Archive for The Beatles

Christmas Time is Here — Part II

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

So in Part I of Christmas Time is Here I briefly described some of the history of Christmas carols and popular holiday songs with the idea in mind that as musicians we are sometimes called to play them and shouldn’t shy away from playing them or enjoying the rich history and tradition they symbolize. In this post I will cover actually moving on to making these songs a part of repertoire. The first step in that direction is, of course, deciding on, and building up an arrangement of a song that you like, that works with your abilities as a musician, and will fit the performance you are going to give. This can be an arrangement you learn or one you adapt from either a vocal or instrumental arrangement that is already out there. Every musical number I do, Christmas song or not, even if it is based on someone’s version of a song, I like to change it a little bit or add something to it. That is just a way of personalizing the music or performance and jazz musicians especially do this all of the time.

If you are inclined to a the classic era of Big Band and vocal performances, you can never go wrong with any of the masters from the Golden Age of jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosby to name a few. Their interpretations of holiday music are still heard regularly today — I heard Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) in 3 different stores during the buildup to 12/25 this year. The arrangements are usually pretty involved but they are also accessible and can be very inspiring in what you add to the song or (if you also sing) how your vocal arrangement will sound.

Speaking of Chestnuts and roasting on an open fire… We’ve all heard Nat King Cole or someone else sing this song, but how many people have actually seen a chestnut? Have you ever wondered about that? There was a time when chestnut trees were almost 25% of all hardwood stock in some areas of North America and recipes for everything from roasted chestnuts to chestnuts and sausages were typical fare. But a blight, introduced by planting a strain of Asian chestnuts in Long Island, NY in 1904 wiped out literally billions of trees. That’s right, Billions! It’s estimated there are only a few dozen pre-blight trees still alive in North America today and, of course, hardly anyone eats chestnuts during the holidays and almost all of the chestnuts that are eaten have to be imported. By the time The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) was written in 1944, most of the nation’s chestnut tree stock had already been wiped out. What an ecological nightmare! The things I learn blogging sometimes.

Many great instrumentalists from the 40s, 50s and 60s made holiday albums: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, George Shearing, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd all made Christmas albums. So did swinging 60s style artists like Herb Albert, and so have newer jazzy/poppy superstars like Wynton Marsalis, Diane Krall and Nancy Wilson. There are literally weeks worth of instrumental and mood-type Christmas music on YouTube and possibly something on one of these albums could inspire you in a certain direction.

Some people may be more inclined to the rock and roll side of things but keep in mind that the lines of where Golden Classics leave off and rock and roll begins is a fine one indeed. Elvis Presley recorded a whole bunch of Christmas music and his tastes range from gospel, to rock and roll to straight pop. His interpretations of the classics (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Town of Bethlehem) are as good as anyone’s because his gospel background and religious convictions give such sacred songs a depth that many secular vocalists just don’t do as well. It’s very easy to reduce a whole lot of the religious holiday music to camp and sentimentality, but Elvis never does this. He also recorded the definitive version of Blue Christmas. On the original version his vocals are awesome and the arrangement, including the background vocals by The Jordanaires, was inspiring and musically groundbreaking for the time. Was this the first rock and roll Christmas Song? Hmm. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I will chime in. Of course there was a whole lot of rock and roll Christmas after 1957 including: Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Phil Spector’s Christmas (including The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, which is also a classic), The Beatles, who released lots of Christmas craziness through their fan club and then later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s So This Is Christmas and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, both of which still get HEAVY airplay during the season. They are modern standards for sure. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also has a modern standard with his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has also been covered by everyone from Mariah to Bieber. José Feliciano, who I wrote about here, has the awesome Felice Navidad song that still gets yearly airplay and the recently-departed George Michael had a big 80s classic hit with the holiday favorite Last Christmas. Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to catch the Johnny Cash Christmas show when it rolled through New York City. That was a lot of fun. Brian Setzer has had a Christmas show/revue for years and he has covered a whole ton of great songs. Like this one:

So, depending on your preferred style of music, you can adapt and arrange any song you see fit and spice up everything from musical performances to family gatherings. Christmas songs, carols and melodies lend themselves to a wide variety of possibilities; they can have a very bare bones arrangement that you may sing along with, or they also can be turned into an instrumental mind-blower like what the always amazing Ted Greene does below. When I was in a punk band we used to do a twisted, Black Sabbath kind of take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. When I got old and settled down, Christmas Time is Here was the first Christmas song I learned to play as a solo improviser and I have played it every year since and performed it at numerous gigs. This past year I worked up an arrangement that was based on The Ventures version of Sleigh Ride and tweaked it to work with gypsy jazz, rehearsed a couple times with the fellows, and away we went at a gig 4 days before Christmas. It was one of the best songs of the gig(!) even though no one had either a vibrato bar or copious amounts of delay since we were playing amplified acoustic. As always: If you are playing the songs instrumentally MAKE SURE you can play the melody without screwing it up! That means going over it a bunch of times. You should be able to play it 3-5 times in a row without a mistake. If you can’t, you will probably fudge it at the gig or in front of people. So beware!

