Friday, 18 December 2015

The Bad, The Ugly & The Good

When you’re listening to a song and it comes to the guitar solo, do you ever think to yourself, “Boy!  What a bad guitar solo, but it’s good.  I like it?” 

I’m not talkin’ about uninspired or lame.  I’m talkin’ awful, as in, “What’s he doin’?”

For me, a prime example would be Eight Miles High by the Byrds.  Every time I hear it, my initial reaction is, “Sheesh!  That’s the worst good guitar solo ever.”  But by the end of the solo, I’m thinking, “I dig it.  It really fits.”  Which is the ultimate compliment for a guitar solo.

Neil Young’s also excels at being not so good in a compellingly good sort of way.  As does Robby Krieger of the Doors, Dave Davies, John Lee Hooker, and a cat named John Lennon.

It’s a taste thing, of course.  But it’s interesting how we can embrace music that falls short of our personal standard of what constitutes “good.”  One more of the many mysteries of music.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Twice The Fun

The guitar is a wonderful instrument.  In the right hands, it can be strongly emotive, awe inspiring, gobsmacking.  Unfortunately, sometimes there can also be a bit too much look-at-me-look-at-me-look-at-me, as Guitar Player points out in Top 10 Guitar Tandems.

Two guitarists can keep that impulse in check.  And the bi-play between them can take a song to a whole new level.  Allman and Betts, Tipton and Downing, Angus and Malcolm, Keith Richards and whoever … some pretty good bands have decided that two guitars are better than one.

Nothing wrong with Guitar Player’s list, but there are lots of other acts you could add:  Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, Wishbone Ash – and, oh, this little band out of Liverpool called The Beatles.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Two Of Us

Not that he hasn’t worked damned hard to overcome it, but Paul McCartney is forever destined to be remembered as John Lennon’s partner.  A little unfair maybe.  After all, he only spent 13 years with John.  And he’s given us a lot of great music and memories over the last 45 years as a solo artist.

Then again, maybe he’s never given up trying to replace John.  Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Elvis Costello, David Gilmour, Dave Grohl, Kanye West …  it’s a pretty impressive list of collaborations.

Or maybe Paul just digs music, is a fan like the rest of us, and understands that at bottom music is a shared experience.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Who’s That Again?

Interesting memory test in Rollling Stone’s 10 Singer-Songwriter Albums … You’ve Never Heard.  Forgive me if I abbreviate the ridiculously long title.

Anyway, the 70’s was the heyday of the singer-songwriter, and I remember a lot of it - some good, some angst-ridden cheddar.  But I guess I didn’t notice it all.

I remember Hoyt Axton because I remember Three Dog Night.  I remember Thank You For Being A Friend, but not Andrew Gold.  I remember Tony Joe White because Polk Salad Annie was a fun tune.  Jesse Winchester?  Vaguely remember the name is all.

Elliott Murphy?  Steven Grossman?  Wendy Waldman?  Randall Bramblett?  David Forman?  Rory Block?  I gotta believe my FM station played all these artists, because they were pretty diverse.  But sorry, don’t recall them.   Goes to show our memories make us all smaller over time.

Thanks for the homework, RS.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Long Long Long

When we think about longevity, images of wrinkly Rolling Stones or half The Who come to mind.  And that makes sense, especially from a performance standpoint; some acts just keep on trucking.  The Stones, especially, give the air of having some kind of record for surviving the longest.

But if you examine the question from the perspective of recording new music, they haven’t/didn’t last so long – at least in my iTunes library.

Here’s the ranking of the artists who have had the longest careers in terms of their earliest and latest recordings (again, in my iTunes library – yours will differ).

Earliest Recording
Latest Recording
Number of Years
Ringo Starr
Paul McCartney
B.B. King
Bob Dylan
Steve Winwood
Eric Clapton
George Harrison
James Taylor
Robert Plant
Joe Walsh
David Gilmour
Mark Knopfler
Bruce Springsteen
Tom Petty
Rolling Stones

OK, the Ringo thing is a bit of a fluke.  I finally saw him live in 2012, and was so happy about it that I bought the tee-shirt and the CD.

