Players

Tidbits III

The above issue of Guitar World featuring Eric Clapton is from late ’89 and was one of the first I appeared as a writer of ROCK, so I’ve always kept it. There’s some decently cool photography with a retrospective-type interview (no, I did not conduct the interview). It’s also interesting that Tales of Brave Ulysses and Let it Rain are the songs transcribed and not one of EC’s hot 80s songs. I would imagine that the 60s-70s stuff remains the most popular guitar stuff even now.

Speaking of Let it Rain, I wrote a review for the album that it appears on; Clapton’s self-titled debut and you can read it here. This is an underrated album in my opinion and if you have never heard it, check it out if you’re a person who finds that early 70s bluesy roots sound even remotely interesting. Also, I have been on a mission to organize and update my reviews and I’ve moved all of my reviews that appeared as posts to the appropriate review sections.

Speaking of the bluesy, blues guitarist Otis Rush passed away last month at the age of 84. Otis had been unable to perform for years due to post-stroke health problems, but prior to that was (along with Buddy Guy) one of the last great bluesmen of the classic 50s era. Known as the architect of the famed Chicago West Side Blues sound, he found some success in the mid-50s and in the late 90s, when he won a Grammy for his Any Place I’m Going disc. He was an influence on many a rock guitarist and Led Zeppelin covered his song, I Can’t Quit You on their first album. His other well-known songs included Double Trouble, which inspired the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band and All Your Love.

I have written about Barney Kessel and Grant Green before and reviewed Barney’s Yesterday album here and his Blues album here. I’m planning some reviews of the Grant Green discs that I have, but in the meantime, the clip above is Grant and Barney playing with the equally amazing Kenny Burrell in France in 1969. I said last year that footage of Grant Green is very rare and then… this appeared! So start referring to me as The Summoner! And watch this clip! Three great guitarists at the top of their respective game who enjoy playing with each other. Doesn’t get any better. I’ve certainly seen a ton of Barney and Kenny tearing it up, but it’s great to see Grant on these tunes, especially the ballad, I Wish You Love! I love this tune anyway, but to hear Grant’s bluesy, post bop take on it is a departure from how it is normally played. Also, on most of his records he laid out when he wasn’t soloing, but he comps a lot on this video just in case anyone thinks he couldn’t. The format for this show has all of the players on the first and last blues tunes and they each get a ballad totally to themselves. That’s interesting and not something that’s seen very often, but I like it! They have their own very signature styles and to hear a tune completely like that without someone else trying to play on it makes for a complete experience…almost like a cut from an album. Plus they can take their time to develop the ideas. Barney’s spin on I’m Glad There Is You is glorious, and Kenny Burell’s Imagination is also killin’. He is such a smooth boss with some great quick pickin’ lines. I’m grateful for this upload and hope there is more in the future! It would be amazing if there is any footage of Grant playing classic Grant tracks.

Finally, former drummer for AC/DC and Dio, Simon Wright says Ronnie James Dio’s reworked hologram looks almost real! LOL! That’s just super-duper because whatever is going on in the video above doesn’t look real at all! Even if I squint! Dio’s wife and manager Wendy recently said a bunch of creepy stuff that echoes my Pet Sematary comparisons from the last post on this subject:

“I think that Ronnie was an innovator of heavy metal music, so why not be an innovator of technology?” she said. “And I think technology is coming a long way with holograms — a lot of people are doing it now. And I think the reason is because we are losing all of our innovators; everybody is getting older. And we need to keep them alive and keep their memory and their music alive. I think it’s a new way. It’s like when people first came out with a CD or a cassette: ‘Ooh, we don’t want that.’ But then it was the way of technology.”

Riiiiight! The world is losing innovators, so hologram! Totally. That sentence had me laughing for like 10 minutes. The Dio hologram will hit the road again in 2019 and a new version of PET SEMATARY is being released next year! Coincidence? The previews look scary! Tractor Trailers! Dark woods! Weird Lord of the Flies Children! An old John Lithgow! That all sounds terrifying to me! The movie tagline: Sometimes Dead is better! Are these people reading my blog? Stay tuned!

