Nashville Cats

Back in the mid-60s The Lovin’ Spoonful had a hit with a song about Nashville guitar players. The television appearance shown above is a little different though, isn’t it? They all look happy. (haha) I’m not sure what guitar part old Zal is playing there. Also, who the heck plays an Autoharp anywhow? Well, John Sebastian, I guess. He’s got a bit of a rock and roll pedigree. And this guy. That’s actually pretty rockin’. And…Dolly Parton plays one too. But Dolly could probably play anything and people would show up to watch her. But anyhow, what the above song illustrates is that even back in the days of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Nashville, Tennessee had a reputation as a city with lots of great guitar pickers. Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Fred Carter Jr. and Johnny Cash sideman Luther Perkins all made Nashville their home town and that’s just scratchin’ the surface of the people who lived there at one point. Pretty impressive, no? The city has a rich history of great music and great guitar playing and there are still a whole lot of great guitar players in Nashville. They can still play clean as country water and wild as mountain dew too! Even though modern country is not my favorite musical style, I can sure appreciate someone who plays the heck out of a guitar. Many of these guys are flat out amazing, and play a crossover blend of country, hillbilly, swing, blues, jazz, rockabilly, and rock and roll that pretty much anybody should be able to appreciate. I like the sound of this stuff and wish I could play it better. Let’s take a look-see at a few of modern Nashville’s hottest heroes.

Here’s one guy who is legendary — Brent Mason. He proves with this Fender Tele/Fender Twin – driven version of Cherokee that he can burn with the best of ’em. Thumbpicked bebop! Whoever heard of such a thing? And with some steel guitar soloing too! Ain’t that pretty? I think it is. Brent was discovered by none other than Chet Atkins after moving to Nashville from Ohio. Since those days he has appeared on thousands of records, produced a few, written some tunes and even won a Grammy Award in 2008. From a guitar standpoint though, Brent can do anything and play it well. He has many tutorial videos available and looking here and here will get you started on making his style work for you…or just provide some entertaining viewing for those slow days at work.

Here’s a video of Brent Mason playing with another Nashville killer, Johnny Hiland. Johnny is known as The Chicken Pickin’ King of Nashville these days, but it’s obvious from his videos that he’s another guy who can play just about anything. He has been on the scene for almost 20 years and has played with a huge roster of diverse artists, released his own records and has a whole bunch of instruction videos out there for aspiring guitar players. And boy is it good! Like many of us guitarists he is also a total gearhead and is always trying out new stuff so that is fun to watch too. Look for it here!

Speaking of gear and country superstars, here is Brad Paisley showing off a very pretty G-Bender Telecaster at Guitar Center. Though Brad is a country superstar, thought more of as a singer/songwriter who has sold like a billion records, he is actually a great guitar player as well. Here is a list of nice lessons on his awesome licks and technique.

Finally here is a video of another Nashville Cat, Guthrie Trapp on the Learn and Master series. Guthrie is also a great player and has played with many a country superstar over his career and the past 15 years in Nashville. I just watched this video last week and what impressed me about him the most was his touch on the guitar. If you check out the feel and fluidity when he starts playing (around the 8 minute mark) you can see why he was and is an in-demand player and session musician. Watch the whole thing! And check out some of his other stuff!

One thing I’ve learned from listening to these guys play and talk is that two guys especially cast a long shadow over the sound and approach of modern country guitar and those two guys would be 1) Merle Haggard and 2) The guitar player in Merle Haggard’s band, The Strangers Roy Nichols. Here is an interesting thread on Roy Nichols: Western Swing fan, early chicken picker, clean Telecaster tone, hybrid pick and fingers style, snappin’ and poppin’ bluesy bends, swing and jazzy lines — all of the elements of a great sound and style. Here’s a thread of Roy Nichols guitar with a whole lot of great performances by Roy and others.

Now this list isn’t supposed to be comprehensive because, as I said at the beginning, this style isn’t really my thing, but the players are great, the style is popular and the guitars sound sweet enough to make you want to practice or cry in your beer. Give ’em a listen!

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Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 2)

In the second part of this series on Jimi Hendrix I will profile some of the books and DVDs that I have owned over the years. None of the real scandalous type of material is here; I haven’t read it. In my experience, the best and most accurate books on musicians are done from a “musical” angle. Everyone knows trash biographies are a big part of the media industry and there are plenty of people out there who will take every insinuation or conspiracy theory and run with it, no matter how implausible. But the books I’ve listed here are all on the up and up and I recommend them to anyone looking to widen their knowledge on the subject of Jimi Hendrix.

‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

JHE_18This is the oldest book in my possession. I’ve had it since 1980! That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering how itinerant I was some of those years. Written by David Henderson, the book was an expansion of the original Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child of the Aquarian Age, first published in the late 1970s. Both of these books are still available or have been reprinted multiple times and you can pick them up if you so desire. This book is a fun read and the author deserves a whole lot of credit for being one of the first people to write about Jimi from a positive point of view. However, there are some accountability/accuracy issues with the book, mostly because of the way it is written. Unlike other books, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky has no footnotes and there are instances when it is unclear who is alleging what happens or the point of view is suspect. This isn’t always the case, but in some instances or at crucial points in the narrative there are no attributions when there should be and it doesn’t appear that this has changed with subsequent releases. I’m not the only person who finds this problematic. For instance:

“…He feels bile coming into his mouth. It takes a superhuman effort for him to sway his body toward the edge of the bed. It is impossible for him to rise. He barely makes it to the edge of the bed. A stream of bile comes through his mouth. His cheek rests against the sheet. The sheet absorbs the bile. His retching ceases. Suddenly he does not care anymore. He falls quickly back into semi-unconsciousness…”

There is no attribute for who is saying this. It’s certainly not Jimi, even though it describes Jimi in his final moments of barbiturate overload. It’s obvious that there is a whole lot of poetic license taken with this passage and it forces the reader to wonder where else this might be occurring in the book. Henderson states in the conclusion that more than five years of research went into the book; hundreds of interviews were conducted and the info was then fused into a “narrative”. This approach and a lot of the 70s language gives the book a very “nature of it’s time” feel, which is great on the one hand. This is the environment Jimi Hendrix lived and created in. However, while a narrative style of writing can paint a nice picture, it can also help sustain unhelpful or even completely inaccurate myths — something that is apparent in other 1960s events like Altamont/Gimme Shelter. ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky does have that funky, New York sass that was pretty awesome at the time and is effective at putting across the druggy, politically paranoid, racially-aware culture of the late 60s-early 70s that was very evident in places like New York City and on the West Coast (Berkeley). But, like the Jimi Hendrix film, I find the NYC-centered version of Jimi’s existence to sometimes be more about New York and the people in New York than about Jimi. This would all be fine, well and good if all of the elements of “the story” had remained accurate and true throughout the 40+ years since his death. That has turned out not to be the case and while I think this is a good book, it’s best read as a companion to other books.

The Hendrix Experience

This is a great book — Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell’s story of his time with Jimi in the Experience and beyond. As a musician, I put a lot of stock in a book like this because it’s written from a musician’s point of view. It doesn’t explore in depth any of the social stresses and ramifications that the previous book deals with (not that those issues aren’t important), but is really all about being in the band. This book is co-written with John Platt who provides the framework for the story while Mitch contributes fun and important anecdotes. Mitch was the longest serving foil to Jimi’s guitar heroics and is, of course, a legendary drummer in his own right. He certainly brought an original approach to everything he ever played on and was a major factor in the success of the Experience. He also knew Jimi and the scene at that time as well or better than anyone. There are some interesting revelations in the book: His opinion of Allen Douglas (which I’ll explore in Part 4), his belief that some shady stuff went down the day/night Jimi died and that Monika Dannemann was not the true love of Jimi’s life. (Only Kathy Etchingham and Devon Wilson could rightfully make those claims, which is pretty much what everyone has known all along). Also Mitch alleges that Buddy Miles was guilty of shooting his mouth off by accusing Mitch of racism around the time of Jimi’s death and he called Buddy on these accusations and got an apology. Unlike some people who speak or write about Jimi and their close relationship with him, Mitch’s legacy has always been undisputed and he remained a legendary performer and valued asset to the Hendrix Legacy right up until his death in 2008. This is a book I definitely recommend — lots of great photos too!

Are You Experienced?…

imageI used to have Experience bass player Noel Redding’s book too but lost it a few years ago. His book, co-written with Carol Appleby, was released in the mid-90s and was an interesting read. Though he wasn’t a member of the Experience for as long as Mitch, was not a bass player by choice or trade, and had more of a contentious relationship with Jimi, Noel did keep a diary of those days and was, from the very beginning, the first and loudest guy demanding a serious accounting of the band’s finances. Because of “bitterness”, that I think was partially just Noel’s droll personality, neither this book or his interviews are light, pleasant reading. But he was a smart guy and was justified in some of the bitterness he carried. Neither he or Mitch or Jimi ever got their just financial due for the great music they created, especially considering how many times it was repackaged and resold over the years. This book is best described as a “cautionary tale” as it provides a window into the cutthroat nature of the music business and explores the personal pitfalls that have done in many a musician. It’s almost like the literary version of House of the Rising Sun. I recommend reading any interview or book written or co-written by Noel and Mitch. There are a lot of great stories and some valuable information to be gleaned from their recollections.

Black Gold…

JHE_27This book is probably the most thoroughly-researched recent book I’ve seen! I enjoyed it and definitely learned a few things reading it. The author, Steven Roby, has written a few books on Jimi, which you can peruse here and has also worked with Experience LLC, which gave him access to important data and documents. He used to have a WordPress type of blog, which is no longer active, unfortunately. But here is a pretty good interview with him. With Black Gold, Roby makes an attempt to document all of Jimi’s lost sessions, gigs, appearances, and recordings. What a HERCULEAN feat that is, lemme tell you! While I think the book succeeds, I would not agree with the promo copy that I see online that says this is the first book to do this. It it not. The final book on this list was the first and is in some ways, even more exhaustive. But Roby’s efforts are great and everything is notated so you know you’re getting the real deal as far as info goes.

Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy

JHE_19This is one of the best biographies and probably the most thorough musical profile I have ever read. Very impressive. I’ve had this book for twenty five years and it is still a reliable source of information (except for that stuff which is outdated of course). Written by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek, the book was updated in 1995 to reflect the new information on Jimi’s death. So, no matter what version you pick up, it is well worth the price. I believe it is the only Hendrix book to rate 5 stars and it is really an impressive effort. Not only is Jimi’s life well-researched and then factually told, guitarists will find that every guitar, effect, amp, pick and string ever used by the master is documented, along with Jimi’s impossibly large discography. This is the only book I’ve seen that is as thorough as Black Gold for listing gigs, recordings, tv/video appearances and equipment. There is a section that tries to figure out the very complicated and convoluted mess of The Experience’s finances. It also has a whole lot of great photographs of Jimi from the time he was a youngster all the way through his years of fame and fortune. In short it is pretty much the only book you will ever need on Jimi Hendrix! Highly recommend. They seriously don’t come any better than this, whether you’re a musician, guitarist, or just a fan.

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In the next post of this series I will write about the guitar-specific stuff I know to help you get your inner Jimi on! Of course, I can’t cover everything and I encourage anyone and everyone to purchase any of these books. They are all very entertaining and paint a great picture of a mighty man and a mighty band. Also, for younger readers, they are a good look into a period of time that is rapidly fading into history.

Here is Part 1 and Part 3 in this series.

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

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Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

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Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant! My vote for his best. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life.

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Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.

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Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had no control over.

The Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage or douchebaggery that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that right up until the end Jimi was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing great riffs into the studio and that is a great legacy.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar nonetheless. Incidentally, the movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

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War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.

Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs. Without Jimi’s name and picture on the cover no one would’ve bought this pile of shit.

Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

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The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.

Kiss the Sky **** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.

Jimi Plays Monterey ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.

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Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience (mostly) at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.

The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc flawed only because it omits some better material from all of the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.

Blues ** I wanted to like this, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.

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Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

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Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

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So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific. Stay tuned!

Here is Part 2 and Part 3 in this series.

Another Cool CD — Acid King – Free

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last month I wrote A post on some cool CDs. GuitarCave post #104 is all about Acid King — Free, which is actually a split of Acid King and The Mystic Krewe of Clearlight from way back in the year 2000. It’s some of the best Acid King there is and I dig it! Back in 2011 or so I wrote about Acid King’s Busse Woods disc in the Lovin’ It Loud post. This disc is more stoner rock than doom, at least when compared to Busse Woods. That doesn’t mean any heaviness or guitar wallop is sacrificed, no, no, no. The mix is a bit more spacious and the songs chug along at a nice brisk tempo. The pics of the bike and the helmet on the cover reflect the music — great driving and riding jams! And the disc art is pretty AWESOME! I started looking at it one day and when I stopped I realized it was another day. Amazing!

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I just listened to this CD the other day and realized that the 1st song on the split, Blaze In, (which is the same “theme” as the last song on the Acid King side, Blaze Out) is my favorite Acid King jam. Although it’s instrumental, the snaky, fluid guitar riffing is absolutely superb and the rhythm section of Guy Pinhas and Joey Osbourne just chug along like a pair of crash monsters should. I really love the RIFF and always have. When it kicks in Acid King sounds like a Metal Symphony. A close second favorite jam is the other brilliant song on the disc, the title cut, Free, a total ROCK ANTHEM, and if you’ve never heard it, you should just go listen to it on YouTube. It embodies everything I like about the band — great music and the guitar and vocals of Lori S. are really magnificent! I don’t want to say she is underrated as a guitarist, but she certainly deserves more attention for her skills that’s for sure. The third song 4 Minutes is the dark and DOOMY number of the disc. Great detuned guitar tone on this number whoa! HeAvY!! Great drumming too…this song really reminds me of High On Fire. Then, as I said the initial “theme” [Blaze Out] is repeated to close out a very fine and tight rockin’ disc ladies and gentlemen. If you are like me, you’ll find that this is exactly the right amount of time — not too much or too little — so that when the last song ends, your finger will already be hovering over the repeat button. I played it about 4 times in a row…I was rockin’!

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The other half of the disc that features The Mystick Krewe of Clearlight is ok, but nothing special. I’ve given it a few chances over the years and it never really grabbed me. I bought this disc from Man’s Ruin back in the day with a bunch of other stuff; some of it great, some not. By 2002 the label had imploded and many of the bands from back then have long since faded away. Acid King is one of the few (along with High on Fire) who went on to bigger and better things. I guess that is two (??) reasons this disc is another in-demand item on discogs.com but I’m glad to have it and will keep it. If this is up your listening alley and you ever have the opportunity, definitely pick it up!

