“So you want to be a rock and roll star?” . . . : Steve Van Zandt on the ‘Five Crafts’ of Rock and Roll

I was reading a recent interview in Guitar Player magazine with guitarist Steve Van Zandt, long time member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-leader of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and of course, consigliere to Tony Soprano, Silvio Dante (if you don’t know what that means, go here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvio_Dante). He was promoting his latest solo record, Soulfire [Wicked Cool/Big Machine/Ume] when he was asked about the impact of music technology on the creative process and if the relative ease in which one can make a recording on their computer is detrimental. Van Zandt definitely thought it did (not surprisingly given his pedigree in music that was born in a pre-digital world). He then went on to list what he considers the five crafts of rock and roll. I felt that it was a pretty good road map to achieve mastery at being a musician. I think this advise is timeless. So here are Steve Van Zandt’s five crafts of rock and roll:

1) “Everybody has to learn their instrument—or their voice if they’re a singer”.

2) “You need to start analyzing your favorite songs. This is part of the arrangement process, but it starts off as an analysis. What are the instruments doing? What are the chord changes? What’s the melody against those chord changes? What is the bass doing? Why is the drum fill there?”.

3) “Performing live. You learn to interact with an audience, and with your band members, and you need to learn what effect the music has on the audience”.

4) “Writing. Because you have analyzed and arranged those songs, you’re now able to have higher standards. So you’re going to write your songs at a higher standard than you would if you had skipped that phase. If you’re not analyzing your favorite songs and figuring out what goes into them, then you’re not going to be able to evaluate your own writing”.

5) “Recording. That is a whole other craft to learn. Yeah, you can learn some of that at home, and it probably would be helpful to do that. But it’s different in a studio situation with a real engineer and a real producer, and, you know, a band. Again, you get that input from other people, and that usually makes the tracks better”.

To read the full article go the the link below:

http://www.guitarplayer.com/artists/1013/steven-van-zandt-on-the-five-crafts-of-rock-and-roll/63691

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Hey Ho Let’s Go . . . . :The Ramones Meet The Adams Family

Sometimes you just need to see something so dumb that it makes you smile.

You’re welcome.

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“We Got The Beat . . . : Perfecting Rhythm

With the vast majority of guitar instructional material you see on the the internet (and in pre You Tube material as well) the emphasis has been on two of the three elements of music, melody and harmony. The third element, rhythm, usally is given the short shift of attention. Even when the the subject is rhythm guitar, I more often see things chord voicings covered than the actual rhythmic concepts. Maybe it’s easier to just say “if this chord then play that scale” or to show ten ways to play a E minor chord than it is to discuss more abstract concepts of rhythm and groove. While I have noticed in more recent instructional material giving more space to improving one’s rhythm chops, I find it often pays to look beyond guitar-centric material to really zero in on the subject.

Below are a series of videos from a playlist called Perfecting Rhythm, put together by Saher Galt. The video series starts with teaching you to internalize small common rhythmic figues and moves on to topics like syncopation, polyrhythms and building complex rhythms from simpler ones. A subject as vast and complex as rhythm is not going to mastered by the act of simply watching a bunch of you tube videos. Like any real skill, it requires practice and I think that watching and working with these videos would be a big help to anyone who wants to improve that area of their playing.

Play any RHYTHM easily – perfect your timing and sight reading!

 

Syncopation made easy! Interactive RHYTHM training.

 

Play any POLYRHYTHM easily with this trick! (Interactive rhythm video)

 

Four against three (4:3) POLYRHYTHM practice!

 

Decoding Rhythm: how to play rhythms that seem hard (but really aren’t)

 

Saher Galt also has a number of You Tube tutorial video series, covering things like singing tips, how to make music (including building a studio, recording, mixing and mastering) and perhaps most importantly, cat videos. Please check them out.

