August 30, 2007

Interviewing Charlie Parr

Hard working. Authentic.

With fans ranging from Greg Brown (who compares Charlie to Dave Van Ronk) to R. Crumb, Charlie has played stages across America and the British Isles. His fan base is as varied as the landscape of his songs. In his audience you will find dyed-in-the-wool folkies, tie-dyed 'heads, and anyone else up for a good story. Charlie's music has roots, to be sure, but his songs aren't slavish attempts to relive history - rather, they are visions of a modern world framed by the sounds of tradition.

Raised in Austin, Minnesota, Charlie's house was filled with music. His father's passion for the field recordings of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith coupled with his own stories of the Depression, riding freight trains, and traveling in the Piedmont region gave Charlie a living connection to the past. Charlie moved to the Twin Cities, and began playing out in 1988. There he was able to listen and learn from folks like Dave Ray and John Koerner. In 2000, Charlie headed north to Duluth, a place that he still calls home today.

It seems that there has been a new resurgence in old time music. From people performing blues in the more rural and country styles to the rising crop of string bands, there seems to be a growing audience (and number of performers) for this music. Since you have been on this path for a while, is this a fair assessment? How has your audience changed / grown since your days living on the West Bank?

I think that’s right, but I also think that folk music (old folk music) has a core audience that’s always there, and always playing regardless of how popular it is. I’ve gotten a younger audience from this whole thing, which is very cool, and I still see the same folks who come out because they’ve supported folk music for a long time. Most of the time I think folks who are attracted because it’s popular also find something in the music that moves them, and then you’ll see them at shows when the buzz is gone.

Often your guitar style is identified as “Piedmont-style”. How would you describe that to someone who might be more familiar with Delta blues, or Texas players like Blind Lemon Jefferson?

Piedmont is tough to describe, really, because it refers to a region (south Appalachians down through Atlanta or so) and not so much a specific style. Blind Boy Fuller is considered Piedmont by most, and so’s Elizabeth Cotten, and the two aren’t really much alike. A lot of folks put Mississippi John Hurt in there, and he was from MS, so it’s a pretty broad category. I usually say it refers to the action of keeping the rhythm with your thumb while you play the melody with your fingers, to put it in a nutshell. But I don’t really know how to play that way, either. I watched a banjo player playing what he called “parlor style” banjo and picked up my right hand from that.

When people perform or write in classic styles, sometimes it seems that there is an emphasis placed on orthodoxy – the idiom over the song. Your approach to the music seems authentic – not in the sense of adherence to any orthodoxy, but rather as a participant in part of a tradition. How do you feel about your role in this music?

I don’t know what my role is. I like songs, and it happens that the music I’ve listened to all my life happens to be old folk & rural blues music, so the songs I make sound like that. I would never set out to write something “in the style of”, it just comes out how it comes out. The tradition that I think is more important is that of people expressing themselves through songs, and making music into their own voice.

I know that you are heading out to the UK for, I believe, your fifth tour. How is traditional American music (and music written in that style) received by UK audiences? Do you find the kind of audience you have in the UK is very different than in the US?

It’s been wonderful to be able to travel in the UK - the audiences are very receptive and like here, there’s a huge interest in old folk music. There are a lot of great players in the UK who are blending old American sounds with old British sounds and coming up with some amazing stuff (check out My Two Toms from Bristol for a taste). The crowds aren’t that much different - certain places folks want to listen, others they want to dance or party or drink or talk ... in either place. I try to be part of whatever is happening at the time, instead of struggling against it.

If you were to point someone who is interested in your music to some listening of traditional performers, the roots of Charlie Parr, what would you recommend?

There could be a huge list here – everything I’ve ever listened to has gone into the pot. Mostly folks like Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, Spider John Koerner, John Fahey - but also stuff like The Clash, Huun-Huur-Tu, Woody Guthrie, and a whole mess of field recordings that were around when I was growing up. I always point folks to Harry Smith’s Anthology pretty much right off the bat.

Your albums have a great feel to them. Can you talk a little about the recording process, particularly the most recent album Jubilee?

Thanks - I can’t get a good recording unless I’m comfortable, so I’ve tried to do each one as though it were a performance - I prefer performing to recording. Jubilee was done out in a garage that my good friend and neighbor, Dave Hundrieser, has. He also played harmonica on it. We just sat down with some beer in front of microphones (ribbon-style) and recorded whatever we did live-to-tape. Then I went back and listened to it and picked out the record. I like the feel of a single place in time, an event, for the recording - which is what I think we got.

