Sunday, April 1, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (March 1988)

Welcome back to "30 Years Ago", where I take a close look at the issue of Guitar Player magazine from exactly thirty years prior to discuss what I gleaned from the issue at the time and what I can learn from re-reading so many decades later.  I also provide a Spotify playlist that includes music that was mentioned in the month's issue. Click here to see all of the previous posts!

In March of 1988 I was playing my new Epiphone Sheraton II along with my Peavey T-15 and newly acquired Fender Avalon acoustic, taking lessons with my GIT-trained teacher Jim McCarthy, and continuing to swim in a blend of music, from jazz on radio station WRTI, classic rock on stations WMMR and WYSP, pop and metal on MTV, country on The Nashville Network and Austin City Limits, and blues on a local radio station whose call sign I forget. The varied content in the March 1988 Guitar Player, featuring as it did articles on Chuck Berry, bebopper Rory Stuart, blues/world music/composer for movies star Ry Cooder, country bassist Emory Gordy Jr., and western swing legend Eldon Shamblin definitely would have appealed to my wide-ranging musical interests.


I remember this issue pretty well; in fact I have a very clear memory of bringing it to school with me and reading it there. Re-reading it makes it clear that nearly EVERYTHING I know about Chuck Berry came from this issue; it is probably where I learned about western swing (though I know that I had at least one Asleep at the Wheel record, so that might not be totally the case). I know that this might be one of the first issues that I kept re-reading (mostly for the Chuck Berry parts-- all of which are heavily underlined, starred and otherwise marked up by yours truly) and remember taking it to one of my lessons. That day I showed the Berry article to my teacher, who pulled out several mimeographed basic rock lessons from GIT and gave them to me to study (they are still in my music folder to this day, very well thumbed).

In 1988 Chuck Berry was 62 years old, only three decades removed from the prime of his career (hard to imagine that!) and coming off a mini-renaissance highlighted by the publication of an autobiography and the movie "Hail Hail Rock n Roll", where Keith Richards put together an all-star band (including Chuck's piano collaborator from the '50's Jonnie Johnson) to give Berry a chance to play with competent musicians, as opposed to the local pickup groups specified in his contract riders.  Of course with Berry's death last March (29 years after this article) it feels even more appropriate to learn more about the father of rock guitar.

The late Tom Wheeler wrote the feature based on his interviews of Berry, and it is a really terrific piece of writing:
"Chuck Berry came motorvatin' over the hill in the summer of '55, his Gibson ES-350T blaring and clanging like Maybellene's roadhog Coupe de Ville. It was one of the most compelling and enduring images in pop culture: the loose-jointed, duck-walking hipster with the low-slung guitar, the happening threads, the wicked gleam in his eye.... 
Early rock's foremost singer/songwriter, Chuck wrote classic two-and-a-half-minute novellas of churning hormones and rock fever. In Berry's America, street-savvy hepcats tooled around in cherry-red jitneys and coffee-colored Cadillacs, chasing after sweet little rock and rollers such as Nadine, who moved around like a wayward summer breeze, or Little Queenie, lookin' like a model on the cover of a magazine. A percussionist of sorts who used syllables instead of drumsticks, he fashioned his lyrics into a sly, jivey poetry that percolated with its own gimme five lingo: motorvatin', coolerator, botheration---and pulsed with irresistible rhythms.... 
And even if his writing, singing and stylistic alchemy had not already secured him a place on rock's Mount Rushmore, Chuck Berry would be celebrated today for his guitar playing alone. His style was innovative in its sound and technique, and its ringin'-a-bell tone, jolting syncopations, slippery bends and whole new vocabulary of double-stops simply changed the way the instrument is played... 
At 61, Chuck Berry is a formidable presence, his lean body still moving with the grace of an athlete, his eyes still twinkling with the mischief of a rakish Hollywood leading man. He is at once a tough hombre and a gracious gentleman, obsessively private one moment, expansive and personable the next. Traveling alone and using pick-up musicians who are often under-rehearsed, he is self-contained: singer, songwriter, guitar player, legend... 
A few years ago, US spacecraft Voyager was blasted into deep space, past Jupiter and Saturn and on towards Neptune, four billion miles from St. Louis, Missouri. On board are recorded greetings to anyone who might encounter it. Among the messages representing planet Earth is a recording of "Johnny B. Goode", lending new meaning to the phrase "long live rock and roll". Maybe some day countless millennia from now, across the universe, some unimaginable alien thing will be snapping its fingers (or whatever) and grooving on the ancient tale of the country boy that could play his guitar just like ringin' a bell.

