Meet Another/The Magic Of The Studio
Continuing the story of "Bing Futch and the Seven Dulcimers", I'd like you to meet "Dee." She's a Folkcraft Instruments creation, much like "Joline", but in a walnut flavor which gives her a somewhat stronger sound due to the strength of the wood, but she's not as warm as Joline. I call her Dee because that's what she's usually tuned to, the key of "D". All of my other dulcimers tend to stay in my voice range, which is "C". Dee never liked "C". Intonation went straight south if I ever went there.
Dee is kinda-sort retired because she's now a collector's item. In 2000, Dave Rhea from the band Vonray, absolutely could not find anyone to go with him to a Willie Nelson concert for which he had backstage passes. Imagine my surprise when he pops up on AOL Instant Messenger, asking if I want to go see Willie.
So, we went to the show at Ruth Eckerd center near Tampa - we sat in the wings during Willie's phenomenal show, close enough to look over the band's shoulders. Talk about mind-blowing energy, there was one point in time where Willie left the stage and just sort of wandered around in the wings, passing right by me. It was a joyful and intimate experience that ranks right up there with the best of my life.
After the show, Willie went into his bus to, well, you know, and when he came out, red-eyed and relaxed, he began pressing the flesh with the crowd. Well, I had prepared for this moment, just in case it happened. Running to the car, I grabbed Dee, who had come along for the trip, and brought her back to the bus. Waiting patiently for the right moment, I stood holding her as he turned, saw the dulcimer, and then looked up at me. I handed her over, along with the pen.
"If you don't mind, Willie - I'd love if you signed her."
He took a look at her, flipping her this way and that before finally settling on a spot near the upper right soundhole. As he did, I said "you are a true jazz man."
He smiled and nodded, handing me back the pen and Dee. At that time, I backed out of the crowd and spied his longtime drummer Paul English walking around the fringe, alone. ???? I went over to him and asked if he'd do the honor of signing next to Willie.
"You want me to sign it?" he said incredulously as he scribed his name. Hell, in high school, I was listening to this man drop beats for Willie, meeting inspirations like this don't happen every day. I thanked him, told him he rocked and then stepped away, seeing harmonica player Mickey Raphael hanging out, again, with no-one around.
He responded pretty much the same way, as if, you know, who would want his signature? I love that these guys were so modest when they've got every right to feel a little more like superstars.
Needless to say, this experience left me glowing, and I played Dee in a few shows, proudly pointing out who she'd been signed by. But one day, noticing that a bit of the marker was beginning to smear, that's all she wrote (played?) and I retired her from active service.
Every once in a while, I'll tune her up and play a little something in "D", like "Write Your Own Songs" or "Pancho and Lefty" - carefull making sure that I don't touch the autographs.
The Studio Experience
I got to the studio about 3 pm and waited for Dave, who showed up about fifteen minutes later. We set up quickly and got right down to it. All in all, I knocked out all 17 songs (in one take, except for "Down To Earth") in about three hours, choosing carefully which tunes I did in order to preserve my voice. Upon listening to them later, there are only a few that I intend to re-record.
Working with David Schweizer is a pure pleasure, and in between songs, while he burned down mixes of the raw tracks, we talked about everything from his real estate to his son looking for a lost Buzz Lightyear toy to the origins of some of the songs. Skilled with the knobs and with a huge love for music, there was nowhere else I wanted to record but Richter Records. We're totally safe in this man's hands.
I burned a few copies and passed them out to the band at rehearsal, and then we jammed a little bit before working with a concept that Randy's introduced. I call it "E", because it pretty much is variations on an E major chord, maintaining tension with a groove we employed from an old Naked Head song called "Mary." Randy's a genius when it comes to arranging, and this song is rooted in his lyrical, melodical bass stylings. Being a big Peter Gabriel fan, he's of a like mind with me as we take the band in some groovy directions.
Everyone was on fire last night as we went through some newer material and continued to teach J.D. some of the older stuff that we've been working with. In fact, I just don't know how to say it, but everytime I'm the room with these three guys and one girl, I feel overwhelmed, like I need to run to catch up. They're all brilliant, creative, outstanding in what they do - and I sometimes feel like the weakest link, you know? But then I think about what gifts I've been given and by the grace of God, the opportunity to use them in a setting that's so positive and pleasurable and therapeutic, and it all equals out.
When you sing, it's like crying. And when you cry, your body gets full of oxygen. Sometimes a good cry is all you need to feel better, or a sigh. We don't breathe enough in our day to day lives on the average, and my issues with breathing (I suck in my stomach too much) have translated to my issues with singing. In just about everything in my life, I've been a late-bloomer, the same goes for singing. I've always been able to carry a tune and write melodies and harmonize, but I've always been too lazy or not interested enough to take the steps towards improving my voice. (Actually, I think a lot of it was the ADHD that I finally started getting treatment for last year.)
Now, with every new day of practice, breathing exercises and conscious effort to support my notes, I see progress that's simply exciting - and I know the road will continue to be satisfying in that way. After three hours of hollering my brains out in the studio, where the cans (headphones) are right in your ears, letting you hear every single possible tiny nuance, I felt so full of oxygen that the spirit of life moved throughout me like a raging river. Breathe better, feel better, love better.
I told David, being in the recording booth was sort of like being in a sensory-deprivation tank, floating and drifting into the inner worlds of the soul.
Aye, it was good.