Aww…Noice!

DC Music School‘s latest offering features the incomparable Rocky Gresset and boy he sure makes it look easy, eh shredders? This is another “In the Style of…” edumacational device that the school is famous for and seeing as how I bought a few over the years I can say with certainty that it will be well worth the money. All of the players who have been featured are top-tier talent and the lessons are produced with the student in mind. One of the most impressive features I’ve learned about the Gypsy Jazz community is the quality of education! The best players will be the best teachers…duh!

While maybe not as well-known as some other Gypsy Jazzers, Rocky can more than hold his own with anyone, as the above awesome L-5 workout with the amazing Adrien Moignard proves. This is next-generation jazz and it’s pretty inspiring because it incorporates all the best of so many years of influences and innovations. While some of their playing is completely original, some also definitely owes a whole lot to the legacy of “The Boss”: Bireli Lagrene. He has been a consistent bar-raiser throughout his career and many younger players hold him as a mentor. But the freedom, musicality, and attitude originates a long time ago with people like Django Reinhardt, Johnny Smith and Barney Kessel. My go-to playlist lately has a whole lot of the electric bebop of these three guys from the 50s-60s period and it is a constant musical companion and wonder to behold!

Sweetwater Sound

a few weeks ago I purchased a Ditto Looper from Sweetwater Sound, and because of that decision I became a member of an elite sect…a secret society…a special organization even. I’m now a valued customer who deserves…a Catalog! or Catalogue! Yes! I didn’t think anyone did the direct mail thing anymore. This is the musical instrument equivalent of the Sears Wish Book from days of old; jam-packed and chock-full of goodies!

My first reaction was to be completely and totally shocked that I would receive a 600+ page catalog from anyone, much less a music equipment company! I was in the graphic design business for many years and over the course of my career I was involved in producing at least 125 major catalogs, so I know a little bit about what goes into their creation, production, and distribution, including the cost. Publishing, printing, and shipping a catalog this size is not cheap and pretty much everyone says, “why bother?” in the current marketplace when everything lives online. Just the other day there was this latest figure that showed online Black Friday sales surged…they SURGED by over 20% from last year, including more than $2 billion dollars just from smartphones!

Also, I think I’ve done a very thorough job covering the new realities of the musical instrument landscape over the past 7 years The Guitar Cave has been in existence. As you may recall I wrote a few posts on the media bullshit associated with transformation of the instrument market or “malaise” the major media was referring to as the Death of the Electric Guitar without exploring all of the bad business decisions, corruption, overconfident future forecasts, incompetence, and a very tapped out American consumer, while focusing strictly on a changing musical landscape. While I acknowledged that, sure, the business and musical landscapes had changed (as they are wont to do), there was very little press on how corporate America seemed to be giving itself a pass on the problems associated with the collapse of the industry by blaming people for not buying guitars like they used to. As it turns out, I was right to have this attitude because as I wrote in my last post, Update: The Guitar is Totally Not Dying! the numbers show that consumers have been stepping up and buying musical equipment and a lot of this talk about “no new Eric Claptons” was Boomer Babbling misdirection away from the real problems. I also reported that after years of running his company into the drink, Gibson former honcho, Henry Juszkiewicz was kicked to the curb to save Gibson guitar from bankruptcy only to be replaced by former Levi Strauss CEO James Curleigh. Only time will tell if a guy who ran a pants company can get Gibson back on track! And now, right on cue we can add another layer of evidence onto my investigative theorizing. We have a company that, in this terrible, terrible market, where no one is buying instruments, can “afford” to send a huge catalog to someone who bought a pedal and an adapter. LOL. So who are these guys?

They are the largest online retailer of music gear in the United States. You can tell from their website or the catalog pages I’m attaching here that they carry a little bit of everything! (As an aside…the sheer size of the stompbox market, the number of companies, the number of pedals, the number of functions or combination of functions the pedals do today is flat-out outstanding! Wow! Does this look like a dying market? I think not.) The company was founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is where they are still headquartered. They have 1 brick and mortar store on their “campus” there in Indiana, so the ever-expanding real location stuff is an overhead the company doesn’t have to worry about. The prices are competitive, they offer FREE, reliable shipping, generous financing options, and what’s fast becoming the standard “No Hassle” type return policy that I’ve mentioned here, with regards to other online companies. Oh NO! I sound like an advertisement!

