Monday, December 29, 2008

Welcome to the dead of winter

This holiday season was fun; more than ever Jae and I were looking forward to all the events, shows, get-togethers, parties, Disney parks and having family over for Christmas. And it all started early this year when I began recording "Christmas Each Day" in August - so we've had our share of Christmas music around the casa. Happy to say that we're just going to chill at the homestead on New Year's Eve, which means that this is effectively the Dead Of Winter.


I love being busy, but I also love the quiet, non-busy times when there's not a whole lot of commotioning going on. Time to just sit down with the dulcimer and let go. Work on learning tunes or writing tunes, exercising towards the ever-present goal of improvement. Thinking about future projects and shoring up the foundations for them; woodshedding, basically. We don't have one of those. But if we did, I'd be out in it, head bent over a dulcimer and cutting loose.

The new Greibhaus arrived on Christmas Eve (so I named her "Eve", natch) and I'm sending "Paloma Blanca" back to Jerry for refinishing before he puts her on the market. After a few gigs, I realized that some of the tone/sound controls were getting in the way of my strumming. After talking with Jerry, he created a new configuration for those controls, which I tried out up at the NGFDA Fall Festival. The lovely sunburst design was another step in the right direction and I had him install the 1+ and 8+ frets so I could continue to explore that world. "Eve" is just as sweet-sounding as "Paloma Blanca", but with an added bit of punch in tone and a more solid fretboard which cancels out finger-knocking. The recessed tone switch makes it easier to strum without obstruction and also allows me to anchor while finger-picking or palm-muting. I still have to get strap buttons installed (our drill died) and then give her the stand-up performance test.

"Dawn" was one of Jae's Christmas gifts to me this year (hence the name, dawn of a new day) and is pretty special; she did a little research on this one. It's a 1970's era Cripple Creek Dulcimer, teardrop design much like the first Cripple Creek that I ever bought. It was during the summer of 1986 that I worked for Bud and Donna Ford there in the Knott's Berry Farm shop and I sold many instruments just like this one. It sounds great and Jae figured I'd hang it on a wall somewhere, but I've been playing it quite a bit. It's neat having a purely traditional dulcimer (no 6+ fret) that sounds decent - I use the dulcimers that Jae gets online for student loaners, but I'm not sure this one is going home with anybody!

Current Workings

Now that "Christmas Each Day" is finished, having sold quite a few copies at shows this past month and it's now available through iTunes and CD Baby. It's doubtful that I'll record a Christmas album annually, most artists tend to wait a few years before they offer another edition of Christmas tunes. Part of the reason for that is that you've got such a narrow window for sales - perhaps people will purchase some during the year in preparation for the holidays, but not many folks apply that much forethought to their music selection. Next on the to-record list is "Dulcimerica: Volume 2", the follow-up to my mountain dulcimer instrumental debut. Concurrently, there will be some original spaced-out composition going on, I'm sure - which will lead to something wacky in the spring. I've been itching to do something really progressive.

Work on "The Glasgow Reel" continues - I've got it memorized and am working with speeding it up before I begin improvisation. Last night, I tabbed out an arrangement of "Beauty and the Beast" that I'd like to have prepared for festival season when it comes around (won't be long now!)

Next month, Jae and I head to Anaheim, California (home of Disneyland!) for the NAMM Show, which is a bi-annual trade show of sorts for music merchants and manufacturers. I'll be at the Folkcraft Instruments booth demonstrating mountain dulcimer and kicking off the new year with a focus on this new endorsement. Hope everybody had a great month and that you'll have a wonderful New Year's celebration filled with promise, hope and, most of all, love!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh no, Ohana!

When Ohana opened at the Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World around 1996 or so, it was a lot more involved than it is these days. There was much more formal goings-on, still centered around the 30-foot fire pit and the delectable courses of meat and veggies served out of it. Over the years, the pageantry and menu have changed, but the Ohana experience remains, at its core, all about great food, great entertainment and an awesome sense of belonging to the coolest family on the islands. During my time working with the Disney Fans bulletin board on the old Prodigy Service, we were at Ohana sometimes weekly, either introducing groups of visitors to the place or just coming to kick up our heels and hang with the crew, which included a stellar troika of entertainers in Kaleo, Kawelo and Lipoa.

All three would play ukelele and stroll through the restaurant, serenading diners, engaging cousins in conversation (at Ohana, everyone is family, therefore the term "cousins" applies all around) and rounding up kids and grown-ups alike for various activities such as coconut races, dancing the hula or appeasing the angry fire gods after requesting salt, pepper or other insulting condiments. As Kaleo always said, "those of you expecting a quiet dining experience; forget it." Ohana has always been bustling with energy, all the more balanced when combined with the ridiculous amounts of food that get served to your table (Kaleo also liked to say, "here at Ohana, you don't eat till you're full - you eat till you're tired.") The trio (there were others, but many didn't stay for long) did other things around the Polynesian Resort, from the main luau to ceremonies around the property. For the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World, Kaleo wrote the resort's official theme song and was often seen zipping between Ohana and other places to perform. They kept him hopping. Lipoa has also been MVP and between her and Kaleo - they've managed to become the voices and faces of the Poly.

Over the years, our trips to Ohana have dwindled in number (something had to give - weekly blasts of steak, pork, chicken and shrimp can add unto you, and how) but we've always been greeted as family by those there who remembered us, most namely Kaleo and Lipoa, who would make it a practice to come sit at our table during breaks from the show and catch up on what was happening with our respective "real world" lives. As Ohana got more popular, it became necessary to get reservations in order to dine there and pretty soon, it became required knowledge to book them far in advance. I tried mightily and failed to get reservations for last Saturday evening when Jae and I planned on visiting the Magic Kingdom for the first time in five years (we usually go to Epcot.) Still, we figured on taking the monorail over and maybe getting an appetizer in the Tambu Lounge, some drinks, perhaps catch some of Kaleo's act and say 'hello.'

I saw Kaleo preparing to perform after we had ordered a platter and the host stand was mobbed - we put our name in and were told it was a two-hour wait. The big banner saying "Aloha Kaleo" struck me as some kind of prop - but I somehow managed to miss the balloons and signs saying "we'll miss you." Kaleo turned from his business plugging in cables and greeted me warmly, saying that I was just in time to catch his last night.

"Last night?" I said, aghast. Without breaking his smile he said that it was so. Disney had told him a week ago that they were letting him go.

Unbelievable! No kind of notice after 18 1/2 years working for the company; I asked if they were giving him a decent severance package to which he replied calmly, "no severance." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The Poly's MVP big kahuna was getting the bum's rush; if there ever was a signal that Disney was prone to shooting themselves in the foot, this was it.

"You picked up some kind of signal, to be here this night," he said, still smiling. And perhaps maybe he was right. So Jae and I moved from the bar and got a seat by the front of the stage and listened to Kaleo's golden voice as he sung beautiful Hawaiian music. Asking if I wanted to hear anything, I requested his 25th Anniversary song, to which he replied, "wow - let's see if I can remember it" before launching into the tune like it had been written just that week. "Let aloha make all your dreams come true," he crooned and for a moment, we were back in the heyday of Ohana, when the menu was at its peak and the vibe was fun-crazy instead of turn-over table-tops crazy. No doubt that Ohana is more than likely a cash-cow for Disney - which is why it's so mystifying that they'd lay off one of its star-performers.

Lipoa was working the restaurant and she too was amazed at the news - wondering if maybe she wasn't going to be next. At one time, the Ohana experience could be considered casual dinner theater - a musical revue of culture and kindness that left everyone feeling happy and just a little bleary-eyed. It wasn't uncommon back in the day to spend three to four hours in the dining hall, rubbing our swelled tummies and getting up to participate in the ongoing sport taking place in the center of the hall. Many great memories there - some awkward and unusual ones too, in all - indicative of life, we'd been through it all there.

There was a tinge of sadness as we dined last night, though I still got up to limbo and shared a dance with Jae, receiving two flower leis and a kiss on the cheek from Lipoa. I made a phone call to friends Katie and Tina to let them know it was Kaleo's final night and, after giving him a hug and promising to keep in touch, we headed back out to the park to hit our short list of things we wanted to do before heading home. My friends informed me that they were able to come out and that the Tambu Lounge was packed, giving Kaleo a standing ovation at the conclusion of his set.

