Archive for February, 2012

Blue Yodel

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by theguitarcave

Two music giants together recreating a historical recording session from 1930. It’s pretty amazing how much music can be traced back to Louis Armstrong and how many people he influenced over the years. Probably the most important musical figure of the 20th century and I’m not the first person who has said that. As the story goes, Django Reinhardt was reduced to tears and murmured, “my brother” when he heard Louis on record the first time. Of course, Louis made many appearances with many different people over his long career, but most people out there would not associate him with Country Music in any way. Just goes to show that categories are sometimes very meaningless.

While Johnny Cash may not have had Louis’s range in styles and influence, he was certainly an American icon, not only as a musician, but also as an entertainer. He was one of the first entertainers to embrace charity and awareness work and lobbied and performed on behalf of prisoners, Native Americans and poor people long before anyone else did. Two of his best albums were recorded in prisons. His music still sounds as original and fresh as it did when it was released 50-60 years ago and his television show from the early 1970s was really cool. It brought a whole lot of great music to the people just as he did right up until his death nine years ago.

Lynyrd Skynyrd did a pretty rippin’ version of Blue Yodel (the first version of this song was called T for Texas). Singer Ronnie Van Zant was a pretty huge country music fan and had a keen appreciation for all of the great music, black and white, that originated in his section of the country. This is from the Knebworth show in 1976 where they opened for The Rolling Stones. Steve Gaines had been in the band only a short time and was already doing well.

The original was done by The Blue Yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers. He was an entertainer and a railroad worker from an early age. After contracting tuberculosis when he was 24, he gave up on the railroad work and started singing. He recorded the T for Texas version of Blue Yodel (Blue Yodel #1) in 1927 in NEW JERSEY of all places. It was a huge hit, selling half a million copies. The 1930 version of Blue Yodel (#9) (also called Standing on the Corner) featured Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Louis’s wife Lillian on piano. It was recorded in Hollywood just as Louis says in the first clip. Sadly, Jimmie’s constant touring and performing schedule combined with the effects of TB wore him out at the very young age of 36 in 1933. The Blue Yodeler’s legacy continues to live on today as The Father of American Country Music.

Keith Richards — Part I

Posted in Movies, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by theguitarcave

GUITAR HERO

Keith is my numero uno, the man, the KING OF COOL and HOT TRASHY GUITAR. He was the first guitar hero I had and over the years I’ve learned many a lick and trick from listening to his music, reading his interviews and copping the feel from his playing. Long before Django, or Eddie or Jimi or anyone else I was a huge fan of The Rolling Stones and their music. Not only is Keith’s style great, but because he always mentioned great players from the past that were influences, he provided a link to the past that made for even more listening entertainment and inspiration. The Stones, from the very beginning, always picked great cover songs too — Love in Vain, Mona, Let it Rock, Prodigal Song, Shake Your Hips, Down the Road Apiece, Stop Breaking Down, Not Fade Away and many others always done with the energy and panache that is THE STONES.

There have been many great books on Keith and The Rolling Stones over the years and probably anyone reading this has had at least a few in their possession. The pictures you see in this post come from The Rolling Stones: The First 25 Years, by rock writer extraordinaire Dave Dalton. I’ve had this for so long it’s not even a book anymore. It completely fell apart years ago and is basically just a big pile of pages, but it’s a an AWESOME BOOK. Not only is the photography really brilliant, but it spans the real pinnacle of the band’s career and includes many interviews with Keith and Mick from the 1970s. This is is how I knew all about Keith’s guitar style before I even left home. I was surprised to see this book is still available and if you like Keith and the band, you should totally buy it.

BLUES ATTITUDE

From the early days The Stones were different from all of the other people who banded together to play rock and roll music. They grew to be notorious for their attitude and behavior and although they were eclipsed by The Beatles in the 1960s and Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, at least as far as popularity and sales, they became the epitome of what a rock and roll band is, or should be. Not only was their music top-notch, but they had the attitude (in spades) to match. The emotions and the attitudes expressed in songs like Satisfaction and Let’s Spend the Night Together (which was too risqué for The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967) seem quaint when compared to some of the jokes in an present-day episode of Family Guy. But that was the uptight culture that was America in the post-WW II years. Many of the overly conservative/fundamentalist leanings rampant today have been a part of this country all along. Whether he was in court on drug charges, staring down the Hells Angels at Altamont or being flogged in the press as a musical hack, Keith was never one to shy away from conflict. He has the BLUES ATTITUDE, a style and way of life I’ve already talked about in the Bukka White post I wrote last year. Along with the outlaw country styles of Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash and the rock and roll snarl of Elvis and Chuck Berry was all about IMPULSE and ABANDON, not only in the music, but also the lifestyle associated with it. Keith Richards came to embody all of this and even today is held up as THE symbol of hedonistic living, a shining example of those people who burn the candle at both ends and then snort the wax. In uptight conservative society, which is really what the upper class wants to inflict on the lower classes because the upper class perfected hedonistic behavior a long time ago, people like Keith were a threat to the status quo that had kept everyone in line. As the 60s progressed, more and more of the old ways fell away. Of course, Keith doesn’t get all the credit for these changes, but he was and is a person who declared, through his razor slash chords and his defiance of traditional mores, that he was a man who lives on his own terms, like it or not.