Good stuff!  The interview was quite interesting, especially as it helps one to understand the mindset of a struggling musician, nearing 30 years old and frustrated by his day job as a hairdresser who did whatever he could to become a success. And of course the racial issues faced by a black musician who became popular with white teenagers are never far from the surface. I know that when I first read the interview I was most focused on learning about guitar technique and Berry's influences, but re-reading it, I am struck by more "social history" parts of the interview:

Q. Do you see two distinct sides to your music, the rock and the blues?

A. Well, things like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Carol", those were for the mass market. "Wee Wee Hours", that was for the neighborhood. But this isn't a black/white thing. That irks me. There's no such thing as black and white in music.

Q. In May '55 you were doing some carpentry and studying cosmetology; three months later your first record was #5 in the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. How did the almost literal overnight success change your life?

A. The only thing it changed was my determination to follow through as long as it could go.. My lifestyle did not change one bit. I had been saving 80% of my income as a carpenter, and saved 80% of my income as a musician.

Q. Was fame what you had expected?

A. No, because I didn't expect it! I was making $21 a week at the Cosmo, and it went to $800 a week after "Maybellene". I didn't give a shit about the fame, and you can print that! Still don't. The only thing I cared about was being able to walk into a restaurant and get served, and that was something I should have had anyway, without all the fame. See this was 1955, and [civil rights] marching and things were about to start. I liked the idea that I could buy something on credit and the salesman knew I could really pay for it. I could call a hotel and the wouldn't automatically offer me the economy rooms after hearing how my voice sounded. That I admired.

For all the social history, there is a lot of music and guitar detail in the Berry feature, which spreads over 17 pages of the magazine. The section "Chuck Berry, the records", breaks down guitar highlights from 20 of Berry's classics. For "Carol" (my personal favorite Chuck tune), they promise "next month, Guitar Player will present an in-depth article, with transcription, exploring the intricacies" of the song. Unfortunately, that promised article never materialized, and I've always wondered why.  There's also several good pictures of Chuck's guitars including the bit of proto-gear porn below:






Another guitar legend who helped create the vocabulary for an entire genre was Eldon Shamblin, who played lead guitar for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.  The profile of the then 72-year old was very informative. I learned a lot about Texas swing and other music that I enjoyed when it would be on TV's Nashville Network or (more rarely) on a radio show. Gear wise, dig the guitar Eldon is playing: a gold-finished 1954 Stratocaster with chicken-head knobs given to him by Leo Fender himself. According to the article the Texas Playboys were used by Fender to road test his early equipment. In 1954 while visiting the factory,
"Leo said, 'Hey-we're coming out with something. Why don't you take this? Just it and try it. If you don't like it, you can bring it back.' I found I liked it...I've tried other Fenders but I can't find one that compares to this one for rhythm. I have never found one like this. I read in Guitar Player that mine was the first metallic color Fender ever put out. Everything is original--controls, frets, pickups, everything."  
Pretty cool!  Also neat was to read that he blocked off the tremolo and used heavy strings, two things that I eventually did with my own Strat (a metallic pewter colored ax) when I got it in 1990, but that's a story for another day.

The article with Ry Cooder was interesting to me for a lot of reasons. First of all, as a young blues fanatic, the movie Crossroads --where Karate Kid Ralph Macchio basically recreates that movie in a blues guitar context (young classical guitarist Eugene secretly loves the blues and Robert Johnson; he helps Willie Brown break out of an old-folks home and they go down south to the crossroads in Mississippi where Eugene battles the devil's guitarist, played by Steve Vai, for Brown's soul) was a favorite of mine, one that I saw twice in theatres and several more times on cable. It's simultaneously terrible and amazing! Even at the time I was uncomfortable with how Eugene wins the head cutting contest by replacing the blues with Paganini, but it's still a cool scene:


I know that the showdown between Vai and Macchio is still frequently discussed on internet guitar forums, so here is Ry Cooder's description of how the scene came to be. It's a neat glimpse behind the scenes:





I enjoyed re-reading this issue, and I hope you found it interesting. Unfortunately I've been dealing with a nerve issue that makes typing difficult, so I haven't gone into as much depth as I could have. March 1988's GP was a really interesting issue, and April's was even better, featuring articles on Joe Walsh, Tuck Andress and others. More on that next time--until then, keep on picking!

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (February 1988)

Welcome back to "30 Years Ago", where I take a close look at the issue of Guitar Player magazine from exactly thirty years prior to discuss what I gleaned from the issue at the time and what I can learn from re-reading so many decades later.  I also provide a Spotify playlist that includes music that was mentioned in the month's issue. Click here to see all of the previous posts!

