Johnny Winter has reportedly passed away while on tour in Europe. A premier blues and rock guitarist since the 60s he defined TEXAS HEAT guitar playing. Had the pleasure of seeing him over the years and of course he always brought it. LEGEND! He obviously hadn’t been in great health over the past few years but he went out (as Ronnie Van Zandt would say) with “his boots on”. (on tour) The band in the sky gets better every year. In one of his last interviews he remarked that “I just hope I’m remembered as a good blues musician.” Definitely! More on Johnny later…
Archive for July, 2014
I was bored over the weekend so while looking for something to do I came across this DVD I purchased 5-6 years ago. “Hmm…,” I said, “did I ever watch this?” As it turns out, YES! Yes I did watch it and you know what? I watched it again and have found some new chord applications that I am already applying to stuff I’m playing. It looks like I have almost 10 gigs between now and the end of August, so it’s a good thing too! This is just a quick shout-out to this DVD that is available on Amazon for under $20 — a real deal if you ask me. Guitarist/educator extraordinaire Don Mock walks the viewer through a very thorough rhythm primer that is designed so that even seasoned players will learn something (or recall something) they can use. [As as aside, have you ever considered that as musicians we learn so much, but there is so much that we also forget? It never hurts to revisit things especially as one ages].
The pace of the DVD is pretty brisk and it clocks in at only 68 minutes, but Don manages to cover a whole lot of material in that time. There is a very thorough and easy-to-grasp breakdown on chords, extensions and altered chords. Then there are a few examples of how to apply the above/below one-step approach to chords to start giving your rhythm chords movement. The highlight of the DVD (which may take a few weeks to get to if these types of chords are unfamiliar to you) is a series of musical examples that you can play along with on the DVD. Don goes through all of them and breaks everything down chord by chord. The end of the disc is some examples in a minor blues form. If you learn and internalize the information well enough to begin applying it on the fly you will notice a huge difference in how you view the instrument and “rhythm” guitar. Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel and blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan used moveable chord voicings to create guitar amazing guitar solos. It looks like crap-quality versions of this are on Youtube so
I’ll link to it below, but this is something you should buy. I did. It comes with a booklet for the later exercises that you will probably need if you are going to do them correctly.
I saw something surfing online last night that reminded me maybe it would be cool to make a sticky thing for open tunings. After all, its a popular (if sometimes slightly complicated) topic and the manipulation of various strings on the guitar to various different pitches from the standard concert tuning has resulted in soooooo much quality music. So to whit, here’s a short primer with some background info.
I already touched on the subject of open tunings in the Keith Richards posts and if you are interested in what he did you can read here and here. I did NOT touch on the subject in the Jimmy Page posts even though I certainly could have. Page used many tunings over the years with great success. Some, like the completely twisted tuning for When the Levee Breaks (EACFAC) were probably his invention. Some like the infamous CIA (Celtic-Indian-Arabic) modal tuning (DADGAD) were not. Below is Davey Graham, a British guitarist who was an extremely huge influence on Page playing this tuning in a folk setting in the early 60s. Davey, in addition to being a great folk player also did well with jazz and “world music” before anyone thought of calling it that.
What led me to consider a post on tunings was a visit last night to the Joni Mitchell website. She has a whole section devoted to guitar transcriptions and over her very long, incredibly successful career used an estimate 50 +/- different tunings she basically just made up. She even has an archivist who has kept track of them for her. However, there is a system involved and if you are interested in the theory behind the tunings you can view that here. As you may or may not know, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were completely enthralled with Joni Mitchell and may or may not have been influenced by some of her early 70s recordings. Jimmy didn’t use quite as many tunings as Joni, but he did have several interesting ones and I’ve listed them below. All of the tuning numbers are low-to-high and from the studio recordings. Some were changed live, Dancin’ Days was probably recorded with a guitar in standard and another in open G. After the list there is a nice version of a very pleasant and easy That’s the Way from Earl’s Court in 1975. Tune to open G and have fun!
