Howlin’ Wolf

Happy Birthday to Me!

YEA! I made it to another birthday and it was a great one! I communicated with people I haven’t heard from in years and that was really special and maybe the best part! There is so much about the old days me from those days that I miss now, but that’s the nostalgic, wistful and longing nature of life isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s far from a forgone conclusion that I will live to see another year when a new year begins, so the fact that I did is totally cool. All blessings to the Most Highest and them that helps me here! Also…there was SCHWAG!

The one gift I requested was for an updated version of an iPhone dock that we used to have that was made by JBL. It was pretty cool because it would charge the phone and simultaneously play music with great hi-fidelity sound, plus it just sat in the corner of the kitchen very unobtrusively. I’m very lucky in that my girlfriend is very tech-savvy and while she was home in Japan for a few weeks in October, she found the Sony xb-41! What a total party machine! This wireless speaker works with whatever device, weighs only three pounds and takes up no space at all. It has great bass response, LED light-show stuff and as all of these demonstration videos I’m linking to show: it can also charge your devices, link in a chain with other speakers to create a HUGE WALL OF SOUND, or even operate as a phone! Just think: You could set it up somewhere and yell into it and somebody, somewhere could yell back! Isn’t THAT GREAT? You can also do stupid shit use as a beat-master at the club! Who wouldn’t want to do that just once?

I just wanted something that could blast when I’m in the kitchen making dinner…which I DO ALL THE TIME! (see above). This definitely works just as expected as I’ve already tried it out and I’m happy as a musical clam. It’s a good idea to download the Sony Music Center app because the app has EVERYTHING you need to take the speaker to the next level, including a really boss equalizer, which is completely necessary. I wasn’t loving how the extra bass response was reacting with some of those jazz albums from the 50s, but the equalizer, which is not just a bunch of presets but actual levels that can be adjusted, helped make it all sound better. ROCK sounds GREAT! All of it. Led Zeppelin IV sounds friggin’ huge! It’s also possible to download an app that allows you to become a proverbial DJ, which is about as annoying a thing that anyone could ever do. I was going to record a demonstration video of this, but I got bored playing with it and decided not to. It’s pretty silly though and if you aren’t the proverbial Douche at the KLUB you’ll have no use for this app, but that doesn’t diminish all of the other great features this speaker and its attendant software will bring into your musical life. Also, you can do like we’re doing and recycle all of your old computer and sound system gear! Clear up, clean out and get rid of all of that stuff you don’t use anymore anyhow! You’ll feel better once you do…or not. I know we will and I like this high-quality machine so I definitely recommend!


I also ordered myself a present because I had another hard year, so hard that I even stopped playing guitar for six months! Can you believe that? I am callous-less. Definitely not easy playing guitar with smooth fingers, but little by little they are coming back. So I bought something I have been looking at for a couple of years: A DITTO pedal. It works just as it is supposed to and I was already playing against a loop of the Autumn Leaves changes yesterday! Fun! Fun! FUN! Making the perfect loop isn’t quite as easy as it looks especially if it’s been a few months. My timing stuff was all off too, but I finally got it. The loops can be used for overdubbing, practicing, creating…whatever you wanna do. They can be saved and then outputted if they are keepers and I will probably do that…use them as a basis for maybe some ambient stuff I can then import into Garageband or Adobe Audition for sound enhancement. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “You’re never alone with a Smith and Wesson” the same could be said for a Ditto looper; you can create the proverbial GUITAR ORCHESTRA all by yourself. I got mine online through Sweetwater and it was my first time and a great experience!. Ordering, communicating and receiving was easy as pie and THAT’S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! Plus, unlike some other companies, they aren’t sending me hourly emails asking for a rating or a review…yet. Hopefully they won’t. But this is my review anyhow! This is a great addition to anyone’s pedal arsenal and it’s not going to break your bank either! All of what you need and nothing you don’t. Not something that’s prevalent in modern culture people…think about that!

