The Master — Andrés Segovia

a very instructive lesson from the Master, Andrés Segovia. This is only one of many classes from Segovia on YouTube, but it reveals a wealth of information on his thinking process and approach to guitar. While much of the information he imparts pertains to classical (acoustic) music, the same approaches can be applied across the musical/guitar spectrum. Segovia’s influence cuts a wide swath across the history of music and he is often credited with bringing the guitar the respectability it always deserved as a sophisticated instrument. Not only did he have impeccable technique and an almost unlimited tonal palette (as seen in the video above), he also pioneered a “new” repertoire for classical guitarists and took it upon himself to be the instrument’s biggest supporter and teacher throughout his very long life (also as described in the above video and here and here. The second link with Hugh Downs is really great not only for its information, but also to watch how an 80-year old guy can still shred and how he helps Hugh pick a nice classical guitar!

A few months ago when I created the first post on The Impressionists, specifically Claude Debussey, I linked up to a few performances by Julian Bream and John Williams. While Debussy was probably a little too out there and modern for Segovia’s sensibilities, his music (along with the other impressionists I profiled) translates very well to classical guitar arrangement and performance. Bream and Williams were both students of Segovia and some of what Segovia demonstrates in the top clip can be seen in their performance of Golligwog’s Cakewalk, above. What they do with their hands; the positions, the touch, the tonal reproduction is crucial to a great performance of this piece. In the original post I linked to Tommy Emmanuel‘s performance of Golliwog and, of course, he can turn it out in great style just like everything he does. But there is much more of a classical sensibility to the Bream and Williams performance; a delicate stridency, intense dynamic range and, a the variety of tones that gives the impression that one is hearing many instruments, or a very classical, salon-style adaptation. The breakdown in the middle is especially intimate and sublime, and looks like it attempts to exactly create some of the instruments in the same style as Segovia in the top video.

I haven’t spent any time exploring how one may arrive at a place where playing like this is possible, but one can learn a whole lot from watching and imitating the videos and any of the other classes that feature Segovia, or Julian Bream on YouTube. It’s pretty amazing how much really valuable info is out there for free! People used to have to spend the big bucks for the same thing! The first step is to know, imagine, and understand the possibilities. A lot of guitar players just want to play fast and loud, even if they are playing acoustic jazz, but there are many other options that often are not even considered. It’s also not true that energy or the entertainment value of what one is performing necessarily drops off because more of a focus is really placed on the tonal value of every note that is played. A figure one can play on the guitar can be played many ways. How does playing it in one position with one fingering sound compared to playing in another position with another fingering? How many people actually ask themselves these questions? This is where it begins, I think. Having that awareness. Then it is just a matter of developing the technique to pull it off and the imagination to hear and reproduce as much as is possible. No small feat, especially to play at this level, but the realization of what’s possible and the importance of considering the possibilities that the guitar offers are the very important first step.

Back to the Future!

It’s time to check in on the hologram industry. If you’ve missed this technological advance in musical performance, I wrote about it last year and predicted that it would lead to: a possible revival of the over-the-hill Rock genre, save the electric guitar, or maybe even launch an all out Skynet-style nuclear attack. Of course, I’m not the only person with an opinion; writers, critics, players and fans are weighing in on this controversial topic…and others are just showing up to watch it.

I had reported in my original post that late metal rocker, Ronnie James Dio’s hologram had rocked the Pollstar Awards, and by all accounts, it was…something. Tour plans were and are in the works, but first “He” had to go back on the drawing board. Kewl! Other stars like Tupac Shakur, who appeared at Coachella in 2012, have already had their moment in post-life stardom…or Stardom from Beyond the Grave! Sounds like a horror movie…and it is! This past spring the late Roy Orbison toured England, at least his hologram did, with an orchestra to boot! Amazing! (No the orchestra was not a hologram) Given Roy’s lack of emotion and movement when performing, he was a good choice for a hologram because most people were not be able to discern they were actually watching technology instead of the real thing. Have a look-see below and judge for yourself! I can’t believe it’s not Roy!

