Archive for BB King

ShortRiffs — March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Circus Leaves Town

Posted in Music Business, Players, Playing, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by theguitarcave

…and we’re back! It’s been almost two years since I posted. I was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to have two surgeries, a few hospitalizations, and a bunch of other stuff. I spent last year in treatment and rehab and finally life has gotten back to a semblance of normal. The treatment was/is unpleasant, but since it seems to be working I’m not going to complain too much since the alternative (if treatment wasn’t working) no one would ever hear me complain again. Because of the surgeries, playing guitar can be a challenge, yet I find I’m playing better than ever and still enjoy it. People still read this blog and sometimes they write in and say nice things so I am going to keep it going for another year. There will be a flurry of activity over the next month or so, including a video lesson of my favorite licks. THANKS to everybody who wrote in last year about my post on Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen. Also, THANKS to those folks who wrote to tell me of Bill Fritsch’s passing. He figured prominently in the 60s San Francisco scene and in my post Gimme Shelter and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. THANKS to everyone who comments or sends me messages! I really do appreciate it. I’ve adjusted to my situation. Everyone bangs into the hard wall of their mortality sooner or later. I’m grateful that I am still here and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.

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Some people who were really important in music, life and entertainment have died since 2014. I’m not trying to be overly morbid or anything, but some of these performers were really important to me and a whole lot of other people and their passing leaves a void where they once were. Soon there will be more great musicians in that band in the sky that on planet earth. The people who made the music and entertainment for the Boomer and Gen X generations are rapidly leaving town and it makes me wonder what will be left when they are all gone?

Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead! Wow! Shocking! Who will ever replace him? The guy had a rock and roll pedigree that went back to the 60s when he was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was in Hawkwind! He basically invented the brand of loud speed rock that he spent almost 40 years playing and never compromised for anyone. I saw Lemmy at Heathrow Airport in London back in 1988. I had just landed for a visit and then we were both at the luggage carousel. He was wearing an all white leather suit and his complexion, color, whatever you want to call it, was whiter than the suit. BADASS! Motorhead’s performance here is from the British sit-com The Young Ones, which featured comedian Rik Mayall, who passed away in June of 2014. A pioneer of early 80s alt-comedy, Mayall’s over-the-top performance in The Young Ones and many other appearances (BlackAdder, Bottom) earn him a rock and roll mention!

A long time ago I posted this interview with Yes bassist Chris Squire…well it’s not really an interview; he tells a story about opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London in 1967. Squire’s band YES was HUGELY popular in the 70s and 80s and he was always a big part of their sound. It’s hard to imagine any dudes my age that weren’t touched by this band at least a little bit. Always amazing musicianship and songwriting and basically one of the main pillars of progressive rock. I still like to crank this up once and a while and thanks to YouTube a whole lot of their prime entire concerts are online.

Riley “Blues Boy” King, who I wrote about here back in the day was one of the most influential musicians ever. From his early days on radio, through his groundbreaking Live at the Regal album to world-wide super-stardom, no one played and sang the blues like BB. He was also one of the hardest working people ever and was playing his signature heavy vibrato blues/jazz licks right up ’til the very end. The fact that he influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Duane Allman to Adrien Moignard speaks volumes on his talent and wide-reaching appeal.

While I was never a huge fan of any of these guys, they all made their mark on the development of rock guitar: Gary Richrath, Sam Andrew and Paul Kantner. I remember watching Gary Richrath on TV in the 70s and then seeing his band REO Speedwagon live in the early 80s. I really liked the live album, You Get What You Play For and was ok with You Can’t Tune a Piano But You Can Tunafish, but I hated the multi-platinum ballad rock of High Infidelity, so I bailed after 1981. I really dug his Les Paul/Marshall sound though and he really had it goin’ on back in the day. Definitely knew how to move a crowd! Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band and Paul Kantner from Jefferson Airplane/Starship were both legendary guitarists/instrumentalists and had long careers in the business. This clip of Big Brother at Monterey is the stuff of hippie nirvana and Kantner was the longest-serving member of the Airplane and the guy who engages Bill Fritsch of the Hells Angels in a “discussion” about the violence that is happening at the Altamont concert after Airplane singer Marty Balin gets knocked out trying to break up a fight. Here is that exchange along with the Airplane song The Other Side of This Life in all of it’s acid drenched, boob-shaking glory.

