Alpha Omega Newberry IV

Alpha Omega Newberry IV
adungu (min), bass, banjo
Yazoo Shakes
Memphis, Tennessee

Tottered on: 10 March 2008
Temperature: 33 F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: snow-covered
Wind: calm

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TT with HD: Alpha Omega Newberry IV

[Ed. note: You can call him Al. Al plays with Yazoo Shakes in Memphis, Tennessee. They will travel. Possibly to Ann Arbor sometime in the future.]

HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!

AN: Thank you kindly.

HD: Shall we actually get some teeter tottering motion going here?

AN: Why not!

HD: So, are you getting adequate leg extension there. Because you're--what are you, like six-three, six-four?

AN: Something like that. Nothing unmanageable.

HD: So I notice you have a Boy Scout hat. Are you actually involved in the Boy Scouts currently as a leader?

AN: I am not. No. I got this hat from a friend of mine and it's extremely warm.

HD: Yeah, okay. I wanted to follow up on something that you mentioned last night--I would have clarified completely last night but I thought that it would be good fodder for the teeter totter. You said that you were not aware that Ann Arbor had a university located here?

AN: Mm, no.

HD: And you weren't kidding around?

AN: I wasn't kidding around.

HD: But you have heard of the University of Michigan, though, right?

AN: Of course.

HD: Okay, so you just didn't connect the dots that the University of Michigan was located in Ann Arbor--where you were headed.

AN: Right.

HD: Okay. The other thing that I wanted to follow up on in a little bit more detail was the previous occasion when you traveled to Ann Arbor. As I understand it, a friend of yours in college heard that his dog was on death's door and needed to make a trip to Ann Arbor to see the dog, and you--along with how many other people?

AN: I believe there were three others.

HD: And the dog survived though?

AN: Yes!

HD: So what was the dog's issue? Do you remember at all?

AN: I don't remember. I think it might have been a cancer, like a kind of sudden discovery of a cancer that they were going to have to remove. That's the best of my recollection.

HD: What kind of dog was it?

AN: I don't know, I never saw it.

HD: Wow, you didn't get to actually meet the dog?!

AN: No, we showed up, or we arrived at 7:00 in the morning and ate some breakfast, sat around for about 45 minutes kind of dazed, and then left again. Because we didn't leave Indiana until 1:00 in the morning.

HD: So this was Crawfordsville, Indiana, where Wabash College is--is it Wabash College, that's the official name?

AN: Yes.

HD: Okay. So for this trip [to Ann Arbor], if I were to claim that the only reason you came to Ann Arbor was to ride the teeter totter with me, would I be far off?

AN: You would be off, but not completely far off. It was--let's see--it was definitely a major consideration! But I did want to take the trip with Kelly and Joanne. [Ed note: These are HD's brother and sister-in-law who made the trip along with their son, Walker.]

HD: The reason I asked is that the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau recently paid for a study to find out why people come to Ann Arbor and what people have heard about Ann Arbor ...

AN: ... [laugh] ....

HD: ... and what sort of associations they have. So I think it's an interesting data point that for you anyway, the University of Michigan is not one of them. And I was just stunned, shocked, in fact, that 'to ride the teeter totter', or 'hoping to ride the teeter totter', was not one of the things that the study revealed.

AN: It should be.

HD: I think it should be. That's my goal.

AN: That's a grave injustice.

HD: My goal is the next time such a study is done, I hope that the teeter totter will have risen to such prominence that people will actually be coming to Ann Arbor just to see this and do this.

AN: You should tell them that I came for that. At least it was a major consideration.

HD: Right. So the other factor was this friend of yours that you met up with last night? You wanted to visit him?

AN: Oh, that was actually an afterthought. I didn't actually know he lived here. I guess two weeks ago, Kelly and Joanne and I had been talking about taking this trip for a couple months, and he had lived in Montana for a while, and then I think he had lived in the U.P. And I was like, Where are you? And he said, Ann Arbor, and I said, Oh, wow, perfect!

HD: So this is not the same friend who had the sick dog?

AN: No, this is totally different friend.

HD: And you know him from growing up?

AN: Also Wabash College.

HD: So do you generally keep up with people they you went to school with pretty well?

AN: The best I can.

HD: How about this guy named [Name1]?

AN: [Name1]. I've heard the name [Name1], I'm not sure I know [Name1]! [laugh] My name causes a lot of interesting situations about remembering names, because when you hear my name it becomes hard to forget it.

HD: Yeah, sure!

AN: I don't remember every name I hear of every person I meet, which is regrettable, but it makes for situations such as that. I don't know that I knew [Name1] well. I'm sure I talked to him a few times. [laugh]

HD: So, a lot of what I've found about you background-wise was related to your days that Wabash, which is not really all that far in the past, right? I mean, five or six years or so?

AN: Three years, actually.

HD: So one of the things I found was a picture of you in the school newspaper--which is called what--The Bachelor? [Ed. note: Wabash College is a men's college.]

