Education

RUMBLE — The Indians Who Rocked the World

this documentary has been kicking around for a few years now and I watched it last night. If you haven’t seen it, I think you can view here on NYC’s PBS link free for the next 11 days. Many of the reviews have been positive like this one, and this one, a more cautionary one here, and finally, another one here. While most reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive, some do acknowledge problems with the movie and there certainly are problems. I’ve given the movie 3 stars; one star for movie, one for the live music played by indigenous musicians, and one for the fact that Jimi Hendrix appears and that always gets a star from me no matter what. Read on if you want to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Skip if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to.

In two interviews I’ve seen online with director/producer Catherine Bainbridge, the stated goal or what drew her to doing “this story” was, and I quote, “Some of the greatest rock stars in the world know about the influence of these incredible Indigenous musicians but the rest of us do not.” LOL…okay. That isn’t too arrogant I guess; assuming what millions of people know. I’ve known for the better part of 40 years that Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson (two of the features in the film) had/have Native heritage and I am not the only person who can say this. As a matter of fact, Hendrix recorded an amazing song on his first album in 1967 titled I Don’t Live Today, dedicated to the modern Native American experience. It’s a shame that this documentary opted to be the 1,333,667,888th media presentation to use the iconic Jimi at Woodstock motif instead of pointing out the fact that Jimi recorded probably the first and definitely one of the best ever paeans to the struggle of indigenous people, but that’s what it did. The kids can’t learn if the teachers suck, knowhatimsayin?

A big part of why I don’t think this film deserves a better rating is because I don’t like the “oral tradition” formula for making movies (or documentaries) and I’ve said so before, most specifically in my review of Elvis: The Searcher from last year. I find all of the jump cuts to people I completely don’t care about distracting to a coherent narrative. The idea behind the movie (which is common with these documentaries) was to get as many famous musicians in the movie to underscore the value of the subject profiled (because that reinforces the already-stated central theme). In the segment devoted to Link Wray and his classic instrumental Rumble, Iggy Pop lets the world know that this is the song that made him decide to be a musician….Who gives a shit? Is this segment (movie) about him or is it about Link Wray? If Rumble was such an amazing musical moment, why does it need to be validated by Iggy Pop? Robbie Robertson is also onboard breathlessly relating that, “a song came on the radio, an instrumental, and it changed everything!” Yea…it didn’t, but Robbie breathlessly related similar sentiments in the Elvis documentary so I guess back in the day EVERYTHING WAS CHANGING every two minutes. It must have been hard to know how to dress.

The comment by Robertson points to another problem and that is the overselling and exaggeration of people’s accomplishments and abilities. It’s one thing to be passionate and/or in love with something personally, it’s quite another to be willfully inaccurate to the point of stupidity. While Rumble was certainly an influential moment, it didn’t change everything. These hyperbolic moments are what change documentaries into slick, late night infomercials. In a later segment on guitarist Jessie Ed Davis, ex-Rolling Stone writer David Fricke intones, “…he played great, tight, dynamic blues and the British Rock aristocracy love this. This is something they can’t get naturally. They have to import it…” Given that Davis migrated to England at the height of the British blues boom in the late 1960s, it’s stupid to suggest that Beck, Clapton, Page, Green, Taylor, Richards, Blackmore, Kossoff, et. al. couldn’t play the blues well enough….to sell millions of records. Maybe it’s a shame we live in that world where the blues on Led Zeppelin 1 has sold more than everything Jessie Ed Davis ever released because he was a very tasty guitar player, no doubt, but we do live in that world and no amount of pretending in a documentary is going to change that.

The performances and interviews with people like Buffy Saint Marie, The Neville Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens, Pura Fé, and Taj Mahal were great; the main reason to watch the movie. There should have been much more of this; more Jimi, Nokie Edwards and The Ventures, Rick Medlocke and Blackfoot and down home ordinary people doing their thing with voice and instrument. The explorations of Native music intertwining with Blues rhythms is a topic that deserves its own (well-done) documentary. Likewise for all of the socio-political points the film tries to explore. By the end of the Jessie Ed Davis segment the piling on of artists in an attempt to rack up a body count to further validate indigenous contributions begins to wear thin. I wish this film style would die, seriously. Just show the musician or performer performing, talk to principals, do a few more location shots, and ditch the supposed “experts”. The endless bloviating and hagiography by talking heads is annoying and exhausting and I find it always detracts from whatever positive experience a film like this is trying to bring.

