Sunday, June 17, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (June 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 learned from re-reading it 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!




June 1988 is when I graduated from high school, and just as that marked a major epoch in my life, there was a lot in the June, 1988 issue of Guitar Player that reminds me very vividly of what I was doing musically at the time. As I've mentioned before, I was taking weekly guitar lessons with a recent GIT graduate whose teacher in Hollywood was this month's cover star, Frank Gambale. Most readers of the magazine might have first heard of The Thunder From Down Under in the previous September's issue on "Speed And How To Get It", but I got to listen to Frank at my weekly lessons, and also goggle at my teacher, Jim McCarthy's amazing sweep picking skills. In fact, I remember bringing this issue to our lesson and Jim greeting me at the door with his own copy and a huge smile on his face.



Even though I came to Jim to learn how to play blues like Eric Clapton, he really worked to open my ears to more advanced music. The two people he talked about the most were Frank Gambale and Larry Carlton. Consequently, I remember being totally shocked to see the short blurb about Carlton being shot in the throat during a home invasion. Fortunately he made a full recovery and still makes great music three decades later. Oh, and speaking of Clapton, this issue of GP  had a full page ad for the five LP Crossroads box set, which later that summer became my 18th birthday present from my sister and is unquestionably the album I've listened to more than any other in my life. More on that in next month's post.

The issue has far too much to get into in this post, but some of the other highlights include two articles by LA gear guru Andy Brauer, a "track by track" of Ted Nugent's new album, a feature on Jethro Tull's guitar god Martin Barre, and a "Spotlight" feature that has two young men who went on to have very successful music careers. 


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If you haven't heard of Andy Brauer before, he was (and is) an expert on guitar gear and tone who has rented equipment to nearly everyone you can think of over the past four decades. In the June, 1988 Guitar Player we were treated to an "as told to Vic Trigger" article as well as the first of Brauer's monthly "Guitar Tech" columns. Trigger's article notes that the then 30 years old Brauer is "highly opinionated, but he has the knowledge and the background to back him up. He has carved a career for himself as L.A.'s guitar specialist." When I first read this as a teenager I'm sure that I was eager to glean whatever I could about how to get great tone (which is funny, because not only did I not really understand tone, but my Peavey Audition 10 probably couldn't help me get it even if I did!). And there were lots of really cool tips in the article. Brauer describes moving to L.A. at the age of 18 (maybe this caught my eye!) and became a repairman and tech at a music store, which led to a job touring with The Brothers Johnson and then as the guitar tech for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album. As Brauer put it:
I was in the right place at the right time. Not only was I carting gear around for guys, supplying my own special pieces at times, but I was offering a personally specialized and knowledgeable service. It started in the backseat of my car, and now I have a great staff of six guys, who all play guitar, busting their butts for our clients. I have over 50 individually selected guitars, over 100 handpicked amps, racks, speakers and so forth, all of which allow me to offer that much more of a personalized service. 
For an Eric Clapton session on "Behind The Sun", I selected a Mitchell Tweed Deluxe amp that Howard Dumble modified for me. In my opinion it was the ultimate blues amp. You play hard, and it's nasty; you soften up, and it's sweet. Sure enough, Eric fell in love with it and eventually I was convinced to sell it to him....That's what I do: I collect magic and rent it.
Later in the article Brauer dispensed some words of wisdom which would seem perfectly at home on 21st century online guitar forums, and while not necessarily applicable to a 1980's teenager, are definitely resonant with me now decades later (I've added emphasis) .
There is no single best sound. The best sound is whatever makes you the most happy, and one man's honey can be another man's poison....The trick is to get the sound coming out of your hands by the way the can manipulate the sound without an amp. 
 ...[t]he Japanese have never gotten it right for pickups. They even use American wire, bobbins and everything, yet they still can't get them to sound great....You've got to find the pickup that works well with your own playing techniques.
The Howard Dumble Overdrive 50 was my ticket to success in the studios. I would be an obnoxious nuisance and bug Steve Lukather, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and Jay Graydon until they would plug into the Dumble. And then I had them, because they needed me to rent this amp that they loved. 
By actually seeing what is renting out of my shop, I can see what the trends are. I'd say we are about three years ahead of what is hitting the mainstream now. Just recently, I've noticed a drop in rack usage and an increase in Vox and old Marshall rentals....[p]retty soon, guys are going to be getting back to the thing of just plugging in.
If you missed that last bit, Brauer basically predicted the grunge movement!   
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It's possible (likely?) that teenagers in 2018 who know of Ted Nugent associate him for his outspoken political views, his friendship with President Trump, and his enthusiasm for firearms and bow hunting more than for his rock guitar stylings. At the time, I was used to hearing some of his classic songs like "Journey To The Center Of The Mind" and "Cat Scratch Fever" on classic rock radio. In this issue Nugent is featured in an "as told to Jas Obrecht" piece as well as a track by track run down of his new album, the salaciously titled "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em". You can listen to the record on the Spotify playlist below--it is very engaging 80's guitar rock. 

