The Maui Tapes Vol. 1

Maui Tapes Vol. 1
My first CD… ever…. came in right before our Season Opener and my show with Hot Tuna at the Fur Peace Station on March 17th. At the beginning of the year as we were getting ready to head to Hawaii for our Fur Peace “On the Road” workshops I had no idea that I would have a CD out…..and how it happened was magical. The CD I’m talking about is THE MAUI TAPES, VOL. 1. So…… we’re at The Royal Lahaina doing two weeks of guitar workshops with Jorma the first week and Jorma and Chris Smither the second week. During the weekend between our sessions I had went ‘Upcountry” to stay at my friend’s house in Haiku……mile marker #15 on the Hana Highway. It was such a nice spot……I instantly felt a very relaxed spirit of aloha emanating from the spot and was thrilled about my digs for the weekend.

My friend, Mark, who so kindly let me stay in his place……was also kind enough to leave me a guitar and instructions to enjoy my stay and make myself at home. Well, it really felt like home in a very short time and I was bubbling with excitement and inner joy at my good fortune. The lay of the land was a lot different then the beach scene in Lahaina where we were staying. Being “Upcountry” meant being away from the busy city……although I’ve got to say ALL of Maui has a very laid-back vibe. The place in Haiku was in some ways just like the feeling you get right here in Meigs County Ohio…..out in the country as well…….but with a tropical setting. Lots of stars at night….not much noise aside from nature’s ongoing symphony……so I was taking it all in and loving every second of every minute. I was playing that guitar lots too. I noticed how nice the room sounded and I was in a super positive mood and I got to thinking……why not do a recording right here in the living room of my Haiku hideaway.

Vanessa stopped up over the weekend to see the place and we were all going to run out for some great fish at the Pai’a Fish Market. When she came in the house and as we were talking I told her. “Boy, this room really has a nice sound to it…..let me play you a song”. Her and Izze listened as I serenaded them with No Woman No Cry…..she said, “It is a nice sounding room”. At this point I mentioned that I was going to ask Mark to bring up some recording equipment and that I was going to do some recording …..just mostly me and my guitar…..right there in that room. As we were outside walking the grounds I fortuitously asked Vanessa to take a picture of me with the guitar, adding that who knows if this recording sounds good enough…..I might make a CD of it. We walked around the yard and she directed me to stand up on Mark’s back porch cause it looked like a great spot and the sun was also shining and casting it’s light in the perfect direction. Vanessa took a few pictures of me and as we looked them over she felt one was a great shot and she says….”I’ll email this to Kevin for your CD cover”……well, yes……that sounds like a capital idea. When I got back from Hawaii and really started to move on this project and made it over to Kevin’s to talk to him about doing a cover, he was really stoked about how nice that shot Vanessa had taken looked…..and when I got to check it out …..I had to agree. All the lighting was just as it was…..Kevin did not have to do any photo shop touch up.

After our two weeks of workshops I went back up to Haiku to stay on for another week. First day as I was playing… a new song came to me……boy, it happened fast. A simple two chord melody and words pouring out from I don’t know where. I’m thinking that I was totally inspired from just being around Jorma’s first ever Songwriting class and all the great writers in his class……let alone the Captain’s well-spring of inspiration. I felt really good about the new song and also about the process of writing a new song……and when you have a song finished……that you like……well that makes you feel good too! That was the starting point and then I started believing that maybe I could pull this all together in the short time I had and maybe I would have a CD to tell the people about at our Season Opener.

I asked Mark if he would be able to bring up his recording equipment and I told him of my plan. Mark, has become a good friend and one of his many attributes I like is his yes-we-can attitude mixed with that wonderful spirit of aloha. I also told him that I wanted this to be a roots recording session….just one mic on the table catching the music and the nice sound of the room. Just a couple days before my vacation was to come to an end, Mark came on up with everything we would need and we got to it. This recording was going to be a simple solo recording…..no overdubs, mon…..but I did ask Mark to add some nice lead guitar to several of the tracks and he sure did oblige my request.

