Archive for the Players Category

ShortRiffs — July/August 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the July/August issue of ShortRiffs — the monthly column that focuses on all the guitar, music and life things going on around The Guitar Cave. Summer 2017 is almost finished…time flies, doesn’t it? One thing that has been grand is all of the summer season fruits and vegetables this year have been excellent! I guess the right combo of sun and rain has really produced a bumper crop! Totally enjoying it!

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Terrifying news items from the internet: The slow, secret death of the electric guitar! I’m not sure that it has been either slow or secret, at least if you’ve been paying attention, are of a certain age, or, read blogs like The Guitar Cave. I certainly have written about this topic, although maybe in not so dramatic terms. Anyhow, we have a Washington Post article: WHY MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric and why you should care. The article included a burning guitar graphic in case the over-the-top title wasn’t enough. The author, Geoff Edgers, is also interviewed on NPR here and it’s kind of a rehash of his article repackaged as Why Does The Electric Guitar Need A Hero? What is sending everyone into a panic is not the fact that guitars aren’t being made or being played. In actuality, too many are being made and they aren’t selling. Probably…too many people think “GAME” when they think “Guitar Hero”, but anyhow…some quotes:

…In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt. And at Sweetwater.com, the online retailer, a brand-new, interest-free Fender can be had for as little as $8 a month.

Things Aren’t Like They Used To Be!

So the guitar isn’t hip anymore? Looks that way, doesn’t it? A half million guitars a year is 33% of sales and that’s a pretty big percentage. However, it seems that the business landscape of the USA isn’t quite as rosy as some would have you believe. There are a lot of retail industries in trouble right now. There was a certain prosperity happening back in the 80s and 90s and that enabled brisk instrument sales. I know, everyone in government says the country recovered from the big 2007-08 recession. Is this true? I don’t know. Another thing — I’ve never fully embraced Guitar Center as I’ve related in posts here, here and here. While I’ve tried to accept that stores like this are how we do business now, I’m about as comfortable there as the people in this clip from the 1996 movie, Fargo: Yea Baby…Dig that TruCoat Finish!

As Guitar Center was ascending (at least where I live), the independent music stores were closing down and I liked and patronized those stores. They did me right over many years of buying, selling, trading, jawing and hanging out. Also, anyone who had been in the scene for a while was cognizant of the fact that as this brick and mortar landscape was changing, the next generation(s) weren’t forming bands and turning out to shows — at least not in great numbers. Plus, this was around the time that whole blazer over the hoodie thing was in fashion…The first guy I saw with that outfit carrying a guitar was a death-knell for rock and I knew it at the time. Anyhow, according to people like George Gruhn:

…What worries Gruhn is not simply that profits are down. That happens in business. He’s concerned by the “why” behind the sales decline. When he opened his store 46 years ago, everyone wanted to be a guitar god, inspired by the men who roamed the concert stage, including Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page. Now those boomers are retiring, downsizing and adjusting to fixed incomes. They’re looking to shed, not add to, their collections, and the younger generation isn’t stepping in to replace them.

Gruhn knows why.

“What we need is guitar heroes,” he says.

Another factoid:

And starting in 2010, the industry witnessed a milestone that would have been unthinkable during the hair-metal era: Acoustic models began to outsell electric.

The hair-metal era was a long time ago. Those guys are now in their 50s and 60s. Aren’t there any hot younger guitar players who could be called today’s heroes? YouTube is full of people who have obviously put hella time into getting great on their instrument of choice. Could there be something else going on here? At the beginning of the quoted article Gruhn is at the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants Show) show and opines that:

“There are more makers now than ever before in the history of the instrument, but the market is not growing,” Gruhn says in a voice that flutters between a groan and a grumble. “I’m not all doomsday, but this — this is not sustainable.”

Call me crazy, but maybe the solution is less makers? I dunno. While one could say that Hendrix, Clapton, and Page in the late 60s (or the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show) and Edward Van Halen in 1980 caused a whole lot of guitars to be bought, the sales of the instrument could be thought of as a by-product of some pretty big cultural changes too. Most of the cultural changes post-1992 haven’t involved guitars or musical instruments at all. If so, that probably accounts for some of the missing 33% of sales. There was also probably always a 5-15% demographic that bought themselves or their kids guitars and those guitars never left the closet, but in this day and age, why not just buy an iPad? The guitar biz is like the music biz in that it is full of people with economic expectations…that maybe aren’t so realistic. Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan) is hitting the road again because in this era of streaming music, no one is buying albums. But the dude is 69…who exactly should buy his albums? 20-year olds? The people who were 20 when Steely Dan recorded The Royal Scam? When he is on the road will he be selling out stadiums? Probably not. Artists and guitar companies from the glory days of rock have counted on a steady revenue stream in perpetuity, but things aren’t working out.

