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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. img_6749-ph-3-splatter-blue-cut-out-winner-half-size 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"Uptown Funk" for Bruno Mars, said: a bunch of dudes playing the s--- out of some material in a room will never go out of date.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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An Outtake from “The Lucky One”: Waka Blues

The sessions for my upcoming record "The Lucky One" are taking place in Philadelphia in the third week of September, and preparations are feverishly underway. My producer, Ed Abbiatti, passed on this piece, a basic blues driven by an auto-wah harmonica part. If we're not going to put it on the record, we might as well give you a glimpse into the kinds of sounds we'll be putting down in September. So here's "Waka Blues." The demo you hear in this clip consists on a programmed bass line, drums courtesy of EZDrummer, and me playing harmonica. It's a pretty traditional harmonica line with the auto-wah (delivered via a Digitech RP500 running my patch set) adding plenty of juice. If I were to record this for "The Lucky One," I'd add another couple of harmonica parts, and Mike "SloMo" Brenner would put in some lap steel magic. So you can imagine all those things when you listen to this, or just enjoy the big sound of the auto-wahed harp. Dig. "Waka Blues' by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtle Hill productions, all rights reserved.

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Another day, another (country) session

I took some time off this week from working on the songs and arrangements for my upcoming record, "The Lucky One," which is set for recording in the third week of September in Philadelphia, to record harmonica parts for Austin TX producer Bobby Flores. (Congratulations Bobby on winning the 2015 Ameripolitan Male Western Swing Award! That's the style Bobby was playing when I met and jammed with his band years ago in Austin, and it sure was fun.) Bobby contacted me late last week and sent a couple of mp3s. The music was very interesting: country with more than a touch of rock and roll, and some unusual chord changes for this genre. (When you're going from F major changes on the verses to C major changes on the chorus to a solo in Bb major in the same song, it's a little unusual for country.) Bobby told me he was going to send the changes, but he never got around to it. Oh well; that's why we make the big bucks... As per usual for this time of year, I'm out in Tetonia, Idaho, far from my home studio in Monroe CT. Not to worry. The laptop Jim Rosenberry built for me is portable and powerful, and it goes where I go. Add a Digitech RP--in this case my RP500, loaded with my patchset for Digitech RP--for an audio interface, plus an Audix Fireball V, and I have everything I need to make great harmonica tracks. The Fireball V is crucial, because it's the only mic I know of that can produce beautiful acoustic harmonica tracks when it's hand-held, which is REALLY important when you're recording in totally crappy rooms like the one I use for recording in Idaho. (The place is essentially a long rectangle with no sound treatment, and it sounds like a cave. There is no way I'm going to let that room sound into a recording.)
Digitech RP500: pretty much all the recording rig I need

