Still standing

I’ve been a bit of a stranger here and on Soundcloud.My efforts have been largely focused on live performance and less on recording. I’ve been playing with a local band, Soulshine – Boston. We cover a lot of ground musically, Classic Rock, Americana, R & B, and they’re pretty tolerant of my reluctance to take the slide off my finger.

Aside from working up the live repertoire, I’ve been busy on the technical end: I’ve modified a couple of Fender Telecasters to cover the needs of playing live and dove head first into MIDI controlled rack systems to let me duplicate the tones I crave without having to tap dance on a pedal board.  Stay tuned. More to come.


Power blues!

Some tunes just hit you between the eyes the first time you hear them. This Warren Haynes down and dirty blues is definitely one of those for me. I love the power and raw emotion of it. Several good friends of mine have been going through some tough times as of late and this song seemed to hit close to home.

I wanted to record a version that built on the power of the emotion, that paid tribute to the original, without cloning it. I knew right away who would be up to the task. Justin Valente’s guitar playing is as emotional and expressive as it is powerful. Jamie Rhind is as versatile as a musical Swiss army knife when it comes to keyboards. Who could handle the vocals? I’ve never had the chance to work with Tony Pappas, and I’ve always been impressed by his powerful and expressive delivery. Why not ask? What’s the worst that happens, he says “no”?
It’s been a while in the works, but here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Tony Pappas @Tonybluestone – Vocals
Justin Valente @Justin Valente – lead guitar
Jamie Rhind @Jamie Rhind – Keyboards
Ned Bolle @meanoldfireman – Slide and Rhythm Guitars, bass, drum programming and production

Baritone Telecaster for slide

Once again, from the “I can’t leave anything alone department”, in undertook another questionable guitar project, with some interesting results.  Back in August, I had the opportunity the spend the better part of a week immersed in slide guitar at camp with Sonny Landreth and Robben Ford. I had asked SOnny about playing bottleneck on a baritone and he replied the only reason he doesn’t on tour is he doesn’t have the space to bring one.  That was all it took.

I started with a Made in Mexico Nashville style Telecaster.  I like the Nashville configuration for the additional middle pickup and the interesting tones you can get by combining it with the neck or bridge pup.  The fact that it had a Candy Apple Red finish was a plus in my book.


While the stock electronics are not bad, I prefer a little more output and noiseless design, so I went to my long-time favorite for Tele pickups, Joe Barden Engineering. JBE’s are remarkably articulate. They retain the crisp singlecoil sound with higher output and a noise cancelling design. This is the forth project I’ve used them on, so needless to say, I like them a lot. The line up includes a Gatton Neck, S-Style (Strat) Middle and a Modern T bridge. I like the extra output of the Modern T, although it is a little over-powering when paired with the Strat middle.


I like the look and shielding of aluminum pickguards.  I prefer the industrial look of diamond plate, but I had a black anodized plate from Toneguard, so I went with this. While that was out, I replaced the stock bridge with a massive brass creation from Armadillo Guitars, including his three saddle compensated  set up. This is the third project that I’ve used Michael’s parts and have been very happy with the results. I restrung it and had some fun with it. Definitely a big change in sound with the electronics and bridge upgraded.


The true conversion happened once the package arrived from Warmoth: a 28 5/8″  baritone conversion neck.  The fretboard is Bloodwood with Jumbo Stainless Steel frets.  The nck itself is Wenge, wich is a dark wood with a bright tone. Up top are Gotoh locking tuners. The Warmoth Baritone conversion necks offer fewer options than their standard scale necks, with C-profile and 24 frets being standard and a 1 11/16″ nut width and a compound 10-16″ radius being the only option.  I prefer a flatter radius, but c’est le guerre.

