History / Music

Indian Island Massacre of 1860

Here’s a new song I produced for The Georgia Handshakers. It’s written by my friend Mike Bynum. He’s providing vocals and playing rhythm electric guitar. All other instrumentation is me.

The song is about a horrible and infamous moment in Humboldt County history: the Indian Island Massacre of 1860. Here’s how Joan Crandell describes the event:

In the pre-dawn hours of February 26, 1860 a small group of white men, using axes and knives, massacred over 50 women and children of Tuluwat, the Wiyot village that had existed on Indian Island (Gunther Island) for over one thousand years. Concurrent attacks took place at other Wiyot settlements around the bay, resulting in the death of over 150 people, mainly women and children. Bret Harte, serving as editor of the local paper in his employer’s absence, wrote a scathing editorial decrying the massacre. His resulting expulsion from Humboldt County within the month was reported to be in response to threats from civilians who supported the murderers. A number of editorials that followed denounced the crime and hinted at guilty men, but refused to name them outright, perhaps for fear of retribution. A grand jury was called in April 1860 to investigate the matter but no one was named and the crime went unpunished.

Everything was produced on Kxstudio, a Linux audio production distribution. I used Ardour as my workstation, Calf creative suite plugins, and the fantastic epicVerb VST plugin from Variety of Sound. For drum programming I used Hydrogen Drum Machine.

Please excuse the mix quality. I don’t have even the most basic setup for home monitoring and mixing. I mix using a pair of cheap Sony headphones. It’s a bit of trial-and-error; I tweak a few things, finalize everything, then check it on my Cowon J3 and in my car. Then repeat.

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The Georgia Handshakers


Here are a couple of videos I’ve put together for the band I’m in The Georgia Handshakers. We recorded the first track on 21 June 2013. It’s a live performance of an instrumental I wrote titled “Figs From Thorns.”


Brian Barfield (Bass)
Mike Bynum (Rhythm Guitar)
Jeff Morgan (Lead Guitar)
John Newmer (Percussion)
Rob Robinson (Drums)


Video used: Flip The Frog – Fiddlesticks (1930)
Video is in the public domain.

“Spain” was recorded the next day (22 June 2013) at Redwood Curtain Brewing Company. Same lineup.


“Spain” written by Chick Corea.
Video from The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Video is in the public domain.

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Knoxville Girl: Explorations in an Appalachian Murder Ballad

I first came across this (in)famous murder ballad only very recently while perusing my copy of The Real Bluegrass Book published by Hal Leonard. Both sides of my family come from east Tennessee. I was born there and spent large portions of my childhood exploring the region’s beauty nestled up to the Smoky Mountains. My time there included regular trips to the big city, Knoxville.

So the title jumped off the page.

My version of the murderous traditional includes four verses only, leaving out the passages where the narrator’s mother confronts him. The reason simply being these were the lyrics in my songbook. I could easily have included the other passages, but that only crossed my mind after the recording was finished.

I recorded Knoxville Girl using a Behringer Xenyx Q802USB as my mixer/audio interface. I used a Shure SM58 for vocals and an SM57 for the guitar, which also plugged directly in the mixer via a piezo pickup (recorded in parallel using the separate left/right channels). The digital signal goes into my trusty System76 PanP7.

For software I start with the excellent audio/video production-focused Linux distribution Kxstudio. From there Ardour 3 is my DAW of choice. For plugins (vocal EQ and guitar reverb) I took advantage of Calf Studio Gear’s fantastic creative suite. Finally, on the vocals I was able to use the epicVerb vst plugin created by Variety of Sound. Though the plugin is designed for Windows I had little trouble using it with Kxstudio (however I’m unable to use it in live monitoring situations without a few xruns).

Anyway, that’s that. For anyone interested in finding out more about the background story of Knoxville Girl I highly recommend Paul Slade’s detailed essay on the subject, “Unprepared to die: Knoxville Girl.Continue reading