This brings me to the You Tube channel Lessons With Marcel (https://www.youtube.com/@LessonsWithMarcel). His channel is a goldmine of info for bluegrass guitar. There are a countless number of guitar transcriptions, interviews and history. Below is an excellent quick introduction to the assorted subgenres of Bluegrass. If you’re diving into bluegrass, you can now get a sense of where Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle fit into the whole Bluegrass picture and how David Grisman and Tony Rice are connected to Greensky Bluegrass and The Infamous Stringducters.
When you think about it, the actual process of how we hear music is pretty amazing. Something, say like a plucked string, puts out vibrations that travel through the air and somehow get inside the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brain stem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music. The means which the brain process these sounds into music is an ongoing study. Extend that question into what goes on in your brain when you’re playing music.
Science has shown that musical training can modify one’s brain structure. Playing an instrument is a complex process that is integrating information from an individual’s senses of vision, hearing, and touch in addition to coordinating fine motor skills and movements. This in turn can result in long-lasting changes in the brain.
If you are reading this, then you’re into guitars and if you’re into guitars then you no doubt know of the passing of guitar legend Jeff Beck. There are plenty of online articles and videos that have gone into Beck’s life and amazing playing so I am just gonna present what I consider to be some of the more interesting and unique examples of the genius of Jeff Beck.
An amazing version of the Mingus tune Goodby Pork Pie Hat from B.B. King Blues Club And Grill sometime in 2006.
Jeff Beck – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
The clip below is pretty well known among guitar geeks. From Eric Clapton’s Crossroads concert in 2007, a version of Cause We Ended As Lovers that features an epic bass solo from the then 21 year old Tal Wilkenfeld. Bonus points for the Bill Murray intro.
Jeff Beck – Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers – Crossroads 2007
From the same show, a cover of the Billy Cobham tune Status.
Jeff Beck – Stratus- Crossroads 2007
The next group of clips show how well Jeff played with others. From a 2002 in London with John McLaughlin guesting on the modern jazz standard Django.and the Beck tune Scatterbrain.
Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin – Royal Festival Hall, London 9/14/2002
Jeff Beck with Stevie Wonder playin Superstion at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary. Priceless moment at 1:26 – Stevie yelling “Jeff, do your thing son”. Jeff proceeds to melt faces.
Stevie Wonder and Jeff Beck Perform “Superstition”
After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by his old friend Jimmy Page, Beck rips into the classic Beck’s Bolero with Jimmy joining him mid way for an Immigrant Song teaser before coming back to Bolero. Epic.
Jeff Beck performs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Induction Ceremony 2009
Jeff Beck joining The Rolling Stones on their opening show of the 50 and Counting tour in 2012 in London.
The Rolling Stones – Going Down – with Jeff Beck – live 2012
This is from a 2019 Rod Stewart show in Los Angeles. After Stewart’s solo set, Beck joined his former bandmate for a five song encore. This, in a word, is amazing.
Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck – full set – live -[BEST AUDIO]- Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles CA – 9/27/19
This is the famous guest appearance of Jeff Beck during Bowie’s last performance as Ziggy Stardust.
David Bowie with Jeff Beck – The Jean Genie – Hammersmith Odeon – London – July 3, 1973
In case you need more of the man, here is an excellent documentary of Jeff Beck from 2015.
Being the boomer that I am (yes, I know that as a member of a given market derived demographic I represent all that is wrong with the world. . . . you’re welcome) I have different pop culture references than subsequent generations. A recent example was when someone mentioned the Avengers. I know they were talking about the Marvel characters but my initial thoughts were of the British television series. It was created in 1961 but was not shown in US until it’s fourth season starting in 1965 and running til 1969.
Unlike the music associated with the James Bond movies of the time (see my previous post https://roymusicusa.com/2021/04/15/shaken-not-stirred-james-bond-spy-music/), the theme music of The Avengers did not prominently feature the guitar. It opens with a musical figure similar to the bass lines played in boogie woogie piano but played by a harpsichord. How very British. Strings enter with the main melody and answered by a brass counter melody.
The Avengers Opening and Closing Theme (Series 5) 1965 – 1968
The other British “spy-fi” show whose theme music left an indelible mark on my musical psyche was The Prisoner. The opening sequences of the The Prisoner is a great example of the old screenwriting adage “Show, don’t tell”. It’s remarkable how much the the protagonist’s back story is conveyed in a few short minutes and with no dialogue. Just visuals and great music. The music over the opening and closing credits, as broadcast, was composed by Ron Grainer, a composer whose other credits include the theme music for Doctor Who.
