Monday, March 21, 2011

If I Had A Radio Station...

I am not a fan of talk radio. I like music. I LOVE music, actually (not like I love my wife but very much like I love Mexican food, actually MORE than Mexican food! But much, much LESS than my wife!!). I like for my radio to play music. I expect it to play music. That’s it’s job as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s not your radio’s job and that’s fine. Maybe you like talk radio and that’s fine too (If you love it so much why don’t you marry it?!...sorry I’ve been watching a lot of Pee Wee Herman lately!). I’m just talking about MY radio and what I like to hear. When my radio stops playing music, I put in a CD, turn on my iPod, sit down at the piano or pick up a guitar because I want to hear music. Talk radio is very popular these days. There are stations that talk about sports, news, conservative issues, liberal issues, science, comedy, cooking, etc. there might even be a station that talks about music! I’ll have to check. I have many friends, musicians and music fans among them, who listen to more talk radio than music. I am not one of them. If I had a radio station it would play music 24/7. According to the current paradigm, it wouldn’t be very successful to most people I know. My friends would listen to it because I asked them to, (at least they would claim to be listening to it, probably while listening to talk radio). I would limit advertisers (you have to have the ads to pay for the airtime, or maybe I could be like XM and just sell subscriptions!) to 5 second commercials; “Buy Ford Trucks!”. The news would only come on if something major happened and then wouldn’t repeat until a really new development actually happened. There would be no hours and hours of commentary about the implications of this major event on the rest of the world, blah, blah, blah, unless there was an implication for the rest of the world to be concerned about, and then the implication would be explained and we would move on.  The news would come on with that sound that they used to use on TV when news would break; click, click, click... We don’t use that sound anymore because news is ALWAYS breaking! Turn on any news program and while they’re talking about news, a scroll is running underneath telling more news. Sometimes it’s important; Japan’s earthquake and nuclear disaster, but sometimes it’s not important; the warlock Charlie Sheen. That’s not news. It’s strange and interesting like a car wreck is interesting, but it’s not news like Libya and yet it’s on the same scroll as news about the economy or the health care debate. Sometimes, they break in to the news with more news! It’s like; “That’s interesting news Bob but we’ve just heard this even more interesting news!” 
 My station would be unlimited when it comes to genre. I don’t recognize them in the world so why would I recognize them on my radio station? Blues would be next to Rock, which would be next to Country, which would be next to Jazz, which would be next to Pop, etc. I think other than making it easier to find CDs in the record store (if you can find a record store and even know what a CD is...) Genres are kind of useless anyway. It gets very hard to categorize some artists and figure out which section they should even be in; (is Johnny Cash in the Country section or the Folk section?) For that matter, if “Pop” is short for “popular” (it is) wouldn’t all artists who’s records are selling well be considered “pop”? Currently, according to Billboard magazine’s chart of the top 200 songs, R.E.M, Sara Evans, Bruno Mars and Jason Aldean would all be considered ‘pop’. Hmmmm. On my radio station, they would all get played anyway, so I guess the categories wouldn’t matter.
 On that thought, genres are kind of like us humans. We’re always looking for the differences in ourselves that separate us from each other and yet there’s way more stuff that make us the same. Just like music! Race, sex, religion, social class, nationality, eye color, weight, skin color; all that stuff that we use to differentiate ourselves, separate, put apart. Categories are great for a simple explanation but they rarely tell you anything about a song, a movie, a painting, an artist or a person for that matter. I’m not sure why we feel the need to do that. I have a young daughter that I’m trying to teach about life and the world and trying to teach her that all people are the same is a very important part of that. I try and explain to her that we don’t judge people. We get to know them. That tells more about someone than the color of their skin or their height. Music is like that too. Don’t dislike something out of hand, listen and judge it based on if it moves you or not. 
  My playlist of artists would look something like this:
  • B.B. King
  • Ms. Aretha Franklin
  • Motorhead
  • Justin Bieber (just wanted to put his name right next to Motorhead!)
  • Roy Hamilton
  • Buck Owens
  • Rhianna
  • The Statler Brothers
  • Albert Collins
  • The Police
  • Elvis Presley
  • Jeff Buckley
  • Jeff Beck
  • Jeff Bridges (I could just do a day of ‘Jeffs’)
  • George Jones
  • Salif Keita
  • Buddy Guy
  • Eric Clapton
  • The Monkees
  • Hound Dog Taylor
  • Material
  • Sonny Sharrock
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • AC/DC
  • Steve Earle
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Merle Haggard
  • The Beatles
  • Van Halen
  • Tammy Wynette
  • Spinal Tap
  • Ali Farke Toure
  • Robert Johnson
  • Prince
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • The Sex Pistols
  • Hank Williams
  • Scott Holt (well, it IS my radio station!)
  • John Coltrane
  • Sam Cooke
  • T.V on the Radio
  • P-Funk
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Billy Idol
  • Sly & The Family Stone
  • Wes Montgomery
  • Miles Davis
  • Santana
  • Skip James
  • Faron Young
  • Mozart
  • Bob Dylan
  • the cast of Glee (seeing if you’d actually read the whole list down!)
  • etc. (by that I mean, I could go on and on. Etc. is not to indicate a band called etc. although I’d probably play them too)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Defense Of The Tangible