For anyone who might think that the Nuge was a newcomer to his interest in weapons, this article will quickly dispel that notion. Obrecht notes the decor of Nugent's home studio:
"Behind him, a stuffed bear stands frozen beneath a mantel stuck full of knives. Shelves are neatly divided: one for cassettes, one for live ammo. VCRs and amps are scattered among chainsaw, critter skulls, venison sausage and a rocket launcher. For Ted Nugent, music and hunting are serious business. 'If I weren't a rock and roller,' he asserts, 'I'd probably be a special weapons expert in the Detroit SWAT team, or a commando in an elite anti-terrorist squad.'"
While Ted Nugent was famous for rocking hard on a Gibson Byrdland, a short-scale, fully hollow guitar that few would consider for such loud music, by the time of this piece he had started using a Paul Reed Smith solidbody. Nugent was very enthusiastic about the PRS, and what he said would seem right at home on modern guitar forums.
...[t]he new Paul Rivera stereo tube amplifier and the Paul Reed Smith guitar...is just wonderful, and you have to hear it live to really appreciate it. It is the richest, thickest, creamiest guitar tone you've ever heard in your life. I'm telling you, it's unbelievable.
The appeal of the Paul Reed Smith guitar is touch. I'm a utilitarian, basically, and I'm also a seat-of-the-pants liver. I like to live by function and feel. My cars have to handle precisely, my firearms have to respond flawlessly. There's a 'player's touch' to Paul Reed Smith's approach to the instrument that I am convinced is unique in the industry. There's no other neck that you can consistently pick up like you can a Paul Reed Smith and feel at home with immediately. The body configuration and tone are just the best--that's all there is to it. 
Later in the piece, Nugent mentions that PRS "does something to the Marshall 100-watt head that gives it a full richness", which is followed by this comment from what the forums call Paul Reed Smith himself:
"New Marshalls don't sound like old Marshalls, and I modified a bunch of Ted's tops so that they sound much more like old Marshalls. I'm not going to tell people what I did, because then my business modifying Marshalls would just be gone. I charge $100 per top. Ted has three or four of our straight PRS guitars. His Pearl Black mahogany one has a Hot Vintage pickup in the treble position and our Standard bass pickup. His curly maple guitar has a prototype of the very powerful H.F.S. pickup in the treble position. These pickups were intended to make his guitars a little less shrill and more singing....His guitars use our straight tremolo system which doesn't need Allen wrenches."
Obviously this was the young, hungry always hustling Paul Reed Smith decades before his eponymous company became America's third biggest guitar manufacturer. I love seeing him trying to protect his $100 a pop line in amp tweaking!

Two more quick hits from Ted. By now, having been rereading so many of these issues, it's not surprising to see another personal reminiscence of Jimi Hendrix, and Nugent's are not too different from Carlos Santana's a few months before:
Jimi and I jammed quite a bit back in the '60s and we did a couple of dressing room things....You know, thinking back about Jimi, you don't know what was his personality and what were the manifestations of the drugs that he was doing at the time. That was always the real shame; that's what really angered me. He was overtly reclusive, and he was real difficult to communicate with. That was one of the reasons I never did any drugs, because I saw this incredible power sadly abused and embarrassingly hampered by all this chemical bullshit. It really pissed me off, because man, could he play! Oh, my God!
If you had seen what he accomplished in one night in New York when I played with him it would have changed your life. It changed mine. The way he played, the notes he chose, the borders he broke down, and th eground that he created, it was absolutely earth-shattering....And Jimi was amazed that I could actually get a Byrdland in control like that, because he tried and was completely lost with it. He couldn't play it!
So, at this point the only two rock legends I can think of who never did drugs are Ted Nugent and Bruce Springsteen. At least they have something in common.

Finally, as a fan of This Is Spinal Tap, I can't ignore Ted's description of the title track to his LP:
"If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em". What do you think of that? Is that the greatest or what? At first the record company was a little reluctant about the title--they thought it was a little too nasty. But it's not really. It's just a play on words. It's like saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em". That really is the essence of it. Also, it has to do with the specific combat mode with women. I mean, if you can't lick 'em, at least you can lick 'em. The whole song was romantically ignited. We've always got a lot of miniskirts in the studios...."
Or as Nigel Tufnel once said, "What's wrong with being sexy?

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Speaking of guitar forums, recently in a thread on The Gear Page that discussed the continued decline of Guitar Player, a poster remarked "put Martin Barre on the cover and I'll subscribe". I don't know if Jethro Tull's longtime guitar slinger was ever on the cover, but 30 years ago this month he was the recipient of a full-page feature. Check it out--it's a nice feature, and if Barre is ever in your town, I hear he puts on a good show


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The cover story on Frank Gambale was really interesting to re-read. When I was a teen, much of what he had to talk about went over my head, and I mainly appreciated in the context of the "teacher of my teacher".  But now, it's clear that the Australian fusion phenom had lots of valuable information to impart. 