I recently read the the B-52’s were making their farewell tour. I first encountered the B-52’s when my brother came home from Baltimore and brought some of his records with him, including the first B-52 album. I was still in college and I was in peak Deadhead mode but I immediately liked it. The B-52’s stood out from their contemporaries in sound and style but I believe that the media’s emphasis on their thrift store chic visual style obscured what a great band they were.
Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1976.The band consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, percussion), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards, synth bass), Cindy Wilson (vocals, percussion), Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums, guitar, keyboards). Ricky Wilson died of AIDS-related illness in 1985, and Strickland switched from drums to lead guitar.
The B-52’s didn’t sound like anyone else at that time. There was the juxtaposing of surf guitar and cheesy Farfisa organ with the angular vocal melodies of Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson and the talk/sing of Fred Schneider. As I said earlier, too many people assigned a “novelty band” sticker to the band due to their quirky style and that’s too bad. The rhythm section of guitarist Ricky Wilson and drummer Keith Strickland were tight and made the music so.damm.danceable.
The B-52’s – 52 Girls
And among the frolic and fun there were moments that unexpectedly hit you like during the song Dance This Mess Around when Cindy Wilson sings “why won’t you dance with me/I ain’t no Limburger”.
The B-52’s – Dance This Mess Around
In the summer of 1980 I saw the B-52’s at the old Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park as part of the summer concert series held there at the time. They were just about to release their second album, “Wild Planet”, and were playing the new songs. Private Idaho was an immediate crowd favorite but the moment that I will always remember was when they played Give Me Back My Man which I consider to be one of their best songs. The instrumental outro is still one of my favorite pieces of music and you can feel the pain in Cindy Wilson’s vocals.
The B-52’s Give Me Back My Man
The B-52’s – Private Idaho
In 1981, the band started what was to be their third album with Talking Heads’ David Byrne producing. The recording sessions for the album were aborted, reportedly due to differences with Byrne over the album’s musical direction. The record company however demanded product which prompted the band to release what they salvaged from the sessions and put out the EP Mesopotamia in 1982. The vocal melodies were more angular and the instrumental tracks were more that a little reminiscent of those found on Talking Head’s Speaking In Tongues.
The B-52’s – Mesopotamia
The band “came back” in 1989 with the album Cosmic Thing which had the hit singles of Love Shack, Roam and Deadbeat Club, great songs all.
This should of interest to all my fellow Deadheads out there. It’s obvious appeal is the musicians among you but I believe this would be illuminating to any fan of the music. It’s a new feature on the official Grateful Dead website (www.dead.net). Called Playing In The Band, it provides the listener with the individual tracks of each instrument for four songs (five if you count the China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider medley as two distinct songs) from the Dead’s classic show from Veneta, Oregon on 8/27/72. The other songs, besides the aforementioned China/Rider are Bertha, Playing In The Band and Sugar Magnolia, classic Dead songs all. A virtual mixer allows the listener to mix the instruments respective volumes to taste. it let’s the listener isolate any combination of instruments and cooler still, give the listener the ability to position a given instrument within the total mix. You can listen to only Phil Lesh’s bass (something I’ve personally been enjoying) or listen to only Bob Weir’s guitar. You can listen to Weir and Garcia play off each other by panning one to the hard right and the other to a hard left. It you ever had trouble distinguishing who does what, this should help you figure it out. Needless to say, you can now play along in an immersive way that really is unique. The video below will explain.
Playing In The Band – A Grateful Dead Interactive Experience
As we come to the tail of end of summer here, there’s a song that always comes to mind. The song: I Wanna Be A Lifeguard. The band: Blotto.
I Wanna Be A Lifeguard – Blotto
Coming from Albany, New York, the band Blotto came out with some of the best examples of mixing music and humor. I have very limited patience for “novelty” songs but Blotto’s best songs hold up well (IMO).
Starting in 1978 as a “post-hippie” comedy jugband called The Star Spangled Washboard Band, they eventually morphed in a music that combined new wave and soul/R&B, with comedic themes. As part of the joke – and as an homage to the Ramones, the band members took the name “Blotto” as their surnames, making them sextuplets of different mothers (there’s Bowtie Blotto, Sergeant Blotto, and Broadway Blotto, Blanche Blotto, Cheese Blotto and Lee Harvey Blotto).
