Author: theguitarcave

Guitar playing, writing, watching, thinking, music, life, love, stuff.

All That Jazz

I got a message this week that said, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, but that back-order of discs you’re expecting? Ain’t gonna happen. Remember… to order from us again…then you’ll begin to make it…better…” The discs in question were from the order that included the Howlin’ Wolf and Davey Graham CDs I’ve already reviewed…and yes being the guy I am, I did make it better, but not at the same online retailer. We haven’t finished with the replacement for the broken Wolf discs yet…so it’s best to proceed cautiously. But there was a bunch of music listening done this week so here are a few down-and-dirty reviews. I’m a bit pressed for time right now, but I’ll still knock it out of the park…you just watch!

Johnny Smith — Moonlight in Vermont

First up is this gem of a disc Ladies and Gentlemen and what a disc it is! I’m not sure why I’ve waited until now to get Johnny Smith’s Moonlight in Vermont because: 1) It’s a bona-fide classic; 2) It’s one of the most impressive guitar discs ever made, and 3) I’ve heard it before on a few occasions (my brother has had it for years). For some reason it always slipped my mind, but last weekend I purchased through iTunes and have been listening to it ever since. Constantly. If you are unfamiliar with Johnny Smith’s career and/or life, the following sites will learn you everything you need to know. Moonlight in Vermont was probably the high point of Johnny’s guitar career and jazz guitar certainly took a major leap forward once it was issued. It is still a great disc to listen to and be enthralled by because of its high level of musicality and the emotional romance that music of this period contained.

The material on the album was actually a compilation drawn from 2 10-inch discs that Johnny had recorded while at NBC during the early 1950s (It was the song, Moonlight in Vermont, not the album, that was jazz magazine’s Downbeat #2 song of the year (in 1952). The album Moonlight… was released in 1956 and Smith picked his band from a group of fellers he met while was on staff at NBC. This group included the incomparable superstar Stan Getz, who Johnny actually got on staff at NBC because Stan “wanted to get off the road”. Getz is the perfect foil for Smith on this album and the two of them drive each other to thrilling and precipitous heights on several cuts. It’s easy to imagine that in lesser hands what is attempted would fall apart spectacularly, but they both had a level of mastery that enabled them to play cleanly, clearly, and brilliantly no matter the tempo or difficulty of the musical passages; a reason many of the performances on the disc are flat-out breathtaking, even by today’s standards.

Many reviews of Moonlight in Vermont allude to Smith’s chord melody style having the quality of a piano and his single line playing recalling the great saxophone lines of someone like Lester Young, and this is true. He also had a pure, very crystalline tone delivered either on an Epiphone or Guild archtop and there is at times a very distinct Western Swing vibe and a nod or three to the great Chet Atkins. Throughout the album there is a very Lush Musicality, that is well supported by the great rhythm section and piano players that appear on the disc. With this album I think Johnny inherited the guitar maestro mantle formerly occupied by Django Reinhardt in earlier days. Django was also always not quite, and yet so much more than a “jazz guitarist” and they were contemporaries as Johnny remembers in this brief interview.

The Moonlight in Vermont disc includes the original composition Jaguar with Smith and Getz playing the dual lead head and middle passages at breakneck tempo. This song reminds me of acclaimed French jazz band les Doigts de l’Homme and I can only imagine how this flipped people who heard it in the mid-50s. Then there is the Caravan-esque Tabu with its bebop harmonies and dark guitar tone…also a dual lead by Smith and Getz. Smith’s picking is clean and forceful in a way that recalls both Reinhardt and Barney Kessel. He has said he imagined that he would have to execute lines in the same smooth fashion as a violin player (going from a bottom note all the way to the top in one crescendo movement) and the breakdown middle during the solo choruses of Tabu illustrates this very well with both players blowing out a flurry of notes. The best ballads: Tenderly, Stars Fell on Alabama, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance, and the title cut all feature Johnny’s beautiful chord melody playing that he pulls off with the harmonic and melodic sense of a classical or jazz pianist. This is the result of his fingering
closed position chords and you can view a primer on this technique here. Though not easy to grip at times, this is an oft-used guitar device to add that extra level of sophistication and romantic sassiness to chord melody/comping work. At other times, the sound of Johnny’s guitar almost approaches that of a pedal steel and that tone adds an extra level of sweetness, ambiance, and emotionalism to the tunes and juxtaposes very nicely with Getz’s very throaty, resonant sax solos. Sometimes it also sounds like Hawaiian slack key slide guitar as on the bouncy Vilia and I’ll Be Around. Then there are the tunes that are completely early 50s bop: Cherokee, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Cavu. All in all it’s a perfectly balanced listening experience and though it serves as such, it is much more than just a very inspired guitar study. Trust me when I say that if you throw it on the next time you want to set a romantic mood, you won’t be sorry!

