Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What what this year about, anyway?

Never mind the subject line - progress can't be measured in years, at least where music is concerned. You can't cleanly divide the lines between December and January and call it anything of worth. It's an ongoing process that has to stand up to the larger curve of our existence. In other words - Happy New Year, yeah-yeah-yeah, get on with it.

Many folks approach me and say that I must be blessed or gifted or something. That's very nice of them. In my head and heart, I know it's a constant struggle to stay on the @#$%^ horse. And even then, we didn't learn to ride until late in life. That's the "royal we" there.

'Splain.

Sure, I was playing clarinet in elementary school, for what it's worth (nearly nothing, except the death of my cello-playing dreams. What I get for being born to a woodwind-playing father. But I kid. Ha-hah.)

And sure, I continued to play clarinet all through junior high school and then, finally, high school, where the dreaded stake finally was driven through the impetus and skidded to a bloody stop before I could claim my diploma. The week after graduation, I was suddenly a bassist.

How do you like me now, papa? I liked strings from the get-go. You can't fight city hall or some shit.

In any case - it took some evolution. First bass guitar, then dalliance with guitar. Much keyboard mushing before the mountain dulcimer came along and said 'howdy' two years after I narrowly escaped the five-year plan. Though I would come to relish my wind-blowing tendencies later in life - it was such a relief to pluck, pick, strum and bend my way into a whole other existence after formal music education.

But seriously, it wasn't until much later in life that the strings made any sense to me. It was never taught, there were no tutors or coaches, and I was in my 30's before I could find my way around a stringed instrument knowing the notes, chords, scales and whatnot.

So, what seems like natural ability is actually something fought for, scraped for and seemingly out of reach if it wasn't for the stubborn and perpetual motion that made me cry "don't care! will do! won't quit!"

That, in itself, is part of what anyone who seeks to succeed in music needs - a determination to make it work. Like hypnotism, it only works if the hypnotized is willing. And if you're a musician who wants to be a better musician, you'll only get there if you believe that it is possible.

There is no easy road, unless you're a genius of some sort. You must fight for every gain and struggle for every bit. Like anything else in life, what you want takes effort. But if what you want is what you love, then the effort is not a big deal whatsoever.

What was this year about, anyway?

For me, it was the continuing effort to "stay on the horse." Despite what some of you might think, if I don't keep practicing what I know, it will soon dissipate and become yesterday's memories. It's not instilled in my fingers or the core of my being like some folks who have performed and played all their lives. Though I had an early start - I didn't connect with the music until very late in life, which means a) I'm a late-bloomer and b) it gets harder all the time to maintain even what I've fought so long to obtain. Keep that in mind as you traipse down the path.

So, what might the new year hold? The same old concoction, my dear friends. Keep practicing the basics; your scales, your chords, your inversions, your techniques. Listen to music that you're not familiar with, experiment with time signatures that are strange and foreign. Get out of your comfort zone and try something that you've never tried before. I guarantee that it will all amount to something wonderful as long as you keep it up, revisit it often and take it all as seriously as you possibly can - with the right amount of levity, of course. If it's not fun, it's not really music, is it?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Double Feature

THANK you for the donations that have been coming in! Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Big Thanks, Some Changes



Those of you who follow The Dulcimerica Video Podcast know that I've slowed down the posting of podcasts in the final quarter of this year. That's mainly due to how mind-boggling busy I've been, not only with fall gigs, but also with preparation for the Key West Dulcimer Fest.

There is another reason which I hesitate to mention, but since it seems that I may be the last person on the internet to actually put voice to this reason, then I've held on tenaciously.

Earlier this year, a "Donation" button quietly appeared on the Dulcimerica site along with a suggested tagline to encourage donations. (I won't mention whose idea this was - but they are a highly respected member of the dulcimer community.) The bottom line is: the podcast is a labor of love, begun three years ago and maintained with alarming consistency where most new podcasts begin to appear erratic after six months. To produce a single episode (there are over 130) takes approximately eight hours; from shooting the footage to logging it into the computer, editing it together, compressing it into form for the web, uploading it to two sites (sometimes three) and maintaining the archives. With my YouTube page, this is cost-free. With the official Dulcimerica page, all of the movie files are stored on my server. More than once, I've had to delete files (in one case, all of the AFI Radio podcasts) in order to make physical room for the increasing number of videos and my ISP has threatened to shut me down due to the enormous amount of bandwidth I use. It's a private server which I've had since 1994 and I'm afraid I'll need to go with a public ISP due to the huge hits that Dulcimerica gets.

Add to that the cost of videotape, camera maintenance and supplementary gear and it all adds up. For a while, I considered putting Dulcimerica behind a firewall and charging a nominal fee for access, but decided against it, choosing instead to place a donation button on the site. Problem is, not a single donation has ever been made. Granted, I've never pointed out the fact that there's a donation button in existence (it's tucked into the right margin just under the subscription buttons) and many people who subscribe to the show either do it through iTunes, another podcatcher or watch it on YouTube.

The reason I mention this now is, as you know, we're living in tough economic times; not terrible, but enough to make everyone cinch up their belts a tad. As I head into a fourth year of producing Dulcimerica, I'd like to revamp a few things, put more time into instructional episodes, creating graphics and supplementary materials for the podcasts. This, of course, will take time, materials and server space as well as bandwidth. Many thousands of people have viewed Dulcimerica on YouTube and via Blogger, enjoying the song demos, instruction, tips and workshops, road trips and interviews. The podcast has over 1600 subscribers! If everyone donated between $2 to $5, it would very nicely help to support and preserve the show as well as our extensive archives.

Please consider making a donation - it would go a long way towards development of what has become a fixture within the dulcimer community.

I'm currently knocking out the remainder of footage from 2009, beginning with the post above from the Winter Creek Reunion. Before the end of the year, footage from New Harmony, Smoky Mountain Dulcimer Retreat and Unicoi will go up. After that, I'll be revamping the opening credits (including the show's new name, which will be simply "Dulcimerica".) Carla Maxwell, who has held the Dulcimerica.com domain name since before the show existed, has lovingly re-directed the domain to the main website - so you can now type Dulcimerica.com and it will take you to the Blogger site. This will not effect subscriptions via iTunes or any of the podcatchers out there.

I'll be kicking off the new year with some instructional videos, quickly followed by road trip episodes from Kentucky Music Winter Weekend, Winter Dulcimer Fest, NAMM Show and the Key West Dulcimer Fest. New graphics and format will be introduced as well. It's my aim to return to four times a month and more if the event calls for it.

If you'd like to donate to Dulcimerica, please use this button:









Even if you're not a PayPal member, you can still make a donation by following the link at the bottom of the screen. Thank you for allowing me to make a telethon post here - I will more than likely do the same through the podcast as well. Your contribution is very much appreciated!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A lesson in chord voicings

This will be brief, yet complicated. Don't be frightened.

I've been learning "Wichita Lineman", a song I've loved for years, and found that if you were to simply look up the chords online, you wouldn't come anywhere close to playing it as it was recorded by Glen Campbell. For example, one of the many sites I found offering tablature for the tune laid this out for my consumption:

Wichita Lineman:  Jimmy Webb (as performed by Glen Campbell)


Intro: F Gm7 F Gm7

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7
I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road

Dm7 Am7 G D
searchin' in the sun for another overload.

