Archive for Lynyrd Skynyrd

When the Circus Leaves Town

Posted in Music Business, Players, Playing, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by theguitarcave

…and we’re back! It’s been almost two years since I posted. I was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to have two surgeries, a few hospitalizations, and a bunch of other stuff. I spent last year in treatment and rehab and finally life has gotten back to a semblance of normal. The treatment was/is unpleasant, but since it seems to be working I’m not going to complain too much since the alternative (if treatment wasn’t working) no one would ever hear me complain again. Because of the surgeries, playing guitar can be a challenge, yet I find I’m playing better than ever and still enjoy it. People still read this blog and sometimes they write in and say nice things so I am going to keep it going for another year. There will be a flurry of activity over the next month or so, including a video lesson of my favorite licks. THANKS to everybody who wrote in last year about my post on Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen. Also, THANKS to those folks who wrote to tell me of Bill Fritsch’s passing. He figured prominently in the 60s San Francisco scene and in my post Gimme Shelter and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. THANKS to everyone who comments or sends me messages! I really do appreciate it. I’ve adjusted to my situation. Everyone bangs into the hard wall of their mortality sooner or later. I’m grateful that I am still here and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.

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Some people who were really important in music, life and entertainment have died since 2014. I’m not trying to be overly morbid or anything, but some of these performers were really important to me and a whole lot of other people and their passing leaves a void where they once were. Soon there will be more great musicians in that band in the sky that on planet earth. The people who made the music and entertainment for the Boomer and Gen X generations are rapidly leaving town and it makes me wonder what will be left when they are all gone?

Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead! Wow! Shocking! Who will ever replace him? The guy had a rock and roll pedigree that went back to the 60s when he was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was in Hawkwind! He basically invented the brand of loud speed rock that he spent almost 40 years playing and never compromised for anyone. I saw Lemmy at Heathrow Airport in London back in 1988. I had just landed for a visit and then we were both at the luggage carousel. He was wearing an all white leather suit and his complexion, color, whatever you want to call it, was whiter than the suit. BADASS! Motorhead’s performance here is from the British sit-com The Young Ones, which featured comedian Rik Mayall, who passed away in June of 2014. A pioneer of early 80s alt-comedy, Mayall’s over-the-top performance in The Young Ones and many other appearances (BlackAdder, Bottom) earn him a rock and roll mention!

A long time ago I posted this interview with Yes bassist Chris Squire…well it’s not really an interview; he tells a story about opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London in 1967. Squire’s band YES was HUGELY popular in the 70s and 80s and he was always a big part of their sound. It’s hard to imagine any dudes my age that weren’t touched by this band at least a little bit. Always amazing musicianship and songwriting and basically one of the main pillars of progressive rock. I still like to crank this up once and a while and thanks to YouTube a whole lot of their prime entire concerts are online.

Riley “Blues Boy” King, who I wrote about here back in the day was one of the most influential musicians ever. From his early days on radio, through his groundbreaking Live at the Regal album to world-wide super-stardom, no one played and sang the blues like BB. He was also one of the hardest working people ever and was playing his signature heavy vibrato blues/jazz licks right up ’til the very end. The fact that he influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Duane Allman to Adrien Moignard speaks volumes on his talent and wide-reaching appeal.

While I was never a huge fan of any of these guys, they all made their mark on the development of rock guitar: Gary Richrath, Sam Andrew and Paul Kantner. I remember watching Gary Richrath on TV in the 70s and then seeing his band REO Speedwagon live in the early 80s. I really liked the live album, You Get What You Play For and was ok with You Can’t Tune a Piano But You Can Tunafish, but I hated the multi-platinum ballad rock of High Infidelity, so I bailed after 1981. I really dug his Les Paul/Marshall sound though and he really had it goin’ on back in the day. Definitely knew how to move a crowd! Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band and Paul Kantner from Jefferson Airplane/Starship were both legendary guitarists/instrumentalists and had long careers in the business. This clip of Big Brother at Monterey is the stuff of hippie nirvana and Kantner was the longest-serving member of the Airplane and the guy who engages Bill Fritsch of the Hells Angels in a “discussion” about the violence that is happening at the Altamont concert after Airplane singer Marty Balin gets knocked out trying to break up a fight. Here is that exchange along with the Airplane song The Other Side of This Life in all of it’s acid drenched, boob-shaking glory.

Another cat from San Francisco I really dug was the late Dan Hicks — singer, songwriter, guitarist and swing band leader par excellence. Dan and his various bands like The Hot Licks and The Acoustic Warriors had that Hot Club meets Bob Willis swing sound and I have long been a fan. Supporting musicians included the incomparable Sid Page on violin, John Girton on guitar and future Hot Club of San Francisco leader/guitarist Paul Mehling. Vocalists Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price always helped give the band and extra layer of awesome-ability. All of Hicks’s songs were filtered through his trademark dry, deadpan humor and considering The Hot Licks opened for bands like Steppenwolf back in the early 70s I think it’s fair to say that he qualifies as a true legend in the acoustic/swing community. All of those old records, if you can find them, are treasures! I will write more about Dan and his bands in an upcoming post.

Glen Frey of The Eagles died recently and you know what’s amazing? I have had literally a thousand albums, tapes and discs pass through my hands over the years. I have weeks worth of songs on a hard drive. But I have never owned an Eagles album or even had Eagles songs on a mix tape. I don’t know what that says about them…or me? A whole lot of people did like The Eagles though…they sold an staggering amount of records.

