B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King, not related but all of them legends, and their styles are much copied by the best of the later blues guitarists. Signature licks that permeate the genre almost played note for note, only separated by the inflections and soul of the players, and there are many of them, myself included.
Riley B. King, better known as BB King, was born on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, September 16, 1925. Close to Indianola, Mississippi he began his storied life playing for dimes on street corners, sometimes in as many as 4 towns in a single night; In 1947 he moved to Memphis Tennessee and moved in with his cousin, Bukka White, a famous bluesman in his own right, who taught BB a lot about playing and singing the blues. BB’s first big break came in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio show on KWEM from West Memphis. That got him steady work at the 16th Ave. Grill, and later a 10-minute radio slot on WDIA. The show was known as “Kings Spot” and it became so popular it evolved into an expanded version called the “Sepia Swing Club”. This all led to how BB got his name. He started out as Beale Street Blues Boy, and then shortened it to Blues Boy King, and eventually BB King. Lucille, BB’s guitar, got her name when BB was playing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas. Two men got into a fight and kicked over a kerosene stove, setting the hall ablaze. BB fled the room with the other patrons but then realized he had left his guitar inside and rushed back in to save it, barely making it back to safety. When BB found out the fight was over a woman named Lucille, he named his guitar, and every guitar from then on, Lucille. It was a reminder never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. In his own words, “when I sing, I play in my mind, the minute I stop singing orally I start to sing by playing Lucille” … BB died on May 14th, 2015 … BTW BB King live at the Regal (1964) is one of the best live albums ever!!!
Albert King Nelson, known as Albert King was born April 25, 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi, on a cotton plantation. He sang in a gospel group at a church where his father played the guitar. One of 13 children, he worked picking cotton near Forrest City, Arkansas, where he finally moved with his family when he was eight years old. And here we have another confusing background, as he claimed to be BB’s half-brother because he was born in Indianola, and because BB’s fathers name was Albert, but when he applied for a social security card, he said his birthplace was Aberdeen, Mississippi, and signed his name as Albert Nelson, listing Will Nelson as his father. Either way, as BB would say, “Albert wasn’t my brother in blood, but he was my brother in blues.” He made his first guitar out of a cigar box, a piece of a bush and a strand of broom wire, later when he could afford it he bought a guitar for $1.25. Once he’d made it though he played a Gibson flying V. He was left handed and self-taught, so he played it with the strings set and tuning as if it were a right handed guitar, thus he would pull down to bend notes as opposed to bending up as most guitarists do. He had to pick cotton, drive a bulldozer and worked construction until he could become a professional musician.
He started with a band in Osceola, Arkansas, with a band called the Groove Boys. Later he moved to Gary, Indiana, and later St. Louis, Missouri, where he briefly played drums for Jimmy Reed. But the guitar was his main instrument, influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson. Finally landing in Chicago in 1953 where he cut his first single for Parrot Records, but it was only a minor regional success, so it was back to St. Louis to form a new band. In 1959 he recorded his first hit, “I’m a Lonely Man” written by Little Milton, a guitar hero of his and an A&R man from Bobbin Records. In 1966 he moved to Memphis, where he signed with the Stax Record Label. It was there that he recorded dozens of influential songs like “Crosscut Saw” and “As The Years Go Passing By” with Booker T. and the MG’s. These songs were produced by Al Jackson Jr. whose own career speaks volumes. In 1947 he recorded “Born Under A Bad Sign” that has been covered by numerous artists, most notably, Cream. His style influenced many great guitarists, but Stevie Ray Vaughan credits his as having been his greatest influence. Albert died from a heart attack December 21,1992, in Memphis, only 2 days after his last live performance in Los Angeles.
Freddie King, the Texas Cannonball was born in Gilmer, Texas, September 3, 1934. Story has it that his father’s mother told him that her grandfather, a full blooded Choctaw Indian prophesied that she would have a child that will “stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations”, and that he surely did. His mother and her brother played guitar and once they had noticed Freddie’s interest in music, started teaching him at the age of six. His early heroes were Sam Lightning Hopkins, who he attributes his thumb finger picking style, and, of all people, Louis Jordan, the bebop sax player, whose style on the sax was an inspiration for his phrasing. He would practice playing along with Louis Jordan records until he could match note for note Mr. Jordan’s sax runs on his guitar. His first guitar was a Silvertone acoustic that he ordered at the general store. The owner of the store asked Freddie if his mother knew he was buying a guitar on her account, and he said no, so he had to ask for permission. Ella Mae said no way; if you want a guitar you’re going to have to work for it. So he picked cotton long enough to earn the money to pay for his Roy Roger Silvertone guitar. Freddie’s mother moved to Chicago to be with her brothers Felix, Leonard and Willie King, but Freddie’s father J.T. wanted Freddie to stay and finish high school, which he did. In 1952 Freddie married a Texas girl, Jessie Burnett, who was a solid influence on him.
He would work in the steel mills during the days and did gigs at night, occasionally doing sideman gigs and recording sessions. Chicago in those days had two Blues locals; the south side had the big blues sound with horns and piano and the occasional harp (harmonica) player. The westside had smaller venues, like bars and taverns where the younger players could gig as trios, and that’s where Freddie formed his first band, The Every Hour Blues Boys. Finally, in 1956 he got to record for a local label, El-Bee Records, where, he was starting to get noticed with a little help from Robert Lockwood Jr. He finally got an audition with Chess Records where Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter were signed. He was rejected because the powers that be at Chess thought he sounded too much like BB King. Freddie took this as a blessing because it made him find his own style and voice. Songs like “The Stumble” and “Hide Away” are classics, and to this day Eric Clapton’s version of Hide Way on the Blues Breakers record stand the test of time.
Long live the King, all the Kings of the Blues
One of the underlying connections in the story of the blues is how many of the players all came from Mississippi. Must be something in the water down there or perhaps the fact that being raised on a plantation, in the Deep South, as a farm hand, picking cotton was enough to give anyone the blues. But who are we kidding. In the memoir of Alan Lomax, noted folklorist, ethnomusicologist, archivist, wrote” The Land Where the Blues Began“ He links the blues to segregation, forced labor and debt peonage in the deep south. Debt peonage is a form of modern day slavery, but through this music some would find the freedom they were looking for and so richly deserved.
Thus ends my blogs on my early influences. I’ve always loved the blues, it’s honesty, and straight on truthfulness will always be a part of my music in some fashion. I hope you’ve enjoyed these little history lessons, and I really hope you all check out these players. I think you’ll find that they can articulate a real emotion with a few notes, and heartfelt vocal styling’s.
I’ll be taking a vacation from bloggin’ but would love to hear from you all as to what you would like to hear from me in my next go ‘round of Bloggin’ Floggin’ … there is certainly more I could write about the blues and influences, but perhaps something new would be in order – let me know!
Howlin’ Wolf was one of the most influential blues musicians ever. Period. Story over. He had an unbelievable voice, and his guitar and harmonica styles set him apart from so many others in the early days of the blues.
Born Chester Arthur Burnett, June 10, 1910, in White Station, Mississippi, which was little more than a railroad stop between Aberdeen and West Point, in the hill country of Mississippi. His mother and father separated when he was very young, but that didn’t stop him or his love for music. After the parents split up, his father moved to the delta while his mother, also poor, would make some money selling hand written gospel songs. Later she would disown her son for playing the devils music. She left him with his uncle, Will Young, who was a fire and brimstone preacher in White Station. Chester even sang in the choir back then but when he turned 13 he ran away from uncle Will, who treated him so mean that one of the Wolf’s childhood friends said, “Will Young is the meanest man between here and hell”.
The Wolf wound up in the Delta with his real father and stepmother, a slew of stepsiblings and a half-sister, who lived on the Young and Morrow plantation near Ruleville. It was there that Chester became fascinated with the local blues musicians like Charley Patton. His father bought him a guitar in January of 1928 and he somehow convinced Patton, who lived on the Dockery Plantation, to give him guitar lessons, and also got some tips on harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). Seems there was more than one Sonny Boy Williamson. When he wasn’t working on his father’s farm he would travel the Delta with other musicians like Sonnyboy, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House and Willie Brown.
Chester had a voice that was unique in that it was so raw, and so forceful. He would literally scare other musicians with it, perhaps because of his stage presence, or just the physical size of the man. He was 6’3” tall and weighed in around 230 lbs., and had a size 16 shoe. Johnny Shines was quoted that he was afraid of The Wolf, like you’d be of some wild animal, because of the sound he was giving off.
In 1948, Wolf moved to West Memphis, Arkansas, where he put together a band that included James Cotton and Junior Parker, guitarists Matt Murphy, Pat Hare, and Willie Johnson. He landed a job at a radio station, KWEM, playing the blues. He was discovered in 1951 by Sam Phillips, who took him into a studio where he recorded “Moaning at Midnight” and “How Many More Years”. Little Feat did a version of “How Many More Years” as a medley with 44 Blues. Lowell loved The Wolf. Phillips leased the recording to Chess Records and it was released in 1952 and climbed to the top 10 billboard R&B chart. With that success The Wolf recorded more songs for Phillips, who kept leasing them to Chess and RPM records. Chess finally won out and signed The Wolf and moved him to Chicago, where he lived out the rest of his life. It was there that Chester Burnett wrote and recorded blues standards like “Spoonful”, “Killin’ Floor”, “Little Red Rooster” (that was covered by the Rolling Stones), “Back Door Man” (covered by the Doors) “I Ain’t Superstitious”, and my favorite …. “Evil”!
Joined by Hubert Sumlin, the great guitarist who played sometimes with Muddy Waters, The Wolf continued to perform into the 70’s until his health began to fade. Now a husband and father, he bought farmland down in Arkansas where he would hunt, fish, and farm his land. He died in Hines, Illinois, on January 10th, 1976 while being operated on for a brain tumor.
He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall Of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1981, and as one blues critic put it “if you want to know what stage presence is, just point at Howlin’ Wolf and divide by ten.”
He was a blues man though through and through.
Hello to all who’ve been following my blues blogs here at Better Daze. Glad you could join me for another round of my influences into the blues, and as I have been focusing on acoustic blues and there are too many players to go into depth on, I thought I would move onto the electric masters who knocked me out in my very formative years.