There is, however, a very futuristic and twisted solution (depending on your point of view) on the horizon, proffered by cutting-edge technologies. The late Ronnie James Dio, who passed away in 2010, is going on tour as a hologram! Take that Donald Fagen! While it looks convincing enough to get people out, not everyone is on board, (like most of the headbangers at Blabbermouth). But, some people are receptive, and once the exploitation thing kind fades who can’t see this taking off? And projecting the possibilities out…can a 2019 tour of the Jimi Hendrix Experience be far behind? I mean, why not? I always wanted to see them live! This might be just what Guitar Center needs to get people in the door! I’m kidding and I find the whole thing a bit creepy, but it does illustrate the crazy world we’re living in and, of course, other people feel totally positive about it! Look at the art world — all of the “late” artists are way more valuable than most of the current ones. Is this going to be a new paradigm? Time will tell.

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A new book on the market that details the history of Progressive Rock! Yea! David Weigel’s, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock is all about those crazy days of the heady, halcyon 1970s. In case you’re in the dark about what exactly Prog Rock is, a list of the 50 top albums can be found here, and there are some really great albums on that list. Prog bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Rush, Genesis, ELP, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, were the bane of critics (and later, punk rockers), but they were major top sellers and very popular with many fans, especially in the USA. The book has elicited a few reviews, like this thoughtful musing in the New Yorker, The Persistence of Prog Rock:

Progressive rock, broadly defined, can never disappear, because there will always be musicians who want to experiment with long songs, big concepts, complex structures, and fantastical lyrics.

And…

Nowadays, it seems clear that rock history is not linear but cyclical. There is no grand evolution, just an endless process of rediscovery and reappraisal, as various styles and poses go in and out of fashion. We no longer, many of us, believe in the idea of musical progress. All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the music of those who did.

Last fall I wrote about Pink Floyd’s Dogs, off of the Animals disc; a classic moment in Prog Rock history that I think is succinctly summed up by these two quotes from the New Yorker article. While there was certainly ostentation and excess to be found during this period in rock history, the best of the genre was well worth the slog through some of the not-so-good bits. Also, everyone knows that the best Prog guitarists: Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, Martin Barre, Robert Fripp, are some of the most influential guitar players who ever strapped on an axe.

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I wrote in last month’s ShortRiffs how I had been listening to Grant Green’s Matador album a lot and here is a cover of the title cut from that disc done by the Iwao Ochi Trio, a very happening Japanese guitar-organ unit. This is a sound I really like; the guitar and organ work really well together and, of course, this has been a thing in jazz going back to the days of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, who recorded a few albums with this configuration. Here is Iwao’s site, however it’s in Japanese so I’ll have to just listen to this really nice list of jazz standard playing found here. Also, speaking of Grant Green, I found a couple of sites that explore his style and even have a few tabs…here is one and here is the other. They are both from Italy but the second is in English and both have easy-to-understand music notation.

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Speaking of Asia…here are a couple guys from Indonesia and they totally rock! See how this guitar thing is just a world-wide phenomenon of great players? First up is Daniel Asbun and his cover of The Magnificent Seven theme is rockin’! He has a site here, with some tabs and fun stuff for the beginner/intermediate fingerstyle guitarist and it’s in English so if that is your cup of tea, check it out. He has an interesting selection of music tabbed — most of it I’ve never heard or heard of.

He also references the guy in the second video, Jubing Kristianto, as the arranger of The Magnificent Seven cover that he does. Jubing, who is also from Indonesia, has been a professional guitarist for many years and is a very accomplished one at that! He is the 4-time winner of the Yamaha Festival Guitar Indonesia. Here is his website (in English) and a list of his very awesome guitar performances. Great stuff!

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I saw on Facebook that super-guitarist Frank Vignola was in some kind of accident and was injured pretty badly. While he will recover, apparently it will be at least a year before he can work again. That’s a total bummer because he’s a great player. Hopefully, there won’t be any kind of long-lasting trauma that limits his abilities. If you have never heard of Frank check out the above clip or any one of his many instructional vids on YouTube. Also, if you would like to contribute to his gofundme that is here.

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Jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb recently passed away. He was an accomplished player as a member of Stan Getz‘s group, in Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker and on his own as a solo artist. A very tasteful player and great teacher who had obviously had a very cool and wry sense of humor (which is sometimes lacking in the music business) as the clip above demonstrates. (I sure could’ve used that first tip back in the day)! Below is a great solo take on Stompin’ at the Savoy.

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Finally, I like to listen to the swinging sounds of Space Age Pop, Bachelor Pad or Exotica online at Illinois Street Lounge on the soma FM Network. Music from this style released in the (1950s-1960s) combines elements of jazz, pop, Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean rhythms with very strange instrumentation like the theremin and all of the studio trickery available at the time. The arrangements are soft and slightly cheesy or silly.

