The last few weeks have been non-stop, between finishing Corey Dennison's Delmark release, holiday stuff, and working with two great publications on feature articles. Just today, Blues Blast Magazine published their cover story on yours truly and response has been overwhelming! I heartily encourage any of you new to my music to also check out my one-man-band site at gerryhundt.com - there, you'll see videos and read a great new bio by Justin O'Brien. Last week, Michigan City's The Beacher published their feature on the one-man-band and it has a totally different angle, making for a very entertaining read, if I do say so myself... Thank you for your support and here's to more great music in 2016!
Sometimes inspiration strikes and you happen to be in the right place to capture it! Such was the case one groggy Sunday afternoon last March. I picked Ronnie up at the airport the Wednesday before and he was not feeling well after his flight. Ed & Andy arrived and we ran over a couple tunes, but cut the rehearsal short so Ronnie could get some rest. The whirlwind weekend commenced the next morning with a trip to Detroit for an always-fun gig at The Root. Friday, we headed back and played in Valparaiso at the ever-popular college hangout, Duffy's Place, joined by Little Frank. Saturday, Ronnie and I did a duo gig at The Lagunitas Taproom in Chicago, followed by a full-band gig at The SmokeDaddy BBQ. Naturally, since Ronnie was well off his gluten-free Colorado diet, a late-night stop for Maxwell Street polish was in order. Sunday afternoon, after some breakfast and recovery time, I set up a handful of mics and herded the guys into the studio, where we laid down the greasy blues tunes in the first five tracks below, including the stellar "my two friends," which Andy penned on the spot after Ed tossed him the spark of an idea. After a restorative chili supper in the Cincinnati style from friends in Valparaiso, we headed back up to Chicago for Joel Paterson's organ trio at The Green Mill. Predictably,we ran into prewar troubadour Matt Hendricks and he decamped to Indiana with us on the promise of his favorite biscuits & gravy at Chesterton's Northside Diner. Monday morning, Ronnie & I found ourselves awake while the others sawed away on my kids' beds, so we decided to record the acoustic tracks that round out the album. (For those who prefer CDs, we'll have them available in two weeks.) I hope you enjoy the album as much as we enjoyed that weekend!
I'm happy to say "Gerry Hundt's Legendary One-Man-Band" is available for download on bandcamp.com. Physical copies will be available at shows starting May 29, and online shortly thereafter. I think this album is among the best I've done, if not the best. Special kudos to Colby Aitchison for distinctive cover art and Justin Perkins for flawless, dynamic mastering.
I like guitar pedals as much as the next guy, but I'm always impressed by players who can dial up a multitude of tones using only the guitar controls and the amp (and their fingers, of course). Many guitarists turn the guitar controls all the way up, adjust the amp volume to the room, and then rely on stompboxes for any changes beyond that. Changing this way of thinking to really learn how to use the guitar controls expands your sonic palette, making you, your amp, and your pedals sound better.
Here's what I suggest you try: turn your guitar volume to half, and guitar tone control all the way up. Now, turn your amp volume up to a normal playing volume, without regard for the numbers on the knob. One of the first things you'll notice (especially with Fender guitars and amps) is less harsh treble. This is usually a good thing and here's why it happens: the resistance of the volume pot is acting as a low-pass filter, attenuating high frequencies and smoothing out the sound. It's less drastic than the tone pot and keeps the all-important middle frequencies intact.
Now, let's roll back the tone control back halfway. The signal will lose highs, mids, and perceived volume. Not too worry, this is just our starting point. (At this point, you'll probably want to just turn up your amp just a touch more.) Start turning your guitar volume up and your tone control down. You'll see that you get a fat sound at normal volume that will usually overdrive the amp, approximating that creamy 50's archtop honk. Cool, huh?
Next, let's go the other way. As you turn down your guitar volume and turn up the tone knob, you'll notice the sound cleaning up nicely while still retaining enough volume for crisp rhythm tones. You can always goose the volume a little for solos, but be considerate of your audience and bandmates - your rig has more potential now and with that power comes great responsibility!
To recap, your guitar's knobs are much more than window dressing; they're interactive tone sculpting tools with myriad textures available at your fingertips, especially when combined with multiple pickups and a juicy amplifier. Don't be afraid of extreme settings! Once you know everything your guitar's capable of, you can adjust to taste and find your sound. Now go out and have some fun!
Once a week, I stop in a local diner for breakfast before work. The food is great, the service is excellent, and I
enjoy the sense of community among the regulars. Today, however, I drove into the parking lot and it was empty! I then remembered seeing a sign that they'd be closed for a week. Oh well.