I remember it like, sort of, at least some of the circumstances, but I can tell you that there I was at the age of 16, sitting in a house in east Hollywood bagging up lids, the kind where keys came wrapped in brightly colored cellophane, and in the background I am diggin’ on what coming out of the stereo. It was a 78 called “Travelin’ ” by John Lee Hooker, released in 1960. So it was just about 3 years out at that time, but it blew my skull away. The songs were, and still are, some of his most compelling, “Solid Sender” being my favorite. Never knew a man could do so much with an electrified guitar and a voice that would send chills up the spine. If you get the chance to get this one I say take it, you won’t be sorry. “I Can’t Believe”, “Whiskey and Wimmen”, “Canal Street” … Now then you must have an earful of “Boogie Chillen”, “Queen Bee” and “Crawling Kingsnake” just to hear some of the first recordings of the Hook. The Hook is what he is known by, and his trademark shuffle is perhaps the most borrowed groove in the universe of the blues and rock and roll.
John Lee Hooker was born near Clarksdale, Mississippi on August 22, 1917, the son of sharecroppers, and his stepfather, William Moore, who was a blues musician taught him to play guitar, and according to John, that’s where his unique style came from. In the early 1940’s he moved to Detroit by way of Memphis and Cincinnati. By day a janitor in the auto factories, but by night he would play shows, house parties and whatever would come his way. A record store owner who really liked John’s music introduced him to Bernard Besman, a record producer and distributor, who also owned a label called Sensation Records. Besman recorded John’s songs sometime around 1948, he then leased them to Modern Records. The first hit was “Boogie Chillun”, later released as “Boogie Chillen”, my guess was they didn’t like the spelling, for reasons we can only speculate on. “Boogie Chillen” was a jukebox hit selling over a million copies. He followed that up with a string of hits like “I’m in the Mood” and “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”, and he rode that wave for 15 years, leading up to a recording contract with a new label Vee-Jay Records, “Travelin’” was one of the first on this label, and by then he had added a drummer, and sometimes a second guitar, albeit whoever got to play guitar with The Hook had his hands full as he really didn’t follow patterns of standard 12 bar blues, he used the guitar to tell his stories lyrically with that voice.
Of course he would be re-discovered during the folk craze of the 60’s and go back to his acoustic solo versions, but anyway you sliced it, it was raw, strong and extremely funky. Then the British invasion bands like the Stones and Yardbirds help spread the word across the ocean, and John became an international star. By the 70’s he was winning Grammys, doing collaborations with, among others, Bonnie Raitt and Los Lobos. He’s the real deal is all I can say, and I had the pleasure meeting him a few times. The first was in 1985 in Charlottesville Va., where myself and Catfish Hodge, or the original Blues Busters, when it was just a duet, got to open for him. Fish knew the Hook from Detroit where Catfish grew up and introduced me. I remember how much I was in awe of finally meeting up face to face with one of my early heroes. The second time was at a Namm Show showcase where Gibson Guitars asked if I could open up for him, do a 45-minute set, and low and behold he remembered our first meeting, so when the opportunity to play at his 1996 tribute show at Madison Square Garden came to me, I jumped all over it. There I was, in slide heaven with Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Haynes and Roy Rogers, all in a row, backing up the Hook with Richie Hayward on drums, and the one and only Willie Dixon playing bass. What a night! Now I figure a lot of you folks are not blues aficionados, so I beg of you to go grab some of this music, it will enliven your soul.
So for those of you who’ve been following my blues rant, I bring you the second most influential blues musician for me, Mississippi John Hurt. Mississippi John Hurt was the first blues album I ever went and bought on my own, wish I still had the vinyl, but alas, like the wind, it’s long gone. I do remember that it was a live recording at what sounded like a small club and internet searches have not come up with the title, it was on Okeh Records, although a Piedmont label was placed over the Okeh label. It had wonderful songs like “The Sliding Delta”, “Staggerlee”, “Spike Driver Blues”, and my favorite “The Candy Man Blues”. His style is so distinctive, a folk-blues finger picking marvel, who only used slide occasionally, but the way he approached the melody with the bass notes made for one of the fullest sounds I ever heard. His voice was a mix of gravel and smooth, almost soft-spoken texture, and he could really deliver a lyric. The lyrics could go from a gospel “nearer my god to thee” to the racus “Candy Man Blues”.
John Smith Hurt was born July 3, 1893 in Teoc, Mississippi, but raised up in Avalon, Mississippi, he taught himself to play at the age of 9. Although he recorded his first tracks 1928, he really wasn’t discovered until he was in his 70’s. He recalled his first recording session that came about because a fiddle player Willie Narmour suggested it to Okeh record producer Tommy Rockwell while recording his own album. The first session was in Memphis where, as Mr. Hurt recalled, “was in a great big hall with Rockwell and the engineer, and we were the only ones there. I sat on a chair and they pushed this microphone right up to my mouth and told me don’t move after they had the right position. I had to keep my head absolutely still, and I was nervous, and my neck was sore for day after.” Later they brought him to New York City to record more tracks, but alas, his recordings were not very successful so he returned to Avalon to share crop and play at parties and dances.
The folk music revival in the late 50’s to the early 60’s was when John was really discovered. Tom Hoskins was following the trail of the song “Avalon Blues” brought him to meet Mr. Hurt. Hoskins arranged a series of concerts culminating at the Newport Folk Festival where Mississippi John Hurt was treated as a living legend. So at age 70 he was a star, and no one was more surprised than John himself. Through re-releases of his studio recordings and a lot of live recordings, he played and entertained audiences until his death in 1966.
I really can’t put into words how much I admired this man and his style and grace, a humble individual who played music for the love of it, and yet as fate would have it his life turned in an amazing way. I recorded Candy Man Blues with Little Feat because I just love that song, and I wanted to pay tribute to this wonderful man. The highlight of it all was to be paid a visit in Chicago from his granddaughter, who was so thankful that I had covered Candy Man Blues, giving full credit to him and his estate, she was so thankful and I was so humbled, and pleased….
The next blog will be about the electric blues players who’ve influenced me, but I must mention other acoustic players who made the blues what they are - Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Bukka White, Huddie Leadbetter, Blind Willie Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Charley Patton and the list could go on and on but I suggest you make your own search, let that blue light be your guide.
In this world of social media and media in general, that keeps a stream of consciousness for about a minute, I would like to take you all back to a different time and a different place that moved at a much slower pace, but had a lasting effect to this day thanks to some who keep it alive. In a way, it’s a lot like the shaman, or elders, of a tribe, who passed down the wisdom in the form of storytelling, lore that has a life all its own, and is so vital to the concept of the full human experience. Something that rocks your soul so much that it never dies - The Blues.
There are some of us who remember the blues long before the British invasion of the sixties waved it in our faces, but I have to say, the Rolling Stones bringing Howlin’ Wolf onto our television screens gets them some kudos from me. A good case can be made that the blues, and rhythm and blues were the start of rock and roll. I don’t even think that’ s disputed anymore, but I’m going to remind you once again about some of the pioneers of this music that gave rock and roll its life.
Let’s start with Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues. He was born May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst Mississippi. At least that’s what everyone seems to think. Records from that time are pretty shaky. He played harmonica, recalled son House, who along with Willie Brown, played in the Robinson, Mississippi area, and noted that Johnson was pretty good on the harmonica, but terrible on the guitar. Robert left the area for Martinsville, a place close to his birthplace, where he played his guitar and constantly borrowed from son House’s style, but then he met Ike Zinnerman. Here we get into the lore aspect of the story. It was said that Ike learned to play by visiting graveyards at night to practice, and he taught Robert some of his style. So, when Robert returned to Robinsonville a master at the guitar, son House proclaimed that he played like 3 guitarists at once, and the only way that could happen is he sold his soul to the devil. The story goes that Robert was told to go down to the crossroads by Dokery Plantation at midnight where he met a large black man, the devil, who took Roberts guitar, tuned it and showed him a couple of tunes, so it was a deal with the devil, like the legend of Faust, that gave Robert his uncanny talent. After that her became very popular playing on street corners and in the juke joints of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. He was quite the ladies’ man.
There are two or three theories on how he died, but the ones most prevalent are that he was poisoned by the husband of a lady Robert had seduced, stabbed by a jealous lover, or that mean mistreater syphilis got him. Really makes no difference because he was only 28 at the time of his death. He did, however, leave us with some recordings of his work. First in San Antonio, Texas, in a room at the Gunter Hotel, November 23, 1936, and then in 1937 in Dallas at the Makeshift Studio at the Vitagraph Building. I suggest you take a listen to these and see why he’s considered to be the King of the Delta Blues. Both recording sessions are packaged and re-released on Columbia Records titled King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961. The influence of Robert Johnson on rockl and roll is evidenced in the covers of his songs by so many. Songs like Love In Vain, Cross Roads Blues, Hellhound On My Trail, Travelling Riverside Blues, and I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom, just to name a few.
I will continue on this blues beat for a while as there are other artists I would like to mention, the ones who played a guitar and sang their souls out, and hopefully take you through the migration north to Chicago and the electric movement of the blues, but next I will get into Mississippi John Hurt. Any ideas or requests, we would love to hear from you!
FOREWORD: It is my job to keep track of the music, i.e. where it goes, what is streaming, what is popular at the moment, etc. I have noticed a growing trend with our music – the resurgence of interest in Riding the Nova Train, Roger and Paul’s first collaborative release. It is always fun for me to see which song from Riding the Nova Train you all have chosen for the week to be your top streaming song from the album – and it always changes!
Rick Jamm at Jamsphere Magazine had this to say about the single In My Time of Dying: “This track could easily have come out at the time of the Chicago Blues explosion during the late forties and early fifties. Often you listen to one of those seminal Blues artists from that era and wonder, “what if they had captured this person at the top of their game, doing some of their better material with better musicians, in a more modern recording studio?” Well, here is that recording!”. And on SoundCloud, The Train is really picking up steam with singles such as “Better Daze” and “One Eyed Jack” charting on the rock charts. With more than a million + listeners, it just keeps chugging along gaining new fans every day!
In light of this renewed interest, I decided it was time to give this rocking album the attention it deserves, and so, without further ado, I give you over to Paul Barrere to talk a bit about how The Train came to be, and more… ~ LJ
Paul: I had been working with Roger for a while doing Little Feat live releases and was amazed at his talent as a producer, understanding of frequencies, and so I decided to ask him if he had any interest in doing a solo project for me – that was the start of it really. I brought over my older than old Spirit mixing board along with a headphone amp and a few other things I had lying about, my 50 watt Marshall amp and old cabinet that we set up in what is now a den area at his house, and I would just jam away on it. In the meantime, we got a chance to produce Coco Montoya and so here we were, co-producers, but in all honesty, Roger did all the lion’s share of the work. He had an opportunity to do a record for Pete Griffin’s band called Gryphon Labs, when I heard the mixes on that record, (that, by the way, they asked me to play on a couple of songs), I was totally sold.
