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A Conversation with Hemme Luttjeboer Print-ready version

by Wally Breese
July 5, 1997

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If you've purchased a sheet music book or a guitar magazine in the past 8 years, chances are you've seen the work of Hemme Luttjeboer. He has contributed to Guitar Player, Guitar World and Guitar School Magazines and his transcriptions have graced the pages of top-selling song collections from artists as diverse as Bryan Adams, the Smashing Pumpkins to jazz innovator, Allan Holdsworth. Yet he's not had to move to one of the centers of the musical world to accomplish all this: instead he works out of his home office in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

After graduating with honors from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles in 1986, Hemme forged ahead in the music industry- most notably in the publishing field. Since 1989, Hemme has transcribed and arranged more than 90 folios for Warner Bros. Publications, Hal Leonard Corp., Music Sales Inc. and most recently Warner/Chappell Canada. Hemme has also authored two instruction folios for Warner Bros. Publications - a bass book, 'The Ultimate Beginners Blues Bass and a guitar book, 'Beyond Basics: Introducing Acoustic Slide Guitar'.

Wally: How did you get involved with the Hits and Misses songbook project?

Hemme: I've been working for Warner Brothers for a number of years now. I've had a steady influx of jobs that way, and Aaron Stang asked me if I wanted to do Joni Mitchell, and I just leaped at the opportunity.

Wally: Have you ever done any other work for Joni?

Hemme: Never. I've always wanted to, because you know, from listening to her music, I was always curious about how she came upon those amazing chord tunings. Then, low and behold, with the assistance of Joel Bernstein I unraveled so many mysteries.

Wally: Did you have direct contact with Joel?

Hemme: It was all done on paper through Aaron Stang. Namely, chord frames for most of the tunes indicating the specific chord tunings and then specific chord frames and voicings. Then everything else was up to me, which was pretty scary.

Wally: So Joel gave you the chords to the songs?

Hemme: He gave me all the chord frames and the tunings.

Wally: Then you went in and you did the tablature?

Hemme: Yes, everything, and the vocals, which were most challenging.

Wally: Vocals?

Hemme: The vocal lines that you see in the book.

Wally: Oh, you had to do that!

Hemme: Yes, but it was a labor of love.

Wally: Well, I have to give you credit.

Hemme: I didn't do the first three tunes, I have to admit.

Wally: Then that work must've been done by Dylan Schorer. It's a fact that the words to "Urge for Going" are wrong on the CD, and now they're also wrong in the lyric section in the front of the songbook.

Hemme: Oh, no!

Wally: Well, they were just copied from the CD, I suppose, and I don't know who did that lyric transcription, but there is, for example, a line like "bully winds came around" and instead it reads "boy winds." It's amazing to me that a mistake like that can just keep traveling. No one's fixed it.

Hemme: I'm Pontius Pilate ... I wash my hands! I have nothing to do with that!

Wally: So you're a Joni fan, would you say?

Hemme: Oh, yes.

Wally: I would think that anyone who's a guitarist would at least be interested in her tunings.

Hemme: I think it really started for me in 1980 when Shadows & Light came out.

Wally: Oh, why that one?

Hemme: Because I was a Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius fan. I was a jazzbo, and when I saw the video I just fell in love with Joni and the music. Then Chalk Mark ... the whole CD just put me in a trance, and then every CD since.

Wally: After Chalk Mark she became acoustic-based again. I prefer her sound as uncluttered as possible. My favorite setup is just her and her guitar.

Hemme: Exactly, did you catch her on Rosie & Letterman?

Wally: And Leno. Yes, it was great to see her back. I shouldn't say 'back,' since she's never been gone (she hates that), but it was good to see her being a little more active in promoting herself.

Hemme: She did something here in Canada on MuchMusic.

Wally: That was marvelous, wasn't it?

Hemme: I caught maybe the last 15 minutes of the thing, I haven't seen it since.

Wally: I actually got a copy directly from someone at MuchMusic and it was an hour and a half of pure pleasure. Joni was relaxed because the appearance didn't have the pressure of being on TV like in America and she had lots of friends there. It was great. She told wonderful stories and performed 9 songs. She won a Juno award for her performance which is the equivalent of the Emmy here in America.

