Why Che?


Why Che?
I get asked this: “Why Che Guevarra as the symbol for your blog? A communist?” Then of course the next question “Are you or have you ever been associated with communism?”

Let me take the last one first. Senator McCarthy and esteemed committee members… Hardy Har Har.

Seriously.

No. Not ever. Unless you count listening to Rage Against the Machine. But no I think communism, with its centralization of resources, is a doomed plan for failure. Without an element of capitalism it will not work and many governments are realizing this and making the necessary changes.

Now the first two, which are really one question expanded into two.
I like his ideals. Mostly his views on the common person and their right to be provided a chance to thrive, views shared by Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ghandi, and Jesus Christ.
But why a revolutionary from Latin America? What does this have to do with music?

Che Guevarra was a guerilla warrior of the highest order. Technically so was George Washington but old wooden toothed George just did not seem to fit the bill for my blog. I wanted an air of superior counter revolutionary activity. Why?

Because as an independent musician it is a false assumption to look at yourself in any other light than that of a guerilla warrior, you must think in these terms. But even though you insist on not thinking in these terms you will still do the activities which spring from this mentality. Approaching your art as a one person army, or a recruiter of a small army, you empower yourself to do the things, which I describe on this blog, necessary to further your efforts.

This sums it up.
Thanks for your continued support.

Viva la musica!

Calling all Pimps and Hustlas: Is this part of the pantheon?


Ok
I was doing that random thinking stuff I do which I attribute to 4 cups of coffee this morning, a very unusual way to start my day. I was amped to say the least. And as my mind rambled it rambled into the importance of some of the popular music of the day and how it would be weighed by the winds and sands of time.

First let me qualify that I love some hip-hop, especially real hip-hop and do make a distinction between it and rap. To me there is a difference and while I am no expert I am not close minded about the genre and here is where I am with a great deal of it.

A Pimp is a person who makes profit by sexually exploiting women, most of the time women who have been abused, sexually, physically, emotionally and about any other way you can imagine, for most, if not all their lives. To call oneself a Pimp is akin to calling oneself an A$$hole. Think how cool it sounds to say that you exploit weak people at their weakest. And that is cool why? When I hear kids say “I’m a pimp” I immediately shake my head then say, which I hate these words and try to keep them out of my mouth, “SHUT UP!”

A Hustler is a male prostitute historically. They are also usually people who make it by selling themselves in some way. Again this is not a position to be glorified. I am not judging but again the young men I have worked with in the past, who were hustlers, were very troubled and had more than a few issues to deal with in their very tenuous and tough lives.

OK, I understand the points of distinction and that words can mean different things at different times. What is bothersome is that the “rap” culture is constantly changing and morphing their dialogue with each new Pimp and Hustler “flavor” of the month. I do not call names because I do not want to anger anyone, because after all, many artist profess that they also dig shooting people. I am not cribbing here because we have seen rappers words cause the death of 2 of Hip Hop’s most brilliant. At what point in our culture do we say enough with enough?

I get that art is a reflection of the artist and their environment. I remember when Chuck D, a hip-hop godfather, said that Hip-Hop was the black man’s CNN. I agree with that but Rap is not. It seems to me to be either dance floor, booty shaking, drivel, or flash in the pan violence by someone we will not even remember in 6-10 months out.

The point of this being that if the art is a reflection of the culture then what the heck are we doing that is so wrong? I also wonder if artists are not immediately reaching for the basest of human emotions or issues, instead of CNN we get WWE but even more violent. Granted if you are talking about the violence of your area and it is graphic by all means, but do not glorify something one minute and then talk about how bad it is the next.

I am no one to judge just observe. I love great music and that includes hip hop, R&B, Soul, Blues, Rock, Country, Bluegrass, and a bunch of other things. To me that is the issue. Great music is great music. It speaks to a timeless thing, lyrically, socially, rhythmically, melodically, and any other “ally” you can think of that applies to music, great songs have that, no matter the genre or the era. This will always be the case as long as humans feel pain and need to invoke to others or maybe just themselves, how the experience is at that moment.

Were their lurid songs which talked about base, bawdy subjects? Of course. Lucille Bogan, in the 1930’s, wrote lyrics that would make the nastiest Rapper shake his or her head. I am not condemning anyone’s experience as being disingenuous. As an artist myself I would fight tooth and nail to protect their right to say whatever they want within the confines of freedom of speech. All I would suggest, with the intent of this blog, is that any artist, not just a rapper, but anyone, think about the vibe you are putting out there. Is it adding to the world something good or something that has never been written or sung in such way before? Is it promoting violence or the exploitation of someone in a mean way? Does it promote truth, whatever that truth may be? Is it genuine or just something you are saying to get noticed?

