CD Release Show: May 17

DH_1024 I’m pleased to announce the official CD release show for my new record, Pennsylvania Station Blues, will take place Sunday, May 17th at 6pm at Strange Brew in South Austin. Co-produced by Jeff Plankenhorn, the all-acoustic record features my trio of Mark Epstein on upright bass and Kyle Thompson on drums and percussion, and we recorded the whole thing in two and half days. I have a lot of people to thank for helping out along the way, and I’m sure I’ll be doing so over and over at the show, but we’ll be playing songs from the record, and some newer ones, in between all the grateful gushing. For now, shout-outs to Billy Henry for engineering at Muzicwiz studio, Matt W. Cooper for mixing at the Sound Suite, James Wetz for the crazy-good artwork and Peerless Mastering in Boston for, well, a kickass mastering job. Hope to see you at the show.

High Profits Premieres Sunday, April 19

One night last spring I got a text around 11pm that read simply, “The weed show sold!” Many months later, we’re wrapping up the score to the final episode of High Profits, and I’m excited to post that “the weed show” is poised for its premiere on CNN Sunday, April 19th. The eight-part series was created by Bat Bridge Entertainment, based here in Austin, and you couldn’t ask for a better group of folks to work with.

Which Fingerstyle Blues Course?

TF Essentials image

Having received more than one question about this I thought I would post an explanation here of the differences between a few of the fingerstyle blues courses I have out with Truefire. Here goes:

If you’ve never done any fingerstyle at all I would recommend my Fingerstyle Blues Handbook courses as the place to start. Volume 1 is steady bass, Volume 2 is alternating (Travis style) bass. They assume zero fingerpicking skills to start. As such the material is more like excercises than tunes but they will give you a real foundation for the rest.

As to the difference between Fingerstyle Blues Factory and Essentials/Fingerstyle Blues: The whole first part of the Factory course is short, 2- to 4- bar licks, which you then string together into complete 12-bar choruses in the secod half of the course. Essentials just jumps right in with whole tunes, and assumes you can already manage most of the techniques involved.

If the Handbook courses are late beginner/early intermediate and Factory and Essentials cover solid intermediate ground, New School Fingerstyle Blues is pretty advanced material. It teaches a handful of complete tunes, most with multiple sections, with no real restrictions on difficulty. Several of the tunes appear on my solo guitar CD “David Hamburger Plays Blues, Ballads and a Pop Song.”

So that’s that. In case the terms “steady bass” and “alternating bass” are unfamiliar to you, here’s a bit of an explanation:

Steady bass refers to a technique where the the thumb repeats bass notes on a single string for whatever chord you’re on. For example, for the first four bars of a blues in E, you might just continually play the low E string the entire time, or four E quarter notes per measure.

The alternating bass has your thumb, well, alternating every beat between a lower and a higher string. So on that same E chord, you might play the low E (open 6th string) on the first beat, then second fret on the D (fourth) string on the second beat, back to the open E on beat three, back to the D string on beat four.

The alternating thumb style is also called Travis picking; many people learn a basic version of it called pattern picking. You can hear it in everything from Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis to Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and so on.

The steady bass is typically considered the province of the Texas bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, in whose styles it lends itself to a more improvisational approach on the high strings (because what the bass is doing is, on some level, less complicated than what’s required in the alternating thumb approach). It’s also present in more Delta-based styles like those of Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker.

Overall, the alternating style seems to result in a brighter, bouncier feel while the steady bass conjures up darker, bluesier ways of playing. That’s the broad cliche, anyway. Both are fundamental to the fingerstyle blues approach. I imagine we designated the steady-bass course Volume 1 because the lack of alternating the thumb does give you one less thing to worry about, but I’ve found, in years past of teaching it live, that it still takes quite a bit of concentration and practice to keep the bass going consistently once the fingers (melody notes) get involved. And for what it’s worth, none of the original blues artists I mentioned above ever did this flawlessly either; they tended to play in a much looser, call-and-response style between the bass and the upper notes. But when learning from scratch, it’s not a bad idea to get that consistency down, so you can choose to get loose with it. But the short answer is: steady bass, thumb on one low string at a time; alternating bass, thumb switching between two notes in every measure.

Essentials: Fingerstyle Blues

My latest Truefire course launches this week! Essentials: Fingerstyle Blues offers 10 solo acoustic tunes in a variety of keys, grooves and tempos. Shot with Truefire’s usual high production values and attention to detail, the course includes careful video breakdowns of each tune along with complete notation and tab. Did I mention I love working with these people?