The (semi) final set up was done at Mouradian Guitar, whom I’ve enjoyed great work from. Where this is new territory, we started on the conservative side.  Jon cut the nut so I could try several different string gauges, and it came with 13 – 56, which is what i use on most of my guitars for slide.  Although it played okay in B Vastapol, it was too sloppy in A Vastapol or D Spanish.  I swapped in a set of 18 -70 (with the 70 being at the upper limit of the Gotoh tuners.  Lighter gauge strings are probably fine for higher tunings or fretted playing, but that’s not what I put this beast together for.

It plays great, but the extra length takes a lot of getting used to. (I’ve knocked a lot of stuff over with the peg head.) Playing close to the nut requires a lot of reach and vibrato needs to cover more distance. Sliding from the fifth to twelfth  position seems like you’re cover two or three zip codes.  The heavy gauge of the strings becomes apparent in the low registers. There’s a lot of energy in the strings and it takes some pressure (and slide mass) to tame the fifth and sixth strings.  With the bottleneck at the 7th, 12th or 19th positions, if you’re not right at the mechanical null, you really feel the motion of the strings.  It’s pretty darn cool, in my opinion.


Plugging it in, overdrive needs to be kept to a minimum, or the sound goes to mud.  A little reverb or delay seems to be just fine and compression just make it sing.  I fooled around with a Leslie speaker emulator. The low speed seems to work well.  I’m not really big on a lot of effects anyway. To me, the extended range of this beast is it’s own effect..

Here’s some slide, clean tone, slide rig compression and some outboard reverb over a slow blues.  It’s going to take some getting used to, but man, what a blast to play!






Blues in the internet age

Without question, technology has dramatically changed the music scene. The internet has shattered the concept of intellectual property rights, sales of music has plummeted, touring has become the only reliable source of revenue for many artists – it’s a whole new world. There are many new challenges and with that, there are vast new opportunities to be explored.
I began playing consistently (after about a 10 year hiatus) about three years ago. Shortly after that, I acquired a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and the fun really began. I was amazed at what was now possible with a PC, software and some axillary equipment. 30 years ago, it would have taken racks of equipment and a six figure budget.
Additionally, hosting services, such as have spawned virtual communities of musicians and producers that cross borders, oceans and genres. 30 years ago, I was playing clubs, saving money to pay for time in a 16 or 24 track studio. Now, I record and produce in a tiny spare room, in between working two jobs with musicians from around the world that I’ve never met.
Up until now, the projects I’ve been involved with have generally been myself, or another producer having a concept, creating most of the tracks and having collaborators add a vocal track, or a solo, or fills. This has certainly yielded some great results.
This time around, I had a concept in mind, but not a full arrangement. It was also my first collaboration with Jamie Rhind. Jamie’s a very versatile keyboard instrumentalist from New York City. His influences are very diverse and seems to be able to play everything from fusion to honky tonk. (with regards to his playing with Hammond organ sounds, I sometimes refer to him as “Jamie D” as a nod the virtuosity of Joey Defrancesco). So, I sent out this demo and asked for just some basic ideas to run with, as a sort of “virtual rehearsal”. Here’s the original demo:

Gernot Baur was first to respond. Gernot hails from Germany and plays a mean Blues Harp, with a big, thick honking tone. His initial response was that the rhythm track was very busy, and gave me several takes to work with. Hearing his tracks, my mind headed to a rocking, Chicago style arrangement.
Shortly after Jamie came back with piano tracks, as well as a string bass line. (I was expecting funky B3 organ). My thoughts shifted to more of a Delta blues sound with a bit of New Orleans jazz thrown in for spice. Making a rough mix of piano, string bass and drums, I found myself reaching for my Dobro. I thought to myself “This has traveled a lot from where it started”. As I refined that thought, I came up with the concept and the title: Its a journey from the Delta to Chicago and how else would you get there besides on Highway 61?
The arrangement moves to more electric for Gernot’s solo, with a funky electric bass line. My slide solo has a bit more country blues flavor, where Justin’s final solo is somewhere between Chicago and Austin, with his characteristic howling vibrato.
The whole project went off almost without a hitch. Justin’s solo track file got corrupted in import and as we worked to correct the timing, my upload speed dropped to a crawl and Adobe Crash Player kept flashing, I mean Adobe Flash player kept crashing, which turned a quick fix into several hours of back and forth. (Working on it when sleep deprived from work the night before added to the festivities.)
Overall, I feel that this is much more of a collaborative effort and that everyone contributed to the overall sound, not simply added a track to an already established concept. I’m always thrilled and honored to get to work with such great musicians. I hope it shows in the end result.

