Jeez, I am really getting tired of this…Tom, now Malcolm… Jack Bruce…Mitchell and Redding… Johnny Winter…etc…

I remember very distinctly studying a practice cassette tape  for a band I was in around 1980-81. One of the songs on the tape was AC/DC doing ” It’s A Long Way To The Top”.

The song was ( is ) incredibly straightforward and starkly simple, as are all AC/DC songs.

Being a token hot guitar player in the 80s, I was not terribly impressed by this song, and was not very familiar with this band at the time. I listened along, presuming the all- pervasive format of two verses, obligatory guitar solo, one more verse and out.

Man, what a surprise. Two verses and then… bagpipes. Lots of them. And then, bagpipes doing trade-offs with Angus’ guitar. Then another verse, and out. And bagpipes along the way.

It was lucky for me that I was home alone, because I actually stood up and cheered. Very out of character.

And then listened to it again about 6000 times.

This was the first time that the notion of ” no guitar solo” ever presented itself to me, and it was a revelation. And this from a two- guitar hard rock band. It changed me.

They were sometimes very raunchy and politically incorrect, sometimes joyously anthemic, always fun to watch. Malcolm’s chord riffs played on an old Gretsch through a mountain of Marshall amps. Angus running around like a possessed schoolboy… well, he actually is a possessed schoolboy. But those great gigantic chord riffs from Malcolm…

Should you ever find yourself doubting Malcolm’s power, just try taking a walk through a graveyard while playing ” You Shook Me” on your portable whatever. Hear that scratching sound? That’s the sound of deceased girls clawing their way to the surface, because they absolutely must dance whenever they hear it. So be ready for that. They will not be denied…

Thanks for everything, Malcolm. Have a safe journey over.Malcolm-gear-650x304 (1).jpg



Into The Great Wide Open…

A world without Tom Petty.
How can there be no Tom Petty?? There has to be a Tom Petty. There can not be a no Tom Petty. There must always be a Tom Petty.
Almost five decades of filling a very particular musical need in the American music landscape, and all the better for having created the need to begin with.
Like the Beatles, Stones, Springsteen… you invent a musical world that only you can occupy. Timeless, classic, and eternal.
Tom was not a great singer…didn’t need to be. Not a great guitarist, either. Didn’t need that at all. Tom was a phenomenal songwriter. And like Lennon and McCartney, Dylan, Bruce, etc, had a very memorable voice. Once you heard it, you knew it. And once you ever heard a superbly crafted Heartbreakers song, it was stuck in your head for all time.
And I feel really badly for the Heartbreakers. They’ve been gigging forever, and now they can’t. Any more. Maybe not ever.
Just maybe, way down the road, they might do something with another guy fronting the band, like Paul Rodgers fronting Queen. It would have to be done respectfully, reverently, almost religiously. And just like Rodgers and Queen, no matter how good it actually was, it could never be the same, and never be right. But it sure would be nice to see those old Vox amps in line again and hear those jangly Rickenbacker guitars. Maybe, someday.


Tom Petty is gone. My God.


Took a drive to Connecticut today. It’s an hour to get there, a very nice day to be out, and Miss Daisy needed to make a deposit to the Random Mashantucket College Kid’s Fund.

Sandra selected a radio station after discovering that her brother had likely broken the CD changer a few days earlier. I would have gone with ” Says You ” on NPR, but we ended up with 93.3, a local commercial ‘Lite Rock ” format. I’m told that marriage is all about compromise.

It was a long hour’s drive.

Everything this station played in an hour’s time ( six songs in total ) followed the same song format; a kind of overstylized ballad, with either guitar or piano to accompany. Possibly some artificial percussion added as an afterthought. They only mentioned the name of one artist ( Taylor Swift ), All else went unmentioned, not even the titles of the songs. Nothing.

And rightfully so. This stuff is absolutely artificial mindless digital horseshit. It takes up some small space in between advertisements.

I wondered to myself if this is what the masses believe comprises music these days.

I think they do. That makes me feel a) sad b) angry c) disinterested. I find it very hard to believe that people can be so easily programmed. But they are entirely welcome to it if they’re that far gone. I’m too damned old to be concerned.