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Of course the biggest star to pass away in the past two years was David Bowie. I wrote a post on Bowie’s first guitarist Mick Ronson way back in the early days of the blog. I must confess I wasn’t Bowie’s biggest fan. As a rockin’ dude, I certainly liked some of his stuff and loved Mick Ronson’s guitar playing, but thought Bowie’s output was uneven over the years. While I love tracks off of his first 6-7 albums, I don’t think he ever delivered a solid classic album like Rubber Soul, ZOSO, Who’s Next or Exile on Main Street. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was certainly very close. In the pre-Let’s Dance days, before he was a world-wide phenomenon, what I remember is that Bowie was really hot with the girls. Women LOVED Bowie. He had the same type of appeal as Freddie Mercury and Queen in that he combined hard rock with Bertolt Brecht and Edith Piaf so as a listener you were never sure what was coming next, rock and roll or a lounge act. Vocally, he seemed to be exactly equal parts masculine and feminine…sort of like how Miles Davis played trumpet. I probably appreciate his ambient music now more than I did before, but still dislike a lot of the “industrial” stuff. Don’t think I’m ever gonna be a fan of machine music…sorry.

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Bowie was a multi-instrumentalist and played a lot of guitar over the course of his career, including almost all of the guitar on the Diamond Dogs album, which had the “hit” title track and the genre-defining Rebel Rebel. He was also really good at bringing the right musicians together and pushed them to perform well. He worked with some of the best guitar players ever, including, Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Earl Slick. Here is a video interview with the late Mick Ronson that serves as a great retrospective of his early guitar days, the years with Bowie, and offers some insights into Bowie the artisté.

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I listened to the Station to Station disc recently and it was pretty good—it’s fun to throw on discs that haven’t been played in a while. Golden Years is a pretty great song isn’t it? Back when I interviewed Mick Ronson in 1989, I mentioned really liking the guitar sound on some very early songs like Running Gun Blues, Black Country Rock, and Width of a Circle. He was pleasantly surprised that someone in America would know and like that material since the album, The Man Who Sold the World, in it’s pre-Nirvana Unplugged days, wasn’t very well-known or popular. I still like that material a lot…it was really fucked up…in a good way. David Bowie and all of his artistic partners definitely expanded the borders of music, fashion and art and he deserves a lot of credit for making life, music, and the arts more interesting and colorful…and my girlfriend really, really, really liked him.

The “5th Beatle”, Sir George Martin, just passed away last week at the age of 90. Wow! What a great life! If he had done nothing but produce The Beatles from 1963-1969 that would have been enough, but of course, he did much more than that. Since he was older than many of the artists he worked with over the years he brought a very paternalistic presence (as well as a great set of ears and a wide wealth of musical and technical knowledge) to every project he was involved in. He would also go on to produce another of my favorite albums, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. Totally awesome record, which is why it ranks a review in the right column.

Keyboard master Keith Emerson, from Emerson Lake and Palmer fame took his own life last week. According to reports he was suffering from depression and heart disease and shot himself with a firearm. According to his girlfriend, he was also suffering from hand issues that prevented him from playing at the virtuoso levels from his glory days and was trolled by fans on the internet who didn’t like his new music. Pretty messed up if that’s true…While I wasn’t ever a huge fan of ELP, like YES above, it was inconceivable that anyone from my background could not know who they were and recognize songs, like Lucky Man, From the Beginning, and Karn Evil 9 (Welcome Back My Friends), and Still You Turn Me On. One of the giant bands of the progressive era.

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While he wasn’t a musician I’d give a rock and roll salute to Ken Stabler, 70s quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. “The Snake” was a rock and roll outlaw cut from the same cloth as Ronnie Van Zant and Clint Eastwood’s 70s Man with No Name/Josey Wales characters. He had the rock and roll hair, “studied the playbook by the light of the jukebox”, practically invented the late 4th quarter comeback and led the Raiders to some of the most exciting victories in pro football and finally to Super Bowl victory in 1977. I used to LOVE watching the Raiders play late on Sunday afternoons. You just never knew what was going to happen until the final seconds were up. His family related that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Van Morrison’s When The Leaves Come Falling Down were part of the soundtrack to The Snake’s peaceful passing. One of his last acts before dying of complications from cancer last year was to donate his brain to a study of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He was found (post mortem) to have had Stage 3 of the illness (in part or totally) thanks to all of the hits he took as a quarterback decades earlier. I wish he had achieved the recognition when he was alive, but I’m glad that he will finally be enshrined.

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Closer to home, right after New Year’s 2015, my friend and the long-time musical director for CAB CITY COMBO, Paul Rubin, passed away. I wrote about the Combo here and here back in the day and in wake of his passing a couple of albums have been released here and here. We had a lot of fun over the years making music and silliness and although we had stopped in 2004 there was always the possibility that we might do more. That’s the thing about death: it’s always so final. Paul was also a very good friend and everyone knows how hard it is to lose a good friend. Unfortunately, once the 50 year-old milestone is passed, losing people is something that becomes a bigger part of life. I always valued his opinion and input on things I was doing and he was an early supporter of my gypsy jazz enthusiasms. We went and saw Tchavalo, Dorado and Samson Schmitt along with Florin Niculescu one hot summer day in the Jazz at Lincoln Center space many moons ago. Great concert, great time. I had plenty of these moments with Paul over the years and I am glad I can look back with happiness and a certain measure of pride on all the things we did together.

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Finally, my mother also passed away last week. She and my father both had a great love of music, but it was my mom who always indulged my passion for it and helped me along the way. She had played horn and piano when she was younger and her side of the family was very musical. She also taught me the importance of fortitude, perseverance, and hard work in the attainment of meaningful goals. The first guitar I ever played was actually hers…given as a present by my father one Christmas. She was never a great fan of rock and roll and couldn’t understand why I played it so LOUD, but the fact that I liked it was enough for her to grudgingly respect some of it. She liked The Beatles, Yo Yo Ma, Arlo Guthrie, and Simon and Garfunkel. She was impressed with Eddie Van Halen’s writing and playing skills, loved classical music and enjoyed coming to Lincoln Center, especially if it was for The Mostly Mozart Festival. She was an influential, well-loved person to her family, friends and associates, but above all she was…MOM. It hurts to lose one’s mother, but now she is free and forever out of pain.

