Archive for Black Sabbath

Christmas Time is Here — Part II

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

So in Part I of Christmas Time is Here I briefly described some of the history of Christmas carols and popular holiday songs with the idea in mind that as musicians we are sometimes called to play them and shouldn’t shy away from playing them or enjoying the rich history and tradition they symbolize. In this post I will cover actually moving on to making these songs a part of repertoire. The first step in that direction is, of course, deciding on, and building up an arrangement of a song that you like, that works with your abilities as a musician, and will fit the performance you are going to give. This can be an arrangement you learn or one you adapt from either a vocal or instrumental arrangement that is already out there. Every musical number I do, Christmas song or not, even if it is based on someone’s version of a song, I like to change it a little bit or add something to it. That is just a way of personalizing the music or performance and jazz musicians especially do this all of the time.

If you are inclined to a the classic era of Big Band and vocal performances, you can never go wrong with any of the masters from the Golden Age of jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosby to name a few. Their interpretations of holiday music are still heard regularly today — I heard Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) in 3 different stores during the buildup to 12/25 this year. The arrangements are usually pretty involved but they are also accessible and can be very inspiring in what you add to the song or (if you also sing) how your vocal arrangement will sound.

Speaking of Chestnuts and roasting on an open fire… We’ve all heard Nat King Cole or someone else sing this song, but how many people have actually seen a chestnut? Have you ever wondered about that? There was a time when chestnut trees were almost 25% of all hardwood stock in some areas of North America and recipes for everything from roasted chestnuts to chestnuts and sausages were typical fare. But a blight, introduced by planting a strain of Asian chestnuts in Long Island, NY in 1904 wiped out literally billions of trees. That’s right, Billions! It’s estimated there are only a few dozen pre-blight trees still alive in North America today and, of course, hardly anyone eats chestnuts during the holidays and almost all of the chestnuts that are eaten have to be imported. By the time The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) was written in 1944, most of the nation’s chestnut tree stock had already been wiped out. What an ecological nightmare! The things I learn blogging sometimes.

Many great instrumentalists from the 40s, 50s and 60s made holiday albums: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, George Shearing, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd all made Christmas albums. So did swinging 60s style artists like Herb Albert, and so have newer jazzy/poppy superstars like Wynton Marsalis, Diane Krall and Nancy Wilson. There are literally weeks worth of instrumental and mood-type Christmas music on YouTube and possibly something on one of these albums could inspire you in a certain direction.

Some people may be more inclined to the rock and roll side of things but keep in mind that the lines of where Golden Classics leave off and rock and roll begins is a fine one indeed. Elvis Presley recorded a whole bunch of Christmas music and his tastes range from gospel, to rock and roll to straight pop. His interpretations of the classics (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Town of Bethlehem) are as good as anyone’s because his gospel background and religious convictions give such sacred songs a depth that many secular vocalists just don’t do as well. It’s very easy to reduce a whole lot of the religious holiday music to camp and sentimentality, but Elvis never does this. He also recorded the definitive version of Blue Christmas. On the original version his vocals are awesome and the arrangement, including the background vocals by The Jordanaires, was inspiring and musically groundbreaking for the time. Was this the first rock and roll Christmas Song? Hmm. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I will chime in. Of course there was a whole lot of rock and roll Christmas after 1957 including: Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Phil Spector’s Christmas (including The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, which is also a classic), The Beatles, who released lots of Christmas craziness through their fan club and then later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s So This Is Christmas and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, both of which still get HEAVY airplay during the season. They are modern standards for sure. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also has a modern standard with his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has also been covered by everyone from Mariah to Bieber. José Feliciano, who I wrote about here, has the awesome Felice Navidad song that still gets yearly airplay and the recently-departed George Michael had a big 80s classic hit with the holiday favorite Last Christmas. Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to catch the Johnny Cash Christmas show when it rolled through New York City. That was a lot of fun. Brian Setzer has had a Christmas show/revue for years and he has covered a whole ton of great songs. Like this one:

So, depending on your preferred style of music, you can adapt and arrange any song you see fit and spice up everything from musical performances to family gatherings. Christmas songs, carols and melodies lend themselves to a wide variety of possibilities; they can have a very bare bones arrangement that you may sing along with, or they also can be turned into an instrumental mind-blower like what the always amazing Ted Greene does below. When I was in a punk band we used to do a twisted, Black Sabbath kind of take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. When I got old and settled down, Christmas Time is Here was the first Christmas song I learned to play as a solo improviser and I have played it every year since and performed it at numerous gigs. This past year I worked up an arrangement that was based on The Ventures version of Sleigh Ride and tweaked it to work with gypsy jazz, rehearsed a couple times with the fellows, and away we went at a gig 4 days before Christmas. It was one of the best songs of the gig(!) even though no one had either a vibrato bar or copious amounts of delay since we were playing amplified acoustic. As always: If you are playing the songs instrumentally MAKE SURE you can play the melody without screwing it up! That means going over it a bunch of times. You should be able to play it 3-5 times in a row without a mistake. If you can’t, you will probably fudge it at the gig or in front of people. So beware!

