Friday, May 30, 2008

Broken English and Rubber Soul

Pribek said that John Lydon wants to work with Britney Spears.

Most comments said that nothing would come of it besides maybe John getting a happy. Which might be true. But I can't help thinking that something interesting could come from it.

I picked up a copy of Performing Songwriter. Like so many of these kind of magazines, you don't read it because you're a performing songwriter, but because you want to be one. In the news bits section, they have this:
Clive Davis, the behemoth starmaking producer and CEO of the BMG music label, recently mused on star inevitably wanting to craft their own material. Davis, who groomed such stars as Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and the now independently artistic Kelly Clarkson, said such pop acts should leave the songwriting to the machines that made them. In a recent conversation with Billboard Music and Money Symposium Davis remarked, "The odds are already against you. You have got to go over the best material, and that should win out, not withstanding any track record. I don't care how many No. 1s you [a professional songwriter] have written in the past, have you written a new No. 1? Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra didn't write, and they are among Time magazine's greatest artists of the century.
Of course, that gets to me. How not rock'n'roll is that? But really, it's not Clive Davis' job to be rock'n'roll. It's his job to sell.

But there's a bill of goods that I bought a long time ago. Gary Busey as Buddy Holly explaining that he's the A&R guy taking the songs he wrote to the be arranged by him and then performed by the band he formed and leads. The old way is when the A&R connects songwriter to arranger to producer to "artist" (singer) and musician. The Beatles are good, by this thought, because after the early cover tunes, they did this. The Outlaws, Willie and Waylon and the rest, were cool because they wrote their own material and used their road bands in the studio. Punk was all about the DIY. My heroes have always been songwriters, and they still are today, to mangle Willie's words.

Consider how the pop acts are marketed these days. T-shirts, posters, etc. How is that substantially different from the Beatles when they first came to America? But we know that the same band that knocked out the hits like Meet the Beatles! can create things like Abbey Road and the White Album. (I'm a Stones guy, but I respect what the Beatles did and I like a lot of it.)

I kept hoping for the Spice Girls to break the mold and come up with something interesting. Obviously, they took their money and split well before that happened, but I held out that possibility. And I hold out the possibility for Britney.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Remedial Songwriting 102, or Pray for the Thunder and the Rain

Consider the first verse of "Sweet Child O' Mine". Not lyrically. The lyrics are a scary, scary place. "Her hair reminds me of a warm, safe place where as a child I'd hide"? No. Let's consider it musically.

Guns 'n' Roses tuned down a half-step. If they played something that looks like a G, it's really an F#. Or, since we're flattening, a Gb. It makes it a bit easier to assume they didn't, even though Slash's opening bit sounds wrong tuned standard. So, going by our fiction, the verse progression is D C G D. It starts in D, so we can say it's in some sort of D, but if it was D major, it would be C# major.


This is two octaves of D.
D E F# G A B C# D E F# G A B C#
Chord theory says that a chord is made up of the root, third and fifth. For a D chord, that's
D E F# G A B C# D E F# G A B C#
For the G, that's another major
D E F# G A B C# D E F# G A B C#
And, for the C#, that's
D E F# G A B C# D E F# G A B C#
That's a C# diminished. There's no place in D for C.

Unless we think modal and call it D mixolydian, which is essentially playing G from D to D instead of G to G.
D E F# G A B C D E F# G A B C D

D E F# G A B C D E F# G A B C D

D E F# G A B C D E F# G A B C D
We have our major chords and we're happy. We have a wistful, nostalgic verse. Now it's time for our chorus.

And it's A C D.

Sounds like something you diagnose in an uruly child. But let's go back to that D mixolydian scale.
D E F# G A B C D E F# G A B C D
A C E. That's an A minor. And they play an A major. (Ab major, but remember our agreed fiction.)

What happened? In what theoretical universe is there an A major and a C major next to each other? Do we skip temporarily into D major for one chord and switch back for the next one?

Somehow, theory can explain it, I'm sure. Someone can bend theory to say "this actually does work". Thing is, it does work. Listen to "Sweet Child 'O Mine", knowing what you just heard. Pull out the acoustic and strum a few bars. Then try it with an A minor.

Music theory shouldn't be used to proscribe your creative impulse. It's a way to communicate it, and it gives a set of rules you can follow if the element in question isn't your primary focus. But if you can make it work, make it sound good even when theory says it doesn't make sense, then you have something.

Because, as Duke Ellington said, if it sounds good, it is good.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Songs You Know By Heart

The Lefsetz Letter is on about belonging.

I just finished reading the Eagles story in "Rolling Stone". Halfway through I wondered why. I decided it was because it was written by Charles M. Young, one of the legendary second wave "Rolling Stone" writers, and because I cared, I had an investment. I’d bought the debut on a whim, knowing it contained "Take It Easy", but discovering it contained not only "Witchy Woman", but "Earlybird" and "Tryin’". I bought the follow-up because that’s what you did. Buying the debut was like purchasing stock, owning a piece of the band, you were devoted, you didn’t need to hear a new single to be convinced, you purchased the follow-up without hearing it first. "Desperado" was just another cut, on a failed album, financially. But I purchased the third record, which had "My Man" but wasn’t quite as good, and then the band broke through and started to be hated for its wimpy ballads. That’s what success breeds, hatred. But I soldiered on. I bought "One Of These Nights", and on the day it came out, "Hotel California". When I dropped the needle and sound started pouring out of the brand new stereo I purchased as a reward for attending law school, I was stunned. The track was not on the radio, hipsters were not debating the band… Everywhere I went I told people about this one track… That they had to hear the new Eagles album.

I guess that’s what had me reading the "Rolling Stone" article. My sense of belonging.
Me, I could care less about the Eagles, but it would require invasive surgery. But I get his point. His point is, we want to belong. We hear a band and we get involved. It becomes part of our life and we want to be part of their life. I bought a copy of American Songwriter because it has a small interview with Gary Louris in it, and in 1992, Gary and others were in a band called the Jayhawks, who recorded an album called Hollywood Town Hall. There is no way that Bob Lefsetz would consider the Jayhawks a classic band — his idea of classic ended when Diamond Dave was kicked out of Van Halen, I think — but for me, they were. When I was in college the first time, Hollywood Town Hall was folksongs, because everybody knew the words.

I drove with my eldest yesterday. I knew my MP3 player was near dead, so I grabbed a CD. When it died, I put it in. I play music for my eldest, who is thirteen, that I wouldn't for my other two because he's older. He won't reject it because it's "not the Beatles". (I'm a Stones man, myself. I'm alone in the family that way.) I stick in Trace by Son Volt. It's a CD I've had since 1995. Basically, it's a CD I've had as long as I've had my eldest. And I started singing. Because I knew every word.
This music is not evanescent. It’s part of our collection. We carry it in various formats, everything from vinyl to cassette to MP3… Not that we truly need a copy, because it’s embedded in our brain, our DNA, it’s part of us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just call it a Stir-Fry, Waka-Waka, Vaguely Insulting Post

This is not what I normally blog on, but it has been bugging me for a while.

Chevy has been pushing it's environmental image these days. "From Gas Friendly to Gas Free". There's a whole bunch of arguments one could make about environmentalism and green-friendly vehicles, and I'm not going to touch on them.

I'll touch on the ads.

You have a bunch of kids. Impressionable. Short attention span. Unlearned. Not serious. They're the environmentalists.

And you have a condescending adult. This is the voice of GM. He's a funny, black condescending adult, but ultimately, he's a condescending adult.

He says "I have a big shiny thing, and it's good for the environment". No evidence. Just proof by vigorous assertion. And the kids say yay! Sometimes he goes to far, showing his contempt: "You can just call it a stir-fry, waka-waka green machine" or whatever.

I don't really have a problem with greenwashing. I object to cut-rate greenwashing. When Subaru says "This is our plant in Indiana. Look how green it is!", I'm fine with it. I drive past it every day and used to park cars there. I have friends who work there. It doesn't look like Grizzly Adams' backyard, like you'd guess from the commercial, but there's a fair amount of woods there. But the Chevy ads scream out "Hey, stupid! Buy our cars!" How can that even work?

Tying This Back In

Black Flag is where we get Henry Rollins, but it is also (and mostly) the band of guitarist Greg Ginn.

And Greg Ginn played an Ampeg Dan Armstrong, until it got swiped.

He played through solid state amps, because he couldn't get the sharp treble he wanted through tube amps.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Storing your treasures

It isn't my favorite album. If I had to choose a favorite album, I'd have to choose either Layla and Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos or Hollywood Town Hall by the Jayhawks. But it is my most treasured album.

Program: Annihilator.

It's a sampler for SST Records. SST Records was the home of Black Flag. I heard of Black Flag the beginning of my freshman year of high school, as what seemed like a quarter of the student body was wearing new and red Slip It In t-shirts. But I didn't hear Black Flag until later.

Circus magazine was switching from covering punks to covering metalheads, I think, and there was an ad from SST advertising a free sampler. I was a driver, so this was at least 1986. Anyway, free is the right price for a teenager, and I sent away. And one day, it came in. I opened it up and right away, I was jazzed. It has the coolest liner notes ever, or at least what a 16-year-old would think of as the coolest liners ever.
A WARNING FROM THE PROGRAMMER: EXTREME CAUTION is mandatory with all use of this psychic program material, for while - with proper use - this program information will tune the listener to sufficient destructive capability to get any job - no matter how dirty - done. If mishandled, this psychic fuel program (Program: Annihilator) may overload the Subject's receptive capacity, which could result in indiscriminate violence of an intensity the Programmer can only assume the Subject will consider undisirable. THE PROGRAMMER THEREFORE HEREBY DISCLAIMS ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ACTIONS OF THOSE WHO WILLINGLY MAKE THE DECISION TO AVAIL THEMSELVES OF Program: Annihilator.
What red-blooded American teenager could resist that?

I put it in the cassette deck while driving with my friend Mason to the comic book shop.

And I immediately pulled it out.

"War Is Our Destiny" by Saint Vitus.


Imagine second-album Black Flag meeting Blue Cheer. Now make it suck 45% more. That's what Saint Vitus sounds like. Mason liked Rush. I liked Iron Maiden and Metallica. Neither of us liked Blue Cheer wannabes.

The first four tracks are Saint Vitus. I can only think of it like the beginning of 40-Year-Old Virgin, with Cal going on about the Tijuana donkey-sex show he saw. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable, so you appreciate it more when the good stuff comes.

Which it did eventually. I fast-forwarded past all the crap Saint Vitus to finally hear Black Flag. And I heard Black Flag. "Annihilate This Week". "Society's Disease". "You're Not Evil". "Beat My Head Against The Wall". "Thirsty and Miserable". This is crucial stuff. You think Metallica and Mötorhead are hard, then you hear this, your concept of hard transforms. Immediately.

