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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bandmate Appreciation: Thanks Guys!

photo by Becca Sabot

With the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner I wanted to give a special thanks to my current Little Man band mates. While the band name is Little Man and could be associated with just myself, I couldn't do it with out my band mates. There is nothing like the sonic power and and energy of playing in a rock band. Drummer Sean Gilchrist and bass player Brian Herb have been a part of Little Man since 2010. They have been the longest running bass/drums band mates I have ever had. I started Little Man back in 1996 and have been lucky enough to have alot of talented musicians be a part of this band over the years to keep things going. This family, extends out to all the other musicians that have been in the band as well as fill in players, engineers and producers or anyone who has helped on an album. That's alot of people over the years!
Thank you!!!

There is that unexplainable feeling when you play with a drummer that is just right. I'll have it no other way when having a drummer play in this band and I've been grateful for playing with a good handfull of such folks over the years. Sean Gilchrist is one of them and has become a good friend and a great person to work on ideas with. We got to dig in while traveling to Chicago together to record Orbital Amusement. Driving in the van, spending long days working out parts and recording. His rock drumming style reminds me alot of Black Crows drummer Steve Gorman which I really dig. We work out parts together trying different things until I feel he's got the groove and he's been capable of coming up with so many drumming variations. Recording with him is a snap as he nails entire passes of songs in a take or two.

I first met bassist Brian Herb when I needed someone to transfer audio from analog tape to digital for the Soulful Automatic sessions. Just about the friendliest person you could meet. Brian, foremost, is also a really good drummer but he offered to play bass or drums for me when I met him if I ever needed the help. When I did need help on bass, I called him. He's great on bass! Brian has an awesome energy and stage presence and his own signature fashion style - always wearing overalls.He also built me a killer pedal board which I am forever thankful for.

photo by Becca Sabot
Us three playing together for the first time was so relaxed and right on. You get that feeling. And I know musicians know what I'm talking about but for the non musician, it's like pedaling a three person tandem bicycle or something like that. When playing a song, we communicate in a different way. Listening to each other and not just or own parts and watching for for subtle physical cues. Sometimes we'll all travel together on a jam in a particular direction just magically. It's a cool thing and that's the feeling you get when playing in a band.

Both Sean and Brian communicate with me very well, no one's egos get in the way. They come up with some cool arrangement and harmony ideas too but never get angry if things don't make the cut. They never take anything personally and want what's best for the song and the band as a whole.

Touring with them is a blast. We get along really well together like brothers. Van conversations have been both honest and hilarious. They love to seek out awesome food stops and help out with driving and tour managing. Brian is a long time tour specialist, so I feel especially at ease having him along.

These guys are great, not to mention, as you can see, they're both big guys which works well in contrast to me and the band name. That just happened of it's self in a good way! Excellent musicians and hard working guys. Being all together to record Original Face was a wonderful experience as well. Thanks for being a part of this band and helping me express the music! I appreciate you every rehearsal and every show.

photo by Charles Robinson

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Magician

This is the Build Your Own Clone Leeds Fuzz. It comes as a kit with all it's parts and a plain metal casing. You can decorate it how ever you wish. This guitar effects pedal is a clone of the Vox Superfuzz made famous by the great Pete Townshend of The Who heard on the Live At Leeds album.

Here I decoupaged a copy of one of my favorite Tarot cards The Magician (this one is from the Rider-Waite deck) on top and painted the casing yellow to match. I also replaced the stock black knobs for red ones to match the artwork. It has a switch that changes it's settings from a tighter wooly harmonic fuzz that sounds great playing two notes at once, to a wider aluminum heavy sounding fuzz. I find that the first option cuts through in a live band setting and this has got pretty good volume too. I used this sound on Little Man's song I Know Who You Are off the Original Face album. (in the video I state using it on "We Understand" but that is not the case.)

Here's a little Tarot lesson on The Magician, but first take a look at this image and see what your gut feeling is about it. Trust THAT. The Tarot is for you. It is card number 1. The number of unity. The connector of the many to the one. The Magician takes things out of thin air and makes them appear just like a songwriter takes ideas out of the ether and brings them into reality. The conscience between sub-conscience to cosmic-conscience. He has everything he needs to perform. Awareness of dreams. Captivating performer in the moment. Infinity, not of time.

From the Marseilles deck.

This is a fun hobby for me. I like to listen to my vinyl collection and work on stuff like this and them test them out and get creative with the sounds through an amp and then with the band. You can check out my other builds The Fuzzy Face, Fat Rocket and the Tube Dreamer if you're into it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Trip to the Badlands and Black Hills

I'd only heard about the Badlands but never have been. It's been a busy summer and I didn't have any days off either with work or the band so my wife and I set aside some time for a little road trip of our own. We hopped in our little car and headed West from St. Paul, MN. On interstate 90 you cannot miss the signs for Wall Drug, one of the most famous gift shops in the country. I think we counted some 40 cartoon-like signs on the 8 and a half hour trip. "Cowboy Up - Wall Drug," "5 cent Coffee at Wall Drug," "Free ice water - Wall Drug,"  and the many mile count downs to the place. The ride is pretty flat until you get further west, then you start to see some big rolling hills and acres and acres of yellow Sunflowers which was a real beautiful site to see.