Pennsylvania Station Blues

The first year I lived in Austin, I moseyed on down to the SXSW film festival to see if I could get in to the Jerry Wexler documentary. Lacking a wristband, I was herded into the have-nots line. With mutual disgruntlement as an icebreaker, I wound up chatting with a couple of other wristband-less, musicianly-looking dudes. Eventually we all got in, and afterwards, in a fit of bonding over the finer points of Señor Wexler’s career, we drifted off together to some forgettable downtown bar in search of beer and A/C, not necessarily in that order.

The audience for cult documentaries about storied R&B producers is a somewhat self-selecting one, so it wasn’t so surprising to discover that two of us were songwriters, and we found enough worth discussing that afternoon to motivate us past the awkward dude moment of exchanging phone numbers in a bar so we could continue the conversation at a later date.

It was in this fashion that I made my first good friend in town, the first of two compadres with whom I soon instigated a weekly songwriting group. The only rule, modeled on the Jack Hardy Monday nights I used to attend in New York at the “Houston Street Hilton,” was that you had to show up and sing a new song you’d written within the past week. We lasted, off and on again but mostly on, for about three years, and in that time I threw a lot of songs on the pile, many started at around 7pm for our eight o’clock meeting.

When I began a weekly solo residency at Flipnotics a few years later, I began pulling some of those songs from the pile, dusting them off, and seeing how they held up under actual performance circumstances. A few did. After one show, my wife asked, “Who wrote that one, you know, with the line about the Pennsylvania Station…” At that point I figured, if it sounds like I got it from somewhere else, it must be worth continuing to play.

I’ve been working on a new record this summer, here and there, so I’m getting to record a few from the pile and a handful of more recent ones. It’s not being produced by Jerry Wexler, but I’d like to think it’s in good hands nonetheless.

(Thanks to Rusty Shackleford for shooting and posting footage from this summer’s Acoustic Music Camp in Dallas)

“Exercise Your Mind”

I recently scored this short film for the Mental Health Channel, a new project just launched by Arcos Films. This episode, “Exercise Your Mind,” is part of the Mental Fitness series.

Ivan Rosenberg

thefoggyhogtownboysandivIf I hadn’t just met and hung out with Ivan Rosenberg at Gerald Jones’ Acoustic Music Camp in Arlington, TX this past weekend, I would have wanted to meet him as soon as I read his liner notes to 2009’s The Hogtown Sessions. Living in Portland at the time, Rosenberg flew to Toronto with specific intentions for this collaboration with the Foggy Hogtown Boys. “We settled on some rarely-covered bluegrass and country classics plus a few originals, aiming overall for a 1970s medium-traditional Yankee-grass aesthetic.” Done. I’m sold. Rosenberg further clarifies: “In record bin terms, that’s between the ‘Late-Suit’ and ‘Mid-Late-Polyester-Shirt’ eras, when bands were occasionally taking liberties with the structures and content of bluegrass songs, but the results were still firmly in the genre.” Yep, I’d wanna hear that.

The music these guys have made more than bears out those intentions. All the elements are here: cool, well-chosen, not-overdone songs, deft picking that’s both driving and tuneful, and rock-solid lead and ensemble vocals, all recorded and mixed with a warm, punchy sound that jumps out of the speakers. Oh, and while Rosenberg modestly describes his own playing here as “a mostly traditional Dobro approach that rarely exceeds 1978 slide technology,” he’s got all the right chops in all the right places, and contributes two of his own tunes to boot. What’s not to dig? Go get this record.

Truefire Shoot

I shot my first video for Truefire over ten years ago, a sprawling four-CD-ROM extravaganza called Slide Shop. According to the boss, Brad Wendkos, it was one of their earliest original titles, something I was unaware of at the time. All I knew was that I was ambling through the exhibition hall of the winter NAMM show when a couple of folks with video cameras crossed my path and started talking about making stuff for them. Who could say no? A few months later I flew to Florida and spent four days shooting while Brad sprawled on the couch in flip-flops and shorts, producing, while Ali Hasbach sat by the digital tape machines covering reams of legal paper with handwritten notes about takes, alternate takes, and what to order the talent for lunch. There was no separate control room, a lot of setup time, and much sitting still in one semi-comfortable position or another, trying to keep the glare off the neck of the guitar.

This past Sunday night, I flew to Tampa, and walked into Truefire’s current studio at around 10am Monday morning. We were shooting before eleven, and done by 7pm, including lunch, photos for the artwork, and a bit of guitar grooming. Those guys have it dialed in, and then some. At one point the engineer, Tommy Jamin, shot a little footage of me warming up their blackface Princeton reissue (with a little help from a Fulltone OCD pedal). This time around I’m teaching slide in standard tuning, and Tommy caught me taking my Muddy Waters Party Trick out for a spin. The course is slated to come out sometime before the end of 2014.