And the rest! DC3! Overkill! "Ladies in leather! Submit or you'll only upset her!" SWA! "Baby, baby, now what you need is a little bit of my surgury! Let my love show you all that it could be!" Wurm! "There's a knife behind my smile!" I loved this thing. Except for the first four tracks. Which were Saint Vitus and are made of suck.

I went to college, and one of the first friends I made introduced me to Bad Religion and Big Black. In return, I let him borrow my treasure, my Program: Annihilator. He gave it to someone else, having her return it to me, but she put it down, and someone with sticky fingers picked it up.

It took me five years of hunting record stores to find it again. I found it in the Vegas Tower Records. It cost me $20 to replace the recording I had originally received for free, and I thought it was cheap.

What is your treasure? The irreplacable recording? The great thing that you have to dig out and play for friends?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Your History is not History, or My Favorite Year

Blame Petty.

By time David Crosby and Chris Hillman were gone, those in the know had given up on the Byrds. It was just Jim/Roger McGuinn running on fumes. So, when Muddy Waters at the end of Hepburn Hall my freshman year at Middlebury purchased "Untitled", I laughed on the inside. Hadn’t he gotten the memo? But there was this one song that emanated from his room, "Chestnut Mare"… And then the reviews started to come in, saying the album was a return to form. Then, Clarence White, the superlative new guitarist, was cut down by an automobile after a gig and Roger McGuinn didn’t get another slice of fame until he participated in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review. Is that where he met Jacques Levy?

No, in this case, the influence went in reverse. Roger met Jacques first. Or at least used him first. Jacques wrote the lyrics for "Chestnut Mare" and…"Lover Of The Bayou".

I only found this out the other day, when I fired up Petty’s cover. Not that I knew it was a cover at first. I was entranced by that classic guitar figure. The performance was almost garage rock. I was getting in the groove. Had Petty come back? Then, when they reached the line: "I’m a lover of the bayou", I realized I’d heard this before.

Minor research told me it had been done by the Byrds. But WHEN?

The first white act I remember mentioning the bayou was John Fogerty, singing about being born on the bayou (and that’s my favorite Creedence track… "And I can remember the fourth of July, runnin’ through the backwood bare"… Fucking record SOUNDS like it was cut on the bayou!) I didn’t remember Roger McGuinn singing about the bayou… And to do it after Fogerty seemed kind of lame…
This, says Bob Lefsetz.

Just so there's no doubt, he looked up late Byrds because he loved Mudcrutch. I want Mudcrutch because I like the Byrds. No. I accept the Byrds. I really like Clarence White, and he went hardcore electric with the Byrds. If he had joined the Stones, I'd have seven Rolling Stones CDs instead of Byrds CDs. Well, I have some of those anyway. Exile on Main Street is a great album.

I have a conception of 1969, musically. It involves the Stones and Jimi and the Byrds and Creedence. I know that's only part of it. Even within rock, I'm missing the Doors and Janis. I've heard the Doors; I won't go so far as to say all of it, but I'm sure that anything I missed isn't too significant. I could do more with Janis. This was a high point for Simon and Garfunkel. The Grateful Dead were just getting heard outside of Frisco. And that's just when we're discussing hip music.

My kids love I Love The 80s and such. While elements come up, the 80s they talk about on those shows isn't the 80s I experienced. Like 1984, when many people I knew left middle school wearing long hair and Sammy Hagar shirts and started their freshman year with much much shorter hair and bright red Black Flag shirts that said Slip It In. It was at least two years until I was similarly hip to Black Flag, and by then it was too late.

Bob has a 70s that he believes Petty shares, where the Byrds were Roger McGuinn and the Backing Band, where they were a joke, except for certain tunes that bubbled up. I suppose everyone has their own years. I can tell you that in my 1992, I did not know anybody who didn't own Inhale Pink and Exhale Blue by Billy McLachlan and Hollywood Town Hall by the Jayhawks. And that's the year I read the Uncle Tupelo interview in Option where they said in high school they weren't friends with anyone who wasn't into Black Flag.

Black Flag was part of Jeff Tweedy's 80s, too. Probably the same show.

But clearly by Anodyne someone had played 'em Sweetheart and maybe Untitled....

The Results Are In

And it seems we like our Allman Brothers, many of us like CW and his B-Bending, and we think there's a GP biopic in our future. Interesting.

I knew I liked you guys.

Netflix came through again. Nashville Chops and Western Swing. Brent Mason on HotLicks. Evidently Brent is unhappy with it. Less, I guess, with it than with the financial dealings with Hot Licks. I get the frustration; you don't get to be the Nashville superpicker by doing things that don't pay. And I get the other side; It was Arlen Roths' wife who handled the business, and when she died, it fell apart.

But I shouldn't get into the middle of the financial disagreements of the Telemasters. I haven't seen all of it yet, but I've seen parts of it. But I do like what I see. Danny Gatton's Telemaster vid is a mindbender, something that'll drop your jaw before it's done. Johnny Hiland's Chicken Pickin' Guitar is about a few licks without much underlying information. The best I had seen is Albert Lee's, but with him it's very much drinking from the firehose. James Burton's video was most useful, the first one that give me more than a clue about chicken pickin'.

This is good. Better than most. I'll (of course) have to get into it with a guitar in my hands to pick up more. But it's a fine, fine thing.

The one thing, and I think this is more general abut I'll deal with these specifics, is that Brent has one heck of a rig, one which allows him to switch between four or five amps and and four or five cabs, not just turn on and off effects. It's like Rick Nielsen's five-neck, where unless you know what you're doing, it's beyond your abilities to understand. There's a lot less "this is when I use the this effect, here's why, and here's about the settings I use" in everybody's instructional videos, I think.

