Archive for Miles Davis

ShortRiffs — February 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the February issue of ShortRiffs! This is the second consecutive month of the series and I think this idea is going to work out pretty well. There is no shortage of music news over the course of the average month and there is also the occasional personal item that I hope at least a few people out there will find interesting and/or informative. So, let’s get to it!

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Unfortunately, the biggest news of the month is not good news — Guitar Icon and Certified Master Larry Coryell passed away in his sleep a few days ago at the age of 73. He had just played a couple of shows in New York City and was planning on having a pretty busy year of work according to this obituary/tribute in Guitar World. While he was known as the Godfather of Fusion, Coryell was comfortable playing any style and adapting the feeling and groove of all types of music into one seamless bag of awesomeness. His long and journeying career began in the 1960s and over the years he moved easily through rock, psychedelic, jazz, fusion, latin, classical and even operatic styles of music. He worked with such greats as Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Ron Carter, Chet Baker and many others. Back in 2011 I shared in this post, Larry’s lesson on the Jazz minor scale and how he applied it in various situations within the standard Stella By Starlight. Since then this has been a popular post and if you have never seen it, I am sure it could add a dimension to your playing that you may not know existed. There are other lessons with Larry on YouTube and I’ve seen them all! Definitely worth the time spent. A brilliant artist and teacher and by all accounts a great guy too!
Travel well, Maestro!.

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As I related last month a new piece of equipment I had just purchased, the Audio-Technica Pro70 mic, stopped working suddenly at a gig in December. Well the company has repaired and returned the mic and I played it at home for a few hours yesterday and no problem! I really like how it sounds and at some point will record a demo video. At the moment (See below) I live in a construction zone and it is almost impossible to sync up quiet time and guitar recording. That is why GuitarSong #6 is also delayed. Soon! Anyhow, the outside housing of the Pro70 had to be replaced so it was obviously faulty somehow. It does comes with a two year warranty so I hope I get some pain-free, great-sounding use out of it. HURRAH to Audio-Technica for a great job of customer service! Another set of videos that was real influential to me purchasing this is below — Romane and Stochelo Rosenberg playing back in the early 2000s. I just watched my disc of this performance again recently. I love these two guys together! Of course they could play through a tin cup/string combination and it would sound good, but I like they are using these mics! My friend and I play this tune (For Wes) together and it’s always a gas! Demanding to play at tempo, but great fun at the same time.

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Speaking of Stochelo Rosenberg — in less than a month I will behold his awesomeness in person at Carnegie Hall. I am so psyched! I have been waiting a long time for this! The presentation, for Django a Gogo 2017, was organized by the great Stephane Wrembel and also includes Al Di Meola! This is going to be awesome! For people who want to go to guitar camp, there is almost a week of classes scheduled with a bunch of great players. Hopefully, all will go well so this will be an annual event. It looks like there are still a whole lot of seats available and while the weather on the East Coast has been verifiably wacky this year (it was just 60 degrees one day with almost a foot of snow the follow day) there aren’t any forecasts of impending big storms. So that’s good! You can all be sure there will be a review of the concert in next month’s ShortRiffs.

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Eddie Van Halen made news as part of a program that gives disadvantaged kids musical instruments. In this clip he stresses the importance of music and having music education be a part of everyone’s schooling. I DEFINITELY AGREE! EVH donated 75 guitars from his personal collection to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which delivers almost 2,000 instruments to low-income schools every year. A great foundation and well done Mr. Van Halen!

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The drain pipes on several blocks in my neighborhood have been replaced recently. The crews doing the work are total pros and they really do have what is a pretty large-scope operation down to a science, but it’s been a very noisy couple of months with frequent interruptions of heat and hot water. Hey, that’s New York! Supposedly these excavated pipes are almost one-hundred years old, but I dunno about that. They look like they are in pretty good shape to have been put in place in 1916. It is pretty amazing to think how much has happened with the world in the space of time that these pipes served their usefulness. For example, my girlfriend’s block is home to the boyhood address of notorious New York gangster and the Godfather of Organized Crime, Charles “Lucky” Luciano. He would’ve still been residing on the block as a teen when these pipes went in. According to legend he and one of his partners, Meyer Lansky, used to meet around the corner and hash out plans in DeRobertis Caffe, which sadly is now closed. Over the years there were other allegations and a few busts involving Mob activity at DeRobertis. How many canolis did they serve over the course of 110 years and how many gallons of stuff was carried through these pipes in roughly the same amount of time? Mind boggling! Incidentally, John Travolta has been around filming for the upcoming biopic on John Gotti, whose crew had a big presence in the neighborhood back in the late 70s and early 80s. John as the Dapper Don…never would’ve thought it.

