Monday, 30 July 2012

Tell the truth and shame the devil

A while back I saw Harrison Kennedy live.

Check this guy out! He's fantastic. A genuine blues man of the old school. I mean old school.

He's real. He's raw. He's a complete throwback. Something straight out of the 30's, like he hung out with Son House and Robert Johnson and just stepped through a time portal.  He tells the truth.

Keep strummin' and pickin' bro'. You got the mojo for sure.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Bottom Dwelling Singers

Actually, it’s the 10 Greatest-Ever Singing Bass Players, according to Gibson. And the list is:
1. Paul McCartney
2. Jack Bruce
3. Geddy Lee
4. Roger Waters
5. Lemmy Kilmister
6. Sting
7. Benjamin Orr
8. Troy Sanders
9. Kim Gordon
10. Phil Linott

Not many surprises here, unless you think Sting should be higher or Rick Danko should be on the list.

Some weird online commentary on the list, though. Seems some folks think John Entwistle and Noel Redding should be included, but really, who remembers that they sang at all?

Overall, I'd have to say Gibson got the list right. McCartney and Bruce were/are two of the best singers in rock history, and both are amazing bass players. To play what they could play and sing at the same time is simply astonishing.

From Geddy Lee down, though, it's really a question of taste. Successful, competent bass players who had roles as singers, though not all are universally admired for their singing. I knew more than a few people who don't listen to Rush because of Geddy's voice, for example. Then again, I know many who think he's awesome. Taste.

No strong opinions about whether Phil Linott from Thin Lizzy belongs on the list, but I will say this: the hairdo doesn't age very well.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Reason I've Been Waiting All These Years

Back to the Sad Songs thing.

Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home certainly belongs on the list. One of those mood-changers that always grabs me.

Perfect vocal performance from Winwood, clever blending of two guitars into one by Winwood and Clapton, and gorgeous music sailing through a sea of heartache.

I love the tension. The music makes a feeble attempt or two at hope, but ultimately succumbs to despair and melancholy. It's almost so pretty you kinda feel good, but in the end you feel like weeping.

Well done, lads. Briefly, you held the key.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Rhythm Is In The Guitars

So said The Beatles before they had a steady drummer.

I'm starting to believe that I prefer short lists to longer ones. For example, Gibson's 10 Greatest-Ever Rhythm Guitarists, has less to take issue with than Guitar Player's 50 Greatest Rhythm Guitarists.

Maybe it's that on a shorter list, you lower your expectations; like, gee, there's only room for 10 so I can't expect all my favourites on the list, right? So the Guitar Player list is easier to pick apart.

For starters, John Lennon doesn't make the Top 50? You kidding me? (He is on Gibson's Top 10. Well done, Gibson.)

And is the Guitar Player list the 50 greatest guitarists who happened to do some cool rhythm work, or the 50 greatest guitarists who specialized in the role? I mean, does anyone seriously consider Jimi Hendrix a rhythm guitarist? Sure he played chords, and yes he had some funky rhythmic chops, but Jimi's idea of chords was to hint at one while he hammered on, pulled off, slid up, skipped down and bent into all kinds of notes decidedly not in the chord. His idea of not soloing was to solo less, not play rhythm. Jimi was Jimi.

Both lists have Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and of course Keith Richards - although Guitar Player ducks the issue of who's in the top 10 by listing the players alphabetically.

I guess the longer list does allow for more names, so it was nice to see Bo Diddley, Steve Cropper, The Edge and Bob Marley on the Guitar Player list. In fact, I would argue that they all belong on Gibson's top 10 list.

Oops! Just argued with the shorter list, didn't I?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Queens of Rock

Saw a PBS special a while back entitled Women Who Rock.

I usually put such shows on as time fillers, not expecting to learn - or be entertained - all that much.

It was pretty good though. Cyndi Lauper did an impressive job as host. Knowledgeable, passionate – and, of course, fun.

Lots of familiar territory and expected coverage: Carol King, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, the Wilson sisters from Heart. But a couple of surprises. Never heard of Wanda Jackson before. Don't know how I missed her, but glad to have that little gap in my history databanks plugged. The other surprise was no coverage of Fleetwood Mac.

You kidding me? Weren't they like the biggest band in the world for a couple of years, with not one but two women singing, playing and writing? Kinda strange.

Two small insights came at me:
1) Sister Rosetta Tharpe really was vastly influential. The male testosterone dominated pantheon of guitar heroes borrowed a lot from her. A lot.
2) Madonna has a lot to answer for. The show covered a lot of female artists who have arisen in the last 20 years, and made a big deal about the music scene actually being (finally) dominated by women. That may be, but are they rockers or dancers? With a few notable exceptions, like, say, Christine Aguilera, the voices aren't noteworthy at all. But the dancing's pretty good, I guess.