Another cat from San Francisco I really dug was the late Dan Hicks — singer, songwriter, guitarist and swing band leader par excellence. Dan and his various bands like The Hot Licks and The Acoustic Warriors had that Hot Club meets Bob Willis swing sound and I have long been a fan. Supporting musicians included the incomparable Sid Page on violin, John Girton on guitar and future Hot Club of San Francisco leader/guitarist Paul Mehling. Vocalists Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price always helped give the band and extra layer of awesome-ability. All of Hicks’s songs were filtered through his trademark dry, deadpan humor and considering The Hot Licks opened for bands like Steppenwolf back in the early 70s I think it’s fair to say that he qualifies as a true legend in the acoustic/swing community. All of those old records, if you can find them, are treasures! I will write more about Dan and his bands in an upcoming post.

Glen Frey of The Eagles died recently and you know what’s amazing? I have had literally a thousand albums, tapes and discs pass through my hands over the years. I have weeks worth of songs on a hard drive. But I have never owned an Eagles album or even had Eagles songs on a mix tape. I don’t know what that says about them…or me? A whole lot of people did like The Eagles though…they sold an staggering amount of records.

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Of course the biggest star to pass away in the past two years was David Bowie. I wrote a post on Bowie’s first guitarist Mick Ronson way back in the early days of the blog. I must confess I wasn’t Bowie’s biggest fan. As a rockin’ dude, I certainly liked some of his stuff and loved Mick Ronson’s guitar playing, but thought Bowie’s output was uneven over the years. While I love tracks off of his first 6-7 albums, I don’t think he ever delivered a solid classic album like Rubber Soul, ZOSO, Who’s Next or Exile on Main Street. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was certainly very close. In the pre-Let’s Dance days, before he was a world-wide phenomenon, what I remember is that Bowie was really hot with the girls. Women LOVED Bowie. He had the same type of appeal as Freddie Mercury and Queen in that he combined hard rock with Bertolt Brecht and Edith Piaf so as a listener you were never sure what was coming next, rock and roll or a lounge act. Vocally, he seemed to be exactly equal parts masculine and feminine…sort of like how Miles Davis played trumpet. I probably appreciate his ambient music now more than I did before, but still dislike a lot of the “industrial” stuff. Don’t think I’m ever gonna be a fan of machine music…sorry.

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Bowie was a multi-instrumentalist and played a lot of guitar over the course of his career, including almost all of the guitar on the Diamond Dogs album, which had the “hit” title track and the genre-defining Rebel Rebel. He was also really good at bringing the right musicians together and pushed them to perform well. He worked with some of the best guitar players ever, including, Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Earl Slick. Here is a video interview with the late Mick Ronson that serves as a great retrospective of his early guitar days, the years with Bowie, and offers some insights into Bowie the artisté.

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I listened to the Station to Station disc recently and it was pretty good—it’s fun to throw on discs that haven’t been played in a while. Golden Years is a pretty great song isn’t it? Back when I interviewed Mick Ronson in 1989, I mentioned really liking the guitar sound on some very early songs like Running Gun Blues, Black Country Rock, and Width of a Circle. He was pleasantly surprised that someone in America would know and like that material since the album, The Man Who Sold the World, in it’s pre-Nirvana Unplugged days, wasn’t very well-known or popular. I still like that material a lot…it was really fucked up…in a good way. David Bowie and all of his artistic partners definitely expanded the borders of music, fashion and art and he deserves a lot of credit for making life, music, and the arts more interesting and colorful…and my girlfriend really, really, really liked him.

The “5th Beatle”, Sir George Martin, just passed away last week at the age of 90. Wow! What a great life! If he had done nothing but produce The Beatles from 1963-1969 that would have been enough, but of course, he did much more than that. Since he was older than many of the artists he worked with over the years he brought a very paternalistic presence (as well as a great set of ears and a wide wealth of musical and technical knowledge) to every project he was involved in. He would also go on to produce another of my favorite albums, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. Totally awesome record, which is why it ranks a review in the right column.