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Thanks to my friend and neighbor Tom, I was able to check out Jimmy Page…by Jimmy Page. ZOSO baby! As always, anything Jimmy Page puts together, especially if it has anything to do with Led Zeppelin, you know the final product is going to be fantastically well done! While I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, I did peruse several chapters and came to the conclusion that the book is great and the pictures alone are totally worth the price of admission! There are several pics that I had never seen before. Like this one:

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There are a few of these coffee-table type books out there that I have had a chance to check out over the past month and I will be talking about and showing stuff from them in the future. hugoboss_pageLed Zeppelin was obviously a monstrously influential band that I have written about a few times over the years. I’ve also reviewed the Orange Album in the right column on the main page of the blog. As a matter of fact, the very first post on The Guitar Cave had Jimmy as the subject matter. He has definitely earned the title of Guitar Hero and all of the accolades that have come his way. If you were considering picking this book up, I would say Go For It! There are almost 300 reviews on Amazon and the book gets a perfect 5 star rating. That’s pretty impressive ladies and gentlemen!

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Coming very soon GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

GuitarSong #3

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The third installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers Band’s iconic and genre-defining instrumental Jessica from the 1973 album, Brothers and Sisters. This was the album where Dickey really stepped up to drive the ABB to new heights of success with this tune and the smash hit Rambling Man. But he had been a great guitarist and creative force in the band from the very beginning and, of course would continue on as a Brother until (almost) the official end of the band. The ABB were easily one of America’s best bands and the whole package: the playing, the tunes, the drink, the drugs and the highs and lows are so much a part of the story. They lived every song they ever created.

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The Allman Brothers Band were one of the most original and promising new bands to emerge from the late 1960s. A talented band of 7 road warriors they fused elements of blues, jazz, swing and rock and roll to create a whole new sound and style. Not only are they usually credited with inventing Southern Rock, they also (along with the Grateful Dead) were the prototype for every jam band that has existed since the early 1970s. The band was successful and flying high when tragedy brought down both Duane Allman and stellar bassist Berry Oakley in the space of a little over a year. By the end of 1972 the band was desperate to get back to work and prove that they could carry on in the face of this loss. The Brothers and Sisters album would be a commercial and critical triumph and would launch the band to fame and fortune. During the recording of this album Forrest Richard (Dickey) Betts, the second guitarist in the band, picked up the reins and became the new leader of the group. Duane was gone and Greg was not in great shape at the time. Dickie was not only a great picker, but he had also already contributed tunes that became early ABB standards: Revival, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Blue Sky, and Les Brers in A Minor. He wrote four of the seven songs from the album and in the process, expanded the sound and direction of the band.

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What made the Allman Brothers different is that they were not a straight ahead rock and roll band, nor were they strictly blues-based players. Duane had mentioned the influence of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue was on the instrumental vision of his soloing and the band’s aesthetic. Dickey was a fan of country, western swing and jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s love of diminished arpeggios seem to influence Betts’ composition “Elizabeth Reed” and Jessica was written as a bonafide homage to Django; a song that could be played with two fingers. The bouncy, jazzy A-major melody was also influenced by Betts’ young daughter, Jessica, who was crawling around the floor as Betts was trying to write the melody. There was some help from guitarist Les Dudek and other members of the band, including new keyboard player Chuck Leavell on banging a bridge and the rest of the structure of the song into shape and later this would be a bone of contention among the principals as far as songwriting credits go, but it is undeniable that the source and vision of this 7 and a half minute piece of goodness was Dickey Betts. His contributions to the Brothers and Sisters album cover all bases in hot guitar playing; blazing country rock (Ramblin’ Man), stinging slide guitar (Wasted Words), the soulful bluesy guitar (Come and Go Blues, Jelly, Jelly) rock and roll (Southbound) and delicate dobro (Pony Boy). Jessica, however, was the album’s centerpiece, not only in terms of execution, but also the sophistication of the construction, something Dickey related to … architecture!

The instrumentals are very studied,” says Betts. “It’s called architecture, and for a good reason. It’s much like somebody designing a building. It’s meticulously constructed, and every aspect has its place. Writing a good one is very fulfilling, because you’ve transcended language and spoken to someone with a melody. My instrumentals try to create some of the basic feelings of human interaction, like anger and joy and love.”

