Players

Goodbye Mr. Billy

We lost our Mr. Billy last weekend. He was a faithful companion, singular character, and important member of our family for almost 20 years. He came to my mom as a stray and they spent many happy years together in 3 different locales. He stood by her through a very trying illness until the day she took her last breath.

He moved to New York City and we became his fourth home. He had a love for sleeping, soft laps, roast chicken, sashimi, pudding, ice cream, pizza, and ricotta cheese. He also loved music and my guitar playing. He helped us through some incredibly difficult times even as he battled his own significant health problems. He was a true original, a creature of light, personality, and presence; a determined spirit until his final minutes. The house and our day-to-day seems so empty now. We love you Mr. Billy! Goodnight sweet prince. Travel well.

RUMBLE — The Indians Who Rocked the World

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

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

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

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

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

New GuitarSong

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

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

The Aristocrats — Tres Caballeros

Tres Caballeros **** The Aristocrats’ third album is a total winner for me…and anyone who is into modern shred-style dynamic playing should definitely acquaint themselves with this band. The Aristocrats is a supergroup of sorts comprised of Guthrie Govan on guitar, Bryan Beller on bass and Marco Marco Minnemann on drums and percussion. These guys are all great players and writers and have pedigrees that include work with Asia, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Dweezil Zappa. In a world awash with music and crap and sound and crap and crap and crap, there is still pure musicianship that is capable of jarring even the most aged, jaded listener (that would be me). While I didn’t know it when I originally mentioned posted, this disc was recorded all the way back in 2015, but since nothing new has been recorded since, this post is still a review of the band’s latest album (hehe) so I feel totally current and on-point. In addition to being a full-fledged post in the blog queue, this review will be added to the ever-expanding section under the “ALT” column in due time along with all of the other er, ALT stuff I’ve reviewed.

I have to admit that I don’t necessarily like bands like The Aristocrats as a rule. I never really listened to Vai, Satriani, Malmsteen or most of those shred/instrumental types mainly because I don’t hear a sense of humor or a certain dynamic sensitivity that I look for in music, therefore I find it hard to listen to. Let’s say a lot of seems to be made to impress and that’s it. Others will disagree I’m sure and that’s how music is; different strokes and all that. I would never dispute the guitar talents of any of those cats, or others like them, because they are obviously all great players. It’s just a matter of what type of music the guitarist/chooses as the environment from which to express. My tastes tend to either to the old school (Beck, Zappa, Howe, McLaughlin) or the Jazz Acoustic Manouche school (Lagrene, Rosenberg, Romane, Wrembel). So this is a bit of a departure for me, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience. The first thing that struck me about the Aristocrats is, aside from being great players, they obviously have a twisted sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that in a band, especially a band as “chops-city” as these guys. There is a great otherworldliness about the band; they would have made great guest stars playing some super-psycho dive bar on the rim of some spectral twilight in an episode of the X-Files. This wonderful weirdness pervades the music of the disc and the personality of the band and what’s not to like about that, I ask ya?

Musically the band is like a Ferrari; it goes from a sparse whisper to an over-the-top flurry of notes, percussive hits or rhythmic shifts in the space of a few bars. Sometimes this is dizzying…and if I were to say anything critical what I would say is that there were one or two places where I thought the rapid shift move was used one too many times, but let’s not quibble. There is no filler on the disc; every track is killer and obviously the band wanted each tune to be a statement in and of itself. The disc begins with a palm-muted, clean, almost chicken-picked guitar riff that segues into clean thrash and crash with Rush-style keyboard. Guitarist Guthrie Govan has a lot of love for all of the various classic tones he can wring from his axe, but then he’ll rip out something totally futuristic; the affected (with what I don’t know) quick picking legato on the solo to this track, Stupid 7, is pretty intense, yet just long enough to WOW! and then it’s back to the theme. Jack’s Back has a very odd-meter, bluesy vibe to it with some great solos from bassist Bryan Beller and some really tasty lines from Guthrie. Even though there are a lot of different styles to be found on the record, they meld them seamlessly into a singular sound that is very consistent and entertaining.

