Friday, November 13, 2015

There Is A Mountain

I was recently asked by Scott Herold of Rock The Cause to to choose a song to record for a Donovan tribute album to benefit Huntington's Hope. I was very excited to have the opportunity to do so among other local artist and popular national as well. Donovan is a spiritual folk hero in my eyes. I love his fuzz rock stuff too but his acoustic songs strike a chord with me. I chose to do "There Is A Mountain" a song he recorded in 1967."

I immediately recognized this song's Zen content as the ancient koan goes, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." The song carries the wisdom of "thusness," seeing things as they are and accepting that. I've been interested in and have been practicing Zen and meditation for many years (see my previous post on mediation) and I often draw inspiration from that sort of practice to create songs for my band Little Man. So in a similar way, I feel where Donovan is coming from and appreciate his work and was thrilled to have a chance to record it and be a part of this compilation.

photo by Emily Utne
The song is simple just as its content is and I wanted to keep it that way in my version. I didn't deviate too far from the original because of it's natural, organic feel. That's where it should be. It kind of repeats like a meditative mantra. While studying the song I noticed (for the very first time I'm sorry to say) that the melody is the same in The Allman Brothers "Mountain Jam." I had no idea The Allman's got it from this song. I'd been jamming to that song for years as a kid playing right along with it gaining my chops on guitar. So there is a tad of that in there too. You can here my version of Donovan's "There Is A Montain" and purchase the album Gazing With Tranquility to benefit Huntington's disease at Rock The Cause.

First there is a mountain.
You are brought up to know what a mountain is. Picture it in your mind, draw what a mountain looks like to you or go out and witness one. Massive stone object with white cap peaks. Separate from you. But a mountain is made up of so many things; rocks, dirt, trees, insects etc. Where does a valley end and a mountain begin? Show me?

Then there is no mountain.
A mountain is a human concept. It's what we call a mountain. We give it that name, thus we separated it from all that is, from us. It is useful to use language to communicate something but the word mountain is just a symbol. Go past that symbol. The mountain is not separate from you. From multiplicity to unity.

Then there is.
Back to being a conceptual mountain but this time carrying with it the wisdom of no mountain. This is the mystical realization. Nirvana is ordinary life. See things as they are. Thusness or suchness. Living in the world as a part of it and not separate from it is the wisdom. Know the multiplicity in unity. Also there is that spiritual seeking element that comes full circle. One might feel the need or the desire to seek God or Nirvana, enlightenment, spiritual bliss etc. You take that journey and then realize that you can't seek what you already have or are. It's not outside or separate from you. You return. Zen is ordinary life. Enlightenment is here and now. You have the wisdom, living in this world with all of it's joy and suffering and everything in between for which you cannot separate yourself from. It's all you.

But then again that it's self is just a concept... Zen is something to be experienced spontaneously. Experiencing with out labeling. Dropping all concepts is like an empty cup ready to be useful and receive or like a mirror that reflects but does not hold. Music is a great Zen-like thing in that there is no destination in a song. A song IS. Alan Watts said something like "if getting to the end of a song was it's intent, all musical pieces would be finales and the orchestra would be playing as fast as they could to get to the end". You listen and follow along to a musical piece and then it's gone. You physically can't hold onto it. You don't normally suspend that lovely chord forever and want to hear that chord for eternity because it makes you happy. The chord changes and you accept that.

There is so much to read about Zen, Buddhism, Eastern philosophies and all sorts of meditation techniques. This link on The Ox Herder is a good one that fits with my theme here with this song. Look into it if it interests you but while gaining that literary knowledge can be good, doing and experiencing them is at the heart of it all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


This is the Fuzz Wahd ™. It's a guitar pedal I made and it's my first creation from conception to the physical box. I love the sound of the Fuzz Face and I wanted it to be a little louder and with more gain to be used as a lead pedal for solos. I also wanted the tone to be able to cut through so I combined all of that with a wah-wah like filter. All this makes a cocked wah sound (like a wah-wah pedal set in one position) with Fuzz Face like tones that's boosted. It's juicy like a big wad of bubble gum. The fuzz itself reminds me of Jimi Hendrix sound from the Isle Of Wight show (listen to Red House from minutes 6-8). I LOOOVE that. The cocked wah tones are like that of Mick Ronson on songs like The Man Who Sold The World and Ziggy Stardust. Super glam rock. (Ronson, by the way used a Tone Bender with wah-wah)

It was actually a DIY Premier Guitar Magazine article that got me off in the right direction in building something like this from scratch. I've been building pedals from kits for a few years now but wanted to try to create one my self and learn more about that process.  So with research I combined three circuits to pull this off. I ordered the parts and bought what's called a breadboard to attach them on to for testing circuits. I drew out a detailed schematic and tried to make it all work on the board. A major challenge. This took me quite a while.

