Archive for Mick Taylor

Alvin Lee Has Gone Home

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by theguitarcave

Alvin Lee was an awesome blues-rock guitarist who had a big impact on the rock music world after his appearance at Woodstock in 1969. His band was Ten Years After (because it began 10 years after Elvis Presley’s golden year of 1956) the name of the song that killed people at the Woodstock Festival was I’m Going Home. Check it out below. When I was a kid my dad used to crank this song. He wasn’t a ROCK guy by any stretch of the imagination, but he loved this tune. He taught high school history and law classes and because his students at the time were talking about bands like Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Ten Years After, he checked them out to see what the buzz was about. I couldn’t ever convince him that the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner was brilliant, but I tried…boy did I try.

Ten Years After had a string of hits in the late 60s and early 70s, all of them driven by Lee’s explosive guitar attack. He was rooted in the blues and early rock and roll, but he and his band made it explosive. I used to love listening to their renditions of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Turned-Off TV Blues, One of These Days, Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘n’ Roll You, I’d Love to Change the World and The Hobbit. Over 10 years before This Is Spinal Tap Ten Years After released an album called Stonedhenge. I think Alvin and his band were the link between old-time rock and roll and those heavier bands that emerged in the late 70s and early 80s (AC/DC, Motorhead, UFO) because there was a blues and rock and roll feel to it but it was so metallic and energetic.

Shortly after the hit single I’d Love to Change the World, Lee left Ten Years After to pursue other guitar projects. A very acclaimed album On the Road To Freedom resulted from a partnership with Mylon LeFevre. The record was partially recorded at Lee’s studio with guest appearances from Ron Wood, George Harrison, Jim Capaldi, Stevie Winwood and Mick Fleetwood. In addition to guitars and harmonica, Alvin played a sitar on this record. I haven’t heard this record for a long time but I remember it being very, very good and very unlike Ten Years After and the pyrotechnic style Alvin was known for. He was a much more versatile guitarist than many people ever knew. He would form other bands, reunite with Ten Years After and embark on projects with other guitar luminaries like Mick Taylor, Scotty Moore, Peter Frampton, Albert Lee and Rory Gallagher. He played a Gibson 335 for much of his career and still had the original Woodstock 335 at the time of his death. Watch below…looks to me that Alvin plays a lotta downstrokes and swept strokes. Maybe he was into Django Reinhardt or part gypsy!

While he never achieved the same plateau of success as the early days, Alvin enjoyed a lifetime of playing bitchin’ and beautiful guitar. I’m Going Home sounds as cool today as it did all of those many years. As my dad would say and do — TURN IT UP!

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.

BEGGARS BANQUET

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.

GET YER YA YAS OUT

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

keith_life

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.

Has Been Awhile…

Posted in Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by theguitarcave

It’s 2012 and the world is going to end!!!!!!!!!!! Who has time for blogging? Actually I’ve been busy with other things…like playing and learning a bunch of animation stuff for graphic design. I learned a lot last year and hopefully this year I’ll have a chance to put some of it to work. Really dig the dudes I’m playing with now. So far it’s been pretty casual, but they are good players and I gotta bust a move to keep up. So posting is probably going to be spotty. That’s how it goes, especially when the bills have to be paid too.

It’s great that this blog still gets 20 people or so a day looking at it. I knew when I set it up it was never going to be The Huffington Post or whatever. Hopefully the year’s worth of stuff I’ve done has provided entertainment or info to 1 or 2 people. I’ll keep posting stuff when I get a chance. In the meantime, here are some great guitar videos including one of the best live performances rehearsals by The Rolling Stones ever, Adrien Moignard and Gonzalo Bergara taking Django Reinhard’s Belleville for a spin and a couple from Heart with Nancy Wilson doing some awesome acoustic picking and strumming.