Digitech RP500: pretty much all the recording rig I need

FX? We Don't Need No Stinkin' FX All those chord changes notwithstanding, country music demands pretty simple harmonica sounds. To put it another way, the first thing I think of in terms of harp sounds for the genre is never a patch with an octave down pitch shift followed by an envelope filter or a flanger. The first thing I did with the RP500 was dial up one of my Direct amp model patches. The Direct amp model basically takes whatever's at the RP's input, adds or subtracts gain to the signal, and sends it to the output. When coupled with the Audix Fireball V, the resulting sound is clean, clear, and full--a great harp sound to send to any producer. (Hey, if they decide they hate clean and they want to f--- it up, they've got all the FX they need on their own computers.) I have no doubt that Bobby is going to add whatever ambience he wants to my sound, so before I recorded I used the RP500's dedicated footswitches to turn off the reverb and delay, so the only effect running on the RP was the amp modeling. I set up a new project in Cakewalk Sonar, my DAW, and loaded in the mp3s Bobby sent to me. Then I set up three harp tracks for each of the songs (we'll call them "Texas" and "Tennessee," which happen to be the first words in their respective titles) and started recording. I did three takes on "Texas", two with an acoustic sound and one with a patch based on a GA40 amp model for a little more grit. The GA40 patch had a LOT of gain dialed in, so I dropped the gain level on the patch down to a much more moderate 34 (as opposed to the original setting of close to 60, which is some pretty crunchy gain) to smooth it out a little. (I did mention that this is country music, right?) Of course, I took off all the FX except amp modeling before I recorded with this patch. For all the takes on "Texas" I used a Manji in C played in second position. I like Manjis for country music; they play fast and sweet, and they're just the thing for those quick Country lines. The first harp I tried was a Seydel Session Steel in C, but I just couldn't get the chords to sound sweet enough, so bye bye Session Steel, hello Manji. Let the Producer Choose My favorite of those tracks was the second acoustic take, which featured a rippin' solo, but I sent Bobby separate rough mixes with the acoustic and amped-up takes, and one with both, because I liked the way the rhythm licks sounded when both tracks played together. I used the same Direct model setup to record two acoustic tracks for "Tennessee," of which I sent Bobby the second. "Tennessee" is the song with all those chord changes, and I ended up using a Manji in F, played in first and second positions, for the verse and chorus, and a Manji in Bb, played in first position, for the solo section. It took more time to record two takes for "Tennessee" than to record three for "Texas," because all those chord changes on "Tennessee" demanded a lot of extra attention. But that's part of the fun, innit? Taking a beast of a song and making it behave? Get Paid and Wrap it Up Bobby checked out the rough mixes and liked them. He paid me via Paypal, and I sent a RAR (compressed) archive file containing all the harp tracks, soloed, in the form of 24-bit 44.1 kHz WAV files--a nice high-resolution format that happens to be the RP500's highest-quality recording mode. So there you go: another session conducted over the Internet, with the participants separated by a thousand miles or so, collaborating on their own schedules. Of course it would be absolutely tops to be in the room with the producer when the tracks are cut, so we can get double the brain and emotional power working on the song in real time. But I'm still knocked out by the fact that I can collaborate with musicians all over the world, no matter where they, or I, happen to be. How cool is that? And if you take all that for granted, lemme tell you, you weren't recording in the 1980s, when a basic recording setup with overdubbing capability cost thousands of dollars, and sending a track to a producer the second you finished it was a wishful and seemingly impossible fantasy. (It takes time to box a tape and take it to the post office, and more time for that tape to make its way halfway across the country.) How delightful to live in an era when those fantasies come true.

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The Kickstarter Campaign for “The Lucky One” starts in a few days

As I work my way through writing and recording demos for my upcoming record project, "The Lucky One," I keep in mind that making a record takes money as well as talent and dedication. On that score, within the next couple of days I'll be launching a Kickstarter project to raise the money I need for this project. Stay tuned for the URL, coming soon to a browser near you...
Digitech RP500: I'm offering one of these loaded with the sounds for the record as one of the rewards for contributors to my Kickstarter project

Digitech RP500: I'm offering one of these loaded with the sounds for the record as one of the rewards for contributors to my Kickstarter project

Part of a Kickstarter project is the rewards I put together for contributors. In addition to the usual stuff--downloads, CDs, etc.--I'm offering one reward that includes a new Digitech RP500 fully loaded with 1) the patch set I'm using to record the record, and 2) the standard Huntersounds RP500 patch set. I'm going to autograph that RP before I load it and ship it, so it'll be the closest thing you can get--actually, functionally identical, just with fewer scratches and dents--to the one I'm going to use in the recording sessions for this record. Like I said, stay tuned.