EARLY DAYS

In the beginning Keith and the Stones played the music of their heroes, the music they loved. It was rude, energetic, infused with sex and danger and the freedom to let it rock. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were a great rhythm section, Mick Jagger was well on his way to being a superstar frontman and Brian Jones and Keith Richards had practiced their dueling blues, rhythm and blues and rock and roll “weaving guitar” parts until they had them down cold. They had digested Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, Scotty Moore, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and were able to play it with a reckless enthusiasm that drove the kids wild. It was all about MOVING people, as the following clip from The Tami Show proves. The Stones are having a really good time and everything the band becomes is right here in this clip. It’s a tad derivative still — Showtime at The Apollo, James Brown or Otis Day and the Knights maybe. They weren’t really writing their own material yet. But the energy level is feverish, Keith fires the whole band with his timing, feel and exuberance. He’s also really good at those short, stingin’ leads. ROCK AND ROLL BABY!

By 1965, with the release of the singles The Last Time and Satisfaction and the Aftermath album, the band really came into their own with original material and almost all of it was built on Keith’s style and sensibilities. He was and is a complete genius at adapting to whatever the situation required. Very early on, in one of their first forays into the recording studio, the question was asked, “who makes the records?” and Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham pointed to Keith and said, “he does.” While part of the reason was Keith’s personality, it was also because he knew how to create a good track and capture the atmosphere necessary to make it more than a great track, especially once the concept of albums came into vogue. Only Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page equaled Keith’s ability to make albums that had not only the sound, but also the ambiance and atmosphere of blues and early rock and roll. Many critics have said that about the Exile on Main Street album, but it was true of other records as well, Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers especially. He was and is the KING of lo-fi, slop guitar and with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones and later, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, he had a lot of help making genre-defining records.

POP STARDOM

In the first phase of their career, the band was constantly being pressured for a single because that was the format du jour at the time. This was true of every band and every project through the late 60s. Many groups, even heavier ones like Cream and The Yardbirds were at the mercy of producers, record companies and managers who didn’t really understand this new rock phenomenon and insisted on doing business the old way. (HERE is a funny interview with Keith Relf, singer for The Yardbirds on the trials and tribulations of dealing with this aspect of pop stardom). Because The Beatles were the undisputed rulers of the pop charts throughout the decade, there was a lot of pressure on bands to follow their lead. Some of this yielded positive results for Keith and The Stones, others were pretty dismal (Their Satanic Majesties Request). Many of the Stones’ early original singles — The Last Time, Satisfaction, Get Off Of My Cloud and 19th Nervous Breakdown were very Rn’B-influenced and contained all of the best riffs and tricks to be mined from listening to all of the influences I’ve already mentioned. However, in 1965 they started to expand on this with other songs like Paint It, Black, Under My Thumb, Lady Jane, Ruby Tuesday, and Mother’s Little Helper. They were able to do this because Keith and Mick were becoming great song craftsman and because Brian Jones was a complete genius at picking up exotic instruments and mastering them them well enough to play on a track or live in a very short time. Even though Keith would, in time, become the best example of the outlaw rock and roller, he, like the others was always very pop-conscious. His guitar hooks usually brilliant and he knew how to ARRANGE a song for the singles format. It was Keith’s idea to use a fuzzbox on Satisfaction to give the guitar a horn-like sound and there weren’t a whole lot of people using fuzz boxes at the time. (It was supposed to be a “guide” track for real horns, but it was released as is). The riff to Satisfaction isn’t a complex statement but it IS effective and the song is always in the top 5 best singles of all time of most lists. In addition to his electric guitar finesse, Keith was a very good acoustic flat-picker, featured on songs like Lady Jane or Back Street Girl. While some of this material seems a bit off the wall compared to later, there are some real gems in the mid-60s Stones catalog that capture the whole period of 1960s “Swinging London”.