Keyboard master Keith Emerson, from Emerson Lake and Palmer fame took his own life last week. According to reports he was suffering from depression and heart disease and shot himself with a firearm. According to his girlfriend, he was also suffering from hand issues that prevented him from playing at the virtuoso levels from his glory days and was trolled by fans on the internet who didn’t like his new music. Pretty messed up if that’s true…While I wasn’t ever a huge fan of ELP, like YES above, it was inconceivable that anyone from my background could not know who they were and recognize songs, like Lucky Man, From the Beginning, and Karn Evil 9 (Welcome Back My Friends), and Still You Turn Me On. One of the giant bands of the progressive era.

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While he wasn’t a musician I’d give a rock and roll salute to Ken Stabler, 70s quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. “The Snake” was a rock and roll outlaw cut from the same cloth as Ronnie Van Zant and Clint Eastwood’s 70s Man with No Name/Josey Wales characters. He had the rock and roll hair, “studied the playbook by the light of the jukebox”, practically invented the late 4th quarter comeback and led the Raiders to some of the most exciting victories in pro football and finally to Super Bowl victory in 1977. I used to LOVE watching the Raiders play late on Sunday afternoons. You just never knew what was going to happen until the final seconds were up. His family related that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Van Morrison’s When The Leaves Come Falling Down were part of the soundtrack to The Snake’s peaceful passing. One of his last acts before dying of complications from cancer last year was to donate his brain to a study of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He was found (post mortem) to have had Stage 3 of the illness (in part or totally) thanks to all of the hits he took as a quarterback decades earlier. I wish he had achieved the recognition when he was alive, but I’m glad that he will finally be enshrined.

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Closer to home, right after New Year’s 2015, my friend and the long-time musical director for CAB CITY COMBO, Paul Rubin, passed away. I wrote about the Combo here and here back in the day and in wake of his passing a couple of albums have been released here and here. We had a lot of fun over the years making music and silliness and although we had stopped in 2004 there was always the possibility that we might do more. That’s the thing about death: it’s always so final. Paul was also a very good friend and everyone knows how hard it is to lose a good friend. Unfortunately, once the 50 year-old milestone is passed, losing people is something that becomes a bigger part of life. I always valued his opinion and input on things I was doing and he was an early supporter of my gypsy jazz enthusiasms. We went and saw Tchavalo, Dorado and Samson Schmitt along with Florin Niculescu one hot summer day in the Jazz at Lincoln Center space many moons ago. Great concert, great time. I had plenty of these moments with Paul over the years and I am glad I can look back with happiness and a certain measure of pride on all the things we did together.

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Finally, my mother also passed away last week. She and my father both had a great love of music, but it was my mom who always indulged my passion for it and helped me along the way. She had played horn and piano when she was younger and her side of the family was very musical. She also taught me the importance of fortitude, perseverance, and hard work in the attainment of meaningful goals. The first guitar I ever played was actually hers…given as a present by my father one Christmas. She was never a great fan of rock and roll and couldn’t understand why I played it so LOUD, but the fact that I liked it was enough for her to grudgingly respect some of it. She liked The Beatles, Yo Yo Ma, Arlo Guthrie, and Simon and Garfunkel. She was impressed with Eddie Van Halen’s writing and playing skills, loved classical music and enjoyed coming to Lincoln Center, especially if it was for The Mostly Mozart Festival. She was an influential, well-loved person to her family, friends and associates, but above all she was…MOM. It hurts to lose one’s mother, but now she is free and forever out of pain.

All of these people shaped me to one degree or another and some of them shaped entire generations. That kind of influence does not dissipate with their passing because it remains in their creations and in people’s memories. Guitar players and other musicians keep other musicians alive by playing their licks or covering their songs. Music that was written almost one hundred years ago is played constantly at blues, jazz, and gypsy jazz jams all of the time. We all owe a debt to those people who have meant so much to us and we can make their legacy (words, music, creations, thoughts and deeds) eternal and if we do, and if we bring some of our own legacy to the world, then we too will remain even after we are gone. The circle of life is, after all, the circle of life.

