Before I go on to much less serious and important subjects, I want to acknowledge a big loss in bluegrass music, especially for northeastern bluegrass fans: Bob Mavian passed away last week. Bob was the mandolin player in a duo with Dick Bowden known as The Case Brothers. Bob was also the banjo player and band leader of a band called Horse Country for a number of years. It was Bob who hired me to play in that band when I was 18, giving me my very first professional job as a bluegrass musician. For his patience, tutelage, and his infectious love for bluegrass music, I am forever grateful. He will be sorely missed by me, by the many musicians and fans of bluegrass music that he touched, and especially by his family that meant so much to him. I’ll be starting my Bluegrass Junction “Truegrass” show with a song for Bob on Friday.
Since I am writing in from Europe, I thought I’d address one potential issue on European tours, and that is the language barrier.
The truth is, in most European countries, English is taught in almost every school and usually from a very early age. Therefore you tend to encounter more English speakers than not (usually speaking gooder English than we do). Still, it’s nice to have some familiarity with the local language when speaking to an audience, chatting with people at your merchandise table, following road signs, or trying to be difficult at a restaurant.
After we’re done in the Czech Republic, our tour will take us exclusively through German speaking countries. When you consider the size of Germany, plus the fact that German is spoken in Switzerland and Austria, not to mention some of the lesser-known German speaking countries like Liechtenstein and Wisconsin, a huge population of people in Europe speak German. Unfortunately, it’s a language that’s rarely taught in our schools. English is so hard to spell, we just can’t find the time. My own school district was so poor, all they offered for a foreign language was English with an Australian accent (I took three years of it, which is why today I can recite “The Deck of Cards” like Crocodile Dundee).
This is fortunately not a problem for our band, because we have a German mandolin player, Mark Stoffel, who guides us through. Not every band can have one of these, however, German mandolin players being in somewhat short supply (and you can’t have ours, sorry!).
Before Mark arrived on the scene, I had decided to learn a little bit of German myself, and I acquired enough knowledge to learn a joke in German to tell on stage (something to do with a gorilla walking into a bar). It got big laughs. The content of the joke wasn’t funny at all; I was getting the laughs because of my terrible grammar, but hey, a laugh is a laugh.
I’m going to share some of my limited knowledge with you below in a handy German word and phrase guide. Unlike traditional phrase books, this will be geared specifically to the touring musician. For the more complex phrases, I called on Mark for assistance.
Flatt und Scruggs
Go ahead and drive really fast, it’s okay
Flatt and Scruggs
(See? German is easy!)
Some useful phrases:
Wir haben CD zu verkaufen.
We have CDs for sale
(You would do well to learn this in every language in the world)
Wo ist der Bahnhof?
Where is the train station?
Wo sind die Toiletten?
Where are the bathrooms?
Wo ist mein Geld?
Where is my money?
(You can try this in an intimidating tone with the promoter, right after the show)
Noch ein Bier, bitte.
Another beer, please.
Wie heissen sie?
What’s your name? (formal)
Wohnst du allein?
Do you live alone? (informal)
Ich kann “Country Roads” rückwärts singen
I can sing “Country Roads” backwards.
Tut mir leid.
Ist das dein Pass im Schwimmbad?
Is that your passport in the swimming pool?
Also, ja, wir hatten einen Fiedel Spieler, aber der sitzt nun in einem Türkischen Gefängnis.
Well, we had a fiddle player, but he’s now in a Turkish prison.
Hmm, diese Dinger hier sind wie Bran Muffins, aber aus Schweinefleisch.
Hmm, these are exactly like bran muffins, except made of pork.
Ich liebe es, wenn Du von Banjoersatzteilen redest.
I just love it when you talk about banjo parts.
Mein Ur-Opa stammt aus Österreich; Kennst Du ihn vielleicht?
My great grandfather came from Austria. Maybe you know him.
Diesen Hund hier würde ich an Deiner Stelle nicht anfassen. Ich denke nämlich dass er tot ist.
I wouldn’t touch that dog if I were you, I think he’s actually dead.
Am nächsten Sonntag, Liebling, ist mein Geburtstag.
Next Sunday, darlin’ is my birthday.
So long from Europe, and good luck on your own tour. Use all phrases at your own risk. John Lawless of Bluegrass Today assumes all responsibility for the results of any misuse of any of the above phrases (I had to get him back for that “Night Riders” headline!).