OK This bugs me enough that I blogged about it


I was raised, probably just like everyone else, with the ethos “if you haven’t got anything nice to say”, you know the rest. And I also know I am treading on thin ice with what I am about to write but it has irked me for years that I am just bound to “do a little number” about a song. Let me preface this with: I am not being negative in the slightest and I have nothing personally against what I am about to wax on here and do not know the creator of what I am going to write about in the next 600 or so words. And I doubt they would care one way or the other but much like John Lee Hooker in Boogie Chillun “it’s in him and it’s just got to come out.” I personally do not like the song “Walking in Memphis.” Here is why.

It rubs me the wrong way and has for years. This is nothing new, I did not like it the first few thousand times I heard it. It rubs me the same way that people hear “Free Bird” or “Sweet Home Alabama” and assume that the rest of the rednecks yelling the lyrics out encapsulates me as a southerner. And it rubs me, oh man does it rub me, the wrong way when people use it as some sort of sound track for their first experience in Memphis.

I have been to Disney (East and West) and did not walk around, through my entire experience humming “It’s a Small World.” The song itself is OK and passable so I am not slamming the writer, it “ain’t” his fault and he has no control of what others do after it is released but people, for god’s sake, “Walking in Memphis” is way down on the list of songs you should associate with Memphis.

I get that the tourism board probably loves it and I don’t blame them, it is made to order as far as a tourist song goes. I am very sure the writer of the song loves it and has reaped a just reward. I have no problem with this. The Don Corleone mindset (“It makes no difference, it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.”) is my view. Yet for the rest of you, do some homework and realize Memphis is a deep, ocean deep, place filled to the brim with culture. It is a Mecca. So much art has been created, unique to American culture, it boggles my mind and I have done my homework, my entire life and still learn things that still amaze and humble my soul.

So I am not attacking the song. Its lyrics are a bit trite for my taste yet also I get it. The guy was stupefied by his experience and I think this is probably a very honest response and in song no less. Just for the rest of you please, pretty please, do not make it the soundtrack for your journey to Memphis.
Read this book:
Deep Blues by Robert Palmer
or this book
It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon
Listen to these songs:

Booker T. Laury Memphis Blues
This goes to the very heart of Memphis music. It is its history and captures one of the greatest barrelhouse Piano players ever.

Booker T. and the M.G.sGreen Onions
There are tons of Stax songs and I encourage anyone to dive in but if I had to pick one I thought captured the sound it’s gotta be this one.

And I would suggest going to Sun Studios

The Stax Museum
Of course there is the King and Graceland
but also for an alternate take on where Memphis Music is now you might want to give a listen to Jack Oblivion who has done and is doing some very interesting music.
Memphis is basically stacked with history and culture unlike any other place in the world. Just don’t let one song from one guy temper your vision before visiting the Bluff City.

* Also for the record I love me some Lynard Skynard, the original boys. Just so you know.

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Taste Makers and the Soul of Rock N Roll: Parsing the Ether


