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!

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