Am7
I hear you singing in the wires, I can hear you through the

G
whine

Gm D Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.


Am7 Bb Gm7

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7
I know I need a small vacation, but it don't look like rain.

Dm7 Am7 G
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the

D
strain.

Am7 G
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

Gm D Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.


Am7 Bb Gm7

Solo over:

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7

Dm7 Am7 G D

Am7 G
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

Gm D Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.


Am7 Bb Gm7


Bb C Bb C Gm7 (or C9 is a nice touch) C Bb C

(fade)


Okay, first of all - you diatonic dulcimer players are not going to have fun with this, sorry about that. But you chromatic dulcimer players and other instrumentalists will find this interesting. If you know this tune, go ahead and sing the words with those chords and ask yourself "just what is missing here?"

The problem is the lack of definitive chord voicing. All of these chords are laid out pretty straightforward starting from the root and then progressing through the thirds, fifths and sevenths. What makes this tune so dreamy is how passing tones step through the chords and create a sense of ascending or descending continuity. In this song's case, it's mainly a descending line that creates the drama. What we need, to make it sound as it was recorded, are chord inversions.

A basic 1-3-5 or 1-b3-5 chord is going to have the root note on the bottom, the middle note in the middle and the fifth at the end or top. Using different chord voicings can change the fundamental sound of a chord, even though it uses the same notes, by rearranging the order of the notes. For example, changing the order of notes so that the third is on the bottom, acting as the bass or root - it becomes a first inversion.

So, a C major chord: C - E - G would become E - C - G.

Now, make the fifth the bottom or root note, and you have a second inversion.

G - C - E

This is the most basic stuff. If you're using extended or "color" chords, there are more than the two possible inversions. But I'm not going into that right now.

When you write out a chord symbol for an inversion, it's often called a "slash chord." You'll see the chord symbol and then a slash and then another note. The note after the slash indicates that this is what the root or bass note should be. So, a first inversion C chord would look like this: C/E

A second inversion C chord would read: C/G

With that in mind, let's re-voice the above chords for "Wichita Lineman" and see if it doesn't sound more like the recorded version. I've also changed a few chords for us three-stringers, to get to the heart of the changes. Chord adaptations are in bold.


Intro:  F  Gm7  F  Gm7

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7
I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road

Dm7 Am G D
searchin' in the sun for another overload.

C
I hear you singing in the wires, I can hear you through the

G/B
whine

Gm/Bb D/A Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.


Am7 Bb Gm7

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7
I know I need a small vacation, but it don't look like rain.

Dm7 Am G
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the

D
strain.

C G/B
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

Gm/Bb D/A Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.


Am7 Bb Gm7

Solo over:

Bbmaj7 Am7 Gm7

Dm7 Am7 G D


C G/B
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

Gm/Bb D/A Asus4 Bb
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.



Am7 Bb Gm7


Bb C Bb C Gm7 (or C9 is a nice touch) C Bb C (fade)



Can you hear how the descending notes in the chorus create the melancholy effect in the song? Not the same at all if you played all of the chords as straight 1-3-5 voicings. Sometimes, a chord inversion is a strong element of movement in a tune, so be sure to learn as many different voicings of chords on your instrument, whatever it might be!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pre-Order Key West CD!



The Official CD of the First Annual Key West Dulcimer Fest is now available for pre-order! Buying now will put you first on the list for this tropical collection of 15 tracks by the teaching/performing staff of the fest. Tracks include:


Margaritaville - Bing Futch | Birdland - Karen Mueller

Jamaica Farewell - Tull Glazener

Rivers Of Babylon - Lois Hornbostel | Fragile - Butch Ross

John B Sails - Robert Force

Pupu A `O `Ewa - Gary Sager | Sing A Song - David Beede

Sun Lotion 99 - Susan Trump

Kokomo - Jeff Hames | Three Little Birds - Rick Thum

Swingin' 7's - The Aaron O'Rourke Trio

Mode For Dulcimer - Stephen Seifert | Samantha's Smile - Guy George

By Land & Sea - Dan Landrum

You can hear samples of each tune in the store.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Her Diamonds"



For the curious, I'm playing a Folkcraft chromatic mountain dulcimer on this tune, which has some neat twists and turns.

Rob Thomas' "Her Diamonds" was recorded in the key of G, which for me is singable, but I wanted to get it down into a more comfortable range, thusly F.

The verse moves through these three chords:

F - G7/F - Bbm/F

returning to the F as a bridge between verses. The voicing of the G7 and Bbm (with the F as the root) makes less of a lateral jump and keeps the progression tense and mysterious. Of course, what do these three chords have in common?

F = F* - A = C

G7 = G - B - D - F*

Bbm = Bb - Db - F*

Normally, the F would shoot from the root to the dominant 7th and then hang out as the perfect fifth - but with the above voicings, it remains put at the root of all three chords. Pretty cool, huh?

Onto the chorus:

F - C - Gm - Bb (repeated twice)

Another thing that's neat about this tune is how it changes character, using some of the same chord roots, from dark and eerie in the verse to light and somewhat uplifting in the chorus. Notice that our bright and shiny G7 is now a dark Gm and our previously chilling Bbm is now a major lift of Bb. For more flavor, you could change the C to a C/E and feature a walk-down of the bass in transition from C to F.

And the bridge:

Bbm - F - Bbm - F - Dm - G - Bbm - F

Basically sets up between the first and third chords of the verse, re-establishing a connection with the initial groundwork of the tune, then introduces a new chord to the entire mix, the Dm, which lifts to a positive-sounding G (right at the point where the lyric "she'll be alright" appears for the first time) before settling back into the haunting chord pairing.

Rob Thomas is a brilliant songwriter and I would love to get inside of his head during the process - this tune in particular has no wasted space; every placement of notes has a purpose, from melody to arrangement. I love digging into these tunes as they come my way, hoping that you'll get something out of the process too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HelluvalottafuninHelen



It almost looks like German in the subject line.

'Twas a blast at the 2009 NGFDA Fall Festival in Helen, Georgia. My third year in a row, driving up was a joy and all the while it was about looking forward to not only the workshops, concerts, fellowship and jams, but also the wonderful gifts of this little faux-Alpine town.

Of the four nights I was up there, three dinners were spent at the Hofbrauhaus eating nummy German food and drinking Hefe-Weizen. I taught six workshops, performed in the Saturday night concert (with Ken Bloom and Keith "Elvis Two Sticks" Davis closing out the set) and had a great time jamming in tight circles with Bloom, Bill Taylor, Wayne Seymour and Jeff Furman.

Once I got back home, all sights were set on the fast-approaching Key West Dulcimer Fest, specifically in regards to the instructor CD. Some final touches and it's almost ready to go.

Just a couple of shows lined up - back at Dicey Reilly's this Friday and Saturday - then a private concert in Orlando on December 5th with Roger Zimish. Mainly - this time is for the run-up to the festival, recording "Dive!" as well as "Dulcimerica: Volume 2" and trying to keep up with matters around the house and studio.

