so, after taking over a week off to tend to what turned out to be a whirlwind week of bring our new little man into the world, tonights’ dan may show at godfrey daniels’ would be my first official night back in the saddle.
godfrey daniels‘, in bethlehem pa, has been one of my favorite rooms for many, many years…going back to my singer-songwriter days when i took my one year old daughter there and she got up and sang the alphabet song in front of a roomful of strangers in her public vocal debut. i saw john gorka there several times early on, and i used to love going to the open mikes there…strangely, the quality of talent at the godfreys’ open mike was always a notch above what you’d encounter at places like grape street. one night, there was this kid there named dave phillips who did two songs that just slayed me…one of them had a chorus with a tag line of “when the angels trade their wings for chevrolets”…that was easily almost twenty years ago, and i’ve never forgotten that dude.
that’s the weight that godfreys’ carries for me. a lot of history.
so i was tickled when dan may landed this gig. it was also a bittersweet moment when i put it on the calendar and realized it was one year to the day after the amazing show i did there with robert hazard and karen savoca last year.
we agreed to do the show as a co-bill with a solo acoustic act, a fellow named randall williams that i’d never met before. and, typically, with a co-bill, one act plays first and the other plays afterward. randall, though, had another idea…he wanted to split the night into sets of two or three songs apiece…which, frankly, i’d never done before. dan wasn’t nuts about it, either, because it doesn’t really allow for either act to establish a rhythm…and i think the audience probably finds it unsettling, too, but i can only speak for myself.
the compromise we arrived at was that we’d split the night in two – the first half we’d do in the traditional split, and then the second half we’d alternate…first four songs each, then three, then two, then one.
well, ok. compromise, it is.
i shouldn’t complain – the show went quite well, and we had a full house of folks who’d come out to see us – bob and ellen from scranton, lois and greg from belvidere, NJ (our house concert hosts), pat weghorn made the trip out for this show, plus the following nights’ show in king of prussia…plus quite a few other folks whose faces i recognize but whose names escape me. the band sounded great for having been somewhat out of practice during my downtime (although, in fairness, it was something of a stripped down version of “the band” – alan and heather sat this one out).
tommy geddes (who is quickly becoming my after-gig breakfast foil) accompanied randall, pat and i to the bar across the street once we’d loaded out and we grabbed a bite to eat before everyone parted ways.
may 9th – WSTW stage at wilmington flower market festival, wilmington DE
may 16th – burlap and bean, newtown square PA
ok, so…yeah. it’s a bit of a stretch, calling it a “tour”, but it’s the thickest concentration of dates that we’ve done as a band, well…ever. but it was also the string of shows where i broke in my soon-to-be-famous new addition to my amp arsenal, the gibson GA-20T that just came my way courtesy of bob stirner, just a couple of nights earlier.
for the puck gig, i brought along my deluxe reverb, just in case…because you just never know, and i hadn’t even plugged in the amp before this show. i’ve been burned enough times by assuming the best and failing to plan for the worst, so i made sure i had a backup on hand.
the puck gig was a double bill, with craig bickhardt sharing the night with JD (there was another singer/songwriter on the bill from nashville, diana jones, who was really talented as well). craig and JD have done a small handful of gigs together in the past six months or so, and i enjoy them because i get to do double duty, and i enjoy playing with both of them so much.
i thought about bringing the pedal steel in, but the drive out was so sluggish that i opted for the quick setup, and went with the old standbys – mandolin, dobro, banjo, lap steel, baritone guitar, et cetera. i took the gibson amp in, plugged it in, and fired it up at soundcheck, and….
i can’t put a finger on it. it’s not a fender, for sure…which shouldn’t be misconstrued – i’m a HUGE fan of fender amps, and i love them for everything i do. this gibson, though…for clean or dirty lap steel, it became the go-to amp the minute i heard it.
jim miades came over and we were looking at it…jim is a gear geek, same as i am, and he knows the minutiae of these things better than a lot of guitar players – so jim took a look at the speaker in the amp, which has a six digit code on the ring around the outside of the cone, and told me that the speaker itself was from 1956.
the amp is a bit of an enigma to me. i had read in an old guitar player article on ry cooder from 20 years ago or so that the gibson GA-20 was his amp of choice, and that was the main thing that led me to take it off stirners’ hands…and believe me, i’m far from disappointed.
we had a great show at puck, which came as a surprise to no one that i know of – jd malones’ band has become something of an automatic proposition, for two reasons – one, the guys in the band are such good musicians….but also, we haven’t really jacked the setlist around much, so the songs are part of our DNA at this point, i think.