Sweetwater’s founder, Chuck Surack, seems like an interesting guy. He was a sax player in bands and then for a while had a recording studio in a VW bus that he would use to do location recordings…kind of like he was the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit. Neato. Here’s a video interview with Chuck. (Here’s a tour of the RS mobile unit). Sweetwater the gear company evolved from Sweetwater the recording studio; the gear they test and use in the studios became (becomes) the gear that they carry, so the whole process has been incredibly organic. Also, the company is privately owned; no shareholders, no banks and free from a lot of the pressures that drive business decisions and strategies at companies like Gibson and Guitar Center. Chuck’s business priorities of treating customers well first and worrying about the profits second is something out of the old days, but this is company philosophy. You’ll never be a billionaire with that attitude, Chuck!

But maybe he doesn’t care. That would be a refreshing change. Of course, it’s not all good, or is it? Obviously small dealers will have trouble competing with an entity like Sweetwater. There is a whiff of Amazonism at play here because Amazon got to be the world’s biggest bookstore by not having any actual bookstores. Rent actually does eat up a whole lot of money…ask any of the very famous shops that used to line the iconic 48th street in New York City. So anyone coming up who also wants to run and musical instrument company will have to adopt this business model or fail. But does it matter anymore? Probably not. Where I live people always talk about “mom and pops” like it’s still the 1970s and they want to buy a garden hose at Blogsteins after lunch at the Woolworth’s counter. The reality is that shopping experience is a quaint anachronism in 2018…or more Boomer Babbling.

I know, I know…“small businesses are the backbone of a healthy economy”; “competition is crucial for capitalism to function properly”; “too big to fail and anything that smacks of monopolies is bad, bad, bad,” and, in theory, I agree. I’m sure everyone out there has read the economic treatises that predict a very dire future when 20 companies will own everything. As I’ve written in the past, my local musical retail landscape is gone anyway except for boutiques that were stupidly expensive even before Guitar Center existed, so my choice to get this pedal was basically go to Guitar Center or order from Sweetwater. I ordered from Sweetwater and my experience was 100% positive. They really do go the extra mile on customer satisfaction and service and that’s more than I can say for some brick and mortar / mom and pop retailers I’ve dealt with over the years. Long term, big picture, what’s the answer? I don’t know. What is definitely needed though is a honest discussion about what the landscape realities are and as I’ve pointed out above (and on a few occasions now) I don’t think there is a lot of that in the mainstream media. This is a topic that’s interesting to me and I’ll have some more thoughts soon. BTW, if you would like a Sweetwater catalog of your own, you can order it right HERE. No purchase necessary!

…And We’re Back!

The Disc Reviews Section has been completely reorganized and there is a whole lot of new content! I’ve bought, heard, sampled and reviewed more discs this year than at any time since the beginning of the blog almost 8 years ago. Exciting! I thought I could finish everything I was planning by the this point, but I haven’t and I don’t want to deprive the millions of 15 people who come here regularly access to the site any longer! ‘Cause I’m all about the readers! The updating will continue until the audience begs for mercy…or I just get sick of it and call it a day.

Not only did I hear a lot of music this year, but I acquired the music in different and various ways. The changes are interesting, but not always fun. It’s not like the old days when you could go to the Virgin Megastore and buy practically anything. The internet promised and continuously promises that EVERYTHING is available, all of the time, but that isn’t always true. What is true is that I bought some really cool imports and hard to find stuff at brick and mortar stores over the years and I’m not sure it’s available now. Plus, as I’ve already mentioned in another post there is something fun about finding stuff out in the real world, but that experience is almost impossible anymore. Sad.

The ch-ch-changes also affect how one views or attends music. I’ve faithfully documented the hologram phenomenon and what a phenomenon it is! I know that is something that everyone out there wants me to stay on top of! But another new musical performance avenue is on the horizon thanks to Bruce Springsteen. His Broadway “stand” has been very successful; it’s been extended three times and has grossed $2.5 million per week. Added benefit: he can drive home every night after the performance, which is way easier than a tour, especially for a guy his age. “Build it and they will come,” says Bruce! A few of my relatives have been to these intimate performances and would go again in a heartbeat. Netflix will get in on the action at the end of the year and record a show or two. This is like the NEW Vegas, but different because it doesn’t have the Cheeseball Factor and Reputation of Las Vegas, and that kind of money will certainly attract others to do same:

A group of powerful entertainment companies — Live Nation, Creative Artists Associates and Entertainment Benefits Group — is about to snap up a Broadway theater where A-list rock, pop and country performers will be “in residency” for three-week stints…Deals have not been finalized, but CAA — home to Springsteen’s agent — represents a boatload of superstars, including Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Bette Milder, Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood, Lionel Richie, James Taylor, Demi Lovato, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, the Eagles, Michael Bublé and Adam Lambert.