I'll tell you more as I see more.

Speaking of more, have any of you heard of Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story. To my mind, if you want soul, you want Stax. I thought the bad end, with the original studio torn down, was where things ended. They've rebuilt it and made it a working museum, it seems. I have to make it to Memphis one of these days. Beale Street, Stax Records, and not Graceland.

One thing I didn't know that I learned from the video: The Lorraine Hotel was one of few black-owned hotels in Memphis, and it was a common hangout for the Stax players and writers.

Watch Booker T and the MGs play "Time Is Tight". When are we gonna get the Colonel's instructional video/

And another Netflix hit, Fallen Angel. A documentary on the life and death of Gram Parsons. In the greater sense, he's a minor player in the late 60s and early 70s LA music scene. People get into the story because the last bit, where Phil Kaufman took the body to Joshua Tree. To me, that's the small part. There's a big story there, straight out of Tennessee Williams, and that's before you get to the music. Which is great stuff.

(I get most of my videos at NetFlix. I had owned the Telemaster! and Danny's rhythm guitar video, and the Masters of the Telecaster DVD is at my local library.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Play Your Sad Guitar

I write in praise of the Carpenters.

The first time I gave them serious thought was while listening to "Hank, Karen and Elvis" by the Young Fresh Fellows. It was the late 90s, I am sure, and I was approaching 21 but not there yet. I had already abandoned Elvis Presley (verse 3) while I was yet to understand Hank Williams (verse 1). And Karen was just uncool. But the song was just great.

I just spent a buck on Amazon to download the track, off the YFF's The Men Who Loved Music. It wasn't because I didn't know the music. It was because I hadn't heard it in nearly 20 years and there were lyrics I couldn't quite remember. Mostly on the Karen verse.

They say she had the most beautiful voice
but I'd take Wanda or Sandy if I had my choice
And she could play the drums! Even while wearing a dress
but Hal Blaine would take over when they needed the best

Everyone who was there, they have to write about it
They know something bad, they've got to scream and shout it
She starved herself to death with no brother to stop her
But he helps remember her now with this special TV offer

I don't know who Wanda and Sandy are, but listening to this made me look up Hal Blaine. Don't know who he is? If you like a pop song recorded between 1963 and 1976, there's a big chance that he was the drummer on it. He played on six consecutive Song of the Year Grammy winners. And he thought Karen was a really good drummer. Anyway, after this, it was Sonic Youth and Goo that brought me to Karen.

Part of me wants to dive into Sonic Youth and their KC obsession. Part of me wants to go on about the Young Fresh Fellows. ("Amy Grant" is a must-hear.)

All this came back to my head because of this post on the Allmusic Blog. It's easy to forget, with the pop gloss of their work, that some of those songs are heavy works:
This point of view seems like a quest for the dark side in an era of light. Yet the Carpenters created some of the darkest music of their era, not a comic-book darkness of eldritch warlocks and witchfinders as in Black Sabbath or in the reinvented blues jams of Led Zep or the Allmans, but a very human, deeply painful darkness of alienation and loneliness.

I'll play along with the charade

You know how you can get stickers for your Guitar Hero controller that make it look like Zakk Wylde's LP or something?

Don't you want that for your guitar?

Guitar Facelift will sell you a reusable vinyl overlay for your guitar. That one is either Rick Nielsen or Avril Lavigne, and I'll go with Rick for sanity sake.

(I suppose I should mention this interview with Rick on on the Hamer site.)

(I suppose I should also mention that I want Avril to want me. Even if she's like 4'9" or something.)

Since one of the main people behind this is a player for Status Quo, there's even pre-relic'd Status Quo overlays. If buying a factory-direct beaten-up guitar, or having some guy bash it with naphthalene, car keys and a random-orbital sander is dishonest, sticking a vinyl facade on it to make it look like it was bashed by some guy with naphthalene, car keys and a random-orbital sander is really fake.

I'm sure I've heard some Status Quo in my life, but for the life of me, I can't recall it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Your Regularly Scheduled Gear Post

The thread on TDPRI was "Hideous Jackson Tele" , and the Tele in question was a sundown fade. That was kinda cool, but the one that came up that was really awesome was a scorpion bandana Tele from 2007 NAMM.

She's a beauty. A one-in-a-million Tele, and the black with white binding and paint works well with the pointy Jackson headstock. Really, it'd work great with a maple neck and bog-standard Tele headstock, but this does look good like this. And all things told, I'd prefer a standard bridge instead of a humbucker. Stacked humbucker, maybe. And clearly, this would be for harder-rocking alt-country, moving into slightly gothic southern rock. But it looks so cool.

Heck, nothing says you couldn't play Stones on that thing. And it'll love being played with thin strings, so I can go back to bridge cables on my other one.

In other news, Sam Ash has Blue Flower and Pink Paisley Teles. $1000 is the web price. I'm guessing that eventually I'll see 'em for $800, then the price will rise again. And, unfortunately, I don't think there's any way I can get one. (Among others, the Pink Paisley is played by James Burton, Sue Foley and Brad Paisley. Who, besides Jack Pribek, plays a Blue Flower?)

I feel like I should have a third thing. I reall don't. Well, kinda. Wednesday was mostly in F, and it rocked anyway. I sounded good!

A Little Green Rosetta

After church on Wednesday, I went to the library with my eldest, quick before it closed, to pick up my holds. The Wreckers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Joan Osborne. And my eldest picked up something he was interested in.