All of these people shaped me to one degree or another and some of them shaped entire generations. That kind of influence does not dissipate with their passing because it remains in their creations and in people’s memories. Guitar players and other musicians keep other musicians alive by playing their licks or covering their songs. Music that was written almost one hundred years ago is played constantly at blues, jazz, and gypsy jazz jams all of the time. We all owe a debt to those people who have meant so much to us and we can make their legacy (words, music, creations, thoughts and deeds) eternal and if we do, and if we bring some of our own legacy to the world, then we too will remain even after we are gone. The circle of life is, after all, the circle of life.

Keith Richards — Part II —The 70s

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by theguitarcave

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The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Keith Richards coming into his own as a bona fide guitar hero and entertainment personality, albeit a very notorious personality. If you missed the first part of this expose, you can find it HERE, and the most popular post I’ve ever done, Gimme Shelter, is also chock-full of Keith or, “Keef” goodies. Following the release of Let It Bleed and the infamous 1969 American tour, Keith and The Stones would tour Europe and release two more powerhouse albums before returning to the States for an even more infamous tour in 1972. The albums, Sticky Fingers (parts of which were recorded on the ’69 tour in Muscle Shoals, Alabama) and the genre-defining Exile on Main Street, which was basic-tracked in Keith’s rented house in the south of France with the help of the new Rolling Stones Mobile (recording) Unit, would cement the band’s reputation as the swaggering high priests of outlaw rock and roll. These two records also completed the HOLY 5 (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya Yas Out, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street) run of Stones albums that is pinnacle of their career. All of these albums are very much driven by the guitar style Keith mashed together from all of his favorite blues, country and early rock and roll influences to recreate an updated form of rock and roll that is distinctly American. In that way, this period is very reflective of Keith’s artistic sensibilities and long-standing fascination with American culture in a way that nothing after 1972 would, not even his solo records.

During this time another British band was making their own indelible mark on rock music and as the 70s progressed they would eclipse the Stones in sales, popularity and sheer awesomeness. This, of course, was Led Zeppelin. The two bands had quite a bit in common, especially in the early 70s, the use of the mobile unit to record their groundbreaking records out of the confines of urban recording studios, for instance. There are many interviews with Keith and Jimmy Page that illustrate how much of the sound of these seminal recordings (the Stones 5 and Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti) owe as much to the ambiance of their recording settings as they do the songs, players and instruments. Tales of the Stones recording Exile while dinner was being cooked upstairs or Keith ducking out of a session to put his son to bed (and not reappearing for 5 hours) align with Led Zep lore of the sound of John Bonham’s drum sound on When the Levee Breaks, captured in a Headley Grange hallway or all 4 members of the band dancing on the lawn after hearing first playbacks of Dancing Days. Recording these albums in this fashion allowed for greater artistic isolation because both groups were removed from urban environments, and was reminiscent of the old days when blues/country artists recorded in hotel rooms, kitchens, or on street corners. I believe this allowed both bands to bring a level of authenticity that approached high art to these recordings. Another similarity, one that Led Zeppelin embraced from the very beginning of their career, was that neither band had to be concerned with having a hot single out every two or three months and both had reached the superstar status level that afforded them the luxury of having to answer to no one, as long as the kids kept buying records and concert tickets. The Stones and Led Zeppelin had their own record labels by the mid-70s and this was a very big step (and one that isn’t talked about very often in the current file sharing discussions) of wrestling control away from record company executives and putting it firmly in the hands of the artists who were making the music. Not only was the music written and played in a very sympathetic environment, using all of the latest technology available, but the band (and a very willing engineer or two) recorded and produced the music as they saw fit. Personally, I think this has a whole lot to do with why these albums still rank as some of the best ever made and are very hard to beat for the sound of the BLUUZE excitement that jumps off of them when they are played.

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This record was covered in Part I, but as an added bonus here is Street Fighting Man when it was Did Everyone Pay Their Dues? The video is from a trip Mick, Keith, Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg took to South America in 1968. This trip would influence at least one song from Let It Bleed.

LET IT BLEED

A very menacing record – the sound, the lyrics, the subject matter, the way Keith has developed his slashing chord jabs and the relentless, insistent pulse of the rhythm section. 1968-1969 were bloody years and the Stones had their finger square on the pulse of what was happening. Let It Bleed was released in the USA immediately after Altamont and it’s so evil that it might as well have been the soundtrack. John Lennon seemed to believe that “Let It Bleed” referred the last Beatles album and it probably did. Mick Jagger had always been jealous and competitive of The Beatles and their success and with this record he finally came out on top. While Let It Be is a half-assed collection of songs and jams from an aborted pre-Abbey Road movie idea, Let It Bleed is a tightly-focused statement on the state of the world as the Stones saw it at the time. While soon-to-be jettisoned Stone Brian Jones and soon-to-be Stone Mick Taylor both appear on the record, it’s pretty much a total Keith show.

