RIP Big Al Byla, Piper Road Spring Band

Posted by John Duggleby on May 31, 2018 in Uncategorized |
I first saw Big Al Byla onstage at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in about 1974. I last saw him less than a couple of weeks ago at his “straw house” as Billy Kangaroo and I watched his beloved Lithuanian national basketball team which had miraculously made it to the semifinals of the European tournament.

These two events sort of bookend the breadth of a guy whose interests and talents matched his presence when he launched into “Jerusalem Ridge” onstage. The musical prowess of this three-time Wisconsin State Fiddle Champion is legendary. I learned a ton from Al and the rest of Piper Road Spring Band during a 20-year period when I sat in with them frequently. Perhaps the biggest impression was their enduring popularity everywhere from Madison to the Florida Keys.

But music was just a fraction of the juggernaut that was Big
Al. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, able to converse on almost anything from novelists to bullhead breeding habits. And he had an insatiable appetite for new information. As I recently explained the origins of Hawaiian slack key guitar to him, I swear there was a tape recorder between his ears getting it all down.

As Billy and I left his place on May 18, Al was in good spirits even though Lithuania got trounced on the hardwood. I noted that “Wait till next year” ultimately happened even for the Cubs, and I was keeping my homemade “LIE-TU-VA!” (the Lithuanian chant) jersey for game watching in 2019.

Sadly that and other parties with Al will not come to pass. Still, I’m so grateful for the way he’s enriched my life. Much love to Becky and his longtime bandmates and friends. I know the Big Guy is watching over us, probably humming yet another encore of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”



Remembering M-M-Mel

Posted by John Duggleby on November 20, 2017 in Uncategorized |

RIP M-M-Mel Tillis.  One of the most unlikely entertainers I’ve ever met, Mel turned his chronic stutter into an asset as he played it for laughs.  He was a big deal in the 1970s, when I inadvertently found a home for some of my earliest freelance work writing about country musicians.  I met him much later, in the early 90s, when a magazine sent me to report on a then-new “Hillbilly Vegas” sprouting up in Branson, Missouri.  Mel was one of the artists who had “retired” to Branson to escape the grind of the road, though he was still performing at his own theater 6-7 days a week.

It was there, in his dressing room before a show that I first encountered the Country Music Hall of Famer in his underwear, ironing his powder blue suit pants.  No roadies for Mel and no pretense, as he invited me to ask away.  I flipped on my recorder and alternately scribbled and waited—he was a stutterer, all right—as Mel answered my questions and pressed out his wrinkles.  Suddenly he thundered, “OH SHIT!” (no stutter)  when he burned himself with the iron.  I hope still have that tape.  Amazingly, Mel’s stutter disappeared when he was in his true comfort zone—singing.

Mel was a hugely successful songwriter, penning many country number ones for himself and others.  He didn’t dwell on his shortcomings, but just got into the arena and played—a inspiration for my forays onto center stage in recent years.  All that, and he was a genuinely nice guy.  I’ll m-m-miss him.


My MAMA Loves Me!

Posted by John Duggleby on April 7, 2017 in Music |

Lordy MAMA, I’m a double finalist for the 2017 Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) Awards!   My song “Meet Me at the Watering Hole” is a finalist for Best Children’s Song, and I’m up for Best Children’s Performer.  Thanks a gazillion to everyone who supported me through the nomination process—now I need your vote one more time to propel the “Duggernaut” across the finish line.  Here’s the process:

— Go to their web site themamas.org and click through the appropriate banners/links to get to MAMAs finalist voting.  If you voted in the preliminaries, it means you are a member and voting in the finals will cost you nothing.  Otherwise, donate a fiver (which goes toward supporting underfunded school programs) and you’re instantly a member and able to vote.

— On the voting page, find the categories “Children’s Song” and “Children’s Performer” and vote for the appropriate choice (hint: rhymes with “Snuggleby”).  Consider supporting your favorites among the fine folks in other categories as well.

Here is a link to my finalist song, “Meet Me at the Watering Hole.”




For the past two years I’ve been a MAMAs finalist but have never won the Big Enchilada.  This year I’d love to show that a guy who qualifies for AARP membership can still be #1!


Lordy MAMA, I Need Your Vote!