Al Caiola (w/Don Arnone) — Soft Guitars

My second choice that I purchased through iTunes was Al Caiola’s Soft Guitars, and it’s an interesting disc. Like Johnny Smith, Caiola and another guitarist who appears on this disc, Don Arnone, were both well-regarded studio musicians in New York in the 1950s. So obviously this is top-level, well-arranged music for the swank set of that time. I’ve written before about the Bachelor-Pad style of music found at online radio like Illinois Street Lounge; lots of playful sounds, swinging guitars, bongos, vibes, bells, whistles, sound effects, and lots of album covers with hot babes. Some of them are really hilarious. Like this one. This album was originally part of a two-LP set called Great Pickin’ and Soft Guitars and then was a 2 LP on 1 CD set and somewhere along the line the set was split. This site gives some background on Caiola and the history of this release. It is a marvelous snapshot or earshot, if you will, of a time in music that is long gone, yet recalls the exuberance, optimism, and class of the pre-rock n’ roll era. People like me, who came of age during the 60s and 70s still heard this type of music and this type of musician all of the time on television and in movies. It didn’t really go away permanently until the 80s I think.

So what about the tunes? Well, I’ll tell you. They cover Stella by Starlight (a song EVERYONE has recorded), Try a Little Tenderness, The Sound of Music and More Than You Know. Leading off the album is their take on They Can’t Take That Away From Me, a song that was later associated with jazz guitar titans Ted Greene and Martin Taylor. Since this album was recorded way back in 1061, I would say Al and Don got there first! In addition to other jumpin’, jivin’ tunes like S’ Wonderful and S’Nice they do a great take on Imagination, the old jazz warhorse I Can’t Get Started and Clair de Lune as Debussy might’ve imagined it. I wrote about Debussy and the complicated history of Clair de Lune here and was very surprised to find it on an album like this. Because both guitarists are obviously playing electric (archtop) guitars their version has a much different, trebly, ringing quality that one doesn’t hear when the piece is performed classically as it usually is. But I enjoy the very ethereal and dreamy feel that is augmented with beautiful harp accompaniment from Gloria Agostini.

There is a well-arranged duet style that permeates the record and given that both of these guys were first call session guitarists, I’m sure they came to this kind of arranging naturally. There isn’t a whole lot of wild improvisation or flashy stuff; they keep it to some great instrumental jazz/popular music of the time, played exceptionally well. I had originally ordered Caiola’s Serenade in Blue/Deep in a Dream compilation and this was the back order that is no longer available. But I’ll still be looking to pick it up somewhere because I like what I hear on this disc. Though this isn’t the genre-defining album that Moonlight in Vermont was and is, it is still a great listening experience. I think guitarists can benefit from listening to players like Al Caiola, even in this day and age, because it’s fun stuff and there isn’t a wasted or excessive note on this disc and that’s always educational.

There were two other discs that I previewed, but ultimately passed on…and they were both Django Reinhardt CDs if you can believe that! The first disc was Django and His American Friends, a 3 disc set that is mostly Django backing up the likes of early jazz superstars like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter as well as lesser-knowns like Rex Stewart and Dickie Wells. There are some Freddie Taylor vocal cuts (After You’ve Gone, Georgia, Ilse Muggin’) too, but they (as well as some of the Hawkins material) can be found elsewhere and I already have. While the disc gets great reviews, most of this stuff is the big-band era kind of jazz that doesn’t really feature guitars or Django. Of course he was a GREAT rhythm player and there is something to be said for the historical value, but I do have some of this stuff on other comps and truth be told, it’s not really my go-to Django stuff. I prefer him playing his compositions.

Another Django disc I previewed and passed on was Django in Brussels, which is not the same as this disc that I have and have already reviewed and is very good. Culled from 1942 sessions, this new disc (new to me not NEW) sounds like it was recorded off of someone’s copy of a scratchy record in the back of a caravan somewhere. The sessions themselves are the stuff of legend: recorded beneath Stalag 13 while Colonel Klink and the rest of the oblivious Nazis slept, Django and his band recorded a bunch of rare and unheard tunes…at least for those who are familiar with his catalog. Of course, this is the major selling point of what I found to be a ho-hum collection. Also…I can’t get past the fidelity. That’s probably all that survives of this session at this point, but I didn’t think the songs themselves were so great that I could ignore the sound quality. Others make think differently about that equation and that is the beauty of musical opinions just BEWARE! If you are thinking about buying a Django in Brussels CD and it doesn’t look like this, better preview some of the audio first is all I’m saying!

Tidbits

So what did you guys have for lunch? This is what I had. It was pretty good. Never let it be said that living in NYC doesn’t have it’s perks. Of course, there are downsides, but, hey…why dwell on the negative? We all only get one go-round on this crazy merry-go-round called existence! (Or do we?) I’m not so sure about anything anymore. Ya know how…when you’re a kid and you have all of these questions and you completely annoy your parents and they give you answers that aren’t always satisfactory, but you think, “when I’m that age I’ll know everything,” and, of course, it doesn’t work out like that?