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Gimme Shelter kicks off the record with it’s dramatic, almost cinematic, building intro. Keith’s playing in open-E tuning and the treble chords in the intro set the listener up for the main body of the song because once the descending riff (a variation on Under My Thumb) kicks in he is beating you over the head with it. Charlie Watts is locked in on Keith once the song kicks in and never strays. On top of this rhythmic heaviness, there is some slide guitar, a short Keith solo, a bluesy harp and apocalyptic lyrics provided by Mick, and a female vocal break provide by Merry Clayton that is so intense it was blamed for the miscarriage she suffered after the session. It’s 4 1/2 minutes of mayhem and this is the first song on the record! It’s evil twin brother kicks off side 2. Midnight Rambler, a song that sketches the Boston Strangler, is even more intense than Gimme Shelter. Keith has described it as a blues opera and he and Mick wrote all of the various parts together while vacationing in Italy. Played in an E position with a capo on the 7th fret, the song is a perfect example of how much power Keith gets out of a very basic and compact approach to guitar. Thousands of blues-influenced songs use this E position on the first fret, but putting it up at the 7th fret and swapping in a “D” chord and progression instead of the standard 12-bar B-turnaround, turns the whole form inside out without diverging too far away from it. You can hear it’s the blues, but it’s also much more than the blues. I find the tone of the studio version of this song to be really amazing… it burps, kind of… and staggers along like a pervert in a dirty raincoat clutching a long knife. Keith used the same guitar on Gimme Shelter and Midnight Rambler and he recalled in 2002:

That was done on a full-bodied, Australian electric-acoustic, f-hole guitar. It kind of looked like an Australian copy of the Gibson model that Chuck Berry used. I played it on Gimmie Shelter too… It had all been revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great. It made a great record… (I got it f)rom some guy who stayed at my pad. He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind. You know, Take care of this for me. I certainly did! But it served me well through the album. http://www.timeisonourside.com/SOMidnight.html

Monkey Man and Live With Me are two more nasty songs from this very nasty album. The first finds Keith locked in on one of his prototypical riffs; a hard-knuckled adaptation from Chuck Berry that sounds as if it might be in open tuning, but it is in standard C#/E major. This is the kind of hammer-time guitar thing that has made Keith a guitar hero and he probably spent days playing it over and over until it was exactly right. The slide part that happens as a break before the final “I’m a MONKEY!!” is probably open-E. Really nice layering of guitars and a tinkling piano above Charlie’s insistent drums. Monkey Man is a silly song lyrically, but a great music track. Live With Me is a swaggering ode to sleaze that features Mick Taylor on guitar and Keith on bass, which he likes to do from time to time. In concert, the propulsive bass line would be doubled on guitar with those slashing standard-tuned guitar chords played against the rhythm. Saxman Bobby Keyes makes his first appearance with the Stones on this track. On the softer side of things is a very bluesy adaptation of Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain that features Keith on acoustic picking and electric slide and Ry Cooder on mandolin. I believe the acoustic is in standard tuning and has a capo on the 3rd fret and Keith uses really cool finger-picking patterns to bring the desolation and loneliness of this song to life. Extra chords were added to the Robert Johnson version so it is a bit more complex than a 3 chord blues. You can hear shades of this same progression in I Got the Blues from Sticky Fingers. Country Honk is the original version of Honky Tonk Women (although the electric single version was released first) and was supposedly inspired by the gaucho cowboys Mick and Keith saw on their trip to South America (see how I tied that together?). Keith was always fascinated with the cowboy lifestyle from an early age and for sure the band is channeling a little bit of Hank Williams and white boy honky tonk music on this one. For this song you can leave it in standard or tune it to open-G and merge with parts Keith plays on the electric version which is definitely in open-G. You Got the Silver is Keith’s lead vocal debut and he plays acoustic and electric slide guitar in open-E/D, with a capo on the 1st or 3rd fret so the song is in the key of F. (Whether you tune to D or E is a personal preference). The atmosphere of this song is simply 60s beautiful and is easily one of the best songs the band ever did. Originally Mick also sang on the track and there are alternate versions out there with him on vocals, but Keith’s vibe is really cool and that makes the album version definitive. Let It Bleed and You Can’t Always Get What You Want round out the album and on both Keith is playing various acoustics and electric/slide guitars. When I saw the Stones on the 1981 tour they played Let it Bleed, which was great because it had never been a concert song before. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (played in open-E or D [acoustic] on the record and usually played in open-G with a capo on the 5th fret live) was a concert staple throughout the 70s.

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Let It Bleed was a critical and commercial success and really was the next big step (after Beggars Banquet) of the Stones’ new image to the world. As with the rest of the studio albums during this period, the best songs would be hits and favorites of legions of fans for decades to come and still make up a big part of any Rolling Stones set list. Musically, lyrically and artistically Let It Bleed is more than an album and is probably second only to Exile on Main Street as the best record the group ever did.

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I include this in the group of must-haves because it’s much more than a live album. A case could be made that it isn’t really a live album as there were a few overdubs done after the fact and any close listening to bootlegs from the tour or clips from the movie Gimme Shelter (like the one above) prove this. Not everything was changed and certainly all of the ingredients for a great live album were already there, but given that the band was on a creative roll and probably wanted to put their very best into their first real live album, it’s understandable they would play around with it. Another crucial component is Mick Taylor. His guitar playing gave the album a very HEAVY blues virtuoso feel in spots and it was smart to make the most of what he was now bringing to the band. He had only been involved for a few months prior to the tour but it was very clear from the beginning he was going to change the sound in a big way. The album rocks from beginning to end and some cuts like Midnight Rambler, Jumping Jack Flash, Live With Me, Street Fighting Man and Sympathy For the Devil have such a powerful sound and energy that it’s almost breathtaking. Taylor’s slide solo on Love in Vain (which he plays in standard tuning) is simply brilliant as is his solo (the 2nd one) on Sympathy. The rapid-fire negotiation of the 4 parts to Midnight Rambler come off perfectly and that song is so sizzling it is downright scary. The band would never sound like this again on a live release and that has everything to do with Mick Taylor, Keith’s good health and the band working with the realization that they have expanded their capabilities and execution and are firing on all cylinders. The maelstrom that was the late 60s probably had something to do with it as well as the fact that this was the first time the Stones had played America with powerful amps and PA systems. They rose to the challenge perfectly and this is a great transition from Let It Bleed to their next offering.

