Monday, April 27, 2009

Mountain Dulcimer In The Band!

Click image to play movie

A unique instructional book that prepares you for ensemble performance, "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band" features 16 popular jam tunes and two CDs: one to demonstrate varying approaches to rhythm and melody and the other to serve as your very own backing tracks for practice as well as live shows! Along with 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. To order, visit the online store at!

Watch this video podcast!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Possum Daze

I had the unfortunate task of burying a couple of baby possums earlier in the week. Mom's been a hanger-round for quite some time and our dog, Bella, loves to sniff her out. She's wise to walk the tight-rope of fence around the yard perimeter. However, a litter of babies has made it a point to scamper around inside the fence, much to Bella's delight, though she doesn't do anything to them except for grab briefly and then watch, befuddled, as they play dead.

Still, they're none too bright. Either that or way too bold. I observed one climbing up a wavy stalk of flower, only to discover that there was nowhere else to go but back down again. Color me none too surprised to find two of them dead in our yard. I don't believe Bella got to them. Starvation seems to be the real culprit.

So, Jae noticed another one in the neighbor's yard today, foraging in broad daylight. Must be part of the same brood, I thought - so I scooped him up and put him where I sussed the nest must've been. Haven't seen hide nor hair of mama - so maybe this guy's on his own. Though I laid down some cat food for him, he seemed content to snap up junebugs for awhile before finally laying into some Meow Mix.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fun At The Fair

Jae and I took my daughter, Casey, her mom, Kelly and her friend, Anna, to the Central Florida Fair over the weekend. Using a Blackberry as a video camera, here, Kelly and I land in a helicopter just in time to catch one of the Fearless Flores troupe riding a motorcycle inside the "Globe of Death."

And here are two of the most awesome carnival rides on Earth; Nitro:

and the Zipper:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deconstructing "One Hour Photo" score

One of my favorite film soundtracks of all time is "One Hour Photo" by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. The movie, starring Robin Williams as an obsessed film processing employee, is a creepy masterstroke of modern-day dysfunction and is largely aided by the spooky minimalist score.

Let's have a listen:

It's not something you can play on a diatonic mountain dulcimer because it changes key frequently and involves a large amount of chromatic modulations involving classical-style chord inversions. However, I've just begun pouring more effort into learning chromatic dulcimer and while studying chord shapes last night, stumbled upon the basic structure of "Sy's Theme" from the movie. Now, I don't have it all figured out just yet, but just the very basic steps of trying to figure out the key and scale has opened my eyes in a number of ways. I'll share some of these discoveries and the process it took to find them.

First, I found the opening chord of the piece, which is Fm. Typically, but not always, this is your clue to tracking down the key. Since it's a minor key, I automatically wanted to find the relative major. With all major scales, there is a relative minor scale that shares the same notes, but begins on the sixth note of said major scale. The question to myself was: which of the major scales has an "F" as the sixth note? The answer: Ab - number of flats in this key = 4

Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - G
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°

Those are the seven notes of the Ab major scale. So, if we begin the scale with the sixth note, "F", playing the same notes, we end up with the relative scale of Fm:

F - G - Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
i - ii°-III- iv - v - VI - VII

I've included the roman numerals that indicate the Major, minor and diminished scale degrees. As we'll find out here, those rules were made to be broken. Now, I've only gotten the first handful of changes and I know there's a modulation in there, so here's to hoping my theorizing holds water. The theme begins with these haunting chords:

Fm - Dbm/E - Abm/B - Bb7

Gm - Ebm/Gb - Bbm/Db - C7

From the C7 chord, the progression returns to the Fm. It's deliciously spooky stuff and used to great measure (pun intended) throughout the film.

Let's just start with this and continue to work with this track for the sake of getting to know the inner workings of composition as well as become more familiar with scales, keys and notes.

1. First off - does this section change keys? It goes through one cycle of chords and then repeats that cycle a whole step higher.

2. Instead of straight chords, the movement requires inverted chords. What seems to be the primary purpose of these inversions?