MAKING IT HAPPEN! — Vital Van NYC

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

Many things that have made my life exciting happened completely because of timing, synchronicity and luck. While it is always good to try and plan a future and be prepared for anything, there are many situations that I couldn’t have plotted out. For instance, I was introduced to the VITAL VAN Community the same day I I interviewed Mick Ronson for Guitar World Magazine. After the awesome interview I met the VITAL crew while I was recording at the Vital Studio for a session that I had nothing to do with arranging. Within a couple of months, not only was my Mick Ronson article about to be published, but I had also served as a roadie and tech for Robert Gordon, Chris Spedding and The Merchants of VenusShane Fontayne’s band at the time. Chris and Robert need no introduction but if you are in the dark about who they are look no further than HERE. Shane Fontayne was in the under-appreciated band 80s band Lone Justice for a time and has also has played with a whole cast of rock superstars from Springsteen to U2 to Paul Simon.  This was the beginning of a three year odyssey of meeting many different players and learning a MILLION things about the music business. Because VITAL provided moving, transportation and roadie services, I was able to put the experience I had from the previous years as driver/party set-builder to good use. But it wasn’t like I’d set out to do this, it just happened. After my experiences at VITAL were over I knew so much more about the music business and guitar playing that it’s hard to conceive how life would’ve turned out had I not had been involved and while I certainly can yap with the best of them, I did a  lot of listening and the knowledge all of the great players I met became a part of me.

Letch Patrol

LETCH PATROL

The East Village of NYC back in those days was like Tombstone Arizona in the 1880s; wild, wide-open and dangerous. The VITAL crew was perfectly at home in this environment and the vibe of the people involved attracted many other musicians and some of New York’s most eccentric characters. VITAL VAN started primarily as a partnership between the two guitar players in the band Letch Patrol, along with a couple of other guys in another band, Rats of Unusual Size, who had started Vital Music Records. Chicken John, founder of VITAL VAN, and guitarist/writer in Letch Patrol was and is a total man with a plan. Over the years Chicken has: been GG Allin’s guitarist, owned and traveled with the Circus Rediculous, owned and operated the Odeon Bar in San Francisco, built a truck that runs on garbage, sailed from California to Italy on a Junk Boat, was a candidate for Mayor of San Francisco in 2007, and about a billion other things. He was a mover and shaker at the very young age of 22 and at the time we met was on page 3 of the NY POST for being one of NYC’s most notorious scofflaws. He has a book coming out in this fall that I’m sure will be very entertaining and enjoyable. Mark, the other guitarist from Letch Patrol had his own van and contacts in the punk-rock underworld and was the Ying to Chicken’s Yang in the business partnership. They had been friends going back several years and had already been involved is some very wild and crazy times together. Jim and Tom from Vital Music Records were running the office, working jobs (my first official job was with Jim and we ended up playing in each others bands off and on over the next 5 years) AND were signing artists for singles on their new record label.

The company was based in a loft on 2nd avenue, four blocks south from my apartment at the time, totally in the middle of where everything was happening. A typical day at the loft was like being in the middle of an animal menagerie run by Monkey Business-era Marx Brothers with special appearances by Paola Passolini, Keith Moon and Freddie Mercury, as well as a host of other sparkling personalities. In addition to the van service and record company the loft was home to a guy named Harris, the singer for Letch Patrol. He was also a very well-known street bookseller, so every wall in the loft that wasn’t a window held a bookcase full of books. Less than a block away was the Cooper Diner, our food and hangout zone. A few years earlier it had been the Binibon Cafe, notorious in East Village lore as the place where writer, career criminal Jack Abbott stabbed a young waiter to death. We were treated royally by the Greek family who took over the place, especially The Guy who was a spitting image of Dan Ackroyd. Right up the avenue was Ron Wood’s club Woodys and CBGBs and St. Marks Place were within stumbling distance. As soon as I joined, the business really started to take off and while I have always brought a lot of energy to every situation, there was already plenty of energy and creativity at VITAL, so once again, it was all about the timing and luck. The company developed a good reputation and had many repeat customers. The first full year I was with the van service the business cleared more than $300,000 and we EARNED every dime.

KISS in Guitar World

Paul Stanley — Was not impressed! Gene Simmons — Stones fan, great talker!