Aside from these upgrades, I continue to enjoy the music that I reviewed last month; Moonlight in Vermont, Soft Guitars, “Howlin’ Wolf”, Led Zeppelin IV, and the “Heavy Cream” playlist I made have all been in very frequent rotation. I also made a mid 60s Rolling Stones playlist and COWS playlist that also get regular spins just for a little bit of fun and lunacy. The days continue to get shorter and shorter; by early November it’s usually a short sprint to the end of the year. I love the fall, but it always seems to fly by quickly. Enjoy it as much as possible before it’s gone!

Tidbits

So what did you guys have for lunch? This is what I had. It was pretty good. Never let it be said that living in NYC doesn’t have it’s perks. Of course, there are downsides, but, hey…why dwell on the negative? We all only get one go-round on this crazy merry-go-round called existence! (Or do we?) I’m not so sure about anything anymore. Ya know how…when you’re a kid and you have all of these questions and you completely annoy your parents and they give you answers that aren’t always satisfactory, but you think, “when I’m that age I’ll know everything,” and, of course, it doesn’t work out like that?

So I saw an old friend at this week. He was here and it was nice to visit, because it’s always nice to see old friends. We met and hung out at Hotel Indigo on Ludlow. It’s got some interesting history…I’m not gonna go into it here…but it’s one of those stories. The place is interesting and very popular. Totally the number 1 spot for PartyGirl Inc. Speaking of punk rock…there’s a picture of Johnny Ramone at CBGBs on the ceiling. As we sat in this lounge/bar (that was really dope by 2018 standards) and shot the proverbial poop, I wondered what fraction of 1% of the people who hustle and bustle through the place actually know or care who JR is? I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. He’s kind of like a wallpaper pattern and maybe wherever he is, he’s okay with that. By all accounts he seemed to have a taciturn sense of humor. If I was dead and a wallpaper pattern that would be like immortality. Probably the Ramones don’t really sell that many albums anymore.

Speaking of albums…I continue to enjoy the Howlin’ Wolf comp that I reviewed last week. One element of the review that I regretted missing is that Wolf, for all of his gnarliness and gravelly voiced danger, actually sang quite a few tender songs about love, good women and great relationships. So it’s not all Saturday night neon somebody better call the ambulance music…although there is plenty of that too. As I related the CD arrived broken in a few places, but the company has issued a return! If that all works out well, I will totally hype the place because their customer service is very responsive. If you remember I guessed (and correctly I think) that it would be very similar to dealing with Zappos. Plus, like Zappos, they have all of these sales that they are constantly hyping and everything is priced to move! I just might have to do more shopping!

Speaking of beating a horse with an old rug or something…there are TWO, yes, count ’em, TWO movies out or coming out on Lynryd Skynyrd. Considering Ronnie Van Zant has been dead for 41 years now, that is pretty remarkable. The first is a SHOWTIME presentation that is OFFICIAL in that it has the band’s (and I use that term loosely since most of “the band” is no longer with us) seal of approval. The other movie, Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash, has been cleared by a court in New York for release. It was held up by Gary Rossington and various estates because they did not approve of its central theme, which seems to be Artimus Pyle’s version of the plane crash. The movie has a whopping $1.5 million budget and is supposedly already shot. To put that in perspective, Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic had a budget of $28 million. So this will probably be released straight to WalMart or something. Back in the day I wrote this post on Skynyrd; it’s one of my most popular all-time by views. I don’t know that either of these movies is really necessary and they might even be a tad, I dunno, redundant at this point. Even though I will always remain a total fan of the original band, we all know how the story ends, there have been many presentations on the Skynyrd story, and I can’t imagine anyone needs to sit through the story of the plane crash. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of biopics anyhow, which is kind of what “Street Survivors” is.

Something that is just opening in New York that I WON’T be missing is the Velvet Underground Experience, which is a multi-floor, multimedia presentation that is gonna be open through the rest of the year. I’m totally going and soon! I’ll have a review and whatever pics they let me take. It will be lots of weirdos in even weirder sunglasses! AWESOME! I’m not the biggest VU fan…musically I think they made be just a tad overrated, maybe, but White Light/White Heat and The Black Album from 1969 are both fun discs and What Goes On (with great guitar solo by Reed/Sterling Morrison and great rhythm guitar by Lou Reed) is definitely one of the best songs of the 1960s. The first album and Loaded I played out a long time ago, but they certainly were revolutionary…so maybe the band isn’t overrated at all! I’m sure some of this exhibit will be interesting!