My goal is to eventually transcribe both the chords and melody for this piece. Instead of rushing headlong into it, however, I'll post progressively and we can look at not only music theory in action, but also how it can apply to chromatic dulcimer as well as other instruments.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dive! - Here comes another one

Though it was my intention to write every tune specifically for Dive!, I'm finding that in my unreleased song archive, there are a few tunes that have been waiting patiently for the right moment to get recorded and this sure as hell is one of them.

Written in 2004, "Drinking Out Loud" was originally going to be a tune for Mohave, since most of those songs stem from the fictional town of Nowhere, Nevada, where there's nothing to do but sit around, drink and count tumbleweeds. However, as I've long since discovered, Nowhere is not only a mythical dot on the map, but it's also a state of mind (if you're heard the tune "Nowhere, Nevada", you know what I'm talking about), one that I find myself frequently visiting. So, "Drinking Out Loud" is not so much a random tune that came out of a need for storytelling in the Tom Waits tradition. Rather, it's a hymn to self and to anyone else out there who likes to cozy up to a good stiff drink.

Drinking Out Loud
Music and lyrics by Bing Futch
© Copyright 2004 J.O.B. Entertainment Inc.

bartender, be a friend
no tonic, straight gin
I'm in a hurry and I want to get plowed
your compassion's why I'm here
so if you could please, lend an ear
because I came here for drinkin' out loud

a little booze-buzz on my brain
perhaps some liquid cocaine
will start me mendin'
and I'll blend in with the crowd
thank God I'm a local
cause you'll let me get vocal
just a yokel for drinkin' out loud

lord bless me full throttle
then pass me the bottle
cause you'll find that my mind's in a cloud
if it wasn't for drinkin'
I might still be thinkin'
about sitting here drinkin' out loud

bartender, you the man
to assist with my plan
I know that somewhere there's a momma who's proud
and somewhere else there's another
slightly less happy mother
who raised a son up for drinking out loud

right now this hell is heaven
and this heaven is hell
I can't remember who I was
or how far I fell
so keep my bar tab wide open
I'll leave when you close
because you win some, you lose some
that's just how it goes

Funnily enough - I wrote this song on piano and had never attempted to play it on the mountain dulcimer before this afternoon. Though the key of D can be quite challenging for both women and men, in the case of "Drinking Out Loud", it seems to work pretty well, as opposed to the key of G, which takes it into high lonesome territory (which means you sing so damn high that everyone leaves you quickly and then you're lonesome.) I may post an acoustic demo at some point. Been holding back on posting all of the demos 1), because I want some of the record to be a surprise and 2), there's nothing like having half-assed demos floating around the internet to build a case for first impressions. Right?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dive! - This one's a keeper

Since this morning, I've been in the studio working the chords and dream-delivered melody into a framework that would say "yes" or "no" to some kind of lyrical structure. What I'm going to share with you now is pretty raw stuff, but I feel good enough about it to do so without reservation. No, I will not reveal what the song means - that would blow the fun, now wouldn't it?

First, a few notes on the creation of this demo:

1) After I had gotten the chord changes situated, I sat down and began improvising melody and phrases over the top. There was a general idea of subject matter and the intent was to be descriptive and vague all at once. A tune that would mean something to me, but could easily be claimed by anyone else emotionally. I took the route of doing a "half-chorus" between the first two verses, with the full chorus adding a second section after the second verse. The second verse introduces an element that really pulled the entire song together and gave it thematic heft.

2) Once the words were written (in the bathroom, no less - sorry, is that TMI?), I went back into the studio and made adjustments to the Band In A Box tracks and played through with dulcimer a few times. Once satisfied, I recorded the stereo backing tracks from my Roland Fantom into Garageband. These will be arranged (assigned different sounds) and mixed later, with additional tracks brought into the soundscape. What you're hearing is the very basic arrangement, including the dulcimer arpeggios and the Divine Melody, I guess I'll call it here. The dulcimer parts will all be re-recorded.