So the process began. What was a solo effort quickly became a duet, and we started to write songs together that I felt has some of the best guitar sounds I ever got on a recording. We came from totally different musical backgrounds, but somehow we found a way to merge our two styles. I would play and he would record these crazy riffs, sometimes I would play with a drummer, sometimes with a click, and once even with a beat from my washing machine on the wash cycle! What a great shuffle that was, and eventually became “Pumping The A”. Actually, all the songs on Nova Train were what I liked to call Frankensteins – totally built by Roger from editing away at the riffs and adding drums, sometimes a note at a time like “One Eyed Jack” (hence, the drum credit went to Ed I. Ted, a friend of Roger’s named Ed Kanon).
There are really only two songs on the recording that pretty much came through from what I played, “Why You Wanna Do Me”, and, “In My Time of Dying”, all the rest were built from my riffs from the ground up, but the outcome was fantastic. Lyrically, Roger and I underwent numerous re-writes on many of the songs, the title track comes to mind as it was actually first called “Blunt Force Trauma”, and here again, Roger’s input was something that took me to another range in my voice and delivery. “Again & Again” was started with an acoustic guitar riff that just grew into such a groove that the original title “Ocean”, because of the motion of the piece, became “Again & Again”. The “Number Six Dance” was just a mean guitar riff that we though would be perfect for a reference to Blazing Saddles, if anything, we like to have fun and project that in our tunes. “Miss Believing” is a play on words - we choose things that can have multiple meanings so that the listener can have their own take on it, a suggestion for the subconscious perhaps, a bit of tongue in cheek! “Right Outta Wrong” was a chord progression I’ve had circling my brain for a while and we got another good friend of Roger’s, Tom Hardisty, to come in and play drums while I laid down those chords, and just improvised some other parts that Roger edited into a bridge and chorus. He actually had a lyric from the past that fit the bill.
And finally, “Better Daze” is where we found the name for the company, because who wouldn’t want a Better Daze after all?? You all can hit our website and have a listen to all of these and more, and if so inclined, either download, or grab yourself and actual cd – yes, there are still cd’s on the planet, crank it up and have a ride on the Nova Train!
I remember what got me into playing the guitar like it was yesterday. I had given up taking piano lessons when I was just about to turn 12 in the summer of 1960, told the folks I needed an instrument that I could take to my room or wherever, other than the piano in the living room where I had to practice an hour a day. I was tired of being anchored to the same spot, at the same time, every day of the week. Later that year, my oldest brother was having a party at the house and there was this guy playing Jimmy Reed songs on a sweet ¾ Gibson acoustic guitar, and lo and behold he had almost all the ladies gathered around him! Ahhhhh, one of those moments that is seared into my brain, that’s it, guitar = chicks!!! For my 13th birthday my folks bought me that very guitar and I was in heaven. Finally, an instrument I could bond with. I could hide in my bedroom and try to find those riffs I heard on Jimmy Reed records, albeit simple, they were magic to me.
My folks said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to take lessons”, so they found this folkie lady teacher over in Silverlake, I was now 14 and she was beautiful, but said I had to lose the steel strings and get a nylon string guitar. Like a fool, I believed her, so away goes the Gibson and we find a classical guitar made by Candelas Guitars. Little did I know that these instruments are some of the very finest made Classical and Spanish guitars and I wish I had both those guitars today, their value is way more than we paid for them, but that’s another story. Back to the folkie beauty who gave me my first two lessons, I learned 5 chords form her then she said she was leaving for 2 weeks to go to the Newport Folk Festival, she never returned … but I did inherit an interest in folk music from her. From those roots I found Folk Blues. Mississippi John Hurt was the first record I bought and I thought wow! His style was so different than that of the simple Jimmy Reed progressions. From there I found Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Huddy Ledbetter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and so many more that I can’t even remember. I was lucky that there was a club, The Ashgrove, that underage folks could go to hear folk music. Saw Lightning Hopkins, Johnny Shines, Brownie McGhee and Sunny Terry. Like a kid in a candy store, I ate this stuff up.
So now you know how I got into playing the blues. Over the next few blogs I will go into depth about some of my favorite players, styles, and who I think carries on the traditions. There are so many great players I will undoubtedly miss someone, but I do welcome your input and questions as to what you would like to hear from me.
Carry on my brothers and sisters.
I’ve been asked this question a number of times by people looking to do a recording. To break it down for you, in my opinion, a producers’ job is to achieve the best possible version of the material they are given to work with in a reasonable amount of time through the use of arrangement, engineering and editing. It is also bringing in outside players when necessary to capture the best performance and tone for recording because even a great live artist with all the right techniques for stage doesn’t necessarily have the right chops for the studio, and vice versa. This has been common practice since recording began and still goes on today.
Here are two other questions I commonly get asked:
Should I work with a producer?
I would say it all depends on what stage your material has reached, and what game plan you have for when it is completed. Some of the ways to approach the decision so you don’t get ahead of yourself are:
1) If you believe the material is ready, if it is solid and has all the elements - right math, arrangements, melody - you have all the players lined up and practiced enough for a really good quality recording, and the only thing it lacks is a finished sound, then really all you need is a room and an engineer that shares your taste of what things should sound like.
2) On the other hand, if you already took this approach and got a finished product, sent it out to all the usual suspects, beat the pavement with it and exhausted your promo network, got a positive review but can’t quite get it through the door, yet still believe it has the potential, then an outside perspective from a producer could be the key to getting it there.
3) If you are someone that only knows a handful of chords on one instrument, enough to get the basic melody and music idea, but don’t have enough knowledge to translate it to the instruments that you feel it needs, you might be best served by working with an arranger first to help develop the idea to get that first step done before going to a producer. If you are proficient on your instrument, you know how you want things put together on all your instruments and have all your concepts and parts, but don’t really have access to the caliber of musicians you would like to work with, once again a producer can be a great help there because most producers have a lineup of players they’re comfortable working with and know how to work with quickly, to achieve the outcome everybody’s looking for.
How do I choose a producer?
First and foremost, I would say to find a produce that has experience working with the style you are trying to work in, has a good, or at least a generalized grasp of all the different instruments, how they work together, and how they work off of one another, as well as getting the sound and right effects for whatever the style may be. If you find a producer you think may be great, but you’re just not sure how to make that step, take what you feel is your best single and do a bit of testing in the water and get that answer – it’s not always the same opinion as when you’re writing the stuff – and go in with one song and take it all the way to the end. If that experience is great and you want to continue on then you’ve found your producer. If you’re just starting off and don’t feel you could put together the budget to work with a professional producer, it never hurts to find someone who’s just starting off and might not have a big list of credits but has the natural ability and drive – you might find a winning combination and grow together, this approach has yielded some fantastic records over the years. A key point to keep in mind is that you should take the time to get a true vision and understanding of what you believe the sonic outcome should be before you begin this whole process so that everyone involved in a project can at least start on the same page. Because in the end, if it comes out something completely different than what you imagined, and you haven’t taken these steps, you cannot blame the producer. Just remember when the time comes and you start putting together your budget to go into the studio and have a producer, you’ll probably spend twice as much on the marketing later just to get it up above the noise enough for people to give it some attention, so really take the time and think it through and good luck!
A very intelligent musician once said that talking about music is like singing about football, and for this next section I’m kind of in that quandary. Guitars and how they sound is not really an objective point of view, in fact, what sounds like one thing to one person can be exactly opposite of what someone else hears, but this is my blog so let me flog away on it.
I enjoy the differences in guitar tones, probably why I have so many of these wonderful instruments, but to my ear each one has a distinctive sound and feel. On the acoustic side of the ledger there are my Martins and then my Gibson/Epiphones. I have three distinctively different sounding Martins, not only that one is a twelve string, which automatically sounds different, but the size of the body and width of the neck also influences the sound and how it feels to play. I love my twelve string, probably the hardest guitar I have to play because of the pressure it takes to get a pure tone when playing it in standard tuning. Slide is a whole different animal, and those tones are unmistakable. There is a great blues guitarist names Kelly Joe Phelps, plays six string and Dobro and when he plays a twelve string he makes the sound of angels emit from those strings, I have more of a standard blues technique, ala Huddie Ledbetter known affectionately as Led Belly. Having those sympathetic strings added to the mix just makes the sound huge. Speaking of six strings and Dobros, I love my martin with the serial number that can’t be traced so I think it was a prototype of their cutaway acoustics. It, even with it’s smaller and thinner body is so right for slide, and sometimes it even has a older almost silver tone like sound, but I’m sure that just the way that roger mics it, and we have mic’d it so many ways I think I’ll let roger tell you about that aspect since its his area of expertise. My two Dobros are completely different. One is wood with the resonator and has a picture of surfers and palm trees on the back, and that’s because I think it was first designed to play Hawaiian music, slack key with a little slide like you would hear in traditional Hawaiian tunes, and then there’s the new all metal one that is just blues at its best. A little dirtier sound but it really rings out. My understanding of the Dobro or Resonator guitar was that they were built to play in bands where they weren’t mic’d up. Finally my A. Davis guitar, one of the best sounding instruments I’ve ever owned. It plays like a dream and the tone is just sweet as honey, A. Davis is a little known luthier whose guitars are works of art as well as sounding fantastic.
On to the electrics, and the biggest difference is the pickups, single coil or humbuckers, a duel coil pickup that produces a thicker and more sustain, and of course less hum, one coil is out of phase with the other thus cancelling the excess hum you get from the pickup catching interference, being a single coil fan I get those buzzes and hums, but then I’m a srat man. I have now only 4 real strats and two are very old, so I’ve had clones made for me to take on the road. My Brown one is made like my 1972 strat using the exact dimensions and hardware even down to the brass nut, and my distressed blue one is made to play like my original black one, a 1969 strat that I turned into a slide guitar, but it has original hardware like a 1964 strat. I tune this one standard, I also have a 1987 strat plus and a 92 strat plus, I love the 1987 teal one as it has that original strat sound, but by 1992 they had changed something in the lace sensor pickups that kind of lost that loving feeling for me. The truth of the matter is I’ve had numerous strat like guitars made but only the ones that Seth Mayer has made for me have that true strat sound. I’ve got a Les Paul Jr. that I used on the nova train recording, and of course my Gibson ES175 from the 1950’s, somehow I managed to change the sound on it when I changed tailpieces, I was young and stupid to do it but live and learn, it had the most unbelievable sound and I did manage to blow up a couple of amps with it …. Hmmm blown up amps …. As for the difference in sounds, simple explanation is humbuckers thick and fat and sustain out the wazoooo and single coil, brighter with more bite, but both really can sound sweet when not overdriven, and of course the type of wood on the body makes a difference, a hollow body guitar like my ES175 can create a lot of feedback, a lighter weight wood won’t have as much “body” as something a little heavier. And there’s the necks to consider, rose wood fingerboard or maple, they all have a different feel and sound, but the most important difference in sound comes from one thing only - YOUR FINGERS.