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Tequilla . . . : The Champs, Wes Mongomery and My Aching Head

This past weekend I met up with some old friends who I have known since college. This inevitably led to the consumption of alcohol.  I probably drank more alcohol this past weekend than I have for the past several year combined. I cannot claim innocence in this. Doing shots of tequila was a big ritual for us back in the day and for reasons that escape me now, I felt it was necessary to relive that ritual once again. At this point I am reminded of the adage about those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it but I was well aware of the history and I knew that doing tequila shot(s) would result in me feeling like five pound of crap in a three pound bag for the next several days. Did it stop me? Of course not. Tequila: helping you make bad decisions since 1666.

This somehow leads me to the song Tequila (I suspect that the logic that lead me to this point has been in some way influenced by my post hangover malaise). The song’s genesis occurred at a recording session by Dave Burgess and the Daniel Flores Trio on December 23, 1957 in Hollywood for Challenge Records. The song, essentially a jam based on a Cuban mambo beat, was written by Flores (who played the trademark “dirty sax” solo as well as being the voice that booms “Tequila”) when they needed something for the B side of the single they were working on. “Tequila” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Chart in March of 1958, just over two months after it was recorded, and won a Grammy Award in 1959 (the first Grammy for a rock ‘n roll song, ever) with the Flores Trio becoming  “The Champs” after the song was released.

The Champs “Tequila”

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Wes Mongomery is acknowledge to be one of the most important and influential guitarists ever. While noted for his unique playing technique of using his thumb instead of a guitar pick (which produced a warm, round sound that was instantly recognizable) and his innovative use of playing octaves and chord melodies on the guitar, it was the amazing fluidity of his ideas coupled with the deep soulfulness of his playing that makes his music so memorable. Musicians who have claimed Wes as a musical influence include George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Howe, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny and countless others.

Wes Montgomery came onto the scene in the late 1950s as a highly regarded exponent of hard bop with small group, straight ahead sessions for the Riverside label through 1963 (check out 1960’s The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery or 1962’s Full House). In 1964 Montgomery moved to Verve Records for two years. At Verve, Wes recorded straight jazz records like 1965’s Smokin’ at the Half Note and a pair of albums that he made with jazz organist Jimmy Smith, Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (both in 1966). But it was while he was at Verve that Wes began making records that where he was featured with an orchestra. The trend to over produced, pop oriented material continued when he moved to A&M records in 1967. There, under the direction of producer Creed Taylor, he made records that were commercially successful but dismissed by jazz purists.

This brings us to the clip below. It’s an audio only (sorry!) of Wes’s appearance at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival where he was joined by his brothers Monk on bass and Buddy on piano with Grady Tate on drums. Here, they are closing out their set with a rendition of “Tequila,” the Champs tune which Wes did as the title track for Montgomery’s 1966 Verve album. I cannot find the article but I recall reading one by a well regarded jazz critic who, writing about the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, recalled how he had low expectations for Wes Montgomery’s performance given the records he was making at the time. He then went on to say how he was totally blown away by the set. Based on the audio evidence below, being blown away was a perfectly reasonable response. Great latin jazz groove with Wes’ unparalleled octaves work on full display. Brilliant stuff.

Wes Montgomery – Tequila (Newport Jazz Festival – 1967)

Tequila – dig the song, beware the drink.

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

“Gentle On My Mind” . . . . . . : Glen Campbell (1936 – 2017)

As I think about Glen Campbell on the sad occasion of his death, I realize that he was a presence in my musical consciousness for almost my whole life. I remember a moment when I was around ten years old. It was summer and I was reading a comic book (I think it was Spiderman, I was a Marvel kid) in my bedroom when the radio played a song that drew my attention away from the adventures of Peter Parker. It was something about Wichita but the telegraph-like strings and piano part at the end of the verse had a eerie quality that somehow connected to me. On some level it made me realize that music could tap into emotions my ten year brain wasn’t aware of but were there all the same.

Campbell was there on the television as I was growing up. He would frequently appear on the t.v. variety shows of the era and he had numerous hits in the late sixties and early seventies. In retrospect, he was a pioneer in country/pop crossover music. I was unaware of it at the time but I already heard Glen Campbell the guitar player on any number of pop hits. Before being a star in his own right, Campbell was a top flight L.A. studio musician. As part of the “Wrecking Crew”, he played on records from The Monkees to Frank Sinatra. He was even a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson, playing bass guitar and singing falsetto harmonies.