Spaceagepop.com offers a real primer on all of the sub-genres under this umbrella of mid-20th century music and it’s pretty interesting to read and listen to. Back when I was a kid, many of the big names of this music were listed on the record sleeves of (especially) albums from Columbia. They included Ferrante & Teicher, Enoch Light (and the Light Brigade), Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and Henry Mancini. We had the Whipped Cream album — that was a total mystery in sound and picture for an 8-9 year old kid. As it turns out shaving cream was used on the iconic cover because whipped cream turned runny under the lights. But that racy image works with the style of the music, which is playful, seductive and naughty.

There is a full list of Space Age Pop artists here and what is interesting is the guitar player names that jump out: The Ventures, Chet Atkins, Jerry Byrd, Mundell Lowe (who I wrote about here), Al Caiola, Tommy Tedesco, and Tony Mottola. All of these guys are six-string legends and got a lot of work in the studios for the composers and bandleaders who produced the music. That’s why right in the middle of some really off-the-wall Space Age Pop rendition of some jazz standard there will some great guitar work and it’s usually one of these guys doing it. Some of the music is very much like The Ventures or The Shadows and other instrumental stuff of the time. It was a very interesting and optimistic period in American music history and it never fails to make me feel like I’m on top of the world. Give it a listen and feel the magic!

Glen Campbell Passes Away

Posted in Players, Playing with tags on August 8, 2017 by theguitarcave

While it was not unexpected, Glen’s passing is very poignant, not only for his family and all of his fans, but for the fact that he died on my late mother’s birthday. As I wrote here last year, I first saw Glen watching him on television because my parents liked his show. He was a unique talent, a presence on so many pivotal recordings and entertainment spots for decades. He had the whole package and his fans know what a HUGE loss this is. Not only that, he had the courage to go out on tour and take it to the people while he was suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Courage and Kindness! What. A. Guy!

ShortRiffs — May/June 2017

Posted in Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the May/June issue of ShortRiffs — the monthly column that focuses on all the guitar, music and life things going on around The Guitar Cave. I have a pretty jam-packed issue this month, including some very sad news. As always, though, thank you! for your continued patronage.

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The news about Chris Cornell was just terrible — a very sad situation. He was an extremely talented singer, writer and guitar player. I’ve been a fan for a long time. Soundgarden is some the best music to be released in the last 25 years and I spent many an hour back in the day playing those riffs with complete and utter rock abandon. That is one reason I recently profiled Soundgarden’s Head Down as a GuitarSong. The band represented everything that is GREAT about heavy and dynamic guitar rock and, of course, Chris’ talent and vision was a huge part of that heaviness. He fought bravely against the demons that populate the nightmare landscape of the mind and in the process, gave the world a whole lot of great music. I hope he has found peace.

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One of the best things about Facebook and YouTube is how easy it is to see awesome videos like classical Vietnamese guitarist Thu Le practicing. She takes “relax while you practice” to a whole new level! People all over the world are fanatical about playing guitar and reaching high levels of ability and achievement! Isn’t that great? I think it’s fantastic. Classical guitar played well just doesn’t sound like anything else! Since graduating from the Hanoi National Conservatory of Music in 2001 Thu has become an internationally acclaimed artist. She has lots of great videos on YouTube and I’ll be looking for her to keep bringing her \m/ classical riffing to the masses!

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Last year I wrote a post on Barney Kessel and I have his Yesterday album reviewed in the right column on the blog’s main page. Though this disc has been a long-time favorite of mine, recently I went on a daily listening jag and, in the process, learned most of his licks from the Beatles’ cover Yesterday, the namesake of the disc. I’ve also been playing through his cover of Old Devil Moon. In addition to the Yesterday licks from Barney’s version, I have also been incorporating licks from another version I found on YouTube from Helmut Kagerer. I have no idea if he based his version on Barney Kessel, but it’s close enough for me! Solo Yesterday is absolutely a fun little piece to play once you start getting it under your fingers. Here is the Barney recording on YouTube and Helmut’s is below. Below that is a nice little run through of the head and a chorus or two of Old Devil Moon by a gent named Alessio Menconi. Very nicely done. Great feel and sound on the solo! So if you ever have a desire to play either of these songs, this will get you started for sure!

And furthermore…HERE is a podcast of Barney solo guitar that was recorded in a restaurant in the early 1980s with just a few people hanging out. Barney also cracks jokes and shares his philosophy on life and guitar. The audio isn’t great, but a really cool find and some great solo playing!

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Speaking of Barney Kessel, here he is with two other jazz guitar monsters — Kenny Burrell and the one and only Grant Green. I think these are the only videos online of Grant Green playing live so they’re pretty meaninful. Kenny and Barney are both fantastic players and they have a HUGE presence on “The Tube“. I found myself wondering the other night how many gigs did Barney play with that Gibson ES-350 of his? In case you didn’t see, here he is talking about it.

