December 23, 2007

Dakota Dave Hull and Adam Hurt

Local legend Dakota Dave Hull and North Carolinian (by way of Minnesota) Adam Hurt will be playing together at the Gingko Coffeehouse on Thursday, December 27th.

Come on out and see some of the finest acoustic musicians anywhere in this comfortable and intimate setting. Guitar and banjo fans will not be disappointed!

December 22, 2007

Holiday Hours at The Podium

In light of the upcoming holidays, we will be adjusting our normal hours at The Podium:

December 24 - 11:00 - 3:00 PM

December 25 - Closed

December 31 - 11:00 - 5:00 PM

January 1 - Closed

We will still be opening the shop on Sundays from 12:00 - 4:00 for a few more weeks, but as we are normally closed on Sundays, please call ahead.

On behalf of everyone at The Podium, we would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

December 20, 2007

A Happy Christmas from the French

Here's a wonderful and subtle holiday medley, done Hawaiian style:

Joyeux Noël et bonnes vacances!

December 17, 2007

Guest Blogger...Tim Sparks!

Dear Podium,

Thanks for your support for Roots, Rags and Blues.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks, starting with an unexpected angioplasty at the end of October and then a trip to Paris for a couple of concerts. (Just thought I would celebrate my heart operation with a week of Fois Gras and Creme Brulee!) I met, heard and jammed with some nice guitarists, including some Manouche cats. I learned that there are three terms for Gypsy in France. Gitans is for Gypsies from Egypt by way of Spain. Tzigane is for Gypsies from Eastern Europe. Manouche is the term for Gypsies from Belgium, like Django Reinhardt.

I found a rare video of Django:

(Sorry Tim - it looks like the copyright holder pulled the video down.)

You can see how he could only use two fingers because of a childhood injury. Amazing!

The first Friday of every month there is a Rendevous de Gitarre at a little theater on Rue Sebastapol called l'Archipel. A cooperative group of 5 guitarists organize this concert and invite a different artist to be featured. This month it was your's truly and in December it will be Pierre Bensusan. There is a mix of solo and ensemble work followed by an intermission, then the featured guest plays a solo set with some more jams for a finale.

The concert I played included Romi Stan, Gilles Finzi and Michel Haumont. At the end of the evening, a nice old guy poured me a whiskey and introduced himself as "the boss". He turned out to be Roland Dyens' uncle. Roland Dyens is the classical guitarist who does very cool arrangments of Jazz standards, Edith Piaf classics, Baiao, etc.

On the following Sunday, I played at a Gypsy-Klezmer festival in Menilmontant at a large club in a converted warehouse called La Bellevilliose. I did a solo set and jammed with Tsim-Tsoum and Le Freyekh Trio. A horn ensemble from Lyon, Untchack Attak, finished the evening. The promoter was a guy named Sasha from Belgrade.

Earlier on that Sunday afternoon, I went to an afternoon jam session in Montmartre at a little restaurant on Rue d'Orcel called L'Anvers Au Decor. From the corner one could see the little park with a carousel featured in the movie Amelie and the steps beyond rising up to Sacre Coeur cathedral.

 A group called Beouf Manouche was hosting the session, led by a fiddler named Aurelian Trigo, who also doubled on bass and snare drum. Aurelian is the new hot fiddler in Paris these days. Needless to say, there were a number of killer guitarists, all kids from my perspective. There was also a crazy scat singer who engaged in a scat singing argument with the bass player. The jam session was fun, but I had quite a time finding a taxi afterwards.

Here are some of the Parisian musicians MySpace pages in case you want to give a listen:

Michel Haumont is especially great! Fingerpicker who uses a thumbpick to play solos.

Silvain Luc plays Jazz and works a lot in duet with Birelli Lagrene.

Roland Dyens is an amazing classical arranger.

Dominique Cravic is the co-founder of Les Primitifs du Futur with R. Crumb and the Ukulele Club de Paris.

Aurelien Trigo - hot fiddle!

Tomas Feterman - Tzigane and Klezmer music

Gilles Finzi - Klezmer Guitar and Oud. There's a tune on his MySpace player - Petite Fleur- a Sephardic song from Istanbul, very nice.

Untchack Attak - Avante Klezmer ensemble

Marc Ducret - Outside, free improv genius

Thanks Tim, our very first guest blogger!

December 16, 2007

Bob Brozman Live in Toulouse

Bob performing a percussive rendition of the Calypso classic "Down the Road":

December 15, 2007

Sure has been quiet here...


The "busy" time of year.

Rest assured, readers, that regular posting frequency will return to this blog with the coming of the new year.

(Not that this is the last word for 2007...but things admittedly have been a little quiet around here.)

All is well, and there are good things to come!

Look out for a guest blog entry from longtime Podium friend and guitarist extraordinaire Tim Sparks...

December 6, 2007

Art of Field Recording, Volume I

Like many people fascinated by American roots music, I have placed Harry Smith's venerable Anthology of American Folk music near the top of my list of historically important recordings. Smith was able to capture a broad spectrum of material and assemble a collection of music that may well have disappeared or fallen into total obscurity without his efforts. I return to the collection often, and I find that it excites me and revives my sensibilities as much as it did upon first discovery.

The folks at the Smithsonian have done a wonderful job of building on this tradition, releasing albums that preserve the rarities of American music, urban and rural, for generations to come.

The new release from Dust-to-Digital, Art of Field Recording, Volume 1, is sure to appeal to anyone who might feel the same way.

As a label, Dust-to-Digital's mission is "to produce high quality cultural artifacts, which combine rare, essential recordings with historic images and detailed texts describing the artists and their works. "

This collection features over 100 photographs and illustrations, a 96 page book, and four compact discs - dividing the collection into Blues, Sacred, Instrumental and Dance, and a multi-genre Sampler.

This recently released box set is to be followed by a second similarly copious Volume II in 2008, and likely a third collection in 2009.

The music was collected by Art Rosebaum over a 50 year period, and like Smith's anthology, features a number of never heard treasures by often obscure artists.

You can find out more about this release, and other offerings from Dust-to-Digital here.

November 29, 2007

Brazilian Rosewood

"Why is it so expensive?" is a question that we field from time to time.

Perhaps the most sought after tonewood - and certainly one of the traditional favorites used in guitar construction - Brazilian Rosewood has been scarce for almost twenty years now.

In the early 1990s, Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) was added to the list of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As an endangered species, the harvesting and exporting of new timber was largely banned.

To obtain Brazilian Rosewood today, it needs to be wood that was both harvested and exported before the ban or wood that was harvested pre-ban and has the required documentation of its provenance to permit exporting today. Also allowed for export are repurposed timbers and harvested stumps (or more accurately, taproots.)

The Brazilians and the international community take this ban very seriously. In October of this year, 350 federal officers in Brazil arrested 23 people and served 67 search and seizure warrants for the illegal extraction and exporting of this endangered species.

The builders represented at The Podium take this ban very seriously as well, and only build with certified or pre-ban timbers.

So, the price of legally obtained Brazilian Rosewood, of a quality acceptable to a world-class guitar builder, is affected by supply and demand.

