Archive for September, 2016

GuitarSong #2

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The second installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles The Beatles and their wonderful song Rain from 1966. Rain was a milestone recording for the band and the development of music as it was the first instance of anything recorded backwards, (John Lennon’s vocals) beating the B-side of the novelty tune single They’re Coming To Take Me Away Haa Haa by two months. While Rain certainly isn’t as long and involved as the first GuitarSong, Dogs, it is cool song to explore. Unfortunately, the only online version currently is this too fast 45 rpm video. Hopefully, you have a legal copy somewhere to listen to.

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Known through history as The Beatles finest b-side, (the a-side was Paperback Writer) Rain was written and recorded in early April of 1966. Recording for the Revolver album had just commenced at the same time with Tomorrow Never Knows (the first song to be recorded for the album) getting basic tracking on April 6 and 7. Rain was recorded a week later on the 14th and 16th. While it has always been taken as a given that Rain was mostly the brainchild of John Lennon (with Paperback Writer being more a McCartney composition), Paul doesn’t agree with that assessment:

I don’t think he brought the original idea, just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off. Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing and what we got on to was that it’s no bad thing. There’s no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.

Paul McCartney — Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

That last little cryptic mention of the “recording” of it is very interesting and is going to come into play further down the post with regards as to who did what on the track.

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While conventional wisdom would say that George Harrison was the lead or main guitarist on this song, that cannot be taken as a given. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all played the lead or main guitar on songs throughout the Beatles’ career. It was Lennon who came up with and played the riff to the 1964 hit I Feel Fine, it was McCartney who played the screaming lead on Harrison’s song Taxman that kicks off the Revolver album and, of course, George played lead guitar on many songs. He and Paul doubled the very intricate lines of Lennon’s And Your Bird Can Sing that is also on the Revolver album. According to most sources, Harrison and Lennon play the guitars on this song, but there is an alternative possibility that I think is very interesting given the McCartney quote about how the song was recorded.
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The song was originally recorded faster than what is heard on the disc and then it was slowed down. This changed the texture of the song and gave it a very druggy (rainy) kind of sound. There are many (including Ringo himself) who believe this is one of Starr’s best performances as a drummer and McCartney’s bass is also very prominent in the mix because he is playing a Rickenbacker instead of the usual Hofner and it was boosted further “by using a loudspeaker as a microphone” (Lewisohn, p.88). While it is usually listed that Lennon played his 1965 Gretsch Nashville and Harrison played a Gibson SG, Galeazzo Frudua, the man behind The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel, references the book Recording the Beatles and says that not only was Paul McCartney the lead guitar player, he was also the creative drive behind the whole sound of the song! This claim is also made in the comment thread for Rain at the Beatles Bible site.

There are two guitars — detuned; Lennon’s guitar strings are dropped a whole step and McCartney’s tuned to a G drone of GDGGBD. Lennon played A-D-E shapes and since the guitar was detuned it sounds a G pitch, which is the key of the song (although it is a bit off pitch because of the sped up/slowed down basic tracks). While John strums a classic rhythm pulse for the song, Paul plays more of a droning and picking part that complements not only Lennon’s guitar, but also what Paul plays on bass.

Did George Harrison play on this tune? I don’t have the book referenced by Mr. Frudua and he doesn’t say whether George played or not. I think that maybe there is a 3rd guitar in the mix at times, but in the video referenced below it looks possible to cover everything with the two guitars. But if that’s true I’m not sure why George is listed in many places as playing an SG? It could be that he did play with the rest of the band on the original takes (when they played it faster) and then after the tapes were slowed down, McCartney overdubbed the drone G guitar. It would make more sense that Paul would’ve played bass on basic tracks with Ringo rather than overdubbing, especially given the bass/drum break near the end of the song. So possibly there is a Harrison guitar leftover from the basic takes on there somewhere. The very famous Mark Lewisohn book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions makes no mention of him not being at the session, so I imagine he played something. The session entry for April 16th 1966 is that eleven hours was spent completing Rain, including “doing a tape-to-tape reduction to add more overdubs” That might mean that the real idea to transform the song came after the basics had already been laid down. How many actual guitar parts are on the track though is still a bit of a mystery.

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Here is the only link you will need if you want to learn how to play Rain correctly on guitar. The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel is a one stop source for everything Beatles — singing or playing many of their classic songs. Here is the link for singing Rain‘s vocal parts.

