Saturday, July 28, 2018

My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (July 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!

UPDATE! If you've been reading the blog for awhile you know that I always refer to my super guitar teacher from the 80's, Jim McCarthy. After I last saw Jim in 1992 I lost track of him, but I finally found him this month! He's alive and well in New Jersey and still playing, which makes me so happy I can't describe it. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming... 

In July 1988 I was one month away from moving away from home for college, working at a Caldor store in Warminster, PA and nervously throwing up whenever I dwelled too much on the thought of moving away from home for college. Music wise I continued my lessons with Jim, was still listening to a mix of jazz and rock on Philadelphia radio, and practicing with my Epiphone Sheraton. By then I also had an acoustic Fender Avalon (a parlor sized, cherry red guitar with a Strat style headstock) along with my Peavey T-15. That's right: even at this stage of my life I had too many guitars for someone with too little talent to justify!

The July, 1988 issue of Guitar Player is quite a diverse mix: the subjects touch on avant-garde music, jazz bass, modern melodic metal, Eric Clapton's oeuvre, chord theory, and Jerry Garcia's music in and out of the Grateful Dead, plus much, much more. When I re-read this issue I found it to be pretty challenging: Howard Morgen's "All About Chord Progressions" article is still over my head thirty years after I first struggled with it, the weird, wacky music by the avant-garde guitarists is still a turn off, and I've never found Garcia's music to be very compelling. That said, as always, there were quite a few very interesting bits tucked away in the magazine that I look forward to sharing with you. 


The July issue marked the first of two straight months of heavy Eric Clapton coverage (culminating in a cover story in August). This issue's feature was on the new 6 LP box set Crossroads released on Polydor that purported to be a look back at the Clapton's then 25-year long recording career. Clapton was unquestionably my favorite guitar player (heck-favorite musician) at that time, and after devouring this article I was so excited when my sister told me that she'd get the set for me for my upcoming 18th birthday. I got rid of my vinyl records a long time ago, but I transferred them to MP3 first, and I STILL listen to this compilation on a regular basis. I just found a person on Spotify who laboriously recreated almost the whole thing, so you can listen to it too!

In 1988, Eric Clapton was 43 (five years younger than I am now). To teenage me, he was a contemporary musician with lots of great stuff in his back catalog, but it's interesting to see how the writers at Guitar Player (in this, and other articles) treat him as an old man. Think of all that he had yet to accomplish/experience: sobriety, the death of his young son, huge pop stardom with his Unplugged record, 10 more studio albums including multiple excellent "all blues" albums, three "Crossroads Guitar Festivals", happy marriage and the birth of three daughters and the sale of hundreds of instruments and memorabilia to fund his Crossroads 12 Step Treatment center in Antigua. Obviously no one can predict the future, but the occasion of a career retrospective was particularly "backwards looking", and reviewer Dan Forte seems to fall a bit into the tone of people on guitar internet forums who claim that Clapton hit his peak in his 20s.

Forte's review "Eric Clapton 'Crossroads': 25 Years of Genius", notes that "Few if any rock guitarists' work has been analyzed to the degree that Clapton's has, and no guitarist's work could stand up to such intense scrutiny as well." That said, he does see fit to point out what he thinks is the biggest issue of the set (and by extension, of Clapton's career):

The few problems apparent on Crossroads stem from a sort of identity crisis. Just what is this hefty document? Certainly not a "Greatest Hits" collection. Even at his biggest, Clapton's audience could always have been termed a "cult", albeit a huge cult, and he crossed over to mainstream radio infrequently...In the words of Bill Levenson (Executive Producer of the progject), "I just see it as an honest 25-year portrayal. It shows the hits, the misses, the live material--it's a good 25-year documentary. And it was really meant to be an instructional tool, almost."
As someone who has played along to the tracks hundreds of times, I know I've used it for instruction for sure. That said, if you've read Clapton's autobiography (written 20 years after this) or seen the recent Life in 12 Bars documentary (another 10 years later), it's clear that Clapton himself is content to take a scattershot view to his past, emphasizing some points and minimizing others. For better or worse, it's his right to do so, but as something of a Clapton scholar, I really appreciate this collection as a "primary source" of sorts. 

