session log: rob snyder

instruments: pedal and lap steel, dobro, baritone guitar

recorded at brian fitzgerald’s home studio with brian engineering

it really is funny how these things work sometimes.

rob posted a note on his facebook page that he was looking for a pedal steel player…a guy who’d opened a jd malone show some time back replied to him and told him that jd’s guy might be able to help him out, and he tracked me down from there. internet detective work at its best. 🙂

rob offered to send me advance tracks, but i asked him to wait until his vocals were cut, so that i could hear it with the holes in place. i was concerned that, if i heard it without the vocals, that i might not envision the holes for the fills in the right places…and that’s important, when you’re playing parts to support the vocal. rob’s music is predominantly modern country, and stomping on the vocal is a bigtime no-no in pretty much any subgenre of country music. (it should be a no-no across the board, but some people don’t police it nearly as stringently as country artists and producers.)

i had never met rob (or brian, his producer), but both turned out to be great guys to work with…rob’s music came pretty naturally to me as a player, and the songs were pretty fleshed out by the time i got to add my two cents’ worth – which is actually better than it sounds. the more elements there are present in a recording, the easier it is to arrive at something that’ll be complementary, and won’t get in the way of the other parts already on the records…which can mean playing nothing at all as often as not. this is a concept i have a hard time of selling sometimes, but it’s true – sometimes people will ask for something, thinking they want it, but then when you oblige them and throw it on there, they eventually come to find out that it wasn’t the part they were looking for, after all. 🙂

as always, i brought some extra tools for “just because”, and as is often the case, i ended up using some of them…we ended up deep-sixing the pedal steel and going for the slightly overdriven lap steel tone for one song, we put baritone guitar on another, and dobro on a fourth. we did use the pedal steel, but not as much as i think they wanted to. they were lovin’ everything they were hearing, and we burned through the tracks pretty quickly.

there’s something gratifying about working for a client and/or an engineeer whos’ enthusiasm for what they do is so infectious, and that’s definitely true of these two…looking forward to doing it again. 🙂

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with craig bickhardt at minstrel coffeehouse, morristown new jersey

i don’t think i’ll ever again cut a gig as close as i did this one.

and by “cutting it close”, i mean walking in the door after the act has been introduced and is just about to play his first song.

frankly, i don’t know that it’s actually possible to cut it any closer than that and still play the show…any later than that, and you’re gonna miss at least one song, and that doesn’t count as a full gig, technically. so there.

since joining the ranks of the generally unemployed after the holidays, i’ve been looking here and there at potential day gigs, but these days find me doing mostly temp work – and so it was the day of this show, having just started an assignment. so after getting out of work, i hustled home, took a shower in record time, and bolted out the door and down the road. i’m not sure i took into full consideration how far away from home this show really was, but i didn’t spare a moment from the time i barrelled out the door at work until i was in the car on the way to the gig. then, of course, you factor in friday traffic, and that complicates things somewhat…i guess i’m lucky that i made the show at all.

the minstrel coffeehouse is a traditional-leaning room, and out of respect for that, craig and i discussed what instruments to bring beforehand, and mutually decided that we’d go with a minimalistic approach – for this one, we’d stick with mandolin, dobro, and only the baritone guitar as instrumentation, with the baritone being able to go through the house PA with the tremolo pedal on the front end – and this was fine with me. under the circumstances, it was a good thing, as i was able to walk in with everything i needed in one trip, and was set up and ready to go in record time.

somehow, though, the pesky radio from nashua, NH, appeared to have followed us…

during the studio 99 show in nashua, we had this underlying radio station interference that came through the PA system during the entire show…it could have been a lot more obtrusive, but even at the low volume it was coming through at, it was annoying. the soundman said that it wasn’t the first time they’d had it, and that it seemed to be there more often than not…so we didn’t give it another thought. tonight, though, it wasn’t perpetual – it only seemed to show up when i plugged in the baritone guitar, at first. later, then, to a much lesser extent, the dobro. the only thing that wasn’t in doubt was that it wasn’t happening when only craig was playing…it was a bear to pin down precisely what was driving it, as i’d do the exact same thing twice and one time, i’d get it and the other i wouldn’t.