Posted by John Duggleby on February 5, 2017 in Music |

The Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) supports underfunded area musical programs and kids who can’t afford instruments. One of their major fund raisers is the annual MAMA Awards to musicians of all stripes (and many are pretty spotty as well). By joining MAMA for a paltry $5 (which goes 100% to the abovementioned causes) you can help choose the recipients of central Wisconsin’s most prestigious music awards. Like ME— I’m nominated this year for three awards. Here’s how:

1) Go to their web site www.themamas.org and donate a fiver, which instantly makes you a member. Their banners will help you through it.

2) Vote for your favorite musicians and songs. Not trying to influence you, but my personal choice is a guy whose name rhymes with “Snuggleby”. Okay, I AM trying to influence you. First round voting is now underway and my song “Meet Me at the Watering Hole,” inspired by an African safari, is nominated for Song of the Year in the “Children’s” and “World” music categories. I’m also nominated for Children’s Performer of the Year. Here’s a SoundCloud link:

It’s easy to find these categories and vote (for Snuggleby), but feel free to send a rant—er, question—my way if you have any problems. The three highest vote getters in each category move on to a final round in a couple months; and as a member, you’re pre-qualified to vote in this one as well. You don’t have to vote in every category, but you MUST select three choices in the ones I’m up for.
Last year thanks to your support I was a finalist in the Children’s Music category. This year I’d love to show that a guy who qualifies for AARP membership can still be #1. And do listen to the great work of the other artists up for awards, many of whom are my friends. I urge you to vote for Dave Hopper– who has patiently recorded me for the past few years—for Best Studio Engineer.
Thanks– your MAMA (and the next generation of musicians) is smiling!


“Next Year” is Now!

Posted by John Duggleby on November 4, 2016 in Me |

gettyimages-620179452-vadapt-980-high-131If this is a dream, please don’t wake me. I’m still in absolute shock.  In a welcome break from the nightmarish reality show billed as the Presidential election, the Chicago Cubs delivered the feel-good story of the year– their first World Series Championship since 1908.  And everyone, it seems, has a Cub connection at the moment.  Here’s mine:

I can’t say that I’ve worshipped the Cubbies ever since I first held a baseball, whenever that was.  To be honest, until the early 1980s, I’d rather watch paint dry than attend a ball game.  That’s when I moved to a neighborhood only a couple of blocks from Wrigley Field.  I learned the meaning of “friendly confines” when I saw the 102-year old shrine not just on game day, but almost every day.

And I learned how to enjoy baseball.  I had just conveniently launched a freelance writing career in the summer, and there were plenty of slow days.  If the weather was nice, I would stroll over to Wrigley and plunk down $2 (no typo!) for bleacher admission, which was always available.  I’d bring sunscreen and a good book, and enjoy a beer or three stretched out somewhere along the ivy-covered left field wall.  It hardly mattered whether the Cubs won or lost when you could converse and sometimes even play catch with the outfielder, and resort to “Right field sucks!”– “Left field sucks!” taunts with other Bleacher Bums when things really got boring on the diamond.  And there was always Harry Caray, hanging out of the press box at a death-defying angle as his booze-soaked, gravelly voice led us in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Then in 1984 the Cubs shocked everyone by winning their National League division.  Though the clinching game was out of town, my Wrigleyville neighborhood erupted with the wildest party I’ve ever witnessed.  Among the thousands of screaming, hugging, beer-soaked revelers being jerked in every direction was a blind musician I knew.  When I marveled at his daring to tread this social earthquake zone, he shouted, “Are you kidding?  They may never do this again!”

9a8e53b6124ed21e484d1bad5b4ac5d71And they didn’t– that year.  After demolishing San Diego in the first two games of the league championship, they tanked the next three in spectacularly Cub fashion.  It wasn’t the first or last time that happened over an interminable 108 years.  But now there is joy in my old neighborhood because: CUBS WIN!  CUBS WIN!  CUBS WIN!



Happy Howl-oween!

Posted by John Duggleby on October 31, 2016 in Uncategorized |

My beloved Otis was the Kanine Kostume King; and though he has been gone for a couple of years, his spirit happily haunts us today– definitely a friendly ghost!