Back to Grant Green though…I have his Matador and Standards discs. I have been listening to the Matador disc quite a bit recently. Green is not your typical jazz guitarist; some would probably his soul/funky blues lines too rudimentary or limited in a real jazz setting and there are definitely times on the Matador disc when McCoy Tyner almost overwhelms because of Tyner’s ability to dazzle with his piano chops and bend the harmonies of all the tunes in so many different directions. Green is a very rhythmic guitarist and makes great use of time and space, does not employ many chromatic lines and uses repeat figures as motifs in all of the tunes. The end result is a very modal, angular improvisation that is beautifully articulated on all tracks. His sound was a very mid-range; part Charlie Christian, part blues, achieved by using a Gibson 330, a Fender Twin (at times) and, doing this (Barney Kessel had a similar sound). The Matador album also features the great Elvin Jones on drums, and Bob Cranshaw on bass and along with the aforementioned McCoy Tyner. All of these guys are jazz legends and the ensemble sound is great! Featured is Green’s low-down version of My Favorite Things, which, at the time, (early 60s) was John Coltrane‘s song. (His recording also featured Tyner and Jones). Other tracks include the righteous 11+ minute workout Bedouin, the chitlins-circuit style cut Green Jeans and funky-jazz title cut, which evokes all of the atmosphere of a smoky, early 60s jazz club. This is a hot quartet firing on all cylinders believe you me and I love the SOUND of these early 60s records. Totally cool!

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BonaFide Rock Legend Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers has also passed away. Damn! My blog is turning into the Blog of Death or something…I’ve written on the Brothers a few times — pretty much everyone from my generation was influenced or at least heavily aware of the musical greatness of this band and all of the people associated with it. The earliest musical jamming situations I was in were influenced by The Allman Brothers and One Way Out is one of the first songs I played a good solo on. Greg and his very influential brother, Duane, along with Dicky Betts, Butch Trucks (who died in January), Berry Oakley and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson created a few new styles of rock and in the process became one of the most important American bands to come out of the riotous 1960s. As I wrote in GuitarSong #3 the Brothers music still (and will always) have the power to move people. I witnessed this myself not that long ago. The fusion of different musical styles and elements that became the foundation of ABB’s music is so transcendent, and such an important part of the American music fabric.

Over the years so many other great players, including Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Allen Woody helped continue the ever-evolving musical sojourn / road trip that was The Allman Brothers. While Gregg was known mostly as the band’s lead vocalist and B3 organ player, he did play guitar and wrote quite a few tunes on guitar, including the mega-classic, Melissa. While he had been in ill-health lately, some years before he had successfully purged himself of the substance demons that had dogged him for most of his life. He died peacefully at home and hopefully…fully aware of the amazing legacy that he has left in his wake.

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I follow Denis Chang (who I’ve written about here, here, and here) on Facebook and not only is he a great musician and savvy businessman, but his knowledge of music and transcription is impressively effin’ BOSS if you ask me. This video is an educational demo of the finer points of transcribing some tricky stuff from jazz legend Pat Martino using the Sibelius app. Denis and his crew crank out a mega-load of musical excellence every year and you can peruse the very fine DC Music School catalog here.

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My sister gave me this book, Dreaming the Beatles, a new take on the Fab Four, written by Rolling Stone reviewer and author of other stuff, Rob Sheffield. While I do enjoy reading about the Beatles’ music, I should’ve avoided this one, but it was a gift and…I was trying to keep an open mind. I imagine people who aren’t musicians or people who like reading about pop culture will like this more than I did, but I’m just speculating. The point of the book, as described on the Amazon page:

…is a collection of essays telling the story of what this ubiquitous band means to a generation who grew up with the Beatles music on their parents’ stereos and their faces on T-shirts. What do the Beatles mean today? Why are they more famous and beloved now than ever? And why do they still matter so much to us, nearly fifty years after they broke up?

None of these questions really interest me and this is the type of book where you either like the author or you don’t and if you don’t, you won’t like the book because the author is a major part of the story. Which sucks. Because I wanted to read about the Beatles. I honestly can’t tell if the book is a gigantic troll-job or if the author is looking for his own talk show or a kaffeeklatch with Oprah. He’s way too emo for me. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about himself and how he relates to the Beatles and then tries to insinuate this is how all people relate to the Beatles…or should. (This is the methodology of how we are supposed to arrive at the answers to the questions the book poses). At times his anecdotes in this regard veer completely off the rails, like this example from a chapter titled, The Scream:

When I listen to Hollywood Bowl, I do not imagine being one of the Beatles; I fantasize about being a girl in the upper-balcony cheap seats, ripping out my hair and shrieking, tapping into the eternal gnosis that not even the boys in the band could ever know.

