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

Red HenryIn my last blog, 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!

Chris Henry and Dale Crider in Dale's swamp.

Chris Henry and Dale Crider in Dale's swamp.

We woke up at his house on Monday, the day we'd be recording, and Christopher had to set to work figuring out Dale's computer-based recording system. Actually, it turned out that first Chris 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 started working on it. So the software was in capable hands. 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, "I'll 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 that vehicle 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 is 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... Of course, since this is Florida, 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 several years, and we were heading right into the sun, with sharp drop-offs on each side. The sun was blinding on that dirty 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."

Jenny Obert in Dale's swamp.

Jenny Obert in Dale's swamp.

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 each for Dale and his guitar, me and my mandolin, Chris and his lead guitar, Jenny and her fiddle, and Barbara's bass. These five channels would be plenty, with clever mixing. Chris had all this working only about two hours after he's started from scratch. 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, try as many takes as we need to for everything to come out right. Jenny hadn't ever recorded with Dale before, but she picked up on the system 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 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! I'm already looking forward to recording with him again!