Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In The Beginning...

In the beginning, my wife's Aunt Norma's Motorola AM/FM tube radio sat on the floor waiting for me to decide what I should do with it. Aunt Norma figured that if anyone had use for an old radio with tubes in it, that it would be me. I did pull the back from it a few weeks ago just to check out what type of tubes operated the unit. She had told my wife that one tube didn't work.

I found the usual array of radio/television type tubes, which I am not familiar with because they are never applied in musical instrument amplifiers. I've buttoned the radio back up or I would name them off here. There was one nice Motorola 12AX7 which I've identified as a Mullard. I pulled it and tried it in one of my amps and it does have a sweet sound for a tube that's been at it for 50 years. By the way, the Motorola label completely disappeared after that short test run. Glad the paint stuck on there long enough to tell me that it was a 12AX7. I wouldn't of had the knowledge to identify it and tell it from its close cousins. I did recognize the rectifier as being common in smallish guitar amps--EZ80 or maybe it was EZ90, one of those.

The radio is a table top model, but with nothing indicating which model. At some point I may delve into the electronics and spark something up, but what I decided to do yesterday was check out the two speakers hanging on either side of the radio. Each speaker box could detach from the unit and be spread out about 10 feet from the radio. I figured from the get go that they possibly would make decent harp amp speakers with a little alternate wiring.

First, though, I wanted to try and identify what I had. Removing the back of one of the little cabinets revealed a 6" alnico speaker with "Golden Voice" stamped on it, with code numbers on the side. Through the marvels of the internet, I discovered that I had two 1962 Oxford alnico speakers and that convinced me to continue my little experiment. I checked the Ohms and got a reading of 6.9 ohms at the terminals and since I would be using an amp that prefers an 8 Ohm load, I decided to wire them up for half of that--figuring that lower would be better with a tube amp. After wiring the speakers together with a spare 15' speaker cab cable on which I kept one 1/4" plug attached to plug into the amp, I found that the Ohms read 5.4 at the end of the plug--so the load may just not be as low as I figured since the length of the wires came into play.

Bottom line is that I plugged these dudes into my Voice of Music 8 watt amp, wailed away, and got some really nice rawkus tones going. I had a bit of fun sticking the speakers around me in different positions and playing with the acoustics they provided. Of course, these will seldom have a use outside of my house, but within these walls, they be cranking. Anyway--

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lone Wolf Harp Break

Yipee Ki Yi Yay II! Randy Landry, over at the Lone Wolf Company, has been in his mad science lab again and has another winning pedal to help us harp players achieve the tonal nirvana that we all seek. This time, though, I've got my hands on his latest creation called the Harp Break--and the best part is that it was FREE! Followers of my posts here have read my glowing reports of his inventions and possibly listened to the linked demos. I've been very, very tempted to buy one or more of his gizmos, but my playing out days are so limited that I've just haven't done it. My loss.

He ran a contest for the new Harp Break and I won--I didn't have to play harp better than anyone, he simply drew my name from his hat. Luck of the draw, thank goodness. The Harp Break is a distortion type pedal designed to add grit, grind, and fat to an amp that's a bit too clean sounding or to plug directly into a p.a. for a tone that has more mojo or just to twist a little variety into your favorite harp amp. Click on the link in my opening sentence and check out his site and scroll down to the Harp Break in the sidebar and take a listen to the demos. Houston harp whiz Dave Nevling shows just how well the Harp Break performs through his p.a. at a live gig and Ron Sunshine puts the pedal through its paces plugged into a Fender Bassman Reissue. I'll let that web page fill you in on the pedal's details and I'll fill you in on what my impressions are here.