The moment when it really hit me what a great guitarist Glen Campbell was occurred sometime in the late seventies. I was home from college and my parents were watching The Carol Burnett Show with Glen Campbell as the guest when they go into a duet of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. By this time I had already played guitar for a while and was familiar with the song as a jazz standard so my ear’s perked up. Damn, that guy could play guitar. It then went into some corny seventies t.v. sthick but you could hear Glen play some incredible guitar throughout.

Glen Campbell & Carol Burnett

 

Below are three video clips of Glen Campbell performing some of his best songs. With songwriter Jimmy Webb, Campbell found someone who would provide the vehicle for the both of them to achieve some of the best pop songs of their day. “Wichita Lineman”, that song I heard when I was ten, still gives me goosebumps when I hear that telegraph strings/piano part. The other Jimmy Webb song here, “Galveston” is another song that captures the narrator’s loneliness in a way that only music can. Maybe that’s one of the greatest things about music (and great art in general), they way it can give the gift of empathy (wow, how did I get here). By the way, the guitar solos in all three clips are amazing.

Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” (Austin City Limits 1985)

Glen Campbell  – Galveston 

Glen Campbell – “Gentle On My Mind”

 

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Dawg Music : The Bluegrass Jazz of Dave Grisman and Friends

From the bluegrass/Dead nexus of the previous post, I noe move on to a sub genre of music as singular as it’s name, Dawg Music. The term is what mandolin player Dave Grisman called the music on his 1977 album The David Grisman Quintet. That record is considered to be one of the landmark recording of what is refered to as New Acoustic Music. The term New Acoustic Music is itself a somewhat nebulous but lets go with the Wikipedia definition of a “music genre that blends influences from folk, bluegrass, jazz and world music and uses only acoustic instruments” (I would personally amend it to read “primarily uses acoustic instruments”).

David Grisman did not grow up in the bluegrass tradition. He had a religious Jewish upbringing in New Jerseyand became part of the generation of musicians who approached bluegrass as fans/students of folk music. Another such musician was Jerry Garcia, someone whose path Grisman will cross later on. Maybe it was because they came to music as outsiders that they were more willing to “color outside the lines” of traditional bluegrass. Grisman was one of a circle of pickers in the ’70s who had reached such a level of virtuosity in bluegrass that they started looking for new challenges. Improvisation and musical virtuosity are common to both jazz and bluegrass so they saw jazz as a natural next step.

The music on that record added bluegrass to a modern take of the gypsy jazz of guitarist Django Reinhardt while also incorporating a more modern modal jazz vocabulary. The Django Reinhardt connection was made manifest when jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli (a playing partner of Django) performed as a special guest, both live and on record. To me, the connection between the two makes sense in that gypsy jazz is a sub genre of jazz whose instrumental tradition comes from string based bands and not horns.

The clips below feature songs from that first record though performed at later dates. I’m not sure where or when the first clip is from but it features a killer lineup of David Grisman on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, Mark O’Connor on violin & the late great Rob Wasserman on bass. Everyone is one fire here. The playing has this effortless flow while playing intricate lines and let me tell you, the tempo here is smokin fast.

David Grisman Quartet – E.M.D.

 

The next clip is from the t.v. show Austin City Limits from around 1980. through the years, the David Grisman Quintet went through a fair share of lineup changes. Here Mark O’Conner, who played violin in the previous clip has replaced Tony Rice on guitar while original DGQ member Darol Anger  has returned on violin.

David Grisman Quintet – Dawg’s Rag

The David Grisman Quintet went on to inspire other records, several of them made by the originals members of DGQ and I want to mention two of them in particular. The first one is by guitarist Tony Rice who made the record Acoustics soon after leaving the DGQ to pursue his own music. On Acoustics, he continues to make music that like DGQ, merged different genres like jazz, bluegrass and folk. The two videos below feature tracks from that album.

