Archive for Duane Allman

ShortRiffs — May/June 2017

Posted in Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the May/June issue of ShortRiffs — the monthly column that focuses on all the guitar, music and life things going on around The Guitar Cave. I have a pretty jam-packed issue this month, including some very sad news. As always, though, thank you! for your continued patronage.

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The news about Chris Cornell was just terrible — a very sad situation. He was an extremely talented singer, writer and guitar player. I’ve been a fan for a long time. Soundgarden is some the best music to be released in the last 25 years and I spent many an hour back in the day playing those riffs with complete and utter rock abandon. That is one reason I recently profiled Soundgarden’s Head Down as a GuitarSong. The band represented everything that is GREAT about heavy and dynamic guitar rock and, of course, Chris’ talent and vision was a huge part of that heaviness. He fought bravely against the demons that populate the nightmare landscape of the mind and in the process, gave the world a whole lot of great music. I hope he has found peace.

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One of the best things about Facebook and YouTube is how easy it is to see awesome videos like classical Vietnamese guitarist Thu Le practicing. She takes “relax while you practice” to a whole new level! People all over the world are fanatical about playing guitar and reaching high levels of ability and achievement! Isn’t that great? I think it’s fantastic. Classical guitar played well just doesn’t sound like anything else! Since graduating from the Hanoi National Conservatory of Music in 2001 Thu has become an internationally acclaimed artist. She has lots of great videos on YouTube and I’ll be looking for her to keep bringing her \m/ classical riffing to the masses!

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Last year I wrote a post on Barney Kessel and I have his Yesterday album reviewed in the right column on the blog’s main page. Though this disc has been a long-time favorite of mine, recently I went on a daily listening jag and, in the process, learned most of his licks from the Beatles’ cover Yesterday, the namesake of the disc. I’ve also been playing through his cover of Old Devil Moon. In addition to the Yesterday licks from Barney’s version, I have also been incorporating licks from another version I found on YouTube from Helmut Kagerer. I have no idea if he based his version on Barney Kessel, but it’s close enough for me! Solo Yesterday is absolutely a fun little piece to play once you start getting it under your fingers. Here is the Barney recording on YouTube and Helmut’s is below. Below that is a nice little run through of the head and a chorus or two of Old Devil Moon by a gent named Alessio Menconi. Very nicely done. Great feel and sound on the solo! So if you ever have a desire to play either of these songs, this will get you started for sure!

And furthermore…HERE is a podcast of Barney solo guitar that was recorded in a restaurant in the early 1980s with just a few people hanging out. Barney also cracks jokes and shares his philosophy on life and guitar. The audio isn’t great, but a really cool find and some great solo playing!

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Speaking of Barney Kessel, here he is with two other jazz guitar monsters — Kenny Burrell and the one and only Grant Green. I think these are the only videos online of Grant Green playing live so they’re pretty meaninful. Kenny and Barney are both fantastic players and they have a HUGE presence on “The Tube“. I found myself wondering the other night how many gigs did Barney play with that Gibson ES-350 of his? In case you didn’t see, here he is talking about it.

Back to Grant Green though…I have his Matador and Standards discs. I have been listening to the Matador disc quite a bit recently. Green is not your typical jazz guitarist; some would probably his soul/funky blues lines too rudimentary or limited in a real jazz setting and there are definitely times on the Matador disc when McCoy Tyner almost overwhelms because of Tyner’s ability to dazzle with his piano chops and bend the harmonies of all the tunes in so many different directions. Green is a very rhythmic guitarist and makes great use of time and space, does not employ many chromatic lines and uses repeat figures as motifs in all of the tunes. The end result is a very modal, angular improvisation that is beautifully articulated on all tracks. His sound was a very mid-range; part Charlie Christian, part blues, achieved by using a Gibson 330, a Fender Twin (at times) and, doing this (Barney Kessel had a similar sound). The Matador album also features the great Elvin Jones on drums, and Bob Cranshaw on bass and along with the aforementioned McCoy Tyner. All of these guys are jazz legends and the ensemble sound is great! Featured is Green’s low-down version of My Favorite Things, which, at the time, (early 60s) was John Coltrane‘s song. (His recording also featured Tyner and Jones). Other tracks include the righteous 11+ minute workout Bedouin, the chitlins-circuit style cut Green Jeans and funky-jazz title cut, which evokes all of the atmosphere of a smoky, early 60s jazz club. This is a hot quartet firing on all cylinders believe you me and I love the SOUND of these early 60s records. Totally cool!