There are about 7-8 songs that I can play pretty well solo and I start getting them together in the fall and play them through the season. Christmas songs are great vehicles for learning to play in an unaccompanied style (especially if you are new to unaccompanied playing), because the melodies are so well-known and the arrangement you can begin with can be very simple, but still very effective. As always take it slow and work your way through it a couple bars at a time. Since most songs do not have many different parts or modulations (unless you add them, which you can certainly do!) you will find that they will come together pretty quickly. Learning to play and perform these tunes is also a great test of what you can add to the performance every time you play it once you become comfortable improvising with yourself. I blew off a version of White Christmas while a few of us were sitting around one day in December and it sounded pretty flippin’ good! If you’re comfortable with the arrangement and comfortable improvising (throwing in some wacky chords and riff choices) you can turn the song into a really special and personal thing…and it can be a little bit different every time! So maybe give that a go later on in the year. Here is a list of jazzy, snazzy solo guitar instruction to get you started. If you’re not up to that yet, try these. You will become part of a long and very storied and important tradition that has involved the guitar and other string instruments for the better part of a millennium. Even if you play in a punk or metal band — everyone likes Christmas songs if you play them well and it’s November or December. Whatever you do, don’t even try this in July man!

GuitarSong #4

Posted in Education, Guitar Songs, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by theguitarcave

headdownrunninghead
button2

The fourth installment of the GuitarSong series profiles Soundgarden and their very trippy song Head Down from the 1994 Superunknown album. Their best selling disc, Superunknown followed the band’s breakout hit Badmotorfinger, was a success critically and commercially, and is still regarded as one of Grunge Rock’s defining records (along with Nevermind, Ten and Dirt)

title1
sg1

Way back in the 80s Soundgarden was formed in Seattle and came of age and ability around the same time as many other well-known bands from that legendary scene: Tad, Skin Yard, Green River, Mudhoney, Nirvana. Like the other Seattle rock denizens, Soundgarden was influenced by equal parts punk rock, rock, pop and metal-ish bands like Black Sabbath. In the early days they were very crude and their riffs were big and huge, but in 1991 Ben Shepherd joined the band on bass guitar and brought with him a whole new approach for writing and recording. Coincidentally, around the same time singer/guitarist Chris Cornell really started to come into his own as a songwriter and these two events completely redefined the Soundgarden sound. By the time Superunknown was recorded many of the rough edges had been polished, the songs were more sophisticated and the sounds much improved. In essence, amid all of the heaviness, they created a modern-day Revolver with plenty of melodic Beatle-esque moments, including this tune.

title4
sg3

While Kim Thayil, lead guitarist of Soundgarden, was responsible for some of the heaviest riffing from the early 90s, Chris Cornell is also no slouch as a guitarist and has written and played some of the best guitar the band has produced. One of the key ingredients that bassist Ben Shepherd brought to the band was an interest in open guitar tunings and the ability to write a good guitar song and though he wrote the music and lyrics to Head Down he plays bass on the song. So I would imagine it was very much a group effort to get Head Down together, with everyone, including drummer Matt Cameron, putting in a solid effort. As Chris Cornell was quoted as saying:

“Head Down” was a complete demo Ben had played for me, where he’s singing on it and it’s very similar to what ended up on the record. That was an amazing moment because it was one of those times when I felt like, “This must be what it was like to be in the Beatles,” where one of the band members just walks in and drops a song like that ­— it’s already done and you don’t have to do anything, and you already know it’s going to be one of the best songs on the album.

title5
sg4

First — tuning for the song is CGCGGE. This jangly, somewhat psychedelic, Zepplin-y tuning is also used on the great tune, Burden in My Hand from the Down on the Upside album. The great thing about this tuning is that it has a drone type sound on (what would normally be) the D through the high E strings, but the low (what would normally be) E and A strings function as the power sound of a dropped-D tuning. So you can have these very jingly-jangly, bluesy, psychedelic high riffs and melodies and combine that with a very heavy bottom riff all on the same tuning! Also the “dropped” nature of the top strings means those riffs can be played with one finger and given that the tuning is C based and the song is in the key of C, the open/12th fret dynamic applies (as it would if you were in concert tuning and playing in E).