Pick of the Crop



Since I last posted, the new V-Pick that I've been developing with Vinni Smith has become part of their stable of some 66 designs. They've dubbed this one the V-Pick "Bing" and it currently comes in an ultra-lite (.8mm) and lite (1.5mm) version with a 1mm version coming soon. This is a firm-yet-flexible pick that's perfect for mountain dulcimer playing - excellent for strumming as well as flatpicking. You can find it on the website here.

It's a deep honor to have a piece of gear named for you - and I not only enjoy working with Vinni and Nancy, but I also really dig their picks. Give it a try and see what it can do for you.

Gad! Midnight, already? At this rate - the festival will be tomorrow - where does the time freakin' go?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Top Of Old Smokey

Autumn in the Great Smokey Mountains is a beautiful thing. Crisp air, blue skies, foggy mornings that transformed into glorious golden afternoons filled with music that ran well into the late evening. The occasion was the 2009 Smokey Mountain Dulcimer Retreat organized by the Knoxville Area Dulcimer Club. Townsend, Tennessee was where it all took place, so it felt a little like coming home after my past visits while performing at the Pickin' Porch at Wood 'N' Strings Dulcimer Shop.

Lots of great instructors like Bill Taylor, Maureen Sellers, Terry Lewis, Dan Landrum, Jim Miller, all folks that I've gotten to know over the past three years. And lots of neat folks that I've also gotten to know through the travels between dulcimer festivals were there as well - plus some new friends that share a love for this cool little instrument.


I taught flatpicking and blues for dulcimer; both classes had a real good time after they finished reeling from the amount of theory that I taught. It's my goal in every workshop to introduce a little bit of theory in order for people to get past that deer-in-the-headlights phase involving the "t" word.

After the weekend - I came home for just a couple of days and am about to head out for the NGFDA Fall Festival at Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia. Whereas it was my first time at the KADC retreat, this will be my third year in a row at Unicoi and I'm really looking forward to the intense number of workshops that I'll be teaching and the four awesome nights of concerts. Plus, I've got a day free (Saturday), so I plan on hanging out in Helen; the cutest little Bavarian/North Georgian town you ever saw. It's always Christmas there - so might as well bring home an ornament or two. Maybe some schnitzel.

Picked up a new tuner from Mike Clemmer - an Intellitouch PT10 - a huge improvement over their past models.

Mark Wilson of Onboard Research, the makers of various models of the Intellitouch, had this to say: "Competition keeps progress flowing, and we have greatly benefited from the influx of lowcost tuners that adopted the clip-on approach to tuning. We at OnBoard have gotten feedback over the years from thousands of PT1 users who described the features and capabilities that they liked, as well as the little things that did not like. So we decided to design a tuner that was small and compact, very lightweight, with a very bright backlight, a clamp that won’t loosen up and fall or get knocked off an instrument, and nestle it snugly behind the instrument’s headstock where it can be seen by the musician but not be distracting to an audience.

Plus, while we were at IBMA, someone approached us with the idea of a light that would change when the string went in-tune, and suggested this approach would make tuning faster because the switch in backlight colors could be seen in peripheral vision, allowing the musician to stay in better contact with the audience during necessary tune-ups. We implemented a design that glows red when out of tune and snaps to green when the string goes into tune, and the effect is stunning. It really does make tuning easier and faster.

Lastly, although many people prefer the Intellitouch arrow display, we heard from other people who expressed appreciation for the traditional needle style of display. Therefore, for the Intellitouch PT10 Mini. we are tipping our hat to the needle displays of the world and offering what we believe is the best one available."


No lie there. I've got two different models of the Intellitouch tuner and this new one makes them both seem rather antiquated. You can get yourself one here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Gear + Track


So, in my last post, I was talking about how much difference your gear can make. When it comes to audio recording (not to mention video), this is especially important. I'm guilty of not paying enough attention to these things, but lately have been trying to shore up my studio equipment and the results are pretty amazing.

I recently picked up a Shure SM-57, the standard workhorse microphone that is great for both instrument mic'ing and also vocals. Though I got it primarily to record the mountain dulcimer, part of the test drive involved recording vocals on the excellent Mark Knopfler/James Taylor tune "Sailing To Philadelphia." My studio isn't sound-proofed, so we're at the mercy of the neighborhood noise here, from the nearby fire station to the boom cars and passing airplanes, so using a condenser microphone (my Audio-Technica ATM33a) was picking up a lot of this background wash. The SM-57 has a uniform cardioid pickup configuration that isolates the main sound source and eliminates background noise. Usually, I turn the ceiling fan off before I record, but decided to leave it on - also, there was a guy weed-wacking across the street and neither element showed up on the track. Sweet.

Don't know if I posted about this other recent acquisition, but it's worth mentioning again if so: used in combination with the SM-57 was the L.R. Baggs Para-Acoustic D.I. Though I acquired it for the purpose of better controlling the color of the dulcimer tone while on-stage at gigs, as well as a boost for weaker signals, I've been using it in the studio when I plug the dulcimer in directly. On a whim, I sent the vocal signal through and got a warm, full level that allowed me the expression I was seeking without having to overdrive, which is what I've had to do in the past. Makes all the difference in the world! The Baggs direct box has controls for dialing in low, mid, treble, presence, notch filter and both notch and presence have frequency dials that further allow you to dial in (or out) tone. There's also a main gain, FX loop and inputs for both 1/4" and XLR.

So, here's the track - chromatic dulcimer is going through the Baggs as well as being recorded with the SM-57, panned to far left and far right, minimal E.Q. Backing tracks were arranged in Band In A Box and assigned software instruments in Garageband. One track of melody and harmony vocals with an overall "jazz warm" compression setting for the track. Three of the last additions to the studio, working together to make production so much easier! Now, I just need to replace this nutty PreSonus Firebox audio interface that's acting like it hasn't got any sense. Also, on order is a Shure Beta 58a - which is another industry standard workhorse, but mainly for vocals. I've been using a SM-58, which is not a bad mic, but apparently the beta is much better, so it's going to be early Christmas sometime this week.

Bing Futch - "Sailing To Philadelphia"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

V-Pickin'



I've been using V-Picks since July when Vinni Smith laid a ridiculously huge pick on me at Summer NAMM Show in Nashville and automatically boosted my performance. As musicians, we tend to put a lot of weight on ourselves to make the music happen, and for good reason. We need to figure out the musical language so that we can speak truth to what's inside of our spirits, which means getting all this rhythm and individual notes and chords and stuff figured out.

But so much of how we sound as players is also dependent on our gear, from the caliber of instrument that we play to the amplification system that we play it through. For mountain dulcimer players, things like strings, tuners, string lubricant, wrist-rests, foot-rests, lap pads, straps, slides and picks all make a huge difference on how we play. The great Dave Para, musical partner (and otherwise) of Cathy Barton, is on a self-proclaimed "pick quest" right now and this guy shreds some acoustic guitar, as you know if you've seen them perform. So why does someone so obviously and richly talented suddenly decide that they need a new pick? Preferences change just like people do. Maybe a new approach to strumming or flatpicking demands a new pick to keep up with said demand.