This is a very dramatic time of the year, especially in New York. It recalls something…in everybody. Like Billie Holliday’s version of the George Duke classic, Autumn in New York, which, and I quote from this page: “The bruised optimism of Vernon Duke’s much-covered 1934 jazz standard—which allows that a New York autumn is “often mingled with pain,” but insists that “it’s good to live it” – found its perfect expression in Billie Holiday’s yearning version with pianist Oscar Peterson. Duke’s moody music and poetic lyrics (“Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel”) are an invitation to fall in love.”

I’m definitely mingling in pain, and I think probably I’m to old to fall in love…unless it’s with a new restaurant. Besides, I have somebody to love and a lot of people don’t, so I’m pretty lucky. She even buys me lunch. How great is that? This time of the year also reminds me of Django Reinhardt’s Anouman. The two songs sound very similar…They have the same nostalgic, melancholy flavor that is inherent in the approaching end of another year. There is celebration, but also sometimes a pause, a memory, a wistful yearning for someone, something lost; like the sunny high days that will be gone until next year. All of the sushi restaurants play this kind of music quietly in the background…it’s all part of a deliciously, classy, tasteful experience. Yes…it is good to live it again!

Wang Dang Doodle

As I reported in my last post, I was in need of a serious musical upgrade, especially one of the Howlin’ Wolf variety. Seeing that I live in the largest city in the USA, I sallied forth, totally confident that I would have a great day and return with something that would render me no longer ‘Wolf-less’. Not only was I supremely confident, I was foolishly overconfident because I tried to perform this manuever on a day where 2.3 inches of rain fell in the space of like forty minutes. It was super. A Super Soaker. I got super soaked. Not only that, I returned empty-handed. On my way to and fro I passed the Kellogg’s Store (pic not taken on that day) and…I’m glad it’s there because that’s what I’ve always been lacking in my life…a café that serves Corn Flakes. Talk about SWPL. If it ain’t, it ought to be. In addition to breakfast cereals, there are endless places to acquire luxury goods, sub par, yet overpriced tacos, haircuts!, or electronics. And vinyl. Lots of places now carry vinyl, but all of the discs that I know exist and represent a much more diverse selection of music don’t seem to be available anywhere. Even Barnes and Noble sells vinyl. There is a large space devoted to it that was completely empty. Maybe I didn’t go at the right time. While I was in the B & N the only other people looking at sounds were pathetic old guys like me in the compact disc section, stumbling around like dehydrated, wild-eyed morons in the desert, searching, yearning, and dreaming a mirage of purchased music, passing each other with traded looks of “What? You call this a music selection?” (Yea, that sentence is awkward, but it works).

As I said in the original post, I didn’t see anything I wanted in the iTunes music store and the only great thing about that is convenience and the ease of album art and installation on the iPhone. Part of what drove me from the house was the desire I had to relive the days when everyone had to search to acquire…but not with a fake magnifying glass and a bunch of form fields. Search, in the wild…like Bungalow Bill or something. That was part of the pleasure of buying music; combing through the bins, turning up unexpected gems for the right price and interacting with fellow prospectors or dealers who either approved or snickered at what was under your arm. There are a few places like this left in the city, but their selection of anything guitar-related, blues or jazz, was seriously lacking. One dude at a place I visited related that the good stuff “goes pretty quick” and all that little anecdote did was reaffirm my belief that there is obviously still a market out there. It just needs a space that doesn’t rent @ $444,444.29/sq ft.


So I turned to the internet and yea, of course I found something online, and its killer! The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62 aka All of the Wolf’s Great Music. I didn’t get it from The ‘Zon, because I’m not getting anything there anymore. While the actual product is everything I wanted, it came with the jewel case broken in three places…So I imported the music, scanned the covers, and sent that crap back to sender ’cause that’s just how I roll Homeskillet! (Saying the italic bit in a Howlin’ Wolf voice works really well!) I ordered from this place that has its warehouse at a Shepherdsville, KY address, which, I believe, is in the immediate vicinity of the Zappos warehouse. D’ya know Zappos? I know Zappos. On the whole Zappos has been a positive experience as far as getting what I want and returning what did not meet expectations for one reason or another. This is the way we shop (and return) now, I guess. Something gained, something lost. Like that Joni Mitchell song or something. No, not that one. This one. Eh, no, this one. (All those vids are amazing!) Anyhow, I fear for the young. How will they know how to forage and feed themselves when the great crash and zombie apocalypse happens? Will everyone head for places like Shepherdsville, KY to raid the warehouses only to find that they have already been taken over by a gang run by Suge Knight and that dude from Pawn Stars? IT COULD HAPPEN!