The Guitar Cave Book Review #2

Posted in Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by theguitarcave

Two more books from the library! I have some rilly cool things to share: The BB King Treasures and Stochelo Rosenberg (part 1). Both of these coffee-table-esque printed productions are very stylin’ and function as the kind of material I lay out when important and sophisticated people visit. It’s my way of saying, “Hey, I’m New York SASSY and I moved on from Hammer of the Gods a long time ago. But aside from that, both these books are complete and total eye-candy and serve as scrapbooks that detail the lives of two very accomplished musicians. Reading over them puts one smack in the middle of a whole lot of music history and culture and contained within are all kinds of special features that add to the experience. Both were obviously put together with a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE and it shows.

Riley B. King is a musical institution and The USA is lucky to have him. Over a career spanning 60+ years BB has become a world ambassador and “global musician” of the guitar, influencing some pretty high-powered people along the way and entertaining literally millions of people. The BB King Treasures, which was released to coincide with his 80th birthday, traces his story from very humble beginnings in a Mississippi sharecroppers cabin, through his early love of music and apprenticeship with cousin Bukka White, to his early successes in Memphis radio. It then moves on to the many years of relentless touring and recording. While James Brown might’ve called himself the hardest working man in showbiz, BB just went out and did it, year after year. By the 1960s when British guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page brought the blues back to the United States, BB saw his popularity skyrocket because he WAS the blues and could kill them at The Fillmore playing to a bunch of hippies who were there to see Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience. BB and Albert King (no relation but another very influential player) were both revered by white audiences and players alike and enjoyed tremendous success during the late 60s and early 70s.

Year after year BB kept taking his message of music to the people and eventually became a full-blow icon — I mean he’s had an audience with the Pope fer crying out loud. (Supposedly John Paul II played a little guitar himself and wanted BB to show him how to play The Thrill is Gone — but that might’ve been just a rumor). Aside from great writing, this book contains so many cool reproductions of mementos that trace BB’s career — posters, business cards, booking schedules, stickers…neato! There is also a CD that has BB talking about a whole lot of guitar stuff. He relates how he admired Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and other players that he heard when he was growing up and how he tried to mimic the guitar bends, slides and chord patterns. He also recalls sitting next to cousin Bukka as he did his thing, but ultimately BB could never reproduce any of it like he heard it. (He illustrates what he’s talking about by singing and picking an acoustic guitar) Listening to the CD it’s obvious ALL of that blues is in BB, but he went and did his own thing with it, took it somewhere else. His vibrato is legendary and his great FEEL gives all of his guitar playing a very human voice — a powerful enough influence that Duane Allman learned all of BB’s licks note for note and John Lennon once said, “I wish I could play guitar like BB King”. John even name-drops BB King in his Dig It jam that showed up on Let It Be. Even after all of the success and world-wide acclaim BB is very humble and cognizant of how he is a part of this long thread of guitar and music and this book serves as a real celebration of all he has accomplished. The combination of the writing, BB’s input, the relaxed feel of the audio interviews and all of the cool little add-ons, give this package a very personal feel and because there is so much here, you can revisit repeatedly without exhausting your interest level. The video below doesn’t come with the book, but it’s one of my favorite BB cuts covered at Monterey by Jimi Hendrix. If Jimi covered you then you know it was great stuff!

While Stochelo Rosenberg doesn’t have BB King’s 60 years of history or name recognition, he has established himself as the premier emissary of gypsy jazz throughout the world. Coming from a Manouche gypsy background he is steeped in traditions that date back literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. Stochelo’s book is a great family album he put together with help from Harry Klunder and guitar maker extraordinaire Leo Eimers.