It is a very beautiful wood, often deep brown with red or reddish hues and black figuring. It is rather dense, and this density results in tightly focused bass notes and ringing, bell-like trebles. It looks and sounds great.

Recently, we’ve had the good fortune of having a number of beautiful, Brazilian guitars in the shop. They have been wonderful instruments.

While there are certainly other exceptional tonewoods, with each new guitar featuring Brazilian back and sides, I can’t help but think that these represent the end of an era.

May we learn from the past as we embark on the future.

November 26, 2007

Dakota Dave Hull CD Release Celebration

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his new album Time Machine. The concert will be held at Patrick's Cabaret on Saturday, December 1st, at 8:00 pm.

Tickets are available at The Podium and the Homestead Pickin' Parlor.

November 25, 2007

The Podium Will Be Open Sundays

The Podium will be open on Sundays through the holiday season from 12:00 until 4:00 starting Sunday, November 25th. We know that our customers are busy folks, and while we can't add extra hours to the day - we could use some of those too - we can help out by offering another day to pick up those strings, grab a songbook, drop off a guitar for repair, or finish some holiday shopping for that string player on your list.

Speaking of holiday shopping...

In addition to all of the guitars, mandos, banjos, and related accessories, we have some neat Podium gear in as well - t-shirts, sweatshirts, ceramic mugs (and travel mugs too!), guitar picks, and keychain harmonicas.

So stop in, we'll be here!

November 22, 2007

Interview with Dakota Dave Hull

“There’s a million good things I could say about Dave Hull but I’ll narrow it down to two: He’s an excellent picker, both flatpick and fingerstyle, he collects some fine instruments, and we’ve been at a lot of good places to eat together.”
—Norman Blake

“One of the best guitarists in the world.”
—Dave Van Ronk

Local guitar legend and long time friend of The Podium, Dakota Dave Hull, plays guitar with conviction. His inimitable style borrows from the past – country blues, folk, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, early jazz – the list could go on. He plays what he calls Classic American Guitar, and the results are as masterful and rich as the traditions he draws from. A gifted composer, arranger, soloist, and accompanist, the proverbial hats that Dakota Dave wears are as numerous as the bright Hawaiian shirts that have become his trademark. He carries on the tradition of American song, keeping it alive and visceral, and avoids the pitfalls of slavish mythologizing that all too many revivalists are guilty of. That’s because Dave isn’t a revivalist. To be sure, he has been to the wellspring of the past, and has drunk deeply. But what emerges is a living and breathing homage – a style that keeps the best of the past alive, and leaves the trappings of what folk music is “supposed” to look and sound like at the door. His original compositions blend seamlessly with the classic pieces of his repertoire. In my estimation, Dave is one of those rare talents that can hit the ball out of the park, all the time…every time. He’s also an affable guy, never at a loss for a story, and more than a casual fan of the brewed bean– as evidenced by the name of his recording studio – Arabica.

This past week, Dakota Dave Hull took time away from his busy schedule to talk a bit about his new album, Time Machine.

So Dave, tell us a little about the making of your latest release - Time Machine.

Well....that’s a big question. I usually do better with yes or no questions, but I’ll give it a try [laughter]. Seriously, it came together over time. I’d been thinking about percussion some and wondering how music might have sounded before there were recordings. There’s photographic evidence that people played together regardless of the instruments—the “rules” governing, say, old-time music or country blues in these modern times are, in my opinion, more a product of the revival than of any reality. Certainly the tradition is the best possible filter but you need to remember that the stuff that was recorded in the old days was released for the same reason the labels record today: money. That’s why, for example, there’s lots of country blues available but very little of the black songster tradition. But I digress. If it sounds good it is good.

You recently released an album with Pop Wagner, Airship. Time Machine and Airship each have a very different feel. Did you work on them concurrently, or did they just happen to find their way to completion at the same time?

They were pretty much concurrent. I started Time Machine first but they finished about the same time. We mixed them both the same week. That was interesting.

Unless I’m mistaken, this album features more players than any other of your releases since New Shirt. You have some solo / mostly solo albums and the wonderful duet albums with Kari Larson. How did you arrive at approaching the material this way? What sorts of challenges arise in arranging the material for a larger set of players?

As you said, I hadn’t done a recording with more than solo or duo guitars since New Shirt in the early ‘90s, so it was time to try something like this again. There were some musical ideas I’d been kicking around for awhile and I was really ready to try, like the use of percussion. Also, I’ve been doing a certain amount of work in a supporting role, with other players taking the lead, and I think sometimes guitarists forget just how versatile the instrument is, how many different roles it can take. I love playing rhythm guitar behind a lead instrument—the choices for chords, colors, rhythm, all of that stuff—it’s just big fun. Don’t get me wrong, solo guitar is big fun, too.

You wear many hats – writer, performer, interpreter, radio host, recording engineer, producer, arranger, teacher – and I could go on. How do you balance the different aspects of your musical life? How do you find these aspects feeding or informing each other?

I guess you could look at it that way, but really everything you mentioned thrives on everything else. For example, the radio show forces me to listen to music pretty much constantly and that trickles down into my playing by osmosis, or at least that’s my hope. All of the things actually depend on each other in order to work. The bottom line is that it all comes down to listening. As an aside, it seems to me that many guitarists make the big mistake of only listening to other guitarists. It’s all music, for one thing, and if you steal from a fiddler or a piano pounder or a horn player you’re far less likely to get caught. There’s a lot of great guitar music out there, of course, but there’s lots of other great music, too.

Tell us a bit about your studio, Arabica.

One of the great things that’s happened in the last 20 years is that recording technology, the ability to make a good-sounding recording, has become affordable. Of course that’s also one of the worst things that’s happened, too [laughter]. My room is small—I can record a trio comfortably—and I have some nice mics and preamps. I usually do my mixes with Steve Wiese at Creation Audio, but not always. I’ve mixed several recordings at Arabica, too. Leo Whitebird of P.O.D. Studio actually built the room. In fact, he talked me into having a studio of my own. I’ve really tried to make it a comfortable place for acoustic musicians to work.

The climate of the music industry is rapidly changing. The big label model is on its way out, and the future of distribution, as we know it, is likely to change radically. As the owner of a small label, with a pragmatic outlook and strong sense of self-promotion, what are your thoughts on the future, mostly as it relates to independent acoustic artists?

Well, first of all, the acoustic scene, such as it is, is probably about five or six years behind the curve. Most of my sales come at live shows, directly to my audience. I’m not really sure how that will change over time. The industry as a whole is going to digital downloads. There’s a part of me that’s worried; with the price of gas, motels, etc., traveling is basically paid for by CD sales. I’m not sure how it will eventually play out, but these things do have a way of working themselves out, so we’ll see. For now it still seems to be the status quo. I grew up with album covers, so I’m of the generation that likes something I can hold in my hand. I can see that that’s changing, though, and I’ll do whatever I can to get my music to the dozens of people that want it [laughter].

While your tastes are clearly rooted in the past, I know that you are far from being a Luddite when it comes to embracing useful technology. Today, people use blogs, forums, online calendars (i.e. Yahoo, Google), and social networking sites like MySpace, etc. to promote themselves and stay connected with their audience. How has technology helped you in your work?

