Friday, October 30, 2009

Shadows of Knight: Garageband Pioneers

Originally posted on January 11, 2008

There were prototypical garage bands in the sixties that, through their popularity, legitimized the raw sound of cranked (with tube distortion, of course) relatively low-watt guitar amps, raucous vocals and loud drumming. There were for example the Seeds, the Velvets, Stooges, Castaways, and Chicagoland’s the Shadows of Knight.

The latter band hit the big time by doing a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” in 1966. Their first album was a classic in the genre, covering blues standards and semi-psychedelic originals with equal distinction.

Unfortunately the small local label Dunwich, to which they signed, came and went. Other labels took them on, not always fortuitously. The two (?) albums that followed did not quite capture that raw power, although there were cuts that came close. The CD at hand is from a date they did toward the end of their initial existence. It is The Shadows of Knight Live in Rockford, Il. 1972 (Performance CD). Although it only runs thirty-some-odd minutes, it gives you an idea of the band’s continued generation of excitement, albeit in an evolved form that brought them closer to the sounds of Cream and Blue Cheer. It is a nice little set. Check it out if you are so inclined.

The Black Keys Do More with Less

Originally posted on January 10, 2008

White Stripes made people take notice with an instrumentation that consisted only of an electric guitar and drums. There’s another group that is doing the same with a recent CD called Magic Potion (Nonesuch). They are Black Keys. It’s a bluesy sound with riffing guitar and blue note rock vocals. They remind me of the band Free a little, in that there’s a blues underpinning to everything they do. The tunes are well paced and the CD is quite enjoyable.

I must rush away. It's time we ship a bass to Norway.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bobby Few and Avram Fefer Quartet, CIMP Records

Originally posted on January 9, 2008

CIMP (Creative Improvisation Music Projects) is a CD label run by the folks at Cadence Magazine. They have hundreds of interesting releases under their belt. Essentially the label is devoted to uncompromising, serious jazz and free music. Each record uses audiophile two-microphone placement and no additional processing. All that enables them to retain an authentically live feeling to the recording and a full dynamic spectrum.

One of the better CDs CIMP has released in the last couple of years is Sanctuary (CIMP 333) by the Bobby Few and Avram Fefer Quartet. Pianist Few has been around for years, playing with Albert Ayler and Steve Lacy, among others. He seems to have come into his own significantly in recent times. His partner on soprano and tenor saxophone, Avram Fefer, has paid his dues and makes a perfect co-leader with virtuosity and musical sensitivity.

The rhythm section of Hilliard Greene on upright bass and Newman T. Baker on drums drives the music forward with good energy. Each of the six original compositions has its own sound and structure. The relationship between compositions and improvisations is logical and appealing. The CD constitutes a notable gathering of some of the more important creative Jazz people of today. You can check it out along with other CIMP releases at

Just A Little Bit About Radiohead and the "Product Cycle"

Originally posted on January 8, 2008, with subsequent paragraphs written just now, thank you.

Another day. I’ve been catching up on some alt rock classics I missed when tethered to my desk at a publishing company. Radiohead’s The Bends (1995) (Parlaphone) would certainly qualify as a classic. It is a near perfect rock CD, with hooks, effective vocals and solid rock instrumentation.
I could be wrong but it seems in today's disposable culture that a musical release like The Bends could be some sort of a classic and basically still get swept away for the next "big thing." Then that next, next thing comes along and the previous next thing gets swept away in turn. I'm reminded of the old Warner Brothers cartoon where there's a talent contest with "Jack Bunny" and the cute little owl waits his turn as act after act does its bit, Jack rings the bell and the trap door opens to remove the would-be creator of a "classic." Then it's on to the next "talent." Maybe the music scene can be like that.

I had the misfortune of first entering the music business for the two seconds when disco prevailed in the music world. "Do you like disco?" my soon-to-be-boss asked me in the first interview. "Sure," I replied, thinking to myself "what the hell is disco?" Well I quickly found out. Then in two years I watched it disappear from the face of the earth, except as nostalgia. Are any of the styles popular today destined to share that fate? No answer.

Or there's the "Beaver Cleaver" effect. That's the opposite. It's when something just won't go away even though the jig is up. Anybody who watched that show (Leave It To Beaver) all the way through to the last season may remember that there was a point where Beaver was getting much too old to be the precociously prescient lad he was at the beginning. He still wore the hat, dragged his lunchbox with him out the front door at the beginning of the show, but he looked like he was 19 then, which he may have been. It just didn't work any more. Somebody like Miley Cyrus may be getting to that point shortly, who knows? Ultimately does anybody but Miley and her manager and her parents particularly care? That's a little sad.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hayseed Dixie Do Kiss Bluegrass Covers!?!

Originally posted on January 7, 2008

I bought a CD on a lark (it was a cutout) and am just getting around to listening to it. Bluegrass cover versions of tunes by Kiss? Yes, as unlikely a combo as you might ever see on either front. I worry that Kiss fans won’t like it because it is bluegrass, and bluegrass fans won’t like it because it is Kiss.

Hayseed Dixie’s Kiss My Grass (Dualtone) is actually pretty darned decent, considering. The instrumental proficiency of the players is high, the vocals are OK and, yes, those Kiss songs are there in profusion (although the CD is only thirty-something minutes long). “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Love Gun” and other Kiss icons are here. Suit yourself if you come across the CD.

Ween's Album "La Cucaracha"

Originally posted on January 4, 2008

I don’t quite know what to make of the band Ween and their CD “La Cucaracha” (Rounder). I know they have been respected as a jamband for a number of years, but on this album they are all over the place, a little in the way of the band Cake. It’s a kind of pop-rock amalgam and there are pseudo-country tunes, quirky pop numbers and generally they do things that are melodically memorable.

There is a cut that makes the whole album worthwhile, however, called “Woman and Man.” It’s an extended Santana-flavored jamband number with nice guitar soloing. I’d love to hear more of that from them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Psychedelic" Peruvian Cumbia

Originally posted on January 3, 2008

Between 1968 and 1978 a number of Peruvian bands recorded a series of electric-guitar oriented cumbias that have now been issued in the US as a CD (The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru) (Barbes). Although not really psychedelic, the music reflects the influence of the rock of the period. It also incorporates traditional Peruvian music, flavors of African highlife, salsa, ska and Congolese soukous. It is an intriguing and varied mix of musical sounds and rhythms. The CD offers music different from the everyday fare and a refreshing listen.

David Phillips and Freedance, 1995

Originally posted on January 2, 2008

Happy New Year! May it be less miserable than the last one. The internet is so slow this morning that it is almost impossible to call up anything. Growl. . . .Today is a day for some worthy jazz. There’s a group called David Phillips & Freedance, or sometimes just Freedance, and they have been together for some time.

They did a self-titled CD for Naxos in 1995 and it is worth picking up. The group consists of sax, drums, bass and guitar and they are in a good place on the progressive jazz map, just bordering on fusion without going there. They write interesting numbers and improvise with assurance and verve. The guitarist, Rez Abbasi has his own voice—pretty electric, a little John Abercrombie and a little of his Indian background. He should be heard by anyone interested in the idiom. And this CD is a very good listen in general.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Joanna Newsom

Originally posted on December 26-28, 2007

Everybody knows Tina Turner and lots of people remember when it was Ike and Tina, but before there was all that, Ike Turner was an important leader-arranger and soloist in the blues and r&b genres. There is a CD of the recordings he made under his own name and with others for Modern Records in the ‘50s: Rhythm Rockin’ Blues (Ace). It’s filled with some gem cuts, and includes some great Ike guitar. “Rocket 88” will knock your socks off, as will his “Blues Medley.” “I Ain’t Drunk” is funny as hell. It is all worthwhile.

Let us all hope for a better new year—with some peace and understanding in the world. See you in 2008!

(December 27, 2007:) As we approach another new year I naturally seem to get into a reflective mode. It seems the further we go into the new Millennium, the more critical it is to keep alive the roots that make the music of today possible. I have been as guilty as anyone of sometimes discounting or neglecting the people who made concrete the idea of picking up a guitar or bass and playing a certain way. One of those artists certainly was Carl Perkins. He did get the recognition he deserved later in his career, but the original landmark Sun recordings he made in the ‘50s did not initially bring him worldwide acclaim. It was the covers that other artists made of his songs that helped introduce him to a larger audience, of course. “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Honey Don’t,” “Matchbox,” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” are perfect examples.

A CD came out a while ago featuring two Sun LP compilations: Blue Suede Shoes and Original Golden Hits on the Collectables/Sun Collectors Series. It is a good set. All the tunes mentioned above are on there, plus a good number of other ones. What strikes me as I listen to the CD is how much of his output had a country flair and how low his lead guitar was in the mix. His special way of guitar picking formed one of the main influences on the rockabilly style and of course his vocal approach was also widely influential. Nevertheless the heavy balance in favor of guitars his music inspired really wasn’t as present on his first recordings as was the case later. And the more country-inspired numbers are not often remembered. But everything still sounds fresh and inspiring to me, especially when contemplating the year to come.