But FEAR NOT!…er other music lovers. This technology is taking the world by storm and no musical genre will escape the tendency and temptation to take what was once a great thing and reduce it to…wackiness and approximation. In January of this year Maria Callas, who died in 1977, returned to Lincoln Center to bellow out the arias from Carmen and Macbeth. Writing in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini related:

“It was amazing, yet also absurd; strangely captivating, yet also campy and ridiculous. And in a way, it made the most sense of any of the musical holograms produced so far. More than rock or hip-hop fans — and even more, you could say, than fans of instrumental classical music — opera lovers dwell in the past. We are known for our obsessive devotion to dead divas and old recordings; it can sometimes seem like an element of necrophilia, even, drives the most fanatical buffs.”

So I guess that means that by 2025 Washington DC or New York City will be home to the Necrophiliacal Center for the Performing Arts because this new industry has nowhere to go but UP! The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa will tour by the end of the year and will feature big stars like Steve Vai and Warren Cuccurullo. This gives whole new meaning to the phrase ROCK IS DEAD, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. After all, this is a conglomeration of a whole bunch of advanced technology making this happen and we love technology, don’t we kids? Even regular old music (that stuff hardly anyone plays anymore) needs a whole bunch of technology to function in today’s market…. ’cause that’s just how it’s done. The world has embraced this new way of doing things; it has pulled technology to its collective bosom and said, “Yes! (eargasm) this is for me!”

There are some people who just aren’t onboard though. While some of these people may be [Haters] or trolls, there are others who have well-reasoned arguments and legitimate concerns. One such argument (from the inside no less) is that this whole thing is just a cash-grab by people who are no longer capable of really earning it the old-fashioned way, by playing music. (Pfft! Who does that anymore? Anyone?) Another, similar type of argument is that it may be disrespectful, and that could also true. After all, nobody knows what Ronnie, Roy, and Tupac would’ve wanted….well they say they do, but CaChing! My well-reasoned argument against is that there are generations of people out there who aren’t Baby Boomers and these people are really tired of Baby Boomers and their old people smell and personal concerns. I have no idea why people still turn out to see REAL, LIVE (sort of) bands that average 60-70 years of age. I mean seriously, you don’t have anything else to do tonight? Look at this! (It’s really terrible!) I sense a lot of anticipation for the official last Baby Boomer to bite the dust, but if this technology takes off, they’ll be around forever! Not just forever, but FOREVER. Reminding you, yes you, you stupid Millennial and Generation Z, that you don’t know what hard work is, your music sucks and you’ll never be as great as Generation Woodstock/Punk Rock.

So the deeper ramifications of this whole thing become clear. The tech industry is putting this hologram rock together and even though the technology is gimmicky, it’s still early days. Think what the internet was like early 90s. Or before. Imagine where this can go and then it’s not about what’s possible any longer, it’s all about what people will accept. Would everyone go along with creating a digital Pet Sematary? Where anyone can come back and be recreated? If they can do it with Jimi Hendrix or Prince, why not Grandma? Or your true love who was killed in an exploding blender accident at the tender age of 25? As Leonid Bershidsky writes in the NY Post:

“Also, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an artificially recreated emotional connection. I’d rather remember real conversations with a deceased friend than try to have new ones with a bot trained on his words. And I suspect watching an undead rock hero would be less satisfying than seeing old footage of his or her performance….Perhaps people living today should be asked to put a check mark on a form, next to the one for organ donations, to specify whether they’re OK with being revived as bots and holograms. I’m sure a lot of musicians would do it, and then their fans would know.

The future holds many awesome and terrifying possibilities and holograms are just one avenue. Think of some of the bad things that could come back. Hitler? My God! The Adolf Hitler 2022 World Tour! Live at The Necrophiliacal Center for the Performing Arts Why not? Have you ever read Pet Sematary? Or watched the movie? Yea, okay, so the movie wasn’t very good even though Herman Munster was in it. But hooo! Scary! It’s a scary idea! Stay tuned!