The Internet has kept me in business. In terms of booking shows, sending promo, even letting promoters hear my stuff, it’s all there. If there were 28 hours in the day I would be doing better with MySpace and the rest. I do use Yahoo Groups as my mailing list and calendar. Go to Yahoo Groups and look for dakotadavehull and sign up, please. There’s also a link to it from my own site. I suggest that anyone who thinks they’re not getting enough spam should sign up. You’ll get about six more notes a year.

Ok, here’s a related question (sort of)…I know you are an Apple Macintosh guy and an iPod user. Do you think the usefulness of the iPod outweighs the loss in fidelity that comes with Mp3s, M4as, and AAC files? Do you find that iTunes and the iPod have changed the way that you listen to your music collection? What is currently at the top of your play list?

That’s actually a more complicated question than you’d think. I use my iPod for old music, mainly. Pre-war stuff that’s been remastered from old 78s. When I’m on a long trip in the car or on an airplane, it’s great. You don’t lose much. At home, listening to a modern CD, I listen on a good stereo system. Actually even the old stuff. Do I notice a difference? Yes. But I think being able to carry 30,000 tunes in my pocket trumps the sound issue, at least on the old stuff. If something comes into my mind when I’m on the road, I’ve probably got it with me. It’s really expanded my whole musical experience. I love putting it on shuffle play for a long road trip. It’s like the world’s biggest jukebox.

I’ll probably get a second, smaller iPod for whatever work I’m doing at the moment in the studio, either as a producer or performer. They will take .wav files (the same sound files as a CD) so I wouldn’t lose anything qualitatively there and there’s plenty of space for a few CDs worth of material. It’s certainly an inexpensive and easy way to take your work with you.

As far as the top of my play list is concerned, that changes almost daily. I’m digging Merle Haggard’s bluegrass album a lot, and the new Levon Helm recording is simply great. And the great reissues that are coming out, like Yazoo’s The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of and nearly everything on Old Hat continue to do it for me. Back in the day we were lucky if we got a re-release or reissue once or twice a month. Now there’s so much it’s nearly impossible to keep up.

Well, it is a guitar-centered blog, so I’d be remiss if I neglected the topic. Tell us a bit about what guitars are finding their way into your recordings and shows. Favorite strings? Accessories? Picks? Fingerpicks? Acrylics?

My main instrument is a 1935 Gibson Jumbo. [see the picture at the top] They’ll have to pry that one from my cold, dead fingers. I use a 2000 National Style 1 and I like to say that National Reso-Phonic is the exception that proves the rule—their new instruments are better than the old ones. I had, for many years, a 1931 Style 1 guitar that I loved, but when I got the new one I kinda stopped playing the old one. The new one is better in every respect. They also made me an M-2 baritone guitar. It’s a prototype, and it’s incredible. I played it a lot on Airship. Charlie Hoffman made the piccolo guitar that I play, and that’s a monster, too. I had a ¾ size Gibson L-0¾ that sadly had a three quarter size neck, too. My fingers would get tangled up on it. The Hoffman improves on that guitar by having 24 frets, a cutaway, and a full sized neck. It sounds great, too.

I have a small flattop called a Kel Kroydon that I use in the studio and take out rarely. It’s just too delicate to travel well. It’s from about 1930, and Gibson made it. My 1929 National Triolian is a treat to play, especially since Don Young at National rebuilt it. It’s my ugliest guitar. I have a big maple-bodied cutaway that Charlie Hoffman made for me in the 1970s that’s a great guitar. I recorded with it last on Sheridan Square Rag and I use it when I have to fly to gigs. I don’t generally fly with the Jumbo. If I didn’t have the Jumbo it would be my main guitar and I’m incredibly lucky to have it. There are a couple more guitars and a couple of ukes around here, too.

Every three weeks I go to the Vietnamese ladies and have my three nails done. Acrylics. They think it’s a hoot when I walk through the door. Before I got the baritone I played on the natch, just my own nails, but that guitar chews ‘em up beyond belief. I had to do something. I’d say I lose a little tone, but this is way better. The volume and control is great and I still have the subtle stuff that you’d lose with fingerpicks. For flatpicking I have a few real tortiseshell picks that I bought in the ‘70s, before they made the endangered list. I think I have enough for the rest of my life. I won’t be buying more.

I use and endorse John Pearse strings. Phosphor bronze on the flattops, nickel on the Nationals. Basically a light set with a medium high E and a heavy low E. Naturally the baritone and piccolo take custom sets that I devised over time. The low string on the baritone is a .076! Last time I was at the Pearse factory we tried to put an .080 on there but it wouldn’t fit through the hole in the tuner.

So the new guitars from National Reso-Phonic are that good?

They’re incredible. Better than the old ones.

At The Podium, a question we often field is how to amplify an acoustic guitar. Most people are set on a pick-up solution. I know that you are ardently anti-pickup. I can see where they can be useful in some contexts, particularly in a noisy band situation. What advice can you give to someone who is interested in “cutting the cord”?

Look, a “good” piezo pickup (I don’t really believe there is such a thing) might cost $400 bucks or thereabouts, with preamps, controls, all that crap. You can put the same pickup into a $6000 guitar and into a $200 guitar and if you listen through the amp you won’t be able to pass a blindfold test. I’ve done it, and failed. If you’re going to give up all that tone why bother with a great guitar? You’d do better just getting an electric guitar and amp. They have tone. A Tele, or a National Reso-Lectric would be my choice if I had to do that. Even then, I’d still mic the amp.

One of the things about the sound of an acoustic instrument is air. Part of the sound of an instrument is the space around it. If you’re a singer using one of these pickups it doesn’t sound like your voice and guitar are in the same room. I could go on and on, but to me the whole thing is about tone.

I use a GrooveTubes GT-44 (now it’s the GT-40). It’s got a wonderful volume to feedback ratio. That means I can turn it up pretty loud before it starts to feed back. Louder than it needs to be, usually. I’ve rarely had a problem with it and usually my soundchecks take all of five minutes. I don’t have to dink with switching between guitar systems, either, when I change guitars. All in all, a great solution. There are a couple of live recordings on my website that’ll give you a great idea of what they sound like.

For those that like to move around on stage, there are some good internal microphone solutions. The main thing is not to mic is right under the soundhole, the boomiest part of the guitar. A mic up under the neck extension seems to be the best way. Martin Carthy mics his guitar that way, and it sounds glorious.

Last question…your collection of shirts is amazing (and colorful). When did you first start getting into Hawaiian shirts? How many do you have (roughly)? Do you have any favorites?

I’ve been digging Hawaiian-style shirts since I was a kid. I started getting into them in a big way in the late ‘70s. They sorta became a trademark by the mid-‘80s. I think I have about 90 by now. Maybe I should count them. My favorite right now is on the back cover of the new album. The fabric was sent to me by Dave Van Ronk’s wife Andrea and I had it made into a shirt. She told me that it would have been his next shirt and that he was really looking forward to one-upping me next time we got together. With that shirt he would have! God knows I wish he’d been able to.

Thanks Dave!

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his new album on Saturday, December 1st, at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis. The Podium is proud to support Dave in the release, and tickets are available for purchase at the store.