This new relationship I was developing with the music business allowed me to see it from many angles. I had begun writing and interviewing musicians about 4 months prior to joining the van service so I was meeting people at the front of the business; performers, management, publishers, editors, publicists and they all tended to have at least a modicum of sophistication and polish and the settings were much more formal and polite…usually. Then there was the other side, which was loud, vulgar and dangerous at times. Away from the offices and publicists rock and roll can be pretty messy and it falls on the roadies, drivers, techs and sometimes the performers to MAKE IT HAPPEN! and GET THE JOB DONE! That was the VITAL creed, and I could more than handle that, but it sometimes made for uncouth appearances and conversations at the magazine offices or on Guitar World interviews.  I went to interview Paul Stanley of KISS straight from a driving job and Paul was not impressed! I was dressed for roadie work, totally wound up from rushing from the job to the interview, awed to be meeting Paul Stanley and babbling like an idiot. I don’t know that Paul is overly impressed with anyone and when you are facing a guy who is sitting in an office with his feet up on a desk the size of a pickup truck that holds nothing but 2 speakers, and the rest of the room is bare except for a straight back chair and 3 walls full of Gold and Platinum records, you kind of just have to wing it and hope for the best. I did my best, but the conversation was a bit strained although maybe he was preoccupied with something else like “IS IT TIME TO BRING BACK THE MAKEUP?” It’s Paul Stanley after all, he had bigger things to worry about than our 35 minute interview. On the other hand, I interviewed Gene Simmons on the phone because he was in LA at the time and we talked for like 2 hours. Gene loves to talk and is a really sharp interviewee. I had been to see the Rolling Stones in concert at Shea Stadium the night before and he was impressed with that because he has always been a big fan. Gene’s got a pretty mean reputation in the business, especially these days, but he was a really nice guy when we spoke and was interested in my opinion on subjects we were discussing. That always blew my mind…that people like Gene wondered what I thought. He obviously didn’t have to stroke me and neither did any of the other people I interviewed. We had a really good rapport, especially since neither of us was fond of Hair Metal.

Doing the VITAL roadie gigs was a lot of fun and totally educational. Most of the bands were drag and drop — drive them to the gig and pick them up when they were finished. Sometimes on the weekends we would do as many as 8-10 different bands a night. Higher-profile bands like Robert Gordon, The Merchants of Venus, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor and others, we would help set up the equipment and then stick around to ensure the gig ran smoothly. This included changing strings, helping with sound, fetching drinks (shades of the Kool-Aid lady), dealing with any problems onstage as they arose and keeping people who were not known to the band away from the dressing room. This is when I learned things like the best way to string and stretch out the strings of a guitar before a gig, how to set up and take down a drum kit even though I wasn’t a drummer, how to set up other guitar rigs to the player’s specifications, how to stack and wheel large amounts of equipment effectively in and out of the club and that ROBERT GORDON ALWAYS USES A STRAIGHT STAND FOR THE MICROPHONE. The first time I set up the Robert Gordon band alone I did everything perfect and Chris Spedding and Kenny Aaronson gave me the thumbs up and they started playing and Robert came walking out and was making his way to the mic and then took three steps straight back and stood there looking at me and looking at the mic stand. DOH!! It was a funny moment and he was laughing too. I ran onstage bringing a straight stand to replace the boom stand that was there and the show began. During this time I learned all of this info and technique that I then applied to my own guitar rig and playing. Shane Fontayne used an Echoplex and I had just bought one so it was really fun to watch him work it and check his settings. He and Chris Spedding were real masters when it came to using echo/delay to create either a really lush sound or the classic slap-back that works so well for punk, rockabilly or rock and roll. Here’s Shane with Sting and punk legend drummer Josh Freese

Jean-Paul Bourelly was another guitar player we worked for on occasion and he was always fun to drive around — great guy, great sense of humor. One day while driving all over the Bronx picking up the other guys in his band he laid a rap on me about the Stratocaster and Jimi Hendrix that really made an impression since I loved Hendrix and the Strat was my guitar of choice at the time. I followed his advice to use 4 springs for the whammy bar and to set put the action “up a little bit” and that has been my set-up ever since. He totally blew me away when I saw him play, especially a very memorable gig at CBGBs. I still remember — it was the kind of gig where afterwards I just wanted to go home and play!

