Friday, April 29, 2005

Getting Closer

Inching ever-nearer to the point where the album will be done, I'm trying to enjoy the journey and not just rush to completion. I'm loving the being in the studio, watching David work his magic. He's a cool guy anyway and we spend a lot of time talking about life matters, but then he's also passionate about his work and I learn a lot from watching him mix this album, or "record" as he calls it, because he is old-school, after all.

The latest draft of "clear blue trickling" has got me wincing over some vocal parts - I just haven't wrapped myself around them enough. I could go either way on "Down To Earth" and "Positive Vibes", though I'm leaning towards giving them another go. "Floatin' Wally" I want to keep if only for the fact that it was the first track I recorded vocals on, did it in one take and it's pretty good. The other re-takes I've done pass muster, so I'm thinking I'd rather be positive about it then on-the-fence. We have a Sushi-And-Sake Session next Wednesday where we'll all listen to the tracks and decide where we want to go from there. Hopefully, I can sneak in before then to sweeten up my tracks. The dulcimer on "Down To Earth" also sounds a little out-of-tune, but then it was recorded with a dulcimer that hadn't had its action properly adjusted, it's a wonder that the other tracks turned out okay.

Now, it's off to Cypress Gardens to take final pictures for the album cover. It's a beautiful day for a beautiful ride!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pressure Pressure Pressure (Did I Mention Pressure?)

And to top it all off, I'm reminded daily that the CD player in our Isuzu Rodeo ate my new U2 album. It beeps four times when it realizes that "oh yeah, I'm BROKEN", which I translate to mean "ATE YOUR U2!" I had just purhased How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and was enjoying it immensely - then one fateful road-trip to somewhere south, the damn CD player burped and hasn't spit the entrapped CD's forth yet. Also included in the belly of the beast are Peter Gabriel's Up and a couple of other favorites that I can't recall now. Several times, I've fancied the idea of letting loose, ripping the offending machine out of the dashboard and releasing the hostages - but Jae's frowned upon the concept and I've learned from a great line in Jurassic Park 2 that "violence and technology do not make good bedfellows." However, if by summer, those CD's haven't been freed - some artful harm will come to the devious device, make no mistake about that.

Now that that's off my chest, I can recap the weekend. We had a good time at Titanic Brewery, played three one-hour sets, got a lot of great comments, thumbs-up, signings of the mailing list, and despite a full-moon influenced drive down the Florida Turnpike, still arrived in pretty good spirits, even with the Baymont Inn hotel room snafu that greeted us upon our arrival. (Two moves later, we were good to go.)

Everyone played with wide-open abandon and the result was one of the more comfortable sets we've ever had - though halfway through the last set, I felt myself slipping away, off-stage and into some outer orbit where I was the only satellite. I like making connection with the audience, looking into their eyes and smiling at them when the song allows for that kind of contact; but sometimes, in order to get into the song, I have to close my eyes and go away. This was a big necessary (yes, I meant to type 'big necessary', leave off with it) Saturday night, and I just went with it - which allowed me to get fairly belty with it, steamrolling through "Artist" like it was a Sunday stroll. The stage was the size of a postage stamp, so leaping about wasn't the easiest of things to accomplish (I landed on my tuning pedal at least one time, cutting off the flow of sound to the amp - I thought I had fried it or something) but it was manageable.

We broke down the gear pretty quick, headed back to the hotel and hung for a bit before crashing in the wee hours, waking up to one of the worst breakfast buffets in the history of planet Earth (where Ju-Jitsu was needed to fend off your elbow mates) and enjoying a pleasant drive back to Orlando. It was a tiring trip, and the crowd at Titanic wasn't nearly as big as we had expected, given that a baseball game was taking place next door and let out halfway through our second set. But this band is a bunch of troopers, and they gamely trudge forth in every circumstance and I love them dearly for that. I can't imagine being in a band where you don't like hanging with the others. Unfathomable. Well, with a little effort, I can give it a whirl, but why waste the energy? I'm blessed to be in this band. Our band.

Monday came quickly and Bunky and I headed into the studio to continue work on the albums. She's such a pro - came in and did her vocal tracks on "Ring-A-Ding", "Positive Vibes" and "So Alright" in one take. I love her voice, and she doesn't - and I hate my voice and she doesn't - we make a pretty damn good team. Especially when layering our voices together. Fans have said they'd like to hear more Bunky singing and I'm in total, harmonious agreement - we're working up some new tunes even as we speak (and will bring them closer to the front with tonight's rehearsal).

She also brought good and bad munchies - a plate of fruit and a plate of cheese danishes. I had to beg off the danishes, but they ended up getting me later in the afternoon as David and I continued to mix "All For One."

Sometime this week, I'll be heading back to Cypress Gardens to take some high-res pictures for the album cover. You can see some of the concept photos in this photo gallery.

A day of work beckons - plenty of fun stuff and just a smidge of drudgery - thanks for reading and do come back again!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

On The Road Again

Well, we're hellbent and bound for Coral Gables, ha. We'll be at Titanic Brewery playing three big sets. If you're in the Miami area, come out and say 'g'day'!

