Sunday, October 31, 2010

Skunked Again While Fishing

I went fishing with my friend AJ yesterday.  We were skunked!  Ok, it's a term we use when we don't catch any fish.

All I came back with is this photo of Sand Lake in Lindenhurst, IL..  I sent the photo to AJ and he said the photo looked nice, but hopefully next time it would include a fish.  I told him it did have fish... they are just all under the water...

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mackie SRM350 Powered Speakers

After playing with the Chicago tribute band on October 1, many people have been asking me what I used for a PA system.  Well, that evening, I only used a single Mackie SRM350 powered speaker to handle my vocals, guitar and my brother's keyboard.  Surprisingly, it handled it fairly well considering it was only one speaker and had to compete with an entire band!

Recently, I decided I would get a second SRM350 to help spread out the sound better.  Putting a speaker to each side of the band works much better to spread out the sound for the entire room.  On Oct. 1, I had to move the single speaker to one side to avoid feedback for my microphone and guitar, but that just made me sound "off centered."  Having two speakers will give me more volume level while keeping my feedback problems minimized at the same time.

In the past, I had two JBL EON15 speakers, but I sold them to country singer Dana Malow.  They were getting too hard to move around at 44 lbs each and they wouldn't even fit in my car's trunk!  The Mackie SRM350 is smaller in size and the weight is only 32 lbs each.  Much better for me!

I hope to perform live a little more in the future and will be relying on the Mackies to handle my sound.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road

I looked out of my front window today and saw this little guy lying in the street by our driveway.  OK, he actually wasn't so little... in fact he's kind of big.

I called the village hall and was connected to the village's public works department  and reported the roadkill.  But I was told someone had already beaten me to reporting it.  So he's going to be removed eventually.  Of course that only meant that right after hanging up the phone that I had to get out there to take a photo for my blog!  I used my Nikon D3 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens to take the shot as I really didn't want to get too close to the skunk.  While I could smell him (or her as the case may be), it wasn't as bad as I thought it could have been.  It must have been a quick kill.

I once ran over a squirrel accidentally.  I felt really bad about it and actually circled back to check on it.  I had hit him as another squirrel was playfully chasing him.  I hit him with both my front and rear wheels as he darted right out in front of my car.  I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the other squirrel look at him and slowly walk away.  I was devastated!  So I drove around the block and went back to see if he was suffering or not.  But having hit him with both the front and back wheels, I was pretty sure he died quickly.  For that I was glad, but I still felt awful afterwards.

While I didn't have anything to do with the demise of this little skunk, I still feel bad for it.  I guess animals just affect me like that.

Be sure to click on the image to take a closer look if you have to...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fishman Aura Spectrum DI

Used with undersaddle pickups, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a preamp / "effects" box designed for bringing back the natural tone of an acoustic guitar when amplified.  Often criticized for the "quacking" characteristic sounds, the undersaddle pickup's piezo elements are shunned by some guitar players who seek to amplify their acoustic guitars naturally.  But undersaddle pickups often are the way to go if you want to minimize feedback while playing extremely loud.

For me, I had installed a K&K Pure Western Mini bridge pickup in my R Taylor Style One Maple / Sitka Spruce guitar.  In the past many of my installations of the K&K performed just fine without feedback.  But for some reason, the R Taylor guitar just did not cooperate in handling the K&K and it had major feedback issues with it.

After playing a gig with my brother in the spring and finding out that I could only amplify my guitar to certain volume levels without feedback, I decided that the K&K pickup had to go.  I installed an LR Baggs Element undersaddle pickup in its place.  Immediately, I found that my feedback issues dropped considerably.  But turned up to concert hall levels, the guitar could still generate feedback at certain frequencies.

Always in a quest for better sound quality, I decided to try the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI.  This unit is known for bringing back a certain quality of tone that simulates simply using a microphone to amplify your sound.  But what I found was that besides its sonic qualities, the feedback suppression circuit and built in compressor is what amazed me the most!  When feedback happens, just step on the footswitch marked "anti-feedback" and the unit instantly looks for the objectionable frequency causing the feedback and eliminates it while maintaining the overall tone qualities of the guitar!  Easy and effective!  The compressor helps smooth out your transient peaks and volume too making it easy to keep a level sound quality.

As for the various sound "images" that the unit offers, there are many options available to match the tone of prerecorded guitars using expensive microphones to the various body types and wood options of acoustic guitars.  Matching one closely to your own guitar's body type and wood type makes your guitar sound better than it would by simply using the undersaddle pickup alone.

While the manufacturer claims you should use the right sound image to get the best sound, I found that by playing around with various images, you can get a wide variety of tones.  It may not be the way the pedal was intended to be used, but hey... who is to say what I can do and can't do?  It's fun to be able to change the tonal characteristics of my sound if I want a certain quality for a particular song.  This unit helps me do that.

So while I can simply just make my guitar sound one way, with the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI pedal, I can also make it sound like a lot of different guitars.  Perhaps on the long run, that's cheaper than buying lots of guitars!