Cool CDs — COWS, 5678s, High on Fire

Every once in awhile I listen to a bunch of loud music from the old days…the fabulous 1990s. Above is COWS bringing it from 1996 in Minneapolis. Saw them that year! In addition to regular club dates they were on the Indie stage at Lollapalooza and toured with TOOL. They completely plow through these songs with their trademark razor wire guitar + throbbing rhythm section + demented front man with total abandon! There are quite a few live COWS shows from those days up on YouTube now and that is a great thing! Brings it all back for us who were there and helps those who weren’t and wished they could’ve been glean a little of what it was like. Bands like COWS should be preserved for posterity. That was some a-ok fun and reckless stuff happening right there ladies and gentlemen.

I hear, well saw actually, that there was a reunion show in Minneapolis last year that was very well-attended and enjoyable for all who were there. I think there have been a few of those over the past couple of years, but guitarist Thor Eisentrager bowed out in 1998 and has never returned. I think that is why today if something happens they are referred to as COWZ. There have been releases (?) of old material and some different things?. Of course, Amphetamine Reptile Records is the label that released all of the COWS material and a whole lot of other great aggro-noise besides. They are still in existence, in a limited way. I got the hankering to DO SOME MOO (listen to COWS) and looked through my stacks. I knew I still had some COWS cds and I do and I threw them on and started looking about the internet to see what’s what. I found out that Old Gold, which is a compilation of their first 3 albums: Daddy Has a Tail, Effete and Impudent Snobs, and Peaceticka, is completely out of print. Hmm. I would imagine the albums it represents are also long gone, but, through the magic of YouTube, they LIVE, NOW ON your computer. Pretty cool.

cows3The music on Old Gold is pretty crazy, especially the early stuff. COWS hadn’t quite worked out their sound and presentation yet, but tracks like Camouflage Monkey, Shakin’ and Memorial (always in rotation in many COWS sets) prove that even back in the late 80s, they had all of raw energy and power necessary to become a great punk and noise band. Some of the other “songs” like Dirty Leg, Whitey in the Woodpile and Bum in the Alley are just plain weird. By the time you reach Peacetika (peace sign and swastika get it?) the band is really coming together. Hitting the Wall (one of the band’s defining tunes) is some of the most unhinged, volatile, molotov-cocktail music produced by anyone ever. The title track is also a great tune — an “instrumental” sound collage that drives in a Sonny Sharrock meets Joy Division direction that I wish the band would’ve explored further. Cant’ Die and 3 Way Lisa are also le terrifique! There are a few folks out there who think Peacetika is the best COWS release and it is definitely #2 for me! (I review 1992s Cunning Stunts, in the right column and believe that to be #1, though not by much.)

cows2The COWS songs had both feet in the disaffected rage of the Beavis and Butthead trailer-park generation; that slimy underbelly of the rust belt towns that were once built around a church and a somewhat stable economy. Kind of like the movie Fargo if everyone acting in the movie did so on 3 hits of really hot blotter and a tub of Big Mickeys. They represented and embodied the post-industrial, post-modern, post-Grand Funk/Stooges generations even if some of they did was pure drug-induced psychosis or prairie schtick. Musically there was a mess of blues, jazz, and the sounds Midwestern rock icons like The Stooges and Alice Cooper scattered throughout. Sometimes what sounds like a guitar is actually a bass line all distorted, effected and played with a slide! I can’t say for sure he invented it, but I’ve never seen anyone but Kevin Rutmanis play bottleneck bass. On cuts like Shitbeard, off of the Sexy Pee Story disc, both Rutmanis and guitarist Eisentrager play slide on their respective instruments! Talking about rippin’ up the rule book! Any pretense of typical technique is not really evident, but repeated listening will prove that these guys worked hard on putting together a group sound that was much more than any one individual’s musical abilities. Supposedly guitarist Thor would come to sessions with pages of his parts notated out. There is a lot to enjoy and learn here and I hope there are younger musicians out there who pick up on it. This is one of the things people did before there was an internet and American Idol and running through the East Village because of a rumored Kanye West secret show on a post office loading dock. Ok…so maybe it would’ve been at Webster Hall. Still. srsly?

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Anyhow, in the course of going through my stuff I came across discogs.com, which is a pretty hip, user-generated-type site that has all kind of really important information pertaining to the recorded media one may have. This is where I found out that Old Gold is something people want. What’s even more bloody brilliant is that I have a promo copy of Old Gold too. I have no idea where I got this, but it’s in great shape, except it looks like it’s 20 years old. Oh wait…it is.

cows1The track listing isn’t any different, but I saw that someone is asking almost $100 for it on Ebay. Wow! Of course, vinyl is the way to go! Some of that stuff is really worth a lot, but I don’t have any. I’m glad people are seeking out these COWS releases…Way cool! I’m sure it’s tough to drum up the support necessary for a full re-release so hopefully everyone who wants a copy will somehow manage to get one. I may even part with mine eventually, who knows? The thing about CDs is the discs are usually in pretty good shape long after the listener has major problems (haha). You really have to take care of vinyl to have it still sound good 20 years later.

