Archive for Keith Moon

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.

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by theguitarcave

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Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

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Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant. Probably his best. I’ve reviewed in the right column as an essential disc. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life.

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Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.

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Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had no control over.

The Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage or douchebaggery that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that right up until the end Jimi was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing great riffs into the studio and that is a great legacy.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar nonetheless. Incidentally, the movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

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War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.

Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs. Without Jimi’s name and picture on the cover no one would’ve bought this pile of shit.

Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

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The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.

Kiss the Sky **** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.

Jimi Plays Monterey ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.

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Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience (mostly) at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.

The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc flawed only because it omits some better material from all of the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.

Blues ** I wanted to like this, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.

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Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

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Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

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So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific, and Part 4 will cover some of the enduring myth and controversy (good and bad) that still surrounds Jimi Stay tuned!

Pete Townshend and The Who

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2012 by theguitarcave

I often see conversations online from people who wish they could journey back in time to New York City circa 1977 and the beginnings of punk rock. That could be cool, but if I could jump into a time machine I would dial in the late 60s Fillmore East: Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Miles Davis, early Allman Brothers and The Who with Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and nutcase extraordinaire Pete Townshend, the true Godfather of Punk; decked out in his boiler suit, big boots and slinging a cherry red Gibson SG. While The Who was never my favorite band and I did see them in the 80s, in the late 60s/early 70s, with Keith Moon still alive, they were easily one of the most kinetic and explosive concert acts in the world. Youtube clips from the 1970 “Tanglewood” show have the band at the top of their game:

When I say the band was never my favorite, it’s mostly because I always found a lot of their songs really hard to relate to, especially growing up. The early single hits were easy enough and the band always rocked, but some of their best moments were really off the wall. Take A Quick One, the mini opera that completely kills at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The performance is so good that they completely own the Stones, but the whole thing is just so weird to listen to that it’s hard to imagine a testosterone-charged teen looking to rock would want to throw it on when the urge struck. But the clip shows what The Who always had — smart arrangements and writing and an absolutely blistering live execution of their material…and they are funny. You can’t watch a clip with Keith Moon in it and not be entertained…that is flat-out impossible. This isn’t the best visual quality clip, but get The Kids are Alright or The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus DVD to enjoy a spectacular performance.

Keith Richards once said about Keith Moon…that (paraphrase) “he didn’t know a tin pot from a paradiddle, but he could play with Townshend.” This fact appears in many places in rock literature — Keith Moon was the Chico Marx of rock drumming; an amazingly instinctive player who never practiced, didn’t know what he was doing half the time and played in a manner with certain techniques (like his double-kick) that defy convention and common sense. As the band evolved it’s interesting to wonder what kind of effect Moon had on Pete’s guitar style, because it’s not like you could be in a group with a guy like Moon and not be affected somehow.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of coding and trying to think of things in a mathematical/scientific manner (LOL) consider the graphic above. If you compare Townshend to Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page with the extreme left representing the player’s rhythm to lead ratio and the extreme right representing the player’s lead to rhythm ratio, Pete and Jimi are squarely in the middle. Both players integrated chords and fills into their playing much more than Page, who played more single-string riffs and long solos, or Richards (at the opposite end) who played more chord based riffs. This isn’t to suggest that Richards never played lead or Page never played rhythm — Page began using more chord-based riffs as Led Zeppelin’s career progressed and Hendrix started to change his style as his “songs” developed into “jams” later in his career. But Townshend’s style as we know it, is a complete integration of lead and rhythm guitar; he segues from a chord, to a few notes, to some more chords, to a feedback squeal to a loud BOMM on the low E string all in a few measures. He became the master of the rhythm slash and power chord, augmented and accentuated by these “bits” of counter-melodies or noise played on the high strings or single strings. One reason why Pete (and Jimi to a certain extent) differ is that he didn’t come from a blues-based approach growing up, but loved the RnB style of Booker T and the MGs and guitarist Steve Cropper. (Before he hit it big Hendrix put in a fair amount of time on America’s Chittlin’ Circuit playing in RnB bands). In the early days, The Who were known for their MAXIMUM RnB, which meant less solos and more fills, but Towshend’s highly charged, aggressive live approach to guitar and having Moon as the drummer put all of the dance rhythms of RnB on steroids. This is the main reason I think he is the Godfather of Punk as a lot of players in that genre were obviously heavily influenced by him and by the band’s approach to a group sound that minimized individual soloing. This is Keith Richard’s point in the quote above — Townshend and Moon were perfectly suited to playing with each other just as Hendrix/Mitchell, Page/Bonham, Richards/Watts were good combinations. Try to imagine changing those dual combos around and whether that would even work.Townshend/Watts? Richards/Bonham? Kind of hard to imagine. Then factor in how John Entwistle’s bass lines worked within what Townshend and Moon were doing. Together they produced a very busy and explosive sound and that sound defines The Who, at least through the late 1970s.