I missed being in on any Mick Taylor gigs. I’ve always thought his period with The Stones was really awesome and that he is one of the most underrated players ever. His guitar was at the loft when I first started and I was able to play it. At the time I thought that it might’ve been the one of the Les Pauls from the Get Yer Ya Yas Out period, but according to this thread that guitar was lost or stolen in the early 70s. Mick Taylor did like his Les Pauls with Bigsbys though ’cause the one I played had one as well! Chicken had some great stories of doing these gigs, like the band getting paid in nickels for a performance one night! Mick and Ron Wood have been stepping out together lately…Could a Lynyrd Skynyrd style 3-guitar line-up of the Stones be on the horizon? (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

Another really cool cat was blues and rock player Jon Paris, who was Johnny Winter‘s bass player for a long time. Jon was a totally cool guy and not only played great guitar, but also sang well, played awesome bass and was a killer harp player. He is still at it too — I’m only writing in the past tense because I saw all of it in action many times. He had a Black Telecaster with a string bending/damping system that I haven’t seen before or since. It was a combination whammy bar meets Clarence White pedal steel B-bender. The first time I took him to a gig he took that guitar out of the case and I said, “hey I have a black ’72 Custom — WHOA what the heck is that thing?” I was pointing to the little metal arms and he just started fooling around and it sounded fantastic. I said “COOL” and then went and found a parking space for the van and came back and watched him play until I had start picking up other bands to take them home. Jon did Springsteen-esque sets, especially at a former blues bar on 2nd avenue, Dan Lynch. We usually didn’t go back and pick him up until 4:30-5:00 in the AM and it wasn’t uncommon to see Jon playing the guitar behind his neck and duck-walking Chuck Berry-style to a bunch of people who, by this point in the evening, could barely stand. He had superhuman stamina when it came to rocking an audience.

Not only did VITAL VAN move a whole lot of rock and roll guitar players, but we also had regular work with local businesses including Forbidden Planet NYC, and Village Comics. We also transported materials for art installations including several trips with a coffin that weighed almost 600 lbs. In addition there was a ongoing affair with local keys superstar Joel Diamond and his very heavy Fender Rhodes piano. We also got frequent calls from drummers, JT Lewis and Ronald Shannon Jackson…who described me as “the guy who looks like Jeff Beck”.  Another regular client was The Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. Their contact person, a woman named Ginny Wilson, was the greatest and they gave us a lot of work as they performed all over the country. We would sometimes have to pick up their drums and equipment from Kennedy airport at whatever hour. They were based in a studio on lower Broadway that was right out of the Three Stooges Ache In Every Stake short. (The Stooges are Ice Men trying to take a block of ice up a very long staircase) The staircase to the Laura Dean dance studio was that high…we’d get nosebleeds.

Guitar World was giving me a lot of interviews with the NOIZE genres: like punk, hardcore, metal and early alternative guys like Paris Mitchel-Mayhew from Cro-Mags, Piggy from Voivod, Jimi Hazel from 24-7 Spyz, Dr. Know from Bad Brains, Pete Koller from Sick of It All and others like Forbidden, Armored Saint and Shotgun Messiah. All of these bands were really intense and the shows they played were totally pummeling, in-your-face excitement. But talking with them was a blast ’cause they were all really mellow, especially Dr. Know, and Jimi Hazel from 24-7 Spyz. Paris from the Cro-Mags gave me one of the most quotable lines ever with regards to potential managers: “Don’t trust anyone who looks like Doug Henning or Geezer Butler…”. It was really enlightening that while many of these dudes played completely heavy uncompromising stuff, their range of influences was really broad. As Dr. Know said of his band’s mix of many musical styles, “man needs other things in his musical and nutritional style to keep him healthy.” I could certainly relate to that given all the different players I was meeting at the time. Page Hamilton from Helmet worked with VITAL for a short time just as his band was blowing up. Of course Helmet went on to own heavy music for a couple of years in the early/mid-90s and since I got the chance to see the band early on, hand out and talk with Page, it wasn’t any surprise to me that they did. He was a guy who knew exactly what he wanted and his band had a sound and live show that totally ruled.

Chicken roadied for Helmet on some of their first tours, but I had already departed VITAL VAN by then as had most of the others who had worked for the company. Like the other crew jobs I have written about, it was very easy to burn out on this kind of work and it was also hard for me to get something of my own going. That came later when I had a more stable kind of gig. Hustling and being in bands works for some people but I wasn’t able to concentrate on what I wanted to do while simultaneously having to worry about other bands and musicians needs. The weird and long hours thing had gotten pretty old too as I had been working that kind of schedule for almost 5 years. But what I learned during these days has stayed with me forever and still comes in handy from time to time. The advice, anecdotes, discussions and experiences became a part of the way I do things and for that I am eternally grateful.