It kinda confirms this uneasy feeling I've had for a long time now. It's about the marketing, not the music. Eye candy and Broadway, not rock and roll. Would Janis Joplin or Chrissie Hynde even get a record deal now?

You gotta admire what Madonna has accomplished, but I'm not sure she did us any favours.

Friday, 13 July 2012

In My Life

Now here's a list that says a lot: the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Who else could deserve their own list?

Very thoughtful write-up by Elvis Costello, who has added scholarship to his songwriting and performance credentials. He respects their exceptional skills as songwriters, nails it with his admiration of George's sing-able guitar solos, and recognizes the influence their studio pioneering had on, as he puts it, everything from Motown to Jimi Hendrix.

Like me, he thinks it's impossible to pick favourites, then confesses that Rubber Soul and Revolver are.

Here's the Top 10:
1. A Day In The Life
2. I Want To Hold Your Hand
3. Strawberry Fields
4. Yesterday
5. In My Life
6. Something
7. Hey Jude
8. Let It Be
9. Come Together
10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hard to argue with anything there. I could say I was a tad disappointed at the placement of the following: You Won't See Me (#94), Nowhere Man (#66), Drive My Car (#43), and We Can Work It Out (#30). OK, maybe more than a little disappointed on Nowhere Man.

But at what cost? What song(s) deserve to be lower? Every song on the list is remarkable, most are influential, and a healthy majority of them are masterpieces.

In my life, a better Top 100 list could not be assembled.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Voodoo Child or Revolutionary?

I was re-watching my Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies DVD the other day and received a whole new insight into the creative process. New for me anyway.

The most commonly held belief, persistent for at least three millenia now, is that of The Muse. You know, some divine or unseen force inspires the artist to create something really cool. Especially when we're astonished, it's easy to view creativity as something mystical.

A second view is what I'll call The Student theory. You study what's gone on before. You pay homage. You absorb. You work at it. And eventually something new starts coming out. Think Clapton. Think Keith Richards.

How many times have you heard a major artist say, "we were just trying to sound like ..."? It's a messy process. It's about experimentation, exploration, curiosity. It aligns with Thomas Edison's famous line about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I think it applies to most artists.

But not Hendrix. He was just so out there, The Muse theory had to apply, although with him it was maybe less of a supernatural power than a portal into an alternate universe.

On the DVD, though, you get a new perspective. In the interviews, his friends and colleagues talked about a deliberate effort to create something brand new, something neither white nor black, neither rock nor soul, something unifying, something transcendent.

I guess I missed all that at the time. I mean, his music was unlike anything else. And he was one trippy cat, so in countless interviews he never made much sense to me. I put it down to The Muse (and the drugs), but maybe it was something else.

These things aren't exclusive of course. Everything overlaps. Hendrix was a student; he did his time. And he was inspired, no question.

I just have to add a third image now: that of Jimi standing on the barricades.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Drum Roll Please

They don't make drums, but Gibson put out this list of The Top 10 Singing Drummers

I'm not going to quibble with any names on the list, because anyone who can sing and play drums at the same time has my respect. I mean, I can play guitar and sing - as long as the rhythm isn't too complex - but that's just 2 hands and voice. Drummers have to keep 2 feet going too - and they can't run away from the complex rhythms. I'm in a band with a singing drummer. We all sing, and all have us have said "my instrumental part is pretty complicated, so could someone else sing this?"

Except the drummer. These guys just amaze me.

No surprise to see Levon Helm, Phil Collins or Don Henley on the list. And nice to see Ringo, but hey Gisbon, you could have shown a video of Ringo where he was actually playing the drums and not just singing.

A little surprised to see Micky Dolenz of The Monkees on the list. He did have a good voice but how much drumming did he really do? I mean, are the pickings that slim? How about Dave Clark? How about Ginger Baker? OK, it's only one song and maybe you can't call it singing but his performance of Pressed Rat And Warthog on the Cream Reunion concert is pretty darned impressive.

Not quibbling, just asking.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Silent Thunder

I was listening to National Steel by Colin James the other night and a remarkable think happened: I got totally caught up in the driving beat. Foot tapping, knee bouncing, head bobbing ...

Not so unusual for a good song with a driving beat? Here's the thing: it happened without drums! It's an acoustic number. The drums enter late and build slowly - way after I'd been swept into the song. The guitar is mostly off the beat, in a Hooker boogie sort of way.

So what's going on? My brain, my something, decided the beat was there even though it wasn't. I supplied it in my head. And it was powerful.

How does that work? Cultural conditioning? Memory? Association? Emotion?

Did Colin James intend me to react that way or did I do it myself?

I don't have the scientific knowledge to understand what part(s) of my brain or what triggers in my electro-chemical system were in play. All I know is that I was hearing - no, feeling - something that wasn't there.

But it was, and that's magic.