For 5½ years Lui maintained a Guestbook on her website. The Guestbook is no longer active, but Lui addresses many of the most frequently asked questions from it here. The answers are both informative and entertaining, as they demonstrate Lui’s talent for storytelling.
Q. Has Julie Snow recorded her song Baptism of Fire? How did you first hear Julie’s songs?
A. Yes! It’s on her album If Words Were Stones, which she released in 2002. You can find out more about Julie and order her album on her website at www.juliesnowsongs.com. Baptism of Fire is the only one of Julie’s songs that we have both recorded.
I first met Julie in the late 1970’s when a friend of hers approached me after a concert, suggesting that Julie and I should get together. Long story short, we did, I fell in love with her songs, and ended up recording 6 of them on my first two albums, Made in New England and Baptism of Fire. The other songs of Julie’s that I recorded are: The Endless Mile (I’ve heard a live recording of Kate Wolf singing this one, she’d apparently learned it from my version!), You Are the Songbird, Love is Losin’ Hold, Who Do You Love?, and I’m Lookin’ For a Song.
Q. What is Horace Williams up to now?
A. Horace has built a beautiful recording studio, Little Castle Studio, at his home in Vermont. He’s still singing, writing, performing, and producing, and does school workshops as well as concerts. He’s also working on a film project with storyteller Mac Parker. You can find out more about what Horace has been up to at www.littlecastle.com.
Q. What kind of guitar and banjo do you play?
A. My main guitars are both Martins. I tend to find instruments – or maybe they find me – when I’m not looking for them. The one I used for years is a 1973 Martin 000-28, a rosewood guitar that I found new in 1976 in a small shop on Water Street in Torrington, Connecticut, when I was with my friend Guy Wolff – who was the one guitar shopping. I’d bought a lovely handmade dreadnaught LoPrinzi guitar literally days before this and was appalled to realize I simply could not leave the shop without the Martin. (Thanks, Guy, for the loan that made that possible!) That 000 was my primary guitar from that moment until I found its older sister a couple of years ago, a 1965 mahogany Martin 00-18. I was at Maple Leaf Music in Brattleboro, Vermont helping a guitar student choose a guitar. After trying out some great small-bodied guitars, from some lovely new Eastman instruments to vintage Gibsons, the salesman brought out this 00-18. After playing it for awhile, and awhile longer, I had to recommend it to my student as hands down the finest small guitar in the shop. I was totally relieved that he didn’t want to get it himself. He ended up with a sweet little Eastman and the Martin went home with me. Oh dear. It’s obviously a high risk activity for me to take anyone guitar shopping. www.martinguitar.com
In 2009 I began playing bossa nova style guitar, studying with Harry Becker of Northampton, Massachusetts. After beginning on my steel-string Martin 00-18, I tried playing on Harry’s classical guitar and was converted – I immediately began my search for a classical guitar for myself. Harry kindly loaned me one to practice on while I looked, which was great, because it took me a few months to find my guitar. And this one, yes, I actually made a concerted effort to find. After trying out countless guitars in shops all over New England, I ended up close to home at Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I found my guitar waiting patiently for me to discover it. It’s an unusual looking guitar, built of cherry wood with a spruce top, beautiful zebra wood trim, and a distinctive voice. The luthier is a dobro player from Portland, Oregon by the name of Ben Sidelinger. After making his first guitars as a student at Hampshire College, he went to Buenos Aires to study with the Italian luthier Rodolfo Cuculelli. He now divides his time between building instruments and touring in the band Po’ Girl. You can find Ben at www.sidelingerguitars.com
My banjo is a tubaphone model built by Bart Reiter of Lansing, Michigan in 1994. I found it at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, on my way to a gig at the Grand River Folk Arts Society in 2001. I had just an hour there before I had to hightail it to Grand Rapids for my sound check. It was a Saturday afternoon with the sales room literally full of musicians, all of us testing out instruments simultaneously. I couldn’t hear the banjo clearly with the cacophony in that room, but with all the banjos I played over that hour, every time I picked this one up I felt inordinately happy (yes, I know, that’s a classic side effect of playing any banjo but it wasn’t happening in the same way with the other banjos I played that day). Still I didn’t feel I could make a clear decision under the time pressure so I hung the banjo back on the wall. As I was dragging myself away, a kind salesperson to whom I bemoaned the fact that I might be leaving behind the banjo love of my life suggested I put it on hold. I could call them on Monday to let them know if I wanted them to ship it to me or not. With great relief I put the banjo on hold and went on to my gig, which was a very fun double bill with Bob Franke. That night and all day Sunday driving eastward, I could not stop thinking about the banjo. The minute the store opened on Monday morning I was on a pay phone in a rest area somewhere in the western end of New York state, telling them, “Ship it!” and praying I was making the right decision. When it arrived at my home a few days later I was relieved to find I was indeed in love with the instrument. Even when I could hear it. www.reiterbanjos.com
