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Expanded Liner Notes

“It’s all about the instruments.  They have songs in them.”

For year’s I’ve collected and restored old stringed instruments, some high quality, most quite inexpensive, but each with it’s own unique voice. The idea behind this project was to use this collection of voices as the artistic pallet to create a unique recording of original and Americana roots music.

I let the songs dictate the arrangements and choice of instrument, frequently pairing some rather unique combinations to create the feel and tonal timbre I was looking for.  Some even surprised me.

Below you will find pictures of the instruments that were used to create this CD, click the pictures to read more about the instruments and why they were chosen…


The Instruments

Click Images for Details

The Songs:

expanded liner notes

Old Joe Clark

I came up with this bottleneck slide arrangement of Old Joe Clark when asked to play something ‘uniquely Illinois” for an event at Millennium Park in Chicago. This old time fiddle tune played bottleneck slide style seemed to fit the bill.  Oddly enough, I’ve played some version of this old tune song in every band I’ve ever been in.

Chris Vallillo: National Tricone, Gibson Southern Jumbo, C. A. Potter parlor guitar
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass

 

Silhouette Against The Stars

This is an older song of mine written late one November evening as the combines rolled in around the old Teel family farmhouse in Schuyler Co, IL where I was living in at the time.  It appeared on my very first recording, now long out of print, “The Western Illinois Rag”.  It’s still one of my favorite pieces.

Chris Vallillo: Vocals, Gibson Southern Jumbo
Robert Bowlin: Cello

 

The Water Is Wide

The classic Americana melody seemed a perfect showcase for the new 9 string guitar.  This was the first song I recorded on the New Era custom 9 string and the doubled melody notes of the guitar worked extremely well here, particularly on the minor chords and open chord fragments that I used to make up this arrangement.

Chris Vallillo: 9 string custom, Gibson Southern Jumbo.
Rocky Maffit: Percussion
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass

 

Lettie’s Song

This song was written for my late friend Craig Luke about our time together at his club CD Leathers in “the town that time forgot”, Galena, IL back in my early days.  At that time Galena was still a hangout for artists and musicians and it was a rare opportunity to perform my own music to a receptive audience.

When I wrote this, I had received a letter from Craig’s wife, Rose, telling me he had an inoperable brain tumor and was not expected to live long.  She said he was at peace with this and was touching base with a few friends while his mind was still clear.  I began writing a letter to Craig only to hear the news a few weeks later that he had peacefully passed away sooner than expected.  I got the word at a gig at a barn raising in rural Illinois from his daughter Lettie. That letter evolved into this song.

A couple years later Lettie, asked me to perform for her wedding up in Galena, IL, I worked up a slide arrangement of “The Wedding March” and played it on an old Weissenborn guitar for the service then played this song for her at the reception.

Chris Vallillo: Gibson Southern Jumbo, Collings OM3, Collings OM3 HE, Kalamazoo Mandolin, Gibson ES 225
Ross Sermons: Electric bass
Patrick Hazel: Harmonica
Drums: Kenny Malone

 

Last Day of Winter

In 2010, Luthier Tony Klassen offered to build a new version of an old birch Lyon and Healy 9 string parlor guitar I had restored and modified. The week before it arrived, I wrote this piece on the original guitar in honor of the new one and yes, it was the last day of winter.

That period at the end of winter when your still having cold, wet weather but you know spring is just around the corner – it’s always the longest, saddest time of year for me and I was looking to capture that melancholy feeling in this piece.  When I was recording the song, I asked multi-instrumentalist Robert Bowlin what he heard on the arrangement and to my surprise, he suggested accordion.  It took the piece in an entirely new direction.

Chris Vallillo: Custom 9 string, Gibson Southern Jumbo, C. A. Potter parlor guitar
Robert Bowlin: Cello, Accordion
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

Saugatuck

Sullivan Cabin

Sullivan Cabin

This piece was written on the porch of the Sullivan cabin at Lake Goshorn near Saugatuck, MI.  When I play at The Respite (in nearby Douglas, MI), I change the name to “Douglas” to keep the rather cranky owner Sam Phillipe happy.

Chris Vallillo: 1956 Gibson J-45, C. A. Potter parlor guitar
Rocky Maffit: Percussion
Curtis Jay Hiner: Bass

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Road

Piasa Bird

Piasa Bird

When Father Jaques Marquette and Louis Joliet first explored the Mississippi River in 1673, they saw an ancient birdlike monster painted high on the bluffs by what are now the Mississippi Palisades near Alton, IL, the legendary Piasa Bird. This song was written about the Hillview Blacktop, one of my very favorite 2 lane highways that goes down the Illinois River Valley from Bluffs, IL on down to Alton ending right by that historic site.  It’s a glorious road trip, especially in the spring. Check it out if you’re ever in the area. It’s well worth the trip.