At the end of the day, I would hope, all things being at least fair but not necessarily equal, people could look outside themselves as artists and work towards projecting the real and not just camp or aiming for the obvious hot buttons inside all of us. An artist not only reflects their environment but has the power to uplift it, even in the direst of circumstances.
Example and then off my soap box:
James Brown stopped a riot with a performance. James Brown stopped a riot caused directly by the assassination of a great man. James Brown stopped a riot due to the assassination of not just a great man but one of greatest leaders the planet has ever known to this point. Imagine, for a second, the positive implications of a city on fire, people dying, and an artist, so positively powerful, that he could move his concert up a couple of hours and it cause a riot to cease. And at that concert James Brown could have churned the riot back up, told everyone to get back to rioting, and made that crowd completely finish destroying the city. Of course he did not. He also did not say he loved exploiting people, shooting or hurting them. James Brown was no angel as a person but given the opportunity he immediately,when asked for his help, without hesitation, did what Abe Lincoln asked all of America to do in his first inaugural address, looked to the angels of his better nature and saved a city. This should be in every history book about America and in every school in America.

It was “I’m black and I’m proud” not “I love destroying all those around me and making sure that children get damaged in the process” Let’s get it together.

Stevie Ray Vaughn: a precautionary tale


I was shattered the day Stevie Ray Vaughn died in 1990 about as much as any fan could have been. He was breaking into his own as a complete artist and was finally getting the recognition for this apart from being able to melt the strings off his guitar with a level of soul and power which put blues cats to shame and scared the living daylights out of shredders. Apart from that Stevie Ray Vaughn had overcome years of substance abuse to fully clean himself up and become a great example to others who suffered the same afflictions, even heard saying”If I can do it anyone can.” Then he tragically died.

I use “precautionary” tale not as a warning against substance abuse but rather a warning about originality. Stevie Ray Vaughn was an original, no doubting that, he took his influences, and within the finite framework of the blues he played carved out his own niche and expanded the art form, even past his 60’s and 70’s blues rock predecessors, also known, many of them, as Guitar Gods. Was he derivative? Yes, but in no more or less than Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, or scads of others who aimed in the same direction that Vaughn did.

I played in Austin a couple of times and had the great honor of playing at Antone’s once. When a friend of mine mentioned the show coming up they asked “so what SRV song are you going to do since you are playing at Antone’s?” My answer, one which required little thought, was this, “none.” I also added “why would I do that?” They seemed a bit miffed and I assured them I did not mean that in a derogatory way, I happen to get a kick out Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar playing and think a great many things about him, which I will reserve until later. But here is the skinny on the SRV death cult phenomenon.

When Stevie Ray Vaughn died the focus on his life and his accomplishments was tasteful and obviously the executors of his properties, his recordings and performances, used great taste and restraint in releasing only select material for a starved public consumption. It can never be said that the SRV camp overdid his passing by flooding the market with, what had to have been, tons of live and studio recordings. It was sparse, and while though not comparable to all his best, it was still well worth listening too. The same can be said for his live video performances. This is not the case for the death cult and again this is not Stevie Ray Vaughn’s fault, and neither is the following paragraph.

It used to be when I saw a guy in a freaking Zorro hat with conches or any resemblance to the SRV brim, a beat up strat, and an Ibanez tube screamer I would lose my mind and this would happen, enough times to note, to the point that I would dismiss them upon site with “oh here goes another one.” And of course here would come the same attempt at something unoriginal, trying to sound like someone they were never going to be. And any of you that idolize SRV let me clue you in to something: You will never be Stevie Ray Vaughn. And I would add: do not ever feel like you have to be.

I witnessed Stevie Ray Vaughn firsthand the last time he played a big festival in Memphis, TN. I can remember it like yesterday, it had that kind of “this is big” kind of impression on me. Was he the greatest player ever? He was that night. Have I witnessed others that great before? On other nights, yes. But that particular night, in Memphis, TN, in the spring of 1990 he lit the stage up with a guitar on full tilt, kicked you in your face and made you go “whew.” And he kept doing time and time again. I have never witnessed something quite that intense since then.

What I have learned from the witnessing since then is to be yourself because you will never be him. Not in another 5 generations of guitar players will you be Stevie Ray Vaughn and don’t try. Should you copy his licks? Yes. Should you learn his songs? Yes. But you should never copy him or anyone else if you have plans on ever rising above a wannabe. Seek what he sought. And as always:

Go practice your guitar!