maddening as it might have been, though, it was showtime, and the only thing i could really do was adjust. so i stuck with mandolin and dobro for the first set, and we put the rig under the microscope during the intermission. at that point, we put a bit of shielding tape around the cable going into the volume pedal…but we were still getting the RFI with the baritone guitar. our solution then became simply to not use the baritone for the rest of the night, as the signal seemed to have gone away with mando and dobro; there was no RFI present for either of those instruments.

still, save for the loss of the baritone and its ultra-sensitive magnetic pickups for songs like carrying a dream and this old house, i think we played a solid show. after the new england dates, the vocal blend i have with craig is as tight as ever, and i feel more relaxed behind him now than i ever have. playing with craig as sporadically as i historically have, it’s kinda like going back to the same place once a year and trying to remember the driving directions…if i don’t go somewhere regularly, i may as well have never gone at all. sometimes, it’s like that with certain folks that i play with that i might only do one or two shows a year with…in some ways, it’s like mapping out the songs all over again if i don’t get to play them often enough. thankfully, i can still fall back on my intuition to get me through the tricky spots. plus, i actually listen to and enjoy craigs’ music between gigs…that helps as well.

as we were saying our goodbyes and walking out, craig mentioned to me that during his SKB days, he had an ernie ball volume pedal go microphonic on him while he was on the road and that he’d taken the pedal out of the loop and the interference had stopped…that threw me for a bit of a loop, as i wouldn’t have thought in a million years that the issue could boil down to the volume pedal. strangely, though, the problem has only occured those two times…if it happens again, though, i know what i’ll do for step one of the troubleshooting process.

springtime in new england w/craig bickhardt

tour itinerary:

march 18thone longfellow square in portland, maine (with firefall)

march 19th – house concert w/jonathan edwards in arrowsic, maine

march 20th studio 99 in nashua, new hampshire

march 21stO’Shea’s in cape cod, mass.

so, this was a working vacation in some ways – wendy and danny came along, and we stayed at mark and joanne’s house in westbrook (just outside portland) while we were there, which was really the only way i could have pulled it off. money being what it is, we were working on a shoestring to begin with – so we hunkered down, planned out our food purchases, and we actually made it work. wendy and danny got to spend time with family (brother/uncle, aunt mary, and all the cousins we were able to round up), and i got to play four shows in a row with craig – which, i have to say, had a pretty significant effect on the interplay between the two of us. by the last show on sunday, we were tight. and we had a great time while we were out, too.

one longfellow square

i’d heard about this room before, and i knew that poco had played there in the past. first of all, it’s a great room. the soundman has been there for a solid run, and he knows the room inside and out…the guy who runs the room is a genuinely nice guy, and treats acts well, and appears to genuinely love the music he presents. the room itself is laid out in something of a “pie slice” form – which is to say that the stage sits at the pointy end of a curved seating layout that kinda fans out from there.

now, because of the travel limitations – which is to say, because i didn’t have a lot of room in the car for gear – i was travelling about as lightly as is possible for me to travel. i brought a lap steel, a mandolin, and the baritone guitar…an amp and my bag, and that was about it. for these shows, it was enough, really. i mean, i wouldn’t have minded having the dobro along for some songs, and my pedalboard would’ve made my life easier, too…but you gotta adapt, you know? bottom line, though – what i brought was plenty, really. the show didn’t suffer as a result of anything i didn’t bring…or at least i didn’t think it did.

steven weinmeister and jock bartley of firefall in portland, maine

i got there early, and sat in on firefall’s soundcheck – steve and i have been facebook friends for a while, and it was the first chance i’d ever had to really talk to jock or to bil hopkins, their bassist (who’d just gotten a new instrument for this run of shows, and was very proud of it). news of paul cotton‘s departure from poco was still very much on everyone’s mind, and everyone had been speculating as to who would replace him in the band…as it turned out, craig had apparently gotten the inside scoop already, but was keeping it to himself…as it hadn’t been announced yet and no one wanted to fuel any more speculation than was already going on.