(December 26, 2007:) Happy Boxing Day, for those countries that celebrate. Not here in the USA, alas. I am back after a brief respite and today perhaps it is time for some quieter music. Joanna Newsom would fit the bill. She sings and plays a stringed harp like an angel. A somwhat quirky angel she is. Joanna’s voice makes her sound like she is twelve years old, but I am sure she is not. A CD of hers, The Milk-Eyed Mender (DC), is about three years old or so, and that’s the one I have been playing. The songs are whimsical and somehow hearken to an unspecified previous time in this or some other world, or at least a less urban world of today. Acoustic folkies could learn something from her harp playing. This is folk music coming from another place. It is innocent sounding in a way, but more than that, it is honest.

Burton Greene, Shinedown, Steve Reich

Originally posted on December 21, 2007

Free jazz is a music that came out of the US beginning in the early-to mid-sixties and spread over the planet. It survives today among dedicated musicians and an equally dedicated audience. Probably the first record label to cover the music in depth was ESP-Disk, a New York based company that had an open view of what people might want to hear. Around 1965 they recorded Burton Greene’s Bloom in the Commune. It has been out of print for many years and recently, with the revival of ESP, has been reissued. Now you either like free jazz or you don’t.

Those that do and those looking to experience it, can do no better than with this release. Burton Greene was and is a pioneering pianist of the music. He coaxes all kinds of sounds out of the piano, getting inside it and playing it like a harp, percussively assaulting it with a two-fisted heartiness, quieting down for a lyrical moment. This first release of Greene’s features Marion Brown on alto sax, who wails and warbles his way through the cuts. He is joined by tenor saxman Frank Smith, adding a deeper tone to the proceedings. Henry Grimes, the bassist, is a volcano of sound and brings an especially rugged edge to the group texture. He was an incredible bassist and he has come back on the scene after disappearing for many years. Here he is in his prime. There are two different drummers depending on the cuts, and they apply a smeared free tempoed wash behind the soloists. This is not music for everybody. Nonetheless it still sounds completely contemporary. There is a timeless quality to the music, in more ways than one. And the reissue features some bonus tracks consisting of interesting retrospective interviews with Greene and ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman. The remastering is well done. Go to if you want to order a copy.

Changing gears, I am also checking out an alternative rock band that released a CD called Us and Them a few years ago on Atlantic. I refer to Shinedown. Listening to the CD, I fail to have much to say about it, except that there are memorable melodies and a thickly applied musicianship. It’s just likeable.

One more CD for Friday. The music form sometimes called “minimalism” had its heyday in the ‘70s, but continues on in some form or other today. Many of the absolute classics of the music were written by New Yorker Steve Reich. Up there among the few absolute knockout pieces is his Drumming which was appealingly recorded a few years ago by So Percussion (Cataloupe), although there have been others as well. This version has a kick to it. Basically, the piece involves four percussionists, plus flute and vocals, driving through a cyclical, post-African set of ever-evolving rhythmic figures. They start on tom toms, move to marimbas, then glockenspiels, and finally combine all four instruments. It certainly could be called toe-tapping music, and all musicians can learn from listening to it, I have no doubt! Have a good weekend.

Progressive Rock Downloads from Garageband.Com

Originally posted on December 20, 2007

This late in December already? Should I be talking about Bing Crosby? I still have my old man’s copy of that album with him on the cover in a Santa Claus hat (I mean Bing, not my father). It’s a funky old Decca 33 RPM pressing and it scratches in all the right places. Who can resist “Mele Keliki Moka?” I cannot.

But today I want to touch on one more category of’s free downloads, then I’ll let that alone for a while. An additional genre I thought might be worth a try was “progressive rock,” and since historically punk and progressive rock were in a sense common enemies, I though it would make a good contrast. Nowadays, I don’t think the dividing lines are as sharp.

What do you folks think? Feel free to post a comment anytime you have a thought or reaction to what I am saying here, OK?

So anyway the choices were random as described in the last few days. I hit six this time, because the cuts can be longer. This is what I dug:

Certified “Avoiding” (“Earth,” UK)—The cut is a real ear-teaser. It begins with a nice electronic line with what sounds like pizzicato violin, then guitars, bass and drums complement the line in a good way. The vocal has a Peter Gabriel sophistication about it. There’s an interesting melody line and it is supported well by guitars and synths. The cut has a certain early Genesis-spacey quality. It gets into a hypnotic two-chord thing with atmospheric electronics and musical vocals. There’s a guitar solo with lots of echo and it sounds good.

Certified “Modern Man” (“Earth,” UK)—Another good one from this band. It starts in a rock mode with up-and-down step chords that sound a little flamenco-like. The chorus is cool and very other-worldly. The lead guitar plays a melody line that has charm, then it’s back to the two-chord Spanish thing, with suspensions interrupting to give the voice and synth a moment of introspection (really, I think). The Spanish tinge comes back and multilayered guitars build things up to a froth. I liked this one quite a bit. Seems like this band has something going on!

Daughters of Fission “Smell Our Army” (Phoenix/Tempe, AZ)—A quiet guitar and bass riff break out into a heavy thing with tom toms and such at mid-tempo. The tempo halfs and a mellotronish shimmer wafts over the rhythm. Another riff comes in at a faster tempo. The verse has good vocals and some nice guitars/synth. The chorus is a heavy pounder with some dissonance. The lyrics are anti-war (so you’ll either like that or not, I am not going to tell you what to think!) Floating melodic passages set the stage for a very nice-toned guitar solo. A final section gets into a Gothic sounding piano and walls of guitar sound. Very well done!

Hectic Watermelon “Subterranean Rapid Transit” (San Diego)—This is Mahavishnu inspired fusion with Jerry Goodman appearing on electric violin (of Flock and Mahavishnu fame). If you like fusion, listen.

You might also want to listen to “Closed Eyes” by Ivory Gates and “3-00-1999” by Johnny Unicorn. For me they are worth the time to hear. Well, that’s it for these downloads for a while. I hope the bands get their careers moving through this service. And it’s good of them to give us a taste of their music for free.

Punk, Rap, Goth, and Other Goodies, Some for Free

Originally posted on December 18-20, 2007

Punk rock and rap are not musics that occupy a huge place in my everyday listening. Yet today there’s where we’ll be. Going back to the downloads (see December 18th entry), I again randomly chose twelve free downloads, as yesterday, this time in the genre Punk Rock. I figured once again that if anything was going to be happening garage-wise, there should be something in this batch. There were some that were highly derivative, forgettable, juvenile, or just plain ordinary. But there were some gems too. This is what I liked:

Have Nots “Cornerstone” (Boston, MA)—We have very fast punk-ska on this one. It begins with a nice chord progression and riff and there’s a good balance between the riff and the vocals.

The Bloody Turncoats “To Her Damned Tool Store” (Minneapolis, MN)—It begins with an interesting banjo-like guitar line, almost punk-bluegrass, and bass joins in. More guitars enter and the beat is a fast punk two-step. It’s folksy, has nice vocals and contrast. The second part sounds surf-punkish in the guitar break, then back to “A”. Different and musical.

The Cremators “The Best is Yet to Come” (Helsingborg, Sweden)—wow, some heavy rockabilly punk with really hot guitars and a fast old-timey back beat. A little like a raw punky Brian Setzer combined with Motorhead vocals—really primal. The mix in the end is a little too hot on the guitars, but no big deal.

The Radioactives “Sin City” (Muenster, Germany)—A four-chord fast punk progression begins this one. The vocals sound good, the band doing a tight loud punkout. There’s a nice chorus, then back to the chord progression part again.

The Trauma Dolls “Good Boy” (Norfolk, VA)—A classic tale of oppressed youth with a rather pedestrian three chord progression in a pretty fast rock mode. The vocals are sardonically Punk and stand out. “Be a good boy and do what we say; if you’re a bad boy we’ll lock you away.” Well it sucks, but in a classically Punk fashion.

That’s enough of that for now. How about a rap CD that just came out? Lupe Fiasco is a rapper from Chicago and his Atlantic CD Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool has much going on. He is one serious dude, and he tries to tell it the way he sees it. In a way, he’s a budding Bob Dylan of Rap. Some people won’t like to hear so much truth. He looks down on the media centered phony horse crud of today’s glamor Rap and show biz in general. He takes apart the veneer of the romanticized gangster ghetto and shows it for what it is. The raps are strong, the music solid and nice vocal appearances by others come through to contrast with his tuned and timed blasts on convention. Check out “Dumb it Down,” “Put You On Game,” “Superstar” and “Streets On Fire” for chilling doses of reality. This could be big; really big; it should be big, you dig?

(December 18, 2007:) I promised earlier that I would take a look at some bands that are offering free MP3 downloads on As I mentioned in that entry, this is part of the Creative Commons movement. In the interests of promoting their band and getting exposure, these musicians encourage you to download and listen, then maybe buy a CD or complete download of their latest. The music is grouped by genre and also by band.

I started off by somewhat randomly selecting bands in the category called “Experimental Rock.” Now if anything was going to be different, I figured this was a good place to start looking for it. My selection was based on “track of the week,” “track of the month,” and the bands whose tunes had made the top twenty or so and agreed to free downloads of that song. (Some bands let you listen free but not download). I downloaded 12 tunes in that category and listened five times to each. Here are the ones I thought interesting:

Acedia “Guilty”—From Frederick, Maryland, Acedia begins with a bass riff and backbeat. A male vocalist of a kind of quasi-Emo sort sets the tone, which is pretty gloomy, then follows a big chorus with spooky guitars, synths and echoes behind the vocals. There are some out guitar and synths after the second chorus. It’s slightly gothish. Memorable and rather nice.

