Today here in America we are celebrating our Independence Day. As I was looking at my news feed I was noticing several music lists of Fourth of July appropriate music. A lot of chest thumping, “party in the USA” songs. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling it. When displays of national pride and values begin to resemble old film footage of May Day parades in Moscow, then I’m not on board with “America, Fuck Yeah!”.
Given what I see around me, I am not in a particularly celebratory mood. Mine is more reflective. My feelings about America are complex and they should be. Everyone’s should be. When big complex things are boiled down to simplistic, love/hate options, you run the risk of letting Evil frame the discussion in ways that preclude nuance, sympathy and empathy.
These two songs by Paul Simon are much more about what I and many others are feeling about our country today.
Simon & Garfunkel – America
Paul Simon – American Tune
Have a safe holiday.
This is a call back to a previous post (https://roymusicusa.com/2019/05/25/pictures-from-an-exhibition-the-instruments-of-rock-roll-at-the-met-part-iii/) where I talked about the custom made guitars of Jerry Garcia. Just recently while Dead & Company were playing here in NYC at Citi Field, John Mayer played Jerry Garcia’s famed Wolf guitar. Wolf has been on display at The Met as part of the museum’s Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll exhibit.
I always thought that great guitars are functional art and Wolf is a great example of this. Wolf was created first and foremost as a tool for Garcia to make music with. It’s creator, Doug Irwin, went beyond the basic parameters of a guitar’s function by making it an aesthetically pleasing object to look at. But if Jerry felt that it didn’t deliver as a guitar, it never would have seen the light of day. That’s why I was glad to hear that it was brought out of it’s glass case and actually played recently. Guitars should be played. Wolf went back on display at The Met the next day. near the galleries that showcase The Met’s collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt. There you can see beautiful objects whose function from long ago are a bit of a mystery. What were these beautiful things used for? I wonder if sometime in a possible future, someone will be looking at Wolf in a museum, admiring it’s beauty and reading the plaque next to it and wondering, “What the fuck is a guitar?”.
The two clips below are courtesy of nugs.tv who have been putting out on You Tube the opening songs from each set of Dead & Company’s summer tour. The first set opener (go to 6:40 for the actual start) is the Dead classic St. Stephen. As an old deadhead, that is a impressive out of nowhere choice. That plus the appearance of the Wolf guitar must have had the fans going nuts.
Dead & Company: Live at Citi Field, NYC 6/23/19 Set I Opener –
Equally impressive as a second set opening number was Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station.
Dead & Company: Live at Citi Field, NYC 6/23/19 Set II Opener –
Let’s take a break from visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”, which has been the subject of a series of posts. Instead I want to talk about Phish. I have discussed them previously in a post about their 2014 Halloween show (https://roymusicusa.com/2015/10/29/ooh-scary-phish-perform-disneys-chilling-thrilling-sounds-of-the-haunted-house/) and my opinion of them has pretty much remained the same: I am generally unimpressed with their songs but I really like their jamming. The feature about their jamming that most impresses me is their ability to improvise structure within their jams. The appearance of these improvised subsections give the jams a suite like narrative flow. I find this a common trait among my favorite pieces of extended improvised music. A excellent example of this is The Allman Brothers Band’s Mountain Jam. The song goes through a series of musical sections that feel like you have taken a journey. Mountain Jam’s suite like structure however, evolved over a period of time, with a loose arrangement of the sections eventually becoming more formalized over time (for my discussion and analysis of Mountain Jam, see my post https://roymusicusa.com/2014/06/30/first-there-is-a-mountain/). The Grateful Dead, particularly in the early seventies, would sometimes play thematic instrumentals in the middle of larger jams. Though they were improvised, these sections were probably based on themes the Dead tried out in rehearsals, so when one bandmember suggested a chord sequence, the others could quickly pick up on it. If you really want to deep dive into the Dead’s use of thematic jams then here are links to several articles on the website Grateful Dead Guide:
This leads me to the videos put out by YouTuber Amarguitar. These videos start with background on the song and it’s place in the context of Phish’s history. The songs however are just the starting point for what can be extended improvisations that would go far afield from the song’s original structure. As one of videos explains, the jamming can be provided into roughly two types: Type 1 where the improv is based on the existing structure of the tune and Type 2, where new structures are created on the fly. The videos below are part of series that Amarguitar put out where he provides musical analysis for some of the more noteworthy Phish improvisations.
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 11.22.1997 – Halley’s Comet – Hampton Coliseum
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 8.17.1997 Bathtub Gin – The Great Went
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 2.28.03 Tweezer – Nassau Coliseum
As a side note, I realized that this is the five year anniversary since my first blog post. Wow. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. I always get a thrill when I see someone from another part of the world (or my part of the world for that matter) checking out what I have to say.
Continuing my posts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”, I think another name for this post could be “Jerry’s Kids”. The guitar pics that I’m featuring in this post were played by the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. The guitars were custom made for Jerry and really transcend their role as just musical instruments and cross over to the realm of functional art, so much so that they were given their own names: Wolf and Tiger.