jock bartley is something of an anomaly – so often, guitarists become prima donnas about what they will or won’t use in terms of backline…i’ve seen jock three different times, playing through three different amps, and somehow he always sounds like himself. and – judging from the general mood at this show – he seems rather nonplussed about what’s available and what isn’t. i’d like to think i’d be the same way under those circumstances, but…well, i haven’t been tested yet. 🙂

craig and i had a great set – and i got some serious kudos from craig’s friend, brad strause:

“Just wanted to say how tasty your playing was. You two sounded so complete and full without drums, bass, etc. I’ve been rethinking my own band, thinking about paring it way down, back to just basics, and what you were able to do has inspired me to look for ways to do something similar. I’ve heard alot of shows there and have played it myself – You guys got an exceptional sound and balance that night. Hope to see you again.”

not too shabby, huh? 🙂

arrowsic house concert

life is a parade of characters that drift in and out of your life, and if you’re lucky, some of them stick and you get to call them friends. some of those characters, though, really are larger than life. bret gillam is one of them.

i met bret, our host for the house concert on the second night of our run, the previous night at the one longfellow square show, and – well, bret makes an impression. we all know those guys who talk excessive amounts of shit, name drop all day long, and spin yarns that don’t compute in hopes to impress either you or themselves or anyone in earshot…but this guy is the real deal. he’s lived it, and his home is a testament to an amazing life. his walls are covered with pictures from a storied past as a scuba diver who’s written books on the subject, whos’ worked as a technical adviser on hollywood movies, and has spent his life amassing enough stories to fill book after book, should anyone have the time to write them all down.

bassist michael burd, myself, jonathan edwards and craig bickhardt

bret has a close friend in veteran folksinger jonathan edwards, who – it was rumored – would be stopping by the gillam household for craig’s house concert to sit in on a couple of songs. jonathan had covered craig’s songs on records he’d done in the past, including “on God’s green earth”, one of my favorites. we got there early, before the guests started showing up, and got to peruse the huge collection of photos on bret’s walls – photos from movies bret had worked on (including the deep with jacqueline bissett, among others), photos of himself with david crosby, with legendary diver bev morgan, lauren hutton…the list goes on and on. we took up residence back in brets’ study with jonathan and michael burd, a bassist friend of bret’s who came in cold, without really knowing any of the songs, and did a masterful job.

the crowd was a typical house concert crowd of friends and family, with a few folks who were aware of craig’s repertoire, but friendly and supportive nonetheless…once jonathan came up and michael strapped on the bass, i was definitely missing my boy tommy geddes – would’ve been nice to have had him there, but the four of us sounded pretty damn good. jonathan did “sunshine” and “shanty” and sang the lead on “god’s green earth”…it was as if the four of us had been playing together for a lot longer than – well, since that afternoon. 🙂

the director of bath, maine’s chocolate church arts center was in the audience at the show, and booked the lot of us to play at the chocolate church in the fall…on wendy’s parent’s anniversary, no less.

studio 99, nashua NH

by most peoples’ accounts, these kinds of gigs are supposed to be automatic losses. it’s the first time in a city, no local support on the bill, and no momentum of any kind (radio or TV success, newspaper or print media coverage) preceding the act into the market.

from an attendance perspective, the show definitely lived up to that…and yet, it turned out to be one of my favorite CB gigs that we’ve ever played together.

craig running through a song before the show in nashua, NH

it happens this way, usually, because of the specific faces that end up in the crowd. our mutual poco buddy garry came to the show with his wife, and we had ryan and dennis kelly in the audience, a father and son pair of musicians who play locally in new hampshire (their band, smokestack lightning, has a growing following and they’re actually pretty damn good)…the show turned into a storytellers-esque evening of requests, Q-and-A, and general discussion and crosstalk between the audience and the two of us. it was part concert and part workshop, and we did songs we’ve never done before – a great example being the song “troubled shores”, which craig told the story of in as much detail as i’ve ever heard him reveal in an introduction to a song.