New GuitarSong

I haven’t done a GuitarSong in almost two years! This Led Zeppelin tune came rather easily and was fun to do. I hope someone finds it either entertaining or instructive. The others I’ve done: Pink Floyd’s Dogs, The Beatles’ Rain, Soundgarden’s Head Down, and The Allman Brothers’ Jessica bring a fair amount of traffic to the blog. The Eddie Van Halen I’m the One GuitarSong does not. Weird…but that’s how it goes.

There will be at least two more GuitarSongs soon, both of which are Gypsy Jazz/acoustic songs that I will be demonstrating myself! I’ve wanted to do that for awhile and the tunes I want to do don’t have any instruction online. I don’t have a pro set up, so it will be down and dirty, but we’ll make it work. Hopefully, I can get those together next month. In the meantime, enjoy!

Aww…Noice!

DC Music School‘s latest offering features the incomparable Rocky Gresset and boy he sure makes it look easy, eh shredders? This is another “In the Style of…” edumacational device that the school is famous for and seeing as how I bought a few over the years I can say with certainty that it will be well worth the money. All of the players who have been featured are top-tier talent and the lessons are produced with the student in mind. One of the most impressive features I’ve learned about the Gypsy Jazz community is the quality of education! The best players will be the best teachers…duh!

While maybe not as well-known as some other Gypsy Jazzers, Rocky can more than hold his own with anyone, as the above awesome L-5 workout with the amazing Adrien Moignard proves. This is next-generation jazz and it’s pretty inspiring because it incorporates all the best of so many years of influences and innovations. While some of their playing is completely original, some also definitely owes a whole lot to the legacy of “The Boss”: Bireli Lagrene. He has been a consistent bar-raiser throughout his career and many younger players hold him as a mentor. But the freedom, musicality, and attitude originates a long time ago with people like Django Reinhardt, Johnny Smith and Barney Kessel. My go-to playlist lately has a whole lot of the electric bebop of these three guys from the 50s-60s period and it is a constant musical companion and wonder to behold!

Summer’s Almost Gone

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

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

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

Bought another copy of ZOSO

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

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

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

The Impressionists — Part 2

Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz

part 1 introduced the Impressionists and delved into the history and musical ideas of Claude Debussy, not only as he employed them in some of his most celebrated pieces, but also how these same ideas were picked up and used by other composers, most notably Django Reinhardt and others from the Gypsy Jazz genre of guitar music. In Part 2, I would like to briefly explore the music of four other composers from this era and why their music appeals to me.

Erik Satie was a very eccentric character who was a very good friend and influence on Debussy. Even though in Part 1 one of the film clips features Leonard Bernstein giving credit to Debussy for “inventing” the Whole Tone Scale, it is also said that Satie “wrote music in the whole-tone scale before Debussy ever thought of doing so”. I was introduced to Satie a very long time ago courtesy of the very famous 2nd album, by Blood, Sweat & Tears, released in 1968. The album included Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie, which was based on Satie’s First and Second Gymnopédies; very melancholy piano pieces that used “mild dissonances against the harmonic”. However, the intro, with it’s very deliberate two major seventh chords was MADE for guitar arrangement and this is why it has always been a memorable piece for me. The melody is innocently lilting, but also seems very sad and resigned at the same time. It is very fun to do a full on guitar version of this and it is aptly demonstrated here and here. Another quality of this piece and Satie in general is there is a very soothing quality to his dreamy music. Satie was admired by guitarist/composer Frank Zappa and heavily influenced The New School of composers that included John Cage. Here’s a list of how different he was as a person…(he only ate white food). Interestingly enough, Satie himself was a humorist and didn’t take his music or music in general very seriously so it’s possible he heard all that he composed much differently than I do. There’s a chance he was being ironic! My god…could it be? The World’s First Hipster? Don’t laugh…I’m telling you, these men were influential.

Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz, two Spanish composers who were likewise contemporaries of Debussy, but also would probably not be considered Impressionists. Granados’ 12 Danzas (#11 is played by Evangelos and Liza above) were very popular in his time and he also wrote seven operas. Before he died in 1916 his most famous works, The Goyescas were influenced by works from Francisco de Goya. Albéniz was also a pianist and he composed the famous Iberia, a collection of virtuoso piano pieces. Both of these men were deemed Nationalist because their music was heavily influenced by, and meant to sound like Spain. This is why their music translates so well to guitar and sounds even more authentic on the guitar in some cases (at least to my ears) than it does on piano. Enrique Granados especially, produced very strident, masculine music, full passion, melody and virtuosity. I was exposed to both thanks to Julian Bream and John Williams adaptations on the Together and Together Again discs and they have covered these pieces on the YouTube. It’s possible that, at least according to Bream and Williams, Granados and Albéniz were Impressionists because Bream is quoted as saying:

“It is, however, his earlier pieces and in particular the Suite Española Opus 47 which initially brought Albéniz such fame and success in his lifetime. This Suite was published 1886. It consists of four highly impressionistic tone poems. The evocation of Granada -surely one of his most Idyllic pieces, the exhilarating portrait of Sevilla and the gay and bustling Saeta Cadiz.” (J. Bream 1982)

Sevilla is also the name of an absolutely bangin’ composition by The Rosenberg Trio and, of course, they are masters at playing exotic guitar-driven music. This performance is from the North Sea Jazz Festival and they are joined by outstanding percussionist Eddie Conard. Stochelo’s influences run far and wide, so I would not be surprised if he was/is influenced by Granados, Albéniz, Bream, Williams or any combination of the 4! Stochelo has also performed a few “tone-poems” of his own over the years and was probably inspired to do this through the music of Impressionist, classical, and flamenco guitar players as well as his main influence, Django Reinhardt. Here he is playing Just Relax; my first exposure to his composing genius and amazing guitar abilities. There are many Impressionist ideas used in this piece and the middle has a bit of Satie with the virtuoso underpinnings of Reinhardt.

The last composer of the group, Maurice Ravel, though younger than Debussy by 12 years, was often associated with him and Impressionism. Unfortunately, by the early 1900s factions would form around the two composers that would exacerbate the tension and sometime rivalry that existed between the two men, so their friendship, that had never been close to begin with, fractured. Ravel was not nearly the musical revolutionary that Debussy was, and was:

“…content to work within the established formal and harmonic conventions of his day, still firmly rooted in tonality—i.e., the organization of music around focal tones. Yet, so very personal and individual was his adaptation and manipulation of the traditional musical idiom that it would be true to say he forged for himself a language of his own that bears the stamp of his personality as unmistakably as any work of Bach or Chopin. While his melodies are almost always modal (i.e., based not on the conventional Western diatonic scale but on the old Greek Phrygian and Dorian modes), his harmonies derive their often somewhat acid flavour from his fondness for “added” notes and unresolved appoggiaturas, or notes extraneous to the chord that are allowed to remain harmonically unresolved. “

Ravel was a painstaking composer therefore his output was much less than many of his contemporaries and some works like Gaspard de la nuit, a suite of piano pieces, were very technically challenging pieces to play. Ravel was the only composer out of this group who lived late enough into the 20th century to experience, recognize and participate in recording music. I used to have this biography on the composer and two of the topics that are of special interest to modern guitar players is (as with Debussy) the use of the Pentatonic Scale and (for especially Ravel) the use of Modes (as related above). The book went into some detail and I actually applied it to my own playing when I started to use Modes. (Maybe this isn’t correct, but Satie always sounds very Lydian to me). Another view that pretty much restates what was originally outlined in my post on Debussy, courtesy of this website:

“After hearing the simple but powerful spells cast by the pentatonic scale (at theL’Esposition Universelle in Paris in 1889), Debussy and Ravel tried using them to “paint” gentle scenes of water, clouds, and fog, thus ridding themselves of the old fashioned rules and structures…

“The improvised quality of these Impressionist pieces must have seemed like a pretty radical idea back them because most European ears had been accustomed to hearing music as a series of predictable events, much like what you experience today in a movie or television show. By 1900, the French Impressionist composers had gotten rid of distinct musical narratives and were using the newly “discovered” pentatonic scales to portray hazy and ill-defined without much traditional melody or even a sense of beat. They were creating trance pieces that relied on the timbres (sound color) of various instruments to canvey mood rather than melodies. Typical titles were, Nuages (Clouds) by Debussy and Jeux d’Eau (The Play of Water) by Ravel.”

– From The Wisdom of the Hand: A Guide to the Jazz Pentatonic Scales by Marius Nordal, (Sher Music, 2015)”

Ravel’s most famous composition was Bolero, which was originally supposed to be an orchestration of Albeniz’s Iberia (mentioned above). Ravel instead decided to compose something completely original and hit upon the idea of having a single theme and a relentless rhythmic build-up for the entire 16-minute piece. Scandal and Success ensued! Success because it was his most popular and maybe influential work; scandal because it was his least favorite because he didn’t consider the work up to his usual standard.