Out of character?

Inspiration can come at interesting times.  I had some downtime last night at work and had a chance to play my travel guitar.  (It’s relatively quiet and almost everyone else was watching the game.) I went through a few exercises in various tunings and felt that I was in a bit of a playing rut.  My mind wandered and though of the evening sky in the mountains.  I’m not sure what possessed me, but I thought trying (yet another) open tuning (G melodic: D G D G A B) might inspire me.  It did.

When I got home today, I had the chance to record a quick demo.  Ambient pieces are not my typical fare, and yet it clearly took me out of my rut.


Another Partscaster: Big Red Truck II

In my younger years, I was obsessed with the outstanding tone and vocal-like phrasing of Duane Allman’s slide playing. As a result, nothing but Gibson, mahogany and humbucking pickups would do for me. For a long time, an SG was my weapon of choice.

After an extended hiatus from playing, I had been listening to a lot of Telecaster players:, Danny Gatton, Albert Lee and Roy Buchanan I loved the powerful bite of the the tone, the percussive attack, just the raw gutsiness of the sound. I figured I could always mellow the tone with EQ or soften the attack with compression, so my return to electric playing (I had traded my SG and Fender 75 amp for a Martin years ago) was a Made in Mexico Telecaster. Another great appeal of the Teles (for me) is the simplicity and modular nature of them. They’re a little like a Harley. You can always change parts. This is well evidenced by what’s left of my MIM Tele: The body and neck. Everything else is aftermarket.
At least for now, this is my primary guitar for slide. It’s generally tuned in Spanish G (D-G-D-G-B-D. Low to high). It’s strung with 13 – 56 (medium gauge) strings, typically with a plain third. It can be heard on this track wiht a bit of overdrive and with the JBE Gatton pickup set, it really howls:

My first real partscaster project started with a factory second alder body. Somehow, this project took on a life of it’s own, including my first lacquer finish, re-routing for a Nashville pick up configuration and countless changes. I thought I’d use it for slide, and ultimately, it plays too nice for fretted work, so that’s how she’s stayed. The color combination is a tip of the hat to the Chicago Fire Department.
Big REd TRu

The Nashville configuration along with the JBE pickups make it very touch-sensitive. (The pickups are not strictly a “set”: it’s a Gatton Neck, S-Deluxe Middle and a Modern T Bridge). All in all, a very versatile axe.
Clean Tone (w/compression):

A little overdriven:

Telecaster purists might look down their noses at the non-traditional electronics and hardware of both of these guitars, but the sound is still recognizably Telecaster. I was jonesing for a big, warm humbucker and mahogany tone. I a moment of weakness, I started on another project: Big Red truck II. I wanted Les Paul tone on a Telecaster platform. I also was interested in a project that would show off some wood, rather than cover it up with an opaque finish. The neck is by Warmouth, with a boat neck profile, mahogany with a Bloodwood fretboard. Tuners are Gotoh locking.

The body is also by Warmouth. I went with the Thinline, with rear control route and no pickgaurd. The wood is Black Corina, which has a tone similar to mahogany, with more interesting grain variations. In keeping with the “Let the wood shine through” theme, the finish is unfilled tru-oil.

As far as electronics, this is very straightforward: Fralin Pure PAF’s and typical 3-way switch. The 500K pots are push-pull switches: The volume bypasses a “Treble bleed” circuit and the Tone takes the tone circuit out of line. The bridge, neck plate and pickup rings are brass, made by The oversized control knobs were also made by Armadillo and feature NH Turnpike tokens inset in the tops.
Big Red Truck II

I like the overall look of the guitar and it plays great. Also set up with medium gauge strings, higher action and a 20″ string radius over a 16″ neck radius, there’s lots of clearance for all times of harmonics, fretting behind the slide and other fun tricks. IT has a warm tone clean, but really shines when some overdrive lets it growl!