Robert McGreevy: Do you actually take your ‘favorite guitars’ with you on the road? Aren’t you afraid they will get damaged or lost? Do you use less valuable ‘road’ guitars?
Paul: I used to, but no that I fly to more gigs I am using my Strat plus guitars, the ones made in 1987 and 1992, as opposed to the 1969 and 1972 Strat’s that are worth so much more.
Scott Fulton: For slide, do you prefer one make of guitar strings?
Paul: I used to use sets that I would put together for slide, heavier gauge and the three wound strings were flat wound, for the G string I would use an unwound 20.
Paul’s Strat takes a solo trip to Puerto Rico
I’ve been playing guitar now for 55 years, and sometimes I wonder how many of these wonderful instruments have I owned over all that time, I’m thinking well over 50 but that’s just a guess. One that I know for sure was my first electric guitar that I bought used when I was 13, a beautiful 1957 Gibson ES175 that I have actually enclosed a picture of. Yes, that’s me in Laurel Canyon playing the beast. It was an ungodly orange thing but sounded beautiful. I’ve since had it redone with a sunburst finish, but my mistake was changing the tailpiece and that changed the sound drastically. Oh well, live and learn I guess. I played that guitar for 6 years and even did my first professional gig at the Whiskey A’ Go-Go, but from there I got a Les Paul junior that I used for a few years in my garage band, The Led Enema, until I broke the headstock. That was when I finally got my first brand new Stratocaster in 1969, that I still own today and used it all through my career with Little Feat. One day it took a trip on its own, thanks to Delta Airlines, and spent 6 months in Puerto Rico. I immediately went and bought another one in 1974, a used 1972 Stratocaster that I still have as well. By some miracle Delta Airlines returned my black Strat, so now I had two and was on my way to collecting guitars.
Now I needed an acoustic guitar for the arsenal. Took a trip down to the guitar center where I got my 1969 strat and pulled every Martin D28 out and opened all the cases. Danced around and strummed each and every one of them, and the one that rang longest was bought on the spot, It’s a beautiful thing, and was most useful when I recorded Missin’ You on the “Time Loves a Hero” record, and after that it traveled all around the country with the original Bluesbusters, myself and Catfish Hodge, just honky tonkin’ around the east coast. There’s been 3 dobros, oops now its four since I just was given one, a wonderful Martin D 35 12 string from sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s – and my latest Martin I’ve been recording with is a Martin single cutaway 14 fret guitar like none I’ve ever seen. I have tried to find the age through their serial number list but its not there, I think it may have been a proto type for their OMC-28E series, but so far I haven’t gotten any reply from Martin about it, but it sings like a bird. Thanks to Gibson and Epiphone, I have gotten an endorsement and therefore a boatload of acoustic guitars, the workhorse that I travel with always is my Epiphone EJ200 and its just a really good sounding electric acoustic guitar in all kinds of situations, from concert halls to small clubs. There is one more acoustic guitar that I am partial to and that is a custom A Davis guitar that has the most incredible tone, but it was so expensive it will never see the belly of a 747, this is my home and recording guitar only.
More electric guitars over the years were a couple of Yamaha electric guitars, like a Gibson SG that they gave me in Japan on a tour there when Lowell was alive, a few music man guitars that Leo Fender gave us when he sold fender and started music man, another Les Paul junior and a telecaster that was made for the blue brothers movie, a new Epiphone Sheraton and at least 4 custom made guitars the latest of which are 2 sweet Buzz Feiten creations, one with Strat like pickups and one with humbuckers, just getting used to that super nova right now. Wow 55 years has certainly seen a few axes in these hands and I am sure I’ve left a few out but then it has been 55 years – next blog I will talk about the sounds of the different guitars.
Chris T.: What’s your favorite all around acoustic
Paul: My favorite now is my Martin cutaway
Do you have many Gibsons?
Paul: I've only owned 1 Gibson acoustic,
One off luthier builds?
Paul: Yes an A.Davis guitar that sounds amazing
What’s your favorite Strat & why? Trem or no?
Paul: My teal blue has been my go to guitar since 1987
A strat plus, one of the first and I do use the tremolo bar
Maria H.: Do you name your guitars?
Paul: Never have I named a guitar, however with my guitar techs we've had a code, like blue (standard tuning) brown (open A) black (open G) so that's kind of a name I guess
In part 2 of The Art of Classical music, Roger talks about some of the ways in which classical masters such as Handel, Liszt, and Beethoven,among others, are the basis for much of todays music.
I think in modern and contemporary music it’s easily forgotten that pretty much all of the guidelines or rules that are used while putting together something that is sonically pleasing to back up whatever you’re trying to say, is all taken from classical music. When you break it down, the comparisons are pretty obvious. A lot of people don’t take the time to listen to classical music because it’s kind of considered an old style that doesn’t really apply anymore, and that’s simply not true. All the scales, chords, and the theory of circle of fifths – all the theories that are put together for what we consider music - had to be invented at that time and they really had to take the time to do it because let’s face it, they couldn’t throw something down on tape and say “okay that sounds good and that sounds terrible, so let’s cut it out”. They really had to make it work the first time.
Some of the more obvious examples I would say is someone like Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple and Rainbow (now Blackmores Night), kind of getting back to his roots, was very influenced by baroque music – Handel, Vivaldi – and that style of composers. You can hear the scale tones and arrangements he would use on a guitar that would have been split between a lot more instruments. When you can play 6 notes at a time in chord form on a guitar, you can then condense that style of music into what became that style of rock and roll. A really good example of that is a song from the DP ‘Perfect Strangers’ album called ‘Under the Gun’, that has a very baroque style of composition going on there and it is very exciting because it’s on rock and roll instruments.
It’s kind of funny because when baroque music (taken from a Portuguese word meaning misshapen pearl),came out people were like “That’s not music”, so it kind of broke a lot of the rules and engaged a many more minor keys that weren’t really allowed because of religious doctrine at the time. After that we get into the romantic era, i.e. Beethoven and Paganini, working on a more tonal base – the ability to jam over the same chord for a longer period of time. You can really hear those styles and influences in people like Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai, both very heavily influenced by composers of this era.
Next we get to the classical era with composers such as Mozart & Liszt who, unintentionally, got into the rock and roll side a bit. These days it’s the same old rule, three chord simplicity sells better than anything. So, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, if you cut off some of the fat and boil it down, basically gets you a 3-chord blues song. The tools - through a lot of years of experimentation, writing music down and deciding what is pleasant to the human ear - really does come from the classical era. It’s one thing to arrange 4 instruments into a rock and roll song, and another to arrange 60 into a single piece of music. It’s like we took classical music and put it into a compactor and crushed it down so the verse, chorus and bridge that used to be big, full pieces of music, are now compressed down into ‘x’ amount of bars to get the point across and to get the excitement of the changes.
It’s actually really exciting to dig down into stuff like that. You take Mozart’s 25th Symphony in G Minor, definitely one of my favorite pieces, and just listen to the intro you can hear how much technique is going into, say, the violins, being backed by the brass, getting that real big excitement. It’s not really that different than boiling it all down to a rhythm guitar and guitar solo with a drum and bass, creating a rhythmic backing to it.
Then there’s engineering, they also invented that. As different time periods went by in classical music, they would move the seating arrangements around between the instruments in order to get more volume from one side than the other. Sonically, it’s what we do now with things like faders that come out of your stereo system. Everything that we take for granted in music now from the tools that we use, to the instruments we use them on, and the theory that makes it musical, with a lot of practice can all be seen all the way back to its roots. Everybody is influenced by everybody else. In an autobiography by Liszt, he discussed how, as a child, he went to see Paganini perform (Paganini was a virtuoso violin player who has influenced most of the lead guitar players we listen to now). From that one concert, Liszt decided he wanted to become a high level virtuoso on the piano, so we got a lot of great music from that.
Now a days in music, and even in film and television, all those arrangements can be traced back to the early music eras. So when you’re listening to different music, whether it be the horn arrangements in James Brown music, to the string arrangement in the Moody Blues, and right down to the piano and guitar arrangements that Paul and I put together in ‘Mary’ - which I originally wrote as a classical piano piece and was then was turned into an interesting contemporary song. For every style of music that comes out, you will have a previous generation saying that’s not music, but in the end we’re using the same scales, same notes, same theories – same everything.
See why Roger says Mozart was the first pop star and an avid do it yourselfer
To say anybody did anything in music first is kind of funny. It’s more like whoever was successful first and maintained that success. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t a bunch of people around somewhere doing it themselves. In the new generation of d.i.y. artists and people trying to do things on their own, I think Mozart should stand out as a definite icon. Today, people are trying to step away from major labels and sponsorship, in order to really get their trade out to everyone and try to make a little bit of money. Understand that Mozart did the same thing. He was commissioned by the Archbishop of Salzburg to write for parties and other social gatherings, and made a decent living doing it, but he wanted to step away. You see, classical music at the time was really only for those who were within a certain social status that were allowed in to actually see him perform, whereas, Mozart wanted to get away from these places and go off on his own. He wanted to bring the music to everyday people, so he would get more and more involved in writing in 4/4 common time and cut time – stuff that people could really enjoy. He just kind of took off the leash and started writing and taking half the house in ticket sales, and realized that the simplicity and movement of a certain piece of music would get people to come back and see it again. So he was specifically writing to get people to come to the show, which has grown into quite a large business, as we all know.
Most composers at that time would write a commissioned piece for a certain person, or be commissioned to make their social gatherings more intellectually pleasing as opposed to more fun. I guess you could say he was the first pop star – he wasn’t under the thumb of any particular royal or religious hierarchy to write great mythology or whatever they would use for basic concepts of material at the time. He would write a piece of music and perform it in a regular theater that anybody could go see, and he would hope more would come back to see it again.
He was one of the first to really embrace the simplicity of a few chords creating a tonal and then orchestrating around it getting those melodies stuck in people’s heads so they would walk around whistling it, I’m sure, and then come back and see it again and again that way he could continue to write, roam around, and make his own living so he could be more independent.
It’s no different from people now. You want to get signed to a label and you know you are going to be giving away a major percentage of any money you might make in order to stand on your own two feet. Mozart took a chance and decided to play for people, so to say he did it first is kind of a tricky one. Things have been going on a lot longer than what the history books say, but to say he’s maintained his success with it? I’d say he did pretty well considering all these years later we are still listening to his stuff. Let’s give him credit for stepping out and making a living doing it.