Very 80's, Forte points out that the collection is organized chronologically, but "of course, CD owners can just set their players on 'random' and get a different show with every listening'."  He is also excellent at describing the sonic (and sometimes cultural) impact of the recordings. The following are some of the sharper bits:
"The Yardbirds demos that open the collection are essentially the tentative first steps of a neophyte band attempting to play their newly discovered passion, and as such are not representative of the creative force the band came to be. John Lee Hooker's 'Boom Boom' actually pales by comparison with the Animals' authoritative reading of the same (which is ironic, since Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine has doubtless never been mistaken as the deity)..."
"The primitive 'Lonely Years' and the bouncy "Bernard Jenkins', both duets with John Mayall, were recorded prior to the Blues Breakers sessions. The former shows Clapton's abilities as a seamless accompanist as few tracks in his entire catalog do. On the latter's opening solo, he attacks every note full-force. For a 20-year old Brit, he was anything but intimidated by studio microphones, his elder-statesman bandleader, or the fact that he was crossing the color line with every bend of his Les Paul."
"The next several cuts, unfortunately, illustrate all too clearly the slump that followed Clapton's triumphant return (with 461 Ocean Boulevard). "Better Make It Through Today" is at best one of the few tracks that stands out on the mediocre There's One In Every Crowd; the catatonic stance on Elmore James' cathartic "The Sky is Crying" is more indicative of this 12' dud as is the unreleased "It Hurts Me Too". During this period, Clapton's blues playing merely represented the slower portions of the program, with interchangeable songs, uninspired soloing, and cumbersome backing."
Wow. Tell us how you really feel about '70s Clapton, Dan!
"And finally, the set ends with the newly recorded version of "After Midnight"--yes, the one in the beer commercial. This seems to have been chosen out of convenience more than musical considerations. A more dramatic reprise to end Clapton's history-up-to-now would have been his dynamic reworking of "White Room" at Live Aid--not only dipping back into Cream's catalog, but reinterpreting a song Jack Bruce had originally sung and then leaning into his wah-wah for all he was worth."
"Considering the glitzy sheen of "Miss You" or "After Midnight" it's ironic to recall that this is the same Eric Clapton that forsook pop stardom with the Yardbirds in favor of following a purist's path in search of the spirit of Robert Johnson. Eric Clapton has stood at the crossroads more than once in his 25 years of music making. And so far no one has passed him by." 

I'll get to say more about Clapton in next month's blog post, but I think it is worth pointing out that when he left the Yardbirds to pursue blues purism he was 20 years old and it was only 27 years since the death of Robert Johnson. Rather than holding him up in judgement based on statements he made as a callow youth, I prefer to revel in the wide range of excellent music Eric Clapton has provided us for the last fifty-five years!

Back in the day, one of the most educational parts of any issue of Guitar Player was the "Questions" section. Before anyone could look up anything on the internet, the editors took their role as educators very seriously. In the July 1988 issue, one question was "How many guitars were sold in the United States last year, and how many of them were built here?" In 2018, when we are frequently struck by the duality of entry level guitars that are built to ever increasing standards amidst frequent warnings of the imminent death of guitar-based music, the answer is worth looking at:
"According to recently published figures by the American Music Conference, a non-profit association that encourages amateur music participation, 1,247,265 fretted instruments (which includes such instruments as mandolins and banjos) with an estimated retail value (ERV) of $328,322,000 were sold in the United States in 1987. Of that number, only 123,400, with an estimated retail value of $89,280,000 were produced in the United States. Although the AMC is not able to break the domestic figures down by instrument, it is able to do so for imports: 517,300 acoustic guitars ($79,570,000 ERV) and 453,000 electric guitars ($150,642,000 ERV) were shipped to the US last year. These figures represent an 11% increase in imports and a 5% increase in domestic units over 1986 numbers."
Pretty neat. Besides the fact that I think that half of those 453,000 imported guitars are available for sale right now on Reverb, the dollar value of fretted instrument sales would be the equivalent of over $718 million today. I did a little looking and found a "music industry census" online that shows that in 2017, total guitar sales in America were 2,630,950 units with a retail value of $1.07 billion (average price $433). The number of instruments sold was up 6.4% from the prior year and the ERV was up 7%. So while recognizing that America's population has grown from 240+ million to over 325 million in the last thirty years, I find these data reassuring about the current and future state of our instrument.