So I saw an old friend at this week. He was here and it was nice to visit, because it’s always nice to see old friends. He is completely convinced that the Sex Pistols were a conspiracy to rival the Kennedy Assassination. John Lydon never again wrote lyrics that equaled what was on that album and Steve Jones couldn’t play guitar like that. I said, “uh huh, uh huh” like I always do. Pretty intriguing. I can tell it really bothers him. I said, “I dunno, maybe you should let it go…Rotten’s book was pretty good. I read it twice. He’s obviously not a stupid guy.” And that’s true. It was a long time ago that I read Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs or I would review it, because I thought it was well-written and had a lot of really good stories in it. Also, Johnny’s views of Britain, schools, government, and punk rock were pretty on point. Of course he always delivers everything with a heavy dose of Rotten-bile, but that’s just how he is.

We met and hung out at Hotel Indigo on Ludlow. It’s got some interesting history…I’m not gonna go into it here…but it’s one of those stories. The place is interesting and very popular. Totally the number 1 spot for PartyGirl Inc. Speaking of punk rock…there’s a picture of Johnny Ramone at CBGBs on the ceiling. As we sat in this lounge/bar (that was really dope by 2018 standards) and shot the proverbial poop, I wondered what fraction of 1% of the people who hustle and bustle through the place actually know or care who JR is? I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. He’s kind of like a wallpaper pattern and maybe wherever he is, he’s okay with that. By all accounts he seemed to have a taciturn sense of humor. If I was dead and a wallpaper pattern that would be like immortality. Probably the Ramones don’t really sell that many albums anymore.

Speaking of albums…I continue to enjoy the Howlin’ Wolf comp that I reviewed last week. One element of the review that I regretted missing is that Wolf, for all of his gnarliness and gravelly voiced danger, actually sang quite a few tender songs about love, good women and great relationships. So it’s not all Saturday night neon somebody better call the ambulance music…although there is plenty of that too. As I related the CD arrived broken in a few places, but the company has issued a return! If that all works out well, I will totally hype the place because their customer service is very responsive. If you remember I guessed (and correctly I think) that it would be very similar to dealing with Zappos. Plus, like Zappos, they have all of these sales that they are constantly hyping and everything is priced to move! I just might have to do more shopping!

Speaking of beating a horse with an old rug or something…there are TWO, yes, count ’em, TWO movies out or coming out on Lynryd Skynyrd. Considering Ronnie Van Zant has been dead for 41 years now, that is pretty remarkable. The first is a SHOWTIME presentation that is OFFICIAL in that it has the band’s (and I use that term loosely since most of “the band” is no longer with us) seal of approval. The other movie, Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash, has been cleared by a court in New York for release. It was held up by Gary Rossington and various estates because they did not approve of its central theme, which seems to be Artimus Pyle’s version of the plane crash. The movie has a whopping $1.5 million budget and is supposedly already shot. To put that in perspective, Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic had a budget of $28 million. So this will probably be released straight to WalMart or something. Back in the day I wrote this post on Skynyrd; it’s one of my most popular all-time by views. I don’t know that either of these movies is really necessary and they might even be a tad, I dunno, redundant at this point. Even though I will always remain a total fan of the original band, we all know how the story ends, there have been many presentations on the Skynyrd story, and I can’t imagine anyone needs to sit through the story of the plane crash. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of biopics anyhow, which is kind of what “Street Survivors” is.

Something that is just opening in New York that I WON’T be missing is the Velvet Underground Experience, which is a multi-floor, multimedia presentation that is gonna be open through the rest of the year. I’m totally going and soon! I’ll have a review and whatever pics they let me take. It will be lots of weirdos in even weirder sunglasses! AWESOME! I’m not the biggest VU fan…musically I think they made be just a tad overrated, maybe, but White Light/White Heat and The Black Album from 1969 are both fun discs and What Goes On (with great guitar solo by Reed/Sterling Morrison and great rhythm guitar by Lou Reed) is definitely one of the best songs of the 1960s. The first album and Loaded I played out a long time ago, but they certainly were revolutionary…so maybe the band isn’t overrated at all! I’m sure some of this exhibit will be interesting!

This is a very dramatic time of the year, especially in New York. It recalls something…in everybody. Like Billie Holliday’s version of the George Duke classic, Autumn in New York, which, and I quote from this page: “The bruised optimism of Vernon Duke’s much-covered 1934 jazz standard—which allows that a New York autumn is “often mingled with pain,” but insists that “it’s good to live it” – found its perfect expression in Billie Holiday’s yearning version with pianist Oscar Peterson. Duke’s moody music and poetic lyrics (“Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel”) are an invitation to fall in love.”