Hemme: Oh, man! I hope they play it again up here!

Wally: How long did you work on the Hits and Misses project?

Hemme: I have some exact dates here.

Wally: Oh, cool! You're ready for me! Photo

Hemme: I started the Joni Mitchell Hits and Misses project on September 12, 1996.

Wally: That was actually before the albums came out.

Hemme: Yes, way before because they didn't come out until October 29. Aaron said, "Hemme, you have 26 tunes to do," and I said, "What! 26 tunes!" So, he gave me the list and I went out and bought all the CDs.

Wally: Of course, you take that off on your expense account. That's more than I can do!

Hemme: Funny thing - I noticed the difference in sound on the Hits and Misses from the other CDs.

Wally: Oh, that's because of the HDCD remastering process which brings an incredible improvement in the sound.

Hemme: Well, obviously, yes.

Wally: I was amazed too, because I had actually gotten a list from Robbie Cavolina, Joni's former art director. I worked with him a little when Joni and he were working on the Hits and Misses compilation and he gave me Joni's first list of what songs were going to be on the project and she, of course, along the way changed her mind on a few. So what I did was I went back once I had the disc and plugged in the cuts that she had dropped. When I went back and listened to the DAT tape, the difference between the older album cuts and the remastered cuts is just amazing.

Hemme: I must say that she has so much in the way of music, it could fill volumes, and that is one thing that Aaron Stang at Warners wants to do.

Wally: Can you tell me a little more about that?

Hemme: What Aaron wants to do is put out a number of volumes, short cut versions of the tunes, basically giving the tunings and maybe the first eight bars and then the person can take it from there.

Wally: I see. So instead of putting out a multi-volume set with complete transcriptions, just the beginnings of each song, kind of like I did on my Hits page. Where I had the first two-thirds of the page up.

Hemme: Kind of like what Acoustic Guitar magazine does. That format - whereby two volumes would cover most of her music.

Wally: Why not a complete transcription of all her stuff?

Hemme: Oh, that would be so costly.

Wally: Yes, and the company might be worried there wouldn't be a market for it. I know songbooks don't sell like they did in the '70s. I hear that 5,000 copies is considered platinum these days.

Hemme: Besides I'm a stickler for correctness and I tend to overwrite. I write everything that's audible and then Warners cuts it way back.

Wally: What did you write that they cut out?

Hemme: Oh, little decorations in the second guitar part or repeating a section. Like in "California," where James Taylor is playing away, some cute fills, whatever, and they would not put that in because it's not pertaining to Joni exactly. I mean you can grasp what the first eight or sixteen bar sections would be the first time around so they just put a repeat. That kind of thing. It saves money and pages.

Wally: I was going to say that they'd want to save money at every point. They'd like to make a profit, maybe.

Hemme: The only mistake I'm aware of, thanks to you, Wally, for pointing that out to me, is my name! I can't believe they got it wrong again!

Wally: That must be frustrating for you because your name's not exactly one that Americans can roll right off their tongue!

Hemme: Well, I was thinking of changing it to Hank Snow or something.

Wally: Ha! I think that's been taken, Hemme.

Hemme: Well, maybe the second, then!

Wally: So you started work in September and then I understand you actually had the Hits book and maybe even the Misses book finished except for the dulcimer songs. Then you happened to find Joellen Lapidus and Ruth Barrett?

Hemme: I had arranged everything adapted for guitar - I arranged all the dulcimer parts for acoustic guitar so Joe Blow who doesn't own a dulcimer could pick up their acoustic guitar and tune it the way I'd tuned it. Then Aaron told me that Joni specifically wanted the dulcimer parts written in and I said, oh, boy, that's out of my league. I had no idea that she tuned it in a specific way, different from a standard dulcimer. Aaron arranged to contact these people and they arranged the dulcimer parts.

Wally: Why weren't they contacted at the start?

Hemme: I have no idea. I don't think Aaron wanted the dulcimer parts. Not too many people in the general public own dulcimers. It's a strange, rare instrument - but a gorgeous one.