Near the end of our trek across South Dakota we saw our first glimpse of "Badlands" style formations about the size of a few cars. "Oh look there's the Badlands" we joked and laughed. "There it is. Lets turn back." But then then we turned our heads to the other side of the road and saw these HUGE vast formations and we both fell silent and then "WOW!!" Really cool to see stuff like this for the first time. It is like they say about it looking like the surface of the moon or some strange sci-fi landscape. Now I was getting excited to see more. We approached the national park and had a couple hours before check-in so we drove through and walked a couple trails and fed some Prarie Dogs. Apparently they love peanuts. It got really hot here and we found it difficult to follow some of their trails as some of them were poorly marked but we found our way.

Our first night we stayed in a little cabin of our our in Wall, SD. We walked down to Wall Drug of course and spent some time there checking out all the jewelry, leather goods, shirts and knick knacks. After that, we grilled some brats and watched the sun set.

The following day was spent hiking more Badlands trails and then driving up to Hisega. We stayed at the oldest lodge in the Black Hills called the Hisega Lodge. This bed and breakfast was located right on a river in the woods. Just a gorgeous location. The owners were very kind and told us of the history of the lodge as well as some of the paranormal experiences which my wife and I were very eager to hear about. We spent the evening on the second floor front porch outside our room eating take-out and playing dominoes with the loud sound of the river just down below, waiting to see if an apparition of women in white would walk by.

Breakfast at the Hisega was amazing. Some sort of delicious peach cake and a breakfast pizza. We sat all together at one table with the other guests and got to know how everyone else's trips were going. From here we traveled north through more of the Black Hills and met up with a woman who would take us on a horseback ride for a couple hours. It was just three of us so that was pretty great.  I've been on a horse a few times and really liked the experience so I thought it would be cool out here too. Our guide Barbara was awesome. I learned about Western geological words like "Gultch," "Bench" and "Butte." She took us through the woods and up the side of this huge hill that opened up to this great overlook of the land below and also saw Deadwood in the distance. I was pretty overwhelmed looking out at this point with a really intense feeling. Some sort of spiritual "fit" to the experience and the surroundings. My horse was named Scarlet and Brigid rode a wheezing horse named Doc.

Barbara gave us some tips on were to go from there to get to Deadwood so we followed her directions on 14A through the Black Hills.

Alot of "wow"s from Brigid and I passing through here. Rivers, creeks, mountains and forests on these hilly winding roads. We stopped for an "Indian Taco" for lunch. It's basically a Native American fry bread with taco fixin's on top.

We arrived at the famous wild west city of Deadwood.

It was really cool here. Settled in a neat valley. You might know Deadwood from the TV show too. We just started watching it the night we got back from this trip. Wild Bill Hickok was killed here. Calamity Jane lived there and Seth Bullock was the sheriff. This late 1800's era town used to be home to cowboys and miners with lots of brothels, gambling and daily murders. I wore my western wear and someone asked me if I was part of the reenactment that happened 3 times a day in the streets. I think my longish hair and mustache helped on that point. Still alot of slot machine casino stuff here. We wanted to get up to the old cemetery but just didn't have enough time.
We stayed at the Bullock Hotel that Seth Bullock owned. The Bullock is also famous for being a major haunted location. Of course we had to stay there! In fact the whole city has been known as the "City of The Dead" as so many people have witnessed paranormal activity in most of it's buildings and houses.  Kitty corner from the Bullock is The Farimont Hotel which is also notably haunted (check out Dead Files and Ghost Lab TV shows). We were so lucky to get our own ghost tour at The Bullock and later after hours with Fairmont owner Bob Rousseau! Brigid and I came prepared with a video camera, EMF detectors and voice recorders.

In the Bullock we got to spend some time alone in the basement at the end of our tour. Brigid and I sat at the bar. At one point I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and Brigid got the same feeling and as this happened we got a couple good readings on our EMF detector. It was for sure an odd feeling that lasted quite a few minutes. We explored other areas but this was the most significant moment for us.

In the Farimont we walked through the building after closing time with the owner Bob. At one point, we stood on the 2nd floor in this big long open room where renovations were being made. We all heard something that sounded like a woman real quick from the next room! Both the 2nd and 3rd floors had a spooky feel to them in spots as well. I kept looking over my shoulder having the feeling that someone else was just behind me. We also hung out in a room were a woman had jumped out the window. Bob also showed us the documents of the day signed by Sol Star (partner to Seth Bullock) describing the suicide.

While in Deadwood we got our pictures taken at one of those "old west" photo places!

I felt like I wanted a steak and a whiskey in this old town so we got some food and drinks later in the evening, walked the streets and played some slot machines.

In the morning it was breakfast at Bully's at the hotel and then we got in the car and headed back. 10 hours to home. Really great time. We packed alot in! I think we might head back some day as there is so much more to see including Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument as well as some other key haunted locations.