Old-Time StringBand, 1967 somewhere in Nottinghamshire? Left: Don Cogin flatpicking a Gibson made Epiphone ´Cabalero´guitar. Don is also a fine Clawhammer banjoist! (Where ever you are Don, please come back, we miss you!) Right: Terry Foster picking a pre-war Windsor ´Popular No. 1´ 5-string banjo. T.W. as he liked to be known, unfortunately doesn´t play anymore, but keeps in touch and sent me this nice old picture from bygone days, Thanks Terry! Yours truly in the middle with first old German 5-bar Autoharp and weighing in about three stone lighter. Where did the years go?
Promo card from the early folk years
Stan with his Martin style 3 ukulele: taken at a Beginners Ukulele Workshop, as part of Nature´s World Free Folk Festival, mid July probably 2004 or 2005.
The Journey comes around full circle, as I rehearse with the newly formed MBJO Dixieland Octette. The instrument is one of two circa 1925 Vega ´Regent´plectrum-banjos, ´dusted-off´ for the occasion.
Stan Gee - Autobiography:
My thanks to professional photographer Dennis Dunning.
I was Born Stanley George Gee on September the 6th.1942 in a small town in the North Eastern corner of Yorkshire, England.
A Western Movie enthuisiast from earliest recollection, I accepted the music along with the action. The song that really sparked my imagination and got the ball rolling was ‘Davey Crockett – King of the Wild Frontier’! (I had the hat with the tail too!)
I bought my first much used banjo around age 13, but only fooled about with it until my parents bought my first guitar for Christmas aged 14. This was a 4-stringed ‘Skiffle’ guitar made of plastic! But it came with the necessary info to play basic chords. I guess I made rapid progress resulting in my parents buying me a full size 6-string ´Cello style guitar the following Christmas. I was on my way!
This was the era of a revival of Traditional Jazz with it’s counterpart Skiffle Craze, spearheaded by Guitar/Banjoist Lonnie Donegan. It was a heady mix of old Jazz songs; Blues; Country & American Folk Songs. Most importantly, it was accessible and was consumed enthusiastically! Whilst still a teenager, I played rhythm banjo with a local jazz band and made my first solo performances at the first newly formed folk music club in the next town.
The late 50’s and early 60’s was the era of the ‘Folk Revival’. Following the American trend, most British folk singers initially performed American material before diversifying into their indigenous roots. But despite these distractions, and the odd sortie into the related Mexican & South American areas, I still preferred the music that had provoked my initial desire to play. I have now unashamedly been playing American music for nearly 50 years, and havn´t heard anything yet to make me want to change!
In that time I have tried to become conversant with nearly all of the instruments & playing styles associated with the American idiom. As well as my early Jazz Band days, I have contributed to several Bluegrass & Old Time Country bands playing variously Fiddle; 5-string Banjo; Guitar; Mandolin; Dobro; Autoharp; Dulcimer; Harmonica and Upright Bass. Self praise is no recommendation I guess, so one small example of the measure of my ability was being chosen to play Lead Electric Guitar & 5-string Banjo to accompany a local Country Hero, Paul Wheater, on a National tour culminating at the world famous London Paladium!
I married at 26 to Margaret, who shared my interest in music but didn´t start to take it seriously until she was inspired by the sight of a lady playing Bass in a Bluegrass Band. I learned to play Bass initially in order to teach the basics to Maggie. As a duo we played the folk clubs for awhile before making the leap to the slightly less precarious living on the Social Club scene. This involved the quantum leap to Amplification and an acceptance of performing not only popular folk & country, but rock & pop! This provided a living for a few years until problems at home forced another change of direction. Our first Daughter Sarah-Jane was born with DeLange syndrome, a type of dwarfism with several accompanying physical handicaps including deafness. Moving out of active performing, firstly to owning a music shop for several years, then to teaching at both home & school/colleges enabled more time at home. Sarah-Jane was blessed with a beautiful nature but needed more care than we could give her at home so we reluctantly made the decision to place her in a care home. She died a couple of years later, aged 17. That was 22 years ago now but it just seems like yesterday, we miss her so much everyday. Luckily our second Daughter Sally-Anne is perfectly normal. Now 28, with her own Daughter Milly and Twin babies on the way! Stop Press! Milly flanked by two latest additions Jack & Nina.
Another three contented people, Granpa,Nina & Jack!
I survived a Heart attack in July 2000 and Margaret left home in January 2001, but I like to think we are reasonably amicable when our paths cross. She is still actively playing Bass; guitar; singing & running her own Country club at ´The Station´ Stokesley, once a month. Her tastes running more to ´New´ country,and a big Jimmie Buffet fan!
