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Stay tuned for details on the instruments and FX used for “The Lucky One!”

"The Lucky One," my 21st century rock harmonica record, will be released this month. Once it's released, I'm going to do a series of posts in which I describe the harmonicas and FX used on the record, track-by-track. If you own a license for our patch set for Digitech RP500, you'll get a copy of the patches I used for those tracks, and you'll be able to try those sounds for yourself. (If not, go get yourself an RP500 and a copy of our patch set.) In general, the sounds I used on this record break down into a few basic categories: - natural, with no FX beyond a little reverb or delay - amped-up blues - wah and auto-wah - wobble (vibrato, rotating speaker, vibro-pan--you know, wobble) - pitch shifted (usually down, sometimes up) - time-based modulation (chorus, flanging, and so on) I used a number of variations on these basic sound groups to keep everything fresh, but when you get right down to it those are the FX that count, and combining them in various ways produces a lot of different colors. Stay tuned to get the full details on how it's done.

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“The Lucky One” is on target for release this month!

I haven't posted much to this blog lately; been too busy behind the scenes getting "The Lucky One" ready for release. At this point the overdubs are done, the mixes are underway, and we're getting the artwork ready for production. Whew! Lotta stuff. Worth the effort, because the tracks sound amazing. The initial band sessions in Philadelphia produced a bunch of tracks that were just crackling with energy, and my goal after that was to keep that energy while filling out the arrangements. In the end, the overdubbed harmonica tracks just rolled into place, most on the first or second take. (I spent more time and takes on some of the solos, because, well, they're solos.) From the beginning I knew that the vocals would be a challenge for me, and getting those right is what took months of hard labor in a darkened room, all by myself. Like Ringo said: It don't come easy. Now that we're coming down to the finish line, I feel--joy. Joy that I was lucky enough to come to this place in my life, with the people and resources around me that I needed to do this record. Joy that the vision of 21st century harmonica that I began working on over a decade ago is being realized. Joy every time I hear the music. I'm the lucky one.

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“The Lucky One” is coming soon, but not before Christmas

I'm nearly finished with vocal and harp overdubs for my record "The Lucky One." I'd originally thought we'd have the record available for sale (and for distribution to the people who contributed to the Indiegogo fundraiser) by Christmas, but it's looking more like January now. I apologize for the delay; rest assured that I will deliver the best damn stuff I can, even if it takes another week or two, and the results are worth waiting for. I'll take this opportunity to talk a little about this record. It's no secret that I'm using layered overdubs with plenty of FX to shape the sound of this record. That's not new in itself; artists like Scott Albert Johnson and John Popper have used FX very well on recent records, and Filip Jers, among others, created masterpieces on his first CD with overdubbed harps. What's new is that I'm not simply out to produce new electric harmonica sounds with this work; I'm putting the harmonica into a range of roles in the band that it has rarely, if ever, occupied. Harmonica is traditionally a lead instrument in a rock band; I'm building on the work of Lee Oskar and Magic Dick to put it more deeply into the rhythm and horn sections, guided by the sounds of blues, the band Morphine, and the White Stripes. The results are definitely new; these textures have never been present on any record I've heard, and I've heard a lot of harp records. Most importantly, I imagine that this music can be effectively performed live with a band that includes at least two harmonica players playing through the Digitech RP500 setup I've used for all the harmonica tracks.
Digitech RP500: It's all over "The Lucky One"

Digitech RP500: It's all over "The Lucky One"