See what I mean about being too emo? I’m not sure why a guy in his 50s (as the author is) would be fantasizing about shrieking like a teenage girl. In 40+ years of listening to the Beatles, playing Beatles music for people, and knowing other Beatles’ fans I have never heard anyone, male or female, of any age, express similar sentiments. The above sentence is prefaced by another doozy: any fan who claims they don’t share this desire has to be lying. Whatever. The author also attempts rewrite Beatles’ history and/or interpret Beatles lyrics in the same out-of-left-field manner, sometimes with truly bizarre results. Like this little gem about the songs My Love and Something.

“Something” became George’s greatest hit, as well as the one that made John and Paul most jealous. It was the first time the Quiet One got the A-side of a single. Oh, how it must have burned Paul that he didn’t write this song. And that’s how “My Love” happened. (page 207)

There is no evidence to suggest that Paul McCartney’s My Love was anything but a heartfelt paean to his wife, Linda, but because Sheffield thinks My Love is the worst song (not even close) in the Beatles’/post-Beatles’ catalog he constructs this elaborate conspiracy theory that would make Alex Jones proud. What’s interesting is My Love was a bigger hit and was the #5 song for 1973. I’m not sure how a song that spent a month at #1 qualifies as the worst Beatle/post-Beatle song in any rational person’s universe.

There are many moments like this scattered throughout the book and it’s annoying. I can’t recommend the book and I don’t have the patience for this kind of music writing anymore because I can never completely suspend that inner voice that is telling me I’m being gamed.

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While we’re on the subject of the Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turns 50 this month. Of course a whole new package has been rolled out to commemorate the occasion, including a complete remix done by Giles Martin (son of George Martin). Here is an interview where he explains the process. I imagine the record sounds a lot different now; back in the day they had to bounce so many tracks down to just a few (I believe the original album was done on 4 tracks) so the sound panorama now is a lot more vivid. It must be an interesting listening experience. I have never liked Pepper as much as the earlier Beatles stuff, but I do think it was the last great Beatles’ record. I don’t know that I really need to hear an updated version though.

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Here is a fascinating clip — the original lineup of The Byrds, playing live on The Big T.N.T Show in late 1965. This performance captures all of the fantastic weirdness of this band and how amazing it is that they are always (rightfully) considered as possible candidates for best American band of all time. They influenced the Beatles, REM, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Eagles, The Smiths and many more. While they would go through many lineup changes and musical permutations, this is the classic group: Jim “Roger” McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clark. Often described as one of the most dysfunctional bands ever, they were only together for less than two years before things started falling apart. But by then their legacy was assured because of their unique sound.

Of course a very important component is the Roger McGuinn guitar sound — achieved with the 12-string Rickenbacker. Here is his explanation of how important compression was for the recording of his guitar sound. The ringing and very chiming effect can be many things simultaneously and over the course of the Byrds career it was; veering from early psychedelia and folk rock to jazz (Eight Miles High) and raga rock (Why) to country and country rock. He was already a very accomplished guitarist at this point and it didn’t hurt that he drew inspiration from a wide circle of influences. McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby harmonized very well together, but there was a raggedness about the band that recalls the lo-fi brilliance of the Velvet Underground. Michael Clark, by all accounts didn’t really play drums like a drummer, but in the vein of Keith Moon of The Who or Moe Tucker of The Velvet Underground; he made a rhythmic noise (that you can see people responding to in the clip). It’s not exactly your standard fare rock and roll of the time though. Crosby has stated that he and Hillman had to adapt their rhythms to fill in the gaps where the drums should have been, so of course this throws the music into a completely different thing from most bands:

Well the drummer couldn’t play…never could. He looked right but he never was a very good drummer, he was a nice guy. That’s one of the reasons I learned to play that chop and smack kind of rhythm because I had to learn how to play drums on the guitar. Somebody had to do and so it was me and Chris.

— David Crosby – Musicangle 2004

Even though the Byrds would develop into pretty good songwriters, and their music would evolve into many things, the band hadn’t really come into its own at the time of this performance and the limitations are evident. There are 3 songs and all three are covers; Mr. Tambourine Man was written by Bob Dylan, The Bells of Rhymney and Turn, Turn Turn were both adapted to song by Pete Seeger. All three songs are “folk” songs. All three songs are in the key of D major. All three are are about the same tempo (right around 110-114 bpm). McGuinn’s guitar, the somber lyric content, the close 3-part harmony, the tempo and their rhythmic chops give the whole performance a very druggy, out of focus sixties feel. McGuinn really was the original Stonerrocker, although I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate that characterization. 1965 was a pivotal year for rock and pop growing up and getting serious — The Beatles were recording Rubber Soul when this show was filmed. Of course the folkishness doesn’t stop the teenyboppers from having a good time. I’m sure they wanted to rock, or at least pop! like Beatlemania.