Joe's Garage: Acts I, II and III by Frank Zappa.

I told him "Don't let your mother hear any of this."

I told him "It isn't the most offensive recording I have ever heard. That's Sheik Yerbouti. But it's up there." And I think that's true. While I really don't want to get into Appliantology, but "Broken Hearts are for Assholes" and "Bobby Brown" really top anything here.

(And yes, when I think about Mr. Whitney Houston, I get strange mental images.)

I have it on cassette, but I don't think there's anything in the household except Mom's car that even plays cassettes anymore. And the first side of the first tape, going from "Joe's Garage" to "On The Bus", is as strong a first side as I have ever heard. And there are few pieces of music more beautiful than "Watermelon in Easter Hay".

I've been thinking about songwriting recently, and the key to Zappa, I think, is the xylophone. It shows up everywhere, doubling melody parts, and I think the point is to say "Hey, I wrote all this. Nobody's improvising here. Everything you hear is composed and conducted by me." Composed being the operative word. There are songs, but he's not a songwriter. A songwriter writes words, and put it to music that helps the words express themselves. A composer writes music, and fits words around it, as necessary. Not that Zappa didn't mean his words, or at least some of them. There's a clear theme of "everything's so stupid" in his work, a worldview more persistent in his work than anyone else I know. But I'm sure he'd rather you think "Hey, this is a song in 7/4!" than "Hey, this is a song about dog pee!" Not that he didn't know this was a major attraction to his work.

As I grow as a musician, I hear more and understand more about what Zappa was doing musically. I hope that some day, my big guy can hear the music and not the songs, too.

And I really hope Mom never hears him playing "Dong Work For Yuda".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Adventures in the studio

This is an amazing thing.

A guy gets to record in Wilco's Loft and then blogs about it, explaining his thoughts and his gear. So so so cool.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Companies Unclear On The Concept

Consider This.

It is a Fender Custom Shop 1963 Reissue Telecaster.

A Fender Custom Shop Relic 1963 Reissue Telecaster.

A Scratch-and-Dent Clearance Relic 1963 Reissue Telecaster.

Relic means beat up at the factory.

Scratch-and-Dent means beat up at the warehouse.

I wonder which scratches are which.

And, silly me, if I had an extra $3000, I'd consider it.

Remedial Songwriting I, or How to Make the Young Girls Cry

This is me learning by doing, and if I'm doing it wrong, please tell me.

And what we're learning is the process of songwriting. Songwriting as in composing music, not composing words. Although they do kinda connect eventually, unless you're all-instrumental.

In this case, we start with a melody, which makes us very old school.

If you don't read music, you still know that song. I guarantee it. (Or your money back!) It's "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". And the first step is to figure out what key to put it in. That # symbol means there's one sharp, which puts it at G major. Well, it could be E minor, but we're starting with a G, so G major is a good assumption.

So, we have a melody and we have a key. Isn't that good enough? No, not quite. We need to create harmony. Simply put, chords. So, let's put some chords in for a first pass. First two measures only.

G G D D E E D | C C B B A A G

Try it. Doesn't it sound bad? There are reasons for that. We'll try a few more ways.

First, go back to the key. G. The G scale is G A B C D E F#. So, let's pull a few chords. G is G B D. C is C E G. D is D A F#. Between those, we have all the melody notes in the chord. Going back to the first measure, it was the E major that sounded bad. The E note is in the C chord, so we'll use the C chord. Bs go to G, and As go to D.

G G D D C C D | C C G G D D C
D D C C G G D | D D C C G G D
G G D D C C D | C C G G D D G

That's a way to do it. This is why there's 3-chord rock. As long as you stay within the key, three chords is all you need.

But not necessarily all you want. Woody Guthrie says if you use more than three chords, you're just showing off, but why are you playing in front of people if you aren't gonna show off? That second measure goes C C B B A A G, right? Drops like that are everywhere, and I'd likely play that like this:

C C G/B G/B Amin7 Amin7 G

You get the C. G/B is just the G chord with the B, the 2nd fret of the A string, as the root note. We could write Amin7 as C/A (except that's a bit weird, as A isn't part of C), then G.

You can do similar things with the rest of the chords, too.

I said this is old school, and now I should explain. You listen to traditional Irish music, for example, and you hear lots and lots of "tunes", melodies to work from. The backing musicians choose how to play along with the melody, and it isn't written in stone. Listen to John Doyle and you'll hear improvisation and variation in the harmony playing that's just great. And, if you're anything like me, you'll lose track over which part of the melody is "The Kitten and the Cow", which part is "Fredrick's Jig", which part is "The Greater Storm" and how they all connect. But you'll like it all anyway.

We get into more modern music, we find that musicians don't like memorizing dozens of chord structures. As we've established, the harmony is established in relation to the melody, so when you improvise over (older) jazz, you have to choose a chord note. (Consider the big jazz chords. Then consider Freddie Green's chords, which are three notes at best. They write A13 to give the soloist more choices, and choices in the second octave that aren't in the first, not as much so you play a chord with A C# E G B D and F. There aren't enough strings to play all that anyway.) Take one chord structure, like the 12 Bar Blues or the Rhythm Changes or Pachelbel's Canon, throw different melodies on top, and you've got yourself a new song, but something that's recognizable and easier for musicians to remember. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" is also the Alphabet, remember. Bob Brozman has a page where he talks about the evolution of the blues form from the early and rough stuff to the very sophisticated and jazz variations, which is very interesting.

