Thursday, April 30, 2009

Harp Tone Trouble and Diamond Rio?

Since our last show I have been a bit in my head about my tone and the way my harp is resonating in the sound of our band. My biggest dilemma is that I want a good crunchy Chicago sound on our blues songs, but for the others I need to maintain a more acoustic sound. I have thought about getting two different amps, one for blues one for more country, but have ruled that out as impractical. I looked into setting my amp on a very clean setting and then using some type of pedal to bring some distortion in. I used to play straight through a D.I. box running to the P.A. with a BOSS Blues Driver pedal for the blues songs, but that was never a very good sound. The Blues Driver with my amp just spikes too much feedback since it's essentially a gain maker. I looked into Lone Wolf Blues Company and their Harp Attack pedal, but don't think that will do the trick either. My rig I am playing through right now is as follows; Shure 545 S vintage mic to BOSS Harmonist octave pedal through a never used Blues Driver to my Hohner 5W Hoodoo amp. Right now I set the amp somewhere in between scooped and bright and use my hands and positioning to set the tone one way or the other. I cup tight for blues tone songs and the mic distorts great. I usually have an open hands approach for the acoustic tone and vary my distance from the mic so to not be overbearing in some parts. I also use a stand now for the mic since it helps a ton in all of this choreography for tone. I was hoping there was a simpler way to do it. It works fine for me right now, but eventually I would like to just carry the mic and not rely on the stand and all this hand and distance finagling. If you are reading this and have some good advice please leave a comment. I might have it better than I think and am getting manic over things, but I would love to see some suggestions on the matter.

In other news, I was just informed by our manager that we are playing this Saturday at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena opening up for Diamond Rio. The event is for the American Cancer Society and is their Roundup 2009 Cattle Barons Ball. I am happy to be a part of an event that is related to furthering our research in fighting cancer and whole heartedly support the American Cancer Society in all their efforts. There have been a few people in my personal life who have dealt with cancer and the terrible mess it tends to bring along. Live shows are fun, but live shows with good intentions are always better. We are the opening act before Diamond Rio goes on. Also, we will be the band playing for the after party once the formal concert is over. I have no idea what to expect for this one. The Horseshoe Arena is a big venue and sadly our sound equipment can't quite cover that much square footage. Will they provide sound? Are we borrowing Rio's rig? Are we just going to pump our P.A. to eleven and see how far the soundwaves go? No idea. We also don't know if we are playing on the huge stage or in a smaller convention area. I like shows like this where this is a lot to speculate about. It makes it more fun to see what turned out like you guessed in the end. I can't think of a Diamond Rio song off the top of my head, but I know they have a strong following. It'll be cool to see a larger band and sound crew hustling around doing their thing from the backstage perspective. I have never set foot in the Horseshoe Arena but I know it's the same place that many large touring bands play at when they pass through town. For instance Korn is playing there May 5'th. I've wanted to check the place out before but never had an incentive. The complex is a hundred plus acres and can accommodate an event for three thousand people or more. I think there are three or four different areas available to rent for an event like this on the grounds. For all I know, we could be playing on a couple of card tables in the parking lot. I really can't wait to see how all this goes down and of course, I'll let you know.

Something Witty......

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friday's show

The show this past Friday was a fun one. Jackson Lee Brooks Band opened for us to an enthusiastic crowd and set a good tone for the night. A great deal of their songs remind me of early Cross Canadian Ragweed stuff. The lead guitar had that same fuzzy distortion tone, that is prevalent in Cross songs. Tyson Kerby is the lead vocals for the group and does a good job steering the band through songs. Also taking part in vocals occasionally is Jarrel Brooks who plays rhythm electric for the band. He sang a good cover of Mickey and The Motorcars' "Twilight". The band as a whole is fairly new to the stage, but I could see that they were comfortable performing and had few serious hiccups. I'm sure they have enough staying power to be gigging for quite some time and will easily carve themselves a niche here in West Texas.

Our two sets were pretty vanilla in the spectrum of all the shows we've had. No one forgot any words or notes and the crowd was having a good time. I personally felt off for most of the second set. Some kind of funk settled in on me and it was hard to shake the mental block. I played my parts and solos fine, but I was a little lost in my head and kept finding myself really not liking my tone at this part or my phrasing in that last solo. Mental hoodoo is always frustrating and I've had those demons bouncing around in my head before on stage. It makes an annoying cycle where you keep being too hard on yourself while you're playing and at the same time can't really improve because you're focusing so much energy on your momentary flaws. I shook it off finally near the end with the help of the band's collective stage energy and was able to hop off stage, for the most part, satisfied.

