Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It Might Get Loud, Pt. 2: Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page was the first of the icons in this movie to forge a new style positioning himself against what was happening musically around him.

After cutting his teeth playing skiffle and then blues in the early 1960's, Page spent years establishing himself as a session guitarist. His game changing musical statement, Led Zeppelin, was formed as a direct reaction against the direction he found his recording sessions taking. The music was becoming, in his words: "too muzak."

As a response to music he found increasingly emotionally tepid, Page turned up the heat. Guitar gearhounds will love Page's account of his first overdrive / sustainer. Check out the look of absolute delight on the faces of Edge and White watching Page:

Page founded an explosive troupe of musicians that redefined the term bombast for a whole new generation of musicians. The Blues shouts these Yardbirds had copped from the mouths of Mississippians were now breaking through levees into massive adolescent tantrums. (One of the best scenes in this film shows exactly where that track's drums were recorded. Amazing! Worth the price of admission alone.)

Zeppelin's blues-based whisper to scream aesthetic became the de facto rock and roll blueprint. See Aerosmith, Guns n' Roses, Jane's Addiction, etc., etc., etc. for details.

Check out how Stephen Davis cartoon-ishly describes the omnipotence of Zeppelin in America in the 1970's in the opening sentence of Watch You Bleed, his new Guns n' Roses biography:

And as Led Zeppelin floated over America in the seventies, its shadow darkened the country's heartland the deepest.

It's true! Zeppelin and their acolytes became so omnipresent, its very ubiquity destroyed its meaning. The music was massive, but it began to feel less emotionally direct... almost... like... Muzak? Dare I say it lost its Edge? Ohh.... sorry!

David Evans, according to It Might Get Loud, was about to bring it back.

Coming soon, in part 3 of this piece.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It Might Get Loud:
Go Your Own Way

At one point during It Might Get Loud, White Stripes guitarist Jack White says that as a child:

I didn't want to play guitar.
Everyone plays guitar.
What's the point?

White is talking about the ubiquitous surplus of skilled and unskilled guitarists that brings to mind Eric Clapton's There's One In Every Crowd.

However, any one of the three guitarists featured in this film could've uttered a similar sentiment with just one small edit.

I didn't want to just play guitar. What's the point?

The Point? Simply playing the electric guitar was not enough for the ambition of any of these icons. Each had to find a way to make a new, original statement with the instrument. Each guitarist featured in this movie felt compelled to create their own singular style by defining themselves against the dominant musical ideas of their era. Ambitious axe-slingers, take note: Paradigm shifting Smiths / Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr makes a cohesive argument for this approach in an excellent essay here.

Ack, Blog writing protocol demands I PUBLISH NOW rather than finish a complete thought. So I'll be back to expand on this essay in a future post.

In the meantime, go put on Led Zeppelin III, U2's WAR, or go make a diddley bow on your front porch, as Jack White does in the opening scene from the movie.

A bit of the latter here in the trailer:
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ray Brown Blues Chorus

Here's a chorus of blues in F with some of the chord voicings from the Freddie Green Lessons from April.

For some reason, playing a blues with two beats to the bar as opposed to the four beats of a walking bass line makes me think of the preeminent bassist Ray Brown. Sometimes you'll hear Jim Hall play in this style to imply a half time feel.

Check out the voice leading, both apparent and implied:
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
-- Intro for Solo Guitar

When I was an aspiring tadpole in the world of guitar, I used to try to figure out songs by my guitar heroes. For quite some time I was naive to their use of echo pedals and overdubs. This led me to a fascination with learning to play multiple guitar parts at the same time, and other 'impossible' guitar tasks.

Recently, this tactic has led me to unusual acoustic guitar arrangements of pop songs. Here is the intro to 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by The Police. The intro contains a famous piano line that has a lot of harmonic seconds in it. It's nearly impossible to play these seconds in such a legato, harmonically overlapping manner as one would on piano.