Update: The Guitar is Totally Not Dying!

(Would I lie to you?)

Over the past year I have posted a couple of times on the drama surrounding the financial difficulties of Gibson Guitar and Guitar Center, and the alleged cratering of the market for guitars that was going to result in The Walking Dead or a Music World Ruled by Holograms! (Nobody else is making the “hologram” connection, but that’s just the kind of hard-hitting journalism you should rightfully expect from THE GUITAR CAVE. Think I’m kidding? Watch this video and be frightened, outraged, and amazed!)

But we’re not here to talk about holograms, we’re here to follow-up on a post I wrote back in July on a story I’ve been tracking since last year; The Death of the Electric Guitar! As you may recall, I was skeptical and viewed a lot of the info and opinions contained in articles such as this one with a fair amount of derision and dark humor and, as it turns out, it looks like I was right to do that. Current information online suggests that Gibson, a company that is now millions of dollars in debt, was formerly doing a-ok selling guitars. Annually they move about 170,000 in 80 countries and control 40% of the over-$2000 market. But then Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz got bored or tried to channel his inner Steve Jobs and took his company on a buying spree:

In 2012, bought a stake in consumer audio company Onkyo.
In 2013, bought stereo maker TEAC in 2013 for $53 million.
In 2014, paid $135 million to acquire Royal Phillips’s home-entertainment systems.

None of this “stuff” really has anything to do with “guitars” and all of this “not guitar stuff” resulted in the company owing about $500 million in cool ones and no, I’m not talking about Mohitos. The debt was not accrued because Eric Clapton is old, rock is dead or any of the other reasons listed in any of those articles like the one I linked to above! Guitar sales haven’t fallen to zero levels, they just haven’t risen to the level necessary to counter the losses on this dream of being the King of ‘Lectronics. It’s very doubtful that any serious, responsible and independent study would’ve projected that the guitar market would’ve swelled to the levels necessary to cover the debts if these gambles didn’t pay off, but who worries about stuff like that anymore? Anyone who has spent even the minimum of time in Corporate America knows that no one likes a naysayer and if the CEO decides a guitar company should enter the very crowded and competitive market of electronics, who are you to say otherwise? A few months ago Juszkiewicz was interviewed and related that Gibson guitar sales had actually risen over 10% since January 2017! In my previous post on the subject I quoted Fender CEO Andy Mooney who claimed that, “Fender sales had risen and ukulele sales were ‘exploding,'” so the two largest guitar companies have actually seen a sales improvement over the past two years. Doesn’t sound like “death” to me. I think “death” is when NO SALES happen and junk, but I don’t have an MBA. Before exiting the interview, Juszkiewicz offered the following CEO-type predictions:

“…I’m not sure I exactly answered your question, but I will be here for a while, as CEO, and then I will be here for a while, for a couple of years, as an active advisor and mentor and we have a lot of young managers that are just dynamite inside the company, that are progressing and will progress into higher levels, so it’s all good.”

Bzzzt! Wrong again! I think this guy’s crystal ball capabilities have suffered critical failure. He was just bounced from the CEO chair as a condition of the bankruptcy exit plan that was approved this month! In September Gibson introduced its 2019 model line with a focus on gettin’ back to basics and this past week announced their new CEO and yes! It’s gonna be great! There’s a new Sheriff in town and he doesn’t shave, so you know he’s serious!

James “JC” Curleigh (the JC is supposed to make you think of the guy who rises things from the dead!) is billed on YouTube as someone WHO KNOWS HOW TO BUILD BRANDS! He was formerly CEO at Levi Strauss so I would expect a new line of guitars that features pockets and zippers as he merges the guitar + personal accessory markets! Potential profits = INSANE-A-MUNGOUS! It would be great if someone teaches Kylie Jenner to play guitar! Great for finance guys and investors I mean…because who cares about anyone else? Seriously though, I think we can all rest easier tonight knowing that Gibson is going to be around for a while. Even though I no longer own one of their guitars, I am happy that a deal has been worked out and hope that the right kind of positive improvements can be made to help the company prosper in the 2020s. Also, if you were one of those people who rushed into the stores to pick up a Les Paul because you thought they were going the way of the dodo…thanks for taking one for the team or something!