I used to play with a Dunlop .44 mm nylon pick. Nowadays, I look back at those moments in time and wonder how I could have ever managed to play half of the stuff that I do now. The answer being: there's no way. However, I wasn't playing the stuff that I do now back then, right? So, as my repertoire changed, and so did the amount of flatpicking, so then my need for a firmer pick emerged as well.

Problem is, many people like to have a thin pick for strumming. Least amount of resistance to the strings so that you don't launch the pick. That kind of reasoning makes sense until you analyze it a bit. By using a thin pick and really going at the strings, you are actually increasing the amount of resistance to the pick because you are using more force behind each strum, which means you have to either grip the pick harder or find clever ways to make the pick stick with you. This manifests itself as bits of sand paper, sticky tape or the patented product Gorilla Snot (I kid you not.)

Playing with a thicker pick forces you to relax not only your strum, but your grip as well. It makes you think about your playing in an entirely different manner, and maybe that's not what you want to do with the mountain dulcimer. But if you're trying to coax more performance out of your instrument (and you), thicker is the way to go.

I'd played around with all manner of picks, from the Tortex to the Herdim, large and small, pointed and rounded, nylon and thermoplastic, tortoiseshell and steel. Then along comes Vinnie with his see-through cast acrylic picks with the insane bevels and blew my mind with the immediate improvement in my playing style. 80% more volume (which meant I could ease up on my strumming), 50% more speed, thanks to a relaxed grip that comes naturally when playing with one of these picks. I was an instant convert and he gave me a few other models to try out.

Since July, I've bought a number of these picks and have been experimenting with both flatpicking and strumming. The last thing you want is to have multiple picks for multiple applications, at least when you're playing on stage somewhere. For in the studio, no question that it comes in handy. If I'm doing an all flatpicked piece, I'll easily lean over and grab something huge with a mighty bevel like the Big Fattie or the Acoustic.

The different bevels along the edges of the many, many V-Picks contribute a variety of effects to your playing, from warmer tone to louder volume to a slicker surface that encourages faster playing. Some of these thicker picks, however, also yield a certain amount of pick noise, which, depending on your style of playing, may be desirable or not. I like a certain amount of transparency to the pick noise and, up to this point, the Herdim yellow has done a pretty good job. It took a while of experimenting with V-Picks until I finally came to the Shredder Ultra-Lite. It's about the same size and shape as a Herdim, .80 mm thick with a nominal bevel. I find that, strum for strum, the amount of pick noise is the same as a Herdim yellow (which is to say, virtually non-existent.) Volume is definitely up and the tone is just a bit higher than a Herdim. So I began asking Vinnie about the science of the bevels and what it would take to yield a more mellow tone without sacrificing volume.

He's been in the laboratory on this one and the first couple of V-Pick batches have been experimentally fun - we are basically on the way to developing a great, 21st century mountain dulcimer pick!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October's almost over already?


Where does the time go?

Since I last posted, I've been out to three festivals and had a blast. Just got back from Indiana yesterday and am home for awhile; hoping to pick up where I left off and knock out this huge list of production tasks camping out on my desktop.

For pictures of the past few stops, check out my Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Winter Creek Reunion Festival

2009
Some remarkable talent- the best of the best- have accepted our invitation to come and teach and entertain us!! Plan on joining us for a great weekend of fun, wonderful classes and awesome music!!




Harvest Music Jam

Monday, September 28, 2009

October 9th - Opening For Sam & Ruby



If you're in the central Florida region, this is going to be a fun show. Sam & Ruby are currently touring in support of their debut release "The Here and The Now". The duo combines sweet harmonies, acoustic folk and R&B into a mesmerizing mix. Ruby co-wrote the tune "Heaven's My Home", which was nominated for a Grammy and featured in the motion picture "The Secret Life Of Bees" starring Queen Latifah.

Friday, October 9th - doors open at 8 pm with the show beginning at 9 pm. Admission is $10. The Cameo Theater is one of Orlando's legendary art-deco venues and has recently re-opened to showcase music and art of all kinds. I'm honored to be the opening act for Sam & Ruby on the Orlando stop of their current tour!

http://tinyurl.com/yajagsc

Kristine Campbell Blog

Kristine Campbell: Musing Music Monday
At this years Kentucky Music Week Bing Futch offered a class in blues on the MD. Then at Midland I heard he is working on a book of blues tab for the MD. Very cool for all of us who would like to whet our whistle on something other than old time and bluegrass tunes.


Seriously considering offering workshops in rock mountain dulcimer technique.

Sonnystone Acres Blog

Sonnystone Acres » september 14, 2009
the dude below is bing futch (not a typo) and he intrigued me from the beginning because he does not look the part of a dulcimer player. he also plays a dulcimer that is specially made with two stringboards tuned in two keys and he makes it sound like a full-bodied guitar


Stuff like this blog post make me blush. : )

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dive! - Plow-Through



After getting "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band (Book 4)" published and shipped, and with the pressing deadlines of holiday releases now past, I settled back in to continue work on "Dive!" with a renewed vigor and different approach. Prior to this, I had settled on a basic list of tracks and was pretty close to finished with the selection. However, I'm now just bashing out tunes and will pick the best of the bunch after it seems that these pipes have been cleaned.

"Dive!" has always been planned as a personal record, one that plunges beneath the surface and works some exorcism magic. It's not looking to be a bummer or too serious; everything has been couched in imaginative arrangements and dances with the lyrical content in poetic fashion. There are some heavy themes, plain-spoken and cryptically suggested, that have already been demoed here and there are more to come.

Yesterday's offering came quickly and I'm honestly not sure if it will make the cut, but I'm going to work on making it as good as it can be. The tune, "I'll Be Alright On Payday", is a short and sweet little rocker with a Louisiana Southern rock shuffle beat, distorted dulcimer, rolling bass and one catchy chorus. This one might be more along the lines of something I perform live - but who knows, it may end up on the CD.

Part of this renewed recording push comes thanks to the arrival of Garageband '09, a huge upgrade to my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that contains some brilliant improvements (like region guides, song arranging for regions, guitar stomp boxes and frequency spectrum analyzer) along with a radically redesigned interface. It all works pretty great; except for the fact that my firewire interface, the PreSonus Firebox, has sort of turned out to be a piece of crap. Sound glitches, muted audio and general freakiness that requires me to toggle with settings in the Audio/Midi Set-up application has added hours to my recording time and removed years from my life. Okay, perhaps not that drastic, but I've been muttering lots of colorful evaluations at the screen this week.

There will probably not be a lot of demo recordings here as I plan to move forward at a pretty brisk clip, hoping to get this finalized before the end of the year. As I get into final selection and mixing, I'll post some of the best of the best.

Hope to see some of you at Dicey Reilly's on Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. for the Halfway To St. Patty's Day event featuring a car show, live music, Irish dancers and the usual great food and drink. Next week, I head to Bennington, Oklahoma for the Winter Creek Reunion Dulcimer Festival.

Have a great weekend, whatever you may do. Me ke aloha and mahalo nui loa!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Groovin' Into The Fall


Well, it's been a whirlwind this past week. Just got back from the Bluegrass Creek Dulcimer Festival in Evansville, Indiana and had a beautiful time in a wonderful setting (which could also be a wonderful time in a beautiful setting.) Had a great time meeting new friends and hanging out with some old ones, including some nice jams with Kendra Ward and Bob Bence. There's plenty of video to sift through and it will be appearing in a little while. If you've noticed, I've staggered the Dulcimerica videos this year so as not to show what just recently happened. It gives me some time to, well, have more things happen, so I don't run out of material. Sure, I could always knock off a couple of workshop videos if someone would invent five more hours in the day. And actually, we're working on making that happen, so stay tuned.