Dickey Betts

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The song has the structure of a jazz standard; after an intro kicked off by Les Dudek on acoustic guitar, the melody line is stated by Dickey with Chuck Leavell playing the top harmony line of a Fender Rhodes piano and Gregg Allman playing the bottom harmony on Hammond organ. After two “A” parts the song navigates to the harmonized bridge “B” and then back to the third “A” before the solos start. This is a common AABA jazz standard structure. The harmony chords are a simple A-D-G vamp style for the main theme and modulate to G for the bridge. The harmony is the same for the keyboard solo and then, after an ascending line modulate to the key of D for Dickey’s solo. The band returns to the bridge after the intense harmonized descending lines that end his solo and then does the theme again before the song ends. The feel of the song is bouncy and rollicking and the almost bagpipe nature of the guitar solo gives it an element of a pagan Celtic dance. Speaking of which, here’s a interview with Dickey where he talks about many things, including “the pipes”. It’s interesting how he believes that “you can trace country or American music back to the bagpipes” because there are is a lot of that sound in his playing, especially in country type songs like Ramblin’ Man and Jessica. Dickey’s clean, lyrical guitar with the easy vibrato and ringing against another string bending results in a sound that approximates the sound of pipes, or the reel of a violin when he’s playing those major hexatonic fiddle-type lines. Interesting viewpoint especially since the original inspiration for this song, Django Reinhardt, played for many years with the great violinist/fiddler Stephane Grappelli. Reinhardt and Grappelli were a huge influence on American Western Swing bands and Dickey is also a fan of that music.

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There are many links to lessons on how to play Jessica, including one with Dickey himself here. Also, here, here, here and here. For people who prefer to read tab, try songsterr. The tabs there seem pretty accurate and having a midi player track through all of the changes as they happen can help you work through the song accurately. If you’re a member I think you can slow down the tempo.

Here is a good primer of Dickey’s style complete with review of some of his pentatonic and hexatonic patterns courtesy of Guitar World.

Here is the video companion to the above Guitar World lesson with Andy Aledort.

Here’s a great primer on getting that Dickey guitar tone.

Here’s an interesting discussion with Dickey on his 1961 SG.

There are many great ABB concerts on YouTube, including this one from 1979. This was an interesting period for the band. I always like the late Dan Toler’s playing and he is here along with the legendary Bonnie Bramlett and a guest appearance by John Belushi. Dickey and the band are on fire at this show!

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Late last winter, on one of the first days that spring weather beckoned, I made my way to the local park. It was late morning and as I sat on a bench sipping a beverage in the 40 degree temps a guy on a bike with a huge boombox rolled up to an opposite bench. A couple minutes later the first strains of Jessica were heard and the volume was then cranked. The change that came over the park and everyone there was magical. The song has the power to turn any location into one of those groovy, warm and beautiful mega-festivals from so many years ago. I felt like I had ingested magic mushrooms and almost wished I had some at that moment. The song had turned me into one of the many sunbeams now glowing over neighborhood in the first days of Spring. Even though I have heard the song literally five hundred times I heard it for the first time again that day. That a forty year old rock song would have the power to put young, old, rich, poor, drunk and Sunday sober people into a instantaneous good mood is pretty amazing and a testament to the power of music and of an absolutely stellar guitar tune.

Not To Touch the Earth

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2014 by theguitarcave

Taking The Doors music one step further (remember, this all started with Johnny Ramone or wait, was it Jimmy Page?) let’s talk about Robby Krieger. He’s never been thought of as one of the powerhouses of electric guitar (he’s rated #76 on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Guitarists list). Yet, he was/is quite the capable guy and unlike most of his peers from that period, or ever, played fingerstyle instead of using a pick, or plectrum if you will. Originally trained on flamenco guitar, he moved on to learning bottleneck, folk, rock and even a bit of jazz, with Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton named as big influences. In the process he helped The Doors become one of the most popular bands in America and to this day they are considered one of the best American bands ever. Though he wasn’t a virtuoso he played many an interesting guitar part and wrote music that had a huge impact on the popular musical landscape (his song Light My Fire has been covered 974,322 times or something). The LMF solo is a great example of a guitar in the DORIAN mode although that’s only 1 way to imagine it. I wonder what Robbie was thinking. It has a very 60s sound (in a good way). Obviously the above clip of Spanish Caravan, which incorporates musical ideas from Asturias (Leyenda), written by Isaac Albéniz, highlights Robbie’s flamenco abilities and when combined with Jim Morrison’s lyrics and the band’s penchant for drama, a very exotically beautiful song emerges. Below is a classical interpretation of Asturias (Leyenda). (Sharon Isben is pretty impressive, isn’t she?)