Chris Vallillo: Gibson Southern Jumbo, Dobro Angelus resonator, Gibson ES 225
Mark Stoeffel: Fiddle
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

 

Steel Guitar Rag

From it’s earliest roots as a simple blues progression, this tune has been played in virtually every style of music from Country to Big Band to Western Swing and early Rock and Roll.  While many folks credit this to Leon McAuliffe,  his version was adapted from “Guitar Rag” recorded by black guitarist Sylvester Weaver in the early 1920s.  When I first started playing guitar seriously, this was the tune you had to play to pass the “test” before you could pick up another player’s instrument and served as the break song for every honky tonk band in the Midwest.

Chris Vallillo: Dobro Angelus resonator, National Tricone Polychrome, Lyon and Healy 9 string, Collings OM3
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass
Kenny Malone: Drums
Robert Bowlin: Guitar

 

Bonaparte’s Retreat

Originally improvised on the bagpipe by a member of a Scots regiment that fought at Waterloo, by the American Civil War, Bonaparte’s Retreat was a well known fiddle tune in America.  According to George A. Miller, in his book Cemeteries and Family Graveyards in Haywood County, N.C, on April 10th, 1865, the day after Lee’s surrender, Henry Grooms,  his brother George and his brother-in-law Mitchell Caldwell, all of north Haywood County, North Carolina, were taken prisoner by the Guard under the command of one Captain Albert Teague—no one knows why, but the area had been ravaged by scalawags and bushwackers, and the populace had suffered numerous raids.  The group traveled toward Cataloochee Valley and Henry Grooms, clutching his fiddle and bow, was asked by his captors to play a tune.  Realizing he was performing for his own firing squad Grooms struck up Bonaparte’s Retreat.  Upon finishing the tune, the three men were lined up against an oak tree and shot.  Now that’s cold.

This melody also served as the source Aaron Copland adapted for a main theme in his orchestral suite “Hoedown”.

Chris Vallillo: National Tricone Polychrome, Collings OM3
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass
Mark Stoeffel: Fiddle
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

Shenandoah

Robert Bowlin with the ’36 Euphonon

Robert Bowlin with the ’36 Euphonon

Five minutes before performing for the retirement party for the Provost of the University of Illinois, I was asked by a mutual friend if I could add Shenandoah, his favorite song, to the set.  While Rocky Maffit googled the lyrics, I improvised this slide guitar arrangement on the spot.  There’s nothing like working on a timeline!

This version is a little tighter than what we played that night but essentially the same. Somehow that last minute under the gun arrangement caught the soul of the song.  Robert Bowlin joins us on this version playing a magnificent 1936 Euphonon Larson Brother guitar.

Chris Vallillo: Custom 9 string, Gibson Tenor Lute
Robert Bowlin: Guitar
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

 

 

Bloody Williamson

Inspired by the 1922 coal mine strike in the notorious Southern Illinois county of the same name, this song is a historically accurate and rendering of the facts. Much of the lyric in this song is taken from actual quotes of the participants in the strike.  Now in most of the mining songs you hear, the miners get the short end of the stick – this time they fought back.

I originally wrote this song for my friend Ed Becker who wanted to put together a CD of mining songs to benefit the Memorial of the great labor activist Mother Jones.  While Mother Jones wasn’t at this particular strike, she would have definitely approved.

Chris Vallillo: Collings OM3, SS Stewart Skinhead Banjo, Fender Telecaster
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass
Robert Bowlin: Cello
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

Tequila

front-porchYes, that Tequila. This arrangement of the 1950s rock and roll classic came to me late one warm summer night while sitting on my great big Midwestern porch drinking wine and playing slide guitar. Go figure.  I wasn’t sure I’d include it on this project but recorded it anyway.  When I heard Rocky’s percussion part, it was a done deal.

Chris Vallillo: National Tricone, Collings OM3, Collings OM3HE, Fender Telecaster
Ross Sermons: Stand up bass
Rocky Maffit: Percussion

 

 

 

Farther Along

I really wanted to include the 1929 Triolian I have on this project and it had the perfect sound for this piece, particularly when paired with an old Del-Oro archtop. Think Salvation Army Band on a street corner.

But when it came time to mix, I felt it needed a big, booming bass drum part.  I went searching and was able to locate an old wooden marching band drum with a skin head at the local middle school; an old cast off from the high school band.  I had just done a freebee show for the school so I was able to convince the principle to let me come over one Saturday with all the recording equipment and record the drum part in their auditorium. This was all done on the hush since there was no established protocol for something like this.  I had to improvise a drum beater by tying an old rag onto a snare drum stick, but ultimately got exactly the sound I was looking for.  Thanks Maureen!

Chris Vallillo: 1929 National Triolian, Del Oro Mahogany Archtop, bass drum
Rocky Maffit: Percussion