STICKY FINGERS

Sticky Fingers is a really good indication of how SMART The Rolling Stones are. They were always able to integrate whatever was going on at the time into their sonic palette and produce records that were simultaneously timely and timeless (This would also be true of Some Girls). Quite a feat when you think about it. Everything that would follow in the 70s: the debauchery, self-destruction, failed 60s ideals, tired and overplayed musical styles and the indulgences of the “ME” decade is contained in the lyrics and music of this record and really all Keith Richards and Mick Taylor did was further define the twin-guitar style that had already worked for the band for the better part of 7 years. Even though the 70s would be the era of long songs and jams, the Stones always kept it pretty tight around the blues wail/pop song format that had served them throughout the 1960s. While Brown Sugar or Bitch seem like a far cry from Satisfaction or The Last Time, musically they aren’t in terms of complication or excess. The refinement of the riffs, rhythms and parts, a much bigger sound, combined with Mick Jagger’s envelope-pushing lyrics only illustrate how the band grew over time. There are some interesting tidbits about these two songs that anchor each side of Sticky Fingers. Brown Sugar was a Mick Jagger composition right down to the rhythms and salacious subject matter. Keith turned it into a tour de force by adapting it to his open-G tuning, layering electric and acoustic guitars together and adding a very patented Chuck Berry ending to the song. Brown Sugar was recorded at Muscle Shoals during the ’69 tour and as I relate in the post on Gimme Shelter, part of the reason that the band ran into trouble on with various components of the counterculture on that tour was because of the fact that they had already moved on from the 60s (after the drug busts of 1967, the failure of Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Brian Jones’ death) and were already channeling a new decade. While many people from the hippie movement at the time thought that the Stones were an anachronism of a bygone era, the band glided effortlessly into the 1970s more successful than ever. Bitch, on the other hand, was a mess of a song that began without Keith, who showed up to record that day with a bowl of cornflakes in his hand. After listening to the band struggle with it for a few minutes he strapped on his guitar, simplified the riff and WHAMMO! Instant 70s AOR hit.

The rest of the album shows the band’s dedication to American roots music whether it be country; Dead Flowers, Wild Horses, the blues; I Got the Blues, You Gotta Move, or (what became) definitive 70s rock; Sway, Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’. Sister Morphine and the very unStonesy Moonlight Mile round out the record. Thanks to their always on-point music savvy and the addition of Mick Taylor, and a horn section, including saxman Bobby Keyes, the Stones had developed a formidable sound that greeted the 70s with sass, hipness, and their always insistent energy. Taylor’s fluid lead lines gave songs like Moonlight Mile, Sway and the Santana-esque 2nd half of Can’t You Hear (the first part is a brilliant Keith G-tuning workout) a big rock virtuosity that was perfect for the 70s. Jagger would say after Taylor’s departure that he had really enjoyed writing with the guitarist because he didn’t come from as limited a background as Keith and his more lead-based style allowed for departures from the typical Stones raunchiness. Sister Morphine featured slide guitar maestro Ry Cooder, who has long been rumored to have been the one who turned Keith on to open-G tuning and was also not the first person to be turned off by the druggie vibe that was becoming more a part of what the band (at least some of them) represented. A review I read of this record from a long time ago mentioned that there were enough overt drug references in the lyrics that one could get high simply by sniffing the record jacket. The nastiness of the lyrics combined with the very up front chugging of the band made this a very obvious and in-your-face record, much more so than any of the others of the “5 group.” The band would bury much of this on the next album and in some ways, that made all of the danger and debauchery even more bawdy and sinister.

A word about open tunings, a guitar technique Keith uses quite a bit. There are a few things to remember about using different tunings that players should keep in mind. 1) Keith was a pretty good rock and roll guitar player and had certainly come up with some genre-defining riffs before he started changing tunings, so don’t assume everything post ’68 is played in something other than standard tuning. Plenty of songs that some people think are in open-G aren’t. 2) Don’t assume that the tuning a song might have been recorded in is how it was played live (Jumping Jack Flash, You Can’t Always Get What You Want). Certain things, like that open-G, suspended chord sound one hears in the riff to Brown Sugar, are fairly obvious, but also keep in mind, that 3) it’s possible to play these songs without changing the tuning. I’ve watched Chris Spedding play Brown Sugar in standard tuning and Mick Taylor never played in open tuning as far as I know. Chris told me a story about how he played in front of Keith once and Keith mentioned that he liked the DRONE sound that playing with an open tuning gives to a song like Brown Sugar. That’s really what you miss if you play it in standard tuning — there is none of that sympathetic ringing that can give you a really big, sometimes slightly dissonant sound. Obviously that sound won’t work on everything and as a guitar player you have to use your judgment on what is best for you in various musical situations. From personal experience I can tell you I don’t favor two or more guitars in a band tuned to an open tuning. That gets really weird, especially live. I think a big part of the Stones sound during this period was that Mick Taylor remained in standard and played complimentary parts to Keith’s riffing. Even when they were doubling lines in a song like You Gotta Move, the sound is full without being disorganized because Keith plays his lines on an open-C tuned acoustic and Mick Taylor doubles on a standard-tuned electric. This is just my opinion and really only applies to roots style music. Bands like Soundgarden certainly employed various open tunings with more than one guitarist tuned out of concert tuning to great effect.