We did most of the recording in one night. I had stopped at a road-side stand to pick up some Huli Huli Chicken (the Hawaiian style) with Kula corn and brought it back to the house. After a nice dinner and a thorough cleaning of the hands….I started playing. Most of the songs on The Maui Tapes are first takes and that is the way I wanted it to be. There are a couple that took two takes and one was a three taker. It all felt very good…..very organic. Mark came up the next day and we finished up with a couple more songs. I listened to the playback and was happy with the sound. Yes, I started feeling really positive about the whole project and the fact that I might actually pull this off.

I recorded 10 songs…..three originals and 7 of my all-time favorites. Mark dropped them all onto a disc for me and I left the island with the Maui Tapes in the bag. Once back on the mainland I started to look into how to get the CDs produced. I called my good friend, Michael Falzarano for counsel on this matter and he was a big help in so many ways in helping me turn this dream into a reality. Michael set me up with the CD replicator that the New Riders use and everything was moving forward.

The CD has no production and no overdubs and that’s how I wanted it to be ….. strictly roots! As things are progressing, but still right before I give it the final go, I started to experience some self-doubt……boy, that’s a tough thing to work through and it did strike me as funny at this stage of my life..but it was there. Well, right about this time the phone rings and it is Michael asking me how things are going. I told him that it was funny you should call right now Michael…..I’m starting to feel some doubt about finishing the project. Michael says, “what’s up?”….and I start to tell him….Well, you know I did this on the quick…..I wasn’t in a studio…..I only had one mic in the room…..I just don’t know. When I listened to the CD over and over I did notice a few pimples and I told him about that too….”I’m wondering if I’m moving too fast on this, I’ve noticed some misses and a couple dropped beats….blah, blah, blah…..you know and I’m just starting to question the whole thing.” The next few things Michael would say to me hit home and really came at just the right time…..Michael pointed out to me that some of the most cherished recordings in his and mine record collection were recorded that exact same way…….he also assured me that even if I had spent 6 months in a studio and had done take after take on a song….I would notice the same mistakes. He then gave me the best advice and the advice I needed just then….”Just do it John, just go ahead and put it out there.” THANK YOU Michael…..I come to you for advice and you gave me the best!!!

Now right after I get this much needed pep talk from Falza…..out of the blue I get an email from my treasured friend, Rabbi Shmuel. I met Shmuel up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland one year when Jorma was up there taking part in the Janis Joplin tribute. He’s another great turn-on, courtesy of my old friend, Jorma. Here is the email Shmuel sends me:

From my college roomie —

On my first recording date I had the honor of working
with the great jazz drummer, Billy Higgins.
We were sitting in the control room, listening back
to one of the tracks we had just finished.
It sounded great: note perfect, vibrant, alive.
Then the engineer said,
“You know, the tempo sped up. The song ends faster than it began.”
And Billy said,
“So what? What do you think we are – machines?”

We are not machines
and the more we standardize
and follow instructions
the less human we become.

My job is to be more human
more connected
more flexible
more resilient
more passionate……….

Yeah, I just loved it……and how did he know…….

The Rabbi didn’t even know I had done a recording or was considering making a CD, yet this email struck me like a satori …..right over the head…..If the great Billy Higgins wasn’t concerned about being perfect…..I wasn’t going to worry about a couple dropped tempos either. It was sealed and I was going to forge ahead…..fast. I gave the go-ahead and over-nighted the master.

I’m real happy with The Maui Tapes……I feel the pure joy of the music outweighs the perfection factor. I really want to send out Mahalos….thanks …..to my friend Mark in Maui for every little t’ing….to Michael for the encouragement and advice……to Vanessa for the photo and for believing…..and to my main running dude, Kevin Morgan, for putting the CD together and keeping me fired up. All in all it was just about 5 weeks from the first thought of a CD project till the day the CD arrived. I’m feeling good , thankful and blessed.

Fire! . . . And More Fire!

photo: Frank Gibbs


Our first camp weekend of 2012, year #15 for the FPR, was a scorcher. I’m not just referring to the tropical Winter weather Ohio has experienced this year, but also to the level of playing and fellowship we experienced in the course of a weekend! Hot Tuna was not only here to kick out the jams during the Saturday night concert……but all three members of the group were also teaching for the weekend as well. We really started the year off right and the bar has been set high right from the get-go.