For general info, it is always fun to check out The Beatles Bible. Not only do they cover all of the band’s songs, but there are articles on Beatles’ history that never fail to interest and entertain.

Another of my favorite forum sites to peruse is Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Here is the search list devoted to Rain/Revolver.

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I’ve referenced this period in Beatles’ history before, most recently with the post on Eastern music. Rain certainly has elements of that kind of exotic sound in the guitars, the drums, the slurry feel of the vocals in the “choruses” and Lennon’s reversed vocals at the end sound almost like an Indian Shehnai. Rain is one of the few Beatles tunes with a guitar in an open tuning (here is a discussion on Beatles’ tunings/capoes) and while it certainly isn’t a difficult song to play, it is an interesting study in using the guitar and some very fevered imagination to create a pop masterpiece. When one considers that Paperback Writer, with it’s awesome guitar riff (also played by Paul), driving rhythm and trippy vocals was the A-side of this single, and was clearly a McCartney creation, we have a really definitive 1966 guitar record from Sir Paul! Paperback Writer was recorded on April 13 and 14 of 1966, so in the space of 3 days the band had recorded both sides of one of the best double singles ever. Pretty impressive and they don’t make ’em like this anymore!

GuitarSong #1

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The first installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles David Gilmour and the song Dogs, from the 1977 Pink Floyd Animals disc. The energy, emotion and musical brilliance this 17+ minute piece of music contains is the stuff of classic rock legend. If anything, the appreciation fans and guitar players have for this tune has only grown over the years, so hopefully if you are searching for some info on it, this post will help.

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Although the Animals disc is usually referred to as the beginning of serious fracturing within the band, the results of the time in the studio with collaborator Brian Humphries produced very interesting, cohesive results and the album and subsequent tour were very successful. The dark, dystopian vision borrowed from George Orwell’s Animal Farm was a bizarre choice of direction in what was for many people, sunny 1976-77. But the band, especially Roger Waters, were always very prescient about the future, which is why, in some respects, the album resonates more now that it did forty years ago. The gist of the Rolling Stone review from 1977: “Eh…what’s with the negativity when we could be spacing out to another album like Dark Side?” Even if one doesn’t share Waters’ doom gloom over capitalist society and the future that is now (and Gilmour has stated repeatedly that in many respects he doesn’t), he does manage to hit on several themes that certainly make life complicated and miserable for many. I don’t think the band’s later offerings would be at all popular if they weren’t grounded in reality that many people can identify with.

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Of course, David Gilmour needs no introduction. He has been a legend in the world of music since the 1960s, not only as a talented, very lyrical and emotionally-driven guitarist, but also as a genius writer of many a great piece of music. By the time the he and the rest of the band went into the studio to record Animals they were a major powerhouse rock group. Their album from three years earlier, The Dark Side of the Moon was still on the charts! Gilmour would only add to his already impressive legacy with his writing, playing and singing on Dogs, and his playing on Sheep and Pigs (3 Different Ones) on this album.

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Dogs evolved over the course of a couple of years. It was originally titled You Gotta be Crazy and was “begun” in 1974 when the band needed more material for their live show. Gilmour, who wrote most of the music to Dogs, has always been particularly proud of the initial chord sequence. The original version was very different and not so impressive compared to what would become the final definitive tune. After much tweaking and changing the song reappeared during sessions for what would become Animals. Floyd had just moved into a studio they had put together for themselves at Britannia Row and because Roger Waters, who was helping with early tracking, left a “record” button on, the world has never heard what David Gilmour has always believed to have been the best solos he has ever played on the song. So…of course, everyone who has heard the disc over the years is hearing his second best, which is pretty impressive don’t you think? [There were some alternate versions of Animals tunes here, but some of them, including Dogs, don’t seem to be available anymore].

The song is in the key of D minor. The acoustic riffs that drive the initial part of the song are E minor position chords played on a Ovation Steel string detuned to the key of D. This chord progression is unusual in that it really never resolves; it just comes to the end of it’s cycle and begins again, which underscores the pointlessness of the lifestyle the lyrics are trying to convey. (For a full breakdown of the song’s harmonic and melodic development follow the 2nd and 3rd link below). The song breaks down and modulates to the key of F major and Gilmour plays several (5) solos over these two parts. There is a long keyboard (funeral section) part in the middle that has very little instrumentation save for a kick drum and high hat and then the song returns to the original progression with Roger Waters singing instead of Gilmour. In every other respect this part is identical to the beginning of the song with more Gilmour soloing that culminates in the amazing descending augmented triads that finally resolve the chord progression and bring a sense of closure before the transition to the end of the song.