I’m definitely mingling in pain, and I think probably I’m to old to fall in love…unless it’s with a new restaurant. Besides, I have somebody to love and a lot of people don’t, so I’m pretty lucky. She even buys me lunch. How great is that? This time of the year also reminds me of Django Reinhardt’s Anouman. The two songs sound very similar…They have the same nostalgic, melancholy flavor that is inherent in the approaching end of another year. There is celebration, but also sometimes a pause, a memory, a wistful yearning for someone, something lost; like the sunny high days that will be gone until next year. All of the sushi restaurants play this kind of music quietly in the background…it’s all part of a deliciously, classy, tasteful experience. Yes…it is good to live it again!

Achilles Last Stand

Led Zeppelin will be heading back to court for more Stairway to Heaven litigation! Rumor has it paid provocateurs dressed as 70s stoners have begun massing near elevators yelling How Many More Times? at unsuspecting judges. Undeterred, a federal appeals court ruled that a 2016 trial that found in favor of Zeppelin contained inappropriate jury instructions and also erred as it didn’t allow for the “stolen” song, Taurus, to be played during the proceedings. Michael Skidmore, who represents the estate of Taurus writer Randy California, is goin’ all YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME!:

“Skidmore argued that not playing the original Spirit recording worked in Zeppelin’s favour. He said that the jury should have been able to monitor Page’s demeanour while listening to the song that he allegedly ‘stole.'”

Attorney Francis Malofiy will once again be representing Skidmore and the estate and he’s a guy who doesn’t know the meaning of limits! He had his license suspended because of his courtroom antics during a previous trial involving Usher! He incurred more than a hundred sustained objections and multiple GTFOs from Judge R. Gary Klausner in the first Led Zeppelin trial! Who knows what he has up his sleeve this time? Guys who like loud, red ties are unpredictable!

Led Zeppelin has the obvious advantage in this fight. They’re wealthy, they have an army of high-powered lawyers, they have their stellar musical reputation and they have a legion of dedicated fans who are ready to go to war to support their favorite band. But how much will all of that help them in another trial is hard to call. They won’t enjoy some of the advantages that won the case for them the first time around. As we all know, with the legal landscape mood of the United States where it is now, anything is possible!

The Guitar Cave is trying to maintain neutrality because I totally believe in the jury trial system. As a matter of fact I’ve been in the jury system a few times myself. A few years ago I was juror #7 in a criminal trial and found the experience to be deeply moving, interesting, and engaging. I felt like a REAL AMERICAN when it was over! Naturally, in order to successfully mediate a disagreement between two parties in a civil trial, it is necessary to be completely unbiased and have as much information as possible. It would be easy for me to say, “I’ve been listening to Led Zeppelin since the 70s and they have given me many moments of rocking great pleasure, so screw all of these people trying to get money or credit out of the band.” But I’m not gonna do that because that would be presumptuous and not respectful of our judicial system. And…as you will see, this is shaping up to be a GREAT STORY! and who doesn’t love one of those?

There is much at stake: a 2008 deal between Plant, Page and Warner/Chappell Music gives the songwriters $60 million over 10 years for the company’s right to use “Stairway” and other songs from the band’s catalog. All of that cash and the legacy of one of the most famous rock songs of all time is nothing to sneeze at obviously. Prior to the first trial I had already mused on some possible outcomes and I was actually pretty close…not that the case was that hard to call. At least that is what I thought then. Some wildcards have entered the picture y’all! I said at the time, (2014) I thought the idea that the A-minor intro that is the basis for Stairway to Heaven/Taurus was not unique in music history because I was pretty sure something close had to have existed previously. I cited the great 18th century classical guitarist Fernando Sor as an off-the-cuff example. That was basically Led Zeppelin’s claim as well and without having to supply an accurate exact copy of that guitar part, the jury gave them the victory. But Malofiy successfully argued these issues with the first trial and that is why he is getting another crack! A new and better trial! So I think we need to take a look at this guy because that’s a pretty impressive thing he just did. I did some internet sleuthing and a picture emerges of the archetypal “scrappy underdog”. Consider that Malofiy

What a pair of balls! This is a guy who’ll do anything! He filed for trial setting in Philadelphia because Zeppelin played the Live Aid concert in 1985! LOL! He’s a musician who played gigs and got in a fight and KAPOWED! the other party and took the stand in his own defense to stay out of prison. And won! He used the Zeppelin font on his petition for a new trial! LOL! You can see it here. I think, given what we have learned from this very basic research, we can ascertain that Malofiy is a rock and roll, 2000s version of this guy:

