Archive for The Ventures

ShortRiffs — July/August 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the July/August issue of ShortRiffs — the monthly column that focuses on all the guitar, music and life things going on around The Guitar Cave. Summer 2017 is almost finished…time flies, doesn’t it? One thing that has been grand is all of the summer season fruits and vegetables this year have been excellent! I guess the right combo of sun and rain has really produced a bumper crop! Totally enjoying it!

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Terrifying news items from the internet: The slow, secret death of the electric guitar! I’m not sure that it has been either slow or secret, at least if you’ve been paying attention, are of a certain age, or, read blogs like The Guitar Cave. I certainly have written about this topic, although maybe in not so dramatic terms. Anyhow, we have a Washington Post article: WHY MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric and why you should care. The article included a burning guitar graphic in case the over-the-top title wasn’t enough. The author, Geoff Edgers, is also interviewed on NPR here and it’s kind of a rehash of his article repackaged as Why Does The Electric Guitar Need A Hero? What is sending everyone into a panic is not the fact that guitars aren’t being made or being played. In actuality, too many are being made and they aren’t selling. Probably…too many people think “GAME” when they think “Guitar Hero”, but anyhow…some quotes:

…In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt. And at Sweetwater.com, the online retailer, a brand-new, interest-free Fender can be had for as little as $8 a month.

Things Aren’t Like They Used To Be!

So the guitar isn’t hip anymore? Looks that way, doesn’t it? A half million guitars a year is 33% of sales and that’s a pretty big percentage. However, it seems that the business landscape of the USA isn’t quite as rosy as some would have you believe. There are a lot of retail industries in trouble right now. There was a certain prosperity happening back in the 80s and 90s and that enabled brisk instrument sales. I know, everyone in government says the country recovered from the big 2007-08 recession. Is this true? I don’t know. Another thing — I’ve never fully embraced Guitar Center as I’ve related in posts here, here and here. While I’ve tried to accept that stores like this are how we do business now, I’m about as comfortable there as the people in this clip from the 1996 movie, Fargo: Yea Baby…Dig that TruCoat Finish!

As Guitar Center was ascending (at least where I live), the independent music stores were closing down and I liked and patronized those stores. They did me right over many years of buying, selling, trading, jawing and hanging out. Also, anyone who had been in the scene for a while was cognizant of the fact that as this brick and mortar landscape was changing, the next generation(s) weren’t forming bands and turning out to shows — at least not in great numbers. Plus, this was around the time that whole blazer over the hoodie thing was in fashion…The first guy I saw with that outfit carrying a guitar was a death-knell for rock and I knew it at the time. Anyhow, according to people like George Gruhn:

…What worries Gruhn is not simply that profits are down. That happens in business. He’s concerned by the “why” behind the sales decline. When he opened his store 46 years ago, everyone wanted to be a guitar god, inspired by the men who roamed the concert stage, including Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page. Now those boomers are retiring, downsizing and adjusting to fixed incomes. They’re looking to shed, not add to, their collections, and the younger generation isn’t stepping in to replace them.

Gruhn knows why.

“What we need is guitar heroes,” he says.

Another factoid:

And starting in 2010, the industry witnessed a milestone that would have been unthinkable during the hair-metal era: Acoustic models began to outsell electric.

The hair-metal era was a long time ago. Those guys are now in their 50s and 60s. Aren’t there any hot younger guitar players who could be called today’s heroes? YouTube is full of people who have obviously put hella time into getting great on their instrument of choice. Could there be something else going on here? At the beginning of the quoted article Gruhn is at the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants Show) show and opines that:

“There are more makers now than ever before in the history of the instrument, but the market is not growing,” Gruhn says in a voice that flutters between a groan and a grumble. “I’m not all doomsday, but this — this is not sustainable.”

Call me crazy, but maybe the solution is less makers? I dunno. While one could say that Hendrix, Clapton, and Page in the late 60s (or the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show) and Edward Van Halen in 1980 caused a whole lot of guitars to be bought, the sales of the instrument could be thought of as a by-product of some pretty big cultural changes too. Most of the cultural changes post-1992 haven’t involved guitars or musical instruments at all. If so, that probably accounts for some of the missing 33% of sales. There was also probably always a 5-15% demographic that bought themselves or their kids guitars and those guitars never left the closet, but in this day and age, why not just buy an iPad? The guitar biz is like the music biz in that it is full of people with economic expectations…that maybe aren’t so realistic. Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan) is hitting the road again because in this era of streaming music, no one is buying albums. But the dude is 69…who exactly should buy his albums? 20-year olds? The people who were 20 when Steely Dan recorded The Royal Scam? When he is on the road will he be selling out stadiums? Probably not. Artists and guitar companies from the glory days of rock have counted on a steady revenue stream in perpetuity, but things aren’t working out.

