[When we migrated my old blog away, all the entries were lost except for the ones I wrote in Word. This is the original draft of a blog entry I wrote October 30, 2012 about the recording process for “I Put My Low Stat,” a gaming song on my album: Acolytes of the Machine & Other Gaming Stories (2012).]
“I Put My Low Stat”
Everybody rolled at least one. Except Andrew.
“I Put My Low Stat”
Mary Crowell – vocals, accordion, clarinet
Jeff Bohnhoff – electric guitar, electric bass, drum programming
Maya Bohnhoff – backing vocals
Sunnie Larsen – violin
You can often tell when a person began playing Dungeons and Dragons by the order they put their stats in when they are rolling up (creating) a character. I had wanted to play since junior high school when several guys in band began playing Basic edition D&D in the library during breaks. They wouldn’t let me play unless I memorized the red rulebook. I did. Then they let me play with them one time, so that probably doesn’t count.
I finally got to play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with a boyfriend the summer after graduating from high school. I loved playing AD&D and was really glad to find friends to game with at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. One of my fellow music theory students, Andrew, introduced me to his gaming group that met in the Hut and then later in Wilson Business Center. Andrew later introduced me to his gaming group in Decatur, AL who played under the DM-ship of one Wesley Crowell.
So, because my first games were played in 1st edition AD&D, I put my stats on my character sheets in this order: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma. There was a nice mix of mental and physical stats in there, although poor old charisma was last. Later editions of AD&D and the D&D 3e and 3.5 put all the physical stats first, and this bugged me, although I could see how that would be useful for dumb monsters (or fighters.) Many players tended to put their low stat in charisma, because it wasn’t usually a prime requisite.
In day to day life it is pretty clear that intelligence, wisdom, and charisma are incredibly important. I could give examples, but all of them sound a bit mean, so I think I’ll just let readers reminisce to themselves about all the times they have had to deal with someone who made charisma, intelligence, or wisdom their low stat. I decided to make the so-called dump stat, charisma, be the first ability discussed in my song. There you go, Charisma!
And Andrew? That verse near the end about the player whose lowest roll is 17 is all for Andrew. We had a theory that every time someone rolled up a bad character, Andrew was somewhere nearby creating a godling with his dice. It got so that sometimes we would make him leave the building during character creation on the theory that somehow he was siphoning our luck. I especially rolled low stats whenever Andrew (Yes, the same Andrew that introduced me to my future husband) was nearby. And so, the last verse is for me. Well, and David too. His characters have had some abysmal stats. The constitution verse is just for him. Yeah, that bit about mummy rot.
The Musical Style
Like “A Balleto for Rupus” the live version of this song sounds very different from the arrangement we have on the album, Acolytes of the Machine & Other Gaming Stories. Played live, “I Put My Low Stat” is a bouncy little ragtime song. I do love Scott Joplin and Zev Confrey. After listening to my scratch track, Jeff suggested we might go for a zydeco sound, and sent me this cool bass, guitar, and drums arrangement. (I usually describe it as zydeco funk.)
After singing with accompaniment that he put together I decided to go for it. Zydeco Low Stat is radically different Ragtime Low Stat, so I had to get used to the idea. I loved (and love) singing with it; also, that is one of the best joys of collaborating: you have the opportunity to make creations that you could never do by yourself!
Jeff asked me if I would be willing to play an accordion—real, IPad instrument, or midi on the track. After watching many IPad accordion players on Youtube, we went with midi. I did try to learn the IPad accordion. It quickly became apparent that I would not be playing with the necessary facility by May. (But thanks to Brenda Sutton I have a real accordion now! His name is Elvis for he is the king.)
After returning from Consonance in early March of this year, I kicked things into high gear and finished the rest of the scratch tracks including “I Put My Low Stat.” I had really enjoyed getting to play more clarinet in the swing jazz band, Play It With Moxie and wanted to challenge myself. So, I wrote up an agile clarinet solo to play before the Constitution verse. It so happened that if I didn’t swing the eighth notes, I could still play the clarinet solo over the zydeco funk bass, guitar, and percussion Jeff had put together for me. The style is fun to sing as well—sassy!
The real hurdle was trying to get the zydeco accordion sounding authentic. Jeff auditioned many accordion sounds before he found the one he wanted to use for this track. Wednesday, May 9th, we spent time listening to zydeco accordion tunes, and I practiced. And how I practiced–trying to get the accompaniment to sound fancier and fancier. I felt like giving up, but Maya who had been listening in the other room declared that it was sounding good and we should go for it. The crucial nudge given, I persevered, and the next day we recorded several takes of the accordion. We also got the clarinet and vocal tracks down with much less difficulty.
The extraordinarily talented and skilled Sunnie Larsen flew down to Mystic Fig Studio the weekend after me. After playing three-fourths of a string quartet (She plays both violin parts and the viola on the title track of this album!) she made time to lay down violin on both “Opportunity Tango” and “I Put My Low Stat.” Her delightful performance on this track is sly, smooth, and wickedly agile. Later in June, Maya Bohnhoff gave the track a rich low vocal harmony to emphasize the first, third, and sixth lines of each verse after the first.
And normally, that would be the end of my discussion of each song, but I have one more story to tell about this song. “I Put My Low Stat” won a Pegasus Award for Best Gaming Song this year! We were able to do a rocking version of it during the Pegasus Concert at OVFF, Friday October 26, 2012. Maya Bohnhoff and Teresa Powell sang harmony; Brian Richardson played drums; Amy McNally played violin; and Jeff Bohnhoff played guitar. I sang and played my ragtime version on the piano. (No clarinet.) It was so much fun! The category had wonderful songs: Eva Van Daele-Hunt’s “Die Puppen/The Dolls,” Tom Smith’s “Divine Intervention,” S.J. Tucker’s, “Playing D&D,” and Scott Snyder’s “Secrets (the Rogue’s Song.)”
Both “I Put My Low Stat” and “M is for Magic Missile” have been entered in ENWorld’s Battle of the Bards competition. The voting begins November 5th and ends at the end of the month. There is still time to enter, but it grows short. They will accept entries until midnight (GMT) Halloween. (That’s 7:00 pm for those of us on central standard time.)