But the music. WOW! 80 tunes! All the great ones: Smokestack Lightning, Moanin’ at Midnight, Down In the Bottom, Backdoor Man, Wang Dang Doodle, I Ain’t Superstious, Sittin’ On Top of the World and all of the others. Then there is the great stuff that I’ve heard on other people’s recordings like Tell Me, Shake for Me, and You’ll Be Mine, all covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan, which I hadn’t heard the originals until now. Why? I don’t know. But Howlin’ Wolf and his Orchestra is THE BLUES and it’s the best kind of blues because it can exist on one chord and say everything there is to say about everything and serve as the basis for a whole future of unimagined (at the time) other music. The SOUND is a huge, throbbing tumor of the most dangerous variety; pregnant, full of possibility and menace. How many other art forms can say that? Just letting all of these songs play renders the concept of “song” meaningless because they all merge into a glorious panorama that puts the listener in the death seat of a meth-fueled, flying muscle car, sailing down Highway 49 as the juke joints, clotheslines, rib shacks, old cars, beer signs, bent men, dancing women, razors, blood and whiskey blow by the windows. Needless to say, this gets my highest rating and is heavily recommended.

I also got Cream’s Wheels of Fire, the world’s first platinum double album, for the incredibly low price of $7.99! This is a great disc and one I had on vinyl a long time ago. I wore that sucker out listening to and trying to cop licks from some of the brilliant Clapton-driven guitar numbers. Hard to believe he was only 23 years old when the record was made in 1968. I wrote a post on Cream five years ago and since that time it has generated absolutely no interest. I really think it all goes back to that unplugged version of Layla and Clapton’s iBanker look at the time. Probably a lot of people who were too young to know thought he worked for Credit Suisse or something. Or maybe the 60s-era poetry lyrics on some Cream’s tunes and their turning the blues into very loud, very long, almost free-jazz explorations IS NOT OK. Or it might have something to do with good LSD no longer being a thing, except at trance shows. Is that true? That was always certainly part of the attraction…I mean how else do you get into fuzzy, over-the-top, purple-tinged poetry songs about Ulysses and Atlantis?

Wheels of Fire has the studio versions of incomparable electric workouts: White Room, Sitting on Top of the World, Born Under a Bad Sign, Politician, Those Were the Days and Deserted Cities of the Heart. It also has live versions of Crossroads, Spoonful, Toad and Traintime. Finally, there is some acoustic psychedelia with some great: As You Said; some good: Passing the Time; and some not great: Pressed Rat and Warthog and Anyone for Tennis. From a guitarist’s perspective, not only was all of this stuff completely impressive when it was released, but all of the instrumentalists were very influential on players who heard and went on to their own success later on. Also, it sounded great when you were tripping your face off!

A fringe benefit of me having Wheels of Fire and the other Cream releases is that now I have created a playlist that is the running order of one of the best compilations of any band that ever existed, Heavy Cream. This vinyl (haha) was released in 1972 and as far as I can tell has never been released on CD. I wore that two disc set out because it had all of the stuff and none of the fluff and, yea, there is that nostalgic element to it, but so what? I can get emotional. If music doesn’t have that kind of effect on you, why go out looking for it on a day that a couple of inches of rain gets dumped on your head is all I’m sayin’!

