Friday, November 30, 2012

Let's have a birthday jam: A week-ending potpourri

There's Deep Purple's Roger Glover.  There's Billy Idol.  There's country singer Mindy McCready.  There's Broadway/television/Princess Bride star Mandy Patinkin.  There's soul singer June Pointer of The Pointer Sisters.

There are way too many people celebrating birthdays today to choose just one for a week-ending birthday jam.  So why not go with a bit from all of them?

It's quite a mixture.  But that's what this blog is supposed to be about -- a musical potpourri.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's have a birthday jam: Ronnie Montrose

Ronnie Montrose would have turned 65 years old today.  Sadly, he took his own life on March 3 this year.  A whole lot of music fans mourned the loss of a great guitarist.

Montrose was a classic rock guitar hero, but his playing went beyond rock.  He played some jazz fusion with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams, there was blues with Johnny Winter, he sat in with Johnny's brother Edgar on one of the best known classic rock albums of all time ("They Only Come Out At Night"), there was pop with Nicolette Larson, he played with The Neville Brothers, there was memorable playing with Van Morrison.

And that's just a start.

When you heard the name Montrose, as a fan, you thought of a blazing guitar.  He left us all too soon.

Ronnie Montrose

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let's have a birthday jam: Jaco Pastorius

No, it's not the late Jaco Pastorius' birthday today.  But it is coming up this Saturday, and when I think of birthday jams, I think a lot about Jaco, the jazz fusion bass guitar giant.

Jaco knew how to throw a birthday party.  For his 30th birthday in 1981, nearly six years before his untimely death, Pastorius put on a birthday concert at a club in Fort Lauderdale.  He brought in musicians from his Word Of Mouth project, along with other big names like Don Alias and Michael Brecker.  Thankfully, the event was recorded, intended as a birthday gift for Jaco.  In 1995, it was released on an album.  I have that album, and it's a stellar bit of big band jazz and fusion mixed together.

My favorite part of that album is the "soul intro," leading into "The Chicken."  Which leads me into a story about another birthday jam from last New Year's Eve that I was able to attend, with a bunch of fine musicians having a ton of fun on a friend's birthday.  I had a hard time prying myself away from the steady flow of music, but there came a time when nature did call and I had to leave the room and go to another corner of the house where the party was being held.

As luck or fate would have it, as I was away from the action, the group launched into Pastorius' "The Chicken."  I rushed to finish my business as soon as I heard those familiar notes.  That was one song I didn't want to miss, and the friends nailed it.

Jaco would have been pleased.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let's have a birthday jam: Jimi Hendrix

No one says the musician whose birthday is being celebrated needs to be alive in order to have a birthday jam.

I can't let this Tuesday go by without celebrating the 70th birthday of a rock guitar genius, the late Jimi Hendrix.

My music-loving friends on Facebook have been celebrating Jimi's 70th for days now.  That's the kind of crowd I hang out with.

It's the kind of crowd that knows how to enjoy a birthday jam.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Let's have a birthday jam: John McVie

I'm a person who actually looks at my Facebook "to do" items closely enough to check out who has a birthday on my friends list on that particular day, and to wish that person a happy day.

John McVie (Image via Wikipedia)
There were a bunch of them today.  One of those people celebrating a birthday today happens to be John McVie.  I wished him a "rockin' day."  Yes, that's John McVie from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and the "Mac" part of Fleetwood Mac.  The guy playing the bass, laying down that steady groove.

I love musicians' birthday jams.  When a musician has a birthday, it's not unusual for them to have a few friends over, socialize, share some good food and drink, and do what they love to do -- play music.

Here's a video birthday jam in John McVie's honor, but I won't just go with the easier Fleetwood Mac choices.  I'll try and go a bit deeper than that.

When someone has a musical history as deep and rich as John McVie, you've got to go deep.

Especially on their birthday.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A daily dose of "thank you" -- the ZZ Top version

We're coming down to the end of the week of giving thanks here at the blog, and I've been saving my favorite way of saying "I Thank You" for last.

For me, my favorite way comes from those three ol' boys from Texas known simply as ZZ Top, with Frank Beard laying down a simple yet steady drum beat, Dusty Hill pumping that bass, and Billy Gibbons topping it off with those tough vocals and guitar playing of his.

ZZ Top may not have been the first to play the tune "I Thank You," and they're certainly not the last ... as I've shown all this week.  But for me, they've done it the best (your mileage may vary, of course).  They gave it an extra bit of Texas flair and attitude.  When you stack that up against some greats like Sam & Dave, Tower of Power, Bonnie Raitt, well, that's quite a feat.

Play us out, boys!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A daily dose of "thank you" -- the Bon Jovi version

I trust that many of my American friends are in pretty much the same shape as me right about now -- recovering from a belly full of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, etc., topped off by a slice or two of a delicious pie for Thanksgiving.