There's another breakfast joint in town, though, and the few times I'd been there, I wasn't really impressed with the food, though it was less expensive. I thought I'd use this opportunity to give it another try. When I walked in, I saw it had been renovated, which was nice. There was a good crowd and I noticed some denizens from the regular spot, as I figured. There were still plenty of places to sit, so I selected a booth where I could look out the window and watch the morning show on TV.
As the meal progressed, I noticed more & more how the little differences between the two diners added up to
a different customer experience. My regular spot has menus at every table, and the server brings a coffee pot
and water as soon as they greet you. Here, the server asked if I wanted a menu, went to get it, asked if I wanted
coffee (I didn't), asked what I wanted instead and seemed annoyed when I requested water. In fact, she was
harried to just shy of rudeness; I noticed only two servers for quite a few tables. The regular spot always has
more servers on duty for less tables, and this obviously leads to better service and quicker turnover times. The disconnect extended to condiments - she had to ask about and bring me ketchup and hot sauce, whereas they're always on the table up the street. Even the quiet TV held evidence of consideration for the customer; the regular spot has the captioning on so you're not straining to hear or being blasted by the audio.
The food was good, though, and arrived quickly and hot. The prices had gone up somewhat, basically equal to the
regular spot. So here's why I considered a $14 tip on a $6 bill: I stood waiting to pay for a few minutes while the
server bussed tables on the way to the register. I had a $20 bill, simply didn't want to wait any more, and would
never, or rarely, be back. I tipped well but not nearly that generously at the regular spot, but I returned every week, spending more than that overall and happily so. In the end, I waited for my change and tipped 20%, saving my money to spend at the regular spot when it re-opened.
The moral of the story is that each business interaction we have today is a chance to create a repeat customer, and those customers' expectations have changed. We want everything at our fingertips now - the Internet has created customers who do their own pre-sale research on a product and are targeted by marketers based on their likes and dislikes. It's more than a marketing trend, it marks a cultural shift that extends even to mom & pop diners. In an era where technology automates many human jobs and equalizes providers, the human touch at the service level becomes paramount. It's not difficult to fulfill an order once the customer has reached out to you, but what are you doing to ensure they come back? Why should I wait for hot sauce here when elsewhere it waits for me?
Ladies and Gentlemen, Jim Liban!
Joel Paterson's newest platter for Ventrella Records, "I Say What I Mean," focuses the spotlight squarely on Milwaukee harmonica ace and songwriter Jim Liban. Long held in high regard by fellow musicians of every stripe and Midwestern blues aficionados, Liban leads a crack session crew through 11 original lyrics and 3 instrumentals tracked at Chicago's Hi-Style Studio. While the production is unabashedly vintage, Liban's songs and warm, engaging vocals lend the proceedings a timeless quality rare in contemporary recordings.
The synergy Paterson mentions in his thoughtful liner notes is immediately evident in the disc's eponymous opener - tough guitar, a swaggering beat, and HUGE harp tone. As a matter of fact, every song on the disc could be described that way! Liban and Paterson present us a groove album that is equal in artistic achievement and danceability, one where no song or style fusion seems out of place; in fact, tunes like "Must've Been Dreaming" call to mind the entirely plausible daydream of James Cotton jamming with Carl Perkins at Sun.
What sets this album far above the rest, however, is Liban's songcraft in both lyric and melody. He peppers his songs with memorable and meaningful lines like "Last night was my last call," on "No More Alcohol" and confidently doubles Paterson's guitar on "Real Good Deal." Every elegant instrumental break fits its song, and the arrangements keep the listener intrigued on repeated spins. There's little doubt; Jim Liban & Joel Paterson's "I Say What I Mean" is a long-overdue masterpiece of American roots music. Highly recommended.
My friend Quinn Raymond used to say he lost a dollar's worth of sound by plugging a $5 guitar into a $4 amp. Pretty funny, right? Consider this - using the same formula, how much sound are you "losing" by just plugging your guitar into your amp? Probably a LOT more than a dollar - turns out old Quinn had one up on the rest of us!
Now, I'm not saying you need to buy a cheaper guitar or a more expensive amp to sound better - far from it. I'm here to argue for a decent investment in the medium between your axe & amp: your cable. This alone can have a significant difference in the overall sound of your rig and your enjoyment of it.
Instrument cables usually consist of a insulated, stranded copper conductor wrapped with a stranded copper shield, all encased in a rubber sheath and terminated with 1/4" male phone plugs. Our first concern is the cable's length. The longer the cable, the more treble is lost between guitar and amp. I have found that significant treble loss starts to occur in cables longer than 10 feet (about 3 meters). This is due to phenomenon known as capacitance; in a nutshell, a long cable acts like a fixed tone control on your guitar, rolling off highs and robbing your pickups of clarity. For many situations, though, a 10-foot cable is impractical. In this case, selecting a cable that's designed to avoid tone loss is the way to go - low capacitance and spiral shielding are the buzzwords here and my experience is definitely that you get what you pay for when it come to cables.