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Another CD that I have is this one by The 5678s — a band favored Quentin Tarentino (the band made an appearance in the movie Kill Bill) and assorted guys with backpacks everywhere. New CDs are selling on Amazon for $150. Holy Smoke. These gals were/are sassy and sultry and they got the Americana retro thing down like a shimmyshack. I saw them a long time ago in a small club in NYC, but they were pretty ordinary as far as really being able to bring it live unfortunately. Maybe they had jet lag. Japan is pretty far away, you know? I gotta say though…they gave it their all and looked fantastic!

56781I’m pretty sure I bought this from my friends at Vital Music Records a long time ago. I like this CD and love the Americana music even more than I used to, but I do, in my old age, prefer the polish of someone say, like Friends of Dean Martinez over the kitschy power of The 5678s. But, as with COWS, it’s great younger people seek this stuff out. Back in the day RAWK like this was flying off the shelves everywhere. Things have changed, I know, but Rock and Toll is a force you need in your life!

The last thing I found diggin’ through the stacks was this copy of High On Fire’s first release. This looks to be an in-demand item on discogs.com too — 91 people want it and only 17 people have it, although no price is mentioned. This release was put out by 12th Records, which I think, didn’t do anything else after. The three songs that appear on this CD would also appear on the Man’s Ruin release The Art of Self-Defense in 2000, but I’m pretty sure they are different versions. Master of Fists is slower and sludgier, but all three are performed very well. It’s easy to see that guitarist/leader and ex-member of the legendary Sleep, Matt Pike, already had his sound, style and riff factory up and running it was only a matter of time before the metal world caught on.

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This Is Your Brain on Guitar II

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Way back in July of 2011, [Holy Crap! 5 years already!] I wrote a post titled THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON GUITAR! If you haven’t read it and you play a musical instrument, including guitar, you should, because…it illustrates how science has learned so much about how we as players…learn how to play. We can apply this knowledge so that our practice sessions and teaching others is done in a more effective way (something I have covered on the blog here too many times to list). Anyhoo, some of the info is obvious and easily understood to all of you pros out there, but there are a few surprises contained within! Researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of how our brains really work and what they’re doing right now amounts to noticing what various areas of the brain do (with scans MRIs, etc), while we do things (including, playing an instrument).

brain2That first post detailes how researchers at Harvard Medical School and Rice University were in the process of exploring how our brains learn, which is necessary if you want to be able to play. This next step in the process is observing what our brains do while we improvise which is what we are able to do once we have learned a bunch of stuff. This following article and presentation is the result of a lot of study and research and experimentation by Dr. Charles Limb and his team. They have been at this for awhile and I just came across it thanks to a Facebook link from a guy I play with sometimes. The TED talk I link below is actually older than my post on the brain, but hey…I’m a guitar player not a scientist. Anyhow, according to the TED website, Dr. Limb is ” Chief of Otology/Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, and he’s a Faculty Member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He combines his two passions to study the way the brain creates and perceives music. He’s a hearing specialist and surgeon at Johns Hopkins who performs cochlear implantations on patients who have lost their hearing. And he plays sax, piano and bass.” I’m not going to explain it all here because everyone should watch the presentation and/or read the article. It’s really good stuff. The gist of it is that during improvisation or freestyle rapping, the areas of our brain dedicated to self-expression heat up while those areas of the brain that inhibit creativity quiet down. Those would be areas that would make you afraid of making a mistake for instance. What is interesting is that co-author Allen Braun noticed that the scans of people improvising look the same as the scans of people dreaming. Pretty cool stuff. That’s why you should read the article. And make sure you practice. So you can dream. Like Duke Ellington…

As I related in the “This Is Your Brain” post…musicians have long known instinctively what science is now confirming. Duke and Django, Jimi and Jimmy and everyone had a sense of what the brain does when one is playing and learning to play an instrument. The article can be viewed here. HERE is an interview with Dr. Limb that is pretty interesting and below is the TED talk on the subject. Enjoy!

Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel is a guy I’ve mentioned a few times lately — in this post on learning resources and again as a member of The Wrecking Crew in this post on Glen Campbell. Above, he is playing an early 60s version of Gypsy in My Soul and of course he tears it up!. Barney was an early student of guitar and was already playing out by the time he was 14. Growing up in Oklahoma allowed him to meet another very famous Oklahoma native, Charlie Christian. While on break from touring with Benny Goodman, Christian went to see Barney play and the two subsequently ended up jamming for three days straight. This later led to Charlie recommending Barney to Benny Goodman and Barney getting the job after killing it on the jazz standard, Cherokee.

