Tag Archives: Folk

All About My First Guitar

Back in the mid-70s I took it into my head that I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly why, but there was a great chance that my about to turn 15 year old brain was thinking… “How to attract the female sorts!”

Yeah, I wasn’t alone in that then or now. Watch a lot of “history of this or that band” programs and you’ll hear many guitarists agreeing with my motivation.

So I asked my mom if I could have one for… Christmas I think, or maybe my birthday, and she went off on a classic mom rant. “Oh sure! It’ll be like your clarinet and you’ll never practice.” etc. etc.

Mind you, she conveniently forgot that she’d forced me to take clarinet in the grade school band class, when I really wanted to play drums. Being a temperamental new teen I huffed, “Fine! I’ll get one myself!”

Cue the fresh mom rant about how I couldn’t keep a part time teener job long enough to afford such a thing. Blah, blah, blah. I stormed into my room in an even greater huff, with a side of raised dander. Why? Because that’s where my comic books were!

You, gentle reader, may be thinking “Pray what, Mr. Hobbit, do comic books have to do with getting a guitar?”

Gosh I’m glad you asked! I don’t know much about today’s comics, but in them days the the back covers often had splashy ads for a couple companies that did the same thing. I only recall one of the company names and I’m not sure it’s the one I went with, but to give you an idea of what they were about the name I do recall is Junior Sales Club of America.

Both of them sent you a starter sample pack and you went door-to-door selling general greeting and/or Christmas cards. For your efforts you could either keep a percentage of the cash or choose prizes from their catalog. And right there in all their glossy comic book cover glory were pictures of a selection from said catalog. Need I mention that one of those glorious prizes was an acoustic guitar, and it came with a really cheapo nylon carry bag? It was love at first sight.

I ordered the kit and, unlike nowadays, the Post Office had it to me post haste. I started going out every weekday evening and most of the weekend days, either flogging them or hand delivering them to the customers. (No drop shipping for these folk. They all came to me.) Thank goodness for my bicycle. I covered a hell of a lot of area in my quest.

And, much to mom’s astonishment, in a little under 2 months my guitar arrived. And what a guitar it was. It was what you might call “Parlor Guitar” sized. It’s action was absolutely execrable and I had no idea that it was even possible to make it any better. (Though it might actually not have been possible with this little gem.) The finish on the extremely cheap plywood top was so rough you could run your fingernail across the grain and it would make a sound reminiscent of running a stick along a picket fence. The tuning gears made it a struggle to get it anywhere near well tuned, but I persevered.

(Bear in mind there was no such things as clever little clip-on tuners to help you with this task back then, and my ear tuning—with a tuning fork I actually convinced her to buy me—wasn’t so grand because, not to put too fine a point on it, I had a completely tin ear.)

This was a terrible disappointment to mom, as she had a terrific sense of pitch and had actually taught herself how to play the piano at a very young age. Maybe I should share that little story here at a later date.

Anyways, she’d sing a note at me and want me to sing it back to her. I could never even get in the right neighborhood, and was sometimes in an entirely different town.

In any event, I got a book of chords and some sheet music with the guitar chords on them and set to work. There was some bleeding involved before I started developing the necessary callouses.

And then—cue angelic choirs—I was watching the local PBS station and found Tracy Newman teaching folk guitar. I used to take the school bus and it would deliver me several blocks from home, from whence I ran the rest of the way because Tracy was on shortly after school let out. You can find some of her stuff on the YouTubes. She also taught banjo but I only found out about that recently.

I’d madly dash into my room, kick my little brother out, and close the door for a half hour of learning how to do this thing. Plus I fell madly in love with her.

Near as I can tell, as of about 8 months ago, she was still alive, kicking, and even touring occasionally. You go, girlfriend!

I’ll end up here with a few updates.

First, my actual dedication to learning the thing impressed mom sufficiently that the following Christmas she bought me a genuine Sears dreadnought guitar, complete with one of those extremely cheapo cardboard “hard shell” cases. Nowadays I’d consider it at best OK, but back then it was such an improvement I was completely delighted. I played it for a number of years before moving along to something a bit better. Though damned if I can remember what it was now, nearly 50 years later.