Adding to the fun, most electric guitarists use stompbox-style effects these days and thus have double the cable, compounding the "tone suck" inherent in the effects. I had a series of true-bypass pedals wired up with budget connecting cables and a loop box (this removed the effects between the guitar & amp when desired). When I stepped on the loop and brought in the effects, my signal level dropped and became lifeless. I inserted a buffer pedal in the chain and things improved somewhat, but it wasn't until I replaced all the cheap cables with premium ones (with a capacitance of 30pF/foot) that I heard what I wanted to - nothing! No difference between the sound when the loop was in or out. A few companies offer kits to make cables and wire up your pedalboard and I'll be happy to share which brand I used in the comments section if you're interested.
In summary: skip the takeout coffee for a week or two and spend a little extra money to get an instrument cable that offers low capacitance, good connectors, and quality construction. (A good warranty is the surest sign of a company that takes pride in its work and stands behind their product.) Isn't your investment in a guitar & amp worth the best connection between them you can afford?
Tuning, Part 2: Harmonica Shootout
Last night, I retuned a C Marine Band harmonica using A=432Hz as the reference. Below is an audio file comparing that harmonica to another C Marine Band harmonica tuned with A=440. I recorded it on my Sony PCMM10; it's a continuous .wav file and no EQ was applied afterwards, just light compression on the entire file to help highlight any differences between the two. I tried to play the same riffs the same way each time, but this is far from scientific. The 440Hz harmonica is first.
Tell me, what are your impressions?
I am happy to announce that I can provide Hohner Marine Band Deluxe and Special 20 harmonicas re-tuned for use with A=432 instruments. For rates, please email me at glhundt_at_yahoo.com or use the contact form!
Tuning: 432Hz vs 440Hz
It's good to be in tune with your bandmates, right? These days, we have many devices that help us tune: those that clip onto guitars, stompbox tuners, and handheld tuners with mics and inputs. My personal favorite is the Sonic Research ST-200, a highly-accurate true strobe tuner in stompbox format. How many of us give any thought to our tuning beyond making sure we're making the green lights flicker or the wheel stop turning?
About a year ago, a good friend of mine hipped me to the idea of tuning to A=432Hz, rather then the accepted standard of A=440Hz. I was immediately intrigued; music for me has always been the divine intersection of mathematics and emotion. After doing some reading on the subject, I tried it at home with my National guitar and the hype was confirmed for me. However, I have not transitioned into 432 otherwise, as harmonicas need to be re-tuned and time has been short... and I play with a fair amount of journeyman musicians.
Without going into detail, the advantage of 432 is pure frequencies at harmonic intervals - no decimals, just whole numbers. In other words, guitars and harmonicas sound less tinny. I find music recorded with 432 tuning to be more relaxing and richer-sounding. Check out these two examples below from my friend Scooter Barnes in Denver - the same musical piece, recorded first in 440 and then in 432. Listen to the 440 track first, then the 432 track. Give the 432 track a second for your ears/brain to adjust. What do you think?
Proof the Blues isn't dead.
Every so often, an intrepid news reporter informs us that the blues is dying or dead. Oftentimes this polemic ends with an exhortation to visit a blues club and celebrate the last gasps of an artform that spawned Elvis, Run DMC, and yes, even Miley Cyrus. Well, I'm here today to offer proof to the contrary, and it's a video of young folks dancing to an acoustic blues trio (Ronnie Shellist, Matt Hendricks, and myself).
Many of my compadres in the blues "industry" aren't aware of the blues renaissance happening among the dance crowd. Blues dancing is now at least as popular as lindy was years ago and these folks hire bands and buy CDs! Like its musical counterpart, blues dancing's strength is its accessibility - it's not as structured as other forms of swing dancing and slower tempos are preferred. International events like Mile High Blues, bluesShout!, and CUBE see hundreds of dancers flying in for a weekend of dances and workshops, and blues dancers pop up at clubs and festivals. These folks are pretty much the opposite of your typical blues fan demographic, too, they're young, single, the majority are female and they're all enjoying an alternative to socializing in sports bars.
Someone will probably point out that most of the participants in the video are white, in an effort to prove me wrong and foster division in the genre. Dig this... Most musicians of any stripe don't care about race: either you can play or not. Let the academics debate and sell their books, magazines and symposia tickets - I've got tunes to learn and gigs to do. At the end of the day, it's the music, and people's enjoyment of it, that matters most.