Open G (DGDGBD)
That’s the Way
Going to California
Black Country Woman
Open C (CGCEGC)
Hats Off to Roy Harper
Black Mountain Side
Drop D (DADGBE)
Ten Years Gone
Open A (EAEAC#E)
In My Time of Dying
“Page C” (CACGCE)
“Page C 2” (CFCFAF)
“Page D” (DGCGCD)
The Rain Song
“Page Slide 1” (EFCFAE)
Jennings Farm Blues
“Page Slide 2” (EACFAC)
When the Levee Breaks
“Page Slide 3” (EADGBD)
Traveling Riverside Blues
Of course many other guitarists have used altered tunings throughout their careers. Sonic Youth have an online primer that details the tunings for what looks to be everything in their catalog! Quite the list of outrageous stuff! Many hard rock bands made use of the Drop D tuning including Pantera, Van Halen and Soundgarden. Speaking of Soundgarden, they had some really far-out tunings on the Superunknown and Down on the Upside albums. I was a fan of the EEBBBB tuning that is used on The Day I Tried to Live and My Wave. Burden in My Hand is a great example of a hard rock approach to an Open C tuning (which originally would’ve been used for acoustic bottleneck back in the day). In this post I detailed the C tuning metal players from Tony Iommi to Matt Pike favor and I will once again refer you to the Wiki page on guitar tunings, because it’s a good resource.
As I mentioned in the Keith Richards post linked above, altered tunings can really expand your sound, but they can also be a huge pain in the neck too, especially in a live situation. If you are in the position of being able to haul multiple guitars around then you can tune as many as you want to whatever you want. You certainly can’t be trying to adjust to dramatically different tunings between songs. If it’s just a matter of dropping the E string, you’ll be ok, but even going from standard to open G and then back to standard is a bit dodgy. I’ve found that doing so stretches out the strings in a way that makes the tuning sound weird and they go “dead” faster too. Ideally you should have a guitar for a certain tuning and set up the guitar to the various tension the tuning produces. An open A tuning, for example, puts much more stress on the guitar than the open G because the D, G and B strings all have to be raised a pitch. Generally, I’ve found that acoustic guitars especially have an easier time and a warmer tone if the strings are detuned into an altered tuning rather than being raised, but that certainly isn’t a rule. There is a lot of trial and error involved with this approach to guitar playing so just go nuts! We’ll end with the late, great Michael Hedges who was also an altered tuning aficionado. His catalog of songs with open/altered tunings is also quite extensive and there is a database here should you be looking for something.
Taking The Doors music one step further (remember, this all started with Johnny Ramone or wait, was it Jimmy Page?) let’s talk about Robby Krieger. He’s never been thought of as one of the powerhouses of electric guitar (he’s rated #76 on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Guitarists list). Yet, he was/is quite the capable guy and unlike most of his peers from that period, or ever, played fingerstyle instead of using a pick, or plectrum if you will. Originally trained on flamenco guitar, he moved on to learning bottleneck, folk, rock and even a bit of jazz, with Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton named as big influences. In the process he helped The Doors become one of the most popular bands in America and to this day they are considered one of the best American bands ever. Though he wasn’t a virtuoso he played many an interesting guitar part and wrote music that had a huge impact on the popular musical landscape (his song Light My Fire has been covered 974,322 times or something). The LMF solo is a great example of a guitar in the DORIAN mode although that’s only 1 way to imagine it. I wonder what Robbie was thinking. It has a very 60s sound (in a good way). Obviously the above clip of Spanish Caravan, which incorporates musical ideas from Asturias (Leyenda), written by Isaac Albéniz, highlights Robbie’s flamenco abilities and when combined with Jim Morrison’s lyrics and the band’s penchant for drama, a very exotically beautiful song emerges. Below is a classical interpretation of Asturias (Leyenda). (Sharon Isben is pretty impressive, isn’t she?)