November 20, 2007

The Podium Will Be Closed

The Podium will be closed on Thursday, November 22nd, observing the Thanksgiving holiday.

If you're traveling, may your journey be a safe one. If you are hosting family, may your turkey be a fat one. If you're watching football, may the Packers take down the - wait a second, we're in Minnesota and have some pretty serious opinions about Green Bay. Scratch that. Hmmm.

However you spend the time, we hope that your Thanksgiving day is full of joy and happiness.

- The Podium, thankful for all our friends, families, and customers around the world!

Dakota Dave Hull and Phil Heywood

Two more videos have been edited from the Dinkyfest 2007 block party thanks to the ever industrious Kevin Lee. Kevin captured a number of the performances via a hand-held digital camera during the event.

Here Dakota Dave and Phil play a medley of Reverend Gary Davis tunes, starting out with a bit of Sally, Where'd You Get Your Whiskey? and transitioning into Hesitation Blues:

Here Phil and Dakota Dave run through a Big Bill Broonzy number Good Morning, Miss Brown:

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his latest album, Time Machine, at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis on Saturday, December 1st.

This past week I had the chance to pry Dakota Dave away from his busy schedule for an interview about the album, guitars, and his take on a variety of other topics. Ever the engaging raconteur, and never at a loss for words, the interview was a blast. Look for it in an upcoming post!

November 19, 2007

Goodall to a Good Home

It isn't uncommon for a customer to call The Podium for directions. While Minneapolis is a reasonably easy city to navigate, many of our out-of-town customers make a special trip to the shop while in town on business, vacation, or just passing through. Given the recent demise of the 35W bridge, even regular customers can find the trip to the shop a little challenging, particularly those folks driving in from locations south of the city.

So, when Edward Suh called the shop last Thursday, asking for directions from the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, it didn't seem at all unusual. He wanted to make use of the local public transit system, so I pulled up directions on the transit website, and helped him plan the trip using a combination of our light rail and bus network. My assumption was that he wanted to visit the store while in town for some other purpose.

When I arrived at work on Friday, Edward was grinning, as evidenced in the picture, and enjoying many of the lovely guitars that grace the walls of The Podium.

What was unique, is that Edward's trip had a singular purpose - a visit to The Podium! He flew in via the red-eye from La Cresenta, CA and had visions of Goodalls in his mind as he waited patiently from around 5:00am until the store opened at 11:00.

Well, Edwards trip was a success - and a lovely Goodall Concert Jumbo is now in good hands.

Thanks for the visit Edward, and we wish you many happy years with a lovely guitar. We hope your return trip went smoothly, and that the Goodall is acclimating to sunny Cali-for-ni-a... it gets to miss out on a Minnesota winter, which is more than I can say for the rest of us!

November 15, 2007

Holy Brazilian!

AAA Brazilian Rosewood...

"Holy Grail" Adirondack...

Hide Glue...

I was thinking about which picture to post for this beautiful OM - yet another masterpiece made by Dana Bourgeois, exclusively for The Podium.

The Brazilian is incredible. Gorgeous in that special way that a picture can only hope to hint at.

The top is creamy and smooth - it almost glows!

You can't see the hide glue, but like the other hide glue OM built for us by Bourgeois, the sound tells the story better than I ever could.

So which picture to choose? I don't do it often, but on this one, I'm going to exercise some bragging rights!

To hear the Bourgeois Brazilian OM Podium Signature Hide Glue Model...

(Hint: If you click the picture, those visual delights are only a URL away...)

November 14, 2007

This Saturday - Phil Heywood at the Riverview

This Saturday, November 17th, Phil Heywood will be performing at the Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar in Minneapolis.

Tickets are $12, and the show begins at 8:00 P.M.

Phil is a great guitarist, gifted singer, and longtime friend of The Podium.

His shows are engaging, his playing remarkable, and his taste impeccable. Whether singing in his warm baritone, or fingerpicking in his fluid, rootsy style, you are sure to be entertained.

This year, during the Dinkyfest block party, Phil was kind enough to grace the stage - playing some songs on his own, and duets with Dakota Dave Hull.

Here is a clip from that performance:

November 11, 2007

Congratulations to The Rose Ensemble

The Rose Ensemble
, featuring The Podium's very own Kim Sueoka, took first prize for sacred music in the 39th Tolosa International Choral Competition. The Rose Ensemble was the exclusive representative of the United States at this prestigious festival held in Spain.


To read more about the festival, and The Rose Ensemble's trip to Spain, visit founder and artistic director Jordan Sramek's blog.

November 9, 2007

Leo Kottke on MPR...

If you missed Leo Kottke's appearance today on MPR's Midmorning program, here is a link to an archive of the show:

Leo on MPR

November 8, 2007

Seasick Steve - Cut My Wings

Seasick Steve (a.k.a. Steve Wold) and his "Three Stringed Trance Wonder"...

November 6, 2007

Leo Kottke on MPR Friday

On Friday, November 9th, Leo Kottke will be appearing on the Minnesota Public Radio show Midmorning hosted by Kerri Miller.

Leo will be taking calls, answering questions, and even playing a few tunes during the hour long segment, which begins at 10:00am CST.

Listeners in the Twin Cities can tune into the program at 91.1 FM.

Listeners outside the Twin Cities can stream the station here.

A longtime friend of The Podium, Leo is sure to be an entertaining guest. Arguably one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the world, Leo is also a very affable guy and an engaging raconteur. The stories and between song banter at Leo's concerts have become the stuff of legend.

November 5, 2007

Clip-On Chromatic Tuners

One thing that all stringed instruments share in common is the need to be tuned. Aside from strings, the accessories that we probably field the most questions about are tuners.

At the simplest, one can use a tuning fork or pitch pipe to successfully tune a stringed instrument. They provide a single reference (in the case of a tuning fork) or a number of references (in the case of a pitch pipe) to tune the pitch of the strings against.

To achieve successful results, the user must have a fairly well-trained ear and patience. But even the best-trained ear will be challenged in a loud room, particularly if other musicians are also tuning their instruments.

At the other end of the spectrum is the strobe tuner. Highly accurate (and rather expensive) these tuners are usually reserved for critical applications like setting the intonation of an instrument in a repair shop, or preparing an instrument for recording in a well-outfitted recording studio.

In the middle are electronic tuners of various shapes, sizes, and price points. Many of them feature a small microphone that picks up the vibrating pitch of the string, and displays that on a meter of sorts, to allow tuning to the desired pitch. While these tuners work perfectly well, they also are subject to interference from ambient sounds. Like the well-trained ear that is put to the test in a noisy environment, these types of tuners can also be challenging to use in such an environment, unless your instrument has a pickup and is plugged into the tuner directly.

The clip-on chromatic tuner is a solution that offers accurate tuning with little hassle. Instead of picking-up the pitch of the string via a small microphone, the clip-on tuner senses the pitch through the vibration carried through the instrument. Typically clipped to the headstock of a guitar, mandolin, banjo, or fiddle, the clip-on tuner is resistant to ambient noise, making it ideal for tuning in acoustically noisy environments. Further, it is easy to read the illuminated display, and it accurately picks up lower pitched strings, (something that isn't always the case for electronic tuners with small microphones.) As it is chromatic, it can be used for any tuning scheme, making it appropriate for a variety of string instruments and altered tunings that are common among guitar, banjo, and fiddle players.

