Ah! The fresh smell of spring wafts o'er the mud! Pepperbox Studio is still surrounded by a couple feet of snow on all sides, but we've been recording like the dickens.
Bow Thayer in laying down new tunes for the Holy Plow, our acoustic project. I myself can boast of many new guitar tracks and a bunch of editing, which keeps me on my toes.
We went to last Saturday night to hear Mavis Staples and came home with a massive crush on Rick Holmstrom's guitar playing, and his whole combo just knocked our socks off. Unfortunately Billy Bragg cancelled out of the show but I was not disappointed with the evening.
Playing today with Doug Perkins my faithful friend and guitar genius; a little background music for the opening of the new reading/writing space at L.A.C.E. in Barre, VT, of which I am on the advisory board. Many thanks to the early efforts of Crystal Zevon, Anne Loecher and Mark Alexander for getting this project off the ground.
First day of spring, equal parts snow and mud. I just barely made it up my road tonight between the ruts and the slippage.
Okay, I do like this playing out of state thing. Our gig Saturday night in Hingham MA at the Coffeehouse Off the Square was really fun. Maybe its not the world tour I dreamed of in my twenties but maybe I didn't know how much fine fellowship there is to be had playing regional venues in New England. Our hosts including but not limited to James and Eric brought their high level of organization to the show and made our experience on and off the stage easy and comfortable. Thanks to all of the volunteers, and the enthusiastic audience folks who turned out to see their hometown boy Bow Thayer and the infamous Holy Plow. It was great to meet Bow's parents, sister and family, and get a taste of the beauty of the south shore. Lots of history down that way, well cared for beaches and old fashioned hospitality.
Had a hell of a good time working on a guitar part Friday for Hopkers - a waltz. Should be appearing on a CD in 2011. And - wow - another productive session Thursday night with singer-songwriter Julie James working on her vocals. Bring it on! Can't wait to get all the songs up to snuff with Julie's fabulous vocal colors.
Without telling who it is, there is someone in my studio working on the Donovan song "Sand and Foam" so i took it in hand last Friday and added my two cents worth: two guitar parts floating around the basic track. Boy oh boy that was fun! It took all day to get it right, but this is why I do what I do: because it's too much dang fun.
I got behind on hauling wood into the house, where it needs to come to dry before we can burn it in the wood stove. It won't be long before spring warmth and our ritual shutting down of the large, outdoor wood boiler, at which time we'll become totally dependent on this indoor stove for heating. So before our gig on Saturday, I cranked on NPR and moved wood. It's one of my favorite things to do actually and provides a much needed balance to all my sitting in front of computer screens.
Saturday night we played in Plymouth, NH at a fantastic new venue called The Flying Monkey. This venue has been renovated to include terraced cafe seating in the back of a 400 seat (my guess) former movie theater, with dinner available along with popcorn, junior mints and cabernet. It was a gig we were invited to play by Aldous Collins and his rockin' band, who were headlining the bill, along with Senayit Tomlinson who provided a stunning opening set. The best part for me this: just as we were about to go on stage, this nice fellow Dave materialized in the wings to introduce us, evidently the promoter and director of the venue. Within minutes we figured out that yes I have a brother and that yes Dave is one of his best friends, dating back to the metal band The Jealous Dogs they started together in Boston, many years ago! Turns out his whole name is Dave Christensen and the fact that he is running The Flying Monkey means we will absolutely have to go back there and develop our audience in the Plymouth area. Great food, stellar sound system, friendly vibe, beautiful redesign of a theater that might have fallen by the wayside.
This week working on the new Holy Plow CD. Bow was over on Monday to track his banjo parts, and yesterday I sorted takes for the best of the best and added guitar. Just in time for the red-wing blackbirds return and all that creative inspiration that comes with spring!
You know rehearsing has its benefits, such as tighter intros and endings to songs, clearly delineated harmony vocals and connecting without a sound system in the natural, acoustic light of day. We enjoyed this luxury Sunday before our set at the Pickle Barrel, up on Killington Mountain. Yes it was the day of record-breaking snow and it was starting to come down just as we headed up there. My hat flaps reputedly of wolf fur were very much the necessity, as we unloaded our vehicle in blinding, sideways snow of a sharp, granular nature. Someone needs to publish a snow dictionary in Vermont, because the Inuit have nothing on us this winter in terms of how many different kinds of snow have been falling.
We opened for the Nashville-based bluegrass band The String Dusters as the weather worsened and brave souls gathered in the warm and friendly ski bar. The Dusters brought their own sound man Drew to run some fancy in-ear monitoring and house sound apparatus, but Atomic Sound out of Rutland had also sent up Vic, who did a fantastic job running sound for us. We learned that Cleveland is Vic's home town and that his work with Atomic keeps him on the east coast for months at a time, which impressed us. On this particular night, even getting to Rutland was looking iffy. It was hard enough just walking next door to the Sushi restaurant to celebrate Lori's birthday before which went on, which wasn't until 10 p.m..