the next day was what has become an annual appearance for jd malone, at the wilmington flower market festival, on the WSTW stage. we had an early slot, thankfully…since tommy geddes had a show later that night with craig, opening for suzanne vega, and he needed to cut out as early as he could. for this show, since i was able to bring the pedal steel, i brought two amps – the gibson and a fender deluxe reverb for the pedal steel. that would be my preferred setup, if i could afford the luxury of stage space, although i’d probably use something a little cleaner and more powerful than the deluxe, because it doesn’t have the headroom that something like pedal steel or baritone guitar really requires. i can get away with the baritone guitar through the deluxe, because a little grit on the baritone sounds pretty good, but i’m not a fan of it where the pedal steel is concerned. with low enough stage volume, though, i can get away with it.
one thing i did notice, though, at this show, was that i was beginning to fall out of love with the fulltone pedal that i’ve been using for overdrive. i bought the fulldrive 2 on a recommendation from paul cotton of poco, who loves his…but i’m finding that for subtle, somewhat-crunchy stuff, especially the milky, dark tone that i like for the lap steel…it’s just too much. even with the drive rolled all the way off, it’s just a little too close to the foghat thing for me.
it should be mentioned that the gibson amp doesn’t have any onboard reverb. by the time our third experts show rolled around at the burlap and bean, though, i had ordered an electro-harmonix holy grail reverb pedal to add a little depth, and it works really well with it, as it doesn’t drown the root signal, even when you turn up the effect, you still get a solid, fundamental signal.
sometimes, you have these random shows that roll around that, for whatever reason, click into sync and become something other than just a bunch of guys playing together…where some external force seems to take over and you look down at your hands and realize that you’re not even in control of your own actions – something else is playing your instrument through you, as opposed to you controlling your own instrument.
that burlap and bean show was one of those. there was a great crowd – and when i say a great crowd, i don’t mean in terms of sheer volume of people as much as the people who were there, and once the long-winded opener finished, we tore the place up. i got a note the following day from craig bickhardt, who said that “that little toaster amp” was “smokin’!”
i didn’t even begin tearing down until almost everyone had left, due to standing around so long and talking with everyone who was there…then, once everything was packed and in the car, it started to rain a little, but JD, tommy and i, along with kyle and tara and a couple other folks, stuck around and talked, sitting in a circle in the room, for almost an hour. then JD and tommy came with me to the diner for breakfast before we called it a night and headed home.
so, with one session down, i found myself on my way to kawari for another day of overdubs for the new craig bancoff album, still workingly titled eden.
i’ve been having a blast working on craigs’ album…i love working on his songs, and i love working with adam winokur and matt muir in the studio, too. they’ve been the rhythm section on each of the songs we’ve cut for this project so far, and adam and matt have been splitting engineering duties, as well.
that’s not to say that the project doesn’t have its complications.
for one thing, the whole thing is being done in an analog/digital hybrid environment. what this means is that the project travels between kawari and cliff hillis’ studio (where craig does most of his comping and editing) as digital protools files. craig has also cut some guitar and vocal stuff with cliff as well, going straight to digital. but at kawari, everything gets bounced from protools to their immaculate studer two inch 24 track analog machine, where it remains while tracks are being cut. then, when the instrumental work has been completed, it gets bounced back into protools, where the tracks have to be synched with the originals yet again.
if it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is…especially the job of lining up the tracks and making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be once it gets back to the digital domain. for lesser men, it could be maddening…but everyone involved has been doing a great job.
this day, we were splitting time between two engineers – adam winokur, whos’ been doing most of the console manipulation during the time that i’ve been working on the record, and matty muir, whos’ been present for the sessions as the drummer and one of the principles in the studio, but i hadn’t been there for any of the time matty had spent behind the console.
matty is one of those guys who brings an infectious enthusiasm to a project, and even if you’re not sure you like something initially, matty will love it so much that you won’t be able to help but love it yourself. adam was there for the first part of the session, as there was one more track that craig had added to the mix that they needed to do a rhythm section pass for, but then he had to run out to a rehearsal…so it was matty, craig and myself for the rest of the night.
i don’t personally have a preference between either adam or matty…they both bring different things to the table. there was one moment that matty caught on tape of craig and i in the cutting room downstairs, while craig was running through a song that i was about to cut dobro on…i was sitting on the piano bench while craig was running through it and i just started playing these sparse, george winstonish passages over what he was playing, and matty ran downstairs and put up a mic and cut us playing the song, on a single mic. it sounded phenomenal, but craig had something else in mind for the direction of the song, so it will probably be consigned to the archives…it was a great moment, though – and that’s the job of a great engineer and producer…to capture things like that.