WeWe wewe WeweWeweWewewewe (That’s the first couple bars of the Rockford Files Theme. Anyhow…Dude…I am sold. Seriously! This is gonna be a battle for the ages! Remember when Rockford would, like, print up a business card in his car and then go into some office and lie through his teeth about everything and then get in a fight, kick somebody’s ass and the go downtown and yell at Sgt. Becker? That’s totally what this guy does too, except when he prints out business cards he uses this font and they look like album covers. This case will pit newRockford against Jimmy Page, a guy who has been a bonafide wizard since the 1970s, or maybe even the 1400s! I. Don’t. Know. I’m literally shaking with excitement right now. Jimmy might turn newRockford and all of his friends into newts! Or maybe they have anti-newt repellent. They’d better get it if they don’t, I’m just sayin’! Hopefully, newRockford has a cast of friends besides lowrider-driving guy, you know, maybe some neo-pagan witches, or an Angel Martin or Beth Davenport type who owns or works at one of those stores where you can buy crystals and other paraphernalia to keep bad spells and hexes and junk at bay. He better wear garlic necklaces every day of the trial ’cause Zeppelin won’t be screwing around this time! Stairway to Heaven was voted the most popular song on the radio for 30 years running or something. I’m sure it has imbued Jimmy and the rest of Led Zeppelin with all kind of cosmic power, not to mention millions and millions of dollars, which, of course can also make one cosmically powerful.

As I related, I have some legal background myself and I watched Malofiy argue for the appeal in this video. You can watch or you can read this article in Techdirt that covers pretty much the same ground. There some issues at stake for the copyright folks and that topic comprises about the first 15 minutes of the video. A ruling from the early 1900s prevented the actual recording of Taurus from being played in the courtroom to the first jury. From what I think I understand, some musicians interpreted the sheet music and played what was there because it was the sheet music, not the recorded performance, that had the copyright. Malofiy, legal scholar that he is, convinced the appeal judges to let both recordings be played at this new trial in a comparison test, and for me, Jimmy Page’s reaction isn’t what is important. I thought that this comparison of both performances had already happened when the first jury had found in favor of Zeppelin.

The second step and I think I understand this also…I think I do. I’ve read; I’ve digested; I’ve mulled this over for a day or two now. Any musical piece will be made up of elements that “are” and “aren’t” covered by a copyright. The melody of a song is, the chord progression (usually) is not. There could be items like clusters of 3-4 notes that may or may not be, depending on how important or how original they are to the piece of music. Malofiy claims in his rebuttal argument that:

“…we were able to show 5 distinct elements: minor chromatic line and associated chords, duration of pitches in minor chromatic line, melody placed over descending chromatic line, rhythm of steady eight-note beats and a pitch collection. These 5 very distinct elements were never used in any prior art and defendants were not able to show that in any way, shape or form that these 5 elements…

I can’t exactly make out what he is saying at the end because he is rushing as he runs out of time, but if this whole thing about the five elements is true, then I WAS WRONG! About the Fernando Sor thing…but if it was checked obviously and if these 5 elements can be argued to be covered by copyright. That first element — the line with the chords thing? I’m not sure that everyone agrees something like that is necessarily covered by copyright, but this is part of the brilliant Malofiy strategy! Ironside would totally be jealous! He will first try to get people who know absolutely nothing about music on the jury, play both songs, and point to these 5 elements that people can “hear” in both songs. He will claim they are covered by copyright and if Zeppelin can’t counter with something that also has these 5 elements, or argue successfully that they shouldn’t be covered in copyright, Malofiy and the Estate will emerge victorious! Or…prior to a trial, Led Zeppelin will behold the awesomeness of this strategy, quietly settle out of court and give Randy California a writing credit. Or…I’m completely wrong about the whole “Rockford” angle and Malofiy is actually…New Vinnie! WHOA! Can you imagine? With a hot babe girlfriend who knows everything there is to know about pitch clusters and line clichés? If I was the Led Zeppelin legal team I would look through that Fernando Sor catalog…and watch My Cousin Vinnie a few times. If Malofiy shows up in a red tux, it’s all ova, you guys!

So this is shaping up to be a Battle of Evermore! I’m on the edge of my seat! I wish they would they televise it. Both parties think they’ll win! *Developing*

Wang Dang Doodle

As I reported in my last post, I was in need of a serious musical upgrade, especially one of the Howlin’ Wolf variety. Seeing that I live in the largest city in the USA, I sallied forth, totally confident that I would have a great day and return with something that would render me no longer ‘Wolf-less’. Not only was I supremely confident, I was foolishly overconfident because I tried to perform this manuever on a day where 2.3 inches of rain fell in the space of like forty minutes. It was super. A Super Soaker. I got super soaked. Not only that, I returned empty-handed. On my way to and fro I passed the Kellogg’s Store (pic not taken on that day) and…I’m glad it’s there because that’s what I’ve always been lacking in my life…a café that serves Corn Flakes. Talk about SWPL. If it ain’t, it ought to be. In addition to breakfast cereals, there are endless places to acquire luxury goods, sub par, yet overpriced tacos, haircuts!, or electronics. And vinyl. Lots of places now carry vinyl, but all of the discs that I know exist and represent a much more diverse selection of music don’t seem to be available anywhere. Even Barnes and Noble sells vinyl. There is a large space devoted to it that was completely empty. Maybe I didn’t go at the right time. While I was in the B & N the only other people looking at sounds were pathetic old guys like me in the compact disc section, stumbling around like dehydrated, wild-eyed morons in the desert, searching, yearning, and dreaming a mirage of purchased music, passing each other with traded looks of “What? You call this a music selection?” (Yea, that sentence is awkward, but it works).