There is, however, a very futuristic and twisted solution (depending on your point of view) on the horizon, proffered by cutting-edge technologies. The late Ronnie James Dio, who passed away in 2010, is going on tour as a hologram! Take that Donald Fagen! While it looks convincing enough to get people out, not everyone is on board, (like most of the headbangers at Blabbermouth). But, some people are receptive, and once the exploitation thing kind fades who can’t see this taking off? And projecting the possibilities out…can a 2019 tour of the Jimi Hendrix Experience be far behind? I mean, why not? I always wanted to see them live! This might be just what Guitar Center needs to get people in the door! I’m kidding and I find the whole thing a bit creepy, but it does illustrate the crazy world we’re living in and, of course, other people feel totally positive about it! Look at the art world — all of the “late” artists are way more valuable than most of the current ones. Is this going to be a new paradigm? Time will tell.

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A new book on the market that details the history of Progressive Rock! Yea! David Weigel’s, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock is all about those crazy days of the heady, halcyon 1970s. In case you’re in the dark about what exactly Prog Rock is, a list of the 50 top albums can be found here, and there are some really great albums on that list. Prog bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Rush, Genesis, ELP, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, were the bane of critics (and later, punk rockers), but they were major top sellers and very popular with many fans, especially in the USA. The book has elicited a few reviews, like this thoughtful musing in the New Yorker, The Persistence of Prog Rock:

Progressive rock, broadly defined, can never disappear, because there will always be musicians who want to experiment with long songs, big concepts, complex structures, and fantastical lyrics.

And…

Nowadays, it seems clear that rock history is not linear but cyclical. There is no grand evolution, just an endless process of rediscovery and reappraisal, as various styles and poses go in and out of fashion. We no longer, many of us, believe in the idea of musical progress. All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the music of those who did.

Last fall I wrote about Pink Floyd’s Dogs, off of the Animals disc; a classic moment in Prog Rock history that I think is succinctly summed up by these two quotes from the New Yorker article. While there was certainly ostentation and excess to be found during this period in rock history, the best of the genre was well worth the slog through some of the not-so-good bits. Also, everyone knows that the best Prog guitarists: Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, Martin Barre, Robert Fripp, are some of the most influential guitar players who ever strapped on an axe.

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I wrote in last month’s ShortRiffs how I had been listening to Grant Green’s Matador album a lot and here is a cover of the title cut from that disc done by the Iwao Ochi Trio, a very happening Japanese guitar-organ unit. This is a sound I really like; the guitar and organ work really well together and, of course, this has been a thing in jazz going back to the days of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, who recorded a few albums with this configuration. Here is Iwao’s site, however it’s in Japanese so I’ll have to just listen to this really nice list of jazz standard playing found here. Also, speaking of Grant Green, I found a couple of sites that explore his style and even have a few tabs…here is one and here is the other. They are both from Italy but the second is in English and both have easy-to-understand music notation.

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Speaking of Asia…here are a couple guys from Indonesia and they totally rock! See how this guitar thing is just a world-wide phenomenon of great players? First up is Daniel Asbun and his cover of The Magnificent Seven theme is rockin’! He has a site here, with some tabs and fun stuff for the beginner/intermediate fingerstyle guitarist and it’s in English so if that is your cup of tea, check it out. He has an interesting selection of music tabbed — most of it I’ve never heard or heard of.

He also references the guy in the second video, Jubing Kristianto, as the arranger of The Magnificent Seven cover that he does. Jubing, who is also from Indonesia, has been a professional guitarist for many years and is a very accomplished one at that! He is the 4-time winner of the Yamaha Festival Guitar Indonesia. Here is his website (in English) and a list of his very awesome guitar performances. Great stuff!

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I saw on Facebook that super-guitarist Frank Vignola was in some kind of accident and was injured pretty badly. While he will recover, apparently it will be at least a year before he can work again. That’s a total bummer because he’s a great player. Hopefully, there won’t be any kind of long-lasting trauma that limits his abilities. If you have never heard of Frank check out the above clip or any one of his many instructional vids on YouTube. Also, if you would like to contribute to his gofundme that is here.