Django Reinhardt was probably the first guitarist and certainly the most well-known musician of his time to begin applying the styles of modern classical music and Impressionism to his own very (non) classical music style. While Django was certainly a fan of many types of music and artists ranging from Bach to Louis Armstrong, he was quoted early in his career:

“Jazz attracted me because in it I found a formal perfection and instrumental precision that I admire in classical music, but which popular music doesn’t have.”

In 1937 Django recorded his own Bolero based on Ravel’s Bolero from 1928. Django’s recording did not feature his usual “Hot Club” partners, including Stephane Grappelli. It was performed (and arranged) by Django with three trumpets, two trombones, a flute and three violins. His performance simultaneously calls to mind Ravel’s piece and anticipates a future Jeff Beck. The driving rhythmic build-up and the sad melody seem to echo Ravel but then there are sudden stops with bursts of Phrygian lines played by violins and then Django’s guitar. Django’s Bolero was received with great acclaim and it was here that he became much more than just a jazz player. This is the point those who want to argue Charlie Christian vs. Django Reinhardt always miss. Charlie for all his talent never reached this level of composition or recognition for his ability to do so. Not only was this the first step in Django’s emerging career as a serious composer, but it was also probably his first step forward influencing the future guitarists of the 60s and beyond.

The music of the 1960s was Rock coming into it’s own as an accepted artistic movement, sort of akin to what happened with jazz music in the 1930s and what happened as Modern/Impressionist composers were accepted in the late 19th/early 20th century. By 1965-66 The Beatles had allowed Baroque and Impressionist overtones to become a part of their music with songs like Michelle, Yesterday, Girl, and For No One. The influence of Eastern music, especially the Indian raga music of Ravi Shankar and others expanded the sounds of Psychedelia as did the advances in technology that allowed for distortion, wah-wah pedals and other tone benders to be employed to reshape the sound…And then there was the direct nod from guitarist Jeff Beck, who continued the tradition begun by Ravel and carried on by Reinhardt, by recording his own…Beck’s Bolero in 1966. But was it Beck? Was it Jimmy Page? Was it the first Led Zeppelin song? The controversy will continue forever:

“In a 1977 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Jimmy Page said: “On the ‘Beck’s Bolero’ thing I was working with that, the track was done, and then the producer just disappeared. He was never seen again; he simply didn’t come back. Napier-Bell, he just sort of left me and Jeff to it. Jeff was playing and I was in the box (recording booth). And even though he says he wrote it, I wrote it. I’m playing the electric 12-string on it. Beck’s doing the slide bits, and I’m basically playing around the chords. The idea was built around (classical composer) Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’ It’s got a lot of drama to it; it came off right. It was a good lineup too, with Keith Moon, and everything.”

Beck’s Bolero is a classic composition from the 60s and Beck still plays it all of the time. Jimmy Page performed his own ‘bolero’ on Led Zeppelin’s first album, with the pastiché song, How Many More Times. This song is also one of three tunes from the first album to feature Page’s violin-bowed guitar. Here is an exhaustive exploration on every possible bit and piece contained within the song (including the bolero) and there are many. How many people have rocked out to this tune over the years never knowing it can be traced back to a mild-manner French composer from the early 1900s? (The band launches into the ‘bolero’ at about the 7:00 minute mark in this performance at Royal Albert Hall in 1970)

So this snapshot of almost 100 years of music is pretty interesting and it illustrates how Impressionist composers and their peers from the late 1800s and early 1900s served two vital functions. First, they “bridged” the earlier (romantic) eras of Classical music with the what would become Modern Classical music. They lived and composed during a very transitional time, when the very atmosphere was pregnant with possibility. This is certainly audible in all of their musical creations, which feature unpredictable movement, spontaneous progressions, outrageous dissonance and, at times, uncertain harmony. Likewise, the jazz greats of the 30s and 40s forged a musical bond between the classical and the popular and brought their art from the salons to the nightclubs. This was also a time of great change and upheaval; musical, as well as social and political. The 1960s were also a time of great upheaval, but also an era of great expansion and advancement in music and art. The musicians and technicians of that decade forged new paths and developed new ways of creating and playing music that served as a model for decades. Even today, though hard to find sometimes, there are still musicians rewriting the rules of yesterday and breaking new barriers to create new sounds. More than 100 years later, Impressionism still serves as an example and an inspiration to change, dynamism and inventiveness.