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Recording for the “The Lucky One” is Set for September in Philly

I've been hard at work writing songs and recording demos for the upcoming record sessions. The tentative title for this project is "The Lucky One." We've set the date for the sessions in late September, and we've got guitarist Mike "Slo-Mo" Brenner, who I've played with on several of Ed Abbiatti's records, and some of his favorite rhythm section buddies lined up to handle that end. In addition to playing harp in various amped and un-amped configurations, I plan to sing and play keys on this record too. Keys are entering the picture now because I'm finding that there are just some things that I express better with an electric piano than with a harmonica. Go figure. (Perhaps one of those things is a desire to be perfectly in tune...) This record is going to be dark, rocking and jammy. The touch points are Morphine, Little Walter, and the White Stripes. My strategy for these sessions is to rely on the players to create an organic sound with lots of personality, because this is not one of those sessions where there are going to be 1000 tracks going into the mix. This is one of those sessions where the people in the room define the sound. As Mark Ronson said in a recent interview, "A bunch of dudes in a room playing the shit out of something will never date." The KickStarter campaign will start before long. In the meantime, here are the lyrics for the title piece. These are copyright 2016 Richard Hunter, all rights reserved. Enjoy. The Lucky One Chorus everything's relative with fathers and sons in my house I was the lucky one The one who changed The one who found love The one who's alive The lucky one 1. My father was a winner Who thought he was a loser Anything that wore a skirt Walked by and he'd pursue her I guess he had his reasons For doing what he done One thing I know, he didn't show A father to his sons Chorus everything's relative with fathers and sons in my house I was the lucky one The one who changed The one who found love The one who's alive The lucky one 2. My father's lies became his truth He hollowed out inside Embraced the dark side of his life And that is where he died One brother fled to Mexico One went to Paris France I went through lots of places Till I found out who I am Chorus everything's relative with fathers and sons in my house I was the lucky one The one who changed The one who found love The one who's alive The lucky one 3. You came along and saved my life Long before I saved yours I know that I been lucky Maybe more than I deserved I wasn't taught to be a man To raise a family I didn't know what love was Till you showered it on me Chorus everything's relative with fathers and sons in my house I was the lucky one The one who changed The one who found love The one who's alive The lucky one Chorus everything's relative with fathers and sons in my house I was the lucky one The one who changed The one who found love The one who's alive The lucky one

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Digitech’s Software and Firmware Troubles with the RP360 Continue; We Recommend the RP500 Instead

It's been about 2 years since Digitech released the RP360 and RP360XP, two great-sounding devices. Unfortunately, in that time Digitech hasn't seen fit to address the terrifically daunting software issues they've laid on unsuspecting RP360 owners. Those issues begin with a firmware update that consistently fails, leaving RP360 owners with a device that won't work and forcing them to repeat the update procedure, over and over, until it decides to take. The Nexus application, which is the ONLY software support for backing up and reloading an RP360, apparently won't run under Windows 10 (at least if our customers are to believed), and even when it works it doesn't work as well as the Xedit application that supports every other RP from the 150 to the 1000. In short, Digitech has more or less completely dropped the ball on software support for the RP360/360XP. At Huntersounds, we are sick of seeing messsages from our RP360 patchset customers telling us how much time and effort they have to put into getting these basics to work. I mean, for God's sake, Digitech can't make a f---ing firmware update work? That's Comp Sci 101. Who the hell writes the code at Digitech, and why don't they know how to make their own gear work?
Digitech RP500: buy this instead of the RP360/360XP

Digitech RP500: buy this instead of the RP360/360XP

At this point, we can no longer recommend to RP buyers that they go with the RP360 or 360XP. Fortunately, there's an excellent alternative available. RP500s are still widely available new and used, and they now sell at the same price point as the RP360XP ($200 new, around $150 used in good to great condition). The RP500 is larger and heavier than the 360XP, but it sounds almost exactly the same, and the Xedit application that supports it is a perfectly viable piece of software that does its job without messing with your head. (In some ways the increased size and weight of the 500 are advantages, because they're the result of a greatly expanded set of real-time performance features.) In short, until Digitech fixes the software issues that should never have been present in the first place, and which they have failed to address for 2 years, we strongly recommend that anyone considering an RP360 or 360XP pick up an RP500 instead. Better is better, and at this point in time, taking all factors into account, the RP500 is simply better value for money. And if you're planning to pick up one of our patchsets to go with your RP, rest assured that the patches we've created for the RP500 are the best we've done for ANY Digitech device, mainly because they take advantage of every single one of the footswitches in the 500's expanded footswitch array. We're not happy about this announcement, but our first loyalty is to the people who use our patchsets in their RPs, and those people deserve a hell of a lot better than the crap software Digitech has pushed on them for the last two years with the RP360. We put a lot of time and effort into our patchset for the RP360/360XP, and we look forward eagerly to the day we can announce that Digitech has fixed these issues. In the meantime, buyer beware the RP360/360XP.