 I love technology. I love my iPhone, my Mac, my Kindle, my iPod, etc. I believe that technology is our friend. I’m all “big screen TV’s and wireless guitars!” That being said, this blog is in defense of the “old school”. I recently read an interview with Jon Bon Jovi, in which he was lamenting the seeming replacement of the physical album or CD with MP3’s or Wav's. He blamed Steve Jobs personally, which I don’t really agree with, but much of the interview felt right to me. I reposted the article on my facebook and got some interesting responses. It made me think about my own feelings concerning this topic, which in my line of work is kind of important!
 When I was growing up, (in olden times) music was on albums (33 1/3 baby!!), then we got 8-track tapes (horrible) and then cassettes (ehh), then the glorious CD! Yes, an indestructible, last forever format; except it’s not. They scratch, have a shelf life, and you can break them. Still it was the last physical format to come along before the age of 1’s and 0’s. When MP3’s became the thing, it wasn’t the sound quality that bothered me as much as the physical “not being able to hold something” feeling. My high-school years (my truly formative music listening years) were spent listening to most of my music while driving in my truck, cruising up and down the streets of my hometown, on a really crappy car stereo with a graphic equalizer that did little more than add too much treble, bass and volume. In other words, sound quality was not really a major issue for me at the time. Even now, as I write this, I’m listening to music (Lucinda Williams / Blessed) on desktop computer speakers...sounds fine to me:). A lot of my favorite stuff isn't really “audio-phile” type stuff anyway, I’ve been listening recently to Robert Johnson, not exactly pristine recordings (some things even technology can’t do yet!)!
 When I first heard Jimi Hendrix, it was important that I saw a picture of him. It was important to read the liner notes and see where the music was recorded, who else played on it, when was it recorded, etc. I learned as much about music from reading my CD’s as from listening to them. I learned about Guitar Slim in the liner notes of a Stevie Ray Vaughan, CD. I found out about Earl Hooker from Buddy Guy, but I learned more about his discography from liner notes on Muddy Waters records, etc. I can’t overstate the importance of that source of information and knowledge when learning about music. There IS a reason why there’s a Grammy category for liner notes! 
 When I first started exploring iTunes I was excited about the “compactness” of it; I can carry my entire record collection with me everywhere on a device roughly the size of a deck of cards. That’s awesome! When I started touring, I carried a little CD player and 3 BIG albums of CDs! Very cumbersome!! Once the newness of iTunes wore off and it became a regular part of my day, the limitations started to reveal themselves. Especially after my first hard drive crash that lost my entire iTunes library! 4,450 albums...GONE! That’s a great, (albeit painful) wake up call! I’ve had a couple of crashes and ‘losses’ since then and it sent me scurrying back to my local record store (Grimey’s in Nashville) and made me appreciate, again, the feeling of tearing the plastic off of a new resource and a new friend. 
 I believe in the ability of humans to assimilate new technology and refine it over time. I think that’s what will happen to recorded music; it’s great to have MP3’s, it’s great to have iTunes and be able to buy a song while driving down the interstate at 3:00am (yes, I have done that for some of the most random songs you can imagine!) but I don’t believe 1’s and 0’s will ever fully replace the physical recorded work any more than I believe that texting will ever fully do away with face to face conversation (although it is very handy!!) Buddy used to tell me; “just because something is new doesn’t make it better.” I agree with that.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Finding it pt.2

The meandering stream of life. Can you remember how you came to have the list of ‘favorites’ that you currently have? If today you like eating lobster, did you start with fish sticks? If today your favorite book is Water For Elephants was it once Green Eggs and Ham? If today you are jamming to Born This Way by Lady Gaga, was there a time in your past when it was Fallin’ by Alicia Keys? (Did you know that was 10 years ago?!) Sometimes I wonder why I like certain songs. In my line of work it’s an important thing to try and study. If I could figure it out, I’d be writing this from my private island fortress, while sitting on a stack of gold bars. How did I go from listening to my parents live Sha Na Na record to listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins? How do I draw the line from my love for Hank Williams Jr to my love for Funkadelic? I loved Elvis long before I began to raid his record collection for guidance. I got my appreciation for B.B. King from Buddy Guy. I found out about Guitar Slim from Stevie Ray Vaughan. I learned my gospel music from church but I learned my love of George Jones from my mom listening to WSIX in Nashville. There’s a place in the Bible where Jesus says to become like “little children”. I won’t go into the spiritual aspects of the passage but I will say that a lot of aspects of the creative life (and maybe just life in general) are made better by following that ideal. In my last blog, I spoke about how I discovered music. I discovered it in a random, sort of meandering way that wouldn’t make sense if you were trying find the straight line of discovery. I still find music like a child plays; any toy is fair game, size and proportion doesn’t matter. A 2” tall doll can be friends with an 18” doll and they can live in a house that is in now way proportionate for either of them. When I play dolls with my daughter, I’m the ‘boy dolls’ which tend to be a little less ‘together’ than the girl dolls. My favorite is the one we call business man; he has a tie and suspenders but no jacket and no shoes. She may be a Cinderella or a small girl in a riding outfit but it makes no difference. The rule is; there are no rules. It’s just playing. Imagination.
Music is like that (thank God!). In my iTunes, Donny hathaway is right next to The Doors (alphabetized by first names I guess) I found Robert Johnson like this; Jimi Hendrix - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Buddy Guy - Billy Idol - John Lee Hooker - Robin Trower - Eric Clapton - The Time - Robert Johnson. There was no straight line, no path of logic, just a sort of “Hey, I wonder what this sounds like?” I remember sometimes I would find someone that I wasn’t really ready for and it would be a while before I could come back to them and it make sense to me. John Lee Hooker was like that for me. I had heard Buddy, Stevie, B.B., Muddy and I had heard John Lee’s name enough to know he was “important” but when I bought my first record, Mad Man Blues, it made no sense at all. It sounded out of tune, unorganized and nothing like what I was used to. It was NOT love at first sight. As time went on, I developed a broader sensability, found more music, varied sounds and when I came back to John Lee, it WAS love. I put him high on my list of favorites and consider him one of the greatest bluesmen ever. I heard the Sex Pistols looooong before I loved them. For a long time I liked Adam & The Ants better than the Clash! (What do you want, I was a Prince fan!)
(My List of Greatest Blues Men, order subject to change daily or hourly)
Muddy Waters
B.B. King
Robert Johnson
Howlin’ Wolf
John Lee Hooker
T-bone Walker
Buddy Guy
Albert Collins
Freddie King
Hank Williams

*I add this caveat; Stevie Ray Vaughan was the LAST real authentic blues man. I’ve yet to see anyone access that channel since. Also, I know that I left off; Little Walter, Son House, Sonny Boy Williamson, Albert King, Junior Wells, Elmore James, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charlie Patton, etc...

My daughter, who has become one of my best teachers, shows me every day how to ‘learn like a child’. She discovered the song You Really Got Me not from Van Halen like I did, not from The Kinks but from Alvin & The Chipmunks. Not trying to be cool or hip, she just found the version that to her ear sounds ‘good’. She learned Hank William’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry from a film version of Beverly Hillbillies. I learned the same way; my first Clapton record wasn’t Derek & The Dominoes or Cream, it was Behind The Sun. Good record but not the record responsible for his “godhood”. Not the ‘cool’ record you want to say was your first. My first Buddy Guy record was a Vanguard compilation. Then I accidentally came across Stone Crazy on Alligator, (still my favorite and I would argue his best). I heard Elton John for years and saw his videos through the 80’s and early 90’s but couldn’t be bothered to even own an Elton John record. Then one day it just clicked into place and a casual purchase of his greatest hits (because I am determined to own every record ever made) led to me deciding that he is one of the greatest pop music geniuses of the 20th century. (Yes I am prepared to argue that point with anyone!) I liked the Monkees before I liked the Beatles. I liked the Beatles before I liked The Rolling Stones. I liked 70’s jumpsuit era Elvis better than 50’s era (I still do sometimes) because that’s the one I was exposed to first. I like Merle Haggard doing Lefty Frizzell better than the originals. I like to discuss music. I will debate (not argue) with you about my choices if challenged, but in the end it’s about what you like as an individual. There are 31 flavors of ice cream for a reason (except in Libya where there is just the one flavor; Kaddafi Krunch! Bahahahahahaha!! WINNING!)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Finding it pt.1

I’m always fascinated by how “new” music finds me. I’ve been on this planet for several years now and not only do I find new recent music all the time (still in love with F**k You by Cee Lo Green) but I also find stuff that I’m amazed I haven’t come across before. Some of you who came out to the shows last year on ‘The Big Nasty’s Traveling Freak Show’ tour know that I was in the throes of discovering Elton John for real, finally. The temptation to play Bennie And The Jets was often irresistible (sorry for that!)! These days I’m finding amazing artists like Townes Van Zandt. I’m a music fiend, so I’ve heard his name for years, but actually tracking down some of his work and listening to it is different from just being aware that we share oxygen.
I’m not sure how other people do go through this type stuff (or if they even think about it at all) but being a musician, I’m always working on my craft from every angle and that includes my “diet”. I believe that an artist is not only the combination of elements and desires that God gives but also a result of the influences that come to you and at what stage they arrive. I started with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan in very short order so discovering the guitar gave me an entry to my medium. If my first influences had been Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean-Michel Basquiat or Charles Portis, I would be a very different type of artist!
After spending a bunch of time immersing myself in the blues (I actually wrote Muddy Waters but just couldn’t bring myself to let the pun go!), I was introduced, by Buddy and others, to P-Funk, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, Bobby Womack etc. I also looked around my hometown area and started finding the people that I had grown up hearing; George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jr. My list of favorites has grown over time to be quite an eclectic list; Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Miles Davis, Donny Hathaway, Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck, Aretha Franklin, Jason and The Scorchers, Sly & The Family Stone, The Sex Pistols, Mozart, B.B. King, John Coltrane, Funkadelic, Wes Montgomery, Elton John, Steve Earle, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Eric Clapton, George Jones, The Beatles, Dwight Yoakum,... I could literally go on and on!
The point (if in fact there is a point) is that I am so grateful that God has given me such an adoration for what I do and allows me to continue to discover new music and have it feel like it did when I first started. I’ve told the story of “finding” Jimi for the first time. I can still access that feeling in my memory. I can still see the place I was, the way the sounds hit me and assaulted my senses and left me knowing that this was my path. I remember going to see Elvis with my parents, I can still feel the air from that night. I remember exploring Prince’s 1999 album (yes kids, on vinyl!). Hearing Buddy Guy for the first time, on a cassette, late at night. The impact on me was huge! I LOVE MUSIC! can you tell?

Recommended Playlist (if you’re interested)
Buddy Guy / One Room Country Shack
Hank Williams / Rambling Man
John Coltrane / Naima
Duke Ellington / Lotus Blossom
George Jones / He Stopped Loving Her Today
Jason & The Scorchers / White Lies
Townes Van Zandt / Pancho & Lefty
Funkadelic / Maggot Brain
The Rolling Stones / Rocks Off
B.B. King / You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now
Prince / She’s Always In My Hair
John Prine / In Spite Of Ourselves
Earth, Wind & Fire / September
Donny Hathaway / A Song For You