GIVE TIL IT HURTS!

Moar serendipity, pleez!

In the course of re-reading a novel by the best detective noir writer you never heard of—Chester Himes, creator of the baddest detective team north of 125th Street and south of the Bronx, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson—I ran across mention of another all-timer you probably never heard of: blues singer Lil Green.

Green is backed on this track by some legendary names, Big Bill Broonzy on guitar to name just one. The song was written by Kansas Joe McCoy, going on to be a pop hit for Peggy Lee backed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra two years after the Green version was cut. Anyone familiar with the tune probably knows it for Lee’s version—those few who know of it at all, that is.

Update! Below the fold, a little excursion into the world of Grave Digger and Coffin Ed.

Continue reading “Moar serendipity, pleez!”

THAT’S how you do it!

Another via our favorite tall but brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning example of a placental mammal.

Man, that gal can really blow, leaving me completely slackjawed with envy. Blues harp—or as my old bass-player friend Joe hilariously referred to it, the “nigger whistle”—is one of three instruments I tried hard to learn years ago but failed miserably, the others being banjo (finger-picked, not clawhammer; any fool with two hands can play clawhammer) and slide guitar.

This installment of Middle Finger Symphony Theater also includes a ripping-good blues duet with Buddy Guy featuring the estimable and pulchritudinous Ally Venable totally dominating her Les Paul. Trust me, folks, you don’t want to miss that one either—you really, really don’t.

Update! Think I was kidding about that “pulchritudinous” business, do ya? Better think again.

AllyVenable

A smokin’-hot babe, a red LP, a short dress, and righteous blues chops—what more could anyone want?

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Second coming?

Of the incomparable SRV, I mean.

That, of course, is Kenny Wayne Shepherd, courtesy of the likewise incomparable Diogenes Sarcastica, who I gratefully thank for the steer to this one. A bit of bio on Shepherd and his interesting road to blues fame—a long, strange trip fueled, of all things, by the delight of grandmas across America: S&H Green Stamps.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd (born Kenny Wayne Brobst; June 12, 1977) is an American guitarist. He has released several studio albums and experienced significant commercial success as a blues rock artist.

Shepherd was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He graduated from Caddo Magnet High School in Shreveport. He is “completely self-taught”, and does not read music. Growing up, Shepherd’s father (Ken Shepherd) was a local radio personality and some-time concert promoter, and had a vast collection of music. Shepherd received his first “guitar” at the age of three or four, when his grandmother purchased a series of several plastic guitars for him with S&H Green Stamps, which Shepherd has said he would “go through like candy”.

Shepherd stated in a 2011 interview that he began playing guitar in earnest at age seven, about six months after meeting and being “pretty mesmerized” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Labor Day weekend in 1984, at one of his father’s promoted concerts. His self-taught method employed a process of learning one note at a time, playing and rewinding cassette tapes, using “a cheap Yamaha wanna-be Stratocaster…made out of plywood, basically”, and learning to play by following along with material from his father’s record collection.

Blues musician Bryan Lee invited the then-13-year-old Shepherd to play guitar onstage. He subsequently made demo tapes, and a video was shot at Shepherd’s first performance at the Red River Revel Arts Festival in Shreveport. It was this video performance that impressed Giant Records chief Irving Azoff enough to sign Shepherd to a multiple album record deal.

From 1995 on, Shepherd took seven singles into the Top 10, and holds the record for the longest-running album on the Billboard Blues Charts with Trouble Is…. In 1996, Shepherd began a longtime collaboration with vocalist Noah Hunt, who provided the vocals for Shepherd’s signature song, “Blue on Black”. Shepherd has been nominated for five Grammy Awards, and has received two Billboard Music Awards, two Blues Music Awards, and two Orville H. Gibson Awards.

I thought I recognized drummer Chris Layton in the above vid, an alumnus of Stevie Ray’s Double Trouble band, and turns out I was right about that; he’s been back there pounding the skins for Shepherd since 2006, as it happens. No surprise that, really; although it could be argued that Shepherd doesn’t quite have the same casual, flawless fluidity as Vaughan, there’s no denying the lad has some damned fine chops of his own, and definitely knows a thing or two about that elusive will o’ the wisp: TONE. It’s the bluesman’s meat and potatoes, a make-or-break quality that the very best players spend entire careers obssessively chasing down, never entirely convinced that they’ve quite caught it. YET.