As you can see from videos, Cornell begins the song with a clean sound and Thayil reinforces the riffs with a more overdriven guitar sound. Then they just build it up to POUND level it until the middle. Interestingly, tuning to C was/is a favorite technique of Stoner Rock bands (Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Acid King, High On Fire) because the riffs be so HEAVY and simultaneously it is a lot easier on the vocalist as it is two steps down from concert tuning. The other aspect is the de-tuned treble strings have a slurry/jangly sound that is pretty great; definitely not suited for everything, but on a tune like this, it works! After one of Soundgarden’s patented “big” riffs (minute 2:50) Thayil, Cornell and Shepherd all play counter melodies in the middle before returning to the main riff. The band wasn’t really known for this kind of dynamic jamming, but they look like they’re having fun and that’s one reason why I picked it as a GuitarSong. I’ve never played Head Down in a band situation, but I have played it myself and it’s a fun tune to play! It’s also a good beginner to intermediate style song and you can certainly take it a lot of places because the tuning and structure have that “openness” that allows for experimentation.

title3
sg3

Here is the midi-tab for Head Down.

Here‘s a list of the song’s YouTube play-a-longs.

Here‘s a cool interview with the band.

Here is the Unofficial Soundgarden Page. I used to visit back in the day and it’s still online. It is very informative and it has a guitar tab section that is pretty good.

title6
flower2

Soundgarden was one of my favorite bands from the 90s and I think Superunknown is one of the best albums of the past 25 years. There are certainly many tunes off of the disc that one could pick as a great guitar song because it’s full of great moments. As I said earlier, I think Head Down is a really good “learner” tune for those who don’t have the abililty yet to play some of the more difficult stuff and also it’s a song that can be played just as easily on acoustic or electric. It also gets one in shape to deal with open tunings, which as I have written about in the past, is a great way to expand your guitar abilities and also broaden your songwriting. Once you are comfortable in this tuning you can proceed directly to Burden in My Hand. Some of the other open tunings are easier (My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live) some are a bit more esoteric (4th of July, Like Suicide, Mailman). But once you are comfortable you can navigate easily and maybe even make up some of your own. That’s what they did!

GuitarSong #2

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by theguitarcave

rainrunninghead
button2

The second installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles The Beatles and their wonderful song Rain from 1966. Rain was a milestone recording for the band and the development of music as it was the first instance of anything recorded backwards, (John Lennon’s vocals) beating the B-side of the novelty tune single They’re Coming To Take Me Away Haa Haa by two months. While Rain certainly isn’t as long and involved as the first GuitarSong, Dogs, it is cool song to explore. Unfortunately, the only online version currently is this too fast 45 rpm video. Hopefully, you have a legal copy somewhere to listen to.

title1

Known through history as The Beatles finest b-side, (the a-side was Paperback Writer) Rain was written and recorded in early April of 1966. Recording for the Revolver album had just commenced at the same time with Tomorrow Never Knows (the first song to be recorded for the album) getting basic tracking on April 6 and 7. Rain was recorded a week later on the 14th and 16th. While it has always been taken as a given that Rain was mostly the brainchild of John Lennon (with Paperback Writer being more a McCartney composition), Paul doesn’t agree with that assessment:

I don’t think he brought the original idea, just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off. Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing and what we got on to was that it’s no bad thing. There’s no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.

Paul McCartney — Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

That last little cryptic mention of the “recording” of it is very interesting and is going to come into play further down the post with regards as to who did what on the track.

title4
john

While conventional wisdom would say that George Harrison was the lead or main guitarist on this song, that cannot be taken as a given. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all played the lead or main guitar on songs throughout the Beatles’ career. It was Lennon who came up with and played the riff to the 1964 hit I Feel Fine, it was McCartney who played the screaming lead on Harrison’s song Taxman that kicks off the Revolver album and, of course, George played lead guitar on many songs. He and Paul doubled the very intricate lines of Lennon’s And Your Bird Can Sing that is also on the Revolver album. According to most sources, Harrison and Lennon play the guitars on this song, but there is an alternative possibility that I think is very interesting given the McCartney quote about how the song was recorded.
title5

paul

The song was originally recorded faster than what is heard on the disc and then it was slowed down. This changed the texture of the song and gave it a very druggy (rainy) kind of sound. There are many (including Ringo himself) who believe this is one of Starr’s best performances as a drummer and McCartney’s bass is also very prominent in the mix because he is playing a Rickenbacker instead of the usual Hofner and it was boosted further “by using a loudspeaker as a microphone” (Lewisohn, p.88). While it is usually listed that Lennon played his 1965 Gretsch Nashville and Harrison played a Gibson SG, Galeazzo Frudua, the man behind The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel, references the book Recording the Beatles and says that not only was Paul McCartney the lead guitar player, he was also the creative drive behind the whole sound of the song! This claim is also made in the comment thread for Rain at the Beatles Bible site.

There are two guitars — detuned; Lennon’s guitar strings are dropped a whole step and McCartney’s tuned to a G drone of GDGGBD. Lennon played A-D-E shapes and since the guitar was detuned it sounds a G pitch, which is the key of the song (although it is a bit off pitch because of the sped up/slowed down basic tracks). While John strums a classic rhythm pulse for the song, Paul plays more of a droning and picking part that complements not only Lennon’s guitar, but also what Paul plays on bass.

Did George Harrison play on this tune? I don’t have the book referenced by Mr. Frudua and he doesn’t say whether George played or not. I think that maybe there is a 3rd guitar in the mix at times, but in the video referenced below it looks possible to cover everything with the two guitars. But if that’s true I’m not sure why George is listed in many places as playing an SG? It could be that he did play with the rest of the band on the original takes (when they played it faster) and then after the tapes were slowed down, McCartney overdubbed the drone G guitar. It would make more sense that Paul would’ve played bass on basic tracks with Ringo rather than overdubbing, especially given the bass/drum break near the end of the song. So possibly there is a Harrison guitar leftover from the basic takes on there somewhere. The very famous Mark Lewisohn book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions makes no mention of him not being at the session, so I imagine he played something. The session entry for April 16th 1966 is that eleven hours was spent completing Rain, including “doing a tape-to-tape reduction to add more overdubs” That might mean that the real idea to transform the song came after the basics had already been laid down. How many actual guitar parts are on the track though is still a bit of a mystery.

title3
george

Here is the only link you will need if you want to learn how to play Rain correctly on guitar. The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel is a one stop source for everything Beatles — singing or playing many of their classic songs. Here is the link for singing Rain‘s vocal parts.

For general info, it is always fun to check out The Beatles Bible. Not only do they cover all of the band’s songs, but there are articles on Beatles’ history that never fail to interest and entertain.

Another of my favorite forum sites to peruse is Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Here is the search list devoted to Rain/Revolver.

title6
ringo

I’ve referenced this period in Beatles’ history before, most recently with the post on Eastern music. Rain certainly has elements of that kind of exotic sound in the guitars, the drums, the slurry feel of the vocals in the “choruses” and Lennon’s reversed vocals at the end sound almost like an Indian Shehnai. Rain is one of the few Beatles tunes with a guitar in an open tuning (here is a discussion on Beatles’ tunings/capoes) and while it certainly isn’t a difficult song to play, it is an interesting study in using the guitar and some very fevered imagination to create a pop masterpiece. When one considers that Paperback Writer, with it’s awesome guitar riff (also played by Paul), driving rhythm and trippy vocals was the A-side of this single, and was clearly a McCartney creation, we have a really definitive 1966 guitar record from Sir Paul! Paperback Writer was recorded on April 13 and 14 of 1966, so in the space of 3 days the band had recorded both sides of one of the best double singles ever. Pretty impressive and they don’t make ’em like this anymore!

Glen Campbell — Guitar Legend

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2016 by theguitarcave

california

I recently watched two clips on YouTube that profiled Glen Campbell: singer, guitarist, actor, American TV personality. The first was his Behind The Music special from 1999 and the second was 2012 a CBS News Sunday Morning that was Glen saying Goodbye. He had recently made public his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and accepted the inevitable by releasing an album and doing a final tour. Today Glen is in the final stages of the illness at a care facility near his home in Tennessee. He had a very prolific entertainment career and remains one of America’s most popular stars. His stratospheric rise in the late 60s to the top of the pop and country charts, his popularity with American television audiences, boyish good looks and wide array of talents guaranteed he would remain in the public eye even after the big hits stopped coming. His loss is kind of personal because he reminds me of my parents and my days as a child. I can remember watching his show on television while my mother ironed or read stories to my younger sister. His variety show and shows like Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island and The Monkees were all 1st run things for me — I saw them as they happened and it’s pretty wild to think now how long ago that was.

Glen Campbell’s career began very early — by 1954, before he was 20 years old — he was already playing in bands and appearing on local radio in New Mexico. He learned to play as a youth and always credited his Uncle Boo with teaching him in the early days. Life as the son of a sharecropper in Arkansas wasn’t easy, but a way out appeared very early on when his father bought the family a Sears and Roebuck guitar. Because the action was so high, a crude capo was fashioned out of an inner tube and from then on Glen would always be a prodigious user of capos, and obviously a prodigious player of guitars. Eventually he would make his way to Los Angeles and become, by the early 60s, a very in-demand session guitar player.

While it is pretty common knowledge now, many people who became Glen Campbell fans at the end of the 1960s had no idea of Glen’s early history as a session guitarist or his association with a group of people who would later come to be known as The Wrecking Crew; a collection of the finest session musicians on the west coast. As a session musician, Glen is estimated to be on anywhere from “high-hundreds” to “a thousand” recordings — everyone from Dean Martin to Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, The Champs, The Mamas and the Papas, Nat King Cole, scores of garage-y guitar type groups and even Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. There are many resources dealing with Glen and The Wrecking Crew and this makes for fascinating reading.