I think of Robbie and The Doors as playing primarily textured music with an ever present theatrical edge and very jazzy tinge. Since Ray Manzarek functioned as a keys/organ/piano/bassist instead of the standard bass player this was (and is) evocative of Wes Montgomery and others from the jazz age with a guitar/organ/drum lineup. Musically anyway. None of those trios had Jim Morrison for a singer, but the interesting thing is, Jim was a crooner (ala Frank Sinatra) so maybe The Doors were the second best (after various Miles’s lineups) jazz band of the 60s? (haha) I’m not seriously suggesting that any more than I was serious that Led Zeppelin was the best jazz band of the 70s, but obviously The Doors, along with Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers (and The Dead) did a whole lot of listening to and a whole lot of incorporating of various jazz elements into their ostensibly ROCK sound. The Doors sound was cold and weird and sometimes (when the organ was the dominant riff of the song) they evoked the nightmarish possibilities of a Clive Barker/Stephen King horror psychotic carnival band. Having an eye for theatrical presentation (Jim Morrison was a film student and heavily influenced by The Living Theatre) helped turn many of the band’s performances from the earliest days into a very strange trip on the dark road at the end of the night. But even without those elements, when the band sat for televised, no-audience sessions (because their performances had become a little too extreme, at least in the eyes of the authorities) they constructed a uniquely dynamic sound with what was already an established type of band line-up. The line-up is still popular in jazz and is especially suited to more intimate surroundings as shown in the following clip.

A few years ago I explored the history of one song, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise and tried to illustrate its evolution as “name” players performed it over a span of almost 60 years. I thought it would interesting to do the same thing with one of the prettiest (if slightly insane) songs The Doors ever recorded, The Crystal Ship, which was one of the songs the band mimed on American Bandstand, the America’s Got Talent of yesteryear.

Obviously a HUGE part of the band’s appeal was Jim Morrison’s presence vocal delivery. Keep in mind this clip is 47 years old — this isn’t some shoegaze band from the early 90s. The Doors, put out a whole lot of emotion and feeling in this song and no one has ever completely matched their brand of seductive danger and weirdness. How might one try to capture some of that feeling in a solo guitar piece? Well…this first example recalls Robby Krieger’s flamenco influences or, possibly one can almost hear some José Feliciano or Django Reinhardt in it, something like Django’s song Tears perhaps.

The point is not to focus so much on the playing, although I think it is very well done. While it is not as fiery nor does it have the virtuosity of most of Django’s work, the song (like the harmonic structure in Tears) is very satisfying to play and listen to and more or less arranges itself. A very accessible structure, a haunting melody, supported by various harmonic elements that are reminiscent of either Morrison’s voice or Manzarek’s keyboard and variations throughout that can be improvised or not depending on the mood of the player. It doesn’t have to be played the same way every time. Yet the tone of the guitar and some of the harmonic inventions make this much more than a verbatim cover. Here is another version done a bit more simply, but just as well in a more traditional fingerpicking type of way. Notice that this player’s interpretation doesn’t take as many liberties but throws in a couple of nice moves. I love the Fmaj9-Fmaj thing. Artistic license but done in a way that completely fits with the arrangement he has put together. Very cool. Also note that none of these players are famous, but that is the beauty of Youtube and world-wide connectivity.

If you would like to learn to play either of these arrangements, both players have been kind enough to either put the music as is the case with the first version here, or a part by part walk-through for the second starting here. Finally, here is a third version that is a very stylin’ jazz archtop thing. Notice the rhythm change and all of the melodic and harmonic inventiveness not found in the other versions. Great stuff! But also notice it is no longer very haunting — the song has lost all of its quiet insanity. The tune is peppy and has the same bounce as Girl From Ipanema maybe. But, as with the other performances, it IS the same tune and the limit of where it’s going depends only on the arrangement and the player.

I have been listening to more music from the 60s and 70s lately (hence the recent posts), but as you can see, I am interested in how people today interpreting this music. I have been messing around with my own interpretations of various things and there is something about music from this period that lends itself to this type of experimentation. Perhaps the same could be said for any period of music, but there was so much experimentation and blurring of styles during this era that sometimes the songs just naturally fall into whatever mood you want to make them. Try it for yourself maybe…You might find that thinking like an arranger and arranging your own versions of material can make you a better all-around musician in the process. It also makes for a nice break between technique-type practicing.

Jimmy Jazz

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2014 by theguitarcave
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By now you know I’m a total Zep head and it occurred to me the other that Led Zeppelin was, at the height of their career, the world’s best JAZZ band! As I will illustrate this isn’t an unheard of concept and Led Zeppelin was not the first, but they are definitely the most legendary and successful out of all who attempted this cross-over. Of course the concept began began with, and revolved around, Jimmy Page. Onstage he was the lead soloist of a combo that would sometimes do 30-minute versions of Zeppelin studio material/cover songs. In the studio, whether as a guitarist or producer, he constructed Zep’s body of work with the precision and care of Mozart or Wagner, layering instruments and tracks into sonic artworks of beauty, power, mystique and awesomeness. Everybody knows all that already, but approaching it from the angle that they weren’t really a rock band means you might hear something different the next time you encounter a Zeppelin tune. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s and believe it or not, this happened to me recently. So let’s have a go! (as they say in the (UK)