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BonaFide Rock Legend Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers has also passed away. Damn! My blog is turning into the Blog of Death or something…I’ve written on the Brothers a few times — pretty much everyone from my generation was influenced or at least heavily aware of the musical greatness of this band and all of the people associated with it. The earliest musical jamming situations I was in were influenced by The Allman Brothers and One Way Out is one of the first songs I played a good solo on. Greg and his very influential brother, Duane, along with Dicky Betts, Butch Trucks (who died in January), Berry Oakley and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson created a few new styles of rock and in the process became one of the most important American bands to come out of the riotous 1960s. As I wrote in GuitarSong #3 the Brothers music still (and will always) have the power to move people. I witnessed this myself not that long ago. The fusion of different musical styles and elements that became the foundation of ABB’s music is so transcendent, and such an important part of the American music fabric.

Over the years so many other great players, including Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Allen Woody helped continue the ever-evolving musical sojourn / road trip that was The Allman Brothers. While Gregg was known mostly as the band’s lead vocalist and B3 organ player, he did play guitar and wrote quite a few tunes on guitar, including the mega-classic, Melissa. While he had been in ill-health lately, some years before he had successfully purged himself of the substance demons that had dogged him for most of his life. He died peacefully at home and hopefully…fully aware of the amazing legacy that he has left in his wake.

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I follow Denis Chang (who I’ve written about here, here, and here) on Facebook and not only is he a great musician and savvy businessman, but his knowledge of music and transcription is impressively effin’ BOSS if you ask me. This video is an educational demo of the finer points of transcribing some tricky stuff from jazz legend Pat Martino using the Sibelius app. Denis and his crew crank out a mega-load of musical excellence every year and you can peruse the very fine DC Music School catalog here.

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My sister gave me this book, Dreaming the Beatles, a new take on the Fab Four, written by Rolling Stone reviewer and author of other stuff, Rob Sheffield. While I do enjoy reading about the Beatles’ music, I should’ve avoided this one, but it was a gift and…I was trying to keep an open mind. I imagine people who aren’t musicians or people who like reading about pop culture will like this more than I did, but I’m just speculating. The point of the book, as described on the Amazon page:

…is a collection of essays telling the story of what this ubiquitous band means to a generation who grew up with the Beatles music on their parents’ stereos and their faces on T-shirts. What do the Beatles mean today? Why are they more famous and beloved now than ever? And why do they still matter so much to us, nearly fifty years after they broke up?

None of these questions really interest me and this is the type of book where you either like the author or you don’t and if you don’t, you won’t like the book because the author is a major part of the story. Which sucks. Because I wanted to read about the Beatles. I honestly can’t tell if the book is a gigantic troll-job or if the author is looking for his own talk show or a kaffeeklatch with Oprah. He’s way too emo for me. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about himself and how he relates to the Beatles and then tries to insinuate this is how all people relate to the Beatles…or should. (This is the methodology of how we are supposed to arrive at the answers to the questions the book poses). At times his anecdotes in this regard veer completely off the rails, like this example from a chapter titled, The Scream:

When I listen to Hollywood Bowl, I do not imagine being one of the Beatles; I fantasize about being a girl in the upper-balcony cheap seats, ripping out my hair and shrieking, tapping into the eternal gnosis that not even the boys in the band could ever know.