Got back into town in time to wish my lovely Jae a Happy Birthday - we had a house and yard full of family and friends right when I got in from the airport; a nice homecoming.

Then Monday, I had a recording session with the great Kaleo, formerly of the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World. I'd been asked by Scott May, keyboardist from The Ides of March, to produce a track with some Hawaiian flava and knew exactly the cat I needed to get. Kaleo laid down some awesome steel guitar and ukelele and I hope to share the track with you once it is approved and finalized up north. I used Garageband '09, which just shipped to me (I know, halfway through the year, punctual already) and is an amazing program. Kaleo was so impressed that he suggested I record his long-awaited follow-up to "Welcome To My Island" here at the studio. I told him, "brudda, no problem - I just need a few more pieces of gear." LOL!

What else is new? "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band 4: Christmas Edition" ships on Saturday! Those of you who have already pre-ordered will get your signed copy next week. If you haven't ordered yet, there's still time before the first shipment.

Like the other books in the series, this one comes with two CDs: one with dulcimer and backing tracks and one with just backing tracks so you can take center-stage with the band and, in this case, the orchestra and symphony!

Songs included are:

8 Joy To The World*
12 The First Noel
16 St. Day Carol
18 Hark The Herald Angels Sing*
20 Silent Night*
24 Deck The Halls
26 O Tannenbaum
28 Away In A Manger*
30 Jingle Bells
34 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings
38 What Child Is This
40 Go Tell It On The Mountain
42 Up On The House Top
46 We Wish You A Merry Christmas
50 O Holy Night
54 When Christmas Is Over

The numbers indicate pages - as you can see, this is the largest of all the MDITB books, more structured arrangements along with more chances to cut loose and improvise. There are samples of two tracks on my website; "Joy To The World" and "Away In A Manger." You'll get to swing to "Up On The House Top", make like Johnny Cash with "Jingle Bells", leap into the silver screen with "O Holy Night", "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This?" and take the lead in Bonnie Raitt's band with the bluesy "Go Tell It On The Mountain" (a foreshadowing of a future edition of MDITB featuring all blues styles.)

With plenty of time to work on these arrangements over the next several weeks, you and/or your club will be ready to perform during the Christmas season like never before!

The 58-page book and 2 CD set is $24.99 and available at http://www.darkstudios.com/bfstore.html - orders received by Saturday morning will go out First Class that day!

This Weekend At Dicey Reilly's

This Friday and Saturday (September 18th and 19th) are my regular weekend slot at Dicey Reilly's Irish Pub in St. Cloud, Florida. It's always a good time at Dicey's with fantastic food, great service, lots of parking, no cover, kid-friendly atmosphere and awesome brews on tap! I'll be performing both nights from 7 to 11 pm - lots of traditional, modern, original and cover tunes on the mountain dulcimer. If you haven't been - come on out and see what the ever-growing audience is on about! I'll also be at Dicey's on September 26th from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. as part of their Halfway to St. Patty's Day Celebration.

http://odohertypub.com for more info

Busy Fall

It is looking to be quite a busy fall season, beginning with three Dicey's shows this month and then a crazy couple of months after that, including:

October 3rd and 4th - Winter Creek Reunion - Bennington, Oklahoma
October 9th - Cameo Theater - Orlando, Florida
October 10th - Harvest Music Jam - Holopaw, Florida
October 16th-18th - Chautaqua on the Wabash - New Harmony, Indiana
October 23rd-24th - Dicey Reilly's - St. Cloud, Florida

November is going to be even more nuts, if you can believe that. My schedule for the next year or so can be found online at:

http://tinyurl.com/bingcalendar

Key West Dulcimer Fest

Registration slots are still available for the 1st Annual Key West Dulcimer Fest! If you're on the fence about attending, don't wait until the last minute or you'll miss out for sure! Workshop descriptions for some of the offerings are beginning to surface on the website at: http://KeyWestDulcimerFest.com and it gives you just a little idea of what to expect from this wonderful weekend featuring David Beede, Robert Force, GuY George, Tull Glazener, Jeff Hames, Lois Hornbostel, Dan Landrum, Karen Mueller, Aaron O'Rourke, Butch Ross, Gary Sager, Stephen Seifert, Rick Thum, Susan Trump and yours truly! We're just 132 days away from the world's first tropical dulcimer fest!

Hope you are ready for a fantastic weekend of cooler temperatures, no matter what you do. Blessings to you from Orlando, Florida!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Today on Art Beat (and in other news)

ArtBeat - WUCF-FM Podcasts
Dulcimer innovator and ambassador Bing Futch finds himself on a surprising creative path. Signs point to “Yes” as this musician follows his bliss. Tune in to 89.9 on Monday, September 7th at 12:01pm and again at 4:30pm, or listen online to http://podcasts.wucf.org/artbeat after the noon episode.


Had a fun interview with Katie Ball, host of Art Beat, last week which is airing twice today and living for awhile on the WUCF-FM podcast web-site. Katie's awesome and has been a creative mover and shaker in the Orlando arts scene for many years. She's also interested in interviewing Jae, who (and you may not know this) is president of the Orange Blossom Blues Society.

This Week's Show

I'm traveling to Evansville, Indiana for the Bluegrass Creek Dulcimer Festival. Looking forward to some excellent music, great jams and fine folks! Later in the month, I'm back at Dicey Reilly's, not once, not twice, but three times: September 18th, 19th and 26th. That last show isn't at the usual 7 pm - rather, it's from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is Dicey's Annual "Halfway To St. Patty's Day" celebration - 'tis an honor to be a part of the fun!

Pre-Order "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band (Book 4): Christmas Edition" today!

Two song and tablature samples from the fourth in the MDITB series is now available on my website: an orchestral arrangement of "Joy To The World" and a low-key treatment of "Away In A Manger." Pre-ordered books are personally signed and shipped on the day of release, so you'll have plenty of time to work the tunes before the Christmas season starts (which is, apparently now October 15th.)

Happy Labor Day - watch for a new episode of "Dulcimerica" this week! Aloha!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Month of the Woodshed



August is the least busiest month of the year for me, in 2009, so I've been using this time to explore some new routines and prepare for a busy fall season. One of the things that I've been doing is getting up earlier, checking all of my social media networks and taking care of administrative duties, then launching into a hardcore practice session that includes ear training, scales, left and right hand exercises, learning new tunes and rehearsing older ones. My main emphasis is on the chromatic dulcimer right now, learning how to get around the fretboard and pull out the tunes that I want. One of the ways I'm doing this is through ear training.

With ear training, you're training your ears to recognize tones, especially the intervals between tones. Being able to hear these intervals goes hand in hand with knowing the scales on your instrument and being able to arrange your own music. For years, I've played by ear, but part of the challenge here is to not only hear the tone, but be able to at least name the numbered interval (if you can also name the note, then you are truly accomplished at this.)

