How Did I…

     Today, I found myself thinking…about how damned good Eric Clapton is. And why…which led , in turn, to why I actually like any of the stuff that I do…

     And realized, to my discredit, that I’ve never mentioned Maria McKee. After all the musical stuff that I’ve stuck up on the blogwall here…

     Explanation? Sure. I’m a bonehead. Just ask around a bit; people will generally concur, sometimes rather adamantly. Almost gleefully…

     I have a CD of Clapton doing covers of old Robert Johnson. It’s awfully good. Clapton has a way of really getting through to the spirit of things. Clinically precise, meticulously performed and perfectly recorded. Very impressive…almost all the way there.

     Almost. Because when Robert himself does the songs, there is a palpable difference. And it has not to do with recording quality at all. Robert was not just a talented blues guy who could write good songs and convey them to an audience effectively. He wasn’t just close to his source material.

     He was in it. He was inside those songs, looking out. He owned those songs, and they owned him right back. He probably would have liked to have a more normal and comfortable life, with two kids and a nice house in suburban Jackson. But there was a hellhound after him, and it finally caught up.

     And in spite of being recorded on a single-track monaural reel-to-reel in a wooden shack in Mississippi, you can hear that difference.

     It’s hard to pinpoint that quality, that ” inside” perspective. But it infuses what it touches with an authority that can’t be denied. And that is precisely what Robert Johnson, Diana Krall, Johhny Winter, Michael Schenker, JS Bach, Beethoven ( especially Beethoven ), Jeff Beck, and all the other stuff I gravitate towards has in common. It’s not just that I like it, it’s that it has that authority.

     And here’s another to add; Maria McKee.

     She was in an 80’s LA band called Lone Justice. They were called ” cowpunk”, presumably for lack of a better term. She was just 21 then, and managed to survive the entire thing. Now, she works occasionally on an independent label.

     She has the authority thing going. She sings songs from the inside out somehow. She owns them. I remember seeing Lone Justice at the old Lupo’s in Providence ( on Empire St.!! ), across from the old Living Room ( on Empire St.!! ). ( Aside; this is a peculiar Rhode Island oddity. We tend to describe things not by where they are, but by where they used to be.)

     I recall standing behind the mixing console, watching the sound guy constantly changing her levels, because her dynamics changed constantly. He couldn’t keep up, and should have known better than to even try it. At one point, she really increased her volume…spiked all the levels, and blew out the circuit breakers. She put Lupo’s in the dark for ten minutes. A very odd sensation…standing in the dark, and hoping that no one does anything stupid. No one did…and Maria was very apologetic. A few minutes later, she did it again.

     I’m surprised that there is so much of her on Youtube; I didn’t expect that there would be much at all. I have two Lone Justice albums that get regular rotation again when I bring them out now and then, and a few solo albums.

     This girl was like a demented Elvis in a female body. So much energy poured off her that she barely knew which direction to point it in.

     She’s always been on my list, and she ought to be on yours too. She’s got that authority thing.

     That’s provided, of course, that you keep a list…

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Published in: on January 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm  Comments (2)  

My Tuxedo is from K-Mart…

Back around mid- November, I put up a really gushy post about how impressed I was by Lionel Hampton and Johnny Mercer.

Well, it turns out that I was right.

Just after that post, I got the great idea of charting out ” Midnight Sun” and burdening  a guitar student with it as a next assignment; thought it would make for a pretty decent guitar duet.

So did Bucky and John Pizzarrelli, about five years ago. Beautiful version. Way, way out of my pay grade, though. So I decided to go online, find a manageable arrangement, and work from that.

And found, to my surprise, that all printable sheet versions are still under copyright.

This freaking thing is sixty-five years old. And still makes money….

So. Being the deeply dedicated, tenacious, highly creative, sublimely talented mild psychopath that my mother raised me to be….I kept digging until I found one that was free. It really wasn’t sheet music, it was just a chord chart with lyrics; but it was in D major ( as is D. Krall’s version, and if D. Krall says D major…well, I just say ” how high.” And be thankful that I don’t have to go get her dry cleaning and a Starbucks coffee, and the highly questionable strapping of a mailman to the car roof and driving to Manhattan; which I have come to deeply regret. The poor sod…and it started raining halfway there.

( Stage aside; one of the truly fun things about writing blog posts is that you can make obscure references to your own previous post’s obscure references, which were pretty damned obscure to begin with. But I’ve absolutely no interest in clarification, it’s all about fun with words. )

So, back to today’s riveting tale.

I worked out a quick chart for a single-line melody and supporting chords, and we started to work on it.

Three weeks later, and what little progress we had made was disappearing in big chunks, like watching a glacier fall apart. I just can’t “hear” this chord progression; must be the ” pay grade” thing again. And, the chord chart I had found had way, way too many chords to it; a chord for every damned syllable. And not just C, F and G7 chords, either. E#m7dim5+9, divided by 4…

So. Back to the drawing board.

And we found Lionel’s ( Tuxedo #1) original version on Youtube; instrumental, with a big band arrangement. Very fast and upbeat-sounding, not at all like what came along afterwards.

And…we also found something very curious about Lionel’s original version. He plays the melody out as one big, long continuous phrase. ( It’s fun to watch Lionel’s responses, though. He keeps looking up at the audience to see how much they like it. Must have been one of the first things ever recorded for TV use. )

And the legend has it that Lionel wrote it in 1947, with J. Mercer ( Tuxedo #2 ) adding lyrics in 1953.

But on much closer inspection; he didn’t just add lyrics. He fixed it.

He cut the long phrase in half, and added an extra bar at each end of  what is now two phrases ( the first two lines of each verse. ) This gives the singer time to catch a breath, seems to slow the natural tempo down considerably, and converts a somewhat complex jazz composition that likely would have sunk to the bottom of the East River with lots of other complex jazz compositions into a timeless classic. And, the legend has it, while driving.

Not to take anything away from Tuxedo#1, though. He still came up with one of the prettiest melodies ever, and an absolutely brilliant chord progression to hang it on.

But J. Mercer…Tuxedo#2…where does that come from?

So…in desperation, I went back online to pay the piper. Had to get a reliable version of this thing before my last three hairs fell out. But, it wouldn’t be that easy…

I found it in Dmaj, Fmaj, Aflat, Bflat, and Cmaj. We had already started working in D, so I had a look at that one.

Impossible, for guitar players, at least. As always, singers move stuff around at will to suit their needs, and D was just a nightmare. ( Apologies to D. Krall. I will atone at some other time; please, just leave the federal employees alone. Maybe I can sweep the steps at the brownstone? )

And finally decided on good old C major. It’s almost understandable; I’m beginning to ” hear” it. My life is a bit easier for that, but sadly, my student’s is not. The melody is actually more challenging to execute in C than in D. He is not aware, and I’m betting that he will not be reading this post. He also does not know that the second half of his assignment is for us to switch parts once he’s comfortable with what’s on his plate right now, and do it all over again. Beware the guitar teacher in the cheap tuxedo

So, in defeat, I paid the $5.25 for one legal download, and promptly broke several copyright laws by duplicating it. I’m sure that’ll be worth 2-5 years at the ACI, and with my luck, I’m sure that the big scary guy in the upper bunk will want…guitar lessons. Thank you, Jesus.

But who will get Diana’s dry cleaning??

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm  Comments (1)