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Courtesy of the Society for Music Theory comes this very impressive, in-depth article Expansive Form in Pink Floyd’s “Dogs”, by Gilad Cohen. Very well done. Probably the definitive study on understanding the song, it’s progression to final form, it’s various parts (including guitar specifics) and analysis of the music and lyrics. Great job by the author! Listen to the track while you read. I did!

Next, check out Gilmourish.com, which is “the largest David Gilmour tone resource on the net”. Great stuff. I love reading over sites like this and it would be great if there was one of these sites for just about every guitar player from the 60s through the early 80s. I would definitely read them all. Highly recommend! Here is the page specific to Dogs. In a nutshell: Telecaster + Hi Watt + BIG MuFF + MXR Phase 90 + Rotating Speaker = “Dogs” TONE DUDE!

Another of my favorite forum sites to peruse is Steve Hoffman Music Forums, home of audiophile and mastering engineer, Steve Hoffman. I’ve pulled links from here before; there are quite a few in the Glen Campbell piece I did. Here is a discussion of a part of the Dogs solo from the forum. True? Hmm? Interesting theory for sure!

Here, here, here and here, here, and here are some of the better covers/lessons of the song of YouTube.

Gearslutz also always has interesting discussions on their forums. Here is a discussion on Animals, and Dogs.

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While Dogs is meant to describe a certain type of individual; an aggressive, ambitious, uncaring, alpha-male (drawn from an unlikable record executive perhaps), there are elements of the character sketch that may apply equally, to anyone. It’s a pretty cool that a piece of music with some reflective lyrics and brilliant, emotional guitar playing can illustrate the arc of life, but that is what this song does. Gilmour’s fluid and emotional guitar solos are the final voice of the song adding weight to the vocals by he and Waters. It’s pretty intense that the same triple-tracked, almost operatic guitar solo that occurs at minute 3:42 and again at 14:08 (it may even be the same solo “dropped” in) after the intervening 11 minutes and the above-mentioned descending augmented triads, sounds so different emotionally. Almost as if it is the final heartbreaking aria of an opera. Of course at the end there is death and the pain of knowing a useless(?) life and knowing that changes the whole impression of how the listener hears it. In some ways, as a concept, Animals is kind of like a mini-opera and while it was never billed as such, Pink Floyd and David Gilmour certainly crafted a definitive statement with this song and album.

New Series

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players on September 23, 2016 by theguitarcave

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I have a new idea for a series — it’s called GuitarSongs! I will pick a tune that showcases a player and/or band and guitar part(s) or style(s) and then I will write about it. The posts will give background info, set the tone for how the song came into existence, give important data on how the song was recorded and provide a whole lot of links on how to play it and any additional information that is fun and interesting. The songs will run the gamut of guitar playing and everything that interests me and if you have been a reader of this blog you know I have some pretty diverse guitar interests.

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I’m pretty excited about this new phase and though it’s in the ballpark of what I have been doing all along, this new format will allow more of a focus on specific tunes, guitar styles and players. I have said repeatedly that I want to write shorter, more focused posts, yet provide the content-heavy, guitar-specific information that I have always tried to put across and I think this way of doing it will be very effective. So far I’ve decided on David Gilmour/Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Soundgarden, Dickey Betts/The Allman Brothers, Eddie Van Halen, and Brian May/Queen as the first 6 installments. A few of them are done already so strap in, strap on that guitar and enjoy!

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 3)

Posted in Education, Equipment, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2016 by theguitarcave

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Part 2 is here.

If you are a guitarist who aspires to capture some Jimi magic and either play guitar in a similar fashion or maybe cover a song or two here are a few tips. I feel I am qualified to talk about it since I have done both over the years, although I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. Nothing beats seeing Jimi or one of the true masters play this stuff and there’s plenty to be found online. Definitely start there.