EXILE ON MAIN STREET

While some might disagree (certainly Mick Jagger always has), this record represented the pinnacle of the Rolling Stones creative vision and execution. While the band would enjoy hits, tremendously profitable tours and notoriety for the following forty years, they never topped Exile and once again, while the group and some assorted special guests were absolutely crucial to the way the record turned out, this is Keith’s album. It has everything that has been the hallmark of his style throughout his career: subtlety, the guitar as a vehicle for the song, slashing riffs, ingenious production, compact leads and a tremendous ability to recreate musical styles in a way that makes the songs sound absolutely authentic. It’s not just his guitar that’s at work here either. In some ways Keith is the equal to Page or McCartney when it came to using the studio almost as if it were another instrument and the production quality of Exile, controversial for it’s buried wall of sound mix, is exactly the same as his guitar style. He wears his influences on his sleeve and if you listen to those old records then it’s obvious he and the band got this album exactly right. He also deserves a whole lot credit for the vocals (lead and back up). In some cases they completely make the song. I don’t know how long the following song will be available (it seems to come and go from Youtube) but notice how the whole band wakes up on this version of Dead Flowers after Mick and Keith sing the first chorus. Many people have remarked on this quality of the band, especially live: when Keith wants to rock, there is no stopping the the band. His vocals are also a feature on “Exile” songs like Rocks Off, Casino Boogie, Soul Survivor, Torn and Frayed, Sweet Black Angel, Tumbling Dice and Sweet Virginia. While many rock and rollers don’t know this, gospel music is a big influence on the Stones’ sound. Keith is a HUGE fan and while many people would not see how church music could work with dirty rock and roll songs about nasty habits listen to Sweet Virginia, Tumbling Dice or Torn and Frayed again. What has kept Keith in the music business for over fifty years is the fact that he was always more than a guitar player into one style of music. Also, take it from someone who was there, Mick and Keith sharing a mic was one of the most ubiquitous and iconic photo images from the early/mid 70s.

Much has been made of the recording conditions in France for some of the basic tracks. Andy Johns, who was the engineer for the sessions gives a nice rundown on how it all worked HERE. The environment was hot and steamy, guitars went in and out of tune (you can hear this on the intro to All Down the Line), but in some ways it didn’t matter because the band was dialing in their cosmic blues infused slop rock where problems like wiggy tuning only added to the ambiance. Because the band (like Zeppelin and more after them) had been forced to flee Britain as a result of high taxes, there was an extreme sense of dislocation among members of the band and their entourage. This more than likely added to some of the jittery, nervous energy that can be found on parts of the record.

If there is one song that encapsulates the Keith Richards’ style during this period, Tumbling Dice is it. The “hit” that Exile on Main Street produced is an awesome open-G tuned, capo on the 4th fret (key of B) exploration of lead/rhythm ambiance. Except for a brief solo before the final verse the song is a perfect example of what Keith calls “guitar weaving,” two guitars playing sympathetic parts with enough restraint that a listener will have a hard time detecting which guitarist is doing what. What’s interesting is Mick Jagger is playing rhythm guitar on the recorded track and Mick Taylor is playing bass. The Exile sessions revolved around Keith’s “schedule,” or lack thereof, and whoever was around when he felt like playing/recording ended up on the track. Keith’s vocal track on the record, Happy, is another example of a song in the same Tumbling Dice tuning and an altered line-up, with producer Jimmy Miller filling in for Charlie Watts on drums. Hip Shake, as shown above, is another great example of Taylor and Richards weaving their guitar parts together. Ventilator Blues is the only song Mick Taylor received a songwriting credit for as it is his swampy guitar riff that drives the whole song. Bobby Keyes was actually the brains behind the rhythm of the song as Charlie Watts recalled later. Other highlights include the very emotional, gospel inspired Let it Loose with the guitars through a Leslie speaker and a gospel choir, recalling Al Green or Otis Redding perhaps. Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down is given a loud, jamming performance featuring Mick Taylor’s slide and Mick Jagger’s harp. Rip This Joint is the fastest song the band has ever done and sounds like Little Richard on steroids. All of the instruments, including gospel choir arrangements were layered in to give the songs on the album a complete sound. No instruments or players really stick out as even a lot of the vocals are buried. While some, including Mick Jagger write this off to heavy drug use, I think this is the way Keith hears this music. His first solo album, released some 25 years later sounded similar. The rhythm section, guitars, saxes, harmonica, piano, vocals, percussion all kind of swirl together creating a sound tsunami that carries the listener away. This makes for a very dense and murky audio experience but I think it sounds very close to Phil Spector, Memphis or Chess Records. When the album mixes are BIG ROCK, It’s Only Rock and Roll and Dirty Work, the blues-inspired songs sound generic, flat and innocuous to me. The manner in which Exile was recorded and mixed is so important to not only how Keith wrote and played music, but also to the sonic concept of authenticity. The second part of the recording process took place in Los Angeles and various thing were cleaned up and added or overdubbed. But the basement feel and sound permeates the record and closes the book on the Stones’ glory days.

Plugging a Les Paul or a Telecaster into a Fender Twin or an Ampeg SVT with a little bit of delay or reverb and a nice healthy dose of volume and you have pretty much what you need for the Keith Richards Exile on Main Street sound. (The Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar that he was playing on the ’69 tour was stolen in France during the making of the album). He was never much of an effects guy although there is a phaser used on Rocks Off and Keith would continue to employ slow phase on ballad songs (Comin’ Down Again) throughout the decade. The 1972 Americas tour was the debut of the prodigious use of Fender Telecasters, some of which were tuned to the open G (GDGBD) with the low E string removed. All Down the Line, Soul Survivor, Rip This Joint, Happy and the amazing Tumbling Dice are all very obvious open-G songs, most, if not all of them played with a Telecaster probably. This contrasted nicely with Mick Taylor’s Les Paul sound, especially when Mick’s slide guitar came into the equation, like on the following clip. There are quite a few great clips from the ’72 tour and they all ROCK!