“This one time, at Band Camp…”: Is a music camp for you?

The music camp concept has been around for quite a while. I’ve only become more recently aware of these offerings. As I am neither a lottery winner nor a trust fund baby, the cost has generally kept me from any thought further than “that would be cool.” The Robben Ford Traveling guitar dojo” caught my eye because of Sonny Landreth as special guest, but there are many things considered beyond the name(s) at the top. A few thoughts to ponder:

What’s your objective?

Are you looking for specific opportunities, or just to have fun and pick up what you can? Where are you, skills-wise? If you’re a rank beginner, you should examine what type of player they’re catering to. Likewise, if you’re at the top of your game, will the clinics keep you interested? Do the clinics and master classes align with your objectives?

What’s the total expected attendance?

Obviously, the more campers, the less individual time you’ll get with the specific faculty. Are their specific chances for private lessons or limited seating clinics? How are these allotted to students and how important are these to meeting your objectives? I was very fortunate to get a private lesson with Sonny Landreth, as were most of the campers that specifically identified themselves as slide players. There were only a dozen or so private lesson slots for 55 students. Are you okay with the possibility of not getting a private lesson?

Who else is on the faculty?

Needless to say, Sonny was the attraction for me. I love Robben’s playing, too. He certainly didn’t disappoint. Some of the pleasant surprises came from the adjunct instructors. Rick Wheeler provided immense insight into a huge variety of topics, from music theory, to engineering and production, to guitar set up and maintenance. Robben’s Rhythm section (Wes Little and Brian Allen) provided daily clinics that far exceeded expectations, and also provided additional playing opportunities. For me, even having the chance to talk informally with Sonny’s tech, Jimmy (although he was not on the faculty officially) was a great chance to learn about a lot of things, including the nuts and bolts of Sonny’s rig.

How is the camp structured?

Is it non-stop activities, or is it broken up? Does this suit your style and objectives? Along with that, are there other things to do when you’re not in a class, clinic, or playing?

What’s the host venue like?

The Dojo was hosted by the Full Moon Resort in New York’s Catskill region. Many of the accommodations are on the rustic side.) They had a range of rooms from private room with private bath, to shared bath all the way down to tent camping. I went middle of the road, to save costs, and it suited me fine. The food was spectacular and they always had alternatives for those with special dietary needs. Cell service was non-existent and there are no phones, TV or air conditioning in the rooms (WiFi everywhere and complimentary phone service in the lobby). THis suits me fine. If your idea of “roughing it” is slow room service, you might want to look for something more refined. What types of practice, performance and clinic venues do they provide? When are they available and will there be enough for the anticipated turn out?

What’s the experience level of the host with this type of event?

The Full Moon Resort has been running these camps for a long time. The experience shows. In this case, it was the first time for Robben Ford. It was not perfect. There were some minor issues of logistics, some problems with backline gear, but on the whole, things went smoothly. The key was that they were actively soliciting feedback and were very interested in hearing ways to improve.

Will the logistics be practical for you?

For me, the camp was a four hour drive. I certainly would have considered driving further, but it worked out well. There were many attendees that drove substantially further, from Metro Toronto (6 hours), even Halifax, Nova Scotia (14 hours). Many people flew in from as far as California, Brazil and even Australia. The concerns of air travel with instruments opens up a whole new can of worms in terms of logistics and cost that have to be factored in.

Is a camp right for you?

I can only speak for my own experience, which was overwhelming positive. By all means, consider one of these camps, if it appeals to you. Be certain to evaluate the offering against your objectives and expectations so you can make an informed decision.