I dropped him an e-mail today inquiring about a letter-writing campaign. Enough names on a petition could show Disney brass that they are toeing the bottom line and making bad choices in the name of so-called good business. An Ohana without Kaleo or Lipoa is an Ohana with piped-in music that becomes just another buffet in the history of the Disney parks. Kaleo and Lipoa bring authenticity to the Polynesian resort, along with warmth, humor, grace and first-rate talent. Few visitors to Ohana can say they've not been touched by either of these top-flight and down-to-earth personalities. What is Disney thinking?

I'll tell you what they're NOT thinking, and that's "straight." As we left the parks, we passed by Disney's Wide World of Sports, the huge, garish monument to Michael Eisner's sports infatuation that gets used far less than you would imagine (just like the huge IRL racing oval in the Magic Kingdom parking lot that is home basically for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.) There was nothing going on there this late at night, yet most, if not all, of the high-watt stadium lamps were blazing away at the darkness, attracting flurries of Osceola County flying insects and casting an un-earthly glow against the Saturday evening sky.

Why, if they turned off those useless lamps when the park was empty, with the money they saved, they could afford to keep Kaleo on where he would happily continue to do what he's been doing at Disney for the past 18 1/2 years; making music and smiles a regular part of the Polynesian Resort experience. If everyone who has ever had occasion to meet Kaleo at the luau or in the resort lobby, or at Ohana or in the Tambu Lounge, if they all sent a polite letter to Disney requesting that Kaleo be reinstated, I'll bet they would need to create a new post office box simply to handle the demand. If nothing else, Disney needs to know what it truly is that we admire about Ohana; not just the food and the fun, but the people at the heart of it all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Music Streaming

There's over 15 hours of holiday tunes on my Christmas playlist and it's cycling pretty much continuously on the laptop. The tracks are pretty varied, from your basic standards to really "out there" pieces. The first link below will key you into the live music stream, which I may manipulate and break into live depending on listener ship. The second link is a list of what tunes have been played recently, just to give you an idea of the range going on here. - Listen! - Playlist

Tracks include tunes from my latest album "Christmas Each Day" and involve everyone from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sting, U2, The Darkness, Slade, Disney Theme Park Tracks, Dolly Parton, Josh Groban, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Brian Setzer, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Wham!, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Adam Sandler and you won't believe who else. It's work-safe and full of fun - so pull it up and let it rip! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rainy Day Sun

The Session

And if anyone catches the subject line reference, I'm very stoked. : )

It's one of those blatting, drippy days where the rain doesn't stop but it doesn't really ever start either.  That's not rain out there.  That's heavy mist.  Not enough to keep you from venturing outdoors, but not dry enough to warrant it for extended periods of time either.  Simply put; it's an indoor kind of day.

I've got a stack of work to complete anyway, including some video production and admin, you know - shuffling virtual paper kind of stuff.  Still, this is the quiet season and I've actually been looking forward to it for the sole purpose of doing some long-awaited woodshedding.  This is the concept of basically going out into the woodshed with your instrument and doing nothing but playing, practicing, perfecting and picking apart what it is that you do in order to make it better.  It's a continuous process, this music thing, just like life - you keep growing and changing and discovering new things about old things and strange things about things you thought you knew well.

The link at the beginning of this post is for a website called "The Session" and it is serving as a nice replacement for the Wild Dismay site that disappeared when I wasn't looking (and I'm sure many other people as well.)  It's a nice collection of Irish jigs, reels and other dance tunes with sheet music and ABC files, which can be easily copied and imported into TablEdit for manipulation.  At Unicoi, I picked up some great books, among them a collection of O'Carolan harp tunes by Shelley Stevens and Soodlum's Irish Ballad Book, which has got 158 popular "pub" tunes with simple melodies, chords and lyrics.  As I do some performing in Irish pubs (with some gigs coming up later this month and next at O'Doherty's in St. Cloud), I've been trying to bone up on my authentic repertoire and that's been my main focus this winter.  "Whiskey In The Jar" and "The Galway Shawl" are high on my list of sung tunes while "The Maid Behind The Bar", "Swallowtail Jig" and "The Glasgow Reel" are among the instrumental fiddle pieces that I've madly been sawing, rather plucking, away at.

The latter of those tunes is also known by the title "Tam Lin" and I first heard it performed by Mary Z. Cox at the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat in January of this year.  I instantly fell in love with its persuasive and haunting cadences and set about trying to locate instances of it on YouTube with perhaps some sheet music or tablature lying about.  I finally did manage to find that on "The Sessions" website and there are quite a few instances of the tune on YouTube as well.

These lads, and Mary, play the tune in the key of F - which can be sort of managed on a dulcimer with a 1+ fret in DAD tuning - but I found myself transposing the tune into the key of G in order to play it more comfortably. Thankfully, it became clear that the fingerings I'm using in DAD tuning, when rendered in CGC tuning, will deliver the tune purely in the key of F, which appears to be the best key for it. Certain tunes, I'll have to admit, just do sound better in certain keys than others - and some folks can get downright religious about it. I made the mistake of suggesting at a jam that we play "Hangman's Reel" in the key of D while Rick Thum was around. He protested, but we went ahead and played it. Turns out, "Hangman's Reel", well known to be a key of A tune, is one of Rick's favorite tunes and he said, "you ruined a good 'A' tune." I don't know - to my ear, tunes like "Hangman's Reel", "Arkansas Traveler", "Turkey In The Straw" all sound fine in any key whereas tunes like "Tam Lin", "Soldier's Joy", "Road To Lisdoonvarna" just sound right in their respective keys (F, D and E.) Some would argue that "Soldier's Joy" is actually a G tune. Heh. Not if you're a dulcimer player.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Christmas Each Day" on Dulcimer Radio

Online Folk Radio Station - Live365 Internet Radio - Dulcimer Radio

Happy to say that I've made the Christmas playlist that's spinning this month on Dulcimer Radio, formerly known as Sweetwater Radio. Lots of great artists, but I'll let Cindy tell you about that herself:

It's up and ready, four hours of great Christmas/ holiday/Hanukkah music on
Dulcimer Radio!

The only sad thing about putting together such a lovely program of music -
you just can't use as much as you'd like. Due to governmental regulations,
I can only use two tracks from one album, or three tracks from two or more.
So, I've picked out some really interesting tracks..but leave many very
lovely and worthy tracks behind.

So, here is the list of Christmas/Holiday dulcimer recordings that I'm
pulling from. It's early in the season, so you can contact the artists if
you choose, do your holiday shopping, and enjoy the entire album. (Please
go to: www.myspace. com/dulcimerradi o for a list of contact information on
all the artists!)

Back Porch Friends: Christmas Jam

Butch Ross: The Dulcimer Christmas Card

Doug Thomson: Crackin' Choir

Esther Kreek and Charlie Pinzino: Christmas Joy

Evening Rose: Christmas Rose (new)

Jane Chevalier: Dulcimer Noel

Janita and Robert Baker: Hot Rod Sleigh!

Katie LaRaye Waldren: Cold Frosty Morning

Linda G Thomas: An Old English Christmas

Maggie Sansone: Sounds of the Season

Marcille Wallis: In Quiet Joy, Christmas with the Celts

Marcy Prochaska: What Child Is This?

Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer: Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer Play
Music for Christmas

Ned Spurlock: O Holy Night

Peggy Carter and Beverly Allison: A Touch of Christmas Around the World

Steve Scneider and Dave Neiman: The Door to Christmas

Susan Vinson Sherlock: Under the Winter Moon

Steve Eulberg: 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

Dave Haas and Bob Webb : Starry, Starry Night

Erich Overhultz: 7th Floor Christmas

Helicon: A Winter Solstice

Linda Brockinton: An Old Fashioned Christmas

Russell Cook: White Christmas

Other artitsts on this playlist: Brittany Bay, Don Pedi, David Schnaufer &
Stephen Seifert, Davie Moran & Hoe Morgan, Dan Evans, Circle of Friends,
Country Strings, Guy George, Hidid Muller, Hills of Kentucky Dulcimer, Jan
Hammond, Jeff Hames, Jim, Jim and the Fatboys, Joe Collins & Mike McGee,

John Blosser, Larkin Bryant and Friends, Metamora, Summerfield.

I'm planning to leave this playlist up all of December..but if I find time,
I 'may' go in and switch some things..just for some Ho-Ho's.