First off, it is very simple. I like simple. The Harp Break has three knobs--drive, volume, and bass boost. Plug and play baby. The true bypass feature makes for seemless A/B testing. The first thing I stuck it to was my Ol' Smoky amp (described in one of my very early posts). It is a Bell Sound 3725 p.a. amp, driven by two 6L6 tubes, that I rejuvenated quite some time ago, but never really got it to produce the tone that I wanted. Enter the Harp Break. Using my JT30 style 5 meg crystal mic to push my harp notes, the Ol' Smoky suddenly sprang to life with the pedal. The volume increase before feedback was significantly substantial--the presence jump out at me and the bass boost gave it more whomp. That really caught me by surprise. I played around with the drive knob and it added or substracted the amount of grit that I wanted it to put out. The only trick is to balance the drive with the volume to avoid too much clipping or feedback. I wound the volume wide open and eased the drive knob up to get some great tone and then I backed the volume down and wound the drive knob up to get something slightly different going on and achieve a bit of tonal variety. I got what I liked best with the bass boost up 3/4, the drive a bit past a 1/4 and the volume up at slightly less than 3/4. The Ol' Smoky was smokin'.

I pushed this all through a couple of less than optimal 10" speakers, just to see if I could get a decent tone from them for a change--and they came alive with the Harp Break. Once I plugged the rig into my 4x10 cab with Webers, I had a tonally different animal on my hands. It rocked!

My experimental session moved on to my old Voice of Music amp with two 6V6 tubes, which also had something lacking in the tone department. Again, the first thing I noticed was the volume boost. The sound just leaps from the speakers. The Harp Break transformed the amp from one that was so-so into a blues harp amp that I enjoy playing now.

I then put the Silvertone 1483, which I heavily modded for harp, through the test. Of the four channels, I've got a couple that are set up more for crystal or ceramic mics and they need absolutely no help getting the vibe going. The 1483 gets my favorite tone when plugged into those with a crystal mic. I can't play my controlled reluntance or controlled magnetic microphones through those because the tone gets clipped too hard and chops the notes off. They sound decent through the other two channels,especially it I tack my J-Phat impedance matching box into the signal chain. So, channels one and two were excellent candidates for the Harp Break to work its magic. And, man, did it ever. Those channels rival my crystal mic inputs when the Harp Break kicks into action. The bass bomp from the cystal channels always seemed to be missing on channels one and two--not any longer. Now my CR/CM mics can get those cranking with the Harp Break cranking. Oh, and my crystal mics are just as awesome through those channels, because the pedal performs the same buffered impedance matching as my J-Phat.

Okay. That's my story. Not the end. Just the beginning. The Harp Break got me off my butt and has me practicing like I should have been doing all along. Long live Lone Wolf. I thought Randy would have run out of ideas for pedals by now, but he just keeps coming up with winners. Check 'em out. Anyway--

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Cowbell Please!

Alabama Mike
Day to Day
Jukehouse Records

Ever heard of Mike Benjamin? No? How about Alabama Mike? Me neither, until I kept seeing advertising for his debut CD Day to Day. I mentioned him back in June in the post entitled, Ramble On. I also stated that since it looked like that guitarist Steve Freund and harpguy R.J. Mischo were on board that it just might be a worthy release. As it turns out, it is--but don't go out and get it based on my reasoning. Those two exhibit their talents on only two cuts each. Just get this to hear a new guy on the block sing the holy heck out of some traditional blues styles.

He may be called Alabama, but Mike woos them on the West Coast and is surrounded in the studio with plenty of those cats from out yonder. Seems like the days of making a go of it as just a blues shouter passed several decades ago--with the likes of Big Joe Turner, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy T-99 Nelson, and Jimmy Rushing. For a long time now, the blues has revolved around laying it down with guitar, piano, sax, and harmonica and if you could belt out lyrics along the way, well, so much the better. So many of the aforementioned singers fronted bands that swung more than just blues--lots of R&B and big band jazzy stuff. NOT Alabama Mike. This cat is a BLUES singer.

Day to Day is just chocked full of what the blues is all about. Most of it is of the gritty, down-in-the-alley, gutbucket type, which is illustrated quite well by the slam bang sliding whines of Jon Lawton's guitar. I'm not a guitar guy, but it sure sounds like he's got a Resonator cranked up on the title track, along with Mike's intense vocals. Did I say intense? Wait until you hear him channel the ghost of Son House on Death Letter Blues where he gets absolutely ferocious. Oh, and I just thought Lawton's slide was nasty on the opener, as he proves he knows his Book of House also and really bangs the box.