The Interval Ear Trainer is a free online resource that plays a series of tones and allows you to guess what they are. The application keep score and also allows you to hear the intervals in ascending, descending, melodic or harmonic fashion. On the average, I listen to about 11 intervals a day and have seen an improvement in my ability to hear them in the ascending category. Since the tones take on slightly different characters when played harmonically and in descending fashion, I'm going to work on those next.

How will this help you as a musician, specifically a diatonic mountain dulcimer player? For one thing, it will help you to identify tones in music that you hear and in music that you play. Besides the basic Major and minor chords that make up the bulk of the music we encounter, there are also extended chords such as 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. You'd be surprised how many of these are available to you on a diatonic dulcimer and, if you begin ear training, you'll see how easy it is to slip some of these chords into your music and spice it up!

Even if you know nothing about intervals, try playing it as a game and see how soon before you are able to correctly identify the intervals. I can assure you that it will improve your playing a hundred-fold!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

United Breaks Guitars Song 2

United Breaks Guitars Song 2: David Carroll's Second Ode To United Airlines (VIDEO)


David Carroll's promised second in a trilogy of United Airlines tunes has been released and, like the first, is catchy, well-written, and on the YouTubes.

I'm not sure how it's doing for the Carroll train, which picked up steam in a big way with "United Breaks Guitars", but it's also gotta be doing wonders for his video production team, who now get extensive credits at the end of the song (stay for the post-credit action - pretty damn funny.)

As for me, there will be no trilogy; color I satisfied. Got a nifty tune for the next album, Northwest apologized and gave me money (in the shape of an airline ticket, but what the hell - it helps) and "Only A Northwest Song" has been steadily racking up hits and is poised to become the fourth most-watched video o' mine on YouTube. It's introduced a lot of folks to my music and that's pretty cool in and of itself.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dive: Recording Resumes

After a busy mid-summer season, I'm back behind the board working to complete "Dive!" The latest track is an older tune that's been performed live a handful of times and never been released. Entitled "Nine One One", I've been test-driving it on Blip.Fm to garner some early response; all parts were recorded yesterday.


http://blip.fm/profile/BingFutch/blip/19732030/Bing_Futch-Nine_One_One_Rough_Mix


Today, I'm working on finishing a tune called "Big Fish Little Pond", for which I've had the chorus for a number of years, but have never completed. It happens that way sometimes, I let a tune chase me around, demanding closure, before I feel compelled to follow through.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mountain Dulcimer In The Band (Book 3) Now Available!

NEW! Bing Futch - "Mountain Dulcimer
In The Band (Book 3)" with 2 CDs (2009)


Book 3 in the "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band" series is now available! Like the other two books, it comes with two CDs of leads and backing tracks so you can play along! Featuring insights into ensemble playing technique, the book also allows solo musicians the freedom to explore new approaches to improvisation while having fun as the lead player in the band. Tunes include "Scarborough Fair", "Sandy Boys", Swallowtail Jig", "Buffalo Gals", "Golden Slippers", "Angeline The Baker", "Whiskey Before Breakfast", "Liza Jane", "Cripple Creek", "Shady Grove" and more!

Click here to order!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Interview with Jan Pulsford in Second Life - Wednesday

[UPDATE: Tonight's interview has been delayed due to tech problems. I'll post an entry with the rescheduled date and time as soon as we have it. Thanks!]


Wednesday (8/5) night at 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET - I'll be a guest on Jan Pulsford's "Behind The Monitor" in Second Life. The show will be broadcast live. The radio stream is http://www.radiojana.com
and in second life it is downstairs at the music ALL music Peace Park:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Jarang/78/74/79

A little about Jan:

I am what people consider a "veteran musician" whose life has been jam packed with musical adventures from touring with erstwhile major label pop artists like Cyndi Lauper and the Thompson Twins to working with indie artists like Dulcimer legend David Schnaufer and jazz great Chico Freeman. My songs and music has been performed by artists as diverse as Ani da Franco, Steps, Chico Freeman, Eurovision, the Leaders, Dr. Elmo, Zoe Girl, Jeff Oster, and Darlene Love, whose rendition of "Night of Peace" is fast becoming a classic. Most of the nineties were spent as Cyndi Lauper's keyboard player, co-writer, producer and musical director. We toured the world together and our creative partnership spawned some of her most artistic and critically acclaimed work. Over twenty songs were released on the albums "12 Deadly Cyns" ,"Sisters of Avalon", "Merry Xmas" and "Shine"


Don't have a Second Life account? It's free:

https://join.secondlife.com/

Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 31, 2009

A mention from San Diego

Street
The ensuing international attention demonstrates just how potent a tool the Internet and social-networking sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Twitter can be -- both for independent musicians seeking to be heard and for companies that fail to take customer complaints seriously.

"I received 4,000 e-mails in the last week, many of them from people thanking me for putting a lighthearted touch on a serious issue and venting for them," Carroll said.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More food for the soul (and song)

One of my students mentioned a book by the great mountain dulcimer player Mike Casey called "Hands On Dulcimer" that sounded really interesting. A series of exercises to help you master the art of fretboard finger-dancing. If you've never heard Casey perform, he's a nimble picker and his arrangements for four and five-string dulcimer sound like several instruments playing together in concert. Dude is awesome.

While hunting down a copy, I ran across a book called "The Magic Dulcimer" by one of my first teachers, Lorraine Lee Hammond. Though I don't expect that I'll collect every dulcimer method and tablature book ever written, there are a number of classics that I've hunted down, from http://www.lapidusmusic.com/ to "In Search of the Wild Dulcimer" by Al d'Ossche' and my good friend Robert Force. I'm still waiting on the Mike Casey book, but Lorraine's did come in the mail along with the Mike Casey CD "The Hourglass." Fun stuff to take with me on the trip to Key West next week!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From the NAMM Website

So Many Ways to Make Music | NAMM.org



Cool! I thought I spied some official NAMM folks at the booth. : )

More looking back to look forward --

Sidingsound » Blog Archive » My online milestones


Another one of us old-schoolers looking back at how far we've come online!

Boo Takes Me Back...And Into The Future

Airline breaks instrument, owner makes video, airline makes good (The Sequel)
Today’s guest blogger is an old friend of mine - I have known Bing Futch for going on 20 years now. He wrote articles about my band back in the day (some are HERE and HERE) and we shared stages all over Orlando during the late 90s.




Dave "Boo" Rhea lived the life of a rock-star for quite some time, first with his brother Vaughn's band Von Ra (and later Vonray) and later with Dust For Life. Von Ra was one of the band's I often interviewed on the run-up to their getting a record deal and appearing on "Party of Five." The trip to see Willie Nelson in Clearwater was a wild trip indeed (Willie signed my dulcimer.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Online Anniversary



It was on July 22nd, 1994 that I bought an IBM computer with a 128 mb hard drive and a 1200 baud modem, fired it up and installed the included Prodigy Online software, logged on and proclaimed to myself "I'm going to make my money back with this combination." I knew that this would be my preferred method of work from there on into the future.

