Friday, 31 August 2012

They Got Rhythm

Gibson has this 10 Great Rock Rhythm Sections list.

What Elvis said about people applies to bands too: Rhythm is something you either have or don't have, but when you have it, you have it all over.

Rhythm is what holds it all together. Rhythm is fundamental. Rhythm is what it's all about.

Here's the list:
1. John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Led Zeppelin
2. Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, Rush
3. Flea and Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers
4. Les Claypool and Jay Lane, Primus
5. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones
6. John Entwistle and Keith Moon, The Who
7. Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, Rage Against the Machine
8. Jack and Meg White, The White Stripes
9. Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, Green Day
10. P-Nut and Sexton, 311

I might have added Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton from U2, or Ian Paice and Roger Glover from Deep Purple - and I definitely would have added Paul and Ringo.  Yes, The Beatles did fancy, trippy, pretty and symphonic, but they also rocked.

Not to slag Mr. Jones, but I wonder if he didn't get lost in John Bonham's thunder.  Not sure if Zep's rhythm section wasn't just Bonzo, and John Paul Jones was along for the ride.

Based on what I read in Keith Richards' autobiography, they same might be said about Bill Wyman. Keef waxes poetic about Charlie, but his comments on Bill Wyman are basically limited to:
1. we let Bill into the band because he had a Vox AC30 amp, and
2. then ( a few hundred pages later) Bill left the band

Anyway, great list, because it reminds us about the primary element.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Radio Gaga

Hey! Buzz, why don't you just stop listening to the radio instead of complaining about it? Try internet radio, use your iPod, give it up, get a life.

I know, I know. And I try - I do - but it's hard.

It's hard because radio used to be so darn good, so fresh, so exciting, so inspiring. I know I can't have it, but I want it back.

I also know two other things:
1) I'm not alone
2) The decline has been long and sad

Queen, The Kinks, and Tom Petty have all produced classics lamenting the neutering and lobotomizing of radio during its relentless slide into a commercialized corporate commodity. They also shouted, "It used to be so good! I want it back."

Internet radio is OK, and I do enjoy the power of choosing from my own iPod playlists, but ... make that four other things I know:
3) Culture is supposed to be a shared experience, not solitary
4) The decline of radio is a metaphor for bigger problems in our society

All too often, when I listen to the radio I realize that I am not being entertained. I am being managed, manipulated - ripped off. And it doesn't stop there. TV, shopping malls, cellphones, sporting events ... it's everywhere. Our souls have been stolen, and placed on spreadsheets and sales charts.

Something beautiful and priceless has been made cheap and ugly. Paradise has been covered over with asphalt. It makes me sad. It makes me angry.

Tom Petty says it best in The Last DJ:
   As we celebrate mediocrity all the boys upstairs want to see
   How much you'll pay for what you used to get for free

It used to be so good! I want it back.

Friday, 24 August 2012

You Talk Too Much

For as long as can remember, I've been shouting at my radio.

Rather, I've been shouting at the DJ's who talk too much. Time was I used to shout when they talked over the beginning or the ending of a song I liked. These days, I wish they would.

You see, they used to talk over the beginning and ending of songs because they had stuff to say. Not always important stuff, but it was usually information: coming up in later in the program, one of those live, announcer-delivered commercials, whatever.

Thing is, they had songs to play and information to impart. so they talked over the music to cram it all in. And yes, those were the good old days, because now they talk to avoid playing music.

The more they talk, they less music they play. The less music they play, the less they pay in royalties. The less they pay in royalties, the higher their profits are.

You can picture the meeting, where the suits sit around a table and figure this out. You can imagine the internal memos to the DJ's exhorting them to blather on about how hung over they are, share drunken bar-style drivel (aka opinions) about things they don't understand, to drone on with celebrity gossip and incorrect factoids ... anything but play music.

Morning DJ's have supposedly been the funny guys for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first good ideas that got replicated by our culture to the point where it became pointless.

But the old morning DJ's were professional comedians. They wrote material. Today's clowns just ad lib, and pretend whatever nonsense they utter is funny.

The insult on this injury when you tune in later in the day (or Saturday morning) and they play back highlights of this garbage!

By contrast, talking over a bit of a really cool song was like living in paradise (well, maybe just a bit at the end of Hey Jude).

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Bottom's Up

Gibson has this 10 Greatest Bass Riffs of the Rock Era list.

Just a little disturbed about the "rock era" bit. Anyway, here's the list:

Beatles, Come Together
Pink Floyd, Money
Primus, Tommy The Cat
The Who, The Real Me
Queen, Under Pressure
Led Zeppelin, Lemon Song
RCHP, Give It Away
Lou Reed, Walk On The Wild Side
Sly & etc., Thank You
Cream, Sunshine of Your Love

Well, grateful Under Pressure made it with that classic two note hook. Doubly grateful that Fleetwood Mac's Dreams didn't make it with that two note mind-numbing ... well, not my favourite Fleetwood Mac v02 song.