Check out my recordings at:

Robben Ford’s Traveling Dojo Guitar Camp (Or: How I spent my summer vacation)

I’ve known of the existence of adult music camps for a while. None really caught my eye, despite many outstanding players, vocalists and songwriters that are featured. That was until I saw This camp listed on Sonny Landreth’s tour dates earlier this year.  Now you’ve got my attention.

This might fall into the “if I have to explain, you’ll never understand” category, but I’ll try. Why is Sonny Landreth the magnetic force that would pull me to drop a big wad of cash, take a week off from two jobs, pack the car and leave my wife and cats at home? First, I am primarily a bottleneck slide player. It goes much deeper than that, however. Sonny has developed a huge range of techniques (multiple open tunings, Ghost notes, synthetic harmonics, tremolo picking, fretting behind the slide, storing string energy behind the slide…) that allow him to paint with a huge palliate on his sonic canvas. While a week with Derek Trucks or Ry Cooder would certainly be of interest, this opportunity was too good to pass up.
An additional draw for me, came in a quote from Robben regarding the philosophy of the “Traveling Dojo”: “The important thing is to find the musician and the music in you. Once you learn the fundamentals, go your own way…”. I don’t want to sound like Sonny Landreth (not that I could), but his techniques can add to my ability to sound like me.

Ned with Sonny Landreth

Monday, I loaded the car and headed West out the pike and four hours (and a large iced coffee later), I arrived at The Full Moon Resort. It’s a classic old Catskill’s resort, not entirely dissimilar from the resort in the movie “Dirty dancing”. The campers were rolling in. The demographic trend became pretty clear: Male, and over 40. Geographically, there was more diversity. There were a fair number of us from the Northeast, but Florida, North Carolina, California, Missouri, Washington and Michigan were all represented. There were several from various parts of Canada, a couple from Brazil, Taiwan and even Australia. There were a couple of campers whose primary career was music, but largely, careers covered everything from construction trades to Physicians and Nurses. I was not the only firefighter, interestingly enough. There was a retired Jake from Orlando.

The meet and greet was held on the front lawn, which included the usual introductions, etc.. There also included mention of a family of local bears that had become a little too comfortable around humans and had been crashing the party as of late. Good to know.
After diner in the tent, we had a few minutes down time and up to “The Roadhouse” for the first evening concert. The venue would fit about 100 people legally, so the 55 campers, plus a few others made it comfortable. I put myself first row, on the stage left side, 10’ from Sonny. We heard Rick do a jazz number with Robben’s trio, then Sonny played a couple of tunes. Robben played a couple, then Sonny came back to join them. It was short and sweet, but a great start to the week.

There were two other practice venues, the barn and the billiard building. Various contingents of students opted to play late into the night (there, as well as by a couple of fire pits), but I was a little bit beat from the drive and crawled into the sack around midnight.
I was awake at 0600, and it was clear I wasn’t falling back asleep, so I got cleaned up and found the coffee urn in the café and took in the sights from the front porch. First order of entertainment was watching a bear get the bait our of the trailer mounted trap the State had set for him without tripping it. That not being enough, he scampered up an apple tree, shook his breakfast to the ground and jumped down for the second course. With his set finished, I figured I’d take a stroll and work on my coffee. I soon heard sounds drifting out of the billiard building and found Mark and Brent jamming away on guitar and mandolin. It didn’t long for me to wander back to my room and grab my tricone to join in. (And to think I was debating leaving it home?)

The general daily format was Breakfast, two master classes then Lunch. Two more master classes in the afternoon, then dinner, the concert and then various student jam sessions. The first master class was by Robben and the topic was rhythm playing. The general focus was on chord structure, and particularly, using triads to provide colorful voicings. The second class was on rhythm playing again, but with Wes and Brian, Robben’s rhythm section. Almost every student got to play and their feedback and critique was honest and positive. The only issue that cropped up was the backline equipment provided was “less than optimal.” It’s tough enough getting used to an unfamiliar rig, but both amps provided seemed to be giving every player a tough time. That aside, if there could have been more of any one thing available, it would be time with Brian and Wes. These two are outstanding.