we got a TON of stuff done on this session, including things like the national resophonic on sleepsick, which i had to fight for..a little.
i wanted to cut it direct, but craig was past skeptical about it…but after we plugged it in and i played through it a couple of times, i managed to sell him on it. it sits really well in the track, underneath craigs’ acoustic guitar part…i was going for a lindsey buckingham feel with the part that i played, a fingerpicked, world turning kinda thing, and i think it worked pretty well.
later that night, my buddy bob stirner stopped by the session. i had cleared it with the guys, and they were cool with it (because it is, after all, a HUGE faux pas to have people stopping into someone elses’ session without warning). bob had an amp that he’d been holding on to for me for a while, and he agreed to stop by with it for me, and he had a couple of other things for me to look at as well…he wouldn’t tell me what they were before he got there, but they turned out to be an old single pickup, single cutaway Kay hollowbody with a dearmond pickup in it, and a four pickup beverley hollowbody with a tremolo on it, which i plugged in and used for some distorted, overdriven atmospheric buddy millerish stuff on the last thing we cut that night.
everything we’ve done thus far with craig’s record has been a blast…this session had a couple of tense moments while we were cutting, but that sort of thing is welcome sometimes…if there weren’t those kinds of moments during the sessions, you’d have to wonder if everyone working on the project was as passionate about it as the folks driving the bus.
it’s never good to schedule vocals too early in the morning.
even worse, though, is to schedule vocals early in the morning during allergy season.
i knew it was coming…every year, i know i’ll have to deal with it at some point. this year, the weather here has been so unpredictable – temperatures all over the map, two weeks of rain, et cetera – that there was a degree of prolonging the inevitable hanging over this particular allergy season for a while, now.
not any more, though. i’m chest deep in it now.
todays’ cambridge session was dual-purpose…one, i had to do a harmony vocal on the choruses of “autumn arrives” for amanda penecale‘s record…which i’d already played pedal steel and baritone guitar on during a prior session. (the irony here being that if i’d cut the vocal during that session, it woulda been one or two passes and done…ah, well. hindsight.)
it was one of those things where the harmony line fell right in between my full chest voice and my falsetto, which is the worst place to try to sing from when unknown organisms have taken up residence in your sinuses…the guys were troopers about it, though, and we took at least fifteen passes or so at each chorus and moved on to the next thing on the agenda….the dreaded video shoot.
i’d been brainstorming this for some time – the concept, in a nutshell, was to videotape a small collection of segments of me playing and explaining various instruments in short, YouTube friendly clips. jimmy knobs and i talked about it on a couple of occasions, with the objective being something that was well-shot and recorded to ProTools, so that it would serve the mission of being a demo reel both for me, and for the studio. i also threw in some narraration here and there, to illustrate some of the finer points of the different instruments, tunings, techniques…that sort of thing.
we started at around noon, after taking a valiant swing at the vocals on amandas’ project…i decided that we’d just do electric instruments for this pass, so i brought in electric guitars, pedal and lap steels, the jaguar baritone, the resolectric, the jerry jones sitar, gretsches, danelectros…anything i had that was a little out of the ordinary that i thought would be video-worthy. i reviewed duane allman slide technique on an SG, lowell george’s tone on a strat through an MXR phase 90…all that kinda thing.
and frankly, it was fun. i mean, i’m not the most telegenic dude on the planet, and i don’t think i’ll be hiding that fact from anyone, but i wish i’d have had all this stuff demystified for me when i was starting out. it would’ve made the road a lot smoother, that’s for sure.
todd, who shot the footage, is busy editing and synching the stuff as we speak. i’ll let you know when it’s ready for public viewing. 🙂
as we were tearing down, amanda and eric came by to begin working on their project – they had a friday deadline, so there was a lot for them to do. jim put the track up that i had sung on, and – amazingly – it sounded pretty good. now, i’m prone to believing that the reason it sounded pretty good is because jimmy knobs got under the hood and made it sing a little better than it probably did at first blush. but, hey – if he’s happy, then that means the client is happy. and if they’re both happy, then i’m happy. that’s the way it works.
i had to leave for another session, so i left them there to hash it out, out of earshot, so they could say whatever they wanted with regard to how much it may or may not have sucked…usually, you can tell when someone is giving you the shine about work you’ve done on their project…and they seemed genuinely happy with it, so who am i to second guess, right?