As GP editor Jim Ferguson notes at the beginning of the article, "Of course Frank Gambale has amazing chops, but leaving it at that does him an injustice. Gambale is a top player, and a technical innovator who only uses his facility to execute ideas. In short, he is a remarkable musician."  In his 20's Frank saved his money to be able to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology, where he was the Student of the Year in 1983 and worked for three years, including 1985-86 when he taught my teacher Jim McCarthy. At the time of this article, Gambale had published two books (Sweep Picking and The Frank Gambale Technique Book) and was working on a video, which you can still find on YouTube:



Some highlights of the article for me touch on Frank's musicianship and the importance of listening to other instruments.

You seemed to get labeled as a technically oriented player....Were there any drawbacks to having that kind of reputation early in your career?
 Not really, but it irritated me a lot. I got lumped in the same old guitar category, where you get evaluated in relation to the guitar and not in terms of what other musicians are doing. It might sound strange, but I'm at the stage where I don't even want to be categorized as a guitarist; I'd rather be classified as a musician who happens to play the guitar. I'm trying to go beyond the nature of the instrument in terms of the way that I play. My whole style comes from the notes I choose, rather than the physicality of the instrument.
In other words, my technique developed as a result of wanting to play certain notes. When people hear me at a gig, their reaction is usually "How do you play that?" But when Allan Holdsworth opened for the Electrik Band during a tour last year, he said "Man, I really dig the notes you play." He's a phenomenal musician, so that was a very high compliment. He didn't care how the hell I did what he heard because he was listening to the notes. You have to have good ears to discern the difference between content and technique. I don't play for the guitarists in the audience, I play for the musicians.
You have a rock sound and look about you, but your playing draws from the jazz vocabulary. How do you like to be described?
The term jazz is used very loosely these days, and it doesn't mean a damn thing. My records include everything from funk to Brazilian stuff to swing to rock ballads. I write whatever I want and I don't worry about labels.....Music theory is very interesting, and finding new chord changes is important. There's nothing wrong with a I-IV-V progression, but I couldn't play it with conviction. Over the years I've done a lot of different kinds of music, including rock, country, disco and funk, so that's where my compositions come from.
A lot of your single-note style is sax-derived. What are the basic differences between a sax player's approach and that of a guitarist?
The guitar's fretboard is conducive to things based on positions and shapes, so you find yourself falling into ruts and playing the same ideas over and over. In other words, you see a shape, rather than invent it in your head. Now I'm not a sax player, but I assume that the nature of the instrument doesn't encourage that so much....The beautiful thing about transcribing saxophone or piano solos is that there's no pre-conceived way of playing those notes. Since they don't fall into the usual fretboard patterns, you have to find new ways to find them on the instrument.
What do you suggest for developing a vocabulary that's more horn-like?
Start listening to saxophonists, obviously. There's a number of great players; Michael Brecker is probably the kingpin. Few of his solos are very easy, so they're always a challenge. Playing any of his solos from beginning to end on the guitar is a considerable achievement. Even his slow passages are beautifully played, and the note content is always fresh and exciting. 

This really hits home now, and I can remember my teacher urging me to transcribe sax solos. Obviously my limited musical facility made that impossible, but in the past few years I've reached the point where I can learn phrases and passages from horn players, and it really does help. 

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Finally, one of my favorite parts of re-reading the old magazines is looking at Mike Varney's Spotlight feature: I love to look online to see what these guitarists and bassists have been doing for the last thirty years. This month's issue features two pretty prominent musicians, composer Craig Garfinkle and guitar wizard, gear guy and all-around super musician Richie Kotzen (who seems to have grown up just an hour or so from me). Varney was pretty on target noting Kotzen's hope to "play in a band on a national level" and Garfinkle's "compositional skills".  Good stuff!


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That's all for this month. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you'll come back for next month's cover story on Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Until then, keep on picking!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (May 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 learned from re-reading it 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!




The May 1988 issue seems to be chock full of the kind of variety that made GP so great back in the day, especially for a young person still learning about music, musical genres, and the instrument itself. I was already a fan of cover artist Albert Collins (I owned a "Master of the Telecaster" t-shirt) and watched MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" every weekend so I was certainly interested in what Steve Vai had to share about recording David Lee Roth's latest album. But the country picking of Jerry Donahue, the highly detailed article on the physics of sound, a 5 page spread on the E-Bow, and a great interview with rockabilly legend Roland Janes of Sun Records was icing on the cake!

I can remember totally immersing myself in the Collins article (after which I cut out the first page and hung it on my bedroom "Wall of Fame") and I know that I dug the piece on Janes (in fact, it is definitely this article that clued me into his existence, as well as the background of one of my favorite songs, Billy Lee Riley's "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll". I'm sure that I read the rest, but it doesn't really leave much of a memory.  The physics article is quite interesting indeed, and reading it NOW is quite educational, but I think it went over my head three decades ago.