We'll be back with pictures and stories soon!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Emerging from the chrysalis

Last night's rehearsal went great - everyone's excited and on-fire about turning the new corner and cranking up the nitro. As we put more and more session time into the albums, it's like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon - it just keeps getting more and more amazing. Today, I went in to do the last (I hope) of my vocal tracks and add a long-missing keyboard line to "Caught" along with tracking in some more dulcimer with Halcyon. Then, Dave and I talked up a battle plan regarding the mixing process. Much of the work is tedious, finding the good frequencies for the bass and drums, then using that as a foundation for the rest of the arrangements. There were some specific concepts that I had in mind, some "radio voice" effects on a couple of tracks that we knocked out - then we settled in to work with the reverb on vocals. "All For One" looks like the first track to get intensive mix-work done and it's shaping up to be quite the audio-toon. Bunky and I added some African-flavored harmonies at the bridge, which we hope to reproduce live because it really is a nice touch!

We still have yet to add the final harmonies with Randy, Bunky and John - here's to hoping we can do that next week, though I've already scheduled a mixing day for Monday and we're planning a "listening party" (looks like May 4th) to consider the tracks and decide what we'd like to do with the audioscape.

Tomorrow, we're headed down to Titanic Brewery to play a gig - we're looking forward to some time in a different city!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What was that, a speed-bump?

Sometimes you take speed-bumps so quick, they don't even register. From where I stood, there was a wee bit of tension Tuesday night, but it was resolved before we left the room. The struggle to maintain "real jobs" while pouring so much into the band is a tough one for everybody, it's a miracle that our schedules work out as wonderfully as they do. This week has been especially tough as we try to coordinate our comings and goings with the comings and goings of our studio engineer. Speaking of which, Randy and I were talking about how much David's put his magical touch on the recording process (and will be magically doing even more as we begin to mix tomorrow). Not in an intrusive way, just another set of ears and helpful suggestions, watchfulness born of objectivity. We'd like to give him a co-producer credit. I'll bring it up tonight at rehearsal.

Last night's vocal tracking session went smoothly and we've got a few more tracks "in the can" as far as recording - the runway is cleared for mixing. Tomorrow, I'm going in early to do some vocals, a bit of keyboard seasoning and to begin the post-production process. I'm actually knocking off work early today to begin charting parts for our guest stars on violin and cello. We'll have banjo on a couple of songs, some mandolin, some nylon classical guitar and God knows what else - it's starting to resemble a concept album ala Pink Floyd. Yessir and Yes'm!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

So, I'm a Freak, so what?

This band isn't even my life, and I'm still a freak about it. Mr. Mellow most of the time, trying so hard to be the right thing, do the right thing, let people be people and try to spare them drama whenever possible. I'm not a complainer, I'm a problem-solver, bitching is nothing without resolve. And when I get my freak on about the band in a passionate way, I don't feel guilty about putting it out there.

I'd like to see everybody put in an extra few hours a week rehearsing - tonight was the time to bring it up - we got there sooner than later. No big drama, but a venting of some frustrations, probably. It's family - it's a marriage. If you don't have "those" moments, then you're missing something - or not human.

All's well - we're going to add a rehearsal night, it'll all be flexible, a floating day perhaps, but the time has come to step to the plate, to stick our chest out at the end of a race, thrusting across the finish line, which is just the beginning of the next race. We need to be competitive, we need to hunger for the next step, and stepping up our game to support a great double-release is logically where we're headed.

Everyone agreed.

Vocal sessions last night, keyboard sessions today - vocal sessions tomorrow night, mixing and more vocal recording on Thursday and Friday.

I'm putting pressure on the coal to form the diamond.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Halcyon, The Phoenix

Friday evening, after doing some quick shopping, I picked Jae up from work and returned home to begin adjustments on Halycon. Having printed some intonation instructions from the internet, I was sort of unprepared for the task, no strobe tuner, no experience. But after about a half-hour of tweaking the saddles, using the newly purchased allen wrench (one out of a combined metric/imperial set of 26, but now at least we have allen wrenches in the tool box, never know when you might need one,eh?) and a phillips-head screwdriver, I winged my way around the adjustments and ended up fairly satisfied that I had lowered the action a bit more, and properly tweaked the instrument. Her notes sounded fine on both the lower and upper fretboard. Given that the new strings would stretch out for a while, I planned on having Angelique as a back-up at the Sierra Club show, just in case. Wintery weather would also play a role in how the strings behaved.

I had cursory knowledge of The Sierra Club and its activities, so when Jae began organizing the event, I did a little research. They are America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with over 700,000 members. The Central Florida Sierra Club Chapter was to benefit from the fund-raiser taking place in Mark Fodor's beautiful backyard and Jae had lined up a number of bands and artists to perform including The Orlando Blues Project, Lee Pinkerson, Snackdaddy and Mohave.

Turnout over the course of the day was fair to middlin', but you couldn't have asked for a day prettier, though warmer might have been soundly forced upon all and any you queried. In fact, by the time we went on, Jae had subtly suggested that a fire pit would be great, which inspired a roaring fire, the likes of which you typically see on a beach or at Burning Man. It was a unique experience, performing in an ashstorm, but at least we were warm.