We heard through the rumor mill at the bar that roads were closing, Route 4 west over the mountain for treacherous conditions, and also east into Woodstock: an ice jam and flooding. Despite this information we lingered and let ourselves get sucked into listening to the whole of the String Dusters long set, with its incredible musicianship and good cheer. It must have been close to 1 a.m. when we packed up and got out of there, driving in tandem and behind our friend Matt and his plow truck. Even so, it was not easy to get through Route 107 with a foot of snow on it (never seen that before) and it coming down fast and faster. Wouldn't you know, after a great and successful effort getting up the last hill, I got stuck in the road just shy of Bow's driveway - but when the town plow showed up I was determined not to block it so with some driving skills I didn't know I had I rocked my mighty Subaru back and forth, finally cresting the threshold. Needless to say I didn't even think about trying to get all the way back to Chelsea that night. But we all seemed to be in agreement and reinforced of the opinion that we love living in Vermont in great measure due to the joys of experiencing many amazing forms of seasonal changes, weather and conditions.
It's the last thrust of winter so time in the studio has felt uniquely deep, with many feet of snow and gale force winds swirling around up and over the studio skylights. If it weren't for the leaking water, I'd love the skylights entirely, with their ability to bring in the clouds, sun, the moon, the stars and catch pieces of weather, detain them and display them as we look from below.
It was an intense week of work and process, with Julie James in the studio the last week of February, digging down into the heart of her repertoire of songs to express what is emotionally true. Our mutual attitude of wanting to get it right despite the extra imposition of reworking things mid-session helped us navigate to some amazing final tracks. I want to thank Julie for inviting my ideas to enter collaboratively allowing us to enhance an already powerful set of songs. We've been trading off guitars right and left, this acoustic, that acoustic, this electric, that semi-hollow body ... whatever serves the song best. Also great meals around the kitchen table, much laughter and the sweet smell of sage and cedar smoke. Thanks also to her partner Shannon, for witnessing the work quietly and adding important insights at just the right moment.
It wouldn't be honest if I didn't note that last weekend, the Scottish band the Tannahill Weavers showed up at 9:30 p.m., right at the tail end of my week long session with Julie; literally we were still in the studio when their van pulled in, a day early, due to predictions of bad snow on the way. This was a pre-arranged home stay, as per the request of my long-time friend and fellow promoter Todd Tyson who was presenting them down at the Tunbridge town hall and who knew my house was big enough to hold an army. Long story short, after a 15 minute once-over, their manager deemed my house unfit accommodations. Okay, It was an enormously busy week and I did not have time to clean the cat box or vacuum as I normally might have, but the air becoming embarrassingly thicker like it did threw me for a loop. I like people and had prepared a few niceties for them - and this from a band once know for it's drunken brawling?
Needless to say, when I heard the van pull out as I was backing up files on my computer upstairs, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Sunday 2/27 held great delights, some unexpected. We were booked into Sandy's Books and Bakery in Rochester, VT and at the last minute realized Patrick could not join us. So we invited local fiddler Spencer Lewis of Bethel VT and his fiddle to sit in and got in ourselves early enough to catch a pre-show poetry reading by poet Gary Margolis of Middlebury VT in the midst of Sandy's dinner cooking and general good will that just oozed all over us. I was just so pleased to be consorting with poets, chefs, musicians and music fans at one of my favorite spots in Vermont that I must have glowed driving home over Rochester Gap after the gig that night, with a big old cardboard box of Sandy's food to-go balanced on my knee. This to me is heaven on earth.
This week I finally got to working on the tracks of our newest Holy Plow project, which we have been recording in snips and snaps around our gig schedule. The procrastination gene kicks in somewhat on any day I expect myself to show up in the studio and work hard alone, but once I get going, it is the best work I know. I have gotten a huge amount of work done including editing fiddle tracks, creating and recording my own guitar tracks and harmony vocals, and mixing. We often record the first track of Bow's songs flying fast in front of a couple mics in the late night hours fueled by gas station wine, so I'm never quiet sure what we've captured or what I'll have to work with until I come back to it in the light of day. I'm almost always thrilled to have such great material to work with and be inspired by. I came to good, solid mixes of three new songs: "Good Morning Olive", "Cowgirl Madonna" and "Diesel Jane" by yesterday and sent out mp3s to the boys with my fingers crossed.
Did I mention that I'm passing along the bookkeeping responsibilities for Froggy Bottom Guitars to a much more dynamic business person Adam Buchwald? Adam not only repairs, builds and plays stringed instruments with expert skill but has offered to take on some of the gnarlier aspects of running a successful guitar company from the numbers side. We're all very excited to get to the next level of efficiency and organization, hoping that in part these changes will allow owner/founder Michael Millard to finally get his fishing rods back into action.