31 December, 2009


"Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it if it's not happening - it's clearly just a bad night." - Peter Green, on performing

Isn't it odd how you'll remember a quote that perfectly captures the essence of a concept, and then when you look it up, the quote isn't so perfect after all? Well, I recently remembered this quote while noticing the difference in my playing ability from night to night (during my daily practice sessions). Every once in awhile I'll have a really good night, where my playing will be just spot on, and it even impresses myself. Other nights, are clearly just bad nights. For better or worse, most nights sit somewhere in between those extremes.

Tonight was pretty bad, which I think I can blame on yesterday being a particularly good night. I got a little carried away on the new licks I've learned for the song I'm working on (which sound fantastic, as does the entire song, which I am extremely excited about - it'll be a while before I learn the whole thing, though). And tonight my fingers are still feeling a bit rough, so I didn't have that delicate touch I need to nail every note. But, even as bad as my playing was tonight, I'm still pretty impressed overall with how it sounds, this being my first recorded practice (in years).

You see, I got a handheld digital recorder for Christmas. Which I asked for. Which will make recording (and sharing) my music (well, not *my* music, but the music I play) infinitely easier than it was with the analog tape technology I previously had. I wanted it primarily to record my live performances at Open Stage, but I think it will prove to be an invaluable aid to my daily practices as well, judging from what I'm currently listening to.

I think, despite the songs I'm playing not being mine, I would love to record a whole album of covers. Not complicated recording, but just a live/live in the studio sort of thing (depending on whether I use practices or Open Stages). With the technology I now have, it's easy enough to record every single one of my practices. All I need to do is dedicate a[nother...] hour or so daily to listening back to those recordings. I imagine most of the recordings will be so-so, but I don't have to keep them all (or even most of them). As long as I'm recording when the next good night comes up, I'm bound to have some great material. Or, if a particular song sounds good on a particular night, I can grab it. And then either use it, or replace it with a better version that comes up on a different day. This plan requires some time to get good results, but can you imagine what those results could be?

There are some complications, however. I set the recorder up right in front of my amp tonight, and it sounds great. Vocals are nonexistant, though. I'm thinking about redoing the whole setup. I'd like to have more practice playing at loud volumes, after all. When I go to Open Stage, I'm still too much out of my league, despite practicing amplified regularly. When I turn the volume up, then every little sound I make resonates throughout the room. Add to that the stress of playing in front of an audience, and it can be a mess. I do my best to get through, but I think I could stand to get more experience playing at loud volumes.

The only way that would really be feasible, for me, would be to practice through headphones. Then I could turn it up without bothering anyone, or starting to feel too self-conscious. To do that, I'd need to invest in a good pair of headphones (as I keep saying I'm meaning to do). I already have a microphone and a second amp I could pump the vocals through. I'd just need to somehow redirect the signal from both amps into the headphones. Then, I could find a way to simultaneously record from that signal as I listen to myself play. It sounds complicated, but I think it's doable. With the right splitters...

(Artist's Rendition)

There's even more I've been thinking about doing, but this is even less concrete at this stage. It's about filling out my sound. The songs I play would sound so much better with some backing. Ignoring for now the possibility of playing in a band, there are two options. 1) Employ a simple metronome. This would, at the very least, get me in practice for playing on time, and (hopefully) for being focused enough not to make mistakes in the middle of the song, since it would be harder to get back on track. This would be even moreso the case with option 2) which would be to record more substantial backings, specific to the songs I play, which I could then play through my looper/sampling pedal. Where I'd get those backings is a good question, though. I could try ripping some songs (the pedal itself has an option to record a song with the lead track off or something, I tried it once and it was neat, can't guarantee it'd work appropriately for every song, though). I could also try learning those parts (ambitious much?), which might mean having to learn [at least simple] drum and bass parts.

As I said, this part is all very much speculation. But at the very least, if I could get some good recordings of what I'm currently doing, that alone would be pretty damn cool.

29 December, 2009

Zharth's Music Log Revisited - Slow Blues 2

For those who didn't know or don't remember, I ran a "music log" from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008, for which I picked a theme each week and then posted a song every day of that week which related in some way to the theme, and added a few comments about that song. It was awesome. You can view the archives here, in case you're curious about what the themes were, or what songs I used.