Eight Days a Week — Movie Review

this Ron Howard-directed rehash of the thrills and chills of Beatlemania is pretty much all that you would expect and then some! In a way, this film wasn’t really that much better than the Elvis documentary that I reviewed last month, because it’s all so familiar. Eight Days a Week earns an extra star because it isn’t 4 hours long, Howard doesn’t use the Ken Burns interview technique and there is some new footage, like clips of the band in Manchester in late 1963 (below). Supposedly, this was the first color movie with sound of the band performing and it’s pretty cool by anybody’s standards.

Of course the film is praised in every review because even though there seems to be a retelling of the Beatle story every 3-5 years, every media outlet falls over themselves and each other to say how great! and how new! and unseen footage! This time is no exception:

Still, there was the promise of undiscovered gold. One woman approached the filmmakers with footage she had from The Beatles’ final public concert, the 1966 show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It had apparently lain under her bed, unviewed, ever since.”

But about that new footage: It actually translates to the Beatles running offstage for the last time. Big whoop, ya know? Except for the above footage from Manchester and a few other snippets here and there, the “new footage” does not equal “performance you’ve never seen”. Even the the performances of She Loves You and Twist and Shout from Manchester are not really that earth-shattering because the Beatles were well-rehearsed and very consistent performers. If you’ve seen footage of them playing these songs before… The footage from their first US gig in Washington DC is great quality, but that performance has been on YouTube for years, albeit at much lower quality.

The PROS: The one aspect of this film I really liked was shots and interviews of regular people: A huge crowd of male Liverpool soccer fans singing She Loves You! Killer! A hilarious group of New York girls talking about which Beatle they loved! Awesome! Sigourney Weaver talking about seeing the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl! Hotness! Whoopi Goldberg, who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium! Whoopi! Elvis Costello in a cool hat talking about Revolver! Elvis! Dr. Kitty Oliver, who saw the Beatles in Jacksonville when they refused to play to segregated audiences, and it was the first time she had ever been in a mixed race crowd of people! Beautiful! Finally, newsguy Larry Kane, who was a major presence in the Philadelphia market for over 30 years. A pedantic, uncool, almost Howard Cosell-type guy who, through his traveling with the band, became good friends with the Beatles, especially John Lennon. His reports are so unhip, they are completely hysterical! He was always like that…but he was a good news reporter.

The CONS: Not one shot of George Harrison playing a guitar solo, although there is a brief minute of him singing Roll Over Beethoven in a snarly tone I’ve never heard before. Too much Starr/McCartney reminiscing that’s been done before. Instead of a few more restored or colorized clips of the Beatles playing in Washington in 1964 or at Budokan, Japan in 1966 we are treated to endless still photo montages of the Beatles traveling, running from girls, having pillow fights in their hotel rooms, running from the stage, doing photo shoots, doing press conferences, and smoking. They did a lot of smoking and for some reason this film needed to animate the smoke from still photo cigarettes. Then there are the shots of helicopters in Vietnam, rednecks burning Beatle records because Lennon said something about Jesus, people rioting, Oswald’s rifle, Kennedy’s motorcade…Yea, I know context. The problem is the context always seems to overwhelm the music and before you know it, you’re watching another very familiar-looking special on the 1960s. If you know that story or have seen it before, you won’t find much in this movie to celebrate. If you have no idea who the Beatles were, don’t understand what the 60s were about, or are a fan that needs to see everything, you’ll probably enjoy this. I watched this with my girlfriend and she didn’t like it either but we both enjoy watching the old concert footage. We’re going to try to find a collection of the old concerts if something like that has ever been made?? My birthday is in a few months.

Rock! in Peace Ed King

Guitar legend Ed King passed away yesterday. A founding member of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and a member of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ed was a great player and writer, helping to pen fantastic rock hits like Incense and Peppermints, Sweet Home Alabama, Saturday Night Special, Working for MCA, and Whiskey Rock-a-Roller. While he originally joined Skynyrd to play bass, original bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the band after the first album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd was recorded, enabling Skynyrd’s patented 3 guitar attack (Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Ed King) to take flight. The band had great success through the 70s but personal issues caused King to leave suddenly in the middle of the 1975 Torture Tour. He returned to the reformed, crash band in the 1980s until health problems forced him from the road permanently in 1996.