Of course the shadow and presence of the awesome Django Reinhardt is always with Stochelo and all of those who play gypsy jazz. Django was the first world-wide hero of the Manouche community and founded a school and style of music that enjoys great popularity today. The success of Stochelo, his incredible guitar abilities and the wonderful music he and the trio have created has been a very important part of WHY there are so many people listening to and playing the music today. But they always acknowledge and give homage to the master and there is a section in the book devoted to Django. In addition to being a great musician, Django dabbled in painting and favored the female form as subject matter. (Who can blame him!) There are some samples in the book and this is the first time I’ve seen nice reproductions of his work. For over 20 years The Rosenberg Trio has been releasing beautiful discs and completely flooring everyone with their live performances. In addition to Stochelo, the trio features Nou’she, his cousin, one of THE preeminent gypsy rhythm guitarists in the world today and his other cousin, Nonnie an awesome bass player. Because they are all related and have been playing together for so long, TIGHT doesn’t even begin to describe how well they work together. Metal shredders, tube screamers, fingerpickers and technique geeks take notice. The Rosenberg Trio are amazing!

This book is hard to find and maybe impossible to buy now…I don’t know. There were a limited number of copies made. I have # 57. [edit message from co-author Harry Klunder: Hello, for Your information, the book is still on stock, however not so many. Let me know if you are interested, there are about 750 ex. left and they will be presented on the market again next year.Harry Klunder] It comes with one of Stochelo’s guitar picks embedded in the inside front cover, tabs of original music he wrote just for the book, a really insightful interview on his playing technique and equipment preferences and a WHOLE LOTTA HISTORY. It’s a great presentation of Stochelo’s family and Manouche culture. The Rosenberg Trio was shaped and is sustained by their roots and there are lots of great stories and fantastic pics of family, friends and associates. While Django looms large as Stochelo’s main influence, there were others, much closer to home like his legendary uncle Wasso Grunholz and the well-known and terrifically awesome Fapy Lafertin. There is also a section on Leo Eimers, the guy who makes some of the best Selmer style guitars in the world. It’s obvious Stochelo had a lot to do with the creation of this book because all of the highlights of his life — playing with Stephane Grappelli, success with the Rosenberg Trio and carrying on the proud tradition of Django Reinhardt are contained within. He is also a devoted father and husband and, like BB, just comes across as a real humble, down-to-earth guy, GUITAR GOD, though he may be.

What’s really great about all four of the books I’ve profiled so far is that authors and producers really did a swell job. There isn’t any expense spared to get the story right and make even the tiniest details available to the audience (which I gotta figure includes many guitar players). Anyone in the publishing world will tell you that CONTENT IS KING and what makes these books enjoyable is that at the most basic level, they are great stories told by great communicators about great communicators. All of the extras serve to augment what is already an enjoyable experience for the reader. While I am a great fan and daily participant in the digital publishing landscape, there is always room for printed material, especially 5-star efforts that create an experience that is unique and informative. Both of these books certainly do that and a whole lot more!

The Guitar Cave Book Review #1

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2011 by theguitarcave

For Post #50 I’m going to do something I haven’t done before — review a couple of really cool books. Yea, I know, “books, wow how 20th century!”. But some people still like to read words on paper and some of these people are guitar players or people interested in guitar players, therefore I will show two of the many I have. The first book is Skydog — The Duane Allman Story, written by Randy Poe and the second is Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire by Joe Nick Patoski. The first thing you will notice if you go check these two books out on Amazon is that they have almost perfect 5 star ratings. Yes! They are that good, no fooling. Because, let’s face it, there are plenty of books on musicians that just suck. Authors either make stuff up, cobble together previously released material, get a whole lot of important factual info wrong, or spend the whole book dwelling on non-musical issues (drugs, gossip, sex). But the two books here on Duane and Stevie are awesome in that there is all kinds of little-known info on their lives, but also a TON of stuff that guitar players will find REALLY INTERESTING. Both authors deserve immense credit and recognition for getting these books together and obviously have a sincere personal interest in the subject matter.

