Monday, April 30, 2012

Spotted In The Wild: Post Script

I had blogged earlier about finding one of my all time favorite guitars for sale at a music shop in town.  The photos I snapped with my cell phone were blurred, so I promised better photos - they are below, along with some other rare and beautiful things Auggie (my son) and I spotted while we were out and about this past Saturday.
The brightest sounding and best looking guitar you can buy - the Rickenbacker 360 twelve string.
This is probably a decent price for this guitar.  Still, a part of me thinks that $1,500 is plenty fair, especially in this town
I have to believe in a city like Chicago or Los Angeles, this guitar would've been snatched up
within days of showing up in the window.  This is not Chicago or Los Angeles.  Price accordingly.
The cat's eye sound hole is so boss.  
One of many details I love about this Ricky - the split pick guard.
Awesome detail #2:  flat, fully bound back which showcases the guitar's unique shape.
Awesome detail #3: laminate slotted head stock with the really cool
6 up/6 down tuners. 

Awesome detail #4:  the "R" trapeze tailpiece and the sculpted top that
accommodates it.
Another really cool note worthy guitar that was mere feet from the Rickenbacker - a Hagstrom "Viking".
This is a good guitar for the money; but sadly,  Hagstrom is another name resurrected by dudes looking
to cash in on it's mystique.  This guitar is probably made by robots, out of cheaper materials.
. . . and here's the damage. 
What a beautiful headstock.

Still life behind a Pearl banner.
Whenever we're down town, Auggie and I like to look at the Ferrari that's in
the tobacco shop in town.  One thing I like about Ferraris is the styling is so
good that it never goes out of style.  Find a picture of a Corvette or Mustang from
the same year as this Ferrari and tell me I'm wrong.
Higgins' voice came into my head, scolding Magnum for how he
abuses Robin Masters' Ferrari.  Magnum whined in protest.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Uncle Tupelo's Jeff Tweedy On "Gun"

I'm not accustomed to thinking of Jeff Tweedy as a bassist, yet that's primarily what he was in Uncle Tupelo.  There are many things I love about this video:

  • I love that a trio can fill up a room like this.  As stripped down as this set up is, you don't want for anything else sonically.
  • I love that this is a clip from Bloomington, IN.  This looks like it was a helluva time and place to see UT - they were on top of their game and would break up not long after this video was shot.
  • I love the bassist as the front man.  Yes, I know:  in Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar and Tweedster split those duties.  I think as a general rule, they sang on the songs they wrote (they split writing duties as well.)  But Tweedy looks very comfortable being out in front.  Hell, he even looks good doing it.  
  • For reasons unknown to me, I love watching bassists who're comfortable singing and playing at the same time.  It's hypnotic to me and often fills me with envy to be honest.
  • I'm digging the Gibson bass - both the look and the sound.
But, as you know, the point of "Fat Friday Features" is to show off the bass player and the bass part.  What I like about this bass part is how well it fills up sparse spots the song.  I definitely like how it flows in the song; the song hangs on this bass run.  Let's face it:  it's a jumbled mess without the bass part acting as the skeleton to the flesh of the guitar and drums.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spotted In The Wild: A Used Rickenbacker 360 Twelve String

I decided to tag along with a co-worker to check out a new taco joint in town.  After eating, we had time to spare so we decided to go to a local music store to see what was in stock.  There, tucked amongst the Mexican made Fenders, the Squires and Jay Tursars was this - one of the greatest guitars of all time.  My heart skipped a beat or two.  Beauties like these are all over a hefty portion of what I consider the greatest music of all time.  It is so rare to see these for sale in this town; even more rare to find a second hand Ricky.  $1,900 and it can be yours.  I guess I've had my celebrity spotting for the year.

I just now realized these are blurred.  Fuck.  Imma post the photos anyway.  I probably will try to take some other photos later on.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Can's Holger Czukay On "Moonshake"

Regular readers of this blog know that on Fridays, I feature a bass player or bass part that I think is pretty amazing.  Today, it's Holger Czukay's bass part on "Moonshake".

The bass part on "Moonshake" is not the typical bass line I'm attracted to.  If you do a search on this blog using the search term "Fat Friday Feature", you'll see/hear a lot of acrobatic, busy bass lines.  Listen closely to "Moonshake" and you'll hear that Holger is more or less only doing one note.  Sometimes, he's not even playing the note - just a muted harmonic.  And yet, I'm still drawn to the bass line; it still captivates me.  Maybe my ear seizes upon it because it is such a solid foundation in what is a pretty "loosey goosey" tune.  The song as a whole is great, but I always find myself focusing on this simple, charming bass part.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Song Writing 101: Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home"

(This post meanders a bit, but Imma let it go anyway.)