Speaking of guitar forums, when people aren't talking about new guitars, a major topic of discussion is always modifications to instruments they already own. Guitar Player's article about New York luthier/repairmen Roger Sadowsky and Jay Black made for a very interesting re-read. According to the article, Sadowsky's clients included:
Bruce Springsteen, Al Di Meola, John Scofield, Will Lee, Prince, John Abercrombie, Nile Rogers, Sting, Paul Simon, Hall and Oates, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Billy Squier, Jack Wilkins, Jim Hall, Tommy Shaw, Mike Stern, Steve Khan, Tony Levin, Carmine Rojas, Victor Bailey, Joe Beck, Jeff Golub, Bill Frisell, Daryl Jones, T-Bone Wolk, and Neil Jason.
Wow. That's a music hall of fame right there! Sadowsky is still active, and Jay Black went on to work for Fender's Custom Shop for over a decade and has his own business today. They had some pretty interesting points to make about guitar modifications and the difference between New York and L.A. (which always seems to come up in these old magazines!). Once again, in the pre-internet days, it's clear that they viewed their job as providing expert advice to their customers:
"Much of what we do is educate our clients. Often they know what they want, but they don't know how to get there. They're seduced by ads that don't deliver, and they end up wasting money. We evaluate everything that comes on the market and simplify matters by making recommendations." Sadowsky estimates that his business is now divided equally between customizing instruments and producing and selling his own line of guitars and basses.
"Customizing", Roger explains, "means upgrading the level of a guitar's performance. It's been about a decade since guitar customizing became really popular. Companies like Charvel, Schecter, Mighty Mite and DiMarzio came out with replacement parts such as necks, bridges and pickups, which essentially brought a parts mentality to Fender-style guitars. People began looking at guitars or basses as interchangeable parts rather than as an instrument."
"One of the key insights I had was when a client brought in his Strat for extensive work--fret job, new pickups, a bridge, shielding--in all a $500 to $600 job. I remember being surprised at how the instrument wasn't significantly improved after all that work, whereas other guitars I'd done the same things to came out superior. I eventually realized that there is an inherent acoustic quality going on in the instrument, which is a function of the wood. "
Later in the piece, Black notes that "players who buy student-level guitars and hope to improve them through customization are much better off buying a high-quality guitar and making small adjustments. 

Sadowsky implies that one "do-it-all" instrument is more important to working New York musicians "who are dealing with subways and taxis...[they] usually carry one axe and whatever effects fit into the pouches of their gig bags" than to L.A. "studio musicians have cartage to haul their gear around." The article closes with an interesting point that many of us on guitar forums should consider:
"Irving Sloane, who authored several definitive books on guitar construction, once told me, 'Great instruments are not made for the listener, they are made for great musicians.' Most of us have felt, at one time or another, that if we only had different pickups or a certain tremolo system or a better bridge, we would be better players. We naturally prefer to blame our equipment rather than ourselves. Jay and I are just trying to eliminate the instrument as a source of problems, so the musician can focus on his creativity....The magic is in one's hands and soul, not the equipment."
Very thought provoking stuff!


The cover story on Jerry Garcia is par for the course of late-80's Guitar Player: 17 pages, including transcription of the "Hell in a Bucket" solo and a detailed sidebar feature on his famous guitar gear by Garcia's roadie. As I noted above, I didn't like the Dead as a teenager, and I still don't see the appeal, but there was one thing pretty interesting to me about the article: it's emphasis on a new beginning for the 45-year-old musician who had fallen into a drug-related diabetic coma two years previously. Honestly, it shocked me to see that Garcia was only two years older than Clapton, who was definitely not at his best either (booze and coke wise) because he looked so much older.  The part of the interview focusing on Jerry's recovery from the coma was very interesting:

"Well, I was in the hospital for about three weeks. I Steinberger, and I started to poke around a little bit while I was still in the hospital--but just a little. Then after I got out of the hospital, Merle Saunders and John Khan came up to my house a couple of times a week and made me practice. Merle would bring music and we'd play through the changes of standards and stuff like that. Gradually, I started to pick it up again. At first it was very stiff and mechanical. I could figure things out to a point, but it took a while before I really had a sense of how music worked. I had to kind of reconstruct all that. It was about a three or four month process before I felt I was playing well enough to play in front of somebody. I knew I wasn't playing as well as I remembered that I had been able to..."
So it wasn't really a matter of not playing for three or four weeks. There was actually damage to your memory?
"Oh yeah, I had some damage. The damage part was worse than the three or four weeks...But the blessing of losing hunks of your memory is that you don't get too hung up over what you don't remember, because it's gone. It's not a question of 'what is it I don't remember here? Is it something valuable?' It's gone...Gradually everything sort of came back, but it wasn't without a certain amount of work. I had to do everything at least once to remind my muscles about how something worked. It was the thing of making the connection between mind and muscles, because I hadn't been away from playing for so long that my mind had forgotten. The neuropathways were there and the reason for doing it and why it worked -the intellectual part- was also there, but they were separated. I had to pick them up like, here's a chunk of how music works, over here is a hunk of why I like to play it, and here's a hunk of my muscles knowing this stuff. It was a matter of putting my hands on the guitar and actually playing through tunes and trying to solve the problem of how the structure of each tune works-addressing the whole thing. That's what did it, but it took a while. I'm still in the process of rediscovery. I suddenly go, 'Oh right. Here's a whole area. I remember that year that I worked on this stuff.' It tends to come back in chunks. But like I say, I don't remember what I don't remember. I'm not hung about it, and every time I discover something new, it's delightful."
What an interesting passage! It's really sobering to realize how much of our ability, personality and talents are locked up in our grey matter, and so stories like this, or like Pat Martino's are very inspirational to me.  
That's all for this month. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you'll come back for next month's cover story Eric Clapton. Until then, keep on picking!

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. 


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!   
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 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?

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


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. 


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!

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.


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 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. 
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!

 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!


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!
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.


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!