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A hard-rockin’ piece of “The Lucky One”: Double Lucky

The basic structure of Double Lucky, one of the hardest-rocking tunes on my record “The Lucky One,” is a double blues: 24 bars, with 8-bar vamp sections between each 24-bar form. There are variations in the turnaround in each 12-bar section. Bar 12 ends on an Eb chord; bar 24 ends on an Ab chord. The piece is in C, and includes F snd G chords as well. If the piece wasn’t played as a dead-serious blues-rock raveup, the changes would make it sound like Steely Dan.

I wrote the rhythm harp vamp part–the second half of this clip–while I was sitting in traffic or something, and recorded it on my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget it. The demo I sent the band didn’t have that part on it, so I gave them the part in the studio and made a few comments about the feel, we rehearsed it, and we ran it down for the recorder in real time together, the way we did every basic track for this record. (I love those guys.) This clip is the rough mix of that live performance, with the harp solo added via overdub.

The rest of this post is mainly of interest to harmonica players, so if you’re not one of those you might want to just click on the link above and go hear the clip. If you like this music and want to make sure you get to hear the whole thing soon by helping us fund the project (and also get cool perks like a digital download of the music, a CD, a copy of the Digitech RP500 patch set I’m using for these songs, and more), check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

21st Century Harmonica

Playing rhythm on this piece demands all the chords you’d get from an F harp plus the ones you’d get from an Ab harp. Most amped harmonica players use bullet mics of one sort or another, which is fine for big, heavy single note tones (like you need for traditional Chicago blues), not so great if you want to use a lot of chords. I wanted the harmonica to play a strong rhythm role in this piece, so I used an Audix Fireball V to record these parts, and on the Digitech RP500 I used a Champ amp model coupled with a pitch shift of a minor 3rd up to make the missing chords and put some heavy crunch on them. The rig is 21st century harmonica gear. (And all Huntersounds RP500 patch set licensees who signed up on or after September 2015 will get the set for free when this record is released.) The pitch shifting approach is 21st century too; I don’t have to use multiple harmonicas to get a wider range of chords, I just have to shift the pitch, which I can do in real time under foot control. The Low F harmonica also isn’t much older than the 21st century, and its use in this context is brand new.

Digitech RP500: Can't do "Double Lucky" without it

Digitech RP500: Can’t do “Double Lucky” without it

How I Played It

I used a Manji low F harp for all the rhythm parts. I played F and G on the turnarounds as octaves, which gave them a horn-like sound. I played the Eb as a full chord by shifting the C chord (draw 2-3-4) up a minor 3rd, and I did the same with the Ab by shifting the F chord (blow 1-2-3-4) up a minor 3rd. I used a Lee Oskar C Natural Minor (equivalent in register to a standard F harp) for the lead part, which I played with the same patch I used for the rhythm parts, with the pitch shifter disengaged. The Lee Oskar C natural Minor is pitched an octave higher than the Low F, so it contrasts very nicely with the rhythm harps.

This stuff is red hot. Dig. And like I said: check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

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A Glimpse of “The Lucky One”: Orphan Jam

This clip of “Orphan Jam” from the sessions for my record “The Lucky One” is based on a simple chord progression: G major and Eb major. The lap steel sets an appropriately grand and spooky tone, and the harmonica comes in like some kind of alien singing. The piece as you hear it here was recorded in one pass live in the studio with no overdubs. The band, with Mark Schreiber on drums, John Cunningham on bass, and Mike Brenner on lap steel, rocks hard.

The harmonica I used on this piece is a Lee Oskar that I set up with a unique pairing of reed plates. The draw reed plate is a standard C harp draw plate, which makes a G7+9 chord, and the blow plate is the blow plate from a Lee Oskar G Natural Minor, which makes a C minor triad. So G7 on the draw and C minor, relative minor of Eb, on the blow. It works for this piece.

The harmonica is played through an Audix Fireball V mic into a Digitech RP500 running a patch I set up myself that includes a big distortion, an octave up pitch shift, and a long digital delay set low in the mix.

John, Mark, and Richard

John in the moment

Mike closeup

We’re definitely in the 21st century now. If you like this music and want to make sure you get to hear the whole thing soon by helping us fund the project (and also get cool perks like a digital download of the music, a CD, a copy of the Digitech RP500 patch set I’m using for these songs, and more), check out Our Indiegogo campaign.

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Check out the pics from the Philadelphia sessions for “The Lucky One”

You’ll be automatically redirected to our gallery in a moment, otherwise click here.


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Huntersounds RP500 Licensees: Get Ready for the “Lucky One” patchset

I put together a lot of customized sounds for the Digitech RP500 for my upcoming record “The Lucky One.” A number of those sounds are specifically designed to work together in a loop, i.e. they’ve been engineered to fill in the audio spectrum without clashing. Other sounds were just set up to be as striking as possible–the kind of sounds that make people turn their heads to see what the hell is making that racket on stage.

