Roosevelt Sykes Explains His Philosophy

Roosevelt Sykes explains his philosophy of “Honey” to a young John Fahey.

As recounted in Fahey’s book, “How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life”.

“Well, Jawn, I think that it is time that you learned about

“Honey, what’s


got to do with show biz?” I asked.

“Honey’s got a lot to do with everything that is important in life, Jawn. Not just show biz, but everything.”

“Well,” I said, “OK, Roosevelt. If you say so. So tell me about


if you want to. I don’t understand what you are talking about now, but I”m sure once you explain it to me I will understand it.”

“Oh yes, Jawn,” Roosevelt said, “you will understand it. And it will help you all through life. Just ordinary, plain


From now on you’ve got to learn to think about


It’s very important. If you’re going to stay in show biz for a long time, you’ve got to learn about


“Now, Jawn,” he went on, “as you know


is sweet, right?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied.

And, another thing,” he said, “it makes everybody happy and makes everybody fell good when they swallow some


“Right?” he asked.

“Right,” I answered, wondering what in the world he was getting around to.

But, I knew he wasn’t crazy, and I knew he knew a lot, so I didn’t say anything.


I just listened to him.

And also the way he was repeating the word honey so much was kind of hypnotic.

You know what I mean?

But I knew he was “alright,” so I kept a passive attitude.

Anyway, he went on: “What you’ve got to learn, Jawn is to think about


And think about how sweet it is, and how good for you it is, and how nice and smooth it is, and how wonderful it is, and how good it is to you, and how wonderful it is for anybody who eats any of it. It makes them happy and it makes you happy. It’s wonderful stuff, Jawn, isn’t it?”

“Well,” I said, “now that you mention it, I guess it is, Roosevelt. I just never thought about



“That’s OK, Jawn. You are beginning to learn the secret about


You are already doing it, so before long you’ll know all about it and how great it is and how you can use it by just thinking about it.”

“OK, fine.” I said.

Sykes: “For a while, it’s very important to practice thinking about


Set a little time aside every day and just sit somewhere quiet and think about


And before you go to bed at night always think about


at least for a few minutes. It will help you sleep.”

Me: “Well, I’ll try it, Roosevelt. But only because you said so and I trust you. Because I still don’t understand why


is so important.”

Sykes: “Oh, you’ll understand it very soon. You’ll see why it is so important. Don’t worry. Now, listen very carefully, Jawn. Once you learn to think about honey and think about it very deeply then whenever somebody comes around and says something unpleasant, what you do is you start thinking about


If you do then you can turn the conversation around 180 degrees and the painful person will be on the end of the stick and not you. And furthermore it’s your stick and not his.”

Me: “Yeah, I think I’m beginning to get you.”

Sykes: “See, by thinking about honey rather than thinking about what a jerk the other guy is, or the situation is, or whatever, then you will find yourself treating him as if he was doing you a big favor. And once the guy starts thinking that you are grateful to him and that he is, in fact, doing you a favor, then you have got control of the situation. You are in power. You are in the driver’s seat. Not him, but you. And that is the whole point, isn’t it?”

Me: “Well, yes, Roosevelt, now that I think about it I guess that is the whole point. By thinking about


and talking nice to the guy, you switch things around, and you’re the real boss.”

Sykes: “That’s it, Jawn. You got it. But now don’t get confused. We’re talking about feelings mostly and how to keep feeling good and on top of things that you don’t want to do. The bad guy can make you do things. He can make you do things that you don’t want to do. But if you turn it into a situation where it looks and feels to both of you like you are doing the guy a big favor–if he can’t control the way you feel, but you can–then you are the one who really wins, Jawn. Even if the other guy doesn’t know it. You see what I mean, Jawn?”

Me: “I think so. You’re telling me that the really important thing is not what I do but what I feel. If I have possession over my feelings, that’s the important thing. Is that what you mean, Roosevelt?”

Sykes: “Yes, Jawn, that’s exactly what I mean. You see, Jawn, it doesn’t really matter what somebody does to your body, or what they make you do with your body. That isn’t really important because, Jawn, you aren’t your body, are you?”