See what I mean about being too emo? I’m not sure why a guy in his 50s (as the author is) would be fantasizing about shrieking like a teenage girl. In 40+ years of listening to the Beatles, playing Beatles music for people, and knowing other Beatles’ fans I have never heard anyone, male or female, of any age, express similar sentiments. The above sentence is prefaced by another doozy: any fan who claims they don’t share this desire has to be lying. Whatever. The author also attempts rewrite Beatles’ history and/or interpret Beatles lyrics in the same out-of-left-field manner, sometimes with truly bizarre results. Like this little gem about the songs My Love and Something.

“Something” became George’s greatest hit, as well as the one that made John and Paul most jealous. It was the first time the Quiet One got the A-side of a single. Oh, how it must have burned Paul that he didn’t write this song. And that’s how “My Love” happened. (page 207)

There is no evidence to suggest that Paul McCartney’s My Love was anything but a heartfelt paean to his wife, Linda, but because Sheffield thinks My Love is the worst song (not even close) in the Beatles’/post-Beatles’ catalog he constructs this elaborate conspiracy theory that would make Alex Jones proud. What’s interesting is My Love was a bigger hit and was the #5 song for 1973. I’m not sure how a song that spent a month at #1 qualifies as the worst Beatle/post-Beatle song in any rational person’s universe.

There are many moments like this scattered throughout the book and it’s annoying. I can’t recommend the book and I don’t have the patience for this kind of music writing anymore because I can never completely suspend that inner voice that is telling me I’m being gamed.

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While we’re on the subject of the Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turns 50 this month. Of course a whole new package has been rolled out to commemorate the occasion, including a complete remix done by Giles Martin (son of George Martin). Here is an interview where he explains the process. I imagine the record sounds a lot different now; back in the day they had to bounce so many tracks down to just a few (I believe the original album was done on 4 tracks) so the sound panorama now is a lot more vivid. It must be an interesting listening experience. I have never liked Pepper as much as the earlier Beatles stuff, but I do think it was the last great Beatles’ record. I don’t know that I really need to hear an updated version though.

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Here is a fascinating clip — the original lineup of The Byrds, playing live on The Big T.N.T Show in late 1965. This performance captures all of the fantastic weirdness of this band and how amazing it is that they are always (rightfully) considered as possible candidates for best American band of all time. They influenced the Beatles, REM, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Eagles, The Smiths and many more. While they would go through many lineup changes and musical permutations, this is the classic group: Jim “Roger” McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clark. Often described as one of the most dysfunctional bands ever, they were only together for less than two years before things started falling apart. But by then their legacy was assured because of their unique sound.

Of course a very important component is the Roger McGuinn guitar sound — achieved with the 12-string Rickenbacker. Here is his explanation of how important compression was for the recording of his guitar sound. The ringing and very chiming effect can be many things simultaneously and over the course of the Byrds career it was; veering from early psychedelia and folk rock to jazz (Eight Miles High) and raga rock (Why) to country and country rock. He was already a very accomplished guitarist at this point and it didn’t hurt that he drew inspiration from a wide circle of influences. McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby harmonized very well together, but there was a raggedness about the band that recalls the lo-fi brilliance of the Velvet Underground. Michael Clark, by all accounts didn’t really play drums like a drummer, but in the vein of Keith Moon of The Who or Moe Tucker of The Velvet Underground; he made a rhythmic noise (that you can see people responding to in the clip). It’s not exactly your standard fare rock and roll of the time though. Crosby has stated that he and Hillman had to adapt their rhythms to fill in the gaps where the drums should have been, so of course this throws the music into a completely different thing from most bands:

Well the drummer couldn’t play…never could. He looked right but he never was a very good drummer, he was a nice guy. That’s one of the reasons I learned to play that chop and smack kind of rhythm because I had to learn how to play drums on the guitar. Somebody had to do and so it was me and Chris.

