Archive for Les Paul

Barney Kessel

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by theguitarcave

Barney Kessel is a guy I’ve mentioned a few times lately — in this post on learning resources and again as a member of The Wrecking Crew in this post on Glen Campbell. I’ve also reviewed his album Yesterday, over in the right column. Above, he is playing an early 60s version of Gypsy in My Soul and of course he tears it up!. Barney was an early student of guitar and was already playing out by the time he was 14. Growing up in Oklahoma allowed him to meet another very famous Oklahoma native, Charlie Christian. While on break from touring with Benny Goodman, Christian went to see Barney play and the two subsequently ended up jamming for three days straight. This later led to Charlie recommending Barney to Benny Goodman and Barney getting the job after killing it on the jazz standard, Cherokee.

“One of the most extraordinarily consistent and emotionally huge improvisers of our era” – Nat Hentoff

“Barney Kessel is definitely the best guitar player in this world, or any other world.” – George Harrison

“Barney Kessel was ‘Mr. Guitar,’ the foremost jazz guitarist of his generation. He had an amazing imagination, his solos were incredible, he swung his tail off, he was a heck of an arranger and could out-read anybody.” – Larry Coryell

“Barney Kessel is incredible. He’s just amazing . . . . Nobody can play guitar like that.” – John Lennon

“I remember first seeing Barney Kessel, in the 1940s, standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, in his cowboy boots, sun glasses and hipster threads, holding his guitar case man, you just knew that cat could wail!” – Anita O’Day

“I’d listen to Barney Kessel records and my jaw would drop. I was awe-struck by the nature of his ad-libs. I followed Barney Kessel’s musical stories like a kid following a fairy tale.” – B.B. King

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What attracts me to the guitar guys who came up in the 30s and 40s — Reinhardt, Christian, George Barnes, Herb Ellis, Harry Volpe, Les Paul, Sal Salvador, Johnny Smith, and Barney Kessel — is there is always a whole lot of rock and roll in their playing. When I say rock and roll I say it as an expression (like when it’s time to get busy people say “let’s rock and roll”) and also as a euphemism for rhythm and blues. They were just completely going for it on many tracks because they all came up in The Swing Era when people wanted to dance all cray-cray like. You can hear that in Barney’s drive and some of the licks he plays in Gypsy in My Soul. But he also had a great sense of harmony and orchestration and those two sometimes very divergent qualities were combined in all of his performances. This is certainly one of the reasons The Beatles liked him. By the time Barney came along in the 1940s, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes and Charlie Christian were already on record playing all of the important guitar elements and ‘devices’: single lines, octaves, chords, partial chords, fast picking, sweep picking, bent notes, and tremolo picking that enabled the guitar to take on the role of a solo instrument in a band or orchestra setting. Reinhardt and Christian had already drastically expanded the language of the instrument with Christian veering from swing music into early bebop and Reinhardt adding classical and flamenco guitar elements to the jazz/popular canon.

Barney Kessel combined all of these guitar devices, expanded on them and added a few of his own. As far as I know he is the first guy to popularize (and maybe even develop) the backwards pick sweep that shows up in his playing a lot. This enables completely different lines and a different sound, even though it was often played so fast that it sounded sloppy at times. He also played original bebop lines, cool 50s “out” phrasing and a lot of licks that expanded on Charlie Christian’s blues licks (which were different from Reinhardt’s) and sound like what would later be very poplar rock music motifs. Because Barney was also always playing an amplified electric Gibson 350, he was able to dial in a wide array of sounds including fat bass spankin’, sustained horn-type lines, lush harp-like chords and sweet almost vocal single string licks. The Antônio Carlos Jobim composition Wave (above) is a good example of how effective a chordal/single note combination is for setting a mood. Great texture and dynamics and just oh so s m o o o t h. There is a lot to be learned from taking apart what he does in this clip and I’ve picked up a few things by transcribing bits of this performance. It’s also more than just licks; notice the pacing, the mood, textures and sustained drive of the whole song. That is very important! Below, Barney once again takes a number at a wicked tempo with the always-enjoyable Herb Ellis, on the flat-out amazing Tangerine. Talk about smoking! The extra special enjoyment of this for me is that I’ve played both Wave and Tangerine in gig settings. They are two of my favorite standards and fun tunes to learn how to play.

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Barney had a very long career, playing with such greats as Chico Marx, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Sonny Rollins and Julie London on the 1955 album Julie Is Her Name, which contains the million-selling song, Cry Me a River. As I related in my post on Glen Campbell, Kessel was a member of “The Clique” or The Wrecking Crew as they came to be known and was a “first call” guitarist for Columbia Pictures during the 1960s. FUN FACT: He played the bass for Spock’s Theme in the Amok Time episode of Star Trek. In the 1970s he performed with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as The Great Guitars. Through it all Barney was most often spotted with just one guitar, a Gibson 350 with a Charlie Christian pickup. Although both Kay and Gibson tried to work the endorsement angle (and there are different versions of a Gibson Barney Kessel, a whole lot of his best work was done with that one guitar and he explains why in the following clip.

However, thanks to this very informative page, consider the following interview with the very awesome and talented YES guitarist Steve Howe:

I conducted an interview with Steve Howe, the guitarist in Yes, in October 2003 when I informed him that Kessel was critically ill. Howe has always cited Barney Kessel as a primary influence on his own guitar style: “Barney Kessel was the first American jazz guitarist I ever related to. I started playing when I was 12 in 1959 and I reckon about two years after that I was aware of Barney Kessel. I guess the Kessel album that was most important to me and still is, is ‘The Poll Winners’ with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown. ‘Volume 1’, a blue cover, on the Contemporary label. I bought it and most of Barney’s albums in London at Dobell’s, the famous jazz shop. It was archetypal, real jazz. I bought all the LP’s he made when he was the leader. I also liked him in support roles. I have the whole collection of ‘The Poll Winners’. One of the things I liked about Barney was his sound. Compared to other players, he had a very earthy, organic quality to his sound. And his playing was a remarkable mixture of ‘single line’ and ‘chords’, ya know, which inspired me to believe that any guitarist who doesn’t understand chords won’t be able to play much in the single line because they relate so much. Barney had his own great, highly individual approach to jazz guitar. The way he combined the chords and that single line. It was a perfect balance, really.

“And there was something mysterious about his equipment. In England, we could recognize L5s or 400s but we weren’t sure if he was playing an L7C, or what. Nobody really knew what that guitar was for a while. We knew it was some sort of Gibson. They weren’t heavily clarified in catalogues nor readily available in England in the ’60s. That’s when the L7 was less than popular, ya know? But he had that characteristic big guitar. I mean, I obviously went on to play a rock ‘n’ roll 175. I got it in 1964 and bought a new one in 1975. That was styled after Kessel, who I had seen a few times on television, and Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery and other guitarists who also used a 175, the most gorgeous guitar. As I went around, people said, ‘Wow, you play that guitar?’ Because it wasn’t considered a rock guitar in any shape or form. So it was kind of a breakthrough and it did help me because the sound of a full body is so different from the solids, the slim lines that people were playing. And everybody asked me, ‘Why didn’t it feed back?’ Because I used a volume pedal and I stood a certain distance from my amp and didn’t use too much bass from my amp, I guess. I got ’round that problem but I certainly wasn’t directly emulating Barney Kessel but I was thinking I would not remove myself from that line of fire, because I wanted to be influenced by jazz.

