Archive for Sex Pistols

Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From…?

Posted in This and That with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by theguitarcave

Once the wacky weather passed I got some time away in the country for a few days. It was very enjoyable and a much-needed break from the noisy life of NYC, at least in theory. But a funny thing happened while I was visiting my mother, who still lives on the street where I lived for a couple of years before I moved to NYC. For the first time in years there are guitar players on the street again. I heard them practicing while I was there. The family next door to my Mom is home-schooled, which is a pretty radical concept compared to how I grew up. If someone had told me back when I was a kid I would be home all day being taught by my Mom and part of the curriculum would be fifteen minutes of trying to play Billy Squier riffs (I think??) I would’ve done by best Peter Griffin and said “AW SWEET!” There was another guy on the street who was rapping and rocking an acoustic on the porch and I think he might be a Juggalo, but I’m not sure ’cause I’ve never met any Juggalos. That’s what happens as you get older…you become way out of touch with what’s happening and what things actually are.

I didn’t take a guitar along this trip because I was trying to get away from EVERYTHING for a few days, but sometimes life doesn’t let that happen. All of this guitar and rapping stuff brought back some memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Back in the day, before I moved to the city, I was one of the crazies of the block; running with a fast crowd, staying out really late, hanging with friends who had motor-head cars and playing lots of VERY LOUD GUITAR. I pissed off our next door neighbor, a retired cop who spent a lot of time on his front porch keeping an eye on the street, many times. He would be driven inside by me learning to play Hendrix, Van Halen, The Rolling Stones and whatever else I was doing. One summer between school years I was working the 5-11 shift in a furniture factory and then I would stay out until dawn half of the time. Every day before work I would “wake up” to the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks, which was a very motivating album, especially since it sounded a lot like all of the industrial noise in the factory. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to turn the record on, but once it was over I was ready to go…most days anyway. I’ve never been one to do things half-measure and since my “room” was the attic, I would crank up the stereo and amp to ear-crushing levels. Everyone else on the block was pretty subdued and I was the only guitar player and I thought all of that behavior ended when I left. I hadn’t noticed any changes either and it’s not like I haven’t visited my Mom in 25 years, I mean, gee whiz. But I guess I was wrong.

I’m sure my neighbors didn’t relate to any of the music I was playing and even my family didn’t really know what was going on. During the “Sex Pistols Summer” my younger sister asked me, “Why do you keep playing that really dumb song that goes I WANNA BE, I’M OK?” I tried to explain the concept of ANARCHY in the UK to her, but what did she care? The Sex Pistols were more out of place in that environment at the time than Juggalos are today. Jim Morrison’s intro to the Soft Parade got my Mom in a bit of a tizzy and though she has always been a music lover and very supportive of my musical aspirations she never understood and totally didn’t like the whole concept of VOLUME and why it is important for some forms of musical expression. The funny thing is, now I am almost as old as she was back then and I tend to stay away from forms of expression that require a lot of volume. One reason is I completely fried my ears over 2 decades of playing music by PLAYING REALLY LOUD and never wearing earplugs. The other reason is I am into forms of expression that don’t require volume or, rather, VOLUME. In a way, these NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK are like my descendants or something. I’m glad they are doing what they like and hope they continue even if I have no intention of ever liking what they do. I wasn’t enthralled that my vacation kept being interrupted by out of tune guitar and rapping, but I certainly don’t want to be that ex-cop from my youth, snarling at everything he doesn’t understand. I also don’t want to turn into a music snob, because I still like all forms of music, but sometimes it’s hard to NOT ACT YOUR AGE, no matter what age you are.

Chris Spedding

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by theguitarcave

Chris Spedding with his Gibson Flying V

Chris Spedding — an absolutely stellar guitar player, and all-around cool guy.
I met Chris soon after meeting another awesome gent, Spedding contemporary, Mick Ronson, who I interviewed for Guitar World Magazine. I was introduced to Chris after I started working for VITAL VAN, the premier musician cartage and van moving service in NYC back in the late-80s and early 90s. My Spedding and Vital Van stories could’ve been combined into one really long novella of a post because they are so intimately intertwined, but that isn’t really suitable for the blog format, especially for people who don’t like to scroll, and Chris DEFINITELY rates his own entry. Like Mick Ronson he is a total Guitar Hero and the two of them are not only archetypal British guitar slingers and producers, they also have some very interesting similarities in style. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, check out Chris with long-time pal, Robert Gordon live on the Conan O’Brien Show.

Vital Van functioned as roadies for Robert Gordon’s band so I had the chance to watch Chris play up close and personal many times and we also had many conversations about Guitars, Guitarists, and Guitaring. There were some long drives back from gigs in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC and while the rest of the band was recovering from rocking out, Chris was happy to sit in the front seat of the van and talk music and guitars so I would stay alert and on the road (the traveling back to the city was usually 2am-to-whenever). So, as you can imagine, I was able to hear a lot about what he thought about guitar playing! Chris has a very compact, tasteful, lyrical style and he related at one point that someone he admired was George Harrison, because George’s solos usually functioned as a story within the story of Beatles’ songs. While George was certainly a major purveyor of this style of playing, he didn’t invent the concept and all you have to do to see how this evolved from the Jazz/Blues/Swing era to Rockabilly and Rock and Roll is read my post on The World is Waiting For the Sunrise. Like George, Chris is ALL OVER that hybrid of jazz/blues found in rockabilly and rhythm & blues music and playing with Robert Gordon has given him the chance to work this style for a long time. He has an arsenal of neat little tricks that he pulls out from time to time (see the next video), and unlike a lot of guitar heroes he doesn’t make the execution of tricky things a big production. They are just cool little technical moments that add to the atmosphere of the song. It has been years since I was involved with these guys, but I think Chris’s guitar stylings and Robert’s rockabilly boogie baritone have only gotten better with age. Both of their respective careers traversed much of the same landscape as the 70s and 80s punks, and I’m glad they have managed to age with the confidence and grace that is a characteristic of any of the great music icons. If you want to hear some great Rockabilly and Rock n’ Roll, they are the Real Deal.