3) Finally, I made a scratch vocal run at all the parts to get an idea of how things would work altogether. Though I did some slight adjusting of volume and E.Q., these are raw first take vocals that are simply a placeholder for the actual performances later. They consist of the main vocal track, verse harmony and four tracks of the positioning refrain from the second verse. Of course, all vocal tracks will be re-recorded.

This is what we call a "first run" at it - and plenty will change between now and the time that the track is finished. (I've already changed one word of the tune - "think" became "speak".) But this sort of thumbnail sketch of the tune will get stored on my iPod and played ad infinitum until I feel that I've got a solid approach for finalizing the tune.

It's very rare that a tune blooms so quickly - it's usually an indication that something went right in the connective process between head, heart and spirit.

Music and Lyrics by Bing Futch
Copyright © 2009 J.O.B. Entertainment Inc.

hazy eyes
colors blur and fade
who am I? who are they?

strange signals flashing "walk, don't walk
listen, don't hear
speak, don't talk"


how am I supposed to fly away now?
I can hardly stand without support
no-one ever said I'd get this close to dead on my own

breathe deeply
this is for your good
make the call, Icarus
take the fall, Icarus

screams and bloodshed
that was another life
before the angels, they came and put a stop to the game
what a miracle that you're alive


how am I supposed to fly away now?
I can hardly stand without support
no-one ever said I'd get this close to dead on my own

how am I supposed to face the future
when the past is fading in and out at will?
someone give a damn, tell me who I am today

make the call, Icarus
take the fall, Icarus
make the call, Icarus
take the fall, Icarus

Dive - the saga continues

Giving up recording the album? No, no, just trying to keep track of the recording and writing days is simply asinine, at least for someone like me who can't keep his sock drawer organized.

Since the last update on Dive!, I've recorded basic tracks for "How It Ends" and have already decided to shorten the almost-six-minute song by removing a musical interlude that separates the first and second verse. I've also revamped a ten-year old country tune called "April Fools" that was recorded yesterday and is awaiting detailed editing before final tracks are set.

So far, all but this last tune are brand new songs, written within the past month or so. Given that no-one's track record (pun intended) is perfect, I've taken a spaghetti approach to which tunes actually end up on the album. Basically, I'll begin spitting out songs left and right, more than CD space will allow, and throw them all against the recording studio wall; whatever "sticks" will be what ends up in the track-listing.

With that in mind, I began working with some chords last night on the mountain dulcimer:

Em - C - G - D
Em - C - A - C/E

The movement of the chords straddles the blur between light and darkness; it brought out some really great colors as I set an arrangement in Band In A Box and played arpeggios over and around and through the changes. Just chord shapes, mind you.

When I awoke this morning, this melody line, complete, was streaming through my head:

When this happens, I tend to either let it go and see if it will come back, or I pay close attention and get it down in stone. Such gifts are Divine and they may never pass your way again. When I set the melody to the chord changes, it all matched up perfectly.

For the moment, the tune is being called "Give You Back" and I'm not certain if it will be an instrumental or a vocal tune. There's a lot of emotion running through it and it may have the power to convey what I'm feeling without words. For you musicians reading this, how do you go about writing tunes? Do the words come first or do you come up with the tune before anything else? I'd be interested to hear the process from many different sources, especially those of dulcimer players.

Click on the image to get a bigger picture; try playing it! BTW - I'm registering copyrights as I proceed with the making of the record. If you think this stuff is good enough to steal, then you'd better be quick on the draw and file your paperwork. Then again, if you're reading these words, it's too late. If, however, you'd like to use any of my music, I'll more than likely grant you permission without charging you up the nose. I'm easy like that.

A word about copyright from Songwriter 101:

Q: How do I copyright my songs?

Technically, your song is copyrighted as soon as you finish writing it. However, you’re going to want to register that copyright to protect yourself in case someone tries to use your song without your permission. You can download copyright registration forms from the Copyright Office at, or you can call the Forms Hotline at 202-707-9100, or write to the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20559-6000. The cost to file Form PA is $30.