There are about 7-8 songs that I can play pretty well solo and I start getting them together in the fall and play them through the season. Christmas songs are great vehicles for learning to play in an unaccompanied style (especially if you are new to unaccompanied playing), because the melodies are so well-known and the arrangement you can begin with can be very simple, but still very effective. As always take it slow and work your way through it a couple bars at a time. Since most songs do not have many different parts or modulations (unless you add them, which you can certainly do!) you will find that they will come together pretty quickly. Learning to play and perform these tunes is also a great test of what you can add to the performance every time you play it once you become comfortable improvising with yourself. I blew off a version of White Christmas while a few of us were sitting around one day in December and it sounded pretty flippin’ good! If you’re comfortable with the arrangement and comfortable improvising (throwing in some wacky chords and riff choices) you can turn the song into a really special and personal thing…and it can be a little bit different every time! So maybe give that a go later on in the year. Here is a list of jazzy, snazzy solo guitar instruction to get you started. If you’re not up to that yet, try these. You will become part of a long and very storied and important tradition that has involved the guitar and other string instruments for the better part of a millennium. Even if you play in a punk or metal band — everyone likes Christmas songs if you play them well and it’s November or December. Whatever you do, don’t even try this in July man!

Another Cool CD — Acid King – Free

Posted in Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by theguitarcave

AK2_free

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 to my ears and 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 think.

AK_Free3

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’!

AK1_free

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!

Guitar Teevee in the 1970s

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

Back in the day it was an everyday occurrence to see people with real talent playing a guitar on television. Sadly, that’s not true anymore, but through the magic of YouTube we can return to the days when variety shows, live concert shows, and even situation comedies had great music. Judging by the views on some of the videos I check out, there are a whole lot of other people out there viewing these videos too. Oh yea!

Roy Clark was all over television in the 1970s. He was a bonafide recording star, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and a proven marketable guy as Hee Haw, the show he co-hosted with Buck Owens, was on for over 20 years. He guest-hosted for Johnny Carson and also made appearances like the one above where he is plays a country medley with the always funny Flip Wilson on The Flip Wilson Show. It was awesome how these skits and musical numbers could show up anywhere and how live, well-played music was an integral part of many entertainment shows. Below Roy stars in an episode of the Odd Couple that includes his pop hit Yesterday (When I Was Young).

bar2

Another country-type who was all over 70s television was the incomparable master of the 6 string, Chet Atkins. His performance of the popular song usually associated with Anne Murray, Snowbird, is a study in fingerstyle guitar wonderama. Check out the sweep picking he works into this performance! Unfortunately I don’t know what show this is from, but the medley performance below is taken from The Johnny Cash Show. It’s gems like these two videos that show Chet was always so much more than a country picker.

Speaking of Snowbird, like Stewie from Family Guy, I
💘 Anne Murray and this performance. Pretty lady, beautiful voice and a very poignant song. Always loved the harmony vocals too!

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This vid of John Hartford playing his song Good Old Fashioned Washing Machine is probably one of the oddest things on YouTube. It’s actually from 1969 and is one of Hartford’s “novelty” numbers. He gets a lot of help from The very bubbly and photogenic Lennon Sisters, Perry Como(?) and Jimmy Durante, who fell over after the song ended. Weird. In the old days television was geared toward a mostly rural and less er, sophisticated audience. In 1971 there was a “Rural Purge” of a lot of these kind of shows from the networks and the programming changed to more “urban” material (All in the Family and all of it’s spin-offs), shows dedicated to more controversial subject matter (MASH) and shows that appealed to a younger audience. This was the beginning of a new direction in television programming and was certainly reflective of all of the change that had occurred during the 1960s, and a new generation of viewers.

One neat-o thing that came out of this change was that shows that featured rock band performers started appearing and sometimes the bands really played and didn’t just mime their way through the performance like this great clip from The Doobie Brothers from a 1975 Midnight Special performance. As far back as the 50s when Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan put Elvis Presley on television, rock and roll was a big seller and it continued to be a popular way for bands to reach an audience in the days before video and MTV. Great performance of the always awesome Doobies in their prime!