The usual suspects appear on the list. McCartney, Flea, Bruce, Waters and Entwistle all deserve to be there, and the songs chosen fit the constraints of the list title.

Except for The Lemon Song. The Gibson writer doesn't mention the main riff of the song, which I bet was written by Page and not Jones. But he gushes over Jone's bluesy semi-soloing. Fine, but now we're not exactly talking about riffs, are we?

Wouldn't Dazed and Confused have been a better choice? The bass riff is the song's signature, and the song was Zep's signature live piece. And who cares if Page or Jones wrote it. That bass hook rivals, Sunshine of Your Love and Come Together any day.

Anyway, fun list. It shows that the bass may be part of the rhythm section, but it can still carry a tune - and define the song.

Speaking of which, and where is War's Low Rider?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

I (Don't) Wanna Be Sedated

When I was under 20, like most North Americans, I watched 3 hours of TV a day. Nowadays, I probably watch less than 3 hours a week.

But here's the thing. I don't remember being subjected to relentless, coma-inducing repetition during commercial breaks. Yes, then as now, commercials were sometimes funny but mostly lame. And yes, sometimes so lame that you started to talk back to the TV. But wasn't there more variety?

Didn't shows have more advertisers, and didn't those advertisers run more than one commercial during a show?

These days, it feels like there are maybe a dozen commercials on all of television. Every show on every channel repeats them over and over and over and over - often twice during the same freakin' break. Even if the commercial is cute upon first viewing, the endless assault moves you to a different spot where you start losing your will to live.

Just what are these people accomplishing? Are we being numbed into submission? Is corporate greed driving them to spend less on advertising, or do the economics of hundreds of channels dictate that splintered distribution means less money is available for production?

I wish I knew. I also wish I could go back to the world of 5 networks, where there was more variety in the programming and the commercials.

TV used to be called the boob tube because watching too much seemed to turn your brain off. But that was better than needing to turn it off before you switched the TV on.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Back To The Garden

The Woodstock Festival ended 43 years ago today.  For a year or so afterwards, everything was so cool, so groovy, so possible.

Woodstock was a feeling, an attitude, a nation.  Then it became a ghost, a legend, maybe even a joke.

When did it die?  Five months later when a Hells Angel stabbed someone at the Stones concert at Altamont?  When Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison added their names to the celebrity death roll?  When the Vietnam War ended and there was no longer a unifying cause?  When glam rock, disco and prog rock snuck onto the scene?  Or was it already dying while Hendrix played his plaintiff guitar instrumental as people picked through the mud and the garbage to find shoes to wear home?

In the end, it was just a music festival, I guess.  A few nice ideas, but no substance.  But it could have been so much more.

One thing is for sure:  we’re no longer all feeding each other.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Rolling Stone Reacts and Revises

A while back Rolling Stone published senior editor/writer David Fricke's version of the 100 Greatest Guitarists (DF version). With all due respect to Mr. Fricke, I know I had lots of issues with the list. I wonder if others did too, because Rolling Stone assembled a panel of experts and came up with a new list, 100 Greatest Guitarists (panel version).

The fun with lists is that you get to disagree, but I must say the 2nd list defies the camel-is-a-horse-designed-by-a-committee business. I mean I like it better.

Let's compare the top 25:
     DF Version                       Panel Version
 1. Jimi Hendrix                     Jimi Hendrix
 2. Duanne Allman                Eric Clapton
 3. B.B. King                         Jimmy Page
 4. Eric Clapton                     Keith Richards
 5. Robert Johnson               Jeff Beck
 6. Chuck Berry                     B.B. King
 7. Stevie Ray Vaughan        Chuck Berry
 8. Ry Cooder                        Eddie Van Halen
 9. Jimmy Page                     Duanne Allman
10. Keith Richards                Pete Townshend
11. Kirk Hammett                  George Harrison
12. Kurt Colbain                    Stevie Ray Vaughan
13. Jerry Garcia                    Albert King
14. Jeff Beck                         David Gilmour
15. Santana                          Freddy King
16. Johnny Ramone             Derek Trucks
17. Jack White                      Neil Young
18. John Frusciante              Les Paul
19. Richard Thomson           James Burton
20. James Burton                 Santana
21. George Harrison             Chet Atkins
22. Mike Bloomfield              Frank Zappa
23. Warren Haynes               Buddy Guy
24. The Edge                        Angus Young
25. Freddy King                    Tony Iommi

I definitely prefer the content and the sequence of the 2nd list.

David Fricke did have some cool inclusions, like Robert Johnson, Ry Cooder, Jack White and John Frusciante. But those inclusions came at the expense of Albert King, David Gilmour and Angus Young. Nice to see Derek Trucks on the panel's list too.

