Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm baaack!!!

Well, I'm back from my holiday vacation and (mostly) week-long exile from the guitar. However, I was able to get around to most of the good CD and guitar stores in Portland during my visit. I was sorely tempted to buy a used Les Paul Supreme I found at Old Town Music, but I resisted. The Supreme is a heavily chambered Les Paul with lots of bling that sounds great doing warm, crunchy fusion stuff. However, my Heritage H-555 semi-hollow also sounds great doing warm, crunchy fusion stuff, and is already paid for!! Apart from that Supreme, I didn't find any other guitars that inspired thoughts of emptying my wallet.

On the CD front, I bought a ton of good music. Portland, Oregon has a bunch of great music stores, which are a vanishing breed most other places. Music Millennium and Everyday Music are fun places to hang out and browse. Here's what I got:

Alex Machacek: [Sic]
Miles Davis: Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West
Zappa/Captain Beefheart: Bongo Fury
Zappa: Wazoo
Ornette Coleman: Sound Museum - Hidden Man
Ornette Coleman: Tone Dialing
John Coltrane: Dear Old Stockholm
John Coltrane: Meditations
Science Faxtion: Living on Another Frequency
Sam Rivers: Dimensions & Extensions (2008 Remaster)
James Brown: Make It Funky - The Big Payback: 1971-1975

Lots of good listening to be done, and I'm sure I'll be writing soon about some of this music.

I also had the chance to do a lot of reading on the plane. I reread "The Real Frank Zappa Book" for about the 10th time, and I also read Bill Milkowski's biography of Jaco Pastorius and am in the process of finishing Ben Ratliff's "Coltrane - The Story of a Sound." Immersing myself in the lives of Zappa, Jaco and Coltrane has me quite inspired to get going musically now that I'm back in proximity to my stable of guitars.

My first order of business is to finish up a track I've been sitting on for awhile, called "Funkoverture." All it needs is a proper drum performance, and this is a good opportunity for me to sharpen my skills on the Korg padKontrol MIDI drum pad. I prefer to play rather than program the percussion, but it takes practice to do it well. No time like the present...

Monday, December 22, 2008

No recordings

Well, no pre-holiday recordings from me. Just didn't have time yesterday.

Anyway, I think my hands could use the rest from a week off, and maybe my playing will be a bit fresher also. I'll get busy when I get back home next week.

I may or may not post here while I'm away. I wasn't originally planning to, but with all of the snow in Portland, I may have a LOT of time on my hands. The question is whether I will have anything to say. Since I don't have an mp3 player, I'm essentially going without music for a week. Should be interesting.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Practicing to do nothing

I've been playing a lot of guitar lately. A lot! My chops are in a very good place right now. So, to celebrate, I'm going to go on vacation for the holidays to visit my parents in Oregon and get all rusty after a week without a guitar. I'll probably visit a few guitar stores in Portland and noodle around a bit, but it's not the same as playing for a couple of hours every evening. What's worse, I'll inevitably find some guitar there I can't possibly live without and spend yet more of my hard-earned cash.

I was hoping to record a little chops-heavy improv today in order to memorialize my current state of guitar manliness before it all turns to dust, but I didn't get around to it. Maybe tomorrow. I leave town on Monday, so I'd better get to it, eh? Just a little exercise in guitar wankery with some drumpad fluff thrown in to make it seem legit. It all seems so easy in theory, but I sense the prep work necessary whenever I step into the studio and get a bit flustered. I just need to record a couple minutes of whatever and put it online for y'all. The guitar playing will be good, I can assure you. The rest of it? Maybe. Do you care?

In the past few years whenever I've spent time in Portland, I've been frustrated by the lack of metal-oriented guitars in the shops there. It didn't used to be that way, but Portland has turned into a total hipster, indie-rock bore in the 15+ years since I lived there. But in my current return to fusion and progressive music, I've rediscovered the virtues of classic electrics like Gibsons and Fenders. So I'm sure there will be a bunch of cool guitars sitting in the funky little shops in that fair city. Along with a bunch of 22-year-old musical poseurs with attitudes and underdeveloped chops. But hey, with age comes wisdom. Or at least gray hair.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santana - The Good Years

This past weekend, I picked up a copy of Santana's 1974 album Borboletta, which was the last album of Carlos' 1972-74 fusion period, and which contains quite possibly the best playing he ever did in the studio. After that, he decided to clip his musical wings and go be a pop star again, with a series of less inspired rock albums in the mid-late '70s.

Borboletta is somewhat overlooked these days, even by those (like me) who treasure Carlos' fusion work. I've been listening to his music since the '80s and I finally just now got around to buying a copy. It has a funk/R&B influence that wasn't so present on his earlier fusion albums, such as Caravanserai and Welcome. Overall, I'm groovin' on it.

In that spirit, here's some burnin' video from back when Carlos truly aspired to greatness--live at the Budokan in 1973, from the series of shows that was used to create the classic Santana live album Lotus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I've been meaning for awhile now to fully set down in print why I've abandoned the notion of pressing up a bunch of CDs of my new music and trying to sell it online, the way I did with the One Week in December album earlier this year.

Folks, as many of you know, the CD is dying. Heck, the very concept of the album itself seems to be fading. This has been hard for me to accept, since I grew up with LPs and eagerly made the change to CDs, but always thought of music in terms of collections, rather than an ongoing bunch of new music dribbling forth every so often. I'm still attached to the idea of the artist presenting their work in a cohesive format and a larger concept/context.