There's no better time than now to try and digest it all by moving to some music.  This time, it's Bon Jovi's turn to say "thank you."

Happy Thanksgiving!  Rock on!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A daily dose of "thank you" -- The Casanovas version

They don't celebrate Thanksgiving "down under" in Australia, do they?  Well, at least not on the same day we do in America, anyway.

They still know how to say "I Thank You" in a very crunchy, rockin' way when it comes to the band The Casanovas.

This isn't your grandfather's way of giving thanks ... unless your grandfather is into that heavy sound of guitars, drums being bashed hard, a throbbing bass line, and vocals that are sure to grab your attention.

This is called rockin' in the holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A daily dose of "thank you" -- the Bonnie Raitt version

In this week of giving thanks, I'm thankful for some good slide guitar playing.  It's a style that can give any song a good, bluesy sound.

There are a lot of great bluesy slide guitar players out there, but how many of them have taken on the soul song "I Thank You" and done it as well as Bonnie Raitt?

Add on that gutsy voice of Bonnie's, and it's like icing on the "cake of gratefulness."

Monday, November 19, 2012

A daily dose of "thank you" -- the Tower of Power version

I missed a day in the blog last Friday.  I was going to take a shot at doing "air guitar songs" for soul music, and just ran out of time.  It turned into a very busy, very tiring day, and I'm asking for your forgiveness.

If you can do that, I'll say it over and over again throughout the week:  I thank you!  It's fitting, isn't it, when you consider the holiday coming up this week?

It was a song written by David Porter and Isaac Hayes, a stone-cold soul classic made famous first by Sam & Dave.  To kick off this "celebration of gratitude" in its various versions, we'll turn to Tower of Power with a special guest ... one of the guys who made "I Thank You" so well-known all those years ago.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tune up that air guitar: Progressive rock style

Jazz fusion guitarists might be known more for their speed, squeezing as many notes as possible into every measure.  While that can be an amazing feat (especially for those air guitarists among us), there's also something to be said for putting more feeling, touch and tone into the music as well.

You can find that in plentiful supply among some of the great progressive rock guitarists.  And then there's John Petrucci from Dream Theater, who fits right in with the fans of speedy guitar playing, just to balance things out.

There are plenty of progressive rock guitarists who've provided many great moments for air players to try and imitate ... Martin Barre from Jethro Tull, Steve Rothery from Marillion, Andy Latimer from Camel, the greatness of Frank Zappa, many's the time I've dug into Gary Green's solo from the Gentle Giant tune "Peel The Paint," the technical brilliance of King Crimson's Robert Fripp, Pink Floyd legend David Gilmour, Genesis' ace Steve Hackett, and Yes' Steve Howe.

Sure, there are more fine prog guitarists to daydream about what it would be like to play like them, but this at least gives us a nice start.

Prog on!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tune up that air guitar: Jazz fusion style

Fusion is just what it says it is: fusing a bit of jazz music together with a bit of rock.  There's a lot of blending going on in the genre, with a lot of Latin sounds thrown in as well.

There's also a lot of shredding going on, especially when it comes to guitar playing.

It's an air guitarist's dream.

Many's been the time I've listened to Allan Holdsworth do his share of shredding and "pulled out" my air guitar to shred along with him.  I know actual musicians who've done the same, with air guitar.  It helps to know that Holdsworth is one of Eddie Van Halen's guitar heroes as well.

John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Steve Morse with the Dixie Dregs or on his own, Tony Macalpine, Bill Connors ... yeah, they all make me want to do some shredding of my own.

In the air.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tune up that air guitar: Country style

Air guitar isn't meant for just rock 'n' roll.  Anyone who can play air guitar can play country air guitar too.  I mean, doesn't it just basically take an appreciation for the pickin' that you hear and the right mood?

Come on, air guitarists, put some drive in that country air guitar!  Do some pickin' AND some grinnin'!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Tune up that air guitar: Classic rock style

The theme came to me as soon as I turned on the car this afternoon and switched over to a classic rock FM station.

Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time" was playing, and like so many times before I was taken back in time to my teens when I'd "strap on" that air guitar and just start wailing away.

Come on, lots of us have done it at one time or another in our music listening lives.  Isn't that pretty much what "Guitar Hero" is all about?  And there's a national pizza chain store that has people standing on a sidewalk, dancing away and playing their best air guitar tunes while holding a big cardboard sign in the shape of a very large Fender, or something like it.

Just imagine, making a little dough (the green paper currency kind, not the pizza kind) while putting in some ear buds hooked up to a portable tune player, getting in the mood, stepping away from the safety of that private room where no one else can see you, and playing just like Townshend or Van Halen themselves for the whole world to observe.

Don't be ashamed.  Playing air guitar pretty much means that when it comes to being a hard-core music fan, you're basically ... normal.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pay attention to Gary Clark Jr.