As the Yardbirds were dissolving in 1968, Jimmy Page and Peter Grant came up with a strategy for the group that would become Led Zeppelin based on what they had seen in the USA on the Yardbirds’ final tour – music that was outside the milieu of the radio-friendly singles market. Both Grant and Page thought that the group that would be Zeppelin could take on American heavies like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly and do way better with the same formula. Interestingly enough, as related in Hammer of the Gods, Page had been considering a group in the Pentangle mode, because of his love and respect for artists like Bert Jansch, in particular, and acoustic music in general. Page is quoted as saying, “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” However, once Page heard and saw John Bonham play he quickly scotched the acoustic idea (at least full-time) and heard everything Zeppelin would become. From the beginning, Zeppelin focused on albums in the studio and explored a wide range of improvisations live. Many of these improvs were blues-based but because of Page’s wide range of influences and the outstanding abilities of Jones and Bonham, the music careened into many different directions with dynamics, including acoustic-based music, that would eventually be known as Zeppelin’s Light and Shade. Robert Plant would also help take the band into interesting directions as he became a more confident frontman and writer. As the group was in the process of launching their career, the world’s first supergroup, Cream, was calling it quits. Not only was Cream lauded by fans in the same way that Zeppelin would be soon (for their ability to just play), they were also taken to task by critics for their “excesses”, which would become a major point of attack by critics against Page and Zeppelin as the 60s gave way to the 70s. In Cream’s farewell movie, both the narrator and Jack Bruce talk about the concept of rock players as “jazzmen” at least as far as what happens during live performances.

Led Zeppelin has never said their approach had more to do with jazz than pop music, which was still the only alternative at the time. CLASSIC ROCK didn’t exist and even though The Beatles had been successful releasing a 7 minute single (Hey Jude), they were The Beatles and had earned the right to do that. Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that music be produced in the conventional format and many bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, were constantly pressured by management that valued hit singles over a sound or a good album that would’ve sold in the newly emerging markets. Led Zeppelin didn’t have to worry about this because their manager, Peter Grant, never pressured the band for music and took anyone who did to task. He was savvy enough to see where the money was in the coming decade and left Jimmy and company alone to do what they wanted. While there are some to this day who view Grant as a gangster and bully because of his tactics, he was the first manager who ensured that the artists he represented got a huge percentage of the credit and compensation for their music and performances. Page insisted on complete creative control as a bargaining chip for Zeppelin’s record deal and Grant made sure he got it. He was the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and was a major factor in their success and has been recognized as a major game-changer in the history of popular music. With his help the band racked up album and concert sales that blew away everyone’s expectations. Not only was the writing and playing good enough to swing multiple generations of fans into Led Zeppelin’s corner, the band took their improvisation ethic to new heights and their live shows became an ever-changing exercise in a variation on a theme. This isn’t what most people think of when JAZZ is discussed, and heavy rockers and serious jazz artists would be equally offended by the term, but the basic drive and aspirations of Miles Davis and Jimmy Page or any of a number of ALT artists, which Zeppelin definitely were at the time, are primarily the same. It matters little what ends up on the disc. So much of that genre classification is all about selling units to consumers. Interestingly enough, when Miles Davis performed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 with his funky, very rock-influenced fusion band, he responded to a query of what the music was called by saying, “Call it anything.” I highly recommend watching the entire Isle of Wight performance and comparing it to Dazed and Confused (below). There are more similarities than one might think. (Both styles of music do originate in the blues after all). A Led Zeppelin concert from the early days always had “songs”, but the highlights of the show were long improvised workouts on certain studio recordings — How Many More Times, Dazed and Confused, Trampled Underfoot, No Quarter, Whole Lotta Love,Moby Dick and whatever Jimmy picked as his “solo” spot (White Summer/Black Mountainside). As time went on the band was able to create long pieces that didn’t contain the same amount of improvisation but were arranged and conceptualized extended pieces of art: Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same/The Rain Song, Kashmir, Ten Years Gone, In My Time of Dying, Achilles Last Stand. None of this stuff is really ROCK music even if it sounds like ROCK music. It’s played with rock instruments and played at high volumes but the combination of instrumental prowess and artistic vision in the writing and live interplay produced something more than what most bands, even of that era, were capable of. It really does compare favorably to the best jazz and how the best jazz bands functioned without sacrificing any of the heaviness or youth signals (lyrics, stage theater, drama) that fans responded to.