I find myself entirely in agreement with Jack White, who believes that the recording of music should be not only a completely analog process, but also as simple and straightforward as possible. Just to keep it honest. Likely to be painful sometimes, but worth the trouble in the end.

And also watched a Netflix documentary the other day of Keith Richards. He is a surprisingly positive guy, in spite of decades of every indulgence imaginable. He’s very happy to have survived, and realizes that he has found complete spiritual fulfillment through rock and roll.

This in turn led me to the library, where I checked out a few old Stones discs. I was hoping to be reminded somehow of how absolutely vitally important this music was to me at one time.

I was. And was surprised to find that, after being in a dozen cover bands that all totally overplayed ” Sympathy For The Devil”, the original actually consists simply of a voice, an upright piano, bass and drums. And how dramatically a simple thing can be built to great dynamic effect with a little skill and lots of self- control.

And that the always elusive guitar sounds of ” Street Fighting Man ” consisted of Keith playing a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar into a Philips shoebox cassette recorder. Then add voice, upright piano, bass, drums. Voila. History.

Very fun to be taught a music lesson from the ancient past, as if listening to this record four thousand times at age 15 wasn’t enough. Never heard a goddamned thing.

I think I’ll order ” Beggars Banquet” and ” Let It Bleed” from Amazon this week.

Thanks, Keith. And Jack, too. It’s good to be Old School. Really old.

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Brief Intermission…

Just a quick break in the story to deliver some sad news….

Johnny Winter passed away yesterday while touring in Europe.

Johnny’s first album for Columbia Records in 1969 still sits in my car’s cd changer. Has been in my regular rotation one way or another for 45 years.

I spent much time in my youth trying to figure out how Johnny did what he did. ( Spoiler alert; thumbpick, no flatpick ) Those lightning- fast blues runs that weren’t all sloppy and disorganized, the way everyone else’s were. Clean and articulate, but with just enough drive and grit to …well…totally re-direct the evolvement of blues guitar.

That’s what he did. And sang like holy hell, too.

A few years back, I added a resonator guitar to my toybox, pushed everything else to one side, and for two years concentrated on learning to play slide. Spent about a year working on Johnny’s ” Dallas.” Got closer, learned a lot, but ultimately had to admit that even a well- meaning moderately talented guy like me can always look in the limo windows, tap on the glass and wave, but those doors ain’t ever going to open up. I just don’t have that…thing…that magical energy, the drive, the soul. I can feel it, coming from a guy like Johnny, and that gives some people the illusion that they could get there too.

Not in this lifetime, Sparky. Just accept it and move on. I can break down and analyze every note Johnny ever played, but that is actually a different subject altogether.

Johnny had that exemplary quality. Has it still. And most people don’t.

But they can listen, and feel it too, through a guy like Johnny Winter. That’s really what he was here for.

So,  in closing, I would just like to register a formal thank you.

To Johnny Winter, for living a hard life that also drew out that incredible depth of soul. And made American blues all the better for it.

And for all of us.

 Special thanks to Denise (aka Janice DiFranco) from Girlieontheedge for posting two excellent Johnny cuts in the comments below. Check them out, and you’ll be a fan, too.

Rest in Peace, John.




Winery Dogs

Being an old, moldy and fungus- encrusted dinosaur guitar player, I don’t get out much anymore. Hardy ever, really. But If I ever do hear of anything that seems to warrant attention, I like to pass it along and spread the word.

I heard of the Winery Dogs a few weeks ago from someone who works in the same building as I do, and used to follow an old band of mine. I finally got around to looking them up, and lo and behold.

Geez. Very refreshing to see someone using a Telecaster in such an unexpected way. A heavily modified Tele, but still.

Great rythym section. Good songwriting, great vocals; Richie Kotzen has a nice Paul Rodgers kind of voice combined with a modernized Michael Schenker sort of guitar playing.

Terrific stuff all around.

Thought I’d pass the word along.

Scary Music…

Well, hi there.

I’ve been away for quite some time, and I’ve certainly missed this place. Had to go off and be a grownup for an extended period, but now there should be a little more time to relax and release that breath that I’d been holding in for a year or so.

Thank you for stopping by.

I have just finished perusing a  blogpost written by Considerer, in which she ponders the notion of Scary Music.  With several responses from readers, they discuss the notion of a world devoid of music altogether; truly the worst scenario imaginable. I liked that approach to the subject very much.