Besides the sound qualities, the unit also offers me the ability to sidechain my other effect pedals and then output the final signal through an XLR balanced line to be plugged directly into my PA's mixer.  I can now run extremely long lines if I want without fear of signal loss.  The unit runs on a single 9 volt battery with about 20 hours of usable life, or you can use a 9 volt adapter to power it up.  I prefer to plug it into my pedalboard along with all my other effects pedals so I don't have to worry about battery drain.

In addition, the unit offers a phase switch to also help suppress feedback and it has a built-in chromatic tuner.  A three band equalizer effectively adds to the tonal palette.  Besides the built-in sound images, you can plug the unit into your computer's USB port and download more images as well.  This offers updates to the unit as new sound images are made available.

Overall, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a great pedal.  While it's not one that you can point to and say it has made a major sound change to an amplified acoustic guitar, it's one of those pedals that works without you knowing it has made a difference in your quest to perform loudly without the typical piezo quack.  The build quality of this pedal is incredible as well.  Highly recommended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chicago Tribute Band Videos Now On YouTube

I received some videos from my friend who also gave me the photo of our performance of Chicago songs on Oct 1, 2010 at a church's coffee house event.  While a bit dark and grainy, I'm just happy to have them.

It's interesting for me to watch the videos as I don't usually get to see the audience's perspective of my performances.  I never knew I tap my feet as much as I do while playing! I've got to work on that...  :)

Enjoy the videos!  Click on the lower right icon to enlarge each video.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Doyle Dykes Performs With Future Son-In-Law Jake Johnson and Daughter Haley Dykes At The Skokie Theatre


What a night!  After a surprise engagement for Haley Dykes and Jake Johnson early in the morning on WGN Radio, they joined father (and future father-in-law) Doyle Dykes to perform at the Skokie Theatre in Skokie, IL.  This was the first time Jake has performed with Doyle on stage.  Rehearsal?  No way!  Like Doyle said, "You're a musician.  Get up there and play!"  Jake did a great job playing the bass, so I guess he passed the criteria of joining the family!

I actually met Jake several years ago the day after I photographed Doyle's daughter Holli's wedding in Tennessee.  He was playing bass for Haley for a church performance she had the day after the wedding.  Who would have known that we'd meet up again here in Chicago the day after his engagement to Haley?

The show opened with introductions from WGN radio personalities, Steve King and Johnnie Putman.  Doyle started the show and later invited Jake to come out to play bass.  For someone who never had a chance to practice with Doyle before having to perform with him, he did a great job laying down the bottom-end.  Later, fiancĂ© Haley joined them on Mandolin and vocals.  She wowed the audience as always.

I made a mental note that the sound they had playing all together at the Skokie Theatre was really nice.  Usually, I've heard Haley sing and play with Doyle without a bass and having that extra low-end sound from the bass really helped fill out things.  Mandolin and guitar are rather bright sounding instruments so having a nice bass line really makes the sound full.  And hearing it in an acoustically balanced room that is the Skokie Theatre made it so much better too.

The Skokie Theatre is having some financial problems and really needs the support of the community to keep it open and running.  Knowing this, Doyle was moved to donate his entire pay from this concert back to the Skokie Theatre to help it out.  Way to go, Doyle!  How many guys do you know that would do that?!

Pastor Steve Lyon who was instrumental in getting Doyle to write a book which is coming out on April 1, 2011 joined everyone for a group photo.  I first met Pastor Steve when he was the pastor of the Des Plaines Bible Church.  Today he works with Moody Publishing.

Doyle also announced that he will begin taping a new cable TV show for the RFD network which will be based on his Live Sessions DVD.  Guests will include a LOT of great musicians including such musicians like Roy Clark,  Duane Eddy, James Burton, Tommy Emmanuel, and Eric Johnson!  This is going to be one incredible show!  Seems EVERYBODY who is anybody is scheduled to be on this show!  Congrats Doyle!

After the show, my friend Jerry Moy and I joined everyone for a late night dinner.  We were all very tired as we have had very little sleep since staying up for the WGN radio show which started at 12 midnight Friday morning and ran until 3:00 AM (actually the show runs longer, but Doyle's segment finished at 3:00 AM.)  I think the only ones that didn't look tired was Steve and Johnnie!  Well, I suppose they do it every night anyway, so they are used to it.  For us, we were all tired by the end of the night.

Here it is, now 4:44 AM as I'm typing this and I'm still up finishing things!  I told Haley and Jake that I was tired and will work on the images later.  But as Haley predicted, "You are going to stay up and work on them right after you get home."  I guess she knows me better than I know myself.

Congrats again to the happy couple!  Love you guys!  :)

Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Here's a video I got off YouTube of Jake and Doyle:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haley Dykes Gets Engaged - Live on WGN Radio

I'm listening to The Steve & Johnnie Show on WGN Radio as I'm typing this....

Best Wishes and Congratulations go out to Haley Dykes and her fiance' Jacob Johnson as Jake just popped the question on the radio!  Amazing!!!

What a surprise to everyone listening, but apparently many people were in on this to help pull this off.  As Jake called on the phone to the show from Washington state (or so we all thought) he comes into the station instead and asks her if she will marry him!  Cool!

Congrats to both.   See you guys at the Skokie Theatre later tonight!!!!