And why not? Plenty of rock bands have two guitarists; how about some equal time for harp players? This is not music designed only for the studio; this is music designed to be performed. (By the way, if anyone is interested in being part of some of my performances, please contact me. Qualifications include ability to play diatonic harps in multiple positions, the ability to play chromatic harmonica in multiple keys, and the willingness to use the rig I provide, which of course includes a Digitech RP500 and an Audix Fireball. Practical knowledge of chord structure and theory is essential, like for example knowing what notes are included in an Ab major triad and what scales work against that chord. Ability to read music in this case is deeply respected, but not required. New York/Philly area is tops.) If this record goes as planned, it will be as definitive a statement about the role of harmonica in a rock band as my previous CDs, "The Act of Being Free in One Act" and "The Second Act of Free Being," were for solo harmonica. That's what I'm shooting for. I know it's ambitious; the facts are that I've been working on this approach for ten years, the concept is fully formed, and I'm too old not to aim high right now. When Mick Jagger said in an interview recently that spending three full days in the studio recording the new Stones blues record was pretty hard on him, I knew exactly what he was talking about; I literally limped out of the studio in Philly after three full days and two nights of blowing my brains out on this record. Like I said: time to aim high. Whatever else this record is, it's not the usual, by design. And it rocks hard. You can check out samples of early rough mixes in the "Updates" section of the Indiegogo campaign for "The Lucky One". (The campaign is closed, so you can't make a contribution. If you like what you hear, just buy the download or the CD come January.)

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Making the Harps a Little More Grippy

When I recorded with the band in Philadelphia for my upcoming record "The Lucky One," we had to turn off the air conditioning in the studio every time we did a take, and that room got pretty toasty after a while. On some of the tunes, especially the ones where I was blowing hard for three minutes straight, my hands got sweaty and the harps got slippery. I had to put a lot of energy into just holding on. That's not tops. I decided to make my harps grippier. After soliciting advice on that subject on the Harp-L list, I came to the conclusion that 1) no one is commercially offering cover plates with grippy surfaces, and therefore 2) I had to make them myself. Some of the solutions offered on Harp-L were, to say the least, impractical. (Coat the cover plates with glue and apply sand? Please. I put that thing in my mouth.) Ultimately I decided that the easiest thing to do was to cut some kind of grippy tape to size and apply it to the cover plates at the outer flange. I found egrips .75 inch wide tape on Amazon.com and ordered a roll. At $40 per roll, it's not cheap, but one roll is enough to do over 100 diatonic harp cover plates, top and bottom, so if you've got plenty of harps it's cheap enough. So far I've treated 28 harps with the stuff, so the price per harp is currently a little over $1. To fit a harp with the tape, I cut off a 2" long strip from the roll, then cut that in half lengthwise to make two strips 2" long by 3/8" wide. That's just about the same as a finger's width, so I can apply it to the plate without worrying about my mouth coming in contact with the tape. Here's a picture of a Seydel Session Steel with the tape in place. This harp also has its key spelled out with a 1/2" tall stick-on label, which I applied so I can see the key of the instrument on a dark stage.
Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

Seydel Session Steel with grip tape

When you're holding a harp, the tape is invisible to the audience, and when you're not it looks pretty good, as opposed to looking like an obvious hack. That was important to me. I don't want other musicians catching a glimpse of the inside of my harp case and thinking "What sort of musician has a box full of that kind of jury-rigged crap?" (My cases, including the cloth 14-piece Seydel case in which I currently carry 19 harps, the aluminum purpose-built one fromcustomharpcases.com., and the 8-piece compact folding case from Suzuki, all look nice, but still.) Once I got the hang of it, it only took a minute or so per harp to cut the tape and fit it. I did all 28 harps in well under an hour. So my harps are now non-slip, and I can play in a hot room without worrying about the instrument popping out of my hands in a spray of sweat. A small thing, perhaps, but better is better. From my point of view, I'd rather be able to buy something like this off-the-shelf (ideally, as part of a new harp, rather than an aftermarket add-on) than spend my own time putting it together. But this is a pretty simple, quick mod that's easy to get right on the first try, so I'll live with it until harmonica manufacturers realize that it's better to sell instruments that people can hold on to even when they're sweating.