As I said above, Pete Seeger set the Idris Davies poem about a Wales mine disaster and General Strike to music and the verses of the Gwalia Deserta became the song The Bells of Rhymney. Pete was a giant of folk music; a spiritual presence who was an intense part of the American music fabric for almost 70 years. While he may be known more for the banjo and more subdued accompaniment, the above clip demonstrates that he knew how to get down on the old guitar too. That’s a pretty hot performance I think. It reminds me of what I talked about in these two posts about how interesting that coffeehouse sound of the 50s and 60s was. You have a wide range of artists and real happening guitar players like Davey Graham, Paul Simon, Charlie Byrd, Pete Seeger, Jerry Garcia, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and many more in various US and British cities who came up or got their start playing some semblance of folk or roots music in these small wine and coffee places. Folk, skiffle, jazz, blues, latin, and country all overlapped with some very interesting permutations. The Byrds took that all one step further into the pop, rock, acid rock, raga rock and country rock categories as their career went along. But it all kind of starts on an acoustic guitar, doesn’t it? Speaking of which, here’s another guy playing the blanky-blank out of The Bells of Rhymney. Great performance by John Denver — another very famous guitar guy from the folk / coffeehouse or cafehaus school of getting down on a 6-string.

ShortRiffs — April 2017

Posted in Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the April issue of ShortRiffs! I hope everyone out there is doing well and getting his or her guitar thang on! I have a couple of items for this month, including the news of Allan Holdsworth’s passing. As always, thank you for your continued patronage!

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Allan Holdsworth Legendary British shred king and all-around influential modern guitar hero passed away at age 70. He came on the scene in the 70s, playing with bands like Soft Machine and Tony Williams Lifetime and from the beginning it was obvious that his unorthodox, self-taught style was in a league of its own. He cited John Coltrane as his main influence and I think you can hear (and see) that in the clip above, or pretty much any Holdsworth performance. He really came into his own in the 1980s and it didn’t hurt that big-time players like Edward Van Halen and Frank Zappa sang his praises. Edward cited Holdsworth as an influence on solos like Fair Warning‘s Push Comes to Shove. You can read more about the Van Halen/Holdsworth relationship here.

While Allan never achieved wide fame and fortune, he kept true to his ideals as an artist and was a major influence on many a guitarist over the years. His credo was always about live musical excellence as he said in 1987: My music is written with one goal in mind: to improvise. It’s like explaining a great story in words, but without words, much faster than you could with words. It’s like a direct line of instantaneous communication where you don’t have to wait for the end.” This awesome talent and commitment he had for the guitar life is definitely what prompted his fans to come up with 6X the amount needed for his Crowdfunded Funeral Campaign in just 3 days! Pretty sad we live in a world where a virtuoso of his caliber could be in such rough financial shape, but there it is. There are many great live videos on YouTube, as well as some instruction stuff and it’s worth checking out. RIP to a great guitarist and musician!

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I had an opportunity to peruse Bill Wyman’s book Rolling with the Stones recently. Not only was Bill the bass player for the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World for 30 years, he was also a meticulous diarist, so the book is jam-packed full of fun and interesting facts and anecdotes. Well worth the price if you have been thinking about picking it up! One item that really caught my eye as I leafed through it was this quote in reference to the Gimme Shelter movie.

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I have never seen this before (which is surprising) but it actually confirms quite a bit about what I wrote in the post on the movie a few years ago. Attributed to Albert Maysles, this quote is from March of 1970, 4 months after the notorious Altamont concert. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of two well-known 60s counterculture movies: Easy Rider, a Peter Fonda-imagined scenario of “a modern Western, involving two bikers traveling around the country and eventually getting shot by hillbillies” and the Maysles reactive documentary of the Rolling Stones on their 1969 American tour. The obvious difference between the two is that an imagined scenario is not factual in the sense that most people define it, while the Rolling Stones tour of 1969 actually happened. So what was Maysles implying by this quote? Did the directors use the Easy Rider scenario as a framework for how the movie would handle the Altamont concert? Was this a commentary on the state of affairs of 1969 United States of America? Typical movie promotion?

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As I noted originally, it is important to realize that the Altamont concert that everyone got came about in part because of a dispute over film rights. The locale had to be moved at the last minute and that was partially the reason for how the Stones “found” America or why there was an “Easy Rider” angle in the first place. The Maysles quote equates the real violence, chaos and hippie bad vibes of Gimme Shelter with the scripted violence, chaos and bad vibes of Easy Rider, but a better-organized concert (that may or may not have included a film) might have gone off without a hitch and there would’ve been no tragedy to document and a different America to find. (If you are looking for a modern equivalent, look no further than the FYRE Festival). Gimme Shelter would have just been a concert movie with some backstage and studio moments with the band. Here is a quote from an excellent piece by film guru Godfrey Cheshire:

If the Maysles brothers are vulnerable to any charge, it’s that Gimme Shelter includes several scenes of Stones lawyer Melvin Belli (who had defended Jack Ruby for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald) and various management types negotiating the site of the concert yet never mentions its own influence on the events it chronicles. — emphasis mine