As I said in the original post, I didn’t see anything I wanted in the iTunes music store and the only great thing about that is convenience and the ease of album art and installation on the iPhone. Part of what drove me from the house was the desire I had to relive the days when everyone had to search to acquire…but not with a fake magnifying glass and a bunch of form fields. Search, in the wild…like Bungalow Bill or something. That was part of the pleasure of buying music; combing through the bins, turning up unexpected gems for the right price and interacting with fellow prospectors or dealers who either approved or snickered at what was under your arm. There are a few places like this left in the city, but their selection of anything guitar-related, blues or jazz, was seriously lacking. One dude at a place I visited related that the good stuff “goes pretty quick” and all that little anecdote did was reaffirm my belief that there is obviously still a market out there. It just needs a space that doesn’t rent @ $444,444.29/sq ft.


So I turned to the internet and yea, of course I found something online, and its killer! The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62 aka All of the Wolf’s Great Music. I didn’t get it from The ‘Zon, because I’m not getting anything there anymore. While the actual product is everything I wanted, it came with the jewel case broken in three places…So I imported the music, scanned the covers, and sent that crap back to sender ’cause that’s just how I roll Homeskillet! (Saying the italic bit in a Howlin’ Wolf voice works really well!) I ordered from this place that has its warehouse at a Shepherdsville, KY address, which, I believe, is in the immediate vicinity of the Zappos warehouse. D’ya know Zappos? I know Zappos. On the whole Zappos has been a positive experience as far as getting what I want and returning what did not meet expectations for one reason or another. This is the way we shop (and return) now, I guess. Something gained, something lost. Like that Joni Mitchell song or something. No, not that one. This one. Eh, no, this one. (All those vids are amazing!) Anyhow, I fear for the young. How will they know how to forage and feed themselves when the great crash and zombie apocalypse happens? Will everyone head for places like Shepherdsville, KY to raid the warehouses only to find that they have already been taken over by a gang run by Suge Knight and that dude from Pawn Stars? IT COULD HAPPEN!

But the music. WOW! 80 tunes! All the great ones: Smokestack Lightning, Moanin’ at Midnight, Down In the Bottom, Backdoor Man, Wang Dang Doodle, I Ain’t Superstious, Sittin’ On Top of the World and all of the others. Then there is the great stuff that I’ve heard on other people’s recordings like Tell Me, Shake for Me, and You’ll Be Mine, all covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan, which I hadn’t heard the originals until now. Why? I don’t know. But Howlin’ Wolf and his Orchestra is THE BLUES and it’s the best kind of blues because it can exist on one chord and say everything there is to say about everything and serve as the basis for a whole future of unimagined (at the time) other music. The SOUND is a huge, throbbing tumor of the most dangerous variety; pregnant, full of possibility and menace. How many other art forms can say that? Just letting all of these songs play renders the concept of “song” meaningless because they all merge into a glorious panorama that puts the listener in the death seat of a meth-fueled, flying muscle car, sailing down Highway 49 as the juke joints, clotheslines, rib shacks, old cars, beer signs, bent men, dancing women, razors, blood and whiskey blow by the windows. Needless to say, this gets my highest rating and is heavily recommended.

I also got Cream’s Wheels of Fire, the world’s first platinum double album, for the incredibly low price of $7.99! This is a great disc and one I had on vinyl a long time ago. I wore that sucker out listening to and trying to cop licks from some of the brilliant Clapton-driven guitar numbers. Hard to believe he was only 23 years old when the record was made in 1968. I wrote a post on Cream five years ago and since that time it has generated absolutely no interest. I really think it all goes back to that unplugged version of Layla and Clapton’s iBanker look at the time. Probably a lot of people who were too young to know thought he worked for Credit Suisse or something. Or maybe the 60s-era poetry lyrics on some Cream’s tunes and their turning the blues into very loud, very long, almost free-jazz explorations IS NOT OK. Or it might have something to do with good LSD no longer being a thing, except at trance shows. Is that true? That was always certainly part of the attraction…I mean how else do you get into fuzzy, over-the-top, purple-tinged poetry songs about Ulysses and Atlantis?