Another show from this period was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Sometimes the performances were dubbed like this one with Bad Company. The vocals and harmonica (who’s idea was that?) are live but I don’t think anything else is. There were a lot of DKRC that were live and pretty killin’ though and a search on YouTube will turn up some good ones including Focus, The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and a great 1975 set from Black Sabbath including Snowblind. Like how I’m working the snow angle today? Another great performance was the almighty George Benson playing his signature hit Breezin’ in 1977. George was playing his butt off!! during this period and still is all these many years later.

In England there was a show named the Old Grey Whistle Test that presented all kinds of great music from the era. I have a couple comps videos of all kinds of assorted performances and they were all pretty BOSS! Here is a very un-Priestly looking Judas Priest playing Dreamer Deceiver on the OGWT in 1975. They almost look like Lyrnyrd Skynryd. This song was later used as the title for the documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest, which was the famous court trial where Priest were accused of putting subliminal “kill yourself” messages in their music that resulted in two “fans” shooting themselves. The band prevailed and the charges were dismissed once Rob Halford took the witness stand. Quite a long way from Roy Clark playing Mountain Dew, but hey…nobody ever said life was easy.

I think this is a good idea for a series. There is a lot of good and sometimes unusual stuff out there and as long as the links hold up on YouTube, it’s all GooD!

Fun with Alternate Tunings

Posted in Education, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2014 by theguitarcave

I saw something surfing online last night that reminded me maybe it would be cool to make a sticky thing for open tunings. After all, its a popular (if sometimes slightly complicated) topic and the manipulation of various strings on the guitar to various different pitches from the standard concert tuning has resulted in soooooo much quality music. So to whit, here’s a short primer with some background info.

I already touched on the subject of open tunings in the Keith Richards posts and if you are interested in what he did you can read here and here. I did NOT touch on the subject in the Jimmy Page posts even though I certainly could have. Page used many tunings over the years with great success. Some, like the completely twisted tuning for When the Levee Breaks (EACFAC) were probably his invention. Some like the infamous CIA (Celtic-Indian-Arabic) modal tuning (DADGAD) were not. Below is Davey Graham, a British guitarist who was an extremely huge influence on Page playing this tuning in a folk setting in the early 60s. Davey, in addition to being a great folk player also did well with jazz and “world music” before anyone thought of calling it that.

What led me to consider a post on tunings was a visit last night to the Joni Mitchell website. She has a whole section devoted to guitar transcriptions and over her very long, incredibly successful career used an estimate 50 +/- different tunings she basically just made up. She even has an archivist who has kept track of them for her. However, there is a system involved and if you are interested in the theory behind the tunings you can view that here. As you may or may not know, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were completely enthralled with Joni Mitchell and may or may not have been influenced by some of her early 70s recordings. Jimmy didn’t use quite as many tunings as Joni, but he did have several interesting ones and I’ve listed them below. All of the tuning numbers are low-to-high and from the studio recordings. Some were changed live, Dancin’ Days was probably recorded with a guitar in standard and another in open G. After the list there is a nice version of a very pleasant and easy That’s the Way from Earl’s Court in 1975. Tune to open G and have fun!

Open G (DGDGBD)
That’s the Way
Going to California
Black Country Woman
Dancin’ Days*

Open C (CGCEGC)
Hats Off to Roy Harper

CIA (DADGAD)
Kashmir
White Summer
Black Mountain Side

Drop D (DADGBE)
Moby Dick
Ten Years Gone

Open A (EAEAC#E)
In My Time of Dying

“Page C” (CACGCE)
Poor Tom
Friends
Bron-Yr-Aur

“Page C 2” (CFCFAF)
Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp

“Page D” (DGCGCD)
The Rain Song

“Page Slide 1” (EFCFAE)
Jennings Farm Blues

“Page Slide 2” (EACFAC)
When the Levee Breaks

“Page Slide 3” (EADGBD)
Traveling Riverside Blues

Of course many other guitarists have used altered tunings throughout their careers. Sonic Youth have an online primer that details the tunings for what looks to be everything in their catalog! Quite the list of outrageous stuff! Many hard rock bands made use of the Drop D tuning including Pantera, Van Halen and Soundgarden. Speaking of Soundgarden, they had some really far-out tunings on the Superunknown and Down on the Upside albums. I was a fan of the EEBBBB tuning that is used on The Day I Tried to Live and My Wave. Burden in My Hand is a great example of a hard rock approach to an Open C tuning (which originally would’ve been used for acoustic bottleneck back in the day). In this post I detailed the C tuning metal players from Tony Iommi to Matt Pike favor and I will once again refer you to the Wiki page on guitar tunings, because it’s a good resource.

