“Like geese farts on a muggy day”: Leo Kottke’s “6- and 12-String Guitar”

Sometime in the early seventies I began reading in Guitar Player magazine about a group of acoustic guitarists. Their music drew upon the traditions of folk, ragtime and blues but often would also incorporate other elements such as Indian raga. They played what is known in guitar geek land as fingerstyle guitar, a technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking which plays notes with a plectrum (aka a “pick”). For a solo guitarist, playing fingerstyle offers the possibility of sounding like more that one guitar by playing multiple parts. The right hand thumb play a bass part while the index, middle and ring fingers pluck out the melody and flesh out the harmony.

The spiritual father of this school of guitarist was John Fahey, whose recordings from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s inspired many guitarists who wound up furthering the music. The most well known of these is Leo Kottke, who made his debut recording of “6- and 12-String Guitar” on Fahey’s Takoma label in 1969. Kottke primarily focuses on instrumental composition and playing though he also sings occasionally in a baritone voice described by himself as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day”. He would make comments like that during the funny and bizarre monologues that would intersperse his concerts between playing solo tunes on 6- and 12-string guitars.

Finally I was able to get a copy of “6- and 12-String Guitar” (also known as the “Armadillo album”, after the animal pictured on its cover) and it did not disappoint. The tunes have a driving, syncopated pulse that draw upon on blues, jazz, and folk music and will not fall into the background the way more “new age” solo guitar music does.

Below are the audio only clips of three tunes off that album including the epic Vaseline Machine Gun (gotta love that title). Check it out.

Leo Kottke – Watermelon


Leo Kottke – Busted Bicycle


Leo Kottke – Vaseline Machine Gun

 

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

“That High Lonesome Sound” . . : A Very Quick Intro To The Dobro

The dobro is a strange and (IMO) really cool instrument.  “Dobro” itself was originally a brand name of resonator guitar. A resonator is the hubcap looking apparatus that sits in the middle of the instrument and gives it its unique sound while essentially acting like a mechanical speaker, giving it volume and sustain. The term “dobro” is also used as a generic trademark for any wood-bodied, single-cone resonator guitar. The wooden body differentiates a dobro from a National Steel guitar which have, as the name implies, has a metal body. There are two types of Dobros: square-neck and round-neck. Round-necks, held like a guitar, are typically played in blues music. Square-necks, preferred by bluegrass players, have strings that are high off the fret board, are played on their backs with the strings facing up and most importantly, played horizontally with all notes “fretted” using a tonebar. The Dobro was introduced to the bluegrass line-up in the 1950s by Josh Graves of Flatt & Scruggs, who used the Scruggs banjo picking style on the Dobro, and that is still the way it is popularly picked. Bluegrass players typically tune their dobros to GBDGBD, although some Dobro players use alternate tunings.

Dobro

Rogue Classic Spider

I had read about dobros in Guitar Player magazine (my bible back then) but the first time I saw anyone play one was when I saw the Earl Scruggs Revue play Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, NYC. I thought it sounded so cool. In a way, both country and bluesey.

Regal Metal Body Tricone Resophonic Guitar

National Steel Guitar

Earl Scruggs himself was an American music legend, noted for popularizing a three-finger banjo picking style, now called “Scruggs style,” which is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music. In early 1969, Scruggs formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, consisting of two of his sons, Randy (guitar) and Gary (bass) and later Vassar Clements (fiddle), Josh Graves (Dobro) and Scruggs’ youngest son, Steve (drums).

Josh Graves is credited with introducing the dobro) into bluegrass music shortly after joining Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1955.

 

 

 

 

Below is a good introduction to Josh Graves and to bluegrass dobro in general.

Josh Graves, Vassar Clements and Marty Stuart – Fireball

 

Another important player of the dobro was Mike Auldridge , a founding member of the influential bluegrass group The Seldom Scene.

Mike Auldridge – Bluegrass Boogie

I’ve already mentioned Rob Ickes in a previous blog post (see https://roymusicusa.com/2017/07/13/he-took-my-twenty-dollar-bill-bluegrass-and-the-grateful-dead/) but he certainly is worth another look.