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Something for now: The Road Out of Here

"The Road Out of Here" is one of the pieces on my upcoming record "The Lucky One." I've previously released a solo looped version of this tune via this site. The version on "The Lucky One" is supported by a full band, but it's got the same reckless energy as the looped piece. The lyrics for this piece seem apropos to recent events in America and the world, so here they are. Enjoy. "The Road Out of Here" copyright 2016 by R. Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions, all rights reserved On the road Out of here Communication is frequently unclear Information Is easily received But nobody knows what they can believe We watch the Sky Swinging from greed to fear You better bring more than your eyes and ears If you wanna know who's driving On the road out of here On the road Out of here You're king of the mountain or you disappear Number one Gets a lot Number two gets a little Number three gets not The mountain is steep And the dropoff is sudden and sheer A whole lotta people gonna fall to the rear It's the rule of the road on the road out of here On the road out of here The preppies are playing with stolen gear Trading shots Swapping knives Practicing lying to their future wives Well honey they'll say I'm just going out for a beer But the bars are all closed She will yell through her tears While his car speeds away on the road out of here On the road out of here No signal you send ever disappears What you say what you buy where you go Everybody knows it everybody knows It's a world without secrets And we are transparently clear And when I know what secrets you cherish and fear I'm gonna drive you around on the road out of here

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Coming soon: pre-order page for “The Lucky One!”

Thanks to everyone how contributed to the Indiegogo campaign to fund our 21st century rock harmonica record "The Lucky One!" We expect the record to be completed soon, with digital downloads available to contributors before Christmas, and hardcopy CDs available in January. If you missed the deadline for contributions, not to worry. In a few days we'll have a page up at this site where you can pre-order the record and/or the digital download. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you haven't heard the clips from this record that we've posted at this site, check them out now in the "What's New" section. img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size

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More from “The Lucky One”: Make The Noise You Came To Make

Like other pieces on "The Lucky One", "Make the Noise You Came to Make" relies on a horn section made of harmonicas shifted down one and two octaves. To that we add an amped blues sound with a Whammy that shifts the pitch down a major second, creating a slide guitar effect, and another sound that uses a vibropan effect to create a psycho organ. All those parts were created with a Digitech RP500, and all can be heard on this 30-second sample. The thing rocks hard with a cool vibe that owes something to both Morphine and The Doors. Check out 30 seconds of "Make the Noise": "Make the Noise You Came to Make" copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved. And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here. img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size

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A Mysterious Piece of “The Lucky One”: Deeper

"Deeper" has been in my repertoire for years. I recorded a version of this piece for my subscription list, a decade or so ago. The original had a few harmonica parts and a lot of cool synth sounds, many of them courtesy of the hard-edged synth Pentagon. This version was recorded straight through by me and the band in the studio with me playing the lead on a Seydel Chromatic Deluxe into the Digitech RP500 running a Tweed Deluxe amp model--a nice clean, full sound--with a triggered flanger on it. Very smooth and electronic. In the second half of the piece, the lead harp is augmented by a patch that pairs an octave down with a wah wah for some very cool articulations, and by a patch that runs the Audix Fireball mic through an iStomp running Swingshift to drop the pitch an octave before it hits the triggered flanger in the RP500. Like the title says: Deeper. Check out 30 seconds of "Deeper": "Deeper" copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions/ASCAP, all rights reserved. And contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to fund this record here.

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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.

Audio/Video, Blog, Hunter's Effects, Hunter's Music, Recommended Artists & Recordings, Recorded Performances (live and otherwise), The Lucky One

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. I've said before that every time I drag my complete harmonica rig out to a session, there turns out to be one song where I need an instrument from deep in my case that I haven't used in ten years. This is that song for this session. The harmonica I used on this piece is a Lee Oskar that I set up years ago, dropped in my case, and completely forgot about. It has a unique pairing of reed plates, which is something you can do pretty easily with Lee Oskar harps. 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, and all the right scale tones are in place. There's no Bb built into this diatonic tuning, which is not tops when you consider that one of the two chords is an Eb major, but you can get that Bb in the bottom octave with an easy bend on the draw 3 reed, and in the middle register with an overblow on the blow 6 reed. I used both on this piece. (That approach works for single notes, but of course it doesn't work for chords. I used a chromatic harmonica in C to give me partial G and Eb chords.) 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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