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Jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb recently passed away. He was an accomplished player as a member of Stan Getz‘s group, in Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker and on his own as a solo artist. A very tasteful player and great teacher who had obviously had a very cool and wry sense of humor (which is sometimes lacking in the music business) as the clip above demonstrates. (I sure could’ve used that first tip back in the day)! Below is a great solo take on Stompin’ at the Savoy.

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Finally, I like to listen to the swinging sounds of Space Age Pop, Bachelor Pad or Exotica online at Illinois Street Lounge on the soma FM Network. Music from this style released in the (1950s-1960s) combines elements of jazz, pop, Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean rhythms with very strange instrumentation like the theremin and all of the studio trickery available at the time. The arrangements are soft and slightly cheesy or silly.

Spaceagepop.com offers a real primer on all of the sub-genres under this umbrella of mid-20th century music and it’s pretty interesting to read and listen to. Back when I was a kid, many of the big names of this music were listed on the record sleeves of (especially) albums from Columbia. They included Ferrante & Teicher, Enoch Light (and the Light Brigade), Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and Henry Mancini. We had the Whipped Cream album — that was a total mystery in sound and picture for an 8-9 year old kid. As it turns out shaving cream was used on the iconic cover because whipped cream turned runny under the lights. But that racy image works with the style of the music, which is playful, seductive and naughty.

There is a full list of Space Age Pop artists here and what is interesting is the guitar player names that jump out: The Ventures, Chet Atkins, Jerry Byrd, Mundell Lowe (who I wrote about here), Al Caiola, Tommy Tedesco, and Tony Mottola. All of these guys are six-string legends and got a lot of work in the studios for the composers and bandleaders who produced the music. That’s why right in the middle of some really off-the-wall Space Age Pop rendition of some jazz standard there will some great guitar work and it’s usually one of these guys doing it. Some of the music is very much like The Ventures or The Shadows and other instrumental stuff of the time. It was a very interesting and optimistic period in American music history and it never fails to make me feel like I’m on top of the world. Give it a listen and feel the magic!

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!

Christmas Time is Here — Part I

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2017 by theguitarcave

Wait, what? Christmas is over, right? Well, yes, the holidays have come and gone again. January is always a little bit of a downer, isn’t it? Especially if it was an enjoyable season. The holidays can certainly be a difficult time too, but this year was great for me and I was inspired to write this post and put it up now before I forget or the year gets away from me. You can come back after Thanksgiving and it will be here if you are Holiday-ed out.

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As I said in another post, right before Christmas I played a gig, my first in over a year. It was a GypsyJazz/Jazz type holiday gig and it went very well. Playing the gig got me thinking — musicians are expected to play Christmas songs and holiday music during the holidays, and many do. For some, it’s a chore and a real groan-fest, but personally, I’ve always enjoyed it. This year we played 5 songs in our 3 sets: My Favorite Things, Django Reinhardt’s version of Danse Norvegienne, our own arrangement of Let it Snow, a rowdy version of The Ventures Sleigh Ride (a real crowd pleaser) and a loose arrangement of Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here that I have been playing for years. Since we had a clarinet player sitting in with us there was a very classy and Christmas-y vibe to all of these songs, even the ones that aren’t specifically holiday songs. I also heard a whole lot of Christmas music during the season and I’m sure everyone else did as well. So where did these songs come from? What makes a great Christmas carol? As a musician, should you and how can you work some holiday cheer into your repertoire?

Well, some history. The holiday that is Christmas evolved out of pagan, solstice, end of calendar (or seasonal) year celebrations a long, long time ago. The earliest Carols were sung in Europe thousands of years ago and were probably sung in celebration of all four seasons, but it is really the end of year, (Christmas) songs and styles that have survived. As early as 129 AD, Christians began appropriating these songs of praise and celebration and that year a Roman Bishop decreed that a song called the Angel’s Hymn should be sung at Christmas service in Rome. However, Christmas carols didn’t really take off with ordinary people until the Middle Ages when St. Francis of Assisi started staging Nativity Plays in Italy. Music was part of these plays and an important factor that changed the acceptance of the songs was that instead of the music being performed in Latin, the language of the Catholic Church, the songs were sung in various native tongues, so the idea spread all over Europe as people were now able to more fully participate in the music and celebrations. This was controversial because in effect it adds an element of showbiz to religious rites, but this made the rites a more integral part of people’s lives, whether in church or not and thus began the Christmas Carol tradition. Or probably begat, if we use the language of the time.