Often you perform on your own, or occasionally with others sharing the evening’s stage. Your albums though seem to have at least a few extra players, and Jubilee is no exception. Do you prefer to perform on your own? What do you like / dislike about either approach?

I like playing alone best, because then I can do whatever I want, but it gets stale after a bit, even for me, and I know for folks trying to listen. It’s great to play with washboard - the beat is erratic, unlike a drummer, and it seems to flow with the music (I have little or no rhythm of my own, so playing with a fixed beat is hard & kind of kills the music for me). I also enjoy playing with Dave H. (harmonica), he has a great approach to the tunes and really knows the old stuff. Playing guitar is always good, no matter who’s there, or if no one’s there - I just really enjoy doing it.

We can’t get through an interview for a guitar-centric blog without getting into some talk about the tools of the trade. I’ve seen you playing two different NRP Delphis, the Dell’Arte 12-String, and an open-backed banjo. In our last conversation, you alluded to a vintage National living at the Parr house. Tell us a bit about your guitars. When did you (and how did you) decide on using resophonic guitars? For the insufferably curious, what are your preferences regarding strings / picks / capos? What tunings do you prefer?

I have a 1933 Duolian that I play a lot at home and sometimes at shows that are quieter. My favorite is a National Delphi with a rooster painted on the back - it’s been my constant guitar for many years - when I got it, I sold my wood 6-string and I’ve never looked back. The sound just seems to fit what I do. My banjo is a fretless Mike Ramsey, and the 12-string is the Leadbelly model, which is a copy of his 1937 Stella. The only thing on my wish list is a 12-string from Todd Cambio’s shop. I use medium nickel sets on the Nationals, the heavy custom 12-string sets (14gauge) for the Dell Arte, a metal thumbpick (tears up the finish, but sounds so good - stops folks from loaning me their guitars though) & 2 fingerpicks. I play mostly in open D, G, & C major with some minor variations of those - the banjo stays in either gCGCE, gDGBD, g#BEBE most of the time.

Your stomp box looks fresh and new…and while there might be a bungee, there is no apparent duct tape. What is inside the new box? While on the topic of electronics, I see that you have one of the Lace / NRP pickups on the Delphi. How do you like that, and what are you using on the Dell’Arte?

The box is a new one that a friend from Eau Claire built for me (thanks Dan), and it’s more compact and sounds better than the old one - plus has less of a duct tape habit. There’s some foam and a Shure 57 inside - no underwear, stocking caps, bags, or other garbage inside this time. I like the Lace, and the 12 has a Rare Earth from Fishman - but I prefer to use a mic as well (I use a Beta 57) or just the mic if I can.

For a man making music that recalls a different era, you have decidedly embraced technology to a degree. You have a well thought out website, online sales, media content, a MySpace page, and videos on YouTube. How has this technology helped you as a working musician? What advice would you give to other musicians about using technology to the same end?

My wife Emily and I decided that if we’re going to do this, then we’d might as well make an effort to go the distance. I don’t really like computers and whatnot, but it has helped me to keep on going - more folks know about the shows, and have better access to buying music from me - I’m independent, so it’s been good to be able to get my own word out.

Thanks a lot Charlie!

For more information about Charlie, when he is playing, and to buy any of his albums, visit his website.

Or, add Charlie as a friend on MySpace...

You can also hear Charlie here and here.

August 29, 2007

Dinkyfest Details...

The Podium will be having a sale and giving away guitars during Dinkyfest.

Giving away? Guitars? Plural - with an "s" - more than one?


To clarify, there will be many things on sale in the store, with discounts ranging from 5-50%. In addition, we will be giving away some guitars.

So come out and celebrate Dinkyfest with us!

September 15th, with festivities starting at around noon. The good folks at The Blarney will be hosting a beer garden, and there will be a stage with live music on the block.

While the times and order of appearance have yet to be finalized, here is the lineup that will be performing:

Dakota Dave Hull and Phil Heywood

Spider John Koerner
and Tony Glover

A Night in the Box

One for the Team

Bascom Hill

August 28, 2007

Roots, Rags, & Blues

Minnesota fingerstylist extraordinaire (and longtime friend of The Podium) Tim Sparks has recently released Roots, Rags, & Blues.

