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Time to Talk Cactus

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

As I finish the last proofing of David's 1991 week long workshop, I have been relistening to his thoughts on bending notes and, then, playing the dulcimer in a rock and roll band. I wish I had been able to hear his perspective about it before writing Pluck; during this phase of David's life; it would have been incredibly interesting to have his own input in the mix. Luckily I have a new wealth of information and more recently acquired recordings so I will use them in a second edition I plan to start in the fall.

For those who haven't read Pluck or who didn't know David, he was a seeker in several disciplines, perhaps foremost on the dulcimer's behalf: what was the dulcimer's potential? Before David arrived in Nashville in 1984, the prevailing thought of many of those he first encountered (for those who even gave the dulcimer a thought) was that it was a crude, primitive, instrument best left to cabin porch pickin' in Appalachia. As we all know, everything changed with his arrival to Music City in 1984.

L to R: Tramp, David and Vince Farsetta perform in Murfreesboro, TN. Photo courtesy of John Nova Lomax.

It's clear that David didn't think he knew everything about the dulcimer; instead, he was constantly pushing its limits to test his hypothesis that it had no limits. One of his many important inflection points for testing occurred in 1987 when he met Tramp Lawing, a young string wizard on the fiddle, at a Nashville pickin' party. (That meeting was incredibly fun to write about thanks to Tramp's vivid memory of it, and it has inspired changes in my own musical journey.) Tramp immediately recognized David's skills and invited him to talk with his fellow Cactus Brothers band members about joining their group; Tramp knew he had plenty to offer them. Join he did, and soon, Tramp, David and Vince Farsetta became friends and fellow performers in addition to the work that Tramp and David did with the Cactus Brothers.

So before I share David's 1991 advice to his students in Tape 4, the next couple of posts will introduce and/or refresh your memories of Tramp, the Cactus Brothers and how the dulcimer found its voice in rock and roll, all with the purpose of providing a little context for David's workshop instruction.

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