Folks, in my narrative of our trip to the Florida Folk Festival, I last left you on Sunday afternoon as we set out to Dale Crider's house in the swamp. We'd just played a festival set at the River Gazebo stage, and here's a photo of us playing "Osceola's Last Words" (in F) with harmony guitars (Chris Henry, Red Henry, Barbara Johnson, Jenny Leigh Obert, John Hedgecoth):
We'd had a good time at the festival, but now it was time to go to Dale's and record on Monday. John had to go back to Nashville, but Chris, Jenny, and I got in my ten-year-old minivan and headed for Dale Crider's house near Windsor. Some big thunderstorms were coming up but we managed to dodge them all, and rolled into Dale's house before dark. Time to relax, and then get some sleep.
Dale's recording session had been tentatively scheduled for 10:00 Monday morning. Typically, Barbara arrived before 10 with her bass, tuned up and ready to play. Various small details, however, caused minor delays in starting to record. By that time we were all rested, fed, and chomping at the bit, Dale had excavated for the songs he wanted to record, his computer was set up for the session with space cleared off its hard drive, Buddy Ray was on hand to set up the mikes and engineer the recording, and everything was ready to go.
By now, it was 5:00 p.m. Barbara was tolerant-- she's been around Dale before.
Now, some people are what you can call copiously creative. Dale had a big stack (actually several stacks) of old and new songs. A few of them he'd recorded 30 or more years ago and wanted to try again, but they were mostly unrecorded material, ranging from some songs which were pretty well formed in his mind to some drafts which he hadn't revisited for 20 or 25 years and would rewrite on the instant as we played. He had a few "covers" of his favorite old songs which he wanted to record too. So Buddy Ray started up the machine, and we went at it. But this was not your conventional recording session.
Now, in a conventional recording session, the "tightness" of the arrangement and the cohesion and smoothness of the music are everything. That means that everybody is playing as closely together as possible, and other things-- energy and spontaneity, for example-- are pushed out to make the music sound as pleasant and homogeneous as possible. Not so with Dale! To him the creative process is paramount, and otherwise there'd be no point in the music. So when recording with him, you have to be alert. You won't ever play two "takes" in a row with the same arrangement. Consecutive "takes" of the same song may be in different keys or different rhythms (4/4 and 3/4, for example). And Dale will rewrite the words spontaneously, or sing the verses in different order or repeat some of them, or leave out a chorus, or change the chords on the fly, or play the chords to either a verse or a chorus, as it occurs to him, behind the instrumental breaks. And he'll end the song when it's time to end it-- he may know when this is even if the rest of us do not. It's all wonderful, and if you're recording with him you just hang on. Barbara on the bass, and Chris on the guitar, have some kind of radar and can almost always tell what chord Dale is going to, and the rest of us just hung on. It was good.
By midnight Dale had gotten a dozen or so cuts which, with a little mixing and editing, will sound really good. And they all had that Crider energy in them. Look for these songs (and others) on a CD sometime soon. And see more about Dale and his music on his website (including a live clip of us all playing "Seine Gang of Cedar Key" at the Old Marble Stage), here.
We drove back to Virginia the next day, full of music. Dale's like that.