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Following the release of Exile, the ’72 tour of the Americas and the ’73 tour of Europe were grand affairs. Not only did the denim-clad rowdies turn out in droves, but celebrities and the jet-set crowd were in attendance thanks to Mick Jagger’s marriage to Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias and his hobnobbing at all of the hottest spots the early 70s had to offer. Of course, these habits didn’t sit well with his guitar playing partner whose habits put him with a completely different class of people, described by others in and around the band as “the dregs of the earth.” This division, which had begun in France between those who took a lot of drugs (Richards, Taylor, Keyes, producer Jimmy Miller) and those who were much more restrained (Jagger, Watts and Wyman) became more pronounced. This led to sub-par material and acrimony between Keith and Mick Jagger. Mick was bored with rock and roll and was already making his views on this known as Exile was being released. His lifestyle and ambitions did not include being stoned to the point of incapacitation. Post-1972 he would be a lot more opinionated and forceful in his musical ideas for the group, whether that would him at odds with Keith or not. This happens and usually the result is the end of the band. That was certainly true with The Beatles. The Rolling Stones would carry on, but it would be different. While they would enjoy success and failures for another 40+ years they wouldn’t be the same important BAND anymore. They would gradually become an institution and much of that is simply a byproduct of longevity and the fact that there was a time, especially between 1968-1972 when there was no one playing and recording better music.

THE 70s & BEYOND

Even though nothing after Exile would be as much of a complete statement, there were some bright spots in the 70s and early 80s. I was a huge fan of the band growing up and heard all of the following as they were released so I’ll give a brief review of each.

Goat’s Head Soup — A very boring album. The band sounds tired even though Mick Taylor plays some ripping guitar in spots. He more than likely co-authored Winter, which is a really good song, way better than Angie in my opinion. A big rift between Mick Taylor and Keith also starts to emerge during this time and will culminate with Taylor’s departure after the next album. Keith is not down with the big soloing thing that has taken over rock circles (remember this is 1973…the biggest band on the planet is doing half hour versions of Dazed and Confused). But Taylor is completely down with being a LEAD player and is capable of bringing that to the music. On Exile Keith still had it together enough to bring in good stuff and force the guitar weaving style he enjoys so much. But starting with this album, the material isn’t as good or is just flat out derivative. They get it back on the next album a little bit, but Mick Taylor will begin to lose interest and feel constrained by the limitations of Keith’s vision of the band.

It’s Only Rock and Roll — Very underrated in my opinion. The title track is great, Dance Little Sister is awesome and has a great Taylor doing Keith solo on it. Keith channels his rhythm skills into a great reggae feel on Luxury, which I think is the best reggae-influenced thing the band ever did. The jazzy Latin-esque Time Waits for No One features a great groove, great lyrics and a very progressive style guitar solo from Mick Taylor. Perhaps his best moments as a Stone. Fingerprint File is flat-out amazing! Mick is doing an Isaac Hayes impersonation, but it doesn’t have the feel of bored parody…yet. He would definitely get there later in the decade. He plays the phased rhythm guitar, Keith plays the wah-wah guitar and Mick Taylor plays bass and it’s a great performance from all three. My favorite on a very good album. If You Can’t Rock Me, Short and Curlies, Til The Next Time and If You Really Want to Be My Friend are all solid songs and are played with great 70s feel and enthusiasm. This is the first record by Mick and Keith as The Glimmer Twins and Ron Wood, who was in the band shortly after the release, had a lot to do with the title track. This would be the last appearance of Mick Taylor until some of the songs worked on during his tenure are brought back for Tattoo You. Ron Wood will join the band for the 1975 tour of the USA.

Black and Blue — Even though Fool to Cry and Hot Stuff were popular, this album sucks and many people said the same thing at the time. I’m not of the opinion that the Stones did 70s dance music very well or that they ever should’ve tried. Miss You was a great tune and a smash hit, but this album isn’t and by his own admission Keith was so strung out at this point he was pretty much useless.

Love You Live — An abomination when compared with Ya Yas. The whole band sounds bored and remember what I said about Mick’s parody of Isaac Hayes? It’s in full effect on this record.

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Some Girls — The last GREAT Stones album. Keith is clean, Ron Wood brings a whole lot of new energy and punk rock/new wave and disco have helped give the band a new lease on life. This is Mick Jagger’s album and not only did he write some great songs and lyrics, he also plays so much guitar that several songs have a patented Lynyrd Skynyrd 3-guitar sound. (The two bands had played together in England in 1976…coincidence?). The disco-influenced Miss You was a huge hit and the rockers like Lies, When the Whip Comes Down, Respectable and Shattered are fast, furious, smart and nasty. Just what you would expect from the Rolling Stones. Faraway Eyes is funny and has a nice chorus and pedal steel from Woody. Just My Imagination I could’ve done without. The real musical gems of the record are Beast of Burden and Before They Make Me Run. Both of these songs are primarily Keith’s and were written during the period he was facing a possible lengthy prison term for a heroin bust. His riffing is smart and original on this record and he and Woody work together very well. Wood’s tenure in the Stones has certainly had some very low points, but up through ’83 he played his ass off. While he never had Mick Taylor’s chops and big sound, Woody certainly had a great touch and a few tricks up his sleeve. He really makes Some Girls come alive and this was a great soundtrack for the late 70s.You didn’t have to be a “rock guy” to like it.

Emotional_Rescue — I remember hearing this record a lot at the time, but I can’t remember why now.

Tattoo You — The last solid album (still a step down from Some Girls), culled from recordings in the vaults going back to Mick Taylor’s time in the band. The record has enough rockers, Start Me Up, Little T & A, Slave, paired with some really good ballads, including Worried About You and Waiting On a Friend to offer a really good balance of songs and they managed to make it all sound current and right for a live setting. As I said earlier, I saw the Stones on this tour and they really delivered well — long sets with a lot of surprise numbers — and the new stuff sounded really good. It was a total party!