From me, and the North Harris County Dulcimer Society, we wish you all a
wonderful, warm and very musical Christmas / holiday / Hanukkah season!


(and remember, with every note, an angel gets his/her wings!!! )

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Going out with a bang

This has been a crazy festival season, though I'm not complaining. Keeping busy is a good thing and it's simply delicious that I've been working pretty steadily in the dulcimer festival circuit since I began teaching in 2006. Along the way, I've made many friends, some of whom happen to be the best players in the world, which has kept my A-game steadily in use. The picture above is from the final moments of the 20th Anniversary NGFDA Fall Festival at Unicoi State Park Lodge in Helen, Georgia. There I am on the left, jamming "John Stinson's #2" with (from l-r) Jeff Hames, Butch Ross, Aaron O'Rourke, Aaron Thornton and Stephen Seifert. Holy string-snap, that was fun.

The entire festival was a rollicking good time; workshops were big and full of people who really wanted to infuse their musical experience with more knowledge, something that seems to be happening more and more. The reason for that, I think, is that folks are finding more of an outlet for their music - whether it be playing for friends and family, or the church or in hospice or through YouTube. When people are looking at you and listening to you, there is definitely a desire to be good enough to the point where the experience is enjoyable. I think that's why people are looking to plus their game.

Hell, I'm looking to plus my game during this short winter break before getting back on the road (next stop: Shelby, NC for Joe Collins' Mid Winter Dulcimer Festival in February.) Nothing like jamming with the folks pictured above to make you examine your own chops and think: "yeah, I need to be woodshedding this holiday season."

Funny thing is, talk to any of those cats and they'll say the same thing. The artistic road is an enjoyable, yet bumpy one. You take your victories where you can, and know that it is an ever-winding road. When you reach the end, you're either settling or you're dead, right?

Key West Dulcimer Fest

It's official; the 1st Annual Key West Dulcimer Fest will be held in Key West, Florida (natch!) January 28th - 31st, 2010 (you've got a year to plan.) I've created a new blog (Key West Dulcimer Fest) which will be continually updated with information on the festival including performers/instructors, accommodations, behind-the-scenes prep, vendors, programs and a whole bunch more.

And Now.

So, this week - I'm finishing up work on the Manitou CD packaging and planning to peruse some of the dulcimer books I bought at Unicoi. There's a Christmas show coming up on the 19th of December with Roger Zimish at the St. Cloud Hotel and Spa, so I'll be getting ready for that. I'm also beginning the recording process for "Dulcimerica: Volume Two", which I endeavor to have ready in-time for spring.

The holiday season is upon us - everyone dig in and enjoy - have a great Thanksgiving and stay tuned for more merriment from the House of Miracles!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Christmas Each Day: Order Now!

The album is now completed and is beginning to ship out to folks who have pre-ordered.
Order now to get your copy by Thanksgiving!


Bing Futch - "Christmas Each Day"

Bing's first Christmas album was partly inspired by the classic record "The Little Drummer Boy" by the Harry Simeone Chorale. With memories of that album as the soundtrack to every Christmas growing up in Los Angeles, California, the foundation was set for a magical trip through time and space with traditional hymns and carols spanning over 500 years while circumnavigating the globe.

The Appalachian mountain dulcimer is showcased here in a wide variety of musical styles and unique arrangements of timeless classics. From the Beach Boys style harmonies of the title track and the Celtic flavor of "Deck The Halls" to solo and ensemble mountain dulcimer orchestrations. World drums and percussion with symphonic intruments and acoustic guitar add beautiful textures to tracks like "The First Noel" and "Joy To The World" while 50's rock 'n' roll, roadhouse gospel blues, folk and old-time music all take a turn around the tree. It all weaves through a combination of the story of Christ's birth and holiday season favorites, alternately kicking it up a notch and taking it down to a whisper, finally ending up with the original orchestral piece "One Winter Solstice Morn."

Bing performs mountain dulcimer, baritone dulcimer, vocals, keyboards and arranged all of the tunes. His wife, Jae, makes her recorded singing debut with a playful and joyful renditon of "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." Roger Zimish adds flavorful acoustic guitar to seven of the seventeen tracks.

(Hear a sample of each track here)

1. Christmas Each Day (Bing Futch, 1996)

Written in 1996 for "Disney Christmas Overload", this classic original was given new lyrics and a new vocal arrangement for the 21st century, continuing its message of hope, unity and love for the future.

2. Deck The Halls (Traditional Welsh)

Though Welsh in origin, this familiar Christmas classic features a Celtic swing vibe and a "dueling dulcimers" arrangement fleshed out by bodhran and bass.

3. O Tannenbaum (Traditional German)

Baritone mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar in a quiet treatment of this tune, also known as "O Christmas Tree."

4. Stille Nacht (Traditional Austrian, Franz Gruber, 1816)

One of the most popular Christmas songs is presented here with three separate mountain dulcimer parts, woven together in a spacious arrangement.

5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional English, 1833)
We Three Kings (Traditional - John Henry Hopkins Jr., 1857)

These two traditional tunes, being both in the key of E minor, fit well together thematically in another duet between mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar.

6. The First Noel (Traditional English)

The slow cadence of distant drums powers this simple and dramatic arrangement that features intertwining mountain dulcimer parts and a luscious string section.

7. Jingle Bells (James Lord Pierpoint, 1857)

This fun track features Bing's signature vocals and harmonies (along with a few well-placed sound effects) in an up-tempo journey through the snow, complete with the rarely-heard original lyrics.

8. Up On The House Top (Benjamin Hanby, 1860)

Rendered in an old-time style with just mountain dulcimer played via noter.

9. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (Johnny Marks, 1958)
© 1958 J. Marks/St. Nicholas Music (BMI)

Mrs. Futch makes her singing debut on any record with this playful rendition of the 1950's Brenda Lee classic.

10. Away In A Manger (James R. Murray, 1887)

Mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar combine together in this emotional rendition of the classic Christmas carol.

11. Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle (Traditional French, 1553)
What Child Is This? (Traditional English, 1580)

Another combination of tunes that go well together, beginning with a solo dulcimer run though a song also known as "Bring The Torch Jeannette Isabella." Then, dramatic segue into the traditional tune also known as "Greensleeves" with acoustic guitar serving as foundation.

12. Sans Day Carol (Traditional Cornish, 19th Century)

Solo baritone dulcimer makes this lesser-known Cornish carol a warm and inviting call to celebrate.

13. Cantique de Noël (Adolphe Adam, 1847)

The tune, also known as "O Holy Night", gets a reverential treatment with mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar.

14. Go Tell It On The Mountain (Lyrics, John W. Work Jr., 1907, Traditional African)

Inspired by a swing gospel recording on "The Little Drummer Boy", Bing took this popular hymn and infused it with the rockin' rhythms of roadhouse blues music, complete with mountain dulcimer, Hammond organ, soulful guitar and a gospel choir.

15. Hark The Herald Angels Sing (Felix Mendelssohn, 1840)

A contemplative remembrance in an airy arrangement with baritone mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar.

16. Joy To The World (Lowell Mason, 17th Century, adapted from Handel, 1741)

Another one of the most popular and triumphant of Christmas songs, this tune gets a world-beat pulse with a number of hand percussion rhythms, bass, bells, violins, harpsichord and a dance-inspiring mountain dulcimer drone and groove.

17. One Winter Solstice Morn (Bing Futch, 2006)

To close out the album, the only track without any mountain dulcimer present, this original orchestral piece paints a picture of a fresh snowfall and all the activity of a winter solstice morning through variations on a theme passed amongst flutes, clarinets, oboes, french horns, strings and other instruments. A big movie-soundtrack finish to Bing's first Christmas record!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pretty much ahead of schedule

I've got to record Jae's vocals on "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and Roger Zimish is laying down guitar tracks this weekend, but other than that - I am pretty much done with "Christmas Each Day", my first Christmas album in a recording career that's been going on now for over 20 years.

Song samples can be found on my site here:

The last thing to be recorded was the title track, "Christmas Each Day", which was first written in 1996 for "Disney Christmas Overload." Looking back, I felt like the tune needed a bigger audience (and better recording), so I hauled off and named the album after it, not even thinking about what I would do with the tune.

