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White Springs Trip, Day 5 (Monday, May 25th): Recording with Dale

Monday, June 15, 2009

In my last blog about the White Springs trip, I left you all hanging on the edge of your seats with a promise to talk about recording with Dale. Well, it was an experience we'd all looked forward to, and it was every bit as rewarding as we'd hoped. But you have to understand some things about Recording with Dale. We've recorded with him for probably 35 years, so we're used to it. But he is a very creative person, and his mind almost never works in a straight line!
Dale lives in a house in a Florida swamp. We (Chris, Jenny, and I) woke up there on Monday, the day we'd be recording, and Christopher set to work figuring out Dale's computer-based recording system. Actually, it turned out that first he had to figure out which of Dale's computers even had his recording program on it, and then Dale didn't know how to run the program, but Chris has done lots of recording. So the software was in capable hands. Even if it was a complex program, Chris would figure it out. Now, for the hardware: microphones, preamps, and the mike cords and stands.
Dale, being Dale, didn't store all his recording gear in one place. I suspect that that would be too much of a logical system. He had his microphones in one house, and his mike stands and cords at another. So he and I started off for the other house, about a quarter of a mile away, to gather that equipment. 
We took Dale's cute little electric golf cart that he uses for these short trips between houses. Well, that was fine, but part way there, the golf cart started to run out of juice. Dale said, "I left it charging, but something must have gone wrong." So we turned around-- the cart barely made it back into Dale's yard-- and he said, "Let's take the truck."
Dale's truck is a beautiful, rusty, dusty, early-1950s GMC. I'd seen it sitting in Dale's yard and wondered whether it actually ran, or if he kept it around as a Scenic Ruin. We got into it and Dale said, "I wonder if it's gonna start. It's been weeks since I ran it." Well, Dale pumped the gas and turned the key, and the truck actually started! The engine roared. 
Now we headed out the same way as before, along Dale's driveway out of the swamp. You have to understand that Dale's house really is literally in a swamp. He loves the swamp. His long, narrow driveway is built right between the swamp he lives in and an old canal next to the lake. We had maybe two feet of extra space on each side before we dropped off into... well... the swamp is full of water moccasins and snapping turtles, and the lake is full of alligators (there were some cute young ones visible, sunning themselves on floating logs). The trouble today was that Dale hadn't cleaned his truck windshield for about ten years, and we were heading right into the sun, with sharp drop-offs on each side. The sun was blinding, coming through that grimy windshield. And if we dropped off the driveway to the left, we'd be in the swamp with those water moccasins and snapping turtles. If we dropped off to the right, we'd be in the lake with the alligators, and I didn't even want to meet one of those young ones. But Dale, who's lived there and used that driveway for almost 40 years, kept us on the road.
As we pulled into the yard of the other house, the truck's engine started to skip. Dale said, "Sounds like there's water in the gas." After he shut the engine down he decided he'd better see if it would start again, and... no luck. The engine ran for a second and stopped. "Oh," Dale said. "Looks like it's out of gas." 
This didn't faze Dale. He simply walked back to his house and brought over his car. We loaded the mike cables and stands in the trunk, and drove back to his house. By this time, Chris had figured out how to run Dale's recording computer and was starting to set up for our recording session. Dale was short on preamps, but by experimentation and ingenuity, Chris finally got five microphones working: one for Dale and his guitar, one for my mandolin, one for Chris's lead guitar, one for Jenny's fiddle, and one for Barbara's bass. These five channels would be plenty, with clever mixing. Chris had all this working about two hours after he's started from scratch on unfamiliar  equipment. Good job!
Barbara had arrived well ahead of time, so now we had everybody there and were ready to record. Dale had a stack of his original songs to go through, and started right in with some trial recordings. He and all the rest of us were in good practice from the four-day festival we'd just played, so it took no time at all to start getting good cuts. 
But you need to understand some more things about Recording with Dale: for one thing, he never sings a song the same way twice. This is because he's always in a creative process. He keeps thinking of new lyrics every second, and so a new song's words change every time he sings it. And he'd never go all through a song twice the same way-- he'd never repeat the same verses, instrumental breaks, or ending--because to him there would be no point to such a boring procedure.  To him, the song is all process, and the process is what's important. So, how do we record with someone like that, who won't be singing it the same way twice? We use our wits, and hang on. We stay on our toes, and arrange our parts in the song as we go, doing as many takes as we need to for everything to come out right. Jenny hadn't ever recorded with Dale before, but she picked all this up right away. And since Dale's so good at what he does, and we could all play pretty well ourselves, in a few takes each song came out great!
Christopher had the greatest challenge. He was doing the recording as well as playing lead guitar! This are usually the jobs of two or three people, but he did extremely well. Our music sounded really good in the playbacks. 
We must have recorded nine or ten songs that day, running from about 11 in the morning to midnight. It was some of the best fun I've had lately. After Dale had gone through quite a few of his original songs, he had some others he wanted to record as well, and we went right through them, getting a presentable take (one that could be polished up into a CD version) in two or three takes each. When we finished up it was after midnight, after all, and I sacked out so I could drive back home to Virginia the next day.
Now Dale's been sending us some of his mixes, and they're sounding Mighty Fine. Nothing like that Dale Crider Swamp-Grass! Nothing like Recording with Dale!
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Playing Since: 1969
[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Musician