This unique and interactive set of lessons for intermediate and advanced fingerstyle guitarists comes on two CD-ROMs (Mac or Windows) and covers a range of material presented as 40 full-length video lessons. Included on the discs are text overviews, practice tracks, standard notation and interactive Power Tab so you can "see" and "hear" the tab and notation played out at any tempo.

To learn more about Tim's new collection of interactive lessons, visit Acoustic Guitar Workshop.

If you haven't heard Tim's playing before, check out his take on the classic Victory Rag.

Tim's MySpace page is a great place to hear and download some of the other tracks from the Roots, Rags, & Blues collection.

Speaking of MySpace...if you haven't stopped by our little corner of the social network universe, please do!

August 24, 2007

Charlie Parr

Tonight I'm headed out to the Mill City Cafe in lovely Northeast Minneapolis to finish up an interview with Duluth based roots musician Charlie Parr.

Charlie plays a mix of his own material, often pulling in a few classic country blues and gospel numbers to round out the set.

Next week I'll be posting a more comprehensive look at Charlie's music, as well as the interview.

If you get a chance, Charlie goes on at 10:00. Unless you're headed to the Porcupine Mountain Festival in Michigan, or live in the UK, this will be the last local show for Charlie until late September.

Here's a sample from his 2007 album Jubilee --


To order any of Charlie's albums, visit here...

Have a great weekend!

August 23, 2007

A Day Late and a Dollar Short...

I feel remiss in my duties...
YESTERDAY, August 22nd, was the opening of the 8th Annual Sound Unseen festival.

In their own words...

"Sound Unseen is a festival for music lovers which is based in Mpls and now tours the world. Music documentaries, rare concert footage, and interactive cinema is showcased alongside live music from new bands and musicians who we think will make an impact."

The festival runs from August 22nd through August 26th. There are plenty of great acts playing, and a number of interesting looking films.

A few that caught my attention:
The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music
Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose
Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer
You’re Gonna Miss Me (about (in)famous Austinite Roky Erickson)

I know the dates overlap with "The Great Minnesota Get-Together"; but the rides, cheese curds, pronto-pups, and [insert favorite food] on-a-stick will still be there through Labor Day.

August 22, 2007

Guitar: An American Life

Few things are as culturally iconic as the guitar.

It is this rich history that is explored in the wonderful book Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes.

Brookes, a commentator for NPR, explores the history of the guitar while embarking on his own journey to replace his beloved Fylde, a companion of over twenty years. The unspeakable fear of every guitar lover became a reality - his guitar was destroyed beyond repair.

From the dust jacket:

"Shortly before his 50th birthday, baggage handlers destroyed Tim Brookes's guitar, his traveling companion of 22 years. His wife promised on the spot to replace it with the guitar of his dreams, but Tim discovered that a dream guitar is built, not bought.

He set out to find someone to make him the perfect guitar -- a quest that ended up a dirt road on the Green Mountains of Vermont, where an amiable curmudgeon master-guitar-maker, Rick Davis, took a rare piece of cherry wood and went to work with saws, rasps, and files."

The book is an interesting one...part history, part ethnography, and part memoir. His passion for the guitar is more than evident, and his desire to find a connection with an instrument that moves him is something that I think we can all relate to.

To read an excerpt, hear Tim read from his book, and listen to Tim play visit NPR...

August 21, 2007

Technology Beckons...


So if a blog wasn't enough, we've really gone and done it -

The Podium is on MySpace.

While the blog will live here, it just gives us another way to bring all of our "socially networked" friends together. Quite a few artists here in the Twin Cities and around the country use MySpace to good effect. From making contacts to booking gigs - it is a powerful tool for the working musician.

In fact, the folks at Electronic Musician published a nice overview last year of what MySpace has to offer musicians today. Check it out here...

So go ahead and send us a friend request. While you are there, check out the tunes on the music player. These will change regularly to give you something extra to enjoy. You can check out some of our friend's pages too - if you're reading this, you'll likely find some musicians there that really click for you.


Mark your calenders!

September 15th is the Discover Dinkytown Block Party...more information to follow.

August 18, 2007

The End Of The Week...

Here are some of those pics I hold you over until Monday.

Have a nice weekend!