Our set went great, I'm consistently amazed by my other four bandmates, and this show was particularly fun, probably because of the loose mood and wonderful vibes that were present. Halcyon rose to the occasion, remaining in tune and delivering the goods. While Dani-O got up with us and did some spoken word, I had some time to concentrate on effects, and used my old Boss digital delay pedal to get some world-class sound imagery. Thus begins an exciting chapter with the band, and we're off to a quick and blazing start to our performance season!

Tomorrow, we head in to start wrapping up harmony vocals. I'm pretty sure this week will mark the end of recording and the beginning of mixing. And what a journey!

Friday, April 15, 2005


We're a featured band blog at, which makes us feel all warm and sappy! Members of the Babylon Cowboys (see my blog roll) put it together and keep it running. Kudos to them for spreading the love!

Well, I went to have Halcyon intonated yesterday and Patrick was very kind, setting her up and charging me zip. He knows I'll keep coming back.

Problem is, last night at rehearsal, she was still sort of wonky, not too badly, but enough to warrant more tuning than I cared to engage in. Patrick had mentioned that I probably needed to let my strings coil around the gears more, as they might be slipping. Also, Randy suggested that I get thicker strings, as that seems to be a quick solution for intonation problems across the board. I did bump up to .018's, or at least tried to - but I kept breaking them, so I've settled for .016's. I managed to get up to a .030 on the bass string, we'll see how that goes. Instead of bugging Patrick again, (he's pretty busy), now's as good a time as any to try adjusting her at home. So I'm off to Home Depot to pick up some allen wrenches. Even so, Angelique will probably be the key dulcimer this Saturday at the Sierra Club show - with Halcyon making an appearance on some of the rowdier tracks.

More later - I've got some quick design work to do for The Mad Scientist.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where Does The Day Go?

Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
It's Thursday already - wow. Time does go faster as you get older.....

Since you've already met Halcyon (and I just met her myself), here's the final introduction in my family of mountain dulcimers. Her name is "Angelique" and she got her name from a combination of the words "angel" and "unique."

She's an angel because she winged her way into Mohave at a time when the band was ready to push upwards into the next level. Joline was handling all of the chores, doing just fine as an acoustic instrument pushing electric power, but it was time to fine-tune the control I had over both tone and volume. After a few false-starts waiting for a custom solidbody out of Cripple Creek Dulcimers, I finally decided that an interim model would do. Approaching Patrick McKinney at the Winter Park Guitar Center, I asked him if he could fashion a shallowbody (not a solidbody, but not a full-bodied instrument either) out of an acoustic kit. Being the skillful guy that he is, he said "sure", and was excited about the prospect since he'd never built a dulcimer before.

So I ordered a walnut kit from Cripple Creek (Bud gave me a "family" discount, for which I was much appreciative) that featured sound hole designs by Donna Ford and when it was delivered, took it over to Patrick and we talked specs.

We'd want to diminish the size of the voice-box (the hollow chamber of the instrument) to cut back on sound levels that would prove problematic once amplified, but with enough resonation (is that a word?) left to color the tone with the distinctive dulcimer sound. We'd use an under-the-saddle pickup that would transmit sound from the strings through a built-in jack more efficiently than the stick-on transducer I had been using since the beginning of the band.

Two knobs, one for volume and one for tone control, would be situated on the lower right-hand side, easily within reach during performances. I also requested that the bridge and nut be cut to allow for equidistant stringing, to allow for different positioning of the strings. Patrick expressed a can-do attitude about the project and said that it would take perhaps a month or so to complete as he continued with his busy guitar repair business.

He delivered early. And to explain the second part of her name, she was certainly unique.

Patrick had done an excellent job converting an acoustic kit into an electric shallowbody dulcimer - cutting an access panel into the bottom so that the electronics could be reached easily. Her tone unplugged was warm and carried a good distance. Switched on and pumped through an amp, she was equally dainty and sweet, then forceful and commanding. A whole new world of playing styles had opened up.

Angelique set Mohave on a new course and changed, for the better, our sound. Sound engineers who had worked with us in the past marvelled at how clean her signal was, how controlled the tone was, how groovy the distortion was. Fans of the band loved her look and sound as well. By all accounts, she was a smashing success. It's been a little over a year now since she debuted, and she's still on active duty. Since Halcyon's Humbucker pick-up is better suited for the more aggressive rock songs, but her solidbody nature steals a little of the acoustic nature, Angelique will serve as the instrument I switch to for gentler songs. Also, since she's got equidistant capability, she'll also be the go-to dulcimer for new and exciting tunings.

Patrick and I are currently planning a sister for Angelique - a solidbody with custom specifications that will combine the best of both worlds. Until the eighth member of the MD family comes around, you can plan on seeing and hearing lots of Halcyon and Angelique as Mohave looks forward to a busy summer touring schedule!