You can totally see Aerosmith and the Eagles jumping at this opportunity although neither of those bands have the down-home folksy charm and appeal that Bruce does. I could imagine everyone getting tired of listening to Steven Tyler after about 3 minutes. A mega-star like The Boss in that kind of intimate setting telling stories is a surefire winner, aesthetically and financially. It’s hard to get the “real” tickets for these shows (so I’ve heard) and people rely on “scalpers” who charge $3,000 and up for the tickets.  Is there anything hypocritical about this kind of folksy populism bringing in ten million a month? Hmm…

NEAT LINKS — Last week I found a couple of pretty cool things, especially for those people into jazz. All of the issues of The Jazz Review, a short-lived magazine from 1958 through 1961, are online in PDF format here. The mag was founded by Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, and Hsio Wen Shih in New York City and counted many musicians and jazz afficiandos as contributors. I haven’t found a lot of “guitar” stuff” so far, but the magazine has some great interviews and musical insights of the time, the writers were passionate fans of jazz music, and the historical angle alone (if you are into that sort of thing) is worth the price of admission. (Especially seeing how that price is FREE!).

Also, I’ve mentioned Kodoku No Gurume, a Japanese foodie show before, but today I will expand. While, on one level it is a food show and the food takes center stage, the main character, Goro, an independent designer, decorator, professional goods importer, is also a ruminating philosopher by way of his relationship to food and eating. Although it is fun to see all of the different businesses Goro visits to eat and all of the different meals, it is the calm visuals of the show and main actor Yutaka Matsushige‘s soothing voice that make for really great television. So much Japanese television is really noisy and busy and most American television is incredibly stupid and manipulative. But I do like cooking shows. I was also a fan of Lidia Bastianich and her Lidia’s Italy cooking show. She always made some really attractive meals and wove her personal stories and very interesting Italia facts into every episode. What these two shows have in common is plenty of GYPSY JAZZ background music. Here is Lidia’s old theme…I don’t think she uses it anymore. It was “written” and performed by composer Martha Bourne, but the “composed” angle is a bit of a stretch seeing as how it is obviously directly lifted from Django Reinhardt’s very famous Minor Swing. Kodoku No Gurume has a musical group called The Screen Tones that has created a wide range of different musical styles for the various footage of seven seasons worth of episodes with some of it having a very definite Gypsy Jazz flavor.

The rhythm guitarist is Masayuki Kusumi, who also serves as a writer of the original Kodoku manga, actor, and part creator to the show. The lead guitarist is a bona-fide Manouche player by the name of Fumihiko Kono and he can really work it out, not only on television and with The Screen Tones, but also onstage with powerhouse European Gypsy Jazz guys (see below). Way cool!

Since I love Gypsy Jazz anyhow, obviously it makes me enjoy television that uses the music in creative ways, especially when it’s well-written and well-played. The attraction of the music going back to its creation at the hands of Django and Stephane Grappelli is that it perfectly embodies the pure joy and good times of life; la dolce vita or however you want to think of it. Of course food, wine, dining, parties, get-togethers, family and friends are a big part of the STUFF of life and the music only makes all of that much more enjoyable!

BTW, if you are interested in watching these shows they are online. Lidia has a lot of stuff at her Youtube channel and Kodoku No Gurume can be found by entering the name of the show into any Kissasian site which I’m sure you can find on your own if you choose.

Update

I’m on a TEAR… doing a boatload of writing and reorganizing, especially in the reviews sections. It’s like time is chasing me like a HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL. I’m trying to expand to include all of the stuff I’ve had and heard over the years and make it funny, opinionated and maybe even negative in spots. Who knows? It may even end up being controversial! I’ve already done a bunch of work in the Blues, Gypsy Jazz, Django Reinhardt, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix sections. Don’t buy any new music without checking here first! Do people even do that anymore? (Buy music I mean?)

Also I wrote a 7,000+ word review of Rolling Stone magazine’s Stories from the Edge documentary that traces the history of the magazine’s feud with the premiere rock band of the 1970s and various people like Cameron Crowe, Joan Didion, Led Zeppelin, Jim Morrison, The Doors, Jann Wenner, Hunter S. Thompson, Bette Midler, and Joseph Pulitzer all make appearances. Sound interesting? Well if so, you can read it here! I’m going to be following up on this idea with another pretty involved post on the history of rock criticism and music reviewers. That should be fun and educational as well.