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So why I bring this up again is that I think it’s important to view this whole thing as two things; the Altamont concert (1) and, Gimme Shelter, the movie (2). They are not the same thing even though they have been interpreted as such. A similar idea might be Alfred Korzybski‘s the map is not the territory idea. Over the course of the last almost 50 years the Alamont concert has become synonymous with the downfall of the Love Generation. I recently read two items online that alluded to this well-accepted Bye Bye American Pie idea. However, the intention of my original post was that 1) some of what we understand about Alamont from Gimme Shelter and other sources is wrong; 2) the movie did not explore any of the complicated relationships that existed in the Bay Area counterculture; and 3) the counterculture was well on its way to imploding long before the Stones left for the ’69 tour. The fact that people still give much more weight to the event as the problem and not a manifestation of something that was already collapsing speaks not only to the power of the film, but also to it’s inadequacy. There were crucial elements left out of the narrative which make it’s standing as some kind of explanation for what went wrong in the late 60s lacking because (as Cheshire says above) of what it neglects to mention. We also will never know what visuals were not spliced into the finished reel. I’m not trying to go all Grassy Knoll Zapruder Film on this topic but the fact is no one who draws these huge conclusions about what Altamont MEANS was in the first 50 rows or backstage at the concert. Those conclusions have been drawn from this movie or from other people’s conclusions or the commonly-accepted conclusions drawn from this movie. That it might have been the desire of the film makers to make a definitive piece of 60s cinema (maybe or maybe not) in the vein of Easy Rider is understandable; that is what artists do. The problem occurs when the audience and the culture accepts the art as reality, which it isn’t. Gimme Shelter sort of aspires to reality, and many people accept it as reality, but at the end of the day, it’s only a movie.

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Here’s something else from the writing angle that I stumbled on while surfing: rockcritics.com, a (obviously) rock critic website that happens to include many former writers from Guitar Player Magazine. Good stuff — all of it! Lots of great reading and many clickable links! As I was reading through Jas Obrecht‘s entry I see that he has a new book coming out called Talking Guitar and it looks splendiferous! I always like Jas’s writing and remember many of his interviews vividly. He was the first guy to sit down with Edward Van Halen on his first assignment (after Pat Travers blew him off!). But he has also interviewed many others over the years and he always asked the right kind of questions and understood what people like me (and many others) out there wanted to know. In his twenty-year Guitar Player career he always delivered, so I think this book will be great! When I went out and did my own interviewing for a few years I know I was heavily influenced by what I read in the pages of Guitar Player. I was always determined to find out the choicest guitar player nuggets my subject could provide because that is what I wanted to hear and I knew that is what the readers wanted to read. I feel I owe a bit of a debt to guys like Jas and the others because they really showed us how it is done and done well, and I try to maintain those standards even today with this blog project. There is some really entertaining and informative writing at the critics site so have a looksee!

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Finally, a musical appreciation of sorts. I recently found a cassette of The Cars first album I’ve had forever. Great stuff. Always loved it. Back in the 80s I worked at a store in Soho and Cars’ guitarist Elliot Easton lived on the same block. I used to see him walking around a lot. We never had any involved conversations, just nodded or said “hey”. He was always friendly and pleasant, which was a rare commodity in 1980s New York.

The Cars had lots of great songwriting, fine ensemble playing and vocals and plenty of compact brillanté guitar. (Here is a great retrospective from Elliot). Easton was and is one of rock’s preeminent lefty guitarists and he comes from what I think of as the George Harrison School (he even quotes licks from I Will on My Best Friend’s Girl); use the solos and guitar parts to create either a song within a song or cool little counterpoint melodies. Fine stuff too, always very inventive. Plus, he and Ric Ocasek had lots of really cool guitars — they even made Dean Guitars look smart and respectable!

The store I worked in was pretty hip and it attracted a lot of celebrities. One afternoon Ric Ocasek came in with his girlfriend/wife, Paulina Porizkova. He stood at the door looking very ill at ease while she shopped. It was a bit funny because he is really tall and looks like Ric Ocasek. There are a lot of celebrities who can blend in, women without the outfit and make-up especially. I used to walk by famous people in Soho all of the time without doing a double-take. But you couldn’t miss Ric. He looked like he really didn’t like being there, so I never bothered him, but he kind of looks like that all of the time. Maybe he really enjoyed the place. Whatever. For ten years he, Elliot and the rest of the band provided a great soundtrack to a generation of people and all of that music still holds up. It was simultaneously familiar and futuristic in a very New Wave way and I can count many great memories while The Cars music was playing on the radio. Good Times!

