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Bob Webb: Interview with Michael F. Hughes

April, 2005
Bob Webb will appear with the Ice Mountain Writers on April 8, 2005

Q - When did you start singing?

Though you won't be seeing me sing with Heidi, I've promised her
to work on my voice so that someday you might hear me. The answer is really
that I began singing at an early age in choirs, but when my voice changed as
a teenager I focused more on instrumental performance.

Q - Who encouraged you in music as a child, in the family, and outside the
family?

My sister was a child prodigy on piano, and my earliest memories
are of wedging myself between the piano and the wall as she practiced her
Chopin and Bach. I was about 3 years old. The sound of the notes coming
directly to me from the piano's soundboard was magical. Though my neither
of my parents played instruments or sang, they loved music of all kinds, and
encouraged me to study music. Influence from outside the family came from
Mr. Krasney, my orchestra director from sixth grade through high school. He
believed in building orchestras like a football coach builds a football
program: recruiting his players in 5th grade, helping them get private
lessons, and working with them everyday in class for years until by the time
they are seniors, they have become good musicians. His senior high
orchestras would consistently place in the top ten in the country.

Q - Do you remember when you started to think of yourself as a performer?

I think in high school in the early '60's when I began playing in
folk clubs in D.C.

Q - How did your family react to your desire to perform?

They were encouraging, but skeptical. Eventually they came to
accept it.

Q - Did you always have confidence in yourself as a musician? Where did
that confidence come from?

No, I didn't really have a lot of confidence until I made the
commitment to Stark Raven (a popular WV band that ultimately became the
Mountain Stage band) and decided to make music my entire definition of
myself.

Q - How do you feel when you perform?
I enjoy it. I get a sense of identification with the music and
the audience.

Q - What kind of a relationship are you trying to establish with your
audience?

An honest one in which I feel that I'm approachable. Many times
people like to come up during the break and we talk about the instruments.
I love talking to people.

Q - Do you get nervous before a performance, and if so, how do you handle
it?

Like all performers, I have had to deal with nervousness, but I
found when I do get onstage it goes away. I try to prepare for all
eventualities, I practice, make sure my instruments are in good shape and
trust that the energy from the music will override any lingering nerves.

Q - What is your process in arranging songs and preparing for a performance?

Heidi and I sit down and go over the songs and decide what
instruments to use. Then as we work through them I tend to improvise and
discover new things to play. We collaborate on our arrangements, rehearse
and try new songs out onstage.

Q - How did you get into teaching children, and how did you develop the
"boximer"?

I helped my friend, the late Bob Weiss, establish an arts and
educational enrichment camp on his farm in Lincoln County after we saw a
need that wasn't being met by the local school system. That was Great Oak
Farm in 1976. I found the dulcimer to be the perfect entry level instrument
for children into the world of music. Later in the '80's as a music teacher
at Mountaineer Montessori, I developed the 5-sided teaching dulcimer (it has
five fretboards on a pentagonal body). During a couple of summers, I
developed the boximer as a building project for the campers at Great Oak
Farm. The boximer is a dulcimer patterned after the German scheitholt (the
predecessor of the Appalachian dulcimer), but constructed from a cardboard
box and wooden fretboard. As time went on, I came up with my own design and
have taught over 700 children and adults to build their own.

Q - I remember attending a Stark Raven concert near Charleston, WV. What
was it like to be in a touring band, and to record together?

First of all, I hope you enjoyed it. We took pride in putting on
the best show we could under all circumstances. The touring part was tough
because, as we often joked, we were our own personal roadies. Often we
would travel for 8-10 hours in a converted bread truck, get to the gig, set
up lights and PA, perform for two hours, break it all down and keep on
driving to the next gig. Our sound man and booking agent made the same
money that we made as performers. We took all expenses off the top and
divided the rest by eight. We toured the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for
nine years and averaged at least 100-150 gigs a year with our families
generally staying at home. But we always had to come back to Charleston on
those Sundays when Mountain Stage was taping, because we were the house
band. We recorded two albums -- one at the Capitol Plaza Theater in
Charleston, and the other at the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe. Though
the process could be difficult at times, overall we had a good time.

Q - I have attended many live performances of the Mountain Stage band. What
an exciting group. What was it like to work with them?

It was wonderful getting to meet all the great guests and an honor
to play backup for them. Because it was a live show, we always felt like we
were walking on a high wire. But because we were together so much as a
band, we were very supportive of each other and it was fun.

Q - I only went to Common Grounds Coffeehouse once, and had a great time.
How did the idea to start that come about, and what was it like to be such a
strong part of that experience?

After Stark Raven disbanded in 1991, some friends and I decided
Charleston needed an alcohol-free music and theater venue that would give
the performer the best possible environment. We first opened in a small
location on Charleston's West Side and then moved in 1995 to downtown
Charleston. Because we did not serve alcohol, it became primarily an
all-ages teen club. We provided a stage where local youth bands could play.
I found myself very often running interference with the police and my
landlord to defend the kids' right to have a place of their own. This
effort, in retrospect, was worth it. Many of the kids in these bands who
were only interested in punk or hard-core music at the time, evolved into
fine musicians. One of the boys who took an interest in running sound for
the shows went on to become the top sound engineer for Live Technologies in
Columbus. Two members of Bob Thompson's band got their start at Common
Grounds.

Q - The series, "In Their Own Country" was fabulous. I listened to it both
times that it aired. How did you get involved, and what was that experience
like?

My involvement grew out of the fact that I played backup with Kate
Long, the show's creator, for her concert performances. When she learned
that I had a project recording studio in my home, she asked if I would like
to help with the engineering and recording of the music to go with the
interviews. It was certainly an honor to work with Kate and I will always
be in awe of her ability to pull together such a massive undertaking.

Q - You recorded the CD "Here Comes the Sun" with Dave Haas. What was the
process of putting that together? How did you become involved? Where did
you record?

Dave started out as one of my dulcimer students. We started
playing for social clubs and people wanted to know if we had any CDs.
Because I have a recording studio in my home, it just seemed natural to
follow through and produce one.

Q - What advice would you give to people who are interested in music and
writing?

Don't be shy. Hang out with other people who have common
interests. Remember that what is the most personal is the most universal.

Q - Where do you go from here? What new things will you be getting into?

Heidi and I are currently working on an album. I am constantly
working on my skills as a musician and recording engineer. I look forward
to recording and producing more projects and touring as a duo with Heidi. I
have a real interest in sharing what I've learned with others.

 

 

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