There was talk about playing a show up near Amarillo next weekend, but I do believe that it never got hammered out all the way. The weekend after that we will all be celebrating Cody's engagement to his girlfriend Sarah and not playing any shows. The rest of May is going to be a busy couple of weeks sending us on the road to a few different places. I'm excited to have some more time to practice on my personal sound which has been bothering me slightly. Hopefully by the time I find myself on the way to our road shows i'll have some of those tone kinks hammered out.

On a harp side note I was thinking recently about buying a Harp Attack Pedal made by the Lone Wolf Blues Company. It is a tube powered pre amp pedal that gives a great deal of warm crunchy tone when used with a P.A. and some amps. I threw some e-mails back and forth to, I think the owner and builder of the pedals, and found sadly that it would most likely not be the best purchase for me. What was really cool though was that Randy, the man I had been talking to, was very helpful in telling me the pro's and cons of using that pedal with my rig. He had no problem losing a sale and giving the advice to hold off on buying one of his products since he wasn't sure it would provide what I was looking for. I really appreciated his honesty and good ethics. I urge any harp players out there to have a look at his products because they are bulletproof and are backed by a man with better intentions than solely profit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jackson Lee Brooks Band and Cody Hughes Davidson Band at the Hog Pit

Tonight we are playing at the Permian Basin barbecue cook off at the Hog Pit. Jackson lee Brooks is opening up for us and I have heard a great deal of good things about them. On a personal note my sister and our good family friend are flying in for the weekend to say hi. It makes the show much more special to me to be playing for family that never gets around these parts. Hopefully the night will go off without a hitch and it'll be a blast. Look for a review of Jackson Lee Brooks after the show some time this weekend.

If you're in a more southern region of Texas and aren't planning to be roadtrippin your way to our show, you should go check out The Duck Jam in College Station, Texas April 25'th. Clay Walker, Bad Company, Kevin Fowler, Band of Heathens, South Austin Jug Band, Seth James, Brett Crenshaw, Dr. Zog Zydeco Swamp Band, and a ton of others are all jumping on stage. Also to boot, there will be a great deal of other festivities including a barbecue cook off, crawfish boil, dock dogs big air competition, and monster truck rides. I apologise in advance for the masses of Aggies you will encounter, but aside from them it should be a great time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Short and sweet about last week

This last weekend was a great time. The Martini Glass Grill had not gotten its liquor license yet, but I could see the potential of the place as a great bar. I had the chance to eat their food and was very happy with the quality. I had the Prosciutto wrapped chicken stuffed with some kind of pesto and almond sauce. On the bad side it was a bit pricey. For instance, an eight ounce rib-eye steak was thirty dollars. Hopefully the prices will drop to normal people money once they have their liquor license secured. A little birdy told me that once they do start serving alcohol, there will be around a hundred and fifty different kinds of martinis to choose from.

Stephanie Briggs was a pleasure live as usual. She played most of her songs from "Birds Barely Know Us" her newest album. Also she played some favorites from "Spark" as well as some songs coming out soon on i-tunes that were left off her new CD. She played on a classical guitar while Matt Briggs accompanied her with a standard acoustic. Hearing the newer songs acoustic in that style was an interesting perspective and one I enjoyed.

Cody and I did an impromptu acoustic show during Stephanie's break. It was fun to play acoustic with Cody. It is strange how different it feels to play without drums, electric guitar, my amp, and all the other noise. It helped me zone in on what it is I do in spots of songs where I know no one is usually listening to me. Always fun to have a new perspective on a heavily played song.

Our show Saturday night opening for The Band of Heathens was a ton of fun. It looks like Midland has finally gotten the message about the heathens and the place was fairly packed. On our first song the lead vocal cut out three words in but after Troy, our sound guy, threw around some cables the set went smoothly. I got an ovation for a solo I played mimicking the high end trill dance that John Popper likes to do so much of and then I looked up and we were off stage. Good times never last long enough. The band of Heathens took to the stage and burned the place down. Every time I see them I am just in awe at how tight they are on stage and how flawless their live sound is. Go see them if you haven't it is worth whatever cover you're paying and it guarantees a fun night.

Next weekend we are headlining at the Hog Pit Friday for the Permian Basin Barbecue. The Jackson Lee Brooks Band is opening up for us. They are a brand new band, but have all the symptoms of being around for a while. Saturday at the Hog Pit Texas Renegade is playing. I will not be attending. My family will be in town for the weekend. Also I wouldn't want to be there and someone invite me up on stage for a harp duel with Kasey where I would have to destroy his brain with my skills.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stephanie Briggs + Band of Heathens= great weekend

Tonight (Friday 17'th o' April) Stephanie Briggs and the Oso will be in town playing at the Martini Glass Grill. The Martini Glass Grill is a brand new bar that has opened in downtown Midland touting a more refined night of drinking to its patron. I have never been, so I'll let you know how that pans out. Stephanie Briggs is cruising through town on her CD release tour for "Birds Barely Know Us" which is a fantastic album and I urge you all to pick this one up. After tonight's show she will be headed to Fort Worth playing at Woody's Tavern Saturday evening. It is always such a treat to catch her playing around "these here parts" and I'm happy to see other people becoming fans.

