BLUES

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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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.

More Guitar Instruction Media

I thought this would be a good time to explore some of the Guitar Instruction Media I have collected over the years. I’ve already touched on this in various posts, here, here and here, and here. AND HERE. Probably after this post I won’t have anything left to show. I know from checking the links that people do seen to like what they see with regards to some of the products I’ve reviewed before. I hope that you are all happy with your purchases and they have helped you sound better, play better or achieve all of the musical goals that you have. Without further ado —

SRV_covHal Leonard Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Licks This is the oldest item I’ll be reviewing today. It’s Hal Leonard’s Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan for guitar taught by the boisterously funny and entertaining Greg Koch. Greg has appeared in many guitar instruction places and is all over YouTube too. Greg can play his butt off and does a great job with the iconic Stevie Ray, showing not only how to play the eight classics on the disc, but also sound considerations and further ideas for original soloing. Songs include, Ain’t Gone ‘N’ Give Up on Love, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Crossfire, Empty Arms, The House Is Rockin’, Riviera Paradise, Scuttle Buttin’, and Stang’s Swang. A pretty good cross-section of Stevie’s material and songs that end with n + exclamation point!

SRV_discAs I said I’ve had this for a long time, probably 12-13 years now and originally I purchased it to learn how to play Stang’s Swang and Riviera Paradise, two of Stevie’s jazzier numbers. They were fun to learn how to play and served as a nice introduction for the real jazz styles and tunes that I would begin to learn a year later with some of these subsequent books. This disc is still available through online sources, some no doubt better than others. If you want to get the Stevie sound and Stevie licks and techniques under your fingers or learn to play some of his more advance stuff I think this disc is a great way to do that!

pearl_covPearl Django Play-Along Songbook Vol.1 This was the second songbook I bought once I started playing Gypsy Jazz and I can’t say enough about it! The book was put together by Greg Ruby from the band Pearl Django, a Gypsy Jazz outfit formed in the mid-90s by Neil Andersson, David Firman and the late, great Dudley Hill. The songs were out of Pearl Django’s repertoire that included covers of Django Reinhardt tunes, old swing/jazz standards and fresh originals. This was a great book to get early on because it has a CD of various members of the band in a play-a-long setting. Any of the seventeen songs start with a head played by guitar or violin and then there are any number of choruses to solo on with just a rhythmic backing. So cool! So helpful! I’ve spent a lot of time jamming out to Pearl Django and it’s a great product.

pearl4I also like the fact that the song list is way cool — especially the Django standards — Djangology, Minor Blues, Troublant Bolero, Nuages, Swing 42, and Manoir des mes Reves. I also learned and enjoyed guitarist Dudley Hill’s chord melody-based compositions New Metropolitan Swing and Radio City Rhythm. Some of the other covers like Limehouse Blues, I’ll See You in My Dreams and I Found a New Baby are jam session standards that any aspiring Manouche player will want to get under his or her fingers. I bought this book from Djangobooks and it’s still available. At $30 it’s not cheap but you do get a lot for the money: meticulous head/melody arrangements by seasoned pro guitarists with 2nd options for harmony in some cases; all manner of Manouche rhythm chord formation and structure, and as I said above, the play-a-long cd with all songs included. Not only that but it is SPIRAL BOUND!! This definitely adds to the cost, but makes it much easier to use. Highly recommended especially for those starting out.

modal_covJazz Guitar Techniques: Modal Voicings I’ve had this DVD for awhile too and I don’t think I spent more than an hour with it. It was a gift from somebody through Amazon and it didn’t contain whatever booklet was supposed to come along with it. Or maybe there isn’t supposed to be a booklet. I honestly have never been able to figure out what I’m supposed to do when it comes to learning the voicings contained within. This is a Berklee Workshop disc so you would think it would be good, but it just wasn’t. I have subsequently learned a lot of modal ideas and even some modal chords from other sources, so if you want this disc I’ll let it go for $5.99$3.99 $.99! (haha)

Wrewmbel_covMel Bay’s Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar Speaking of Berklee and (guys who went there) this book is very unlike the last offering because it is GREAT GREAT GREAT! Stephane Wrembel put this book together after studying with real Manouche musicians for years and then graduating from Berklee. Not only is it an awesome beginners book for those wishing to dip their proverbial toe into the wonderful world of Gypsy Jazz music, it is also a mind-expanding resource that players can return to over and over again. Stephane covers everything from picking exercises (that include a bit of Indian Music influences) to arpeggios, scales, some music theory and example etudes as well as some stylistic techniques that are endemic to Manouche music. It is a JAM-PACKED resource and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. Originally I bought it in a store (you know one of those things…OUTSIDE) but this book is also available at Djangobooks for a very reasonable price. Learn from one of the modern masters!