Struggling with a long & complicated recovery, I dragged myself out of the doldrums one night to visit the Cutty Wren Folk club, and met Eve! It´s pretty incredible to even imagine striking up a new relationship at 60 years old, and it put me on the road to recovery.
Until that point I had tended to think of myself as a solo performer. I tried to excel at interpreting American music in general, and Western music in particular as accurately as possible, soaking myself in the recordings; writings & films about all aspects of American music. Reasuringly I have occasionally been mistaken for the authentic article!. I like to think my performance evokes America & The West through the sincerity of my repres-entation of both traditional and contemporary American material. As well as singing & yodeling, I like to think I am a musician´s ´Musician´, always trying to include a melodic solo in my accompaniments,and something of a hallmark of my playing. Eve´s unadorned but rock steady rhythm accompaniments have provided the perfect base to indulge my desire to play the ´tune´ as well as sing the song!
Unfortunately, performance time usually limits my urge to play everything, to accompaniments on 6 & 12 string Guitars; Long-Necked 5-string Banjo, with perhaps a light seasoning of Autoharp &/or Ukulele; and a dash of Harmonica.
Over the last few years my voice has changed radically, possibly compounded by my illness as well as old age, but the result is that I sing some songs as much as a 4th. lower in pitch! Modesty forbids me from saying whether or not it is for the better, so I will simply end with a quote from John Taylor, the well known & well respected organiser of Saltburn Folk Festival & the Cutty Wren Folk Club: \"Stan Gee was the first folksinger I ever saw & heard at a folk club back in the 60´s and he just keeps getting better & better!\" Many thanks John. I couldn´t wish for a nicer comment!
Most recently,life doesn´t get any better than playing Rhythm guitar to back up the fabulous Jazzman, Keith Stephen!
Thanks to professional photographer Dennis Dunning.
Eve´s hobby was restoring antique dolls & making high class character Teddy Bears until she met me in the Autumn of 2002. That Christmas Santa brought her a soprano Ukulele! It lay dormant for a couple of months, but once she took the bull by the horns, she quickly learned to strum accompaniments to several folk; country & jazz tunes. The Teddy Bears had to take a back seat as Eve became adept with the whole Ukulele family from the tiny Soprano up to the Baritone, and transferred this skill to the steel strung Tenor Guitar.
Eve & her prized 1957 Martin 5-15T, taken on a cold but bright day in February 2006 as part of the photo shoot for our first much hurried C.D.
Over the last four years she has also made inroads with the Uke-Banjo; Autoharp; Mandolin; 5-string & the Tenor-Banjo.
Strumming her Gibson TB-2/Jr. on the 4th. of July Concert in her Albuquerque Festival Finery!
However, the instrument which has made the most impact on audiences, is her Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer, which whilst playing a melody, also provides a great rhythmic accompaniment to several Appalachian ballads & dance tunes, and in particular is a great partner for the banjo.
A natural follow up to this was the ´Strumstick´ or ´Walkabout Dulcimer´. The unique tone & amazing amount of volume from such a small instrument, always guarantees her getting attention where ever she plays it!
Somewhat like a much modified Cittern but with the diatonic fret spacing of the Dulcimer, it frees the player to stand to play, very useful when a chair of the right height can´t be guaranteed for the traditional Dulcimer playing position! Having a partner who is quite content to play a rhythmic background on a wide variety of instruments is a great asset to me because it enables me to not only indulge myself by playing more melody on guitar, but use a wider range of melody instruments such as mandolin; fiddle; tenor banjo & possibly a whole bunch of obscure Mexican & South American instruments yet to be explored!
Last year I was provoked into making my first demo Album following enquiries from festival organizers in the U.S.A. Local singer/songwriter Bob Fortune helped me produce a varied selection of songs representative of my then current folk club programme, which included a few Western songs, hence the title ‘Evelyn May accompanies Stan Gee-Looking West’. This resulted in us being asked to appear at the Western Music Association annual festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November 2006. Our reception was better than anyone could have hoped for, one song in particular ´Out Calfornia Way´ was picked to be featured on a tribute night to The Sons of the Pioneers. Eve & I took our turn on the stage with a string of pro performers, and I have to say her demeanor was every bit just as professional. It went down pretty good and we have been asked to re-appear in 2007. It doesn’t get any better than being accepted by authentic American Artistes on their home ground, I felt as if we had finally arrived and validation for a life’s work of study of American music! Eve also enjoyed the attention her instruments and playing attracted, and is looking forward to the forthcoming WMA trip.
This momentous event also bolstered Eve’s confidence considerably, resulting in an increase in her vocal input. We are now working on an album entitled ‘Stan Gee accompanies Evelyn May-Don´t Pass Me By´. Watch this space!