Sevenths are considerably easier to play in such a legato manner on guitar. So here I've inverted those seconds into sevenths by displacing some octaves. Octave displacements sound quite modern harmonically, so they struck me as really appropriate. Very Andy Summers, and very Police.

If you play this very legato, your mind will trace the original melodic line, but you will have a very full sounding arrangement.

Check it out:

I'm a very lucky guy, because I actually had the chance to give this guitar lesson to Sting personally:

Ok, have at this and I'll be back to explain how this arrangement and this meeting came about.

That's all for today.
Advancing Guitar Lessons:
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ZZ Top @ The 930 Club Sunday: $75 = No Sellout

After a lazy summer by the pool playing slide guitar, I'm back and determined to get this blog back to posts weekly, at least. Apologies for my absence.

Biggest DC Guitar Event this week was Billy Gibbons at the 930 Club! I mean, this dude is a legend. By cutting his teeth on the TX roadhouse circuit in the 60's and 70's, Gibbons has a tone as large as Texas. He played with Hendrix, for goodness' sakes!

As a child of the 80's, however, the Top has a more MTV musical meaning in my mind. I simply do not trust guitar tone from the 80's. I don't. A few obvious examples aside, guitar tone in the 1980's sucked balls.
So I was intent on checking out the tone myself.

As usual, the boys in ZZ were sharply dressed, and their stage show was top notch. These guys are no strangers to some showbiz glitz. Check out the suspended checker pattern guitar cabs in the pic. Nice....

A choice piece of classic patter from the Reverend Billy G:

We have just two rules here tonight, folks. Just two rules:

1) No Drinking during the Gospel songs.

2) No Gospel songs.

Indeed, it was a hard drinking crowd, and there was a lot of air guitar. Aside from the sheer size and sound of Gibbons' guitar, there were no revelatory musical moments.

I will say this, though: the Top are as tight as a witch's you-know-what, what with playing as a unit for 40 years. They had the timing down. And they do employ a surprisingly large musical vocabulary for a supposed 'blues band'. So kudos to that.

I stood on the balcony, dead center, eyes closed, and just grooved on the solid thump of a great band getting down.

Fave moment: Gibbons pulling out a cover of Foxey Lady. It was at that moment that I realized this is why I had shelled out $75 bucks to see this band.

However, apparently times are tight, especially so for true Top fans. A premium price for this band was too much, even for an intimate club show: neither Sunday's nor Monday's show sold out.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Thriller: The First Album I Bought With My Own Money

In the first lesson, while tuning the student's guitar, here is a question I often ask my new students:

" What the first record you bought with your own money?"

It's a quick way to gauge the kinds of music that they probably still love dearest, to this very day. There is research that suggests that we identify closest with our favorite music from our adolescence. Hormones are the birthplace of nostalgia, I guess.

My question isn't accurate. It's not a complete study. Merely a snapshot, a window, a conversation starter. I am always delighted with the answers my students give. More so if I can teach them one of their all time favorites, ASAP!

For years I have fibbed about my own answer to this question. The truthful answer, for nearly everyone my age, is of course, Thriller. Thriller was my first trip to a record store to buy it with the cash in my hot little eleven-year-old hand. I already had "Off The Wall" because my mom thought it was cute that I liked to dance, and that I was infatuated with the jangly disco riffage of Kool and The Gang. It took me a few more years to get to the Man's, Man's world of James Brown.

If you are old enough, as I am, to really remember the Soundtrack to The Big Chill, but not remember the heyday of Motown, Michael Jackson is your Elvis. He is the biggest thing that happened post Beatles. Period. If you have to ask, you'll never know.

There was some great guitar on Thriller, too. Eddie Van Halen played the great guitar on 'Beat It' which is sadly now probably better known by it's knock-off Yankovic version. That's probably just a karmic return on EVH's not getting a writing credit on Beat It.

Ah well.

As you might suspect, I had the blues from the news this summer. So I spent a little time mourning, slide guitar style. Here is a snippet from the results:
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