And Kenny Wayne has it, in spades. His breakout classic-rock-radio hit “Blue On Black” I’m sure you’re all familiar with already, so let’s try another one on for size and see how it fits.

Fits pretty nicely on a hot summer Saturday night, I’d say. One last vid to pull it all together.

Somewhere out there, Stevie Ray Vaughan—and Jimi Hendrix too, probably—are smiling down in approval at their rightful heir.

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Strung up, strung out

Yet another excellent Quora digest edition drops into my email inbox.

Why does Billy Gibbons use 7-43 guitar strings? It seems odd.

Billy uses 7–38.

Billy used to use 11s & 12s because he thought that’s what all the blues guys did: Big string = Big sound

He was in the green room of a gig with B.B. King and BB wanted to see Billy’s axe. BB was noodling with Billy’s guitar and asked Billy why he was running such heavy strings? Billy said, “I thought that’s how all you blues guys got your tone.” BB said, “Why do you want to work so hard?” I think Billy dropped down to 9s almost immediately and eventually worked his way down to 7s and 8s, which is what a lot of the classic music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s was done with.

7’s will teach you about control PDQ because they respond so easily. If you want to sound super-tight on 9s or 10s go play on 7s and 8s for while.

.007s? Dang, I don’t think I ever have played with strings that light; in fact, I don’t recall being aware that they even made ‘em that light. My uncle started me out on .008s, a jazz set of his preferred Black Diamonds with the wrapped G (as a snot-nosed punk kid already gravitating heavily towards rock and roll, I didn’t like that worth a damn, believe me; wrapped third strings on electric guitars is definitely a jazzbo thing). Then, once I’d mastered the essential chords, scales, and runs, followed by guitar adaptions of a few old songs, most of which Murray had transposed and committed to staff paper himself (Sweet Georgia Brown*, I remember ye fondly, old girl!), I went out on my own hook from there.

POINTLESS CF DIGRESSION™: I still have one of those jumbo-sized plastic totes crammed full of Murray’s old sheet-music transcriptions in climate-controlled storage over in my friend Wendy’s living room, safely tucked away between her two (2) pianos. It’s all promised to my friend Jeremy, a great player in his own right, who damned near collapsed in stunned but delighted disbelief when I first showed him that plastic-tub treasure trove and spent an evening pawing through it with him. Jeremy took guitar lessons from me back when I was still willing to take on students; he’s probably the best pure musician I’ve ever known, and I’m happy indeed to turn over all that 24-karat musical history to him, knowing as I do how much he’ll love it, and what good care he’ll take of it.

Anyhoo, when I began playing professionally, I had to change strings before every show, either in the green room or at the hotel. I could count on breaking at least one any night I got lazy and didn’t—usually the D or B, don’t know why that would have been. And believe me, I tried like hell to figure it out. It was annoying as hell, but then again all the onstage angst and aggro was easily avoided just by the simple expedient of changing the blasted things.

Uncle Murray, by contrast, only replaced his strings once in a blue moon; he’d boil ‘em when they started to feel limp and flaccid, then put ‘em back on for another year’s worth of abuse. Murray and I never discussed the way I went through strings; I figure he would have been genuinely horrified at the needless waste, the grotesque profligacy of any nephew of his buying strings not by the pack, but by the case. Why, the very idea! Surely he’d taught me better than THAT!

I DO know that Stevie Ray Vaughn famously used strings so painfully heavy they more closely resembled low-register piano strings, or perhaps telephone-pole guy wires. Don’t know how in the world he managed to play the way he did—bending notes with no apparent effort, fingers zooming wildly all over the fretboard like honeybees in a field of wildflowers—on strings that big, night after night after night, for years. But then, that’s why he’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I, y’know…ain’t.

My own calluses, laboriously created by set after set of comparatively wimpy D’Addario Jazz/Rock .011 to .049s, are still there, and I haven’t picked up a guitar since 2017. Hell, I can still feel the lip-callus you get from trumpet-playing when I run my tongue across my upper lip; apparently, they never do go away completely. The calluses on Stevie Ray’s left-hand fingertips, then, must have been something to see indeed. By the time he died, his fingertips must have been rutted as deeply as a New Mexico desert valley after a sudden monsoon.

.007 to .038 gauge strings, Gibbons? Ya fuckin’ pussy.

Update! Having mentioned Jeremy up there, please enjoy one of my all-time favorite songs from his surf band nonpareil, the Aqualads.

Great band, great tune. Written by the late, lamented Bob Nelson, may he forever rest in peace.