Reference Links: The Guardian - What Pop Music Owes to the Classical Masters
Paul draws the line
I remember like it was yesterday, my son told me he finally picked an instrument to play. Me being a musician thought great, drums? bass? keyboards or guitar? And then he hit me with “Turntables” – after I brought my jaw up from the floor I said ok cool, lets check it out, I mean after all when I was young and I told my dad I wanted an electric guitar he pretty much had the same reaction. That was 12 years ago and he’s gotten good at it, playing gigs all around town, but when he started out and I realized he was using my vinyl to scratch on, that’s where I drew the line. “Son I don’t mind you scratching, just GET YOUR OWN RECORDS TO DO IT ON”. I have a boatload of vinyl recordings dating back to when I was in my teens. Still have a great turntable although it’s not set up, but hey one thing at a time. Seems like we’ve moved on through the cassette days to the cd’s and that made it all that more convenient to listen to music. I know a few audiophiles who claim they can hear the difference between vinyl and digital cd’s. my ears aren’t that finely tuned, probably from standing in front of amps all my life but there are those who’s ears are that finely tuned, and for them the resurgence of vinyl is a step in the right direction. But it’s not just them, audiophiles. It seems that there is a youth movement in collecting vinyl.
According to a report from Great Britain vinyl record sales are up 62 in the last three months (see reference link below). The trend is being fuelled by young music fans that listen to digital tracks through streaming services, but enjoy buying the albums like their parents by flicking through racks stacked with vinyl at record stores. There’s something to the old format that is enticing to folks, it’s more of a tactile buzz I think.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI and BRIT Awards, said: “Vinyl is no longer the preserve of baby-boomers who grew up with the format. It now also appeals to a new generation of engaged younger fans and millennials. While digital platforms provide fans instant and unlimited access to an ever-expanding cosmos of music, they can’t quite match the unique experience vinyl gives you - browsing for rare gems in your favorite record store, poring over the cover art and sleeve notes and enjoying the ritual of carefully dropping the stylus onto an LP and savoring its analogue sound. Younger fans increasingly discover on digital but collect on vinyl.”
And incredibly, for the first time in 23 years, pop legend David Bowie has topped the vinyl album charts with Blackstar. In Birmingham Alabama there is this stat that blew my mind - sales of vinyl records are trending up for the 10th consecutive year, according to The Nielsen Report. Nearly 12 million vinyl records were sold in 2015, says Nielsen, making up around five percent of total music album sales. “When I’m listening to a record, I feel like I have a closer connection to the artist that I’m listening to,” said Daniel Drinkard, owner of Seasick Records in Birmingham (see reference link below). “And now-a-days, most records come with a digital download, so why would you purchase just a digital download, when you can have a record and a digital download, you know?” he added. Drinkard started Seasick about three years ago. On Saturday, the store filled with dozens of people celebrating Record Store Day, a national movement to support local independent record stores.
Friends of mine in New Orleans, The New Orleans Suspects, are pressing vinyl of their latest release, and actually the last Little Feat record was released on vinyl as well, but the cost in producing vinyl is way up from back in the daze when that was all there was, therefore they charge more for them. But if you have a great stereo tube amp and a balanced arm turntable, with a couple of rocking speakers, you can get back to the early 70’s and bathe in the warmth. Happy listening!!!
Paul considers facets, and Roger talks phrasing
Paul: Hello blog readers. It’s time for a new blog from Better Daze, namely Roger and me, and today’s topic is finding that feel. Song writing is such a diverse undertaking, there are so many facets to consider, words, music, tempo, genre, but whatever you choose there is the feel to consider. I think it’s one of the most important aspects to a good song. If it doesn’t feel right it will never stick in the mind of the listener. I know its subjective because what feels right to one may feel wrong to another, so the acid test is how does it feel to you the songwriter.
To me it’s that old saying of “it gets your good feeling feeling good” You know that feeling that you just can’t sit still, your foot starts tappin’, your hips start shaking and you just have to get up and rock with it.
That was the impetus behind “Pumping the A” on our first recording Riding the Nova Train. I was sitting in my kitchen listening to my washing machine crank out this rhythm that had a cool shuffle beat to it. I recorded it and took it to the studio and Roger uploaded it and straightened out a few beats and we had a groove going that was magic to my ear. Once we had that feel it was just fun to create around it. There was another song on “Nova Train” that was such a great feel and it was all created by Roger called “One Eyed Jack”. It’s a brilliant piece of editing drums to create a unique feel, about as funky as you can get.
On Musical Schizophrenia there are songs that get their feel from guitar parts Roger came up with, most notably the strumming rhythm “Sail Away” or the beautiful classical finger picking style of “Mary”. These guitar parts had movement, a direction to follow that was unmistakable. The feel was set up by the music.
Roger: A lot of times you’ll hear a person play a song, or be trying to figure out a song, and you will get all the notes, timing and tempo, and you’re like “okay, great”, then you’ll play through it and it’s just not right. It just doesn’t have the right feel. At the same time, you will be listening to an artist that you enjoy, wondering how they got it to feel like that.
One of the tricks I find very useful for doing that is instead of just looking at the notes, look at the phrasing. Within each phrase - say there’s five notes and a line that you really enjoy, and you really want to get it just right – within those five notes there might be two or three different techniques (on any instrument, it doesn’t really matter what it is). It’s how you phrase the notes and different techniques combined that makes it a musical thing. You see, that’s a trick. When you’re writing and you sit there and play a part you think is really cool, you keep trying different phrases and it will inspire a better outcome. If there is a certain sound that you’re not getting, it might just a technique that you just don’t already possess so that’s another one you can learn and put it in the toolbox for later.
Another way to make feel come out of a song is phrasing multiple instruments. You can shift the kick drum or the snare or put a rest on a melodic instrument and it will be huge. And that’s another thing within a phrase, sometimes it’s the rest and how long the pause is between notes that makes it feel a certain way. A great example of that is "The Quiet Man" which we find has a very interesting feel. There is one guitar playing kind of on top of the beat, finger picked multiple strings at a time, then there’s another guitar sliding around on it over the top, and finally the two guitars combine to make it have it’s over all sound and feel. That is more the phrase than what notes you used.
See why Paul says change is hard, and Roger thinks this is just another cycle
Paul: Over the last month Roger and I have been talking about social media, streaming in particular and its effects on the artists and song writers of today. Needless to say all these platforms have become necessary in today’s music industry, but they are working with an outdated system to properly compensate the artists and song writers causing a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation for the most part. We need social media and streaming to get our music heard, seen and purchased, but the downside is that it seems to be cutting into the bottom line of purchase. I saw recently that it would take 288 million streams of a song to earn the same amount as a Spotify employee, I don’t quote this as fact but it seems to me to fit the bill. *see source links below
What can we do about it you might ask, well I’m not going to tell you not to use these services, however if you are a musician, song writer, performer that has your work being used by them its time to stand up and speak up to get the system changed. One very good thing about social media is that it can and does call for action sometimes, and people do respond. As we all know the wheels of government roll very slowly, and I think that’s when people disconnect from the movement, but on this subject I believe it needs relentless effort. We’ve seen it work on political campaigns, on social issues, even on the sharing of good ideas that become part of our everyday lives, so why not on royalty and copyright laws? I see more and more of my artist friends taking up the cause and hoisting the flag to start the conversation. Change is hard, but necessary in these ever changing times.
So even if you’re not a songwriter or artist, but a music lover I ask simply that you write your representatives in congress, and share this with your friends to do the same. We can make our voices heard if we keep the conversation going.
Roger: There is this whole thing about streaming all coming to a head and everybody going crazy trying to figure out what to do about the differences between the companies and the artist. The value that’s placed on things for the artist is actually pretty ridiculously low across the board. But, if you think about it, it’s really just another cycle of the industry that has happened many times before. When cassettes came out the whole industry went crazy because sales on regular albums went down because people were able to make their own cassettes and different things, and how much money are we losing, blah, blah, blah…Same thing happened for vhs tapes for the film industry, and happened again when cd’s became burnable – it’s just kind of the next technology to come out.
Realistically, I think streaming was created with the internet over time, it was kind of just an add on. It didn’t cost a whole lot of money and was a quick way for people to get the tunes, but everything else, albums, cd’s, etc., were still the same sales factor as far as music goes – but it grew much faster than anybody could have possibly expected. Every time there is a change in medium the whole cycle goes repeats for a while where people feel they are losing money. The major companies take a long time to adjust their bottom lines. There was a time when major labels were showing billion dollar losses, but that’s because their bottom line was still based on the wrong product. Now that’s it’s outgrown everything else it would be good to try to put some value back into people’s work and make it more realistic for people to support themselves while creating music.
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it – everybody trying to get their product out into the world and doing all the jobs that are involved in making that happen, are making a lot less off of their own work than people who are doing data entry! I think that eventually streaming will settle into its own place and kind of become a commercial free radio alternative. It’s great that you can carry all your music everywhere you go, so streaming is not a bad thing – it’s just been a very popular new thing. Eventually everything will balance out and everyone will be happy. I am sure that down the road, who knows what it will be - but there will be another medium coming out, and the whole hubbub will start all over again. So, yeah, catching up with streaming is an industry thing that needs to catch up, they need to start working with the artist and find a middle ground so people can support themselves while creating and everybody can get the music they love then everyone will be happy.
- Music Industry’s Next Battle (outlines the Berkley report into shorter version): http://n.pr/1dYnZdF
- The Trichordist: Artists For An Ethical and Sustainable Internet: https://thetrichordist.com/
Roger says come together, Paul says "whaaat?"
Roger: The whole trip going on with YouTube it’s interesting because you have a company that basically built a platform, a website that has very, very little content development and overhead to deal with as far as that goes. They created a social site and by allowing people to put material on their site, they basically created background material for their advertisements. That’s really smart, you’ve got to give it to them, ya know? On the other side of it, as far as people putting up creative content – stuff that’s being streamed on other sites and all that, it’s really unfair to the artist because (granted, it’s a platform that needs to be used to advertise and to promote), but a lot goes into that, and very, very little comes back from it. I don’t see any reason why, at the very least, a company the size of YouTube, owned by Google - not broke, doing very well for themselves – can’t at least match standard streaming pay-outs. While the standard streaming rate is also not great, it’s at least something you can work with.