February, 1988 seems to have been a relatively quiet time, but some noteworthy events took place. It was the month when televangelist Jimmy Swaggart (cousin to musicians Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley) confessed his sins (consorting with prostitutes), and Anthony Kennedy joined the Supreme Court, which ruled 8-0 against televangelist Jerry Falwell in an important case upholding First Amendment rights. Guitar-wise, I was playing my new Epiphone Sheraton II, taking lessons with my GIT-trained teacher Jim McCarthy, and continuing to swim in a blend of music, from jazz on radio station WRTI, classic rock on stations WMMR and WYSP, pop and metal on MTV, and blues on a local radio station whose call sign I forget.


Revisiting the February, 1988 Guitar Player was an interesting experience. It features the wide diversity in genres that I am getting used to seeing, but the focus was largely on artists just breaking through on a national level.  In addition to the cover story on Joe Satriani (supposedly his first ever on a national magazine), there was a very interesting triple profile of bluesmen Charlie Baty, Ron Thompson and Anson Funderburgh; features on Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, classical legend Christopher Parkening and studio/sideman extraordinaire Kevin Dukes as well as a number of interesting lessons and gear reviews. Re-reading it now reminds me how comparatively narrow guitar magazines are now; not just in terms of genre but in terms of the relative fame of the musicians covered. While Satriani's Surfing with the Alien had just come out and was getting chart success, most of the other musicians featured were far from what one would call "popular".




The triple profile of the blues guitarists by editor Dan Forte is an interesting example. 15 pages (out of a very sizable 186) are devoted to three musicians who combined had probably not sold more than 250,000 records. The article purports to introduce "the new breed of young bluesmen", frontmen of Little Charlie and the Nightcats, Ron Thompson and the Resistors, and Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets. As a teenager I probably would have just focused on "new breed" and "young", but re-reading the article makes it clear that all three had been working musicians for a long time; Baty says he's been a professional "for 12 or 13 years", Thompson had been playing in clubs since his mid-teens, and Funderburgh was a 33 year-old Dallas contemporary of Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and had led the Rockets for "almost 10 years".



The articles had some good information about gear: Baty (despite being pictured with a Strat) extolled the virtues of his P-90 equipped 1950's ES-150 and Fender Super Reverb; Thompson discussed the differences between his ES-175 and a Strat and why he preferred the Gibson for slide ("you can plug into anything and it's gonna sound good") and Funderburgh relied on the tried and true Texas blues recipe of Strat through Vibrolux, but had one of the most valuable tips in the article. When Forte asked what the secret was "behind his remarkable range of tones":

"Funderburgh smiles: 'I think my tone and knowing when and when not to play are my best points. I've always been a firm believer in leaving people wanting a little bit more. If you play everything you've got, there's nothing left. I'd hate to be like Stevie (Vaughan) and have to come out there and scald every night. I think tone is something that maybe comes through years of playing; you kind of develop into your own style. It's all in the touch....the control, where you place your hands, the attack, where you strike the string. "
This is really good stuff that might not be as readily apparent nowadays when so few options for live music exist, and most guitarists are playing in their bedrooms or on YouTube (where restraint isn't valued).  Funderburgh also made a point of putting over Ronnie Earl, who was the player responsible for my own tone revelation when I saw him live in 2001. In Funderburgh's words:
"Ronnie Earl really plays from the gut, and I'll guaran-damn-tee ya, there's something that I try to do, and all those guys try to do, and Ronnie is really good at it: He may mess up, but he gets up there and tries to say something every time he plays....If you try to say something every time you play a solo and think about the song and try to get something across--that's what it's all about."
In November of 2016 I went to a blues concert at Buz and Ned's, a local BBQ restaurant in Richmond, Virginia featuring harmonica player Mark Hummel backed by Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh. It's both inspiring and humbling that more than 28 years after this article 2/3rds of the subjects were traveling in vans, setting up their own equipment, and roaming the country to play their music before small, appreciative audiences. It was a good show, and after re-reading this article I tip my hat again to real musicians who just HAVE to play.

One of the most enjoyable parts of re-reading these old issues is being able to appreciate the careers of band members, sidemen, studio hotshots and others who were never headline stars but who were significant contributors to the music world. One example is Kevin Dukes, who earned 10 pages in this issue, hailed as "Sidemaster with Billy Joel, Boz Scaggs and Jackson Browne". The article starts with strong compliments from Browne, who hired Dukes to play lead on his 1985 world tour (a great example of which can be found in this video below):

"My records had featured some distinctive players, including Steve Lukather, Gary Myrick and Rick Vito, and I needed someone who could fill their roles. I also needed a sideman who could reproduce some of the old sounds with the fluidity and emotion that characterizes David Lindley's work with me. Kevin has the technical ability to play all of their parts and make them sound like his own."