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The cover story is by the always reliable Dan Forte (who doubled as "Teisco Del Rey" who wrote about oddball 60's guitars) and is called "Blues Meltdown: The Power of Albert Collins". I feel that the article is a bit too "fanboy-ish" at times, but it does a good job of describing the technical aspects of Collins' sound and how he got his tone. Basically, "he tunes to a minor chord...an F minor triad or a Dm7 flat 5 without the root (F-C-F-Aflat-C-F low to high). Playing essentially in first position at all times he uses his capo to locate the song's key up and down the neck-hence using only about a third of the fretboard at times." He also played through a 100 watt Fender Quad Reverb, with volume on 10, treble on 10, middle on 10, bass off and reverb at 4. Ice Pickin' indeed!

Re-reading the article, I find it less interesting than I did at the time, and less educational than other articles with bluesmen from the time period. But I do notice that Collins seems to be quite a name-dropper, usually in ways that help to put himself over as a legitimate king of the blues. Here are some examples:

Your style is powerful and electric; obviously at some point you took a left turn from your early influences such as John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins
Well, they really inspired me, when I went to guitar. I really wanted to do that, and I used to sit down and play all those guys' records. I met B.B King when I was 20 years old, and he told me "Man, find your own identification. That'll help you through the world." I said "Okay". That's what I did--I tried to find my own identification. I didn't want to play like BB. or T-Bone Walker.
When you hear younger blues players you must hear a lot of your influence coming out in their playing.
Oh yeah. I have pretty good ears, and I can hear it. I hear when Stevie Ray Vaughan is playing like Albert King, a little BB then he goes into Jimi Hendrix, or me. I appreciate a musician being versatile, but I look at them and think "Well, can he get his own identification?" I wonder about that a lot. There's so much music around, and you get one particular music in your ear, and then you start playing like this other person. I don't listen to that.
You bend some pretty big intervals
Like this? [With the capo at the 9th fret, in D, Albert bends the second string up a whole step from F at his 12th fret to G. He then drops down a fret and bends the E at the 11th fret up a minor third to G.]
Did you concentrate for a long time on your intonation? When you bend, it's always right on pitch--in contrast to Buddy Guy, for instance, who often bends up to notes that don't necessarily have anything to do with the key of the song.
Well, see, Buddy's been introduced to Jimi Hendrix. That's the reason why he plays like that. Buddy really don't like to play blues no more. He's into the Jimi Hendrix thing. I'm not sure, but I hope he knows what he's doing, because, like, if I wanted to play like Jimi Hendrix--I'm noted as a blues player. People say "Hey, man, what you doin'?" Ain't no more Jimi Hendrix. I try for my intonation to be true.
Your style seems a lot closer to rock than a lot of blues players. Is that because you listen to a variety of music?
Yeah. I even listen to rap music. But I was listening to a lot of psychedelic music then, starting in 1969, when I really got introduced to it. And I was around Jimi for a minute, when he was 17. I took his place with Little Richard when he left to play with a group called the Drifters. I worked like 15 dates with Little Richard.  Me and Little Richard have been friends for years. By doing that, I got introduced to that kind of rock and roll, instead of just playing blues. I was raised up mostly around jazz musicians--horn players like Arnett Cobb, when he was real popular, and Illinois Jacquet, whose father used to play alto with me. 
What was it like working with Robert Cray on the Showdown record?
Oh, it was beautiful because Robert and I played together for three years. I played his high-school graduation party in 1971--that's when I first met him. The class had to pick between me and Frank Zappa [laughs].
What was it like playing Live Aid?
I was excited man [laughs]. That's when I really got stage-fright--about the first time in my life. I looked out and saw all those people, and George Throrogood said "Hey man, you scared?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "Me, too. Let's go get 'em."

So what do we learn from Albert Collins? He thinks Stevie Ray Vaughn (who now, decades after both men have died, is well known for his trademark tone and style) is a mere mimic. He thinks Buddy Guy (still creating vibrant new blues music) is a mere copyist of Jimi Hendrix (who, if anything, got much of his style from Guy). And I didn't even include the story about Janis Joplin... Look, I still enjoy Albert Collins but I had a bad concert experience with him in 1991--his band was playing two shows at a club in Massachusetts. I went to the first show, and it started 30 minutes late. Then the band (led by Debbie Davies on guitar) played for 45 minutes because the Iceman wasn't there. He literally walked in the door, came up on stage, played "I Ain't Drunk", and then the show was over. Total ripoff!  Here's a televised concert of that band to show what I missed:

Albert Collins was a great showman with a large band to support in a time when music was changing away from him. His cameo appearance in the Elisabeth Shue movie "Adventures in Babysitting", his Grammy, and his appearance with George Thorogood at Live Aid in Philadelphia, along with the heroic publicity efforts of Bruce Iglauer at Alligator Records were lifting Collins' profile, but he seemed to treat an interview with a seemingly awe-struck Forte as a chance to put down the competition. It's understandable for a 55-year old musician to want to do that, I suppose, but it's disappointing nonetheless. 
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Steve Vai's article about the recording of David Lee Roth's second solo effort "Skyscraper" has good information about the record (he does a track by track explanation of how he got the guitar sound for the album) and also about his brand new signature JEM guitar. Years later, it's hard to think of that iconic instrument being "new". It's also hard to remember that Diamond Dave sold a lot of records: "Skyscraper" hit #6 on the Billboard chart and the song "Just Like Paradise" was a #1 hit while "Damn Good" was #2. Personally, this record sounds horrible to my ears now--the title track in particular is like something that could have been on Spïnäl Täp's "Break Like the Wind". But Vai's guitar playing is nothing short of incredible. His melodicism is undeniable, and even on the most far-out whammy excursions what he plays makes sense in ways that Roth's previous guitar player would rarely manage.