The Rest
Tattoo You was pretty much the end though because everything released after ’81 sounded a bit too formulaic for me. I checked out Dirty Work and Undercover and saw them live a couple more times, but for me the late 60s and early 70s were the peak and there was and is a whole lot of other music to listen to. But Mick, Mick, Ron and KEITH gave me a whole lot of great rock and roll and GUITAR BRILLIANCE over the years and for that I am very thankful. I learned so much about music and rock and roll from listening to and playing the Rolling Stones music and any player can find oodles of goodies contained within any one of a number of tunes that will definitely be of use the next time a chance to ROCK OUT comes along.

One final thing… I really enjoyed the Chuck Berry Hail Hail movie (on Youtube in its entirety). Great cast of characters (Chuck, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, The Everly Brothers, Robert Cray, Bo Diddley, Bobby Keyes and a whole lot of Keith!). Oh and Little Richard! Any movie with Little Richard is going to be AWESOME because he is one crazy dude!

LIFE by Keith Richards

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Wish I could give this a rave review, but unfortunately, I can’t. I didn’t have high hopes for Keith’s autobiography because I am very familiar with the publishing formula that goes into the production of these memoirs. As a genre, or whatever, these books generally suck and are geared for people who don’t know much about the subject or just have to own everything that pertains to said subject. I know I’m jaded — I was reading interviews with Keith in CREEM magazine back in 1975!! Up until the late 80s I consumed every guitar mag interview he ever did. I’ve forgotten more than most people will ever know and much of what Life details, especially the drug use, was covered by others a long time ago. So if you, kind reader, don’t have that perspective then you’ll probably enjoy this…maybe. My copy was given to me and the person who gave me the book and two others I who know read it did a whole lot of skimming. The early chapters on Keith’s childhood and family are interesting and there were a few spots where he really plumbed his own depths, which resulted in a transcendence or at least an awareness of the meaning of (his) life. But the book is too long and unfocused and the editing/ghostwriting is horrible. It reads like Keith’s solo records sound and I’m not one of those people who think his solo records are that good. Sorry. What made the Keith and the Stones great was the team effort that honed and tightened everything for maximum impact. That’s how this book should’ve read and that would have been a significant improvement. The other problem is there is just not enough about the music and that is what Keith is, a musician. He isn’t a pirate, an outlaw or nonfiction writer. Why, at this point in his life he would want so much of his story to be about his involvement with substances I can’t imagine unless that was the marketing strategy to recoup a seven figure advance on information that has long been in the public domain anyway.

Blue Yodel

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by theguitarcave

Two music giants together recreating a historical recording session from 1930. It’s pretty amazing how much music can be traced back to Louis Armstrong and how many people he influenced over the years. Probably the most important musical figure of the 20th century and I’m not the first person who has said that. As the story goes, Django Reinhardt was reduced to tears and murmured, “my brother” when he heard Louis on record the first time. Of course, Louis made many appearances with many different people over his long career, but most people out there would not associate him with Country Music in any way. Just goes to show that categories are sometimes very meaningless.

While Johnny Cash may not have had Louis’s range in styles and influence, he was certainly an American icon, not only as a musician, but also as an entertainer. He was one of the first entertainers to embrace charity and awareness work and lobbied and performed on behalf of prisoners, Native Americans and poor people long before anyone else did. Two of his best albums were recorded in prisons. His music still sounds as original and fresh as it did when it was released 50-60 years ago and his television show from the early 1970s was really cool. It brought a whole lot of great music to the people just as he did right up until his death nine years ago.

Lynyrd Skynyrd did a pretty rippin’ version of Blue Yodel (the first version of this song was called T for Texas). Singer Ronnie Van Zant was a pretty huge country music fan and had a keen appreciation for all of the great music, black and white, that originated in his section of the country. This is from the Knebworth show in 1976 where they opened for The Rolling Stones. Steve Gaines had been in the band only a short time and was already doing well.

The original was done by The Blue Yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers. He was an entertainer and a railroad worker from an early age. After contracting tuberculosis when he was 24, he gave up on the railroad work and started singing. He recorded the T for Texas version of Blue Yodel (Blue Yodel #1) in 1927 in NEW JERSEY of all places. It was a huge hit, selling half a million copies. The 1930 version of Blue Yodel (#9) (also called Standing on the Corner) featured Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Louis’s wife Lillian on piano. It was recorded in Hollywood just as Louis says in the first clip. Sadly, Jimmie’s constant touring and performing schedule combined with the effects of TB wore him out at the very young age of 36 in 1933. The Blue Yodeler’s legacy continues to live on today as The Father of American Country Music.

Wolfgang’s Vault

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2011 by theguitarcave

I was a member/regular at Wolfgang’s Vault years ago. I used to listen to the streaming shows at work and they had some really cool stuff — everything from Hendrix, Who, Allman Brothers, Zappa with the Mothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Zeppelin shows to some early punk from the late 70s and early 80s. I visited this past weekend and now THEY HAVE VIDEO. I can’t figure out how to embed links and it doesn’t look like they have all the bugs worked out yet (videos don’t seem to play on all systems) but I’m sure they’ll get it fixed. There is A TON OF GREAT STUFF HERE and hopefully they will add more as they find it / get it. I’ve already watched Allmans live at the Fillmore East in 1970, which I’ve seen before but as a low quality video. The Who at Tanglewood — great and hilarious; it’s impossible to watch a Townsend/Moon performance and not have at least one belly-laugh. Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Fillmore West in early 1976, the SEX PISTOLS at Winterland in 1978!!! and AC/DC and Aerosmith at the Monsters of Rock in 1979. There’s a lot of other stuff I haven’t gotten to yet, and there looks to be a bunch of stuff I will never get to. But it will be worth  going back to see what develops and there is a whole lot of glorious guitar to be watch and listen to.