I played last night (August 2 2011) with One Ton Pig, my bluegrass friends (actually, they refer to what they do as “Chicken-Fried-Prison-Music,” but bluegrass is easier to place in context for most people) at the Silver Dollar in Jackson, Wyoming. I recorded the first set on my Zoom H4, and these are the first of several clips from that set that I’m posting to my website, with more to follow.
I played this set with a Fireball mic straight into the PA, as opposed to my usual setup with a Digitech RP355. That wasn’t my original intention; when I arrived at the Silver Dollar, I found that my space on the stage was very limited (as in less than 2 feet by 2 feet), and it was going to be pretty inconvenient to set up the RP. I would have liked to use the RP for some detune and rotary speaker FX in particular–as opposed to the big amped sounds, which really do not work very well for bluegrass, duh–but there you go. When all is said and done, an unadorned harmonica is one of the best choices for this kind of stuff. (I joked to one of the band members that I was sad I wouldn’t get to use my ring modulator, and his answer was “What’s a ring modulator?” Geez, dude, don’t you bluegrass guys listen to Fatboy Slim?) Fortunately the Fireball is one of the best mics you can get for a great sound straight into the PA. With a little bit of treble cut on the PA, and a touch of reverb, I was ready to go.
The clips I’m loading up today are my first and second solos from the band’s rendition of Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down.” This song has a very simple chord structure: each verse starts in D, goes to A, and returns to D. The obvious harp choice is a D harp, so you can play first position on the D sections and 2nd position on the A sections. I used a Suzuki Manji, which in my opinion is an ideal harp for this kind of stuff–fast, responsive, and loud.
I knew when I was playing these solos that I was playing licks I’ve never played before. When the band is as good as One Ton Pig, it’s pretty inspiring to everyone in the room. Their rhythm section is killer, and all the soloists were nailing it that night. I used a wide range of techniques on these solos, including overblows and intervals ranging from octaves to 6ths and 10ths, and I used every bit of the 3-octave range on the harmonica. The high lonesome lick I used to start my first solo was in my head long before I started playing–I just knew I wanted to hear that sound right away, and it helped set the mood for everything that followed.
There’s a fair amount of crowd noise on the recording–the H4 was sitting on a table on the other side of the dance floor from the band–but the harp comes through loud and clear.
Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down SOLO 1
Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down SOLO 2
One Ton Pig is playing the Sweet Pea festival in Boseman Montana this Sunday, August 7. (I won’t be with them.) If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a pretty good bet for a good time.
4 replies on “Richard Hunter with One Ton Pig: “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down””
Richard — absolutely stellar playing on ‘tonight the bottle.’ I am getting inspired just trying to imitate it.
That high lonesome lick on solo # 1 is not as easy as you make it sound. I assume you are doing a hard bend on blow 8 and then sliding up to blow 9. Any other hints as to how to make it sound like your version?
Hi Bill, thanks much for the kudos. I think of that opening bend not as hard but as slow and deep–the emotional power is in the slow release on the blow 8 bend that slides up to the blow 9. So the most important hint is to take enough time on that bend to let the audience hear it move.
In general, the rhythm on the solo is relaxed, which contributes to the emotion as well–I’m not rushing through it, even on the relatively fast passages. I tried to play the scale passages very smoothly and cleanly, as opposed to a more bluesy approach. With this style, if you inject just a little blues in a few spots, it’s a real change-up that feels like a surge of emotional intensity; if you put too much blues in, it just seems like you’re playing in a different band. For the same reason, I’m not blowing flat out–I’m breathing evenly and allowing the notes to tumble out of the harp, which has the added advantage of ensuring that the notes stay in tune.
Finally, I think the solo could be improved by using a different vibrato–I used a throat vibrato, in part because the Fireball mic doesn’t respond all that well to a hand vibrato when it’s hand-held. If I’d been standing in front of the mic instead of holding it, I probably would’ve preferred a hand vibrato. I could also have used a diaphragm vibrato, or a tongue vibrato. Next time around I’m going to try one of those and see what happens.
Those solos were music to the ears Mr. Hunter – the phrases and tone sat well in my head and comforted my brain, seriously, that’s the way I would describe what I heard.