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“Widow’s Walk” Live October 29 2014

This performance was delivered live to an audience of Chief Information Officers, most of them Brazilian, at Gartner’s Brazil Symposium on October 29, 2014. I played into a Shure 58 mic, which was amplified via a small PA system (I don’t think the woofers were bigger than 8 inches, if that) with zero FX. It was recorded via the builtin microphones on my Zoom H4, and no post-processing was applied to the recording.

“Widow’s Walk” is one of my most complex and moving (in every sense of the word) compositions for diatonic harmonica, and this live performance of the piece shows the various lines and textures off well. It begins in first position on a G Natural Minor harmonica, i.e. in the key of C minor. Before it’s over, it’s toured G minor and Eb major as well. The textures include counter-melodies played out of both sides of the mouth at once, octaves, 10ths, and 12ths, 5ths and 4ths, single notes, and block chords. The Natural Minor tuning makes almost any combination of notes sound good, so you can get a wide range of voicings and big sounds all over the instrument. The independent lines span intervals up to a minor 13th, with movement at both ends.
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“Comin Home Baby” Live with Wim Dijkgraaf, 29 October 2014

I’ve known Dutch-born harmonica virtuoso and composer Wim Dijkgraaf since the late 1990s. Wim now lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I joined up with him there at Gartner’s Symposium ITXPO conference to perform this duet on Ben Tucker’s “Comin Home Baby” in front of an audience of Chief Information Officers, mostly from Brazil.
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Live with Derrik and the Dynamos, Wilson, WY, August 2014

I had the opportunity to perform with Derrik Huffsmith and his band Derrik & the Dynamos at a gig near Wilson, Wyoming this August. The band included Phil Round on bass and vocals, Ed Domer on drums, and Don Christenson, who I’d never met before, on keys. We played a lot of covers at this gig; this performance, of Dylan’s “Ill Be Your Baby Tonight,” is one of my favorites from the gig.

Derrik is singing lead on this piece, Phil harmonies. The harmonica solos at about 2:41, after the piano, by which time the song has built significantly, and maintains a prominent presence from that point on. The emotion in the entire performance is very strong throughout.

I played the gig with my Audix Fireball mic, Digitech RP360XP, and Peavey KB2, as usual, and it took about 5 minutes to set up, as usual. Derrik didn’t have a spare XLR cable, and neither did I, so we ran a 1/4″ cable from the Peavey’s FX send to the PA, and I used the Peavey as on onstage monitor, also per usual. I don’t recall what patch I was using on the RP, though I know it’s one of the standard ones from my patch set for RP360XP. It’s a clean sound with just a touch of reverb or slapback on it; it could be a patch based on a Twin Reverb amp model, a direct amp model, or something else. I think it’s probably either my direct + room reverb (DIRROOM) or direct + hall reverb (DIRHALL) patch–I can hear that the reverb is under footpedal control. Anyway, it does the job here, which is allow the harp to cut through the band without grating on single notes, chords, and octaves, all of which are in use in this arrangement. Lots of clean gain in this patch. The harp is an orchestral element on this piece, and the clarity in the sound helps make the changes in tones and textures come through clearly.

The harmonica is a Seydel Session Steel in A, played in second position. I like Session Steels–they play hard and stay in tune, two qualities on the top of my list for harmonicas. I took to the A and Bb Session Steels right away; for some reason it took me longer to love my C and D, but I do now.

The piece was recorded via the internal mics on the Zoom H4, with the Zoom hanging at one side of the stage, near the edge of the outdoor tent that surrounded the dance floor, and its mics facing the band from about 20 feet away and a height of about 6 feet. The recorded sound is surprisingly good, largely because there was a clear line of sight from the Zoom to one of the band’s PA stacks, though of course the crowd makes noise.

Enjoy.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” performed by Derrik & the Dynamos with Richard Hunter, harmonica, August 2014

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Live with Michael G. Batdorf at Pendl’s Cafe, August 24 2014

I spent August 8 through August 26 in Idaho this summer, and I sat in with Michael G. Batdorf, notable singer/songwriter, twice at Pendl’s cafe in Driggs during that period. (On a third occasion I showed up to play and found that Michael was held up behind 600 bicyclists conducting a road trip from Jackson Wyoming to Victor Idaho, so I ended up playing the gig solo.) I recorded the entire two hours on the morning of August 24, and this piece, which is titled “Beyond The Mask,” is one of my favorites from the set.

Michael G. Batdorf in studio
Michael G. Batdorf in studio

The piece is a beautiful ballad in Eb minor; I heard it for the first time during this performance. The only harp I had in my kit that could manage that key was a Hohner CX12 chromatic in the key of E, which meant that I played it in the equivalent of B minor on a C chromatic. That wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice, but it turned out that the low chromatic harp (a minor 6th below a 12-hole chromatic in C) worked very well on the piece.