This article, by the evocatively named Vic Trigger uses Dukes' "burgeoning career" to show that "the professional rock scene has evolved a new breed of chameleonic guitarist: a journeyman who prides himself on the art of mimicking other players with recording-quality proficiency." Dukes, who grew up in Mississippi was a graduate of GIT (like my teacher) who used his (pre-internet!) ability to recreate artists' tones to get gigs with Scaggs, Browne and Don Henley, as well as lots of tv show work, including a year as the guitarist for the Alan Thicke talk show. His versatility is a good reason for his choice of a hallmark of 1980's LA guitar, a Charvel. The article notes that "Kevin observed that most of his peers were playing Strat-style guitars."
"I broke down and got a Charvel Strat-style with a Floyd Rose and Seymour Duncans. Strat-style guitars are the most versatile instruments for the money, because you can go back and forth from pseudo-Gibson sounds to pseudo-Fender sounds."
17-year old me was pretty unaware of the differences in tones between different kinds of guitars, but now that I have so much more experience, this makes so much sense and I understand the "super Strat" phenomenon better. Speaking of gear, check out the Fender Telecaster with Floyd Rose that Jackson Browne strums in the concert video--did he put that on just for tuning? And by the way, Dukes' playing is terrific.

Joe Satriani was the cover star of this issue, in a 16 page article by Jas Obrecht, including a vinyl flexidisc soundpage (with transcription). Satriani is, of course, one of the most famous rock guitar instrumentalists, organizer of the G3 tours which have attracted legions of (mostly male) attendees for two decades and the inspiration of numerous signature guitars (Ibanez), amps (Marshall), and effects pedals (Vox). Joe was featured in the February, 2018 Premier Guitar, showing that he has more than maintained his pre-eminence over the last three decades.

Re-reading this article, when Joe Satriani was just bursting into the public's consciousness is really neat. Like the other musicians profiled in the issue, he was hardly a "new" musician, having worked hard to eke out a living with his guitar while still persisting in developing his style. It's interesting to contrast Satch to Kevin Dukes, who found the path to success in music through "chameleonic" interpretations of other artists. According to Obrecht, Satriani studied jazz with Lennie Tristano in 1975, then "struck by wanderlust, he then explored LA and Japan before settling in Berkeley, California in 1977. From 1979 through '84 he played with a much-heralded, but ultimately unsigned power-pop trio, the Squares."

The Squares?! This would have meant nothing to me in 1988, but now, with the power of YouTube, it's easy to hear some of their songs, and that was a hot band, with a guitarist who was clearly bursting at the seams with creativity. Obrecht then details Satriani's self-produced and financed eponymous EP in 1984, followed by Not Of This Earth in 1985. But we have to interrupt the tale of his inexorable rise to success with Surfing With The Alien for some important work to keep the lights on:
"While awaiting the release of Not Of This Earth, Joe joined the Greg Kihn Band for its 1985 Love And Rock And Roll LP and tour. In other studio projects he collaborated with drummer Tony Williams, worked on commissioned pieces for PBS, Dole Pineapple, and Otari, and sang backup vocals for Crowded House. Most recently, he co-produced Possessed's EP Eyes of Horror and sight-read a solo for drummer Danny Gottlieb's Aquamarine."
Wow. That is quite a busy year (and I would LOVE to hear those background vocals!), and perhaps it explains Joe's answer to the question "what's your favorite part of playing?": "Being paid!"

This is a typically excellent interview piece by Obrecht, who asks great questions to bring out the most in his subject. The theme here is of an instrumental genius finally getting his due and it's really good to re-read. The following are some of my favorite passages:

Q. Does it bother you to see less inventive players achieve broader success than you have?
No. I don't feel competitive with other guitar players. Over the years, I see both success and failure as imposters. They cannot be what you use for your standard operating procedure for how to write music, for how to play.

