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The SSR Interview

The featured interviewee for this installment of the SSR Interview is none other than Don Schiff.A true veteran of the Chapman Stick,premier exponent of the NS/Stick,an incredible bassist,and in-demand session and touring artist.His albums "Timeless" and "Wait by the River" are jaw dropping forays into the many sides of the Stick and NS/Stick.His work with Lana Lane and Eric Norlander are no less exemplary.His "resume" reads like a who's who of Rock 'n' Roll (Elvis Presley,Tina Turner,Sheryl Crow) and an "A" List of stage and screen's elite ( Bob Hope,The Muppets,Rachel Welch,Sammy Davis). Don has even managed squeeze in a little acting,and is a contributor to NS/,the companion site.But, let's let the man speak for himself.Brace yourselves!I am sure Don has had his coffee today....

1. Howdy Don! Hope that the Holidays went well for you and that your
family is doing fantastic. Manny Tau from feels that Greg
Howard is the ambassador of the Stick, and it seems that you have become
the ambassador for the NS/Stick.I would love to get my hands on one!
When did you first pick it up and what drew you to it?

Emmett Chapman and Ned Steinberger first came out with the two prototypes back in late '99 early 2000. And over the course of a few months, a few of us where asked to "C'mon down to Stick Enterprises" and try them out, give our opinions, make suggestions. If I recall correctly (and that's where the danger lies... lots of different realities spinning all at once in my head) a few people checkin' it out were, Vance Gloster, Tom Greisgaber, Greg Howard, Tony Levin, The Incredible Hulk... "hey, wait, one of those isn't right?! (gol darn spinning realities)

ANYWAY, lots of cool suggestion where made, I even had a few. And like I said, (remember spinning realities in my head) SE was clever enough to ignore some of my "gems". How's this one... "I think... (First warning) it should be 'heavier! It's only 8 and 1/2 pounds and incredibly comfortable even over long periods of wearing... like 2 hour concerts or ALL DAY sessions!!! What was I thinkin'? I had a session the other month where I had to play bass for a couple hours and my back hurt... "Yeah, I'm older and apt to get grumpy and complain a little BUT I sure appreciated the rest of the session when I could put back on the "Mighty Sound" at only 8 1/2 pounds.

Sooooo then, Tony Levin and myself where given the two proto types to take with us for more "test pilot" playing. For me, I discovered that though it was originally designed to be a "tap" instrument I not only could tap it but 'pluck the strings or pick them as well!"... "Well now THAT's a Horse of a different color" I said to myself. (Okay, I didn't really say that to myself but I'm tryin' to tell a story here).

The more I played this instrument the more intriguing it became. It just "kept on giving"... Engineers in the studios would RAVE about the great recording tone; live performing was just as great a sound and fun to play. That would have pretty much done it for me right there BUT then I discovered it could do what no other instrument I've played could do! - Dramatic pause - .... Tick tock...
... Wait for it...

Okay, okay I could 'at the same time' incorporate more than one technique at a time... "huh? what am I talkin' about... I hear me ask myself - pretending I'm the reader listening to myself... (gol darn multiple realities again) .... SILENCE IN MY HEAD I'm tryin' to write an article.... very important stuff here, shhhhhhhh!
(that's better), now where was I...

Oh yes, that means that I could not only have separate right and left hand taping parts but I found I could also 'pluck' the high strings like an arpeggiated guitar part and at the same time 'tap' a bass line OR pluck a bass line (just like my electric bass) and then reach over and strum out a chord... YAHooooo, was I excited. I had done so many sessions with my Grand Stick over the years prior to the NS and the only thing missing in my "Stick" speaking voice was plucking... "And then... there it was" "ALL in one and one for ALL!" just like the 3 Musketeers, the 3 Stooges, the... "Silence in my head!... Im babbling things that don't make sense again...!" Okay then hows this, All techniques at once - and at once all techniques! Whoa one of these realities is NUTS! -who said that?! -I heard that- shhhh SILENCE!.

