“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

Guitarist Tony Rice 1951 – 2020

On Christmas Day, 2020, guitarist Tony Rice passed away at the age of 69. Rice was a pivotal figure in bluegrass guitar. His music spanned from traditional bluegrass to jazz-influenced New Acoustic music to songwriter-oriented folk. I first became aware of him reading Guitar Player magazine who gave a glowing review to the 1977 album, The David Grisman Quartet, a landmark of acoustic string band music. The album was comprised of original material that blended jazz, bluegrass, and classical styles and totally blew me away and I became an immediate fan. The album became a huge influence on musicians like Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Mark O’Connor who all went on to create their own versions the music.

David Grisman Quartet – E.M.D. (David Grisman, Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, & Rob Wasserman)

David Grisman Quintet Reunion – Swing 51 – Floyd Fest 2003


Before that, Rice, as an integral part of the bluegrass band JD Crowe and the New South, helped to define the template of the progressive bluegrass band with their highly influential, self-titled album for Rounder Records, known by its catalog serial number “oo44.”

In the early ‘80s, he made another classic record, “Church Street Blues,” which consisted of just himself on guitar, as well as records with his band, the Tony Rice Unit records and collaborations with Norman Blake, Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and his brothers Larry Rice, Wyatt Rice and Ronnie Rice.

Tony Rice – Church Street Blues


The Tony Rice Unit – Blue Railroad Train

The Tony Rice Unit – Tipper


Tony Rice & Norman Blake – New River Train

Tony Rice – Gold Rush


Tony Rice & Friends – “White House Blues” ( Tony Rice, along with Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck & Mark Schatz,)

Tony Rice with Bela Fleck – Whitewater

Tony Rice & Friends –  “Freeborn Man”


Most Deadheads may be familiar with Tony Rice when Rice recorded what became the Pizza Tapes with Grisman and guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1993. The session recorded at Grisman’s studio was eventually officially released in 2000 after bootleg recordings circulated for several years. Strengthening the Dead connection, Rice came together with Peter Rowan for tours and albums, releasing the Quartet album on Rounder Records in 2006 with Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist. Deadheads familiar with the Jerry Gracia bluegrass band Old and In The Way would be familiar with the material.

Peter Rowan – Tony Rice Cold Rain and Snow

Peter Rowan Tony Rice Quartet “Midnight Moonlight” 3/26/2005, Live Oak, FL

Peter Rowan Tony Rice Quartet “Hobo Song” 2/17/06 Asheville, NC

Peter Rowan – Tony Rice – Shady Grove

Time and touring took it’s toll on Tony Rice. In the 1990s, he was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, which impaired his ability to sing. His last public vocal performance occurred in 1994. Eventually, other health complications forced Rice to stop playing guitar altogether with Rice’s induction into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall Of Fame in 2013 being his last public performance.

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

“A Merry Jerry Holiday” . . . . . . . . : 25 Days Of Jerry

Happy Holidays everyone, we made it through a year in hell.

Weeping Willow Guitar Lessons is an excellent YouTube channel for Deadhead/ABB fan guitarists (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSqUU4fjNPVq6NvKtNIWKOQ). He’s been putting out some serious high quality content: solo transcriptions, breakdown of guitar parts and backing tracks. This year he did something really cool. Everyday for 25 days, he put out a video with a short Jerry Garcia solo transcribed in both music notation and guitar tablature. The transcription scrolls along the bottom of the screen while the solo is played so you can follow along. For the harder solos, he’ll repeat it at a slower tempo. Going through the solos can be a little work. A separate hard copy of the transcriptions would be handy as a reference but the process can provide a guitarist with a wealth of Jerry guitar vocabulary to study and absorb into your own playing.

25 Days Of Jerry (Weeping Willow Guitar Lessons) –

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

A Haiku For The Holidays 2020

Yeah, This Year Sucked Big
We Can Only Look Forward
And Hope For The Best



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

“You Know You Know” . . . . . : The Mahavishnu Orchestra

There were records that were pivotal in my wanting to play music: Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore East and Eat A Peach, Grateful Dead Live Dead and Europe 72 and Mahavishnu Orchestra Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire. 