Q. Did timing come naturally, or did you teach yourself?
I taught myself. Timing is natural, but you have to practice it and work at it to convince yourself that it's there. When I was a young kid listening to the Beatles and the Stones, I didn't say "Boy, he could have played groups of three there!"I wasn't thinking of that. But once you get exposed to that, you can feel things like groups of five. You'll like them, and you may use them with discretion and taste. I think I learned a lot from the timing of other people--Hendrix, Stevie Wonder or Larry Graham. I listen back and say "Yeah, they're late here, and they're early here, and that creates a sound." Some people push the beat when they are creating a certain kind of a song, some people drag, some people go right in the pocket. As your sense of time gets better, the idea of the beat becomes this huge circle and you see that you can play with it and use it as a tool to get a song to come off a certain way and evoke a certain emotion, especially with bass.
Q. Is there an inherent mood in every key and scale?
Not just one. In the hands of an artist, what you can do is almost limitless. I definitely operate on that assumption. I've heard so much beautiful music done in major keys, and yet very little of it is in heavy rock, exploratory jazz fusion, or whatever you want to call what we're doing.... One scale can sound a lot of different ways, and I've really tried to work with that on the last two records. With "Always With Me, Always With You", I tried to use those major scales to be tender and sharp and haunting and a whole bunch of things. 
Q. Do you imagine a melody before finding it on guitar?
Yes. It's like it comes to me; I hear it being laid out. But I do spend quite a lot of time editing. I edited the hell out of "Always With Me..." because I was intrigued with how beautiful it was. I wanted the song to start with a melody, go into a slight improvisation, give a countermelody, go back to the original melody, do another little improvisation and return to the melody. I wanted to be as cool as the sax player you see in a nice jazz club where there is a bassist, a piano player, and a drummer with brushes. And this guy just stands up with his sax, plays the melody, and the song is over. No big rush, no ego solo, no exploding things. ...I had to find that sort of player in me, those sensibilities, and then figure out the technique. 
Q. You must have had a lot of self-assurance to finance your own album with a credit card.
It was a sign from God. I wanted to do a project, and the company mailed the card to me. It was completely at random: "Mister Satriani, you have been selected because of your..." So this little light bulb went off in my head...
Q. Do you have any special guitar setup tips?
I like to use just two springs in the back of the guitar. They are very tight, and they go straight across the outside positions. I routed out just a little bit more wood for the Floyd Rose, just because I like it more flush...My tone control is disconnected. When I pull up on that knob, it engages a bass roll-off; when the knob is down it's inactive. That's just the way it's set up now. We've been doing up-to-the-minute modifications on it....I like a neck...like an early '60's Stratocaster. I don't like high frets; I like them quite low so I can apply different kinds of pressure to the strings to get different tone qualities and nuances of intonation. 
Q. Do you have any suggestions for guitarists who want to explore different styles?
Yes. Let's say you're a heavy rock player who is wondering about blues or soul. Get a 4-track tape recorder, because we are in the age of recording, and people's sound is built around their records. Put down a mock soul piece and retain your personality, but try to go with the track and pick out lots of different things...just work on it until you find your own voice in that particular form of music.
Q. Were you experimenting with fingertapping before Van Halen came along?
Sure. Oh there were a lot of people who were. But I'm a huge Van Halen fan. When I first heard their first record, I just loved it. It was great...Eddie put together that little two-handed hammer-on thing in such a great way. It was so gutsy! It wasn't progressive rock; it was really a go-for-the-throat kind of thing...Eddie must be definitely crazy, and I like that. 

I enjoyed re-reading this issue, and I hope you found it interesting. The reviews of recent music didn't have quite so many "big" artists, but there was a short review of Chuck Berry's autobiography. But more on that next month, when Chuck was on the cover of the March, 1988 issue. Also, I hope you join me in sparing a thought in memory of Tom Wheeler. Wheeler was the editor in chief of Guitar Player, and founder of Bass Player as well as a longtime professor of journalism. He was a major reason for the excellence of the magazine I've been trying to share with you, and he'll be missed.

I'll see you here next month; until then, keep on picking!

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player Magazine (January 1988)


Welcome back to "30 Years Ago", where I take a close look at the issue of Guitar Player magazine from exactly thirty years prior to discuss what I gleaned from the issue at the time and what I can learn from rereading so many decades later.  I also provide a Spotify playlist that includes music that was mentioned in the month's issue. Click here to see all of the previous posts!

Welcome also to 1988! This was a landmark year for me: I graduated high school, moved to college, met my future wife, and joined my first band in 1988. I look forward to revisiting this time period with you.

January is a time of beginnings, and some of the highlights of January, 1988 include the first Royal Rumble for the (then) World Wrestling Federation, the Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera (which my theatre friends and I were obsessed with), and Vice-President George Bush's Presidential career got a boost with his antagonistic interview on CBS news (I watched this live!) when he seemingly vanquished his reputation as a "wimp" by refusing to answer questions about his role in Iran-Contra. Unfortunately it was also a time for some noteworthy deaths, including Greg "Pappy" Boyington, who was portrayed by Robert Conrad on TVs Black Sheep Squadron (a favorite of my military-obsessed friends and mine), basketball star Pete Maravich, who was only 40 when he died playing a pick-up basketball game as a result of an undiscovered, congenital heart defect.  Guitar wise, I was digging my new Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollow and trying to progress musically with my GIT-trained teacher Jim McCarthy and my high school "Music Theory I" class.