Edit Note: Video of the proposal is now on line here:

Monday, October 11, 2010

HDR vs Non-HDR... again

Here is a comparison of HDR vs Non-HDR.  This was covered before on one of my previous posts, but I thought I'd show another comparison anyway.  Check out the details under the A frame of the house and also under the top porch.  Can't see any details at at all with the standard photo.  The richness of colors is of course very obvious.

Be sure to click on each photo for a close up.

Weekend Retreat

This weekend, my wife and I got to go on a weekend retreat with several members of our church.  We were graciously given the opportunity to stay in a nice log cabin up in Wisconsin.  The cabin was truly a log cabin as every inch of the home was made out of real logs.  Even the steps were half-sawn logs!

The property had its own private lake and so one of my friends and I got to do a little fishing.  Since there was only one rod and reel available, I let him fish while I pointed out the fish I saw in the water.  It worked great!  We caught a total of five small large-mouth bass in less than an hour!  The water was so clear that we could easily see them looking at the lure and then go after the artificial bait!  That made it a lot easier!  Too bad I don't get this kind of advantage while fishing for salmon out on Lake Michigan!

We had a great time and it felt really good to get away just for the weekend.

Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Memory Foam Mattress Focus Group

Once again, I participated in a focus group.  This time it was a study on memory foam mattresses.

Six people (only four showed up) were picked to test out mattresses.  We rotated from one mattress to the next and filled out a sheet to let the testers know what we felt about each mattress.  We were asked questions like whether the mattress was firm enough, had enough support, was comfortable enough, if it was easy to get out of the bed, easy to move around in and if we felt the quality was good.

Initially, I felt the foam mattresses had too much memory.  It was hard to roll around in the bed and it was definitely harder to get out of the bed because the foam tended to suck you back into the bed.  The first three beds felt like this, but in different degrees.  The last three beds actually felt like regular mattresses.  In the end, I felt I liked the last mattress the best.

I don't know if this bed had any memory foam in it or not, but it was comfortable, had good support, was easy to move around in and I had no problem getting out of the bed.  It didn't suck me back in.  So am I a candidate for memory foam?  Perhaps not.  I'm ok with that.  I still got paid to lie down on the job.  :)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Chicago Tribute Band Photo

A friend of mine sent this photo to me of our Chicago Tribute Band that performed last Friday.  She preferred to be anonymous, so I'll honor that request... but she did a great job, don't you think?  Thanks!

I'll post this photo on the previous Chicago Tribute Band post just to make that complete.  By the way, we never did have a name for this band!  Be sure to click on the photo for a closer look.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Done With Fishing For The Year?

I've been out to Waukegan Harbor many times this year and have never caught a single fish.  Most likely, I just don't know what I'm doing.  But it doesn't appear I'm the only one with this problem.  More people seem to be in the same boat (no pun intended) as I am with nothing to show for their efforts.

Because of this, I think next year I'm going to get a fishing license for the state of Wisconsin.  From reports I've read on the internet and also from personal accounts from fishing friends who go there, Wisconsin's the place to be if you want to catch some nice Salmon out of Lake Michigan.  So it looks like I may be done for this year as far as fishing is concerned.

I don't do ice fishing (too cold) and while this is the time for people to go out "snagging" for salmon, I'm just not into that.  Snagging is where you throw a big heavy hook at a fish if you see it and hope it hits the fish so you can drag it in.  To me, there's not a fighting chance for the fish this way and it just seems plain "mean" to me.  It's just gotta hurt too!  So you won't see me out there snagging for fish.  I may be desperate to get a fish, but I just can't see myself doing it that way.

So perhaps next season, I'll head up to Wisconsin.  The license year starts in April for fishing licenses, so I've got many months to think about how to approach it.  Perhaps I need to start reading every book I can get my hands on that discusses the way fish behave.  It seems those who know this, do much better.  Technique helps as well.  But I guess I have got to start thinking like a fish, if I want to catch one!  :)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Last Night's "Chicago" Tribute Band - A Huge Success

Last night, I performed with my brother and several members of his church in a "Chicago" tribute band.  We had over 150 people attend the event making it the largest attended coffee house event for their church.  I had anticipated at least 100 people, but we ended up with even more.

I started out the evening with two songs to get warmed up.  After that, we had the rest of the band join in and we played seven songs from the group Chicago.  I have posted the songs at  Be sure to check it out!  (Edit note: please see my Oct 18, 2010 post for videos of two of the songs we performed.)

The entire band had only one rehearsal together and that was only about 45 minutes before everyone started to show up for the concert!  While my brother had rehearsed several times with the horn players and I attended one of these as well, we had not played together with everyone in attendance.  So with all things considered, we didn't do too bad for a quick "pickup" band!

Enjoy the songs on the link above!

Friday, October 01, 2010

I'm Playing In a "Chicago" Tribute Band Tonight!

Tonight I'll be performing with my brother and several members of his church in a Chicago tribute band!  We'll be playing  a full set of hit songs made famous by the group.  Instruments tonight include keyboards, two guitars, drums, three trumpets, two trombones and flute.

Update:  Here's a video of us doing "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is"