“I read Barney’s column, a few times, in ‘Guitar Player Magazine’. There obviously was a whole line of fine guitarists he inspired, or that had been touched by him. That stuff Barney did with Julie London like ‘Cry Me A River’ which starts with his guitar, is amazing. One important thing to me is that Barney Kessel is the first guitarist I ever saw who said ‘You need eight guitars to be a session guitarist’. I only had about four at the time. And when I saw his ‘eight guitars’ quote I kinda read what he meant. Like having a 12-string. Barney put something very influential in my head about the multi-guitar idea when he mentioned eight guitars including 12-string and mandolin. That well-rounded idea that obviously affected me when I went into doing ‘Monster Guitars’ goes back to Barney Kessel.

“And Barney played that tune, ‘A Tribute To Charlie Christian’, on his ‘Easy, Like’ album. That was one of his things I learned. The fact is I’ve always mentioned Barney Kessel as the first player I ever got into, Barney and Django Reinhardt. And then of course my mind became more distracted from Barney but he never really went away. He was still there. A straight ahead guy with an organic edge to his sound.”

I’ve been saying for years what an influence Django Reinhardt was on the English rock musicians of the 60s. Interesting to learn about Barney’s influence as well. Note Howe’s opinion that Barney’s chord work and single line playing always seemed to be perfectly balanced. YES! Definitely check out the whole article HERE at Spectropop for lots more on Barney’s life and career. He was at the crossroads of music through the 50s, 60s and 70s and performed with many of music’s biggest luminaries. The author interviews Barney’s sons and was able to speak with some of the music world’s biggest stars while Barney was in his final days. Brian Wilson: “Barney Kessel was a wonderful guitar player. He did a wonderful job on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. He’s in my prayers.” Barney is listed as playing mandolin on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ with other Wrecking Crew standouts Carol Kaye (bass), Hal Blaine (drums) and Larry Knechtel (organ). You can hear the backing track here. Here’s another interview with Barney from 1968 that is especially notable for what he says about Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

Do you think the people who have played guitar in more outlandish ways have aided the instrument?

Not at all. No, they haven’t really done anything for the guitar or music. Like, someone once asked me: “What did you think of Jimi Hendrix?” First of all, I don’t discuss guitar players. I don’t think it’s ethical; it’s like asking a jazz critic about another jazz critic. I’d rather not. But it didn’t even have to be Jimi Hendrix it could be anyone. The fact that any man would go out on the stage and set fire to his guitar, or urinate on his guitar there’s nothing in there that makes me admire it; there’s nothing admirable about that. So I can’t get past that to examine the ‘genius’; if that’s my own hang—up, then it is if I’m limited in my outlook. I can’t get past the disrespect shown the instrument, and I can’t imagine someone having enough genius to justify that…

There are now twelve year olds who think of Elvis Presley and the Beatles as old men, mythical characters things from the past. They just don’t relate to it. It’s a curious thing, but each generation wants its own heroes; it doesn’t matter how good someone else is they want their heroes, from their own age bracket…

It’s like when Bob Dylan came out . . . I knew John Hammond, and that he had discovered Mary Lou Williams and, of course, he’d done a lot for Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday he’s really made the people aware of a lot of fine talent. He also brought Bob Dylan into public awareness and I tried to find out what was the redeeming factor there. He can’t sing, he can’t play guitar, he can’t play the harmonica; his melodies are very, very primitive, bordering on the Neanderthal. Well, trying to look at it objectively the redeeming elements, and the only ones, are the words to his songs, that had a message for the people of his age and his time. But since I’m not his age, his words have no meaning for me. They did not affect me in any way. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, there were no redeeming qualities but I can see why he was accepted by a lot of people.

It seems Barney was able to appreciate some of the styles from the 60s (even Jimi Hendrix) a little more later in life (thanks to his children), but it’s interesting what he says about each generation wanting it’s own heroes regardless of talent or abilities. How true that is! It is probably also true that most people, especially musicians who spend a lifetime fine-tuning their hearing and their brains to appreciate and play sophisticated music, will get turned off by music that doesn’t match that standard. He certainly liked bands like Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys and The Beatles…he covered Yesterday and that tune certainly has a great melody!

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Here is a link to another interview with Barney from the late 60s that has more to do with playing guitar. It contains plenty of quotable nuggets like the above that give insight into what made Barney tick as an artist. He was a great listener, a great reader and had an intense musical imagination and this is how he developed the musical abilities that served him well for almost 50 years. He also stressed (and this is so important and something I wish someone would’ve told me when I was 20) that:

You must be clear on what you want to do with music . . . not just clear—specific. It’s not good enough to say: “I want to be in music.” You have to be as positive as booking a certain seat on a certain plane for a certain destination. The minute you become clear on what you want, it becomes also very apparent what you don’t want. You begin to see the interesting studies, the things that could be intriguing to do, but which are not pertinent to your goal. Today, with all the perplexities, it is not what to practice, but what to avoid practising. What do you want to do? It is time—wasting to taste a little of all these things and not to be master of any—unless you are doing it strictly for amusement. But to accomplish anything, you have to know what you want.

Finally, this version of The Shadow of Your Smile encapsulates everything that made Barney the musician he was: beautiful solo playing that never loses it’s drive, harmonic invention or melodic direction. There isn’t one wasted note, no wanking, nor one lick that is played simply to impress. It’s just a perfect musical performance. I love watching Barney clips on YouTube because they are always simultaneously entertaining AND a learning experience. In our imaginations and on our best days don’t we all aspire to to play like this? While Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass rightfully get a whole lot of praise for what they brought to the jazz guitar world, I feel not enough is said about Barney Kessel. He is beyond jazz — truly one of the titans of sophisticated guitar and a total music legend. Also, unlike Montgomery or Pass or many other players from that era, he was able to fit into a wide spectrum of musical situations and always bring his A- GAME. In addition to being an instrumentalist, producer and guy-on-the-scene, he became an educator later in his career. I’ve already linked to one of his instruction videos. Here’s another. Also, there are pages here and here that have some Barney-esque licks transcribed for your viewing, listening, and learning pleasure.

Brave New World?

Posted in Music Business with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by theguitarcave

Musicians, artists, writers, designers and other creative people are in a perpetual state of harried flux as they try to keep up with all of the technological advances that have enabled revolutionary methods for creating and communicating. This is also true of businesses who have long been the arbiters of content creation, distribution and world-wide entertainment. As the changes gather momentum and the multitudes that are interconnected in cyberspace share INFORMATION, everyone must hustle to stay ahead of the curve or they run the risk of obsolescence. The old modes and models are fading away and younger generations come of age with no frame of reference to how the business of creation and delivery to marketplace was done before technological advances enabled these new paradigms. Unless you live in a cave you know this has created a great degree of tension: lively discussions, court cases, large fines, threats, jail time, and even death.