wes_covMel Bay Presents Wes Montgomery Jazz Guitar Artistry Speaking of Mel Bay and modern masters, here is a songbook of transcriptions from one of the absolute pillars of jazz guitar. Wes Montgomery completely reinvented what playing jazz meant and this book tackles fourteen of his greatest pieces including, Jeanine, Work Song, Missile Blues, Full House, and Mi Cosa. There seems to be some problem getting this book now, or there was a version with inaccurate transcriptions (allegedly). I don’t know what’s going on. It’s available at Amazon for a reasonable price. But there is another listing here where it costs $30 or $55, which is wrong. There is no CD with this book, but the version I have has very accurate transcriptions. I just played along with Wes from his album cuts of the song I was learning. But I guess buyer beware on this one! The good version takes you headfirst into the music of a guitar legend!

fox_covMel Bay Guitar Arpeggio Studies on Jazz Standards Here’s another book courtesy of Mel Bay and authored by jazz guitarist Mimi Fox.  Mimi is a jazz player I’ve heard over the years and I’ve always like what she’s done. This book, which comes with an accompanying CD, was a gift ten plus years ago. I spent some quality time with this book it (along with the Wrembel book above) and that got me going in a big way on arpeggios and how to use them. Well-known jazz standards are used to illustrate how one may pull out various arpeggios from the harmony to begin the arduous, but fun task of understanding how to play an effective solo. The second half of the book focuses on advanced arpeggio concepts and how players can build their own. I think the book is less than 75 pages, but it is an effective study course for what it sets out to do. It gets very positive reviews on Amazon, but I think there is something weird happening with Amazon’s current pricing schematic because there are “new” books listed for almost $100 and I didn’t pay anywhere near that…so don’t buy it there. Buy it HERE where it is the very reasonable price of $19.99.

Django_covDjango Reinhardt: Know the Man, Play the Music Finally there is this book, which was also a gift from my late friend and leader of Cab City Combo, Paul Rubin, who I’ve written about here, here, here and here. This is an interesting book and one I’ve obviously had for a long time given the shape of the cover. I believe that Paul ordered this for me as soon as I told him about my Manouche aspirations. It was definitely a book I used in the early days and I will always treasure it for sentimental reasons.

Django4The first part of the book (Know the Man) is Django’s biography and is a fairly well-done primer for those who don’t know Django’s story. It’s illustrated with cool pics and considering at the time I received the book I knew 10% of what I know now, it is another one of those books that delivers exactly what it promises. The 2nd half of the book (Play the Music) that focuses on technique and six of Django’s most famous performances including Honeysuckle Rose, Nuages, Bouncin’ Around, and Djangology. An accompanying CD will help you work out the songs. By the time I started playing Gypsy Jazz with other people I had Django’s intro, solo and outro bits to Honeysuckle Rose completely worked out thanks to this book, so I think it rocks! The book gets good reviews on Djangobooks forum, is spiral-bound, and can be purchased here and here. It’s on Amazon too at almost double the price if you’re into giving more money to Jeff Bezos

Eric Johnson — Live in Austin

Eric Johnson Live in Austin DVDThis quick post is just to give a shout out to this DVD of Eric Johnson live in Austin Texas on the well-known and award-winning Austin City Limits. Recorded in 1988, this performance, along with the breakout album, Ah Via Musicom two years later, put EJ on the map as a Texas guitar force to be reckoned with. While he certainly has all of the roots music abilities one associates with that part of the country, it is obvious that Eric has also integrated many other styles and possesses a completely stunning progressive technique. Not only that but he might be the most meticulous guitarist to ever “spank the plank” as Billy Gibbons would say. Johnson has said in interviews he can tell the difference between something as minute as the type of battery in one of his effects boxes. Now that’s focused! Here’s one of my favorite tracks, Desert Rose from the DVD. You can see and hear how he simultaneously sounds like Texas and something completely different.

Back in the day players were very quick to focus on Eric’s soloing style (which features really fast picking, oddball scalar choices, string skipping and seamless integration of various effects choices along with an absolutely beautiful touch). His chording/comping style is also really brilliant and he has that cool “textured” approach, which maybe began (in the modern era) with Jimi Hendrix + modern technology, which forever after would allow players to coax so many different sounds out of the instrument. EJ takes the whole idea even further and is able to combine touch and effects to accentuate various passages and/or parts of his songs to achieve a 6-string symphony of sorts. Put all of this together, along with the really great rhythm section of Kyle Brock on bass and Tommy Taylor on drums and you get a super-duper powerful presentation that is good not only in and of itself for viewing enjoyment, but also provides a mother lode of ideas to work into your own guitar explorations. Watch how Eric plays Jimi — very impressive. Always loved this song and a band I was in used to play it. Notice all of the amps EJ has behind him — incredible combination of sounds MAN! (His version of Are You Experienced from this DVD is also mindblowingly good!)