The Death of the Electric Guitar (Slight Return)

Last summer I wrote this fine article on the DEATH OF THE ELECTRIC GUITAR because it was a terrifying, tumultuously timely story, affecting every guitarist in the land, right? Well, kind of, sort of, I guess. I wasn’t sure then, I’m less sure now. Would you like to know my thought process and the various bits of info I have gathered on the subject? Well, you might want to read the original article first, but if you already have (or in your head said “Go eff yourself, I don’t need to do that!”) away we go:

In the original article I tried to point out that many of these articles want to go all DOOMPORN as if the end of a few companies equals the end of rock and roll, the end of music…or the end of the world! It begs the question: Will Alex Jones be commenting on this issue at some point in the near future? Will the collapse lead to the Zombie hordes taking over or everyone living like the Road Warrior? I don’t think Guitar Center going out of business (if that happens) will lead to the end of the world, but WHAT IF? Can’t we just go back to the days when millions of dudes “rocked out” and everybody listened to the cutting-edge, magically sublime sound that was Warrant? I wish we could, but there is lots to talk about, like…

The other issue(s) that I explored rather humorously in the original post were a) how lack of “live” heroes equaled huge loss in revenues for the guitar industry (so let’s use holograms), and b) how Guitar Center and that model of business never resonated with me and finally c) maybe the finance guys and the people writing these articles are kind of full of poop. Well I’ve got new information man…certain things has come to light… In just the past few months there have been articles further detailing the plight of Gibson and Guitar Center. On May 1st Gibson filed for bankruptcy protection, which includes:

The change in control will give noteholders equity in a new company, replacing stockholders including Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz, who owns 36 percent of the company, according to the filing. Those noteholders include Silver Point Capital, Melody Capital Partners LP, and funds affiliated with KKR Credit Advisors. Juszkiewicz and company president David Berryman will continue with the company upon emergence from Chapter 11 “to facilitate a smooth transition during this change of control transaction and to support the Company in realizing future value from its core business,” according to the announcement.

Doesn’t the language in that paragraph make you want to staple your face to your jacket lapel? Me, I’m to-ta-lly convinced turning Gibson Guitar over to companies named stuff like Silver Point Capital is just going to make everything crackerjack okay-fine. I’m not the most brilliant financial mind going, but according to Wikipedia, current CEO of Gibson Brands Henry Juszkiewicz , “acquired Gibson in 1986 for $5m USD with Gary A. Zebrowski and David H. Berryman” and now given that they are looking at about 500 million in debt, I’m going to have to say that financial mismanagement could maybe, probably, be an issue. Either that or somebody sprang for WAAY too many pizza lunches and took WAAY too many cabs to work. Also, as of 6/23/18 this was posted on his Wikipage: Juszkiewicz poor management of Gibson has caused a steady decline in the company, eventually leading to the company filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of 2018. (Holy Glass Ceiling Batman!). Then… there is the Guitar Center saga. A few years ago, Bain Capital (you know that name because Mitt Romney), invested heavily in Guitar Center and they also invested heavily in Toys R Us…that iconic toy brand that just closed all 730 of it’s domestic stores.

WHOOOPS!

In this article, titled Bain Capital Sees Three Investments Stumble, we see what is typically called…I think, bullshit? Right? Right? Because having one company that you are heavily invested in close ALL of its domestic stores sounds more like a full-on face-plant, not a… “stumble”. The other company, Guitar Center, is currently “stumbling” with one billion dollars in debt. *Breathtaking*. Of course Gibson and Guitar Center’s fortunes are intertwined and both companies need people to buy, buy, buy guitars if they are going to reduce their debt loads. So, while a lower number of people buying Gibon guitars at Guitar Center is not a good sign in general, it’s an even worse sign now…because DEBT.