Next in the family, a completely different instrument altogether, my 16/15 Chromatic Hammer Dulcimer! Stay tuned (heh-heh.....)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Just Peekin' In

Whoo-boy! Long day workin' for the Mad Scientist.

Last night's rehearsal was sweet as always, how can they keep getting better? Did some interesting things with jams to start, and really tried on a new way of looking at "Nine One One."

There was more - but I'm tahred, tahred I tell ya. Morning comes early. Sweet dreams y'all nightbirds......

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Nikki and Clay, what's the scoop today?

Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Happy Tuesday to y'all - very happy here as it's rehearsal night! We're getting ever-closer to wrapping up the first of the two albums, so tonight we'll be starting to focus on what we'd like to accomplish; our next session is Wednesday night, a week from tomorrow.

Continuing the introduction to the dulcimers in my wooden brood, pictured up top here is Nikki Six-String (get it?) Nikki is a Folkcraft six-string dulcimer, something I had never heard of before noticing one in our shop at Walt Disney World one day. Historically, the mountain dulcimer is a three-stringed instrument. The melody was typically played on the first string with the middle (treble) and bass string serving as the drone, that beautiful constant "thrum" that identifies not only dulcimers, but bagpipes as well (many refer to the dulcimer as a "bagpipe with strings" in that regard.) At some point, folks began to double-up the first string to carry the melody better over the drone. These two strings were placed close together to make them easier to "note" at the same time, thusly the four-string dulcimer was born.

The six-string dulcimer takes it a step further and doubles every string. Depending on what gauges you use, the sound varies, but is usually very full-throated and high in volume - all the better to compete with those guitars and their big voice boxes, eh. When I first purchased Nikki, she had the standard .015's as melody and one in the treble position, but was doubled with a .022 to thicken the sound. .027's or .028's on the bass string and you've got it goin' on. Nikki's made of cherry wood, not as warm as rosewood or spruce, but most assuredly a scorcher when it comes to resonating. She's not used best for delicate tasks - rather, when you need a fullness of accompaniement, she'll definitely handle the job as good as any gee-tar!

More tracking....

Went over to Richter Records and re-recorded the vocals on "Angels and Devils", "Cuckoo Tom" and "Positive Vibes". After listening to them over and over again, I decided that my voice was too shredded at that point to do the songs any justice (and I didn't ), and I'm much happier with the result. Of course, the more I listen to the rest, the more I'm thinking (don't do it!), we'll see about some of the others when we go in next week. I added some harmonies that I've always intended in the mix, but never got to the rehearsal point. Once they're recorded and out there, everyone will pick them up rather quickly. When it comes to arrangements, I don't rule with a heavy hand - since I'm not a bassist/drummer/trumpeteer/mouth harpist, I let the band come up with their own parts for the most part, and they're usually right on the money. I'll suggest a line here or a change of chord here to preserve the original "feel" of the song, but that's about it. It never has to go absolutely this way or that.

A Surprise Phone Call...

So, I'm taking Jae to work this morning and her cel phone rings. She answers it, and I hear her say "why, yes it is", so it's someone she doesn't know. Then she erupts in giddy excitement and starts saying things like "oh my gosh! we sing that song all the time!" "Yes, he's here, he's driving right now, is this your phone number?" By this point, after hearing the 352 area code, I knew who must be on the other line and I smiled.

She confirmed it when she hung up.

Clay Simon had just rung up, having heard that we were "singing a song" about him and his store. For those of you who read an earlier post here, you'll know that Clay is the proprietor of Simon Brothers Mercantile, a place that we stopped at in Roosevelt, Texas about four years ago. While we were hanging out there, I began writing a song about the fascinating place and the friendly folk who kept it running. For some time, there was a website for the place, but then it disappeared and I couldn't find any reference to it on the web. (I suppose I could've asked a Texas operator about the city, but I wanted to have something to give to Clay when I dialed up.)

So this was mighty good timing on his part, and I called him back later today and we talked for a little bit about that hot summer day and what's been going on since. Apparently, an assistant of his went to do a search on the store and came up with the song lyrics, which he printed out and proudly displayed. "We were talking about it this morning and I said, 'I oughta see if I can get in contact with them.'" With Jae's phone number on the site, it was easily done.

I told him that we just finished recording the song and would be sending him a copy of the album. "That'd be great," he said, "and I'll play it here in the store."

How cool is that?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Day Off, What's That?

It was such a beautiful weekend, it didn't seem right to spend it inside at all! After Friday night's marathon web-site development (I promised it would be up and running Friday evening), Jae and I went to Cypress Gardens and spent most of the day admiring flowers, plants and animals. We rode a couple of the new rides, listened to a bit of Travis Tritt, picked up annual passes and pledged to return again soon.

Today, while Jae took care of some music business, I worked on my sunburn while re-working our flower beds and doing some planting. Then I wrote a song called "Breaking News" that was commissioned by the playwright of a show that will open May 19th at the Fringe Festival. There are plans to turn it into a movie after it closes, and they wanted a song both to play prior to the performance and also to run over the film's closing credits. The words and music came quicker than I expected and I made a quick demo in Garageband using drum loops, two tracks of dulcimer, some keyboard bass and three vocal tracks. I'm still trying to settle the melody and harmonies, so there'll be a demo that's not embarassing ready soon.