After a few lyric revisions to bring it up to the 21st century, I kept pretty true to the original arrangement, but added mountain dulcimer into the mix and made it the heartbeat of the song. Then, as I recorded vocals, something inside of me got bold and decided to go the Beach Boys route and add a new background vocal part towards the end. This, and "Jingle Bells", were probably the most fun tracks to record.

So, the graphics have already been shipped off to the printer and after Jae and I return from Savannah, Georgia (we're spending Hallowe'en weekend there), I'll do one more mix to incorporate her vocals and Roger's guitar and then it, too, will head off to the presses.

For those of you wanting a copy - orders are now rolling in, with the first shipments heading out towards the middle of next week. If you'd like to get your copy before Thanksgiving, now's the time to reserve a copy!

Thanks for all of the inquiries - Happy Hallowe'en, Day of the Dead, Samhain and All Saints Day to you!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Ripple In The Pond

Just a ripple in the pond
in the ocean
in the sky

It's a beautiful day; the kind of weather that we look forward to here in Florida. Blue skies, cool winds, open your windows and turn off the A/C; fall is finally settling in with a soft "hello."

Jae and I both slept in after yesterday's marathon of the 2nd Annual Central Florida Blues Challenge. Nine bands competed for the grand prize, entry into the 25th Annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee next February. I emceed the event, which ran from 12:30 p.m. to about 8 p.m. - winners of the event were The Smokin' Torpedoes, who will make the trip to Memphis for the second time in as many years. It was an excellent way to spend a Saturday, sitting around listening to some of the best blues bands in the region, duking it out (with love and respect) and raising money for the Orange Blossoms Blues Society and their continuing mission: to preserve, present and promote the rich heritage of blues music here in central Florida.

Jae, who is vice-president of the OBBS, and I both were exhausted after the record-setting event at one of our favorite establishments, McWell's, and we woke up today with no real agenda, save rehearsing "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" so that my darlin' can join me on the Christmas album, which will be finished this week.

So, I puttered a bit in the yard, pulling some weeds here and there, dropping some beneficial bacteria and barley into the pond, around which I've planted some marigold and zinnia. The Cuban oregano is once again growing like wildfire and so is the lemon basil, which was planted near the tomatoes not only for the benefit of the compost and deeper soil, but also because it is a preventer of aphids near the tomato plants. The things you learn online.

A couple of surprises today, which really made me quite happy. The tomato vines, which were looking kind of sad of late, have pressed on and are now popping out fruit all over the place. There doesn't seem to be any kind of pest presence (perhaps thanks, in part, to several families of spiders who have moved into position under some of the leaves) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have a nice harvest in a few weeks. The lemon basil has grown so intensely that recent winds bent two of the branches. Considering that I've been using the herb for cooking every day, I decided that a pruning was better than letting the plant sit that way - so later on, I'll take the leaves, place them on cookie sheets, pop them in the oven and dry them, then crumble them into our lazy susan herb dispenser. Not as good as using the leaves fresh, but still oh-so-tasty. I've got some harvested thyme and tarragon that's been keeping me company in the studio for the past week and a pinch here and there into week night dinners has been a gastronomic and aromatic wonderland.

The other big surprise was what's happening with our papaya tree. Planted over a year ago from seeds out of a Key West papaya, we weren't sure how the little seedlings would do so far north. I had kept one set of plants in a container on the side of the house in the shade, which was later moved to the front of the house. Another group of seedlings were placed in the ground and took off like a shot, but unfortunately fell victim to trunk rot after our hurricane season brought rains enough to float an ark in the backyard. After I came out to find the poor thing collapsed on its side in the mud, I decided to plant the ones out front in the ground near the garden plot. Not far from the septic tank, this little group quickly took hold and shot up with little hesitation. Today, while surveying the growth and some pretty yellow blooms, I noticed what looks like a little papaya fruit. According to some research, the papaya tree begins fruiting within 3 years, but this seems a little early. Still - the plant is obviously doing well to manifest such a beautiful little green egg - more compost! I think she's hungry!

Speaking of hungry, our fish are out of control. After I finished sculpting the pond bed and placed the liner, filling it with water - I went to PetCo and bought about two dozen goldfish and a plecostomus, an algae-sucking catfish. Upon arriving home, I plopped the pleco in the pond and had two brief sightings of him in subsequent days before he promptly, and I guess, happily, disappeared into the depths, never to be seen again. Judging from the growth rate of the other fish, I'm considered about swishing about in the pond to retrieve fallen plant-pots and during routine filter cleanings, for fear that he'll rise up like that scene from "Jaws" where the shark surprises Brody as he's slinging chum from the back of the Orca.

"We're gonna need a bigger pond."

The fish were about two to three inches in length and not so pretty to look at, but the poor things were also crowded into one aquarium like ghetto tenement dwellers. Before laying out any serious cash on koi (I excavated the pond to a depth of 3 feet, to prepare for koi), I figured that the goldfish (at 12 cents apiece) would be a worthy investment to see if maintaining a pond was even something that I could accomplish.

As it turns out, despite perhaps four or five floaters that simply didn't make the transition well, not only have the majority of that first batch survived, they've also decided that our 900 gallon pond is one swingin' place to grow up and have kids. Not only have they grown into seriously huge goldfish, but their colors have turned brilliant and vibrant, deep reds and oranges, creamy off-whites and the first generation of babies have come out with cool racing stripes that look like the inverted designs of ocean clown fish. One guy, whom I've dubbed "Moby", is pure white and looks like he could eat a bullfrog, he's so freakin' huge. The second generation of kids has begun to appear and from that one initial bag of fish, the whole micro-cosm is simply teeming with life, from the fish to the frogs to the dragonflies, lizards, spiders and bees. Jae and I love to sit out in the herb garden next to the studio and just sit and watch the water roil with activity (especially at feeding time - holy cow, these guys can eat.)

Water plants are beneficial to any pond, providing oxygen and shade from the sun, among other things. Over time, I've had some success and failure with the water garden, failure with things like water lilies, horsetail rush and bloody dock, but success with calla lily, dwarf giant papyrus (great name), pickerel weed, corkscrew rush (which will probably never die), iris, water parsley (which will also never die), canna and elephant ear. My sister-in-law Sherri also gave me some water hyacinth, which is from South America by way of Mars - a crazy plant that doubles its population within two weeks. We started with one plant and it continues to multiply and spread across the surface of the pond. It provides food and oxygen for the fish, who love to push them around from one side to the other while nibbling furiously at them.

On days when I'm stuck away inside the house and overloaded with work - I like to come outside and do a little weeding, or just take a stroll around the house and breathe deeply, taking in our little backyard oasis. When Jae and I first began dating, there was absolutely nothing back there but grass. After we were married, I slowly began to do a little landscaping around the front of the house, creating planter beds and herb gardens. Now, we've got a little retreat from the world that's looking more and more like something you'd see at the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. Fountains and water gardens, flowers and rolling hills, tomato trellises and aquamarine canopies with tiki torches everywhere. And there, in the middle of it all, is the Great Architect, Designer of Life, Creator of All, living within us and outside of us, all around us. The eco-system in our backyard is a constant reminder of our place within the web of life. We are not merely observers of it, but participants within its daily cycles. Visitors often depart here with potted plants as we encourage others to actively get in touch with the soil of the Earth and the harvest of our souls. The lessons to be found within the unfolding petals of the rose or the daily miracle of the purple trumpet flower. The medicines of the plant, the healing that comes from the ground. Completing the cycle and getting our hands and feet into the dirt, communing with every element.

It's easy to get out of touch with the planet - but it's just as easy to get in touch, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Final Touches

I've been burning the midnight oil this week, trying to get "Christmas Each Day" finished before Halloween weekend. That will leave me plenty of time to get them duplicated, sent out to appropriate radio stations and ready for shipping three weeks before Thanksgiving. The sense of accomplishment at this stage is enormous, for many reasons. The time factor. The research and development phase. The-so-many-other-things-going-on-effect. But Mr. Eleventh Hour here didn't do too bad with kick-starting the project after three years of "I should..." which turned into three years of "oh, well maybe next year." I even got started in August like I promised - last week of the month, but still August.