Jorma, Jack and Barry all had full classes and the students were a nice mix of new faces and old friends. As I mentioned during the Friday Orientation, some of the return students have now been coming here for so many years and there is a real nice feeling on seeing them again…..like getting to visit with a favorite relative or good old friend ….. that you only get to see once in awhile, but the years have solidified a friendship that is not dependent on space and time.

It seemed appropriate that our first camp weekend was also just days before the start of Spring. Spring always offers us a new beginning with the world coming alive once again after a sleepy Winter. It was like that around the Fur Peace. As Vanessa likes to say……and I think I can quote her here….“The Fur Peace Ranch is just a bunch of buildings that come alive when our students arrive.” Yeah….that’s just about right. So…there was a feeling of Spring time and the happiness that comes with it.

Jorma and Jack were reprising their DOUBLE DOSE workshop which we had never offered here at the Fur Peace. The classes do not only focus on guitar and bass guitar proficiency…..the main focus of this special workshop was how the two work together. I cannot think of any guitar player….or bass player more suitable to teach the inter-workings then J & J…….their life of music together is a study on how two musicians can work together to create one sound. So….that’s what Jorma and Jack were up to. They spent lots of time just with their individual groups, but as part of the workshop the two classes did merge and the whole concept of the workshop and playing together was expounded on.

Barry Mitterhoff had a great group of students to work with. He always seems to attract a great class of great players who know they will improve their greatness just by spending time with the master. All of his students were repeat offenders……that’s what we affectionately refer to repeat students as….and a great group they were.

I was really looking forward to the Saturday night concert……not only because my favorite group was headlining, but because I was going to be opening the show. I’ve played for many years and there was a time when in various bands I did my share of playing out, but anymore…. I do not play out that much…..though always playing. This was going to be different for me as well because I was taking the stage as a solo performer, something I had not done since my college days. I always get a tad nervous about playing out and that I think is one of the reasons I liked to play in duos, trios and groups…..it makes you feel better with someone else up there with you.

The Saturday night show had been sold-out since last November when tickets for all of our 2012 Concert Series went on sale. We had a FULL house for sure! After working the ticket gate I joined Vanessa for our usual stage announcements before the show…..it sure was nice to be back at it again and to see so many friends. Well, towards the end of the announcements I excused myself from the stage and jumped back into the dressing room to put on a nice shirt and to trade my signature FPR ball cap for my styling Stetson fedora….and then I heard Vanessa say….”Please welcome John Hurlbut..” I walked through the door to a welcoming warm reception and applause that helped to cool the pre-show jitters…….I was going to be playing for a wonderful, positive group of folks and I could feel it already.

Photo: Scott Hall Photography

I kicked things off with the Fishin Blues……a song I’ve been playing forever and a song I got to hear Taj Mahal….the song’s writer…..play at one of the early rock concerts I attended while just a youth in high school. I love that song for a long time now and it served me well as a good way to get the show started. I followed that with No Woman No Cry and then Talking Money Tree Blues…. it was all going good! At this point I called up to the stage Myron Hart to accompany me on She Belongs To Me and Angel From Montgomery. Myron did a great job…..oh, yeah……it was his birthday as well, so after he took his seat……Vanessa and Hot Tuna came out from the backstage door with a candle-lit cake and we all proceeded to sing a Happy Birthday to him…..it was cool.

photo: Scott Hall Photography

The next song in the set was a new one. It’s called Someone’s Calling and I just wrote it in early February while I was vacationing in Maui. It was also at this very same place and time that I recorded my very first CD…….I’m going to talk about that whole experience in another blog….next week. The new song went over great and I had several folks comment to me after that it was their favorite song in my set…..and they dug the meaning……both comments that I was very happy to hear. Next up was an old campfire song and again one I’ve been playing for a long time….This Land is Your Land. This turned into a sing-a-long and boy we were having a good time. A funny aside here…as I got to the third chorus……my poor mind jumped track……it was a Hurlsheimers moment….well… instead of “redwood forest to the gulf stream waters”…..I was singing….”gulf stream waters to the
redwood forest”…..the contrast was noticeable as the audience was singing it properly….it made for a very funny moment and I was really glad I had a room-full of great singers.