Tomorrow, I'm going back into Dave's studio to add harmonies and re-do three of the 17 tracks. Although I may've been able to technically do them better, the feeling is more important to me, plus I wanted our album to reflect the spontaneity of our live shows. But the three tracks I'm redoing, they were pretty heinous!

More with the dulcimer family tomorrow!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Test Drive Through Garageband

Well, I changed the first two strings on Halcyon to a thicker gauge and tightened the tuner gears in case there's slippage happening. After doing a little research, I've figured that maybe I need to adjust the bridge saddles to correct the intonation, which means I need to get a set of allen wrenches. Ah, the musical complexities!

In any case, I took her for a recording test drive to see how she handles. These two tracks are faux-acoustic, but you can tell that there's no real warmth in the tone, compared to an acoustic dulcimer. Where the humbucker pickup excels is in effects work, though not detailed here, when I kicked in the amp modelers in Garageband, she sung like Hendrix, absolutely incredible! When I want mellow sounds, I'll use Angelique - but when I want to kick some tail, Halcyon's my girl.

[Bing Futch - From The Hills To The Sea (demo).mp3 (2:41/2.4 MB)

This is an original piece that I wrote last year. No words for it yet, but I think you'll know when the title comes into play.

Bing Futch - Jurassic Park Theme (demo).mp3 (1:55/1.7MB)

I've gotta be the only guy playing "Jurassic Park" on the dulcimer, cause I didn't learn it from tablature - figured it out one day. It's a great piece to open shows with - only a few people get it.

Garageband is a cool little program - if you're a Mac user (and if you aren't, consider the possibilities), it's not expensive and does quite a lot that the big boys can do. The new version even has music notation and pitch correction - lordy lord!

A Case, A Cat, A Curio

A Case, A Cat, A Curio
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Wow, I didn't expect it so quick, but my new dulcimer case arrived a few minutes ago (I also didn't know that UPS delivered in the evening....hmmmm)

It only took two days after inquiring about decent hard cases at Everything Dulcimer (thanks Ken!) and voila!, it's here for the cats to play on. Sluefoot Sue couldn't wait to get her paws on it, sure is a lot more fun than those old chipboard cases, huh Sue?

And now - a second sneak peek at clear blue trickling:

[ROUGH MIX] Mohave - Simon Brothers Mercantile (First Draft).mp3 (4:02/3.6 MB)

This tune is a 100% true story about an interesting place that we stopped at (for a loooong time) in Roosevelt, Texas.

One early morning, while on tour and returning from the west coast, we discovered that money was getting short and needed to stop and get some funds from an ATM machine. The nearest one to our location (roughly dead-spot center of Where Da Heck Are We) was at a charming little place called Simon Brothers Mercantile, owned and operated by one Clay Simon.

He happily informed us that they did have an ATM, but it was on the blink and probably wouldn't be up until much later that morning. It was a sleepy stretch of road, not much of anything around besides the store, so I pulled up a seat on the front porch, took out the dulcimer and started playing. Well, Clay came out of the store, said that it was about the coolest thing he had ever heard, and said "y'all can hang around as long as you wanta."

Part post office, part restaurant, part grocery store and part feed store, this was one of the most unusual places we'd ever come across. Inspired to write a song about a place that literally had everything you could ever want, I began videotaping some of the wares inside. Clay, seeing my interest, invited me to go out back where the feed was stored (along with live quail!) to get a more thorough tour of the facilities. Too bad The Back Door Cafe wasn't open - we surely would have sat a spell and had some grub while we were at it!

When the ATM finally sprung to life and we hit the road, I had the first bits of song written. By the time we hit Houston, it was completed.

Someday we'll go back to Simon Brothers Mercantile and give Clay a signed copy of the song and hopefully he'll place it right under that picture of The Donnas that he had by the door. (Apparently, while on tour, they stopped there too!)

The First Peek

[ROUGH MIX] Mohave - Floatin' Wally (First Draft).mp3 (3:47/3.3 MB)

Okay y'all, here's the very first SNEAK PEEK at clear blue trickling! This is the first song that I tracked vocals on yesterday, which has got an interesting story behind it. David Schweizer has done a number of musical projects and one of them was called Korsican Opera. On their album, a song called "Gator World" extolled the virtues of a Florida-based theme park filled with hungry reptiles including "Wally Gator dancin' with his top hat on." The promise that "two go in with only one coming back" sheds some light on what kind of joint this was. In any case, it was David who gave Mohave its first gig on August 30th, 1999 at the House Of Blues and shortly after that, my then-girlfriend and I went to the Magic Kingdom and witnessed an actual live gator in the Rivers Of America. Of course, Disney officials weren't putting up with that kind of wild, uncontrollable nonsense, so he was promptly escorted away; away from the curious eyes of guests. (At one point, when a gaggle of tourists leaned over the fence rail to snap pictures of the little guy, a suited type with a radio in his ear actually uttered the phrase "there's nothing to see here.")