Rob Ickes – Angeline The Baker

I have to say that my favorite is Jerry Douglas. He is a master of the bluegrass tradition but also pushes that tradition into more contemporary territory. He is probably best known as a member of Union Station, the bluegrass band associated with Alison Krauss but I first became familiar with him from the amazing CD he did with guitarist Russ Barenberg and bassist Edgar Meyer called Skip, Hop & Wobble.

Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg & Edgar Meyer – Monkey Bay


Below are some other examples of how awesome the dobro can be. We have Jerry Douglas’ take on the Duane Allman guitar piece “Little Martha” as well as an early TV appearance with country music guitar legend Chet Atkins and future banjo legend Bela Fleck. Lastly, we have the Jerry Douglas Band playing an original tune “We Hide and Seek”.

Jerry Douglas “Little Martha”


Chet Atkins, Bela Fleck, & Jerry Douglas – Alabama Jubilee

 

Jerry Douglas Band – We Hide And Seek

 

By no means is this a comprehensive history/overview of the instrument. Just a starting point to check out a cool instrument and the cool music it can make.

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Posted in Country/Bluegrass, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Sing Me Back Home” . . . : Guitar Great Clarence White

In my previous post, I was talking about the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” on PBS (see https://roymusicusa.com/2019/09/28/will-the-circle-be-unbroken-banjo-steel-guitar-and-a-word-about-robert-hunter/). While I generally thought it to be excellent there were a few minor quibbles, namely the omission of two great guitarists, Doc Watson and Clarence White.

Clarence White was one of the unsung but pivotal guitarists in music. While a member of the bluegrass group the Kentucky Colonels, White helped popularize the acoustic guitar as a lead instrument in bluegrass music, building on the work of guitarists such as Doc Watson. Prior to the advent of the more aggressive flatpicking style pioneered by guitarists like Watson and White, the guitar was almost entirely a rhythm instrument in bluegrass. Many of the most influential bluegrass flatpickers of the 20th century cite White as a primary influence. As a session musician and as a member of the Byrds, he was a pioneer of the musical genre of country rock during the late 1960s and together with Gene Parsons, he invented the B-Bender, a guitar accessory that enables a player to mechanically bend the B-string up a whole tone and emulate the sound of a pedal steel guitar.

On July 15, 1973, while loading equipment into his car after a concert in Palmdale, California, Clarence While was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He was 29 years old.

Below are some clips that showcase Clarence White playing in both acoustic and electric formats. The first is Clarnce with his brother Roland White on mandolin playing two bluegrass standards on Bob Baxter’s “Guitar Workshop” in 1973.

I Am A Pilgrim, Soldiers Joy  –

In mid-February 1973, just prior to the break up of the White-era version of the Byrds, White joined with guitarist Peter Rowan, mandolinist David Grisman, fiddler Richard Green, and banjoist Bill Keith to form the bluegrass supergroup Muleskinner. The musicians initially assembled as a one-off pickup band to back bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe for a television program, but ended up performing on their own when Monroe’s tour bus broke down on the way to the television studios. A recording of this broadcast, which was once thought lost, was released as an album in 1992, under the title Muleskinner Live.

New Camptown Races, Dark Hollow (Muleskinner 2/13/73) –

 

Next we have a relic from a different time. This clip is of the Byrd’s performing Dylan’s You Ain’t Gong Nowhere on the old Hugh Hefner t.v. show Playboy After Dark. Ignore if you can the fake “party guests” and check out Clarence White’s solo featuring his B-Bender equipped Telecaster.

THE BYRDS – You Ain’t Going Nowhere (1968) –

The next two clips are audio only of the Byrds at the Fillmore West in February 1969 with Clarence tearing it up on their versions of the Buck Owens instrumental Buckaroo and on Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home.

Buckaroo (Live) –

Sing Me Back Home (Live) –

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” : Banjo, Steel Guitar And A Word About Robert Hunter

The last couple of weeks I have been watching the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” on PBS (go here to stream all eight episodes – https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/country-music/). Tracing it’s beginnings from the 1920’s through to 1996, it’s an excellent introduction to the genre. As a music geek I have what I think is a okay familiarity with country music and it’s various sub-genres but I definitely learned a thing or two. It made me want to check out a bunch of different artists and specific records. Being a music geek who’s into instrumental music, I’ve also have been checking out instrumental country music records which I plan on talking about in a future post.