Saturday night we will be opening up for The Band of Heathens at the Hog Pit in Midland. If you haven't heard of this band yet, you should take a long listen. They are based in Austin and their sound is rooted in Americana, soul, blues, and southern rock. They put on a great show and always vibe well with the crowd. If you're in the area make sure to come catch the show. I'm excited to be getting back up on stage after our three week sabbatical. Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything too important, since work kept me from practicing with the guys this week. This will be a great warm up show for the schedule that will be gaining momentum all the way through late May. If you live in San Angelo, Ballinger, or New Braunfels, good news...we'll be seeing you soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Twitter you got me.....dang.

Well I've broken down and joined the Twitter band wagon. If you haven't heard about Twitter yet it is kind of like a bare bones version of Facebook. They tell you what other people are doing as they update their status (tweet) as well as on their profile there is a short bio, link of their choice, and picture. In the short time I have been using it I have run across some really cool people and sites. A big plus about Twitter over Facebook is that there aren't just people to follow. You can follow an array of channels such as CNN, Pitchfork media, the Onion, and so forth that update you regarding their pertinent information. My user name is Texharp and you are more than welcome to become a follower.

Speaking of followers, a side note, if you like what you've read here on this blog please feel free to become a follower. You get updated when there is a new post so you don't have to waste all that free time checking the site over and over again. Also, it's always an ego boost to know there are X amount of people who have an interest in what I'm typing. Just look over to the side bar and click on "follow". Now back to twitter talk.

I have found the bands I like through Twitter and now get updates about what they're up to and where they're playing. I've found other cool channels regarding Texas Music as well. Galleywinter is a Texas Music news website and forum spot that now has a Twitter page you can follow along with. Lone Star Music is a similar site that reviews and sells Texas Music and they have also followed suit on Twitter. Radio Free Texas the site that provides free streaming Texas Music as well as a strong forum for anything Texas is tweeting away too. Another great channel is the Twitter feed for Music Fog. This site covers Americana music and other good sounding independent acts throughout Texas and other regions. Recently in my SXSW post, I used their videos of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jimmy Lafave playing in Austin. The site is well maintained and a good one to follow.

Among the random and cool people I've found on Twitter is the blogger for AMP. He is a professional photographer for Joe's Bar in Chicago, which hosts great country acts as well as the bigger Texas bands every now and then. (Most recently Cross Canadian Ragweed and Stephanie Briggs had a show there) His pictures are great and really worth taking a look at. You can find his blog on my blog roll in the sidebar as well as through his Twitter profile.

Long post short, Twitter isn't too bad if you're already addicted to checking updates, e-mails, blogs, and friend suggestions. They have brought me to some interesting sites I wouldn't have known of before. It is certainly a worthy addition to those sites that give you that impulsive need to turn on the computer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Harp Mics

(This post is all about old microphones and harmonica playing so if this isn't your niche sorry for the bore, but read along and fill up on some random fact potpourri.)

Since the band has been on our two week break from shows I have had a lot of time to focus on my electric tone. The problem with people who play blues harp is that finding that perfect electric tone is a terrible cyclical process. You find a new amp, mic, pedal, or other electronic and pore over it for days, weeks, and months. You might even find a friend or a music shop where you can try out this tasty new gadget and see how it fits in with your sound. The day comes where you feel you know enough to spend enough and a new member of the chain comes home. After a handful of gigs or jam sessions the new thing breaks in and slowly slips into your now more robust tone. A few days later a tickle forms in the back of your head and the cycle begins anew. It feels at times like you will never find that perfect fit and that's probably the truth. There will always be a cool new gadget around the corner advertised to really fatten up that bottom end or bring out that old nasty Chicago crunch. At least we will never get bored with our hobby.

Through the years of playing I have amassed a collection of harp mics. These are some of the quickest ways to switch around your tone and thanks to ebay won't kill your budget. Also as you amass your microphone army it becomes a fun hobby. (Or an obsession to some) Each one of my mics lying around is a reminder of a certain point or memory in the time line of my playing. Also it's good to hold on to your old mics because as you progress you'll notice that some old mics sound a lot better with that new amp, pre amp, pedal or playing style you just picked up. Things change and it is always fun to have something around the house to remind you of how much that is true.