Wheels of Fire has the studio versions of incomparable electric workouts: White Room, Sitting on Top of the World, Born Under a Bad Sign, Politician, Those Were the Days and Deserted Cities of the Heart. It also has live versions of Crossroads, Spoonful, Toad and Traintime. Finally, there is some acoustic psychedelia with some great: As You Said; some good: Passing the Time; and some not great: Pressed Rat and Warthog and Anyone for Tennis. From a guitarist’s perspective, not only was all of this stuff completely impressive when it was released, but all of the instrumentalists were very influential on players who heard and went on to their own success later on. Also, it sounded great when you were tripping your face off!

A fringe benefit of me having Wheels of Fire and the other Cream releases is that now I have created a playlist that is the running order of one of the best compilations of any band that ever existed, Heavy Cream. This vinyl (haha) was released in 1972 and as far as I can tell has never been released on CD. I wore that two disc set out because it had all of the stuff and none of the fluff and, yea, there is that nostalgic element to it, but so what? I can get emotional. If music doesn’t have that kind of effect on you, why go out looking for it on a day that a couple of inches of rain gets dumped on your head is all I’m sayin’!

I also had two more choices (one of which is backordered) because why not go all out? I ordered and received Davy Graham’s Large as Life and Twice as Natural. I’ve written about Graham before; he developed the DADGAD tuning, wrote and performed the early 60s coffeehouse jazz/folk/guitar standard Anji, and influenced everyone from Bert Jansch, to Paul Simon to Jimmy Page. Not a bad pedigree. This album comes highly recommended as it usually gets 12 out of 10 stars everywhere! Allmusic says that: “With the exception of 1964’s Folk, Blues and Beyond, this is Graham’s finest non-compilation album… “ Unfortunately, my review isn’t quite as glowing. Davy’s guitar does shine on half the album, especially his forays into Indian/World music: Blue Raga, Jenra, Sunshine Raga, and his cover of Both Sides Now are all really good. Not only does he know and play his sitar-style tunings well, but his understanding of Eastern/Arabic music and the fact that he actually could play the Oud allow these pieces to sound completely original, yet very traditional. It seems to me the pitch is lower than “D”, which creates a natural comb-filter-type timbre. That is a great sound and one I would like to try myself! The supporting players also bring a really authentic ensemble presentation to this music that blends East and West in a more convincing manner than a ton of other stuff that attempted same in the 60s. I also like Bruton Town, which is an Olde English folk/Madrigal type of song. Davey’s voice is well-suited to this kind of material and his fingerpicked guitar work is perfectly executed and evocative of the Renaissance Fair feel of the song. There should have been another 1-2 numbers with this vibe on the disc. The Elizabeth Cotton-penned folk classic Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie is also performed well but this folk style is very familiar to me and not as impressive to be honest.

Unfortunately, I don’t like much about the rest of the album. There are four “blues” songs: Freight Train Blues, Good Morning Blues, Electric Chair, and Bad Boy Blues, but Graham really doesn’t do my kind of blues. He’s got that high, reedy, English-guy voice goin’ on and that just don’t sound like the Delta, believe you me. Then there’s Beautiful City, a swingin’ jazzy number where he sounds like Tony Bennett, which isn’t a terrible thing…if you are Tony Bennett and you’re singing a good song. He isn’t and this isn’t. The guitar on all of these tunes also sounds like an afterthought at times and certainly doesn’t have the strong vibe of the best 6 songs. There are weak and unconvincing runs and he does this annoying displacement thing where he steps out of key but it’s not cool, angular and dissonant; it just sounds like he played in the wrong key for two bars. Finally, there is his composition Tristano, which is a four-minute solo guitar piece that attempts to mash about 5 genres of music together. This should have been good, but it sounds like not enough thought was given to the arrangement. Some of the execution sounds forced and the musical thread wanders. There is nothing on this disc that has the laid back, stately cool of Anji and I am bummed about that because I’ve loved that song for decades. A couple more of the English folk style songs, an instrumental Beautiful City, and 1-2 blues instrumentals would’ve been a great compliment to the World/Eastern stuff.

So, unfortunately, a very mixed bag. I gave it three stars, because I’m in a generous mood today. There is a chance that the CD will grow on me since I haven’t had it for very long, but more than likely I’ll add the best stuff to a comp playlist and forget the rest. That’s how it goes when buying music and the moral of this story: Don’t trust Allmusic Reviews! Overall, though it was a good haul and I still have one more disc on the way and you can be sure you’ll read about it once I have it!

The Wolf at the Door

Ater 25 years in the same apartment, I moved on to new digs this year. It was time and all of the post-move changes seem to have worked out, and I am very thankful for that. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to move too far and it wasn’t a tedious or complicated process, but, somehow, somewhere, I lost a Howlin’ Wolf compilation that I had and I don’t have it digitally. Bummer! I have no Howlin’ Wolf on my person at the moment. I am Wolf-less. I haven’t been Wolf-less in years and the stuff I see on the iTunes store doesn’t look that great. It is incomplete. This is not a good thing.