To be honest, I'd never heard of Gary Clark Jr., until earlier this year when I came across his name in a sidebar story found in a used copy of a Rolling Stone Magazine special edition that listed the 100 greatest modern guitarists.

Even then, I'd forgotten his name until I ran into it again a while later in a search for the names of hot young blues guitarists.  Then, I went in search of some examples of his playing and singing.

I won't forget his name again anytime soon.

The raves that I read about in the magazine sidebar were true.  The young Texan is the real deal, coming straight out of the place where legends like Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan came from, and playing a lot like SRV himself at times.  Then there are the comparisons to Jimi Hendrix.  His reputation has grown with the help of festivals and minor CD or EP releases.  But now he's got a major release with the album "Blak And Blu."  Now, we've got a great opportunity to watch a great young artist take off.

With Gary Clark Jr., the sky's the limit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hoping the "lamb" lies down in NYC, etc.

New York City and surrounding areas have been through some hell lately.  At first, it was the superstorm Sandy.  Now, it's having to deal with the effects of a major nor'easter storm.  There's destruction, power outages, gasoline rationing, people trying to get their lives back together.

The people there need some comfort, some peace.

A lamb can symbolize peace.  A lamb is needed to lie down on Broadway and help spread some of that peace during a hellish time.

Our thoughts continue to go out to those affected by the storms of life being thrown in their direction.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Unorthodox Behaviour" coming from Brand X

It's late, almost bed time for me, and I haven't even put up a post in my music blog for today.  Just for that, I'll dig up a CD review I did at the web site almost 10 years ago, on a CD called "Unorthodox Behaviour" by the fusion band Brand X ...


One look at many of Brand X's song titles should tell you that you're in for something very different: "A Duck Exploding," "Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Yours Off Already)" easing into "... Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All," etc. Look them all up and be entertained by the song titles themselves.

Was Brand X rock? No, but they certainly rocked. Were they fusion? I suppose if we HAD to put a label on them, that would be about as close as we could come to being accurate. I have a hard time comparing them to Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report myself, though there are occasionally faint nods toward those fusion supergroups (as in the jazzy sound of "Touch Wood" to close out this album with Jack Lancaster guesting in a brief sax accompaniment straight out of the Wayne Shorter School of quietly brilliant sax riffs).

This was 1976. This was Phil Collins stepping away from Genesis and its quest for a new lead singer for some outside "play time" and showing just how good he could really be on a drum kit and in other various forms of percussion (before Morris Pert joined to make it a quintet with "a vast number of bits and things that he hit while the tape was running, including: the Q.E. 2, Idi Amin, and undiscovered parts of Scotland") without vocals getting in the way. This was "Jammin' Phil," and he wailed. But it was much more than Phil Collins and the fame he was already gathering with Genesis.

This was Percy Jones stepping away from Brian Eno's music and putting in his own bid for "greatest bass player alive" status among the rest of the fusion bass giants of the day. This was John Goodsall stepping away from Atomic Rooster and session work and making a greater name for himself but still being a vastly underrated guitar player and composer who could easily trade licks with the best of 'em in both speed and style. This was Robin Lumley moving away from his role as live-concert pianist for David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars and vast amounts of session work and making a name for himself as a very tasteful keys player.

This was an immediately brilliant breakthrough for a new band. I'm not quite sure they've totally equaled it overall on one album since then, though they've come awfully close a few times through the years with follow-up works such as "Morrocan Roll" and (depending on who you talk to) "Do They Hurt?"

"Nuclear Burn" suits its title well. After nearly 6 1/2 minutes of ferocious drumming, you kind of want to tell Phil, "Hey, take a break, man, you've earned it!" The acoustic guitar work of Goodsall sets a nice tone for the laid back groove of "Euthanasia Waltz" before Lumley chimes in with a gorgeous solo of his own, and all the while Jones and Collins are laying down a perfectly entertaining rhythm. "Born Ugly," "Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria," pretty much all through this album ... it's all about laying down a very nice groove, expanding on it, allowing each other to go on timely riffs, and staying nailed-down tight throughout. There isn't a song on here that one might think lasted too long or not quite long enough. This is simply music that's sheer fun from first note to last (perfect music to drive to), and when you hear Phil in the middle of the title track shouting "Ha!" you can tell these guys are having tons of fun jamming to this stuff themselves.

In the Brand X catalog, this would become the album all others would be compared with. The bar was set high at the starting line. A unique achievement, but not surprising when you look at the players and all they'd already done before coming together to form that ultra-unique outfit known as Brand X.

Brand X would go on from Unorthodox Behaviour to expand, evolve, rotate, break up, get back together in a trio, move on ... probably the closest thing we have today to Brand X is the band Tunnels with Jones, MIDI vibe player Marc Wagnon, drummer extraordinaire Frank Katz, along with assorted appearances from Goodsall and Mark Feldman on violin. It's like they know how to breathe as one, everyone destined to play together in all their various forms. And, at their best, they're destined to leave listeners struggling to catch their breath.