They began to get a following and began playing in the New York City area clubs such as The Ritz, SNAFU, and My Father’s Place. New York City radio station WNEW-FM began playing their initial recording of “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard,” as well as the Dr. Demento Show, They began touring frequently especially among Northeast college towns.
They self released two EPs on their own Blotto Records label and with the assistance of video production students at SUNY Albany, they produced an early music video for “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”. The video was played on the first day the MTV aired and for a while was in frequently rotation. Eventually, Sony put out a “Video 45” on VHS that featured three videos from Blotto including including “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”.
As much as I like “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard”, I think Blotto were at their best with a song from their first EP called “We Are The Nowtones”, a brilliant send-up of the all purpose lounge lizard bands you would find playing at that hotel bar just off the highway. This song shows that these guys had skills as they would quick change through different musical styles in the course of a single verse.
We are the Nowtones- Blotto
In December 2020, a June 1980 show from My Father’s Place in Roslyn, Long Island was released on Spotify (“Blotto: Live at My Father’s Place 6/26/1980” ) that provides a listen to their fun live shows at a time when the band just started to tour. Check it out.
I’m starting a project that (hopefully) will include fingerstyle guitar arrangements of classic rock songs. For some reason I thought I would have a go at David Bowie’s classic song “Life On Mars?”, a song that I had been listening to a great deal at the time. I very quickly realized that the song is a lot more complex that I thought and trying to arrange it for solo guitar would be significantly trickier that I first thought given my relative inexperience in such arranging. I hope to get back to it after getting a bunch more songs under my belt but for now it’s on the back burner list.
“Life On Mars?” was first released on Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory but it’s strange backstory started in 1968. Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for the Claude François French song “Comme d’habitude”. After his lyrics were rejected, songwriter Paul Anka rewrote it into “My Way”, which became a hit for Frank Sinatra in 1969. Annoyed at the success of “My Way”, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote “Life on Mars?” as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.
Other tidbits about the song: the amazing piano part of “Life On Mars?” initially was going to be played by actor, comedian, musician Dudley Moore. In the end, the piano was played by keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who at the time was a member of the Strawbs and who had played Mellotron on “Space Oddity”. Wakeman, of course, went on to become a prog-rock legend with Yes.
Besides Wakeman on piano, the band consisted of guitarist Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums. Ronson, who passed away in 1993, was one of the great journeymen of rock music. After Bowie, he co-produced Lou Reed’s “Transformer”, worked with Bob Dylan, Ian Hunter and others. It was Mick Ronson who wrote the song’s phenomenal string arrangement. The arrangement was the first that Ronson had ever done and was composed on the floor of the studio restroom.
One final oddity: the song was covered by Barbra Streisand on her 1974 album ButterFly. Bowie was not impressed, saying in 1976, “it was bloody awful. Sorry, Barb, but it was atrocious.”
To give you an idea of the hornet’s nest I stepped into when I took this on for solo guitar, the video below (from the You Tuber 12 Tone) is a deep dive into the musical nuts and bolts of “Life On Mars?”
As a music nerd I always got a kick when a musician you love and admire plays with another one of your musical heroes. It’s especially cool when it actually sounds as good as you hoped it would. Such is the case with the videos below.
Below are excerpts from a performance on August 2nd, 1989, a day after Garcia’s 47th birthday and was filmed as part of a benefit for the National Hispanic Arts Education Media Institute which aired on SHOWTIME.
The first video has Garcia join Santana on a funky instrumental called “Get Uppa”. After a brief solo from Santana, Jerry comes in for his first solo at the 2:35 mark. His tone here has an almost fusion like distortion with a lot more “dirt” than we normally associate with Garcia. Next is a weird section with an accordion player with an eye patch (yes, I said eye patch) which is mercifully short. Garcia comes back at 5:10 with his more familiar auto wah sound for another solo before Santana closes out the song. You can’t help but see how much Jerry is enjoying himself. He absolutely beaming. and bopping along and his playing here has a very defined rhythmic quality that I love.
Carlos Santana & Jerry Garcia (Get Uppa) – Aug. 2nd 1989 – Biltmore Bowl (Los Angeles) pt1 of 2
Next is Jerry sitting in with Ruben Blades on “Muevetel” from the 1985 album Escenas with Garcia playing another ripping solo at 5:40.
Ruben Blades & Jerry Garcia (MueveteI) – Aug. 2nd 1989 – Biltmore Bowl (Los Angeles) pt2 of 2