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The new record is taking form

A couple months ago I announced on this blog that I'm getting ready to make a record. The shape and sound of that record is coming into focus. For a start, it's going to be stripped-down. I've realized that the stuff I've most enjoyed playing in the last few years--such as the gig I played with Lowands at the Windmill last month, and the work I did a few years ago with Brian Maw--is stuff where I'm one of a very few players on stage. I need sonic room to play out my conception of what harmonica does in a band. I can't express that conception when I'm struggling to find space for the instrument behind (and I do mean behind) a wall of guitars and keys. So this record will feature guitar, harmonica, and drums for the most part--the same lineup that backed Little Walter on his great recordings. That doesn't mean it's going to sound like Walter. The sound I have in my head is something like Morphine meets The White Stripes: big sounds from minimal instrumentation, low, dark, with big grooves burning underneath. I'll use the looper with my RPs to create layers of harmonica, of which there will be a-plenty. There'll be various flavors of blues involved, as there is in almost everything I do, but the overall sensibility is rock. I'm writing lyrics daily now, and writing music to fit those lyrics. That's the opposite of the way I've always worked; I've always started with a groove, gone to a song structure from there, and then to the lyrics. But starting with the lyrics seems to be working for me now, and I'm going to stick with it. I saw a documentary on Carole King, and it turns out that that's how she worked--her collaborators delivered lyrics to her, and she'd write the music. (In the case of "Too Late Baby," apparently it took her about an hour from the moment she first saw the lyric sheet. Genius ain't slow.) So the songwriting is underway, the lyric sheets are piling up, and the music is coming into focus. Pretty soon the planning for the sessions will begin. My producer and I have discussed the players, and we're clear on who we want and where we plan to record. I'm figuring to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the next couple of months, and to to do the recording sometime in the second half of this year. Pretty exciting, huh? I'm looking forward to making a great record. Here's a taste of what's coming. "50 Grand" is a blues with a rhumba beat, and it features two harmonica parts: one with an amped sound that's a dead ringer for some of my favorite Charlie Musselwhite tones, the other with a tenor sax sound, both sounds courtesy of the Digitech RP500. The harp parts were recorded with my favorite harp recording setup: Audix Fireball V mic into Digitech RP500 into the computer via USB. The drum track is generated by EZDrummer 2; nothin' fancy, but it's a demo. I played the bass and keyboard parts. I don't expect to use keys on the album much, but I don't play guitar, so the demo's got keys. I can stand it if you can. It's just a demo, but I like the greasy (pronounced "gree-zee") groove on it, and the lyrics have a lot of black comedy in them. I also like the part of the second solo chorus that's harmonized in 6ths, a plenty cool sound that I don't think I've heard from anyone else. It's the kind of thing you can do with a Fireball mic, and can't do with a bullet, because a bullet would just make an ugly smear from those chords. Enjoy. "50 Grand" by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2016 by R Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions, all rights reserved

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An Open Letter to Digitech: Let’s Get With the (Software) Program