The earliest English Carol was written in 1410 and reads and sounds more like a poem or lullaby than what we would commonly think of as a Christmas carol:

“I saw a sweet, a seemly sight,
A blissful burd, a blossom bright,
That mourning made and mirth among:
A maiden mother meek and mild
In cradle keep a knave child,
That softly slept; she sat and sung,
Lullay, lulla balow,
My bairn, sleep softly now.”

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There were many other similar type verses written during this time. In 1454, with the invention of the Gutenburg printing press, carols could be printed and distributed but, believe or not, severe factions within churches did not encourage such vocal celebrations. Oliver Cromwell actually banned Christmas Carols in England during the mid-1600s. And you thought The Grinch was bad! The first American Christmas Carol was written sometime in the 1640s by a man named John de Brebeurf and was called Jesus is Born (The Huron Carol). Though many churches in Europe would refuse to make carols a part of their celebration well into the 19th century, this was not true of ALL churches and the songs were composed and performed by theater companies, musicians, troubadours, and, of course, by great composers like George Frideric Handel and his very grand and famous Messiah, which was first performed in 1742. Or, from much simpler beginnings came arguably, the most famous Christmas carol of all, Silent Night. In 1818 an Austrian assistant priest named Joseph Mohr composed this three stanza ditty to be sung chorally at Christmas mass because the church organ was broken and could not be repaired in time for the holiday celebration. The first time the song was played the congregation heard the priest and choir director Franz Xaver Gruber sing accompanied by Fr. Mohr’s guitar. As it turns out, the guitar was Fr. Mohr’s favorite instrument! Silent Night would, unbeknownst to Fr. Mohr, spread across the world as a great song and would be the central carol to the 1914 spontaneous Christmas Truce between warring factions on the Western Front during World War 1. And it all started basically as a religious singer-songwriter guitar tune. Pretty cool, eh?

Over the course of the last 150 years Christmas carols became an integral part of the Christmas and holiday celebrations and they became ever more popular (and big business too!). Bing Crosby‘s version of White Christmas is the best-selling single of all time according to various sources, with sales in excess of 100 million. Wow! Amazing what grows from such humble beginnings? Can you imagine the holiday season without the music we all know so well? In many ways, on a very emotional level, the music has come to define what we know and feel about the holiday season; the services, the memories, the presents, the dinners, the parties, the decorations, the celebrations, the stories, in sacred and secular manner. In the realm of modern discourse and pop culture it is no longer necessary or possible to separate the story of Jesus’ birth from the Christmas tree or Santa Claus. Over the years music has helped meld all of these classic elements together into this one big thing that everyone recognizes. This is probably what terrified those early church leaders and why they tried so hard to prevent the secular carols from becoming a part of religious celebrations in the first place

Nothing illustrates the Christmas package better than The Charlie Brown Christmas Special with the accompanying soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This classic from 1965 has entertained millions of children and adults for more than 50 years. Elements of the show include Charlie Brown bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas, Snoopy winning a best decoration competition, Linus reciting the appropriate Biblical canon concerning the birth of Jesus Christ and a very unimpressive tree turned into the season’s most important symbol. It has been televised every year since it debuted and even today ABC currently holds the rights and broadcasts the Special twice in the weeks before Christmas. Guaraldi’s soundtrack has also sold well; over 4 million copies! While most of the people involved thought the show would be a disaster due to it’s slow pacing, simple animation, and weird mix of jazz and sacred (choir) music, it was a hit from the first broadcast. The show and the soundtrack are among the most loved holiday entertainment in the United States and you can check out the rankings HERE if you are interested. As with the Peanuts crew or St. Francis of Assisi’s church, the first few years I was in school we had an annual Christmas pageant. Two of the years I even had speaking roles and this was my first taste of performing. I’m sure this is true for many of you out there and this is what tradition is all about!