I don’t buy everything these folks release, but it’s wonderful that they’re still making great music – the ones that are alive anyway.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Hendrix or Lennon …. oh nevermind.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Reelin’ In the Ears

Great songs hook you quickly, and reel you in.  This is nicely illustrated by Guitar World’s The 20 Best Guitar Intro’s of All Time.

Day Tripper, Sunshine Of Your Love, Smoke On The Water, Heartbreaker, You Really Got Me …  Hendrix, Van Halen, Chuck Berry, Hetfield, Keef …   Some of the best riffs of all time courtesy the greatest riff-meisters of all time.

Most great songs have a ‘hook,’ something that grabs you, catches your attention, somehow makes you feel like you already know the song even when you’re hearing it for the first time.  Sometimes that hook is a riff, but not always.  Sometimes the hook doesn’t show up until part way through the song.  But looking at GW’s list, I’d have to say the winning formula has got to be to snag ‘em right away.

Friday, 6 November 2015

In His Blood And In His Bones

How many genres can you pack into one song?  I dunno, but Mark Knopfler managed to jam quite a few into In The Gallery.

Blues, rock, country, R&B, a bit of psychedelic maybe?  What do you hear?

A good song should sound like an old friend on first hearing.  The more genres the songwriting – and arranger -  can draw on, the deeper the listener can mine for familiar sounds.  It can’t be a sloppy pastiche, of course.  Everything has to fit together.  And when it does, as with In The Gallery, what you get is one rich song.

Pretty tasty guitar work by Knopfler, too.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Blown On The Steel Breeze

It’s what notes you play, not how many of ‘em, as aptly illustrated by Guitar World’s Top 10 Slow Guitar Solos.  The list features masterful, expressive, passionate solos from greats such as Clapton, Page, Beck, Gilmour, Knopfler, SRV and Gary Moore.

With the exceptions of George Harrison and B.B. King, all these guys are revered for being able to tear it up, but this list shows they also knew how to make their guitar cry and sing.  They knew a guitar solo should make the song better.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Rock This Country

I don’t what geniuses decided to move Rock ‘n’ Roll over into Country and hide it there so’s they could keep it alive, but bless ‘em.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Let Me Roll It

Imagine one of those cheesy TV commercials that sell a product of dubious worth applied to Paul McCartney (whose worth is anything but dubious, just to be clear).

Paul McCartney!  Legendary partner of John Lennon!  Cornerstone of the greatest rock band of all time!  One of the best bass players in the history of music!  Inspired songwriter!  Iconic singer!  Idol to generations!  Excellent pianist!

But Wait!  There’s more!  Paul McCartney was also a gifted guitarist!

Check out these gems from Guitar World’s McCartney’s Top 6 Guitar Solos with The Beatles.

Yep!  Paul had some pretty good chops on the guitar too.  One talented dude.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Well I Know What’s Right

I have no moral objection to shredders, and some of my favourite guitarists have put down some lightning fast licks.  But have a listen to the guitar solo in Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down.

What additional notes would improve that solo?

Friday, 25 September 2015

Paying The Cost To Be The Boss

Imagine a world without Hendrix, Cream, Santana, Paul Butterfield, The Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Robert Cray.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?  Not something you’d want to imagine, is it?

Well, according to Rolling Stone’s 10 Legendary Acts That Wouldn’t Exist Without B.B. King, all that magic would not have happened were it not for B.B. King.

That’s 10 more thankyous we owe to B.B..

Friday, 18 September 2015

Nowhere To Run

A thumping beat that punches you in the back.  A relentless riff that hooks and then numbs your brain, until you suddenly find yourself inside the song.  Biting social commentary.  Energy.  Pathos.  Rebellion.  Despair.  Hope.