As for me, recently playing a Halloween party edition of the DeForest Farmers Market, I showed up as—guess who? (one kid said George Washington) Considering that Abe was no matinee idol, I hope I wasn’t TOO convincing!


Wild Colorado

Posted by John Duggleby on October 18, 2016 in Uncategorized |

dsc05187Just got back from a journey to Colorado and in the words of Willie Nelson, “Sometimes it’s heaven, sometimes, it’s hell, and sometimes I don’t even know.” Heaven: Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park, punctuated by not only golden aspens, but hundreds of rutting, trumpeting elk. (maybe Trump should check it out) Hell: The sick display at a machine gun (yes,machine gun) shooting range outside Colorado Springs. Great place for mass killers to hone their technique.

Fortunately all my friends and relatives– including my daughter who moved to Denver this summer– occupy the heavenly realm of the Centennial State, and Jude and I had a ton of fun.





I’ve Arrived

Posted by John Duggleby on August 12, 2016 in Music |

IMG_0060 (2)Last night at local PaintBar Madison I achieved a musical career milestone– I received top billing over “$3 BEER”. In Wisconsin, that’s saying something!  Since I’m very goal-oriented, I’m now shooting to be billed above Bloody Marys or margaritas.

On the other hand, perhaps I should not get a big head– I’m worth $3 less than a beer!


The Greatest

Posted by John Duggleby on June 4, 2016 in Me |

muhammad%20beatles5[1]It’s hard to find appropriate words to describe Muhammad Ali.  Along with the Beatles he was the “Fab Five” of most important people to me during my Wonder Years, besides my parents and grandparents.  Not since John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 have I been so saddened by a celebrity passing.

I can’t say I was a huge boxing fan, but Ali transcended sport and about everything else in the 1960s.  As a teenager developing my own social conscience during those turbulent times, Ali’s refusal to serve in Vietnam– at the expense of three years at his boxing peak– gave countless young people like me the strength to stand by our convictions in the face of “establishment” policy.  His razor-sharp commentary, once famously aimed as hilarious insults toward his early opponents, distilled sentiments of those outside of power when he observed, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.  No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger.”

We all know how he came back to become “The Greatest of All Time,” then faced a more formidable foe for more than three decades as Parkinson’s ravaged his body.  Besides all the legendary moments, I’ve enjoyed hearing “regular” peoples’ accounts of how Ali touched them in some way.  Many years ago when I wrote a magazine article on a pilgrimage to Graceland, one of the estate’s administrators told me that of all the famous people who visited the Elvis shrine, Ali impressed her the most.  Instead of being ushered straight in like other celebrities, Ali said, “I can wait in line like everyone else.”  For a couple hours he queued up with the masses, probably a more vivid memory than whatever they saw in the mansion.

One of his later quotes is among the most meaningful to me: “Now the things that once were so effortless – my strong voice and the quickness of my movements – are more difficult. But I get up every day and try to live life to the fullest because each day is a gift from God.”  Those final words are on my 86-year-old Mom’s fridge magnet, and keep her in the ring for another round.


Lordy MAMA, I’m an award finalist!

Posted by John Duggleby on April 5, 2016 in Music |

dlxtenmp_03[1]After the first round of voting, the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) just announced finalists for the 2016 MAMA Awards– our version of the Grammys.  My tune “Ukulele”– inspired by my grenddaughter Harper Rose– is through to the fiinals for Children’s Song.  If you belong to MAMA, please vote for me!  If not, you can become a MAMA member and help put me over the top, while supporting a great cause that purchases instruments for needy kids and supports underfunded school music programs.  Here’s how:

1) go to www.themamas.org  2) Click on “Awards” at the top of the home page  3) Next page, click on “MAMA Awards” and scroll down to “Vote”  4) Next page, click on “Fan Membership” and join for only $5 (again, this goes directly to charity).  After mamasyou’re joined you’ll be invited to click on a page to vote.  Click on the Award Category “Children’s Song” on the left, then vote for “Ukulele—John Duggleby” You can also hear my song by clicking on the name.  Any questions, shoot me a cybernote.

For the price of a frappelattewatever, you can give deserving kids the gift of music and, conversely, demonstrate that folks who qualify for AARP membership (like me) can still write meaningful songs.  Thanks, and rock on!

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