AN: The Bachelor. It used to be The Cave Man.

HD: Oh, really? Oh, man, The Cave Man--that's a much better name for a newspaper, I think.

AN: I completely agree.

HD: The Bachelor, well, I mean that's the name of the TV show now. But there's a picture of you playing this harp-like instrument that is described as a 'berimbau'?

AN: Hmm. I was probably playing an adungu, and the kind that I played was probably a large one, right? It was probably between my legs?

HD: Well, yeah, and there were multiple strings, actually. Which was the thing that struck me. The reason I was going to ask you about it is that the caption on the picture described it as this instrument called a berimbau, and when I looked it up on Wikipedia, one of the defining characteristics of a berimbau is that it is a single string. And I thought, well, that's weird. Because the thing that you were playing, that had ...

AN: ... it has nine.

HD: Yeah, it has way more than one string. What was the name of it, again?

AN: The family is called adungu. And the particular instrument is called the min. It's a bow harp that is common in Uganda. I'm not sure, I think maybe the Acholi people may be the ones who ...

HD: ... so, it's an African instrument?

AN: Yeah.

HD: So, did you make that thing yourself?

AN: No, it was imported from Uganda.

HD: And what inspired you to want to learn how to play that?

AN: Well, when I was a freshman, they had call-outs, for a world music ensemble and I had known the professor who had the call-outs--I had spoken to him when I visited--so I went. [Ed. note: From this it seems like like AN was in Uganda, but HD inexplicably does not follow up on that possibility.]

And I started out on the smaller version. Let's see, they have four sizes--kind of like bass, cello, viola, and violin. So I started on the violin one ...

HD: ... but it's a plucked instrument, right? Okay, so there's not any kind of bow that goes along with it?

AN: No, the tonal range is the only kind of equivalent. And then I played the cello one. And then I went to the bass one, which is the most fun. I really enjoy that instrument a lot.


HD: So, bass is also what you actually play for The Yazoo Shakes, your current musical ensemble?

AN: Yes. And banjo as well.

HD: And banjo, okay. I was going to ask you about who exactly that was on the there's a piece on the MySpace band site, Hammurabi, is that you on banjo?

AN:: Uh huh!

HD: So is that like a regular standard banjo, or is that like what's called a frailing style banjo? Do you know what that is?

AN: I don't think I do.

HD: Well, I think it's like a strumming sort of banjo, as opposed to one that's intended to be plucked.

AN: It's a five-string open-back Goldtone banjo. That's what it is.

HD: Okay. Your upcoming gigs with the Yazoo Shakes include a venue in New Orleans called the Dragon Den, is that right?

AN: Dragon's Den, yeah.

HD: Have you been there before?

AN: Yes!

HD: And do you like playing there? Or is it ...

AN: ... I have never played there before, but I have been there before ...

HD: ... ah!

AN: The band went on a New Orleans adventure a few months ago. And a band that we are friends with was playing there ...

HD: ... and they are called?

AN: They're called Giant Bear. And we missed their show, and then they had kind of like a Klezmer band after, which was really fun. Yeah, it was a really fun venue. I really enjoyed it. Very old--just had a very interesting feel. It's very hard to describe, but it had a very interesting feel to it.

HD: One description I found online of that venue was that is seemed a lot like an opium den?

AN: [laugh]

HD: A lot of a low-slung furniture. Very sort of intimate quarters--that to get to the bar, you basically had to go right by the band.

AN: Yes, absolutely.

HD: So that does seem accurate to you?

AN: Yeah. Yeah, I actually ended up sleeping in there--for about an hour in one of those low-slung chairs. It was a late night. [laugh]

HD: [laugh] Okay! Alright, so when you guys travel, and it seems like you do travel to play with some frequency--I mean, St. Louis and New Orleans, it's not like you have to drive three days, but you do have to drive a distance to get there from Memphis--is that your van?

AN: No, that's Kelly's. We have a truck with a crew cab ...

HD: ... ?? ...

AN: ... and a trailer. So we put the gear in the trailer and everybody kind of packs into the crew cab. Thankfully there's room for three in the front, so it can hold 6.

HD: So this is a pick-up truck??

AN: Yeah.

HD: Alright, crew cab. I was thinking, semi-trailers have those sleeper cabs, and I was thinking, Wow, you guys are really big time!

AN: No, no, [laugh]

HD: One other bit of information I found about you is that either last year or this coming year--it was kind of hard to tell--you either did a [bicycle] ride last year or you're going to ride this year in a fund-raiser ...

AN: ... the MS 150. I rode last September.

HD: Okay. So is that something you had enough fun with to want to do it again?

AN: I loved it! It was one of the most fun things I've done, yeah. It was a really challenging, athletic endeavor. And actually we had a gig the night before, so I had only been asleep for two hours and then had to wake up and go.

HD: Oh, man! So this was the one that started and ended at Graceland? Is that right?