nashua is a beautiful town, and the venue – studio 99 – is a gem waiting to be discovered. it’s an open floor, high up in an old office building right on the main thoroughfare in downtown nashua, with big windows behind the stage that look out over the river. the only drag was the occasional sound of a motorcycle roaring by the building on the street below, but we were troopers about it, and made it part of the show.

i’d happily go back to every room we played on this tour, and this one was no exception. new hampshire is such a beautiful state.

o’shea’s olde inne, cape cod MA

i might have neglected to mention that, during this run of shows, that wendy and danny came along for the ride, and we all stayed at wendys’ parents home just outside of portland, ME – so for each of these dates, i drove back to portland and slept it off there, leaving for the next show the next afternoon. i was actually grateful for this in a lot of respects, as i got to see places from the road that i hadn’t seen on our prior drives up to maine, and this trip wouldn’t be any different. the last night of our run was out on cape cod.

this room was really the perfect place to wrap up this run – the owner, joseph o’shea, is a music fan in the truest sense of the word, and presents live music in this room every day of the week, whether it’s a celtic jam on weekdays, bluegrass bands, or various other kinds of acoustic music on other nights of the week. our show was an afternoon show on sunday, as there was a jam that night, and it also gave us all time to relax a bit after the show and actually enjoy each other’s company for a while before preparing to head south again.

we had a great set, and sat down to enjoy dinner with the band who hosted our show and the man who hosted the afternoon, mister o’shea himself. the food was absolutely phenomenal, and the company was wonderful…it was just the right number and blend of people around the table. no one tried to dominate the conversation, the subject matter was stimulating, and it just felt…well, like that’s where we all belonged that particular afternoon.

wendy and i really made a trip of this run, bringing danny along and spending time with him at his grandparents’ house….watching him “speedcrawl” up and down the hallway, chasing his ball, or tearing all the tupperware out of the cabinet under the sink – i think he and his mommy enjoyed being at home…hosting visits from her brother and cousins on nights of the shows and showing danny off. we were on a tight budget during the trip, but we came out of all of it a little in the black, and we all had a great time…played some wonderful shows and met some great new friends.

yeah…we did it for the stories we could tell, as they say.

john lilley project at the record collector, bordentown new jersey

i had my doubts about this show, but i’m happy to say i was completely off base. i had thought it was going to be a glorified in-store performance, but these guys know what they’re doing, and they’ve got a nice thing going. ambrosia, peter tork, steve forbert…there are a LOT of national, touring acts that play the record collector, and the vibe there is much, much cooler than i had assumed it would be. this place is a real record store…not part of an aisle at best buy, or a kiosk at the mall…and randy and his people know what they’re doing…both from the perspective of putting a live show together, and

it was clear during load-in and set up that this would probably be the lowest volume we’d ever played at, though…which was fine with me, since i’d brought my gibson “toaster” amp, and i wasn’t about to go head-to-head with john and his blackface deluxe reverb with that thing. 🙂 the lower volume setting actually works really well for this band, though – i could hear everyone really well, and with limited monitors. space was somewhat tight, but john and i shared a guitar stand, and that saved some floor space on the backside, and we managed to tuck my amp against the wall just off to one side of ricks’ keyboard rig…so the only thing i really had to make space for was my pedalboard, and we were good to go.

we set up, completed soundcheck, and…well, we waited for folks to show up.

and we waited some more…and we waited.

well, as it turned out, it was – far and away – the smallest audience we played to in all the time we’d been doing these shows around the release of john’s album. it wasn’t single digits or anything, but it was certainly a lot less than we’d been accustomed to. that, combined with the general vibe of the place we were playing – definitely gave the show an odd vibe, from the perspective of the band. but the folks who were there were so great, and the welcome that we got from the folks at the record collector was so generous, that we overcame that pretty quickly.

so, yeah…i’m lovin’ me some record collector after this show. would LOVE to go back.