Brown Whornet “Stepdad’s Cane” (Austin, TX)—It starts with Zappa meets Chicago, then things get different with a Pink Floydish middle that sports psycho guitars, odd vocals, drums doing something interesting. Then there’s an echo-heavy metal riff w/ more unusual vocals, a metallic percussion thing and another riff, then back to the chorus. It gives you an unexpected jolt with that chorus and middle section. A well thought-out track, I think.

Doron Deutch “Moving On Again” (Tel Aviv, Israel)—A back beat and interesting percussive string effect with acoustic guitar and echo make this track stand out from the first. The singer is dramatic, whispery. Another moody cut, well arranged.

Elika “You’re Not Safe at All” (Brooklyn, NY)—begins with electronic beat tracks that are not mushy (to me an important thing!). The electric guitar has an almost Surf like purity to it. The lead female singer is haunting. Then the chorus has big droning guitars and the vocals remind me of a short-lived band called Whipped Cream, a kind of retro, post-sixties sound that nevertheless speaks to today and our everyday fears. The third part has some odd electronics and the hook title line. Maybe a little late in the song? Nevertheless, this is dynamic music. Somebody sign these folks!

Johnny Does Dallas “Change Me” (West Hollywood, CA)—Indian drums, bass and wah-wah guitar set up this song. The vocal is fuzz-effect filtered. The drums come in with a heavy rock beat and work well with the Indian percussion. An oddly filtered guitar takes a melodic role in part. The vocals aren’t especially distinguished, but there is a nice energy on this one.

Kinky Chimps “Morning Sun” (Ashford, Kent, England)—These are some spacey chimps! Electronics, echo and singing that sounds like it is coming out of a bottomless pit segue to backwards guitars, a psychedelic riff, and bluesy psycho-harmony vocals. Get out your beads. The song does have a nice melodic feel to it.

Spanish Force “I am the Moon Master” (Staten Island, NY)—A synth/guitar duet in a minor key sets out the tone with heavy backbeat coming in. The lyrics are Hitchcockian weird, and the music is interesting. Guitar blasts of arpeggiated two chord minor modes punctuate, then there’s almost a vaudevillian moment, then an odd march. Quite creative.

Sphincterwolf “Of Miricles (sic)” Newcastle, England—I don’t know about that name, but there are some effectively dense, shimmering guitars on this all-instrumental blow-out.
Well, that’s a sample of the “experimental rock” category. It is not disheartening to hear this music. I’ll have more for you from other genres in the next few days.

When I Found Don Patterson's "Holiday Soul" for 50 Cents

Originally posted on December 17, 2007

When I was first working in NYC I used to frequent the local vinyl outlets. I did it as part of my job anyway. (Convincing hardened New York vendors to order a single called “Backbreaker” was not all that easy.) Back then Sam Goody’s, in their years of strength, had a sale annex that was just down a few blocks from Port Authority towards New Jersey. You never knew what they were going to put in the bins there.

One day they had about a hundred copies of something called Holiday Soul (Prestige) by Jazz organist Don Patterson, each copy going for 50 cents! Now I had never heard of Don Patterson at that point, but looking on the back cover, I found that it was an organ trio (Hammond, electric guitar and drums) playing holiday music and that it was recorded around 1965.

Most importantly, Pat Martino was on guitar, who was then and still is one of the greatest living Jazz guitarists. Needless to say I bought it and still have a copy. It doesn’t seem to ever have come out on CD, which is a total shame. The band is swinging, Patterson has soul, and Martino sounds beautiful. The funky, lengthy guitar solo on “Jingle Bells” never fails to give me a good feeling. If you still do vinyl and see it around, grab it. I don’t think it will sell for 50 cents any more. Prices have risen for that disk.

Lothar and the Hand People, Jimmy Eat World

Originally posted on December 14, 2007

What makes a band unique? In 1969 Lothar and the Hand People did it with a theremin and (gasp) synthesizers. Today it might be harder to use technology as a way into a new sound, since everybody seems to get the same gadgets and “electronics” is starting to sound like another word for “clone sound.” Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of ways someone can use electronics to create a different musical feel but most musicians/producers don’t seem to be doing it.

So back to the question. There’s one answer from a band I missed and am now catching up on. Jimmy Eat World, at least on their 1999 release Clarity (Capitol), keep tempos slow to medium, more or less retain a heavy backbeat, then add minimalist, trance-like repetitive elements. The long closing track “Goodbye Sag Harbor” (16:11) is an especially good example. There are no startling electronic effects. It is purely a matter of melodic riff elements in a conventional rock band instrumentation.

Musical imagination need not be scarce. Musicians should have the courage to bypass the whole “Who Wants to Be a Star” phony glitz. And I swear to you, innovation ain't gonna come from no "robot guitar" neither! If you can't tune your guitar and need a robot to take care of that, it might mean you are tone deaf and so maybe you should take something else up. Bands who innovate don’t follow; they lead. We need that more than ever today.

Dennis Sandole, Legendary Jazz Guitarist, Composer, Educator

Originally posted on December 13, 2007

Dennis Sandole was a Philadelphia-based guitarist and jazz composer who died in 2000. He is perhaps best known as the man who taught the legendary John Coltrane. He was little recorded and suffered undeserved neglect during his lifetime. Aside from one other that came out on Fantasy in the ‘50s I believe the CD we’re looking at today was/is the only recording around. It is called Dennis Sandole Project and it’s available on Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1102 (

What is especially nice about this recording is the three segment division showing different aspects of Sandole’s music. The first is a rare, slightly scratchy record transcribed to digital. It’s a quartet from 1958 with piano, bass, drums and Sandole on electric guitar. He really had an advanced harmonic and melodic sense which immediately comes out on these small group sides. And he cannot be pinned down; he sounds like himself and that’s it. The second part of this CD has Michael Grossman on piano and also with a quartet playing Sandole compositions. Nice and also rather unusual phrasing! The same can be said of the third part, a jazz ballet opera called “Even’in is Cryin." It's all quite interesting. Get this one while you can and be amazed at what he plays on guitar and how he thinks musically!

The First Recordings of Ray Charles

Originally posted on December 12, 2007

Nat “King” Cole. Right. Everybody remembers him singing “Unforgettable” or whatever in front of a microphone. But who remembers that a.) He was one of the most important jazz pianists of the ‘40s; and b.) long before he was fabulously popular he had a trio of bass, piano and electric guitar and would do advanced instrumental pieces as well as vocals? He was not so commercial as he became, but tremendously respected in those days by musicians and those who liked jazz.

Ray Charles had a similar period (really a few, but that’s another story). When he first started recording for Swing Tone and Down Beat records (1949-1952) he had a trio just like Nat’s and sometimes even sung like him. Other times he would do blues and soul sides that set the stage for what he would start doing so well and successfully for Atlantic Records. On these early sides his trio was on the beam and there are some larger band arrangements as well from then. A Night Trane 2CD set of his early work (complete) came out a little while ago and it’s well worth having. The man was terrific, even then. Listen to “Hey Now” or “See See Rider” and you’ll get the idea.

Zombina and the Skeletones

Oroginally posted on December 11, 2007

OK, those of you who read my Halloween entry know that I promised to get back to you on Zombina and the Skeletones. They are a Liverpool-based goth-camp-retro-post-B52s sort of group. And they nicely supplied some free downloads on a Creative Commons site (and now I’ve lost that reference). I notice there is some new stuff now on My Space, but this set of downloads I have checked out is earlier. Some of it sounds like the theme from the Munsters TV show of the ‘60s, and it’s all pretty amusing and not awful. Good for next Halloween anyway.

Phil Kline's Unsilent Night

Originally posted on December 10, 2007

When it comes to the subject of holiday music, it depends on what mood you are in. If you are filled with the holiday spirit, almost anything will do. If not, maybe you don’t even want to listen to any of it at that point.

Then there are those in between sorts of musics, things that are quite different than the average fare, musics without those carols you might not be in the mood for. Of course, there are the Trans-Siberian Orchestra CDs. Some of them are better than others. Then there’s something by New York downtown Bang-on-a-Can composer Phil Kline called Unsilent Night (Cantaloupe). Essentially Kline composed a piece with collages of bells, some vocals and other resonant tones and loaded them onto multiple cassettes. On a winter’s night in the Village he assembled some friends, each with a boombox containing one of the cassettes. They all started their tapes running at the same time and proceeded to wander around the neighborhood, the audience being passers by. Kline did this for several years and gradually added to the number of boomboxes and parts. The audience grew. Finally, he assembled this CD from a couple of such performances and through partial recreations in the studio. It is a piece of music that grows on you upon repeated hearings. It’s quite different and you may or may not take to it. Again, this will appeal to those with big musical ears.

John Lee Hooker in Person and the Holiday Blues

Originally posted on December 7, 2007

The blues? Seems appropriate in these times. Not for everybody. But hey, it’s the holiday season and people go up and down like those painted ponies in another Joni Mitchell song. If you watch TV, you get bombarded with those diamond ads. You must give your significant other a $5,000 diamond turd, or better yet, a new BMW. Now who ever does that for anybody for Christmas or Hanukkah? OK, if you do it and can afford it, the best to you. The rest of us? Hey, nothing better than a guitar for that special somebody! Or not.