The January, 1988 issue of Guitar Player was chock full of interesting content. The cover touted the return of Lynyrd Skynryd to touring a decade after the devastating plane crash the band experienced in 1977, as well as interviews with Carlos Santana, Richard Lloyd, Omar Dykes of Omar and the Howlers, and a review of the amp now known as the Fender "Evil Twin". Inside the issue, the Spotlight section touted a young guitarist from Easton, PA named Greg Howe, a short interview with Steve Katz yielded a remarkably interesting trivia factoid, and there was a flexidisc recording of Carlos Santana playing "Blues for Salvador".

I doubt that I paid much attention to the interviews of producer Steve Katz (late of the 1960's group The Blues Project and co-founder of Blood, Sweat and Tears), and guitarist Richard Lloyd (late of 1970's group Television) since I wasn't interested in record production at the time, and I was totally unaware of Lloyd (who I didn't really grok until he contributed fiery leads on 1992's Matthew Sweet record, Girlfriend. This was a mistake, because I missed out on some good stuff. Katz described his techniques for live recording (one highlight, separate tracks for live amp and direct signal for guitarists) and related a very interesting fact about Lou Reed's Rock n Roll Animal (now one of my favorite live albums, totally unknown to me at the time). In Katz' words:

"During the recording of Rock n Roll Animal, a trumpet player friend of mine came back to the remote truck and almost fell over the 2" tape machine. Very few people know this, but we lost half the applause to that concert. The audience noise on that record is actually from a John Denver concert that RCA had in its vaults!" 
How about that!   The interview with Lloyd touts his live record "Real Time" (for which Katz was the producer), recorded at New York's CBGB club. If you haven't heard it--check it out in this month's Spotify playlist--killer songs! Lloyd comes across as an enthusiastic devotee of the guitar, and I definitely plan on listening to more of his records having re-read this interview. Some of the best quotes are:

"A Stratocaster is a guitar you can make a fist around.  A Strat asks you to play a certain way; it demands a certain grasp. It's just the way the neck is shaped, I guess. That kind of neck is really conducive to a certain kind of string bending that you can't get on most guitars; it's a really narrow neck with a slightly curved fretboard. And one of the first things I was told, and that I've held on to, is that what makes the electric guitar a special instrument is the bent note."
"When I was in junior high I was at this guy Zeke's house and he said there was somebody coming over who said he knew Jimi Hendrix. Everybody laughed. I mean, we were kids; who could know Jimi Hendrix? Hendrix was, like, somebody from outer space. Well, this guy's name was Velvert, and it turned out he was one of Jimi's best friends; Jimi called him his 'little brother'....Jimi was trying to teach Velvert things in a mirror, and Velvert would show me that stuff second-hand, But at the time I couldn't really play the guitar, so there's very little that I got from Jimi, except energy. My playing isn't like his at all, in terms of phrasing and turnarounds. But what he did for the electric guitar, historically was just awesome. 
I just listened to that "Live at the Winterland" CD recently, and it reminded me of why I've played guitar for 20-odd years. Here's this cat, running hard with the guitar, and I saw it. I started chasing him and I'm still chasing him and I still haven't caught up with where was back then. But that's okay. There are 50 million guys who are more technically proficient than I am, but there's something special about putting your heart and soul on the line the way Hendrix did, and I believe I've got some of what he had, in that sense."
Interestingly, Lloyd recorded a record in 2009 called "The Jamie Neverts Story", on which he cuts his own versions of several Hendrix classics. It's also in the playlist below if you want to check it out. This contemporary article from Guitar World indicates that Lloyd has had some troubles in his life, but also sheds light on his more recent recording approach.

I wish I could have included the picture of Carlos Santana from the article in this magazine, but I cut it out and hung it on my bedroom wall back in 1988! Carlos was joined with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and BB King on my personal wall of fame. Sadly, not only is the picture missing, but so is a full page of the interview. In retrospect I should have cut out this ad instead...oh well. This was the first of many interviews I've read from Carlos, and his earthy spirituality and deep sense of the power of music have never failed to inspire me.