Wally: And it's an easy instrument to play, too. I've fiddled with the guitar a bit, but I remember picking up a dulcimer once and playing it thinking, my God, I can play it already, it's so simple.

Hemme: It's like a piano - you just plunk your fingers down and there's an instant sound happening. Whether it's consonant or dissonant is another story!

Wally: Exactly, and all those drones are very appropriate for Joni because when she plays the acoustic guitar, because of the slackness of the strings, there are a lot of drone sounds. Which I think I will miss with her new VG-8 electric guitar.

Hemme: Have you seen her with the VG-8?

Wally: I haven't seen her in person but I've seen tapes of performances and it's really wonderful that it might get her performing more because it'll make it easier for her to tune. I'll miss the acoustic sound though, you know, the slap that she does when she strums and the slack drones on the bass strings.

Hemme: Some of the tunings on Misses put me into a trance. I would spend days on one tuning just because I loved the sound of what my guitar was doing.

Wally: A lot of guitarists are saying that this is the book they've been waiting for.

Hemme: Misses? I fell in love with every tune on that one.

Wally: Joni was much more involved in choosing those songs. Hits was more to please Reprise. I think she could care less about those early songs.

Hemme: What a woman.

Wally: I know, I know.

Hemme: Thank God for women like Joni.

Wally: So you didn't have any direct contact with the dulcimer transcribers, Joellen or Ruth?

Hemme: No.

Wally: You did it all in your little room up there.

Hemme: Down in my office here - cooped away.

Wally: What's special or different about the Hits and Misses books as compared to other songbooks Joni has had out?

Hemme: It's more exacting, transcription-wise.

Wally: Are they the first books with tabulature?

Hemme: Yes, and they're very exact, if I do say so myself.

Wally: Can you explain a little bit about tablature, how it works and how it helps, for example, amateur guitarists to play Joni's songs?

Hemme: Especially with Joni Mitchell's open tunings, reading the notes in standard notation would make it extremely difficult to play on the guitar because of the stacked closed voicing. If you have tablature, it tells you immediately where the notes are on the neck of the guitar.

Wally: Because there is a number there that tells you?

Hemme: A number that corresponds to the string and the fret. Immediately, a non-reading person can look at that and go, wow, that's the chord, and if you look at the standard notation, that's what you're playing. Mind you, in tablature the rhythms are not notated so then you do have to go back to the standard notation.

Wally: So there is a bit of work, but it would be fun work, I think.

Hemme: Oh, yes, it's a labor of love.

Wally: Do you have any idea how many copies of Hits were printed and is there going to be a 2nd printing?

Hemme: I have no idea. I asked Aaron that the other day when I pointed out to him that my name was spelled wrong. He had no idea either. I hope it sells well.

Wally: So there won't be a second printing until they see how the first sells.

Hemme: Yes.

Wally: Is Misses going to print less copies than Hits since the CD itself sold less?

Hemme: In the print world, that's a good question.

Wally: I know you and I agree that Misses is probably the more interesting book for tunings. Photo

Hemme: In the initial printing they can print X amount or thousands or whatever and if the public nibbles on it, they may print a bit more and it may follow the same tempo as the Hits book.

Wally: Is Misses arranged as Hits is?

Hemme: Yes.

Wally: Have you seen a copy yet?

Hemme: I haven't seen anything yet.

Wally: That's right, you get them last minute, too. I forgot.

Hemme: I hope the name is right ... it will hurt my ego again!

Wally: Everything should be correct -- I've found a couple more mistakes that I pointed out to Aaron, not real major ones but ...

Hemme: It's important!

Wally: I think so!

Hemme: It's all going back to Joni, too.

Wally: And we don't want to upset Joni!

Hemme: She's God in this realm.

Wally: That's true.

Hemme: The book looks great. It's very cut and dry, simple. The graphics, the fonts...

Wally: As a person who is not a guitarist, in the past I'd buy songbooks for the extra photos or paintings that Joni used to put in there. Of course, there's nothing new in that sense in these books.

Hemme: Nothing at all. It's very cut and dried musically, everything's there.

Wally: Yes, it really is perfect for guitarists, and I guess piano players, too because there are a couple of piano songs in there.