Q. When are you coming back to California? What happened to your annual spring tour out here?
A. When, I don’t know. When I started teaching Music Together 8 years ago, I found that the schedule of teaching semesters made it incredibly challenging to do any long distance touring. The last time I did a California tour was just before my Spring semester of classes started up. Throughout the tour, between concerts and school programs and driving and visiting with my hosts, I was returning phone calls from families who wanted to register for classes – challenging enough in normal conditions, and insane with a 3-hour time difference. Upon my return home after the tour, I had one weekend to finish putting together classes and create lesson plans and learn enough new songs to dive into teaching them – all this while suffering from the normal exhaustion of a tightly booked tour and coast to coast travel. I swore I’d never do it again, and although I miss my California friends and having time in your beautiful state each spring (“my California is always green…”) I just can’t bring myself to go through the craziness again. So, to make a long answer longer, I will return to California when I retire from teaching, I suppose, if that ever happens! Given how much I love the teaching, it’s hard to say if that’ll be ever. But I do miss all you Californians.
Q. How can I get a copy of your CD North of Mars?
A. Here on my website! Look in the catalogue, you’ll find it there. You can also order it on CD Baby now!
Q. I am in search of the music for your song Blessed. Is there anywhere I can get it?
A. I have put together a choral version of Blessed which is now available here on my website to download. It’s arranged for Mezzo-Soprano soloist and SATB choir with piano accompaniment; it also has guitar chords. See the Catalogue on this site for more information about downloading the music and printing it for choral performance.
Q. How did you happen to write the descant part to Pat Humphries’ song “Swimming to the Other Side” that you recorded on Leaving Fort Knox?
A. We had just finished recording the basic tracks to the song, and Dana Robinson, who produced the album for me, suggested that I write a part to go with the chorus. I listened to the rough mix of it over and over, trying to get ideas. But every time I heard myself singing Pat’s first line, “We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper,” my head responded with the first line of a hymn I’d grown up with, “We are living, we are dwelling.” So I decided to use that. It had been one of the hymns I’d loved growing up in the Congregational Church – the organist/choir director was also my piano teacher, and a fine musician. She would choose these obscure hymns with gorgeous music to them, often based on traditional melodies. I remembered the majestic music to this one clearly, but all I could remember of the words was the first line, “We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful time.”
Of course I knew that the meaning of “awful” in the days this would have been written (Arthur C. Coxe, the composer of the lyrics, lived in the 1800’s) would have been “full of awe.” I decided to change it to “awesome,” thanks to my kids, who used the word constantly at the time (I still do, though they’ve since moved on to more current slang). I had come up with a melody in my head that would go with Pat’s music, since the hymn’s music, a traditional Welsh melody, wouldn’t fit. I went back to my old hymnal to look up the next line of lyrics, thinking I’d appropriate more of them for the descant – and discovered the hymn is basically a call to war! Oops. Not quite Pat’s sentiment. Shows you how much attention I paid in those days to the words. I was wrapped up in the grandeur of the melody and power-chord organ arrangement, which was of course what stuck with me. So I just took the first line of words, dutifully changing “awful” to “awesome,” and then I turned some of Pat’s own words around for the second line.
Note how much the music sounds like Pachelbel’s Canon! There’s a wonderful NPR segment that aired on All Things Considered several years ago, put together by Marika Partridge about the song. She interviewed Pat, Pete Seeger, and me, among others, and includes portions of both Pat’s version and mine in the piece. Worth listening to! For more info about composer Pat Humphries, see her website at www.emmasrevolution.com.
The lyrics to the descant are:
We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awesome time
We can worship, we can cherish all the ones we live beside.
Q. How can I get your album Baptism of Fire?
A. Baptism of Fire is now out of print, but it’s available for download at CDBaby.com. The lyrics to all the songs are here on my website. You can find them at the Lyrics navigation button.
Q. Are you still available to do concerts?
A. Most definitely, yes! Although I’m performing less frequently, I am loving the concerts I am doing. I do limit them to a reasonable distance away from my home in western Massachusetts. I consider a radius of about an 8-hour drive from Ashfield to be reasonable, as long as what’s at the other end can pay me a respectable concert fee plus enough to cover travel expenses and a bit extra for travel time too. If you have something to offer, let me know, we can talk about what would work.
Q. I would love to have you sing at a house concert? How do I go about doing that?
A. Awesome! I’d love to sing for you! If you go to the section here on my website about House Concerts, it’ll tell you all you need to know. There’s a link there to contact me directly.