Jas Obrecht wrote the Santana piece, so that already tells me to expect an in-depth interview that covers all aspects of the musician's approach. The article starts with Carlos walking into the Record Plant studio (boldface is my emphasis):

"Remember when we used to go see a band in the '60s? You'd see Wes Montgomery play at the Matador from 9:00 to 1:00, and then you'd follow him to another funky club on the other side of town, and he would play there until 4:00 in the morning. Well, that's the kind of feeling I'm trying to get lately on certain ballads. It's funny, because 4:00 in the morning is 4:00 in the morning. What do you do at 8:00 at night? How do you capture that after-the-party feeling? It's challenging. Somebody from the Grateful Dead said to me 'When music starts playing you, don't play music anymore,' which makes a lot of sense. Music starts playing itself through you, instead of you having to make it happen."
You're one of the few guitarists who is instantly recognizable. Why is that?
 "It's an accumulation of a lot of things man. My love for John Coltrane and his tone. My love for B.B. [King] and his tone, or Aretha [Franklin]. All the things that my father passed on to me. My father is a musician; he taught me everything I know on the guitar, as far as technical chords and stuff like that goes. His father before him was a musician, and my grand-grandfather was a musician. The main thing is the cry. It's not whining. You know, sometimes you go to a funeral, and maybe the guy wasn't such a good guy, but people still want to say something nice about him. Well, the tone in the music I'm trying to write now is for people to learn to let go gently and quietly. It's to enhance the beauty that, let's say, Jaco Pastorius had. I immediately erase all the National Enquirer stuff out of my mind, so all I remember is the great times I had with Jaco Pastorius when we did get to jam and spend some time together. That's what I'm trying to do with the tone. It's the cry of exalt the elegance in humanity

Santana goes on to answer questions about gear, and his preference for tube amps and triangular-shaped picks (this might be where I started using those kinds of plectra) and his trick of using pencil lead to lubricate the guitar's nut (which I also do). The discussion of tone leads Carlos to praise Eric Johnson as having "the best sound I've heard lately":
"He had the most beautiful tone all the way around. It was very, very masculine, and round and warm and dark. And his playing is great, man. I'd like to record with him someday, because he is very pure. You can tell what people have in their eyes--malice, expectations, the beauty of things, this or that. With Eric it's 'OK, I've got my tone and my vision and that's enough. The Lord will provide the rest.' He has a beautiful soul. Even though he is from Texas, he doesn't have the gunslinger mentality 'I'm going to kick your butt with my gun.' When we jam, we both complement each other, which is what musicians are supposed to do. Eric is somebody who should be playing with Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis and people like that."

Carlos later explains his vision of something that is more than "mortal music", beginning with a discussion of his regret at never playing with Bola Sete:
"Mortal music deals with my baby left me, I can't pay the rent or whatever. Bola's music tells you that inside we have roaring cosmic lions and that we're elegant and beautiful. His music enhanced the beautiful side of humanity to a supreme extent....If I was going to a Santana concert, what would I want? I want joy and a lot of vitality. I want the spirit of when a pastor tells you something really precious at church that applies to your life--something that's not condemning you or making you feel like you should apologize for being a human being. Whether in a cry or in a party atmosphere, the music should exalt humanity and the spirit of humanity, which is the Lord. That's enough, because anything else will be the crust. This is the real pure water. 
Later in the lengthy interview, Obrecht asks several questions about what kind of advice Santana would give to young musicians and other guitarists. The answers are, as you probably can expect by now, flowing and expansive:
"My son is four-and-a-half years old, and he's already asking me, 'Is Jimi Hendrix badder than Michael Jackson?' First of all, I would just give him heavy doses of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins for two or three years. Once I feel that he's got that combination, then I'll say Muddy Waters is the Miles Davis of Chicago, and Little Walter is the John Coltrane. By the time my son is listening to something like 'A Love Supreme' by John Coltrane, he would have understood the order all the way from Django Reinhardt to Charlie Christian to Wes Montgomery. I want him to understand the order, because I don't want my son to be fooled by fool's gold. And there is a lot of it out there for kids, a lot of flash and guys who have the right poses for the right strokes on the guitar. But that stuff doesn't cut it when you really know how to play, and you put the note where it's supposed to be. I want to teach my son not to fake anything, but to earn it. "
"I saw Jimi Hendrix two or three times in person. The first time I was with him was a real shocker. He was in the studio overdubbing "Roomful of Mirrors". He said 'Okay, let's roll it,' and started recording and it was incredible. But within 15 or 20 seconds into the song he just went out. All of a sudden the music that was coming out of the speakers was way beyond the song, like he was freaking out having a gigantic battle in the sky with somebody. It just didn't make any sense with the song anymore, so the roadies looked at each other, the producer looked at him, and they said 'Go get him'. I'm not making this up. They separated him from the amplifier and the guitar, and it was like he was having an epileptic attack. I said 'Do I have to go through these changes just to play my guitar? I'm just a kid!' When they separated him, his eyes were read and he was almost foaming at the mouth. He was gone.
To me, it was a combination of the lifestyle--staying up all night, chicks, too much drugs, all kinds of stuff. It was a combination of all the intensities he felt, along with a lack of discipline. In the rock style of that time, there was no discipline. You took everything all the time. I know one thing man--it drained me. It made me realize that, like John McLaughlin, I needed to know about discipline. Now I know that out of discipline comes freedom. When you've got discipline in your pocket you've got punctuality, regularity, meditation. When things get too crazy with the record, the companies or the world you can flick a switch and go into your own sanctuary and play music that is stronger than the news.  
"Whether you are doing it in the bar, the church, the strip joint or the Himalayas, the first duty of music is to complement and enhance life. And once you approach it like that then there is order....People come up to me, and tell me that I [changed their lives]. Someone said to me 'Man, I was ready to check out, put the gun to my head, and I heard this song. It made me cry and it made me want to try it again. Now I feel better.' That's not me though, it's a spirit through me that wants to exalt itself. It says 'Don't take that out. Don't treasure frustration. Don't treasure depression. This is an imposter--don't make friends with him. You're more than that. Don't focus on the negative things in life--accentuate the positive; otherwise you become darkened. Light up a candle.' That's the tone; that's the story that I want to do through my music as much as possible....What means something is to be able to tell a story and put wings in people's hearts."
Over the years I've re-read this and other interviews with Carlos Santana multiple times (his autobiography is also quite excellent). I know that many people find him to be kind of weird, but his words move me as much as his music, and I believe that both are equally genuine.