Alright then, to make the first question even longer all that, is what drew me to the instrument. And it still keeps on givin . I find new techniques and combinations all the time. Hey, just ask me about Slide NS/Stick. AVALANCHE of WORDS take cover!!! Well, its self explanatory but yes, there is the technique combo of tap and slide together, simultaneously and all at once too! (warning one of us in here is not playing with a full deck, his marbles are loose and scattered all over the place! Run away, stop reading before its too late arrghhhhh!) - hey, I can hear me! Its not like Im talkin behind my back, more like behind the inside of my back deep within my head sort of thing hey lets keep it down in here, one of us is trying to THINK. SILENCE!

2. Besides the obvious differences, what would you say makes the N/S
Stick unique from the Stick or other touch instruments?

Well, I kind of covered that in the above novel, but its the taping/plucking ability that sets it apart for me. I havent tried all the tap and touch instruments there are out there and surely you could combine everything I described on any stringed instrument. However for me the tap, slide, pluck, picking and any combination there in at the same time all came together naturally, expressively and most easily on the NS/Stick.

3.You're obviously a gearhead and everyone knows about your famous "Mac Rack". How did you come about putting that together?

Ah excellent question and I have an answer. When I was in the studio one day working with Lance Matthew (hell be famous then we wont question why did he name drop someone weve never heard of) Anyway, he was putting together a Pro Tools set up for us to go on the road and tour with for an artist we were both working for. We marveled at how great the plug ins sounded but were taken back by how much of an investment this system cost to put together. Even if it wasnt our money, ya still say whoa at $20,000. We discovered Digital Performer could be installed in my laptop now so can
, (see Don and click on the Musings link/MacRack for the comparisons and variations) and at around $1000.00, AND I could have some of the same plug ins that I was lovin with Pro Tools. Klang a light went off in my head! (hmmm sounded more like a gong! shhhh who asked methose voices again.. SILENCE!)

At that time DP (Digital Performer) had a single space thing (Motu 828) that allowed 8 ins and outs. So I built a sliding padded single space shelf that would seat my ibook G3, combined with my single space Motu 828 (thing) and I had all the cool sounding (expensive and heavy as hardware) effects and outboard gear inside my laptop as software. Very economical too. For example, the classic Fairchild compressor weighs 100 pounds and costs $35,000 dollars and you get ONE. As a plug in its around $350.00 and weighs nothing but wait theres more you can make a bunch of em. And thats true with plug ins in general find one you like and use as many as you need. For Stick and NS/Stick where you need two of everything its fantastic and if youre like me and have both Grand Stick and NS/Stick its Doubly fantastic.

4. Mac users seem to have a kinship with one another much like
Stickists do. It's never about "My Mac is better than yours!" or "My
Stick has the new Nut Flap and your stuck with the Nut Screws!" Why do
you suppose that is?

For me its like this, I never feel like I know what Im doin, I get an idea and go with it. If Ive got a thing-a-ma-bob-swizzle Ill be creative with it and make it work magic. If I see someone with a bob-a-ma-thing-swizzle and it works great, I can appreciate what it took to make that thing swizzle and Ill rejoice. I imagine in our Stick community we all share that sense of excitement and adventure while appreciating the talent it takes to be a Stick player and talent it took to invent such a thing thank you! Emmett (Emmett Chapman/Stick Enterprises ) And you too NED! (Ned Steinberger- iNSpirations and Steinberger guitars/basses ). There are some video and sound files of me at the Ned Steinberger site, click artists and scroll down youll see me. I have some nice pictures on the Stick site too. (Whoa again, dont I ever get tired of yakkin about myselfand then I and then I gol darn voices again - SILENCE!!- )

5. I see that the 2003 World Stick Seminar in San Jose was a great
success. How was the experience for you on a personal level?

