“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) –


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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

“Moonhead” . . . : Pink Floyd Jams To The Moon Landing

Fifty years ago today, on July 20th, 1969,  Mankind did the coolest thing in it’s existence and walked on the Moon (unless you’re one of those pinheads who think it was all a hoax. In that case, just go away now and please, for the sake of an already shallow gene pool, don’t reproduce). I was eleven years ago and stuck in the back of a crowded room in upstate New York, trying to see a small television screen with lousy reception. I couldn’t see shit. Suddenly everyone begins cheering so I assumed that Neil Amstrong stepped foot on the Moon.

That’s my recollection of where I was when Man first walked on the Moon. But if you happen to be, oh let’s say, David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, it would be slightly different. A part of a live BBC broadcast centered on the Moon landing, titled So What if It’s Just Green Cheese?, Pink Floyd was commissioned to perform instrumental music live on the air as the Apollo 11 crew’s video and audio signals came through. The program included actors such as Ian McKellen and Judi Dench reading quotes and poetry about the Moon. Dudley Moore and his Dudley Moore Trio also performed, as did jazz singer Marion Montgomery but let’s face it, the only part that we care about now was Pink Floyd’s improvisational jam session.

In the summer of 1969, Pink Floyd was nowhere near the superstar level they would reach in the ’70s. With songs such “Astronomy Domine” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, they were an underground band whose psychedelic explorations were firmly associated with outer space. That and having already appeared on various U.K. TV programs, made them uniquely qualified for the task.

David Gilmore from a 2009 inrerview with The Guardian:
“It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23. The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall. Funnily enough I’ve never really heard it since, but it is on YouTube. They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead — it’s a nice, atmospheric, spacey 12-bar blues.”

The music produced by the group that night was very trippy, with a dark ambient vibe that is sometimes reminiscent of the early Pink Floyd tune “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. In the beginning there are a few bits of dialogue spoken over the music but it’s not too overbearing. Otherwise it’s a interesting bit of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd jamming away and being a part of history.

Pink Floyd “Moonhead” -1969


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

Reflections On The Fourth Of July: Two Songs by Paul Simon about America

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.

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Posted in Classic Rock

“How Will The Wolf Survive” . . : Jerry Garcia’s Wolf Guitar Comes Out To Play

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 –

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Posted in Equipment, Grateful Dead, Jam Band
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