What is at the center of many of these disagreements are the issues of ownership and control. Who controls information? Who owns the content? Who controls the means of content delivery between people? Do laws that were written before this technological explosion took place still apply and should they? Are they even relevant anymore? Who should decide? What role do individuals have in deciding the fates of their entertainment? How much does the sharing/interaction process now affect and relate to the creative process? Is it time for new business models? Is the idea of music as a business outdated, outmoded and irrelevant? These issues can be expanded out into the greater realm of topics that are at the forefront of national and international discussion: How big is TOO BIG? Should any company or organization be TOO BIG TO FAIL? Are corporations people? How does the immense wealth of certain individuals and corporations negatively effect the electoral process in what are supposed to be democracies or republics? Are large, heavily-centralized entities really sustainable? Do they serve producers and consumers better than a smaller, more decentralized businesses? CAN’T WE JUST GO BACK TO QUAD-STEREO 8-TRACKS?

Some of these issues have already been explored on this blog:
here, here, here, here, and here. Though technology has changed the landscape dramatically in the last 20 years, the business of music, content development, delivery to an audience and copyright has always been an ongoing evolution. Here are some opinions on the current state of the music and entertainment industry from people you may know and some you don’t.

Zoiks! Gene Simmons from KISS blames the fans for ruining the music industry and hints that music as we know it will disappear because there is no incentive to make it without the potential for some kind of profit. I don’t completely disagree with the second part of his point, but the first part is a real doozy. Gene’s mad as hell and not taking it anymore…BTW, have you seen KISS Visa Card? He’s looking a little bit like The Terminator in this clip and I’m not sure what all the talk about “Big Tits” is about. (Women play music too, amirite?) I don’t know why, but this interview and the credit card and the “business” reminds me of this Young Ones sketch from the early 80s. Maybe this interview is supposed to be comedy.

If it sounds like Gene fell asleep immediately after completing The Elder and just woke up last week, I have an explanation, which I will share in Part II of this series (Sounds so DATELINE TONIGHT doesn’t it?) All I will say now is that according to the plot line of The Elder the bird flu apocalypse happens in 2014, so BEWARE!

And now for something totally and completely different. Here’s a point of view RANT I saw on one of my social media connections. I was actually surprised when I read it because usually this connection is pretty guarded. Maybe jet lag or a hacker had something to do with it but the sentiment has never been retracted. I’m not going to say who it was because this wasn’t an official publicity release. What really matters is this is a pretty successful musical entity that obviously has the same concerns as any musician regarding copyrights, control, etc.

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You’re probably thinking that the above author must be a punk rocker, death metal player, or someone with a lot of steel embedded in his/her face(NO, NO, and NO). Nothing is said about rap music or breasts and there is a very low opinion of Hollywood and the people in the entertainment industry. How Un-American! The author must be French! (NO). They also don’t care they’ve been ripped off. What gives?? The quote references the documentary below on the notorious online entity known as The Pirate Bay. Founded in Sweden in 2003, the site helps facilitate peer-to-peer file sharing by providing links to various types of (torrent) files that are posted (and downloaded) by users all over the world. The documentary is worth a watch when you have a moment. Many of the main drivers to all of the controversies that surround this BRAVE NEW WORLD (?) issue are contained within.

Here’s a letter to the editor of The New York Times that came to me via ROCKRAP. This is a very official type of communiqué on another aspect of the music industry. The author of the letter is Rubén Blades, a Grammy Award-winning singer, actor and activist.

“…Tom Carson’s review of Clive Davis’s “Soundtrack of My Life” (March 17) states: “As the head of Columbia Records in the 1960s, he discovered, among others, Janis Joplin.” Record executives do not discover artists: they stumble upon them. Not even Christopher Columbus would have had the chutzpah to claim he “made” America. Undisputedly, Davis contributed to making such talents publicly known. But at whose expense? Joplin probably never received her fair share of royalty payments and may never have owned her masters; nor is it likely that her family inherited the full financial fruits of her work. These usually go to people who can’t sing, can’t write, can’t play and yet end up millionaires, while true artists, like Rodriguez, end up broke and ripped-off. That record executives step forward to usurp credit for artists’ success is not uncommon. More disconcerting is that their self-serving accounts are considered worthy of review in your pages.

RUBÉN BLADES, New York

I believe that maybe this was part of the letter. I can’t find the original. If you’re confused about how we go from Janis Joplin to Rodriguez, I think Rubén is talking about Sixto Rodriguez, another very interesting music story. While there are some who would think that Rubén is being unduly harsh, the entertainment industry is completely PACKED with people who share his sentiments. Genre-defining, instrument-reinventing artists like Jimi Hendrix and his Experience made a whole lot of money for people who didn’t even know what end of the guitar to hold. If the influence of The Blues and Blues songs on rock and roll music was measured in dollars almost all of the early blues artists would’ve been very wealthy. Most of them died with much less.

What about big rock bands, like The Rolling Stones…what about them? They certainly have been very successful over the years. Probably have a good outlook on how the business is run, etc, etc. Mick Jagger expressed his views on file sharing in an interview with the BBC during the anniversary celebration of the release of Exile on Main Street. Mick’s answers are in blue type:

Things have obviously changed a great deal since those sessions. What’s your feeling on technology and music?

Technology and music have been together since the beginning of recording.

I’m talking about the internet.

But that’s just one facet of the technology of music. Music has been aligned with technology for a long time. The model of records and record selling is a very complex subject and quite boring, to be honest.

But your view is valid because you have a huge catalogue, which is worth a lot of money, and you’ve been in the business a long time, so you have perspective.

Well, it’s all changed in the last couple of years. We’ve gone through a period where everyone downloaded everything for nothing and we’ve gone into a grey period it’s much easier to pay for things – assuming you’ve got any money.

Are you quite relaxed about it?

I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records. But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone! Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

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NOTE: There are many more opinions and thoughts from various artists at the ROCKRAP site, including Tom Petty, Chuck D, Ice T and Pete Townshend, who provides a very eye-opening perspective.

In the following clip Lawrence Lessig presents an interesting overview on the early evolution of the music business, including the “Bidness War” between ASCAP and BMI, as part of TED talk he gives titled “Laws that Choke Creativity.” A very good talk and the historical parallels he draws are important for those who believe the issues that surround entertainment creation and delivery today are something new.