A List


Following is a list of great songwriters. It is not a definitive list but a good place to start:

Bob Dylan
John Lennon
Paul McCartney
Hank Williams
Van Morrison
Paul Simon
Bruce Springsteen
John Mellencamp
Bill Withers
Dan Penn
William Bell
Chuck Berry
Nick Drake
Brian Wilson
George Harrison
Bernie Taupin
Carol King
Pete Townsend
Eddie Vedder
Kurt Cobain
Tom Scholz (Boston)
Paul Rogers
Jeff Lynne
Willie Dixon
Cat Stevens (Yusef Islam)
Stevie Wonder
James Brown
Buddy Holly
Curtis Mayfield
Sam Cooke
Ray Davies
Neil Young
Bob Marley
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland (Motown)
Smokey Robinson
Lou Reed
Roy Orbison
Sly Stone
Otis Redding & Steve Cropper
Issace Hayes & David Porter (Stax)
John Fogerty
Elvis Costello
Peter Gabriel
James Taylor
Al Green
Otis Blackwell
Robert Johnson
Skip James
Fred McDowell

Songwriter be ware


The title of this entry includes be ware not because I want to warn you of anything only in so much as for you to take ware of some of the things I am going to disseminate, starting, now!

Songwriting is a beautiful endeavor which you cannot practice and refine enough. The entire industry and art form of making music is driven by this skill and always will be. With that I begin with the newbie artist or the “amateur songwriter” or the “aspiring songwriter.”

I have listened to a great deal of bad songs in my time and I have written a great deal of bad songs in my time, I mean stinkers, and will probably write some more which are stinkers, but sometimes I am capable of escaping that and writing a thing worth listening to.

I have come into contact with some really terrible attempts at songwriting, either lyrically, musically, or all of it just combined into a jumbled up mess the prospective artist is trying to pass off as something it is most assuredly is not. Also someone, many times, might have made the mistake of telling them that the song had merit, or they were talented, or whatever, so they feel vindicated with the Intel that some attendee at the local open mic night told them they were good. In these scenarios the prospective artist, songwriter, singer songwriter or whatever, is not too willing to listen to critique or advice, because, after all, Joe Schmo nobody has validated their level of talent. I liken it to a major league hopeful being content to play in a local softball league. If your goal is bat some balls around, run the bases, and have fun, by all means that is what it is there for, but if your ultimate goal is to attempt this “thing” at some other level, then you have to ply your craft and that involves work, a great deal of it. I am not trying to be a soul crusher here but the name of the game is time applied to your craft, without it, generally one is doomed to failure or, at best, a life of mediocre songs.
I will list some things which I would consider important, some can be applied to songwriting and others could easily be branched out and applied to other skill sets necessary to become successful but by all means this list is not all inclusive.
1) Listen to yourself. Whether it is on a tape deck, digital recorder, or your laptop, listen, listen, listen.

The importance is that you have to become comfortable with your voice, your overall sound, and the things you are performing. It is a frame of reference which is an undeniable tool to getting stronger performances and material.

2) Listen to others. I have heard a couple of people actually slag on the Beatles in the last couple of months. I am not sure what they were smoking or if it was legal, or they needed mental health services, I just don’t know, but they sounded stupid doing it.
Beatles are a touchstone of songwriting which is equaled often but never bettered.
The craft they use in their lyrics, their chord structure, harmonies, just all of it, is a thing of beauty and a skill level which should always be aspired towards. There is a list of many others, here, who should always be studied, and again this list is not inclusive, just some folks who I know to be artists of the most royal caliber.

3) Flattery is the best copying.
Copying someone’s writing style, verbatim, is always a good place to start. I do not mean covering their material. You should always start their as a beginner, but when you decide to begin writing your own songs, it never hurts to take a song which you admire or love and say to yourself “I am going to write a song in this style, with my own words, maybe transpose the key, and have a go at it.” This can make for a remarkable result and sometimes something magical can happen.
Regardless of the outcome when you are using great songs or songs you love as a jumping off point you are first, basing yourself in surefire greatness, and second, you are coming from a place of true love, which is always a good thing.

4) Cut and Paste. I call this cut and paste and it stems also from number 3. Many artists hear songs from other artists and take sections or start writing something to emulate the song or are just doing it to be funny as a spoof during rehearsal and it ends up morphing into something. Sometimes something great.
I have heard others say “the chorus on this one is like so and so” which means they were influenced by it. This is by no means stealing but showing your influence in your art. Most of American music is based in this tradition and that is its beauty of taking things, many disparate, and making them something new. Just consider blues and then think of how many bands can claim that as a starting point or a reference point.

5) Have fun with it, Dang it!
If this is never fun to you, the experience of making music, then I always think a person has like three choices which should be considered: 1) Keep plugging and don’t quit. 2) Move to something else until the desire comes back 3) Quit.