These sounds will be made available at no charge once the record is released to any Huntersounds RP500 licensee who purchased the patchset license on or after September 2015, which is the vast majority of licensees. Any licensees who purchased prior to that date can get the “Lucky One” patchset for $15.

Digitech RP500: The patches we made for "The Lucky One" come with every license we're selling until the record is released

Digitech RP500: The patches we made for “The Lucky One” come with every license we’re selling until the record is released

If you’re considering buying the RP500 patchset now, please note that anyone who buys a license for my RP500 patchset between now and the date the record is released will get a copy of the “Lucky One” set too. If you’d like to get a download of the record with those sounds, I’m offering an mp3 download along with the patchset as one of the perks for contributors to the Indiegogo project for this record; check it out here.
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As always, thanks to all Huntersounds licensees for contributing to the development of these sounds, which (if I may say so) are a treasure trove for harmonica players on stage and in studio. I’ll talk to my producer about putting a few clips from the “Lucky One” sessions up on my site by way of illustration.

Blog, Hunter's Music, Recommended Artists & Recordings, The Lucky One

The Vocal Performances for “The Lucky One” started last night

The band’s performances for “The Lucky One” are completed, and great performances they are, done at speed and loaded with cool. I started recording vocals last night, and that’s the hardest part for me.

I went into these sessions confident about the music, the lyrics, the band, and my own harmonica playing. Singing has always been a self-conscious thing for me, and it still is, recent months of training notwithstanding. I’m told that every singer gets anxious when it’s time to record, so I suppose it’s no surprise if I do. But man, what a test of will.

All of that said, I got good performances on four of the nine vocal tracks on the record last night. With luck, tonight I get all or most of the next five. I’m going to take it easy today and do my best to take it easy tonight when I go to the studio. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to think good thoughts and remember to breathe.

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Hunter's Music, Recommended Artists & Recordings, The Lucky One

The band sessions for “The Lucky One” were killer–now for the overdubs

From Friday to yesterday I recorded the rhythm section, guitar, and some harmonica tracks for my upcoming rock record “The Lucky One.” At this point we have twelve such tracks in the bag, meaning that in the 27+ hours of recording starting Friday we’ve averaged 2 hours and 15 minutes per keeper take.

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We recorded these tracks the old fashioned way: four musicians playing the material together in real time in the same space, without headphones. It was challenging–with that kind of setup there’s enough bleed between tracks to make it difficult to, say, redo the harmonica solo without colliding with bleed from the previous solo take on the drum overheads–but oh so gratifying to hear and feel the drive you get from people playing together. As Mark Ronson, who produced “Uptown Funk” for Bruno Mars, said: a bunch of dudes playing the s— out of some material in a room will never go out of date.

Cutting Stone Castle--Richard working the wahwah

I’ve used the Digitech RP500 exclusively to record the tracks so far, and it’s working out very, very well. One of the songs on the CD is my composition “Double Lucky”, which started life as a blues but became a 24-bar double blues structure that includes C, F minor, G, Eb, and Ab chords. I took one of my RP500 amped blues patches and programmed in a pitch shifter that takes the pitch up a minor 3rd. With that I was able to play every one of those chords (except the G, which I played as an octave); I engaged the pitch shifter to take the C up to an Eb, and again to take the F up to an Ab. I used a low F harp for the rhythm tracks and a C Natural Minor for the solo, which let me stop worrying about hitting the Eb note right on the money on a standard F harp (and also took the solo into a register an octave higher than the Low F, eliminating any conflicts on that score). The RP tracked the chords perfectly; you’d never know that the Eb and Ab chords weren’t played on an instrument tuned to them.

Digitech RP500: If yer not usin' one of these, you ain't gettin' the sounds I'm gettin'

Digitech RP500: If yer not usin’ one of these, you ain’t gettin’ the sounds I’m gettin’

For a jam on the “Orphan Black” TV show theme, I used a Lee Oskar harp with a special tuning that I made by combining a C minor blow reed plate with a standard C harp draw plate. That produced a tuning that in second position basically produces a G7/9 chord on the draw and C minor on the blow, just right for “Orphan Black,” which consists entirely of two chords, G and Eb major. It’s one of the harps that I carry around in my case and use maybe once every ten years; but hey, better to have it when you need it than to leave it home and make do with something less perfect for the tune. I coupled that with an RP500 patch that includes a big distortion effect and an octave up pitch shift. Did someone say “psychedelic”?

We start the vocal and harmonica overdubs, in that order, for this project tonight. If we keep up the pace and quality we’ve achieved so far, this is gonna be one killer record. Stay tuned, and if you’re in the mood, check out this project on indiegogo.

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The IndieGoGO campaign for “The Lucky One” is underway…

And about time.

Recording sessions for this project begin in one week in Philadelphia, on September 16. So it’s not a day too soon to get the IndieGoGo campaign to fund this project going.