Hemme: I arranged those for guitar and in some cases it is meant for two guitars. That was the first time I had ever heard "Woodstock" by Joni.

Wally: Oh, really? You had heard the CSN version, I guess.

Hemme: Endlessly, and I was just taken aback by Joni's version and that it was the original. I couldn't believe it.

Wally: Yes, it's quite spooky.

Hemme: Especially the doo-doo thing.

Wally: Oh, yeah. Joni often tried to fly vocally in those days with wings that weren't quite ready. That's the way I put it. I know she feels when she goes back and listens to the early stuff, "Why did I do that?" Well, because you were trying to fly, you were trying to do something better and different. An artist doesn't always succeed, but it's important that they try.

Hemme: I think it had the effect -- it worked. And "River" is another haunting tune.

Wally: So if a piano player was to put any of these songs up on their piano board, would they play the notes and that would be exactly how the piano was played?

Hemme: For intonation, it would be close or whatever, for pitch that would be the pitch that the piano player would play. They would probably read down an octave, but if you had two guitar players or one guitar player -- I wrote it myself so -- I arranged it myself so I could play what I had written and it would sound close to what the keyboard player is playing.

Wally: It sounds like you had fun doing these songbooks.

Hemme: Yes, I had so much fun -- it went by, in my estimation, quickly.

Wally: Did you work on Misses right along with Hits?

Hemme: Yes. At the same time.

Wally: Your work is done, I'd imagine. Is there anything else they need for you to do?

Hemme: No, it was done last year -- I'm Pontius Pilate again!

Wally: And you're just waiting for the release, I guess. You were thinking it was going to be out in January or February.

Hemme: Exactly, but they just hung on to it and there are now about a dozen songbooks I'm waiting on for release. It just takes so long.

Wally: You're talking about songbooks that you worked on for other artists?

Hemme: Oh, yeah.

Wally: Well, to wind it up here, what do you think of the final product, the Hits and Misses songbooks, or Hits since that's the only one you've seen.

Hemme: The book itself? I think it's an excellent product because of the material. It looks good and anyone who is a Joni buff should definitely purchase it.

Wally: I agree with you on that, and I'm doing my best to make that happen.

Hemme: Oh, man -- I can't believe your page!

Wally: Do you like it?

Hemme: Oh, it's great.

Wally: On the songbook page, I don't know if you picked up the image I did of the strings of her guitar -- I was trying to figure out how to represent that but I decided to keep it simple and just put six lines - a lot of people probably won't even pick up that that's what it is. I added little design elements. You can't do quite as many things with HTML computer language as you can with print stuff. For example, fonts. I don't have as much variety available in fonts, not yet anyway. There is going to be a way soon where you can actually transfer any font over to HTML. So that should be interesting.

Hemme: Wow - that will really be interesting.

Wally: But I'm trying to do as much as I can with what I'm able to work with now.

Hemme: Oh, it's phenomenal, Wally. When did you first put the page up?

Wally: I started it in the summer of 1995. It actually was launched to the world on August 29th of that year. So, it's been nearly two years.

Hemme: Exciting world it is.

Wally: It is, absolutely. I've been a Joniphile for 30 years -- and I never thought it would all come to this but over the years I was collecting all these newspaper articles, photographs and tapes and stuff -- without being totally conscious of why I was doing it. I wasn't really sure but now it's perfectly clear why I was doing it -- so I could share it with everyone on the Web and help promote Joni's work.

Hemme: We thank you for it, man.

Wally: Thanks, I hope that Joni sees my website someday soon and that she likes what she sees.

Hemme: Oh, I think she will. I'm sure she will.

Wally: Well, you never know. Excuse me, I don't mean to get emotional about it! Actually I just need to clear my throat. I've been told that Joni takes a long time to warm up, to come around. She knows nothing about computers, so she has no concept of what I'm doing here really. I want her to visit the page but you can't force it. I have to let it happen on it's own, and part of me worries about her seeing things and freaking out about them. She doesn't understand that on the Web everything is out there and if I don't put it out, someone else is going to do it and not do it as well. So I worry about her reaction, but if she opens up her heart and really looks at what I do, she should see how much I care about promoting her and her music.