PHASE II

The mid-60s was a really great period for Brian Jones, but, unfortunately it was also the beginning of his decline. He really came into his own as the COLOR guy for the band because he played everything; sitar, mellotron, recorder, harmonica, marimbas, organ, harpsichord, saxophone, accordion, autoharp, and dulcimer. Songs they did during this period, which are still very popular, would have been impossible without him. He was comparable to The Beatles having George Martin involved on their records. According to Keith, Brian didn’t enjoy playing guitar very much after 1965 and while there were certainly other issues within the band, it’s easy to believe that he would’ve been bored being the rhythm guitar player given his multi-instrumental abilities. Hounded by the drug squads and marginalized within the band because of his physical and mental condition, he would become the 1960s first “death by misadventure” casualty.

1968, the year of Jumping Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet, was often heralded by critics as the band’s return to their roots, but it was actually much more than that. In the past they had played American music, but post ’68 they set out to completely reinvent American music and culture, at least as they saw it. It was art in it’s truest sense and while Mick Jagger’s lyrics had a lot to do with the panorama they created, this whole period was Keith Richards coming into his own as a complete (understated) guitar master. He began exploring the concept of open-tunings, used by the blues masters of the past: Skip James, Robert Johson, Bukka White, Son House and Muddy Waters. Combined with his love of acoustic guitars, brilliant song sense and endless supply of memorable riffs and driving rhythms, he created a body of work from ’68 to ’72 that is the Stones pinnacle. Every one of the albums from this period rates five stars or… it should. Charlie Watts has said (I’m paraphrasing) that “every band in the world follows the drummer except The Rolling Stones. We follow the rhythm guitar player.” A very crucial ingredient to why these records were so great was how well Keith and Charlie play together. Keith’s riffs, combined with Charlie’s unique approach to “rock” drumming creates a very powerful, hip shaking statement. This was the beginning of the band’s ascent to superstardom.

OPEN TUNINGS

I learned all of the open-tunings a long time ago precisely because Keith used them. The original version of Jumping Jack Flash (with it’s flip side Child of the Moon) was done in open E/D. Tune the guitar to a major chord E-B-E-G#-B-E (down 2 steps for open-D, which is less stress on the guitar, especially acoustics). Beggars Banquet was the first album done with Keith using these tunings although Brian had used this tuning for slide guitar in the past. Street Fighting Man, Prodigal Sun, Salt of the Earth, No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle and Stray Cat Blues are all definitely in open tunings. Another element that makes this album interesting is that some of the songs were cut with the band gathered around a Phillips cassette recorder which was then put through a speaker and recorded. Sort of like having an overdrive in the chain. Says Keith: “The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.” Brilliant lo-fi stuff isn’t it? That track still sounds great and the whole album is just drowning in atmosphere. Another thing about open-tunings…Music is about tension — tension and release. Whether is a complicated harmonic progression like All the Things You Are or a pretty simple rock tune like Street Fighting Man, there is a tension created during the song that gives it harmonic interest and a pulse. With open-tunings you can throw 2 of your fingers onto the fretboard and create a suspended chord, which is one of the most “tension-creating” devices there is. If you’re playing in the key of C, which is the key for Street Fighting Man, you are creating a Csus chord which is almost an F chord. Throw in the really slashing rhythm figure that the song has and you see why it works so well. While you can play any of these songs in standard tuning and make it work (I’ve seen Chris Spedding play Brown Sugar this way) there is a DRONING effect that is lost. Open-tunings let all of the un-fretted strings ring out sympathetically creating this really HUGE sound. It’s awesome, especially on an acoustic. Keith also played the bass on Street Fighting Man including that great little descending figure in between the verses that is kind of a pause between the tumultuous verses/choruses that deal with all of the social unrest that was going on in 1968. Jumping Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet would be the blueprint for what was to come for the next almost 5 years and the band got off to a great start. Below is Street Fighting Man live from 1973. You can see that Keith is playing the song in open-G with a capo on the 5th fret. The song is still in “C” just not the same open-tuning.

Speaking of Stray Cat Blues…I just did the music for a friend’s project that profiles a woman who takes care of stray and feral cats (at her own expense) in Mexico. I decided to use the Keith approach to the music and I ended up with something not too bad considering I haven’t played slide guitar in 5 years and was never much of a harmonica player. I also used the old Johnny Cash trick of slipping a piece of paper through the strings to create a nice rhythmic “chuck” for the background. The track had to be edited down for the length of the movie, but this is why I love GARAGEBAND.

In THIS post, I do some playing around with open-tunings on an acoustic, including Prodigal Son and You Gotta Move. They are close to what Keith does except “Move” is tuned down to a “C” tuning. I’m playing it in “D”. Keith Part II coming later in the year!

