In Memory Of An Old Friend
The short list
I once was encouraged to make a list of 5 people, without whom my life would be in a significantly different place. I then needed to make sure they knew what they meant to me. One of those people was lost to Covid-19 this week. Ken Banwart was a giant in his community. He lived an amazing story. Starting with a single Kitchen Aide mixer, he and his wife launched a business in their basement that is now a national company. He was a humble, unassuming man of exceptionally high character. A rock.
And I’d like to tell you about a part of his life that I’m guessing many people are unaware. He played a part on one of the most meaningful songs on the record to me. And it’s even more meaningful now.
You have to start somewhere
Years ago, Ken told me he’d like to learn how to play guitar and asked my advice on where to start. I told him what I tell everyone who wants to give it a try – don’t buy a “cheap” guitar. There is a measure of actual, physical pain in developing the requisite callouses on the fingers to be able to play steel strings. A cheap guitar exacerbates that. Basically, an experienced guitarist can’t play an unplayable instrument, and countless people have given up guitar simply because they started on a toy. A good used guitar is a better place to start. Ken thought that made sense.
A couple of weeks later, Ken told me he’d bought a guitar. A Martin. For those of you who may not know what that means, John Mayer and Eric Clapton play Martins. Johnny Cash did too. I guess Ken took my advice to heart. Needless to say, I was anxious to take him up on his offer to play it. It is a beautiful guitar, and I’m going to get back to it in just a second.
The next step
Before long Ken wanted to learn how to record it. He asked me what he’d need to record his guitar and sing. He envisioned his family singing and recording together (which they did). So, we discussed microphones, computer recording programs, and the equipment to set it all up … and away he went. He called me often to talk about recording. How to do this, how to do that, why is this happening, etc., etc. Believe it or not, musicians love to talk about this stuff. And I especially loved talking to Ken about it. He was a very special man, and I very much enjoyed sharing this part of his life with him. He was a charter member of the “if you’re going to do something, do it right club”. And he wanted to do music right too.
Ken’s contribution to the record
I’ve told you in prior posts about the lyrical story The Answer tells. I did a video tutorial on how to play it. But one thing I also did on the song – that just became even more special to me – is play two different guitars on it. In addition to my Gibson, I played Ken’s Martin. This is the most acoustic song on the record, and not being a very strong guitarist, I thought using two great, yet different sounding guitars, might give the song some lift.
There are different ways to record and produce acoustic guitar, but my favorite is the classic technique of recording twice and hard panning each take – one right and one left. What that means is that if you listen with headphones, you will hear one guitar in your right ear (hard panned right) and one guitar in your left ear (hard panned left). My idea was to have my guitar panned right, and Ken’s guitar panned left. And that’s what you hear. The two guitars have distinctly different sounds. Ken’s is deep and woody, while mine is a bit bigger and brighter. I used the same strings on each and played them exactly the same way. I love the way the two guitars interplay, often having the effect of one finishing the resonance for the other. Like two friends.
The relationship a musician has with their instrument is often a very personal thing. It’s the instrument through which they express emotion. I was very thankful that Ken let me record his beautiful guitar on this song. For some players, asking them to even play their guitar is akin to asking them to use their toothbrush. Ken didn’t hesitate to let me take his guitar home … as long as I brought it back! He heard the song after it was recorded, but he didn’t hear the final mastered mix that’s on the record. He was in the hospital when the record was released. That makes me sad, but it also makes me treasure the song even more.
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