But, of course, the finance guys never admit they messed up. Slow sales is all your going to hear and that isn’t any surprise. Another factor is there are a lot of old people involved in the conversation and you know Old People — They are ANNOYING! Back in the day they were easy to avoid; you didn’t visit except on Thanksgiving. But now old people in the form of so called “music gurus” are weighing in on the fortunes of these companies and it’s a whole lot of LOL. Are these guys genuinely clueless, too old to keep up, or are they full of it because they are heavily invested in the industry mantra that it wasn’t financial mismanagement… it was the lack of new guitar heroes? Let’s go to some quotes and you be the judge:

I would be hard-pressed to name any new ones,” (guitar heroes) George Gruhn, owner of the Gruhn Guitars shop in Nashville, told the Daily News. “You’ve got Joe Bonamassa who is a great player. But he isn’t selling as many guitars as the other big time heroes. And Eric Clapton is arthritic. He’s having difficulty playing and is retiring from touring.”

Gruhn was quoted in my original article and he seems to be the go-to guy for all of these articles. Question: Why mention Clapton? He is 73 years old. People who are 73 shouldn’t be expected to drive youth trends and young people are not going to emulate 73 year olds in 2018. This is not rocket surgery. Personally, I don’t believe Eric Clapton “sold” a lot of guitars to players from the late-80s until now just like I don’t believe Lou Reed sold very many Shure microphones, even though here is an ad that features him trying to do just that. Speaking of Lou, did you know he had a mullet at one point? I had kind of forgotten that. That is a mighty fine mullet. Can’t we just return to the good old days of Lou Reed: The Mullet Years? Actually, no we can’t because George has more to say: Here is another quote from George that makes you wonder if he ever heard the term “cognitive-dissonance”:

Baby boomers are the best customers I’ve ever had. They’ve driven a lot of the guitar trends, but they are aging and many of them are downsizing their guitar collections,” Gruhn added. “This doesn’t mean that guitar sales are dying, but instrument sales in general are under stress.”

He continues:

Gruhn acknowledged that the demand for both acoustic and electric instruments has fallen. “I think the guitar market was built up into a bubble at a pace that was unsustainable,” he said. “It’s leveled off to something that reflects more normalcy. Factories that were designed to produce 100,000 instruments a year may now find that their demand has dropped to 75,000, and that’s a problem because now you have higher overhead.”

Not so fast says Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender Instruments:

Sales of fretted instruments are in great shape and Fender’s electric guitar and amp revenues have been steadily rising for several years,” he said…“electric sales are holding steady, acoustic sales are on the rise, and ukelele sales are exploding.”

MY GOD!! EXPLODING UKELELE SALES! Take that George Gruhn, guy who probably slaps a Trucoat® finish on the instruments you sell. Maybe it’s my mistake for taking these guys seriously. They are being ironic? sarcastic? with all of these articles saying “WE NEED A NEW GUITAR HERO”. What they really mean is “HOLY SHIT WE ARE SO FUCKED!” Because if manufacturers have been cranking guitars out at that volume for years, and you factor in all of the used electric instruments from the 50s through today currently available, PLUS all of the instruments Baby Boomers are dumping (and want to dump) on the market, at what point does every American family need to have 12 kids just to give every electric guitar a home? I don’t think Eric Clapton can fix this! Through the years I think I had 22 string instruments and I only ever bought 4 brand new ones and I started buying in the 70s. Since I have known a lot of guitar players over the years I can say with confidence that my experience isn’t unique. So, in addition to financial mismanagement, a completely over-saturated market (which I alluded to in the original piece) is also a component to this tragedy.

Another interesting aspect to this Los Angeles Times article that wants to address “changing tastes” is the very predictable notion that the solution to too big to fail is…more too big to fail. There’s a three-step progression at work here that’s pretty insidious, unless you find it hilarious; the two emotions are not necessary mutually exclusive. The first step are the sellers with the Muh Generation bullshit. The second step is that this generation can’t do it on it’s own and this is articulated by one Louie Concotilli, owner of Mugzey Music:

The bigger problem, according to Concotelli, is that most aspiring players don’t want to put in the time to become proficient on the instrument…“If they do want to learn they’ll just go to YouTube, but they’re not getting the proper instruction,” he said. “…kids these days, it’s all about instant gratification. No one wants to take six months or a year to learn. They don’t want to do the work.”

Who else is sick of these friggin’ kids at this point? Bunch of lame-bodies for sure. Not only does this generation (unlike prior generations) need guidance and help learning, but they also need A BIG FRIGGIN KICK UP THE ASS SO THEY DO THE WORK! So here we reach the third step. A solution in the form of a chain, courtesy of Corporate America:

One of the brighter spots in the industry these days can be found in School of Rock, a Canton, Massachusetts-based chain of 207 music schools which span 10 countries worldwide. Elliot Baldini, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, said the schools are designed to draw students in by giving them more of what they actually want to learn.