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Before one dives into the details, probably the most important and obvious thing to realize is that Jimi achieved his excellent sound and style on guitar by learning and playing blues, early rock and roll/rhythm and blues guitar. Take apart almost every song, every jam that features Jimi Hendrix and you will find the structure and sound of the blues underneath, no matter how FAR OUT the song is. Blues playing is primarily intuitive and feel-based. Jimi’s knowledge of music theory, best described by Miles Davis is his autobiography, was limited, but his ear was finely developed and he had a great musician’s instinct. According to Miles (via Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy page 399): “When Miles attempted to explain musical theory, Jimi just looked blank, but once Miles played the piece, however complex it was, Jimi picked it up immediately.” Having a background in the blues enables you to comfortably navigate many styles of music. If you can’t play a half decent blues solo or are not happy with your knowledge of the blues and pentatonic scales and blues phrasing, work on that first. Definitely make sure you can navigate the fretboard in all positions. You can base the above scales or arpeggios off of the chords you are playing. Many of Jimi’s best riffs and solos come from this way of doing things. Also, make sure your bends, slurs and hammer-ons/pull-offs are as accurate and clean as you can make them. These techniques must be practiced slowly and carefully to get them right. There are many blues guitar lessons on YouTube. Look around and find ones that will help you with areas you are having trouble and practice until you have it down.

spice it up with some jazz

Though Jimi wasn’t thought of as a jazz musician by most people of his time, he was influenced very heavily by jazz icons like Wes Montgomery and, especially, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was instrumental in Jimi’s approach to sound collages like Third Stone From the Sun. Jazz does figure in some of the rhythmic patterns that Mitch Mitchell developed and used in songs like Manic Depression, the middle of If 6 Was 9 and very obviously the brush work (actually suggested by Noel Redding) in Up From the Skies. (Mitch had actually played in jazz bands prior to joining The Experience). Jimi rarely played the standard power chord shapes, opting instead for variations that allowed him to use his thumb to cover the bass notes. He also used very jazzy 6, 9, maj, and sus chords on songs like If 6 Was 9, Third Stone From the Sun, Love or Confusion, Angel and many others. Jimi also regularly used partial chords as runs or lead lines. This chord melody type of playing is common in jazz and is also used in rhythm and blues/Stax playing as well. There are many jazz/rock lessons as well as chord melody lessons on YouTube. Not only will this knowledge help with Jimi Hendrix tunes, but it will also expand other areas of your playing.

technical aspects and equipment

Jimi’s technique, which was developed from constant playing and a whole lot of roadwork with bands like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard, made use primarily of Fender instruments, Stratocasters especially. Jimi would restring a right-handed guitar and play it lefty, which meant that the volume and tone controls, pickup switch and whammy bar were in a different position than would be typical for a player no matter they were right or left handed (if they were playing the appropriate guitar). According to the book Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, he would bend the whammy arms by hand to allow him “to tap each string with the bar” (?) but the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy disputes this saying he bent the arms to allow the bar to line up with the high E string. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of these theories are wrong and he bent the arms to allow for further depression of the tremelo unit, resulting in much wider and deeper bends. From reading guitar magazines I know that Jimi favored using 4 springs for the whammy unit and used custom light strings. According to Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy from September of 1966 through June of 1967 Jimi played tuned to regular concert C or E, if you prefer. (This time period would’ve included the recording of Are You Experienced?) The sessions for Experienced and the 2nd album, Axis: Bold as Love were almost back-to-back but most of the Axis album is tuned to Eb. From hereon Jimi would tune down (sometimes as low as D) and while this did allow for a “heavier”, darker guitar tone and ease of string bending, the primary reason was it was “less strain on Jimi’s voice”. He favored Marshall amps and turned everything way up, full blast! His outstanding control of his instrument and his ability to turn the sounds, noises and feedback into either vocal-quality sounds, sound effects or music was legendary (The Star Spangled Banner, Third Stones From the Sun, I Don’t Live Today). Randy Hansen, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan have all approached the level that Jimi had with this kind of manipulation of the instrument. He would frequently introduce himself to the audience as playing “public saxophone” and I think this illustrates that he looked at the guitar as “more than a guitar”, primarily dealt in SOUND more than TECHNIQUE or NOTES and was inspired and influenced by much more than other guitar music. Unfortunately there is no substitute for constant tweaking of one’s gear and sound to be able to replicate either Jimi’s sounds or the ones you hear in your head. Listening to and trying to replicate sounds that aren’t necessarily music can also broaden your approach. A major thing to understand is that these various components are never the same in different rooms or situations. That’s why being able to pull this stuff off live is always impressive if it is tight. A player must constantly readjust as the gig goes along. Eric Johnson does this all the time. Watch him closely in these videos.