But it also reminded me of this.

When I was much younger,  there was a particular album released in 1970 that actually set the stage for all the dark, Gothic metal to follow;  Black Sabbath.61CM5D7qviL__SL110_

It was truly the first of its kind, and contrasted dramatically with everything else that was current or popular at the time. It was not pop or top-40 oriented, or blues-based, psychedelic, or rock-and-roll-ish. It was a brand new thing, and not particularly well received at the time.

I’ve never been  all that much of a Sabbath fan as time has gone by, but in looking back, I have to say that this was one huge milestone of an album. I’ve also never thought that Ozzy was a particularly talented vocalist; but much more importantly, he has a very distinctive voice. As all widely known singers must. If Bob Dylan worked as a telemarketer, you’d still know it was Bob Dylan. You might not buy the product because who can understand Bob at all these days, but you know it’s either a time-share in Nicaragua or a John Deere riding mower. Just keep making the payments and enjoying telling the story.

Ozzy sounds on this album as if he were genuinely terrified to be singing those songs. The band sounds very edgy and nervous, as if they wanted to just finish it and get the hell out of the studio. But regardless of circumstance, they managed to forge a completely new thing under the sun. A massive accomplishment.

I remember having borrowed this record  from someone or other, and listening to it in my bedroom. Completely unprepared, I was so affected at the time that not only did I not want to hear it again, I didn’t even want to go back into the room that it had ever played in. I had to go downstairs and hang out with my parents, who had no idea that the gates of Hell had just recently opened up at the top of the stairs.  And where in the  world was I to sleep, now that my bedroom had suddenly become a portal into Dante’s Inferno? And could the denizens of the Seventh Ring hear ” Mary Tyler Moore” playing on TV in the living room?

Of course, like all males of my generation, I would have bravely sacrificed myself to protect Mary from Hell’s minions…actually, the minions would have run right  smack into my mother, so that would not have been an issue. God help the minion who managed to tick Mom off. They likely would have quickly reconsidered, grabbed the Sabbath album, and slammed the portal door shut behind them.

Well…for my sake, I somehow managed to find a way to co-exist with the forces of darkness. ( Haven’t you just heard that before??)

And several years later, I started working in different bands with Don and Ed, the now legendary rythym section. And at a rehearsal one night, we all  sheepishly recounted how scared we all were of the first Sabbath album. That was quite a revelation, relieving much pent-up guilt and embarassment ( Ok …fine…just embarassment… ) And that we were still scared…just a little.

And, now, years after that…still scared. But just a little.

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Good Preacher…

spreads the word.

A Firebird player, great rthythm section, strong clear vocals…

It’s a great sign that this music totally regenerates and re-invents itself again every now and then. After all the God-awful junk that the ‘ music industry’  pushes down the chute… Uncles Plante, Jones and Page are most pleased.

Me, too.

Published in: on July 16, 2013 at 7:41 pm  Comments (2)  

All Hail…

firebirdThe Gibson Firebird…

A very iconic 60’s Gibson model, originally meant to give battle to the Stratocaster with either Gibson’s P-90 single-coil pickups or the Epiphone- designed mini-humbuckers.

I was watching That Metal Show this morning, and mention was made of a band called Rival Sons. I cued up a video, and lo and behold….

A gorgeous blue Firebird VII. An excellent band, very old-school Zeppelin-esque.

Very refreshing stuff, highly recommended.

As a clueless youth, I had two Firebirds; both were traded off for something else at the time. The reasons are no longer recalled, doesn’t matter anyway…idiocy. If only there was a functioning adult to intervene…ah, well.

These have a wonderful voice of their own, somewhere in between the sharp brightness of typical Fender and the warm depth of  typical Gibson.

The most well-known Firebird player is Johnny Winter. But there have been many…Sonny Landreth, Keith Richards, Brian Jones…the Black Crowes …lots.

Somewhat ungainly to actually play…not particularly well- balanced. This is likely why they’re not seen more often.

So? Get a locking strap, shut the !#@$ up and play.

Firebird people are a unique bunch. Go find some Firebird music and see what I mean.

And start it off with the Rival Sons…

You Must Remember This?…

In the mood to throw a music post up here, just because I’ve been listening to stuff lately.