Second, while I’m still not someone you’d want to hire for your opera company, I can mostly carry a tune without having it gift wrapped.

Third, I play a number of instruments now, to one degree of skill or another, but the guitar comes in second only to harmonica (which I’ve been playing for nearly 60 years). Perhaps I’ll relate that story here at some point.

While this post is hardly great literature, I hope you found in at least mildly amusing. Please consider dropping a tip into my Ko-fi tip bucket (the link is on my homepage) if you’d like to help support me in my various artistic endeavors.

Whether or not you can do that, please leave a comment here. I’m much more interested in relating with folks than I am with just shouting into the void.

Last, but certainly not least, thanks for reading this!

April’s new video (and barely under the wire!)

This is the second of the two “short story songs” I wrote late last year. You can check out the other one here if you haven’t already. It makes 4 months in a row that I’ve put up a new vid. (Though I’m definitely just barely squeaking this one in on time!)

(However, I do still have one “in the can” for next month.)

As usual, I’m experimenting with what I can do with LumaFusion. Still don’t have the color grading and such down very well, so the two cameras don’t exactly match. I suspect that better lighting will fix some of that.

I did learn that I could–after jumping through some hoops–use my 10-year old Canon Vixia cameras with LF on the iPad. That’s good because they were bloody expensive when I bought them new and I hate to have them simply hanging around collecting dust.

(Come to think on it, I had to jump through some hoops back when I was using an old version of iMovie on an elderly Mac desktop.)

The next test I do will be adding in my Zoom H2 to up the audio quality. Plus, if I want to, I can throw my phone camera into the mix and do a three camera shoot. That ought to keep me confused.

So with no further ado I present…

Hemoglobin Overload

If you like it, please share it! Sharing is caring.

New video of a new original tune

After a several year dry spell, last year I wrote not one, not two, but three new songs. This one is the last of the three, and the second one I wrote since finally copping to the fact that songs don’t always have to be novels. Short stories are a fine art in and of themselves.

It’s based on the Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Think of it as a sort of open letter to whatever doesn’t kill me. In keeping with that, I have cleverly titled it, An Open Letter To Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me. It’s a very brief song… like the whole video, including titles, is only 2 minutes long. But its history stretches back to the mid-80s. I’m going to tell you 3 brief “sub-stories” before getting to the video itself.

So, if you’re a tl;dr sort, you can click the link above and go straight to YouTube to watch it. (But then, if you’re a tl;dr sort, I wonder what the hell you’re doing following me?)

(Before I forget to mention it, the joke behind the song is thanks to the Dunn Lumber at 93rd and Aurora in Seattle, who posted it on their reader board.)

I’ll have a few last words below the video.

Andrew’s Muse Story (sub-story 1 of 3)

In the mid-80’s I was heavily involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism–aka the SCA, a medieval re-creation group–and was living in an apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle, WA. (In SCA terms, that meant I was living in the Kingdom of An Tir.) Besides me and my then ladyfriend, there were two other SCA folk in the building.

One of these folk was Andrew–and damn, I can’t pull his last name out of my head right now–who was, amongst other things, quite the poet. He’d been overheard (misheard, actually) by a passing knight, saying something that the knight perceived as dissing the ladies of An Tir.

Since Andrew has something of a game leg, he did not participate in the armored fighter part of the SCA. This made it impossible for the knight to honorably challenge him to a duel in the lists. So instead he told him, as penance, he had to write a poem praising the beauty, wit, charm, etc. of the ladies of An Tir and read it at the banquet of an upcoming tourney. Andrew said (at least, mentally), “Challenge accepted!” and set to slaving over it for the next several weeks.

Yes. Weeks. It was an opus.

When he finished he was understandably happy and he came dashing down to the apartment where me and the aforementioned ladyfriend lived. He read it for us and we showed the appropriate appreciation–because it was good, that’s why–and he went happily back to his place. Probably to get some much needed sleep.