I bring it up now for a specific reason. And to revive (or rather, produce a sequel to) one of my favorite themes - slow blues. After all, the term "slow blues" describes what is probably my top favorite style of music. Well, it just so happens that there was one song I really wanted to use for the original theme, but had to leave out because I didn't have the song at the time. And - you guessed it - I have that song now. So, I now present you with Slow Blues 2 - seven songs in the slow blues theme, all at once, and available for listening for a limited time only:

The Allman Brothers Band - Stormy Monday (Live) [At Fillmore East, 1971]
Comments: We'll start the "week" with a song that could have easily made the first iteration of this theme. What probably happened was either that I was saving the song for a different theme (like, perhaps, a day of the week theme, or a weather theme) and ended up never using it, or perhaps more likely, I didn't want to overrepresent Duane Allman, who appeared on another track (Boz Scaggs' rendition of Loan Me A Dime), that I absolutely had to have for that theme. Well, here it is now, and here he is again, accompanied by dueling partner Dickey Betts in a slow and stormy live performance of, as Gregg Allman (I presume) introduces it, an old T-Bone Walker song. This is one of my long-time slow blues favorites.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place In Town) [Couldn't Stand The Weather, 1984]
Comments: This is the song I wanted the first time around, that I didn't have. It's a long, slow, despairing blues that perfectly suits the theme, and that I have been fond of since first listen. As a bluesman who attained popularity in the eighties, Stevie Ray Vaughan was following in the footsteps of some truly legendary players, including among some of his most visible influences the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. But Stevie was no imitator - he was true blue - and able to weave together surprisingly well the threads of pop rock and traditional blues. His tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1990 was an enormous loss for the music world.

ZZ Top - Blue Jean Blues [Fandango!, 1975]
Comments: Texas trio ZZ Top are somewhat of a strange breed, melding chops with style, soul with pop - but there's no question that they have the talent for playing good, crunchy, no-nonsense rock n roll. Guitarist Billy Gibbons deserves all the respect he gets (perhaps more), and on this track, he shines - in a sort of unassuming, but highly effective, way. Blue Jean Blues sounds like it could be a parody of the blues, but it's sung and played with an unwavering poker face, and though relatively short for a slow song, is very, very sweet.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - I Need You [Second Helping, 1974]
Comments: Lynyrd Skynyrd, well-known for their triple guitar attack, are kings of Southern swagger, but this track proves that they aren't incapable of tapping into the blues. From their sophomore album, Second Helping, I find that this track goes a long way in making up for the kick-off Sweet Home Alabama - undoubtedly a song of world-class popularity, but quite played-out in my opinion. I Need You slows it down and pulls out the requisite soul that is inherent in the blues.

Neil Young - On The Beach [On The Beach, 1974]
Comments: I'll bet you didn't expect to find a Neil Young song on this list, but though it may not be a strictly traditional blues, this is a very bluesy song with its heart in the right place. The album it's named after (or quite possibly the other way around) is among the infamous "ditch trilogy" which also includes Time Fades Away and Tonight's The Night, which Neil recorded in the early-to-mid seventies in a dark period following the drug-related deaths of two musician friends. On The Beach actually contains three different songs named as Blues, but this is the track that stands out for me.

Robin Trower - I Can't Wait Much Longer (Live) [Live, 1976]
Comments: Known (though not especially well, unfortunately) for the Bridge of Sighs album (and title track, especially), ace guitarist Robin Trower has much more to offer potential fans than what the mainstream has given him credit for. Including this anxious, moody track, originally recorded for his first album, Twice Removed From Yesterday (every bit as good as Bridge of Sighs, which I could also say of For Earth Below). And while the studio version is good, I couldn't resist this live version, from the excellent live album from 1976, featuring Trower's band truly at the top of their game (with, as Trower announces at the very end of the track, James Dewar on vocals).

Steamhammer - Twenty-Four Hours [Steamhammer, 1969]
Comments: Steamhammer is probably my top favorite entirely obscure band. I learned of them by way of guitarist Martin Pugh, who also played in the one-off band Armageddon, which featured vocalist/blues harpist Keith Relf shortly before his untimely death (while trying to play electric guitar in a bathtub, as the rumors go), who was the leader of the top guitar supergroup of the sixties, The Yardbirds - which featured the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page throughout its days (we're talkin' true rock royalty here). Steamhammer is a modest act, but they've got a killer sound that I really dig. Get a taste of it with this mellow rendition of a blues more popularly sung by the legendary Muddy Waters.

24 December, 2009

Season's Greetings

Here's wishing you and yours a merry XXXmas, and a happy nude year!