The 1950s and 1960s was a very classic time for a certain type of holiday music and nothing better represents this time than this album by Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians — The Sounds of Christmas. Known during his lifetime as America’s Singing Master or The Man Who Taught America to Sing, Fred began with a self-created banjo orchestra that, over time, blossomed into one of mid-20th century America’s great Arts institutions. He also…wait for it, invented the Waring Blender. Because he came from the jazz background of the great bandleaders, there was always a whole lot of SWING and a fair amount of BLUES in the choral presentations, so in addition to perfect vocalizations there is also a whole lot of HIP Daddy-o! While he released many albums and was on television frequently during the late 40s and 50s, that was all way before my time. However, my parents had this record and hearing it instantly takes me back to holidays of yore. Fred Waring was described as a perfectionist and a taskmaster and the performances on this album are flawless. There are many examples of different groups trying to do the same arrangements on YouTube and I haven’t found one yet that is quite as sharp.

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The album covers a wide range of styles: Swing (Ring Those Christmas Bells, Santa Claus is Coming To Town); nostalgia (Opening, Carol Brothers Carol [written by W.A. Muhlenberg, who founded St. Lukes Hospital in New York City and was very influential in the development of early American Education]); Porgy and Bess style blues (Rise Up Shepherd an’ Foller, Go Where I Send Thee); the classics (Silent Night, O Holy Night) and six songs that were written by another jazz musician, unknown at the time, by the name of Alfred Burt. His carols began as a family tradition to accompany the yearly Christmas card to friends and relatives and were first heard outside the family circle in the early 1950s. He composed all of the music for these carols and family friend Wilha Hutson wrote the lyrics and they were a hit with choir groups that heard them. Hollywood recordings quickly commenced, but unfortunately, Burt did not live to see his creations sung and popularized by the likes of Nat King Cole, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Fred Waring. They were very popular at the time and since then the carols have entered the popular Christmas music lexicon and there they have remained. This album contains: Caroling, Caroling, O Hearken Ye, Jesu Parvule, The Star Carol, Come Dear Children, and This Is Christmas.

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While many of these carols, like all carols, are very simple in structure, Waring’s arrangements take them to interesting places and the talent assembled to perform them was obviously top-notch. They do not make albums like this anymore! The Sounds of Christmas is available again so either relive the magic (if you grew up with it like I did) or check it out for yourself! It gets a 5-star rating on Amazon so I obviously know what I’m talking about *wink*!

Okay! Look for the conclusion to follow next week. Like a ride through the woods to Grandma’s house the posts will lead back to the guitar and how you can make Christmas songs your own!

ShortRiffs — January 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the January release of ShortRiffs. Here are a few items that happened last month and early this month. I will try to make this a monthly feature. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should explore. I ALWAYS appreciate your feedback, tips and comments!

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My holiday season was Great this year. Lots of fine times, great food and I played a gig! It was awesome. A three-hour gypsy-jazz Christmas party at a very private and exclusive club. It was a fun time and we were received very well from both the staff and patrons for our gypsy music, jazz standards and holiday songs. Highlights of the night included Django Reinhardt’s Danse Norvegienne, Troublant Bolero and Douce Ambiance, a great speedy version of There Will Never Be Another You and two holiday favorites, My Favorite Things (which is in our regular rotation) and a song I brought in, The Ventures’ version of Sleigh Ride, which was also a big hit and sounded great. Totally played it like a boss and of course the other guys are just killin’. We had a clarinet player sitting in with our usual guitar presentation so the mood was even more jazzy and festive. Good Times!

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One thing that happened at the gig that wasn’t so great was that a new microphocation system I had purchased, the Audio Technica Pro 70, completely died on me. I had my suspicions that something was wrong because I went through the first battery in like an hour. Then at the end of our last song all of the sound cut out and it was just distorted noises. Some kind of short? I dunno. I had high hopes because a few bands I like use this mic and it seems to get a very dedicated acoustic sound. It was all good until it failed. I’m trying to get it replaced/repaired and see what happens. Obviously, I can’t recommend at this stage, but am holding off final judgement. If you want to hear what it should sound like, listen to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet:

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I heard the new Rolling Stones record everyone was talking about, Blue and Lonesome. This review here is pretty typical of what people are saying about it. Personally, I didn’t hearfingers much to get excited about. I didn’t even like the song choice that much. I’ve listened to Sticky Fingers pretty regularly over the last few months. What a great record! Easily one of their best. Also some choice cuts from the ’65 years: I’m Free, I’m Movin’ On, Gotta Get Away, Doncha Bother Me and some later 70s stuff like When the Whip Comes Down, Shattered, Waiting on a Friend and Little T and A. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly. There was an insolence to how little they tried and/or cared. Look at the sleeve of Sticky Fingers; Mick is barely awake. That was part of the attraction. Now they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. Multi-millionaires probably shouldn’t be trying to play the blues anyhow. If I was 70 and had their money, I would be on a beach 24/7/365.