Another enterprising fellow who has garnered media attention lately is ex-hacker/businessman Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload and it’s associated sites. He rolled out Megaupload’s successor, Mega, in January on the 1-year anniversary of his arrest from copyright infringement and the forced-closing of Megaupload. Dotcom has been accused of costing the entertainment industry hundreds of millions of dollars and is currently fighting extradition to the USA for trial. He is defiant, believes he will be acquitted, and has plans to encrypt half of the internet to protect users from spying eyes. If for no other reasons, The Pirate Bay movie and Dotcom’s interview videos are interesting to watch not only because the networking, sharing, and business models are exposed, but it’s also amazing to see how it all GROWS, most of it virally. Dotcom estimates that at it’s zenith, Megaupload had 800 file transfers per second, 24/7/365. Fascinating! It’s important to note that there were plenty of legitimate users on Megaupload so it’s not like all of those transfers were “infringement” on anything.

Finally, are you one of those people who thinks music today is totally worthless? Does it seem everything in mainstream entertainment is written for a 12 year-old girl? Does the tired, formula-driven aura that surrounds the entertainment business remind you of other too-big-to-fail entities out there ravaging the landscape in an ever-increasingly desperate attempt to suck money out of your wallet while giving you nothing in return? Well, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! As a matter of fact, there are some really successful music icons who feel the same way you do! This last link is an entertaining, sometimes educational documentary on the music business in the USA. As a “movie” or “documentary” Before the Music Dies certainly has its shortcomings. The “flow” of the film could’ve been better and certainly watching it in clipped bits on Youtube doesn’t help. The film highlights some of the authentic artists performing today with live music clips but some of the performances are too long and I was skipping through to get back to the thread of the movie. Many salient aspects of modern “music production” — The 1996 Telecommunications Act, ClearChannel, Auto-tune, butt implants, quarterly profit returns and much more are covered and in some cases demonstrated to very grim or hilarious results (depending on your point of view). The numerous interviews (Eric Clapton, Les Paul, Doyle Bramahll II, Dave Matthews, Bonnie Raitt, Erykah Badu, Questlove, North Mississippi All-Stars and Brandford Marsalis) are very illuminating to say the least. It warms my heart to watch performers who have reached this level of success deriding the superficial, profit-driven, multi-tentacled vampire squid that is the entertainment business today. Bonnie Raitt, Brandford Marsalis and Dave Matthews all have some great money quotes and Eryka Badu is awesomely funny in a biting, social-commentary kind of way. I recommend highly — enjoy the movie and figure out how it may or may not impact your career or musical journeys.

PART II Coming soon!

Brian Setzer

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

The wild and crazy Rockabilly cat has always been one of my favorite guitar players ever since he blasted onto the scene 30 years ago. Can you believe that? 30 rockin’, boppin’ years already? During that time I’ve owned almost all of the Stray Cats material save for the Greatest Hits stuff. I had the first import album and a couple of other releases that were hard to get in the USA at the time. The Stray Cats had a great sound, a great look and could really turn out pro performances, especially in the early days. I was introduced to the band when I caught their first performance on the old television show Fridays. Anybody remember that? I think that a whole lot of people saw that show and this performance as well as some of the other guests who were on. The show only ran for two seasons but featured a ton of great music and was the first appearance of Michael Richards (of Seinfeld fame) on television (I think). This was a really interesting time for music because the effects of the punk rock BANG! from a few years before had splintered into many different directions and were going mainstream in a big way. The Stray Cats hadn’t even had a record released in the USA at the time of this performance but by Xmas of that year I was able to find the imported first release that was recorded in England and produced by Dave Edmunds. Great record, probably there tightest ever and of course Edmunds was an idea producer for the band given his love for the Rockabilly style they were playing. While in England they were seen by many other big British superstars like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin because all of these guys had come of age when the original Rockabilly stars were releasing their records.  Here is the whole Fridays performance from 1981.

What was cool about The Cats was that they were able to blend the punk and new wave styles that were completely dominating then with a retro sound and look. It was really hard to tell where one left off and the other began because they were able to integrate the two seamlessly. While many people credit guys like Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and Henry Rollins for the proliferation of skin art (tattoos) in rock and roll, Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom deserve a lot of credit too because they were rocking the tattoos and were on national TV and MTV for at least a couple of years at a very influential period in music. While The Stray Cats weren’t as punk rock and hard-edged as some other bands of the time, they had a sound and a musical approach that appealed to many punk and alt-rockers, especially in England and Europe, where the sound of the 1950s never goes out of style.

Even at the young age of 22-23 when the Stray Cats came on the scene, Brian had obviously digested a lot of the finer points of playing rockabilly and swing guitar and was able to get a really GREAT sound with a pretty simple set-up: his trusty Gretsch, a Roland Space/Chorus echo and Fender Bassman amp. Whether it was on the records or in performance he was able to blow off a lot of really dazzling and fiery licks with a clean sound and that epochal slap-back echo. This combination resulted in a Great Big Presence and Awesome Tone and it worked so well with Slim Jim’s simple drum set-up and the slappin’ bass provided by Lee Rocker. Most of what Brian was doing and still does comes from his hands. He is able to alternate between picking and finger-picking at the drop of a hat just as he is able to alternate between playing standard rockabilly riffs, Jazz/Swing melodies, blues patterns and country styles. Mixing all of these different approaches gives him a very WIDE sound and is great for the tension that is always necessary in music. You just never know what he is going to do next. Here is an excerpt from his Hot Licks video. I have the whole thing and think it’s pretty boss. If you can get some of this stuff happening in your playing you will definitely expand what you’re capable of doing.

While I’ve always dug Brian’s playing I found a new appreciation for it when I started playing Gypsy Jazz and Swing music, because the Jazz, Bop and Swing lines one finds in Rockabilly come from those great players of the 30s, 40s and early 50s. In THIS post I traced an old song from Django Reinhardt to Les Paul to Carl Perkins and George Harrison. Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker were two other cats who had a huge influence on what 1950s Rockabilly and Rock and Roll cats like Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran would mix into their playing. I recently listened to a couple of Charlie Christian CDs and it’s really astonishing how not only his electric playing revolutionized the sound and presence of the guitar, but also how his lines show up EVERYWHERE. While Django had an almost 30-year recording and performing career, Charlie Christian was only on the scene for a couple of years before he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1942. His recorded material is pretty scarce and I haven’t been able to find any film clips of him. He attained legendary status within the jazz community while jamming at Minton’s, the Harlem club that attracted all of the best players of the day, including people like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who would go on to completely turn music on it’s head later in the 1940s. Charlie’s lines anticipated be-bop and almost all of the popular music styles we know today. They have filtered through other people over the years but so much guitar as we know it started with Charlie and Django it’s amazing. I remember reading an interview from Guitar Player with Brian and he related that he learned to play from “guys on Long Island who knew how to play that old swing jazz in Eb and F”. The old-time jazz lines and CHORDS! really take an ordinary three-chord song and make it something special and because of this early training and his love for this sound, Brian has always sounded completely different from most of his contemporaries, although he does have a lot in common with someone else I’ve written about…Chris Spedding. Personally I’ve always had a complete and total love for the way jazz chords sound against a heavy beat and how they can be used to motor through the song. Once a player is adept enough to know how to cycle through changes and mix in single string lines, string bending, vibrato and double-stops there is really no limit to where a song can be taken save for the player’s imagination. Brian demonstrates this in the Route 66 video at the bottom. It’s all about how much you can HEAR and then execute. It has always thrilled me to be able to watch or listen to someone like Brian or Chris Spedding tear up a song in this way. Notice that in the following Brian Setzer Orchestra clip Brian is still using the set-up that has been his mainstay for almost 3 decades. Don’t change what works!