I built each circuit separately and adjusted and swapped out components that I felt made it better and the way I liked it with my amp (Marshall 50W JCM 800). After that I hooked them all together in the right combination. In many instances Fuzz Faces and wah-wahs don't play nicely together. In this pedal they do. When I first got signal I was so amazed and happy with my accomplishment!! It sounded so killer! Now I knew how Zachary Vex must have felt when he built his first fuzz.

Getting them onto the breadboard was one thing, getting them off the board and onto something that will fit into an enclosure is another. I had it sounding so good I didn't want to have to take the components off of there. Another hurdle of a challenge. I got a vero board to do this. When you by guitar pedal kits it comes with a PCB board that has everything laid out for you like a map and you just put your components on and solder it up. Here with something like the vero board, you have to make your own map.
Again, my first experience with this thing. I read about how to do it and then drew out a vero board layout. For reference, I also drew out and took pictures of what my bread board looked like. I spent a lot of time checking and checking and checking my layout maps and comparing it to my bread board set up. When I thought I had it right, I added the components and soldered them on.

I ordered an enclosure and a page of decal paper. I added titles to the knobs and added someone blowing a bubble gum bubble to the top of it. Brushed it with Mod Podge. The next step was to put the populated board inside of it and wire it up. Another big challenge. Lots of research on this. Apparently there are many ways to wire up a fuzzbox. I wired it up to my best ability. The LED didn't work. I had to figure that out. Then I got signal and was super happy with that but the pedal didn't work how it should. There was fuzz but I was getting a constant tone coming through and none of the knobs worked. This took me weeks to figure out. Checking my work over and over and just staring at that thing. I got really frustrated at this point. I knew that I had a great sounding circuit but this was just not working. Taking the board out of the box and testing each section of the circuit still baffled me. I came pretty close to just walking this thing downstairs, laying it on the driveway and backing over it with my van. After that I would put it in drive and run it over a second time. Luckily it didn't come to that. I think I was just in a good state of mind when I was looking at it one day, checking my work and I found that I needed to drill an extra hole in the vero board to block a connection. Could that be it??

I took the whole board and tested it on the breadboard and.....IT WORKED!!!!!! Oh man I was so happy and thrilled. Wow, I did it!!! I wired it back up and plugged it in. Boy did I crank my amp for that. Loved it. This thing rocks. Have a listen.
What a cool project. Very proud of myself. Now lets see if I can duplicate it. You might want one.

Inquire at

Special thanks to ZVEX for the inspiration. Chase Bliss' Joel Korte for the education and KJ Audio's Kris Johnson for the confidence. One small leap for a little man. One giant leap for mankind.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Opening for Billy Idol!

photo by Tony Nelson
What a crazy opportunity!! My band Little Man opened up for Billy Idol and Steve Stevens! This hand picked show by DJ Mary Lucia for 89.3 The Current's 10th anniversary was hard to keep under wraps when we found out about it three months prior. If you haven't heard it, you got to tune in or stream Mary Lucia's Rock & Roll Radio. It airs at 10pm on Friday's but you can always check out anytime on-line.

This show sold out in mere minutes as the club's capacity is only about 350 people. The Turf Club in St. Paul holds a special place in my heart as it was my first introduction to the music scene here. I first got familiar with it from countless shows with Ike Reilly. I also met my wife there too. Since then the band has kind of made it our home spot. So it meant alot to be a part of this show at this particular venue

Our sound check was excellent with a top live sound engineer Jay Perlman running sound for us. Upon arrival we expected Billy and his guitarist Steve Stevens to have been there already and sound checked but that was not the case. People gathered early at the back door for autographs. I was happy to sign one for Jim Ashworth, a well known autograph collector who had a couple newspaper clippings of me to sign.

In the basement of The Turf Club the green room was reserved only for the main act. The other openers Tropical Depression and us gathered in the hallway waiting for our cue to head up to the stage for our sets. "When was Billy Idol going to arrive?" we all wondered.

