Blue Yodel #3 – The Complete Porter Mapes

[I receive these occasional emails from Porter Mapes, a bluegrass sideman who is living the life, as they say—not edited for spelling, grammar, or facts. I hope to hear more from him.]



Date: Sep. 3, 2011

Hey Pal,

Well, it’s finally happened. I was hired on by the Willett Family to play banjo. This morning we hit the road at O dark 30 and as soon as I got in the van I started working on my acceptance speech for IBMA Banjo Player of the Year. It’s just a matter of time.

This is a real band, not like those hoodlums I was playing with before. I mean, it was all right, but they didn’t seem to appreciate my banjo playing. I recall you also had some ideas about playing the melody and not playing over the singer which I listened to but sometimes genius will out.

After our last gig the lead singer comes up and says You think you get paid by the note? And I says No, you get paid by the smartass remark? And he says I think maybe you need to spend some time with the forward roll and stop stepping all over my singing. And I says Nobody listening to your singin anyway. And he says Well maybe that’s because they can’t hear me over your banjo. And I says It does ring don’t it. And he says I aint’ talkin about your banjo. He says You gotta lot to learn about playing in a professional band. And I says Usually professional means making money and I ain’t seen enough to buy a tank of gas yet. And he says Don’t worry about that, you won’t be making the trip anymore. And I says That’s all right with me, just don’t expect me to mention you when I win IBMA Banjo Player of the Year.

Lucky for me I had started seeing Wanda Willett about six months ago and their family band needed a banjo player after Kyle Willett decided he had had enough and would rather sell stuff on eBay. How me and Wanda met is kinda funny, which I’ll tell you about when I see you as it involves a lot of visual humor which I can’t get across in an email.

This is the life for me. Right now we’re headed down I-75 after going through a Hardees. It’s raining hard and Old Man Willett is driving and eating his burgers, talking on a cell phone, and trying to get the bluegrass station tuned in on Serious XM. He can’t hear a thing (which you don’t need to to play the bass like he does anyway) and he’s dialed in the heavy metal channel. Everybody’s trying to tell him he’s got the wrong channel but he can’t hear and he’s yelling at somebody on the cell phone trying to get paid for a gig they did about a month ago before I joined the band and got it onto a path to greatness.

There’s nine of us in the van. The five Willetts, me, their soundman Lou Stampfel, who is really a Willett too just a cousin though, a guy named Yarb which I don’t know how he’s related but he comes along to work the record table, and there’s a guy we picked up about ten miles ago who had a sign that said Jesus Loves You. Ma Willett made the Old Man stop and pick him up. So far he’s been very quiet. I noticed when he got a Baby Ruth out of his backpack that he has a gun, which makes me feel better since if anybody tries to mess with us we’re ready.

Anyway, I couldn’t be happier. Wanda’s sitting next to me singing in my ear and she’s got the sweetest voice in the world. She never ever sings off key, which I should know as I’ve got perfect pitch and can tell. It just goes to show that the pretty ones sing the best. I don’t know why that is but I can tell if a woman can sing just by looking at her. Pretty – can sing. Ugly – can’t sing. It’s unfair, I know, but there it is. I have to say that I myself follow that rule as I’ve been told I have a voice that sticks out in a crowd.

Well, gotta go. We just stopped for gas and I told Wanda I’d buy her some of those orange circus peanuts and a Dr. Pepper.

Your Pal, PORTER
Date: Sep. 5, 2011

Hey Pal,

Well, I guess you heard the exciting news about the first gig with the Willetts. We had all our money stolen by that hitchhiker. Put a damper on an otherwise historic night.

I told Old Man Willett I had seen the gun in his backpack and he says Why didn’t you say something? And I says I didn’t think about it since he had that sign about Jesus and all. It just goes to show you can’t trust nobody in this business, not even strangers you pick up off the side of the road.

We had done pretty good at the record table and we all got in the van after the show and that’s when this feller pulled out the gun and said All right, let’s have all the money. We gave it to him and he’s heading out and I say Don’t you want these instruments? And he says Not after what I heard tonight.

It all ended up all right, though. After we called the police, the promoter felt bad and said he’d take up a love offering at the next concert and send us what he could.

But about the gig. It was a night not soon forgotten by the good folks of West Needham, Georgia. We played several songs the Willetts are known for and then it came time for my instrumental. I kicked off Turkey Stirrups at 280 beats per minute and nobody could keep up. The Old Man just stopped playing bass and stared at me he was so impressed.

The only one who could kinda keep up was Junior Willett on fiddle and that’s an easy instrument anyway.  By the end of the song I think I had lapped most of em and the crowd went wild. I don’t think I was really pushing it even. One old boy come up after the show and says You know it ain’t a race don’t you? And I says You’re right about that, it wasn’t even close!

P.S. Could you spot me $50 as that hitchhiker cleaned me out. Thanks!

Your pal, PORTER


Date: Sep. 20, 2011

Hey Pal,

Well, I done it. I asked Wanda to marry me and she said yes. The wedding’s going to be on stage at the Yonder Lake Bluegrass Festival. Hope you can make it. Please make sure you spend some money on a gift as I don’t want Wanda thinking I got a lot of cheapskate friends. You know how it is.

Turns out the Old Man wasn’t so impressed by my version of Turkey Stirrups as he fined me $50 and says Next time I’m going to put a speed gun on you and let the State Patrol take care of it. I think he was just jealous cause I got a lot of applause. Anyway, I says I haven’t got $50 and he says Well I’ll have to take it out of your pay. And I says You might want to think about that cause Wanda and me are getting married and I need to find us a place to live. He was so happy he just grabbed his head and walked away like he was thinking how could life get any better. I know that’s what I was thinking.

P.S. Thanks for the $50. I bought Wanda a wedding ring with it that’s going to have to last until I get on the Grand Ole Opry and make enough to get her something better.
Your Pal, PORTER

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About the Author

Chris Stuart

Chris Stuart is a writer and songwriter living in San Diego. He was the 2008 recipient of the IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award, co-writer of the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year, and past winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting contest in bluegrass and gospel categories. You can follow him on Twitter @cvstuart, on Facebook, and at On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.