AN: Yeah, Graceland to Tunica, then Tunica back to Graceland. And, actually, due to my lack of training, I was unable to finish the second leg. I was so wore out after that first day. I had done a lot of running in training but I hadn't done nearly enough biking. And that, combined with a lack of sleep, it took me out.

HD: So was it general fatigue, or--how to put to this delicately--chafing of any kind?

AN: It was not chafing! [laugh] It was muscle fatigue. Actually, by the end of the first day's ride I was so far gone. What I finished I looked at myself, I was just pale as death, I could barely walk. It was a really difficult ride. I have an 80's Schwinn Sprint that actually I got from Kelly. It's Kelly's old 80's Schwinn Sprint.

HD: Wow.

AN: And I fixed it up and rode it. But you know, it's a bit heavy.

HD: Yeah, by today's standards, I'm sure it is.

AN: People were looking at me like, Who are you, and what is your deal? And I was wearing like a cotton T-shirt. And there were all these serious riders out there with their jerseys ...

HD: ... I have to say that the one piece of cycling clothing that is definitely worth investing in is a good pair of cycling shorts.

AN: Oh, I got a good pair, too. I had a really good pair of cycling shorts, which was a god-send.

HD: Now were you just kidding, or are you actually up for giving the laundry spinner a whirl? [Ed. note: HD is referring to a pedal-powered device in his basement.]

AN: I was totally serious.

HD: Okay, because I've got a load of clothes mid-process that I set up ...

AN: ... oh, perfect ...

HD: ... that we can go in and do. Let me check and make sure that I haven't forgotten something really obvious. Covered that, covered that. Yeah, I think we pretty much hit all the points I wanted to make sure to hit. Oh, except for one. You were also in a production of the Complete Works of Shakespeare?

AN: Yeah!

HD: So do you remember any of the dialogue that you had to memorize?

AN: Actually, I was mostly a non-speaking role. So, it's a three-man show and they added me has a fourth to provide sounds and music and to say of few lines. And I think where they do all the Henry plays and all the war plays at once, and they do kind of like a sportscaster guy--I forget the name of the broadcaster right now. I did that ...

HD: ... Keith Jackson?

AN: No, the really famous one, with a voice like, Wah Waah Wah Waah Wah Waah ...

HD: Howard Cosell?

AN: Howard Cosell, that was it. And I did a Howard Cosell voice for that, and I think that was really just about the only thing I actually said in the whole show. The rest was just playing various instruments to kind of make noise.

HD: So how many days did that run? It sounded like it was a whole week every day based on the write up in The Bachelor.

AN: If I remember, that was in 2002, I think. I think it was maybe a five-day show. It might have been a five-day show. Yeah, it was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. It was a good show.

HD: Well listen, is there anything else that you wanted to kind of talk about here on the teeter totter before we hop off and go do some laundry?

AN: Well no, I don't know that I have anything that I want to in particular that I need to 'out' at this particular venue! [Ed. note: HD's closing gambit, accepted by AN; but HD apparently changes his mind and introduces a new topic. ]

HD: So did you see anything on your way around town today where you thought, Wow, I would like to check that out!

AN: I really like the way this town looks in general. I would like to spend a little more time here. I was talking to Tyler last night ...

HD: ... where did you guys end up going? You said it was some bar in an ally?

AN: Yeah, I don't remember what it was called, but it was kind of a basement bar in an ally, and there was a reggae act upstairs, a big reggae act upstairs, and then we went to this diner ...

HD: You mean right down the street from here?!

AN: Yeah.

HD: That's the Blind Pig, and the Eight Ball.

AN: We went to the Eight Ball! And then we went to the Fleetwood--it is that what it's called, that diner?

HD: Yeah!

AN: The Fleetwood. So then we went to the Fleetwood. That was really fun.

HD: I think that probably in terms of experiencing some of the richer fabric and texture of Ann Arbor culture, you have hit two of the major stopping points there, I would say.

AN: I'm glad! Yeah, we actually plan to come back up here and play. With Tyler, I hope. I told the band that I was coming and they said, We should all come! We should all come some time.

HD: Absolutely. We could put the entire band on the teeter totter. We have done that kind of thing before.

AN: And they would love it. We would all love it, that would be great.

HD: [laugh] The Yazoo Shakes play the Blind Pig! So, who in The Yazoo Shakes would ordinarily take care of arranging that?

AN: It's a community effort, the whole thing pretty much.

HD: So it's not like you have one person who takes care of all the booking?

AN: Lately, Clay and Kate. They're a married couple, they both sing, he plays keys, she plays ...

HD: ... the trumpet.

AN: Yep. So lately, they do the booking, and more specifically, Kate does most of the booking, she's really good at that. So she is the one who has done most of it. But if anybody gets a show, they tell us, everybody does everything.

HD: So, listen, let's hop off, thanks a bunch for riding! This was great

AN: Thanks for having me! I enjoyed it. Let's do some laundry.