(oh wow, more about myself this will make me happy how longs this saga gonna be? again with the voices?- SILENCE!
Inner voices today, I tell ya! Settle down in there!!

Being involved as one of 8 teachers at the San Jose seminar was truly a great experience. The enthusiasm of the students to learn matched with equal enthusiasm of the teachers to share what they - know, developed and discovered - over the years. It was amazing to be a part of. In my head (oh really, internalize much do ya?) I kind of saw the teachers as super comic book heroes each with his or her own super power Each teacher -though each all around incredibly skilled- had something special and unique to them that they could do that stood apart from the rest. VERY cool to see and hear. Wait til the DVD of the concert comes out; youll see and hear what I mean. A truly phenomenal group of players and Ill name names too.
Emmett Chapman (California)
Steve Adelson (New York)Ron Baggerman (Netherlands)Tom Griesgraber (California)Greg Howard (Virginia)Jim Lampi (England)Andre Pelat (France) Virna Splendore (Italy)

One of the funnier moments was at the end of the concert when all of us teachers with instruments in hand (live ammo watch out) began to play. Ahhhhhh I think all of our super powers combined must have had some sort of phase cancellation effect as the improvisational group moment droned on and on and on which made it very funny in itself. We all watched the rough video later that night and laughed and somehow I ended up with the nickname Jumbo shrimp from having the announcer mispronounce my name. He put a lot into just moments before- memorizing and getting Tom Greisgrabers name right and then stumbled all over mine, try as he may, many times. Hence when we saw the video late that night and listened and laughed. Jumbo Shrimp was born. What a night I tell ya! Theres no business like show business.

6. Have there been any discussions with regards to an NS/Stick seminar
or an NS/Stick Book/Video?

Yes, Im going on my third year of trying to have the NS book out. Im getting closer. What started out as simple became But wait, theres this technique and what about and so as I discovered new incredible things this instrument does, I then had to go out and field test it. Works great at home but does it fly in concert? Will the different techniques make a difference in the studio? So, it is taking time to compile, observe and actually learn it myself to the point of it all being second nature. The techniques must be an actual speaking voice of the instrument for me to say its a technique. If its not a voice then its more like a side show trick like playing guitar with your teeth. Fun to watch, great for the Dental business, but for me, not a useful technique. Its soon to be finished, I have more than enough techniques and experiences behind the techniques to give book 1 its debut.

I tend to teach by giving a lot of visual information by showing two-handed exercises that requires a bit of coordination. Partly because I like to dive in and get people playing right off the bat and partly because I have done it for so long, I tend to forget what it was like to be a beginner.

At the San Jose seminar I met Barry Silverman and Patrick Bagacina. They were two of my NS/Stick students. As we got to hang out and know each other we developed a great group collaboration. Having them accomplish an exercise, then discuss what it took for them to learn it from how I showed it... is wonderful information that will be a great advantage to this book. Plus they are both incredibly smart men and well organized and I (talk to myself a lot and hide behind dessert tables at parties wondering if I should talk to anyone..other than myself) So thanks to them, this book will be incredibly informative with useful information about learning the NS, be very organizedget done a lot sooner and Ill throw in a few Party tips on eating donuts, balancing a drink and lookin like your having a great time at the party while pretending to talk to someone.... Hey, if I had a third hand, I could pretend to talk on the cell phone and then Id look normal

7. Your last album "Wait by the River" featured you on NS/Stick. Will
you be picking up your trusty Grand for the next recording?

Trusty Grand is in hand and will appear with the NS in an upcoming release from our friends at Think Tank Media ( ). It will release early in 2004 and will be an instrumental solo CD. I havent even picked out a title, as Im still writing and recording it. As a matter of fact part of today will be turning in four songs for the producer (Erik Norlander) to hear.

Its a lot of fun combining Grand Stick and NS/Stick. As Ive always said, each instrument is incredible and can do something special the other cant.

8. Speaking of your 12 string Grand,who did the inlay work on it and
does it have any special meaning,or is it purely decorative?