So I have been listening to John Lee Hooker, a wonderful bluesman who played a semi-hollow most of his career. Hooker made a bunch of albums for VeeJay Records. VeeJay was one of the most important black-owned record companies ever. And you know what made them go bust? They got the licensing deal for the Beatles first album and when it hit big they could not keep up with the orders and went into hock trying to press enough. The same thing must have happened to Swan Records, who got the original deal for “She Loves You,” and then disappeared soon after.

I digress. John Lee Hooker’s In Person (Collectibles), was a live Vee Jay release from the early-mid ‘60s and it’s great. The thing about Hooker’s playing is that he might only play one chord throughout the song, and of course sometimes more, but what he did play was just perfect, always. And his singing. He rocks, big time. He’s so good, your personal blues will go away for a little while. He had the “it” that very few have.

The Long Neglected Group "Space Opera"

Originally posted on December 6, 2007

One of the best bands we never heard surely has to have been Space Opera. As far as I know, they had only one album, Space Opera, that came out on Epic in 1973. It has been reissued as a CD on Collector’s Choice. They were from Canada and sounded a little like the Byrds. The 12- and 6-string guitar lineup with bass and drums and the vocal harmonies helped to make that influence clear. Still, they wrote some great songs, their arrangements were musical and original. My favorites are the last two cuts—“Blue Ridge Mountains” evokes the longing to set up home someplace quiet and unspoiled. It is a great tune and it segues into “Over and Over,” which features a jam of many overdubbed six- and twelve-string guitars with bass and drums keeping things together. It is an orgy of guitar riffing and it creates a wall of rock ecstasy that should be experienced by anyone with the big ears of musical understanding.

If you are concerned that this blog is going to be always about oldies, not to worry. There will be more new things coming up. I have always felt that great music goes beyond its time. We all have much to learn from the musicians that came before us—and those playing today, too.

Joni Mitchell's Blue, Rush's Feedback

Originally posted on December 5, 2007

“It’s coming on Christmas, They’re chopping down trees, something something something, And singin’ songs about love and peace.” OK, so I forget all the words. But I refer to a Joni Mitchell song. Classic Joni that Blue album. I had it on eight track and was playing it in my 1965 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon on my way to work at Bamberger’s around this time of year in 1972. I got into my first accident, thanks to the snow. I’ll never forget the sound of the damaged, leaking radiator hissing as the eight-track player continued, “Oh I wish I had a river, to skate away on.” She echoed my despair, as she often did. But if you haven’t checked out her earlier albums or have forgotten, go back and listen to the way she played acoustic. Tuned differently, capos, very much her own way to go about it. “All I Wan’t,” for example sounds like a crazy adaptation of delta blues techniques to Joni’s original sound.

But I am not listening to that right now. Do you know Rush? They’ve been around for eons and certainly have a big place in the history of the power trio. A while ago they did an EP of cover songs, their only foray into this area. They picked eight of their favorite ‘60s rock classics, songs that had influenced their style, and recorded them as a kind of looking back to their roots and reflecting on time passed. The CD is called Feedback and it’s on Atlantic. What good tunes: “Summertime Blues,” a la Blue Cheer, The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and one of my absolute favorites of my youth, “Seven and Seven Is” by Arthur Lee and Love. Gee whiz, what can I say? It is fun to hear these done again by a bunch of old duffers who still sound cool. That’s a real tribute to the staying power of Rush.

Brad Schoeppach's Guitar, Dave Douglas' Trumpet

Originally posted on December 4, 2007

A little jazz guitar to talk about today. One of the more interesting new jazzmen on the scene in the past decade or so has been Dave Douglas, trumpeter, composer and band leader. He has embarked on all kinds of projects, from the radical Jewish culture recordings of John Zorn to Miles Davis electric tribute bands. A smaller group of his, called the Tiny Bell Trio, has an interesting lineup. As of the 1997 Arabesque release (“Live in Europe”) it was Douglas on trumpet, Jim Black on drums, and Brad Schoeppach on electric guitar.

It is a good example of how the most modern, cutting-edge ensembles in this music play with different genres. Listening to Schoeppach’s role in the group, you hear him lay down chord foundations for Douglas, dabble in rock-fusion guitar wizardry, construct convoluted abstract scrabbles of guitar lines and guitar sounds, and make reference to pop, ethnic and other musics. Brad plays some very nice guitar here and the trio excels in creating their own contrasting worlds of music, shifting from cut to cut, restless, abstract yet earthy. It is good stuff.

Chamber Music for Guitar and Ensemble by Haydn, Boccherini

Originally posted on December 3, 2007

Nothing lasts forever, except maybe 33 rpm records. I have a few of the first run of LPs made (from around 1948 I think) and, though they reflect how many times they were played and under what conditions, they still play.

One LP that is not nearly that ancient (from the ‘70s) devotes itself to the guitar in small classical ensembles. Surprisingly, the guitar as an instrument was not around forever. It is not all that old. The lute came first, from at least the early Middle Ages on, and has different tuning, different strings, a shorter neck and a different sound. The first guitars appeared in the 15th century, but guitars as we know them today—the six string classic and flat-top acoustics with the body shape and size we are accustomed to—weren’t made until the 1850’s.

The record I mentioned above was recorded by Karl Scheit on classical guitar with a small chamber ensemble and released on Vanguard records. It has two works on it, one for each side. The oldest was originally written by Haydn for lute and strings, but the solo part is here adapted to the guitar. The circa 1760 composition has plenty of solo passages and sings in typical Haydn fashion. The second side brings to life a composition by the Italian Boccherini, one of the first composers to write for guitar. This “Quintet in D” in part emulates the sort of guitar playing that was already the case in Spain. The strumming, almost Flamenco style is right there and quite attractive. The record is just cool. It used to form an important part of my listening background when I was up all night writing papers in later college and graduate school years. It reminds me of a dead tiredness countered by cup after cup of tea or coffee, white-out, and determination. But it’s just very nice music, especially for guitarists or their friends. Get it if you can. It may be out on CD.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why the Ventures are Still Important

Originally posted on November 30, 2007

So what makes the Ventures such a big deal? Not the fact that they were the number one instrumental group for many years. That’s just popularity. I’m sure the group appreciates the success, of course. Since their hit “Walk Don’t Run” in the late fifties they have helped pioneer the guitar quartet—lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass and drums. On each of their numbers, the part of every player is well defined, and by the clarity of their arrangements they certainly helped make the rock sound what it has been, is, and will be. That’s saying something.

So I am listening to a concert the Ventures recorded in Japan that never was released in the States until now (EMI). The cover shows them going at it, playing cream white Ventures models with black pickguards. Inside are 30 numbers that give you a pretty comprehensive overview of where the group had been and where they were at in 1965. The group is pumped up and play with drive. They had absorbed the British invasion and made that a part of their sound. They were playing surf music then as well as any group alive. And their oldies had the classic original sound. The fact that that tour marked the beginning of tremendous Japanese popularity which continues on even today certainly must have inspired them. This recording rocks, no kidding!

Ray Russell and the Electric Guitar of Adventure

Originally posted on November 29, 2007

Electric guitarist, composer and record producer Ray Russell is hardly a household name. Yet he has been on countless sessions and been a driving force behind the music scene for many years. It is his role as electric/avant/jazz guitarist that most concerns us on this blog today. From the period 1968 through the ‘80s, Russell led a series of jazz groups of an experimental nature, combining psychedelic rock with jazz and avant improv.

A fascinating couple of CDs provide a look at those years: Ray Russell Live at the I.C.A./Retrospective (2CD Moikai) and Rites and Rituals (CBS). He and a set of English improvisers cover all kinds of ground on these recordings. Not only does Russell have an extraordinary flexibility in his playing but his writing is quite challenging and seems to get more interesting the more you listen. Warning, though, this is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Electric guitarists that appreciate people with a bit of courage and lots of talent will most likely find something in all this.

Neil Young at the Fillmore, 1970

Originally posted on November 28, 2007

Who would have thought back in 1970 that Neil Young would still be going strong, stronger than ever, and also be one of the few musicians who have been willing to take a political stand in this era? Now you may not agree with what he is singing these days, and that's your business, still you cannot help but admire the career of a man who is willing to go out on a limb and change his basic musical orientation from time to time, as well as exercise his right to freedom of speech.

After Buffalo Springfield broke up, a wonderful group in its own right with Stills and Young taking important roles, Neil Young formed his group Crazy Horse and began making some very influential music (we won’t go into his associations with Crosby, Stills and Nash here. Another time for that.) Reprise Records recently unearthed an unreleased set that Neil did at the Fillmore East in 1970 and it sounds fabulous. Crazy Horse does long versions of “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” as you might expect, but they also do some more obscure material. They were surely a jam band then, along with many others, and Neil had/has his own way of playing lead. You may find this one a real trip down nostalgia’s byways. Or if you don’t really know that period very well (like born in the ‘80s or so, something like that), this is good as anything to start with for his early work.

I must get back to my Cadence Magazine reviews. By the way, they could use a few more subscribers. If you want to learn more about jazz and improv, they are a great place to go. A subscription doesn’t cost a million, and you’ll get lots of insights on the scene.