HOLY SMOKIN’ 60s BATMAN! That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Kind of hard to square “Incense” with Freebird or Sweet Home Alabama, yet the common denominator is all of the tasty sounds Ed produces on guitar. He always had a very unique playing style—he just looks different than most guitar players when he picks. This is his most famous moment; the song and solo …I heard ol’ Neil put her down…we don’t need him around anyhow.

As I related in the Lynyrd Skynyrd post from a bunch of years ago, I found a VHS bootleg recording of this 1975 Winterland Show in a video store long before it was online or most people knew it existed. At the time Ed King had his own online forum and he answered people’s questions and had his own commentary on various aspects of his career. It was really interesting and cool how open he was to interacting with people (like me) asking him stupid questions like, “Do you remember this gig? Did you know it was filmed?” (He did, and, there was a project in the works at the time that didn’t come to complete fruition).

While Ed had many great musical moments throughout his career, Skynyrd’s Second Helping album may be the pinnacle. It certainly has always rated high on my list. Besides co-writing and playing the lead on Alabama, he does the same on another Skynyrd standard (the oft set opener) Working for MCA. He also played the tasty slide on the acoustic number The Ballad of Curtis Lowe and performed all of the James Burton-esque riffing on his co-written Swamp Music. If that ain’t enough, he also wrote the liner notes for the album, and as albums go, especially 1970 rock albums, they don’t come any better than the first 2 Skynyrd records.

As the vid above shows, long after Ed was out of the professional game, he was still the consummate guitar picker and guitar fan. There are many videos out there with Ed talking about guitar, Lynyrd Skynyrd and music, music, music. He was a great player, a member of one of my favorite bands, and I feel lucky that I got to interact with him very briefly online. It’s sad to see him go, but I wish him Happy Trails and know that he’ll be jamming with all of the other great ones in that big band in the sky!

Summer’s Almost Gone

a languid and lazy atmosphere pervades my world now…perfectly and sublimely captured and described by the lazy blues, world-weary vocals and Eastern European pop sensibilites The Doors bring to this song off of their Waiting For the Sun LP. Hard to believe that the 50th Anniversary Edition of the album will be available this year. That would make Jim Morrison almost 80 if he were alive today. Shocking Man! At some point in the very near future this album will figure in a series of posts on journalism, rock writing, Rolling Stone Magazine Conspiracies, Alex Jones and that weird celebrity black eye thing…or is it the one eye thing? Pretty scary! Remember the good old, innocent days? When rock stars just put subliminal messages (so you thought) in their music and then people played the discs backwards and heard things like Ringo is face-down in indian food pronto after the Mandrax boy! and Don’t Kill Yourself Buy More of Our Records!. Bill Hicks kind of demolished the logical thinking behind why rockers would put messages that would be harmful to their (record buying) audience. That didn’t and hasn’t dissuaded people from making and remaking the claim! Supposedly, Stairway to Heaven reversed, as proved by a televangelist in 1982 said:

…which really makes no sense. Toolshed? Why would Satan be sad? What does it mean to “get the 666”? I never heard that one and I did a lot of bonghits! Robert Plant was quoted as saying a guy would “have to have a lot of time on his hands” to even consider doing something like this. But maybe not if he’s flat out just making stuff up that doesn’t have to really make sense. Personally, I couldn’t ever do any of this fun shit even when I was rilly, rilly stoned, ’cause all I ever had was the Kenner Close N’Play…’cause it played when you closed and…

In the meantime: Thanks G-d for MUSIC! (as they say). I’m not a very religious person and I don’t even consider myself “spiritual”…or astrological. All I know is that there were something like 6 planets in my chart retrograde this month so trying to do anything was not…encouraged. Rather, I was supposed to take a reflective stance and try to review where I’ve been…and where I’m going…and where am I now? I’m not sure I figured anything out. But that attitude really suits the time of year, the weather and the anticipation of soon changing seasons. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year and so I’m looking forward to it, as usual. One thing I did this month…to quote a very trippy and lo-fi Spine of God Monster Magnet song from 1992…