In the meantime I wanted to share a some interesting videos about two instruments that are forever linked to country music, the banjo and the pedal steel guitar. The first video features Noam Pikelny, of the Punch Brothers, discussing the evolution of banjo styles.

Three Bluegrass Banjo Styles Explained –

 

The next two videos deal with that beast of an instrument, the pedal steel guitar. The first one is by working Nashville musician, Jim Lill and the second is by Steve Fishell who plays with Emmylou Harris.

How To Play Pedal Steel Guitar (Lesson For Guitarists/Beginners) –


Steve Fishell explains how pedal steel guitar works –

 

Finally, I want to say a few words on the death of Robert Hunter, best known as the primarily lyricist for the Grateful Dead. His lyrics created a universe filled with characters that would be familiar to a country music fan. Cowboys, gamblers and people who are just trying to survive hard times. Hunter created these characters with deft lyrical touches. He will be missed.

Robert Hunter – “Ripple” / September 18, 2013 / Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

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Posted in Classic Rock, Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“The Bus Came By And I Got On” . . . : The Rhythm Guitar Of Bob Weir

When I was in college, I roomed for a year with the rhythm guitarist in the Grateful Dead clone band that I was in. It was during many hours of jamming together (yeah, not my best scholastic performance that year) that I became aware of the unique rhythm style of Bob Weir. Weir’s style was developed as a response to the unique conversational style of playing between guitarist Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh. In many ways Weir’s style is more akin to that of a jazz guitarist comping that that of the rhythm guitar styles of someone like John Lennon. Weir would, like a jazz guitarist, feed chords and short melodic phrases into the improvisational dialog between Garcia, Lesh and the keyboard player du jour, tying them together within the harmonic framework of the moment.  Weir talks about his guitar style below with Dan Rather.

Bob Weir’s Unique Rhythm Guitar Style – 

The clips below are from a couple of different You Tube channels that specialize in Dead and Dead adjacent guitar tutorials. The first two are from Weeping Willow Guitar Lessons. I have just started checking them out but there are a lot of interesting videos stuff if you are interested in Dead/Allman guitar stuff (which I’m assuming is why you’re here in the first place). The third video, from GratefulGuitarLessons.com,  is a preview (or commercial if you will) for his paid lessons but it offers a glimpse into Weir’s guitar parts on the Grateful Dead tune, “Eyes OF The World”.

Lost Sailor – Bob Weir (Guitar Lesson) –


Bob Weir Guitar Lesson: Casey Jones Guitar Tutorial with tab –


Eyes of the World: Bob Weir FREE Guitar Lesson –

 

Finally something a little different. While the Dead were playing the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA., Weir was troubleshooting his guitar rig and had his guitar recorded separately for the three nights at the Greek. A recording eventually got out and was then was synced to the existing video of this performance. So the two videos below are of the August 8, 1989 show at th Greek Theater with the whole band and then the show again with Bob Weir’s guitar isolated. Being a Deadhead and a guitar geek, I found it fascinating and informative.

Grateful Dead 8-19-89 Greek Theater Berkeley CA –

 

Bob Weir ISOLATED GUITAR – Grateful Dead 8/19/89 Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA –

 

Here is the set list of the show.

08/19/89 Greek Theater, University Of California – Berkeley, CA

Set One: Let The Good Times Roll, Jack Straw, We Can Run, Tennessee Jed, It’s All Over Now, Loser, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Box Of Rain

Set Two: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Playing In The Band > Uncle John’s Band > Playing In The Band > Playing In The Band Jam > Drums > Space > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Not Fade Away

Encore: Foolish Heart

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Posted in Classic Rock, Grateful Dead, Improvisation, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Midnight Blues . . . : Support Kenny Burrell

During the fifties and sixties, there were a trio of jazz guitarists who (to me at least) epitomized that zone between bebop and blues, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.