After Lunch was Jazz Theory, with Rick Wheeler. While I had a lot of theory when I studied at Berklee, it was a long time ago. The review was very helpful, and Rick has a long resume as an educator and his teaching methods are very fresh and effective.

The last class of the day was with Sonny. Much of what he covered in this first session, chordal tunings, finger guarding, guitar setup for slide, etc., were topics I’m familiar with from his video course, it was great to see him run through much of this again, as well as hear him play several solo arrangements of tunes that truly highlight is right hand technique and ability to play multiple lines finger style.

After another great meal (the food at the Full Moon is spectacular, and always accommodating to those with dietary restrictions), it was time for another concert. It followed a similar format as the first evening. The additional feature tonight was having students sit in. This was done two at a time. These were chosen by drawing. Where I had already won a private lesson with Sonny, I was not disappointed. Unfortunately, there were still some issues with some of the provided backline gear, which certainly led to some frustration. Even Sonny was not immune from gear trouble. At the end of his solo, his volume suddenly dropped about 30dB. It happened right on the downbeat of the first beat of the chorus and the Rhythm section instantly dropped in dynamics. They, and all of us thought it was on purpose, just that Sonny hadn’t cued them. No. It wasn’t. In short order, Jimmy had it isolated to the pedal board and Sonny went on with just a back up Zen Drive and delay unit. He sounded just as good. True professionals all the way.

Another issue, that’s more problematic in a small venue, is that Robben likes a lot of stage volume. His 100 watt Dumble Overdrive Special seems to be perpetually turned up to eleven, and with his bright, percussive playing, it cuts through everything. With a relatively modest house system, it’s difficult to get the rest of the mix up to his level before you run out of headroom. I was sitting directly in from of Sonny and often had a hard time hearing his solo over Robben’s rhythm.

After the concert, again there were multiple chances to jam. With my ears ringing from Robben’s playing, my tricone came out and I found myself up a lot later than I expected, hanging out, playing and talking all things guitar, music and stuff in general.
Wednesday followed a similar course. Jamming over coffee, breakfast and then settling in to the master classes. First up was Robben’s master class on improvisation. He provided a lot of insight into many of the concepts that describe his unique style. A particularly interesting moment came when a student asked a question something like: “If you’re soloing over such and such changes, do think ‘Okay. I’m going to play in blah blah blah mode’? How do you think of what you’re going to play?” Robben’s response was classic: “If I have to think, it’s all over. I learned to play first and maybe that’s backwards. I learned this stuff later.” It was a bit of an epiphany for be, because I was reminded of something a Professor had told me at Berklee years ago, but had kind of gone over my head. I chatted with Robben about this later. I only wish I could remember who to attribute the quote to. “Theory will only describe your music. It will never define your music.”

Next on the schedule was the rhythm section clinic with Brian and Wes. While I truly enjoyed their clinics, next on my schedule was a private lesson with Sonny. I don’t think I’ve ever been so prepared for a lesson. I knew a half hour could be gone in a flash or last an eternity if I didn’t go in knowing what I needed to ask. Where I’ve seen a number of his instruction videos, including most of the “Slide supernatural” course, I was ready to try and squeeze out whatever I could in 30 minutes of face to face. What I got: exercises for dealing with tendonitis, exercises to build right hand independence, tips on right hand positioning for cleaner technique, positional playing for the left hand to maintain intonation while fretting behind the slide, as well as chord shapes when comping in open tunings. He also commented that my choice of slides (a piece of 12 ga shotgun barrel) was probably better than my usual thicker walled ceramic slide, where I’m dealing with some mobility issues in my ring finger (which I nearly lost in a work accident 17 years ago). He also commented on the oversized control knobs on my Tele (made by Armadillo guitar). He wrapped his pinky around the volume knob. “Yeah. I gotta try something like that.”
We covered a lot of ground in half an hour. He’s not only a great player and teacher, but also a very gracious guy. I headed outside to put my gear away, thinking I’ll have enough to work on for a lifetime.

