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August 2016
The Blues Discovery, Pt. 2

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!

All Aboard the Nova Train

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!  

The Blues Discovery

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.

What Does a Music Producer Do

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!