My Instruments:
Past banjos:
S.S. Stewart Thoroughbred open-back, 1969-1973;
Epiphone Alhambra with Mike Johnson neck, 1970-1981;
Gibson ball-bearing Granada with Mike Johnson neck, 1973-75;
Fender Concertone, 1973-76; (Yes, I wish I had them all back);
Present banjos:
1937 TB-11 which I converted in 1978 with a Ryan ring and my first H&F 5-string neck (my daughter Casey has this one now, and she put
a Huber ring in it);
H&F Mastertone copy I made in 1984;
H&F Mastertone copy I put together in 2005

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I started playing mandolin in 1967 and banjo in 1969. Spent 4+ years 1970-75 in the Air Force, flying C-141's.

Much of my career since then was with our Red and Murphy bluegrass band, led by myself and my wife, the talented picker, teacher, and writer Murphy Henry. From 1975 to 1986 we performed music full time, touring extensively in the United States and in Canada. Murphy and I have produced seven LPs and four CDs. These include my first mandolin CD, "Bluegrass Mandolin and Other Trouble", a father-and-son CD with my son Christopher, entitled "Red and Chris", and a new mandolin CD, "Helton Creek." All three CDs received excellent reviews in the bluegrass trade publications, and "Helton Creek" made the 'Best of 2007' list in "Bluegrass Now" magazine, as well as receiving excellent reviews in "Bluegrass Unlimited," "Bluegrass Breakdown," and "Vintage Guitar."

During our full-time Bluegrass years we appeared at bluegrass festivals from Florida to Winfield, Kansas, to Nova Scotia, on many TV shows including TNN’s "Fire on the Mountain", NBC’s "Today Show", and the PBS "Natural Bluegrass Jam", and also on numerous radio shows including "The Liberty Flyer".

I also built 10 banjos, 1978-85, all Mastertone-style with Steve Ryan or Bill Sullivan tone rings, and all on Bill Sullivan rims except for three conversions (a TB-11, a TB-2, and a TB-3). In 2007 Murphy brought the last one I made home again when she contacted the owner, bought the banjo back, and gave it to me for Father's Day (walnut neck with H&F inlay, Bill Sullivan rim and tone ring, chrome-plated hardware with Presto tailpiece) .

In the last five years I've been making one-piece maple mandolin bridges (see the bridge page at and am marketing them on line. I'm experimenting with banjo bridges as well, but have not produced a marketable model because all banjos seem to like a slightly different bridge for their very best sound.

Since 1987, Murphy and I have concentrated on running our family business, the Murphy Method, offering by-ear bluegrass instruction. We started out in 1982 with tapes for banjo, but have since expanded to cover all the bluegrass instruments. Check our site at .

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