— David Crosby – Musicangle 2004

Even though the Byrds would develop into pretty good songwriters, and their music would evolve into many things, the band hadn’t really come into its own at the time of this performance and the limitations are evident. There are 3 songs and all three are covers; Mr. Tambourine Man was written by Bob Dylan, The Bells of Rhymney and Turn, Turn Turn were both adapted to song by Pete Seeger. All three songs are “folk” songs. All three songs are in the key of D major. All three are are about the same tempo (right around 110-114 bpm). McGuinn’s guitar, the somber lyric content, the close 3-part harmony, the tempo and their rhythmic chops give the whole performance a very druggy, out of focus sixties feel. McGuinn really was the original Stonerrocker, although I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate that characterization. 1965 was a pivotal year for rock and pop growing up and getting serious — The Beatles were recording Rubber Soul when this show was filmed. Of course the folkishness doesn’t stop the teenyboppers from having a good time. I’m sure they wanted to rock, or at least pop! like Beatlemania.

As I said above, Pete Seeger set the Idris Davies poem about a Wales mine disaster and General Strike to music and the verses of the Gwalia Deserta became the song The Bells of Rhymney. Pete was a giant of folk music; a spiritual presence who was an intense part of the American music fabric for almost 70 years. While he may be known more for the banjo and more subdued accompaniment, the above clip demonstrates that he knew how to get down on the old guitar too. That’s a pretty hot performance I think. It reminds me of what I talked about in these two posts about how interesting that coffeehouse sound of the 50s and 60s was. You have a wide range of artists and real happening guitar players like Davey Graham, Paul Simon, Charlie Byrd, Pete Seeger, Jerry Garcia, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and many more in various US and British cities who came up or got their start playing some semblance of folk or roots music in these small wine and coffee places. Folk, skiffle, jazz, blues, latin, and country all overlapped with some very interesting permutations. The Byrds took that all one step further into the pop, rock, acid rock, raga rock and country rock categories as their career went along. But it all kind of starts on an acoustic guitar, doesn’t it? Speaking of which, here’s another guy playing the blanky-blank out of The Bells of Rhymney. Great performance by John Denver — another very famous guitar guy from the folk / coffeehouse or cafehaus school of getting down on a 6-string.

GuitarSong #3

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The third installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers Band’s iconic and genre-defining instrumental Jessica from the 1973 album, Brothers and Sisters. This was the album where Dickey really stepped up to drive the ABB to new heights of success with this tune and the smash hit Rambling Man. But he had been a great guitarist and creative force in the band from the very beginning and, of course would continue on as a Brother until (almost) the official end of the band. The ABB were easily one of America’s best bands and the whole package: the playing, the tunes, the drink, the drugs and the highs and lows are so much a part of the story. They lived every song they ever created.

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The Allman Brothers Band were one of the most original and promising new bands to emerge from the late 1960s. A talented band of 7 road warriors they fused elements of blues, jazz, swing and rock and roll to create a whole new sound and style. Not only are they usually credited with inventing Southern Rock, they also (along with the Grateful Dead) were the prototype for every jam band that has existed since the early 1970s. The band was successful and flying high when tragedy brought down both Duane Allman and stellar bassist Berry Oakley in the space of a little over a year. By the end of 1972 the band was desperate to get back to work and prove that they could carry on in the face of this loss. The Brothers and Sisters album would be a commercial and critical triumph and would launch the band to fame and fortune. During the recording of this album Forrest Richard (Dickey) Betts, the second guitarist in the band, picked up the reins and became the new leader of the group. Duane was gone and Greg was not in great shape at the time. Dickie was not only a great picker, but he had also already contributed tunes that became early ABB standards: Revival, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Blue Sky, and Les Brers in A Minor. He wrote four of the seven songs from the album and in the process, expanded the sound and direction of the band.

