Happy Birthday

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Perhaps the biggest supporter of my musical activities, whether in Second Life or real life, has been Sal Zulaman. Always encouraging me to play and record, offering honest and helpful feedback, giving me advice on how to deal with arrangements or real-life band dynamics, and—of course!—engaging in an endlessly-detailed, playful evisceration of each other's terrible musical tastes. The last several months Sal has been sidelined by illness so we haven't had much of that, but when his real-life birthday came up folks suggested I should record a version of "Happy Birthday" for him. I thought that was a great idea: a chance to tweak him with a quick musical joke, maybe bring him a smile. I immediately threw down some guitar parts.

A day and a half later, Sal died.

I decided to finish up the recording kind of as a tribute to Sal and the encouragement he offered me over the years. Sal would have caught the tweaks I threw in: the two guitar approach is a direct nod to the 1970s duo recordings Chet Atkins and Les Paul made together (Chester & Lester and Guitar Monstershere's a Grammy-winning example…wait for their second run at it) just because those tracks had the playful sense I wanted to convey, and Sal and I had spoken about them many times. So the left guitar is a Chet Atkins thing, and the right channel is me faking the spirit of Les Paul's twitchy/snarky accompaniment thing…except, just to irritate any guitar players who might listen, I played it on a (fake) Telecaster (oh la vache!). A bunch of other things are in-jokes just for Sal based on things we'd flipped each other crap about, from the specific notes in the opening vamp to a circle-of-fifths changeup ("keeping boring old chord progressions safe for boring old players!"), and a lick that's a direct dig at his fave band Rush. (I once opined a famous Rush lick—slowly, lamely—ripped off Les Paul, so the opening "Les Paul" lick in this recording is almost exactly the same, just on a different string at a proper tempo.) These are the sorts of things Sal would have noticed and we would have had a laugh about.

I wish we'd had those laughs.

So, Sal: thanks for the years of friendship, smiles, terrible jokes, honesty, and gently trying to get me to expand my horizons. Rush is still overrated.

Written by Traditional (Patty & Mildred Hill)

(Released February 2019)