As the first band played I changed into jeans, a black and white print polly vintage shirt, an orange waist length fur coat and my new white boots that had just arrived two days before in the mail. Even our drummer Sean put on his best threads for this one with a black and white suite and tie. Brian our bass player, of course, wore his overalls. No one rocks them like he does!

The Current's Mary Lucia introducing Little Man and my boots. A pause of gratitude.

photo by Tony Nelson
photo by Tony Nelson
We were able to get on stage a little early which was good since we were told to cut our set a little short so now we could get our whole show in. The house was packed and we were totally ready to bring it on. I started with he riff to The Builder, a song off the new Original Face album and we ran with it. The band was very
Sean Gilchrist
well received. I could hear lots of "Little Man"s from the audience and a couple of "nice mustache"s.  We kept the energy up rolling right from one song into the next and gave it our all. I had been nursing a cold so I felt my voice wasn't quite were it should have been but the adrenalin cleared me up some and I was able to muster up the energy to pull it off.

"How the bloody hell am I supposed to follow this?!" What I imagine Billy Idol is saying re: Little…" Star Tribune's— Chris Riemenschneider (@ChrisRstrib) Tweet of Little Man. 

On stage from the corner of my eye I could see Billy Idol among his entourage being ushered in. There was no mistaking his blond spiky hair."There he is!" I thought while crushing out a guitar lead. Our set was really rocking and we where all pretty happy with our set.
photo by Nate Ryan "the boots!"

From the stage I headed down to the basement. Billy Idol was locked away in his green room but his manager and guitarist were hanging out in the hallway outside the green room door. I kind of shuffled over to Steve Stevens pointing at his shoes and mine. We were both wearing white boots. He was impressed. In addition to our boots we talked about his touring guitar rig and effects pedals. We met just about eye to eye as he himself is not that tall of a person. Real laid back and cool to talk to for a bit.
photo by Jim McGuinn
Billy's green room door opened to let the Current staff in for a group photo so I hopped in not to miss the opportunity for a group photo.

Soon it was time for Billy and Steve to head up the narrow stairwell to the main floor and nearby stage. I was the last person up, so at the top of the stairs was Billy, Steve and me. I got to wish Idol a good show with a handshake. I stood with them as Mary introduced the two and that was a real memorable moment for me.

They got up to a screaming crowd and played an acoustic set. It was a quick one. Six songs! White Wedding, Kiss Me Deadly, Sweet Sixteen, Eyes Without a Face, To Be a Lover and Rebel Yell. No encore either. He signed autographs from the stage in between songs. This was mostly a radio promotion for him and that's how they do it. He was ushered back down to his room for a short while and I got to shake both their hands on their way out. They were escorted out of the club for more autographs out back door and then they shuttled off to an awaiting private jet.

All in all a really amazing night!

Check back, I'll post video of our set when I get it!!

A few quick reviews of our set:

“The three men create an aural assault of rock, combining a punk attitude with ‘70s glam. Herb’s bass playing is fluid and his harmonies soar. Leader Perricelli’s blistering guitar playing is somewhere between Mick Ronson (one of my heroes who played with Bowie in the early ‘70s) and Jack White. They let the music do the talking all set, quickly moving from one song to another recklessly. It was quite the experience.” – Erik Ritland, Curious North.

“rip-roaring ’70s rock aficionado” – Andrea Swensson, TheCurrent.

“Little Man hammered out an energetic and entertaining set supporting the idea that big things come in small packages.” – Patrick Dunn, TCDaily Planet

Monday, January 12, 2015

Chorus Pedal Build

This is the BYOC Mega Chorus/Vibrato. It's a guitar pedal kit you assemble and design the casing for yourself. I've done a handful of other effects (see previous blog entries) and really enjoy it. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make this pedal for someone else. This one is for Joel Korte of Chase Bliss Audio. He's been making some fine effects. You should for sure look into them. He wanted to get some feedback on how this pedal sounded and it also gave me a chance to prove my building skills.

I love how this one turned out especially the casing. A chorus for a chorus! What better image to have on such a pedal? I Mod Podged the kid's chorus to the face of the pedal and paint-penned the knob descriptions. It took a good while to affix the photo and have it look ok. Alot of patience for sure.

The build it's self wasn't too difficult, just took a fair amount of time. A bump up in difficulty from your average fuzz pedal.

It sounds quite good! The rate gets really fast. Along with your classic Chorus and vibrato sounds, you can get some cool de-tuning effects and the tone knob is very effective.

Hard to send this one off! But it's in good hands. Thanks Joel.