Website: They also make and distribute CDs in the jazz mould. All recommended, and not just because I write for them.

Korn and Alternate Guitar Tunings

Originally posted on November 27, 2007

Ever thought of tuning your guitar differently? Guitarists that use the slide usually tune to a chord. There are all kinds of other options. Tuning down a few steps or even more has become an option especially popular with some Metal groups. That’s what I like about Korn. Their Life is Peachy album (Immortal/Epic), released in 1996, is as good an example as any. The lyrics are punky and adult, which is fine if you like that.

But the dense lower end sound they get when riffing and power chording can be a kicker, especially when the drummer tunes his snare drum high or uses a piccolo model (not sure which). It leaves drums and vocals at mid and top, then a massive lower end of strings. You generally need an excellent intonation set up (great tuners and quality bridge-tailpiece assembly) to hold the tuning in those instances. You may also need to raise the action on the guitar/bass a bit, to stop buzzing. Experiment! I have to go back to the studio and finish what I started earlier on my CD. There I use lower tuning, baritone set ups and the like for a bottom end that cuts through. Well, that’s me right now. I must get back to it once the holiday season is over.

Buddy Guy Plays the Blues

Originally posted on November 26, 2007

Another work week descends upon us. When I was much younger the free summer concerts in Central Park NYC were hosted by Schaeffer Beer. In 1967 a friend and I went to the so-called Schaeffer Beer Festival to catch a promising lineup: Buddy Guy and the Mothers of Invention. I didn’t know much about Buddy Guy then and there I stood when he opened the show. It was electric blues from Chicago, more electric than I had ever heard any Chicago bluesman play. It was excellent. Guy was on fire. He played “Sunshine of Your Love,” a Cream staple and big hit of the day. Later, Zappa did the song too, as a sort of rejoiner! Anyway, I went away quite impressed. Years went by and I ended up in Chicago for graduate school in the early ‘80s. Guy was knocking them dead at the South Side’s Checkerboard Lounge, but I never seemed to get the chance to go. It was where blues was played at its best and it started late and ended much later. I was too busy getting the schoolwork done and I still regret not having made the trip.

Buddy Guy lives through his recordings as well, though, so I’ve continued to appreciate him. He is certainly one of the greatest electric blues guitarists ever and a tremendous vocal power. Right now I’m checking out a CD that sounds like it was recorded in the ‘70s-‘80s called Buddy Guy and Friends, Volume One (St. Claire). Some of this CD was recorded at the Checkerboard Lounge, some in the studio. It is all great. Check this one out if you can find it.

Thanksgiving Listening, Guitar Music of Barbarosa-Lima

First posted on November 21, 2007

It’s the day before Thanksgiving in the States (duh) and even last night the traffic on the federal thruway that cuts across the area a number of blocks away could be heard from my window. Everybody is scampering to get someplace where tomorrow they will eat a turkey and then scamper back again. It’s a good holiday and in addition to the turkey roasting ritual I always play certain music. After the Macy’s Parade is over and the turkey is tucked away in the oven I listen to music for brass and organ by Bach, Britten’s St. Nicholas Oratorio, Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and a few other things. It used to be a day back in high school when I sighed with relief because it was the last football game that the Marching Band had to play in. That meant free Saturdays from then on, pretty much. My local high school football team was painfully bad. They tried hard but only would win one or two games a season. It was tough to sit through the games, but I was there to make music.

Funny, I read somewhere that Thanksgiving really didn’t get started big time until the era of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln decreed we would all give thanks on that fourth Thursday of the month every year. Good for Abe. Before that there was Patriot’s Day, which was in early December. For that day people ate succotash, not necessarily turkey.

I’m listening to a Mel Bay cassette of compositions by Carlos Barbarosa-Lima, More Brazilian Music for Acoustic Guitar. It is nicely done, plenty of fingerwork, moments of bluesiness, and a distinctive Brazilian flavor. Some of my favorite guitar playing is Brazilian. I just love how they comp chords. This cassette by Carlos B-L must be out on CD by now. He is a complete guitarist and has wonderful articulation. I wish I could play like that. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Ethiopiques, Volume One

First Posted on November 20, 2007

One more today from Africa, and it is part of a vast musical collection called Ethiopiques. There are more than 20 volumes on Buda Musiques CD’s. I am working on Volume 1! The first volume is the initial collection of singles from the late 60’s-early 70’s of Ethiopian funk. It is a singular style of music, with minor-pentatonic scales that give it a distinct Semitic-Eastern flavor, except it is a kind of r & b/funk with electric guitars and basses, drums and horns.

It doesn’t really sound like anything else. Ethiopian history over time involved migrations and settlements of so many peoples, perhaps it is only natural that its most enculturated music reflects so many influences. Yet the synthesis is all its own. Check it out if you are feeling adventuresome.

The Afropop of Fela Kuti with Ginger Baker

First posted on November 19, 2007

The African music scene began changing rapidly in the ‘50s-‘60s with the arrival of highlife and other local urban styles. Highlife combined Afro-Latin feels and sounds with African roots and American-European pop, r & b, and jazz, using electric guitar and basses, drums, hand percussion and horn sections. There were many regional variants and musics that developed wherever the local scene had creative musicians to forge their own unique combination of traditional styles and new juxtapositions.

By 1970 there was a further innovation from one of the geniuses of the times, Nigerian singer-leader-composer-instrumentalist Fela Kuti. Funk of a distinctive blend was what he developed, using rather large bands of guitars, horns, percussion, drums, etc. He passed away a number of years ago, but he left his mark on African music in a big way. An album of his from 1970 currently tops my playlist: Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker Live (Terrascape CD). Four fairly long tunes/jams take the music into a very hip place, and Ginger Baker fits right in. It is a riff-based music with incredibly enticing grooves set up by guitar, bass and percussion and punctuated by the horns and keyboards.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

From the Carpenters to Dark Throne

First posted on November 16, 2007

At last a day of sunshine in my area. What is it that the Carpenters sung, “Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down?” Now don’t laugh, the Carpenters did what they did about as well as anybody does anything. And that first album has a psychedelic tune and some powerhouse arrangements. In the music publishing days of my youth my boss used to send Karen Carpenter salamis as gifts (at her manager’s suggestion). Little did we know she had that eating disorder.

From the Carpenters to death/thrash/speed metal is a jump, and here we go. . . . Dark Throne is/was a European band working in the latter style. They formed in 1986. I’m checking out an anthology of their music from 1988-94, ironically called Preparing for War (Peaceville CD). Now the vocals and lyrics are not especially important to me. It’s the dark, bleak exorcist stuff. Pretty generic at that. But the wall of sound the guitars/bass get, the thrashing drums and the sheer musicality of the band over time sets them apart. Now keep in mind that musicality for such a band is not necessarily to be measured by normal standards. You listen, though, and you get a sensibility from them that I appreciate. Good weekends to all once again. Monday and Tuesday we’ll look at some electric African music.

Bluegrass at the Roots

Originally posted on November 15, 2007

Mike Seeger is one of my favorite musicians. He plays various stringed instruments and has specialized in re-creating string band music from the pre-bluegrass days, as well as folk-bluegrass things. He had a band in the ‘50s-‘60s called the New Lost City Ramblers and has done some wonderful solo albums. I mention him here because he produced an album in 1961 by a bluegrass outfit that never quite achieved stardom--the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover. It has been reissued on CD by Folkways-Smithsonian and it is called Bluegrass at the Roots. A fine recording it is. The Lilly Brothers came out of West Virginia and they played music that resonated with earlier bands such as Bill Monroe and the Carter Family. The CD has a great version of “Barbara Allen," among other things. The guitar playing is in the bluegrass tradition and Don Stover plays some fabulous banjo.

Garage Bands in New Jersey and Chicago

Originally posted on November 14, 2007

OK, when I was a young lad, the Rock scene was exploding. I would certainly be pretty close to correct if I said that the period 1965-1970 was one of the most important eras for the music. I was playing music and in various rock bands then, as were many kids around me. There was the high school dance network, Knights of Columbus Halls, outdoor parties (when the cops sometimes came and busted things up; teens were considered dangerous then, I guess), no shortage of places to play and show off what you were doing. Around 1966 I was a young squirt and there began to be a plethora of local bands that played what we now call Garage Band Music.

In my Northern New Jersey town the best band by far was called It’s Us. They sounded something like the Beau Brummels at times, but they wrote some memorable originals and even had a single out on Arab Records. Everybody in town who was cool bought a copy and it even was installed on the jukeboxes at the local teen hangouts. Well I managed to find a copy of that single again—courtesy of a friend whose brother was in the band (Thanks, Jeff)—and I must say it still sounds good to me. Why? There was something about those old, semi-low watt tube amps about to blow up, the jangling somewhat treble-heavy guitars, that speaker-blowing bass booming, something about all that which freshens the air around you, even today. Every town it seemed in those days had plenty of bands and Beatle boots sold by the truckload. But It’s Us were the coolest. We were all transfixed with them. Especially since we were in 7th grade or so at the time. But they had a big following of older kids, too.