Charle Wheal (of Mark Hummel's Blues Survivors) slaps on the straps to get a bit more B.B. Kingish on Religion, which showcases what the Alabama guy can do with penning blues lyrics. I mean, really, how can someone talk to you about religion when they give you so much hell--that's what he's talkin' 'bout. Seven of the ten cuts are his originals and they are solidly written blues stories. The weakest may just be the one chord boogie, Lay My Money Down. That type of groove doesn't call for a lot of lyrical invention--just boogie on. The aforementioned Son House tune, Willie Dixon's Too Many Cooks, and two Elmore James' tunes (Strange Angels and Knocking At Your Door) are nicely sung covers, or should I say nastily sung covers. He has quite a bit of Buddy Guy melded with B.B. in his delivery.

With all the slide playing going down on this disc, neither of the two Elmore James'cuts have a whiff of the bottleneck. Charles Wheal breaks down the former and Freund stabs nice single picked licks on the latter--he even throws a bit of broomdusting on it. Speaking of Dust My Broom, that exactly the vibe that Lawton brings out on Sara Brown when he breaks that nasty ol' slide back out. It kind of bounces into Freddy King's Tore Down territory also and that's kind of how this CD goes. Most of the songs remind me of some other blues song from back in the day, but that's alright mama, mama that's alright. By the way, R.J. does blow the reeds away on Sara Brown.

I've never heard of Scot Brenton before, but his blues harp tones are pretty tasty on a couple of the cuts. I have to keep tabs on this guy, because he also plays rhythm guitar and waves the wah on Naggin'--which brings me to the point of the post title. Sorry it took so long to explain why I stole Christopher Walken's legendary line from my son's favorite Will Farrell Saturday Night Live skit. I'm just not used to seeing cowbell listed in the credits of any song; and there it is, Myles Silveira: Cowbell. So, there you have it. I don't know, but he must be related to the drummer, Scott Silveira, who ramrodded this project and brought a wonderful vocalist out of the shadows for us all to hear. Oh, yeah, John Nemeth sits in on harp on I've Been Rocked and is excellent per usual--BUT don't buy this for the harp playing, because with only five out of eleven cuts having harp it may disappoint you. Buy it and discover a new real blues singer. Anyway--'nuff for now.

100 Posts Old

Yipee Ky Yi Yay! I guess a celebration is in order since I just noticed that my last post represented #100 for Back In The Day and the Bushdog Blues. What a milestone! Naw. Some folks write a post a day and since my first post appeared in April 2008, well, I'd say that I'm way behind that curve.

Now that I'm a novelist (unpublished, but what the hey), my research indicates that most bards are sort of expected to promote the fact that they write and plan on publishing or have published and should promote what they have written in a blog. Part of today's Marketing 101 for publicizing the published. Many, if not, most published authors also have a website dedicated to getting the word out there and information as to just how to order their latest (or the one before that and the one before that, etc...).

Many of these blogs have oodles of information in regards to writing right (at least in their blog roll sidebars). We can follow them through the trials and tribulations of the tasks facing their writing efforts and read the myriad of comments egging them on to stick with it and get her done. In some cases, they'll post unpublished snippets of their unpublished work in progress.

You might say that this post here is an example of what I probably should be doing. Writing about my writing. Maybe I'll start up another blog, someday, for doing just that. In the meantime, I'll just blog about the blues as the muse strikes (and mention my unpublished novel on occasion, since it does contain a little blues). Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Guitar Hero Update

The son-in-law Brad came in with my daughter Megan this weekend and he was bearing a gift for my guitar prodigy son, John. The initial plans were to travel to Dallas to visit them, but Brad had his eye out for a Reverend guitar and the Backstage Pass Music Center in Waco just happened to be on the way to our house and just happened to be one of the closest dealers to Dallas. Hard to believe that Dallas doesn't have a dealer.