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Before I got into and started playing jazz music I always thought the version of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains the Same movie) was a bit too long and went through one too many “movements”. If it had been up to me, I thought there were two that could have been cut without losing anything from the performance (and this still might be true…improvisers are always in the process of editing and perfection is completely relative). Watching it recently, I thought the band’s performance was and is completely phenomenal. I’ve never liked the “fantasy” sequences in this movie because the band’s ability to take an audience through a half hour of music, power, drama and performance is totally cool and would certainly have been enough even in 1976. Is some of the drama silly? Of course, but the band didn’t take themselves as seriously as everyone else did and the limits of what could be done in a live performance were still expanding. Throughout the song Jimmy Page employs power chord thud, blues and country fills, dramatic wah-wah arpeggios and harmonics, slashing funk chords, avant-garde bowing and noise ripples and plenty of ripping riffs and zipping lines. When he was at his best Jimmy, like all of the great guitar improvisers, was a great synthesizer of all his influences and whatever was floating in his imagination at the time. By 1973 not only was the band firing on all cylinders live, their confidence level was completely off the charts. There is also maturity seen (and heard) in these shows that doesn’t exist in the early days and there is none of the dissipation and exhaustion that creeps into the band by later in the decade.

In 1973 Dazed and Confused was still a major centerpiece of Zeppelin shows. Typically, it occupied the 10th slot of the set, preceding Stairway to Heaven. In 1997 artist and Led Zeppelin bootleg expert extraordinaire Luis Rey analyzed Dazed and Confused in his book Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes. He split the song (1975 live version, which ran even longer than 1973) into 12 basic sections as a means of identifying the changing parts and progression of the piece. You can check the Wiki link for the actual sections and I think they’re pretty close in general to this version, at least the overall substance. Obviously some of this was rehearsed prior to the tour and Zeppelin played the set they rehearsed pretty much at all shows on a tour with only the encores varying from show to show. BUT…as was said at the time and what is obvious if you listen to enough copies of shows from their tour, within the general framework, there was plenty of room for improvisation and spontaneity, especially as far as Page is concerned and yes boys and girls, he certainly took advantage of that freedom.

Dazed and Confused was originally “picked up” by The Yardbirds after seeing Jake Holmes perform it in New York City when he opened for the band in summer of 1967. The title, bassline and general vibe of the song were lifted intact, but the lyrics were rewritten and even before Led Zeppelin came into fruition it served as an instrumental vehicle for all of Page’s guitar wizardry. (In 2010 Holmes filed a copyright infringement suit and is credited with inspiration and no doubt got a bunch of cash as the writing credit remains with Page). Zeppelin started playing Dazed at its first rehearsal and did a brisk 6+ minute version on their first album. But the song was in a constant state of evolution and serves as a very good barometer of how the bad grew over five years. As the song begins the confidence level I was talking about is evident in the dramatic intro and sung verses. Nothing is rushed and Bonham’s drum punctuations keep the song from being a dirge. Notice how Page varies the main riff every time he plays it, either with different phrasing, bends or playing the harmony notes of Jones’ bass riff at one point. At about the 4 minute mark the band is off!! and the camera starts to focus on Bonham and then Jones and Bonham as they follow and react to what Jimmy is doing. Along with all of his many other talents, John Bonham was easily one of the most reactive drummers that ever rock and rolled and Jones is also amazing. The fact that all of his brilliant lines are finger-picked also adds a layer of fluidity and depth to the song. Notice how Jimmy breaks his first set of riffing with some funky slash chords, setting up his next high-register solo. That’s improvised composition in action. As the song comes to it’s first breakdown the camera catches Bonham and Jones trying to puzzle out where Jimmy is going (5:38). Even though the band has been playing this song for 5 years at this point, but there is obviously no formula employed here. It’s called spontaneity and there was never a band as heavy as Zeppelin who pulled off this type of spontaneity so well. I love the interaction between Jones and Bonham at the 6 minute mark — it shows the essence of what I’m talking about so well. As guitar players we are usually told to “sing” our lines to make better improvisation. Notice how Bonham seems to sometimes “sing” his hits (6:19-6:25). You can hear snatches of the 3-years in the future riff for Achilles Last Stand in the arpeggios that set up the “San Francisco” bit. Excellent casual flamenco-esque strumming by Page on the “San Francisco” bits before bringing the wah-wah to lead to another heavy crescendo. Up and down the band goes, bringing everyone in Madison Square Garden with them. Isn’t this exciting? Robert Plant’s various vocalizations (scatting) have the same dynamic spontaneity throughout the song. He knows when to sing and then drop out and let the band play again. The “I Knows” that he brings in to accentuate the heavy part that comes in around 7:50 don’t mean anything and he isn’t really singing. His voice is just another instrument in the mix that adds another layer of excitement as the final bit of CRUSH and the segue before the song devolves into complete and total weirdness (and I mean that in a good way). Same with the “Aahs” and “Oohs” as the bass and drums are dropping out. The band leaves as Jimmy takes over on bow at about 9:00. So far the song has been paced beautifully highlighting the band’s talents for improvisation and live drama. Ethereal swoops and echo feedback replace the power of the band and it becomes a completely sonic “event”. The “song” has been left far behind. At 10:20 the Tolkien theater or Mars the Bringer of War (whichever you prefer) is in full effect with bow smacks on an echo-driven guitar with accompany send-outs to the audience. While I’m sure this was the inspiration behind Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel” violin solo“, it doesn’t look as silly in hindsight as it was made out to be. Sure, it’s not a 4 minute rock song, but John Cage and others outside the mainstream were doing stuff like this for years and Led Zeppelin’s fans, while maybe not classical music aficionados, ate it up. You don’t hear anyone screaming or heckling or any audience noise at all until Page does the dramatic slaps… and there is much rejoicing!! As Page continues bowing [the fantasy takes over and] Plant joins him with vocal accents as they fill the Garden with horror movie sounds that I’m sure were pretty awesome to an audience looking for a trip to another world (and under the influence of whatever they could get their hands on before the concert). See the internet and smart phones didn’t exist then kids. The rest of the band joins in with ambient noise effects before they return with the crunch and the blast at around the 16 minute mark. Once again the segue, helped by those little touches of Jones’ and Bonhams’ ambiance and impeccable timing, is perfect. There is another shot of John Bonham as the song kicks into the familiar riff that leads into the guitar/vocal interplay between Plant and Page. Bonham looks like such a serious (and sober) drummer on this performance doesn’t he? Very attentive to what Page and Jones are doing. A whole bunch of awesome, rapid-fire Page soloing follows on the same rhythm gallop. Back in the 70s this is what earned Page universal acclaim as the best guitarist of the era and it’s pretty impressive even today. The song breaks down into a funky rhythm that employs a prominent Hendrix-y 9th chord as it’s anchor. Jimmy has been playing guitar for almost twenty continuous minutes and has yet to repeat himself. Another dramatic major, happy sounding break leads into a different interaction with Plant (along with a bit more theater that totally pleases the audience). And once again Page is off with an Over, Under, Sideways Down-style riff and Jones and Bonham follow him until the song breaks again for another interaction with Plant in a higher register. The scene with the longhair is puzzling and says to me “we don’t have the film of that part of the performance.” Why that bit is chosen or what it’s supposed to represent I’ve never been able to puzzle out. At about 23 minutes the song breaks down again and goes into something that sounds vaguely like Black Sabbath before climaxing into chaotic noise and spiraling to earth and the final familiar strains of Dazed and Confused as you know it from the record are heard again. On the familiar outro figure Page once again takes off with screaming obbligatos and fleet-fingered wah chording and Jones and Bonham turn the rhythmic vibe into something that gets them smiling at each other (26:35-26:50) before a final burst of feedback and Plant’s echoes signal the ending chord slam and Bonham drum thrashing that finishes the song. While there was probably some post-production employed to really tighten the song up, other versions from the tour are extremely close and sound almost as good. Silly or dated as this might seem to some there is literally no one else in the history of rock who pulled this off as well, then or now.

