Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers - Annette Carson

Of course, Jeff Beck has always been a fave guitarist of mine, from his Yardbirds days (their biggest hits, which are what I knew the Yardbirds for in my youth) to his days in the revolutionary, pre-heavy metal Jeff Beck Group (some of his finest work, in my opinion, and still breath taking to this day) and I have even been known to enjoy some of his later, jazzier instrumental work. I even got a chance to see him a few years ago and while the music that he is doing these days is not neccessarially of my taste, he is still a spectacular player.

This book looks at his career right up until the late 90's (the time of the writing) and gives a good overview of his work, with lots of cool equipment and technique notations.

This is not a "tell-all", gossipy book. It essentially simply talks of his work and very little of his personal life. Of course, Annette speaks of his youth in England and his friendships he forged as a result of his love for music in general and rock'n'roll in particular (Gene Vincent is an early influence), but does not get into any sordid story of sex of drugs (though it sounds like Jeff rarely indulged). Despite (or because of) this, it is a very entertaining story. Of course, I love to read about his early excitement at hearing r'n'r - I still feel these thrills when listening to great rock - and the 60' and 70's are especially enticing as those are Beck's highest musical points (again, this is just me speaking), but it is fun to hear about the projects that he has pursued over the years - many, or most, that I was not familiar with.

A great book on a great artist!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

guitar instructional books

I've been meaning to write about some of the guitar instructional books that I have picked up recently, but never seem to have the time to put my thoughts on all of them together at the same time. So, I'm going to start and will either add more later to this post or to a separate post.

I barely played guitar at all for a number of years and when I picked it up again I felt stagnated and wanted to learn some more and think outside of my personal box. I'm not good with "teachers" and "lessons" and other people's schedules so thought I'd pick up some books and try to learn some on my own. These have helped me to realize just how much I do not know - hell, I never even properly learned scales - and given me plenty of food for thought. I have been listening and digging a lot of blues lately, so many of the books are designed with this in mind. Here's a few that I currently own:

Blues by the Bar: Cool Riffs That Sound Great over Each Portion of the Blues Progression by Chris Hunt

I believe that this was the first book that I picked
up, probably because it goes for a good price – listing at just $9.95. As the title suggests, this gives you licks separately by the bar of the blues progression so you get bits and pieces at a time that you can mix and match. Each lick is played on the CD with a full backing band so you can hear what it should sound like in a song. Unfortunately, as with many of the other books, the only tracks that you can play over without the lick already there are at the end of the disc so it’s not very easy to learn a lick and then play it over a backing track – unless you record these tracks onto a separate CD, like I did!

Overall, this is a great compilation of cool riffs, giving you an overaview of 12 bar blues guitar melodies. Definitely worthwhile!


Blue Licks You Can Use – John Ganapes

This is another good book of licks, from the simple to the complex, slow and easy to fast and furious. It takes the sections of the blues songs and gives you pieces that go with each part and shows different keys and different blues styles, from nice’n’easy to grungey Chicago-styled to jazzy. What I don’t like is that the CD only has the lead guitar on it – no backing track of any sort (not even a click track!), so you cannot hear the riffs in context. The book does show what chords would go behind the riffs, but without hearing them with the backing, it takes some good imagination (or better musical training than I have) to figure out what it would sound like in a song. The CD does have full backing tracks to play along with at the end of the CD in various keys, but you have to skip to track 80 or so before you can get to these. When you are playing track 5 and want to hear what it would sound like with a backing, it is a bit of a pain to jump over 75 tracks to get to the backing track and then to figure out what part of the progression it is supposed to fit into. If they had that section of backing right after the example of the riff, if would help immeasurably.

The other gripe about the CD is that each riff is played slowly (about ½ time) and then at regular speed, which does help to learn them initially, but both of these are on a single track so if you want to play along with the standard speed, you have to fast-forward past the slow speed version.

But in general, the quality of the licks overshadow the issues I have with the book and I would recommend this as a good selection of styles and sounds.


Blues Turnarounds – Dave Ruben and Rusty Zinn

I was noticing that a lot of the other blues books that I had gotten did not spend a lot of time on the turnaround,which I

feel is one of the most distinctive sections of the blues song. So I went looking and found this book. I was somewhat disappointed at first because the riffs are pretty simple overall and there are a lot of variations on a theme – a couple of notes different or just a different rhythm for the same pattern. But as I went through it I realized that this is part of what make the blues the blues and it also shows that you can play around with a lick and make it your own and still have it fit.