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was formed in New York City in 1971 by the English guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin had already earned a reputation from from his role in Tony William’s Lifetime and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Besides McLaughlin, the band consisted of drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Rick Laird, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and violinist Jerry Goodman. This initial lineup lasted from 1971 through 1973 in which time they made the aforementioned Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire, a live album (Between Nothingness And Eternity, recorded live from a two night run at Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, I was at both shows) and a third studio album that was eventually released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.

I first heard of John McLaughlin from reading about him in The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, in particular Rollings Stone’s review of an earlier McLaughlin album, the acoustic My Goals Beyond. Then I saw ads for the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, The Inner Mountain Flame. When I bought the album it totally blew me away. If I had to describe it I would would say it was a cross between Led Zeppelin, Ravi Shankar and Igor Stravinsky. Their second album, Birds Of Fire continued in the same vein as Inner Mountain Flame with the instrumental pallet being expanded by the introduction of the Minimoog synthesizer by keyboard player Jan Hammer. My love of the band only grew when I was finally able to see them live and McLaughlin came out playing a double neck 12 string/6 string guitar. So cool!!

I could go on about the complexity of the music and the incredible virtuosity of the players and all that is true. But as I was re listening to this music the one thought I kept getting was “my god, these guys kicked ass”. They could also play with great delicacy and there was usually a point in the shows where McLaughlin would play acoustic guitar. In those instances, the quieter dynamics allowed for a more focused virtuosity.

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – Meeting Of The Spirits/You Know You Know

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – A Lotus On Irish Streams

Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Dance Of Maya

Hope/One Word – The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at Bananafish Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1973

I was luck enough to see this version of the band five times in their brief existence and they were never less than amazing. They were one of my big “gateway drugs” to making music. I hope they inspire you as they did me.

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Posted in Improvisation, Jam Band, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“She Caught The Katy” . . . : Taj Mahal

I don’t know about you but I can use some music that puts a smile on my face. . .

Most of the time when people think of the blues, they think sad music about suffering. Then there is Taj Mahal (real name: Henry Saint Clair Fredericks). Maybe it’s because he comes from the folk blues tradition as opposed to the electric blues of Chicago, Memphis or Texas. Maybe it’s because he often incorporates elements of world music into his works. Whatever the reasons, Taj Mahal is uniquely different from what you think is your basic blues.

That is not to say that his impact is insignificant. On the contrary. His debut album, Taj Mahal, released in 1968, had a stripped-down approach to vintage blues tunes and was unlike almost anything else at the time and is now considered a classic of the ’60s blues revival. Featuring guitarists Jesse Ed Davis and Ry Cooder, the album contains updated versions of early blues songs by Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Most importantly, it included an adaptation of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”. which directly inspired the Allman Brothers Band version of the tune.


Taj Mahal Statesboro Blues


TAJ MAHAL – Leaving Trunk


Celebrated Walkin’ Blues


“She Caught the Katy”  was written by Taj Mahal and James Rachell and appearred on Taj Mahal’s 1968 album The Natch’l Blues and is one of Mahal’s most famous tunes. It has since been covered many times and was in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (the song plays over the opening credits, as Jake Blues leaves prison). Side Note: The “Katy” refers to the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad.


She Caught The Katy – Taj Mahal (Original Studio Recordings – 1968)

In later records, Taj Mahal began focusing on country and folk blues. I remember seeing him live, opening up for The Mahavishnu Orchestra in Central Park as part of the Shaffer Music Festival. Here he was, playing solo on an old National Steel guitar in front of a NYC audience there for high powered electric jazz fusion. I remember seeing similar situations and it was never pretty. He had the crowd eating out of his hand by the end of the first song.

Taj Mahal – Fishin’ Blues

Taj Mahal – Queen Bee


Nobody’s Business But My Own


Taj Mahal – Cakewalk Into Town 1973


Hearing this music makes me smile. I hope it does the same for you.

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Posted in Blues, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Bowie Via Brazil . . . : Songs From Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”

I’m a fan of Wes Anderson films. Let me clarify that. I’m a big fan of some Wes Anderson films. There are moments form his movies Rushmore, The Royal Tannenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel that move me in ways that I don’t understand but I cannot deny (like a lot of great art). He also makes great use of popular music in his movies. Check out his montage sequence in Rushmore to The Who’s Happy Jack or the thematic use of Kink’s songs in his movie The Darjeeling Limited.