I'm using Garageband, which comes bundled with Mac computers - it's an excellent program and it's amazing what you can do with something that's valued at around $40. The drawbacks to recording your own album have much to do with having to engineer and perform, which can drive you bat-crappy. Also - I'm set up as a project studio for film scores, which involves not a lot of live microphones. So, there were plenty takes ruined by helicopters, passing boom cars, not-so-distant sirens and meowing cats who open doors by themselves.

Now, from scratch, I've got sixteen tracks that are in the mixing process and the two most difficult tunes are pretty much completed. "Go Tell It On The Mountain" ended up sounding a lot more gospel than I thought it would, since I was aiming for a sort of roadhouse blues approach. Once I got the backing vocals in place and a little blues organ, it really took on a life of its own.

I'm also pretty stoked about "Jingle Bells", a tune for which I didn't have any big plans. The biggest deal about this version is that it is, verse for verse, the same lyrics as the 1857 original. Unlike the tune that we tend to sing today, this story goes much deeper than just "dashing through the snow" and laughing heartily while in a "one-horse open sleigh." Nay. This version features hot mamas, sleigh accidents, the need for speed and even a dose of schadenfreude
. In other words, it's more like life. I love it. And recording it was too much fun - from the traditional arrangement, complete with key changes and sound effects to the eight-part choral vocal arrangement at the end that came out sounding like a mixture of "Yellow Submarine" and the theme to "Knott's Bear-y Tales." There's a lot of fun here and it's probably my favorite track on the entire album.

Samples will begin showing up on the website of all the songs, but here's at least one full song to give you an idea of what I've been up to.

"Silent Night " - 5:12 (6 mb)

The album is available for pre-sale from my online store - which means that when it's finished November 1st, orders will begin shipping out in time for Thanksgiving, typically the time that people start to get into Christmas music - although officially, at our house, it's the day after.

Except this year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Two separate experiences this weekend have left me reeling. Kinda.

I got booked at the Harvest Jam at Forever Florida and it was so perfect; perfect weather, music, vending, vibe, I wanted to stay there all day. Roger Zimish came and joined me on-stage at the fest.

Then, we packed up and headed to Muddi Gras, which was a whole different vibe. It was fun, we laid out some different vibes and, at the end, it got a little weird. People, well, okay - two or three kinda threatening men who were calling out for Waylon Jennings and stating that, "you all need to play some music that we like."

It, honestly, got scary there for a couple of songs. I recall at one point, having one guy at the front of stage asking for Waylon Jennings and another guy at the top of the stage stairs leaning in for some requests. They weren't friendly requests. They were in the vein of "you all need to play this, in order to keep us happy." Previously, with the Gator Band, I'd played Native American Flute and had been greeted with a swelling roar of ATVs, swamp buggies and other gasoline-powered movers in a quick and prolonged blast of sound. What did it mean? Did the revving signal appreciation, like applause? Or did it mean that they wanted to drown out the sound of Native American Flute and drums?

I was sober - and in no way paranoid during all of this. I have to tell you - with no fear in my heart - I still felt a sad sort of disconnect in one way, just with some of the folks listening to the music.

And on the other side, I met so many kind and wonderful people tonight. When it comes to rednecks, niggers and the rest of the names that come to mind - we are operating under a collective consciousness where these kind of titles identify who we are and what we do. Which is false. These names might be bookmarks, but they are not impressions of the many souls that we are.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I've been recording albums since 1985 and have never released one for Christmas; not sure why. Well, p'raps the reason is that in order to have a Christmas album ready for Christmas, you have to record it sometime during the year, which can be odd, sort of like snow in July.

But finally, after some folks began asking about one, I decided that this year would be the summer that I hunker down and begin recording a bona-fide Christmas album. Research and tracking began in late August as I went digging for the original lyrics and melodies to some traditional favorites. There are lyrics and a story to "Jingle Bells" that I never knew existed - so they're ending up on the release. Also, besides some lesser-known carols (like the "St. Day Carol"), I wanted to present versions of Christmas songs that were easily recognizable, but just a little different from what people might've heard before, and that's been the challenge; to find a way to really make each tune and track unique in some way.

My approach has been pretty simple - to let the film composer side of me have at it with the mountain dulcimer. The result has been instrumentals that stick to the basics, yet support the melodies and chord changes with vividly different colors than may be expected. I'm also "orchestrating" the dulcimer as I would a small ensemble, so even in the sparsely arranged pieces, there are definitive parts being performed by separate instruments along with parts being played all together on the dulcimer. Equal parts separation and drone are converging on the record thus far.

There are some vocal tunes and some upbeat arrangements featuring some percussion and guitar. Roger Zimish is contributing some of the latter. Today, I'm working on "Go Tell It On The Mountain", a negro spiritual that I fell in love with as a child. My approach to the tune will not be as orchestrated as the one that I first heard - but will feature more of the traditional lyrics. Likewise, and as mentioned before, "Jingle Bells" goes back to the original lyrics that are often left out of the song - a story of how a sleigh-ride in the snow turns bumpy. I've had some fun with this one, even adding some cartoon sound effects at one particular moment to underscore the action.

I'll have more blogging on this release, which is scheduled to be available in about three weeks, so obviously I'm up against time on this one. Some samples will be posted here soon!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Real Nice

It's been a good couple of days. First, performing over at O'Doherty's Irish Pub in downtown St. Cloud, then tonight at the St. Cloud Hotel and Spa.
. It's quite an honor to be booked based on your rep, and even better to have folks show up who enjoy your music. Are you kidding? I never take that for granted, it's always such a surprise and such a joy.

Last night, friends came out and we had a good time. Tonight, even more friends came out and it was sort of insane. The tilapia at the St. Cloud Hotel rocks (and here's a picture of it) - I would have included a shot of my meal at O'Doherty's, but it consisted mainly of pints of Guinness.

Anyway - tonight, there were a couple of moments that will end up on the MySpace page of the St. Cloud Hotel. Just people having a good time and sharing a great vibe. I love being a part of that. Chris Blakka came up and did a rap over "Run On" tonight. I especially like working with other artists on bringing ideas into the groove. MuddiGras is coming up. Ho-ho-ho. I did some Shooter Jennings tonight and one guy said that I did "redneck good." I'm looking forward to this weekend's shows. Check for more info!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Blues Brothers

Summer of 1980, I flew on a plane to Chicago, Illinois and saw "The Blue Brothers."

Who doesn't remember that experience? The catch-phrases? The imagery? The exuberance? We spent the next few years ushering bits of the movie into our collective consciousness.

"We're on a mission from God."

"No, ma'am. We're musicians."

"Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western. "

"Well thank you, pal. The day I get outta prison, my own brother picks me up in a *police* car! "

The music was awesome, the slapstick was out of this world - no-one had seen anything like it. Director John Landis was at his prime and the movies haven't been the same since. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi actually toured with members of the all-star blues band including Donald Dunn, Willie Hall, Lou Marini, Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy and Tom Malone. Other musical luminaries included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and a man that I had an interesting encounter with.

While working at Universal Studios in 1989, I was at Telly's bar and grille in the Universal Sheraton, sucking down beer after a hard day of giving tours on the backlot. A dapper man in a white tux and tails walked into the place (no lie) and proceeded to hit the bar, order a beer and then settle down at the chain-link fence for a sit-down. No-one talked to him.

I looked at the guy, incredulous. Looked at the crowd, even more incredulous, then sat down next to him and attempted to laugh into the conversation.

"Man, you know, when you sat down here, I thought you were Cab Calloway."

He looked at me with serious eyes and said, "I AM Cab Calloway."

This hit me like a brick, because I knew that he was on the lot filming a Janet Jackson video. We talked a lot. What an amazing moment in time.

But back to the Blues Brothers. Their zeitgeist was brief, for John Belushi left this world and it was all over. At least until 1998 when director John Landis brought the franchise back to the screen in "Blues Brothers 2000." This time, John Goodman filled in the formidable space left by Belushi, but the magic just wasn't the same. The story was a mess and the freshness of the original concept from 1980 just seemed wilted. Yet, the music was powerful, featuring B.B. King, Junior Wells, Jonny Lang, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Isaac Hayes, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Preston, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughn, Grover Washington Jr., Steve Winwood, Blues Traveler and many others. In short - the movie sucked. The music didn't.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the House of Blues franchise was launched and in 1997, the HOB at Walt Disney World opened. As a local journalist, I ended up as honorary press for the place and attended not only the opening, but also a number of fine shows in the venue. A couple of years later, my band Mohave would perform quite a few times.