The performance here is entirely improvised. As always when I sit in, I tried to create an arrangement for the piece, not just play licks, and this arrangement has a beautiful, yearning feel to it, with variations on the basic line that include octaves and various chords. I recorded the performance live with a Zoom H4 positioned about 20 feet from the stage, and while there’s some crowd and ambient noise, the overall quality is thoroughly listenable. The gear I used in this performance includes a Digitech RP360XP running my DIRROOM patch (direct amp model with room reverb) from my latest patch set, an Audix Fireball mic, and a Peavey KB2 amp. It all sums to loud and clear, which works for this music.

The harmonica is relatively restrained until about half way through the piece, roughly at the two minute mark, when the intensity of both the harmonica and the guitar increases dramatically. The harmonica in effect becomes a voice, taking center stage while the guitar strums a ferocious accompaniment.

The music goes to some pretty unusual places, far beyond the stylistic boundaries of the typical guitar/harmonica duo. There’s only two ways to get music like this: you compose it note-for-note and get great people to play it, or you get together with somebody great and improvise it on the spot. The latter was the approach this time. It grabbed the audience by the throat, not to mention the musicians. I’m glad I had the recorder running.

Beyond My Eyes by Michael G. Batdorf, harmonica by Richard Hunter

I have more recordings from the gigs I did in Idaho on this trip, including some good takes from a show with Derrik and the Dynamos. Stay tuned.

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Funking it up with the RP360XP Looper

I’ve been in Idaho for a couple of weeks with only my RP360XP for a looping device. The 360XP has a usable but limited looper: 40 seconds maximum loop time, can’t have more than one loop in memory at a time, can’t remove the latest layer of a loop (as you can with the JamMan Stereo and Solo XT), can’t save a loop for later use. So it’s really a live-only looper, and its usefulness there is hampered by the fact that you have to step on it twice in rapid succession to turn a loop off, which makes timing an ending pretty difficult. But for simple loops, it’s functional enough, and it records audio through whatever patch is running on the RP at the time. So it’s ideal for showing off what kinds of sounds you can make, and roles you can play, with the RP360XP.

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“Me and the Devil” is a Tip on the Euro Americana Chart!

I just learned that “Me and the Devil” by Chris Cacavas & Ed Abbiatti, the title piece of which features two (count them, two) harmonica parts by me, is a “Tip” on the Euro Americana Chart:
http://www.euroamericanachart.eu/

As per my previous comments on this site, I recorded my parts for the title song with a Digitech RP355, using a rotary speaker patch for a backing part and a pitch-shifted sound with an added 4th down (my Ed Abbiatti Devil Sound) for the solo. I used an Audix Fireball V mic for both parts. The parts I sent to Ed were straight off the RP355 into Cakewalk Sonar 8.5.3 via USB connection to the RP, then exported to WAV files, without any additional processing. Both parts are prominent in the mix, so effected harmonica is both a key component of the accompaniment and the lead instrument on this track. Both these patches, of course, are included in my latest patch set for Digitech RP355.

You can hear the music and buy if you like at iTunes or CDBaby.

Me and the Devil: red-hot Americana

Me and the Devil: red-hot Americana

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The 21st Century Harmonica Band: One Harp, One Looper, and My Patch Set

SPAH has announced that part of its program for SPAH 2014 will be the Harmonica Band reboot, in which attendees will have the opportunity to perform with a harmonica band featuring bass, chord, and diatonic or chromatic lead harps. I don’t have much desire to perform with a harmonica trio–its artistic appeal aside, it’s a format that excites little public interest in 2014, and I don’t see why that’s going to change–but the announcement made me think about some of the loops I’ve done lately in which the harmonica fills all the roles of a modern rock band except drums.
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Playing in Milan on April 5, Taking the RP360XP

I’m doing a gig in Milan, Italy at Spazio Teatro 89 on April 5 with Ed Abbiatti and his band Lowlands. It’s an all-acoustic show in (I’m told) a big theatre, and it’s going to be recorded and video’d, so there should be some cool stuff to see and hear afterwards (like an “Unplugged” DVD). I’m spending a few more days in Milan after that to record a few more songs with Ed and Lowlands for the next record. I’ve been on just about every record Ed’s made with this group, and it’s cool to be part of that history.

I’m bringing the Digitech RP360XP with me on this trip, not the RP500. I ran the two boxes side by side tonight, comparing identical patch setups, and the RP360XP sounded better overall–the same vivid tones as the 500, which after all is based on the same chip, but bigger and more detailed somehow. Like Bill Clayton at Digitech tech support told me: subtly better.