Other guitarists associated with this group of people who were also known as “The Clique” included Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, Al Casey and James Burton. Carol Kaye, the first lady of bass guitar also has recollections and information on her site and in an interview here. As she points out, The Wrecking Crew wasn’t really known by that name at the time and there were a lot (50-60) people involved — all of the best session players in Los Angeles at the time…and Glen Campbell was one of them. From the UNOFFICIAL MARTIN GUITAR FORUM here is a funny aside:

Interviewed Glen Campbell once and he recounted a great story about the `Strangers In The Night‘ session.

He got a late call asking if he could do a session next day because the producer needed several acoustic guitars on the track and they were one short. Glen arrived next day all sun tanned, long flowing mane, jeans, boots and Beach Boys-type shirt to find that Sinatra’s musos were all jazz players with short hair, button-down shirts, neckties and slacks. They eyed him disdainfully.

The guitar players were seated in a line with Glen on the very end and the orchestra rehearsed all day long to get the desired sound. Early evening they got the call that Frank was on his way and the tension in the studio mounted. Thirty minutes later Sinatra arrived and went straight to the control booth and the musos all craned to catch sight of `The Gov’nor’

Sinatra walked out into the studio and the orchestra spontaneously rose and applauded him. Suddenly Frank looked over at Glen and yelled to the MD `Get rid of that long haired faggot on the end! Campbell rose to his feat and made ready to leave only to find Sinatra standing directly in front of him challenging `can you really play that thing?’ GC sat down and played some really tasty licks and Sinatra said `Okay, you can stay’.

After the session Sinatra sought Campbell out, stuck a wad of $$$ in his shirt pocket and invited him to a party at his Palm Springs home.

I’m not sure I believe this story totally. Strangers in the Night was cut in 1966 and Campbell I don’t think had a “long, flowing mane” until the 70s. Still… a fun piece of 60s music lore. The fact that Glen was a part of this group of LA session players that included Barney Kessel, James Burton, Howard Roberts and the Session King, Tommy Tedesco was a testament to his guitar talents, his work ethic and his ability to get along well with others. Also, in a short time, he would be one of a few emerging talents [Roy Clark (who is in this post) being another] who could sing like a bird and play the hell out of the guitar.

One band that Glen did a whole lot of work for, and even joined for a time, was The Beach Boys. The rock and roll sound of the BBs and similar acts like Jan and Dean was right up Glen’s alley and he looked and sounded the part. Some of his session playing (Dance, Dance, Dance) survived through release, some (rock and roll intro to Fun, Fun, Fun) was most likely redone by one of the “Boys”, although it is probably impossible to know for sure anymore. In December of 1964 he filled in for Brian Wilson, who had driven himself crazy with work and too many commitments. Glen was a Beach Boy until mid-1965 when Bruce Johnson took over as a “live” Beach Boy. Also at this time The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell album was released to very little fanfare, but it provides some interesting aural insights into Glen’s musical background. He was already a skilled picker capable of bringing his Arkansas blues, country and early rock and roll licks tastefully to any song. Probably this album was released to try and capitalize on the very popular folk boom at the time. In 1965 The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell was released and sounds like it could have been put together between Wrecking Crew sessions. Great versions of Walk Don’t Run, Ticket to Ride, James Bond Theme, It’s Not Unusual and other pop hits of the day. I like this album much better and like the swinging 60s pop sound from this period. While Glen doesn’t step out into jazz improv on these numbers, his guitar is certainly great as the melody instrument and all of his fills and soloing are pretty cool too! Below he sings and plays a little on a Teisco T-60.

In the early-mid 1960s most of the popular/rock and roll production values of the LA scene imitated in a fashion the Phil Spector Wall of Sound. Here is Simon and Garfunkel’s Blessed as it appeared on the 1965 Sounds of Silence album. This was a hastily-cut record after the initial success of The Sounds of Silence single had garnered some airplay as an acoustic song and was then remixed without Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge or input as a post-Dylan electric folk-rock number. Here is Simon and Garfunkel doing Blessed as an acoustic number live in 1967. Sounds de-tuned and in drop-D tuning, but still captures the various guitar parts of the original. Notice all of the echo on the studio version; you can really hear it on the drums in the outro. The studio recording has at least 3-4 guitar parts I can hear and there are some cool delay/comb filter-type effects too. This album was produced by Bob Johnson, who produced Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisted and albums by Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. Not really sure if Blessed was recorded in Nashville or LA, but Glen Campbell is listed on the credits for the album. This production is also very reminiscent of The Byrds and The Beatles mid-60s “folk-rock”. Rubber Soul was released a few weeks before this song was recorded.

On the Mike Nesmith/Monkees song Mary, Mary, a fun, but silly basic rock and roll song if there ever was one, there are 6 guitar players listed: Peter Tork, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Al Casey, Michael Deasy, and Don Peake. Holy Cow…the Stones could’ve done this without overdubs! Maybe this was another reason the session work dried up, because you know all these guys are billing for the session. It’s the music equivalent of the mafia no-show construction jobs! By the end of the decade this production style would be out of fashion, technology would grow by leaps and bounds, many artists wrested control for their projects away from producers and many bands were capable of playing all of their instruments. But here’s Glen talking about his time as a session guitarist and demonstrating guitar techniques with Craig Kilborn, including his love and use of the capo.