I know it’s going to break everyone’s heart, but the blog will be going dark from later tonight until early next week to allow me to do even more detailed and painstaking reorganization. Sorry if this throws the rest of your week into total disarray (lol), but it’s Thanksgiving, so you should be watching feetsball or fighting over a Dell Computer in a Big Box Store somewhere anyhow. Whatever you do, Please Enjoy!

Tidbits IV

Roy Clark, one of the best entertainers ever known to man, passed away this week at the age of 85. Not only was Roy a SUPREMELY-Talented guitar player, multi-instrumentalist, and singer, but he was also an extremely funny guy and an absolute natural in front of an audience or the camera. His jokes, quips, comedic timing and facial expressions always made the awesome guitar prowess that would inevitably follow even more impressive. I wrote about Roy a few years ago in a post titled, Guitar Teevee in the 1970s. That post included the following clip that also featured the late, great Flip Wilson.

While Roy was known for the Hee Haw television show, he was all over television during the 60s, 70s, and 80s because he could be counted on to deliver a superb musical performance and very humane and engaging humor if the situation warranted. His likeability factor was completely off the charts. Over the course of a 60 year career he thrilled many a live audience with his renditions of Orange Blossom Special, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Malaguena, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Yesterday When I Was Young and I Never Picked Cotton. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and will forever be known as an outstanding musician and true gentleman of the guitar. Safe travels Roy!!

Last week I watched a few videos of The Aristocrats, a super-duper musical unit featuring guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drum/percussionist Marco Minnemann. I guess they could be called a modern super-group of sorts because they have all played with major stars including Asia and Joe Satriani, and did a G3 tour at one point I believe. I don’t know much about them except for the fact that I’ve seen Guthrie online for years and marveled at his outlandish and otherworldly chops. But I like the sound and the chemistry these guys have and hear influences that include the best of 70s rock, Frank Zappa, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and maybe Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin‘s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Everyone seems to be referring to them as “fusion” and I don’t know if that’s fair. FUSION can be one of those dirty labels that is usually uttered in disdain, or at least with a huge buildup of phlegm in the back of the throat. No matter…I’m gonna pick up their latest album for the holidays and give it a go…and then, of course, they’ll be a review…for you!

Another phenomenal talent that I’ve recently discovered is Muriel Anderson. She really rocks out on this cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition! What a great player! She demonstrates her abilities on a multitude of pieces, including some that involve harp guitar, which looks really hard. Her disc, Nightlight Daylight is available here and I’ll be picking this up as well. Not only does it look to be chock full of great music and some really special guest appearances (Tommy Emmanuel, Victor Wotten, Phil Keaggy, Stanley Jordan) but it is also, according to Guitar Player magazine, one of the top 10 discs of the decade and it has the first ever fiber optics cover. I’m really looking forward to getting this! So look for a review and more on Muriel (and The Aristocrats) real soon!

To follow-up on the last post, I watched a bunch of stuff on YouTube this week that featured the Ditto Looper, which I just purchased from Sweetwater. Since the launch of this blog in 2011, I haven’t spent much time talking about gear since I haven’t really acquired much in the last few years. Over the course of my guitar career I used a TON OF STUFF…and I still have some so I was thinking I will probably do a retro post on GEAR I USED! Brilliant!

Anyhow, there are some very interesting tutorials that provided some really great tips here, here, here, and here…as well as the video above this paragraph obviously. These links feature various tips and tricks and give a great overview not only on the functionality of the Ditto, but also how to use a looper pedal in general. While the pedal can be a great practice tool and also a great creative aid, it can also just be a lot of fun and there are also many nice demonstrations of people playing various musical pieces here, here, here and even the above-mentioned Guthrie Govan using a Ditto here!

This is a powerful pedal and a way powerful musical concept as well and I’ve already had some fun with it. Hopefully, I will post something of my own in the future, but right now we’re in the process of totally cleaning and clearing out the apartment of all manner of digital and analog stuff from 20+ years of accumulation. This will probably be a couple-month project, but it is very necessary to do it and we’ve already begun, so that will take up what’s left of this year. In the process we’ll be getting complete upgrade on computers and all software and this will hopefully result in some audio/video production that will be on The Guitar Cave next year. We’ll see how it all works out!