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What made the Allman Brothers different is that they were not a straight ahead rock and roll band, nor were they strictly blues-based players. Duane had mentioned the influence of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue was on the instrumental vision of his soloing and the band’s aesthetic. Dickey was a fan of country, western swing and jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s love of diminished arpeggios seem to influence Betts’ composition “Elizabeth Reed” and Jessica was written as a bonafide homage to Django; a song that could be played with two fingers. The bouncy, jazzy A-major melody was also influenced by Betts’ young daughter, Jessica, who was crawling around the floor as Betts was trying to write the melody. There was some help from guitarist Les Dudek and other members of the band, including new keyboard player Chuck Leavell on banging a bridge and the rest of the structure of the song into shape and later this would be a bone of contention among the principals as far as songwriting credits go, but it is undeniable that the source and vision of this 7 and a half minute piece of goodness was Dickey Betts. His contributions to the Brothers and Sisters album cover all bases in hot guitar playing; blazing country rock (Ramblin’ Man), stinging slide guitar (Wasted Words), the soulful bluesy guitar (Come and Go Blues, Jelly, Jelly) rock and roll (Southbound) and delicate dobro (Pony Boy). Jessica, however, was the album’s centerpiece, not only in terms of execution, but also the sophistication of the construction, something Dickey related to … architecture!

The instrumentals are very studied,” says Betts. “It’s called architecture, and for a good reason. It’s much like somebody designing a building. It’s meticulously constructed, and every aspect has its place. Writing a good one is very fulfilling, because you’ve transcended language and spoken to someone with a melody. My instrumentals try to create some of the basic feelings of human interaction, like anger and joy and love.”

Dickey Betts

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The song has the structure of a jazz standard; after an intro kicked off by Les Dudek on acoustic guitar, the melody line is stated by Dickey with Chuck Leavell playing the top harmony line of a Fender Rhodes piano and Gregg Allman playing the bottom harmony on Hammond organ. After two “A” parts the song navigates to the harmonized bridge “B” and then back to the third “A” before the solos start. This is a common AABA jazz standard structure. The harmony chords are a simple A-D-G vamp style for the main theme and modulate to G for the bridge. The harmony is the same for the keyboard solo and then, after an ascending line modulate to the key of D for Dickey’s solo. The band returns to the bridge after the intense harmonized descending lines that end his solo and then does the theme again before the song ends. The feel of the song is bouncy and rollicking and the almost bagpipe nature of the guitar solo gives it an element of a pagan Celtic dance. Speaking of which, here’s a interview with Dickey where he talks about many things, including “the pipes”. It’s interesting how he believes that “you can trace country or American music back to the bagpipes” because there are is a lot of that sound in his playing, especially in country type songs like Ramblin’ Man and Jessica. Dickey’s clean, lyrical guitar with the easy vibrato and ringing against another string bending results in a sound that approximates the sound of pipes, or the reel of a violin when he’s playing those major hexatonic fiddle-type lines. Interesting viewpoint especially since the original inspiration for this song, Django Reinhardt, played for many years with the great violinist/fiddler Stephane Grappelli. Reinhardt and Grappelli were a huge influence on American Western Swing bands and Dickey is also a fan of that music.

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There are many links to lessons on how to play Jessica, including one with Dickey himself here. Also, here, here, here and here. For people who prefer to read tab, try songsterr. The tabs there seem pretty accurate and having a midi player track through all of the changes as they happen can help you work through the song accurately. If you’re a member I think you can slow down the tempo.

Here is a good primer of Dickey’s style complete with review of some of his pentatonic and hexatonic patterns courtesy of Guitar World.

Here is the video companion to the above Guitar World lesson with Andy Aledort.

Here’s a great primer on getting that Dickey guitar tone.

Here’s an interesting discussion with Dickey on his 1961 SG.

There are many great ABB concerts on YouTube, including this one from 1979. This was an interesting period for the band. I always like the late Dan Toler’s playing and he is here along with the legendary Bonnie Bramlett and a guest appearance by John Belushi. Dickey and the band are on fire at this show!