August 17, 2007

Liza Jane

Old-Time string band music is alive and well in the Twin Cities. Or I guess I should say New-Time:

Pert Near Sandstone is a new-timey string band from Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, established in 2003. They play a hard-driving acoustic music in the old-time vein, but with a fresh sense and new-time urban grit. Pert Near approaches the American stringband tradition with reverence, infusing their own ideas and character to deliver a sound and style uniquely their own. In Pert Near's songwriting there is as much depth and diversity (and often quirkiness) as their traditional material.
In full disclosure, Nate Sipe - a fine mandolin player and fiddler - is not only part of the band, but one of the talented musicians working here at The Podium.

Check out this video of Nate and Pert' Near banjo picker Kevin Kniebel playing Liza Jane, right here at the store:

(and yes, it's OK to peek over the fella's shoulders to see the nice guitars...)

"It Was Twenty...Five...Years Ago Today"

Somehow that "five" really messes up the meter of that line, but as I'm neither John nor Paul, I'll stick with it.

On August 17th, 1982 a joint venture between Philips Electronics of Holland and Sony Corporation of Japan gave birth to the now ubiquitous compact disc. In this era of the MP3, filled with iPods and other portable music players, the CD is starting to look a little long in the tooth. Having said that, CD sales still account for most of the music industry's recording revenues. The promise of a better fidelity than the l.p. record - with the convenience of cassette tape - is sure to still raise some ire among audiophiles. Nevertheless, the 1990s were the heyday for the CD, with millions of music fans replacing their favorite cassettes and record albums with shiny reflective discs.

While the CD made its debut (twenty-five years ago) today, commercial release of titles and players didn't happen until the fall of '82...

...just in time for this fine 1982 release from iconoclastic fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey. Founder of the Tacoma record label (which released Leo Kottke's seminal "6- and 12- String Guitar" and Peter Lang's debut "The Thing at The Nursery Room Window"), Fahey is often heralded as one of the earliest innovators of solo fingerstyle guitar played on a steel-string.

While Fahey's discography is quite varied in terms of style (as well as accessibility), this release displays his interpretation of familiar holiday classics that can be enjoyed by all.

A fine example of innovative guitar music answering the clarion's call of the compact disc.

August 16, 2007

As Summer Starts To Fade...

Welcome to our inaugural posting!

The Podium is a music store located in Minneapolis, Minnesota specializing in high quality, handcrafted acoustic instruments from some of the best and brightest builders today. Our staff is a passionate one, dedicated musicians who care about the tools used to express and further the art of making music. More than one customer has remarked (in amazement) at the "toys" that occupy the space in our store. It's no wonder that one often uses the verb "play" to describe the act of making music!

Today, more than ever, there are some amazing instruments being made that rival (and maybe surpass?) those legendary instruments from the first, pre-war "Golden Age" of luthiery. It is our belief that we are now in such a "Golden Age", and we are glad to be able to offer such remarkable examples of this era to our customers.

OK. So why the blog?

Rest assured, this isn't some sort of high tech way to try to sell you a guitar. In all honesty, the instruments we sell and the services we provide do much of that work for us. Sure, we'll let you know about some of the really cool things that arrive in the store. Post some drool-worthy pictures. Maybe even have some links - to our website - Gasp!

The reality - we eat, sleep, and breathe acoustic instruments. We love 'em. We are the fanatical friend who can sit around for hours gabbing about the particulars of a certain instrument or maker. When a new guitar, mandolin, or banjo comes in the front door, we are excited to get the box open and check it out.


Every time.

Since not everyone has the chance to make it into our store - and by all means, if you have the chance, come on in - we thought it would be great to share some of the fun with friends and fellow music fans on the Internet. We sell instruments around the world, and this is evidence enough to us that there are many kindred spirits who might enjoy what we have in store.

And what is that, exactly?

Stuff. All kinds of stuff.

Guitar talk of all kinds, from maintenance issues, to playing tips. What's up with all the different kinds of strings? What do different types of woods really mean in terms of tone? Saddles, nuts, and bridge pins...what's the fuss? Pickups, picks, many choices.

We can talk about amplification, live sound considerations, and recording...

Interviews with experts in a variety of areas that pertain to acoustic music. Builders and artists, renegades and rocks-of Gibraltar.

Audio? Sure. Video? Why not.

Maybe even some things that shine a little light on the goings-on right here in Dinkytown, USA.

(Do you know why our neighborhood is called Dinkytown? That's a story for another day...)

At the risk of letting the whole cat out the bag, I think I'll end it there. But watch out for things to come!