Texas Crazy Pants reminds me of a bit of 70s Fleetwood Mac multiplied by a factor of 500 with added crunch, UFO sounds and police sirens. The funny story that inspired this song (a lot of the band’s songs are inspired by weird life stuff) can be found online. It’s a great little rockin’ number though; one of the most balls-out on the disc. ZZ Top (yes that’s the name of the song) kind of reminds me of Rush’s Subdivisions, from the early 80s and I mean that in a good way. It’s a cool tune, but I don’t know why it’s named after the little ol’ band from Texas because it doesn’t put anything about that band in my head at all. But maybe it’s a head fake…

The next tune, Pig’s Day Off, is really pretty; a very clean, chordal, dynamic tune that descends into some twisted riffs and Zappa-style ensemble playing. This is one of the songs where the “jamming” is excessive I think…and that’s only because the mellow vibe of the tune is so great that the whole tune could’ve progressed in this manner without everyone going Bates Motel. But I stopped doing acid a long time ago so maybe I’m just too old to really appreciate it as much as I should. Smuggler’s Corridor is the anthem of the disc; a minor key surf rock that has everything but the kitchen sink, including Ennio Morricone-style vocalizing (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Guthrie’s soloing on this tune is nothing short of brilliant; tasteful where it needs to be and completely crazy and off the charts when he cuts loose. Bryan Beller also does a nice little bass solo as well. The rhythm vibe had my girlfriend and cat dancing around the kitchen, which is a sure sign of success.

Pressure Relief has more chicken-palm picking, fast legato runs and an envelope filter/wah tone that is really cool. It also features some nice guitar harmonics, double stops and chords. Guthrie doesn’t use a lot of over-the-top distortion (at least on this disc) and is able to do all of the amazing guitar things he does with a very clean sound, which I think gives the band a more sophisticated and multi-layered presentation. They sound like seasoned professionals playing high-wire instrumental music. The next tune, The Kentucky Meat Shower has a sound and a riff straight outta Nashville y’all… and Nashville is pretty close to Kentucky so I think that’s why it sounds like that. HA! Later in the tune it goes all METAL FACE! It’s pretty funny, which fits the topic of the tune as it is another crazy “real-life” story from long ago. (Guthrie relates the background of the story on YouTube). The final tune Through the Flower is a supremo 11-minute prog-rock ballad that features amazing playing from all three instrumentalists and is a kind of synthesis of everything that has already occurred on the album. It’s a nice wrap up and the tune has a nice riff, great chords and cool use of effects as well. I would rank this tune, Smuggler’s Corridor, Texas Crazy Pants, and Pressure Relief as my favorites but there is something for any prog/fusion guitar head on this album. It’s certainly a great effort from three really awesome musicians and I hope they get back into the studio real soon!

Tidbits V

and so we come to the final weeks of another year! Give yourself a big pat on the back! You made it! That’s not always easy to do, ya know? Don’t let any of that Holiday-type stuff get you down, because…totally not worth worrying about. In this day and age one can boycott the Holiday Season but I’m not that much of a revolutionary, so I’ll just ignore most of it. I had a pretty happening Thanksgiving and Xmas the last two years, so except for a dinner with some fam this weekend, I’m gonna be taking it easy.