So, in honor of the little guy, and in a nod to David's original song, I wrote this little ditty about what we had witnessed. The track's entire title is "Floatin' Wally (Gator World Part 2: The Sequel, With Happier Ending)"

Of course, this is a rough mix that doesn't have vocal harmonies, effects and other audio sweetening and the levels haven't been properly set, so what you're hearing is the rawest version possible. With that in mind, click the link above (a new window will open), listen to the song and let us know what you think!

Meet Another/The Magic Of The Studio

Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Damn, what a night! But more on that in a bit.

Continuing the story of "Bing Futch and the Seven Dulcimers", I'd like you to meet "Dee." She's a Folkcraft Instruments creation, much like "Joline", but in a walnut flavor which gives her a somewhat stronger sound due to the strength of the wood, but she's not as warm as Joline. I call her Dee because that's what she's usually tuned to, the key of "D". All of my other dulcimers tend to stay in my voice range, which is "C". Dee never liked "C". Intonation went straight south if I ever went there.

Dee is kinda-sort retired because she's now a collector's item. In 2000, Dave Rhea from the band Vonray, absolutely could not find anyone to go with him to a Willie Nelson concert for which he had backstage passes. Imagine my surprise when he pops up on AOL Instant Messenger, asking if I want to go see Willie.

Hell yeah!

So, we went to the show at Ruth Eckerd center near Tampa - we sat in the wings during Willie's phenomenal show, close enough to look over the band's shoulders. Talk about mind-blowing energy, there was one point in time where Willie left the stage and just sort of wandered around in the wings, passing right by me. It was a joyful and intimate experience that ranks right up there with the best of my life.

After the show, Willie went into his bus to, well, you know, and when he came out, red-eyed and relaxed, he began pressing the flesh with the crowd. Well, I had prepared for this moment, just in case it happened. Running to the car, I grabbed Dee, who had come along for the trip, and brought her back to the bus. Waiting patiently for the right moment, I stood holding her as he turned, saw the dulcimer, and then looked up at me. I handed her over, along with the pen.

"If you don't mind, Willie - I'd love if you signed her."

He took a look at her, flipping her this way and that before finally settling on a spot near the upper right soundhole. As he did, I said "you are a true jazz man."

He smiled and nodded, handing me back the pen and Dee. At that time, I backed out of the crowd and spied his longtime drummer Paul English walking around the fringe, alone. ???? I went over to him and asked if he'd do the honor of signing next to Willie.

"You want me to sign it?" he said incredulously as he scribed his name. Hell, in high school, I was listening to this man drop beats for Willie, meeting inspirations like this don't happen every day. I thanked him, told him he rocked and then stepped away, seeing harmonica player Mickey Raphael hanging out, again, with no-one around.

He responded pretty much the same way, as if, you know, who would want his signature? I love that these guys were so modest when they've got every right to feel a little more like superstars.

Needless to say, this experience left me glowing, and I played Dee in a few shows, proudly pointing out who she'd been signed by. But one day, noticing that a bit of the marker was beginning to smear, that's all she wrote (played?) and I retired her from active service.

Every once in a while, I'll tune her up and play a little something in "D", like "Write Your Own Songs" or "Pancho and Lefty" - carefull making sure that I don't touch the autographs.

The Studio Experience

I got to the studio about 3 pm and waited for Dave, who showed up about fifteen minutes later. We set up quickly and got right down to it. All in all, I knocked out all 17 songs (in one take, except for "Down To Earth") in about three hours, choosing carefully which tunes I did in order to preserve my voice. Upon listening to them later, there are only a few that I intend to re-record.

Working with David Schweizer is a pure pleasure, and in between songs, while he burned down mixes of the raw tracks, we talked about everything from his real estate to his son looking for a lost Buzz Lightyear toy to the origins of some of the songs. Skilled with the knobs and with a huge love for music, there was nowhere else I wanted to record but Richter Records. We're totally safe in this man's hands.

I burned a few copies and passed them out to the band at rehearsal, and then we jammed a little bit before working with a concept that Randy's introduced. I call it "E", because it pretty much is variations on an E major chord, maintaining tension with a groove we employed from an old Naked Head song called "Mary." Randy's a genius when it comes to arranging, and this song is rooted in his lyrical, melodical bass stylings. Being a big Peter Gabriel fan, he's of a like mind with me as we take the band in some groovy directions.

Everyone was on fire last night as we went through some newer material and continued to teach J.D. some of the older stuff that we've been working with. In fact, I just don't know how to say it, but everytime I'm the room with these three guys and one girl, I feel overwhelmed, like I need to run to catch up. They're all brilliant, creative, outstanding in what they do - and I sometimes feel like the weakest link, you know? But then I think about what gifts I've been given and by the grace of God, the opportunity to use them in a setting that's so positive and pleasurable and therapeutic, and it all equals out.