So, back to The Blues Brothers. Tonight, a friend's band, The Smokin' Torpedoes, were scheduled to open for the duo, comprised of Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi and a touring band. Apart from shooting video for the band, I also looked forward to seeing the act live and in person for the first time, with the imagery of "Blues Brothers 2000" in the back of my head.

All in all - it was a fine show. The Torps never sounded better - and The Blues Brothers, well - the music was phenomenal. And for someone who has grown up with the movies of Ackroyd and Belushi, it was pretty cool to see them on-stage, holding their own with a blues band and delivering a live show for the crowd. Not to mention the fact that, without The Blue Brothers, there would be no House Of Blues. Forget the fact that Elwood is no longer the skinny beanpole that he used to be - I give him props for wailing on the harmonica and laying down on the stage floor with Belushi in a celebration of utter silliness. Along with all that - the duo gave a credible blues rave-up, something that is sorely lacking in the main music hall of the HOB, which has given itself over to more mainstream rock and roll, leaving the blues music to simmer in the kitchen adjacent to the main theater.

I may never catch this act on the road again, so it was a joy to catch it tonight. And it left me both dreamy and disgruntled. On one hand, you can never go home again. But then again - you can sure try, and with enough effort, you can rip the roof off the mother.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Snakes alive!

I've heard of a snake in the grass, but this is ridiculous.

So I'm doing my afternoon walk, which takes me past a large, undeveloped field near the house (kind of a rare sight, getting even rarer, so I'm enjoying it while I can) and I see something stuck in the chain-link fence.

Only it's not stuck. It's cruising along rapidly.

Closer inspection reveals that it's a snake, who has traded ground-level motoring for a more monorail approach to scoping his environs. Chalk that one up to "never seen before."

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Winter Garden Music Festival

Great show at the Winter Garden Music Festival yesterday; I was away from the table when Jae mentioned Frank had already stopped by and invited us back for next year's event, on the main stage this time. Sweet!

Things got started a bit late due to technical difficulties with the Outer Toons' set (worth the wait, they were awesome) so we cut our set slightly short to keep the evening moving. Besides playing with Chris Dispensa for the first time (solid drummer, he rocked the joint), we also did something else that we've never done before; a staggered band introduction ala "Stop Making Sense."

I came out first and introduced the mountain dulcimer with "Black Mountain Rag." Then, Chris came up and joined me on djembe for a little Indiana raga. Roger Z. joined us on guitar and I switched to Native American Flute for an extended improvisation. Then Chris switched to the drum kit and Tom Sharp came aboard to round out the quartet on a super-spacey rendition of Manitou's "Boy On Rock." We then performed "Big Alligator", "Time Bomb", "Crazy Feels Like" and "Run On."

Next show will be Muddy Gras on October 18th - more info to come!

Thanks to our new friends and fans - we appreciate the love. To our old friends and fans, thanks for your continued support - mahalo nui loa!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pinch Me (Lightly)

It was perhaps 2005 or 2006 when I really got serious about playing the mountain dulcimer and it was all because of the gift of a book.

The book, Mel Bay's Dulcimer 2000, featured a host of mountain dulcimer luminaries with their recordings and tablature for dulcimer solos. Up until this point, I had been sort of in the wilderness (no, not "sort of", way out in the wilderness eating locusts and honey) with my playing and it was a huge wake-up call: "oh, so this is how you're supposed to be doing it."

Two of the names/faces I recognized, Rob Brereton, since I owned his CD "Someone To Watch Over Me" and had worked side by side with him for a week or two out at the Folkcraft shop at Walt Disney World. And, of course, Bud Ford, whom I had worked for, but had never met in person. The rest of the folks were all new to me, and each presented a unique approach to the instrument. I began to work my way through the tunes, with each performer as sort of a mentor. Would I ever meet any of them? I figured that would be unlikely.

How wrong that concept turned out to be!

Janita Baker, Susan Trump, Jerry Rockwell, Shelley Stevens, Bill Taylor, Don Pedi, Lance Frodsham, Neal Hellman, Lois Hornsbostel and Carrie Crompton. In the past couple of years, I've met them all, and have even had the pleasure of jamming with them on the tunes that they taught me.

Also included in that book is an arrangement of "Planxty Fanny Po'er" by Madeline MacNeil, who used to publish Dulcimer Players News. This past weekend at The Great American Dulcimer Convention, I rode up with Bill Taylor and got a chance to meet Maddie on the first day; what a delightful woman she is.

The entire weekend was quite a blast and in a mind-blowingly beautiful location; the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky. Hung out with some familiar folks like Anne MacPhie, festival organizer, The Kentucky Standard Band, Alan Darveaux, Bill, Dan Boone and Dale Poling and some of the attendees. And met some new acquaintances, including Lisa and Heather Malyuk, two young ladies who have a long and wonderful career ahead of them both. Alan's band, Slight Departure, was another huge highlight and it was great to hang and jam with them after the Friday and Saturday concerts. Video from the weekend is now starting to show up through the DPNews Online Video Podcast.

Basically, it was all over too soon, and way too much fun. Now, I'm back home, working again on the Christmas album, gearing up for some solo and Mohave shows, cutting video and tending my garden with green-thumbed pride.

Life's a beautiful blessing. And now that October is here - the weather will, literally, take a chill, the energy will begin to change and reflect the autumnal equinox, which always casts a warm, earth-rooted light upon everything. Pinch me, but lightly. For I know that I'm not asleep.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So many dulcimers

There's an old joke that's heard in mountain dulcimer circles quite a bit, and it applies to other instruments as well: "how many dulcimers do you need?" The answer: "just one more."

It's like the t-shirts that Roger Zimish is selling "love one woman, many guitars." There's something about certain instruments that inspires the collector in all of us. Now, that's not always the case - some people seem happy with just one really good instrument; it does everything they need it to do (see: Willie Nelson or B.B. King, even though the latter has had a whole host of "Lucille" guitars over the span of his career.) Sometimes, multiple instruments are absolutely necessary, like with harmonicas or Native American Flutes, each one has a different key along with a specific kind of voice. With mountain dulcimers, many players use multiple instruments for different tunings since the diatonic fretboard doesn't easily allow for playing in any key.

Taking this another step - whether you play one or many instruments, there is also the question of brand, such as "who makes your instrument?" Some people will play many different types of instruments while others are brand-loyal, sticking with one particular maker because that manufacturer apparently has hit all the right points necessary to guarantee an instrument that will meet exacting criteria involving tone, playability, functionality, ergonomics, appearance, etc.

For an instrument that's so relatively new on the scene, the mountain dulcimer has an astonishing number of builders who specialize in its construct. From one-man crews to assembly-line, factory-built operations. From the most traditional of methods to state-of-the-art technology, mountain dulcimer builders seem to appear on the scene with increasing regularity, rubbing elbows with established makers and manufacturers, introducing new twists and aiding in the ongoing development of this unique American folk instrument.

Currently, in my own dulcimer collection, I have 18 instruments which can be seen here at the gear page on my website. It's a modest assortment, compared to some veritable museums I've heard about in the homes of avid collectors. While looking at it recently in preparation for the big announcement that I'm about to make in this blog, I realized that these instruments are a reflection of my quest for a dulcimer that simply "be all that it can be." As my playing has evolved over the years, so have my needs, again reflected in the choices of many axes in my collection. There are, of course, my first dulcimers from Cripple Creek Dulcimers and a custom-created shallowbody dulcimer made from a CC kit that was an attempt to electrify without sacrificing pure dulcimer tone. There are electric solid-body dulcimers and dulcitars, cardboard dulcimers and prototypes. Some are hanging on the wall, show-pieces, but not really performance instruments. There are also student dulcimers that I loan out for private lessons and dulcimers that were found in someone's closet or attic that ended up with me, because someone knew they'd go to a good home.

And then there are the dulcimers that I've played the most, which are my Folkcraft/Folkroots models and a Mike Clemmer MC-2 double-fretboard dulcimer.

Sometime last year, in a series of discussions with Butch Ross, Stephen Seifert and Aaron O'Rourke, the subject of finding exactly what we were all looking for in an instrument came to the forefront of our elusive "quest for tone." The possibility was this: that we weren't finding what we were looking for because it didn't exist. Maybe the reason that people had so many different dulcimers from many different makers was because, like the perfect mate, there is no such thing. No one person can be all things to you, just as one instrument couldn't possibly be all things, or could it?