You could argue that panel version is safer. I mean with the exception of Keef, who seems to gain more respect with each passing decade, the panel list looks a lot like the list has looked for over 40 years: Clapton, Page, Beck, Hendrix ... all at the top.

So hats off to David Fricke for maybe stimulating some controversy. Like I said, the fun with lists is that you get to disagree.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Talking About My Generation

I have always been a Who fan.  I respect Pete Townshend as a guitarist and as a composer.  They are terrific performers.

I was pleased, therefore, to see (Half) The Who at the Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics.  The show was meant to showcase the best of British music, and The Who definitely belonged there.

And it was cool - until they went into My Generation.  Daltrey is 68.  Townshend is 67.  I hope I die before I get old?  Moon and Entwhistle did die!

They had so many great songs.  It didn't have to be My Generation.

The things they do look awful cold.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

It's Gibson's 10 Greatest Supergroups!

Gee, were there that many? Here's the list:
 Blind Faith
 Traveling Wilburys
 The Firm
 The Highwaymen
 Them Crooked Vultures
 Bad Company

No order on their list, so no complaints allowed.

Lotta ground covered, but one common thread. Big egos and short life spans. OK that's two threads.

Not sure about the Wilburys and Highwaymen though. Were they groups, projects, or larks?

Also wondering just a little about revisionist history ... Blind Faith and CSNY were definitely hyped at their inceptions as supergroups. So were Emerson Lake and Palmer, who are happily omitted from Gibson's list. I remember similar hype about Asia (way too much actually), but I honestly don't remember hearing the term since.

Bad Company were big, and yes you knew there was some connection to Free, but did people really think it was a big deal that the bass player had come from King Crimson, and that they were a super group? Not so much.

And yes the whole concept started by revising history. Cream was referred to as a supergroup - and they were superb - even though, like really, only Clapton was known beforehand. Alexis Korner? The Graham Bond Organization? These hardly made Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker household names.

Anyway, the whole concept is a downer. "Oh boy! Just imagine how great it's gonna be when these guys get together! It's gonna be amazing!" Sets us up for disappointment, doesn't it. Best case is the band can't keep it together for long. Worse case is the music just doesn't live up to the hype.

We do like to set ourselves up, don't we?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Hard Road

I saw John Mayall in concert a while back. Always a joy to see a legend perform.

And what a legend. Your textbook itinerant bluesman: working hard, grinding it out, spreading the word. Giving it up, getting very little back.

Always a footnote on someone else's career ... Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Buddy Wittington, and now Rocky Athas. An impressive list of sidemen, but I understate.

Anyway, it was a fun show. Great tunes, tight band, lots of energy. Not bad for a 78 year old man.

Good work, John. You've been down so many roads. Glad to see you've still got room to move.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Walking Along A Dusty Road

The death last year of Hubert Sumlin makes Gibson's 10 Great Journeymen Guitarists all the more interesting. Here's the list:

Hubert Sumlin, Corey Harris, Eric Bibb, Guy Davis, Duke Robillard, J.J. Cale, Roy Book Binder, John Hammond, Johnny Winter, Keb' Mo'.

Gibson's reference point seems to be the itinerant bluesman, the Robert Johnson standing at the crossroads thing, which explains why it's a collection of blues guys. Works for me.

I have to confess I haven't heard of all of these guys, and for sure I'm going to check up on at least one of them. I mean, how cool is a name like Roy Book Binder? Well, trippy anyway.

Of the ones I know, the other thing they all have in common (other than their constant touring and hard work) is they are/were under-appreciated. Keb' Mo' would be my prime example. He's a gem.

Curious how Johnny Winter slipped from guitar god status down to this list, though. There was a time when he competed with the likes of Hendrix, Clapton and Page for the best guitarist title. Were Rory Gallagher still alive, it would be interesting to see if he would have been on the list too, because he also was an under-rated-journey-man kinda guy.

It might be a lonely road, but it's a crowded world for great guitarists.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

War is declared and the battle come down

So, you’re a public broadcaster that is working overtime to be hip, to be relevant.  The Olympics are on.  In London, a pretty hip place.  What theme song do you use to introduce your Olympic news updates?

London Calling, by the Clash.  A downer of a song.  An angry song.  An apocalyptic song.  A paranoid song.  By a punk band.  Come on, CBC.  Really?

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great song by a terrific band.  I love it.

But are we so shallow, so inured to manipulation, so dumbed down that we aren’t supposed to look past the title?

Nuclear error?  Zombies of death?  London is drowning?  Help!

Assuming he collects some royalty payments, I suppose Mick Jones (alas, Joe Strummer is no longer with us) can laugh his way to the bank.  But as an artist, I gotta believe he’s just a little offended that someone would treat his masterpiece in such a superficial way.

I know, I know.   It goes on all the time.  Product commercials, political campaigns, whatever.

But is it hip?  Is it cool?  No.  It’s stupid.