“One of the most extraordinarily consistent and emotionally huge improvisers of our era” – Nat Hentoff

“Barney Kessel is definitely the best guitar player in this world, or any other world.” – George Harrison

“Barney Kessel was ‘Mr. Guitar,’ the foremost jazz guitarist of his generation. He had an amazing imagination, his solos were incredible, he swung his tail off, he was a heck of an arranger and could out-read anybody.” – Larry Coryell

“Barney Kessel is incredible. He’s just amazing . . . . Nobody can play guitar like that.” – John Lennon

“I remember first seeing Barney Kessel, in the 1940s, standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, in his cowboy boots, sun glasses and hipster threads, holding his guitar case man, you just knew that cat could wail!” – Anita O’Day

“I’d listen to Barney Kessel records and my jaw would drop. I was awe-struck by the nature of his ad-libs. I followed Barney Kessel’s musical stories like a kid following a fairy tale.” – B.B. King

The thing I really like about all of the guitar guys who came up in the 30s and 40s — Reinhardt, Christian, George Barnes, Herb Ellis, Harry Volpe, Les Paul, Sal Salvador, Johnny Smith, and Barney Kessel — is there is a whole lot of rock and roll in their playing. They were just completely going for it on many tracks because they all came up in The Swing Era when people wanted to dance all cray-cray like. You can hear that in Barney’s drive and some of the licks he plays in Gypsy in My Soul. But he also had a great sense of harmony and orchestration and those two sometimes very divergent qualities were combined in all of his performances. This is certainly one of the reasons The Beatles liked him. By the time Barney came along in the 1940s, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes and Charlie Christian were already on record playing all of the important guitar elements and ‘devices’: single lines, octaves, chords, partial chords, fast picking, sweep picking, bent notes, and tremolo picking that enabled the guitar to take on the role of a solo instrument in a band or orchestra setting. Reinhardt and Christian had already drastically expanded the language of the instrument with Christian veering from swing music into early bebop and Reinhardt adding classical and flamenco guitar elements to the jazz/popular canon.

Barney Kessel combined all of these guitar devices, expanded on them and added a few of his own. As far as I know he is the first guy to popularize (and maybe even develop) the backwards pick sweep that shows up in his playing a lot. This enables completely different lines and a different sound, even though it was often played so fast that it sounded sloppy at times. He also played original bebop lines, cool 50s “out” phrasing and a lot of licks that expanded on Charlie Christian’s blues licks (which were different from Reinhardt’s) and sound like what would later be very poplar rock music motifs. Because Barney was also always playing an amplified electric Gibson 350, he was able to dial in a wide array of sounds including fat bass spankin’, sustained horn-type lines, lush harp-like chords and sweet almost vocal single string licks. The Antônio Carlos Jobim composition Wave (above) is a good example of how effective a chordal/single note combination is for setting a mood. Great texture and dynamics and just oh so s m o o o t h. There is a lot to be learned from taking apart what he does in this clip and I’ve picked up a few things by transcribing bits of this performance. It’s also more than just licks; notice the pacing, the mood, textures and sustained drive of the whole song. That is very important! Below, Barney once again takes a number at a wicked tempo with the always-enjoyable Herb Ellis, on the flat-out amazing Tangerine. Talk about smoking! The extra special enjoyment of this for me is that I’ve played both Wave and Tangerine in gig settings. They are two of my favorite standards and fun tunes to learn how to play.

Barney had a very long career, playing with such greats as Chico Marx, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Sonny Rollins and Julie London on the 1955 album Julie Is Her Name, which contains the million-selling song, Cry Me a River. As I related in my post on Glen Campbell, Kessel was a member of “The Clique” or The Wrecking Crew as they came to be known and was a “first call” guitarist for Columbia Pictures during the 1960s. FUN FACT: He played the bass for Spock’s Theme in the Amok Time episode of Star Trek. In the 1970s he performed with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as The Great Guitars. Through it all Barney was most often spotted with just one guitar, a Gibson 350 with a Charlie Christian pickup. Although both Kay and Gibson tried to work the endorsement angle (and there are different versions of a Gibson Barney Kessel, a whole lot of his best work was done with that one guitar and he explains why in the following clip.

However, thanks to this very informative page, consider the following interview with the very awesome and talented YES guitarist Steve Howe:

I conducted an interview with Steve Howe, the guitarist in Yes, in October 2003 when I informed him that Kessel was critically ill. Howe has always cited Barney Kessel as a primary influence on his own guitar style: “Barney Kessel was the first American jazz guitarist I ever related to. I started playing when I was 12 in 1959 and I reckon about two years after that I was aware of Barney Kessel. I guess the Kessel album that was most important to me and still is, is ‘The Poll Winners’ with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown. ‘Volume 1’, a blue cover, on the Contemporary label. I bought it and most of Barney’s albums in London at Dobell’s, the famous jazz shop. It was archetypal, real jazz. I bought all the LP’s he made when he was the leader. I also liked him in support roles. I have the whole collection of ‘The Poll Winners’. One of the things I liked about Barney was his sound. Compared to other players, he had a very earthy, organic quality to his sound. And his playing was a remarkable mixture of ‘single line’ and ‘chords’, ya know, which inspired me to believe that any guitarist who doesn’t understand chords won’t be able to play much in the single line because they relate so much. Barney had his own great, highly individual approach to jazz guitar. The way he combined the chords and that single line. It was a perfect balance, really.