Though I decided to slow down on my acquisition of instruments, there were a couple of builders that I knew were making unique instruments that just had to end up in my collection, both for history's sake and to have the joy of playing them whenever I wanted. David Beede is one of those builders. The other builder is Gary Gallier.

Sure, I wouldn't mind having one of every good dulcimer that I've ever seen, heard or played, but that would be impossible (and desire will just frustrate you in the end), so again, the idea was to narrow my search for "the perfect dulcimer" and it hearkened back to our conversations about what would make such an instrument. Though Aaron has a number of instruments, like a Dave McKinney Modern Mountain Dulcimer and also a Gallier Starsong, his favorite axe is a Beede prototype that was made to his specifications. Naturally, when you can find a builder who will work with you and has the ability to deliver what it is that you're looking for, it's a dream come true. Combine an already great-sounding instrument with a builder who is always listening to players and plussing the design and you've got magic waiting to happen.

It's Official

Since 1999, when Mohave was formed, I've been looking for an electric mountain dulcimer that could pull off alternately sounding acoustic and ballistic. For years, I used a Folkcraft acoustic dulcimer with a transducer pickup, which worked for quiet applications, but turned into dodgy feedbacky noise whenever the distortion pedal was stomped. Acoustic instruments have a bad history of aping solidbody ones and vice-versa.

Then, I played a Greibhaus solid-body and was blown away by its tone; it had all the warmth of an acoustic dulcimer, yet it could crank out a wall of solid rock crunch with a vengeance. I was pretty broke at the time and couldn't afford to even think about getting one. Lucky for me, the builder, Jerry Cripe, offered me an endorsement deal earlier this year and now I'm cranking out the jams at gigs with a Greibhaus. Jerry is interested in future development of the instrument, so there have been discussions on design elements and this particular model is still in an evolutionary stage, which is really exciting.

Back in 1994, I worked for Folkcraft Instruments at a kiosk located in Walt Disney World. David and Melissa Marks owned the company and had taken over the dulcimer concession from another builder whose name I can't remember, but apparently he was terrible at customer service.

In any case, it was a fun summer, made some decent money and spent most of it right back into the till by purchasing some of the amazing dulcimers that I got to demonstrate for eight hours each day. For years, these dulcimers were making it happen for me, especially my CF-300, which just got beat all to hell during so many Mohave shows. Incredible tone, beautiful intonation, a raised fretboard that allowed the instrument top to resonate with a passion; I simply didn't bother looking anywhere else for another dulcimer: that was it. Many years later, when I did end up picking another axe while on the road, I went with a Folkroots, which was being made in the same factory after Folkcraft bought that particular company.

David and Melissa ended up selling the business and for awhile, many were asking about the new company and would they continue to make the excellent instruments that folks had come to know and love. The question took on extra poignancy after Melissa passed away earlier this year.

It's Official (again)

This summer at NAMM show in Nashville, my good friend Roger Zimish ran into the Folkcraft crew and said they were interested in talking to me. After a few phone calls with them, it became immediately clear that this was one of those matches made in heaven. The new owners are forward-thinking with a dedication towards preserving and presenting traditional folk instruments. Immediately, specs were discussed on a dream dulcimer, one with two fretboards, ebony overlay, L.R. Baggs pickups, built-in Fishman E.Q. and more. Since Folkcraft doesn't make solid-body electrics, I'd still endorse Greibhaus in addition to endorsing Folkcraft. Though it's a non-exclusive deal, I'll still primarily be using Folkcrafts for performing, recording and teaching. In January, I'll travel to Anaheim, California for the Winter NAMM show to demonstrate for the company, much as I did for Suzuki back in 1986 (don't know if I've told that story or not here - it's a trip.)

I'm excited to be working with Folkcraft Instruments again and especially thrilled about the development side of things. Seems like the "quest for tone" just rounded the final curve.

A Beautiful Weekend

Jae and I drove up to Melrose, Florida along with our doggie, Bella Dolce, to be part of a really groovy happening.

David Beede is a phenomenal songwriter, musician, luthier and spirit that I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year through Aaron O'Rourke, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting for the first time earlier this year. Aaron is a mind-blowing performer of not only mountain dulcimer, but other instruments, such as bass guitar and mandolin as well. He had been helping David book talent for the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat and suggested that I come on-board for the 2008 edition (which was actually the 2007 edition, postponed by Florida fires.) That weekend was a super blast, especially when David and I got to sit and jam for about four hours in the carillon tower at Stephen Foster State Park.

David, Aaron and I have gathered together since then, over in Dunellon, Florida for the Will McClean Festival in the spring. Over the summer, some dialogue began as we talked about doing some videotaping for David, and with a house concert featuring the two of those guys coming up, I elected to head north and capture some footage for promo purposes. Much to my delight, David asked if I'd also open the set for them.

The house concert was at David and Julie's house, a lovely, rambling home set back from the main road, perched on the edge of a lake. With some supplemental show lights brought in, the entire stage area was transformed at nightfall into a magical twilight space where the music wove together with the sounds of insects and a gentle wind.

About fifty people showed up for the concert, a boisterous group that also included a fair number of performers, so the post-show jams were A++ - lots of great music and company to be had along with the presence of seven darling doggies who added their own special warmth to the proceedings.

It all really ended too soon, but a marvelous time was had - and this was a nice run-up to the next big event, which will be the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat, at its regularly scheduled time of year, in November.

What was really special about this time was being able to kick back and relax with David and Aaron well into the early morning, strumming dulcimers, playing and talking music; a rare treat in the busy day-to-day of festival life. I also sat down with both of them for interviews which will be featured during the next two weeks of Dulcimer Players News podcasts.

The afterglow from this particular event is amazing. Now, coursing through the week towards a flight out to Kentucky on Friday for the Great American Dulcimer Convention, I'm getting a bit of flashback from the summer - when the good times were so back-to-back, I barely had time to reflect before getting caught up in the moment again.

And then, perhaps that's actually a really good thing. For all we truly have is the moments of our lives, right?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sam Phillips rocks!

NPR: Tiny Desk Concert: Sam Phillips
Tiny Desk Concert: Sam Phillips

by Bob Boilen

I don't think enough people have heard the music of Sam Phillips, and now seems like a good time to change that. Her songs unfold like perfect miniature pop dramas, and her new album, Don't Do Anything, is loaded with great ones. Of all her incarnations as a performer -- first as a Christian singer, then as a pop singer -- the current Sam Phillips is the one I find most alluring.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Leu Gardens

Playing at Leu Gardens is great; the scenery is beautiful, the audience is always attentive and appreciative, the friends of Central Florida Folk always put on a great show. This one found me billed along with Matthew Sabatella and The Wyndbreakers. Actually, Ennis Pruitt was on the bill, but I knew of him from this great band and from years of going to see them perform at the Mercado (R.I.P.) on I-Drive. But Ennis did bring along Craig Thomas and it was very much a Wyndbreakers performance, much to my delight. Ennis even asked if there was a tune we could all do together, so we did "Soldier's Joy", which was a blast!

This was the first time I'd heard Matthew and I really enjoyed his presentation of American traditional music, both on guitar and on banjo. Matthew has a great voice and deep respect for the roots of folk music; I hope we cross paths again here in the state (he's from south Florida.)

Thanks to Central Florida Folk for having me out as part of this great program!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where, How Did I Get Here?

Those previous images? They're from August 31st at House of Blues at Walt Disney World. David Schweizer and, no, I don't remember her name, hell. They did a great set though.

I've been playing a lot of scales recently. Pentatonic scales on a diatonic fretboard. Been messing around with my little cardboard chromatic too - the one I got from Stephen Seifert's class in 2006. Steve called me out of the blue last week and we're both frothing at the mouth about our next steps. This doesn't ever stop, chillun. No. It doesn't ever. Just when you think you are on your way, you will find something to aspire to and the chase begins again. DAGNABBIT! Well. That's the way it goes. Gets used to it. And yes, I meant to type "gets used to it." Rrrrrrrrrrrr.

Something big is on my horizon and I'm stoked, can't talk about it now, but it's happening. Had a fun show tonight in St. Cloud with Roger Zimish - we're performing some duos all over - and got a show coming up Sunday in Orlando at Leu Gardens. But tomorrow is my wife's 45th birthday, so it's going to be nothing but a PARTAY tomorrow, well, today, actually.