This will not make you a better guitar player


I can remember quite clearly struggling with guitar in hand trying desperately to learn some new skill thinking I would never get anywhere and if I did it would be years, most likely decades. Then I can remember getting lost in gear and articles about gear and the idea that gear could make the difference. It never did. The only difference it made was I had some expensive piece of something that only amplified or saturated, with multiple effects, or both my minimal abilities. I almost just put the whole thing down.
But then I started working over things and realized it was not the end of the attempt at being a good guitarist. I just had to focus in on something basic and master it. Also I had to find a person who could send me in the right direction.
I had very few lessons, formal ones that is, in my time with my instrument, but I have had numerous, like too many to count, times where I played with another guitarist and probably should have slipped them some money just for the privilege of playing with them and picking up the things I learned.
If you are going to start down the road of guitar player/god to be remember, first, that the road is long. But there are some road signs you should heed.
1) Play with those better than you. This works for just about any endeavor which requires skill
2) Listen to others who are regarded as legend or whose style strikes you. Also remember you can learn a great deal from just about anyone if you listen.
3) Do some theory work by actually reading the lessons in guitar magazines or online or wherever and start getting the “why this is this way” ideas. I think a little theory goes a long way.
4) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Stretch out there. Even if you are at a jam, on a stage, and you make a flub there is no trap door that is going to open and suck you down to a torture chamber. Though this might not be a bad idea in some situations, it most likely will not happen. But the mistakes you make will teach you something.
5) In the same light of #4 Play in front of people live and preferably in some type of venue type setting. Playing live if the best practice in the world, here is why I believe this to be so: the noodle factor. When you are sitting alone, playing or just dorking around it is more relaxed and you tend to play scale patterns or noodle things over and over because they are comfortable and fun. Also we humans like to feel proficient so playing things we are good at, no matter how overplayed they are, makes us feel good. Playing in a rehearsal adds the element of focus that is greatly missing from this and live there is no room for anything but the structure of the performance. Hence the term Show Time.
6) Read auto bio or bios about musicians, not even always guitar players. One of my favorite books and one which taught me a great deal intellectually as a musician was Really Blues by Mizz Mizzrow who was a proficient, albeit not masterful, clarinet player from the golden age of jazz. I think many musicians, at least I have noticed with guitar players, make the mistake of being instrumentally provincial and look down or fail to learn from the other instruments. This is a bad mistake,first of all, from a learning perspective as it discounts the true purpose or possibilities of making music and second of all you are negating a dearth of information which could only help you learn.

If you ever think for one minute that money and expensive gear will do it here is the reality: this will not make you a better guitar player.
To me there was always a beauty about the utter ability of a guitar to be a divining element where desire and practice met with love of music and skill to make a guitar player. As long as you have a guitar that works then there is very little that separates you from even those bearing thousand dollar axes. A great player is a great player and in the same vein it always feels so rewarding to be able to do something which you know, as you are doing it, that very few people, if any, can do. They also cannot buy their way into doing it, they have to truly earn it.

Go practice your guitar!

This will get you a label deal, recording contract, mega stardom and etc. etc. Platitude platitude


I get tired, really tired, of these emails promising the super stardom or advancement into the realm of music professional by entering some contest. Then I notice, more times than not, that the “contest” requires an entry fee that could be considered no small change. Then I get ill because these contests play on the yearnings, the pure hope, which every artist carries with them, from the time they first seriously start trying to form some concept of becoming a performing artist to the seasoned songwriter still trying to place that first song with a big name artist. I get ill at the artists who flock to them.

First, contests have helped some people ramp up to that next level. I am not arguing that if you win a contest it is not going to help you. What gets me is the loss of focus from the real deal at hand to the fast bang of instant super stardom, which is a lark, and hers is why.

There has never been anyone that has won a contest, taken advantage of its prizes, and rocketed into the stratosphere of fame, accolades, etc. without a great deal of the following: skill at their craft(s).

I remember reading an article in a magazine recently and its theme was the changing roles in the music industry post-internet age, which has not only changed some people’s roles and former jobs but ended them entirely. One hopeful producer/studio owner stuck out in all the gloom and doom when the subject of ‘what to do next’ was broached, his reply, “I am going to keep making great music. That is what we do.”

This goes to the very heart of any serious discussion about music performance, songwriting, and most definitely sound recording. So many people get caught up in making it they forget the necessary requirements. With the advent of worldwide, blink of an eye fast, communication in numerous mediums and forms has flipped, chopped, and screwed many of the old standard ways of doing things and some to the point where they are non-existent. But what has not changed and I suspect will never change is the public’s desire for quality music. The way in which they receive changing? Yes. The amount of music out there? Yes. The need for great songs performed and/or recorded by very talented people will always be there? Most definitely.

Here is where so many artists, or desire to be artists, miss the boat. They think, or appear to, think that winning some type of contest is going to be a shortcut around actual talent. Sadly, after watching some live awards shows recently, I can see where they might get the idea that you can get by on good looks and very little talent. But as a rule, just to get through the door, you have to have the chops, the talent, and the drive. Plan and simple. Are there artists who have gotten there on their looks? Sadly, yes. Are there artists who are there because they were strategically placed there by a famous parent? Horribly, yes. Is talent and originality still the litmus test for aspiring artists? Oh yes indeed!

And here is where this ultimately bugs me. Instead of taking the time to work on their craft, or send out some CD’s to some radio stations, or write songs, or perform, or, god forbid, take the money they were going to spend entering the contest and use it to buy some new equipment they take their money and use it to enter a contest. I really wonder if the entry fee is not the ultimate goal of some of these contests to begin with.

We have sadly presented the get rich quick concept in America when the good wisdom says you make the million one dollar at a time. Weight loss is apparently as easy as an infomercial, yet we have the highest rates of obesity in the world. Why should music be any different? Answer, it just is. Do you think Jimi Hendrix just lucked into the slot of guitar god? Did Billie Holiday get thrown on a stage and just luckily knew how to sing? Did the Beatles just get handed fame and fortune? None of these artists made it any other way but through the hard knocks of show business, Jimi Hendrix for years on the chitlin circuit refining his craft in dives all over the country, Billie Holiday for many one nighters in seedy gin halls before being recognized, the Beatles, yes them, had it hard scrabble and were turned down many times before getting their chance.

In the time it takes to enter some contest use this to practice, write a song, or work on some part of your promotional gear. With the money you would have used to enter a contest us it to buy some new microphone, or start a savings account for something new that applies to your craft. Always be striving to get better. There will come a point at which you begin performing where you will not need a contest to know, without a doubt, you are a talented and can make your own damn breaks for yourself.
There is a Zen Koan where the student goes to the master, after eating, bowl in hand and asks “teacher I need direction.” The master looks at student, bowl in hand and asks “are you done eating?” and when the student says “Yes” the master states “go wash your bowl.”

If there is ever a time in your life where you need direction let me impart my own Zen to you.
Go practice your guitar!

D R U G S


“I wanna Rock n Roll all night/And party everyday”
–KISS

Simple anthem, great song, and one that even the stodgiest person in the world would have trouble not humming. This concept is what has driven much of the Rock N Roll attitude since at least the mid sixties when Keith Richards and others began making it almost assumed that rockers led a life which demanded they derange their systems at all times in order to be the people they are.

As a hopeful musician or performer who wants to make your living doing the things you love doing you need to remember that the roadside is littered with the swollen, dead bodies and withered skeletons of those who tried to rock n roll all night and party everyday. It is a cliché of a cliché with the knowledge available to us in this day and age.
When I mean Drugs I also include alcohol which is just as deadly and dangerous as the “unacceptable” forms of intoxicants. Am I a killjoy, not in the least, what I am offering are suggestions. As an adult one is free to botch up their lives in any manner they so chose. If you are a young person reading this then let me pose this to you, and this is not “drugs are bad ok” talk. The younger you begin something which can lead to becoming habit-forming the more likely it is you will develop a habit which you will be dealing with in the future. Plain and simple: you will become dependent on a substance and that substance will run your life, not you running it, but it running you.

I will not go into vivid detail about each and every substance as it is boring and most everyone has heard it already. From my own experiences I have seen people make perfect wrecks of themselves, those around them, and any hopes of accomplishing things in this life. I use this to warn because if your goal is to make music and you ever think that a substance will assist you in that before hard work, dedication, and love of your craft then you are falling for one of the biggest lies, damnable lies, out there.

Cocaine, pot, heroin, speed, booze, etc., etc., will only eventually hang you up. You would think in this day and age that we have had enough examples to know that going down these roads only dead-end into no where. Yet still we see people not learning the lessons of the past.

What is sad is that these days I will think about an upcoming show I might be playing and if I am in need of a certain instrument and that musician lives in the town I am playing I will think “I will call so and so” but then pause and realize “so and so” is dead because they could not give up a habit that eventually killed them. They are not cool, they do not get to do the thing they love anymore, and they have nothing to look forward to any longer because they are, sadly, dead.

Oh also one final salvo, the guys responsible for the above quote, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, did not get to become KISS by being drug addicts.