I don’t know who comes up with the mere fraction of a cent the artist gets paid, or how that works for them (typically .00008¢), but I do think it’s time now that it has become something so large, that they see the give and take. Yes, you have to put your stuff up there to promote it, but you, the artist also pays to advertise it as well. By sharing the link, you are inadvertently promoting YouTube as well. The reason people are looking at the ads on their site is because the artist created all their content for them, and paid for the promotion. In all fairness, it’s about time they catch up. Streaming was always really erratic and crazy before, but now it’s somewhat balanced out so I think it’s time YouTube did the same. I think it’s great to see a lot of high caliber artists that can reach a larger audience start talking about it. I really hope that for independent artists and people that are just starting out and utilizing that for a promotional machine can all kind of come together and make a little something off their work as well.
Paul: Who doesn’t like you tube? All those adorable kitty videos!! Guess what? Musicians don’t dig YouTube when it comes to streaming videos for about a sixth of what Spotify and Apple pay artists, so says Nikki Sixx and many other artists, and a few managers as well. Irv Azoff just recently posted a long detailed letter about how the laws need to change so that artists can earn a living off their work, and that includes video streams on YouTube. Now then how do we make them pay up? I think that first we need to get rid of the safe harbour laws protecting YouTube (Google) so that they at least pay the same royalty rates that Apple and Spotify pay. We could call for a boycott, but that’s just pissin in the wind, nobody’s going to stop using these sites, YouTube, Facebook and the like, we’re hooked. There are some whose daily lives revolve around social media. I really liked what Mr. Sixx had to say about getting the artists involved en mass to effect some change in the system. Perhaps a revolution like United Artists tried to pull off in the movie industry. But reality tells me that the system has always been in the favor of the big company. Record contracts were always in the company’s favor so why should this new system of paying artists be any different? Hey, I like YouTube, dig the funny videos and the ones that make you go “whaaaaat?” But being a musician/singer/song writer it would be unique to get some reasonable pay for our Better Daze videos, and about a zillion old videos of Little Feat that date back to the 70’s of the last century. C’mon YouTube, Googlemeister, if you ain’t sharing, you aint caring!!!
Nikki Sixx launches campaign to get YouTube to pay the same royalties as streaming sites.
Original Sixx story: http://bit.ly/1NK4hy5
Background story – Both Sides (interesting read) http://bit.ly/1TWmTgF
Why Roger thinks you should go out and do something, and Paul hated having a last name that starts with the letter “B”
Paul: There’s an old showbiz adage that says all publicity is good publicity, just as long as they spell your name right. T think that social media can and sometimes does fall into that scenario in a lot of ways. It has made stars of people with no discernable talent other than being a social media star, and it has taken careers to another level by reporting every little digression in their personal lives. I call that the Unsocial media, and love it or hate it, it is a fact of our tech driven lives.
Then there’s the real value of social media, especially for the more unknown musician, model, artist, etc. It is a platform that can be used to advertise, promote and just plain get ears and eyes on your work. And for the most part it’s free, however, there are some resourceful young entrepreneurs who are starting companies that will help those without tech skills to do just that. There are funding campaigns, blogs, videos – just about anything you can dream of to help promote your work, and therein lies the rub. These things do cost you something, a pittance compared with ad agencies and promo departments of major labels that can cost a pretty penny. I know this because my son works for a company that does just that, and through my travels I have met more and more social media coordinators who do really good work and are reaping the benefits of this brave new world.
We at Better Daze are so lucky to have our own Girl Friday, Miss Moneypenny Extraordinaire – our own secret weapon who investigates all of these platforms, gets us more bang for the buck, and who has clued us into the fact that if you want your product listed, played or sold, (in our case, songs), you need to have a video to go with it. Oh joy, just what I’ve always wanted. I must say that it has taught me a good lesson in being more sociable. One needs to engage fans and not only get them to like your sites, but to get them to share that with their friends, comments, likes, hashtags – love them hashtags. The more clicks we get, the higher up the old algorithm scale you go. I always wondered why there was AAA plumbing, or whatever in the phone book - well, it puts you ahead of the class, top of the page, first in line. And here I always hated having a last name that started with a ‘B’ – you can get away with anything when you are up front!!! Party on dude…
Roger: The pros would be that it is really cool to talk to people all over the world, share concepts, have a laugh sometimes. It’s nice that people can send pictures to each other with ease – you know, people that they wouldn’t be able to travel to see, their kids and all that stuff. It’s also a really great marketing tool, especially for independent artists. The ability to spread the word about things at a low overhead is always a great help to getting the word out.
The cons are, I guess, it seems that a major percentage – literally billions of people – spend about an hour a day, some a lot more, some less, on social media. Basically going back and forth about things that they disagree with, and getting pretty uptight about it. It seems that if you do that every day – you know, spend that much time every day on social media – that by the end of the week, you’ve just spent an 8-hour day either ranting, or just cruising around, you’re not getting paid for that time. So, how about (just as a concept), if all these people took half of that time, a half a day, and got together in their own community and did something more constructive with that time. It’s not like you’re really going that far out of your way, it’s not time you wouldn’t have given away to nothing anyway. It’s a concept, just throwing it out there. Lots of things can be done instead of just taking about things and ranting about what you feel the outcome should be – actually go out and do something.
Roger: I think that the technology of being able to stream shows over the internet to people’s homes is very cool. It’s not only good for major artists to be able to expand their fan base for shows, or clubs and venues able to stream shows that way, but it’s also good for independent bands just getting started and not able to fund the road tour, which can be exceedingly expensive. This allows the indie artist to still have a public performance for their fans in their own homes, and to gain a following until they can support themselves for an actual physical tour.
It is really amazing way the technology is coming along, how so many different things are possible at this point. It simply doesn’t surprise me with the amount of R & D going into virtual reality and vr settings. Down the road, who knows? People might actually be able to have the artist in 3D in their home performing for them. The one thing about streaming a show over the internet is that it misses is the interaction between the artist and the crowd. There’s no real energy give-and-take that way, making it really hard to push the vibe you’re really working for.
Once again, if they keep making bandwidth larger and the possibility of greater technology, who’s to say what’s coming in the future, it’s all pretty amazing.
Paul Barrere: So think about it, how hard is it to stay ahead of the curve when the curve is always in motion? That’s kind of how I feel about the technology of today. Having come from the time when your recording became a long playing vinyl album until now, it seems that we are in a constant state of flux. Downloads, streaming radio subscriptions, et al are cutting into profits from sales of recordings and now this, touring vs. live streaming. Always the bread and butter of bands, the live shows were a proven way for musicians to make money, and depending on who you are, that figure can be enough to sustain or not quite enough to make rent, either way it ain’t how it used to be.
Now we have live streaming shows. They have pluses and minuses as well. You don’t have to sell tickets to make some club owner happy, or for you to get your money back as some clubs actually make you pay to play. But then again you don’t get any feedback from a live audience. Sure there are interactive segments when you can once again use the technology to answer questions, or talk to your cyber audience one on one, but can that really be as satisfying as hearing cheers or jeers from real live people? But as I think about it, how nice is it to be in a controlled environment to create music that can be heard around the world? That’s pretty cool really, and how about streaming it to folks who can’t get out for one reason or another, the healing qualities of music could be brought to the infirm, add a smile to their faces, brighten their day.
Check out this link and see some of the positives and negatives of the streaming experience:
So here’s a new market place for those savvy enough to get on board. This will grow, get better and better in quality and therefore become a viable alternative to many. I guess my biggest pet peeve to all this technology is that it is slowly taking the human interaction out of play, and maybe making this society a little lazy in real communication skills. There is room for both, all things in moderation as they say, but the more things change, at this point, they might not be the same.
Roger: It kind of seems like we’re witnessing the demise of the album. Over time, as more and more of the ability for personalized playlists become available, you know – you can get like 40k songs for .08¢! With that kind of thing happening, it is harder to promote a record. Even when you put 10 songs together, you still have to promote them all individually because it seems like people don’t take the time or have the time to sit and dig all the way into a list, it’s automatic gratification – hit play on one song and say ‘that’s cool’ and download it, then throw it onto a playlist on your iPod, or phone – whatever the case may be.
It’s hard to say what the outcome will be because if you put 10 or more songs on a list, it seems like people never get to the end of the list so they don’t really get that old curiosity. In the past, you promoted a single, sometimes 2 or 3, to get people interested in what you’re working on and they would go in and dig into the old school B side. That would create conversation, you know people would say, ‘Hey did you listen to this song?’ Then after those song(s) get, hopefully, more and more popular, you would release that as a single and it would kind of keep things in motion.
Now, the question is do you still produce full albums knowing that whatever you put towards the end of the list will probably never get any attention, so do you release 3 at a time? 5 at a time? The conundrum with that is when you are working on a record, as you write the first few songs and you start developing it, it creates a sound for that album, a direction. If you are only going to release half the record at a time, you ‘re no longer really get that cohesion.
What’s kind of humorous to me is that people will go on and download 10 singles in mp3 format and say, ‘Hey I got the record and it didn’t cost as much’, and in the end it still cost as much as it would for the physical product, but it’s not going to have that finality that a finished album does, or that bigger sound an album has since the internet compresses the music. It’s like the convenience of it has taken away some of the magic. You kind of want to hope that people will start coming back around and get tired of the insanity of endless compilations of different material, and instead have that relaxing time to just sit down and listen to a whole album, experience the whole thing start to finish.
Paul: Was there ever a record, an LP if you will, that you had to listen to from side A to side B, where all the songs related to each other, and there was a flow of consciousness? Then came the cassette where you could flip it over and hear all the songs in order, and finally the CD where you just pop it in and all the songs are represented in the order the artist wanted them to be to create the experience. That was an album to me, and it is rapidly becoming a lost art.
Streaming and individual downloads have now taken over giving the listener the power of how they want to experience song play lists and mix tapes created on home burnt cd’s, that hand the audience the canvas and brushes to create their own works of art.
It’s a digital world we live in. It gives the power to the consumer, and I guess it was inevitable that this would happen. We can now choose who we listen to with a couple of keystrokes, when we watch a show or movie on multiple platforms, just about all entertainment can be watched or listened to on hand held devices, at our own leisure. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no going back.
But still there are those audiophiles who want to experience the work in its original form, so the album is not dead. Perhaps it is a bit corrupted sometimes, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I can’t blame the public for wanting to have this power, I only hope they are not in some way hacking in and stealing the works that so many musicians put their heart and soul into.
Over the last few years some artists are even returning to vinyl for those of us who still have a turntable to play them on, bravo, but the process has become costlier. Technology has given us convenience. I don’t have a problem with that at all. I enjoy having my iPhone connected by Bluetooth to my sound system in my car. I can make play lists that suit my tastes, something nice about being able to jump from miles Davis to Robert Johnson, so in a sense I’m as guilty as the next guy for not just playing the uploaded albums in my library in their entirety.