The article goes into a lot of detail about the recording--apparently Vai cut the guitar tracks in his backyard studio, and he says that "half the solos on the record were flown in from the demos. In other words, I lifted them right off the demo tapes and transferred them onto the master tapes." He notes that he didn't have the JEM guitars while recording the demos, and so those solos "were done with a Tom Anderson guitar. Tom is a real fine custom guitar builder in Los Angeles, and he built me a great one."

According to Vai, the JEM guitars are the best he'd ever played, saying "I don't know what I did without them all these years."
The guitars I use are exactly like the ones right off the shelf. That was the concept behind doing the deal with Ibanez. I wanted a guitar that had all my little ideas and idiosyncrasies, such as having 24 frets, and having it dug out so the Floyd Rose is recessed into the body. I wanted to be able to pull up on the bar and have it not go out of tune when you rest your wrist on the tremolo. I wanted to have the volume pots in a certain place and be able to reach high up with the cutaway.
 I asked Ibanez if they would build me one. A bunch of different companies approached me--all good companies--but nobody really delivered exactly what I wanted, and Ibanez did. Then we talked about mass-producing it, and I didn't want to put my name on it, because who wants to buy a Steve Vai guitar? What is it going to be in 20 years? It's better that the guitar actually speaks for itself. It's a very fine instrument that will transcend my popularity as a guitarist. As time goes on, and other great players come along, I don't think the guitar will bow out, because it's a good guitar and should live on. There were 777 green JEMs made and I signed each one of them. 


Well, a glance at Ibanez' website reveals that more than THIRTY years later, the "Steve Vai" guitar is still in production.  But I'm struck by Vai's modesty. Watch videos of him on YouTube, and decades later he still looks and plays like the ultimate rock god, but he always comes across in interviews as a humble man driven more by his muse than by a competitive urge--very admirable for sure. One last tidbit from the Vai piece--he expresses disappointment in the flexidisc Soundpage from the March 1988 issue of Guitar Player (read about it here, if you missed that post):
Before I go, I'd like to say that when I recorded what was on the March '88 Soundpage [Ry Cooder & Steve Vai's Crossroads duel], it was as a piece of music for a movie. The parts that I played on there were purposely played a certain way to coincide with the script--i.e., when Jack Butler loses, he messes up, which is the last lick on the Soundpage. I want people to understand that it was slopped up for a reason. I thought it was a bad choice of music to put on the Soundpage, because there were some great jams that me and Ry did. I also want to express my gratitude to readers for being voted Overall Best Guitarist. I'm very grateful for being recognized.
Ok. Maybe there IS some ego there after all!

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 I find the whole Sun Records scene from Memphis in the 50's to be fascinating. Not just because as the home of (among others) Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and a cat named Elvis Presley it was the home of so many seminal rock and roll recordings. But because it was run on a shoestring, and so many of the trademark guitar playing was done by so few people, such as Scotty Moore, and Roland Janes. As Rich Kienzle puts it at the start of his article:

When rockabilly magic was a daily occurrence in the 1950's at Sun Records in Memphis, guitarist Roland Janes was there. When some of the greatest rock and roll of all time was recorded, Janes was often seated in the tiny Sun studio, whanging out double-stops, burning with his famous trmeolo picking, or doing whatever else was required. 
Don't recognize his name?  Anyone who's heard Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", Bill Justis' classic instrumental "Raunchy", Warren Smith's "Ubangi Stomp", Hayden Thompson's "Love My Baby", or Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot" or "Flying Saucers Rock and Roll" has heard Roland, who estimates that he was on 75% of Sun's recordings from 1956 into the '60s when Sun became dormant. Today, largely retired from playing but affiliated with the Sam Philips Recording Studio in Memphis as an engineer and producer, Roland Janes reflects on his days at Sun with a mixture of pride, bemusement, and dry, self-deprecating humor.
Janes, who died in 2013, comes across as a humble, interesting man who understands the place of the guitar as PART of a song, not the POINT of the song. At one point he observes "[p]robably the greatest talent I had, if I had any talent, was the fact that I was capable and smart enough to know when to play, and when not to play--and what to play in order not to get in somebody's way. With Jerry Lee, he was the show, the performer, the star--the way it should have been--and anything that I played should complement him. That's probably about the limit of my talent. Working with Jerry Lee, if you're going to take a solo of any kind after he gets done playing, you damn well better come up with something different or something good." Every guitar player in every band should have these words written on the inside of their guitar cases to see them and reflect on them before every gig.