Hemme: And when she finally sees it - Whoa!!

Wally: Well, I have lots of things that I'd like to happen but I'm not expecting anything, so whatever happens...

Hemme: ... will be a bonus.

Wally: Exactly.

Hemme: This is amazing.

Wally: Well, I thank you too for your work for Joni -- for Hits and Misses -- I'm looking forward to getting the Misses book soon. The Hits contest went very well. I received lots of entries. Did you see the questions?

Hemme: Yes.

Wally: Could you have answered some of them?

Hemme: I think so, I hope so.

Wally: I didn't want to make it too easy or too difficult.

Hemme: I thought it was priceless and I really appreciate you phoning me. This is totally different for me.

Wally: Usually you do the work and nobody talks to you?

Hemme: Yes, there are so many books I've done -- about 90 of them -- and there's about 20 with no credit given at all, that kind of thing. I try to have every artist that I work for autograph my copy and so that's an added plus.

Wally: Have you had Joni sign yours yet?

Hemme: I'm trying. I was after management about a week or so ago.

Wally: S. L. Feldman? Who did you talk to there?

Hemme: Darrell Gilmour.

Wally: Yes, Darrell's my contact there, too. He's a really nice guy.

Hemme: Yes, he really is. It was nice to meet him and we cut the ice that way -- and he wanted to wait till the Misses book came out before he presented it to Joni.

Wally: Yes, he tells me that everything moves slowly in Joni-land. You can't really force it. But she's a true genius -- an original artist. I understand that and I feel that she really hasn't been appreciated the way she should have been.

Hemme: She's so underrated!

Wally: Exactly, so I understand the problems she has and why she might sometimes get upset at things.

Hemme: What do you know of her recording "Taming the Tiger?"

Wally: I hear that it's finished. I know the titles and some of their order. She's already chosen which song will be first and which will be last on the album. I haven't heard any of it yet though. I do believe that it's all recorded using her VG-8.

Hemme: Wow!

Wally: A drummer named Brian Blade is on it, on most or all of the songs. Wayne Shorter is on there, as always. I'm not sure about anyone else yet. I know that all the songs were written before she found Kilauren or before Kilauren found her, I should say. But the last song apparently fits into the theme. I'm sure everyone will think it's about the reunion.

Hemme: Oh, how exciting.

Wally: It should be out in February. They're holding it back because she's planning to film a couple of TV specials, the first of which should be out about that time. There's often been a bit of bad timing in the Mitchell world, but I'm hoping that this time they'll do everything at the same time. You know what I mean? Why have a TV special aired if the album isn't available?

Hemme: Exactly, do some promoting.

Wally: Or why wait until 6 months later when the initial rush is already over.

Hemme: When everyone's forgotten.

Wally: Exactly.

Hemme: Well, I hope I can meet her.

Wally: Me, too! If you do and get her autograph, that would be fabulous!

Hemme: Darrell's going to try when the Misses book comes out.

Wally: Any set date on that yet?

Hemme: No idea. Aaron thinks it could be weeks, which could turn into months over at Warners.

Wally: What's holding it up?

Hemme: First printing approval. Edits, corrections, that kind of thing.

Wally: By Joel or Joni?

Hemme: Yes, I think the Joel Bernstein editing portion has been done, so that's all ready. Now it's all in Warner Brothers hands. As far as the printing -- what the actual engraver does, it could be little typos.

Wally: Well, I pointed out a couple of things to Aaron about the Hits book that hopefully he'll fix on the other. Have you seen the advertisement that's going to be in Acoustic Guitar?

Hemme: No!

Wally: Aaron sent it to me. It's going to be in the August Acoustic Guitar. It's a full page ad.

Hemme: You're kidding!

Wally: Well, the copy he sent me is a full page ad, not just for Hits, although that's the focus of it, there's a couple other songbooks that they have little pictures of. For Hits, they have a large picture of a local yokel holding the book in his hand and going "Yahoo! So that's how Joni tuned for "Hejira."

My thanks to Hemme Luttjeboer, Aaron Stang, Joel Bernstein, Norman Seefe, Jim Johanson and Susan McNamara.

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Added to Library on November 10, 2005. (10502)


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