When you sing, it's like crying. And when you cry, your body gets full of oxygen. Sometimes a good cry is all you need to feel better, or a sigh. We don't breathe enough in our day to day lives on the average, and my issues with breathing (I suck in my stomach too much) have translated to my issues with singing. In just about everything in my life, I've been a late-bloomer, the same goes for singing. I've always been able to carry a tune and write melodies and harmonize, but I've always been too lazy or not interested enough to take the steps towards improving my voice. (Actually, I think a lot of it was the ADHD that I finally started getting treatment for last year.)

Now, with every new day of practice, breathing exercises and conscious effort to support my notes, I see progress that's simply exciting - and I know the road will continue to be satisfying in that way. After three hours of hollering my brains out in the studio, where the cans (headphones) are right in your ears, letting you hear every single possible tiny nuance, I felt so full of oxygen that the spirit of life moved throughout me like a raging river. Breathe better, feel better, love better.

I told David, being in the recording booth was sort of like being in a sensory-deprivation tank, floating and drifting into the inner worlds of the soul.

Aye, it was good.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Joline was 'payment' for a week's wages when money was low. I was working for Folkcraft Instruments as a sub-contractor out at Walt Disney World in 1994. Set in front of the Great Southern Crafts Co., every morning I hauled out the dulcimers from storage in the shop and introduced loads of tourists to this wonderful instrument.

Folkcraft brought some interesting modifications to the table including a fretboard that was raised off of the body. Sound holes were cut just below the fretpiece, which was scalloped to make more room for resonating. The result was a powerful voice that ranked up there with the prettiest dulcimers I'd ever heard. "Joline" is made out of that popular combination of guitar materials, rosewood for the bottom and sides and spruce for the top. Topping it all off are four Planetary Peg tuning gears.

She remained pretty and dazzling for a number of years until Mohave was formed in 1999. Then, under the rigors of rock 'n' roll excess, she began to exhibit the classic signs of a well-used instrument. One too many instances of her case falling over or a strap come loose (one of the hazards of playing a dulcimer standing-up) has resulted in some of her inner bracings freeing themselves, which has resulted in an audible buzz when she's stroked. Nonetheless, she is still a beautiful sounding dulcimer and the one that I play the most, acoustically that is.

No studio yesterday, today instead

David Schweizer and I got our wires crossed yesterday, so I'm actually heading into the studio today at 3 pm to begin recording my final vocal tracks. That gives me more time to work on the revamped Mohave site, which is coming along quite nicely! We fully expect to have some preview tracks, along with the new design, up and running by the end of tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Meet the dulcimers

Walter and Cordelia
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Last night's rehearsal was incredible; it had been a long time since we had last gotten together. When that happens, there's always a palpable sense of "finally", and we're just happy to be in the same room, let alone making the beautiful music that we do.

Everyone was suitably impressed with Halcyon, who sounded, well, impressive through my Line 6 Spyder amp. Some intonation problems were tracked down to my not being used to such low action and also the light gauge of strings that came with her. Sometime this week, I'll get a selection of strings ranging from .016 - .018 and .027 - .029 - with thicker strings, I won't have as much tendancy to bend them, thus pushing them out of tune. There was also a small incident involving the strap, which connected with the topmost tuner gear and dropped the note from "C" to "Bb" in mid-song. I fixed the problem by moving the strap up a notch. A design issue that I should be aware of in the future - try to get tuner gears on the right side of the head-stock!

Halcyon makes seven dulcimers that I now own, not including my Masterworks 16/15 Hammer Dulcimer, which will get worked into the fabric of Mohave one of these days, as soon as I can learn my way around it! I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce readers of this blog to the members of my dulcimer family because all are special and have a unique story to tell.

I'll start with the two pictured above: Walter and Cordelia. They are named for the founders of Knott's Berry Farm, a charming and quaint little theme park that I worked at for four years before it became a rollercoaster wonderland owned by a big corporation.

In any case, it was while walking through the streets of Ghost Town in 1985 that I first heard the mellow and soothing sounds of the dulcimer wafting off the porch of the Gold Trails Hotel, one of the original buildings that Walter Knott had brought in from silver mining towns around the southwest. There, behind the counter of the dulcimer shop was a lovely young woman named Meta who was playing some tune or another, I can't really recall, so transfixed was I by the sound.

She bet me that I could be playing it in five minutes. I bet her that she was wrong. She won the bet.

I came back that week and bought Walter, the teardrop shaped plywood dulcimer on the left. Walter was a good starter dulcimer for me as I decided whether or not this would be a musical future. A month later, I was working for Cripple Creek Dulcimers, the company founded by legendary dulcimer-maker Bud Ford. I spent that summer, eight hours a day, playing, selling and building dulcimers. My first project, built from a professional kit, was Cordelia, an hourglass dulcimer with a walnut bottom and spruce wood top. Using a coping saw and a wood burning tool, I created soundholes in the shape of arrows and musical notes with little flecks of burned-in effects. I sanded and sanded and sanded until I thought my arms would fall off, but my boss, Tim Carnahan, said it was necessary to get the finish that I desired. Gluing, cutting, placing in the jigsaw, guests would walk by and marvel at seeing an actual luthier at work. I just marveled that I hadn't sliced any digits off.

It took about nine days to complete, and when I finally put the strings on her and played the first notes, it was a magic moment.