When I was in junior high, my theme song could have been the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes".  It had great resonance with me.  I believed I was basically a good - but misunderstood - kid.  "Behind Blue Eyes" beautifully described the feeling of alienation I felt for most of my elementary school years.  I only felt comfortable in my own skin when I was by myself.    When in mixed company, I thought that expressing anything other than anger or callousness was showing weakness.   Like those teens who suffer through the same awkwardness, junior high was a time of great loneliness.

Of course, everything I felt as the overly serious teen that I was is typical for teens across the land. At some point, I stopped taking myself so seriously and probably was a lot more fun to be around.  Though I believed differently at the time, there was nothing unusual about what I was going through.

Now a days, if I feel alienated, it is because the world around me ceases to make sense.  The "gambling man" in Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home" is the banker who lost all your retirement money making shitty loans.  The "working man" is anyone on the hook for this bullshit.  The "gambling men" are the white collar criminals who gamble with others' assets, trust and good will.  They are seldom held to account and indeed are rewarded for their efforts.  Doesn't make any sense to me.  The blue collar heroes (the miners and farmers in Guthrie's tune) that built this country are at best creatures of a pleasant national mythology and at worst extinct. Lured away from advancing an agenda for a  better standard of living by red herring social issues, they end up rallying for those that get rich off of their efforts.  Doesn't make any sense to me. Shall I keep going?

Of course, this is a thinly veiled political rant.  And I'm not particularly good at political rants, so I should wrap it up. I was raised to believe in things like service, equity, family, accountability, tolerance and justice.  If you lament the state of the world we live in, be very scared and not because Obama/Bush sucks.  Be scared because it points to a much larger problem: the sad truth is that when it comes to politics (and culture for that matter), we often get exactly what we ask for.  And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

"I Ain't Got No Home:
By:  Woody Guthrie
I ain't got no home, I'm just a-roamin' 'round,
Just a wandrin' worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.
My crops I lay into the banker's store.
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin' man is rich an' the workin' man is poor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

More great song writing here.

Death To Dead Performers!

I don't know much about Coachella, but after this "hologram" (dare I dub it "LOLogram"?) thing, I'm so grateful that I've never given a single cent of my money to these fuckers.  Is it too much to axe that when you pay money to see a live show, that the performers are a.) actually there, and b.) actually alive?  I think if you paid the $285 for this, you kinda deserved it.

Anyway, I think the best thing to come out of all this hype is the video below.  So.  Amazing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sweet Drumming

This whole tune is pretty good, but seriously:  that little girl is an amazing drummer!  Damn!

Fat Friday Feature DOUBLE SHOT: The Smiths' Andy Rourke And Spacehog's Royston Langdon

Let's start with "Roy Sprinkles" as he likes to be known.  Now - Roy Sprinkles - that's a name no one would self apply where I come from.  And I've watched some live clips of Spacehog performing "In The Meantime" on various talk shows.  While I was super impressed that Mr. Langdon could do that quite acrobatic bass line while singing, I can't say Spacehog blew me away.  But I've always liked this song and video and every time I watch it I covet his Rickenbacker bass.  (I will own a Rick just like his before I die.)

The funny thing is that in my opinion, the bass doesn't go with anything in this song.  It sticks way the fuck out there by itself, with no real regard to anything/anyone in the song.  It's like a song unto itself.  I think that fact that I like it so much reveals my "damage" - my unhealthy obsession with busy bass lines.  I actually do like the guitar part in this as well; hell, I even like the goofy power chord break down near the end.  What do you think?

Next is Andy Rourke's playing on the Smiths' "Headmaster Ritual".  I love the tone on his bass and it's prominence in the mix of the song.  It really cuts through the strands and what have you of the song.  It is a bit more respectful of the over all song.  Lord knows no one listens to the Smiths for Morrisey's singing, so I think it is smart to bump up the bass a bit to give the listener something else to focus upon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blondie, Indoor Recess, And Puberty

Reading this particular entry of Ed Piskor's excellent "Hip Hop Family Tree" series cast me back to an obscure time I don't really remember that well.  Or at least I didn't think I could remember it that well until it all came flooding back.