Enjoy music my friends, it will soothe the savage beast in us all.
Paul talks Hunter Hancock and Roger talks Bach.
Paul: Well the short answer would be one gets paid but that’s not the whole story, I have known many fine musicians who were not professionals. I myself did my first paying gig when I was 18 years old at the Whisky a Go-Go, with an artist who, after the two-night stint, decided to leave Los Angeles, so just like that I was out of a gig. I then had to work as a bus boy and waiter for 4 years until I joined Little Feat, so in fact, I was both a pro and again, not a pro. During that time I was in a garage band in Laurel Canyon, and we would practice from noon to five, 5 days a week, rain or shine, trying to break into the business. It was fun but we never broke through, had a few opportunities but didn’t take advantage of them. Then I got asked to join Little Feat, and in reality I made more money as a waiter than I did in those first couple of years with a professional band.
I have sat in living rooms jamming with folks who were not professional musicians, who could play rings around many folks that I played with who were professionals. The joy of music is that you are playing music, PLAYING for the love of the music and the art, and to turn that into a career is a whole other enchilada.
As I think back to my youth I think of the organist who played at the Hollywood First Methodist Church, they have quite a grand pipe organ, and he was fantastic - I wish I could remember his name. He would play the old hymns and then a piece by Bach, and he did that because he loved playing. And then there was the choir director, Hunter Hancock, generally recognized as the first West Coast disc jockey to play Rhythm and Blues on the radio, as well as one of the first to spin Rock and Roll. Hunter Hancock was an early white hipster whose affinity for the music and impish sense of humor, captured Los Angeles area listeners from 1947 until 1966. So was he a professional musician, well no not really, but he loved music, and gospel music was a passion, hence he led the choir.
Being a professional musician has been a blessing to me. It has given me a comfortable life and stability to raise a family, enjoy a few rare moments traveling the world, filled with memories of gigs, from playing for 5 paying customers to 80,000 folks in Atlanta for the Olympics, riding around in vans and cars, to luxury busses, and private planes. Playing for American soldiers on USO tours, opening for some of the biggest names in the business, to headlining arenas, and the lesson I have learned from that is, that’s what you get paid for, the traveling, hotel living, being away from your family for weeks on end, the music we do for free. The joy is in the doing, a wise man once told me.
Roger: The main difference between the two really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with music. You can’t say that a professional musician is better than a person who just plays music because that’s all opinion based anyways. It doesn’t really matter who knows what on chops – if you play music, you are a musician in all senses of the word. It seems that the main difference is you spend a lot more time as a professional musician having to fight for more time to play music because you’re always having to deal with the business side of things – the licensing, the paperwork, the contracts, and who does what, where’s it getting released, how to promote it – all that chaos really doesn’t have anything to do with being a musician, that’s business. People will walk up to you after a show, or during a record session, and be like “Yeah, you know it’s really cool, I play guitar (or drums or whatever), but I’m not a musician, I just do it for fun”. Well, that is a musician. Doing it as a professional musician means that you spend a lot more time getting a certain sound to try to brand, or making sure things have a certain thread. Frankly, some of the best in the world are in their basement or living room just playing music – you’re not going to hear them, or see them in a magazine, but they are, in all senses of the word, a musician. One of the best examples to me is Bach. Obviously he’s known as a phenomenal musician, but he never actually made a living doing it, he always had a job while doing music.
So that’s really the major difference between the two. It’s not music – it’s one person has to deal with a lot more details that at times, makes it harder to enjoy playing music. You’re always so involved in the business side of things, whereas the other person gets to truly enjoy music, which is what it was for. I think it’s a misconception that people have – that a professional musician is a better player that a person that just plays music – there’s nothing true about that, it’s completely based on opinion. You might have the biggest artist in the world and not like his stuff vs. a friend down the street that just plays a few chords and you love it, so you see, there’s no correlation between the two.
It’s kind of a funny thing, it’s one of those things I’ve always found humorous when people try to make a distinction between the two. I guess a professional musician would obviously spend more hours paying attention to arrangements and how well the performances are put together because it’s going to be recorded and put out and be there forever, whereas a person that plays for fun, they might shag a few notes here and there but it really doesn’t matter because they are doing it with a smile and they’ll do it again the next day.
See how Roger and Paul think the world of music has [changed] over the years.
Paul: Having now been a part of the recording industry for 44 years, there are so many changes I’ve seen. Back when I first joined Little Feat and we recorded Dixie Chicken in 1972, records labels back then had true artist development departments. Once an act was signed they had the opportunity to grow and develop their sound, that simply doesn’t happen anymore. In today’s world, you have to have not only your sound, but a social media presence before a label will talk to you. It’s not so much about the music as it is the dollars. And now those dollars are shrinking for the artist as the digital age has made it possible to pirate the music in so many ways.
The recording process had already grown into the over-dubbing era, multitrack recording was the norm, as opposed to just a few years earlier when folks used 4 track recorders, now you had 24 to play with. Mastering albums for vinyl was an art unto itself, the fewer minutes per side of a LP, the deeper the grooves you could get and thus a wider range of sound. When the first digital recorders came it was amazing how easy it was to punch in and out making the editing process much simpler, not to mention the digital consoles that had programmable functions this keeping six people from leaning across the mix making fader moves manually, oh those were fun times. Now, with full digital recording set-ups one can do as many overdubs as one would like to do, and then just cut and paste it into a single track, words can be broken down into syllables, guitar notes blended from one take into another, the pallet is so much bigger for the artist.
It is a whole different world in how music is made, but in the long run it still boils down to songs, and personal tastes. There is so much more music to hear with so many more avenues to explore for getting a bite. I just hope folks will always feast on the music cause it’s good for the soul.
Roger: I think one of the main things that have changed is that there is a serious saturation of material out there, it’s endless. People have the ability to record an idea in their bedroom and then automatically sign up for a webpage somewhere and release it into the world and say ‘here’s my new song’. Based on that, there’s just so much stuff that before, would never have made it that far. When I first started it was multi-track tape, you only had X amount of tracks based on what you could afford for machines and went into a studio, so you spent a lot more time refining your demos. Because of that you were able to have much more successful, branded bands and artists, because when they put something out it was done, I mean it was really something to listen to. People would go to the record store and get their copy, excited to see what was next, as opposed to “Oh my God there is more stuff”. I am in no way saying that there’s all bad material out there - there’s a lot of great material coming out, but there’s such a saturation with all the internet middle men of distribution these days that who’s got time, or takes the time to sift through all that stuff to find an artist that really gets them? So that’s a huge difference.
There was always a school of thought of how things had to come together sonically and energy wise to deliver the message, if there was one, when they sat and listened to it. I think a lot of the changes has come down to the fact that what it used to cost for a reel of tape, you can buy a piece of recording equipment and put it in your living room and have as many tracks as your computer could handle. So every time somebody finishes something it’s great, a lot of work, they’re excited and they release it just because they thought it was done. Before you would really take the time to make sure everything was right. You could go into a studio and get it done and then release it, which kind of kept a higher caliber of music coming out at the time.
On the production side it seems because of that same ideal of how simply you can put your ideas onto a hard drive now, the production side of things has really changed. It used to be a producer was a person who had a really good understanding of all the instrumentation, the style of music, the recording process - the whole thing from the beginning of the process to release. Now it seems people just hit the record button and they think it’s really cool but they’ve never had to really learn the fundamentals of how to capture audio because now you can just throw a mic on anything and hope it’s good. In a world of mp3’s, who really knows the difference? Labels used to create development deals for bands. Once the band got themselves to a certain caliber, they would get a little help to get over the hump and have a place to work with people who are more knowledgeable at the time to develop into something that’s really brandable and real, and creates an audience and all that but, it seems there’s no point in that anymore because there’s just so much material. Now it’s like the band itself has to do every step that the label used to do, then all of a sudden a label will say ‘well that’s kind of cool, let’s take that on. We’ll spend some money on that and hopefully we’ll get it all back. Hopefully they will survive long enough, and if not, there’s another band right around the corner.”
The music industry is always going to be evolving, but it seems that as different generations of people get involved in recording and playing music, and even the people that are teaching them, each generation that goes away the next generation comes in learning less and less of the basics, the more dynamic seems to be lost in the overall sound of things. I think that’s one of the biggest changes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what technology has done - it enabled people to really express themselves without really having to spend $50k in a recording studio, plus tape, so not a negative, just changed.
Mark Ross asks: Is it just me or does it seem like female singers are more popular than male singers these days? Personally I love that women have finally made a big impact in popular music.
Regarding an increase of women in the industry it seems that every decade of music has had it’s influx of women who are predominately singers. In the 50’s there was the Shandell’s, the 60’s had Janis Joplin, 70’s Heart, 80’s Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benatar, and so on… There is a lot of great female singers out there, then there’s one that gets over the top, and then opens the door for the sound for a couple dozen more until it runs it ‘s course and labels start looking for a new sound. Now it’s become more apparent because before they were all in specific styles or genres where they could make their mark, now it’s become more cross marketing across genres, and be marketed to a larger fan base because of the internet.
Paul: I’d have to say that the first influence I had was my father, who played all these old Dixieland jazz records of folks like Louis Armstrong. He would put them on and I was about 5 or 6 and I would immediately would feel happy. That was a felling I couldn't explain and still have a hard time trying to convey that feeling to some folks. If it gets your good feeling feeling good, that’s just the ticket.
As far as playing the guitar, I think my first real influence was Mississippi John Hurt. I remember I was around 13 and was into folk music and he was recommended to me so I went out and bought a LP of his work. His fingerpicking style and the little slide runs he would play were classic, and from hearing him I got into Muddy Waters, and soon after Robert Johnson.
Last but certainly not least, was Jimi Hendrix. He blew the roof off of my soul. His style was something else, so melodic, and yet so forceful. Over the years, more and more musicians caught my ear, Miles Davis, john McLaughlin, Charlie Mingus, Leroy Vinegar, the list goes on and on...
I would be missing one of the folks who really turned me on with his music and that was Little Richard. His songs and that shuffle beat.... all I can say is once I heard Tutti Fruiti I had to have it, so at the tender age of 11, I took the bus down to Wallach’s Music City, at the corner of Sunset and Vine, and bought the 78. Took it home, got a verbal lashing for adventuring out like that on my own, but then went to my brothers room where the record player was and wore it out, the B side was Slipping and a Sliding, just unbelievable
Roger: One of the musicians that influenced me was Victor Borgia, because he was a fully accomplished piano player and never lost his sense of humor about it. He was hilarious - I mean, how many other classical players guested on the Muppets?!
