Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Citrus Synthphony

I'm having a really great time exploring the Moog Sub Phatty I got a few weeks ago. So, I put my ears on, cranked up the Logic Pro software, and laid down some tracks. I like the synth as a complimentary sound to more traditional sounds like electric guitar, 4-string canjo, and shuffle drum rhythms.

So, here's the result of my latest efforts. At the most I may eventually find an audience, and at the least, I can't hear the dog barking next door when wearing ear phones. I have even thought of recording a sound sample of some of the loud barking and incorporating it into my next piece. At the very least then, all that canine cacophony would result in a positive outcome for me. Maybe.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Moog's Sub Phatty - Modulate Me, Man

Ok. Another weak moment (or strong decision, depending on how I use this new musical tool) because our comfy Asheville home is now emanating some very strange sonic vibrations at varying frequencies at all hours. Looking at it in its most favorable light, this new turn of events is particularly fortuitous for Anita and me since summer is fast approaching, the windows will be open, and the new electronic sounds will likely drown out the loud, constantly barking dog of our clueless neighbors next door. Turning adversity into advantage is what I'm all about, or at least I am today.

The Moog Sub Phatty is an amazing combination of retro technology and digital control on three progressively deep levels. Luckily, it comes with pretty extensive operating instructions so I have at least a fair chance to make the most of this tone monster. The console itself has 31 control knobs and some cool indicator LED lights in its bank and patch preset panel, a two octave velocity sensitive keyboard, and a tone wheel and an expression wheel.

But, the shift mode gets you even deeper into The Sub Phatty's programming capacity by adding more functions to its console's existing dials and buttons allowing you to change hidden parameters. Plus, Moog supplies (from their online site) free downloadable software the replicates the Sub Phatty's front control panel which shows yet more of the Shift Mode functions, plus "load and preset" options.

It's interesting how life sometimes revolves in circles (or spirals through time, if you will) since I find myself playing with synthesizers again. Back in 1974 when Anita and I worked for Salt Lake City's PBS affiliate TV station, KUED, we rented a prototype synthesizer similar to this beautiful, more sophisticated modern-day Moog to create sound effects for our documentaries. Now, here we are 43 years later trying to figure out analog oscillators, low pass filters, sound envelopes, pulse wave modulation and the rest all over again.

It's still as much fun now as it was back then, only more expensive.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Well, I'll be a MoogerFooger

Here are the latest additions to Anita Gayle's Musical Kit of Treasures. One reason Asheville is so cool is that it's the home to the Moog Synthesizer Factory, right off the freeway through downtown and way too easy to get to. Pictured are three MoogerFoogers - Ring Modulator, 12-stage Filter and Midi-MuRF sitting right next to Anita's beautiful Kevin Spears model Hugh Tracy Electric Kalimba, which Anita daisy-chains through the MoogerFoogers and out through a combo amp.

We already used it for Anita to lay down a music track for one of her short recipe videos about making a  yummy, nutritious whole grain hot cereal on her cooking blog. Nice!

Since we got home with this Moog trio, there have been some etherial and sometimes rather strange vibes emanating from our home.

But living in Asheville, no one really notices.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Canjo Upgrade

I decided to replace the disc piezo pickup on the inside of my Kodakaster 3 Canjo with a Flatpup4 U hand-made by Elmar Zeilhofer in Vienna, Austria, and specifically designed for the bridge position. This is my third flatpup from Elmar and each one is a vast improvement over a piezo electric pickup with warmer tones, more punch, and, since piezo pickups work by picking up vibrations (sound waves), no annoying handling sounds from touching the metal surface of the old film cans I use to make canjos as they are played.

The Flatpup 4 (meaning flat pick up) is that copper-colored rectangle glued to the top of my canjo. Most conventional humbuckers are much thicker and require a hole cut into the instrument's surface to mount under the strings, while Elmar's flatpups are only 4mm thick and are easy to attach using glue, or a few small screws if you purchase one in a frame. Humbuckers are a type of electric guitar pickup that use two copper coils to cancel out the electrical interference commonly picked up by single coil pickups, Being magnetic, they capture mechanical vibrations of steel strings through the magnetic field produced by the humbucker, and convert them to electrical signals that are then amplified or recorded.
The Flatpup4 U design is a new configuration of Elmar's flatpups that, while more difficult for him to make, take advantage of its position near the bridge on the face of the canjo. If you want an explanation of the physics behind why this happens, please contact Elmar. He builds them and I merely use them because they sound so great on my canjos.