The Stray Cats broke up in 1984 but have reunited numerous times to record new records and tour. Some of the stuff on those releases was really good, some not, and perhaps Brian always felt a bit limited by the restrictions of a three-piece band. He tried branching out in the late-80s with solo efforts like The Knife Feels Like Justice and Live Nude Guitars, which were more mainstream, roots-rock offerings, but neither release did very well. He has played as a guest with a superstars like Robert Plant, Dan Hicks, Paul Rogers, Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks and has always gotten big ups for his ability to bring the swing to the song. But it was with the formation of the Brian Setzer Orchestra in 1990 where he finally found his niche and was able to build on his earlier successes. BSO broke out at the height of the early 90s swing revival and have been able to keep that popularity alive through this past decade. Not only is Brian a great player, but he is also a very keen arranger, which is probably why he’s won Grammys for instrumental performances of Sleepwalk, Caravan and My Favorite Things. The fact that he has great players working with him helps out a whole bunch too. Usually the toughest adjustment for any young guitar slinger is how to mature, stay fresh and keep an audience while adding new fans as the years go by. Forming the BSO has made this possible for Brian and it’s a brand of entertainment that is part Rockabilly, part Vegas, part old-time supper club, which suits him perfectly.

When the Stray Cats reformed in 2004 they did a tour of Europe that was captured on film and became the Rumble in Brixton DVD release. I have this and think it’s Really Cool Daddyo because it shows they are still capable of rocking the house just like the old days. All of the good stuff is here including some of my personal faves: Double Talking Baby, Fishnet Stockings, Ubangi Stomp, Blast Off, That’s Alright Mama, and Please Don’t Touch. All of the hits are on here too and the only downer is I Won’t Stand in Your Way, which is very rushed for some reason. Shame, because it was such a well-written ballad on the Built for Speed record back in the day. The Stray Cats really bring the swing and boogie and on several songs Brian stretches out and plays some magnificent stuff — Sleepwalk is a bona-fide guitar hero performance. The DVD comes with a bunch of extras and a new song and is a great testament to a trio of guys who have a lot of love for a great style of music and have kept at it for over a quarter century. It’s really cool that Brian continues to thrive and expand what he began back in the 1970s and that shows not only his talent, but the power and appeal of this very American style of music, which continues to move people all over the world.

Life has been chaotic for me lately but hopefully in the near future I’ll put up some licks and chord stuff I’ve learned from playing around with Brian’s music. He has a ton of videos on Youtube and some other instructional stuff that is available if you are interested in checking it out. Like I said earlier, you can’t go wrong bringing all of his influences and approaches into your playing because it will SOPHISTICATE and BROADEN your ability to play any style of music.
I know “Sophisticate” isn’t a verb…but it should be.

Django and Harry

Posted in Equipment, Players with tags , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by theguitarcave

Django Reinhardt and Harry Volpe NY 1946

Back in the old days of this blog I mentioned in THIS post on Django Reinhardt that I’d found some cool pics and information about Django’s time in New York City in 1946. This period coincided with Django leaving his acoustic-based sound and moving to electric guitar, which thanks to Charlie Christian, had become a viable tool guitarists could use in performance and recording. This was a time of transition for Django and while, in my opinion, he weathered it brilliantly, there are many people, Stephane Grappelli (his partner for many years) and Les Paul included, who believe he never really adapted to the electric format and should’ve stuck with what he had. However, Bebop swept the post-war world and all of the swing bands were no longer the HOT thing and for a guitar pioneer of Django’s stature it couldn’t have been easy to be thought of as “old hat.” When the chance to tour America with Duke Ellington (a chance that was offered to his whole band) Django jumped at it. Alone. He arrived in the USA thinking that the country would roll out the red carpet for him and luthiers and guitar makers would be waiting to hand him the best of what they had. He couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time Django returned to Europe many illusions of his international stature were shattered, but I think that says more about unrealistic expectations than anything else. Had he brought his band they might’ve done very well. What did happen was he met some very interesting players and returned to France an electric, bebop-influenced guitarist. There would only be a few more sessions where he would play acoustic before ditching it altogether in favor of an electrified sound. In the end, I think he got a really good electric thing going. It must have been a thrill for him to have VOLUME and AMPLIFICATION at his disposal — two qualities every guitar player in the West takes completely for granted in this day and age.

One fella that Django met in the United States was Harry Volpe. Harry was almost as much a guitar pioneer as Django and was a well-known figure at the time as a performer and teacher. He had his own music store/studio and teaching academy and in time would count Joe Pass, Johnny Smith and Sal Salvador as some of his students. He was the first guitar player to be on the staff at Radio City Music Hall. I couldn’t find any of his own performances to link to but there are some good players do interpretations HERE, HERE, and HERE. If you have heard any of Django’s solo guitar material it’s easy to see similarities between his and Harry’s styles. Obviously they got along very well musically and personally, as the pictures from their jam sessions show. Aside from the fact that it’s cool to have all the information available on Django’s only trip to the United States, the pictures and info give a nice little snapshot into that period of New York City, which is very interesting to me. A funny thing, for some reason, Downbeat, the jazz magazine of the day, seemed to think Django was a Brooklyn Bum, meaning he was born there! Not really sure where they got that idea.

Harry Volpe’s studio was in Jackson Heights, Queens and this was the scene of a memorable all night jam session he had with Django in 1946. I believe it would have been in November of that year as the Ellington band (with Django) appeared at the New York Aquarium. This is where some of the most famous pictures of Django with a smoke and a guitar were taken. After the Ellington tour Django stayed in New York until he eventually returned to France in February of 1947. A semi-famous silent home movie shows him getting ready to leave and once again, Harry is on the scene. Supposedly there were other movies of them eating spaghetti and jamming, but I don’t think those two films have ever surfaced.

Another thing that was interesting to me, especially as a Gretsch player, was that Harry Volpe endorsed Gretsch guitars, which probably meant a lot to Gretsch at the time because they were trying to compete with Gibson and Epiphone for the arch-top market. While they didn’t succeed both Django and Harry are playing Gretsch guitars at these jam sessions, which amuses me to no end. You don’t see many people trying to play jazz on a Gretsch these days or ever…Chet Atkins might come to mind. Brian Setzer doing his rockabilly/swing thing maybe. George Harrison. But in the picture below Django is playing of the Harry Volpe-endorsed Gretsch Synchromatic 400 Guitar (the same one from the above ad?) while Harry is playing a Gretsch Special.