Then, there is Guitar Center. A March, 2018 article here lays the blame for the company’s $1 billion debts “partly on changing musical tastes”. This statement is followed by George Gruhn’s old-guy babbling about the lack of guitar heroes, the kids who listen to rap, and how we’re all Juggalos now, homescallion! As a very prescient comment to this article notes, this is all about customer-blaming and that is what I’ve been saying in all of my posts and the reason for my sarcastic tone. The finance guys and their buds in the media never take the blame for anything and no matter how egregious the business gamble, mistake, or miscalculation, the fault gets shoved on unpredictable intangibles or hapless customers/consumers who can just never do enough for Corporate America. Let’s just look at this article for further confirmation:

“…Los Angeles financial firm Ares Management took control of Guitar Center in 2014 in a $500-million debt-for-equity swap. There has been some talk of Ares taking Guitar Center public again…“Guitar Center is a good business, and the Bain Capital guys paid a premium on it, expecting continued market growth,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “The industry growth didn’t materialize.”…Bain Capital declined to comment. Ares did not respond to a request for comment.

Of course there was no comment from the guys who overpaid, gambled and lost…what are they going to say? “Er…we overpaid, gambled and lost?” The next sentence is also a humdinger: “A main drag has been the massive changes in retail as sales have migrated online. For example, Guitar Center has long generated income selling used instruments. But it now faces competition in that market from the likes of EBay and Reverb, an online musician marketplace, experts say.” Ebay has been around for 20+ years and Guitar Center also has a lot of competition from Craigslist in the used instrument market. Do those “industry experts” not know this or do they not think the public realizes this…even as the public uses these services? Sometimes it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the disconnect. Soon after these articles appeared, another emerged on Forbes where previous allegations of trouble were dismissed as “fake news” by Michael Amkreutz, EVP of merchandising and e-commerce. According to him, things be looking pretty cherry, yo!:

Music Trades magazine, the industry’s bible, reported the total guitar market unit volume grew 7% from 2016-2017 and in retail value 8.8%. With a total retail market of $1.3 billion, acoustic guitars make up about 56% ($740 million) and electric guitars the remaining 44% ($590 million), which grew just a shade faster in retail volume last year (up 9.1% as compared to 8.6% for acoustics).

So customers are stepping up and Gibson and Guitar Center, who just a few months ago were supposedly in a death spiral because they had been abandoned by a fickle, distracted public, have actually seen increased sales! Hallelujah! So were those articles, like this one from the Washington Post, wrong or were they part of the strategy? I. Don’t. Know. Perhaps it was the old “snowstorm” psychology at work. Doom and gloom gets people to buy! buy! buy! Similar behavior has occurred after mass shootings; because people fear legislation that will restrict their purchasing choices, they flock to the stores before the legislation happens. Who knows what kind of numbers a bunch of articles on “the death of the guitar” could drive into the stores? Tune in tomorrow for the Christmas forecast! I’m sure it will be just as confusing.

Tidbits II


*Insert Gratuitous Product Placement Here*

While this might look like a small amplifier, it is actually a Vornado mini-heater and what an appliance it is ladies and gentlemen! I don’t know about you, but where I live they are so concerned that I might actually be too warm that the building heat usually doesn’t come on until it’s around 20 degrees outside. I just love how these people look out for me!!!!! After a lot hot summer the last thing anyone wants in 40 degree weather is to be warm. Pfffft! So we invested in this little guy and while it won’t heat your finished basement, a 4-room condo or your house if you stop buying heating oil or whatnot, it will certainly function well as an augmentation device or do the job in a room or studio apartment. They have many different models and I think they are a pretty good company, so I’m going all in on the recommendation! Vornado makes a big deal about the safety issues and I was pretty paranoid about that in the beginning and still don’t run it overnight but, thus far it has worked like a dream. It’s also reasonably priced and comes with a 5 year guarantee. What does this have to do with guitar? Not much. But at least this isn’t another post about Led Zeppelin.

