Archive for Bill Wyman

ShortRiffs — April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Richards — Part I

Posted in Movies, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by theguitarcave

GUITAR HERO

Keith is my numero uno, the man, the KING OF COOL and HOT TRASHY GUITAR. He was the first guitar hero I had and over the years I’ve learned many a lick and trick from listening to his music, reading his interviews and copping the feel from his playing. Long before Django, or Eddie or Jimi or anyone else I was a huge fan of The Rolling Stones and their music. Not only is Keith’s style great, but because he always mentioned great players from the past that were influences, he provided a link to the past that made for even more listening entertainment and inspiration. The Stones, from the very beginning, always picked great cover songs too — Love in Vain, Mona, Let it Rock, Prodigal Song, Shake Your Hips, Down the Road Apiece, Stop Breaking Down, Not Fade Away and many others always done with the energy and panache that is THE STONES.

There have been many great books on Keith and The Rolling Stones over the years and probably anyone reading this has had at least a few in their possession. The pictures you see in this post come from The Rolling Stones: The First 25 Years, by rock writer extraordinaire Dave Dalton. I’ve had this for so long it’s not even a book anymore. It completely fell apart years ago and is basically just a big pile of pages, but it’s a an AWESOME BOOK. Not only is the photography really brilliant, but it spans the real pinnacle of the band’s career and includes many interviews with Keith and Mick from the 1970s. This is is how I knew all about Keith’s guitar style before I even left home. I was surprised to see this book is still available and if you like Keith and the band, you should totally buy it.

BLUES ATTITUDE

From the early days The Stones were different from all of the other people who banded together to play rock and roll music. They grew to be notorious for their attitude and behavior and although they were eclipsed by The Beatles in the 1960s and Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, at least as far as popularity and sales, they became the epitome of what a rock and roll band is, or should be. Not only was their music top-notch, but they had the attitude (in spades) to match. The emotions and the attitudes expressed in songs like Satisfaction and Let’s Spend the Night Together (which was too risqué for The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967) seem quaint when compared to some of the jokes in an present-day episode of Family Guy. But that was the uptight culture that was America in the post-WW II years. Many of the overly conservative/fundamentalist leanings rampant today have been a part of this country all along. Whether he was in court on drug charges, staring down the Hells Angels at Altamont or being flogged in the press as a musical hack, Keith was never one to shy away from conflict. He has the BLUES ATTITUDE, a style and way of life I’ve already talked about in the Bukka White post I wrote last year. Along with the outlaw country styles of Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash and the rock and roll snarl of Elvis and Chuck Berry was all about IMPULSE and ABANDON, not only in the music, but also the lifestyle associated with it. Keith Richards came to embody all of this and even today is held up as THE symbol of hedonistic living, a shining example of those people who burn the candle at both ends and then snort the wax. In uptight conservative society, which is really what the upper class wants to inflict on the lower classes because the upper class perfected hedonistic behavior a long time ago, people like Keith were a threat to the status quo that had kept everyone in line. As the 60s progressed, more and more of the old ways fell away. Of course, Keith doesn’t get all the credit for these changes, but he was and is a person who declared, through his razor slash chords and his defiance of traditional mores, that he was a man who lives on his own terms, like it or not.

EARLY DAYS

In the beginning Keith and the Stones played the music of their heroes, the music they loved. It was rude, energetic, infused with sex and danger and the freedom to let it rock. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were a great rhythm section, Mick Jagger was well on his way to being a superstar frontman and Brian Jones and Keith Richards had practiced their dueling blues, rhythm and blues and rock and roll “weaving guitar” parts until they had them down cold. They had digested Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, Scotty Moore, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and were able to play it with a reckless enthusiasm that drove the kids wild. It was all about MOVING people, as the following clip from The Tami Show proves. The Stones are having a really good time and everything the band becomes is right here in this clip. It’s a tad derivative still — Showtime at The Apollo, James Brown or Otis Day and the Knights maybe. They weren’t really writing their own material yet. But the energy level is feverish, Keith fires the whole band with his timing, feel and exuberance. He’s also really good at those short, stingin’ leads. ROCK AND ROLL BABY!