Walter and Cordelia hang on the wall now, as my current playing style lends itself to brutalizing my instruments to a certain degree. But every now and again, I'll pull them down, re-string them and relive those precious moments when I first began playing the instrument that would change my life forever.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Action speaks louder.....

Patrick 1
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Sometimes, it's the smallest things that make the biggest differences. As a dulcimer-player in a rock band, there's been a constant quest for tone and control over whichever instrument I happen to be playing. For the first few years of Mohave's existence, I played an acoustic Folkcraft dulcimer with a very loud voice box and a raised and hollowed fretboard which was ideal for gentle playing, but problematic for rocking out. Using a Dean Markley transducer, I bravely (stupidly?) channeled raw distorted fury from an acoustic instrument and invariably also channeled a sprite that I lovingly refer to as "The Feedback Fairy."

She is not kind, and loves to come in and harass you while you play.

In any case, it was a dream to get a "Bandit", the Bud Ford-designed solidbody critter that I had first laid fingers on back in 1984; it was a prototype owned by my boss at the time, Tim Carnahan. But Bud's been busy manufacturing kits and whole instruments to theme parks and whatnot, so I wasn't able to take delivery. Huge ol' bummer. Finally, I got an idea to banish The Feedback Fairy. I went to Patrick McKinney at Guitar Center in Winter park and approached him about designing a shallowbody electric out of an acoustic kit. He thought briefly and said that it could be done, even though he had never attempted a dulcimer before (he's a well-known and respected luthier as well as repairman.)

Presently, after scraping together enough money, I bought a solid walnut kit from Bud (featuring sound hole designs famously rendered by his wife Donna) and let Patrick lay into it with my specifications. We placed the tone and volume knobs where I could reach them quickly and easily, cut the overall height of the dulcimer by half to reduce the resonating space, but left enough to maintain a warm sound, even when unplugged. I then had him cut extra notches in the bridge and nut so that I could space the four strings out equidistantly for more tuning and playing options.

Well sir, Patrick did a fine job and "Angelique" was delivered not long thereafter.

That annoying chapter of dealing with noisy energy sprites was over and it's been a smooth ride ever since, with just a few wishes on my list. For amplification purposes, we used an under-the-saddle pickup, which was great, but wouldn't represent the full spectrum of sound necessary to get the tone I was looking for. In time, I began to wonder about intonation issues and figured that the tuning pegs that came with the kit were total ca-ca, and planned on having them replaced with Planetary Pegs, which are commonly used on banjos, but work like a dream on dulcimers.

The other thing that I hadn't considered was the action, the distance between the strings and the fretboard as determined by the bridge and nut. While looking at Angelique one day, it came to me that the action was pretty high, causing me to press down harder on the strings, which bent them enough to effect tuning (not to mention making it a bit stressful to play.) Easy solution: I took it down to Patrick and had him file the bridge and nut down.

Oh my God!

It's like playing a new instrument - like buttah, as they say, and it makes a huge world of difference.

I'd like to break it out tonight at rehearsal and see/feel/hear the difference, but I'm going to spring Halcyon on the band first, heh-heh. I think only Bunky knows that I've gotten a new axe!

Monday, April 04, 2005

She's Arrived

She's Arrived
Posted by: dreadmon.
Well sir, she's arrived and I'm pretty doggone happy about that. I've named her Halcyon (to find out why, check out this post from one of my other blogs) and she's got a sweet voice for a solidbody. I took her down to Guitar Center where Patrick McKinney was waiting to drill some strap buttons in. Patrick's the guy who helped bring Angelique to life, my shallowbody electric dulcimer that features sound hole design by Donna Ford. I had him lower the action on Angelique to improve her intonation. When the strings are too high, they bend more when your fingers hit them, resulting in notes that are slightly off-pitch.

With the arrival of Halcyon, my hunger for a Bud Ford original "Bandit" returned with a fury, so I dropped a line to the legendary dulcimer-maker to see if I could renew my pursuit of this Holy Grail of dulcimers. More on that story later, for I must go pick up my wife from work!

Mohave at Hard Rock Live

Mohave at Hard Rock Live
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Blazing for all of Universal Citywalk to see - 'tis a lovely sight.

Geez, I gotta go to bed. Special delivery will be here in just a few hours and it's going to be a late night for sure!

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Lapblaster

Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Well, I went ahead and did it - been lusting after this thing for awhile now, and though it's not the Bud Ford Custom-Made Cripple Creek Electric that I've been after for quite some time, it's still pretty damn sexy and I can't wait to hear how it sounds.

I'll have to wait till Monday because they don't do overnight shipping on Saturday. Boo.

It's just as well - if this bad girl showed up tomorrow, there'd be no getting anywork done. Anywork.

Burning the midnight oil

I've been slaving away at a new look for the Mohave website. Only the main page is done and the links don't all work, but have a look if you're curious and let me know what you think!

Work schedules this week got hectic enough to the point where I cancelled rehearsal last night. More time for J.D. to convalesce and more time for me to try and get caught up with all of the technical work I've been doing. Is it Sunday yet?