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Born In The USA should be Bruce Springsteen’s entry in the contest for best rock song of all time.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Got Live If You Want It

As the introduction to Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time says, it’s impossible to capture the frenzy (and I would add joy) of a great live show on record.  But as the list shows, there have been some awesome live recordings.

Confession:  in general, I have always preferred studio albums, because the sound quality is better, there’s less self-indulgence from the band, and the mistakes land on the cutting room floor.  But I still enjoy a good performance, and I love going to concerts.

The list has something to satisfy just about every musical taste, and it includes some career-establishing performances.  But for me, its main virtue is that it serves as a healthy reminder that music is meant to be enjoyed live.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

We Salute You

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of rock have been greatly exaggerated.

I was at the AC/DC concert in Quebec City last week, and I assure you that rock and roll is alive and very well, thank you very much.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Song Doesn’t Remain The Same

Interesting article from Gibson on 10 Led Zeppelin Songs That Deserve More Attention.  Given corporate radio has reduced their canon to a handful of songs, the list should be much longer, but no matter.

Even the most ardent Zeppelin fan would admit that some tunes are less approachable than others, but the list serves as a great reminder that this band had simply incredible range.  They covered pretty much every genre of music that was even remotely popular during their day, and pushed us into a few new directions while they were at it.  They covered more real estate than anyone else.

Most bands find a sound and then hammer it into the ground.  The best bands challenge themselves, explore, experiment, investigate and instigate.  Sure, these guys always sounded like Led Zeppelin, but they had the range of about 10 different bands.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Just As Plain As Can Be

Most folks would place Eddie Van Halen up near – or even at – the top of the guitar god pantheon.  And he’s a skilled cat who deserves to be up there.

But have a listen to Panama, which is a great song, and then have a listen to Joe Walsh’s Over and Over.  Joe’s offering is much more musical, in my books.  And it has one of the most powerful guitar solos in rock.

It’s out in the open, easy to see.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Double The Pleasure

Now here’s a fresh list on an overdue subject:  Guitar World’s Top 30 12 String Guitar Songs of All Time brings some attention to an underappreciated instrument.

America, Dylan, The Hollies, The Byrds,  … the people/bands you quickly identify with 12 string are all there.  And some surprises too.  OK, maybe not surprises, but people/bands you wouldn’t immediately associate with the sound:  Hendrix, Queen, Bowie, The Who.  For me, anyway, the tendency is to associate the 12 string with folk, delta blues and country, so if you say 12 string guitar my mind gravitates to folk rock tunes.

And songs like Maggie May, As Tears Go By, Mr. Tambourine Man and Free Falling are all there.  As are classics like A Hard Days Night and Stairway to Heaven.  Um, OK, these aren’t folk rock, but you do expect to find them on the list.

But there are songs I would have forgotten about, like Closer To The Heart, More Than A Feeling or Wish You Were Here.

Anyway, whether electric or acoustic, the 12 string guitar produces such a beautiful rich sound.

I don’t own one though, as much as folk rock is pretty much home base for me.  I can barely keep my 6 strings in tune.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Let It Be

Message to Sir Paul McCartney:  I’ve read the recent Esquire Interview, and you should just leave it alone, man.

You’re adored.  You’re respected.  But it's not a contest.  It shouldn't be a contest.  The magic was the 4 of you.  You'll all different.  4 amazing individuals who created one special thing.

Since the breakup you’ve been great.  Terrific.  Wonderful.  But you don’t have anything to prove, and you can’t compete against a ghost.

Just let it be, man.  To Hell with what Yoko said or did.  It's not a contest.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

On Time

Gibson’s 10 Classic Rock Bands That Deserve Another Look shows how reductivist corporate radio has denied us some fantastic music.

All of these bands used to be mainstays on the radio – but sadly are now rarely heard at all.