I do like that this book shows a lot of fingerpicking styles, such as folks like Robert Johnson or Bill Broonzy would use, because that is something that I had never learned. There are also some jazzy pieces and plain ol’ Chicago blues. The authors give a bit of historic and melodic information to go with the different parts, as well. There are also pieces that show you some jazz-oriented chords, which provides some nice variations and (for me) some challenges.

The CD is simply one guitar playing the licks with no band and so no backing tracks for you to play along with. But not a bad compilation of turnaround licks that, despite my initial reservations, gave me a lot to think about and work on and were more interesting than it initially let on.


100 Killer licks and chops for Blues Guitar – Phil Capone

This book has a ton of cool licks, though the “100” in the title is slightly misleading – it also includes the scale practices in the back of the book. Regardless, this has everything from rhythm-based blues runs to blazing lead riffs and everything from Muddy

Waters Delta/Chicago blues to jazz blues to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix blues/rock hybrids. A really versatile and useful collection and even the scales section gives you some interesting ways of working within the scales and fun exercises. The CD has all of the riffs played over a full backing track, which is nice – I like hearing these in proper context – though there are no tracks of just the backing for you to play along with without the lick already being there. But overall, well worth the price and one of the better books that I’ve gotten.


12-Bar Blues Solos by Dave Ruben

This book is very much a beginner’s book and something that I wish I had when I was first trying to play lead guitar. That said, there are still some good ideas in here, though most of the ideas are used in such

a basic way that it will probably be boring for most players. I do really like the fact that the accompanying CD is set up so that you can listen to the lick with a guitar backing track (unfortunately not a full band backing track) and then the next track is just the backing track so you can play along with the backing. So many of these books do not have backings that you can play with or if they do, they are 70 tracks away from the track you are learning!

Anyway, a cool starter’s book, but anyone else shouldn’t bother.


Jazzin’ the Blues – John Ganapes and David Roos

After learning some other jazz-oriented bluesy licks in some of the other books I’ve picked up, I wanted to try to learn a bit more and so I picked up this book. This is a good

overview of jazz-oriented guitar playing, with plenty of theory to explain the why’s and wherefore’s of the licks. The book starts out slowly with a lot of basics and builds from there. Nothing too extraordinarily complex, though just the weird jazz chords are taking me a while to master, along with the different melodic patterns used in jazz that I am not used to. They also get into chord melodies, which I’m having a hard time with – hell, I’m still learning things like sixths so chord melodies are a bit much!

This is a good, useful book for anyone who wants to learn the basics of jazz-blues. Not just a book of licks, this gives you a ton of information and is something I will be working with for a long time to come.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

High on Rebellion - Inside the Underground at Max's Kansas City - Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin

Mickey Ruskin was already a lawyer and a seasoned restaurant/bar owner by the time he opened Max's Kansas City in the early 1960's. Due to his fondness for artists - and his willingness to accept pieces of artwork for tabs at the restaurant - Max's became a hangout for some of the biggest names in the art world in the 60's. Thus, the club started out as a fairly macho, hard-drinking/fighting bar.

By the mid-to-late 60's, Warhol and his Superstars discovered Max's (due to its proximity to the Factory) and this brought in a new clientele to add to the now-old-school artists. Drag queens, leather freaks, druggies and, with Warhol's new discovery, the Velvet Underground, rock'n'rollers took over portions of Max's and made it legendary. When it started having live music, the likes of the Velvets, Iggy & the Stooges, folkies like Tom Waits and Jackson Browne and avant garde types like Phillip Glass started performing there, raising the establishment to fame in the r'n'r circles.

Mickey eventually decided to move on and the club re-opened with the same name and a new owner and once again evolved, this time becoming a haven - along with CBGB's - for the new punk and new wave scene.

Eventually, everything simply petered out, the space was sold, became a deli and the debauchery ended for good. But to this day people still go to the deli just in the hopes of capturing some of the old Max's vibe.

Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin was a waitress at Max's who married Mickey and had two children with him before separating. The couple remained friends, though, and Yvonne was seminal in the life of the bar. She tells the story through interviews with participants in the craziness in a similar style to Please Kill Me though with more personal remembrances from Yvonne.