There are other common threads throughout Skydog and Caught in the Crossfire: Both Duane and Stevie were pretty CRAZY southern dudes who channeled unbelievable energy and focus into the guitar and blues-based music from a very early age. The fact that they both died tragically only increased the aura that surrounds them many years later. They both had close relationships with Eric Clapton who has said on different occasions how he had to stop what he was doing the first time he heard each guitar player. Of course Eric and Duane ended up recording a milestone album, Layla, together, and he and Stevie became very good friends, shared many a stage together and was instrumental in Stevie’s recovery following his 1986 collapse from 20 years of bodily abuse. Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie’s brother once said that Stevie always played like he was “bustin’ outta jail” but I think both Duane and Stevie always played like they were being chased by demons or maybe knew the clock was ticking and tried to get as much guitar out there as they could before time was up. This is pretty obvious in the following clip (a book review with film! How cool and novel is that?)

I knew quite a bit about Stevie before I read Caught in the Crossfire, but Duane Allman has always been a bit of mystery. He died when I was still a wee youngin’ and there weren’t a whole lot of guitar magazine interviews or books written about him, even though it was accepted that he was a legend. Neither the Allmans or SRV ever cultivated attention from, or were accepted by the media because they lacked the glamor appeal and hype that sells so much music. Duane was notoriously hell-bent from an early age. He acquired his first motorcycle around the same time he began playing guitar and his riding habits convinced at least one of his classmates at the time that “Duane was one of those people you meet in your life that you know is not going to make it to 30…He was as self-destructive as anyone I ever knew…You do things when you’re a kid that you’d never do when you were older — but he took it way past that.” However, Duane was also an extremely disciplined learner when it came to his approach to guitar. As I described in an earlier post, one of his classmates related how he would play along to his awesome record collection learning licks one by one, stopping the record with his big toe, letting it go to move on to the next lick when he had the first one down. He’d play the whole record that way, flip it over, and then do it again. Author Randy Poe alternates between his personal research and interviews from people who knew Duane well and this makes the story move and sheds some light on Duane’s personal troubles and motivations. By the end I KNEW Duane and all of the people in his life who had any interaction with him. The chapters on the milestone recording of Hey Jude with Wilson Pickett, the formation and road/recording days of the Allmans and the recording of Layla with Derek and the Dominos are all brilliant — it’s almost like being there. The glorious and painful saga of the Allman Brothers post Duane’s (and Berry Oakley’s) passing is covered and the book has an intro from the one and only Reverend Billy Gibbons. Fans of the band and guitar geeks will not be disappointed. I promise!

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire is also a great read because it was obviously well-researched and, like Skydog, written by someone who has an appreciation for what Stevie accomplished. From a very early age SRV was a guitar force in Texas and he went on to break through to mass appeal and resurrect the whole genre of blues music.  Like Duane he was completely driven to make it, to the point where he super-glued a ripped callous back on his finger to finish a set. He gave the impression that he lived to play guitar and play the blues and his entrance to the big time — by way of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the first SRV and Double Trouble release, Texas Flood, was so overwhelming that the blues suddenly didn’t seen so out of touch with the 1980s. Stevie could adapt his blues to anything and make it sound current and relevant. Like Duane, Stevie lived at a Mach 5 speed and fueled by ever-increasing amounts of substances, ran himself nearly to death playing more gigs every year and sleeping only when he fell down. It would take a near-death experience to get him back and once again his determination allowed for him to clean up and resume what really mattered…making music. Joe Nick Patoski has input from a whole ton of people on this book and Stevie Ray emerges as a complete person with all of the good and bad that came with that. There are glorious highs and bar-soaked, creaky piano lows to this story but it is a very human portrait and Stevie, like any great literary hero, succeeds in the end. The late-80s SRV was clear-eyed and stingin! and when Stevie played like he does in the following clip, he had no competition.

There’s a lot music, a lot of music business and quite a few great stories in both of these books. I learned more than I expected and have a better picture of not only Duane and Stevie, but others who were important to the stories of these men: Greg Allman, Berry Oakley, Dickie Betts, Jimmie Vaughan, Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton and many others I’d like to list but that would take forever. Of course a feeling of tragedy permeates both books, but that is true of a lot of rock and roll tales. Because Duane and Stevie were both ALL about the music at the expense of everything else, physical health and well-being included, it is perhaps almost expected that their destinies would include an early death. The world was made richer by the music they created and you will be made richer if you check out either or both of these books. There is a distinctly American vibe to both stories and in a way, they are the stories of us all.