a vaporous barnacle, was in it for the long haul. Opportunity knocked in mid-September. My sister, Jude, and Dave and his wife, Elaine, journeyed from Tennessee & Michigan to Rhinebeck for a short visit. One morning, during my daily walk, inspiration struck. An idea for a video, followed the lyrics to the perfect Dave song began rattling around my head. I'd hit upon a way to realize my dream. I arrived home, jotted down "Rats & Nails" and asked Dave if he'd be willing to be an actor in a short video. Uh, yeah, okay. How could he refuse his older brother?
I tuned my tenor banjo (4 strings, short neck) to an open tuning so Dave could strum it without worrying about chords. The song was short and simple--no chord changes & a bluesy, modal melody. Dave sings occasionally in a choir, so it was a piece of cake. We needed a set. The dining room was chosen, chairs were moved and living room floor lamps were brought in. Dave gamely allowed me a half dozen or so takes. As payment, he demanded a supply of Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre ale, which he soon began carrying with him as he trundled on and off the stage.
Dave suggests cracking open a dark ale before viewing this small movie. Damned fine advice, banjo man.
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