“Skull & Roses” . . : The Grateful Dead As We Know Them Today

I have written previously about The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, the official Grateful Dead podcast (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/10/12/playing-to-the-tide-the-good-ol-grateful-deadcast-deep-dive-into-workingmans-dead/). The first two seasons went into deep dives of the classic Grateful Dead albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty respectively. For season three, the podcast continues chronologically with the Dead’s next record, the live album officially called The Grateful Dead but for is all intents and purposes known as Skull & Roses.

Skull & Roses for the first time presented to the world at large the template for what the Dead sounded like on a typical night. There was the spacey improvisation of songs like “The Other One” but there were also covers of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. The record further displayed the amazing growth of Dead’s songwriting with the debut of three original compositions, “Bertha”, “Playing in the Band”, and “Wharf Rat” with all three going on to become concert staples.

Originally release as a double album, the podcast has each episode discuss a ‘side’ of the record. As part of this thematic structure, there are stories of the legendary Fillmore East, the origins of the Dead’s most-performed song, “Me & My Uncle,” an experiment in dream telepathy involving the audience and more.

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 1: Skull & Roses 50 Side A

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 2: Skull & Roses 50 Side B

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 3: Skull & Roses 50 Side C

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 4: Skull & Roses 50: Side D

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

“No Regrets Coyote” . . : Joni Mitchell’s Hejira

This one is for my dear friend Carol (the biggest Joni fan I know) . . .

Hejira, Joni Mitchell’s eighth studio album, is where (IMO) she cut the ties for good to her earlier musical styles. There is no “Big Yellow Taxi” or even the jazz-pop of Court and Spark. Her previous record, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” began the push toward less structured, more jazz-inspired sound but there was still remnants of the lush pop sounds of Court and Spark with “In France They Kiss on Main Street“. Hejira was arguably Mitchell’s most experimental album to that point and with it Joni truly set off to new lands.

The music gives the impression of simplicity when it is anything but. It’s an album of subtle textures and atmospheres. Arrangements are sparse, yet surprisingly varied, one of the many highlights being the one used on “Amelia.” The video below, part of Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great series, breaks the song down in glorious detail.

What Makes This Song Great?™ Ep.91 Joni Mitchell

Of course the thing that bassists go crazy for is the work of jazz virtuoso bass guitarist Jaco Pastorious. His playing on Herija is some of his best work (IMO). Jaco appears on four songs, the opening track, “Coyote”, the atmospheric “Hejira”, the guitar-heavy “Black Crow”, and the album’s last song “Refuge of the Roads”. His playing bypasses the normal conventions of bass and becomes more like a horn intertwining with Joni’s voice. The video below discusses the bassists who contributed to Hejira.

From the Bottom: The Bassists of HEJIRA (1976)

Mitchell herself believes the album to be unique. In 2006 she said, “I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me”.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

“It’s A G Thang” . . : Keith Richards and Open G Tuning

As a guitarist, I’ve was never that much into open tunings. I had enough of a time understanding the guitar in standard tuning to be bothered with learning a different one (What is an open tuning? It’s when you tune the guitar in such a way that the guitar plays a major chord when all the open stings are strummed.). That was before I took up the dobro (see my previous post https://roymusicusa.com/2020/09/03/wire-wood-steel-an-new-acoustic-music-project/). The dobro is tuned in what is referred to as “dobro open G” tuning (low to high G-B-D-G-B-D). The open G tuning that is commonly used for guitar is slightly different (low to high D-G-D-G-B-D) due to the guitar neck not being strong enough to handle the extra tension on the low strings. Despite the differences with standard guitar tuning, I was able to adjust quicker that I expected. The second, third and fourth string are identical in both tunings so that provided a base to work off of.

Open tunings are commonly used with slide guitar but the guitarist who is most identified with using open tunings in the context of rock guitar must be Keith Richards. Using a open G tuning with the sixth string removed, Keith came up with some of the most iconic riffs in rock music. We’re talking songs like ‘Start Me Up,’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ and ‘Honky Tonk Women’.

The videos below delve into Keith Richards and his take on open G tuning. Exploring a new tuning can really unlock some new ideas if you’re feeling like your playing has become stuck in a rut. Definitely worth the effort to check it out.

Keith Richards Demonstrates his 5-String Technique

Riffs in the Key of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones on Guitar (Open G)


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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“A Good Feelin’ To Know” . . . : Rusty Young & Poco

I read that pedal steel guitarist Rusty Young passed away recently. Young was one of the first musicians to integrate the pedal steel guitar, an instrument associated with with country music, into rock. Young’s playing was central to the band’s goal of fusing the two genres. As a founding member of the band Poco, he helped define country rock and establish the pedal steel guitar as an integral voice in West Coast rock.

Formed in 1968, Poco originally included the singer-guitarists Jim Messina and Richie Furay — both formerly of Buffalo Springfield, another pioneering country-rock band from L.A., along with Rusty Young, the drummer George Grantham and the bassist Randy Meisner, a future member of the Eagles. (Timothy B. Schmit, another future Eagle, replaced Mr. Meisner after he left the band in 1969.)