Through the magic of Youtube, clips of Eric’s instruction video can be yours with the price of a click. I would encourage you to buy the whole thing though to get the full picture of what he is doing just like I advise you buy the whole concert on DVD. I have it and it’s great to pull out and watch every once in awhile. What’s amazing is as soon as you try to work in a string skipping passage or focus on how and where your hands are playing a lick or a chord, you can completely change the sound and it may lead you onto other things that can either 1) get you out of a rut, 2) make a cover of a song you’re doing sound like something else entirely or 3) aid you in expanding your technique to include stuff you can pull out spontaneously at a jam or live. It’s all about more tools in the toolkit and EJ has a veritable warehouse full of tools for sure.

Since these early days of Eric’s career he has attained the stature of a bona-fide modern guitar hero. After winning a Grammy Award for Cliffs of Dover in 1990, he has released several successful albums, formed a permanent side project named Alien Love Child and performed on the G3 tours multiple times with fellow guitar stars Steve Vai, John Petrucci and Joe Satriani. Here’s an interesting interview with EJ from 2010 right before he released his album Up Close, which includes guitar or vocal performances by Jonny Lang, Jimmie Vaughan and Steve Miller. Obviously, 25+ years later, Eric Johnson has successfully achieved respect as a world-renown iconoclastic guitarist/multi-instrumentalist while never betraying the vision and values that are already in full bloom on this very heavy performance in Austin from his early days. Here’s a G3 tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan done as only Eric can. He has moved the possibilities what a guitarist can do up a few notches during his career and that’s about as cool as it gets.

Booker (Bukka) White and The Blues — Part 1

I‘ve always been a fan of the blues and I mean the real razor in the shoe-down home neon blues, not most of the stuff that passes for blues these days. My all-time favorite acoustic blues player is  Booker “Bukka” White. He was a giant of a man; son of a railroad worker, boxer, baseball player, prisoner, blues genius. He was a giant and I mean a real giant not only as a musician, but also as man, a sonic philosopher and bona-fide American Shaman of the twentieth century. And…he was BB King’s cousin and helped teach the young BB how to play!! He emerged from a society that was marginalized not only by the majority white segment of the population, but also from some within his own community. Many proper church-going folks did not listen to the blues, especially the gritty, greasy, down-home flavored blues thrown down by Booker. He sang and played profane songs full of temptation and need, murder and greed, prison and trains, desperation, isolation, loneliness, and the danger and excitement of being full of White Lightning and in the wrong house at the wrong time. He was a man on the outside and a man on the move from an early age, living the life that became his music.

Booker White-Shake 'em on DownThere is very little showbiz in this kind of blues; it is art from the mud, saloons, juke joints, street people, hustlers and fast women. Though he recorded some early “spiritual” sides with Memphis Minnie on background vocals Booker was more about living and singing in the “right now,” leaving the glory of the hereafter to the others. Many of his best songs have a very conversational feel about them. They describe ordinary situations and feelings that carry powerful statements; When Can I Change My Clothes seems like a very mundane topic unless you realize he is in jail, on Parchman Farm in Mississippi; one of the toughest prisons in 1930s America. His plaintive holler and wail, the timbre of his voice, and cross-tuned E minor National guitar cast a very harrowing portrait on most everything he did, especially his 1937 and 1940 recordings that bracketed his arrest and prison sentence for shooting a man. He was able to embody that “devil at the crossroads in the middle of the night” terror better than anyone except for maybe Robert Johnson and Skip James, and like Robert Johnson, an aura of mystery surrounds him, especially the real story behind Booker’s arrest, conviction and release only two years later. He was initially sentenced to life for shooting an assailant in the thigh (just where he wanted to shoot him!) in a bar brawl, but research has turned up differing theories and no documents that explain why he was released after serving only two years or who the victim was or where the crime took place. It’s almost like the Kennedy Assassination! What this does illustrate though is that playing the blues in the old days was a very dangerous business and to survive one had to be as quick with his or her fists, wits, or weapons as one was with the instrument.