Bought another copy of ZOSO

I’ve lost count how many copies of Zoso I’ve had over the years, but if there is one album that you should always have on hand, it’s this one. Sorry Cardi B…maybe next time…or not. Is there really anything better than Led Zeppelin IV? I’m sure many people could list several things that are, but me, I’ve been in love with the album since high school. Yea, ok…I don’t need to hear Stairway to Heaven anymore, but I will never tire of listening to The Battle of Evermore, Misty Mountain Hop, Four Sticks, Going to California, and When the Levee Breaks…’cause John Henry Bohnam. That Jimmy Page guy was a pretty good guitarist and a heckuva producer too. Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were jeez…I think they still get work from time to time because they were pretty talented too. All I know is that it was good to hear this disc again…it was like…coming home to my past, while hearing strains of an unknown future as I meditated on the plane of all that will ever be. Wow! Reiki! That was pretty good… Maybe I AM spiritual.

I was also in the mood to swing, so I was looking around and I found this very mysterious album by one of my favorite jazz guitar players, the incomparable Barney Kessel. I wrote about Barney here and here and he is actually one of the more popular search terms to get to this blog. It’s great to know that there are a lot of Barney fans out there because he was one of the greatest guitar pickers that ever was. This album, Blues Guitar, is an odd one, for sure. Not one of the more well-known Barney offerings, it also has an interesting selection of songs: How High the Moon, Willow Weep for Me, Honeysuckle Rose, Out of Nowhere, Blue Moon, Limehouse Blues, and It Don’t Mean a Thing(If it Ain’t Got Swing) are all great swing standards and they feature the great Stephane Grappelli. Who knew these guys recorded together? Not me that’s for sure. Of course if you’re a Django Reinhardt fan like I am, you know Grappelli after about 3 notes and he brings his usual je ne sais quoi to the sessions. Barney is on fire as usual with this fleet-fingered chord melody and snaky, inventive single string lines. When he and Stephane trade off on many choruses there are some totally frenetic and kinetic fireworks to be heard. Rockin’!! I mean Swingin’!! I also like the texture songs, Aquarius and Burt Bacharach‘s The Look of Love. What is very interesting is that a very small part of Barney’s guitar from this tune was sampled for a hip-hop track, The Look of Love, by Slum Village. Because of the exposure this group gave the song, Barney’s version is a thing with young guitar players who have learned the sample. Pretty cool if you ask me and good lookin’ out on Slum Village for sampling a class act and great guitarist!

Finally, I picked up the alternative guitar classic from 1984, Aerial Boundaries, featuring the absolutely mind-boggling Michael Hedges. How mind-boggling was Michael Hedges? Er…maybe Davey Graham, Pierre Bensusan, Edward Van Halen, and Leo Kottke all rolled into one, with a dash of Allan Holdsworth. I had this on LP back in the day and a club we used to play jazz at featured this between sets regularly…’cause it just has that sound: lovely textures, outside the box guitar tunings, percussive slap and hammer-on fingerpicking and strumming. This album was very influential for it’s time and what Hedges crafted as a style and way of approaching the guitar that still influences people today. Have a little watch and listen below to the title track. The whole album has a deep guitar ambience that I love and it perfectly completes my amazing guitar music purchase trifecta for the month. Enjoy what’s left of the summer!

Astral Weeks — A Secret History of 1968

I embarked on this literary journey not expecting to derive any pleasure from the experience. While it seems hard to imagine given his status as a musical legend, I have never owned anything that Van Morrison recorded because I never really liked his voice or songs. I have never had a friend or acquaintance who was a fan; I have never even had a neighbor who played his music too loud. At the same time I know he is a very successful, popular, critically-acclaimed artist. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE WHO LIKE VAN MORRISON? So when my girlfriend brought this book home I thought, “Oh great…that guy.” But after reading just a few pages of this startling, impressive tome I realized that I was really holding a portable archaeological dig in my hands and Astral Weeks, the album or concept thereof, was the legend; that rumored underground prize — the literary, rocka rolla equivalent of King Tut! What a discovery! I have seen reviewers complaining that this isn’t a VH-1 style story of the album, so Boo! Boo! Boo!, because that is what they were expecting, but the book IS the story of that album placed contextually within a much larger, much more informative and entertaining “whole”. The book is a veritable hodgepodge of beanbags, black lights, bad trips, freakouts, and old laundry but history isn’t always comprised or composed of easily-digestible bites. A reader will also encounter highs and giggles, sunshine and success if the book is approach-eth-ed as one approaches a jigsaw puzzle: quietly, thoughtfully, and unburdened with preconceived notions. DISCOVERY was the spirit of the times after all.