There are big books and websites of stock changes. Song recycling is still a thing: "Knocking On Heaven's Door" became "Helpless" became "Fade Into You" without even a tempo change, but I'd be hard pressed to name anything that goes I bIII IV bVII besides "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

I'll do Remedial Songwriting II once I teach myself more. I don't have a clear handle on chord resolution yet.

And I'm Still Willin'

Tuscon: Training Conference for a software platform, 2002
Tucumcari: Moving from North Carolina to Arizona, 1988
Tehachapi: Going to a visit to San Francisco from home in Las Vegas, 1990
Tonopah: Returning home in Las Vegas from a visit to San Francisco, 1990

Haven't driven every kind of rig, though.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Personal Take on Vintage

Dad had three T-Birds when I was growing up. Four, really.

I'm not talking Gibson basses. I'm talking Ford cars.

There was Big Bird, a mid-60s T-Bird which was the family car. It could fit a neighborhood of kids for a trip to school comfortably. Huge thing. If you recall Prince's "Alphabet Street" video, it was like that, except a metallic green and a two-door. The other three were the old 50s style with the fins. I've recently had my memory corrected, so I'll say they were a black '55 with a black top, a canary yellow '57 and the beauty, a sky-blue '57 which I have strong memories of dad fixing up in a tarped-off carport in Virginia.

(Not surprisingly, he had sold all of these off by the time my older sister learned to drive.)

I know there were issues. He wouldn't leave 'em under a tarp in a locked garage. He couldn't leave 'em under a tarp in a locked garage, because at the time, he had a one-car carport. And the times we took 'em out and put the Beach Boys in the in-dash 45RPM record player, those were great.

I know a guy online who plays a 1930s archtop. It has pickups, including a piezo in the trapeze bridge, but he has been asked to turn it down when wasn't even plugged. Imagine having a wonder like that. Now imagine never taking it out because you were afraid for it. Or because your insurance said no.

And imagine wanting to put in a CD/MP3 player, so you can put in a disc full of everything good from Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley. Wolfman Jack's not on the radio anymore and you need something to keep the party rolling all night, right? But you can't, because that wrecks the resale. At the time, it was 8-track. My Dad was like that. I got a good education on 50s rock'n'roll in the 70s because I rode with my parents and their 8-tracks. Plus a more than passing familiarity with Olivia Newton-John, which I am significantly less thankful for.

But my point is, I'd love to have vintage gear. I have a vintage lap steel, a Supro. Lap steels are kinda making a comeback, thanks to folks like Ben Harper, but a 1950s Fender lap steel runs around $500 and a 1950s Fender Telecaster runs around $50,000. I'm not in fear that it'll get stolen, and I'm not at all curious about what other investments I could make if I got rid of it. It's under my homeowner's insurance with the rest of my crap, and I'm not too concerned about my kids wanting to drive my steel.

I've just switched my 80s MIJ Tele to (almost) all-black hardware. I'd have to get black Gotohs, a new bridge and a neck pickup cover to really do it right. Plus new straplocks and a jack plate, but that might be going overboard. I'm considering getting some Stuart Duncan stacked humbuckers for this thing and having a good time with the electronics. Pribek sung the praises of a 1meg tone pot, so I'm considering that. But like adding an 8-track to a 57 T-Bird, playing with the electronics of a $50,000 '52 blackguard Tele would be horrible, even if Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Danny Gatton did similarly horrible things to their '50s Teles back when vintage Teles were 3 for $100.

To switch slightly, my first good guitar, the first guitar good enough for me to improve on, was my Ibanez acoustic. It had a pointy headstock like the electrics, a skinny neck like the electrics, and was made of plywood, or as they say in the business, "laminated top and sides". It was not and is not a great instrument, but it was a perfectly good guitar. There are lots of perfectly good guitars out there. There are great and cool guitars, too. I'd love to have a 1957 Strat, like I'd like to have a 1957 Thunderbird. And if I could say "I make money playing guitar, so it's a tax writeoff", that'd be great, too. (I don't so I couldn't, even if it were true.)

The black 55 went to a guy in Georgia who lived on the swamp where they filmed Gator. The yellow 57 and the 66 were sold in Hawaii, along with a 65 Mustang that got traded for my parents' living room furniture. Another Mustang, a 66, got traded for an EXP, and the blue 57 went, as mentioned, when my sister started taking drivers training. The old stuff is cool and has value, but there's also a price.

Right now, I drive a Toyota Yaris. Inexpensive car, but it gets about 40MPG on the highway, and while I can't tell you that it can get to the 130 on the speedometer, I can tell you it'll get to 110 fairly quickly. And I can play that CD full of Chuck and Elvis on it, and that's pretty fun, too.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The things you can find on the internet....

I'm listening to Exile On Main Street.

No, not that. Not the Stones version. I already had that.

I'm listening to Pussy Galore's version.

Pussy Galore's we-made-it-on-cassette-and-only-made-500-copies version of Exile.

I love the internet.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

He Likes To Make A Livin' Runnin' 'Round

I have the Country Boy Albert Lee instructional video out from Netflix, and I have had it for a while, because I haven't had the time to sit down with guitar, amp and DVD player and get it into my hands yet. Parts are in my head, to be sure, and those parts will continue to be useful, but they're not in my hands where they can be useful.

One thing I do kinda have if the Floyd Cramer lick. In A:

E ---------------------------
B --------------5-7-5---5h7-5
G ----4h6---4h6-------6------
D --7-----7------------------
A ---------------------------
E ---------------------------

Or something close to that. Floyd's piano is one of the few bits of countrypolitan that I can dig. It's a guitar hammer-on style that Floyd borrowed for guitar, so it's OK that we take it back. The central deal is on the G string, a hammer-on from the second to the major third. And of course it sounds more Floydish if it's up higher.