Rusty Young said in a 2017 interview that “the concept was to take rock and roll lyrics and melodies, chord changes, and add country instruments as the color around them, because I play steel guitar and banjo and mandolin, all the country instruments I could add that color and Jimmy played that James Burton, Ricky Nelson-kind of guitar. We could use this kind of country colors palette to choose from, and have it be rock and roll.”

Poco they never had the big hits of the Eagles or the critical acclaim of the Flying Burritos Brothers but they gave off a good-time, crowd-pleasing vibe that was best captured on their 1971 live album Deliverin‘.

After the first three albums I lost track of the band as they evolved into a soft country rock sound but those first three records are pretty good with a bunch of excellent songs to be found.

Below are my personal favorites.

Poco – You Better Think Twice

Poco – A Good Feelin’ To Know

Poco – C’mon

Poco – Keep On Believin’

R.I.P Rusty Young

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Posted in Classic Rock, Country/Bluegrass, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Shaken, Not Stirred”. . : James Bond & Spy Music

It started with Goldfinger. Despite my young age (I don’t remember exactly but I was pretty young), I somehow wound up going to see a double feature of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. And it was the coolest thing ever!! The laser beam, the Aston Martin DB5 sports car with the gadgets, the henchman Oddjob, Honor Blackman (no, I won’t use the character’s name)!! And the music! I always thought of it as a weird blend of talk show big band jazz playing a cheesy version of exotic music mixed with surf rock guitar. It was very much of it’s time yet somehow remains timeless.

For Eon Productions’ first Bond film, Dr. No, producer Albert Broccoli first contacted Monty Norman, a British theater composer. Norman recycled a tune from a shelved theatrical project but the producers felt it needed more work and hired an up-and-coming composer named John Barry to finish it. He rearranged the theme with an arrangement for his jazz group and orchestra.

“Dr No” Opening Titles

 

It doesn’t get better than the theme song for Goldfinger, sung by legend Shirley Bassey.

Goldfinger (Main Title)


The music became so associated with the spy film genre that it was “borrowed” by P.F. Sloan for the theme of an American broadcast of Danger Man, a British series licensed by CBS. The theme for that show became Secret Agent Man, the No. 3 hit for Johnny Rivers in 1966 (and one of the coolest songs ever IMO).

JOHNNY RIVERS – Secret Agent Man 1966

 

 

Finally we have a video by Rick Beato where he gives a great musical analysis of the James Bond Theme. I have previously written about Rick’s amazing YouTube channel (https://roymusicusa.com/2018/07/26/what-makes-this-song-great-rick-beato-videos-look-under-the-hood-of-classic-songs/) which is a goldmine of information for those who want to know how music works (my peeps!).

 

The James Bond Theme – The Sound of Film Noir

 

 

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis, Music Theory

“Ten Albums For $0.01” . . : Columbia House Music Club

If you are of a certain age, you must of seen the ads in the magazines (remember magazines?). You know the ones, “10 Albums For A Penny”. Well my brother and I certainly did and when one of my brother’s friends told us how we can get out of the minimum purchase requirement, we were in. We both ordered a whole bunch of records, some of which had a lasting impact on my musical development. Some of the albums we got through the Columbia House introduction deals (as well as it’s competitor RCA Music) included Disraeli Gears (Cream), Tommy (The Who), Woodstock (the soundtrack), Johnny Winter (the first Columbia album) and Climbing! (Mountain). After we did this a couple of times our parents found out about us “cheating” and made us stop, fearing that the police would come and take us away (that didn’t happen till later).

I find the economics of the music industry fascinating (and as a musician, incredibly depressing). The videos below explore one of the little known aspects of what I call the Entertainment Industrial Complex.

What happened to Columbia House music club? And were their record pressings really that bad?



How Columbia House Sold 12 CDs For A Penny

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“Small Cogs Make Big Wheels Turn” . : Lou Ottens and Henry Goldrich

I recently learned of the deaths of Lou Ottens and Henry Goldrich. These are not famous musicians but their impact on popular music was immense.

Ir. L.F. Ottens, 2007.jpg

Lou Ottens

Lou Ottens was a Dutch engineer credited with inventing the audio cassette. As head of product development for Philips in 1960, he led a team that developed the initial portable tape recorder; he then introduced the first cassette tape at a Berlin electronics fair three years later.

The cassette tape made music portable, as part of car dashboards, boomboxes and eventually walkmans. Cassettes allowed you to make your own mix tapes, making it possible to personalize your own music experience. It make it easier to make copies of music to turn your friends on to, something the music industry tried to discourage as they felt it cannibalized their record sales. As a deadhead, it made possible the trading of live tapes. Prior to tape trading, only way to hear unofficial live material was from “bootleg” records which were not easy to find. When I discovered live tapes, a whole new world of music became available. Thank you Mr. Ottens.