While the picture above shows Roland picking the Gibson Les Paul Custom he used with Jerry Lee Lewis, gear wise, Janes reveals that his main guitar at the time was a "sunburst, maple neck Fender Stratocaster" that he rewired to allow him to play the neck and bridge pickups simultaneously. I've done the same on my own Strat, and it's a really good, useful sound. He says he got the idea from Nashville sessionman Reggie Young, and it's great to see that even in the early days players were modding their gear in pursuit of tone and playability.


Pretty cool!  While this issue did not grab me as much upon re-reading it, there was still lots to learn and lots to think about. Stay tuned for next month's issue, featuring Frank Gambale, Ted Nugent and Martin Barre--until then, keep on picking!

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (April 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 learned from re-reading it 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!

April of 1988 was a big month for me, as it was when I decided to attend Hampshire College in the fall; that was a life-altering decision in many ways, not least of which being that it is where I met my wife! Guitar wise I was continuing my lessons with my GIT trained teacher and learning how to play the blues on my Epiphone Sheraton II, my Peavey T-15 and my Fender Avalon Acoustic. I absorbed music wherever I could, listening to jazz and rock radio in the Philadelphia area, watching MTV, and the Nashville Network on television and reading about music all the time.

The April, 1988 Guitar Player issue really stood out for me as an eye opener. It was where I first learned about slide genius Sonny Landreth (at the time a sideman for John Hiatt, but just beginning his solo career) and fingerstyle jazz titan Tuck Andress (whose first album with his wife Patti Cathcart was released that year) and the cover story with Joe Walsh really stuck with me, along with his "12 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time" featurette.

I remember being totally amazed by the articles on Landreth (who described his style which involves fretting the guitar behind the slide) and Andress (who famously can simultaneously play independent bass, rhythm and lead lines on his Gibson L5); in fact, I cut out the full page picture of Tuck Andress and added it to my bedroom wall gallery of the greats (along with Clapton, Knopfler, BB King, Carlos Santana and Chuck Berry). To this day, I STILL cannot begin to understand how these musicians manage to do what they do!


The Sonny Landreth article was written by Dan Forte, and does a great job of explaining how the Louisiana slide genius developed his style, and his role playing lead guitar for John Hiatt (a role that had been filled on record by Ry Cooder). Landreth was 37 years old in 1988, so he was far from a novice, but the Hiatt gig and this article really brought him to national prominence. The Spotify playlist below has a live set from around this time, and you can also appreciate his playing on this contemporary video:


It's not always too easy to see in the video, but the behind the slide playing of Sonny Landreth is truly amazing. Now, I've been playing for more than three decades and I can't really even play regular slide guitar, but even so, Landreth blows my mind. The article has a separate pictorial feature showing how Landreth plays certain lines, but for this blog post I'll share a couple of excerpts from the interview where he describes the genesis of his style. It's truly a case of "necessity being the mother of invention", and shows how a gigging musician (with only one guitar) had to come up with clever ideas to be able to play the music he wanted to play.

"Basically, I played slide the conventional way for a while, and then in early '71 I was in a blues band with David Ranson. I was really frustrated because to play minor chords I had to retune the whole guitar to a minor---like in E tuning, lower the G# to a G, which is a really nifty sound.  I still love it and still use it, but at that point I was playing slide on some tunes and regular guitar on others, so to make the transition, I wasn't used to it. Then I found that instead of having to retune, you could stay in open E and just play the three low strings open (E,B,E) and the three high strings with the bottleneck at the 3rd fret (B,D,G) which all together is an Em7 chord. To get the IV chord minor, I'd place the bottleneck at the 8th fret (E,G,C), which implies an Am7 chord.
So I'd been in E tuning, and I'd look and think 'If I could just get this note' [the third string, one fret behind the slide, with the bottleneck at the 12th fret]. So I just ended up pressing it, and presto! I freaked out. It was just out of frustration. I could see the note-there it is- but didn't know how to get to it. Then it was like 'Wow, I never thought of that.'...Then I started thinking, 'Well, there's a lot more notes back there'. Hunt and destroy! I started finding the notes I could play and eventually worked into playing two at a time, chord melodies, minor keys, major 7ths, chord clusters."
One thing that always strikes me when re-reading these articles is how important formal musical training was for so many of the musicians, and Sonny Landreth was no exception. Interestingly, Landreth's musical schooling was not on guitar:
"Trumpet was my academic instrument. I studied it from 5th grade to my two years of college at University of Southwest Louisiana in Lafayette, and by the time I was in college I was also taking piano. I was really fortunate; I had good teachers. Studying trumpet influenced me a lot in the way I play guitar, because I think more like a wind instrument. I phrase like I'm taking a breath. Melody and phrasing have always been the things I'm into. Combining sliding and fretting adds another dimension, in terms of phrasing--and melody too. When you start fretting behind the bar, that's just another dimension. Once I went into that, I never came back. It opened up the door. Harmonically, it opened up so much.
The jazz horn players I grew up listening to emulated the human voice, and that's always appealed to me as a guitar player. There's a vocal quality to their playing--like Louis Armstrong. I didn't start playing guitar until I was 13, and I could never read as well on guitar as I could on trumpet. But the theory I'd had really did help a lot, in terms of the positions and how it all related. I still consider myself a fairly primitive musician; I'm not like these studio players who can just go and read anything. It's a funny thing: on trumpet I could read, but I never could improvise; on guitar I could improvise, but I couldn't read very well. I never had the chops as comfortably on trumpet as I did on guitar. I could never just play from the heart, but I felt an immediate thing on guitar."
Amazing stuff, and if this guy at age 37 considered himself to be a "fairly primitive musician" then at nearly 48 I haven't even figured out how to bang the rocks together!
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Tuck Andress was 35 years old in 1988, with years of professional experience but he was another genius who seemed to emerge fully formed from the pages of Guitar Player to blow my mind. Andress played in a duo with his wife, jazz vocalist Patti Cathcart; their duo was reminiscent of Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald, but with a more modern style. I immediately bought the Tuck and Patti album (it's in the playlist below) and was fortunate enough to see them play a concert about a year later (it's one of my most indelible musical memories).  There's a concert video from around this time on YouTube which I've embedded below; I've set it to start before a solo number (because the camera does a great job showing Tuck's hands), but do yourself a favor and watch the whole show--it's so impressive!