The cover story was about the re-formed, newly touring edition of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Titled "10 Years Later, Lynryd Skynyrd Rocks Again", Jon Sievert's article was a good overview of the band's history leading to the tragic plane crash, what the musicians did afterwards, and a summary of the new tour. The article is quite interesting if only because Gary Rossington opines freely on topics like songwriting, and the role of Al Kooper (Steve Katz' co-founder of Blood, Sweat and Tears) in the band's success. I recently watched a documentary called "Gone With The Wind", which was a nice band biography, but Rossington was conspicuous in his absence. The movie would have been better if he was in it, even if only to share his feelings about the crash (in which he broke both arms, both legs, both wrists, both feet and his pelvis), "Plus my heart got broke real bad. It took me a long time to even want to play again."

According to the article, "At the beginning of the tour, the goal was clear. Lynyrd Skynyrd would play 33 concerts in 40 days; then the members and crew would return to what they were doing before it all happened. The response to Skynyrd's return has changed all that." It sure has. Though the band has announced that 2018 will be the end of the road as a touring entity, the hard traveling band has thrilled (and formed) millions of new fans in the last thirty years. While I've not been a big fan of what has sometimes seemed to be an ersatz tribute band, I have to tip my hat to the group for staying true to the music and their audience for so many decades. Well done, Lynyrd Skynryd.


During the '80s Mike Varney, who owned Shrapnel Records, had a section of every issue of Guitar Player to give capsule descriptions of guitarists or bassists who had submitted demo tapes to him. I used to love reading these at the time, and now it's fun to try to find the musicians on Spotify to see how their careers turned out. But sometimes, a famous name jumps out at you. For instance, this month Varney showcased Greg Howe. Only four years older than me, and living about 40 miles to the north, Howe was already on the way to fame as one of the decades' most talented shredders. Varney notes that "Greg's demo tape is among the most exciting I've received, featuring great chops and strong original instrumental compositions. His diverse yet cohesive style is hard to categorize. It successfully combines both legato and speed-picking techniques similar to Allan Holdsworth's and Yngwie Malmsteen's respectively, but it's still jazzy and bluesy, at times sounding like Larry Carlton with a George Lynch feel....Well worth checking out." You can hear the resulting Shrapnel Records album in the playlist to this post. Greg Howe's career is still flourishing, and his signature guitar is pretty rad looking. Check him out if he comes to your town, or hit him up for an online lesson to take your playing to the next level.

This was a really excellent issue. I find it particularly interesting that two of the featured musicians (Lloyd and Santana) both had the chance to see Jimi Hendrix recording and both had similar experiences of shock at his ability to channel his music, with both men trying to take that energy and apply it to their own art.  Meanwhile, to see what guitarists were listening to in January of 1988, check out the playlist below for some of the music featured in articles, reviews or ads--the Omar and the Howler record is really good.  Jas Obrecht reviewed Joe Satriani's breakthrough "Surfing With The Alien" in this issue, praising its "ten inspired instrumentals from rock guitar's outer limits" and hailing a "major new guitar voice". But more on that next month, when Satch was on the cover of the February, 1988 issue. I'll see you here next month; until then, keep on picking!

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