When it was too cold to go out on the playground at St. Mary's, we fourth graders had recess in the classroom.  When we had repeated indoor recesses, we settled into routines - some kids played board games, some kids brought in toys ("Star Wars" toys were still huge.  This dude Tony Lakas must've had everything Kenner was pumping out at that time) and some kids read books.  I think at some point, I got tired of having my ass handed to me at "Connect Four" and "Stratego" because I gravitated over to the classroom record player.

This girl with really thick glasses named Chantal and this guy with an amazing Afro named Chum always hung out there.  They argued.  A lot.  Chum always wanted to play John Lennon - usually "Imagine".  Chantal always wanted to play the Doobie Brothers, and sometimes Dolly Parton's single "9 to 5".  Eventually, I entered the fray.  My brother had recently taken off for college and left behind a small cache of records.  Among those records was Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Greatest Hits".  I loved - LOVED - "Takin' Care of Business".  So usually, my recess was spent arguing with these two about what was going to get played next.  Well, to be more accurate, they continued to argue what would be played next, and BTO was the compromise.  You see, I was a pretty non-confrontational kid, so I didn't argue.

At some point, Chantal began to bring in singles from the J. Geils Band ("Freezeframe" and "Angel In The Centerfold") and Blondie's single "Rapture".  I have to admit it:  I loved "Rapture".  The song sounds kinda dated now; but back then, I felt that Debbie Harry had rapping skillz even before I knew the term "rap".  Or spelled "skillz" with a "z".  This song was more or less a disco tune with a white girl rapping over the top.  I hated disco even as a young lad, so "Rapture"'s appeal is somewhat of a mystery to me.  I'm not sure I can explain why I liked this song so much.

Of course, it didn't hurt anything that Debbie Harry was easy on the eyes.  Actually, that's a huge understatement:  she pretty much kick started puberty for me.  There's this one photo - I can't find it online right now - that I could stare at for hours.  Her hair was all flared up and the plunging neck line on her outfit killed me.  Now that I'm older, I still think she's pretty - lovely cheekbones, great skin.  But as a fourth grader, hey - BOOBS.

And truth to be told, I think Blondie's music has aged fairly well too.  It's never blown my mind, but I don't change the station if I hear it on the radio.  I've never actively hated it.  Like them or hate them, you really have to give it to Debbie Harry (and Chris Stein):  it's clear that they were receptive to the spirit of their time and place.  (Aren't you glad I didn't type "zeitgeist" or "gestalt"?)  In that sense, I think they legitimately earn the title "artist". For years I considered them more scenesters than actual artists.  Most press coverage of Blondie seemed to dwell on who Debbie Harry was dating/hob nobbing with.  I see now that this probably informed their music; and their music could be construed as a celebration of their time, their place, their friends.  I think that's kind of the point of the Piskar strip linked above.

Anyway, another great source about the era that spawned Blondie (and Television, and The Ramones, and Fania, and on and on) is here.  I'm making my way through it right now and it's pretty good.

Friday, April 6, 2012

How A Stratocaster Was Made - In 1959

As a follow up to a previous post about how Strats are made, check out the video below.  This is 8 mm footage from Fender's original Fullerton, California shop.  What a great, great video.  I love that these instruments were made by hand with tools you can find in most shops.  (I know my grandpa's shop had about everything in this video except the massive belt sander.)  I love the ladies working on the pedal steel guitars.  I love the dudes walking around without their shirts on in the non-air conditioned shop.  I love the speed and efficiency of their movements - yeah, I'm sure that comes from doing the same repetitive task a million times a day, but it's still fun to watch.  I bet they took great pride in their work at that shop.

Anyway, it's worth a look.  What a thing of beauty.

Fat Friday Feature: XTC's Colin Moulding On "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty"

Like so many bassists featured here on Fridays, Colin Moulding's got a ton of great bass work scattered all over XTC's records.  It was really hard to figure out which one to showcase - I have always loved the weird timing of "The Mayor Of Simpleton", the speed and agility showcased on "Travels In Nihilon", and the straight ahead playing with great fills on "Earn Enough For Us".  But really, I think "When You're Near Me. . . " is pretty typical of Moulding's playing style:  nimble, smooth and almost whimsical in it's creativity.  I love the massive jumps he does on the fingerboard - a very standard Colin Moulding trick that I should start incorporating myself.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Audio Scratch Pad: Messages Of Love

It occurs to me there were two major oversights in the last post.  I'm going to set that straight now.

