How the Autoharp Changed My Life

It was the end of 1997. The guitarist for my Alt-Rock band Breastfed decided to quit. Our drummer didn't want to start another search for a lead guitarist. The band was over. I was surprisingly okay with that. I decided to be a musician because I wanted to be a songwriter. But I recognized that my songwriting skills were not getting better.

I sat on my couch and picked up my autoharp and strummed it. I hugged it to my ear. The instrument sounded SO beautiful. Where was that autoharp songbook?

Seven years earlier, I borrowed the autoharp and songbook from my dad when I went off to college. I hadn't really messed with it much since. Now I went through the first lesson, the thumb stroke. Easy enough. Oh hey! “An Irish Lullaby” would work great with that strum pattern. I started singing along.

The third strum pattern was in 3/4 time. I don't remember the song I played. But as I practiced the strum pattern, I started working on lyrics. They were about my Uncle Odell.

Every summer as a kid, I visited my family in East Texas. My uncle would come to visit every now and then. He was a used car salesman. All of us kids got really excited when he came. He would get out of his car, see us, walk over, and smell our hair.

Yes. Smell. Our. Hair. It was weird.

But we were so excited… expectant.

“Nope. You're not yet old enough to go to the rodeo,” he would say. Dang it!

But then again, he never did take me to the rodeo. I'm still a miffed about that! Definitely a used car salesman! ;-(

Okay. So that was weird. But he also chewed tobacco. My step-mom laughed uneasily when she told me how, while she was talking to Odell, he would spit tobacco in a circle around her feet! Again, how bizarre!

Meanwhile, at that same time, Garth Brooks was topping the charts. Country music was becoming pop music. Everything was changing. All of that was the impetus for one of the first songs I ever wrote on an autoharp. It was called “Dying Flame”.

When I finished writing the song, I realized something. These strum patterns were the basis to every other song. I could use these patterns, and five octaves. I could write new songs with a new sound. I could grow my songwriting skills!

That's what I did, and that was the basis for my first album, Geography, I recorded it under the name Ichabod Zeuss.

The Birth of Autoharp Radio

Everything has a fandom on the internet, even back in 1998. That's when I found the Cyberpluckers mailing list. I started chatting with other autoharpers online. There were far more than I knew existed. I learned all sorts of great tips. But the funny thing back then was that I didn't know what any of these autoharpers sounded like.

MP3s were in their infancy. There was no easy way to share audio media.

It was great for me when it comes to innovation. My autoharp skills were developed in a vacuum. If you listen to “The Lolly Song” or “Bella's Highland Jig”, you'll hear me play like you've never heard an autoharp played before. I was experimenting a lot. Because I didn't know what the autoharp should sound like.

I found MP3.com in 2000. I started making money with the website. I saw a couple opportunities. One, I could finally HEAR other autoharp music. Second, I could help my fellow autoharpers make money.

I helped a few autoharpers get on MP3.com. I created stations on the website. That's when I started the Autoharp Music Tips website. Everything was going great. Then the record labels sued MP3.com, and the website closed up shop forever.

It was around 2004 when I started looking for other options to promote the Brobdingnagian Bards music and help other autoharpers. That's when I found Live365. I launched Autoharp Radio.

The station started out with lots of my music, plus music from the many autoharpers that I helped on MP3.com. For a short while, it was the only way to hear autoharp music online. I wasn't making any money from the station. Mostly, I considered it a public service to the autoharp community. I paid about $200 a year to keep it running. At least until 2016 when Live365 closed up shop.

I owned an Autoharp Radio .com URL. And the site was still linked with my Autoharp Music Tips site. But I didn't know what to do with it until July 2017.

You see, I was trying to come up with themes for my Pub Songs Podcast. I had Rebel Pub Songs, St. Patrick's Day Pub Songs, Women Pub Songs, and more. I was also trying to use the Pub Songs Podcast as a promotional tool to grow my audience. (Click here to get 5 Free Gifts from me. One is an hour-long show featuring my best music). I thought an autoharp episode would be a cool theme.

That's when it struck me. As long as I'm putting together an autoharp show, why not relaunch Autoharp Radio as a podcast!

And that's where we are today.

Click here to listen to the first episode of Autoharp Radio and to subscribe to future episodes.

Once again, I consider Autoharp Radio a public service. I don't expect to make any money from it. In fact, I probably shouldn't even be messing with this idea. It'll probably take up more time than I can afford.

So right now, my plan is to release just 6 episodes. The first is already done. If I can get these done, then I will be happy. And I will have successfully helped some other autoharpers be heard.

I think that's a great goal.

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