I was talking with another student who had a lesson with Sonny the day before and agreed it was an exceptional experience. I was putting my guitar way and I hear over my shoulder: “Hey! If you don’t mind, don’t put that away just yet.” It was Jimmy, Sonny’s tech. We started talking about guitars, gear, Sonny’s amps and the pedal board Jimmy had put together for him. He’s truly a wealth of knowledge and a pleasure to talk with.

I had enough time to catch the tail end of Brian and Wes’ clinic before lunch. They are truly the groovemeisters and complement each other like few rhythm sections I’ve heard. The more I heard them play, the more I was impressed with their versatility.
The first afternoon class as with Sonny and he picked up where he had left off the day before. More on finger guarding, fretting behind the slide, right hand technique and his muting techniques while keeping the back side of the strings vibrating. He also touched on techniques for players (the majority of attendees) that use slide for only a portion of their playing and ways to work with a guitar set up with low action. He also touched on standard tuning and a favorite trick I used to use: “Half open G” tuning (dropping the 1st string a whole step). Naturally, we were treated to several solo tunes featuring a wide variety of his unique techniques. When you hear him play solo, it’s easier to understand how his trio can sound like a six-piece band.

The last class of the day was with Rick, a.k.a. “Mistah Wee!” on recording techniques for guitar. It was an enormous amount of information. Mic selection and placement were the core topics, both for electric and acoustic guitar. Conversation frequently moved into other aspects of recording, including tracking, mixing, and mastering. Often times Rick would illustrate important concepts with war stories from Robben’s recent release: “A day in Nashville”. (The project is true to its title. It was recorded tracked in once day. Due to record company pressure, it was mixed and mastered in two more.) The depth and breadth of Rick knowledge is amazing and only exceeded by his willing ness and ability to share it.

The free time between the last class and dinner is set up for photo ops as well as cocktails. There was typically a lot of conversations in the area around the front porch of the Valley View House (the main building at the resort). I was chatting with a couple of participants and the topic turned to the music business. The technological changes of the last few years have been very hard on artists. The internet has essentially destroyed the concept of intellectual property rights. With artists getting almost no income from sales and royalties, touring has become the source of revenue, and the recordings promote the live appearances, where it used to be the other way around. It seems that many artists are looking at camps such as this one as a new revenue source. John chimed in that he recently received a royalty check from Spotify for hitting 100,000 plays. It was for 17 bucks. No wonder there’s a class action suit against Spotify. (“John”, I realized a few moments later, is the former senator from New York, John Hall, better known to me as co-founder of Orleans.)

The evening’s concert was the last with Sonny, as he had to fly out to Albuquerque to play a gig at the zoo, of all places. The format was the same, Rick, Sonny, Robben, Robben and Sonny, Robben and Sonny and students. Again, great playing by everyone. Again, some backline problems for the guests and Robben stage volume dominating the mix. For the minor hiccoughs, still an outstanding show.

The music continued well into the early morning hours. The sound pressure levels coming out to the practice venues were certainly high enough to keep the bears from visiting. I once again pulled out my National and found a few like-minded players outside. Sometime around when a sensible establishment would be calling last call, I realized that shorts, a tee shirt and sandles were no match for the cool air of the Catskill evening and headed in.
The final day I was up a little later and the late night had me savoring my coffee a little longer. The morning master class was with Robben and the topic was Songwriting. While I would have love to have taken it in, the material from the private lesson with Sonny was racing around my head. I took the extra time to run through some of the exercises and enjoy some more coffee and fresh air. Everyone I talked to that attended it said it was very worth while. For me, I needed a little time to digest “the going’s on”, as Sonny would say.