The amazing Danny Ferrington did the inlay work. Hes got the magic guitar making, inlay doing touch. When I was at his shop he showed me examples of work he did for so many celebrities. I had it done some years ago and back then Danny says, George Harrisons coming in this week to pick up his guitar. Ohhhh yes, I hung around way to long trying to decide what I wanted in hopes that THAT would be the day he picks up his guitar. No luck that day, or the next or the next. A loooong visit, that was.

Sometimes youre put in a situation where (usually monies involved) and your asked to team up with a band or artist to write a song with, however, they dont know much about writing so you have to lead the way with words like, Hey, what do you like to talk about, what moves you, what kind of melodies do you like, what interests you about the world etc, And so little by little you pull teeth and etch something wonderful out and a job well done, happens. So, Danny asks me, What shape inlays would you like? AND so standing there like the aforementioned inexperienced song writers did, I gave him the all knowing Deer in headlights look of enlightenment answer I dont know but I thought about it a lot.

So being the pro he is, he said in essence, Hey, what do you like to talk about, what moves you but when he said, (Oh by the way this story has to do with what the inlays on my Grand Stick mean) Tell me about your family history Ahhaaa that did it. Suddenly I had opinions and ideas.

My Stick has Stars, Crescent moons, (No, Lucky Charms had nothin to do with it!) and the number 8 turned sideways plus a Star of David and my wife and sons name all in pearl inlays. The family history goes like this, One day my son Aaron (maybe 10 at the time) and I were driving in the car at night. I looked up at the sky and saw a bright star next to a thin Crescent Moon. I said, lets both look at it together and remember this day for the rest of our lives. Well we looked and hes now 22 years old and when asked about the Star and Moon hell tell ya! I have no idea what hes babbling about! Just kidding, I just checked and he remembers. Ah, a nice moment.

Eights my lucky number no mysticism, I just say so and to help my reasoning along Aaron was born 8-8-81. Then you turn the eight sideways and its the symbol for infinity, which is a long time. Okay, continuing on, keep up - please dont fall behind the group. The Star of David is the Star of David, my background is Jewish. I dont practice any organized faith closely other than my own experiences with God but I feel akin to the culture and religion and the need to explain myself regarding religion and culture and I love Delicatessens. Puttin the wife and sons name in, well that just really made it become my Stick.

9. Did ya make any New Year's resolutions regarding the NS/Stick/music?

Yes, its the same one every year and every year I get closer.
I resolute: To be acknowledged for and play all the music my heart desires and make all the money my wife wants.

10. And now the portion of the interview where we dig deep into the
soul of our SSR interview-ees and find what makes them tick (Or tock,in
Don's case). It's the off-beat question that will reveal a bit about
their inner child to us all...or not...I don't know...but here goes!

O.K. Don, who do you think would make a better Stickist out of the 3
listed below?

A) Steve Jobs: Co inventer (along with
Steve Wozniak
) of the first
true personal computer,CEO of
Apple Computer
and Pixar Animation,and
all around hip dude
B) Bill Gates : Founder and CEO of Microsoft,richest nerd in the
world, and all around geek
C) Linus Travolds: Finnish software guru,CEO of Transmeta Corp.,and
Creator of the Linux OS.

Hmmmm. I say, Hmmmmm. Well if STEVE could get JOBS BILLding GATES then maybe and I say just maybe (here it comes folks) they could both play the LINUS and Lucy peanuts theme touring and TRAVOLDS to exotic and far away places!!!!! (Going, going gone and the ball flies out of the park!)

Thanks Juan for the interview and askin such fine and fun questions. Good luck to you and Strada-Sphere Radio. Goodbye all, thanks for havin a look and a listen. I hope to see you all on tour in 2004.

SSR: I told you to brace yourselves,did I not?
The serenity which masks the lunacy within...

More about Don...

The Official Don Schiff Website