Yo Digi-folks, I've been an avid user of Digitech's products since roughly the year 2000. I own four loopers made by Digitech, and nine Digitech RPs of various sizes, shapes, and capabilities. I don't need to be convinced that the hardware works very, very well. What I need is better software, and I think it's well past due. Digitech's software for managing the configuration of RP devices is a little better--not enough, but a little--than most of their competitors's offerings, except of course for Line6, whose software makes Digitech's look like something created by a dyslexic kindergarten student. On the other hand, I can't even get Korg's crap software for their Pandora devices to recognize the Pandora. Their user forum has plenty of similar complaints from disappointed Pandora owners, among whom I no longer count myself. Digitech's Xedit is a reliable program, and its functions include all the essential ones: save and load individual patch setups and the entire contents of the device, move patches around on the device, and so on. It's easy enough to use, and it works. But Digitech took a big step backward with the software for the RP360 and 360XP; the Nexus program used with those devices doesn't permit drag and drop changes to the patch list, and the firmware update that they demand you do after purchase is a straight-up nightmare. Even more shocking, Digitech hasn't produced software for converting patches from one RP model to another since they introduced the RP350--I guess that's, like, ten years ago? So if you want to convert patches from ANY RP device to the RP155, 255, 355, 500, or 1000, you're out of luck. I would think that any marketing professional with half a brain would realize that the absence of such software is a strong disincentive for RP users to upgrade their devices to better RPs, but perhaps I don't understand marketing; maybe it's a more powerful incentive to have to throw away all the great sounds you've already created in order to upgrade your device. (That's Bizarro-Superman logic: me thirsty, me want sand; me want people to buy my new devices, me make it harder for them to carry over their work from the old ones.) Digitech's software for its loopers has exhibited the same worrisome trend. JamManager XT offers no functionality that was not present in JamManager, and in some ways it's more difficult to use, because the various functions are spread around the interface in non-intuitive ways. Some functionality is crippled in weird ways; why, for example, can't I export a loop to audio from my looper's internal memory directly, instead of having to put it in the library first? The fact is that we're not in Kansas anymore, Digi-folks. A physical device that only talks to itself is less and less useful going forward. Software that makes it easy for me to set my device up, order its contents, and restore it to a previous configuration on a moment's notice is a necessity, not an option. Software that reminds me how little a manufacturer cares about me and my device management issues, every time I use it, is not helpful to me or anyone else. I said above that Digitech's competitors--well, some of them, anyway--aren't doing much better with this stuff. So Digitech might comfort themselves with the idea that they're not any worse than anyone else (which of course is untrue--see my previous comments re: Line6). I'd think instead about how much more competitive the products could be if only the software was as good as the hardware. Or about how ridiculously stupid Digitech's software looks alongside Line6's. What do you think, Digi-folks? Ready to take your software game to the next level? I sure hope so, and not just for my sake.

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Looping with the Pigtronix Infinity

Pigtronix Infinity Looper:  more bucks for more power

Pigtronix Infinity Looper: more bucks for more power

I've been using the Digitech JamMan Solo XT, Jamsynced to an Express XT, for a few months now. It's a decent setup for multi-track looping, and certainly the most powerful setup at anything near its price point, but it's got some issues where live performance is concerned. In particular, you can't erase the latest layer in a loop on either pedal easily or instantly--you have to hold the pedal down for three seconds to do so. Ditto for clearing a loop. The Jamman Stereo is a more flexible device in that regard, but it doesn't offer the flexibility in layering that you get from a Solo XT connected to another looper via Jamsync. What's a looping musician to do? Read more

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Recording for the next Richard Hunter record begins in July!

It's been over a decade since my most recent CD was released. In the meantime, I've been busy with lots of stuff; I wrote three books, I saved my wife's life a couple of times, and I created a revolutionary new way for harmonica players to get loud. So I haven't exactly been lying on a couch eating chocolates since 2005. But enough is enough. It's time for the next Richard Hunter record, and this one will be electric. It'll have plenty of looped textures, plenty of jams, and plenty of big freakin' harp sounds. It'll take full advantage of everything I've learned in the last 15 years about the harmonica as an instrument for the 21st century. There'll be plenty of news coming about this project in the next few months, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I'm very excited about this opportunity to lay down a major statement about the future of the harmonica. Now excuse me while I go write some songs...

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