By 1965, with the release of the singles The Last Time and Satisfaction and the Aftermath album, the band really came into their own with original material and almost all of it was built on Keith’s style and sensibilities. He was and is a complete genius at adapting to whatever the situation required. Very early on, in one of their first forays into the recording studio, the question was asked, “who makes the records?” and Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham pointed to Keith and said, “he does.” While part of the reason was Keith’s personality, it was also because he knew how to create a good track and capture the atmosphere necessary to make it more than a great track, especially once the concept of albums came into vogue. Only Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page equaled Keith’s ability to make albums that had not only the sound, but also the ambiance and atmosphere of blues and early rock and roll. Many critics have said that about the Exile on Main Street album, but it was true of other records as well, Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers especially. He was and is the KING of lo-fi, slop guitar and with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones and later, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, he had a lot of help making genre-defining records.

POP STARDOM

In the first phase of their career, the band was constantly being pressured for a single because that was the format du jour at the time. This was true of every band and every project through the late 60s. Many groups, even heavier ones like Cream and The Yardbirds were at the mercy of producers, record companies and managers who didn’t really understand this new rock phenomenon and insisted on doing business the old way. (HERE is a funny interview with Keith Relf, singer for The Yardbirds on the trials and tribulations of dealing with this aspect of pop stardom). Because The Beatles were the undisputed rulers of the pop charts throughout the decade, there was a lot of pressure on bands to follow their lead. Some of this yielded positive results for Keith and The Stones, others were pretty dismal (Their Satanic Majesties Request). Many of the Stones’ early original singles — The Last Time, Satisfaction, Get Off Of My Cloud and 19th Nervous Breakdown were very Rn’B-influenced and contained all of the best riffs and tricks to be mined from listening to all of the influences I’ve already mentioned. However, in 1965 they started to expand on this with other songs like Paint It, Black, Under My Thumb, Lady Jane, Ruby Tuesday, and Mother’s Little Helper. They were able to do this because Keith and Mick were becoming great song craftsman and because Brian Jones was a complete genius at picking up exotic instruments and mastering them them well enough to play on a track or live in a very short time. Even though Keith would, in time, become the best example of the outlaw rock and roller, he, like the others was always very pop-conscious. His guitar hooks usually brilliant and he knew how to ARRANGE a song for the singles format. It was Keith’s idea to use a fuzzbox on Satisfaction to give the guitar a horn-like sound and there weren’t a whole lot of people using fuzz boxes at the time. (It was supposed to be a “guide” track for real horns, but it was released as is). The riff to Satisfaction isn’t a complex statement but it IS effective and the song is always in the top 5 best singles of all time of most lists. In addition to his electric guitar finesse, Keith was a very good acoustic flat-picker, featured on songs like Lady Jane or Back Street Girl. While some of this material seems a bit off the wall compared to later, there are some real gems in the mid-60s Stones catalog that capture the whole period of 1960s “Swinging London”.

PHASE II

The mid-60s was a really great period for Brian Jones, but, unfortunately it was also the beginning of his decline. He really came into his own as the COLOR guy for the band because he played everything; sitar, mellotron, recorder, harmonica, marimbas, organ, harpsichord, saxophone, accordion, autoharp, and dulcimer. Songs they did during this period, which are still very popular, would have been impossible without him. He was comparable to The Beatles having George Martin involved on their records. According to Keith, Brian didn’t enjoy playing guitar very much after 1965 and while there were certainly other issues within the band, it’s easy to believe that he would’ve been bored being the rhythm guitar player given his multi-instrumental abilities. Hounded by the drug squads and marginalized within the band because of his physical and mental condition, he would become the 1960s first “death by misadventure” casualty.