Next Friday we’ll set up in the studio, get some levels, and start playing through the repertoire. We’ll take some time for a jams or two just to get loose and feel each other out. We may record some keeper tracks–that would be nice–but the main goal is to get everything ready for performance and recording the next day.

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Saturday and Sunday we track the band plus lead harp as we play through the songs.

Monday and Tuesday nights we do overdubs. This is where vocals, lap steel, and additional harmonica layers come in.

And that’s the schedule.

If all goes well, we have great recordings in the can by Sep. 21. I think we will. I’ve done a lot of prep for this record, we have a bunch of good players, and we have a pretty good idea of what the thing should sound like. I want a rhythm section that’s deep and dark, with various harmonica sounds-2 to 3 per song–filling the low midrange and punching through in the upper mids. My go-to harp combination for this record includes an amped sound with a low octave double, a modulated sound like a vibrato or rotary speaker, and an amped blues or direct (clean) tone with or without delay, reverb, and/or distortion. That’s a weighty combination with a lot of movement in the sounds.

If this all sounds great to you, go check out the IndieGoGo campaign and reserve a digital download, a physical CD, or some other perk for a very reasonable contribution. Thanks!

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Acoustic Solos for “The Lucky One”–Whadaya Think?

As I work on the repertoire and arrangements for “The Lucky One,” my producer Ed Abbiatti and I are putting the songs into a meaningful order. For the last few days, I’ve been wondering whether that order includes solo acoustic harmonica pieces.

My first full-length CDs, “The Act of Being Free in One Act” and “The Second Act of Free Being,” were all about solo harmonica. Those records created an entirely new genre for the harmonica–solo compositions and arrangements that are uniquely aimed at the harmonica’s sound and capabilities–in which they remain the highest achievements to date, notable contributions by such as Filip Jers aside. (Don’t believe it? Go scout the competition and come back when you’re ready.)

A harmonica: should I present it unadorned on "The Lucky One?"

A harmonica: should I present it unadorned on “The Lucky One?”

Those records were well-conceived and executed, but in commercial terms they ran into a significant problem: the genre was so unique that there’s really no infrastructure (of media and performance venues) to support it. Anyone who hears the stuff can tell that it’s the real deal, but there aren’t a lot of places to go hear it. So that work is under-exposed.

I’m approaching the new record, “The Lucky One,” from the perspective of harmonica first and foremost. As I’ve said on this blog, there’s going to be a lot of electronica involved in the sounds I put down on this record. But why stop there? If it’s all about harmonica, why not start and end the record with–a harmonica? Bring it all full circle, back to the man and the instrument–the foundation for everything else on the record.

Anyway, that’s what I’m wondering about. If you’ve got an opinion as to whether you’d like a couple of pieces of pure solo harmonica mixed in with my big electric sounds, let me know.

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RIP Toots Thielemans

I learned a few minutes ago that Toots Thielemans died at the age of 94.

Toots Thielemans at 90, blowing strong.

Toots Thielemans at 90, blowing strong.

It’s impossible to overstate how important Toots is and was to the development of modern harmonica styles. If you play chromatic harmonica, you had to decide whether you were going to follow Toots’ lead, or find your own path; he was impossible to ignore either way. His sound was his own–you knew it was him after hearing two notes of a recording. His rhythmic conception was shaped by John Coltrane, and his harmonic conception cleverly took into account the physical structure of the chromatic harmonica and the things that structure would and would not allow. He made beauty on every record he touched.

Thanks, Toots, for all the great music, for the generous spirit, and for choosing harmonica as your voice.

Blog, The Lucky One

One Month to Go to “The Lucky One,” and We’ll be Ready

The recording sessions for “The Lucky One” begin Sep. 16 in Philadelphia. I’m still writing lyrics and music for this project, and I’m feeling good about the repertoire. Producer Ed Abbiati and I conferred on the final song list a couple of days ago, and I’m putting together the demo packages for the players on the session, which I’ll deliver to them in the first week of September. I’m doing rewrites on the songs as necessary as we go along, and I like it–I feel like the stuff is getting better all the time.

I worked today on my song “Hurt and Far,” which Ed told me last week he wanted on the record. It’s a sad, slow song with beautiful chromatic harmonica. Have I mentioned that chromatic harp on a ballad is a sure thing for breaking someone’s heart? At Ed’s request I rewrote the chorus changes today and recorded a demo, and I think it’s better than it was before. But I’m still wondering if it’s just too sad. I dunno. It’s sad for sure. I already rewrote the lyric on my song “Make the Noise You Came to Make” to turn it around and make it positive; can I, should I, do it again? I’m thinking yes.

Anyway, those are the kinds of questions coming up on this record, and I’m happy to be dealing with them. I’ve never put my lyrics first on any recording, and it’s exciting to be doing it now. Stay tuned for more news about “The Lucky One.”

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