One thing to be aware of is that if you’re further away from western Massachusetts than where I can drive to and back from over a long weekend, chances are it won’t happen – but feel free to ask, as you never know.
Q. Do you have a children’s CD?
A. Yes! I recorded a children’s CD called North of Mars: A Bunch of Kids’ Songs in 1995, with the phenomenal Russ Landau co-producing and engineering. He’s the composer of the theme song from the TV show Survivor. Not that I’ve ever heard it. He lives in LA now, but is originally from Litchfield, CT, and happened to be spending the summer in Litchfield when I was ready to record the album. (Russ also played bass on my album There’s a Light.) What a joy to work with him. We brought in a small chorus of children (kids I’d sung with at the Montessori School of Northwest Connecticut, including my own three, Sylva, Timothy and Magdalen). Russ produced it with a very light hand, other than the children’s chorus all we brought in was a handful of other instruments, including trumpet, accordion, fiddle, tenor guitar, and percussion including Black Bear Udu. Russ played acoustic bass, keyboards, oboesis proboscus and multo tubissimo. Ahem. As I said, we had a blast.
My goal in making North of Mars, as with any of my children’s music, is to create something that the entire family will enjoy listening to. I do want it to be entertaining, and I will get silly at times for sure, but I also want to educate, to inform, to challenge children to think about their world and to feel. I’ve heard from more than one of my adult listeners that this is their very favorite of all my albums. I can tell you that I had more fun recording it than I’d ever had before in a studio. And North of Mars won a Parents’ Choice Honor, of which I am most proud!
Note that the cover art for North of Mars is a work done by my daughter Sylva when she was 12. It’s a watercolor wash with a black construction paper overlay. Cathy Cowles did a lovely job of incorporating bits and pieces of it into the CD booklet.
I have also recorded a two-year series of 8 seasonal children’s CDs as part of my Kids’ Jam Family Music Workshop curriculum. Many of the songs included are traditional songs that I found in songbooks from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I’ve adapted and arranged them for the curriculum, often writing new music for old lyrics, sometimes editing lyrics. I’ve also composed many new songs for the program. Parents attend class with their children, so while the songs want to be simple enough for children to sing themselves, they also need to appeal to the parents. Studio-recorded with multi-instrumentalist Anand Nayak (guitarist for Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem), the CDs are geared toward listening by the whole family – hopefully over and over as the songs are learned and become old friends. Anand and I have had a blast creating duo arrangements of all the songs, with guitars, banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, and lots of vocal harmonies. Besides being part of the Kids’ Jam curriculum, they’re available for use by families at home and by music and classroom educators – they’re not on the website yet, so contact me directly if you’re interested.
Q. What label are your recordings on?
A. My three earliest albums were on Philo Records and Green Linnet Records. I released my fourth album, Moondancer, as well as the next several albums, on my own label, Molly Gamblin Music, eventually taking over all of my early recordings as well. My latest CD, Closer, was released on Waterbug Records.
Q. What’s the background of Waterbug Records?
A. If you don’t yet know about Waterbug Records, you are in for a treat! Waterbug is a small label out of Chicago, headed up by Andrew Calhoun. Andrew is a fine singer-songwriter in his own right, who has recorded a number of outstanding albums, which I highly recommend. I particularly love Tiger Tattoo, and his most recent album, Bound to Go, a collection of 35 songs from the African American folk tradition, is a brilliant work of research and production.
One of Andrew’s gifts is recognizing excellent music, and his passion is promoting it, making sure the world hears it. I met him at the Folk Alliance conference the year it was in Boston (I’d been going ever since the Calgary one in 1998 or so). I recognized his voice and his songs but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I knew his music – turns out an old friend of mine, a Midwestern musician I’d met at the Folkway, had made me a tape of some outstanding Midwestern singer-songwriters. He said I had to hear their music and then made sure I did. I listened to that tape over and over and over, until I knew most of the words by heart – but somewhere along the line I’d lost the case that had all the names and titles listed. So when I met Andrew in Boston his name was familiar to me but I didn’t make the connection, and when I heard him sing in a round robin that night, I had the eerie feeling of knowing his voice like the back of my hand but without a clue why. Then he sang When the Boats Come into Vancouver and all of sudden it struck me why he felt like an old friend. Now, all these years later, he is an old friend. I love him dearly, and have the utmost respect for both his own music and that of the many musicians whose albums he’s released on Waterbug. And with the release of Closer on Waterbug, I count myself honored to be among them. www.waterbugrecords.com – go there to find some amazing music that you won’t hear anywhere else.