“And there was something mysterious about his equipment. In England, we could recognize L5s or 400s but we weren’t sure if he was playing an L7C, or what. Nobody really knew what that guitar was for a while. We knew it was some sort of Gibson. They weren’t heavily clarified in catalogues nor readily available in England in the ’60s. That’s when the L7 was less than popular, ya know? But he had that characteristic big guitar. I mean, I obviously went on to play a rock ‘n’ roll 175. I got it in 1964 and bought a new one in 1975. That was styled after Kessel, who I had seen a few times on television, and Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery and other guitarists who also used a 175, the most gorgeous guitar. As I went around, people said, ‘Wow, you play that guitar?’ Because it wasn’t considered a rock guitar in any shape or form. So it was kind of a breakthrough and it did help me because the sound of a full body is so different from the solids, the slim lines that people were playing. And everybody asked me, ‘Why didn’t it feed back?’ Because I used a volume pedal and I stood a certain distance from my amp and didn’t use too much bass from my amp, I guess. I got ’round that problem but I certainly wasn’t directly emulating Barney Kessel but I was thinking I would not remove myself from that line of fire, because I wanted to be influenced by jazz.

“I read Barney’s column, a few times, in ‘Guitar Player Magazine’. There obviously was a whole line of fine guitarists he inspired, or that had been touched by him. That stuff Barney did with Julie London like ‘Cry Me A River’ which starts with his guitar, is amazing. One important thing to me is that Barney Kessel is the first guitarist I ever saw who said ‘You need eight guitars to be a session guitarist’. I only had about four at the time. And when I saw his ‘eight guitars’ quote I kinda read what he meant. Like having a 12-string. Barney put something very influential in my head about the multi-guitar idea when he mentioned eight guitars including 12-string and mandolin…

“And Barney played that tune, ‘A Tribute To Charlie Christian’, on his ‘Easy, Like’ album. That was one of his things I learned. The fact is I’ve always mentioned Barney Kessel as the first player I ever got into, Barney and Django Reinhardt. And then of course my mind became more distracted from Barney but he never really went away. He was still there. A straight ahead guy with an organic edge to his sound.”

I’ve been saying for years what an influence Django Reinhardt was on the English rock musicians of the 60s and it’s interesting to learn about Barney’s influence as well. Definitely check out the whole article HERE at Spectropop for lots more on Barney’s life and career. He was at the crossroads of music through the 50s, 60s and 70s and performed with many of music’s biggest luminaries. The author interviews Barney’s sons and was able to speak with some of the music world’s biggest stars while Barney was in his final days. Brian Wilson: “Barney Kessel was a wonderful guitar player. He did a wonderful job on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. He’s in my prayers.” Barney is listed as playing mandolin on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ with other Wrecking Crew standouts Carol Kaye (bass), Hal Blaine (drums) and Larry Knechtel (organ). You can hear the backing track here. Here’s another interview with Barney from 1968 that’s notable for what he says about Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

Do you think the people who have played guitar in more outlandish ways have aided the instrument?

Not at all. No, they haven’t really done anything for the guitar or music. Like, someone once asked me: “What did you think of Jimi Hendrix?” First of all, I don’t discuss guitar players. I don’t think it’s ethical; it’s like asking a jazz critic about another jazz critic. I’d rather not. But it didn’t even have to be Jimi Hendrix it could be anyone. The fact that any man would go out on the stage and set fire to his guitar, or urinate on his guitar there’s nothing in there that makes me admire it…I can’t get past the disrespect shown the instrument, and I can’t imagine someone having enough genius to justify that…

There are now twelve year olds who think of Elvis Presley and the Beatles as old men, mythical characters things from the past. They just don’t relate to it. It’s a curious thing, but each generation wants its own heroes; it doesn’t matter how good someone else is they want their heroes, from their own age bracket…

It’s like when Bob Dylan came out . . . I knew John Hammond, and that he had discovered Mary Lou Williams and, of course, he’d done a lot for Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday he’s really made the people aware of a lot of fine talent. He also brought Bob Dylan into public awareness and I tried to find out what was the redeeming factor there. He can’t sing, he can’t play guitar, he can’t play the harmonica; his melodies are very, very primitive, bordering on the Neanderthal. Well, trying to look at it objectively the redeeming elements, and the only ones, are the words to his songs, that had a message for the people of his age and his time. But since I’m not his age, his words have no meaning for me. They did not affect me in any way. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, there were no redeeming qualities but I can see why he was accepted by a lot of people.