As I mentioned in the Keith Richards post linked above, altered tunings can really expand your sound, but they can also be a huge pain in the neck too, especially in a live situation. If you are in the position of being able to haul multiple guitars around then you can tune as many as you want to whatever you want. You certainly can’t be trying to adjust to dramatically different tunings between songs. If it’s just a matter of dropping the E string, you’ll be ok, but even going from standard to open G and then back to standard is a bit dodgy. I’ve found that doing so stretches out the strings in a way that makes the tuning sound weird and they go “dead” faster too. Ideally you should have a guitar for a certain tuning and set up the guitar to the various tension the tuning produces. An open A tuning, for example, puts much more stress on the guitar than the open G because the D, G and B strings all have to be raised a pitch. Generally, I’ve found that acoustic guitars especially have an easier time and a warmer tone if the strings are detuned into an altered tuning rather than being raised, but that certainly isn’t a rule. There is a lot of trial and error involved with this approach to guitar playing so just go nuts! We’ll end with the late, great Michael Hedges who was also an altered tuning aficionado. His catalog of songs with open/altered tunings is also quite extensive and there is a database here should you be looking for something.

Lovin’ it Loud!

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2011 by theguitarcave

ACID KING

Acid King is one of my favorite Doom/Metal ROCK bands and Busse Woods is just a great CD. I’ve had it for years and still like to listen to it occasionally. It’s a HEAVY, minimalist deconstruction that never gets old and, as with all three of these bands, the hypnotic, repetitive nature of the riffs and parts bring to mind a type of modern-day Shamanism. Also, there is nothing cooler than the tone of Lori’s detuned guitar blasting through a Marshall stack. In addition to great writing and guitar-playing I’ve always dug how her vocals compliment the music. There aren’t a whole lot of female doomers out there and while she can certainly growl with the best of ’em, she can also sing and that isn’t a bad thing even for this kind of music. I was lucky enough to have seen the band twice over the past (whoa) decade and they didn’t disappoint. Glad to see that they are still kickin’ it. I especially love Electric Machine, Carve the 5 and the title track. Busse Woods has been reissued since I got it and now includes Motorhead by Hawkwind and Not Fragile by BTO! Yay! Electric Machine below.

Men of Porn

This was a Man’s Ruin release from the beginning of the 2000s. I still dig this disc. Inspired by heavy music of bands like The Melvins and the lunacy of noisy punk rock and experimental music, Men of Porn deliver on their debut, American Style. I saw them on the following tour and they were loud, noisy and disgusting (and I mean “disgusting” in the best possible sense). Tim Moss, guitar and founder, bangs out heavy riffs with a very gooey Orange Amp tone and coaxes all manner of noise out of his rig on this groovy disc. I especially like the brilliant 17+ minute long Coming Home (Smoking Pot On A Sunday Afternoon While UFO’s Drone Overhead), Fat Trout, and Porch Song. Melvins drummer, music legend Dale Crover and producer, engineer, musician extraordinaire Billy Anderson are now members of the MOP and have done a couple of fairly recent tours. Fans of The Melvins, Eyehategod or any of the other alt-metal acts out there will dig this because the musicianship and humor is top notch!

Kyuss

Kyuss was THE band(along with Monster Magnet) that helped usher in the resurgence in psychedelic, heavy music in the early-mid 1990s. This disc is probably their best and released in 1992 (same year as Monster Magnet’s Spine of God) it not only received a whole lot of critical acclaim, but also influenced an untold number of bands who went on to make their own brand of heavy alt-metal. Kyuss set a new standard of CRUSH because the guitars were tuned down to “C” and plugged into a Marshall head and Ampeg bass cabinet to create a heaviness not heard before, even on Black Sabbath records. Josh Homme, the band’s guitarist was barely out of his teens when this disc was made but he certainly knew how to riff and rock. The rest of the band: drummer Brant Bjork, vocalist John Garcia and bassist Nick Oliveri brought lots of heavy playing and conceptual ideas to the project, and, like Homme, have all been a part of many a great musical experience over the last almost 20 years. Kyuss is touring again right now without Homme as Kyuss Lives! and I’m sure it’s a REAL good time.

As far as the album goes, I don’t think there is a bad jam on here. It flows really nicely from the first track, Thumb through the rest of the 14 song, 50+ minutes, alternating between tight vocal-oriented songs and instrumental jams. Obviously a whole lot of thought went into the writing, playing and recording, which is probably why it is regarded by many as a really great LOUD album most people have never heard. I especially like Thumb, Green Machine, Apothecaries’ Weight (beautiful jam), Thong Song, Freedom Run…and ALL of them. Blues for the Red Sun is a real statement and an album that sounds better with each subsequent listen. There are always new things to discover and it’s definitely one to listen to in the headphones. While I do like some of the later stuff in the Kyuss catalog, they never got any better than this.