Another super tome for experiencing the NYC art and rock scene through the eyes of the people who lived it and through one of its most famous watering holes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Live at the el Mocambo, March 6th, 1978

When Elvis Costello burst onto the music scene in the late 70's, I was immediately hooked on his terrific songwriting and caustic lyrics. But when he joined forces with the unbelievably talented Attractions for his second album, he became a force to be reckoned with and a fantastic live act. I saw him several times with this band and was always blown away by their power and style. At this point Elvis was a decent rhythm guitarist, but that was about it, so I kinda miss some of the leads from the first album, but otherwise there could be no complaints about this band in a live setting.

This CD documents Elvis' first Canadian outing and he was heralded as the next big thing so with hype proceeding him, the hip and the hopeful waited - according to the liner notes - up to 10 hours in order to experience the best of the "new wave" from England. I don't know if I could have done that even when I was a youngster, but this proves that it was worth the wait! Of course, since it was a bar, everyone waited by imbibing and at least one drunken lout shouts incoherently throughout this disc (variations of "eeeee!", "yee-hah" and other nonsense) though it is not enough to detract from the main "attraction".

The set list is terrific, of course, as the 2nd album had just been released. "Mystery Dance", "Waiting for the End of the World", "Welcome to the Working Week", "Less Than Zero" - this one with a number of lyrical changes, making me wonder if the record label was instructing him to be less controversial - "The Beat" (showing off the amazing rhythm section of Bruce and Pete Thomas, who are stellar throughout and along with Steve Naive on keyboards formed by far the best band that Elvis ever had), "Lip Service", "I Don't Want to go to Chelsea", "Little Triggers", a hard-rockin' "Radio, Radio", a wildly-driven "Lipstick Vogue", again showing the incredible power of Bruce and Pete and their sense of dynamics and melody, "Watching the Detectives", giving Naive a chance to shine, "Miracle Man" (not quite as frantic as on the Live Stiffs record, but still great), a spirited "You Belong to Me" and - what a finale! - "Pump It Up".

Absolutely excellent from start to finish! A must-have for any Costello fan!

Earl Hooker - Two Bugs and a Roach

Earl Hooker is probably most well known as John Lee Hooker's cousin, as well as one of the most highly respected slide players in the Chicago blues scene. He is also one of the most under-recorded artists of the time, though he did do some early solo sides (his instrumental "Blue Guitar" is reportedly the backing track for Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me") as well as session work. This CD was recorded in 1968 and shows his excellent playing, backed by other Chicago greats.

Hooker's trademark double neck guitar is is put to great use throughout and, proving that he had no fear of new electronic toys, the man shows just how tastefully a wah-wah pedal can be used. He was not very confident in his voice, so there are a number of instrumentals and guest singers, including Andrew "BB Jr." Odom on "You Don't Love Me", showing how he got his nickname - he could easily pass for a BB imitator! Earl does take the lead vocal on a couple of numbers here though and while it may not be his strong point, he has a good style and sound.

Find out why the likes of Hendrix, Buddy Guy and BB King rave about this man. I hope to find more of his recordings cuz this is a fantastic set!

Rev. Gary Davis - Heroes of the Blues

Rev. Gary Davis is another early bluesman that I had heard about for ages, but never heard his playing until I picked up this CD. I now understand why he is so highly regarded!

Davis is a remarkable acoustic guitar and banjo player who transverses a number of styles. He certainly has a blues direction, but also is very folky ("Whistlin' Blues" sounds like something David Bromberg would do), spiritual (plenty of gospel influences) and even ragtime-y.

This entire compilation is simply Davis and his guitar (or banjo) and yet every tune is incredibly full bodied. His voice can be vulnerable, powerful, humorous and even light hearted. His playing is always interesting, sometimes complex, sometimes speedy, but always just what works within the context of the song.

A lot of times I miss backing musicians when a performer plays solo, but the Reverend is consistently satisfying. I'm not sure when these cuts were recorded, but the sound is superb, as well. Definitely one of my favorite acoustic blues players.