Chris also hung out with the Vital Van crew from time to time — a real down-to-earth cat with a great sense of humor, and an avid reader. I remember him working his way through Gore Vidal’s Burr. The Vital scene was chock full of guitar players, and all of us picked up many a helpful hint just from being in Chris’s orbit. He also left his guitars lying around and at least 3 of us cut songs on our own recordings using a Chris Spedding guitar. He had a beautiful Gibson Hummingbird that I used on a song I did for a demo that included the awesome WORKDOGS rhythm section. At one point Chris mentioned that he thought that the Mickey Baker jazz books were a great way of learning how to read and play the kind of stuff he was able to work into his music. I’ve seen Chris start a set with a chord-melody medley of Christmas carols, totally cold (no warm-up backstage), and just kill. As a matter of fact I NEVER saw him warm-up for all the gigs I worked and he was always able to walk onstage, plug in and rock!

As a session player, Chris has been a very important person on some very great albums. It always knocked me out that he was one of the guitarists on the original Jesus Christ Superstar recording. Some of the other music legends he was involved with include Jack Bruce, Harry Nilsson, Roxy Music, John Cale, Paul McCartney, Tom Waits and Elton John. When I interviewed Leslie West in 1990 I mentioned that I had been working with Chris and Leslie had fond memories of his band, Mountain, touring with an early Spedding band, The Sharks, in the 70s. Chris later confirmed this and said that not only did the two bands share the tour, but also would get together at the end of some of the shows to have a big jam. Would’ve been great to see Chris and Leslie together on stage for a song or two don’t you think? Chris also produced some of the first Sex Pistols recordings, and for a long time it was rumored that it was him, not Steve Jones, actually playing on those recordings. I was successful in pitching a Chris Spedding article to Guitar World, (I wish I could find it, but I can’t). and before the interview my editor asked me to bring up the Sex Pistols rumor. I said “yea I’ll totally ask him” even though I already had, and knew the answer, I thought there would be a better chance for the article to get published by stalling. (I had already been handed a couple of rejections). As it turns out, not only did Chris not play on the songs, but his mixes weren’t used and you can read about it from the man himself HERE. Chris did have a whole lot to do with Steve Jones getting THAT guitar sound, which I’ve always thought was pretty flippin’ pro for a 1976 punk band and is probably the reason many people thought it was actually Chris playing. It’s the Spedding sound! If you read the list of credits on his Website, it’s obvious he is a player and producer who is home in many different settings and this is another parallel with Mick Ronson. Both Chris and Mick can be classified not only as superior players, but also as tasteful producers and idea guys for making music — Dudes with Multi-Vision! Here is Chris with Roxy Music from early in the last decade. After the rockabilly, you might think… What’s he gonna do on this song?…and then he plays emotionally and tastefully as he always does.

Chris was a long-time user of Gibson guitars and Fender amps…There are a lot of details on his guitar choices on his Website. He was telling me one night that he found it very easy to work with Les Paul Juniors because he only ever needed or used 1 pick-up (bridge position). On most guitars, he explained, it is impossible to get the sound he wanted on both the bridge and neck positions simultaneously, so it was just easier to get the good sound on the bridge position and use the tone knob or hand muting to produce a neck position sound on the bridge pick-up. As with all guitar players, I’m sure his thoughts on equipment constantly change through the years — at some point he started using a Gretsch, which suits his style perfectly, especially for the rockabilly stuff. He’s always had the slap-back echo sound working for him too and that is one of the two types of guitar echo I favor, especially the way he uses it. When we were working for him he used the Memory Man Deluxe and he would sometimes use a second Fender amp facing him from the front as a guitar monitor. One of my favorite gigs we ever worked was a Chris Spedding-fronted power trio gig in Boston, that included bassist extraordinaire Tony Garnier, long-time member of Bob Dylan’s band. I forget who played drums that night, but after the sound check, Chris, Tony, the drummer, Chicken John and I went and had Thai food and then we returned to the club and the band played something like this…

Of course the crowd dug it immensely just like they still do! It’s great that both Chris and Robert are enjoying a measure of success, because they are two of the very best at what they do. If you have a chance to see them, by all means go!! Hopefully, through the power of the internet, recordings and live performances there are younger players out there who will explore all of the possibilities of studying Chris’s style and will integrate some of it as I and others were able to do so many years ago. It is a way of approaching guitar that can definitely broaden the sonic palette and musical horizon of any player.

**Special thanks to Chicken John Rinaldi for providing the pic of Chris with the prototype Flying V. Chicken has been the proud owner of this guitar for many years. If you enjoyed this article or enjoy reading about Chris make sure you check out the VITAL VAN article when it is up (soon). Lots more on Chris, Robert Gordon, and NYC, including Spedding produces Letch Patrol!

Wolfgang’s Vault

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

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