Way, way back in 2011 (WOW!) I wrote this paragraph in a post on the illustrious Booker ‘Bukka’ White:

“I’ve always been a fan of the blues and I mean the real razor in the shoe-down home neon blues, not most of the stuff that passes for blues these days. My all-time favorite acoustic blues player is Booker “Bukka” White. He was a giant of a man; son of a railroad worker, boxer, baseball player, prisoner, blues genius. He was a giant and I mean a real giant not only as a musician, but also as man, a sonic philosopher and bona-fide American Shaman of the twentieth century. And…he was BB King’s cousin and helped teach the young BB how to play!! He emerged from a society that was marginalized not only by the majority white segment of the population, but also from some within his own community. Many proper church-going folks did not listen to the blues, especially the gritty, greasy, down-home flavored blues thrown down by Booker. He sang and played profane songs full of temptation and need, murder and greed, prison and trains, desperation, isolation, loneliness, and the danger and excitement of being full of White Lightning and in the wrong house at the wrong time. He was a man on the outside and a man on the move from an early age, living the life that became his music.”

That’s a pretty happening paragraph. Damn! I’m good. The same feelings I have for Bukka and his acoustic blues music, I have always had for Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and his gnarly, snarly, electric blues. Yea, Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Boy Williamson and all of the rest were great. No doubt. Willie Dixon, of course, was the premiere songwriter of them all. He was also an awesome bass player and over the years played with pretty much everybody. But Wolf’s brand of blues and his awesome presence, live or on record, cannot be beat. He towers over other performers by a mile and this is why he was also a huge influence and a big favorite of people like Bonnie Raitt, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Brian Jones and his little band from Britain, The Rolling Stones.

Wolf was a big dude — 6 foot 3, 300 lbs. and his brand of blues was dangerous and menacing…’cause even when he was sitting down wearing accountant glasses he still looked menacing. Like Bukka White he sang about the very dangerous things he knew about: evil, riding trains, liquor, fights, women, more fighting, life, and more women. His best songs, whether original or not, are my favorite versions of those songs: Smokestack Lightning, Sittin’ On Top of the World, Evil, Moanin’ at Midnight, Wang Dang Doodle, Killing Floor, Down in the Bottom, Back Door Man, Spoonful, The Red Rooster, How Many More Years, and I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline). All of these tunes featured Wolf’s booming, bassy, bad-ass testifying shouts, whoops, snarls and, yelps front and center, while his guitar, slide guitar and harmonica punched, jabbed, accented and punctuated his backing band’s steady rolling rhythm. This produced a beautiful and sometimes terrifying musical atmosphere as Wolf’s. It was, as legendary producer Sam Phillips recalled, “This is where the soul of man never dies.” His voice was as big as the country; too big to be contained by music hall, bar or the radio. Often imitated, but never equaled, it was an unparalleled instrument gave all of his material an instantly recognizable brand and edge. This version of Smokestack Lightning is a bit different from the recorded version but it illustrates the Howlin’ Wolf’s blues train: the swingin’ kit hits, guitar screams and stabs, piano tinkles, and bass rumble working together simultaneously while Wolf rides the top of the boxcar shouting, moaning and lowing his orgy dream tale of train-riding and woman-loving. [LateEdit: I love the recorded version of this song. It has all of the elements of this live version but is driven by Hubert’s hypnotically repetitive Chicago-by-way-of-the-Delta guitar riff. Definitely serves up the essence of the Howlin’ Wolf sound!]

While Wolf had the showbiz image of the dangerous, fly-by-night, criminal badass, he was actually a very conservative, hard-working and responsible bandleader. Financially he always did well; so well he was able to pay his band better than anyone else and even provided health insurance, which is why he had the best band in the business and players, like guitarist Hubert Sumlin, stuck around for the duration of Wolf’s life and career. It was all about the music, which Wolf gave forty years of his life to before succumbing to various health ailments in 1976. Prior to that he was able to capitalize on the blues revival in the United States and Europe in the 1960s and he taught all of youngsters what roadhouse blues was really all about.

Hubert Sumlin was also a huge part of the Howlin’ Wolf sound and a lot of his licks show up later in stuff like Zeppelin’s The Lemon Song and various Cream covers that everyone has heard a million times. He was the perfect foil for Wolf’s voice, guitar and harmonica sound. Whether the band was on big stages or in small, intimate situations, they always turned it out in great rockin’ rhythm and blues style!

So what am I gonna do? I have to find the complete sides collection somewhere, but no one buys CDs anymore do they? I don’t do the streaming, so I guess I’ll have to go to a store. Holy Cow! I’ll have to work up to this…I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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.