That brings me to a CD I have on my player. It’s The Quill Records Story: The Best of Chicago Garage Bands (Collectables CD). The Quill label seemed to be active from 1965 through 1967 and the anthology covers singles they put out during that time. Some of it is awful in a funny nostalgic way, but the rest is vintage garage. Since the tracks follow a more or less chronological order, it is fascinating to listen to the gradual evolution of the Garage style, from jangling surf guitars to fuzzy psychedelia, from teen angst lyrics to cosmic blathering. It’s fun to listen to these non-hits because you realize how pervasive the styles were over the country and beyond. Our town had It’s Us. Chicagotown had these bands.

Japanese Avant Rock from Boredoms

Originally posted on November 13, 2007

What goes on in the rock scene in Japan does not often get much attention here in the United States. A guy I used to work with who spent time there turned me on to j-pop and that was interesting, but what about the more “progressive” bands? I found out some of that when I fell heir to a number of CDs recently released in the states by a long-lived band called Boredoms. They have what looks like six releases out on Vice CDs now. The one I am listening to is Super Roots 7. Recorded in 1998, it is an EP (thirty-something minutes) of a stylistic phase they were then in (they have gone through a number of them). Here the bulk of the CD is devoted to some guitar-based trance jams. There isn’t much in the way of vocals, and the sound they get is almost like the climax to a Yardbird Rave Up of the sixties, only it goes on for ten or so minutes. It is quite interesting.

Xavier Cugat, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Loco and Old Records

Originally posted on November 12, 2007

This day’s entry doesn’t have a lot to do with guitars, but it does look at a couple of issues that concern musicians and listeners in various ways. When I was a kid my father belonged to the Columbia Record Club. In those days if you bought a certain number of records, they would send you a bonus disk that had a generic cover with a hole in the middle to show the label and indicate what it was. You didn’t choose it, I believe. They chose it for you. Well, one of them he received was an album by Xavier Cugat. This was probably 1956. I didn’t know what it was, but I sure liked it. It was my first exposure to the world of rumbas, meringues and such. The rhythms got to me. Every self-respecting couple who could take the time learned how to dance the various Latin steps and my parents later started taking dance lessons. They bought a few records—Tito Puente killed me. By the late fifties, the cha cha had become the most popular of them all, probably because it was easy to do. So they ended up with a record of Tea for Two Cha Chas by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. By that time Dorsey himself was dead but another guy (Covington) took over. The record was a huge hit. Anyway the band followed up with, you guessed it, More Tea for Two Cha Chas.

Here is where we come into the present. I’ve always been a fan of vinyl—and even before it was replaced by CDs, I used to comb the junk shops and various places for hidden vinyl treasures. There was a point in the late ’80s where just about everybody was throwing out their record collections. Anyway the local Salvation Army Thrift Store was likely to end up with anything you could think, for a quarter each. I learned two things—1.) Most of them were dirty and scratched; 2.) If you ran them under warm water and circled around the grooves with a tissue soaked in regular dishwashing soap, then rinsed and dried and did the same again with rubbing alcohol, the records were at least playable. Nowadays the Thrift Store has been raided by would-be e-bayers and you never find anything much. Plus they raised the price to a dollar and that’s really too much to pay.

So two of those earlier finds I am at last getting around to hear. One is that Tommy Dorsey record sequel. It is weird. There is a combination of actual Latin music with big band jazz and schlock. There’s an electric guitarist and the drummer sometimes superimposes a rock (twist) beat over the Latin percussion. It’s not just for nostalgia that I listen. All music for me is fodder for my own musical cannon, and I look to arrangements from eras and other worlds to learn something. Like cigars, what has become totally passé can suddenly become relevant. Like with what John Zorn did with Noire movie music. So this is an interesting record to me.

Another one that goes with the Dorsey was a disk that came out around 1955, I guess from the awful cover art typical of the period and what’s on the liner notes. It’s called Locomotion by Joe Loco. He was pretty big, as I understand it, in Latin music circles in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s. This is his “recreation” in “hifi” of some of his hits for re-release on the Columbia label. It’s pretty nice really. There are a couple of big band cuts and the rest is small group stuff. But they get the groove going. Later on, of course, salsa and then Santana brought new dimensions to the music. The history of Latin music, which I continue to be a student of, is so important to all electric musics today in the US, Europe, Africa and of course Latin America!! Even a pop amalgam like the Dorsey record has something to teach one about what can happen and how things could go.

The State of Music Today, Kenny Werner's Musicianship Book

Originally posted on November 9, 2007

Friday again, and I hope it is a happy one for you. Music making in today’s world is an even bigger challenge, at least here in the US, than ever before. Many music programs in schools have been drastically cut or eliminated over the years, the number of places to play and to build skills has drastically diminished from the early electric era to today, television is not as devoted to covering music as it once was, radio syndication makes it harder and harder to get your music heard, the music business has been in a tailspin for a number of years and perhaps has bottomed out. Given downloading and such, I believe the world tends to think of music as a less valuable commodity than it once was. And just plain old people—I don’t know, many of them don’t spend as much time actually listening to music than they once did. At least that’s my experience, looking around me in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. One could say the quality of music has suffered lately. That might be true in terms of what gets exposure in any big way, but there are great musicians and great musics out there if the audience can be found for them. I could go on but wont. The upshot is that musicians need to dedicate themselves to their art in a world that is not so easy anymore, if it ever was. It is natural for a budding musician to feel insecure, let alone a veteran. Well, don’t give up the fight.

Another book to read if you feel yourself flagging in spirit or motivation was written by a jazz pianist, but is applicable to any musician playing any music, even guitarists and bass guitarists! See, I’m not forgetting about you over here at Gapplegate Music. Anyway, the book is called Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within by Kenny Werner. What’s good about it is that it seeks to instill in the reader a place in her or his mind where exceptional creativity of a musical sort can happen consistently. It will give you a lift, and if you attend to it carefully, might turn you into much heavier a cat musically. I wish that for anybody reading this. And if you aren’t a musician, it still can help you, although you might do better with Fritz’s book mentioned yesterday. That’s it for books right now. Monday I will write about rummaging around for vinyl recordings and some musical things I am now appreciating that I located for peanuts.

Robert Fritz Writes On Creativity

Originally posted on November 8, 2007. Did you ever have the feeling you were repeating the same things in your life, over and over, no matter what you tried to do? Did you ever come to the conclusion that useless activities were sapping your strength and killing your creativity? Who hasn’t? Self-help books that purport to eliminate such all-too-human situations are rampant. As a musician, of course, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a rut. One should always be ready with the next solo, the next song, the next project, and there is no time for inertia. One of the best books written on the subject is by a musician as well as an author and self-help guru. His name is Robert Fritz and the book is called Your Life as a Work of Art. I found it quite helpful.

Big Jay McNeely's R and B, Motorhead's Metal

Originally posted on November 6 and 7, 2007

By now, if you've been following my blog you may have gathered that I listen to all kinds of music. What about rhythm & blues from 1957? When I was a kid the local 5 & 10 was still selling 78 rpm records that were remaindered—for 9 cents each! At that price I could afford two. One day they had something by Big Jay McNeely & Band on Swingin’ Records. I grabbed it, thinking anything on a label called Swingin’ had to be cool. I took it home and listened. I was flabbergasted. It was high-energy r & b, proto-funk and it really was very cool. Years went by before I figured who Big Jay was. McNeely was a proto-rock big deal in the very early ‘50s as a kind of madman, a bar walking, bend-over-backwards tenor sax player with a screaming and honking thing happening that had some relation to Illinois Jacquet and his playing. But Big Jay was just wild. By 1957 he had a band with two saxes, electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. On the vocals was Little Sonny. McNeely still did the rabble-rousing, wild instrumental numbers, but with Little Sonny (almost a proto-James-Brown) he could expand into more of the Soul bag.

He made an album’s worth of material for Swingin’ which eventually popped up on the Collectibles CD label. And right before that he recorded a session live (Live at Birdland) which never saw the light of day until Collectibles put it out a while ago. That’s the one I’m listening to now and it is very cool. The tune that hit me on the 78 I bought for nine cents is here in its live incarnation: “Back…Shack…Track.” Funny, turns out that was the “B” side, but for me it rules. You have nifty sax lines, early funk drumming and an interlocking guitar and bass riff. And the vocals—electric!! If you can find this one, you might want to get it. It has all the table walking crazy sax stuff and this proto-funk too. Little Sonny was a gas!!

For contrast, what about Motorhead? They had been together for ages when they recorded Everything Louder than Anyone Else live at a concert in Hamburg in 1998 (2CD SPV). Man, they exhaust me just listening. There may never have been a rock group that had so much power in their playing. It’s a guitar-bass-drums trio with electricity coming out of their toes. Metal with a punk and thrash influence, death rock without much of the death or the exorcist vocals, that’s what it all sounds like. The group kicks into overdrive from the very first cut and does not let loose until the final zonk. These guys you either love or hate, there can be little indifference. I am in awe.

The Essential Jimmie Rodgers

Originally posted on November 5, 2007

On the listening end I have been savoring The Essential Jimmie Rodgers (RCA). He is known as the “father” of country music and these recordings comprise his influential career from the late ‘20s to the early ‘30s. He was big then and for good reason. He sang of the common American, and the songs reflect hopping freights, the cowboy life and other now near-mythical themes. There was an honest, straightforward way in his singing. And his yodeling was something.