The second morning session was to be the final rhythm section clinic with Brian and Wes. A minor change was made to help enhance the camp experience, which I think was a good call on the part of the organizers. There were a limited number of opportunities for private lessons which were awarded by lottery. They also had drawn for opportunities for students to sit in with the band during the evening concerts. (I certainly would have enjoyed that, but would not have traded my private lesson for it.) Because the attendance was well below capacity (about 55 out of a possible 100 slots), nearly everyone had either a lesson or a chance to sit in. Seeing only a handful of campers had not had either opportunity, they opened the first section of this clinic to the remaining campers to get to play with Robben and his trio. Needless to say, that made for some happy campers.

The remainder of the clinic featured a Q & A with Brian and Wes. These guys can really cover some ground. They covered the issues relating to back beat, laying back vs. staying on it, pushing ahead in swing, thickening the groove, all with countless examples of “how to’s” and hilarious example of “How not to”. I’ll admit, I would have loved more time with these two, but I was very happy for those how gain the chance to play with Robben and these two monsters of rhythm.

First up after lunch: Rick Wheeler’s “Care and feeding of your instrument”. Rick’s knowledge as a tech need’s little explanation. You don’t work as a tech for both Robben Ford and Larry Carlton if you don’t a: know your stuff and b: know how to listen to the musician and understand what they’re looking for (especially when they might not be the best at describing it to you). He described the basic set up process, explain how different variables effect different aspects of the playability and sound, and ran through how to get your guitar set up to best accommodate your playing (or at least describe to your tech what you’re looking for). Again, Rick’s knowledge is only exceeded by his ability to communicate it.

The final master class was in the roadhouse with Robben and his trio on rhythm section playing. The initial format didn’t really work for me. (In fairness, other campers commented that they found it helpful.) The general form was “Here’s how I rehearse a new tune. I guess I was looking for something more interactive. I found myself out on the back porch taking it in with a lower SPL until the final Q & A.

The final concert, despite not having Sonny, had great energy. Robben seem a little looser and the mix was the best of all the nights. He was very aware of the backline issues that had plagued the guest musicians and always check to be certain they were going to be heard. He was often seen cranking the master volume on a guest’s amp. Going into one tune, has asked the guitarist on the far side of the stage; “You loud enough?” When his guest struck a chord and nodded, he spanked his Tele and replied: “Are you sure?” and gave the upward thumb, not meaning “It’s good”, rather “Give me more!” (My colleagues who are pump operators would have known just what he meant.)

The final set included John Hall as a guest and they kicked through an amazing variety of tunes. My personal favorite was a spirited rendition of Bob Marley’s “I shot the Sheriff”. The groove coming out of Wes and Brian made me happy the roadhouse was built with old style construction. They could have easily knocked the gusset plates out and rattled the glue out of engineered timbers. The party continued well into the night. Eventually, it had to come to an end, but not without enough memories to last a lifetime.

The next morning I met up with Mark and Brent for coffee and a few tunes in the billiard house. It gave us a chance to discuss the experience and process an incredible opportunity to learn from some amazing players. There were a lot of sunglasses and slow walks in the tent at breakfast time, many were a little the worse for wear from the previous evening, yet everyone agreed, it was a great experience.

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Hey! Where’d all the tunes go?

I’ve been doing a some “Spring cleaning”, in the studio, in the shop and on line. I found my page has become very cluttered. In the interest of keeping things “neat and tidy”, I have removed several playlists and moved a number of older tracks that were not getting played to my site on . All tracks are still available to listen or download, and originals can be downloaded from my page on Bandcamp.

I have a number of projects outside of the studio keeping me busy, including a new second job, and building another “Partscaster” for slide, which should be done in July. Additionally, I’ll be taking master classes from two of my favorite guitar players later this some and expect to hit the studio with a vengeance in the fall. Thanks for listening!

Unlikely leader: He ain’t heavy

I occasionally get inspired to cover a classic pop song as an instrumental. Last fall, I recorded “He ain’t heavy (he’s my brother)”, the iconic power ballad made famous by The Hollies (and recorded by Neil Diamond, Cher and countless others). In reviewing the statistics from Soundcloud and other hosting sites, this recording has the odd distinction of being the leader in the download category. I guess I’m not the only sucker for a power ballad.