* I keep thinking of stuff I want to add to this post, so I put in a link to Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli’s version of SGB, just because they were two of Murray’s favorites.

As promised

Time for those two excellent vids I mentioned earlier. First, we have your feel-good vidya of the week, featuring what I keep insisting ought to be the end result every time a few pAntiFa fascists dare to venture forth from Mom’s basement.


And yet again, we see the Bastards In Blue dashing to the rescue…on the side of their pAntiFa pals, of course and as usual. Maybe it’s about time they started featuring prominently in some of these beatdown-vids their own selves, just to help them get their heads screwed back on straight.

Next up, the legendary Sister Rosetta Tharpe busts one out for us.

One of the most amazing singing voices ever, and the ol’ gal could really rip on that gloriously Bigsbyfied SG Custom too. Believe you me, cranking out those simpler-is-better blues licks on guitar is way, WAY tougher than it looks. I never could do it worth a damn myself, and I did NOT suck on guitar otherwise, either. Try as I might, and I surely did, Sister Tharpe could’ve easily stomped mudholes in my po’ white ass when it comes to blues pickin’, then backed up and walked ‘em dry.

Note too, that she’s doing the right hand proper: finger picking it, although she DOES cheat just a little bit, using a thumb-pick on there. Ah well, as I always say: pobody’s nerfect, right?

Update! Just remembered something my longtime partner in musical crime, Tom “Mookie” Brill, always told me: “You can’t play blues with a pick, man, it’s just impossible.” Being entirely reliant on the Dunlop yellow Tortex picks my whole life, I can testify that the man was 100% correct on that.

And if you click on the Tommy Brill link above, then on the profile pic therein, yes, that’s me in the pic with him, playing my good ol’ pinstriped Gretch Electromatic reissue. A sweet, sweet git-fiddle my girl was, complete with a full-custom Craig Landau neck carve (the “Hendrix profile,” he named it) and a set of TV Jones Magna’Tron pickups that were bright, glassy, and just ballsy as hell all at once.

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Serendipitous embed

So I recently re-connected with an old and very dear friend of mine from New Jersey I had lost touch with for the last several years, which reunion I was happy enough about to be inspired to make a custom ringtone for her on my sail foam. I settled on this great old song from the Fastest Guitarist In The West, otherwise referred to as the great Alvin Lee. It’s good enough that I thought I’d put it out here, just for grins.

Lee’s star began its rise after his performance at Woodstock, his fame then cemented by a confirmational tenure as singer/guitarist/songwriter/frontman for Ten Years After—a pop-chart-hitmaker outfit he decided to walk away from in preference for a long, stellar solo career playing more bluesy stuff like the above toothsome confection. He would go on to work with just about everybody who’s anybody in the rock and roll universe, bless his heart, and kept on a-rockin’ until his death in Spain in 2013. God rest ye, Alvin, and thanks for all the good music you left for us.

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Embedophenia

Tonight’s installment is from another band I never did have a whole lot of use for, but this one is…well, it’s simply monstrous.



That’s some mighty tasty harp playin’ right there. Whatever your opinion of J Geils might be, there’s no gainsaying Magic Dick. He’s a true master of the beast—an instrument the bassist/harpist from a band we toured with (whose identity I shan’t reveal here, for their own protection) always called a “nigger whistle.” I laughed so hard I think I cracked a rib or two the first time I heard Joey say that.

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RIP Charlie Watts

A bit belated, I know, but still. One of the all-time great drummers just shook these mortal coils to join Heaven’s Own Band.

In a previous piece, I described Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham as the overall rock drummer par excellence. Extraordinarily dynamic, Bonham had a lot of gears. He could play louder and heavier than anyone, but could also finesse quiet passages, zig-zag between funk and reggae and swing, and, well, you get the picture.

Charlie was a different sort of drummer, at least while playing with the Rolling Stones. If Bonham was a six-gear, $100,000, 230 horsepower, hot-rodded Harley (with Batmobile-style mods like a smoke-blower, mini-machine guns, and oil-slick dispenser), Charlie was your English grandfather’s vintage Raleigh bicycle. It never broke. It was easy to maintain. You could cruise along on it all day long year after year, decade after decade. It had only one gear, but for a bicycle, it was the perfect gear. And it is with drummers and vehicles as it is for everything else: horses for courses. Which one’s best depends on what you need.