I also had two more choices (one of which is backordered) because why not go all out? I ordered and received Davy Graham’s Large as Life and Twice as Natural. I’ve written about Graham before; he developed the DADGAD tuning, wrote and performed the early 60s coffeehouse jazz/folk/guitar standard Anji, and influenced everyone from Bert Jansch, to Paul Simon to Jimmy Page. Not a bad pedigree. This album comes highly recommended as it usually gets 12 out of 10 stars everywhere! Allmusic says that: “With the exception of 1964’s Folk, Blues and Beyond, this is Graham’s finest non-compilation album… “ Unfortunately, my review isn’t quite as glowing. Davy’s guitar does shine on half the album, especially his forays into Indian/World music: Blue Raga, Jenra, Sunshine Raga, and his cover of Both Sides Now are all really good. Not only does he know and play his sitar-style tunings well, but his understanding of Eastern/Arabic music and the fact that he actually could play the Oud allow these pieces to sound completely original, yet very traditional. It seems to me the pitch is lower than “D”, which creates a natural comb-filter-type timbre. That is a great sound and one I would like to try myself! The supporting players also bring a really authentic ensemble presentation to this music that blends East and West in a more convincing manner than a ton of other stuff that attempted same in the 60s. I also like Bruton Town, which is an Olde English folk/Madrigal type of song. Davey’s voice is well-suited to this kind of material and his fingerpicked guitar work is perfectly executed and evocative of the Renaissance Fair feel of the song. There should have been another 1-2 numbers with this vibe on the disc. The Elizabeth Cotton-penned folk classic Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie is also performed well but this folk style is very familiar to me and not as impressive to be honest.

Unfortunately, I don’t like much about the rest of the album. There are four “blues” songs: Freight Train Blues, Good Morning Blues, Electric Chair, and Bad Boy Blues, but Graham really doesn’t do my kind of blues. He’s got that high, reedy, English-guy voice goin’ on and that just don’t sound like the Delta, believe you me. Then there’s Beautiful City, a swingin’ jazzy number where he sounds like Tony Bennett, which isn’t a terrible thing…if you are Tony Bennett and you’re singing a good song. He isn’t and this isn’t. The guitar on all of these tunes also sounds like an afterthought at times and certainly doesn’t have the strong vibe of the best 6 songs. There are weak and unconvincing runs and he does this annoying displacement thing where he steps out of key but it’s not cool, angular and dissonant; it just sounds like he played in the wrong key for two bars. Finally, there is his composition Tristano, which is a four-minute solo guitar piece that attempts to mash about 5 genres of music together. This should have been good, but it sounds like not enough thought was given to the arrangement. Some of the execution sounds forced and the musical thread wanders. There is nothing on this disc that has the laid back, stately cool of Anji and I am bummed about that because I’ve loved that song for decades. A couple more of the English folk style songs, an instrumental Beautiful City, and 1-2 blues instrumentals would’ve been a great compliment to the World/Eastern stuff.

So, unfortunately, a very mixed bag. I gave it three stars, because I’m in a generous mood today. There is a chance that the CD will grow on me since I haven’t had it for very long, but more than likely I’ll add the best stuff to a comp playlist and forget the rest. That’s how it goes when buying music and the moral of this story: Don’t trust Allmusic Reviews! Overall, though it was a good haul and I still have one more disc on the way and you can be sure you’ll read about it once I have it!

The Wolf at the Door

Ater 25 years in the same apartment, I moved on to new digs this year. It was time and all of the post-move changes seem to have worked out, and I am very thankful for that. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to move too far and it wasn’t a tedious or complicated process, but, somehow, somewhere, I lost a Howlin’ Wolf compilation that I had and I don’t have it digitally. Bummer! I have no Howlin’ Wolf on my person at the moment. I am Wolf-less. I haven’t been Wolf-less in years and the stuff I see on the iTunes store doesn’t look that great. It is incomplete. This is not a good thing.

Way, way back in 2011 (WOW!) I wrote this paragraph in a post on the illustrious Booker ‘Bukka’ White:

“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.”

That’s a pretty happening paragraph. Damn! I’m good. The same feelings I have for Bukka and his acoustic blues music, I have always had for Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and his gnarly, snarly, electric blues. Yea, Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Boy Williamson and all of the rest were great. No doubt. Willie Dixon, of course, was the premiere songwriter of them all. He was also an awesome bass player and over the years played with pretty much everybody. But Wolf’s brand of blues and his awesome presence, live or on record, cannot be beat. He towers over other performers by a mile and this is why he was also a huge influence and a big favorite of people like Bonnie Raitt, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Brian Jones and his little band from Britain, The Rolling Stones.