The article was titled "A Private Lesson with the Amazing Tuck Andress--Radical Fingerstyle Jazz", and was written in the first person. It covers 14 pages (including several transcriptions), and it is hard for me to explain, but when I first read it, I basically didn't understand anything he was talking about! I mean, he's describing how he plays independent basslines with up and downstrokes of his thumb while playing chord stabs in the middle strings and melodies on the high ones, and I could barely play barre chords at the time! Now, decades later, I'm a pretty competent guitarist, but I STILL find this article baffling. There's no way that my brain works like Tuck's, and I'm ok with that.

That said, one thing that I can take away from this article is the value of practice and of perseverance. He frequently describes his experiences in ways that make clear that he was never far from the instrument (emphasis mine):
I reached the turning point when I realized that I had often been going for ideas at the expense of feel, trying to jam without enough foundation.  So I began to shift my practice away from specific techniques and spontaneous jamming to very carefully worked out patterns designed to give me flexibility while maintaining carefully enforced feel. I began to practice single phrases, such as the one from "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" for hundreds of hours perfecting the feel. Now when I approach a tune that has multiple parts, I start by practicing each element until it feels great. Then I work on each possible pair of parts, until the feel is equally great, no matter how long it takes, and regardless of the weird combinations of techniques required to produce the proper feel. Next, I work on all combinations of three, and depending on the tune, four parts.
Once I attain the correct feel, I work on developing as much freedom as possible. Improvising is particularly dangerous with solo funk grooves, because as soon as you change one element, the whole thing falls apart--just like when an inexperienced player has to start over after losing his place. My solution to this problem is to identify the type of  improvisation I want, and then devise exercises to promote flexibility. Most of these involve alternate versions of the same tune, with one part varied. The rationale for this method is that if you work out enough variations, even if each requires starting from scratch, you'll gradually become freer. 
Once I achieve feel and some freedom with a new part, I often discover that what sounds great at home is hideous in public. For instance, at one time my best solution to a particularly troublesome section of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" involved an intricate two-handed fingertapped texture, with the four parts (bass, backbeat, sustained keyboard part, and percolator-style muted single-note line) shifting between the two hands as often as every sixteenth-note and my hands crossing over each other several times in the space of two bars.  Combine the complexity of the part with my high action and almost total lack of right-hand fretting experience, and what I got was a piece that depended on everything going right, with no surprises--in other words, certain doom. After blowing it on the gig for several nights, I went back to the drawing board. It took about six such trips to get a solution that actually worked
Where do I start with this? I mean, it's next level stuff, for sure. But while I can't imagine executing Tuck's musical vision, it's inspiring to see him describe multiple public failures ("blowing it on the gig") and his persistence to try to get it right. I think we can all relate to parts we've practiced that didn't work in front of an audience, and seeing the dedication with which Tuck Andress approached mastering his music is amazingly inspirational to me. As you may know, Andress is the uncle of Annie Clark, who is the amazing musician known as St. Vincent. I can only imagine that he was a great inspiration to her, as well.

Update: Tuck Andress wrote back to me on Twitter about this post--he said that he and Patti remembered the gig in the video above, but hadn't seen it before. How neat is that?  By the way, go to the 12:00 mark of the video to catch them doing "Ain't Nobody". Tuck told me (I love saying that!) that the "rap" section is embarrassing, but it's pretty amazing to see him do it, and the audience seemed to dig it.