Right…because a chain of 207 music schools is how all of those Baby Boomers, including Eric Clapton, learned how to play. Because no one learns on YouTube, where a search for “Guitar Lessons” pulls up 14 million results and where some instructors (including some I list on this blog) have upwards of a half-million subscribers. Because on YouTube you can’t ever find that song that you actually want to learn, even though it’s designed to be user-driven. Because you need a chain of two-hundred+ schools to teach people music and that’s a bright spot in the industry. I believe that the guy mostly responsible for guitar sales in the Golden Age (the 80s) was Van Halen, not Eric Clapton, although curiously Edward is never mentioned as a driver of guitar sales in these articles. When he and his band came on the scene in 1978 he was playing a piece of crap guitar with one pickup and one knob that he built himself. The industry responded by building and selling a whole bunch of guitars patterned on his design. “The industry,” even when it tries to sell the idea that it “leads,” usually “responds”. Maybe they could respond by doing something else Edward Van Halen did. He donated a whole bunch of his guitars to low-income schools so young people who might not have the finances or exposure in their home have a chance at learning how to play the instrument. If every school in America had some guitars in it that would certainly get rid of a whole lot of inventory, wouldn’t it? That would also get rid of the problem of “nobody” playing guitar. Don’t I have great ideas? They should give me a cabinet position in Washington!

All kidding aside — and that was a lot of kidding you just read through (whew!) — I’m not disputing the charge that fewer guitars have been sold in the past ten years (to 2008), but I don’t think you can directly relate that to whether less people play guitar, especially world-wide. It would be really interesting to see industry sales stats going back to the 1950s when rock n’ roll exploded! I’m not the only person who is cognizant of the fact that instrument sales probably were not a straight-line increase from the time the Les Paul came on the market until 2008 when sales (at least as far as the data we can see) started slipping. If you’ve been around long enough you certainly remember companies and guitar models from back in the day that have no sales stats today because they haven’t existed for a long time. Who buys a Mouse Amp these days? Do you remember the Aria Pro II? That company still exists! See, how bad can things really be then? I believe there have been these peaks and valleys throughout the past half-century, and would be very surprised if there were not some very slow sales in the late 70s and late 90s too. It’s the nature of the world we live in that there are cycles and changes. There have always been people who have tried to make people aware of these facts and what the future might portend and a few of these people were quite famous, including The Geico Caveman…no seriously…David Bowie.

Around the 1:45 mark he talks about brands and subgroups and genres and how the music business has fractured from where it was in the 60s and 70s when definite BIG artists and one or two different ways of doing things were the rule. In the 70s if someone wanted to play music there were limited options compared to now. Of course the business behind those limited options was HUGE because everyone had just those choices, but a whole lot of people wanted to be in the business. Obviously a whole lot of people still want to be in the music and entertainment business, but today there are many more ways to go about that. Saying Eric Clapton over and over again is not going to solve any of the current problems and may in fact be part of the reason these problems arose in the first place. Remember…there were plenty of people who worked at record companies in the 1990s saying “Ho ho ho FILE SHARING is nothing to worry about!” But those people don’t exist anymore. Gene Simmons killed them. So you see…adapting is very important.

The fact is, there are guitar heroes out there who aren’t household names like Clapton or Van Halen, yet they influence people through the magic of their talent, presence and music. Gypsy Jazz players I have written about on this blog, Stochelo Rosenberg and Stephane Wrembel, to name just two, are the reason I bought a new guitar a few years ago. Just have a look at all of these other people and their guitars that they had to buy from somebody because it’s pretty hard to make a Selmer-Maccaferri type guitar on your own. (Although some can people do it). Gypsy Jazz wasn’t even really a genre of music until the 1990s and now people spend some serious coin on guitars and all manner of peripheral equipment so they can go out and get their swing on. I mention this genre because I know something about it. There are many other genres and sub-genres out there (just like Bowie said there would be) that I know nothing about because I’m old or haven’t been exposed to them. The Gypsy Jazzers are not going to get Guitar Center out of trouble, and neither will the players in these other smaller genres, but they certainly make it possible for other people to have a business and make a living. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it has always been! God Bless America! It’s not all about the numbers! It should be about the quality and creative solutions, because they are out there. If I can think of a few, you know there are plenty more. If not, there is always 2112!