Booker, who didn’t like being called “Bukka” —  the name originated from a white record producer who had never heard of Booker T. Washington — was a heckuva guitar player. Here he is doing the Eddie Van Halen slap-mute move that would turn up on the song Mean Street many years later. Okay, not really. I don’t want to stretch my whole connections theory too far, but if you expand this technique a little bit, and put it through 3 amp heads and 6 cabinets, it’s basically what Van Halen is doing too. Aberdeen Mississippi Blues is one of my favorite Booker songs. The recording, from early 1940 is pretty soft and tender, as he is singing about two pretty little ladies from New Orleans, but he rocks it out here. Listen to the sound of that National guitar! Loud!

What always struck me about Booker’s records was the SOUND.  I wonder if his original records were done like Robert Johnson’s? Here is an interesting article on how Robert Johnson was recorded. Many acoustic, solo, and blues guitar players have heard about corner-loading I’m sure. But for those unfamiliar with it — the idea is to face the player/singer into the corner to roll off the highs and lows and pump up the middle frequencies. Heavily picked acoustic instruments, slide guitar (and possibly the vocals) sound more powerful and resonant when recorded this way, at least in theory. The diagram on the above linked site illustrates how the player set-up is something anyone can try in their own studio or apartment to see if it makes any difference. While Robert Johnson certainly laid down some brilliant playing and influenced pretty much every guitar player after him, I find his recordings tinny when compared with Booker White. Part of it, I’m sure is that Booker’s voice had a deeper timber (even in the high wail) and more resonance to it. The fact that he was a big and obviously strong player might have increased the powerful sound and resonance on his guitar work too, but it would be interesting to know how his records were done. All recordings in those days were pretty much “what you hear is what you get,” but producers, engineers, and even players themselves found little tricks to enhance the sound they were going for. Here is another song from the same film session as above. Booker lays the guitar across his lap and is using a thin piece of iron or metal, going for more of a lap steel sound. Booker is looking pretty advanced in years in these clips and he was man of modest means. No money for the rack-mount delay and crossover switches but it’s all very real and musical. I think this song has gone by different names over the years depending on the release or repackage, but here the title is Poor Boy Long Way From Home.

Some of my other favorite Booker songs are Special Streamline, Fixin’ To Die Blues, District Attorney, Sic em Dogs on Me, Parchman Farm, Strange Place Blues, Black Train Blues, When Can I Change My Clothes and, Pinebluff, Arkansas. The lyrics from all of these songs are as brilliant as his guitar playing and vocal delivery. He elevates simple thoughts and obvious personal situations to complex high art.

Gonna get up in the morning, baby with the rising sun…Gonna get up in the morning, baby with the rising sun…If the train don’t run, gonna be some walking done

Then, of course, there is Shake ’em on Down. A brilliant song made even more brilliant by Robert Plant who used in repeatedly throughout Led Zeppelin’s career.

Here is a recording a Booker doing Shake ’em on Down and here is a recording of Led Zeppelin’s Hats Off to Roy Harper. Robert Plant got a lot of mileage out this song he liked and a man he must have admired quite a bit. I think there are at least 4-5 LZ songs with some fragment of “shake ’em on down” contained within. Some people regard this as theft and some regard it as parody, but I believe Plant (and Page) genuinely love this stuff and used this as a template for where they would take their music. Certainly on “Hats Off…” Page and Plant are using a combination of technology and no-technology to accentuate and exaggerate the effects of the sounds coming off Shake ’em on Down. This is certainly how all the blues players like Booker learned to play, perform and record. Shake em on Down was a hit for Booker, selling 16,000 copies, but Big Bill Broonzy recorded a New Shake em On Down soon after and had a hit of his own while Booker was at Parchman farm. This is also certainly what the Rolling Stones, the Heartbreakers and a million punk bands have done with Chuck Berry. Is that theft? Parody? I don’t know. Nobody cares until it sells.

Booker "Bukka" WhiteWhile the blues players of yesteryear certainly regarded themselves as guitar heroes, they were more concerned with entertaining the Saturday Night Juke Joint crowd because that’s where the money was. Guitar Player magazine didn’t exist then and like guitar players today, some were very protective of their technique and the various tricks they employed (Robert Johnson) and others were very open and even generous about sharing what they knew. Because many acoustic players performed solo or with a washboard player or another guitar, this resulted in a more focused and stripped-down playing approach, as opposed to the vehicle for soloing the blues became later. The SONG was the thing, because there were limitations on what they could pull off without compromising the rhythm and beat of the music, which was and is always more important than the guitar lead. A man by the name of Washboard Sam was present at Booker’s 1940 sessions and you can hear another guitar on some of his other tunes. Things changed for the blues as time went on, but there were those who kept it and keep it with the original vibe early players like Booker White had back in the day. Look for Part 2 soon!