In fact, I sent an e-mail to Prodigy staffer Jenny Ambrozek and told her that she needed to hire me straight away (part of this was ambition, part of this had to do with the free ID, since Prodigy cost money at the time.) She told me in no uncertain terms, "hold your horses, let's see if you've got anything to offer us yet." Within six months, I was a Special Contributor on the Hobbies Bulletin Board, leading the charge for a sanctioned Disney Fans BB on the service. Within a year, I had become Special Contributor on the newly created Disney Fans BB and, within another year, had become Board Leader. During all of this time, new things were being unveiled to the online community; things like the World Wide Web, Chat Rooms, Web Pages and Interest Groups.



I remember when the WWW was rolled out; headquarters in White Plains, New York was trying to get moderators up to speed on what it was, exactly, and how to design content for it. Those early days of learning HTML were like learning a foreign language and I recall seeing lots of seriously ugly sites, mostly mine. Along the way, there were the first efforts to build community within the Disney Fans virtual world, those first real-time connections in-person, discovering the hard way how to conduct chat room events with special guests and, most importantly, how to connect via dial-up while on the road.



In 1996, Prodigy realized that its proprietary software wasn't a good match for the up and coming internet and they decided to fly their flag on this new "series of tubes." Prodigy Internet was launched with a series of Interest Groups that collected data from various parts of the web and arranged them via topic for PI subscribers. The groups were available only to PI members and, along with AOL, Compuserve, Delphi and some other premium content sites, we were the last of the "private community" sites offering services on the newly commercial internet. As a member of the roll-out time, my Theme Parks Interest Group stirred up news that summer with the Coast-2-Coast Coaster Tour, a madcap dash across the country, riding and reporting on roller coasters (a tour later copied by USA Today.)

Alas, Prodigy's business model wasn't as solid as they had hoped, and one by one, the moderators were told that they could stay if they wished, but on a free subscription basis. Most of us were used to income upwards of $2000 a month and realized that the dream was coming to an end (this was the de facto beginning of the dot com bust.) Not willing to do all of that hard work for free, many of us opted out and eventually settled in with our own virtual ports of call. I've had the Darkstudios.com site since 1996 and it has morphed much over the years; a cached museum of changing designs, attitudes, sensibilities, direction and vision.

Today, as I reflect on 15 years of sitting in front of a monitor, tapping on a keyboard and attempting to navigate our increasingly technological world by way of the information superhighway, I've got to say that for all of the frustrations and hang-ups, tech support and customer service nightmares, constant upgrades and money pumped into equipment - the flip side has been a wondrous experience connecting with people from all around the world, discovering and exploring new concepts, places and ideas, learning and applying knowledge and plying my trade as an artist. That original statement as I fired up that first computer was made by a younger man who still sits down every day, turns on the iMac and says, "today, something wonderful is going to happen."

And part of making it happen is by leaning forward into the adventure and spreading your wings in preparation for departure, isn't it?

Translated Babel Page From German Blog

Translation result for http://www.legourmand.de/?p=1729
But meanwhile the Netzcommunity has recognized that the customer with a simple complaint, a problem does not get ahead any longer, it is ignored. And the next musicians weight about handling their instrument via video. In “Northwest Folk singer Bing Futch describes BREAK Dulcimers” like its Folkcraft double-hits a corner Dulcimer on 14 June 2009 on Northwest Airlines the flight 2363 from Detroit, MI after Ft. Wayne, IN was damaged. This is its contribution:


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pocketful of Miracles



There are so many elements to performing. It's not just your singular ability to play an instrument, rather it's a combination of things ranging from the construction of your instrument itself to the tools that you use in conjunction with it. By "tools", I mean everything from amplifiers and cords, capos and strings, effects, processors, slides and picks.

Performers who are always striving to achieve great heights demand the most out of their equipment, realizing that if you use cheap stuff, you basically get what you pay for. It goes without saying that the best instruments are painstakingly designed to give you the best performance possible. The same goes for everything that you use with your instrument. For years, I've been trying to up the ante in many departments and thankfully landed a deal with Folkcraft Instruments, effectively ending that search for a mountain dulcimer that rises to my exacting standards. I've likewise been seeking a string manufacturer that is making the best possible product for what I do. During NAMM this past weekend, I kept my eyes open but did not make any connections towards this solution.

However, one solution did find me this weekend. I've been going back and forth about picks for a long time. Started out playing with super-thin Dunlop nylon picks and quickly found that, for any amount of control while flat-picking, I needed something much heavier than that. Ken Bloom likes to say that your pick "should be able to lift a Volkswagen."

Lately, I've gotten into a terrible habit: I find a pick that seems to work, then buy a bag of them, then find that I don't like them at all. I've gone through Brain and Tortex and Herdim, all sort of leaving me wanting more. At festivals, people have pressed picks into my hands and I've been amazed that they can get anything done with them, some are slick as stone and just as heavy. Being a sometimes fast player, I wasn't sure how I could be both accurate in flatpicking and effective in rhythmic strumming with just one plectrum. As I said, the solution found me.

While in the booth on Friday, I was approached by Vinni and Nancy Smith of V-Picks, who inquired what kind of picks dulcimer players use. Strumming with a yellow Herdim at the time, I showed it to them and explained that the relatively flexibility and size made it easy for many dulcimer players to make music. That's when Vinni laid an Ultra Lite Medium V-Pick on me.

Made of cast acrylic, it was .80mm in size, a lot harder than I'm used to. Yet, when I began to flatpick, the immediate effect was stunning. My volume jumped 80% and I wasn't holding the pick as tightly as I had done with the Herdims.

"Wow," I said to them. "This is amazing."

Vinni then proceeded to let me try a couple more, including a seemingly mammoth 2.75mm medium rounded pick. "Holy cow, that's huge," I said. Vinni just smiled as I made another run at "Turkey In The Straw." The bevel of the pick had the effect of softening the tone ever so much, but my accuracy had not dimmed one bit - in fact, I felt more secure in the picking than I had before. "Just for kicks, try this one," Vinni said, handing me what looked like a fresh-cut diamond.

The "Big Fattie" was 5.85mm of craziness. "No way!" I cried, steeling myself for the major fail as I went to the "Turkey In The Straw" well one more time and, astonishingly, nailed the melody, this time with a soft, almost finger-picked tone. Un-freaking-believable.

Vinni and Nancy both told me about the nature of the cast acrylic, how the different cuts and bevels create different attacks, tones, sustains and playability. "Because you don't grip the pick as hard," Nanci said, "the muscles in your hand relax, allowing you to play more freely." The acrylic even has a quality that causes it to stick to your fingers as it warms to your touch, meaning no more thrown picks on-stage. "The last thing I want you to be thinking about while you're playing," said Vinni, "is your pick."

Hand me something that immediately creates an improvement in my skill level and I'm one die-hard believer. I used one or another of the V-Picks for the remainder of the show and also during my short set with Jason Link and the Link Family Band at The Stage on Broadway after NAMM closed. It's very rare when these milestones appear within a flash during your career and this was one of those moments. I thanked Vinni and Nanci and their crew profusely for changing my life. I've finally found my pick brand and it's already made a gigantic difference in my playing. When a manufacturer can be somewhat invisible (like these picks) and create something that allows you to tap into parts of your ability like never before, they become the perfect conduit for divine innovation.