Additionally, these tuners, like the Oasis OH-11 pictured, can be calibrated to standards outside of A=440. This is useful when tuning to keyed instruments that don't feature adjustable tuning.

Small, accurate, flexible, and hassle free - for most players, the clip-on chromatic tuner is an excellent choice for most applications.

November 1, 2007

Phil Jones / AAD Cub AG-100

The folks at AAD / Phil Jones have a winner on their hands, and we are happy to have this new amp here at The Podium!

The CUB AG-100 is a 100 watt, Solid State class A/B amplifier voiced for acoustic instruments. (It also does a tremendous job at amplifying an archtop jazz box with a magnetic pickup as Dave Roos proved with his custom Ted Megas guitar!)

At only 11 pounds, this micro-amp isn't a burden to carry, but don't think you are sacrificing tone - it has it for days.

On the flattering side of neutral and not at all clinical sounding, this amp is really brings out the best of a variety of pickup systems - under saddle and soundboard transducers, magnetic soundhole pickups, internal microphones, and any combination thereof.

The amp features a single input, with an option -10dB pad to accommodate either high-output active pickups or external preamps. It isn't noisy at all, with a better than 95dB signal to noise ratio, and with a 100 watts, it has headroom to spare.

It works around the world without the need for power switching or external step transformers. It also features a useful 3 band EQ, balanced line out with a ground lift, FX send and return, and a preamp out.

Feeding the preamp out of one AG-100 into the input of a second AG-100 (with the -10dB pad engaged) gives you a flexible option for situations where more volume and expanded directionality might be wanted.

They even include a rugged, padded gig bag, and an extra-long IEC cable (eliminating the need for an extension cord under most circumstances.

I'm not sure how they did it, but for the price it is the best sounding amp in its class.

October 30, 2007

Gareth Pearson

It isn't every day that a young guitarist, after playing for merely two years, gets to open for an internationally acclaimed artist like Tommy Emmanuel.

Such is the situation Gareth Pearson found himself in at the ripe old age of 16!

Pearson, of Cwmbran, South Wales, had developed Osgood Shattler Syndrome in his knees, putting to end a promising soccer career. One day, while Gareth was moping around the house, his father put on a video of Tommy Emmanuel for him to watch. At that instant, he knew where he wanted to put his time and energy. His dad bought him a guitar, and Gareth began to digest music at a furious rate, focusing on Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis - and of course, Tommy Emmanuel.
Within two years, he was a force to be reckoned with, and today, at 19, he is touring around the world.

Labeled by many as a prodigy, Pearson rejects that assertion:

"Practice, practice and practice. It's really down to hard work. I am forever searching for that groove that sets Tommy apart from any other player out there. Then there is the passion."

"I have had no formal music training and to say that I "excel at playing by ear" would be making out that I was gifted. It mainly comes down to hard work, although the more I play and listen, the easier it is to understand and hear what is going on."

Check out Gareth's promotional video from 2006:

And a live clip from a concert in 2006, supporting Tommy Emmanuel:

October 29, 2007

Porter Wagoner

Porter Wagoner - country music legend, showman, star of the Grand Ole Opry, and 2002 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame has died at 80.

Read more about Porter here and here.

October 28, 2007

New Photograph

Thanks to Kevin at The Podium, we now have a new photograph for the blog.

Above the box to join our mailing list (hint, hint) you will see a close-up of a Waverly tuning machine. In the reflection you can see other guitars in the shop. I can't quite make out the most prominent guitar, but I think (as does Kevin) that it is likely a Tippin.

Kevin has been handling all of the photographic duties for The Podium website lately and he is doing a great job.

Many people have asked -

"What is that piece that is playing during the audio clips of the guitars?"

Again, thanks have to go to Kevin. It's his own composition, and he plays and records the clips himself. It is a great selection, as it really shows off the nature of each instrument, from both a fingerstyle and flat-picked perspective.

To learn more about the process that is used to record the clips - visit here.

Great job Kevin, all around.

October 24, 2007


Every once in awhile you encounter something really unique in the world of guitars and amplifiers.

The very best instruments are often works of art.

In the shop, I see the unique approach of McPherson's cantilevered neck and offset soundhole. McPherson's marriage of physics and design brings a fresh take to guitar building that is both functional and beautiful. Colling's exacting detail and unsurpassed workmanship, while traditional in terms of aesthetics, is nevertheless inspiring.

Chicago artist Ian Schneller has been creating functional works of art, in the form of guitars and amplifiers, under the name Specimen for nearly twenty years. Leaning firmly in the direction of art, his guitars and amplifiers borrow generously from the past, while seeming to defy most conventions at the same time.

Fans of Chicago singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird may have noticed his Victrola inspired Horn amplifier (pictured above) on stage. Far from a theatrical prop, this is yet another example of Schneller's functional art in action.

The parlor guitar, with it's small body and 12 fret neck, has seen a resurgence among acoustic guitar builders in the last several years. Schneller has taken the inspiration of this classic design and applied it to his aptly named electric guitar, the Luddite:

Like any art, the aesthetics of Schneller's designs are as likely to be off-putting to some people as they are attractive to others.

October 23, 2007

The Times, They are a Changin'

The relationship between the major record labels and music downloading has been strained, to say the least. The majors often like to blame downloading as the cause of their downward spiral.

When the compact disc was introduced just over 25 years ago, it provided a healthy shot in the profit arm for labels. This novel format offered the convenience of the cassette, with significantly better fidelity. People pay for convenience, and the majors profited greatly - not only on new releases, but also on music fans replicating their LP and cassette collections on compact disc.

The rise of the digital revolution, portable players, and the explosion of peer-to-peer networks and bittorrent delivery provided a new challenge. Previously, any "copy" of a release, in the analog realm, would largely have a decrease in fidelity. Transferring music from an LP or cassette created what audiophiles would call a generational loss - a copy that, while still highly listenable, would bear the noise and other artifacts inherent to analog transfers.

Given the digital nature of the compact disc, 1:1 copies with a modest computer were no problem, and the loss of fidelity was effectively zero. Before the rise of high-speed Internet connections and massive hard drives, the MP3 codec allowed this music to be compressed into a much smaller file than the Redbook standard 16 / 44.1 uncompressed file. This file was much easier to transmit over the Internet, and though lossy, was still very listenable. The MP3 codec continued to be refined, and today these files have become the norm for downloadable content, legal or otherwise.

Apple saw the light early on in the game, and arranged with some of the major labels to release their catalogs digitally through their Itunes store. Apple dominated, and continues to dominate, the market with their portable Ipod players, and having content available to their customers via the Itunes store at a price less than a new compact disc was just good business. Unlike compact disc releases that could be ripped and traded as MP3 files on peer-to-peer networks, Apple used a protection scheme, Digital Rights Management, which allowed the purchaser to only play the music on a select number of computers. While this protection could be defeated by the more savvy and ambitious user, it certainly helped the alleviate industry fears at least a little, and the number of releases available through Apple's Itunes store increased exponentially.

