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.