Wolf was a big dude — 6 foot 3, 300 lbs. and his brand of blues was dangerous and menacing…’cause even when he was sitting down wearing accountant glasses he still looked menacing. Like Bukka White he sang about the very dangerous things he knew about: evil, riding trains, liquor, fights, women, more fighting, life, and more women. His best songs, whether original or not, are my favorite versions of those songs: Smokestack Lightning, Sittin’ On Top of the World, Evil, Moanin’ at Midnight, Wang Dang Doodle, Killing Floor, Down in the Bottom, Back Door Man, Spoonful, The Red Rooster, How Many More Years, and I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline). All of these tunes featured Wolf’s booming, bassy, bad-ass testifying shouts, whoops, snarls and, yelps front and center, while his guitar, slide guitar and harmonica punched, jabbed, accented and punctuated his backing band’s steady rolling rhythm. This produced a beautiful and sometimes terrifying musical atmosphere as Wolf’s. It was, as legendary producer Sam Phillips recalled, “This is where the soul of man never dies.” His voice was as big as the country; too big to be contained by music hall, bar or the radio. Often imitated, but never equaled, it was an unparalleled instrument gave all of his material an instantly recognizable brand and edge. This version of Smokestack Lightning is a bit different from the recorded version but it illustrates the Howlin’ Wolf’s blues train: the swingin’ kit hits, guitar screams and stabs, piano tinkles, and bass rumble working together simultaneously while Wolf rides the top of the boxcar shouting, moaning and lowing his orgy dream tale of train-riding and woman-loving. [LateEdit: I love the recorded version of this song. It has all of the elements of this live version but is driven by Hubert’s hypnotically repetitive Chicago-by-way-of-the-Delta guitar riff. Definitely serves up the essence of the Howlin’ Wolf sound!]

While Wolf had the showbiz image of the dangerous, fly-by-night, criminal badass, he was actually a very conservative, hard-working and responsible bandleader. Financially he always did well; so well he was able to pay his band better than anyone else and even provided health insurance, which is why he had the best band in the business and players, like guitarist Hubert Sumlin, stuck around for the duration of Wolf’s life and career. It was all about the music, which Wolf gave forty years of his life to before succumbing to various health ailments in 1976. Prior to that he was able to capitalize on the blues revival in the United States and Europe in the 1960s and he taught all of youngsters what roadhouse blues was really all about.

Hubert Sumlin was also a huge part of the Howlin’ Wolf sound and a lot of his licks show up later in stuff like Zeppelin’s The Lemon Song and various Cream covers that everyone has heard a million times. He was the perfect foil for Wolf’s voice, guitar and harmonica sound. Whether the band was on big stages or in small, intimate situations, they always turned it out in great rockin’ rhythm and blues style!

So what am I gonna do? I have to find the complete sides collection somewhere, but no one buys CDs anymore do they? I don’t do the streaming, so I guess I’ll have to go to a store. Holy Cow! I’ll have to work up to this…I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy Birthday Keith Richards!

keith2

Absolutely Awesome that my first guitar hero has made it to 70 years of age! Defying all pronouncements and expectations, he didn’t die before he was 30 and has become a rock elder in grand style! Plus he has created so many rad riffs over the years. HO HO HO!!

I still listen to Keith and the Stones frequently. Lately I’ve also listened to Elvis Presely’s The Sun Sessions, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmos Factory, and a bunch of Howlin’ Wolf. I’ve written a couple of things on Keith here and here. I also wrote this on the Gimme Shelter movie, which is my most popular post ever, except for the post on Django Reinhardt’s Improvisation #1.

I haven’t been blogging because of work and I’m back playing regular Gypsy Jazz gigs now. It’s really cool! All the practice has paid off. At some point next year I hope to put some more real guitar stuff on here.

For all of you jazzers: Morten Faerestrand has one of the best instructional channels on Youtube. I highly recommend! That is all!

Finally, it’s that time of the year when you’re going to hear Felize Navidad regularly, but did you know that José Feliciano is an outstanding guitarist? Check it out below in a duet with (of all people) Bing Crosby.

Happy Guitar Holidays to Everyone!

Book Review #1

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.