As he recounts in Behind the Music, he did so many sessions he bought a car and had money to burn. After two disaster gigs opening solo for The Doors (wow!) he related that he didn’t go out on the road again until after his television show was a hit. Session work was more rewarding and enjoyable. When I first began playing guitar, I used to read Guitar Player magazine, which featured a regular column with premier session guitarist, Tommy Tedesco. It was always fun to read what Tommy was up to — whether it was a Bop gig, a new television show theme, a movie soundtrack. He would also list the other players, what instruments he used and how much money he made from the session. It was pretty cool reading and anyone who remembers those columns has an understanding of what Glen’s career was like for most of the 60s. Tommy Tedesco’s son, Denny, captured all of The Wrecking Crew‘s glory and history in his 2008 film The Wrecking Crew. Definitely see it if you haven’t.

bar2

John Hartford

47061

John Hartford claimed to have written Gentle on My Mind “in a blur” after seeing the movie Dr. Zhivago. It was the lead song from Hartford’s 1967 album Earthwords & Music, an album that sounds like bluegrass filtered though novelty music and hallucinogenics. Gentle on My Mind is a very simple repeating chord progression with a descending melody line that ends each stanza. The lyrics and the imagery of the verses is well-constructed stream-of-consciousness and note the perspective of the song moves from the first verse of “behind your couch” to “some train yard” in the final verse. While the subject matter could obviously be interpreted as a drifter song; someone who is free to roam and still knows that a special someone loves him, another reading could involve a sort of Faulkner/McCarthy type of story (Suttree?) about someone who turns his back on a life of privilege (…rocks and ivy planted on their columns…). (Hartford, who was born John Cowan Harford came from a prestigious family). Perhaps the song serves as a metaphor for even bigger life-changing memories and the role people play in the lives of others.

In 1968 Glen Campbell became a superstar and although he had a hit with Jimmy Webb‘s By the Time I Get to Phoenix it was Gentle on My Mind that really launched this 2nd half of his career. Both he and the song’s writer, John Hartford, won two Grammy Awards each in 1968 for their performances of the song in the Country and Folk categories and in 1999 BMI announced that the song was number 16 in their Top Songs of the Century list. Personally, I think the above version is the best online performance: Hartford’s banjo sounds outstanding and notice how he conjures up images of a train clicking over the rails in between his sung lines in the first and third verses and how he and Campbell both completely go off and deviate from pattern and melody in the second verse. Glen shows how great an interpreter he is and was capable of always injecting different nuances into his performances so they never sounded the same. The fourth verse is a well-done duet that effectively pairs both their voices and personalities to close out the song. This performance serves as a microcosm of the tone of Glen’s television show and it’s easy to see why it was so popular. Wildly talented, good-looking and likable star and supporting cast play great music (and indulge in some comedy). A winning formula if there ever was one! While em>Gentle on My Mind isn’t a guitar number, Glen did pick a whole bunch of guitar on the show. Besides Hartford, who made frequent appearances during the show’s run, there were music performances from Three Dog Night, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Reed, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, The Monkees, Ray Charles Nancy Sinatra, Linda Rondstadt and many more. The show was on the air from 1969 through 1972 and after that Glen Campbell was a household name.

Unfortunately, as Glen’s star kept rising, he was encouraged by management to drop the guitar playing and concentrate on being The Rhinestone Cowboy singer. Country music began to be seen as passe in the mid-70s and because Campbell had so much success as a popular singer it was thought that the guitar image was too “Nashville”, even though hits like The Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights only boosted his popularity. This is probably the main reason that many people never realized just how good a guitarist he is. Fortunately, Glen never stopped playing and there are many performances of his picking during the 80s and 90s preserved online. Not only did he pull out of his personal tailspin in the early 80s, but he became known for being the consummate singer AND player that he always was.

The above performance, really captures the essence of Glen Campbell — his signature song with the vocals and guitar playing people love. Who else can really do this tune? I think the word is ICONIC. While there are many guitar players who sing — Clapton, Richards, Harrison, Gilmour, etc, etc, there are very few singers who can really PLAY. According to his website, Glen Campbell had ‘Twenty-one Top 40 hits with two hitting No. 1. Six Top 20 albums including chart-topper Wichita Lineman. Twenty-seven country Top 10 singles — spanning 22 years — and nine country No. 1 albums.’ If all of the music he appeared on as a session musician is added to the list, his contributions to popular music are staggering! Since so much of his early work and popularity was from the 60s, he (and John Hartford) remind me of childhood and he’s always been there making music through my adult life as well. Though Glen will be leaving soon, he will leave many treasured gifts and memories behind; a multi-talented man, but first and foremost, a guitar picker par excellence!