I thought that the Gretsch would have a nice amplified Django sound and I’ve already tried to show that HERE. In the fall I play some on the Gretsch through my Schertler David amp because that sound is just TOO COOL. I didn’t buy the guitar specifically for that purpose, it was a matter of using what I had, which was the same in Django’s case. He played electric before he came to America, a fact that was established by the good folks at the Hotclub UK site HERE. This is one of only a few movies of Django playing and it is on YouTube. But don’t get too excited — the clip is only 10 seconds long.

During his tour of the US with Ellington Django used a Gibson ES-300. This picture was taken at the Pla Mor Ballroom in either Kansas City or Lincoln Nebraska (there were two ballrooms with that name). He was notorious for not having a Gearhead mentality for equipment and obviously was capable of playing pretty much anything he was handed. He did remark however, once he was back in France, that nothing beat his long-used and trusty Selmer, which he quickly outfitted with the new Stimer pickup system and used (as far as anyone can tell) for all of his recorded electric work until his death in 1953. Harry went on to endorse Epiphone in the 1950s and I have to repeat something I mentioned in my first pass at this topic. Was he the first guy with an endorsement deal? (No! As was kindly pointed out by MAC below in the comments, a fella by the name of Nick Lucas had a deal with Gibson in the mid-20s) Nowadays having a guitar named in your honor is as common as a cheese sandwich, but given Harry’s reputation and the fact that he was also teaching students and running a store makes me wonder if he was the first. Who else would qualify?

Django with his amplified Selmer guitar

Django and Harry were able to get their sound on many different guitars, electric or acoustic, because they had really great technique and understood how important great hand work is to playing guitar. There are so many things one can do, a fact I just highlighted in the Fingerpicking Good post, with or without a pick that affects how the instrument will sound. Gypsy-Jazz picking is very forceful and powerful and I’m sure Django had to adapt a bit in order to play some of those creamy-smooth modern jazz lines one can find on his recordings from the 1950s. He could also make the instrument bark if the situation required, but ballads are usually the measure of how well a player translates emotion into pure sound. (One of my best achievements last year was a version of Nuages played on my Gretsch through the Schertler amp at a gig. It was BRAVO) Django and Harry Volpe both excelled at this type of playing, which is why I’m sure they enjoyed the short time they were able to play together. Although Django didn’t do as well as he expected on that US tour, he must have had some fun times because pictures seem to demonstrate that he found a few Americans to be kindred spirits and he was a person who loved life. There was another go at this country in the works when he died and had he been able to come over in the mid-50s and blow his electric brand of music, I believe he would’ve enjoyed a much better reception.

Harry Volpe Epiphone Ad

Harry Volpe lived for over 40 years after Django passed away and enjoyed some great successes, including the music production of The Time of the Cuckoo at the Empire Theater on Broadway, teaching at the Frost Conservatory and performances with his trio on coast-to-coast broadcasts of early television pioneer Arthur Godfrey’s show. He isn’t a name guy even though he lived into the 1990s, but he was definitely an important guy in the development of guitar, as an instructor to some of the best guitar players ever, and as the creator of some very beautiful music.

Thanks to the folks at the Paul Vernon Chester website for sharing their materials. There is a lot more info there!

You Got That Right — 1970s Lynyrd Skynyrd

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2011 by theguitarcave

Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the premier bands of the glorious guitar decade of the 1970s. Their high-powered, 3-guitar sound, great live shows and string of FM radio hits made them a rock arena favorite until the tragic plane crash of 1977 that took the lives of band singer/leader Ronnie VanZant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister, back-up singer Cassie Gaines and their long-time friend and tour manager, Dean Kirkpatrick. The other band members were scarred both physically and mentally for a long time afterwards and it effectively ended one of the most interesting 70s rock groups at a time when they looked to be on the brink of a promising new direction. Though they “reformed” in 1987 and continue to perform and record today, Gary Rossington is the only surviving member still playing with the band. Loud rock/Classic Rock doesn’t get much airplay in The Cave anymore, but Skynyrd was a formative influence and very important in my guitar development and I still break ’em out when I’m in the mood. Because I was never able to see the original band I’ve totally dug all of the media — books, movies, YouTube performances that have come out in the last 10-15 years. All of these materials cast a new light on the Skynyrd story and have allowed people like me to see actual performances from the glory days and get more of a total picture of the musicians as people and see them outside of the hell-raising image that dominated for so many years.

Back in the 1970s, I was in high school and Skynyrd was a very popular band — with songs on the radio and stuff. While it was said later, especially in reference to the long delay in getting the band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s popularity was a “regional” thing, I can assure you that at the time, it was not. Not only did they have the reputation of being one of the hottest live acts of the day, they also had many songs on what was then the new “FM” radio format. Further down in this post there is a video of them playing at a Bill Graham-produced Day on the Green festival with Peter Frampton, who was about the hottest thing going in 1976-77. His Frampton Comes Alive album was voted the Number #1 record of 1976, yet this “regional” band was opening for him the following year. (On their first major tour they opened dates for The Who on the Quadrophenia tour. Pete Townsend thought they were “quite good”). Bill Graham, who was certainly a major figure in 60s and 70s concert promotion thought Lynyrd Skynyrd was “one of the great ones”. Wolfgang’s Vault, which I have already profiled, has really nice versions of Freebird and Sweet Home Alabama from that show and not only are the videos instructive for how great the band was, but they show a whole lot pretty young ladies in the front who are completely rocking out and are well acquainted with both songs. There were certainly more than a few lovely young ladies in my high school class who also enjoyed rocking out! and back in the 70s that didn’t carry with it all (or some) of the negative connotations that it does today. It was the thing to do — go to concerts and ROCK OUT! YEA!

Lynryd Skynyrd:An Oral History

Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History, by Lee Ballinger, is a very splendid read not only because it captures that time when the band was in their prime and very popular with The Kids but also because it contains many stories, quotes, and anecdotes directly from the band, family members, or people who were involved with the band. Some of the most interesting quotes come from Al Kooper, legendary player, producer, and ROCK guy (he plays the organ on Like A Rolling Stone for starters) and the man who got Lynyrd Skynyrd signed, and was their producer and session player for their first three albums. He is the Yankee Slicker from Skynyrd’s Working for MCA song, which they performed at their initial showcase in front of MCA execs and basically sealed the deal, according to Kooper. This book is great because it provides a bunch of these little factual nuggets. Kooper’s “taking it back to basic rock and roll” quote is enlightening because that is what everyone said about punk rock which began roughly about the same time (The New York Dolls) Skynyrd released their first album. Also, Ronnie VanZant himself said that the lyrics to songs like Sweet Home Alabama were deliberately written to provoke a (controversial) reaction, which was another element that would become a staple in punk rock lyrics and stage performances. While many don’t equate Lynyrd Skynyrd with punk rock, I’m not the only person who thinks that they were the American version of the Sex Pistols…with better music. So what did Al have to say?