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Late last winter, on one of the first days that spring weather beckoned, I made my way to the local park. It was late morning and as I sat on a bench sipping a beverage in the 40 degree temps a guy on a bike with a huge boombox rolled up to an opposite bench. A couple minutes later the first strains of Jessica were heard and the volume was then cranked. The change that came over the park and everyone there was magical. The song has the power to turn any location into one of those groovy, warm and beautiful mega-festivals from so many years ago. I felt like I had ingested magic mushrooms and almost wished I had some at that moment. The song had turned me into one of the many sunbeams now glowing over neighborhood in the first days of Spring. Even though I have heard the song literally five hundred times I heard it for the first time again that day. That a forty year old rock song would have the power to put young, old, rich, poor, drunk and Sunday sober people into a instantaneous good mood is pretty amazing and a testament to the power of music and of an absolutely stellar guitar tune.

Cream

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by theguitarcave

CREAMwas an awesome band — The first SUPERGROUP and a total powerhouse of over-the-top PSYCHEDELIC-BLUZE-ROCK excitement. I really dug all of their stuff in my younger days and really don’t think Eric Clapton ever did any better except for maybe some of what happened in Blind Faith and, of course, Derek and The Dominos. Very bold statement I know, but I don’t think I’m the only one who holds that opinion. Cream became one of the highest-power draws in the psychedelic era, a period of music I enjoy quite a bit and one that was extremely influential in a way that still resonates even now. Most of the people I’ve known in NYC were not fans, but the whole 60s era and everything was so controversial and so much of its time, I don’t blame those who don’t get it or don’t like it for feeling that way.

I don’t think it’s necessary to regurgitate the band’s biography, but a couple of items are very important to know. The three members of Cream were all major musical stars in England before the band was formed. Clapton’s reputation, developed with stints in The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers led to graffiti on London streets proclaiming him “GOD”. He certainly was one of the most tasteful and fiery practitioners of blues guitar and he had a tone and a touch that was simply too good to believe. Keep in mind the guy was only 24 when Cream broke up in 1968! Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were also ninjas on their respective instruments and Bruce had a pretty amazing range as a vocalist, a fact that would serve Cream well, especially in live performances. One of the big problems, once they were signed however, was the music business. In 1966 record companies and managers were still looking for “hits” and tried to groom and encourage every band to be the next Beatles. You can see this in the early Cream (mimed) television appearances. I Feel Free is not a bad song, especially the instrumentation. But the insistence on the band to be pop stars would rankle especially Clapton who, at the time, considered himself a “blues purist.”

A major game-changer would arrive in England in 1966 in the form of an outstanding American guitarist who was a big fan of Eric Clapton. His name was Jimi Hendrix. While I certainly don’t mean to imply that Hendrix had much effect on the record industry (the pop format focus would dog Cream throughout their very short career) he affected all of the musicians in England in a very profound way. His first album, Are You Experienced? would push people like Cream to new heights and the psychedelic era would take off in full flight. One of the first things Hendrix did when arriving in England was try to sit in with Cream.

Even though this episode was devastating for Clapton at the time, he and the rest of London (and soon the world) came to realize that Jimi was what he was. None of the British guitarists, save for Pete Townshend (who was also a Jimi fan), was as upfront and “wild” as Jimi was perceived to be. It’s important to realize that there was a “respect” issue in play. Clapton saw himself as a disciple of the blues masters and he was playing THEIR music. So it was natural that he would be a little restrained about how he played and performed. He was/is a more reserved person in general. Jimi, on the other hand was playing HIS music; he’d played with Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and, of course, was not British and not a white guy. He could afford to be as free with the music and performances as he wanted and his character/persona was much more outgoing, to the point of volatility sometimes. He also heard manifestations of the blues that no one at the time could’ve put across (Third Stone From the Sun, Are You Experienced) so in the end any comparisons were pretty pointless. However, to the very end Jimi would be one of Cream’s biggest fans, launching into an impromptu and basically unwanted (at least as far as BBC executives were concerned) version of Sunshine of Your Love on The Lulu Show after Cream played their last gigs in 1968.