PS - One of the highlights for me is a jumpin', up-tempo, gospel-tinged "You Got To Move" - essentially the same tune that Mississippi Fred McDowell did in the 60's as a slow, haunting slide-blues number that the Stones adopted on Sticky Fingers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Noel Redding Band - Clonakilty Cowboys / Blowin'

Being a monumental Jimi Hendrix Experience fan, I have always been curious about Noel Redding's solo career. I have yet to hear his band, Fat Mattress, which existed simultaneously with the Experience (with Noel on guitar), but I found a great deal on this double album CD on Amazon, so gave it a try.

It is easy to see why Hendrix fans never really warmed up with Redding's output, since the styles are vastly different. Again, I can't speak for the sound of Fat Mattress, but these records are much more of a basic 70's semi-soft pop-rock sound. Some of this reminds me of groups like the Raspberries or Artful Dodger, but without as strong of songs. Some of the work on Blowin' is more creative, but still, the songwriting never seems to step up to above average.

Not to say that this is bad - it's not - it's just not a surprise that this did not click with a major audience - it just misses the mark. It is good and listenable, just not spectacular.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones DVD

I never had the chance to see this movie during its first theatrical release, though, of course, I have heard about it many a time. I finally picked it up on a whim at a nice price via Amazon ($7.99, I believe) and glad that I did! This is a very well produced document of "the greatest r'n'r band in the world" at the height of their powers and at one of their best shows (as Mick attests). Though, actually, this seems to be a compilation of several shows, as everyone's outfits change and I don't think that any band member other than Mick ever adjusted their wardrobe during a gig.

Of course, considering the time - either just before or just as Exile on Main Street was released (Charlie is even wearing an Exile shirt, so I assume after) - the songs are also some of their best ever and every tune is a monster classic and some of the finest rock'n'roll of all time.

The set list for the DVD is: "Brown Sugar", "Bitch" (nicely extended), "Gimme Shelter" (featuring some cool Mick Taylor leads), "Dead Flowers" (a cool change of pace with its faux country-honk feel), Keith takes lead vocals for his fabulous "Happy", there's the groovy "Tumbling Dice", their fine take on Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" (with Taylor's excellent slide playing and some nice horn additions), the acoustic guitar driven "Sweet Virginia" (one of my faves from Exile), "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is remarkably re-created, minus the choir, of course, which I favor, followed by a rollicking and ragged "All Down the Line", then the tour-de-force of the wildy exciting "Midnight Rambler", where Richards, Taylor and Jagger (on harp) all get their licks in and Watts shows that he is a master of dynamics all while creating possibly their best version ever of this masterwork. They then lighten the mood with their cover of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" and their own "Rip This Joint" (where Mick once again tries to direct the lighting person to illuminate the person taking a solo - Bobby Keys on sax, in this case) before moving onto one of the best r'n'r tunes of all time, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and then the usual closer at the time, "Street Fighting Man", with its beautiful raave-up ending. Truly an amazing set!

The bonus material includes several songs recorded live at the time in an intimate rehearsal situation, where they still look and play fabulously as well as an interview with Mick from the time along with a 2010 interview with Jagger.

What an excellent package! A must for any Stones fan - and who isn't?!

Jimi PLays Berkeley DVD

This movie was the brainchild of manager Michael Jeffery in the hopes of capitalizing on Jimi's popularity even while Hendrix was refusing more and more shows. Jeffrey had planned to "tour" the film in place of the live band. Jimi tragically died before the film was even completed, but once some semblance of order was made of the footage, it did make the rounds and many rabid fans who either missed or never had the chance to see Hendrix flocked to see the movie.

Unfortunately, the crew who shot the concerts were not seasoned film-makers and there are many abbreviated tunes due to cameras changing film and other technical issues. But, there are a lot of great footage here, even when there are cut-aways from the band to stock footage of protesters.

Classic cuts include "Johnny B. Goode", "Hear My Train A-Coming", "Star-Spangled Banner", "Purple Haze", "I Don't Live Today" (especially short), "Hey Baby" (also dramatically cut), "Machine Gun" and closing with a high-speed "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (definitely one of the highlights with some fine improvisation and flash - as the sweet young thing directly in front of Jimi can certainly attest). This is certainly not the complete concert, but there is some fantastic playing by Jimi, Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox. Of course, I'm a huge fan so I'm a sucker for any live footage of this incredible musician and showman. Also included in the DVD is the audio only of the second set of the night, which may be the entire show.

Due to the brevity, this should be available from most outlets at a discounted price, but this is a groovy document and certainly a fine addition to anyone's Hendrix collection.