Getting Into Eastern Music

Posted in Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2016 by theguitarcave

butter

The Beatles, Stephane Wrembel and Ali Akbar Khan

During the past few weeks I have listened to three albums while out walking around: Revolver by The Beatles, Barbes by Stephane Wrembel, and Journey by Ali Akbar Khan. There is a common thread running through all three discs and that is Indian/Eastern music. I’m a fan of different types of music from the Middle and Far East though I really can’t say my knowledge of the subject is very extensive. There are many different instruments and types of music involved and I favor the more traditional/instrumental. I have heard a lot of Asian pop music and some of it is pretty good, but I find that the instrumentation and the arrangements better and more sophisticated in traditional/classical music.

revolver

Like many people, I came to “know” (I use the term “know” very loosely and in it’s most superficial sense), Indian music through bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Beatle George Harrison studied sitar with the late Indian virtuoso Ravi Shankar and became one of Indian music’s most vocal proponents. Norwegian Wood, which was written by John Lennon, was the first Beatle song to use the sitar and was basically a western song that employed the sitar for musical effect (the same can be said for The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black). There is some great background at The Beatles Bible (A great site!) on the London scene at the time of recording Rubber Soul and Norwegian Wood. (As I have written on the blog before) Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds were also early pioneers of Eastern-inspired pop music. The original take of Heart Full of Soul actually had a sitar on it! The Davies brothers from The Kinks were also recording music with Eastern sensibilities (See My Friends) at the time. In the States, The Byrds 1965 hit Eight Miles High had a sitar-flavored Rickenbacker guitar sound playing John Coltrane-esque lines, which was pretty far out and groovy for pop music. As the 60s progressed “that Eastern sound” would become synonymous with being stoned and/or altered states of consciousness, much to the displeasure of Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar. Unfortunately, the sound and influence of the music became so popular that it would invade even the most trivial and superficial nooks and crannies of western culture by the end of the decade.

When the Beatles’ follow-up album to Rubber Soul, Revolver, was released, it contained the Harrison composition Love You To, which was the first attempt to go “further into the style”. This tune would be a template for later Harrison songs like Within You, Without You and The Inner Light: they are all attempts to play bona-fide Indian music, albeit in a western pop music format. Musically though, I think Love You To is one of George’s best songs ever. Great arrangement and performance and he stays within the confines of the pop style. Other songs from Revolver that are very Eastern, but don’t contain any Eastern instruments, are the fantastic John Lennon compositions Tomorrow Never Knows and She Said, She Said. The former, a drone chant from The Tibetan Book of the Dead on a cool, repetitive Ringo beat with loads of sounds and tape effects, broke a whole lot of rules for pop music and the guitar lines from the latter echo the Eastern-influenced mixolydian lines and quarter to half step bent-notes that one could also hear from Jeff Beck (Shapes of Things, Heart Full of Soul) and Jimi Hendrix (Love or Confusion, Purple Haze) during this time. As the 60s transitioned into the 70s, these Indo/Eastern influences became less of a thing in pop music, but started appearing in the jazz, fusion and progressive rock music of bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Shatki and many more.

In 2006, Stephane Wrembel, Manouche guitarist extraordinaire, who is also a huge fan of prog-rock and student of Indian music, released his disc, Barbes. Recorded when his group was a trio (with bandmates Jared Engle on bass and David Langlois on percussion) the disc is the perfect modern synthesis of three major styles of music: jazz, prog-rock and Indo/Eastern music. I have always dug this disc! Brilliant playing and my favorite of everything he has done. (To see his band live during this time was also a great experience as the clip above proves). Not only are the originals on Barbes fresh and inspiring, the band also covers Django Reinhardt‘s Fleche D’Or, Dizzy Gillespie‘s Night in Tunisia and John Coltrane‘s Afro Blue. The group takes some of these tunes at breakneck tempos and the performances are a dizzying array of chops and melodic invention. Also, the ambient “mood” tunes, including (Introductions, Detroductions) are music of sparse instrumentation and indeterminate origin; world music ragas perhaps?

a Raga is: in the classical music of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, a melodic framework for improvisation and composition. A raga is based on a scale with a given set of notes, a typical order in which they appear in melodies, and characteristic musical motifs.

