Saturday, June 13, 2009

Terraplane Rock

Here's a song I made up a while ago that I've wanted to record in some form. This is done very primitively.

The song is loosely based on Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues". In Johnson's song, nothing goes right so it's blues. In mine everything is going fine so it's rock. It's a basic I-IV-V type song that has been done a thousand times. My favorite song that uses this basic structure is "Rev It Up & Go" by the Stray Cats. Since the guitar is too loud, here are the lyrics:

The ride is so good can't you hear the engine moan;
Yeah, the ride is so good can't you hear the engine moan;
I been ridin' that Terraplane since I been home.

Flip my switch and your horn it starts to blow;
Yeah, flip my switch and your horn it starts to blow;
We're making a connection somewhere down below.

Pop your hood and baby I'll check the oil;
Yeah, pop your hood and baby I'll check the oil;
Then we'll ride that Terraplane until it boils.

Cause it's rock, rock, Terraplane rock;
Rock, rock, Terraplane rock;
Yeah, rock, rock, Terraplane rock;
Cause it's rock rock rock, Terraplane rock;
I been been rockin' that Terraplane since I been home.

For those who care, the amp is my little Crate GX-15R with the Gain on 10, Reverb on 7, and volume about 2. My homemade guitar is pine with a particle board top and a Danelectro Lipstick pickup wired direct to the jack.

I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If You Can't Hum It, It Ain't Music?

To be sure, I'm a big fan of Gary North's work. Occasionally, however, Gary moves outside of his field of expertise and the results aren't always pretty. His guitar play list was, as I said in my previous post, fine. It was not, though, even close to a representation of what has been accomplished with the guitar by its greatest players. I made a video play list in response which included Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Junior Brown, and Brian Setzer.

Mr. North replied to my post via email:

"Technical virtuosity is no substitute for a lack of musical taste.

If you can't hum it, it ain't music."

While I agree that technical virtuosity is no substitute for musical taste, let me translate Gary North's first line: the guys on your list blow away the guys on my list so rather than acknowledge that I'll fall back on something nebulous like "taste".

All of the players from my list are virtuosos with great taste (Brian Setzer won a Grammy for his version "Sleepwalk", a song played by many prominent guitarists who didn't garner that award). So we just disagree on this point--fine. I also had to take issue with the second statement, "If you can't hum it, it ain't music".

Here are some absurd conclusions that flow from this "Humability Standard":

1. Chords (three or more consonant notes played together) are not music since a person can only hum one note at time. A trio humming together could make music with chords; North's "you" would be a plural in this case.

2. Since the capacity of the lungs, which humming depends on, is limited, if some series of notes goes on rapidly and long enough that the hummer(s) must take a breath and therefore miss a note, the sounds are no longer music.

3. If sounds are being played rapidly enough that the pitch being hummed cannot be changed rapidly enough to keep up, the sounds are not music (sorry "Flight of the Bumble Bee").

4. Any notes not within the human vocal range are not music since they can't be hummed.

So the "Humability Standard" in defining music introduces an arbitrariness, i.e., every person can call the same sounds "music" or not according to their own vocal range, lung capacity, and ability to rapidly change the pitch of the notes to be hummed. So what is music to Mariah Carey may not be music to the rest of us.

"If you can't hum it, it ain't music" has a folksy charm, but it's the same sort of nonsense a father of a generation ago might have used to dismiss the rock and roll racket coming from his son's room that the son apparently mistook for music.

My players are far better than Gary's and his reply was as absurd as legendary classical guitarist Andres Segovia's statement that the electric guitar wasn't even a musical instrument.
Segovia actually broke off a possible professional relationship with Chet Atkins when he learned that Atkins played electric guitar. I'm also pretty sure that the players in his list would agree that they do not measure up to the players on my list.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Guitar Heroes

The electric guitar is simply the most expressive musical instrument in the world.  I’ve written in the past on my opinion of the world’s greatest guitar player, Brian Setzer.  Gary North recently published a video compilation of his favorite players.  Gary had some interesting picks but they were nowhere near the best playing in the world. So let me get started with some of my favorites.  There is always room for debate in these matters but I believe that my compilation will get the reader much closer to witnessing the greatest playing of the electric guitar.

Let’s start with what I call the Pyrotechnic School.  Its founder is Eddie Van Halen.  If you think of a man in front of a wall of speakers commanding their awesome sonic power with a guitar as a hero, then any dictionary entry for “guitar hero” should have EVH’s picture next to it.  His school is characterized by lighting speed all over the fretboard, screaming harmonics, whammy bar gymnastics, volume knob manipulations, double hammer tapping techniques, and anything generally that squeezes new sounds out of the electric guitar in a musical way.  Here is EVH is his prime doing a guitar solo back when that was one of the highlights of any rock show:


One might complain that this was just self-indulgent parlor tricks.  Perhaps, but it is what the crowd wanted to hear and any VH fan would recognize the improvisations on the “Little Guitars Intro”, the intro to “Mean Street”, “Spanish Fly” and of course the iconic “Eruption” itself.  Eddie Van Halen also has the greatest catalogue of songs of any hard rock player.

Next is Steve Vai.  He first came to prominence as Eddie Van Halen’s “replacement”, playing with former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth.  Steve Vai is far from a Van Halen clone; in some ways he has taken EVH’s style to another level.  Steve Vai is a genius in his own right.  Here he plays "For the Love of God":

To watch genius at work, check out Steve Vai explaining his song, "Freak Show Excess":

The last of the Pyrotechnic School I will highlight is Joe Satriani.  His original album "Surfing With the Alien" was an incredible introduction to another man who has been a true original.  Here is "Surfing With the Alien":

If that doesn't satisfy, there's always Satriani's incredible "Satch Boogie":


Now I shift gears to the amazing psycho-country of Junior Brown.  He was a real inspiration to me in combining guitar solos with cool songs.  Here is one of his coolest, "I Hung It Up":

Finally I give you the man, Brian Setzer.  No matter what the genre, rock, country, jazz, classical or any combination thereof, Brian Setzer can stand out; he's a master of virtually all that has preceded him and a great creator himself.  His style is also very friendly and catchy.  Here he plays "Guitar Rag" and then "Sleepwalk":

There are many others that could have been included, Danny Gatton and George Benson to name a couple, but this should give anyone a super introduction to the best of the greatest musical instrument known to man: the electric guitar.

Here's the author's minor contribution to cool guitar playing: