I recorded this version of Peggy ‘O on my iPhone the other night while practicing for a show in July. It was the first time we tried banjo with it…and I quite liked it. Mark Evans on banjo, Luke Stark on bass, and I on guitar and vocals.
I first heard Peggy ‘O on a recording of the Dead from the seventies. It was one of those moments where I was completely captivated by the combined beauty of the melody, the story, and the way the Grateful Dead wove together the piano, bass and guitars. It was the only song I listened to for at least a week.
Here is a youtube video of a Dead version of Peggy ‘O from the seventies. Not as much piano in this version as the one I fell in love with. But still, you get the sense of what a powerful ballad this was. If you don’t get chills at least once during this performance…well…I’ll get off my Head soapbox now.
I’ve been listening to a lot of sea chanties lately as research for a couple of projects I’ve been working on. One chantey, called The Spray, has caught my attention. The Spray is a fairly recent song that is about a man named Joshua Slocum. Mr. Slocum was the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo. His boat, The Spray, was an old rotting oyster boat that he restored. The trip, starting in 1895, took 3 years to complete.
The recording here is a demo of some iPhone software, more than anything else. I recorded this in my bedroom, directly to the iPhone using an app called FiRe (http://www.audiofile-engineering.com/fire/), and then uploaded the tune to SoundCloud, which is then pulled into my blog. Lastly, I posted this article through the iPhone as well using the wordpress app.
Why would I go through so much trouble just to post? Mostly just to find out if it is possible to do everything through the iPhone. But, also, I can imagine using this process in a live music setting.
Things have been quiet on baconworks for some time. I feel moderately guilty about that. Especially since there has been a lot of good music in the past year.
For example, in April I spent two evenings with my good friends Mustachio and the White Rabbit recording in a chapel at Framingham State College. They were casual evenings that resulted in a set of recordings that I very much enjoy. One track that I was immediately enamored with was the Rabbit’s version of Amazing Grace.
The night this was recorded I came home and played the track for my wife through a set of headphones. She fell asleep listening to it before the track was finished playing. I then took the headphones off her sleeping head, and put them on mine, hit play… was hypnotized by droniness of the concertina, and fell asleep.
The next evening, being inspired by the recording, I sang Amazing Grace to my boys as I was tucking them into bed. They both fell asleep before I was done singing. I can assure you, this never happens and is a small miracle of sorts. Usually I can’t get them to quit the yackin’.
In the morning I was telling my Wife and children that I thought it was funny, not to mention a bit odd, that all four of us fell asleep to Amazing Grace. My animated son quickly replied, ‘Dad, That’s why it’s amazing’.
So, what does it all mean? I have no idea. But sometimes events happen that just mystify you a bit, you’re not sure why and you can’t let them go.
He was right, it is amazing. This popular song was originally published over two hundred thirty years ago and still has the power to move us. Quite amazing.
For the last two months I’ve been musically focused on a project for work. We’ve been working on a MathWorks related spoof of an old Dr. Hook song. It was great fun to work on, had thirty overdubbed tracks of audio and an associated video. Last night I returned from a trip where we had the good fortune to show the video to a couple thousand receptive audience members. It was a lot of fun, but mentally draining. After traveling all day, tired and a bit melancholy that the whole experience was over, I found myself feeling restless. Kids were in bed, wife asleep on the couch, not interested in watching T.V. and not focused or awake enough to read I decided to retreat to the basement and just play some guitar. Just play.
While I was playing I decided to try my hand at another old Dr. Hook song that I have grown to enjoy during the last few weeks. This time there were no new lyrics. No spoof. Just a straight cover. Also, no multitracking. One mic, one track, one take. Just playing.
Most people, these days, will not admit to being big fans of John Denver. I’ll admit it. Always have been. Ever since I was a child and my parents would throw that scratchy vinyl onto our gargantuan record player … you know the kind, where the speakers, turn table and radio dials are all built into a big honkn’ piece of furniture. It was big enough to make a good television stand as well.
John Denver songs remind me of the innocence and beauty of childhood. It reminds me of a peaceful time in life where family is your only focus and you can’t ever imagine that when you grow life will present you with challenges. What is not to like about that?
While many will not freely admit they like John Denver, I have proof that most people actually do. I recorded this impromptu version of Country Roads Saturday evening at a friend’s house along with thirty other friends. We played lots of tunes and sang lots of songs. Irish tunes, sea chanties, classic rock, English ballads, drinking songs, songs about ale, songs about dog fat, songs about war, songs about trombones … but John Denver’s Country Roads is always the song people sing the loudest at parties. Always.