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Joe Walsh was a 41 year old legend when this article was published. Just his work with the James Gang, or his solo records, or his work with the Eagles on Hotel California and The Long Run would have cemented his status. But of course he was also a great friend of other guitarists--it was Walsh who gave Jimmy Page his sunburst Les Paul, and Pete Townshend the Gretsch he used on Who's Next.  Looking back on this three decades later, however, I realize that this article (which was in part promoting his new solo record Got Any Gum?) was not a valedictory piece, but one trying to show that Walsh was a mid-career musician who still had new creativity to share.

Jas Obrecht interviewed Joe Walsh for this cover story, and did his usual excellent job. That said, one thing that does not really come out in the article was Walsh's substance abuse issues. It wasn't until five years after this magazine came out that Joe Walsh achieved sobriety (which he has fortunately maintained ever since). I recently read Stephen Davis' Gold Dust Woman, a biography of Stevie Nicks, and learned that Walsh and Nicks had a long-term relationship in the mid-80's that ended right around the time of this article, in part due to Walsh's drinking. None of that is a part of the article, and maybe it shouldn't have been. But it does make me wonder what else was left unsaid in this interview (and how much that seems judgmental might have been said differently in a different headspace). Here are some highlights, followed by Walsh's description of what he considered to be the 12 greatest guitar solos of all time.

Your soloing is very song-oriented. You always seem to be playing for the song rather than showing off your chops.
Thank you. That's just the way I am. At this point, I am really a musician, besides being a guitar player. I hear a lot of things in a keyboard format. I hear a lot of tones and textures and such. I know I'm known mostly for my guitar work, but in terms of being a musician, there are other vehicles that I am quite capable of playing, and sometimes that ain't guitar. The song tells me what to play.
Do you have advice for people who find themselves overplaying?
Yeah. In my experience, when you're playing in a big hall--a 10,000 seater or something--at some point the flashiness, playing incredibly fast, and being technically capable starts to be a blur.  For example, Albert King can blow Eddie Van Halen off the stage with his amp on standby, even though technically Eddie Van Halen is probably the most overwhelming guitar player alive. You know, Eddie Van Halen can pretty much play circles around anybody existing. But Albert King can blow him away with two notes. I have nothing but respect for Eddie; I can't even comprehend what he does. But why would anybody want to play like that? After two or three solos it's a blur. Heavy metal is one format, and the important thing there is to really kick ass. It takes time, but after a while, you should just settle down and get your intellect out of the way and just let the guitar play itself.
What are your favorite Joe Walsh solos?
I would think the overall guitar work in "Rocky Mountain Way", especially the talk box....Peter Frampton asked me how to use it and he went and got rich with it and never even thanked me....I'm very proud of the guitar work in "Hotel California". I pretty much had to deal with the planning and organization of that. Don Felder brought in the descending chord structure, so I can't say that I had anything to do with writing "Hotel California". I was commissioned as a specialist to arrange the order of the solos--who played what where, who went up high. It was tough figuring out how much momentum we needed compared to what we were going to end up with at the end of the song. When the solos start, it's just here we go, and it goes all the way to the end of the song. Felder is tremendously underrated.
What can you advise struggling musicians?
Get out and play in front of other people. Otherwise, you can end up being a legend in your parents' basement. You could be great rehearsing, but when you get in front of people, you freeze up. You have to find out how to do it and how to fix your own stuff when it breaks.
Was there more of a cameraderie among guitarists back in the '60s than there is today?
Yeah, a little bit more. The way I got to know most of the guitar players was at gigs. We would all be playing, and I would see people regularly because there were three- and four-act shows. But anymore with the economy and all, you don't see people unless you're on the road. Everyone is so darn busy. Back in the '60's the bulk of the jamming was backstage. While someone else was on, we'd get together and jam and warm up. It seems that now people don't get together....One of my bitches with LA is that people don't get together and sing old Beatles songs and work out harmonies and stuff. Everyone has made it and they're very busy or spoiled-rotten session men. 
It's not like the old days, and I miss that a lot. But I do see Townshend and Clapton from time to time, and it's always a pleasure....There's nothing like a good, old, couple-of-guitar-players jam to blow out the cobwebs.
What's the best band lineup you've ever worked with?
The Eagles. That was a fine, fine band. We were a damn good band for awhile. I'm proud of having been a part of that and Hotel California. Besides the royalties and everything, jus the fact that that was a special album for a lot of people on the planet. I feel that I was part of a true band, and that we made a very valid musical statement for the generation that we represent. That makes me feel very good.   











 Finally, as is often the case, reading the "Spotlight" feature on up and coming guitarists and bassists reveals someone I know now when they were just starting out. I've seen Larry Mitchell endorse a bunch of gear over the years, and have enjoyed his music solo and with others without remembering seeing this profile from 1988:




Pretty cool!  I enjoyed re-reading this issue, and I hope you found it interesting. Stay tuned for next month's issue, featuring blues great Albert Collins on the cover--until then, keep on picking!

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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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