While some of Pete’s aggression can be written off to his style and personality, part of his artistic background included being influenced by Gustav Metzger, artist and political activist who “pioneered” the concept of creative destruction and auto-destruction in the early 1960s. Metzger would influence other artists and musicians including Cream and Yoko Ono. In the early days The Who were very Pop Art and Townshend certainly was conscious of all of the various things happening in the art world at the time. Yoko Ono has taken a lot of heat over the years as a “singer”, but if one considers what she is doing or some of what she is doing in the same vein, the whole point is not to sing in the standard or beautiful way. Here, let’s look at the following equation:

{\Begin AutoDestruction}
Yoko singing (sometimes) = Pete smashing guitar
{End AutoDestruction/}

See how it all begins to make sense? At the (Yoko) link above Townshend describes being aware of Ono because of his association with Metzger, and describes what she was doing as “insane” but in an admiring way, so I’m not just trying to be funny with the above equation. Townshend was never just a ROCK AND ROLL DUDE!! kind of guy and he didn’t just break things. He was using feedback before Jimi Hendrix came on the scene, combined slashing chords, single note runs, picked arpeggios and extreme volume to bring the sound of violence and destruction to the musical form. Of course, for the actual violence he had a very willing partner in Keith Moon, who absolutely loved breaking things and blowing them up. While some of this was showbiz and some of it was lunacy, the ideas behind it descended from a bona-fide and controversial art movement in the same way that Jim Morrison (and later Iggy Pop (perhaps)) used influences like New York City’s The Living Theater to perform in a way that shocked and moved an audience out of its complacency. It has long been alleged that this is what Morrison (who had been incorporating similar ideas in his performance from the beginning) was trying to pull of in Miami 1969 when he was arrested for indecent exposure and inciting a riot. Below is the entire clip from The Smothers Brothers Show in 1967 when The Who brought auto-destruct to prime-time television. Unbeknownst to anyone else Moon had loaded his bass drum with serious pyrotechnics. Townshend has long maintained his problems with Tinnitus began in the wake of this explosion.

Pete expanded on A Quick One in 1969 with the first full-blown rock opera, Tommy, which was quite an ambitious undertaking at the time. While it has attained legendary status over the years, it certainly wasn’t embraced by everyone when it was first released. Given the nature of the story and some of the themes that appear (infidelity, murder, child abuse, sexual abuse) it really isn’t any wonder that some found it excessively vulgar, exploitative, and casual in its approach to such heavy subjects (boy gets sexually abused by his uncle, plays pinball). But Townshend had a history of bringing taboo subjects into the popular music form (I’m a Boy, Pictures of Lily, My Generation, A Quick One) all done with a British style of humor and eccentricity and Tommy represented a supreme coalescing statement of everything the band had done up to that point and certainly qualifies as a real artistic achievement. What really makes it work is how much of opera revolves around Townshend’s guitar work in a very rhythmic sense. There was no departure from what he and the band were already doing and many of the songs (Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Acid Queen, Christmas, We’re Not Gonna Take It and I’m Free) stand on their own as great guitar-driven rock songs. This period of the band, which included performances at Woodstock and Isle of Wight saw them getting the solid recognition they had been working for throughout the 60s and this ranks as my favorite period of their career. Their rave up of Young Man’s Blues from Isle of Wight is as good as rock and roll gets and illustrates perfectly everything I’ve tried to describe about Pete’s guitar style.

The Kids are Alright

While The Who started to lose me a bit around the Quadrophenia years, there were still some good songs on the record and throughout the rest of the 70s, at least until Keith Moon passed away. After that they were a completely different band in the same way that LED ZEPPELIN ended with John Bonham’s death. Pete has had a pretty successful solo career in addition to continuing on with Who projects over the years and he is one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. His use of acoustic guitars over the years has really piqued my interest lately — he definitely uses acoustics like Richards/Page to 1) layer nice textures onto a track, 2) provide nice contrasting parts within the song, 3) fill out what is an otherwise “electric” song with an acoustic mixed low to beef up the sound and, 4) in some cases using all acoustics to give the song a really huge, percussive sound. A really close listen of Tommy demonstrates all four of these methods and Pete (like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards) was always a master writer/producer as much as he was a great guitar player. With this in mind I’ll end this with a great solo version of Drowned from The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979. Notice that Pete’s technique is the same whether he is playing acoustic or electric. Like many other great guitar players (Django, Stevie Ray, Jimi etc, etc) he has always played guitar as if his very existence depends on it and that is an attitude and mental state every guitarist should aim for every time the instrument is picked up. The real beauty with all of these players, Pete included, is how they are able to channel the energy, need to play and aggression into something that is stylish and ultimately…artistic!

The Kids are Alright, Isle of Wight and The Rock and Roll Circus are all really great. 4 stars! They are must-have’s in any serious rocker or guitarist library!