Chicago created a revolution.  Three Dog Night were massive.  Rare Earth were fantastic musicians who cranked out monster hits.  Spirit were regarded as geniuses.  Everyone loved Steppenwolf.  The music has aged well.  So how come no airplay?  It’s a mystery.

What strikes me most about the list is the range of musical styles covered, and the fact that you could hear of of these bands on the same station in the same afternoon - a happy reflection of the time when these bands thrived, and perhaps another sad reflection of today’s radio.

Thanks for the reminder, Gibson.  Luckily, I have most of this music on my iPod.  Time to go have a listen.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Forever Man

It’s not a secret that Eric Clapton is my favourite guitarist, and I was fortunate enough to see the concert of a lifetime during his brief farewell stint at the Royal Albert Hall this past May.

I’ve seen him five times now, and each show was wonderful, but this one was special: a) because of the venue; b) because it was the last.  The bittersweet feeling that “this was it” dampened my enjoyment of a terrific performance, but I still came out of the hall breathless and exhilarated.

Clapton is the man.  You could endlessly debate who has more skill, who had the best solo, the best riff, the biggest wow factor, but Clapton’s body of work stands apart.  He’s given so much; it would be selfish to begrudge him his retirement.

Thanks, Eric.  You had the key to the highway.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Rhythm Ninjas

Guitar World’s 50 Greatest Rhythm Guitarists of All Time proves the point that you can have a tremendous impact without being a flashy soloist.

Chuck Berry, Steve Cropper, Bo Diddley, Don Everly, The Edge, Keef, Andy Summers, Pete Townshend, Malcolm Young … these guys defined the sound of the band, erected the songs on their chords, and for the most part didn’t need a solo to make the tune kick butt.

As Danny Kortchmar says, “it’s easier to play a screamer solo over a heavy groove than it is to make that groove.”

Which is why cats like Alex Lifeson, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, who are perhaps know for their soloing, are also on the list.  And deservedly so:  it ain’t easy to give us a rhythmic groove and a solo all at the same time.

I can’t figure out why John Lennon doesn’t make these lists, though.  Maybe my Beatles obsession just drives me to want to include a guitarist who happened to play rhythm, as opposed to a guitarist of revolutionary importance.  Maybe, but I still think he was pretty darn good.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Texas Continuity

Carrying on about “how come Johnny Winter didn’t make the list of influential guitar solos?” …

Much has been made of the great Texas Blues tradition and how Freddie King was just as strong on influence as Albert King on the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Fair enough, but have a listen to Johnny Winter’s Be Careful With A Fool, then check out SRV’s Texas Flood.  Sounds like a direct connection to me.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Solo Stars

Guitar World’s 40 Most Influential Solos In Rock is quite possibly the list that’s come closest to what I would have expected.

All the early rockers are there: Scotty Moore, James Burton, Eddie Cochrane –and Chuck Berry, who’s Johnny B. Goode GW correctly notes is “the most important rock guitar part ever recorded.”

All the Classic Rockers are there: Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, Blackmore, Allman, Fripp, Page, Gilmour, Knopfler, Young and West.

The blues influencers are there: Elmore James, and the 3 Kings.

The list is chronological, so until it got to the 80’s my reaction was consistently, “yep, influenced me alright.”

The latter-day guitar heroes are there too: SRV, Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhoads, Malmsteen, Satriani and, the cat with the coolest handle: Dimebag Darrell.

One or two guitarists I wouldn’t have included myself, but fully expected to see.  And given GW limited itself to one solo per guitarist, I think they did a pretty good job of coming up with the most representative tune.  No easy feat with most of these guys.

Not sure how Heartbreaker gets to be Jimmy Page’s most important solo, but that’s just me.  I certainly remember being floored when I first heard it, but later on I kinda felt it wrecked the song, because it interrupted such a powerful groove.

Nice to see Europa chosen for Santana so they could make room for Peter Green and the original Black Magic Woman.  Peter Green is usually under-rated and overlooked.  Speaking of overlooked: no Highway 61 Revisited by Johnny Winter?