Me: “I’m not sure what you mean, Roosevelt.”

Sykes: “I mean, there’s something else over there, something else besides your body, and that’s who answers when I call ‘Jawn.’ That body doesn’t answer. It belongs to the real you. And the real you is not your body. See what I mean?”

Me: “I think so, Roosevelt. Yeah, I see. There’s this body over here but the me, I am something else.”

Sykes: “Right, Jawn. That’s what I mean. And look. As long as you can prevent this bad guy who comes along, and believe me there’s lots of bad guys gonna come along, right?”

Me: “Yeah, I gotcha.”

Sykes: “As long as you remember that you are not the same thing as that body, and as long as you can think about honey, then you can always control how you feel. Not somebody else, but you. And that’s how you win the game, Jawn. That’s the only way. And the important thing about


is that it enables you to keep feeling good regardless about what the other guy says or does. See–look, John. Some badmouth comes up to you and says something unpleasant so you start thinking about


So you go along with what he says, you agree with him and you thank him because the whole time you were thinking about the many, many good properties of


And that way you can change the balance of power…. Now, in an extreme situation, where this, what I told you, doesn’t work, then what you do is you start talking about


Yes. Tell the guy all about


and how much you like it, and about the many good qualities it has. Now, the guy may think you’re crazy, but that’s OK. You still got him under control.”

Me: “Gosh, Roosevelt, I think what you’re telling me will work. Next time something I don’t like happens, why I’ll just start thinking and maybe talking about


Sykes: “Yes, and Jawn there’s more to it than what I told you so far. You’ve got to realize that by putting things back in natural order or harmony, that you are doing this other guy a big favor. Because you are making him feel good, too. That way you both win. So, you talk like this, Jawn: Why, of course, I’ll help you. How nice of you to ask me. How nice of you to think so highly of me that you ask me to help. Sure. I’d be delighted.

Me: “Gosh. I think you got something there, Roosevelt.”

Sykes: “I sure do. And the whole time what you’ve got to do is imagine that you have a great big pot of


And what you are really saying is, Here, have some


I’ve got lots of it. There’s plenty to go around. And another thing you do is you make yourself feel like you’re made of honey. And so is the other guy. In fact, everything is made out of


At this point, Roosevelt started to laugh quite agreeably.

And so did I.

Me: “It seems like thinking about it is funny, too.”

Sykes: “Right, Jawn. Thinking about


is funny. And not only that but it rhymes, you see,


Get it?”

And they I started laughing because it was so funny to think about everything being made out of


Sykes: “Why, Jawn, when you get right down to it, there is


everywhere. There is no place you can go where there isn’t any


And not only that but there is


in your voice. It’s in your mind. Why it’s everywhere. And isn’t that funny?”

Now we were both laughing like two madmen but it didn’t matter and neither one of us cared because, you see, it seemed like everything in the universe had turned into


And this seemed very, very funny, and we kept on laughing and laughing for maybe fifteen minutes, and then when we tried to stop laughing we couldn’t stop laughing because everything seemed so funny.


A.K.A. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

First Tune
VENI, EMMANUEL. 88, 88, 88.
In unison
Plainsong Melody, Mode 1
Arr. by Ernest White, 1899-
Medeival Antiphons
Latin Hymn, 1710
Tr. John Mason Neale, 1818-66

I do REALLY like this hymn, but was a giant pain to transcribe.

First, apparently little details like notes per measure and time signatures weren’t a big deal when this hymn was written, so it is written with no measures, something the software I am using to create the scores (MuseScore is awesome! And FREE!)

To get around this, I decided to create “measures” based around the phrasing of the text. That ends up meaning dividing the piece into 12 and 14 syllables per “measure”.

However, once I divided up the melody phrasing, I discovered, when I tried to line up the chords in the harmony parts as they were in the book, that whomever transcribed it also didn’t place an emphasis on having the same number of beats in the other parts as had written in the melody part. To get things to line up, I ended up filling in notes in the harmony parts.