Kenny Burrell came from Detroit, a scene in the fifties that spawned a whole generation of musicians who would define the genres that would be known as Hard Bop and it’s close relation, Soul Jazz.. These players were open to the influence of boppers such as Charlie Parker as well as blues and gospel. Burrell concurrently absorbed and influenced this language as it was being created. Burrell further augmented his blues and bebop influences with classical guitar studies. The result was a jazz guitar style that was at once refined and raw. He could play beautiful unaccompanied chordal passages, frenetic single note barrages, supple blues vamps and swinging bebop lines

Burrell was name checked by Jimi Hendrix as one of his favorite guitarist. Texas bluesman Albert Collins admitted that his original ambition was to play jazz in the Burrell style. Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan often cited Burrell as one of their favorite guitarists with a cover of Burrell’s tune “Chitlins Con Carne” appearing on Stevie Ray’s last LP, The Sky Is Crying.

Midnight Blue was recorded on 8 January 1963 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and released in early May 1963 on Blue Note Records. Burrell surrounded himself with musicians who could find just the right spot by playing at lower volumes and slower tempos. There’s tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Major Holley, drummer Bill English, and conguero Ray Barretto who adds sparse, subtle Latin beats.

Midnight Blue has appeared on more than one Essential Jazz Records list and I will not disagree. This is a record that someone who doesn’t like jazz would like. It’s not in your face, it’s relatively low key but it just oozes a certain elegance while still keeping it real. As the title implies, this is a record that was made for late night listening but really, it’s timeless.

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue


Kenny Burrell – Chitlins Con Carne –


Kenny Burrell – Saturday Night Blues –

 

This brings me to the distressing part of the story. In May of 2019, Katherine Burrell, the wife of guitarist Kenny Burrell, set up a page on the fundraising website GoFundMe with the simple headline “Support Kenny Burrell.” Burrell had an accident in 2016, after a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall to celebrate his 85th birthday, which necessitated two years’ recovery. From there, the bad news kept coming: mounting medical expenses, identity theft, bank fraud, ravaged credit scores, a homeowners-association legal battle. As a result of all this, the Burrells are broke, and could be homeless within weeks. In desperation, Mrs. Burrell turned to the Internet, trying to raise $100,000 to keep them from disaster. In a distressing sign of the times, many people who first learned about their GoFundMe page via social media were inclined to doubt the story but the magazine JazzTimes verifed that it was all true. The link below is to the GoFundMe page. Go there and give.

Support Kenny Burrell (GoFundMe Page) –

https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-kenny-burrell?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

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Posted in Blues, Improvisation, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“One Pill Makes You Smaller” . . : Jefferson Airplane At Woodstock

There’s been a lot of hubbub about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. I’m not going to be one of those people who claimed to have been there but I was about 20 miles (and a world) away.

I was eleven years old. Every summer, my family would stay at a bungalow colony in upstate New York in an area that was known as the Borscht Belt (The Borscht Belt was a nickname for the network of summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains that were popular with New York City Jews between the 1920s and the 1970s). I was just getting into rock music and I saw the posters for Woodstock in town (South Fallsburg, NY to be exact). I saw that my favorite band, The Jefferson Airplane were scheduled to play on Saturday so I asked my parents if I could go. You can guess what the answer was (as a side note, I fractured my foot about a week later so I was in a cast when Woodstock took place, further reducing the already zero chances of my going to negative).

So I never got a chance to see Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock. Hindsight being 20/20, I sure it was a good thing. My eleven year self would be freaking out at the chaos of the situation. Actually, now that I think about it, I never saw Jefferson Airplane live. By he time I began going to concerts, the Airplane had morphed and split into Jefferson Starship (a band I was never into) and Hot Tuna. Like choosing who in a divorced couple you stay friends with, I went with Hot Tuna.

Luckily, a good part of the Airplane’s set was filmed though it was not included in the Woodstock movie. At Woodstock, Jefferson Airplane was scheduled to be the headliner for Saturday, but due to delays caused by rain and general chaos. instead ended up playing at 8am on Sunday for a tired Woodstock crowd. The early “maniac morning music” session included their songs from their previous albums as well as new material that would appear on their next record “Volunteers”.

Now I can finally see what I missed.

Jefferson Airplane -Somebody To Love, White Rabbit (Live At Woodstock 1969) –


Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers (Live At Woodstock 1969) –


Jefferson Airplane – Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon (Live At Woodstock 1969) –

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Posted in Classic Rock, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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