I also got Fallen Angel, a biographic documentary of Gram Parsons. It's really interesting. You get his family from Florida going into all the detail of the home life he ran away from, Chris Hillman wanting so hard to say nice things about Gram the artist but always going back to his barely-contained contempt for Gram the flighty druggy Keith wannabe, and the back and forth between Phil Kaufman and everyone who hates him and thinks he's a putz.

What really made me stop and rewind was the passing mention of Clarence White. Regular readers of this blog will know that mentions of Clarence White will always make me stop. And since his death and funeral, Gram's singing "Farther Along" and making a pact with Phil are crucial to the story of Gram's death and cremation, it kinda has to be there. I wish there was more. And I wish there was video of the country rock super-tour with Clarence and Gram and Emmylou ending the show together. And, really, I wish that Clarence was never hit by a drunk driver. Less sure with Gram; if he never died, would Emmylou have blossomed into the incredible artist she became? And if it wasn't that night in Joshua Tree, wouldn't it have been some other night at some other place?

Anyway, upside is, the one that came most recently is going back so that my eldest can get a Jimi documentary for a school report, and the one I've been sitting on will stay at home.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Vintage Isn't Worth It

These are the bullet points for an essay/rant from Ed Roman's website. Ed is known for having strong opinions strongly expressed, opinions that are by no means universally accepted, but this #1 didn't come from his pen, and #2 makes a whole lot of sense to me.

1. Modern guitars are made exactly the same way that vintage guitars were made in the old days.

I'm not sure I'd go with "exactly", but in many ways, the differences are better: CNC machines make the same pieces over, there's years of research into pickups, and environmental regulations push poly over nitro. To be sure, some raw materials were available to C.F. Martin and Lloyd Loar that are less available now. Especially for electrics, I'm convinced that the electronics are far more important than the woods, and electronics have been the subject of decades of improvements.

2. Anytime you are buying something used (vintage) you have to worry about the provenance.

Did Eric Clapton really play this? This is where distinctive instruments, like Clarence's double-wide Tele and Gretsch-necked D-28 come into play. Any picture can establish that connection, or the deeply-damaged finish of Rory Gallagher's Strat, but a blackguard '52 butterscotch Tele looks like any other.

3. Extreme valuations are causing counterfeiting.

4. There is NO guarantee that vintage guitars will hold their value.

I'm torn by this. There'll be fashions in guitars, like the Stratocaster becoming bigger in the 70s after Eric Clapton made Layla or the Les Paul returning after Slash. I think there will always be a value for the older instruments, but I don't think that this value will always be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

5. How do you protect and insure a valuable vintage guitar collection?

Pribek linked to a story recently where a classical violinist forgot his (but actually not his) Stradivarius violin in a taxi. Strads are crazy valuable, far more than even the most valuable guitars, but the extremes are good for discussion. In a related concept, my dad used to have a sky-blue 1957 Thunderbird, and he couldn't get more than liability on it because otherwise he couldn't drive it or keep it in an unpadlocked garage.

I read that James Burton keeps his paisley Tele in a locked vault because it's too valuable to keep at home. This saddens me somehow.

6. Nobody Cares But YOU and a few other guys that haven’t discovered girls yet!

The value of a thing is determined by how much someone would pay for it. It's pretty much a shared hallucination. That's pretty unstable, eh?

7. There is too much of a disparity between wholesale and retail value in the vintage guitar market.

8. Is a guitar more valuable because a celebrity owned it?

Consider how many people didn't go to the last Police Squad movie because O.J. Simpson somebody killed Nicole Brown Simpson. Then consider how many of your favorite players are people your mom, wife, best friend, brother, roommate, etc. would never have heard about if they didn't share your life.

9. Guitars are just tools.

If you had a wonderful golden-era flathead screwdriver with special alloy tip and rare rainforest handle, you might be so careful with it that you'd never tighten screws.

Anyway, read the article and consider. And I'll hold onto that sixties double-bound sparkle Tele you have while you're considering it.

More Coveting

I used to have JFA stickers. I never really heard any of their work, but I thought the band name was hilarious. But that isn't the reason I kinda want this.

I'll tell you it's more for the paisley than the JFA. No, it's all for the paisley. Even though I know that painted acoustics always sound muffled and crappy. Still, ain't it pretty?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hug Your Guitar!

Ig has declraed it Hug Your Guitar Week , and I'm usually one to play along. Therefore, I made sure to hug my guitars today.

This is my family, minus one. It's my Fender Telecaster electric, my Fender DG20CE acoustic and my Fender FM52E mandolin. My lap steel is a Supro, not a Fender, so it didn't want to come out and play.

It will, though. And my guitar has legs!

And there is more. The first, and possibly last, picture of yours truly to show up on this blog. My Tele is my favorite, and here I am hugging it!

And that's my dog, Klaatu, behind me. I hug him, but I don't let him hug my guitar.

Only one good shirt left, and it smells of stale perfume

Ig says it's "Hug Your Guitar Week", with someone hugging a G&L Thinline Tele, or however you say Thinline Tele in G&L. The man hugging that hugworthy guitar was also wearing a t-shirt.

A great t-shirt.

You to can be that cool. $20 for the shirt. Much more for a nice cherryburst G&L with a neck humbucker. But hey, you can buy cool, right?

