Stories and tips


The first time I wrote with David Schnaufer was a very interesting and memorable experience, and as such, deserves a little setup.

So… the story begins when I started writin' a lullaby for my first grandchild, Ashley, a few months after her birth in 1985. As is often the case, I wrote one verse kinda "stream of consciousness" and then lost the flow for about a year. In the meantime while travelin' through the Blue Ridge Mountains, I heard this ancient mountaineer playin' a mountain dulcimer and knew immediately this was the sound I wanted on Ashley's lullaby. I never thought about where I'd find a dulcimer player in Nashville… I just acknowledged the gift and rolled on down the road.

Then I met John Lomax, III. At the time, John was workin' as a freelance journalist and managin' David Schnaufer. I was familiar with some of the folks Lomax had previously worked with… like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle, but David Schnaufer? "Who the heck is David Schnaufer?" I asked.

So, John told me how David strummed a mountain dulcimer in an Austin, Texas music store one day and won the National Dulcimer Championship at Winfield, Kansas ten months later! And how he actually made a living travelin' around the country playin' and teachin' this obscure Appalachian instrument. And how he made it his mission to put the mountain dulcimer on some of the biggest albums comin' outta Music City (which he accomplished, i.e. The Judds, Dan Seals, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea and Hank, Jr!).

And of course even as slow as I am the bell finally starts to ring… here's my dulcimer player for the lullaby, and just then… in walks David Schnaufer. The three of us talked for a few minutes, and I left John's house thinkin' it must be time to finish the song! Then I forgot about it again… until I got a phone call from Lomax wantin' to know if I'd be interested in writin' with David (John was also David's publisher).

So about a week later I knock on the door to David's music row apartment… where he greets me with a bow and a handshake, invites me in, pours me a cup of java, and before that cup was empty we were old friends. I said, "Play me a song"… he played an original instrumental called Morning Birds and blew me away (in the best way of course)! And then he said, "your turn"… so I played and sang Ashley's lullaby verse, and together we turned it into Starry Lullaby in about an hour! Then we sang and played and polished it for the rest of the day.

As I was leavin', David assured me the song would someday reach thousands of grateful listeners. Havin' survived more than ten years in the songwritin'/music biz wars, I smiled and nodded knowingly, thanked him with a hug and inquired about the Chet Atkins' poster on the livin' room wall.

"Oh, that's my wishing wall" he told me. "I want Chet to play on my dulcimer record. I used to have The Judds up there, now I have a Judds platinum record award over there on that other wall. I'm gonna put Emmylou on the wishing wall next".

When I showed up at David's place the next week, Emmylou's photo was on the wishing wall, and Chet had agreed to play on David's record, along with Kenny Malone, Dave Pomeroy, and Cowboy Clement! The "Schnauf" had found a way through the wall!

David's later albums include duets with Albert Lee, Santiago Jimenez and Mark Knopfler! His dulcimer virtuosity is featured on projects by many other artists includin' a couple CDs by Cyndi Lauper who also provided vocals on our song Twilight Eyes on David's 1999 release, DELCIMORE.

Today, Professor Schnaufer (that's right David's now an Adjunct Professor of Dulcimer) teaches at the internationally renowned Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.

And what happened to Starry Lullaby? We got Joy Lynn White to sing the first demo, with David playin' mountain dulcimer… it's still my favorite. And the song has been recorded several times includin' a hauntin' instrumental version by David and fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor. And… it's been performed in schools and libraries, livin' rooms and bars, festivals and at least one stadium concert that I know of… by Walk the West, Joy Lynn White, The Cactus Brothers, Mae Robertson, The Sanders, David, lots of folks I don't even know and, of course… me. I've also put my grandkids to bed with it many times!

So, did David's wishing wall have some kind of magic? Nah… David moved to another apartment years ago, and is too busy performin', recordin', and teachin' to hang posters on the walls. So, does David have some kind of magic? I believe he does. I believe we all do. I believe we are all constantly and continuously choosin' what we want by choosin' what we truly believe in (not to be confused with what we think we want). I think David's wishing wall was a great way to focus on his true choices. I choose to focus on four little verbs and exercise them continuously… choosin', believin', doin' and sharin'!

Oh yes… the first time I wrote with David he began callin' me "Herb the verb" because I came up with the line "Moon beams love to life", and he said, "I don't get it - 'Moonbeams love to life'?" No, I reiterated, "Moon beams love to life!" Which suddenly reminds me of the previous story… so I think I'll let the next one be a surprise. Hope y'all come back.

See ya,



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