The dying gasp of the CD really hit home for me a few weeks ago when I was scrounging around at a local used CD/DVD shop. They've got so many used CDs that they have some of them sitting unorganized in cardboard bins below the shelves. In one such bin, I found a copy of Genesis' classic live album Seconds Out--a 2 CD set--for $4.00!!! I snapped it up, of course, but I found it kind of sad that the state of the album world has come to this.

But to progress, you have to let the old things go. For a non-commercial artist such as myself, the ability to release an endless string of new musical pieces as I finish them has its own appeal. It doesn't have to work as an album, and I can rework and rewrite multiple themes as I see fit. I can record whatever suits me at the moment, without having to think of a way to fit into a larger concept. This is especially true because I don't see the need to conform to the old "Brill Building" notion of each piece being 100% distinct from everything else I will ever write. Reusing themes and melodies is a good idea, not a cop-out.

Pressing CDs is incredibly cheap now by historical standards. I went with high-quality CD-Rs in professionally printed sleeves and paid under $300. Doing regular silver CDs would have been more expensive, because nobody will do orders of those under 1,000 copies. For those large orders, the silver CDs are actually cheaper than CD-Rs, but I have no need for bulk orders. I sold exactly two (2) copies of One Week in December. I've given some away and still have a box full of the damned things. What would I do with 1,000 of them???

So, for me, CDs are equivalent to vanity publishing. Might just as well release my toxic little tunes for free online and achieve wider distribution. Download it, share it with your friends, upload it to file-sharing sites, whatever. It's all good for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

SG problem solved

I solved my Gibson SG dilemma this past weekend, as I promised I would. I ended up buying a model called the SG3, which was a limited edition that Gibson put out last year. I got the last one at the store I went to. It has three humbucker pickups with a 6-way switch, so you can get all manner of different sounds out of it. I also find it to be very playable for my style. Below is a very bad picture of it.

I'm currently working on programming a Zappa-like distorted lead sound into my Axe-FX preamp to use with the SG3. This SG3 has a lot more top-end bite than any of my other guitars, and I'm finding it quite easy to get that classic Zappa "snarl". In fact, almost too much of it--I'm having to tone the high end down a bit. Zappa's guitar sound in the '70s is very difficult to reproduce, because he used a custom-made preamp circuit built in to his guitars. It contained both a massive output as well as a special filter effect. I'm imitating this by throwing a phaser effect in front of a distortion pedal simulator in the initial part of the signal chain within the Axe-FX. It's not exactly the same as what Zappa did, but it's in the same neighborhood. Zappa also used an effects rack that was approximately the height of a refrigerator with all kinds of expensive effects devices. By the standards of the '70s, he had this amazingly lush and huge distorted guitar sound. I'll never nail the exact sound (indeed, I'd rather have my own sound), but I can get at least some of the combination of lushness and bite that his sound had.



Friday, December 5, 2008

Flora Purim

I just had to post this amazing YouTube clip. I'm a huge fan of jazz vocalist Flora Purim and her husband, percussionist Airto Moreira. They brought a very hip Brazilian vibe to '70s jazz fusion, and Flora was really the only major jazz vocalist to embrace fusion. Partly because she's much more than your typical jazz vocalist and is willing to embrace experimental techniques that would have made Ella Fitzgerald cower in fear. Anyway, here is the clip, from a concert at the Paul Masson winery from around 1977-78. I don't have the exact date, but her look and the material correlate to that period.


I use tons of distortion on my lead guitar sound. Always have. It's a legacy of my Tony Iommi influence. I was playing around tonight on my Les Paul and actually got the urge to clean up my lead guitar patches on my preamp a little bit. That's a first. I still like a really saturated, heavy guitar sound, but I may have gone a bit far recently. You can hear it on the primary lead guitar on One Day in August. It's all nice and juicy, ala Zappa, but might be a little too fuzzy for its own good. This weekend, I need to spend a little time tweaking the settings in my Axe-FX to gain a little more sonic clarity.

I'm also going to have the Great Gibson SG Dilemma of 2008 resolved by the end of this weekend, as well. I've got a couple of good candidates for the SG I plan to keep around.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Decisions Decisions

Got the red Gibson SG yesterday. It's nothing special and is probably in need of re-fretting after over 20 years of hard playing. Nevertheless, it has helped the process of deciding what I want from an SG. I'm split between wanting an all-around guitar that would do my typical warmer, legato stuff really well, or a "utility" guitar that would nail the brighter, spikier SG sound that my heroes Frank Zappa and Frank Marino get. I'm leaning toward the latter at the moment. I've got other guitars that do warm legato very well, but nothing that gives me quite the deep, savage honk that Zappa achieved on "Five-Five-FIVE" from Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar.

I've almost decided against the '79 SG I wrote about earlier (assuming it's still available). I don't need to spend that much to get that sound, and the wear and tear on this '86 SG have scared me away from older guitars for the moment, though the '79 appears to be in much better shape and has basically been sitting in its case for 20 years. That, in itself, is troubling. Play wear on a guitar is a good thing--it often means the guitar was someone's first choice for a long time. A case queen could just be a dog that no one wants to play. On the other hand, the regular SGs out there are readily obtainable, while that SG Custom is a rare beast. I might not see another one like it for years.

Do I sound obsessive?