The competition that did exist was good for all involved because as many people know — if you want to be a great musician, hang with other great musicians. There was the other benefit of all kinds of new sounds and technology being made available to guitar players like…the wah-wah pedal! How many great songs have a wah-wah as part of the sound? As people who knew Cream have pointed out, Jack Bruce wrote the riff to Sunshine as a homage to Jimi one night after attending a Hendrix gig. Eric Clapton quotes the song “Blue Moon” in the first few bars of the solo and recorded it on his far-out and trippy-decorated 1964 Gisbon SG. The drum part originated with Ginger Baker who came up with the idea of playing African rhythms on the “1” and the “3”. He and Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the JHE, would “make” many songs for their respective bands and propel Jimi and Eric to new heights because of what they brought to recordings and performances.

While the pressures from the label and management would never dim, onstage Cream became a force for improvised blues-based rock with elements of psychedelia. While Jimi Hendrix would blow up the USA at the Monterey Pop Festival, which Cream’s manager passed on so they would have “bigger impact,” Cream finally did arrive as headliners in the fall of 1967 and quickly established themselves as a very impressive musical force. They gained a very sympathetic following among The Love Generation and were encouraged to embark on long improvised jams that would sometimes pass the 20-minute mark. At the ceremony to induct the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the mid-90s, ZZ Top drummer Dusty Hill related that back in the late 60s EVERY drummer in Texas had their kit set up like Ginger Baker and tried to cop some of what he was doing for their own sound. The same, of course, was true of Eric Clapton and his blazing Gibson through a Marshall stack sound. In some ways, at least at the time, what Hendrix was doing was so far beyond many people (even what he was hearing, nevermind playing) Eric’s approach was much more attainable: Learn how to play tasteful blues licks, plug in, crank to 11. There are many accounts of their tours of the US that detail not only how LOUD the band played, but how GREAT the guitar sound was. Even before Cream, Eric Clapton knew how to get the great guitar tone that was the envy of many players. His sound had a lot to do with his touch, his vibrato, his rolling the tone pots on the guitar back and forth to achieve different levels of brightness and contrast in the tone of his licks. Outside of the wah-wah he eschewed other effects that would compromise the quality of the sound between guitar and amp. While he would switch to Fender Stratocasters by the time he got the Derek and the Dominoes project going, he used Gibson guitars, mostly the SG, a Les Paul, and the ’63-65 Firebird and the ’64 335 that are played at the 1968 Farewell Concert. All of these guitars gave him that big fat tone that became a staple in rock music and it would not be too much of a stretch to say that all started with EC. Here’s a nice collection of pics with the Firebird. Here’s a great site with a really heavy analysis of Clapton’s guitars! Here’s one of my favorite Cream songs…Tales of Brave Ulysses. While there was always a lot of tension in Cream (especially between Bruce and Baker) they all look like they’re having a good time on this one. Also…sometimes the Youtube comments are genius… like the first one on this video:

“Okay gentlemen, here’s the plan … we bring in the three pre-eminent musicians of our time, we put them on an empty stage and let them play their hearts out with no limits, have them really going for it, exceeding even their own preconceived limits, and we film it (with excellent audio) for posterity … what’s that? Cameras? No, we only need one camera, that should be fine.”

Prior to their post-break-up Goodbye album, Cream released three highly-acclaimed discs: Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire, which incidentally was the first ever platinum-selling double album. Both Wheels of Fire and Goodbye combined sides of studio recordings and various live tracks the band recorded in the US. This created an interesting mix between the shorter, almost pop-oriented format of the studio releases and the furiously improvised live numbers that stretched out to epic lengths (for the time). Notable covers of blues material included Sittin’ On Top of the World, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, I’m So Glad, Spoonful, Born Under a Bad Sign, and Cat’s Squirrel, which although it never received the live workouts the others did, is a great song complete with great harmonica lines courtesy of Bruce and a brilliant guitar breakdown. Personally I always liked the vibe of the studio versions of Sittin’ (the tone of the guitar is awesome) and I’m So Glad where Clapton plays the entire solo on the “G” string. Of course the live versions were simply balls-out and furious, demonstrating the best of Cream’s unbridled energy and instrumental prowess.