Earlier this year, Apple began offering higher bit-rate files that were free of the DRM protection, for a slightly higher price, to enable customers to play the files on software other than their own Itunes player, and to support portable players other than the ubiquitous Ipod. Not every major label represented in the Itunes catalog has given the green light on this update, so presently; releases without DRM are somewhat limited. The switch was such a success, that Apple recently adjusted their pricing scheme so that both protected and unprotected files are now the same price.

At the end of the day, successful sales are all about perceived value.

Prince toppled the apple cart in July by giving his latest album, Planet Earth, away for free in Sunday editions of the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail. Over 3 million copies were distributed this way, much to the chagrin of Prince's European distributor Sony/BMG. Far from a free promotional tool, Prince opted out of the speculation process of the current, stagnant label environment. Industry analysts point out that Prince's last release sold 80,000 copies in the U.K., whereas this time he was paid $500,000 above and beyond the royalties on this album. In short, be ended making over eight times as much, and sold out twenty-one consecutive concert dates, while the Daily Mail sold an additional 600,000 papers. They were able to leverage the promotion and increase their advertising revenue, which more than offset the monies paid to Prince.

Most recently, and perhaps more daring, was the exclusive online release of In Rainbows by the internationally acclaimed act Radiohead. Formerly on EMI and currently without label support, Radiohead released the album online to their fans with a new twist - the price was negotiable. A potential customer could pay as much as they wanted, or nothing at all. They also had the option to purchase an opulent box set for about $80 featuring two vinyl records, a compact disc of the album, a second compact disc of additional music, along with artwork, photos, lyrics and the immediately downloadable digital release. Released on October 11th, over 1.2 million people downloaded the album in one day, with the average price paid being between $5 and $8. Numbers on the box set sales are not available yet, but industry analysts suspect net sales of the download alone to be $6-10 million.

Independent artists have been leveraging technology for a while, using content rich websites, social network environments like MySpace, and offering their music for sale online in a per-track format like Itunes. The buzz of the blogosphere even propelled local artists Tapes 'n Tapes into the national spotlight. Sure, these examples can't compare with the pull of a name like Prince or Radiohead and their respective success with technology, but the appeal of a more DIY ethic, with less dependence on the dinosaur that is the recording industry, is evident.

The times really are a changin'.

October 22, 2007


Stevie Wonder's 1972 release on Motown records, Talking Book, is a tour de force of soulful, funky keyboard goodness. Released just seven months after the also incredible Music of My Mind this album paved the way for soon-to-follow masterpieces Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life.

On these records, Wonder redefines the role of keyboards in pop music, infusing the compositions with incredible hooks, thoughtful arrangements, and a harmonic sensibility usually reserved for the best jazz releases.

It is no wonder that Pete Huttlinger, the 2000 winner of the National Fingerpick Guitar Championship in Winfield Kansas, chooses to explore his music. The arrangements are so full, so layered, that it seems difficult to imagine how they could translate in a meaningful way to solo guitar. Given the dexterity and rhythmic mastery of Huttlinger, it is precisely this complexity that carries through in his arrangements.

And the hook.

When thinking about Wonder, one can never underestimate the power that the hook can have.

Here's Stevie rocking the clavinet in the studio in 1973:

And here's Pete bringing it all together live at the Ryman:

October 18, 2007

Interesting Fahey...

The other day in the shop, I noticed that we had received a book that piqued my curiosity.

American Primitive Guitar taught by John Fahey.

Published through Stefan Grossman's Guitar workshop, this book features three compact discs, and three lessons dealing with technique, composition, and improvisation.

All in all, it looks like a solid selection of material, and a nice introduction to Fahey's unique approach to fingerstyle guitar.

On the topic of Fahey...

There have been a number of unique videos that have surfaced recently on YouTube. One series of videos features a young John Fahey appearing on a television show, talking about guitar.

Most recently, and unlike any Fahey video I have ever seen, is a wonderful 16 minute clip from a 1976 show in Portland, Oregon.

Unfortunately, the video has restrictions with regard to embedding.

But you can just follow this link: John Fahey Video.


October 17, 2007

Phil Heywood

Another promised video clip from this years Dinkyfest block party!

Phil Heywood - fingerstyle guitarist extraordinaire, all around good guy, and teacher at The Podium played a nice set at Dinkyfest, sharing the stage with Dakota Dave Hull.

Here he performs Hedgehog Hedge, a tune he recorded on his 1990 release Some Summer Day.

To find out more about Phil, his releases, and when he is playing next, visit his website.

Without further ado:

October 16, 2007

This Sunday, October 21st

Come out and support the good work of the West Bank School of Music (and enjoy some great music while you are at it!)

Tickets are available at The Podium, as well as the West Bank School of Music.

October 15, 2007

Huss and Dalton 00-SP

Being around a bunch of world-class guitars everyday has an effect on one's hearing. When somebody is playing a guitar in the back of the shop, you start thinking things like -

Which dreadnought is that? Is that the Collings' OM with the Adirondack top? Mahogany sure sounds different than rosewood...

And so on.

All of the guitars have a sonic personality. Sure, the guitars of a particular builder will possess certain aural similarities. As will guitars of a certain size.

But each individual guitar from each builder sounds at least a little bit different than the very same model from the very same builder. It's like a family. Similar features, a shared lineage, but no two fingerprints are the same.
So where am I going with this?

This guitar tricks me. Often.

The bass is big and defined. Dreadnought big, without being floppy at all. The mids jump out like the mids on a great OM. The guitar is really, really loud. The top end chimes up and down the neck. You can back off, or hit it hard and it does what you expect it to do...only better.

Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton are in the tenth year of making guitars and banjos under their own name in Stauton, Virginia.

This guitar is one the best (and quite possibly, the very best) OO sized instrument that I've ever heard.

See it and hear!

October 14, 2007

R.I.P. Mr. Jimmy

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was "dead"
I said to him

You can't always get what you want, no!
You can't always get what you want (tell ya baby)
You can't always get what you want (no)
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

Jimmy Hutmaker of Excelsior, MN died on Wednesday, October 4th. History (legend?) has it that Hutmaker had a chance encounter with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones after their 1964 show at Danceland. Jagger was filling a prescription at Bacon's pharmacy, where Hutmaker was served a regular Coke instead of the cherry Coke he had ordered.

His wry reply was "you can't always get what you want..."

The rest is rock and roll history.

Here is a clip of the Stones from the film Rock and Roll Circus. The verse alluding to Jimmy comes in at about 1 minute, 20 seconds.

October 11, 2007

Early Southern Guitar Sounds

In 1998, multi-instrumentalist, musicologist, historian, and champion of the music of America's rural South Mike Seeger released a wonderful Smithsonian recording - Southern Banjo Sounds.

The recording features twenty-six tracks, ranging from the 19th century to the birth of bluegrass in the 1940's. What was particularly unique about the album, is that Seeger not only played a solid, historic representation of American banjo music, but he did it on twenty-three mostly vintage instruments. Like most Smithsonian releases, the liner notes are thorough and well written.

This widely acclaimed project was followed up in 2000 with a series of video recordings, released jointly by Smithsonian and Homespun - Southern Banjo Styles. This is a fantastic series that follows the model of the audio release, featuring material spanning nearly a century, played on a number of vintage instruments. The ever affable Seeger introduces each segment giving an overview of the particular style, information about the instrument he is playing, and the song itself.