But one line in the poem just sparked me. I took it, twisted it around, and within a ridiculously short period of time had churned out a poem built around it. It was only two stanzas of six lines each, not an opus. I was tickled anyways and dashed up the stairs to read it to Andrew.

He listened, blinked a couple times, and then said (at least half jokingly), “How dare you have a 10 minute muse?!”

KW’s Song Advice (sub-story 2 of 3)

Back in about the same timeframe my guitar guru, K.W. Todd, had made a complementary comment on one of my songs. I muttered on about how, yeah, I was generally happy with it and had been playing it at open mikes to good response, but I wished I’d done this or that bit a little differently. But now that all these people had heard it I didn’t want to change it.

K.W. said, “But, Hobbit, it’s your tune! You can do anything you want with it.”

OK. Yeah. I heard that, but didn’t really absorb it until later. Indeed, much later.

Phil’s Short Story Lesson (sub-story 3 of 3)

Here’s where the three sub-stories converge.

Back in mid-November, Phil Doleman, my online pal from England tweeted,

I surprised myself by suddenly writing and recording an EP over the last week. Sometimes it happens like that, and you don’t argue :-)
You can get it from Bandcamp, name your price (which includes free :-) )

My first reaction, of course, was “How dare you have such a prolific muse!” (Yeah, Andrew. I feel it now, bro.)

I went and listened to it and noticed that the longest song was on 2:18 long. I’d never written a song that was that short. But I have notebooks full of song bits I’ve come up with and not been able to expand out into what I would consider a full song. So why not try a short story song? Within a week I’d finished a song called “Hemoglobin Overload,” fleshing out a song snippet I’d had around for years.

So… thanks, Phil!

Check out Phil’s EP, Might Never Happen.

The Video At Last

(This has a NSFW rating because I drop an F-bomb. Just one, because it’s a surgical strike. Too much collateral damage happens when you carpet F-bomb.)

Oh No! Not Another Learning Experience!

I’m still learning the LumaFusion video editor, so the Picture-In-Picture stuff isn’t as tidy as it could be. Also, I somehow set the camera to “focus on faces” mode and every time I moved it changed focus and mucked up the lighting.

Last Words

If you’ve read this far, please do me a large favor and drop a little comment here, even if it’s just “Hi, Hobbit, I read the thing.”

If you like it, please share it, either via YouTube or the link to this post.

My new song

Firsts

So… the first thing you might be thinking is, “If this post is about a new song, why is it illustrated by a picture of a bunch of ukulele?” Gosh, I’m glad you asked!

It’s because it’s not only the first song I’ve completed in way too long, it’s the first one I’ve ever written on my Ohana sopranino. The sopranino is at the far left in the pic. It was the best shot I could find of the little guy. (Because I didn’t want to mess with taking another one, that’s why!)

In any event, I finished the song about 5 or so days ago, took the time to learn it (yes, they are two different processes), and got a recording of it. For you “tl;dr” folks the recording is just below, you can probably see it scrolling up by now. Under that is the strange, circuitous route I had to travel to get it out in the wild. I wrote it up for the rest of you.

(Though come to think about it, I speak in paragraphs. I can’t fathom why a tl;dr sort of person would follow me online in the first place. <shrug> )

So here’s my brand new tune, a light and hopefully humorous rant on aging. If you like it, please leave a comment and share it with your friends on the social media things. If you think it sucks, go ahead and leave a comment and then share it with your enemies on social media. It’ll serve them bastards right, eh?

The Process

I had decided that I’d do a Digital Demo Tape level recording, strictly using only program(s) I could run on my somewhat aging Samsung Tab E. I got one take several days ago, but wasn’t quite happy with the result. Turns out that the two apps I used for the actual recording had strengths and weaknesses and I needed to play to the former in order to make up for the latter. I reshot the vocal (the ukulele and harmonica tracks were saveable) so the process looked like this.