Simple, steady, rock-solid—that was Charlie Watts in a silver-sparkle Ludwig nutshell, and is exactly why I always loved his playing. No flash, no trash, just a backbeat you can feel deep in your soul, if you have any at all. The very best rock and roll drummers are like that, or so I believe. I never have been just a huge Stones fan, I can take ’em or leave ’em alone, but I DO love me some Keef, and some Charlie too.

No eight-bazillion flavors of crash cymbals; no racks-o-toms surrounding him; no gongs behind him, nor tympani he might hit one precisely (1) time over the course of a two-hour set; no synchronized kick-drum pedals by the dozen, when you only got two feets to play ’em with anyway. Just a simple trap kit, a no-nonsense, smack-it-silly snare-drum crack, and…well, just sheer nonchalant elegance, really.

I saw Buddy Rich a couple times years ago, and he was pretty much the same way, at least as far as his bare-bones kit went. The nonchalance and elegance…ehh, not so much; Rich’s facial expressions alone were absolutely maniacal, truly a sight to behold. Both times I saw him, he was sweat-drenched and purple-faced from early into the set, and he weren’t no spring chicken by then either. The energy level and overall vibe he exuded was powerful, not something easily caged or controlled. Joyful too, which I didn’t expect, having heard the stories and the infamous recordings confirming all the rumors of what a total bastard he was to work for, onstage and off. It was a little like watching a precocious teen on his first trip to the titty bar or something.

Anyhoo, back to Charlie.

First, you might never guess, listening to his recorded Rolling Stones drum performances, that Charlie was a precocious jazz drummer. With the Stones, he was a paragon of percussive minimalism. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a single drum fill on any Stones song a five year old couldn’t play.

But that’s no sleight. What matters is playing the right thing—not the complicated thing—and as it happened, Charlie always played the right thing. He played what he played because that’s what he should have played in the Rolling Stones song he was playing. That’s what good musicians do, after all.

Bingo. I’m reminded of something I saw in the Creem mag letters section soon after Van Halen had hit big with their debut album, wherein an EVH fanboy got himself all worked up and slobbery over Eddie’s otherworldly virtuousity, which nobody was trying to argue with anyway. He ended his long, effusive rant thusly: “Why play three notes when you can squeeze in ten?” Which flabby sentiment one of the editors blandly eviscerated with one of the pithiest yet most profound comebacks I ever did see, one that’s stuck with me ever since: Why play ten notes when you can say it in three?

I’m sure that statement went right over that kid’s head, but it’s a more important point than most non-musician types might realize. In all pop music, the Thing, the essential, crucial Thing, is to not overplay, to not burden a good tune with a lot of extraneous self-indulgence. Every talented professional will get his chance to show off his chops and shine a little, in every set he plays. But the REAL pros know that when you throw in everything but the kitchen sink in every damned song, you dull the impact of your sharpest material. First rule of showbiz, taught to me by my dad, my uncle, my early-childhood piano teacher, my church-choir director and high-school band director (same guy), and pretty much every musical mentor I’ve ever had: always, always, ALWAYS leave your audience wanting more. ALWAYS. Playing with discipline and restraint rather than letting it all hang out and flop around all over the place is one of the ways you do it.

This is the key to every Rolling Stones song. Charlies never breaks character. He starts the song, pumps along underneath, hits the fills where needed, but never plays a single gratuitous note. Then the song ends. Then he starts a new one. On it goes. As each song begins, everyone else hangs on, so to speak, to his chugging rhythm. It’s no wonder Keith once said “Charlie Watts is the Stones”.

Not to shortchange Charlie here, but there’s another great drummer who also lived his musical life by the less-is-more rule I gotta mention: Cheap Trick’s Bun E Carlos. Way underappreciated, in my view, but he’s another one who eschewed the flashy sturm und drang for just quietly doing an impeccable job of holding down the bottom end and keeping the proceedings rockin’ right along with neither fuss, muss, nor excess of any kind.

And this KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid, not their 1977 tour-mates) approach from the drummer of a band that, for years, opened every show with a fucking DRUM SOLO, mind you. I mean, NOBODY likes drum solos, ferchrissakes. Not even other drummers.



Ahh, but simplicity wasn’t always the Bun E Carlos Way. As with almost every aggressive but unschooled young hotshot whose only thought is to swing for the fences on every pitch, holding back was an acquired taste for Carlos too.