That being said, I’m not a fan of all of his movies. Among those that underwhelmed me was ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’. It didn’t do it for me. But one of the things that I thought was really cool was Brazilian guitarist, singer, actor Seu Jorge singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese solo on an acoustic guitar. Additionally, instead of having Seu Jorge lip sync to prerecorded versions of the songs, Anderson filmed Seu Jorge actually performing the songs live. Watch it all in the video below.

Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie Live From The Movie Set (video)

0:00 Starman
3:56 Oh! You Pretty Things
7:42 Changes
11:45 Rebel Rebel
15:00 Lady Stardust
18:51 Rock N Roll Suicide
23:03 Five Years
26:44 Life on Mars?
30:57 Suffragette City
34:21 Qucksand

The songs were recorded and released in 2005 as The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. Bowie approved. In the liner notes for the album, Bowie wrote, “I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Playing To The Tide” . . . : The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast Deep Dive Into Workingman’s Dead

This past June was the 50th anniversary of the seminal Grateful Dead album Workingsman’s Dead. This was my introduction to the Dead. My brother and I had spent the summer at a bungalow colony up in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York so when we got back to the city we bought a bunch of records that had come out during the summer. I don’t remember how exactly my brother wound up buying Workingman’s Dead but in hindsight it turned out to be a pivotal moment in both our lives. The first song of side one: Uncle John’s Band (remember when there was actual sides to records? Remember records? I’m so old). The moment that the Dead sang the chorus acapella I was hooked.

Many Deadheads, myself included, tend to be a little dismissive of the Dead’s studio albums. After all, the band was known for their live performances and even the Dead were not particularly thrilled with the studio but with Workingman’s Dead (and it’s companion piece, American Beauty) the Dead crafted one of the truly great albums of the Seventies. This was the beginning of what I (and many others) consider to be the Dead’s most creative periods with the songs being written by Garcia and Hunter at this time providing the foundation of their repertoire for the rest of their long career.

In celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary there is a new expanded edition of Workingman’s Dead (this seems to be the new standard practice for classic rock albums) The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, the official Grateful Dead podcast, has launched a series that focuses on Workingsman’s Dead with a deep dive into each song on the album along with podcasts that talk about Jerry Garcia’s relationship to folk music and the band’s relationship to Stanley Owsley, their early audio engineer and recreational chemist. I found these podcasts fascinating with interesting insights into the origins of these songs and the creative process that brought them into existence.

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast 


Also, as of this writing, the second season of The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast has started in which they start their deep dive into American Beauty. Enjoy

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

The Other Great Classical Guitarist . . . : Julian Bream (1933 – 2020)

Last month, classical guitar legend Julian Bream passed away at the age of 87. Chances are that unless you’re a serious guitar geek (such as yours truly) you have never heard of him. Of the small amount of people who can actually name any classical guitarists, that would be Andre Segovia. However, it could be argued that Bream, even more than Segovia, established the guitar’s position as a serious solo instrument in classical music. Instead of the Romantic period style phrasing that Segovia used, Bream developed a more modern style of phrasing. Bream’s playing was both virtuosic and expressive, with an eye for details, and with strong use of contrasting timbres. He also expanded the classical guitar repertoire by showing that the instrument was just as suited to German, French and English works as pieces that emphasized the guitar’s Spanish and Latin American roots, as well as more contemporary music that the more conservative Segovia avoided.

The first video is from a recital in 1978 featuring works by Bach, Villa-Lobos, Albeniz and Britten that took place in a chapel at Old Wardour Castle in England.

Julian Bream Concert 1978

The video below is a BBC documentary (year unknown) that shows Bream to be a pretty laid back guy. Dig the car he’s seen driving at the beginning of the video.

Julian Bream at the BBC

R.I.P. Julian Bream

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Posted in Classical, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Wire, Wood & Steel – An New Acoustic Music Project

I had previously announced the start of a new music project that would focus on acoustic music called Wire, Wood & Steel (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/05/11/what-i-did-on-my-permanent-vacation-new-music-project/) starting with a video of myself playing an original song on the dobro.  I’ve now added two more videos and created a YouTube playlist (see https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLogHrynqXOvQSNc5Je3Etu_VlTaNHFo6x ). I hope to begin recording an album under the Wire, Wood & Steel moniker before the end of the year. In the meantime here are two new original tunes performed on the dobro. Hope you like them.

Wire, Wood & Steel – New York City Country Blues


Wire, Wood & Steel – Dobro Song # 3

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