This is the future of music right here! At least until the holograms and machines totally take over. BABYMETAL is metal legend singer Rob Halford‘s new BFF. This is genius marketing because the potential nerd audience from metal + idol is mega-normous. Nobody else is gonna like it because it is completely cheesy even though the band makes all of the right noises. When the chorus above kicks in the song sounds like every other Japanese hard rock song that has ever been on Japanese television. Believe you me, I’ve watched enough to know. I think the girls sing their own vocals, so that’s a plus. Here is a hysterical clip of the band and Halford grinding it to Breaking the Law. I saw Judas Priest in 1984 on the Metal Conqueror tour. It was an extremely LOUD show (we were on the floor and the sound just pummeled you in the chest) and some of their tunes; Electric Eye, Green Manilishi, Hellbent for Leather, Freewheel Burning and Victim of Changes were pretty awesome. Of course they also played You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, which never sounded like a metal song to me and was the only Priest I ever heard on the radio except for Livin’ After Midnight. Fast forward to 2018 and there is almost daily Priest drama online. Since both of the original illustrious guitarists, Glenn Tipton and KK Downing are no longer in the band and Bob can do the thing here with the up-and-comers, I’m not sure why the Priest continues. Rock is now done by a lot of old people, but loud, hard rock or metal performed by old people looks really, really hard to do. Almost painful. Kiss are all pretty old and they are soon going to embark on a multi-year farewell tour. LOLOLOLOL!!! Wacky!

Likewise, Jeff Lynne’s ELO is going on tour next year because he just did a short tour and it was successful! OMIGOD! I’m not trying to be the old guy but…there is still a market for this guy and his brand of rock? Really? Is he gonna bring the laser show from 1977? That would be cool, I guess. My girlfriend saw that tour at Madison Square Garden on hallucinogens and still remembers it as one of the best concerts she ever saw! ELO was pretty successful in the mid to late 70s and I had the Eldorado, Face the Music and New World Record discs. Out of the Blue, the big double-record extravaganza was where they lost me, however. Too dense, too Genesis-y. I got it through the Columbia Record Club…yes I was a member in good standing! Not just some guy who got the special deal intro and didn’t pay! There were definitely people who would scam, but I fulfilled my deal because I was gonna buy the records anyway. Like Duh! I know I got Frampton Comes Alive and Pink Floyd’s Animals through Columbia too. Totally worth it! Don’t remember the others, but I bought Out of the Blue and then sold it to one of my friends because I didn’t like it. There were a couple of ELO albums after that and one of them contains the song that has “Bruce” or “Douche” in it, depending on how you hear. That song, Don’t Bring me Down, is ELO’s biggest hit in the US and Lynne has said that people hearing Bruce or Douche have got it wrong. He is actually singing a made-up word, “Grooss”. Sure Jeff. Incidentally, when you mishear a lyric like that (as many people do all of the time) it is called a Mondegreen:

…mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar and make some kind of sense. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954…”

After the Bruce controversy Lynne retired to the studio and got into production and worked with the Traveling Wilburys, George Harrison and Tom Petty a lot. I wasn’t completely enamored with his production sensibilities, which were Beatle-esque, but a tad er, overused. The sound always reminded me a little bit of the Boston Sound and maybe Jeff should’ve made his sound into an amp or pedal system too, like the Tom Scholz Rockman amp doo-hickey.

I’m amazed the band still has drawing power and going to the show will certainly cost a lot more to than it did in 1977. I checked out ticket prices and WOW! Am I glad I don’t go to those kind of shows anymore. $80/pop to be in the nosebleed section and a ticket on the floor in front of the stage will run $245. I guess the Trump economy [LOLOLOLOLOL] is in pretty good shape if people have that kind of disposable income. It’s kind of a bummer that concerts like this are staged in places like Prudential Center or Bridgestone Arena, PPG Paints Arena, Wells Fargo Center. Whatever happened to names like The Spectrum? The Forum? Nassau Coliseum? Those were venues with a personality to match their names and images! Of course the sound sucked. The sound still sucks! All of these places are basically hockey arenas with the personality of a bank lobby anyhow.