And can you get me one, too? I'll pay you back!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Lou Reed's New Guitar

Ain't it pretty? Buffed aluminum. I could use the full Tele bridge, a covered neck pickup and a silver pickup ring to hide some of the holes, but as is, it's a pretty pretty.

I covet it.

But I might swap out the neck. It looks like someone tried to average a Tele headstock and a Kramer hockeystick headstock....

Friday, May 2, 2008

I'm Torn

It all started because I had Google Alerts warn me when the word 'Telecaster' shows up in the news.

A CD review page with three artists reviewed talked about an artist, Daniella Cotton, who plays like AC/DC and sings like Mavis Staples. This to me is good TV, and I started thinking I should look her up. I even brought up her MySpace page, but all the music-sending doodads are blocked by work.

Then, Pribek inspired me to listen to the radio. I'll get into radio later, but I'll say that they talked about a Gin Blossoms show and played the first track from the first Counting Crows album, which fits my definition of "Songs I've Heard A Thousand Times Already". They also mentioned her free afternoon show at a place near downtown.

I want to go.

I have it planned to commute my hour and then pick up my new glasses.

What should I do?

You don't get out until you get some Soul....

Despite the make of the guitar, I think Stratoblogster will like to see this. They're taking a Fender Baja Tele (with a serial/parallel switch) and they're going to beat the crap out of it.

This could be fun, like the reverse of a build thread on TDPRI. A "destroy" thread. Or, perhaps, un-Pimping the Ride. I'd rather turn my guitar into a Hot Rod than make it into a perfectly-running rusted-out hulk, but there still might be something cool about this.

It's my understanding that this whole relic thing came about because Keef went to Fender to buy some Custom Shop stuff, but he wanted them to look old and beat to crap because "Keef doesn't play new guitars", and Fender thought they could make some money with that. There are worse ideas, although all my guitars (including my Ibanez acoustic with near-scallopped fretboard and truss-rod popping out of the back of the neck) have received their relicing entirely by being used.

Not really on-topic, but Gibson is making a new Les Paul, one where you can pop pickups out the back and change your sound without restringing. They call it the Push Tone, and I can't say it's the worst idea I've heard. As EGR (the guys who'll beat up the Baja) said, the Ampeg Dan Armstrong does this, too. What I find really really interesting is the lack of pictures of the back of the guitar in the gallery. Usually, that's one of the things you expect, even when there's nothing interesting about it, and clearly there's something interesting about this guitar's back.

Back on-ish topic, could you imagine Unpimp My Ride? Taking your car, making it run good and feel right but making it look like you sat it out in the yard for 10 years, backed it into a tree and replaced the right front fender with something out of a junkyard?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

As A Matter Of Fact, I Can't Even Afford A Rondo , or Etavonni Guitars. It's made of aluminum and carbon fiber, with Planet Waves tuners and Seymour Duncan pickups. Sold for $6700, so, as they advertise, you can't afford this guitar. It seems like a particularly dumb way to sell a guitar, you might think.

Beyond the cost, I have two comments.

First, look at the back.

It's just like any other guitar. It has those nice weight-saving bits, but you screw on the neck like you'd screw on another neck. If you don't do something about the heel, you're selling a fake future, and this is about as advanced as a Fender Broadcaster.

Then, there's the electronics. A stacked humbucker (they say "single coil") in the neck and a standard humbucker in the bridge. Just about a given there, eh? To make the electronics match the look, they should hook in a Graphtech Ghost or a Roland GK-2 or something to connect to MIDI and get banks upon banks of cool and futuristic sounds. Or! You know what would go so well with this kind of futurism? A LightWave system! Optical pickups! That's the future right there!

But what do I know?

Hat tip: Broken Headstock

The Lamest of All Possible Blog Posts, plus Lyrics Tossed To The Winds

I'm working on something long. It'll be cool. For some out there, it might be remedial. It'll be good for me to produce, I think. And it means I might not do regular blogging for a while.

In the meantime, here's something. Pribek blogged on Roger Waters losing his pig, which lead to some discussion on the relative worthiness of Pink Floyd. Here's my two cents:
PF Music comes in three primary creative elements: Syd, Roger and David. Syd music has three themes: “I rather like rock and volume”, “I rather like drugs” and “The sea isn’t green and I love the Queen and what exactly is a dream?” Roger music has three themes: “My daddy died in WWII and I’m still put off”, “The Who’s rock opera ended up with a rebirth of fascism so mine will too” and “Syd rather liked drugs”. David music has three themes: “If we diverge too far from the sound of Roger, it’ll be beyond my ability to play”, “If we diverge too far from the sound of Roger, the gravy train will derail” and “Syd rather liked drugs”.

Someone needs to give David Gilmour a CD of African rhythms and maybe a gold watch. Someone needs to give Roger Waters a puppy. And, sadly, Syd Barrett is beyond receiving anymore.
That sounds like a ringing endorsement of David Gilmour, doesn't it? I saw a bit on Live at Abbey Road with him, and he was doing a solo thing that sounded just like it belonged on Momentary Lapse of Reason. No new product from Pink Floyd since 1990 is worth listening to, but there are bits from Momentary Lapse of Reason that I kinda liked. "One Slip" has a line I thought was really powerful:
Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?
That's something, isn't it? Are we talking emotional need? Are we talking vanity? Are they connected? Do we know our own emotions? Do wwe understand our own emotions? Geez, what a great line. And then we get:
Or was it the hand of fate, that seemed to fit just like a glove?
That was taken out of Songwriting 101 because it was too hackneyed.

So, what other lines are stuck in songs that don't deserve them?