In the early seventies, the Grateful Dead already had ties with the San Francisco based luthiers of Alembic Guitars. It was there that Jerry came upon an instrument built by Doug Irwin and bought it on the spot. He eventually asked Irwin to create a custom guitar for him with the result being Wolf, which Garcia first played starting in September, 1973. It was Garcia that first placed the wolf sticker on his guitar but while the guitar was in for some repair, Irwin replaced the sticker with wood inlays that replicated the sticker, giving the instrument its name. The guitar was predominantly used during the 1970’s, though it resurfaced in 1989 for a MIDI synthesizer experiment, and was last played by Garcia in 1993. Wolf was auctioned off to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2017 for over $1.6 million, and the bid was matched by an anonymous donor, raising a total of $3.2 million for the SPLC.
Immediately after receiving Wolf, Jerry asked Doug Irwin to make another guitar, telling him, “don’t hold back.” Six years later, Irwin delivered the guitar known as Tiger and it became his most played guitar. Jerry talked glowingly about the variety of sounds it gave him to play with and it was his primarily guitar through the eighties, eventually being replaced by another Doug Irwin made guitar known as Rosebud (which is not part of the exhibition). After Garcia’s death, Irwin won the guitar back in a legal settlement, and auctioned it off for $850,000 in 2002. It was purchased by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts and guitar collector. Irsay has been generous with lending out the instrument and on what would have been Garcia’s 74th birthday, the guitar was played publicly for the first time in over 20 years at Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2016 by Warren Haynes.
More to come . . . .
In my previous post, I talked and posted pictures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” (https://roymusicusa.com/2019/04/26/pictures-from-an-exhibition-the-instruments-of-rock-roll-at-the-met-part-i/). This time I want to talk briefly about this one single display in the show. First I want to preface this with a single statement: I love Gibson SG’s. I have a SG Standard and it’s one of my main “go to” guitars. I use it for rock, fusion and slide guitar. I think their tremendously versatile, play great and are much easier on my back than Gibson Les Pauls.
The guitar that we know today as the SG was actually first introduced by Gibson in 1961 as a Les Paul. With sales of Les Pauls in decline, Gibson redesigned the guitar with a thinner, flat-topped mahogany body, a double cutaway which made the upper frets more accessible, and a contoured body. However the new design also resulted in problems with the strength of the body and neck. In addition, the redesign was done without knowledge of Les Paul himself and who was dissatisfied with the new guitar. Les Paul insisted that his name be taken off the new model and in 1963 Gibson reintroduced the guitar as the SG (for “Solid Guitar”).
This brings us the the trinity of Gibson SG’s we have below. The SG on the left belongs to Derek Trucks. He bought it in 1991 and has since been autographed by dozens of his musical heroes. The SG on the right was the one played Angus Young in concert since the 1980s. And in the center is a guitar that made my heart swoon. It’s the SG used by Duane Allman as his main slide guitar, including on Live At The Fillmore East. Yes, this is the guitar heard on Statesboro Blues. Yes, this is the guitar that CHANGED MY LIFE (too dramatic . . maybe). Fellow Allman Brother guitarist Dickey Betts gave this guitar to Duane so he would not need to spend so much time onstage retuning his guitar for slide playing. As a interesting side note, this guitar was eventually passed down to Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
More guitar porn next post . . . .
I recently went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” which is showing through October 1, 2019. This is guitar geek heaven. The show has on display approximately 130 instruments, many of them being the actual instruments used on iconic records or played live on stage. These are the actual tools that were used to make musical history. If a museum can display the typewriter used by Jack Kerouac or paint brushes used by Edward Hopper then surely the acoustic guitar used to write and record Stairway To Heaven is worthy of similar veneration. So for the next bunch of posts I’m going to share my photos and thoughts about some of the amazingly cool stuff there.
Let’s start off with the aforementioned acoustic guitar used by Jimmy Page used on Stairway. It’s a Harmony Sovereign acoustic guitar that was one of Page’s main songwriting instruments and was used to compose material on the first four Led Zeppelin. It was also used to record most of Led Zeppelin III and the acoustic parts of ‘Stairway To Heaven”. Next to it is the Danelectro guitar Page had in Celtic tuning (where the guitar is tuned DADGAD) and used on “When the Levee Breaks”, “In My Time of Dying” and “Kashmir”. I love the fact that such important instruments are not top of the line boutique instruments. Both Harmony and Danelectro were primarily budget instrument manufacturers.
Staying with the Jimmy Page theme, the above photo is of the Fender Telecaster that Page first used while in the Yardbirds. It was given to him in 1967 by Jeff Beck (wow!). Page hand painted the dragon design and replaced the white pickguard with clear acrylic. After the Yardbirds, Page used this guitar to record all of the first Led Zeppelin album (WOW!!).
Talk about iconic. This is the Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck guitar that Page used to play live on “The Rain Song”, “Celebration Day” and of course, “Stairway To Heaven”. The combination six- and twelve-string guitar allowed Page to play the acoustic and electric parts live without needing to change instruments.
If you live in or near NYC or are going to be in the vicinity between now and October 1, 2019, then you should definitely check out this great exhibit at the Met.
My previous post highlighted a classic performance from The Queen Of Soul,, Aretha Franklin in her prime. Yesterday it was announced that she was awarded a special citation Pulitzer Prize. The posthumous honor was given “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades”. This is just one more of the many honors and awards she’s received. Franklin, who died on August 16, 2018 at the age of 76, was a member of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Below is an excellent video from Vox that discusses the gospel roots of Aretha Franklin and how it permeated everything she did. All hail The Queen of Soul.
Aretha Franklin’s musical genius in 2 songs –