That wouldn’t be enough to get me off the 500, which has very, very superior performance features compared to the 360XP, except for two things:
1) The 360XP runs on Euro standard wall power as well as US standard, and the 500 doesn’t. So I’d have to drag a transformer to the gig with the 500. Much simpler with the 360XP. Also…
2) With this band, I won’t be doing the rapid tone changes I use on my own stuff–for the most part I’ll stick to one basic sound per song, and use the expression pedal to modulate the sound. So the performance features of the RP500 aren’t so important this time.

And oh, yeah: if you’re flying a long way, every extra pound and cubic inch in your luggage matters. The 360XP is a lot smaller and lighter than the 500, and that makes a difference here. (However, I have to carry a direct box with the 360XP, because there are no XLR outs.)

The other big difference for me is that the RP500 is programmed with all the tailored sounds I use for my own repertoire, as well as the v17 patch set I offer in my store. The RP360XP only has the v17 patch set in it, and even a few of those patches need some tweaking. (Did you wonder why I haven’t released a set for the RP360 yet? That’s why.) However, I don’t think I’ll miss the customized tones on this gig. Most of them are variations on the v17 sounds anyway, with EQ adjustments for the layered arrangements I do in my solo work. So I don’t expect to miss the repertoire-specific sounds, which is a good thing given that I don’t have time to program them into the RP360XP before I get to Milan, either.

The biggest problem I may have is convincing Ed to let me use the RP–it’s an Unplugged gig, after all. But I’ll work on it. Stay tuned for more details on the gig. See you in Milan.

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Live from Alpine Wines, 31 Aug 2013: Have Mercy

Richard Hunter with Lowlands
This performance of Big Walter Horton’s chromatic harp instrumental “Have Mercy” was recorded live at Alpine Wines, Driggs, ID on the night of 31 August, 2013. I use two patches on the Digitech RP355 for this piece: a double-octave-down patch to lay down the bass line on the looper, then a Blackface Deluxe patch with slapback delay for the rhythm and solo lines. This latter patch is included in the Huntersounds v16 RP355 patch set under the name of “BDBlue.”

The harmonica mic is an Audix Fireball with V element, and the harmonica is a Hohner CX12 in the key of C. The piece is played in D minor. The RP355 goes into a Digitech JamMan Stereo looper, and from there to a Peavey KB2 keyboard amplifier. The performance was recorded on a Zoom H4 positioned a few inches from the grill of the KB2.

This piece was written to take advantage of the strengths of the chromatic harp, and does it ever. I’ve been playing this piece since the late 1970s, and I find that on any given night it can bring out anything from jazz to hard blues. This night was on the bluesier side, and I like the groove. I hope you do too.

Have Mercy performed by Richard Hunter, 31 August 2013

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Live from Alpine Wines, 31 Aug 2013: Little Wing

This performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” was recorded live at Alpine Wines, Driggs, ID on the night of 31 August, 2013. The vocalist is Sue Berkenfield, with piano and harmonica by me (Richard Hunter, in case you’re confused about whose blog this is).

Sue Berkenfield at Alpine Wines 31 August 2013

Sue Berkenfield at Alpine Wines 31 August 2013

I play the chord structure once on (synthesized) piano, looping as I go; then I do a chorus with (live) piano over (looped) piano, then switch to harmonica, first for an “acoustic” solo through my vocal mic (which is running through the Zoom G3, with a patch designed for vocals with a slight amped edge), then for fills and a solo using a Digitech RP355 patch that includes a Matchless amp model coupled with a pitch shift of a perfect 5th up, and a delay line to add some mystery to the tone. (This patch is not included in the Huntersounds v16 RP355 patch set, but is included in the v16 RP500 set under the name MAPST5.) The harmonica is a Seydel Session Steel in C, played in second position (key of G).

Little Wing performed by Richard Hunter and Sue Berkenfield, 31 August 2013

The piano sound is created by a Roland JV1010 synth module, an aged but still effective device that includes a number of cool pianos. The harmonica mic for the RP setup is an Audix Fireball with V element. Everything, including instruments and vocals, is running through a Peavey KB2 keyboard amp, and is recorded by a Zoom H4 sitting a few inches in front of the amp grill. That’s about it for the gear.

A few notes on the harmonica blocked on the second solo; somehow I got them unblocked again. I think the sound and conception are cool enough to carry it through stuff like that, but there you go. We’re still living in a material world…

This is obviously a very cool song, and I love that it works so well with such sparse instrumentation, including an acoustic harmonica sound. Placed side by side with the heavily effected harp, the acoustic harp sounds every bit as otherwordly. The ending is a little abrupt, but up till then it’s very effective.

Dig.

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