In 1973 or 1974, Carlos gained a major insight into his drumming. He told interviewer Robin Tolleson in 1986 that, like most young drummers, he was mostly interested in making his drumming stand out (“Where can I get the most licks in, and how cool can I sound”). While listening to a tape of a Cheap Trick concert, he realized he was rushing the beat and interfering in the performance of the other band members. Afterward, he began taping every Cheap Trick show to study his own drumming much more objectively, focusing on keeping time and supporting his bandmates. The band also played several gigs alongside Mahavishnu Orchestra about this time. Carlson says he learned a great deal about ambidextrous drumming from drummer Billy Cobham.

Making yourself a part of the music instead of trying to dominate or overwhelm it—recognizing that YOU must be all about the music, rather than the music being all about YOU—is a critical step in every player’s career, and sometimes a quite difficult one as well. Given my own background in hard rock/classic rock, I struggled mightily with it myself, and never really managed to master the thing. In fact, that’s why I never was able to play traditional blues at all well, and eventually just pretty much gave up on ever getting it right consistently, aside from the occasional (VERY occasional) fluke solo.

When it comes to restraint, blues is a particularly demanding genre, maybe the toughest of any modern popular music styles. It’s often said that blues lives and breathes in the spaces between the notes, not in the notes themselves. With blues guitar, what you DON’T play is every bit as important as what you DO play, very often moreso. Of equal importance is playing those notes correctly, what BB King meant when he used to talk about making his trademark single-note solos “sting.” Shaping the notes you play is paramount, and attack is all.

All of that is a little different for drummers than it is for guitarists, of course. Nonetheless, the basic principle of Less Is More still applies. Both Bun E Carlos and Charlie Watts spent long and notable careers providing an excellent education for all of us in how it was fucking done.

Update! Almost forgot another thing I always dug about Carlos: when onstage with Cheap Trick, he actually had a drum tech whose primary responsibility was this: whenever Bun E’s ever-present cigarette was near the end, said roadie would light up another, run out, and replace the expired butt with the fresh one, thus averting the unacceptable calamity of Carlos having to play without a gasper dangling from his lips. Too funny, that.

THIS SHALL NOT STAND!!

I have been saddened and dismayed by the rather blasé response to Dusty Hill’s death from my local classic-rock radio stations, which I listen to sometimes while I’m out delivering food or picking up/returning the young ‘un or whatever. When Tom Petty died, it was pretty much a three-day orgy of tribute to the man, which I had no problem with. I mean, I was by no means a rabid Petty fan, but on the other hand he WAS a truly gifted songwriter, with a top-notch band behind him. All in all, Tom was okay with me, and he had a long string of hits, so give the man his due, right?

By contrast, I’ve heard very little at all in the way of mention, recognition, or repeat ZZ Top spins in the wake of Hill’s death apart from a brief notice that their tour dates would go on more or less as scheduled. Commercial-free two, three, or four-play song sets,, interviews with the band, obscure live tracks, all that sort of thing? Not on your life, or not that I’ve heard, anyway.

Well, screw that. When I said the other night that I considered ZZ to be one of the greatest rock bands that ever was or ever will be, I meant every word of it. So have yourselves a couple bonus slices of musical genius from that li’l ole band from Texas, gratis. No need to thank me, y’all.



For anybody who might not know already: the trademark deep, rough-and-ready grizzly-growl on their records is Billy Gibbons, who handled most of the lead vocal duties. The higher, somewhat smoother, sweeter croon swapping verses with Gibbons on some songs, and holding forth on its own on others, is Dusty Hill. Of course, that’ll be obvious in the video footage. But still.

I repeat: God rest him, and may His comfort and love bless Dusty’s bandmates, family, friends, and fans.

Get hot or go home!

I originally appended this next selection to a previous post as an update, to wit:

Update! Related? Perhaps—if you down a few bourbon shots, squint a little bit, and look at it from the side.



Yet another from the CD I made that I didn’t think I’d find on YToob. I’ll probably end up working my way down through the whole songlist before I’m done here.

And with that, I’m off and running. So rather than keep updating a completely unrelated post with these nuggets, I made a new ‘un. Round two:



Although they make a quite admirable job of sounding like a ginyoowine original RAB outfit on this one, Jack Rabbit Slim is actually a contemporary band. From Ainglund, if I remember right. Which fits, actually; with almost all the European RAB combos, it’s either trad-rockabilly or full-on, balls-out psychobilly, a sound I just never have had a whole lot of use for.

Okay, Round Three coming shortly, you betcher.

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