Happy Birthday to Me!

YEA! I made it to another birthday and it was a great one! I communicated with people I haven’t heard from in years and that was really special and maybe the best part! There is so much about the old days me from those days that I miss now, but that’s the nostalgic, wistful and longing nature of life isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s far from a forgone conclusion that I will live to see another year when a new year begins, so the fact that I did is totally cool. All blessings to the Most Highest and them that helps me here! Also…there was SCHWAG!

The one gift I requested was for an updated version of an iPhone dock that we used to have that was made by JBL. It was pretty cool because it would charge the phone and simultaneously play music with great hi-fidelity sound, plus it just sat in the corner of the kitchen very unobtrusively. I’m very lucky in that my girlfriend is very tech-savvy and while she was home in Japan for a few weeks in October, she found the Sony xb-41! What a total party machine! This wireless speaker works with whatever device, weighs only three pounds and takes up no space at all. It has great bass response, LED light-show stuff and as all of these demonstration videos I’m linking to show: it can also charge your devices, link in a chain with other speakers to create a HUGE WALL OF SOUND, or even operate as a phone! Just think: You could set it up somewhere and yell into it and somebody, somewhere could yell back! Isn’t THAT GREAT? You can also do stupid shit use as a beat-master at the club! Who wouldn’t want to do that just once?

I just wanted something that could blast when I’m in the kitchen making dinner…which I DO ALL THE TIME! (see above). This definitely works just as expected as I’ve already tried it out and I’m happy as a musical clam. It’s a good idea to download the Sony Music Center app because the app has EVERYTHING you need to take the speaker to the next level, including a really boss equalizer, which is completely necessary. I wasn’t loving how the extra bass response was reacting with some of those jazz albums from the 50s, but the equalizer, which is not just a bunch of presets but actual levels that can be adjusted, helped make it all sound better. ROCK sounds GREAT! All of it. Led Zeppelin IV sounds friggin’ huge! It’s also possible to download an app that allows you to become a proverbial DJ, which is about as annoying a thing that anyone could ever do. I was going to record a demonstration video of this, but I got bored playing with it and decided not to. It’s pretty silly though and if you aren’t the proverbial Douche at the KLUB you’ll have no use for this app, but that doesn’t diminish all of the other great features this speaker and its attendant software will bring into your musical life. Also, you can do like we’re doing and recycle all of your old computer and sound system gear! Clear up, clean out and get rid of all of that stuff you don’t use anymore anyhow! You’ll feel better once you do…or not. I know we will and I like this high-quality machine so I definitely recommend!


I also ordered myself a present because I had another hard year, so hard that I even stopped playing guitar for six months! Can you believe that? I am callous-less. Definitely not easy playing guitar with smooth fingers, but little by little they are coming back. So I bought something I have been looking at for a couple of years: A DITTO pedal. It works just as it is supposed to and I was already playing against a loop of the Autumn Leaves changes yesterday! Fun! Fun! FUN! Making the perfect loop isn’t quite as easy as it looks especially if it’s been a few months. My timing stuff was all off too, but I finally got it. The loops can be used for overdubbing, practicing, creating…whatever you wanna do. They can be saved and then outputted if they are keepers and I will probably do that…use them as a basis for maybe some ambient stuff I can then import into Garageband or Adobe Audition for sound enhancement. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “You’re never alone with a Smith and Wesson” the same could be said for a Ditto looper; you can create the proverbial GUITAR ORCHESTRA all by yourself. I got mine online through Sweetwater and it was my first time and a great experience!. Ordering, communicating and receiving was easy as pie and THAT’S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! Plus, unlike some other companies, they aren’t sending me hourly emails asking for a rating or a review…yet. Hopefully they won’t. But this is my review anyhow! This is a great addition to anyone’s pedal arsenal and it’s not going to break your bank either! All of what you need and nothing you don’t. Not something that’s prevalent in modern culture people…think about that!

Aside from these upgrades, I continue to enjoy the music that I reviewed last month; Moonlight in Vermont, Soft Guitars, “Howlin’ Wolf”, Led Zeppelin IV, and the “Heavy Cream” playlist I made have all been in very frequent rotation. I also made a mid 60s Rolling Stones playlist and COWS playlist that also get regular spins just for a little bit of fun and lunacy. The days continue to get shorter and shorter; by early November it’s usually a short sprint to the end of the year. I love the fall, but it always seems to fly by quickly. Enjoy it as much as possible before it’s gone!