One of the first critiques of my new album Hybrid came from a trusted advisor. He looked at the cover art and asked me if I was selling an album of pedal steel-centric music or a package of seeds. Why, pray tell, would I name my first new release in a decade Hybrid? Why in the world would I have a picture of a rose on the cover? Okay, so maybe it isn't the best branding strategy. Maybe I should have named the album Pedal Steel Guitar Fantasy or Pedal Steel Guitar Sojourn, or something of the sort. Why isn't there a picture of a pedal steel on the front and back cover?
I decided on Hybrid because I was being bombarded with impetus to do so, even while preparing to make the album. In my experience it's really rare to have an album title decided before an album is at least underway, but that was the case here. In fact the process actually began when I was making Slider- Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar. Slider came about pretty quickly after I met Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space Records. Once we signed an agreement, I went into production almost immediately. My pedal steel and the amplification, processing and recording equipment I was using had all evolved over a long period of playing in honky tonks and for my stint with American Music Club, an "alternative" band. That set of gear wasn't optimal for producing Slider music, if for no other reason than there was a fair amount of 60 cycle hum that I just couldn't get rid of. Plus, I'd been playing the same pedal steel for more than 15 years. That pedal steel had been across the USA and Europe more times than I can count, in freezing airplane cargo holds and in trucks and vans. Anyone who's traveled Pennsylvania and New Jersey roads in a 1970's Dodge van with more than 200,000 miles on it could tell you that the back-breaking expansion joints built into those roads could rattle anything apart. In fact I remember once showing up to a gig, turning my amp on and having it blow up because parts had rattled free inside, causing a short. Plus, pedal steel technology had come a long way since I purchased my Dekley back in 1982. Once Slider was finished I promised myself I'd re-think my gear before doing a follow-up.
one of the inspirations for the name of this album,
my Zum Hybrid
The first step was to find a new pedal steel. Every year in St. Louis, there's a convention held for steel guitar enthusiasts, Scotty's Music's International Steel Guitar Convention. It's the biggest steel guitar convention I'm aware of. It's one of the very few places one can go to see a wide variety of steel guitar products all under the same roof. It's a fascinating event where the best players in the world give concerts and seminars and where most manufacturers present their merchandise. I went to be able to play as many pedal steel models as I could get my hands on. I chose a Zum Hybrid model. Bruce Zumsteg, it's maker, indicated that he chose that name because the changer mechanism (the mechanics that enable the use of pedals and knee levers to change string pitch) was a combination of two earlier technologies- a hybrid. His thinking was that his new hybrid design resulted in more connection of string energy into the body of the instrument, resulting in better tone. From the first time I sat down to play the instrument, I agreed with this- there's a liveness to the instrument I'd never felt previously in any other steel guitar. I bought the very one I tried at the convention.
Although I use a small variety of amplifiers for pedal steel, in fact I had been an Evans user and endorsee since 1982. I didn't use my Evans FET-500 on Slider, instead, favoring an all tube pre-amp (a Peavey Rockmaster) and all-tube power amp (a MESA Boogie 2-90). At the same steel guitar convention mentioned above, I checked out the Evans booth and learned that they were now offering what is known in the amplifier world as, you guessed it, a "hybrid" model. This design earned this name because the preamplifier section utilizes tube technology, while the power amplifier utilizes a solid state design.
I drive a Ford Escape, you guessed it again, Hybrid. My wife, Michele, is half-Caucasian, half-Japanese. One of my hobbies is gardening; I especially enjoy exploring specialized pruning techniques like espalier and bonsai. The rose on the cover of the album is one I grew, a hybrid rose, of course. To a very great extent, I think the music on Hybrid fits the dictionary description of the word "hybrid" (a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture) quite well. I've long thought, and many people have reacted to the music I write for pedal steel by telling me that they love the sound of the instrument and are glad to see it used in more diverse settings than how they usually hear it. On Hybrid I hope I've been able to combine the familiar and appreciated sound of the instrument with some new, different compositional approaches that are unfamiliar to the instrument's vernacular, even as I myself have presented it in my earlier work. I like to think of albums as collections of work from a given period or point of view. For me, this period has been one marked with lots of hybrids- I'm kind of surrounded by them!
I freely admit that the music on Hybrid is more diverse than the music on Slider was, and as such, whereas Slider created a relatively uniform mood from start to finish, Hybrid might be a little more of a challenge to listen to from start to finish. To a certain extent, because so much more listening is now done on personal digital playback devices, and tunes are more often than not downloaded individually, I felt most people probably wouldn't be bothered by the challenge- they could pick and choose their favorite tunes and leave the rest. If you're old-school and still like to purchase music in CD form and you're bothered by the flow of Hybrid, I apologize. I really did put the sequence of tracks together with purpose, and I like the way the album works; I hope you will too.