Even so, this arrangement ends up odd, and I have been tweaking it for a few days now, trying to get it to sound like I think it should, especially after I started playing the parts on the clarinets.

Here’s what I ended up with: 002a.ServiceBookAndHymnal


Red Service Book and Hymnal
Red Service Book and Hymnal


“Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding” for bass and soprano clarinets.

MERTON, 87, 87.
In moderate time
William Henry Monk, 1823-89
Latin Hymn, V cent.
Tr. Edward Caswall, 1814-78 a.

Here’s a pdf of the arrangment: 001.ServiceBookAndHymnal

For the record, this puppy has 6 sharps when transposed into b flat!

Red Service Book and Hymnal
Red Service Book and Hymnal

It’s a Mystery

William Parker:

Last Question. Do you think that they, whoever “they” are, the writers, the people who document stuff, do you think they’ll ever understand this music the way musicians understand it?

Fred Anderson:

No, because I don’t think nobody understands. (laughs) They can only go by what they hear and what they like and what they don’t like. And I think that is the way they write about it, what they think is good. But I think most musicians that I know, anybody that ever said anything, ever did anything, never was satisfied with what they were doin’. They were searchin’. And I don’t think they really knew what they were doin’. They were still searchin’. And I think it’s been a mystery, just like life. Everybody writes a book and tells you how to do it this way, do that. That’s just their opinion and I don’t think nobody knows. I think life is a mystery. The music is a mystery. I think this whole universe is a mystery. (laughs) We’re talkin’ about somethin’, man, that nobody really understands. But, you’re entitled to your opinion and if you can put it out there and somebody can get something out of it, cool. It’s an individual thing. It’s a mystery. You make these decisions and that’s it. Whatever you leave, you leave it. (laughs) You just have to believe in what you’re doing and stick to it and be consistent and try to do it right and do it the best way as you see it. If somebody can benefit, cool. I’ve benefited from a lot of things that I’ve heard, by applying some of these techniques in my mind. Now that don’t mean that I was right or wrong, but if I did anything, I learned from observance, seeing how things was done. Another thing that taught me a lot of stuff–I didn’t realize that my wife was sick. She could’ve been sick a long, long time before I even met her. But it came upon me to deal with it. So you don’t know man. You just have to deal with the problem. Whatever the problem is, you try to deal with it. Sometimes you can deal with it, sometimes you can’t But that’s it, man. That’s how I see it.

From “Conversations”, a collection of interviews William Parker conducted with various performing artists and composers, published by RogueArt.

When I was young, I really liked music that used the recording studio as an instrument.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to question the value of those sorts of albums which are stitched together in the studio. Those Frankenstein creations where the musicians might or might not even be in the same room (or building).

I think my perception radically changed when I saw Anthony Braxton’s Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway) at Yoshi’s a number of years ago. I had been collecting Braxton recordings and attempting to understand them without much success. Seeing that band, though, and feeling what was going on between the players, I understood that the music often called “Jazz” is most about the interaction of the players in the moment.

Jazz recordings, at best, are like insects captured in amber.

To be captured in amber, the insect has to die.

Similarly, the spontaneity of the moment and the energy exchange between players, things that are the essential features of a jazz performance, have to be stripped away, in the interest of fidelity and trapping a piece for eternity.

I’ve come to feel that most recordings of Jazz are really just souvenirs, simply reminders of artists I respect and gestures of support for their ongoing struggle to represent their craft against all odds.

Buckwheat Cornbread

Buckwheat Cornbread with Bacon & Padron Peppers

Based on this recipe for Buckwheat Cornbread from the Washington Post.


  • 1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground buckwheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Padron Peppers
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/4 Pound Bacon

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

    Stir together the cornmeal, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, onion, and peppers in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined.

    Combine the eggs and buttermilk in a medium mixing bowl. Melt butter and stir into the milk mixture.

    Cook the bacon in a hot 9″ cast iron skillet until crisp. Reserve crispy bacon and leave hot bacon grease in pan.