Manouche music or Gypsy Jazz has strong Indian roots because it is generally agreed that the group of people known as “Gypsies” originated on the Indian subcontinent and first migrated into Europe in the 12th century. There are various sub-categories of these Romani people: Manouche in France, and the Sinti of Central Europe. Sinti/Manouche guitar playing sounds very similar to not only Indian classical music, but some of the progressive rock and jazz of the 1970s. One huge connection is that IMPROVISATION is everything in Indian music, likewise for Manouche music or a lot of 70s rock/jazz as well. A Manouche player must have a very disciplined mind and an aural technique that includes whole tone scales, diminished and augmented arpeggios, altered scales and arpeggios and an emphasis on the “Django-favored” sixths and ninths of the harmony chords. Modern players like Stephane Wrembel have added depth to the sonic palette of the music by combining it with other influences and adding their own touches of musical imagination. There are rhythmic devices and picking patterns found in Indian music that one does not normally hear in a lot of western jazz or classical music and Stephane explores the picking and rhythmic subdivision topics in his book, Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar, which I review here. He advises picking quarter notes up through nontuplets (subdividing by 9 to the beat) with the metronome as warm-up exercises. He explains that, “musicians in India have their own efficient approach to time consisting of singing rhythms using certain syllables. A similar approach may be applied to right-hand technique which will allow for warm-up…” This is a very good way to improve your picking technique and I can say I did it religiously for about six months. In addition to giving my a bunch of listening pleasure, Getting Into… and Barbes are windows into another world and their influence definitely helped make me a better guitar player. Here are some further insights into the nature of Indian rhythm, courtesy of Ravi Shankar.

“…Indian music is also tyrannically precise, with extremely complex mathematical guidelines for how ragas are played. “There are thousands of ragas,” Shankar explains, “and they are all connected with different times of the day, like sunrise or night or sunset. It is all based on 72 of what we call mela or scales. And we have principally nine moods, ranging from peacefulness to praying, or the feeling of emptiness you get by sitting by the ocean.”

aakhan

Ali Akbar Khan “was a Hindustani classical musician of the Maihar gharana, known for his virtuosity in playing the sarod.” Born in modern-day Bangladesh, he was trained on a variety of instruments under the guidance of very strict family members who had him practicing up to 18 hours a day. His sister, Annapurna Devi, was also an accomplished musician and was, for a time, the wife of fellow student, Ravi Shankar. Over the years Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar would perform many times together, including at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and were easily two of the most prominent Indian musicians in the western world. After moving to the USA in the late 50s Khan would found a couple of schools, one in California and one in Switzerland and would spend the next 40 years touring and performing until his health failed in the late 2000s.

aakhan2

I’ve been listening to Journey for the past 10 years and find it very enjoyable. As I related earlier, I’ve always liked the sound of Indian music, especially if it’s instrumental. Eastern philosophy doesn’t necessarily compartmentalize like Western thinking and Eastern music doesn’t separate Eastern Mystical concepts (that were the lyrics of western songs like The Inner Light or Within You, Without You) from the music. Some of the best musical numbers on Journey include Morning Meditation, Temple Music and Lullaby. I don’t meditate (perhaps I should?), but the sounds of this music conjure up great feelings of emotion and ambiance that I hear in any other great, sophisticated music. The happy, get up and go riff of the title cut, Journey, is brilliant and fun as is the dark and somewhat stormy Carnival of Mother Kali. The romantic, almost child-like melody of Come Back My Love sounds like mid-60s George Harrison song and the other ballad-type tracks have the pacing and deliberate delivery that one can hear on some of the tracks of Barbes. There is a whole lot of crossover between these three discs is what I’m trying to say! Khan’s Sarod has a stoic depth and darkness even in happy moods, and his soulful playing is augmented by Guitars(!), Tabla, Shakers, Tanpura, Keyboards, Duggi and Dholak. All of the music was composed by Ali Akbar Khan and was recorded in 1990, giving the disc a classic, but very modern sound.

khan2

I also own this disc, Traditional Music of India, which is four really long ragas. Very cool, long jams that have none of the more modern arrangements or instrumentation found on Journey, but still a very enjoyable listen. This is the kind of traditional music that one must be a master to play and would probably be impossible for most western musicians or anyone else not raised in the school. It’s amazing that no matter the musical style, or background of the artist, the performance of classic music such as this is basically approached the same way and requires the same skills. The pace and flow of these very traditional ragas remind me of some of the guitar pieces on the Bream and Williams disc I review in the right column, or a Django Reinhardt solo improvisation or Jimmy Page playing White Summer. (Incidentally…sometimes it helps to approximate an “Indian” sound/tuning by using alternate tunings, which I explore here.) Music from the Asian continent has given western listeners and players a very expanded sense of what music (and life) is and I believe any musician can only gain from listening to and experiencing music such as this. There is a nice quote on the cover of Journey that I relate to and maybe other musicians will find it interesting as well:

Music is something I learned all my life and am still learning. Earlier in my boyhood days, I learned naturally—as children learn a language, without deeper understanding of what it can really offer. I kept on learning and playing with rapt attention — with a sense of dedication — but not the deep inner feeling which finally came at the ripe age of fifty! Now when I play, my heart is filled with blissful joy that I can hardly express! I feel a sense of ultimate fulfillment that nothing else in the world can offer me anymore. Indeed, music is a very spiritual experience for me — only through music, I feel I can reach closer to God…”

— Ali Akbar Khan