It seems Barney was able to appreciate some of the styles from the 60s (even Jimi Hendrix) a little more later in life (thanks to his children), but it’s interesting what he says about each generation wanting it’s own heroes regardless of talent or abilities. How true that is! It is probably also true that most people, especially musicians who spend a lifetime fine-tuning their hearing and their brains to appreciate and play sophisticated music, will get turned off by music that doesn’t match that standard. He certainly liked bands like Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys and The Beatles…he covered Yesterday and that tune certainly has a great melody!

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Here is a link to another interview with Barney from the late 60s that has more to do with playing guitar. It contains plenty of quotable nuggets like the above that give insight into what made Barney tick as an artist. He was a great listener, a great reader and had an intense musical imagination and this is how he developed the musical abilities that served him for almost 50 years. He also stressed (and something I wish someone would’ve told me when I was 20) that:

You must be clear on what you want to do with music . . . not just clear—specific. It’s not good enough to say: “I want to be in music.” You have to be as positive as booking a certain seat on a certain plane for a certain destination. The minute you become clear on what you want, it becomes also very apparent what you don’t want. You begin to see the interesting studies, the things that could be intriguing to do, but which are not pertinent to your goal. Today, with all the perplexities, it is not what to practice, but what to avoid practising. What do you want to do? It is time—wasting to taste a little of all these things and not to be master of any—unless you are doing it strictly for amusement. But to accomplish anything, you have to know what you want.

Finally, this version of The Shadow of Your Smile encapsulates everything that made Barney the musician he was: beautiful solo playing that never loses it’s drive, harmonic invention or melodic direction. There isn’t one wasted note, no wanking, nor one lick that is played simply to impress. It’s just a perfect musical performance. I love watching Barney clips on YouTube because they are always simultaneously entertaining AND a learning experience. In our imaginations and on our best days don’t we all aspire to to play like this? While Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass rightfully get a whole lot of praise for what they brought to the jazz guitar world, I feel not enough is said about Barney Kessel. He is beyond jazz — truly one of the titans of sophisticated guitar and a total music legend. Also, unlike Montgomery or Pass or many other players from that era, he was able to fit into a wide spectrum of musical situations and always bring his A- GAME. In addition to being an instrumentalist, producer and guy-on-the-scene, he became an educator later in his career. I’ve already linked to one of his instruction videos. Here’s another. Also, there are pages here and here that have some Barney-esque licks transcribed for your viewing, listening, and learning pleasure.

Another Book!

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Spring Cleaning has yielded a few more books from my Instruction Media collection! I last wrote about the other stuff I had in very exacting detail here about a month ago. I’ll have another one or two to show soon but here is The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies, by Ian Cruickshank. This is a compact, yet informative little tome from way back in the mid-80s and it was given to me a few years ago by my cousin. I think he originally picked it up soon after it was published. It reminds me of the Django Reinhardt: Know the Man, Play the Music book from the early 2000s in that the author tries to convey a sense of the people, community and history behind the music itself, while imparting some of the important guitar techniques of the style. I think both books succeed fabulously in this regard! (I’ve linked to Djangobooks where you can get them for a very reasonable price. I just ordered some Argentine Strings and will be reordering soon and, as always, you can count on prompt service!)

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The photographs in the book are fascinating and almost all of them were taken by the author (except for those pics of Django), probably at the annual Samois Festival.  You can feel the history just jumping off the pages with all of the players who were on the scene back in the day. Manouche/Sinti players always have a certain savoir faire about them. That’s true of all guitar players, but these guys definitely have their own artistic/cultural vibe. There are a lot of beat-up guitars and whatever amps they could dig up so most of the players supported themselves as musicians and worked a lot (whenever they could). There are pics of Django contemporary Maurice Ferret, Django’s brother, Joesph Reinhardt, a youngish Fapy Lafertin, Babik Reinhardt (Django’s son), young Boulou and Elios Ferré, Raphael and Louis Fays, Ninin, Modin, and many more. Of course the first part of the book is the story of Django — the guy who started it all!

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The author has been a player of some renown in the UK for a number of years. He obviously has a lot of love for the style and has been there for a lot of great shows over the years. The instructional material is a good primer for getting started on Manouche guitar. While it isn’t as detailed and exhaustive as later publications, Cruickshank covers all of the basics to get one up and jamming on a couple choruses of Minor Swing or Djangology. The hardest part is figuring out how to read the of the diagrams, which are a bit confusing.

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I recommend this book if only for the history lesson and as a snapshot of the mid-80s. Certainly the quality of instructional material has taken major leaps forward in the past 30 years and so much more is known about the inner workings of the style and community compared to 1985. Younger people would probably view some of the material as quaint or dated today, but it does hit all of the right notes as far as bullet points of the style, so I have to give it a thumbs up!