The Tony Rice Unit – Gasology

The Tony Rice Unit – Swing ’51

Finally, original DGQ violinist Darol Anger put out his version of Dawg Music with his 1981 album Fiddlistics. The record opens up with this fiery performance of a Darol Anger tune that features fellow original DGQ members Tony Rice on guitar, Mike Marshall on mandolin and bassist Todd Phillips on bass. It’s my personal favorite (for what it’s worth).

Darol Anger – Key Signator

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“He took my twenty dollar bill” . . : Bluegrass and The Grateful Dead

My recent Grateful Dead listening phase has gone off road into bluegrass. My first exposure to bluegrass was in the early Seventies by performers who themselves were influenced by bluegrass. Besides the Dead, I remember hearing David Bromberg doing fiddle tunes like Arkansas Traveler and listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 record “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, a record that featured the band collaborating with a who’s who of country and bluegrass musicians such as Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and Doc Watson. The deep dive came when my best friend Allen decided he wanted to learn Earl Scruggs style 5 string banjo. It was with Allen that I saw bluegrass legend Bill Monroe play in a small auditorium in Greenwich Village and with who I had what is one of my favorite concert memories: a triple bill of David Bromberg, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Doc Watson playing a summer concert in Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, NYC.

David Bromberg – Arkansas Traveler

The Earl Scruggs Revue – Earl’s Breakdown

Guitar Artistry of Doc Watson

 

With a lot of my current listening being the Dead or bluegrass, it was sort of inevitable that I would come upon the overlap of bluegrass versions of Dead songs. The ones that I were particularly drawn to were interpretations that took a Dead song not normally considered to be “country” and rearranged it as a song that could fit comfortably within the bluegrass tradition. Many of the songs from the early seventies (what I refer to The American Beauty Trilogy” period, see my earlier post: https://roymusicusa.com/2015/07/05/jack-straw-from-wichita-the-missing-third-album-of-the-grateful-deads-american-beauty-trilogy/) are prime candidates for this treatment.The songs from this period have deep ties to the folk music tradition that Garcia was an avid student of. One of the best is the version below of “Loser” performed by the Travelin McCourys. These guys are the real deal, with mandolin player Ronnie McCoury and banjo player Rob McCoury being sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury. They’re true keepers of the bluegrass flame but are not afraid of going outside of the bluegrass tradition for new source material. This version of Loser does both their father and Jerry proud.

The Travelin’ McCourys perform Grateful Dead tune “Loser” at DelFest 2015

 

I’m not that familiar with the band Grass Is Dead and at first I thought the concept (bluegrass versions of only Dead songs) was a little cheesy. I feel that some of their versions are not as successful as others but when they work, they work extremely well. “Comes A Time has always been one of my favorite Garcia ballads and what I love about this version is that it really re-imagines the song as a bluegrass tune. Many of the bluegrass covers of Dead tunes I’ve heard didn’t really sound like bluegrass. They sounded more like the original version of the song, only played with bluegrass instruments like banjo and mandolin. Unlike “Comes A Time”, I never was that big on “Ship Of Fools” but this version has given me a new appreciation of it’s song craft. That these songs can be recast into a different genre that their original version and still hold their own is a testament to the timeless quality of the songwriting of Garcia/Hunter.

The Grass Is Dead – Comes a Time

The Grass Is Dead – Ship of Fools

Remember what I said about my preference for the bluegrass versions of non-country Dead tunes. Well, forget that. Yes, featuring a bluegrass cover of “Friend Of The Devil” is a bit obvious but you got to hear these guys play. Your face might fall off. As the video clips of Dave Bromberg, Doc Watson and Earl Scuggs demonstrated, bluegrass is no stranger to technical virtuosity but as we say in guitar geek speak, these guys shred. Rob Ickes (on dobro) and guitarist/vocalist Trey Hensley are Nashville pros with long resumes and here, along with guest Chris Luquettet on guitar, they tear the roof off of the song. You’ve been warned.

Friend of the Devil – Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley (with special guest Chris Luquette) at Bluegrass From the Forest, Shelton, WA. – 2016

 

In memory of Allen Asaf.

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