While the recording quality is not great I hear something wonderful in it. I hear friends. I hear family. I hear joy. And it brings me right back to being a child, playing in my living room with my family, my father trying to find the notes on his Goya while the record played. And I can only assume, when I listen to this, that the other players and singers have similar unspoken memories and feelings. The music brings them back, like a country road, to a peaceful and happy place, and in that space and time, it unites us. It completely transcends pop music and becomes folk music, which is really what music was meant to be in the first place.
You know what that means, don’t you? It means that the only way I can post new music is by dusting off all the old crud laying around that wasn’t good enough to post the first time.
Here is a recording that I found settled in the dust. It is of an old American song called Shenandoah. I don’t even recall recording it, which can only mean that at the time I thought it stunk. Well, apparently time not only heals all wounds, if you believe that, but it also seems to wash away imperfections. That is not to imply that this recording is perfect. Far from it. But somehow I now find some redeeming qualities to it.
Having said that, I would consider this a learning track. In recording they say there are three things that make a good track; a good performance, a good arrangement and a good recording of the performance. When I listen to this track I hear a lot of “growth potential” in the vocal performance. For now I’ll refrain from any additional self deprecation on the topic of vocals except to say that listening to ones voice on tape can be about as much fun as gargling bumble bees.
I will say that I’m fond of the simple arrangement. Though, I think the melody may need something to break up the monotony, but I’m not sure what.
The actual recording was a challenge because both the vocal track and the guitar track were recorded at the same time. The downside to this approach is that I don’t have as much control over the tracks as I would like due to the guitar bleeding into the vocal track and vice versa. For example, I like to add a little delay to the vocal track. But if you listen closely to the guitar, milliseconds after a strum you can hear a ghost strum, which is the delay. So, I can’t add delay to the vocal track without adding delay to the guitar because of the bleed. Consequently, the guitar track is not as clean as it could be.
You might say to yourself, ‘why doesn’t he just record the guitar track first and overdub the vocals later’? Well that is sort of like eating one piece of bread with peanut butter on it and then following that up with another slab of bread with jelly. Even though it is all the same ingredients, it is just not as tasty as eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Anyhow, I digress…
With any luck, and some new gear, I may revisit this track again down the road. But for now, it is all I’ve got.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the struggles we all go through when learning and mastering a craft. In this case the craft I speak of is music. But, really, it could be any craft. As a beginner you tell yourself, “If I could just play a tune or two, that would make me really happy”. Then, that is not enough. You need to learn twenty, fifty and then a hundred tunes to be happy. After a hundred you realize that the first twenty that you though you learned need to be re-learned because the way you’re playing them really sucks. Eventually your repertoire grows, your technique gets better, your tool set more rich, and you set new goals for yourself. Here is the point. Beginners have one very key thing in common with experienced craftsman. They are both striving to get better.
Along the journey of musical development it is important to have mentors and role models. And it is important for the mentors to remind those following behind that everyone starts at the beginning, and that the most important key to getting better is to follow the path of your interests. Practice all you want, if you are not doing what you want, you ain’t gettin’ better. And if you’re not getting better, it is likely you are getting worse.
One of the things I like most about mentors or roll models is their war stories. What was the path they followed? What inspired them to work so hard and get so good? What hurdles did they have and how did they get out of their ruts? I also love seeing evidence of their own humble beginnings. It reminds me that they are just people and that they really did have to make their way around similar obstacles.
One of my role models is Paul Brady. The man is simply a brilliant guitar player and I am stuck in a rut behind him. One of my hurdles is to find my way out of that rut and cut my own path. For those that don’t know, Paul Brady took a traditional song called Arthur McBride in the mid seventies and made it famous.
Recently I was poking around YouTube and found this live version of the song from 1977 which, aside from a few amusing mistakes, is identical to the recorded version that drew so much acclaim. Check out the gorgeous base line that serves as its own melody. Listen to the finger picking…especially in the solo. Whewww! Classic stuff.
Now, you want to see something really cool? Check out Paul singing the same song in seventyfour. It sounds hokey by comparison. No beautiful base line. Very little finger picking. Mostly strumming. The singing has no character. Man he sucks! O.k., not really, but you get the point. To get from ’74 to ’77 he had some real work to do. If he had stopped in ’74 I don’t think we would be talking about this song.
So, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to get back to practice. I’ve got ruts to get out of.