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HOLY BRAZEN THIEF BATMAN! IS THAT A GUITAR IN YOUR PANTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME? THIS IS GOING TO MAKE MITT ROMNEY SUPER SAD! Yes, the one liners just write themselves don’t they? Here is the video. Looks like he stashed it in the drum department first, which may be as impressive as getting it out of the store. Someone wasn’t paying attention. He must’ve really WANTED that Strat!

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Greg Lake passed away in December. That’s a shame, although by all accounts he had been battling cancer for awhile and was probably worn out. He was a prog rock legend given his associations with the awesome King Crimson, the very peppy and pyrotechnic, ELP, briefly in the very 80s Asia and as a solo artist. Although he was frequently a bass player, his guitar sound at times really captured the vibe of Olde English. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page also had this down. It’s almost like they could call up the sound of the Middle Ages anytime they wanted…and this was before there was such a thing as a Renaissance Fair. I very much liked his compositions From the Beginning, Still You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man. Any of those three songs was a favorite for acoustic guitar guys to play back in the 70s/early 80s and I still play From the Beginning from time to time.

Also, Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers just passed away this week. Wow! This is a sad story. He and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) were a drumming force to be reckoned with and had a lot to do with why the Brothers were the standard for that brand of rock for so many years.

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yoko1I found this Dick Cavett with John and Yoko DVD as a giveaway a few months ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to part with it. *eyeroll* Watching it (and by that I mean “skipping around alot”) was an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I remember seeing one of these interviews back in the day when I was a a young lad because I had discovered The Beatles, but I certainly did not understand the whole early 70s Lennon thing. I’m not sure anyone understands or agrees on the facts any better today, but this DVD is a good window into the attitudes, habits and opinions of a very wacky time. The fact that people used to smoke cigarettes on television talk shows is probably hard for younger generations to believe. Dick Cavett had a lot of great musical guests on his program(s), including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

This 1971 interview occurred at the height of the Lennons’ post-Beatle political period. There are great moments of John Lennon wit; he was a funny, smart and interesting guy sometimes. Yoko… if you strip away the weirdness she always tries to affect, she is interesting and intelligent. They are both nervous and their relationship was probably very contentious at times as they constantly talk over each other. The persecuted artist complex thing gets old though; they did put themselves out there in some very silly situations (Bed-Ins, Bagism) and John had already seen the negative aspects fame can engender. I’m not sure if they thought everyone was going to love them for their radical and sometimes half-baked politics and if they did, why they thought that. The fact that a lot of the political/overly personal music was pretty jyterrible didn’t endear fans or critics to the new John Lennon either. For all of their revolutionary proclamations at this time, by the late-70s the couple would transition to what would become button-down 1980s Yuppie culture. Though elements of this culture are prevalent in modern American society, the whole shebang can be a bit like Beetlejuice too. I can’t help but think of Delia Deetz and Otho whenever Yoko talks about her “work“. As I discovered while researching for the post on Pete Townshend and The Who, both Pete and Yoko were influenced by Gustav Metzger and his concept of auto-destructive art. Pete destroyed guitars and Yoko made this noise on the while jamming with Chuck Berry.

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I’m not a John and Yoko hater and don’t put any stock in those “tell-all” books that were written by people who supposedly knew the details of their relationship. Once their relationship became the thing, everything else came second. I don’t know who is to blame for that, if anyone. I don’t really care about musicians’ personal lives… and never have. I could read about the recording sessions, equipment, touring or composition all day long, but how John and Yoko or whoever else related to each other is a big <a href="https://www.youtubeIt's like reality television or supermarket tabloids. So overall I didn't find this that interesting, but it was free and there were some funny moments.

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Finally, here is something fun and scientific. The legendary Bobby McFerrin shows the power of expectations and the Pentatonic scale. Isn’t this great? This short clip is part of a much longer presentation, Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus This is an interesting talk and is related in a way to things I’ve discussed with the This Is Your Brain on Guitar posts, here and here. A great primer to start the new year for all aspiring musicians and improvisers out there!

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