For my next number I welcomed to the stage the one and only Barry Mitterhoff to play Hickory Wind with me. I gave a nod to the song’s writer Gram Parsons in announcing the song and Barry played the sweetest solo and was the perfect accompanist……it sounded heavenly. After Barry left the stage I made an announcement that this next song was a good one for mandolin and I wondered if there were any mandolinists in the house. Well……we had prearranged this the day before…..but at this point, Barry’s six students all raised up there mandolins and I requested they join me on the stage and they did. We played You Ain’t Goin Nowhere with the Barry Mitterhoff Mandolineers all huddled around one big mic…..with several of them taking the solo breaks at the right spot…….and all helping with singing the chorus. In fact, the whole audience joined in on singing the chorus and it was powerful and also sounding real good. I can tell next time I get to do this we’ll have to arrange to have more microphones for the audience……they were pitch perfect and right on the one.

photo: Scott Hall Photography

I was looking at the clock and realized it was about time for my last number, so I invited Vanessa up to the stage for a song that her and I have played at many a student performance…. Seems Like A Long Time.

photo: Scott Hall Photography

This Tim Hardin song is another one I’ve played for many years and without even one practice.. we did it and did it nice…..once again joined on the chorus by the singers in the house. I felt so good when I got up to leave the stage and to hear the audience claps of approval was the icing on the cake. I returned to the stage to encore with my song, A Little Faster. This is the song that I was sooooo honored that Hot Tuna covered on the Steady as She Goes release and I played it solo…..just like how I wrote it many years ago.

I’m still lifted from the experience and …..no…..I haven’t come down yet.

After an intermission we were treated to some fine Hot Tuna. I had smelled it cooking backstage and even though I couldn’t tell if it was blackened or Cajoned….I knew it was HOT!!!!

Jorma has commented about the show on his blog so check out CRACKS IN THE FINISH, Jorma’s blog site for details. I’ll tell you what…..like I said…..I was lifted when I left the stage and the fine set of Hot Tuna music that followed …..well…..it brought me to higher heights! Their song-list is also on Jorma’s site. All I can say is that the band was on fire……just burning it up…..and having so much fun up on stage…..well, it was infectious……we all ended up having a real good time!

Sundays are always special at the Ranch and this was once again the case. The student performance on Sunday afternoon is always one of the highlights of the camp weekend. This was another good one! Many of the students put their new found principles from Jorma and Jack’s Double Dose workshop to life ….. with nice pairings of guitar and bass guitar……and mandolin. Kudos to all of the performers of the day! I always love the Student Performance……it’s the best darn variety show out there …..and so much talent……and so much sharing of talent! As is normally almost always the case…..Barry brought up his entire class to perform several pieces they had worked on and they were just fantastic…..and it was a great way to end the afternoon’s festivities!!!

Sunday night we had a nice camp fire…….and there was some jamming going on in all the buildings. We broke camp on Monday and we all had a real nice satisfied feeling. It’s like when you plan a party or an event and everything comes off perfect and your guests are just as perfect! Yes, the Season Opener was a good one……I’m taking it as an auspicious sign of a good season up ahead…..it may be another pennant year!

FIRING IT UP FOR YEAR #15!!!

The Fur Peace Ranch will be opening it’s doors to a new season this week as we begin year #15! The years have passed by quickly and we’ve packed many good times into those years, but still……it seems like only yesterday. Everything is looking good around the Ranch and I’d say we’re ready to go…….in fact….there is a feel of anticipation building up as we wait for the Season Opener. Good news is that for the most part, all the classes are getting a good response and indeed several classes have already sold-out, while others are a student or two or three away from being full. Along with the classes, the Fur Peace Ranch 2012 Concert Series is also getting it’s fair share of attention and before our first show starts……half of the concerts will already have sold-out. This is all good news. Although we’re sad any time we have to tell someone we can’t fit them in to a show or class we’re also happy to see things filling up nicely. The Fur Peace family has grown beyond expectations and I know that Vanessa and Jorma are so grateful for all of the many blessings that have come their way and for all of the people that have supported and made their vision of a “Guitar Camp” the wonderful reality that it has become……the flowers have grown beautifully. I’m also very thankful for all the many great people and great times that have come through that Fur Peace gate…….and I know I can express that same thankfulness on behalf of all who work here. We’re all living the dream as well. So……..I’ll look forward to greeting you at the gate…and we’ll have some of that great Campfire Coffee ready for you on arrival….BLESS UP!