LZ_3

Given the nature of the above song and performance, Led Zeppelin has a lot in common with other “jamming” bands like The Grateful Dead, Cream and The Allman Brothers, much more than most “headbangers” would give them credit for. It’s interesting that many of the heavy bands that Zeppelin influenced picked up on the heaviness and the occasional acoustic ballad, but were not adept at either live improvisation or long orchestral-like pieces of music. All of that more or less faded out with the 70s. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and everyone who followed into the 80s did not play 30 minute songs and did very little improvisation, except for their feature solos. That whole approach to writing and performance became strictly the domain of “jam bands” most of whom descend from the California sound of the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, there is a lot of that to Zeppelin as well — Robert Plant in particular was a huge fan of San Francisco bands and it definitely shows in his Zeppelin lyrics and his solo material. This is probably why Page and the rest of the band take umbrage of the title Heavy Metal to describe their music, because they weren’t, especially when compared with what came along in the 80s and beyond. (Notice that most of the time Page isn’t using that much distortion live compared to heavy guitarists of later years). The heaviness that Zeppelin brought was always balanced with nuance and other elements, which is very clear by analyzing Dazed and Confused, always one of their heaviest songs. Guitarists of the next generation would by and large take the obvious and simplest elements of Zep’s heavy music and make it louder, heavier, faster and, in some cases, more intricate and in the process lose the elements that gave Zeppelin’s music it’s timeless depth, dynamics and (live) spontaneity.

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Of course, I was and am a big fan of the later heavy music and have seen many of those bands and played more than a few of those longs in my own bands. However, there is something slightly intense and magical about the ability of a group of musicians being able to improvise or approach music with the type of dynamics and movement inherent in the Led Zeppelin catalog. That is one reason I enjoy Gypsy Jazz, especially players like Gonzalo Bergara, Stephane Wrembel (who is a huge prog-rock fan), Robin Nolan (who covers The Rain Song on his latest album) and a completely awesome group by the name of les doigts de l’homme, who I’m going to profile shortly. A duo I wrote about early on, Rodrigo y Gabriela, made their bones (as the wiseguys say) covering rock classics like Stairway to Heaven. Even though the music I just listed is acoustic (hey all us original Zep fans ARE older now) acoustic music can be extremely HEAVY if played the right way. While these guitarists may or may not list Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin as a major influence, their music and approach to live performance does involve many of the elements that Zeppelin established and continue to entertain and inspire even today. Call it rock, call it jazz, call it what you like, there comes a point when the quality of the music or performance renders all description and classification useless because there ain’t enough adjectives to really convey what goes on!