  • Record the tracks using the J4T Multi-track Recorder app
  • Export each track as a separate file (you can do it quickly and easily in one process in this app. It does more than the cassette 4-track I recorded my first release on, way back in the early 90’s. Further, that cassette unit cost me $400 back then, while a few years ago I picked up J4T for $3.99.)
  • Import them, one at a time, into the Lexis Audio Editor (a free android app similar to Audacity, which does not run on android.)
  • EQ and add any track-specific effects. I kept it pretty sparse, only adding a pale wash of reverb to the vox and harmonica, and a really spare slapback echo to the uke in order to “thicken” it a tad. I also normalized them so that I had some volume to work with whilst mixing.
  • Re-import the altered tracks to J4T
  • Mix down to one stereo track
  • Reimport into Lexis (Getting dizzy yet?)
  • Trim, add the fade-out, a light touch of compression, and normalize
  • Save it and import it into Audio MP3 Editor. Another free app which does several things including transcoding, cutting/trimming, making ringtones, etc.
  • Transcode from WAV to MP3 format and add metatags
  • Done. Raise a big cheer!

But wait! Now we come to the first of the tech bombs.

Tech Bomb 1

Now that I have a finished recording, I’m going to want to host it somewhere. Oh, look! I have an old and rarely used Soundcloud account. That’s the ticket!

Ummm… did I mention that nowadays I do the greater majority of my computing stuff on my tablet? ‘Cuz that’s going to be important real soon now.

I have both the Soundcloud app and access via web browser.

It turns out that Soundcloud, despite being all about streaming to mobile devices (for all you hip kids), does not allow you to upload a recording from your phone or tablet. Dafuq?

So fine… I pass the recording up to the cloud and fire up my one remaining “general purpose” computer. The problem here is that it’s a 10 year old Dell netbook, running Ubuntu 12.something, an OS upgrade that slowed it way down. Also it doesn’t like my browser.

Despite all that I manage to get the track uploaded to Soundcloud. From my earlier tries on my tablet I know that I can’t get the embed code except from the web version. So I copy the long paragraph of obscure HTML code and paste it into a text document on the Linux box and upload it to the cloud, something I’ve done tons of times before. Then I go to download it onto the tablet so I can embed the player here in WordPress.

Here comes the second tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 2

Despite all past history, neither Google Drive nor my tablet will open the text file, they’re all saying “I don’t recognize the file type.” OMFG! It’s a plain text file, ffs! Who’s Wheaties did I pee on to make the tech gods so angry with me?

Fine!

I’ll just open the file on my netbook and laboriously type it into a note on my tablet. (Using the stylus just so it’s an extra fussy process.)

Done!

Now I open up the WordPress app and start a new post, giving it a title, a brief bit of “lorem ipsum…” placeholder text, and copy/paste the embed code in. Then I save it as a draft post so I can view it to make sure the embed actually works.

Oh look. Here comes another tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 3

My WordPress app seems to be broken. It keeps giving me “you’re not permitted to edit nor save” errors. So let’s try it through the web interface. Broken. Instead of the WP login page, I’m getting an empty page with a popup asking for my login credentials. I don’t think so!

Luckily (?) this has happened before. Some eager young beaver at my hosting service has decided my security isn’t tight enough and set the permissions on the WP folder to clear that up. Locking me out in the process. They’re actually pretty good about fixing fuckups, whether mine or theirs, so this one was cleared up within a few hours of me sending the email.

Leaving me with one final tech bomb. (sigh)

Tech Bomb 4

Remember that vast paragraph of embed code from Soundcloud? Didn’t work. Fortuneately I remembered that WP has a shortcode for Soundcloud. It works. That’s why you can see the player up there and, hopefully, play my new song.

So here I sit, finishing up the last of this blog post. Please remember that sharing is caring! If you share my stuff around, it’s better than a dollar in my tip bucket. And it only costs you a few minutes time.

Thanks much for your patience. Hopefully my next song (or video or whatever) won’t be so long coming