Rodgers played an acoustic guitar and his themes, the sound of his voice and the down-home acoustic guitar strumming set the pace for both country and folk singers to come. Imagine having your name set in pearl inlays on your guitar neck? Well, his last guitar had that going on! His music is simply indispensable for those who look back and want to trace the roots of American music today. That he died prematurely at the age of thirty-five is a tragedy for us all.

Operatic Slacker Hip-Hop from The Streets

First posted on November 2, 2007

I have a gigantic review article for Cadence Magazine that’s due today, so I will be a little brief. English working class slacker hip-hop opera? This would be a group called The Streets. Their second CD, A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice-Atlantic) is just that. It has explicit lyrics, so don’t play it around kids. It is funny, sad and well put together.

A bloke loses 1,000 quid as the premise for the story. He runs into trouble everywhere, his girlfriend throws him out, everything is wrong with his life. It doesn’t sound like an opera—in fact it doesn’t sound like your usual hip-hop either. It is just something very different and it certainly got my attention.

The Orchestral Music of Elvis Costello

First posted on November 1, 2007

Here is one that has been out several years: Elvis Costello Il Sogno (The Dream) (DGG). Elvis Costello writing orchestral music? Who knew? Guess what, though, it's pretty darned good. It has some "popular" aspects, especially from drummer Peter Erskine—and with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra, the performance is great. It has plenty of memorable moments and the orchestration is surprisingly good. A worthy listen.

Does anybody old enough to remember still have the Deep Purple LP that was recorded around 1968—a Rock symphony, again I believe with the London Symphony? That was also pretty good if I remember rightly. There were other rock-symphony amalgams to follow but I believe that LP was the first.

A Little Halloween Music

Originally posted on October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween. I don’t know about you, but once you aren’t a kid or don’t have some young ones around to liven things up, it just doesn’t have that zip anymore. Still, there is music to be had. I tend to think goth, naturally, when I think of the day. So the classic Evanescence album Fallen (2003) will be playing.

I tend to get a backlog of listening items because I insist everything should be played five times before I file it where it should go. Why five times? It seems like just enough to decide what you really think of a piece of music, at least for me. Some of the best music takes that long to get into. So, for example, I could mention Zombina and the Skeletones (great name) or Inkubus Sukkubus as possible suitable Halloween listens, but I have not heard them enough to decide yet.

Of course, there are the classic Classics—Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Dukas, and Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain.” I have a particular fondness for “Danse Macabre” thanks to my elementary music teacher, the late Mrs. Dabzynski, who not only described the story and played the music every year, she also had us act out the parts—the regretful dead, the rattling skeletons, the blowing leaves, Death the violinist. Now that I think of it Halloween does fit my rather black mood of late. And the music can really bring the time nearer to your experience of life.

Chemist by the Necks

Originally posted on October 30, 2007

Ever heard The Necks? Who? No, The Necks. They are an Australian band, a trio, and they play mesmerizing music. If you’re looking for something that feels like it’s déjà vu all over again, that is in a minimalist mode without vocals, that’s trance like without the disco or excessive cheesy electronics and the same old drum machine beats, these musicians will give you something refreshingly different along those lines. They consist of a keyboard player, a bassist, a drummer, and at least one doubles on guitar. Their music partakes of jazz and rock without giving you a song form or a head-solos-head format. It is a unique sound and puts you someplace nice.

The one I am listening to is called Chemist and it is a CD on the New Necks label. I believe it is an Australian import.

Tomorrow, maybe some spooky music to mark the day?

Blues from Jimmy Reed, 1963

Originally posted on October 29, 2007

Can it be Monday again? A good time for the blues, the backbone of rock and jazz and much else. I am listening to a 1963 Vee Jay release T’Aint No Big Thing, But He is Jimmy Reed. It was re-released on Collectibles, and it sounds as fresh as the day it was made. Like so many urban bluesman of his era, Jimmy Reed came up to Chicago from the south to seek his fortune. He began recording for Vee Jay in 1953 and had a string of blues hits and many albums through the ‘60s. He influenced all kinds of musicians, perhaps most famously the Rolling Stones, who recorded some of his songs early in their career and were influenced by him in general. This particular album is typical of Jimmy's work. He and his fellow guitarists set up a rocking blues pattern with the rhythm section and each cut is mostly under three minutes.

The way the band works together, the ever-present turnarounds (concluding phrases that come at the end of the blues chord patterns) for multiple lines, Jimmy’s laconic vocals and his piercing harmonica set him apart from the rest. His style never really changed, at least during the Vee Jay days. There were four basic grooves he had—boogie-jump, fast blues, mid-tempo shuffle, and very slow blues. Each groove had corresponding interlocking lead and rhythm guitar parts and the band had mastered their unique approach completely by the time this record was made. They really rock!

Sal Salvador, Miles Davis and the Jazz Guitar

Originally posted on October 26, 2007

As it is Friday, it is dress down time here at Gapplegate Music. Then again, every day is dress down day!

Sal Salvador was a jazz guitarist of some influence in the ‘50s. He did not record all that much, but I’m listening to one of his better ones. It is a compilation of a number of sessions he made with pianist-vibraphone player Eddie Costa from 1954-57. Costa was a very interesting pianist and a good vibist and unfortunately passed away in a traffic accident on the West Side Highway, NYC, in 1962. Salvador and Costa made a dynamic team. Sal had real facility putting together bop lines and this two-record CD on Lonehill is jam packed with nearly 80 minutes of music per disk. (Complete Studio Recordings Lonehill 10171). Salvador gets a classic fifties tone and they do a good job with some originals and a bunch of jazz standards and popular tunes of several decades. They are joined by bass and drums for all cuts, the last few add some horns. It’s worth checking out as typical of what a very good jazz guitarist was up to in that era.

I first encountered the music of Miles Davis when I rummaged out an old copy of Round About Midnight at a local junk shop on my adolescent sojourns. It was from 1955 and so was middle-early as far as his career went. It was, and is a stupendous record. Miles went on to be at the vanguard of new jazz styles throughout most of his career. Although some people don’t approve of it, his “jazz-rock” phase (1969-76) involved some of the most exciting and challenging music he ever created. He recorded a concert in Japan at the very end of that period, in 1976, and it was originally released on two, 2-LP sets—Agharta and Pangaea, for Columbia. Those eventually came out on twin 2-CD sets and I grabbed them a while back. I had to sell almost all of my records before graduate school in 1981; in 1985 I had to start over again for listening-collecting. So I rebought these disks.

What is notable about this concert is, as the last he recorded before retiring for a number of years, that it was as far as he would go with the “jazz-rock” style. It was a mid-size band, with reeds, drums and congas, electric bass, Miles on trumpet and organ, Pete Cosey on lead guitar and Reggie Lucas on rhythm guitar. They had been playing together in this configuration for a number of years and they had meshed completely in a rock-funk-psychedelic sense. Pete Cosey played some very nice guitar and Lucas had mastered a rhythm guitar style that complemented the lead. Listening back, I realize that they were what today you would call a jamband. It will still challenge your ears but there’s much to be gained by becoming familiar with this phase of Miles’ music.

The History of Jazz Guitar in a Nutshell, and Some Corresponding Guitars Made Today

First posted on October 25, 2007

What a gloomy morning here in New Jersey. Today, something about the history of jazz and guitars in shorthand. The electric jazz guitar came into its own in the late 30’s-early 40s when Charlie Christian caused a sensation with Benny Goodman’s small and larger groups. Those first electrics available were more or less flat-tops that a pickup was added to. Later they sometimes had a cutaway. The Washburn HB-15 is in many ways a descendant of that style and can give you the vintage vibe—the sound of the bluesy, riffy Christian and those that came after, as well as those first electric blues folks like T-Bone Walker.

By the early ‘50s there were those that picked up on Christian’s style and expanded it into a full bebop sound and beyond. Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Johnny Smith and Kenny Burrell each had something important to say and developed the language of jazz guitar into extended elegance. By then they were playing guitars like the Washburn J-3. A little thicker in body, a little more streamlined.

By the late fifties and early sixties the music progressed even further with Wes Montgomery and George Benson driving the style to more complex chording patterns, octaves and the like. The Parker PJ-14 combines the gains in engineering that came about during those important years and updates them. The style is traditional-modern in looks, identifying it as having one foot in the past and one in the future. As time went on, many guitarists took some lessons from their rock and blues contemporaries and began turning up a notch or two and, in some cases, playing solid bodies. So you had a Joe Pass and then Pat Martino and John McLaughlin—the latter two have been capable of great stylistic diversity throughout their careers. There are others, of course, but the current culmination of mainstream stylistic edginess has come from Pat Metheny. He is likely to play on many different styled guitars at any point, as have other guitarists of the late sixties through today. I’ve left off some names because of space, (Abercrombie, Frisell, Green, and Scofield, for examples). All of these players have certainly laid the foundation for much of the playing that occurs today.