Mundell Lowe

Posted in Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2012 by theguitarcave

I don’t know what happened in the last 3-4 weeks. For months this blog was getting a few visitors a day and then all of the sudden that number multiplied significantly. Kewl…for sure. I have a whole lot of content on here already and want to keep doing more, but I also have all of these other projects going on. There’s one coming up that is going to be AWESOME…It’s going to take what THE GUITAR CAVE is to a whole new level. Hopefully I can launch at the end of the month or beginning of March. But this also means I’m not going to be posting a whole lot of new stuff in the meantime. I do continue to appreciate anyone and everyone who comes by…Thanks!!

If you’ve read the sidebar you know I like listening to internet radio. Some people don’t and I get that. If you aren’t a subscriber, most of the stations have real lo-fi sound quality and many tend to have a playlist that becomes very familiar after a few listens. One station that really seems to have an endless amount of material at hand is KCEA in California…THE HOME OF THE MENLO-ATHERTON BEARS as they say. It’s a GOLDEN OLDIES station, and I mean, real old…1920s through the 1940s—the Swing Era in Jazz and Popular music. Some of the lyrics are very hokey and the sentiments are so dated compared to how people interact (whether it’s singing, talking, or thinking) today. Interestingly enough, the station had a PSA (public service announcement) on this very subject yesterday while I was listening and they stressed that it’s important to take the presentation in a historical context. Obvious WW II period songs — “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “My Guy the GI”, as well as some guy singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…” to some gal, were very important and relevant emotions for 70 years ago. People really did appreciate entertainment like this and would probably find a lot of what passes for music today to be either awful or overwhelming. KCEA also features some clips from old-time radio broadcasts and commercials and some of that stuff was pretty funny and maybe a little advanced for it’s day.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s book on Louis Zamperini. This is an AMAZING story about a pretty amazing dude. Zamperini went from being a juvenile delinquent to an Olympic runner (competed in the 1936 games in Berlin and met Hitler) to an American bombardier who survived 40+ days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean after his plane crashed and then endured a couple of years in Japanese POW camps. The nature of this guy’s irrepressible character (he was a total prankster), his unbending will to survive and the cyclone of events he was sucked into make the lengthy book a very fast read. It also puts all of this old music in a different context. While it might seem stiff and hokey by today’s standards, many of the people who listened to and enjoyed it suffered through unbelievable experiences and some very trying times.

While I find this historical look back amusing and interesting, what is really cool is that The Swing Era produced some of the best musicians ever. Some people who would go on to be huge players later got their start during this time. If you’ve read this blog you know I’ve listened to tons of Gypsy Jazz players, including Django Reinhardt, but there is also a lot to be learned (and enjoyed) by listening to someone like Coleman Hawkins (who jammed in France with Django many times). “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads,” Miles Davis said many years later. The above pic is Coleman and Miles at the Three Deuces in New York City in 1947. Yesterday KCEA played Hawkins doing If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight and listening to how he navigates the changes is an education for anyone intent on being a good player.

A bit later on in the show came a recording by Ray Mckinley and his band, You Came A Long Way From St. Louis. This song featured some really rippin’ guitar, so I had to go look up who it was. Ray Mckinley was a big bandleader back in the day — associated with The Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller — he took over leadership of Miller’s band after Glenn disappeared over Europe during WW II. Here’s a pic of this band with the guitarist I’m talking about, Mundell Lowe, playing at The Hotel Commodore in New York City in 1947. (Both of these photos are from the William P.Gottlieb collection) Mundell, unlike many of his contemporaries, is still alive and has had a long and very prosperous career as a guitar player. He’s got a style that is a little bit jazz, a little bit bop, a little western rhythm and blues and a little bit him.

Over the years Mundell has played with EVERYONE and I mean like EVERYBODY — Billie Holiday, Doc Severinson, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and Benny Carter. He must have a ZILLION great stories and has gotta be a walking encyclopedia on some incredible times in American music history. In the next clip he and fellow guitar legend Johnny Smith do a live take of the Charlie Christian classic Seven Come Eleven.

Mundell left home at 13 years of age and even after all of these years of writing, playing, scoring movies and television, recording and performing he is still at it. The final clip is from a couple of years ago with the Great Guitars of San Diego. A total master with the longevity of Les Paul. Long may he swing!!