Stephane Wrembel Talks Life and Music

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by theguitarcave

Some very deep and wonderful insights provided by Stephane Wrembel in this brief interview. I had the pleasure of attending a seminar with Stephane a few years ago and his approach to playing and life are very inspiring and something any musician hoping to play and improvise well should at least consider. He helped set me on the path of playing the music of Django Reinhardt and many others. He is a really fun guy. In the interview, he talks about “getting the ego out of the way of your playing” and “reaching a state of ego-lessness” — something I’ve seen before… and it is SO TRUE. Easy to understand, not always easy to do. As players we invest a whole bunch of ourselves in what we do, but when it’s time to play, none of that matters. “We are NAKED” as Stephane says and we must accept and get comfortable with that and let our inner selves (our music) come out. I think it’s a good idea to watch this a few times and be conscious of your state of mind and body in the future when playing. See if what he is saying is something that could help with what YOU’RE doing.

Stephane is an extremely skilled musician and plays live in New York City all the time. His composition Bistro Fada was the theme for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris movie. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live and he is SMOKING! Don’t miss the opportunity if you have the chance to see him play.

Patrus (the interviewer) has an AWESOME Youtube channel. Some of his interviews are in French or German but many are not and he also provides translations on a few. There is an wealth of unbelievable playing clips too. Check it out!!

The Schertler David Amp II

Posted in Equipment, Movies, Playing with tags , , , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by theguitarcave

One of the great features built in to WordPress is the ability to track what people are reading and what kind of search results draw them to a blog. I’ve noticed that many people end up at The GUITAR CAVE looking for info on the Schertler David amplifier, so I thought I would give an update on this fine piece of equipment. I’ve already given a brief overview HERE, so in this post I’m going to go over some of the best features and give a playing demonstration. Keep in mind that there are a lot of factors that make up a guitar sound. While I love my Saga Gitane 320D, it is certainly not what people would describe as a top of the line Manouche guitar. Pick-ups, string choice, touch and attack of the player also have a lot to do with how good the sound emanating from the amplifier is going to be.

The David has two channels, which is really cool for guitarists and has come in handy for me in live situations. Here is a video of Romane and Stochelo Rosenberg playing Double Jeu. If you notice in the beginning, Stochelo has a cable protruding from his guitar, which I think is from a Bigtone pickup that is located in the guitar bridge. Both he and Romane have the clip-on Audio Technica mics and there is another mic (Shure?) between them. So they are picking up the sound and vibrations of the guitars from 2-4 sources. I do the same thing, albeit in a much more lo-fi manner. I use the Schertler Basik Electrostatic Pickup on the face of the guitar and I have a homemade bar pick-up that the guy who sets up my guitar made inside the sound-hole. The Schertler handles the main part of the sound load and the internal mic provides ambiance and air. I use a L R Baggs Para DI, which is kind of essential for getting the EQ and volume working right. The Schertler has many options too, so there is a lot of playing around you must do to get a good sound. But it is possible as I think the video below proves.

Another important feature of the Schertler David is the Resonance Filter, which STOPS FEEDBACK COLD!! This control works really well when used in conjunction with the Schertler Basik pick-up. I’ve never had a problem with feedback and I’ve done gigs in some loud situations including The Brooklyn Museum and a few dance parties. This is described by SchertlerHERE in a way that sounds really technical and stuff:

At the touch of a button, David’s “warm” filter on the STAT channel eliminates the harsh upper-frequency sound of many undersaddle pickups. For microphone users, Schertler’s “resonance” control on the DYN channel allows the musician to attenuate the specific low-mid frequencies that often produce feedback or an unnatural bottom-end. Both channels can be used simultaneously and blended on the amplifier’s control panel.

If you don’t use two pickups, don’t use a transducer pickup or use only 1 pickup, this is still a good little amp. You can use the other channel for another instrument or a microphone for vocals. I like to use my Gretsch to get an amplified Django/Wes Montgomery type jazz sound. Playing the Gretsch through the Baggs preamp and then into the David gives an appreciation for how loud this amp can go. All of this equipment can be bought from Djangobooks.com, which is where I got mine. They have the best prices, ship quick and answer any questions you may have. Shoot them an email. I’m not affiliated with them in anyway. This amp and pickup system also work well if you play bluegrass, country, western swing, blues or other types of acoustic music where you need a good sound and reliable stuff. Djangobooks is mostly about the GypsyJazz, but they are certainly versed and accommodating in other musical styles as well.