A random collection

Here's a brief overview of some of the mics I went through and have.
I started with a generic Shure Green Bullet 520DX. These are great starter bullet mics. My cons with this mic were its weight, feedback issues with some amps, and a personal funny feeling playing with bullet mics in general once I tried some others. It has a great acoustic tone which is good for bluegrass and the likes, but it has a hard time crunching up with the blues. Kasey Klepfer of Texas Renegade plays with one and gets a good sound out of it, but it's just not my kind of mic. Next up to bat was a vintage Aiwa mic which I liked a bunch, but it was too brittle to really ever play with except for at home. It had great bottom end tone and low low feedback issues but it was made in the sixties and time hates solders and rubber gaskets. I played with random P.A. stick mics along the way and really liked the shape of the mics over bullets. Out of all the current production stick mics I used I always liked the Shure Sm-57 the most. Jason Ricci and I believe John Popper both play with modified ones and that is about all the endorsement you need. It had a great frequency response and good all around sound to it. Personally they were great through a D.I. box with some pedals to fatten it up. Using an amp would have probably brought some feedback issues without a feedback buster or other helper gadget. After that I played with a Hohner bluesblaster for about ten minutes and returned it. This was my only return, but a good decision. It had a thin sound and wasn't worth the bloated price. The next was a Shaker Madcat microphone and it was one of my favorites. (I'm playing with it in the picture at the top of the page) It has an ergonomic design somewhat like a lavaliere mic. The element sat in your cupped hand and on the other side a volume pot stuck out of your threaded fingers. I have a lot of fun playing this mic because you can do a lot to change the sound while playing by adjusting the acoustics of your hands. In the end though the element was too small to hold a good full tone and I got the itch to move on. That brings us to what I'm playing with these days. It's a vintage Shure 545s unidyne II with the pistol grip. This is my favorite so far with very few drawbacks. There is little feedback and a ton of volume. The tone is very full and it distorts well in a hard cup. Without cupping the mic you get a very clean acoustic sound to your playing which really helps me switch between the blues songs and the more acoustic country harp songs just by fiddling with stance and my hands. One piece of advice is to buy back-up everything if you own a vintage piece of equipment and expect to play with it. My 545 uses a four pin XLR cable which is no longer in production and of course when we were playing in Lubbock at The Blue Light it decided to self destruct.

My current favorite mic in my bag.

Another thing to remember when considering harp mic is what you're playing through. Some mics are finicky about what they get plugged into. There is a world of difference for my mic when played through my amp compared to a direct line to the P.A. system. Sometimes certain amps just don't want to play nice with certain mics. When I first got my Hohner Hoodoo Box amp I plugged in my Green Bullet. I thought the amp was broken at first. I had to almost full crank the knobs to get a sound and sadly that sound was all feedback. eventually I got it all tweaked to work, but soon after realized that the pair just weren't going to work out together.

The best advice that is always drilled into any discussion about improving harp tone is always the same. It doesn't matter what you're playing through if you suck. So keep playing and wood shedding and that tone will come with much more ease once you plug in.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Things Going On

Our band has been off for the last week and we won't be playing again until April 18'th because of scheduling conflicts. We will be opening up for The Band of Heathens at The Hog Pit. They are a band based in the Austin area with a ton of talent. If you haven't had the chance to listen to them I urge you to. This weekend they are playing at The Grit N Groovefest hosted by Ray Wylie Hubbard down in Luckenback. This is the first year of the event and surely not the last considering Hubbard's great music and his devoted fan base. Along with the Heathens other acts will include Patty Griffin, Charlie Sexton, Omar Dykes, Sam Baker, Ray Wylie Hubbard and many others. If you live in the hilly parts of Texas I would try to put it on the top of my to do list this weekend.

Stephanie Briggs and The Oso released their new album yesterday titled "The Birds Barely Know Us". This was a long time coming for people waiting on it, but it has turned out to be well worth it. The album has been in my truck's CD player since I pulled it out of the mail. This is a good album and it has an array of songs that could just as easily appeal to you or that person over there you think is your bizzaro nemesis. Invite him over, open a beer, never mind that growth on his neck you guys are listening to some good music. This album comes after Stephanie and Matt (The Oso) signed with 36D management who also represent Cross Canadian Ragweed, Randy Rogers, Seth James, and Micky and The Motorcars. She recently skipped around the western U.S. with Cross Canadian Ragweed opening up for them on their tour to California. when they finally reached the coast she polished the last bits of this album and set it to wax. Buy the CD and show greatly deserving musicians some love.

Stephanie Briggs and The Oso.
(photo by Stephanie Briggs)

After our break, the month of April appears to be a fairly fun one for the band. April 18'th we will be at The Hog Pit in Midland opening for The Band of Heathens. The 24'th we will be headlining for the Permian Basin BBQ cook-off also in Midland. These will be some fun shows leading up to our string of road shows in May. Come on out if you're around, and if you live someways away keep on reading and maybe we'll make it there eventually.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Waiting on the internet

Sorry for not posting recently. I am currently moving apartments and will have spotty "borrowed" wifi access for a bit until we can schedule a cable/internet set up for the new home. I'll probably be back posting this week or even tonight, but the frequency will be spotty until the internet is hooked up and flowing.