James Brown is another because no matter what he did in his entire career, it was always 100 - everything was always completely stylin’ all the time.
Then there’s Randy Rhodes, because no matter how famous or how much notoriety he got for his ability to play, he always spent his spare time trying to improve and learn more about the instrument itself, having nothing to do with the glitz and glamour of fame.
Paul [learns] from Lowell, and Roger [learns] from Glen Campbell and Paul himself!
Paul: One of the best lessons I ever learned was from Lowell George. When he asked me to join little feat he told me that the rule number one is there are no rules, and that I should try to start to appreciate other kinds of music in order to play them and play them well. I had come from a blues background mostly, and thus wrote rock and roll songs around that format. It was funny that he chose me to join the band mainly because I was playing in what at the time, was a very avant garde rock band, but mostly limited to the standard 3 chord changes, root, fourth and fifth, and mostly minor. Without that input from Lowell there never would have been All That You Dream, or a country song like Missing You. He not only opened the door for me into the professional musicians’ world, but walked me through it!
Roger: One piece of advice I thought was great was from an article I read by Glen Campbell. I thought it was a really intelligent way of looking at stuff. Campbell said when you are writing songs, don’t expect the songs to do something for you right after it is finished. Don’t throw away anything that you write, just keep them in a box somewhere because you will never know when might be the best moment to use it. Songs you’re writing right now hopefully will work out in some fashion, but songs you wrote 5 or 10 years ago might be the ones that are working for you right now. Everything, even if you think it’s old, is new to the listener, so you really never know when a song will work. So don’t write based on that, just write to write and if it has a place, it will find it.
Another piece of advice has actually come to me over time from Paul. Before I started working with Paul, the stuff I was working on was a much heavier material, more intense. My whole school of thought with that kind of stuff was to keep everything right solid on the one, real punctual. It worked good, it was really intense… as I started working with Paul more and more, his whole approach was always sometimes if it is this way or that way and just swings a little bit, it feels better, so a lot of times pocket is better than intensity to deliver something in a song. I consider that as something that’s really shaped how I think at this point.
Paul: Ya know lyrics are a very funny thing, over the past 50 years that I’ve been writing songs, which is since I was about 18, actually, a little before. They come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes I have a melody in mind, sometimes I just have a track that I want to put lyrics to. I’ve even been woken in the middle of the night with a lyric running through my head, then I have to just kind get up and jot it down. So I would say there is no specific one way to write lyrics to a song. However, whenever the inspiration hits, the best thing to do is to either write it down or have a little voice recorder and put it down there because everything can be a seed that can grow into a song.
Roger: I guess if there is an actual ‘method’ to it, I always tried to take whatever the situation is that you’re writing about - be it a story or first person conversation, whatever - the trick to it all is to try to put a lot of stuff into a few minutes as far as meaning, what you’re trying to get across. You don’t have all day, it’s not like writing a book. So what’s fun for me is to try to take a concept and boil it all down into 4 or 5 words and then play with the words that can mean multiple things so that it kind of says something about whoever is listening to it, as opposed to it being just about me writing it. One trick for that is to buy yourself a thesaurus, they’re priceless and can help in a lot of ways if you get stuck on a word. I also always try to pay attention to how the stanzas work, what types of syllables are landing at the end of each phrase and make sure there is somewhat of continuous tone so that the listener can enjoy the music that the lyrics are on top of instead of getting interrupted.
The evolution of writing? That just comes with doing a lot of it. You will start off with things that have tons of lyrics and all kinds of different stuff, and eventually you learn ways to whittle it down and work over the track a little bit better and your concepts get a little more intelligent - you hope. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.
Jon Rogers asks: Do you start a song with a general idea, a lyric, or do you start w a beat or melody and build lyrics around it?
The answer to that is pretty much all of the above. Sometimes you will get some words and you’ll sit down and lay them out in some kind of format and as you’re formatting you start hearing how they’ll lay down against the track, then you will write the music for that. A little more challenging sometimes, is to write the music first andmake sure you have all your sections, then you’re kind of locked into making lyrics work within that framework. At that point it becomes trying to make the math really come together and work over the track. Sometimes you will just get a groove and as you’re doing that you put stuff on it and you get an idea from what type of emotional response it is getting from you and then you just start working it. And then there are times you just want to be nuts and create phrases that can mean 10 different things. You just throw it out there and say it can be what you (the listener) want it to be about.
The progression of instruments, all the craziness that I play, actually started off with the piano, keyboards and stuff like that when I was a little kid for no real reason - it just made sense to me so I played around with it. I also had a lot of relatives that played guitars and acoustic guitars at family weekend get-togethers and those types events. That was always interesting. It’s was really always more about writing for me, so every time I would learn one thing on one instrument, I would try to apply it to another so you get different textures and the ideas out of your head. With pianos I got pretty decent at making a mess for a while and then decided I wanted to learn more…the basics of it. One of my cousins had a country band and their keyboard player, Bob Tatro, was a very talented, schooled musician, so he came over once a week for a little while. He showed me a lot of the foundations and enabled me to grow in that way. With drums and percussion I started studying that under a teacher named Ron Russo, in grammar school. He was a great teacher and musician. I started to apply one to the other, you know…the more I was able to do on a guitar the stronger my left hand became on a piano. The more I was able to do on a piano, the more control I had with my right hand on the guitar. And the drums and percussion really helped independent timings and synchronization, the ability to put stuff together. Bass came along as a necessary evil - just trying to get the material I had in my head out on tape, so I started playing that as well. It’s really just one or the other. Realizing that it takes a lifetime to learn one instrument half way, you try to spend time on every instrument every day in order to keep them all rolling forward.
It’s always just kind of made sense to me. When I sit down with an instrument and hit a couple notes, it starts to come together. Eventually I wind up writing with that instrument as well, which is great. Other things, like trying to get certain sounds, different approaches - if you play one thing on the guitar it’s not going to be the same approach like on a piano, or a bass, or anything else for that matter. So you get different textures and the ability to round out your writing process. It really makes things more interesting, for me, anyways.
It’s not just instruments that you can write with. If you hit your dishes for a little while with your silverware before your parents yelled at you, that can be percussive and musical and fun. Pretty much everywhere you go there is something that can make sound. Case in point, when me & Paul were doing the “Nova Train” record, the percussion track for ‘Pumpin’ the A’ was a washing machine at Paul’s house. He heard it make a groove and that became a song. Also, on ‘Breathe’, from the “Musical Schizophrenia” record, we used rakes, shovels, hoes, and all kinds of stuff just to get the tones to work inside of the hand percussion.
It’s always been once you peel away a layer on one instrument, you want to peel away that layer on another instrument and apply them together. It’s really kind of endless, it never seems to stop. I’m currently trying to study a couple more instruments and every day, as long as you keep your eyes open, you always find more styles and approaches that are interesting, so you try to put them into your toolbox. It’s pretty much a lifelong thing - whatever you pick up, you make noise with - eventually get down into it and learn why it works and apply it to what you’re thinking.
So many people ask me how I got involved in playing the slider guitar. Well, when I first started playing guitar, when I was 13, I played with a lot of blues records and I played with a lot of folk and folk blues. And that’s where I discovered Mississippi John Hurt and his very simplistic slide approach on tunes like ‘Sliding Delta’ and ‘Stagolee’ things like that. I use a metal slide, actually it’s a Sears & Roebucks 5/8” socket wrench. I used to use only glass but when I joined Little Feat, they kept breaking and Lowell finally said “Here, try this one - it’ll never break, and if it does, it gets replaced for free.”
Keiko T. asks: Is it recommended to mute the strings between the slide and the nut?
There’s a trick to playing slide guitar and that is that you have to dampen the strings. I use the palm of my hand since I use the slide on my pinky finger so I’ll have the other 3 fingers to chord behind the slide. By dampening the strings you get less of that overtone and ringing and so forth, or unwanted string noise.
Bill B. asks: Are you still playing Epiphone acoustics, what are your typical settings?
Yes, the EJ 200 is the work horse of all my acoustics - I use medium gauge strings tuned to an open G- For years, I’ve used only the open G tuning, but as of late I’ve been using a lot of open D as well. And try my best to conquer playing slide in standard E tuning. I hope this helps, and keep slidin’!
"I think people that become musicians, start as musicians. You have it in your head, you have it in you. You start looking at instruments and you start figuring out how to play them, it becomes somewhat of an obsession. So I don’t know that there was ever really a conscious decision made to do it. I think the decision that you make is how much time and focus you’ll put into whatever caliber of musician you are capable of becoming which is really up to how many hours you want to put in, how many influences you can retain."
"As far as advice for people who wanted to get started with it, I think first and foremost, take the time for whatever instrument you decide to play - or multiple instruments, whatever the case may be - just take the time to really learn it, don’t just learn what you’re into right now. What you hear on the radio or certain styles that might really get you going right now might not always be the case. You will grow and evolve musically as you stick with it. So as far as wanting to become a professional musician, try to make the decision of what does that mean to you - does it just mean making a living, or being on a soda bottle or something? If it’s just wanting to make money playing an instrument, becoming a session player is a great way to do that, but once again, you gotta get to a certain caliber for people to want you there. Always just be really honest with yourself about the caliber of your music and then see how you can make it better."
"I started playing piano when I was six and stopped that at 11, then picked up the guitar at 13. It was more just for the fun of it until I got to be about 17 and that’s when I started to think seriously about being a musician. But, I think more than being a musician, I really liked performing. Kinda runs in the blood with my family - my parents were actors, my grandfather was a classical floutist with the New York Symphony, and my grandmother was an actress on Broadway in the 1920’s and 1930’s - so, it was just kinda something that came to me naturally. So I’d have to say that yeah, maybe around 17 I started to think 'yeah, maybe this could be a good life style choice'. And I’m kinda glad it did."
"My advice for any youngster out there who wants to become a musician is first and foremost, find the instrument that gives you the most satisfaction, and then study that instrument. Find professionals to teach you the fundamentals, the rudiments, the techniques that make the act of making music a whole lot easier. I’ve always noted that those that read music seem to have a little bit of an advantage over those who just play and basically just play by ear, which is what I did all these years, but I was very fortunate. Second, I would tell them to make sure that they have a plan B. Being a musician today, in this day and age, is …there’s just so many more musicians out there, so you have to be exceptional. Or, you can study and become a wonderful player and play in philharmonics or symphonies or what have you and make a darned good living. But, once again, as it is with many of the arts - acting, painting, playing music - there has to be an element of luck, an element that affords you an opportunity, and the more prepared you are when the opportunity knocks, you can turn that door knob."