So, Brad came in and lit John's eyes up with a Dunlop Crybaby 535Q Wah pedal. It is the copper model, which according to Brad's axe mate, Justin, just may be better than the models on the market today. It didn't take long before they were wah-wahing the dickens out of the air.

John plugged his new Cruzer into the Sear 5XL (which, by the way, he's getting great distorted tones from now) and Brad plugged his brand new Reverend into my Kalamazoo. I thought I could remember the Reverend model that Brad bought, but alas, I can't. Really nice looking and sounding guitar, though. Meant to get pictures of the two jammin' down--Brad even mentioned it once, and alas again. Not like me to disregard that type of photo op.

John's rendition of Voodoo Chile sounded really good with the wah waving the notes around. He and Brad bounced back and forth and then I brought out my Dan Echo to give Brad's Reverend a little alternative vibe. Brad has been a very positive influence on this new hobby of John's and had some nice licks to throw at him. Things got wild when he suggested to John to chain both pedals together. Can you say psychodeliac?

They spent some time afterwards looking for wah-wahed guitar examples on the Internet, so I just had to break out my Earl Hooker and lay some of his Wah Wah Blues on 'em. They were impressed. Not too many bluesmen took to that pedal like Hooker did.

John's playing is progressing rapidly. He impressed his guitar teacher (of only three lessons), who said that he has never been able to move so fast with a student and that he thought that John could actually teach guitar. Don't know about that, but he sure picks things up quickly. Now, to lock him in a room with some Hubert Sumlin and Otis Rush. Anyway--'nuff for now.

P.S.--I'll get Brad to send me a photo of the Reverend and post it.
P.S.S--Here's Brad's Reverend Charger 290 & his Fender Blues Deluxe:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let's Just Say I Write

At some point, I guess I'll consider myself as a writer. I have been doing that for a good portion of my adult life--dating back to my days in the journalism department at Southwest Texas State University (still hurts my jaws to say Texas State). Back then, I wrote pieces for the campus newspaper and magazine.

I taught high school students how to write for their newspaper and yearbook in my journalism classes. During that time, I wrote articles for the school district's newspaper and began to try my skills at freelance writing about the subject that I knew best--blues music with an emphasis on the role of the harmonica. I've pumped out oodles of articles and music reviews over the years and I'm pretty sure that I made a grand total of $50. The blues sure could give a writer the blues. I do have have dozens upon dozens of CDs that publications considered to be my pay. Pretty positive that I really liked only about a dozen of those and haven't listened to the rest since I wrote about them.

I still never called myself a writer. Others have introduced me as such, but it hasn't been a term to which I labeled myself.

Now that I no longer have the high school teacher identity to fall back upon, lets just say that I write. If that makes me a writer, then that's okay with me. If I needed to have made oodles of money at the craft to be considered a writer in some people's mind, let's just say that I'm working at that. You might say that I've spent a good portion of my life writing in spite of the pay. Could say the same thing about my teaching career also, though.

Having written and revised my novel, which by the way is now entitled River Bottom Blues, I've been slogging through the process of trying to find an agent with the query-go-'round. Write to them and pitch the story with maybe a few pages thrown in and sit back and wait for the rejections to pile up with automated responses, such as--"Thanks, but sorry that it is not right for me", "Lovely ideas, but it doesn't fit what we want" and so on and so forth.

I've been studying up on the process of networking within the industry. Seems that maintaining a blog or a website is almost mandatory for writers and most of the blogs are aimed at writing and writers and the industry. This blog here doesn't fit that mold, but what the heck. Also, have you ever sat around on a clear night and just wondered how many billions of stars are beaming down? Well, my research indicates that there are just about that many NEW writers working at getting something published.

You know what, though? It doesn't really matter if my work gets published, because I wrote it and I like it. So, ask me what I do now and I'll tell you--I write. Call me what you want. Anyway--