1968, the year of Jumping Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet, was often heralded by critics as the band’s return to their roots, but it was actually much more than that. In the past they had played American music, but post ’68 they set out to completely reinvent American music and culture, at least as they saw it. It was art in it’s truest sense and while Mick Jagger’s lyrics had a lot to do with the panorama they created, this whole period was Keith Richards coming into his own as a complete (understated) guitar master. He began exploring the concept of open-tunings, used by the blues masters of the past: Skip James, Robert Johson, Bukka White, Son House and Muddy Waters. Combined with his love of acoustic guitars, brilliant song sense and endless supply of memorable riffs and driving rhythms, he created a body of work from ’68 to ’72 that is the Stones pinnacle. Every one of the albums from this period rates five stars or… it should. Charlie Watts has said (I’m paraphrasing) that “every band in the world follows the drummer except The Rolling Stones. We follow the rhythm guitar player.” A very crucial ingredient to why these records were so great was how well Keith and Charlie play together. Keith’s riffs, combined with Charlie’s unique approach to “rock” drumming creates a very powerful, hip shaking statement. This was the beginning of the band’s ascent to superstardom.

OPEN TUNINGS

I learned all of the open-tunings a long time ago precisely because Keith used them. The original version of Jumping Jack Flash (with it’s flip side Child of the Moon) was done in open E/D. Tune the guitar to a major chord E-B-E-G#-B-E (down 2 steps for open-D, which is less stress on the guitar, especially acoustics). Beggars Banquet was the first album done with Keith using these tunings although Brian had used this tuning for slide guitar in the past. Street Fighting Man, Prodigal Sun, Salt of the Earth, No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle and Stray Cat Blues are all definitely in open tunings. Another element that makes this album interesting is that some of the songs were cut with the band gathered around a Phillips cassette recorder which was then put through a speaker and recorded. Sort of like having an overdrive in the chain. Says Keith: “The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.” Brilliant lo-fi stuff isn’t it? That track still sounds great and the whole album is just drowning in atmosphere. Another thing about open-tunings…Music is about tension — tension and release. Whether is a complicated harmonic progression like All the Things You Are or a pretty simple rock tune like Street Fighting Man, there is a tension created during the song that gives it harmonic interest and a pulse. With open-tunings you can throw 2 of your fingers onto the fretboard and create a suspended chord, which is one of the most “tension-creating” devices there is. If you’re playing in the key of C, which is the key for Street Fighting Man, you are creating a Csus chord which is almost an F chord. Throw in the really slashing rhythm figure that the song has and you see why it works so well. While you can play any of these songs in standard tuning and make it work (I’ve seen Chris Spedding play Brown Sugar this way) there is a DRONING effect that is lost. Open-tunings let all of the un-fretted strings ring out sympathetically creating this really HUGE sound. It’s awesome, especially on an acoustic. Keith also played the bass on Street Fighting Man including that great little descending figure in between the verses that is kind of a pause between the tumultuous verses/choruses that deal with all of the social unrest that was going on in 1968. Jumping Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet would be the blueprint for what was to come for the next almost 5 years and the band got off to a great start. Below is Street Fighting Man live from 1973. You can see that Keith is playing the song in open-G with a capo on the 5th fret. The song is still in “C” just not the same open-tuning.

Speaking of Stray Cat Blues…I just did the music for a friend’s project that profiles a woman who takes care of stray and feral cats (at her own expense) in Mexico. I decided to use the Keith approach to the music and I ended up with something not too bad considering I haven’t played slide guitar in 5 years and was never much of a harmonica player. I also used the old Johnny Cash trick of slipping a piece of paper through the strings to create a nice rhythmic “chuck” for the background. The track had to be edited down for the length of the movie, but this is why I love GARAGEBAND.

In THIS post, I do some playing around with open-tunings on an acoustic, including Prodigal Son and You Gotta Move. They are close to what Keith does except “Move” is tuned down to a “C” tuning. I’m playing it in “D”. Keith Part II coming later in the year!