I think of Robbie and The Doors as playing primarily textured music with an ever present theatrical edge and very jazzy tinge. Since Ray Manzarek functioned as a keys/organ/piano/bassist instead of the standard bass player this was (and is) evocative of Wes Montgomery and others from the jazz age with a guitar/organ/drum lineup. Musically anyway. None of those trios had Jim Morrison for a singer, but the interesting thing is, Jim was a crooner (ala Frank Sinatra) so maybe The Doors were the second best (after various Miles’s lineups) jazz band of the 60s? (haha) I’m not seriously suggesting that any more than I was serious that Led Zeppelin was the best jazz band of the 70s, but obviously The Doors, along with Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers (and The Dead) did a whole lot of listening to and a whole lot of incorporating of various jazz elements into their ostensibly ROCK sound. The Doors sound was cold and weird and sometimes (when the organ was the dominant riff of the song) they evoked the nightmarish possibilities of a Clive Barker/Stephen King horror psychotic carnival band. Having an eye for theatrical presentation (Jim Morrison was a film student and heavily influenced by The Living Theatre) helped turn many of the band’s performances from the earliest days into a very strange trip on the dark road at the end of the night. But even without those elements, when the band sat for televised, no-audience sessions (because their performances had become a little too extreme, at least in the eyes of the authorities) they constructed a uniquely dynamic sound with what was already an established type of band line-up. The line-up is still popular in jazz and is especially suited to more intimate surroundings as shown in the following clip.
A few years ago I explored the history of one song, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise and tried to illustrate its evolution as “name” players performed it over a span of almost 60 years. I thought it would interesting to do the same thing with one of the prettiest (if slightly insane) songs The Doors ever recorded, The Crystal Ship, which was one of the songs the band mimed on American Bandstand, the America’s Got Talent of yesteryear.
Obviously a HUGE part of the band’s appeal was Jim Morrison’s presence vocal delivery. Keep in mind this clip is 47 years old — this isn’t some shoegaze band from the early 90s. The Doors, put out a whole lot of emotion and feeling in this song and no one has ever completely matched their brand of seductive danger and weirdness. How might one try to capture some of that feeling in a solo guitar piece? Well…this first example recalls Robby Krieger’s flamenco influences or, possibly one can almost hear some José Feliciano or Django Reinhardt in it, something like Django’s song Tears perhaps.
The point is not to focus so much on the playing, although I think it is very well done. While it is not as fiery nor does it have the virtuosity of most of Django’s work, the song (like the harmonic structure in Tears) is very satisfying to play and listen to and more or less arranges itself. A very accessible structure, a haunting melody, supported by various harmonic elements that are reminiscent of either Morrison’s voice or Manzarek’s keyboard and variations throughout that can be improvised or not depending on the mood of the player. It doesn’t have to be played the same way every time. Yet the tone of the guitar and some of the harmonic inventions make this much more than a verbatim cover. Here is another version done a bit more simply, but just as well in a more traditional fingerpicking type of way. Notice that this player’s interpretation doesn’t take as many liberties but throws in a couple of nice moves. I love the Fmaj9-Fmaj thing. Artistic license but done in a way that completely fits with the arrangement he has put together. Very cool. Also note that none of these players are famous, but that is the beauty of Youtube and world-wide connectivity.
If you would like to learn to play either of these arrangements, both players have been kind enough to either put the music as is the case with the first version here, or a part by part walk-through for the second starting here. Finally, here is a third version that is a very stylin’ jazz archtop thing. Notice the rhythm change and all of the melodic and harmonic inventiveness not found in the other versions. Great stuff! But also notice it is no longer very haunting — the song has lost all of its quiet insanity. The tune is peppy and has the same bounce as Girl From Ipanema maybe. But, as with the other performances, it IS the same tune and the limit of where it’s going depends only on the arrangement and the player.
I have been listening to more music from the 60s and 70s lately (hence the recent posts), but as you can see, I am interested in how people today interpreting this music. I have been messing around with my own interpretations of various things and there is something about music from this period that lends itself to this type of experimentation. Perhaps the same could be said for any period of music, but there was so much experimentation and blurring of styles during this era that sometimes the songs just naturally fall into whatever mood you want to make them. Try it for yourself maybe…You might find that thinking like an arranger and arranging your own versions of material can make you a better all-around musician in the process. It also makes for a nice break between technique-type practicing.