At the time that they came around in the early seventies, there was a plethora of really advanced white progressive music that had taken over the charts and the American mind. Like Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and bands like that. I was sitting and watching this and going, “You know, if some band came along that just played basic rock and roll, they would clean up now”… Then I heard Skynyrd in Atlanta and I said, “Well they’re doing exactly what I hear in my head. This is like the basic band that could win it all back.” (pp.32-33)

…By the third time I heard it, I said, “This is so good. Every kid in America wants to hear this. This is why I want to sign this band. Some little kid in the middle of the country wants to put this on in his bedroom and run head first into the wall. I understand the meaning of head-banging music now.” (p. 35)

…Of all the bands I ever worked with they were the best arranged band. Most bands don’t have it together with arrangements. Their arrangements were terrific. I even learned from them as an arranger…What they did with the guitar parts was truly amazing. They had the pulse of the street. They absolutely had it.” (p.44)

— Al Kooper Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History By Lee Ballinger

Lynryd Skynyrd Guitar World Poll

While the whole Skynyrd catalog is a treasure trove of guitar mania, Freebird is certainly the song probably they are associated with and in it’s own right is a top guitar-solo classic. Right up there with Stairway to Heaven, Crossroads, Eruption, Crazy Train, and All Along the Watchtower. I have a framed page of Freebird as the Number 3 guitar solo of all time as voted by readers/contributors to Guitar World Magazine on my wall…well just because. My 2nd year of high school, the first guy I saw picking an acoustic guitar well played most of the first Skynyrd Pronounced album! I still remember the day; a beautiful spring afternoon, the two of us sitting on a bench with his girlfriend while he played Tuesday’s Gone, Poison Whiskey, Mississippi Kid and the first part of Freebird. I had been fooling around with the guitar for a few years but I was amazed that anyone I knew could play stuff like that so well. He showed me a few things and then another friend a year or two later showed me parts to Rush’s Working Man and Fly By Night and I got some stuff by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC down by myself and I was well on my way to getting the whole concept of rock guitar under my fingers.

If it sounds like I’m making a big deal out of this remember that in 1976-77 there was no internet, no tabs, no You tube, no instruction videos or tapes, 1 guitar magazine, and until you were 16 and had a driver’s license it was very hard to go see bands, unless you lived in the city, which I didn’t. There were music books but they were mostly written for piano and very rarely translated well to guitar. So watching somebody play up close like that was a revelation, and as I’ve said in other posts with regard to Gypsy Jazz culture, all of those masterful players STILL learn that way — by Watching and Doing. It’s the best form of instruction and years later any player will look back on those early experiences with the same misty affection as first love. Because Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the first bands whose songs I could play and the first one I began to see the connections involved in playing chords, leads and riffs all together, they will always be important to me.

Skynyrd was the epitome of a GUITAR band — they had three lead guitarists — and watching Freebird: The Movie and other stuff that has come out since then totally proves the band’s ability to pull off the 3-guitar attack and how well-integrated and balanced they worked live; three different guys, three different sounds, three different styles never getting in the way of the others while playing complimentary parts, or rhythms. Everything I’ve seen definitely underscores Al Kooper’s quote above about how intelligent they were about composing and performing their parts. While they had the reputation, one that Ronnie even admitted in the press, of sometimes being really, really drunk for live performances, I’ve yet to see one where they were as sloppy as some other bands from that period (Rolling Stones, Led Zep). Maybe they managed to always keep it together when the cameras were rolling or they were really good at covering up. It’s obvious and well-documented that these guys practiced their butts off and were all kept in line by Ronnie, who was James Brown on steroids when it came to enforcing band discipline; he didn’t fine players if they messed up, he got physical. He was able to do this because he, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson, and original drummer Bob Burns all grew up on the rough side of Jacksonville Florida and began playing together when they were in their early teens. RVZ, who was older, was an big brother/father figure to a few of the others who didn’t have fathers in their lives and was the man with the plan with regards to rock and roll stardom. Everyone in the band gave him credit for making them famous and having the vision to turn what was once a “Louie Louie” high school dance band into an internationally-known rock ensemble. Plus he was a rock and roll badass and a complicated guy; a “redneck” who wrote anti-hard drug and anti-handgun songs, a man who always walked that very fine line between the idealistic good vibes of the 1960s and the aggressive harder edge style of the meanest blues and honky-tonk music, and a guy who aspired to everyone having a good time but was jailed many times for drinking, fighting and other acts of mayhem. Listening to interviews from 1976, it’s obvious that this Double Trouble side of Ronnie and the reputation he’d earned because of it was something he had tired of and he was looking to move into a more mature direction. With the addition of the Honkettes (back-up singers Cassie Gaines, Jo Jo Billingsly, Leslie Hawkins), Steve Gaines, and the birth of his daughter, many people on the concert trail who had done business with the band noticed a huge difference in everyone’s attitude and behavior in 1976-77 and RVZ was once again, the guy who was leading them into this new direction.

Gary Rossington’s guitar sound is probably the one people most associate with the band; the Les Paul sustained vibrato voice that he got from influences like Paul Kossoff of Free (one of their favorite bands) decorate many of the songs and he used his hands to get all kinds of little feel things going. If you watch the above That Smell video, there is a sustained note he gets in his second solo that draws a smile of appreciation from RVZ. Allen Collins was very fleet-fingered and energetic (Freebird, I Ain’t the One) and held Eric Clapton as his numberLS CD cover for One More From the Road 1 influence. He usually played a Gibson Firebird, and later, a Gibson Explorer, but also played a Strat occasionally. Not only was his lead playing always tasteful, he had a really great rhythmic feel, especially with that chunky-funky Strat sound. The third guitar player was, up until mid-1975, Ed King, and from mid-76 until late-77, Steve Gaines. Both of these fellows were tremendous, tasteful players who were usually the “Stratocaster guys”. Steve Gaines might’ve become one of the biggest players ever had he survived the plane crash in 1977 because he could play anything and was just super good and a really great writer and singer. Ed King, though not recognized in the Freebird Movie, (and I don’t know why he wasn’t) was a very important contributor and to watch him play is to watch someone who doesn’t use “box” positions when soloing and his leads don’t sound like anything else. He did get a lot of solos on many songs and some of them almost sound like horn parts more than guitar solos, but that might just be me thinking that. All of these guys were capable of partnering up with Ronnie to write killer songs and sometimes, like on their big hit Sweet Home Alabama, or later, That Smell, it was combination of people creating the song almost spontaneously. Leon Wilkeson was also always a very underrated, one-of-a-kind bass player, and any of the videos in this post or anything off the original band discs demonstrate his very fluid and imaginative style.

Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror

My friend Jimmy R. gave me this mirror…he said someone gave it to him, but I think he was secretly trolling head shops back in the day. A few years ago I was trolling in a local Music and Sounds shop and I found a used video that turned out to be a bootleg performance of Skynyrd from 1975. It’s great — filmed at Winterland during what would become known as The Torture Tour — Ed King is still in the band and Billy Powell missed the performance because he had put his fist through a window or door. At the time I was a regular at the now defunct Ed King web forums and I asked if he or anyone else knew about the show and all I found out was what I’ve already related about Billy and the fact that it was just a month or so before Ed King left. [This whole concert is now lovingly restored and at Wolfgang’s Vault!] But two people on the forum offered to trade me for copies of the bootleg and I got the complete Van Halen show at the US Festival in 1983 from one guy, and that was cool. The other person who offered a trade was Sharon Lawrence. She knew Lynyrd Skynyrd, photographed them and has written about them and others from the rock era, most notably, a book on Jimi Hendrix, who she also knew. I sent her a copy of the tape in exchange for a picture of Ronnie Van Zant cutting his birthday cake the year he turned 27. She also sent me a nice concert shot of Allen Collins. I promised they would never turn up on the internet, so I can’t show them to you. The birthday pic is from this same “session” but is a lot better quality and is one of my prized possessions. I don’t think anyone but Sharon has a copy of that photo and it is really awesome that I do. I also think it’s great Skynyrd used the Theme from The Magnificent Seven as intro music for the tour seen in the following video.

I found an interview with Sharon that I think is interesting. I don’t know where it originated but since she knew the band personally she provides a perspective similar to Al Kooper. The questions are in orange, her answers in green. (Go the link for the whole interview)

The Skynyrd members all knew each other for years, grew up together. How would you describe the relationships within the band? We’ve all heard about the inner fighting that went on from time to time, but I’ve always looked at it like the kind of fighting that brothers do. Would that describe their relationship, in your opinion?

I would describe the relationship this way: Ronnie was the leader, in capital letters. They all looked up to him, and his opinion meant a great deal. They were like their own little family in the early years, giving up relaxing, seeing, being with their own families to try and gain respect and success…

Knowing Jimi Hendrix as well as you did, what do you think he would have thought of Skynyrd’s music?

A fresh sound. An integrity all their own. Strong playing and writing.

There is a great story I read somewhere that you told, probably in an interview, about Allen Collins and some guitar strings of Jimi’s that you had kept and had given to Allen. Would you mind telling the story again?

The band was at my house in the Hollywood hills in the fall of 1973. They had no money yet. They were ready to leave the house to go to the Whisky-A-Go-Go where they were playing for several nights. Allen broke a string and it subtly became clear to me that they were afraid they didn’t have any string money and weren’t sure where to go. I remembered that I had some of Jimi’s, so I found them, asked Allen if one of those would work. Nothing more was said. They did the gig….seven years later I was at Allen and Kathy’s home and he showed me one of his Skynyrd scrapbooks. On a special page he had placed Jimi’s guitar string in its faded English package. A very touching moment…and one that Hendrix would have appreciated.

This is a pretty broad question as people have many sides to them, but what kind of man was Ronnie Van Zant? How would you describe your relationship with him?

We were great friends who had mutual respect for each other. One of the finest people I’ve ever met.

We’ve all read a little bit about the song writing process within the band. How would you describe it and is it true that Ronnie never wrote anything down? I personally find that “rumor” a little hard to believe, even with the gift that he had.

Of course, he wrote things down but he also said, “unless I can remember the words as I’m thinking them they may not be worth writing down.” Ronnie’s writing was deeply important to him. He had nice handwriting and printing and he was meticulous in correcting grammar and punctuation.

How did you feel about LS finally making it to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame? Did you attend the ceremony?

They should have been inducted earlier*…I was invited but preferred to watch on television, not in a huge ballroom….greatly disappointed that one of Skynyrd’s heroes — like Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard etc — were not asked to “induct” the band. “Kid Rock” would never have been Ronnie’s cup of tea.

* emphasis mine

It’s pretty amazing to find out all of these years later that Ronnie VanZant cared about penmanship and punctuation. That really doesn’t jibe with his “image” but that is the thing with image isn’t it? Usually the image has very little to do with the person behind the image. By the end of his career even Ronnie admitted that the band had let their image and behavior get away from them a bit, but that was the 70s and they certainly were not the only band who over-indulged. But Ronnie was smart enough to see that the image lifestyle was a dead-end and was in the process of making serious changes when he was killed. (Same was true of Stevie Ray Vaughan). While I agree with Sharon’s last sentiment on Kid Rock – I think the band deserved someone of higher stature as an inductor (inductor?) – it’s also important to remember how much has changed since 1977. It’s possible that Ronnie would’ve come round to being ok with Kid Rock. I think some of the other people in the band think he’s ok. In my post on Jim Croce I said that some of what he did could’ve happened only in the 1970s and the same is true of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd — every decade has it’s particulars that come together to make a certain sound and way of doing things possible and musicians are obviously very influenced by, and products of their times. So are their audiences. Lynryd Skynyrd helped influence musicians in later decades — Hank Williams IIIRaging Slab, Nashville Pussy, Honky and many others including Kid Rock. But THE ROCK ain’t like it used to be and that is to be expected 30+ years later; the times have changed, the music has changed, the business has changed, and the environment the artists and audiences reside is also different. While it may be fun topic for speculation, it’s impossible to say how RVZ and the rest of band would’ve fared had the plane crash not happened. Because of that “tragedy” and Classic Rock Radio, the band took on a different life post-1977 and like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan their presence was defined more by radio playlists and legend. Ronnie and the original band achieved a kind of rock and roll sainthood — they were killed in the prime of their career. They didn’t hang around so long that people got tired of them and they didn’t become a pale imitation of what they once were. Even though Skynyrd reformed in 1987 and continues to this day, it’s more of a tribute band/different band. I don’t mean to sell the current Skynyrd short because some great players have been in the line-up over the years, including Ed King, Leon Wilkeson, Gary Rossington, Artimus Pyle, Rick Medlocke (who played with the band in the very early days and then went on to front Blackfoot, a band I liked a lot), and the late Hughie Thomasson, who was founder, guitar great with the Outlaws back in the day. There is a lot to like about all of these musicians and all of the great music they have brought to the people over the last almost fifty years. But Lynyrd Skynyrd has not existed since 1977 just like Led Zeppelin was over when John Bonham died. Some people just can’t be replaced without the whole thing being completely different.

There is an overwhelming amount of great material in the original band’s catalog that you have never heard unless you are a total fan, and there is certainly many a tasty lick and trick that a guitar player can pick out from listening to, or watching the videos. I still enjoy picking on Skynyrd songs from time to time and some it is quite challenging as anyone who has really tried to cop the licks knows. It can also be a whole lot of fun. I think it is quite fitting that the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as The Sex Pistols. Two very popular and influential outlaw bands finally getting some respect. I wish, as do many other people, that Ronnie, Steve, Allen, Leon and Cassie had lived to see the fruits of their labors, and to Skynyrd it was all about working to get the rewards and recognition. It’s possible, given their backgrounds (they actually had a lot in common), that Ronnie VanZant and Johnny Rotten could’ve shared a drink, some stories and few laughs at the ceremony… And that’s the kind of world we should live in.

Note: Al Kooper’s recollections and Dave Marsh’s quote are from Lee Ballinger’s excellent Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. Lee is also the editor of Rockrap, a really cool online newsletter that you can sign up for free HERE.