Item #1:  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Wilhite.  He did about everything but play in the band last weekend:  he handled logistics, let me crash at his place, introduced me to his friends and family - basically, he made sure I was taken care of.  He is a huge reason that this was a stress-free trip.

Item #2:  I can't do any of this without my wife Mary Beth. Her support makes this 100% possible.  Flying solo for five days, chasing around our one year old and our six year old is really, really hard.  I know that this isn't very rock n' roll to admit, but I thought about them a lot while I was in Redmond.  I came to the realization - again - how good my quiet life in Indiana is.  I got two messages from them (one is posted below) on my voice mail while I was out there.  I grinned from ear to ear and honestly, got a little glassy eyed upon hearing them.  Imma pile on a bit here and say it is humbling to share my life with such a generous, strong person.  And I have nothing but love and gratitude for her.  Thanks MB!

Trowar Report: Rehearsals In Redmond

I flew out to Seattle last Wednesday for Trowar rehearsals in Redmond, Washington.  Thanks to the taco truck, the cost of the airline ticket, my meals and even our gear did not come out of my own pocket.  I was looking forward to the great feeling of being a (more or less) paid musician, striding through the airport with my bass.  Sadly, I could not con the airline folks into letting me bring my bass onto the plane, so I had to check it.  Through some miracle, it made it intact.  The thing that still has me scratching my head a bit is the TSA notice inside the case, informing me that the contents of my bass case had been inspected.  You see, I had taped the case shut with duct tape, and there was - at least to my eyes - no signs of tampering.  Creepy man.

I stayed at the band manager's cottage on Lake Sammamish.  It was small and modest, with a breath taking, panoramic view.  I slept on the fold out couch in the living room and was greeted each morning by gray skies and a calm lake, complete with sea birds perched on docks and teams of people toiling in their rowing sculls.  Very idyllic.
This photo doesn't really do a good job of representing how pretty it was on Lake Sammamish.  It was cool to watch  (without ever having to get off the couch ) a bald eagle do some fishing .
The rehearsal space is still under construction.  I did not take any photos of the studio because seeing us playing in a room lined with carpet remnants would not do the space any justice.  When complete, the area will be a full recording studio with a live room, a control room, and a green room - all of them pretty decent sized.  This will be the Trowar base of operations; but the plan is that when we're not using it, we will rent it as rehearsal space to national acts when they are touring.  We'll see how everything pans out.  For this particular rehearsal, we played in what will be the control room because it is the room that is closest to completion.  It therefore did the best job of deadening the racket to the world outside.

Rehearsing was par for the course with Trowar:  intense, long - and fun as hell.  Although we'd practice for about 6 hours at a time, there wasn't any pressure with this practice since there are no gigs imminent for us at the moment.  We took this time to chart songs (lyrics and songs structure mainly) and work on vocals.  I had a lot to learn as usual, but it's all positive pressure.  I'm now going to be singing harmonies on some of the tunes, which is both scary and exciting as hell for me.  When I hit the harmonies right, it sounds freaking great and I think it adds a lot to each song.  I'll really have to work on singing and playing at the same time, but I'm relishing the opportunity to take on a greater role in this band.
Filling up the wall with charts.
And of course, playing with Fred and John is always a major treat.  Fred can solo all damn day.  His intensity is perfect for each song.  John's drumming is as powerful as it gets.  It's also extremely creative - I don't think he ever does the same fill twice.  Between the two of them, there's always something new and unique going on.  There's a ton for the ear to seize upon when they're playing.
Palmer's was a nice post-practice hangout for us.  I loved that on the Pacifico sign above the urinal, somebody had take the time to share multiple takes on Frank Zappa's greatness.  ("Zappa rules rock!")  This one says simply:  "Frank Zappa.  Fuck the rest."
I worked on my Trowar "to do" list the following Sunday on the plane back to Indiana.  I need to make sure I have the fingerboard transposed (I play in a tuning that Fred created/taught me) for clearer communication between us.  Of course, I'll be working on harmonies as well.  There are other things on the list - I'm looking forward to working on all of them.  The list is long, but given the optimism of all parties involved, it's easy to get motivated to to them.

How A Stratocaster Is Made

Here is a short movie showing how Fender Stratocasters are made in the Corona, California facility.  To Fender's credit, it is a lot more of a hands on process than I thought it would be.  Still, my inner Marxist kept asking:  Is it a union shop?  How would the creation of a Strat in the Mexican shop be different?  Stupid inner Marxist ruining everything.