Last month in Tidbit IV I wrote about how I had “discovered” The Aristocrats; a funky fusion band that stars guitar sensation Guthrie Govan. I’ve seen a lot of Guthrie on YouTube over the years; in addition to being an amazing guitarist/player/teacher, he has always introduced himself like, “Hey, it’s Guthrie” like it’s no biggie and he was the guy you smoked spliffs with the night before. But he has this very formal-type of British accent so it’s like you hung out and smoked spliffs with royalty the night before…Way cool. Anyway, I promised to buy the latest music and report back and true to my word, I have done that and now own the Tres Cabelleros album. The music is actually older than I thought; it was recorded many years ago in 2015. The band: Guthrie Govan guitars, Bryan Beller Bass and Marco Minnemann drums, convened at legendary Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood, USA and banged out nine absolutely FUSION tunes. I haven’t listened enough to write a proper review, but this music is definitely TIP-TOP great and recalls the best of Zappa, Jeff Beck, Satriani, Di Meola, but is also thoroughly original. All three musicians are fan-friggin-tastic and Guthrie does some totally mind-blowing things on the guitar. Much of this material is also online in video form, so you can check it out for yourself, without even buying the music! (But if it rubs you the right way, you should probably buy the music). I’m just not sure about the name…it’s more than likely a British thing. If you search for “The Aristocrats” though you either come upon a movie you probably don’t want to see or that dirty joke…that someone made a movie about that you probably don’t want to see. But I guess the band likes it and at this point it’s too late to change.

Speaking of buying the music, well that’s the other interesting part of this story. As you know, I have been doing my best to keep up with everexpanding landscape of the musical/guitar/instrument business and have written on the topic many times. How and where I bought The Aristocrats music is pretty neato because I didn’t get it on iTunes, or @Amazon or from some CD clearinghouse online or even a boutique dealer here in NYC that specializes in hard-to-find music that pretty much nobody is going to buy (proportionally I mean). I purchased the music through Jam Track Central, which is an instrument instruction site based in the UK. I had the option to buy just the band’s music or the music and some backing tracks or a Grand Pack that included tabs, backing tracks and the music. Pretty awesome and the exactly correct place for this band to be as the people who are going to be the most into it will probably (at least a few of them) want to learn how to play it.

I’ve certainly profiled other teachers, teaching tools and teaching sites over the years; that was always a major focus from the beginning of this blog. You can find a nice list in the right column. The JTC site is certainly in the same ballpark as DC Music School and The Rosenberg Academy, both of which I have written about here over the years. I’ve been a member/buyer of both places and now am a member of JTC! They even send me their Help Wanted notices! I also wrote in review of Gypsy Jazz stylist Romane’s CD Gypsy Fire, that the disc came with tabs and a second disc that contained backing tracks! So this is an idea that has been around for a while and is an effective method of organizing and providing content to a specific audience and “teh tech” allows it to be provided easily and at a low-cost. I’ll admit that personally, I’m too long in the tooth to be taking on a further guitar instruction, but that’s okay. I can still take advantage of the listening end and hopefully younger players will jump on all of this stuff and make good use of it because it’s a great way to learn a whole lot of cool stuff quickly!

In other news…Lately I have been a music reviewing machine! There is new content in the Rock and ALT/Jazz sections of the site and more to come! Look for The Aristocrats review soon! Great to read when you’re bored at work!

Finally, a few months ago in this post I questioned the purpose of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, and sort of, kind of predicted it would flop. Boy was I wrong about that! I haven’t seen it myself but a few people I know, NONE OF WHOM WAS EVER A QUEEN FAN saw it, thought it was great and then proceeded to buy Bicycle Race or something! I guess that’s a good thing. One of these people is a younger female and it’s pretty funny talking about Queen or classic rock with her. Or anything actually. ‘Cause before she saw this movie no music produced prior to Shakira!! was worth more than a big EWWWWW. But now she’s an expert on Queen and 70s Rock. Whatever it takes to get more people into great music is fine with me! Movies like Bohemian Rhapsody function as stealth marketing for people who would never listen otherwise. If I would’ve given this chick a CD (LOL a CD…what are you? A million years old?) of Queen’s Greatest Hits it would’ve never been opened. But, by making an updated version of the story that checks all of the right boxes on current-year thinking and sensibilities with some hot young actors and actresses…GOLD MINE! Genius! Brilliant! So I guess I learned something there. On the other hand…I’ve gotten back to being semi-active on social media and have learned that there’s a lot of hate for Rock Holograms out there in the universe…so on that front…WINNING!