But all three members of the band were capable of writing original songs and write they did! Besides Sunshine of Your Love, I Feel Free and Tales of Brave Ulysses, there are other really cool things in the catalog. SWLBAR, Badge, Deserted Cities of the Heart, Strange Brew, Politician, What a Bringdown, Toad, N.S.U., Sleepy Time Time, and of course, the completely EPIC White Room. I always associate the sound of these songs with SUMMERTIME for some reason. While the music is not the happy pop sounds of Strawberry Alarm Clock, there is none of the cold distance that one hears in The Doors or even some of The Beatles material from that period.

Back in the early 80s, Cream’s Farewell Concert was a staple at midnight movie showings (along with Gimme Shelter, Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock and The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I remember going to see this with a bunch of friends in Pittsburgh and it was party city — a real good time. One of the dudes was a total Clapton fanatic and I’d always say, “yea…but Jimi was better!” When the following portion of the movie came on I still remember him turning around and saying, “See?” If you’re looking to cop some of Clapton’s vibe in your playing there is no better instruction than watching this about 20-30 times and playing along until you get it.

Alas, like many other things during the intense decade of the 1960s, Cream did not survive. The relationship among the band began to sour and the intense pressure and constant touring also began to take a toll. Eric Clapton was gravitating away from the “jam” idea to a more song-based approach and as he has said many times over the course of his career, hearing The Band’s Music From Big Pink completely changed his life and his idea of what he would do with music. In other interviews he also expressed that he was never totally comfortable in Cream, not only because of the strain brought by constant very loud improvisation, but also the pressure brought by the mantle of being a guitar hero in a Supergroup. Interestingly enough, during the same period, Jimi Hendrix was moving in the opposite direction — from songs to jams and a more free-form approach — and would continue on this track right up until his death in 1970. As the 60s merged into the 70s all three members of Cream would go in separate directions, deal with crippling substance-abuse problems and never be a part of something as amazing again. While the Layla sessions and album were/are amazing, this was definitely due to the involvement of Duane Allman who was extended the invitation to join the group but declined. Neither the album or the single, Layla was an instant hit and gained it’s well-deserved accolades long after Clapton had broken up the group and moved on. His understated guitar hero status has been maintained and he has managed to adapt his sound and style to all of the trends that have come and gone since the 1960s. The Blues is universal and works with anything and he became quite an effective songwriter. While some who loved what he did in Cream probably had issues with EC in the 80s and 90s, he acquired a whole new audience of fans and has managed to keep a career and reputation as a guitar icon for almost 50 years, which is no small feat in a very tough business.

While there were always suggestions for Cream to reunite, this didn’t happen until 2005 and just as it was in the 1960s, their time together was very brief. The shows happened and went off well, but some of the acrimony was still present and it’s not like any of them, Eric Clapton included, needed or wanted to be on tour for months on end. I missed going to the shows but bought the DVD and think they did a pretty good job of it. There was a conscious effort to NOT make it like it was in the old days and many people took them to task for this. The thing is I would bet that none of the people who did were there for the first time around and are, like many (younger) music consumers, easily bored. Eric Clapton was 61, Ginger Baker was 66 and Jack Bruce was 62 and fresh off of a liver transplant and surviving liver cancer. I don’t really know why people would expect the experience would be like The Albert Hall 1968. As I said earlier Eric was all of 24 years of age when that happened. Of course they could’ve gone the way of some other bands and brought in a bunch of support musicians, but in the end they did what they always did. Three guys climbed onstage and played. Even though the volume overkill, drugs and insane atmosphere of the 60s was not present and the energy level was a bit subdued, the concerts were a fitting testament to what was a very revolutionary band. Some of the lyrics to Deserted Cities of the Heart, one of my favorite tunes, maybe sum it up best:

I felt the wind shout like a drum.
You said, “My friend, love’s end has come.”
It couldn’t last, had to stop.
You drained it all to the last drop.
It was on the way,
On the road to dreams, yeah.
Now my heart’s drowned in no love streams, yeah.
Now my heart’s drowned in no love streams, yeah.

The Guitar Cave Book Review #1

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

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

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

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

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

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