Besides that - they're nice people and the music biz can certainly use more of them!

That Nashville Rhythm

They don't call it "Music City" for nothin'. After our Thursday jam at B.B. King's Blues Club, I was ready for even more jam action and found exactly that while in town for Summer NAMM.

Friday was mostly spent demoing dulcimers at the Folkcraft booth, taking only a 30 minute break to hang out with Jae and to eat the largest hot dog I've ever had. That evening, we headed out to La Hacienda on the recommendation of Nashville songstress Ashley Robertson.

Saturday, wasn't scheduled to be in the booth, but wanted to catch Stephen Seifert at the NAMM U. Breakfast Session as he performed with Fiddle and Pick. Later, we had the rare opportunity to jam a few songs out in the Folkcraft booth, from Bob Marley to the blues. Lots of folks, including NAMM Logistics Manager Cade Fulton, were there to watch the fun; lots of cameras flashing, so those pics are bound to start showing up someplace.

After hanging out for a little bit, Jae came down to meet me and we went down to famous Broadway to sample some of the music at the venues. Nashville's live music starts early in the day and doesn't quit until early morning, so there is fantastic A-list entertainment up and down the street

We didn't get very far - ending up at Legend's Corner and being highly entertained by Jason Link and the Link Family Band. Energetic, engaging and easily the most fun band we saw all day, Jason and Co. quickly latched onto the fact that I was a musician in town for NAMM and asked if I'd like to sit in with them on a couple of tunes. Since I didn't have my axe, Jason mentioned that they'd be playing The Stage on Sunday and that I was invited to join them for some jams. Of course, you know my answer was "hell, yeah!" The band, comprised of Link, Tim McDonald, Woodstock 69 and The Chef, were a great beginning to our stroll down Broadway and we bought two of their CDs before heading out to experience more of this famous district.

Just the history alone is staggering as you walk down the block - everything from record stores and eateries to venues with walls that are lined with old album covers, autographed pictures, paintings and oversized musical instruments. Every band we heard had top-notch players, though not all of them were as entertaining as Link and his band. On Broadway, the bands all work for tips, which means you've got to be good to survive. Certainly ups the ante' when you're trying to keep people in the "bar whar you are."

Jae bought a black and silver cowboy hat at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and we popped in and out of bars until it was time to meet up with everybody at Sole Mio for dinner, which was excellent.

Sunday on the floor at NAMM brought many more wonderful moments, including some hot-fired jams with Linda Sack of the Nashville Dulcimer Quartet. Linda and I had conversed some via e-mail and it was a joy to meet her. Our dulcimer duets once again brought a crowd to the Folkcraft booth, stopping traffic in the aisle, which was the main entrance to the show floor. Stopping traffic is a good thing. It gets people very curious as to what's going on in front of that crowd.

The show closed at 4 pm, which gave me the opportunity to slip out quickly, head down to The Stage with Jae and chill out with Jason Link and the Link Family Band. Several folks that I met at NAMM were there to check out my brief sit-in with the band. With a need to get Annie back into Richard's hands for a trip back to Indiana, I could only stay for a couple of tunes, so Jason brought me up with an introduction and I quickly laid out for the band what I had in mind. In no time flat, we were rocking along with "Run On", which hangs out in Em for a good long time, so it was easy to signal the band to stop and start for emphasis. Keyboardist Tim McDonald took some crazy middle-eastern sounding solos and Woodstock 69 laid down a wild bass break-down before we brought it home. The blonde you see in the photo was dancing her ass off, despite being soused to the gills.



Then, we switched it up with "Folsom Prison Blues" in the key of D and the blonde disappeared, replaced by an older gentleman who danced just as madly, holding a drumstick in his hand. Annie sounded fantastic going through Jason's rig, just enough dirt to take on a wicked tone. Though I was sitting down, I made sure to turn around and give plenty of visual cues to the band - I could see them watching my fingers for the changes. Without a single rehearsal, we all stopped on a dime to wild applause as I shook hands with the boys and thanked them for allowing me to share the music with them.

I ran Annie back to Richard, said goodbye to him and Nick, and returned to The Stage for the rest of the show. Had the chance to hang out with Woodstock 69 (real name: Rande Hall) and talk with him about the Nashville music scene, the caliber of performers and the nature of the grind. It was a back alley inside view at the heartbeat of their local scene and deeply inspiring.

Jae and I had dinner at Merchant's and then retired to our hotel room where we both crashed out, happy yet exhausted. We had barely enough time to really dig into Nashville as a whole, but just that brief foray into the city yielded unexpectedly fun and wild results. Made a lot of new friends, created new connections and came away with the undeniable feeling that we'd be doing it all again next year, if not sooner.

Workin' the booth at NAMM

Sent with Aloha! via Blackberry

Friday, July 17, 2009

In The Nashville Groove



We dropped into Nashville in the mid-afternoon, grabbed a couple of caffeine-laden drinks from Starbucks and proceeded to our hotel, Jae and I. It was a long day of travel and was going to be a long night of heading out to B.B. King's Blues Bar downtown and waiting our turn to play the Greg Bennett Guitar Showcase. Roger Zimish has an endorsement with Bennett and we wanted to work some of our acoustic alchemy. During dinner, we were entertained by Tommy Tutone in the main room - they did a swing version of their hit "Jenny", which was pretty sweet.

Roger, me and guitarist Barry Hall planned on rocking out "Run On" and, by the time the evening had drawn on and on, turns out that's the only tune for which I hit the stage. With no rehearsal and a pick-up rhythm section, it was a monstrous go and quite a lot of fun. Annie's first time on-stage since being shipped back home as her whole self.

Annie now has a little sister named Kamalani, which means "chief's child" in Hawaiian. Kamalani is all Koa wood, which can only be found on the Hawaiian islands, with sugar maple fingerboard and ebony fingerboard veneer and heelcaps with backing stripe. She's also fully chromatic, which means I've officially crossed over to the "dark side" of the dulcimer and am playing a far more complex instrument with all twelve half-steps of the western musical scale. I like this, because it helps me to think through theory and also understand the diatonic scale better. Plus, I can play songs in any key now, which is important if you want to really spread your wings and fly. She has a sweet voice and is simply beautiful; another crowning achievement for Folkcraft Instruments.

Morning comes way early. More pics and things after a while. Right now, I'm thinking about sleep, in much the same way that Jae has already explored.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thanks, Flight Wisdom!

Flight Wisdom Breaks Fiddles | Flight Wisdom
Flight Wisdom Breaks Fiddles

We enjoyed Dave Carroll’s unique approach to speaking out against customer service. Apparently we were not alone in this. It seems a lot of people did. It struck a chord with Westjet, the Canadian discount airline, which invited Dave not only to jam with them, but to fly with them next time. While we were writing this post, Westjet removed its video for reasons unknown.


Gory Bateson shared his thoughts on his favorite airline to fly, Southwest, and how they have always handled his guitar with car.

Then we get to the most unique one yet…Northwest Breaks Dulcimers, by Bing Futch. We were not aware there was a dulcimer podcast, but we learn something new every day.



This blog deals with flying in general and features the Gory Bateson song "Southwest Never Broke My Guitar", which is pretty funny. Watch it to the end.