ShortRiffs — March 2017

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the March issue of ShortRiffs! Winter is almost over and Spring has sprung…sometimes. As always, there is some guitar-related stuff in the news, including some sad stories for us older folks. But it’s to be expected… I guess. Time keeps on slippin’ into the future and all that.

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CHUCK BERRY One of the founding fathers of rock and roll has died at the age of 90. What a life! What a legacy! There will never be another like him you can be sure of that. Anyone who has ever read his autobio or seen Hail Hail Rock and Roll knows what an iconoclastic character Chuck was; a driven, intelligent and very dangerous guy! It’s not hyperbole to say that pretty much every guitar player who came after owes some debt to Chuck’s jazzy, rocking guitar style. This was explored and best explained by none other than Eric Clapton in the Hail Hail movie. The patented Chuck Berry double-stops, slurs and bluesy bends formed the basis for many an early fledgling guitar player and on certain songs or in certain situations they actually sound better than other guitar options. While Chuck didn’t invent any of this technique, he certainly popularized and took it out to the mainstream and sold it well. Who else from the early days of rock and roll casts as long a shadow? Chuck’s style and music continue to be an influence on countless rock and rollers all over the globe. He’s the guy who launched 5 million bands, easily. Interestingly, he has said that “rock and roll paid the bills but his heart was in the big band era”. This is something I have alluded to in a number of posts on this blog: The big band era never gets the credit it deserves for its influence on the rock and rollers who came along in the 1950s, and then everything else that followed.

But Chuck Berry was much more than a singing guitar-slinger. He was a songwriter par excellence and his music was quintessentially 1950s post-war America; hot cars, juke joints, pretty girls, hamburgers, dancing, wide open highways, falling in love, and rock and roll. It was the music of a country that had plenty to offer and was a testament to the belief (especially at the time) that there was no greater place on earth. That’s what I see in all of Chuck’s performances and hear in his music, even the difficult personal relationship music. As long as life gives me the opportunity, I will make something of it! That can-do attitude, immense natural scope, and awesome lifestyle possibilities that made America the envy of the world really helped create the soundtrack we all know as rock and roll and nobody personified, enunciated and delivered it better than Mr. Berry. In time many other entertainers, including Brian Wilson, Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney would expand on the very fertile ground that Chuck had tilled to create their own vision and version of the land of dreams and opportunity, but they all acknowledged the debt they owed to the original rock and roll Shakespeare! I am not unhappy that Chuck has left the building though the world is much poorer without him. Chuck always did what Chuck wanted to do when Chuck wanted to do it. If he is gone now, it’s because that is what he wanted and who am I to question what Chuck wanted? Long Live the King!

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Speaking of dreams and opportunities — Back in this post on Jimi Hendrix, I mentioned an old book in my possession, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. This book, Rock Dreams, one of the campiest and most far-out books ever done on the subject of rock and roll, has been in my possession for just as long. I recently found it at the bottom of a closet full of stuff. The book was written by Nik Cohn and illustrated lovingly, controversially and very gay-ly (for the time) by Guy Peellaert, an artist and illustrator probably best known for the David Bowie Diamond Dogs and The Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock and Roll album covers. The book had been put together the year before (1973) and according to Wikipedia it reportedly sold a million copies after it was published the following year. The book consisted of Peelaert’s visual illustrations which celebrated and exaggerated the rebel heritage of pop music and, particularly, rock and roll, with commentary by Cohn. Many of the original artworks were bought by actor Jack Nicholson. While the exaggeration is full-blown in some slides (as only the 1970s could be) the compositions and settings of some of the artists are really good. They transmit all of the visceral power that rock and roll promised and sometimes, delivered on. There are pics all over the web of this book, and it’s still available if you want to get your inner Rebel Rebel on!

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If you missed it, here is my review of the Django a Go Go concert that was held at the beginning of March at Carnegie Hall. My girlfriend and I had a magnificent time and we saw Stochelo Rosenberg (and Al Di Meola, Stephane Wrembel and many other great musicians)! It was totally a blast and we got our money’s worth of almost 3 hours of great guitar entertainment. Originally it was going to be part of the March ShortRiffs, but I go into a lot of detail. Check it out!

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Brian Setzer won Vintage Guitar Magazine Featured Artist of the Year. John Jorgenson came in right behind him in the same category. Both players stay incredibly busy and are at the top of the guitar-playing game so it’s great to see they are recognized! Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot tour is happening in the USA in June of this year.

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Unfortunately, according to his wife, Glen Campbell, who I wrote about here, has now lost the ability to play guitar because of his Alzheimer’s condition. While everyone knew this was coming, it is a bummer and as someone who saw a loved one die of a degenerative brain illness I can relate to the pain and frustration of the family and loved ones, and, of course, Mr. Campbell himself. I only hope that until the end he remains somewhat cognizant of how important he and his music were to so many people for so many years. As a guitar player, he was just fantastic and some of his songs are very memorable moments in the American pop song lexicon.