Jesus Loves His Mandolin Player-Chap. 4

In the world of bluegrass, Frank Wakefield is known as the wild man of the mandolin. His forays into music from bluegrass (including his now-classic instrumental, “New Camptown Races”) to Beethoven, are executed with Frank’s fervor for pickin’ mandolin and insistence on doing it his way. Frank uniquely tears up the strings.

He’s also well known for a kind of talking; it’s named after him: “Frank-talk.” It relies on illogic, non-sequiturs, and plain ol’ half-sense. For instance, I might pick up the phone and hear him say, “Goodbye Frank, this is Bill speakin’. Let’s not rehearse today at three. Hello?” In another Frank-ism, he titled one of his albums, That Was Now, This Is Then. Asked to sit in recently with a bluegrass band, Frank took the mic and said, “I’d like to thank me for invitin’ myself up here. It sure is good to have me.”

In 1968, Frank gave me my first music job, an initiation into bluegrass music by a master, one that changed my life. Back then, I didn’t understand how to Frank-talk with him. I was too young, or too serious to play along with it. So I usually straight-talked back. Even when I’ve met up with him more recently, I don’t much Frank-talk past one or two sentences, a salute to him, really.

I have a theory of why Frank Frank-talks. Musicians are sometimes under-socialized individuals. While you were on the high school gym floor dancing cheek to cheek, your fledgling musician friends were on stage, playing music. The best pickers spend so much time alone, practicing, they arrive at adulthood a tad timid around adults. And I wonder if Frank is maybe a bit shy, and Frank-talks to lose that. It’s one of his charms. Like the best of them, Frank does his talking through his instrument, and he has always done that like the hellacious mandolinist he is.

So, in closing:
“Goodbye Bill, this is Frank speakin’. You’re welcome for having you in my band, and for all the bluegrass you never learned me. … Hello?”

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My tale about hitting the road with Frank, “Jesus Loves His Mandolin Player,” is a chapter in my book, Acoustic Stories: Pickin’ for the Prez and Other Unamplified Tales.