The point is to check out any of these guys you may have missed, but also following the way the music has developed, go ahead and be a traditionalist or feel free to take up whatever axe(s) you choose!! It is your music! Next time, a few Jazz CDs I’ve been appreciating lately.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Bluegrass on LP and CD

First posted on October 24, 2007

Bluegrass . . . When I was a kid, even the local drug store sold records. I was an adventurous listener then. One day they had a 99 cent Diplomat album called This Lonesome Road by Carl Glass and his Mountain Boys. It was bluegrass gospel with all those harmonies and I was captivated. From there I went to some old Starday Records, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe and kept a modest amount of time for this genre, which I still love. When I was going to music school my next door neighbor in Brookline, Mass was a professor of Indian music at Boston University. We had many conversations and it came out that the only American music he really liked was bluegrass! When I thought about it a little, it made sense to me—banjos are something like sarods in sound and construction and the vocals in both musics have a slightly similar tone. So. . .

Anyway I am currently listening to a Rounder compilation called Bluegrass Number 1s. It has a second bonus disk that I have not listened to extensively as yet, but the main disk really does it for me. “Lonesome Wind Blues” by Rhonda Vincent is excruciatingly beautiful. Laurie Lewis’ “Who Will Watch the Home Place?” is hauntingly sad. There are many gems. Alison Kraus blows me away, and she's on there. I don’t personally play this music as a musician, but I have enormous respect for those that do. Next time, a couple of thoughts about jazz guitar.

Moby 18, Destroy All Monsters

First posted on October 23, 2007

I am listening to Moby’s 18. I know he has been big, but what’s with this guy? Yes, he writes lots of tunes, some good (“We Are All Made of Stars”) but then his productions are practically all keyboards and he only sings a few of the songs himself. And the drum sound is just awful! There aren’t many guitars and when there are they don’t add much. And the way he samples a singer just sounds less than good. When guys like Eno sampled international ethnic type voices, the music was totally transformed. Sometimes it seems like Moby just finds it easy to pick the best five seconds or so of a vocal performance and then just repeat it for a while. It sounds as canned as it is. Don’t get me wrong—his songs can be very moving. But I don’t like that smooth, near disco production thing he has, at least on 18.

In 1973 artist Mike Kelley, Vocalist Niagara and a number of others formed the art-rock, anti-rock, punkish group Destroy All Monsters. It wasn’t a success in any monetary sense. They were self-consciously horrible with the intent to be so. They taped a lot of it and some of that came out. As time went by the band, at least temporarily, pared down to a quartet with Niagara still on vocals but with guitar, bass and drums from such proto-advanced-garage bands as the Stooges and MC5. At any rate they did an EP called Bored (Cherry Red) in 1999 and it is great, if you like some raw, in-your-face rock. The title cut is the best, with Niagara laconically sounding as bored as the lyrics indicate. It works. Next time I hope to cover some of the bluegrass I’ve been checking out.

'80s Underground Rock, Handsome Boy Modeling School

First posted on October 22, 2007

It was 1985 and I had gotten through graduate school and was working for a well-known publishing house. A writer I had hired who was just out of college had hung a poster on her office wall. I was curious. “REM,” I said. “Who are they? Any good?” She gave me a look of slightly withering contempt. “It’s R.E.M.,” she replied. “And they are great.” I deserved that bemused response. I was out of it. One thing led to another and the upshot was I ended up getting everything R.E.M. had done up until then. I was hooked. My life was a cloistered one at graduate school, so I missed out on a good amount of the alternative rock scene from 1981-85. Everybody was raving about Michael Jackson there, but I suspected more was going on than was reaching my ears. There was. I spent several years catching up. A four-CD set came out several years ago that covered what turned out to be a rather special time on the scene. It is called Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ‘80s Underground (Rhino) and it manages to cover succinctly the best of the less heralded alt groups of the era. I had purchased many of these tracks on vinyl, but missed a few here and there. It’s a great compilation and makes one realize on listening how something was up, for certain. They’ve got some R.E.M., sure. And they include lots of other bands, too: XTC, The Smiths, New Order, Dinosaur, Jr., The Replacements. There’s a little punk, new wave, no wave, and you can wave bye-bye at the end. I know there are plenty of things going on today too, but I have a certain nostalgia for these bands.

OK, now I am finally catching up with a hip-hop group who released their first (I think) CD in 1999. They are called Handsome Boy Modeling School and that CD is So. . . How’s Your Girl? (Tommy Boy Records). I don’t like everything coming out in the hip-hop vein. But I do like these folks (Dan the Automator and Prince Paul). First of all, they can be funny. Father Guido Sarducci makes a guest appearance, for example, and he is out there. Much of it is tongue-in-cheek. Second, they are likely to combine all kinds of styles and samples with live instruments and vocals. There is a rap veneer, but also shades of rock, Beethoven, funk, soul, and so on. It is musical! Perhaps a bit more guitar in the mix would have made it even better. Well they have at least one more CD that came out and it’s cool, but this one especially hits me.

Elektra Retrospective Box, Bill Klemm Electric Rock

Originally posted on October 19, 2007

There’s a box set that has been out a little while that I have been listening to. It is a compilation of the now defunct Elektra Records called Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973 (5-CD, Rhino Elektra). What amazes me about it is how it covers so much ground—and how the folk/rock scene changed so dramatically in those ten years. The cuts were selected with some care. There are things you might expect to find—like “Light My Fire” or “You’re So Vain.” And there are things that you may have passed by, too. There’s a wealth of folk acoustic cuts from the early days—Richard Farina, Fred Neil, The Dillards, etc. And there are some obscure rock groups too, like Leviathan, Clear Light, The Rainbow Band. It is all quite enjoyable if you like that era or are discovering the less frequented, non-Clear-Channel haunts of the music. Not everything is a top-40 hit, of course. Those were the days when it was cool to like that. Maybe those days are still with us.

A CD I’ve taken to recently was created by an old bandmate from years back. He’s Bill Klemm and his latest CD Bar Chord Heaven has that unmistakable mid-Beatles, early psychedelic rock sound. It is straightforward band rock, and his original tunes deftly showcase a different twist on retro-as-contemporary. You can find it at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Garage Band Creative Commons, Bird Songs

Originally posted on October 18, 2007

I stumbled on an interesting website yesterday that you may not know about. It’s called and it is part of the Creative Commons movement. In this case, various bands and their labels (if any) have volunteered to suspend royalty payments so that you can listen and download selected cuts that promote the music. It looks to be a very large holding of free MP3 downloads with all kinds of genres involved, from Folk to Blues to Punk and Experimental Rock. I’ll be checking some of it out in the future and let you know if anything blows my mind. Meanwhile bands are invited to get involved. Who knows, it might give you the exposure you need.

You may think I’m a little nutty but I’ve been listening to a three CD set called Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs—Eastern Region (Time Warner Audio Books). Why? I grew up listening to the birds in my backyard. Then my old buddy Fuzzbee turned me on to the French composer Messiaen and how he used bird calls in his music. (Beautiful stuff, by the way.) Then I also discovered John Cage, who many people might dislike, but he is nevertheless important, not only for his music, but for the idea that your sound environment, whether garbage trucks compacting their loads outside your door, or the sound of crickets at night . . . that it is all a work of art to be appreciated. R. Murray Schaeffer, another composer, wrote a book called “The Tuning of the World” that talks about those sorts of things as well. So this CD set has a generous helping of the songs and calls of every bird you could think of from the Eastern US. Some of them are beautiful, some funny (those ducks), some horrid (Black Vulture), but it is all a gas to hear. Now if I could get my guitar to sound like some of them, that would be a trick!

First Post: Wendy Waldman & John Scofield

First posted on October 17, 2007

OK, so it is autumn, not really too bad once you get used to it. I thought I’d devote a little blog to music and music related stuff here on the site. I do most of my music criticism and review for Cadence Magazine, which is a truly independent periodical for anybody serious about Jazz, Improv and Blues. They are good folks. You should subscribe because you’ll be hooked into the world of upcoming and established artists that don’t always (or sometimes, ever) get radio play. But my musical tastes and interest go beyond what I cover there to other things. As Ornette Coleman once said, “there is no bad music, only bad musicians.” I believe that. I also believe that one shouldn’t forget music that came out a while, or even a long while ago. So I’m going to cover things I think are worth attention and talk a little about music and instruments too if it seems like a good time.

First off, if I'm not playing or running my guitar shop, you should know that I listen to music day and night, whenever there’s a chance. Let me tell you about a few I’ve been listening to recently. Like for example, this one, which was easy to miss: Scorched by Mark-Anthony Turnage and John Scofield (DGG). It was recorded in 2002 and features guitarist Scofield’s electric trio and orchestral music penned by Mark-Anthony Turnage. Now Scofield played with Miles and a bunch of others and he is in top form here playing funky electric music. He gets such a tone on his instrument. I’m jealous. He does some very hip, rhythmic playing, chords and lines and you know what? For one of those rare occasions, the orchestral music and the electric music really work together, thanks to both Turnage and Scofield’s compositional skills. The music meshes together and it’s very, very cool.

Now I like everybody else went through the classic singer-songwriter age of the seventies and some of it no longer sounds current. But as someone who still has vinyl and combs the various places where that lurks, I must say I was very happy to rediscover Wendy Waldman the other day—specifically her Gypsy Symphony that came out on Warner Brothers in 1974. What a treat! She wrote some very memorable songs and had a knack for putting it all together. There is a very cool, blues soaked “Cold Back on Me” and a really driving “My Name is Love.” She was unique and I now miss her a little. She has some newer recordings and I should check them out.