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While Jimi certainly made use of many different effects over the years, I’m not one of those people that believes you need to have expensive or even authentic pedals to get a sound that will reproduce a Jimi number well. I’ve certainly done without. All of those pedals are available though if you wish to go that route. Back in the late 80s I was at a jam in Brooklyn and after covering All Along the Watchtower 3 guys who had been hanging out in the lobby, including the guy who was running the studio came in and looked at my pedals. All I had was a Tube Screamer, an MXR Envelope Filter (for the wah sound) and a Boss digital delay. Without saying a word they looked at me, looked at the pedals, shook their heads and walked out. I had certainly done my homework on the solo parts of Watchtower and could play it well. I had also found some settings that really approximated the sound of the original and that night hit it perfectly right. I had a Crybaby wah-wah but did not always carry it around on the subway so that’s why I had the envelope filter instead. Worked out just fine. You would be amazed how much your hands and attitude affect how you sound. I was reading a discussion on Gearslutz the other day from people who were talking about recreating the sound of Van Halen 1. I know, guitar players can be geeks, nerds, whatever and just like to think and talk about different equipment, but you could easily sink $50,000 into a project like that, have all of the guitar and studio equipment that may or may not have been used back in 1978 and come up lacking, so keep that in mind.

putting it all together

A band I was in for a few years covered Love or Confusion live many times. By this time I no longer used a distortion pedal. I had a Mesa Boogie head and two 4×12 cabinets and just played loud using the gain from the amp. I also used a Phase 90 and an MXR Flanger and sometimes the Crybaby Wah. I never worried about playing the solo exact (and never do-just go for it!). The sound IS the thing. If you play in tune and in time and have the sound of this music (or any music) you are more than halfway there. I liked to concentrate on how the chords rang against the rhythm and the overtones at the end of each verse (and the end of the song). Eric Johnson covers this song nicely. I remember EJ said in an interview that some of the sounds Jimi got on those last stop chords reminded him of a vacuum cleaner. That’s why I spent a lot of time coming up with slightly different fingerings every time the G chords come around. I was always amazed how those parts sounded too! How did he do that? Sometimes the right amount of fuzz, vibrato and open-string overtones produced exactly what I was going for. The trick with these sus chords is to get that major/minor ambivalence thing between the strings you fret versus the strings that are ringing open. That’s how some of those cool combinations happen. I also tried do what Eric does — actually meld both of Jimi’s guitar tracks into 1! Good Times!

instruction 1

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In the old days these books were like the best thing, and in some ways still are. Meticulously notated for guitar, bass and drums — your whole band can look over the music and get down. You still have to bring the feel in for a lot of what you will be trying to do, but that’s where the fun is. Just like what I was talking about in the last paragraph. All of these books have tab and performance notes and I used them a bunch back in the day for songs that I hadn’t been able to pick up just by listening. All of the transcriptions were done by Andy Aledort and the performance notes and general supervision was done by jimibk2Dave Whitehill and they are both giants in the guitar instruction/publishing business. Usually associated with Guitar World Magazine, I’m sure their names are familiar to anyone who has been around the biz for awhile. While seeing someone play any of Jimi’s material on YouTube or whatever is just as instructive, because the guys who did these books are total pros, you know there aren’t any mistakes. While I regularly find mistakes in tabs I find online or in some of the YouTube tutorials, I have never encountered one in these books. So there is that. They are still very affordable and I would recommend if you are looking for 100% accurate reproductions of Jimi’s original music.

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For those who don’t want to go the book route, there are, of course, many online resources for Jimi Hendrix material. As I said in the last paragraph, however, be careful that it is a good tab or lesson or you’ll be wasting your time. I recommend watching any live Jimi you can find. Then check out Randy Hansen(!), Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, or some of the stuff from the Experience Hendrix tour. For lessons, here’s a series that walks you through most of the songs on the first side of Are You Experienced?. Here’s Joe Satriani showing how he plays like Jimi and here’s an interesting video on getting a sound in the vein of Jimi. YouTube is FULL of many interesting videos on playing like Jimi Hendrix so strap in, strap on the guitar and get cracking! You’ll be wowing your friends with stunning versions of his best songs in no time at all!

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So that’s it for the Jimi Hendrix series. I know I said I was going to do a Part 4, but I’ve decided to bag that idea. I know I’ve also said I’m going to write shorter, more frequent posts before and I’m going to doing that too, starting with the next one!