Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Belle from the Bridge

The Belle from the Bridge (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a jig from a few weeks ago, recorded this morning. The title comes from a brief trip last week back home to Clarksville, Indiana. We took a walk on Sunday afternoon across the former Big Four railroad bridge, recently converted to a pedestrian and bicycle path across the Ohio River between Louisville, KY and Jeffersonville.

While walking we had the pleasure of watching the Belle of Louisville paddle under us on her Sunday afternoon cruise. Following the nostalgic theme of my previous post, seeing the Belle reminded me that it was the site of my first public performance in a band, sometime in late 1964 or early 1965, as a member of the awesome Sir James and the Squires. We were allowed to play a 3 or 4 song set during a sockhop on board while the real band took a break. Pretty exciting stuff for a humble Squire!

I'm pretty sure that this was the night when I learned that the same song could be played in any key. I had learned the Kingsmen's classic version of Barret Strong's "Money" (as opposed to the Beatles' copy of the original) in the key of E. Our guitar player (the amazing Tommy Campbell), singer ("Sir James" himself, Jimmy Parks) and drummer (now Dr. Joe Jacobi) played the song, I believe, in G. I think a member of the other band kindly explained to me that we had played the song simultaneously in two different keys, without mentioning bi-tonality or Ornette Coleman. Being a minor third apart the two keys actually made a pretty cool sound but I was amazed at the concept and, ever after, I have endeavored, when playing with other musicians, to play in the same key as everyone else, whenever possible. (Ed. note: I should have mentioned above that I'm playing electric bass in this story. This allows the bi-tonality to "work" a little better than if Tom and I had both been playing full chords a minor third apart.)

Today's jig is squarely in the key of C, with nary a hint of Deer Tracks influence.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Port William Hornpipe / Cracks in the Sidewalk (1984)

Port William Hornpipe / Cracks in the Sidewalk (mp3)(pdf)

It's been a busy few weeks -- weddings, mandolin conventions, the release of Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) -- and So Many Tunes has had a well-earned vacation. Today's re-entry is a blast from the past.

Mark Davis (who I had a chance to play some music with two weeks ago in Regina, Saskatchewan) mentioned the great author Wendell Berry on Facebook yesterday and that set me off looking for this old recording.

Back in 1984 I put together a cassette recording of some of my original music, both songs and instrumental tunes. I recorded everything on a then state-of-the-art Fostex four track cassette recorder. A few years ago I made a digital copy of the master cassette of those multi-track recordings. This is all pretty low-fi by today's standards but it was what I had at the time. Once you get past the initial shock of "different" sound there is still some fun music in there.

"Port William Hornpipe" was always titled "Wendell Berry's Hornpipe" in my head but I figured that was too grand a title to use officially (although now I've blabbed it on the internet) so I used Berry's fictional Port William, Kentucky as a title instead. If you know Berry's work you know that most of his fiction revolves around characters connected to Port William (located not far from where the Kentucky River flows into the Ohio, roughly 50 miles or so from where I was raised). If you haven't read much by Wendell Berry you owe it to yourself to spend some time with his poetry, essays, novels and short stories.

The actual recording from 1984 has me playing all the parts. It sounds to me like guitar (probably my old Harmony Sovereign from the mid-60s), mandolin (the same Gibson that I just used this summer for my Deer Tracks CD), octave mandolin (my old Flatiron, in 1984 it was only two or three years old, it's sitting six feet away from me today as I write) and an inexpensive electric bass (long gone). Lord only knows what kind of microphone I used but it would have needed a 1/4 in. plug, not an XLR. The bass I would have run directly into the deck, very carefully.

I know that I used the Fostex X-15 (pretty new at the time) to record and I suppose that I mixed the 4 tracks down to stereo using a second cassette deck. The actual recording would probably have taken place in the kitchen of my small apartment in the 700 block of E. 2nd St. in Bloomington, Indiana.

For weeks that summer I had the pleasure of hearing (whether I wanted to or not) an amazing band rehearse in the house across the street.  Kilo was fronted by the amazing Crystal Taliefero (still a college student then, just before she joined John Mellencamp's band) and featured a number of now well-known musicians like bassist Robert Hurst, trumpeter Chris Botti and drummer Shawn Pelton. The now legendary Kenny Aronoff (Mellencamp's drummer at the time) would often sit in as well. A great band.

I didn't know about the Chris Botti connection until this morning as I was writing this. But I have a vivid memory of crossing the street one night after midnight, after band rehearsal was over, to get a closer listen to an unknown trumpeter playing a beautiful version of "Someday, My Prince Will Come". I realize now that it was probably a very young Mr. Botti working through his Miles Davis influence. I think I'll take another look at his body of work, now that I see we are old buddies.

So, from E. 2nd St. in Bloomington, 1984 to So Many Tunes, 2013 here's "Wendell Berry's Hornpipe."
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