Seeger's latest release, Early Southern Guitar Sounds, follows in the same tradition. Featuring twenty-eight tracks played on twenty-five different guitars, the release follows the rise of the guitar in the music of the American South from 1850-1930. The liner notes, as usual, are a great read.

Here is a great clip of Mike Seeger playing Cumberland Gap at Wintergreen, VA in August 2007:

October 10, 2007

Koerner and Glover at Dinkyfest

As promised...

This year's Dinkyfest block party featured some wonderful performers, including some veterans of the Minneapolis West Bank scene.

Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover played an excellent, energized set. Koerner's signature 12-string guitar and Glover's harp filled the air, making it clear that these icons aren't ready to rest on any laurels or reside on the pages of any history books - yet.

When I interviewed Charlie Parr awhile back, he was as excited about sharing the stage with Spider John this past weekend at the Turf Club as he was about his (then) upcoming tour of the UK.

Here's a clip of Koerner and Glover playing Last Lonesome Blues, captured by The Podium's own Kevin Lee:

If you like what you see, check out the Koerner, Ray, and Glover Story, previously on VHS, but now available on DVD!

October 9, 2007


French guitarist Damien Aribert performs the Badi Assad composition The Being Between with a prepared guitar:

And here is Badi Assad, performing her composition:

October 8, 2007

Keeping Your Guitar Happy - Humidity 101

Here in the Midwest, fall is beginning and the promise of winter approaches. What that means for string players, is that the drop in humidity - exacerbated by indoor heating - is about to wreck havoc on your instrument. (If you live in a different climate, unless it is tropical, the same idea applies to your dry season). Fingerboards can shrink, fret ends can pop out, the top of the instrument can crack, and the action can be affected - you get the idea - bad news. And while many instrument makers extend wonderful and comprehensive warranties, the one thing that is always excluded is damage resulting from lack of care regarding humidity.

Fortunately, the power to prevent such problems can be had with just a little preparation:

1. Be aware of your local climate change. Here in Minnesota, we often use Halloween as a reminder to start attending to an instrument's climate needs, though in reality, it actually can be an issue as early as late September.

2. You can't "guess" humidity. Use a case hygrometer, or at the very least, have a hygrometer in the room where you keep the instrument. Humidifying your home in the fall and winter is a good idea, for both you and the instrument.

3. Maintain the guitar's humidity at 45-50% at all times. This will invariably require the use of a case or soundhole humidifier. There are several on the market, or you can make one following these directions. Keeping your guitar in the case, and keeping the case closed while you are playing is a great way to maintain a stable environment.

4. Bring you guitar in for a seasonal tune-up. The costs are minimal to none, and by making smaller, more frequent adjustments you will save money on repairs in the long run.

By taking a few steps, you will have an instrument that plays well, sounds great, and serves your creative needs for many years to come without costly repairs!

October 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Guitars

When you are talking about world-class guitars, you work from the expectation of “great” and go from there. The guitars that we get in the shop from Dana Bourgeois are no exception.

At The Podium, there are more than a few fans, staff and customers alike, who recognize the versatility of OM sized instruments. Big enough to strum and flatpick, these guitars are also often the best choice for fingerstyle players. As a person who has put a microphone in front of more than a few guitars, I can say from an engineer’s perspective that OM guitars are a real treat in the studio. They offer a wide tonal range, and generally require much less corrective equalization than their bigger (and smaller) relations.

The Bourgeois Vintage OM guitars are some of the best traditionally voiced guitars around. Featuring Indian rosewood backs and sides and high-grade Adirondack spruce tops, they are loud, powerfully voiced instruments with a rich focused bass, articulate mids, and bell-like trebles. Consistent up and down the neck, they are responsive and dynamic.

But can they be better?

Or perhaps, optimized to be even better for the demands of fingerstyle players?

We had all heard a number of instruments built with traditional hide glue. Most guitars today are built with an aliphatic resin adhesive, such as Titebond, LMI, or Garrett Wade. This is a great adhesive with good working time, easy clean up, and a secure bond. Hide glue (made from animal collegans) can be tougher to work with. It dries quickly (so you need to work quickly), requires mixing and heating, and frankly smells a bit funky when hot. It does provide an exceptional bond though, doesn’t creep like aliphatic resins can, and has some unique properties.

For one thing, unlike other adhesives, it is completely reversible. Reheating and rehydrating can return the glue to liquid form. This is why classical string instruments, often hundreds of years old, can continue to be repaired without damaging the wood. Secondly, it cures simply as a matter of evaporation, creating a strong electrochemical bond. Once dry, the joint that is made is tighter (as the glue shrinks a bit as the water evaporates) and harder.

It is this last property, a tighter and harder joint, that we suspect might make a sonic difference. You see, tonally, the hide glue guitars we had heard all had stronger low mids, articulate but more complex basses, and more brilliant "jump in your hands" trebles. They had lovely vintage guitar like overtones that we had always associated with age, and they were more easily driven. Qualities that we think make for a great fingerstyle guitar.

Dana was up for an experiment, but not for any “glue voodoo”. In an attempt to make the test as empirical as possible, he made two Vintage OM's for us with tops and backs from succeeding slices of the same flitches of wood and he wouldn't say anything other than one had more hide glue than the other. It was up to us to figure out which instrument we liked better for fingerstyle.

The verdict?

They were both incredible guitars, but they were different. Having several renowned players give them both a run, (and all of us here at the shop), there was a clear preference for one of the instruments when played fingerstyle. The notable exceptions were flatpickers (who seemed to prefer the second guitar) and one notable fingerpicker with a heavy, percussive attack (who at this time, until we have permission, must remain nameless).

We finally got back to Dana…and the winner…err…the “favorite”…that is, the guitar that sold twenty-minutes after unveiling…

The Podium Signature Hide Glue Model.

Honestly, they are both great guitars. And tone is a subjective thing. But, as we discovered, the glue does make a difference worth exploring. It had the qualities that we expected, and you could hear the differences side-by-side. In our continuing effort to tweak and optimize, this one is a winner!

October 3, 2007

Leon Redbone

"It can even be a single note which defines the entire song - Leon Redbone"

The distinctive voice, the particular manner of dress, (and of course the music) all make up the experience that is Leon Redbone. With more than a nod to vaudeville, this timeless performer takes you on a journey through American song. Redbone pulls from a deep well, with a repertoire so vast, that I can only think of a handful of entertainers who can match it - certainly the late, great Dave Van Ronk comes to mind.

There are so many quirks to this iconoclastic musician, that I sometimes forget what a tasteful guitar player he is.

To be sure, he's not everyone's cup of tea.

My interview with Tim Sparks reminded me of the many interesting finds that are to be had on YouTube.

Here is one - or rather three, if we're counting songs!

October 2, 2007

September 30, 2007

Interview with Tim Sparks

National Fingerstyle Guitar Champion.

Minnesota Guitar Wizard.

Tim Sparks' musical accomplishments are as many as they are varied.