This happens simply because the weather is warm,  and I’m out digging in my garden. I always bring stuff to listen to so I don’t notice how tedious the work is.

Here is what I listened to all day;

Stage Fright ( The Band )

Cahoots ( The Band )

Led Zeppelin ( 1st album )

The Inner Mounting Flame ( Mahavishnu Orchestra )

Two movie soundtracks; Glory and Cold Mountain

Joshua Judges Ruth ( Lyle Lovett )

Glad Rag Doll ( Diana Krall )

Aja ( Steely Dan )

Obviously, I have musical tastes similar to those of a crew member from an 18th-century whaling ship. And after perusing the I- Phone playlist of a young friend from work… I am so very glad of it. It’s a lonely little planet that I inhabit, but I quite prefer it.

Today I happened to hear an old Pink Floyd track on the radio; ” Learning to Fly“. This came out in 1987.

I was working in the audio dept. of a Lechmere store at that time, and had just finished setting up a new display; a set of Acoustic Research TSW9 speakers, driven by a Carver C-1 preamp and 1.0 power amp.  It was recommended by the Carver rep to use the newly released ” A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” as a demo.

There is a stunningly effective subterrannian bass line in ” Learning to Fly ” that no one ever hears because most equipment that people listen to music with can’t handle it. ( No. The tiny little bud-style earphones that are widely used today will not do it. ) But it has always been there…waiting.

And with some decent stuff…Carver…AR…Marantz…etc…between the bass line moving the earth underneath you, and the angel choir background vocals overhead, it is breathtaking…. freaking awesome. Huge fun. And not necessarily loud; it was always much more about clean. As in ” no distortion.”

I really miss that in today’s world…but we recall the days of Audio fondly on my little planet.

Today’s Audio Trivia Question (s);

Here is a list of guitar players; one of them does not fit with the others. Who, and Why? ( clue; watch the videos )

– David Gilmour

– Hendrix

– Bonnie Raitt

-Jimmy Page

Stevie Ray Vaughn

– Eric Clapton

– Ritchie Blackmore

– John Mayer

– Buddy Guy

– Jeff Beck

( one more clue; if you know half the people on this list, you probably passed away five years ago, and no one has told you yet..)

Well, I’ll be outside digging in the dirt…later.

Take Five…

Have been sitting here for a while perusing different music videos and whatnot, just re-visiting old favorites ( D. Krall, M.Schenker, LA Guitar Quartet ( just to remind myself that even though I am now officially a Guitar Teacher, I still can’t play a goddamned thing ) Those who can’t do…

And watched an hour’s worth of Andres Segovia teaching a Master Class in 1965; this would have been right about the time that Chet Atkins wanted to attend one, and hang around and be famous and cool and stuff.

Segovia wouldn’t let him in… because ” electric guitar is an abomination.” In a way, he was actually right. There is still nothing to match the level of accomplishment that even a moderately capable classical guitar student must achieve. I think that anyone could actually do it if they set their mind to it, but most people simply cannot imagine the level of dedication necessary, and when they find out…they realize that it would take up the entirety of their lives. Simply, literally, no time for anything else. Ever. That’s probably why Segovia was still having kids when he was over 80; he finally had some time.

I also came across a video of Bobby McFerrin and Esmeralda Spaulding at a Grammy awards thing, doing something far, far more musical than anything that might have actually won an award that night.

And was reminded of another B. McFerrin video, recommended to me by a student when I introduced my class to the pentatonic scale. Just five notes, simpler even than the major scale that we have all known since we were four, courtesy of Richard Rogers and Julie Andrews

Yes, you do. Here, I’ll prove it…

Doe, a deer…

Yeah. That one. That’s a major scale. The song teaches you the major scale, drills it in so effectively that you couldn’t get it out of your head if you wanted to. What a great hook that is.

But it hadn’t occurred to me that people inherently know the pentatonic scale on an even more fundamental level. This video illustrates this in a really neat way.

For good clear examples of pentatonics in use, listen to the blues. B.B King, Clapton, Stevie Ray, Hendrix…it’s a very long list. And they certainly don’t have to be guitar players…how about John Coltrane or Miles Davis? How about Ella Fitzgerald, scat-singing? How about Gregorian chant, the original use of a pentatonic scale?

OK. I’ll shut up now.