When anyone tries to explain or quantify 1968, “Boston” does not come to mind. One reason this book is so out of left field is readers have already been “taught” the important points of the “story” of the decade and a fair amount of the info from Astral Weeks has been forgotten or was never public knowledge. The Standells had a hit with Dirty Water in 1966 and the Red Sox won the pennant in 1967, but 1968? Haight Asbury was hippie central. Los Angeles and New York had their music scenes. Chicago was put on the map because of the political turmoil of the Democratic Convention and many other cities exploded into flames and riots because of Martin Luther King’s assassination and ongoing anti-Vietnam War protests. But Boston? Probably most people would say: “I’m drawing a blank on that one!” Author Ryan H. Walsh returns to those days, ostensibly to find early performances of tracks that would become the legendary Van Morrison album, only to discover a whole strata of other people, events and connections, connections, connections. It’s like everybody knew everybody! And they were all complete weirdos in that lovable way that was 1968. We meet the shadowy Mel Lyman, who drifted from harmonica player in Jim Kweskin’s jug band to Timothy Leary acid eater to an East Coast guru with a whole lot of power and a bigger family than Charles Manson. Luckily, he never killed anyone. Maybe. There are many a lurid tales of the ridiculousness of the music business at that time; the mob involvement, overwrought producers who thought they were geniuses and blatant attempts at thievery and swindling like sending multiple “C” level (one local hit record) type bands on tour in different areas of the country to maximize profits…and what happened when some of those bands crashed into each other. (Hilarity ensued!)

There are many tales of “The Bosstown Sound”, The legendary Boston Tea Party Club, the Velvet Underground, Jonathon Richman, Peter Wolf and all of the many bands who blew through Boston that year making it a great rock and roll place to be. Besides lots of rock and gurus we also encounter hippies, early experimental television with WGBH’s What’s Happening Mr. Silver?, Black Power, James Brown, The Boston Strangler, The Thomas Crown Affair, MK-ULTRA, legendary record executive Joe Smith (who also makes a few appearances in the Grateful Dead movie I reviewed and is the guy who made the payoff to get Van Morrison out of his “contract” with “the mob”), Yoko Ono, Avatar Magazine, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, drugs, revolution, disillusionment, and death and at least 25 other items I don’t recall at the moment. The author’s dogged inquisitiveness and desire to organically tie together all of the connections he encounters on his trip into the subsoil presents a startling whole; a fascinating tale and a secret history. Boston was the right-sized city to become one giant scene / dysfunctional family and there was much overlap on how all of these seemingly diametrically opposed forces interacted with and affected each other.

You may have noticed by now there are no links to anything in this review because you should read this book. I always read now with my phone in hand so I can look stuff up as I go along and because this book 1/4 story, 1/4 Police Gazette, 1/4 Encyclopedia and 1/4 Gemstone File I had lots to look up and I learned a lot and you’ll learn a lot too! By then you will also be on the edge of your seat and want to know what happened with Van Morrison and Astral Weeks; and did Mel Lyman die or did he fake his death and move to the South Pacific; and why did Lou Reed eat huge amounts of wheat germ before gigs when he was singing about heroin; and was Albert DeSalvo really The Boston Strangler or was it someone else; and will the loss of the power of radio, predicted by Edgar Cayce, usher in the age of Armageddon; and is this related to that one-eyed celebrity cult thing? And many more questions you never knew you had but now know that you NEED answered. Have Fun!