 

Obituary of Henry J GOLDRICH

Henry Goldrich

Henry Goldrich was the proprietor of Manny’s Music in New York City. Manny’s, which closed in 2009 after 74 years in business, was the largest and best-known of the music stores on the West 48th Street block known as Music Row. Manny’s was the place where the top musicians went. It’s walls were covered with the autographed pictures of it’s customers and it was a who’s who of great musicians dating from the swing era onward. Both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton went there and supposedly it was Mr. Goldrich who turned them onto the wah-wah pedal. Just think about that . . .
John Sebastian, founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful, recalled in an interview how Mr. Goldrich helped him select the Gibson J-45 that he used on early Spoonful recordings like “Do You Believe in Magic?” He similarly matched James Taylor with a Martin acoustic guitar early in Taylor’s career and Sting used the Fender Strat that Henry Goldrich sold him to write “Message in a Bottle” and many other songs for the Police. Almost every weekend I would make the pilgrimage to Manny’s and the other stores on Music Row so I can look at the cool guitars, maybe even try a couple if the sales person was nice. Eventually, when I had saved enough to get my first good guitar, I bought it at Manny’s (a black Fender Telecaster with a maple neck, still have it too).

The history of music is filled with these small players in a big world whose importance to the way we enjoy music will never be fully appreciated. Thanks.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Equipment

“From My Window” . . . : Snow Music from Wire Wood & Steel

When I woke up this morning I saw that NYC was in the middle of a pretty decent snowfall. After the morning beverage, I began to play my guitar while looking out the window, not really thinking about what I was playing. After a while I realized that it wasn’t sounding too bad so I decided to just get out my iPhone and just tape what I was playing while looking out the window. Below are what I think were the best bits. Forgive the “oh so less then perfect” audio quality. This was was done very much on the fly as an experiment.


From My Window #1

From My Window #2

From My Window #3

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Posted in Country/Bluegrass, Improvisation, Jam Band

“Does Your Left Hand Know What The Right One Is Doing?” . . . : Mauro Giuliani 120 Right Hand Studies For Guitar

A bit of guitar geekness this month boys & girls . . .

One of my favorite guitarists, Charlie Hunter (see https://roymusicusa.com/2014/08/22/bing-bing-bing-bing-the-awesome-guitar-of-charlie-hunter/) said that the left hand of the guitarist is the “conception” hand but the right was the “execution” hand. As someone who started out playing guitar primarily with a pick, I spent most of my beginner years concentrating on what my left hand was doing. As I became interested in acoustic blues and folk via artists like Jorma Kaukonen (https://roymusicusa.com/2019/11/29/embryonic-journey-three-guitar-instrumentals-by-jorma-kaukonen/), I began to get into fingerpicking guitar styles and gradually developed some facility with my right hand. The music I’ve been working on lately will feature fingerstyle guitar prominently so I’ve been working on my right hand technique. That brings me to the videos below.

Mauro Giuliani (July 27, 1781 – May 8, 1829) was an Italian guitarist, cellist, singer, and composer and was a leading guitar virtuoso of the early 19th century. He hung out with the likes of Rossini and Beethoven and in his heyday in Vienna, his performances made him the darling of that city. His concert tours took him all over Europe where he was acclaimed for his virtuosity. He was a musical celebrity, right up there with the best of the many musicians who were active in the Austrian capital city at the beginning of the 19th century. His guitar pieces were published by the top Viennese music publishers to wide acclaimed. He also published works that were meant as study pieces, among them: 120 Right Hand Studies.

The studies are deceptively simple, a series of two measure “loops” that alternate between a C major chord and a G7, a simple I-V progression. But they quickly get your right hand fingers to move in patterns that will be unfamiliar and though they are simple, they are always musical. As I have worked through them, I have found myself entering an almost meditative state of mind as I play the two chord passages over and over, focusing my attention on the little details of my right hand technique. An added bonus of the videos below is that they have the studies in guitar tablature alongside the standard musical notation. Guitarist are notorious at being terrible at reading music (if being able to read music at all) so the tablature should make these studies available to guitarists of all skills.

Guitar Method:120 Right Hand Studies (Mauro Giuliani)

 

 

I consider myself an eternal student of music in general and the guitar in particular. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one too so I think you can see like I do the total coolness of something like this: it’s easy to grasp yet opens up a multitude of ways to become better at our craft.

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Posted in Classical, Guitar Logic

“Set Out Running” . . : Friend Of The Devil by Wire, Wood & Steel

I have previously posted about a new music project I’ve started called Wire, Wood & Steel (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/05/11/what-i-did-on-my-permanent-vacation-new-music-project/ and https://roymusicusa.com/2020/09/03/wire-wood-steel-an-new-acoustic-music-project/). After some delays I finally started recording and I thought I would share the first song, an instrumental cover of the Grateful Dead classic “Friend OF The Devil”.

I’ve written before on how the Dead were my entry point to a many different musical genres. Without the albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, I would not be making this music. Hope you like it.

Wire Wood & Steel – Friend Of The Devil

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Posted in Country/Bluegrass, Improvisation, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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