We'll catch up again soon - got some scales I want to lay on y'all.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Nine years and counting...

I seem to recall that David Schweizer had booked me for his Living Room Jam open mic at The House Of Blues as a solo act, summer of 1999. After a couple of years banging around the Orlando scene as Bing's Not Dead (billed as "21st century psychotic lounge opera"), David felt I was ready to ply my trade at Orlando's newest and hottest music venue.

It was during the run-up to the show that the idea for Mohave was born somewhere in the middle of the Arizona desert. Upon returning to Orlando, I called David and asked if I could bring along a couple of friends to which he replied, "sure."

On August 30th, 1999 - Mike Burney, McGyver and me took the stage at the House Of Blues at Walt Disney World and played a fiery twenty-minute set that took the audience completely by surprise. I remember David walking up to us after we left the stage saying, "that was fan-fucking-tastic!"

Nine years later, Mohave is still performing, albeit with a different line-up. Hell, as long as I'm in the band, it's still Mohave.

David Schweizer is performing at the House of Blues tonight with his own trio and we're going down to see him before heading over to the Adventurer's Club on Pleasure Island and saying goodbye to the old place (it's being moved - but it won't be the same.)

Thinking back on that first HOB show, the sky was the limit. There were no big dreams of cash and Cadillacs, catered backstage revelry (although we'd play the House of Blues a number of times after that first night, and the backstage spread was actually pretty damn swank) and big deal making. It was all about the music and, for the most part, it still is, even though we're older and more aware of big picture things like mortgages and gas prices. True, the model for Mohave, and also for my solo music, has adapted in a way that requires clear thinking about cost-effectiveness versus pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Only the independently wealthy (or perpetual poor and proud) can afford to make music simply for music's sake and perhaps pay for doing so. Face it, this music environment in central Florida is sort of like the national economic picture - there are the top one-percenters and the rest of us are scrabbling for action.

Either you're already well-connected and pulling in the bucks as an entertainer or you may be one of those performers who are happy to play for a measly share of the door or a discount on the beer tab; neither of which is ever enough to even pay for a portion of a tank of gas, let alone bills or other expenses.

But that's changing ever so slowly - more venues are actually looking to find better entertainment in order to keep their customers happy, which means that they're paying better as well. Between that and the ever-changing nature of music distribution, you come right round again to the idea of music as a blue-collar pastime. You'll never get rich, like in the army, but you can get by if you work hard enough.

With Mohave still gigging and the solo career having made the leap into the national scene, I just feel very blessed to continue doing what I love. It takes determination and assurance that you're on the right track - but it also takes the support and encouragement of folks like David Schweizer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A little tail-wind, hmmm, maybe?

Hurricane alerts and real time hurricane tracking at
As of 8 a.m. EDT, Tropical Storm Fay was located at 23.2 N, 81.2 W or just northwest of Varadero, Cuba, and 100 miles south-southeast of Key West, Fla.

Maximum wind speeds remain near 60 mph and additional strengthening is forecast over the next 24 hours. It could become a hurricane as it moves over the Florida Keys later tonight and will likely be one as it approaches the Florida Peninsula.

Wednesday morning's flight to Colorado should be interesting. As of the moment, it's not been canceled so they're holding out the same brand of optimism that I'm endorsing. At the worst, maybe I pull into Manitou Springs later in the evening - but it sure would be nice to have the day and unwind slowly as we creep up on this weekend's Mountain Music Festival.

The Manitou album, "In The Garden of the Gods", goes to the printer this morning and we'll have the first copies on-hand for sale at the festival. Just short of a year since we free-form recorded the album in the GOTG, the reunion will be short one member (Quintin Stephens, on vacation with family at another colossal red rock structure, the Grand Canyon) but will have on-hand another formidable dulcimer player in Joellen Lapidus, who is flying in to partake of the festivities.

I'm looking forward to funky old Manitou Springs. I'm not looking forward to flying with unsociable winds at my back, but we'll see how that goes.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's a small world after all...

Earlier this year, in the cold midwinter of Memphis, Jae and I found a new band that we liked called The Noveaux Honkies; part blues, part Americana, part swing, with lots of sass.

To The Not So Wayback Machine!

As it turns out, the band from South Florida was playing a gig tonight not more than a couple of miles from our house, so we went to check them out along with opening act The Smokin' Torpedoes, who were also up in Memphis for that International Blues Challenge.

Jae and I got to McWell's early to eat and watched the first band set up. As members of the second band arrived, I noticed a familiar looking guy carrying an instrument. Turns out it was Mike Burney, Mohave's first bassist!

Mike caught a glimpse of me as I got closer to where he was sitting with the rest of the band and we embraced, retreated back to the bar and proceeded to catch up with one another. Man - how many years ago has it been? At least six years since he moved to California and then back again. We had a good time sharing some Cali horror stories and thinking back on those early days with McGyver behind the drum set.

Life's a trip, i'n't?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mohave Gigs

Summer's almost over, but we're just getting warmed up!

First off - the long dormant website is back, no thanks to the bureaucrats who controlled our old domain. So, a new domain, was created. Same stuff on the site, music, pictures, show schedule, orgins, videos, etc., but it's just not run by people bound up in red tape.

Secondly, we've got a couple of gigs in October that we'd like to point out early, so you can hopefully make the plans to come out and get tribal with us! First one is October 4th at the Winter Garden Music Festival. It's a three-day festival and we're on the main stage on the second day, 5:15 p.m. Watch this space for any potential schedule change. This is a fun, family-friendly festival and tons of great acts will be there.

Then, we've got Muddy Gras coming up in St. Cloud, October 18th. This is going to be a fun and ROWDY event, so all of you redliners show up and get your groove on.

There are more dates to follow as we enter the busy season for the band. I'm still traveling solo, but festival season is starting to wind down ever so slightly - enough to where Mohave is looking at recording a brand new album. That's right! It's been three years since "Clear Blue Trickling" came out and it's about time we got in gear and did something new in-studio. We'll have snippets as they take place.

For now though, enjoy the rest of the summer and we hope to see you at a show real soon!



Friday, July 25, 2008

Way too cool!

When I first began playing mountain dulcimer in 1985, there were three cassette tapes that accompanied me on the journey for the first 20 or so years. David Schnaufer's "Dulcimer Player", Michael Rugg's "Celtic Collection" and Neal Hellman's "Dulcimer Airs, Ballads and Bears." In the 80's, I had no idea about the west coast dulcimer scene, and had I known - might've headed out to see some of these guys play, maybe get some helpful hints on how to do wonderful things with the instrument. But alas, being the shiftless, feckless lad that I was - the path instead taken was one of solitary scratchings and wackings with the occasional light bulb moment that led to some kind of song or technique. In a way now, I'm glad for those days in the virtual musical wilderness; it helped me develop my own style. But still - what a joy it would've been to peek in on the Pacific Rim scene.

In any case - many years later, I'd finally cruise into the dulcimer world and it's been a huge game of catch-up ever since. I did meet the wonderful Robert Force, who literally wrote the book on playing "wild dulcimer" with his late friend Albert d'Ossche. What I didn't realize until I went back and looked at my three dulcimer cassettes, was that Robert had produced both Michael Rugg's and Neal Hellman's records. Sadly, I'd never get to meet David, as he passed away. But here I was, friends with Robert, knowing that Neal was still doing his thing and that Michael was probably out there somewhere, so I dropped Neal an e-mail to let him know of his influence upon my music.

Imagine my surprise when I got a response and a tip on a festival called Redwood Dulcimer Day. Neal sent me co-founder Janet Herman's e-mail and, before I knew it, I was being invited to perform and teach at this year's fest alongside featured artist Lance Frodsham, another guy who has had a big influence on my music. Holy Cow! Does it get any better than that? I'm afraid it does.

While at KMW, Robert had mentioned that Michael Rugg lived in Felton, which Neal confirmed. Michael now runs the Bigfoot Discovery Project on the site of his old dulcimer building enterprise, Capritaurus. Would I get the chance to meet two of the most influential musicians in my life? I guess the picture speaks volumes to that.

All I can say at this point is, the Great Spirit is amazing - and I'm having a blast even though the festival hasn't even started yet!