Updated: Jul 17, 2022
In 1988, Frets magazine, "The Magazine for Acoustic String Musicians" featured a smiling Richard Thompson on its cover. It also introduces "New Comers Alison Krause and David Schnaufer".
Interviewer George Gruhn (as in Gruhn Guitars) and Walter Carter. for the magazine sat down with David for a richly revealing interview across two and a half pages.
In my previous blog post I shared some of the information I learned from the article which in and of itself was an exceptional lucky find since Frets is no longer in business. In part 1, I shared some of the technical information of David's instruments. But the article reveals more than may initially meet the eye if you know how to look.
When researching, it's imperative to find confirmation for facts, feelings and opinions that people share with you. A researcher has to take into account how well the informant knew the subject and for how long; also, how reliable the informant seems. Even the reliability of the subject himself has to be taken into account. We all have our stories, and a given story may change over time as memories fade or mix with similar events. Perspectives are different between those who have first-hand knowledge of any given experience vs. those who heard stories about the given incident. Some informants had part of one story, and others had part of that same story. And tales get embellished over time. Some informants had contradictory stories about important episodes in David's life. One of the biggest examples had to do with David's surfing accident when he was a teenager; that story was very important because the incident had lingering effects for the rest of David's life. I heard at least three different versions with conflicting details of his accident. In the end, all you can do is keep looking for confirmation of facts.
Early on, I decided that I would go with facts that were confirmed minimally by at least three different, reliable sources from any but I made an exception with a few of the most reliable sources. David's cousin such a source. They were close, and her memory is excellent. She was a stickler for my getting it right; anything off--no matter how small--she requested I correct. She had unique conversations with David that provided insight into his thinking that he rarely shared with others. The other side of all this: I uncovered a lot of stories that I would have loved to include, but, either informants asked that I kept them private, or I couldn't meet the "three source minimum" for confirmation, so they never made it into the book. The search for confirmation was the principal drive underlying the research. First-person articles like Frets's "Breathing Life Into The Dulcimer" are worth more than gold when you find them.
The Frets interview was useful not only for technical information about David's playing and his instruments; it also filled in and/or confirmed the timeline of his life, and how he filled micro-periods of his life. For example, David confirmed he won Winfield in 1976 after playing only two years. He confirmed a story I had heard from many informants: at times David was so poor he had to live in his car. He worked construction jobs as a laborer for six months out of the year to earn money to travel six months a year. How did he know where to go and whom to contact? I wondered at the beginning of the research. David confirms here that at least some of his initial contacts came from reading about players and luthiers in Dulcimer Players News. (Once again, thank heavens for Phil Mason and Maddie MacNeil.)
David also talks about meeting Bonnie Carol, and confirmed that for a while they had a business together after Bonnie taught him how to make dulcimers. Another interesting tidbit: he mentions that [at least in the seventies] "alot of dulcimer players play solo ... Bonnie always played with other musicians....So she designed instruments that could hold up in volume with other instruments...." That appreciation for big sound that was growing ten years before this interview, before David knew he would go to Nashville, served him very well not only in the recording studio but as he performed in gigs and festivals across the continent. He also mentions getting interviewed by renowned Nashville music journalist Bob Oermann very soon after arriving in Music City; the Oermann interview in The Tennessean was critical to launching David's Nashville career. David mentions that he was still a dishwasher and a bartender after the first sessions he worked for the Judds, and wryly points out, "People just assume that if you've been touched by the magic hand of somebody they see on TV that you immediately have all this money." That theme--that many (wrongly) assumed David had a lot of money because he was famous--would come up again and again in several contexts with several different people whom I interviewed.
My next blog post will be the third of three based on the Frets interview. In it I will share more about what I learned about David's personality and his character traits by reading the subtext of the interview.