For more about Elmar and his flatpups, go to his page on Cigar Box Nation at:

Thursday, February 27, 2014


She’s only made from tonewood, copper, plastic, metal and varnish,

highly machined and carved by skilled craft workers, 

with hidden electronics in nooks and crannies,

but fit together like a fine sports car.

Could it be that these material came together to form

something more alive than some people I’ve met?

Yes, I know that’s not a nice thing to say but Ashe, my little bass,

sings in a low mellow voice, has curves in all the right places, 

is built like a brick you-know-what, and was sent to me through the mail 

in a cardboard box about a year ago already strung and swaddled in bubble wrap.

Between the times we meet to work out together, she waits patiently, 

standing in the wings like a diminutive ballet dancer awaiting her cue.

On my honor, if I ever take advantage of Ashe, fail to respect her,

or abuse our alliance, I will give her away to someone who can 

appreciate her beauty, charm, elegance and faithfulness more than me.

But, that would be the end of a beautiful relationship.

Billy Radd

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why I Practice

My Bass Station

My small music room/studio is a real kick in the patootie for someone like me who can’t get enough bass, rock n’ roll and music in general.

I feel there is so little time and so much to learn so wish I’d taken the music lessons on the accordion that my parents offered when I was 12. Accordions always reminded me of Lawrence Welk and were not considered cool by my generation. But, I can’t effect the past, only the present.

Making films and videos made my living, but The Beatles, especially Paul McCartney were my heros. If I could live long enough to be able to play bass AND sing like Sir Paul, I’d be eternally happy. So, I continue to practice to make progress with scales, arpeggios, riffs and licks.

My first electric bass guitar (I’ve owned 6) was a nice little German Framus that my parents bought me in 1964 for my 16th birthday along with an iconic  B12N  Ampeg combo amplifier (not pictured here) which I still use after 50 years. Working as a full-time film maker took me away from practicing bass very much for 40 years but I always thought that someday I'd start playing again and get good at it. This is that someday.

The picture above of my bass practice kit consists of (counter clockwise from the left) a diminutive solid body California model  Kala Ubass that I’ve had for a year and a half, my old Casio Tone Bank CT-650 keyboard sitting on top of an old directors from my film making career, my new Gibson SG Special bass, the very cool DigiTech RP1000 Integrated Effects Switching System, and in the center, my Fender Rumble 15 Combo practice amp which is plenty loud enough for practicing in my little room.

It is true that I can only play one bass at a time, but having two offers a variety of tones AND, more importantly, a comparative basis for polishing up fingering skills since the two basses have very different neck lengths (neck scales), and thus different sized fret spacings.

On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show I consider this room and my daily presence in it as a direct and continuing reverberation of that seminal event in my artistic life, and indeed, the first time I can remember wanting to play and create music, specifically the bass guitar, or any other creative pursuit.

The Fab Four’s appearance on the pop scene in the early ‘60s facilitated an artistic renaissance that, for my generation and those afterward, caused a realization that art was freedom in the most personal sense. And, that the whole world was our canvas.

I am now practicing bass every day for one to two hours and even at my “seasoned” age of 66 years, I am slowly but consistently getting better at it. So now, when I hear the phrase, “You can never go back”, I think, “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Reinventing yourself at any age is limited only by one’s own negativity and, given enough time, anything can be achieved through dedicated practice and step-by-step discipline.

That’s exactly how the Beatles got to be showcased on The Ed Sullivan 50 years ago and why the surviving members, Paul and Ringo, are still actively performing today.

Practice is how I learned cooking, filmmaking, being a parent, Tae Kwon Do, and now, playing bass.

Practice is The Only Way!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

D Blues, Yeah!

You see, like I got all this gear, Man, and I got motivated to use it together in an unusual way, know what I mean? Yeah.