Taste Makers and the Soul of Rock N Roll: Parsing the Ether

Does Rock n Roll exist anymore? Probably not in the way it was once conceptualized by the masses. Here is why. From my previous post
I expounded liberally on the useless distinction for Indie Rock and really most of the sub genres now I will school you on what has happened, like you don’t already know, which I am sure you do.
We have to go all the way back to 1950 something. Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash were recording rockabilly history at Sun studio in Memphis, Ray Charles was making awesomeness at Atlantic in New York, and Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were blazing blues standards at Chess in Chicago. Tons of others were also doing the same in their own way. They were feeding the information pipeline of the day: the record store and the radio and then television to some extent and the trade print that their art received. That was just about the whole shooting match. But guaranteed elsewhere there were people all over the place making music in bars, restaurants, garages, basements, street corners, swap meets, basements, and solitary rooms which will never be heard again. Was most of it passable? This depends on the context of the listener and its maker. If the goal was to bring joy and joy was brought then most assuredly it passed muster. Was it worthy of archiving? Most likely it was not. Sure Jimmy Dale sitting in his bedroom off of Union Ave. in Memphis, a few blocks from Sun, probably thought he did a mean Blue Moon of Kentucky but it was probably not worth the tape it would have taken to record it. (Jimmy Dale is a totally made up character but I would bet good money that someone similar, or hundreds of someone similar, abounded.)This leads to the next point.
Fast forward or skip scenes to now. The Jimmy Dale of 2012 has not only the ability to record his Blue Moon of Kentucky, but on better equipment than Sam Phillips ever thought about or dreamt. Sir George Martin would have killed to have recorded the Beatles on this type of technology which can be had for a few hundred bucks. Not only that but the Jimmy Dale can pump his Blue Moon of Kentucky out to the entire planet, forget the local Poplar Tunes record store or Wal-Mart but the ENTIRE PLANET! Someone in Bahrain can get online and hear him, seconds after he hits the enter button on his keyboard. What does this give us? A world cluttered with music which, most of the time, no one really wants to hear. Why? Because it is unoriginal, or not well performed, or boring, or stale, or all the above and just hard to listen to and no one has the ability to start cutting through layer after layer or shovel dirt pan after dirt pan to reach the gems. Why? There is too much digging involved. We don’t have all day to dig and after a bit of it you just become frustrated and go back to listening to the things you used to or the bands new tracks that you already know about and hope at some point something will cross your fancy.
We have entered a conundrum which is so meaty. When the audience first got all access, via Napster and other P2P, they really did not search out new bands as much as steal from the ones they already loved or knew about. The new ones they checked out they were learning about from the traditional routes they always had. At the same time digital recording was really coming into its own and more and more people were flooding the internet with music and anyone that studied on it long enough could figure out how to get their music on all the .mp3 sites. All of sudden there was bombastic overload and the lingering question of “what to do about it?”
This only became a preponderating situation once people could stream music and basically flood the entire internet with their own masterpieces. Music is literally everywhere out there. Good, bad, mediocre, middling, and some absolutely fantastic. But where does that leave the normal passive listener?
People on one hand were clamoring “we want our freedom to listen to all the music we can and don’t you try to stop us” and others “hey I do not know what to listen to because there is too much to listen to.” This is where the record company suits should be provided a time machine, be allowed to go back, exit the time machine, find themselves and kick themselves for being so stupid and not jumping on this in some way, because they really did nothing proactive, on a large-scale, that I can see. Because whether the average Joe wants to admit it or not he wants people to tell him what to like, at least the generations brought up on bland radio and record stores. The record companies did provide a filter they were the last one. After an artist had made it through some touring, put out some things, worked through all the agents, club owners, and manager types and still had enough left in the proverbial bank to cut it the label would release something and most of the time it was passable if not downright great. They took chances on people who need chances taken on them and many of our musical tastes are much better for it. They are no longer serving in that capacity because the big timers are after the big buck and the smaller labels who used to take more chances cannot afford it or are not even in existence any longer.
Enter the taste maker. A taste maker is similar to a music critic but then again they serve the role, in a way, record companies used to serve. Apparently when these cats heard or read the quote “everyone’s a critic” they took it to heart and did something about it. They are parsing the ether to pull out the gems for you. Many people like this because, frankly, they like to be told what is cool because they want to seem cool themselves, they do not have time, they want to out hip their friends, or they simply trust the guidance of the taste maker and go with it because they just want to hear some rocking music prêt-à-porter.
A caveat to all my friends who are critics: you are still critics and I am not belittling your trade in the slightest, especially if you have been a critic of music for over 10 years. Critics have always been taste makers. But due to the large volume of music out there people are screaming to give them guidance and there is really a demand because supply side is through the roof. They want the freedom of mass content but do not have the ability, time, or patience to do the parsing themselves. Kind of like a kid given free rein at a toy store for 30 minutes, where to start?
The taste maker websites will continue to thrive and people will latch on to them, no matter how cool they think they are, because they are incapable of choosing their own music, even the hipsters who were not smart enough to start their own taste making website. The ones that did have to turn in your hipster badge because you are part of the machine! (I Kidding)

These are strange and intense times. It almost seems the very soul of Rock N Roll and music for that matter depends on this. It was just that no one knew it was so big.

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!