Here is a video with an assortment of musical styles and guitars all played through the amp. I start off on my Guild with a bit of Keith Richards Beggars Banquet-era Prodigal Son, then some You Gotta Move, then Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying. I switch to my Gitane and do some Gypsy Jazz stuff. At the end I’m playing along with Pearl Django, a song called Radio City Rhythm, which was written by the late Dudley Hill; a wonderful swing, chord-melody player, who was in the group until he passed away a few years ago.

Mundell Lowe

Posted in Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2012 by theguitarcave

I don’t know what happened in the last 3-4 weeks. For months this blog was getting a few visitors a day and then all of the sudden that number multiplied significantly. Kewl…for sure. I have a whole lot of content on here already and want to keep doing more, but I also have all of these other projects going on. There’s one coming up that is going to be AWESOME…It’s going to take what THE GUITAR CAVE is to a whole new level. Hopefully I can launch at the end of the month or beginning of March. But this also means I’m not going to be posting a whole lot of new stuff in the meantime. I do continue to appreciate anyone and everyone who comes by…Thanks!!

If you’ve read the sidebar you know I like listening to internet radio. Some people don’t and I get that. If you aren’t a subscriber, most of the stations have real lo-fi sound quality and many tend to have a playlist that becomes very familiar after a few listens. One station that really seems to have an endless amount of material at hand is KCEA in California…THE HOME OF THE MENLO-ATHERTON BEARS as they say. It’s a GOLDEN OLDIES station, and I mean, real old…1920s through the 1940s—the Swing Era in Jazz and Popular music. Some of the lyrics are very hokey and the sentiments are so dated compared to how people interact (whether it’s singing, talking, or thinking) today. Interestingly enough, the station had a PSA (public service announcement) on this very subject yesterday while I was listening and they stressed that it’s important to take the presentation in a historical context. Obvious WW II period songs — “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “My Guy the GI”, as well as some guy singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…” to some gal, were very important and relevant emotions for 70 years ago. People really did appreciate entertainment like this and would probably find a lot of what passes for music today to be either awful or overwhelming. KCEA also features some clips from old-time radio broadcasts and commercials and some of that stuff was pretty funny and maybe a little advanced for it’s day.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s book on Louis Zamperini. This is an AMAZING story about a pretty amazing dude. Zamperini went from being a juvenile delinquent to an Olympic runner (competed in the 1936 games in Berlin and met Hitler) to an American bombardier who survived 40+ days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean after his plane crashed and then endured a couple of years in Japanese POW camps. The nature of this guy’s irrepressible character (he was a total prankster), his unbending will to survive and the cyclone of events he was sucked into make the lengthy book a very fast read. It also puts all of this old music in a different context. While it might seem stiff and hokey by today’s standards, many of the people who listened to and enjoyed it suffered through unbelievable experiences and some very trying times.

While I find this historical look back amusing and interesting, what is really cool is that The Swing Era produced some of the best musicians ever. Some people who would go on to be huge players later got their start during this time. If you’ve read this blog you know I’ve listened to tons of Gypsy Jazz players, including Django Reinhardt, but there is also a lot to be learned (and enjoyed) by listening to someone like Coleman Hawkins (who jammed in France with Django many times). “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads,” Miles Davis said many years later. The above pic is Coleman and Miles at the Three Deuces in New York City in 1947. Yesterday KCEA played Hawkins doing If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight and listening to how he navigates the changes is an education for anyone intent on being a good player.

A bit later on in the show came a recording by Ray Mckinley and his band, You Came A Long Way From St. Louis. This song featured some really rippin’ guitar, so I had to go look up who it was. Ray Mckinley was a big bandleader back in the day — associated with The Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller — he took over leadership of Miller’s band after Glenn disappeared over Europe during WW II. Here’s a pic of this band with the guitarist I’m talking about, Mundell Lowe, playing at The Hotel Commodore in New York City in 1947. (Both of these photos are from the William P.Gottlieb collection) Mundell, unlike many of his contemporaries, is still alive and has had a long and very prosperous career as a guitar player. He’s got a style that is a little bit jazz, a little bit bop, a little western rhythm and blues and a little bit him.

Over the years Mundell has played with EVERYONE and I mean like EVERYBODY — Billie Holiday, Doc Severinson, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and Benny Carter. He must have a ZILLION great stories and has gotta be a walking encyclopedia on some incredible times in American music history. In the next clip he and fellow guitar legend Johnny Smith do a live take of the Charlie Christian classic Seven Come Eleven.

Mundell left home at 13 years of age and even after all of these years of writing, playing, scoring movies and television, recording and performing he is still at it. The final clip is from a couple of years ago with the Great Guitars of San Diego. A total master with the longevity of Les Paul. Long may he swing!!