…Still waiting for that A Life in the Death of Joe Meek movie to be released. Now…they are saying December 2018. I wrote about Joe and his contributions to rock n’ roll last year and am looking forward to checking out the movie with its many awesome guest interviews with their perspectives and retrospectives on Joe, engineering, crazy recording studio stuff and the early 60s. I hope it really does come out soon.

The NY POST has declared that the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is not the Freddie Mercury biopic we deserve.” So I guess you can skip it. I could ask the question why anyone thinks the world deserves a biopic on anyone. I don’t really get the whole concept anyway unless it’s a biopic on someone from a couple hundred years ago. As reviewer Johnny Oleksinski points out, the movie ‘recreates’ half of Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance from 1985, but the “more thrilling, real performance is on YouTube.” Yes! There is oodles of real Freddie footage available for free. So, the point of this movie is? Also:

Malek can’t be blamed, however, for not having Mercury’s extraordinary voice. Some reports have said the songs heard in the movie are a digital blend of Mercury, Malek and a Canadian singer, Mark Martel. To my ears, though, it sounds no different from the band’s album tracks. So, the poor actor must lip sync to music that looks awkward coming out of his mouth.

He’s talking about a movie that has been 8 years in the pipeline! Amazing, isn’t it? The fact is nobody in rock and roll has ever been able to compete with Freddie Mercury as a singer, showman or personality, so the odds that some hipster actor is going embody all of the awesomeness just so it can be repackaged and sold to the wish we were there generation are pretty slim. The previews were seriously painful to watch and I wouldn’t make it through 10 minutes without wanting to stab myself in the face with meat fork.

Finally…this is Bill. He’s a cat. He’s just shy of 20 years old, so he’s an old cat. We inherited him from my mother when she passed away. He helps me write all of this stuff because he has great instincts for what sells on a blog. I don’t know how he came by these instincts, but he sucks at catching mice, so there you go. Prolly he went to college and then dropped out after a few semesters. He also likes pizza. I don’t know why…cats aren’t really supposed to like pizza. Unfortunately, in addition to being old, he is also hyperthyroid, so that makes him act pretty crazy. He likes to carry a rolled up sock in his mouth while howling at the top of his lungs. Like seriously loud. You wouldn’t even think an 8 pound cat could make that kind of noise, but he does. Sometimes an inopportune times, like say 2 in the morning. The hyperthyroidism makes him hungry all of the time…at least he thinks he is. He wants to eat every hour, but we have to nix that stuff. I say, “Dude! I’m totally starting to feel like a waiter here!” Lately he has become super picky about what he wants to eat…like “no I don’t want that can tonight either” level of picky. We made a JOB BLUTH level mistake by introducing him to sushi, boiled fish and boiled chicken. He doesn’t want canned food or even cat food anymore. So I fool him and put Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top of cat food so he thinks it’s pizza. I’m kinda glad my brain is a little bigger than his or it would cost a lot to feed him. We give him daily medication for his disease by rubbing methimazole cream on the inside of his ear. It’s pretty boss! Way easier than trying to give him a pill, plus it doesn’t seem to have any noticeable side effects. Unless howling like a crazy person is a side effect but I haven’t seen that. Sometimes he drinks too much and face plants and we gotta be all like, “DUDE seriously? At your age?” But the doctors say “let him have whatever he wants” and he always sneaks out when I’m not looking. Plus, it’s his money so what can we say, except “you’re gonna start paying for you medicine” but he totally wouldn’t buy or take it! Even though he has to because hyperthyroidism untreated will wear out the heart and kidneys really fast and one day he’ll just drop. I’ve tried to have this conversation with him, but he launches into that “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL OWNER” thing and I go “YEA NOBODY ELSE WANTED YOU!”. After that we both feel bad for a while, but we bond the next day, so what the hell? I let it go. Life’s too short to hold grudges and I know wherever she is, my mother is happy that we’re taking pretty good care of her cat and he’s pretty happy too.

All That Jazz

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

Johnny Smith — Moonlight in Vermont

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

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

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

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

Al Caiola (w/Don Arnone) — Soft Guitars

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

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

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

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

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

Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achilles Last Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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