    Add bacon to cornmeal mixture. While the pan is heating, add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into the hot bacon grease containing skillet; a crust should form immediately. Cook for a minute on the stove top, then transfer to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the corn bread to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

    The Duke Dreams

    Duke Ellington: This Isn't Piano, This Is Dreaming from on Vimeo.

    “Where did you get your ideas from?”
    “The Ideas? Oh, man, I got a million dreams. It’s all I do is dream. All the time.”
    “I thought you played piano.”
    “No, no, no, no, no! This is not playing piano, this is dreaming.”
    …Duke plays…
    “That’s dreaming.”

    Be Always Drunken

    “Be always drunken.
    Nothing else matters:
    that is the only question.
    If you would not feel
    the horrible burden of Time
    weighing on your shoulders
    and crushing you to the earth,
    be drunken continually.

    Drunken with what?
    With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
    But be drunken.

    And if sometimes,
    on the stairs of a palace,
    or on the green side of a ditch,
    or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
    you should awaken
    and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
    ask of the wind,
    or of the wave,
    or of the star,
    or of the bird,
    or of the clock,
    of whatever flies,
    or sighs,
    or rocks,
    or sings,
    or speaks,
    ask what hour it is;
    and the wind,
    clock will answer you:
    “It is the hour to be drunken!”

    Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1864

    If Baudelaire’s “Be Always Drunken” is one of your favorite poems, basically, ever, what do you do when you quit drinking?

    If you’ve spent the last 10 years as something of a cocktail & spirits expert and a bartender, what do you do, if you don’t drink?

    I mean, for more than 5 years, the cocktails of the Savoy Cocktail Book were a fairly single minded obsession for me. Getting (or making) the ingredients, making the drinks, photographing the drinks, writing the Blog, hosting Savoy Nights at Alembic, etc.

    Daniel Hyatt was prescient, saying a long time ago, “If you ever finish this thing, you are going to have some serious post-partum depression.”

    Seriously, even leaving aside the drinking part, that’s a lot of effort & time I was spending over Savoy Cocktails, that is now free.

    Well, the obvious thing, is to find something else to do, other than drink & write about drinking.

    I guess that is the whole plan of AA. You have to go to at least a meeting every day. You meet with your sponsor. You drink lots of coffee. You smoke. You hang out with your new AA buddies. You’ve got badges and buttons to earn. Pretty clearly, you’re replacing the time you spent drinking and hanging out with your drinking buddies and those rewards, with the time spent fulfilling your responsibilities to the AA organization.

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a higher power, nor do I have any desire to hang out in church basements drinking coffee.

    So, to set myself up for success, in this whole “not drinking” experiment, I’m going to have to find something to occupy my time.

    Prior to my obsession with cocktails, my enthusiastic hobbies have included, in no particular order, Reading, Botany, Gardening, Computer Games, Music, Playing Music…

    Oh, huh, I still have that clarinet I bought when I was just out of college.

    Well, learning to play the clarinet is certainly something that can take up a lot of time and attention.

    Performing music was really my first addiction and enthusiasm.

    I started performing music in the children’s choir at church and continued to sing and perform in pretty much every possible way through high school: Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Musicals, and yes, even, horror of horrors, Madrigal.

    Stopped performing when I went off to college and started drinking.

    Is it possible that every other addiction, or enthusiasm, in my adult life has just been a substitute for the buzz of performing music?

    Now that is something to think about.

    …and I doubt Mr Baudelaire would disagree that it is possible to be drunken with song…

    Mustard Ruminations

    Over the years I have always used Dijon mustard when making salad dressings, etc.

    I always assumed the fine grind of the mustard seeds would be the thing that helped with emulsion.

    The other day I was out of Dijon and instead used an old school whole grain mustard (Maille Old Style) when making a salad dressing.

    Weirdly, it worked as an even more efficient emulsifier than the usual finely ground Dijon.

    Seems to indicate that it isn’t the fine grind of the mustard, but some other factor which is aiding in emulsion of fats.