His passion and dedication to his craft can be seen throughout his career: a mastery of jazz styles honed while playing in Rio Nido, a return to his classical studies for his award-winning arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for guitar, and his important contributions to the stage of world music – including his interpretations of Jewish music on three releases for John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

One can’t underestimate the influence of the country blues and gospel that surrounded him as a child in North Carolina either; or the classic jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Scott Joplin that captivated his attention while studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

On a technical level Sparks is a guitarist’s guitarist. Leo Kottke considers himself one of Sparks’ biggest fans. He’s also a brilliant composer, arranger, teacher, and performer. If you haven’t seen one of his shows, do yourself a favor and make some space on your calendar…and prepare to be amazed.

Recently released by TrueFire and Acoustic Guitar Workshop, Roots, Rags & Blues is an interactive lesson series on CD-ROM featuring Tim Sparks. We announced this release back in August here on the blog, and promised an interview with Tim in early September.
Here it is…

Your musical oeuvre covers a lot of ground. You can certainly hear the influence of American roots music, Jewish music from around the world, and 20th century composers like Bartok. What compels (or propels) you in a given direction?

Curiosity…plus a convergence of emotional and intellectual richness in a piece of music. The mind can get bored with something, which the heart will never tire of. What is a happy medium? Those are the "timeless" things, I think.

Given the breadth of influence in your work, what do you find yourself listening to?

Currently in my Itunes player…
Bassekou Kouyate (West African Ngoni virtuoso)
Three different versions of Herbie Hancock's composition Dolphin Dance by Bill Evans, Slide Hampton, and guitarist Jamie Findley (respectively)
Roland Dyens
Buddy Emmons and Lenny Breau
Jacob do Bandolim
Charlie Parker
Uri Caine and Jamie Saft on Tzadik
Mule Variations, by Tom Waits

(I've been arranging some of those Waits and John Zorn tunes for guitar lately.)

Looking at your calendar, I see that you are performing some dates with your jazz group Rio Nido. How has it been re-exploring that territory?

Fun! I can hardly remember anything from the 70's but all of those songs, the lyrics, harmonies and guitar parts came back like we never stopped playing for 25 years. Like nothing is ever erased from your hard drive.

As a departure from your solo instrumental work, or even small ensemble instrumental work, how do you like performing in a group that is very vocally centered? (I think that a lot of fans are happy to have the Rio Nido albums re-released on CD.)

It's way easier than my solo guitar repertoire and therefore loose and fun. We have a lot of laughs.

Recently, we posted a couple of blog entries regarding your new set of guitar lessons offered on CD-ROM – Roots, Rags & Blues. In the past you had released a video based lesson – Guitar Bazaar: Multi-cultural Ideas for Fingerstyle Guitar – as well as some live concert videos. As a teacher, what did you find to be the strengths of this new approach?

Well, you get a lot of bang for your buck. There are seven tunes taught in detail and you can stop and start, rewind etc. The tabs and notation are included. There are extensive notes on performance, the history, and background of each tune plus hyper links to the net for even more information. With two CD-ROM discs and a bonus audio CD you're getting hours and hours of material for essentially the price of one lesson.

Tell us a little about the Roots, Rags & Blues project, and the process of making it.

Back in the 70's I played a lot of fancy fingerpicking roots music and ragtime, classic jazz. I almost made a record for Kicking Mule but opted to form Rio Nido. Over the last couple of years, I wanted to go back and do a project that captured some of that music and in the process found that the arrangements were much better, being informed by everything I've learned in the past thirty years.

I did a tour with Dolly Parton in the fall of 2005 opening shows for her "Those Were the Days" tour, then I played in the UK and Ireland and at the end of all that filmed the lessons in Bristol with Steve Elliot, who has a company called Acoustic Music Workshop.

That was the easy part.

We spent much of 2006 tabbing, notating, and proofreading. The lesson tunes are: Mississippi Blues, Jelly Roll Blues, Maple Leaf Rag, Victory Rag, two different versions in different keys of Amazing Grace and a 1918 Klezmer Classic, Tanst Yiddlekh.

I also filmed 5 bonus video segments of Carolina Shout, The Pearls, and alternate versions of Amazing Grace, Victory Rag and Tanst Yiddlekh. These bonus segments are played on a 1917 Gibson L-4, which I found in a pawnshop in Chicago while doing the Dolly tour. It's a pretty neat guitar and the segments are cool.

You’ve performed with some amazing people over the years, people on the cutting edge of their art like Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Eric Friedlander. Is there anyone right now that you’d really like to work with if the right opportunity were to arise?

In August I did a couple of nice gigs in Brooklyn at Zebulon and The Stone, which is John Zorn's performance space in the lower East Village. I played with Rashanim – which is a hot jazz/power trio in NY these days – comprised of Jon Madof on guitar, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass and Mathias Kunzli on drums. That was fun. I also always like working with Greg Cohen and Cyro Baptista.

I live way up in Northwestern Minnesota, halfway between Fargo and Lake Wobegon. I'm teaching at the University of Minnesota, Morris and have a great class of guitar students. But I miss playing gigs in the Twin Cities with all the great players I came up with here.

I know that you play the guitar and the oud. Do you regularly play and perform on any other instruments?

Really I am just playing guitar. Teaching at Morris has made me revisit so many areas of guitar playing I had studied and moved through...cannibalizing along the way. I am a post-modern, eclectic kind of guitarist. With students, I emphasize knowing and playing the guitar orchestrally, through study of the classical, jazz, and fingerstyle guitar canons.

Since this is a blog focused on the guitar, we can’t avoid some shoptalk. Tell us a bit about the guitars you play. Our readers are a curious lot…what are your preferences with regard to strings, picks, and capos? I’ve seen you play with a Sunrise pickup. How are most of your instruments amplified? Lastly…what are your favorite tunings?

I am playing a Collings Custom OM Style cutaway made for The Podium. I used it on the Dolly tour and during the lessons in Roots, Rags & Blues. I have a Sunrise [magnetic pickup] and K & K transducers. I use an AER Amp. I use standard and drop D [tunings]. I like John Pearse Strings, phosphor bronze, in the “Slightly Light” gauge [11-50]. I use the capo a lot when working with other guitarists or to make a nice arrangement in first position sound a little brighter.

Today, tools like a content-rich website and participating in social network spheres like MySpace are pretty important to working artists. How has technology played a role in the way that you promote yourself and keep in touch with your audience? Have you found yourself gaining listeners via the technology you employ? Have you discovered interesting music or made professional contacts with this technology?

I only recently started a MySpace page. I always thought it was a social networking thing for kids. But then promoters I worked with all started saying they liked to use it. It does have an easy-to-use, at-a-glance, standardized format with 4 tunes in a player.

I think it needs a lot of work…still cumbersome and too slow. But it reveals how many really good guitarists there are all over the globe who are now interconnected in a networked community.

YouTube also has a lot of great guitar, solo guitar clips and a community of players recording, posting, and sharing their stuff. I use YouTube a lot with students. For example, I have a student who is learning the Sor Variations and I can just click on YouTube and there's Segovia playing it! Or Mother Maybelle Carter playing Wildwood Flower, etc., etc.

Thanks Tim!
Here's Tim Sparks performing Mississippi Blues: