First Live Concert in a Year and a Half

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I missed live music! I’ve watched a few live streams over the last year+, and it was fun but not the same. I didn’t buy any, though, to me a concert is an event. If you’re just sitting at home watching a screen it’s hard to justify… it’s also hard to carve out the time to sit and watch. I got tickets for the Allman Betts Band at the Orlando Hard Rock. Normally, I’m not a fan of that venue, as it’s a long ways from parking, and it’s usually more expensive for similar acts. I was surprised how open parking was very open… and free, which is NOT the case around Halloween Horror nights, which adds $20 to the total cost). Once inside Universal City Walk, I was also a bit surprised how crowded it was. I hadn’t been around that many people in a year and a half! It took a little bit of time to get used to that, for sure.

The venue was about half to two-thirds full. Definitely not sold out, but a good crowd. I think a lot of people were in my boat: very enthusiastic to be back seeing live bands, and it showed in the crowd response and interaction. I purposefully bought an isle row seat, which I felt would give me a bit of separation.

Have you seen anything recently? What was your reintroduction to live music, if so? If not, is there anything on your radar? Let me know in the comments.

River Kittens

River Kittens opened up – they were a roots acoustic duo with fantastic harmony vocals and fun songs. They did a great job, and it was an excellent reintroduction to live music. They did a mix of covers and originals, and on top of both women singing, they played guitar, mandolin and ukelele. I don’t know much about the duo, but their vocals blended so well I wondered if they were sisters. Definitely check them out.

The Allman Betts Band

I had listened to them a few times on Spotify, but I didn’t know their catalog very deeply. Even not being very familiar, their songs were easy to get into – Southern Rain, Airboats & Cocaine and Much Obliged in particular were good singalongs. They also did a somewhat surprising number of Allman Brothers covers: Trouble No More, Jessica, Ain’t Wasting No More Time, and Southbound.

In my opinion they have a perfect mix of southern rock and blues – some long solos, some more pop-structured songs. It never felt tedious one way or another. Easy to get into, but also deep enough to enjoy over and over.

The band sounded incredibly full and rich – with three guitars, drums, percussion, keys and bass. While of course Duane Betts and Devon Allman are the bigger names, I was particularly impressed with Berry Duane Oakley on bass and vocals – he was super tight – and John Ginty on keyboard. The sound was also a perfect level – I was in about the 15th row, but it wasn’t too loud and the mix was good.

Explore More

I’m so happy live music is coming back – I’m happy for the bands, and for the joy it’s bringing. Take some time to explore both River Kittens and the Allman betts Band – you’ll be glad you did. And go see live music when you’re able and you feel safe

Modern Pop Music: No Guitar? No Drums, Either.

Listening To More Modern Pop

My kid has gotten to the age where he’s started to get interested in popular music. This has led us to listen to a lot of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” and “Grammy 20xx” CDs over the last few months. Even though pop music isn’t really my thing, I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It was funny to have heard so many of these songs over the years in the bathrooms and common areas of office buildings, but not really knowing the artists. I remember hearing a few songs like Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” and Imagine Dragon’s “Thunder” literally 5 times a day. It seemed like every time I went to the restroom, one of them was on. It’s been a while, so fresh ears are a good thing. There are some, like Thunder, that have grown on me. Others, like “Sweet But Psycho” I’d be happy to never hear again. It’s also been an interesting listen as a musician and writer…

I’ve started to identify what I actually don’t like about modern pop music. As primarily a guitar player, and with guitar being the foremost instrument in most of the music I love, I sort of assumed that modern pop music not having much guitar is a big factor. I was surprised how much guitar was featured in the 2021 Grammy Awards show. Anyways, it turns out that’s not really the issue. It’s the lack of real drums, played by a real human being, with variation and feeling that is what I actively dislike.

Rhythm

A lot of modern pop music sounds like basically one 4:4 loop repeated for the entire song. Drag and drop the bar of midi, and drag across the song for the whole 3 minutes. I keep saying it, but it’s not the chords, it’s not the notes, it’s the rhythm that defines a genre. With a lot of modern pop, the rhythm is simply… boring. There are no fills to lead from section to section. There is no sense of dynamics.

Tone

On top of that, tonally, I just don’t like the generic low end thump used instead of a kick drum and the white noise crack used instead of a snare. Real drums have such a great tone, and such a great variety of sound contributing to the music Kick, snare, hi hat, crash, splash, a million toms. That’s interesting to me! So much modern pop music has that chopped, compressed, generic kick sound and either a finger snap sample, or the generic white noise snare … and that’s it. I’ve noticed over the last year that pop artists who use real drums appeal to me a lot more.

Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule. This isn’t a big, revelatory piece, but it’s been really interesting to examine what it is that appeals to me and not, and why it works or doesn’t work. What do you think? Does it bother you? Do you like that style?

Of course, no matter whether you like a piece of music or genre or not, there’s always something to learn. At least listen with open ears and maybe you’ll get something out of it.

On The Blues Radar

As you may have guessed from my recent posts, I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately. Over the last few years I’ve been curating a Spotify playlist where I keep track of songs that catch my ear. As I read reviews or interviews in a bunch of magazines, or listen to the Smokestack Lightnin’ show I try to keep my ears open. As much as I liked the classics, that’s great stuff happening now! This was a way to highlight some artists that weren’t as well known, and of course some that are. I include all styles of blues – traditional, modern, funky, soulful, acoustic, electric… I had called it “New Blues From Radio & Magazines” but that doesn’t roll of the tongue, does it?

Sit back and enjoy what’s come On My Blues Radar:

Book Review: Moanin’ at Midnight – The Life and Time of Howling Wolf

I recently finished reading the biography “Howlin Wolf: Moanin’ at Midnight” and I wanted to write a few thoughts about it, as I did with Up Jumped the Devil.

Overview

What a life! Overall I really enjoyed the book. It was extremely detailed and thorough with every recording session and tour. Many of the individual gig stories had incredible commentary from band and audience members. The insight into the man – as a man and performer – was amazing. While I had listened to a lot of his music, I had little insight into Howlin’ Wolf the performer and his crazy stage antics. Relative to what I actually knew about the man, aside from the music, I learned more from this biography than perhaps any other. It’s similar to the Zappa biography for me int hat regard.

The book also covered all the musicians that played with the Wolf, especially long-timers like the legendary Hubert Sumlin and Sam Lay. There are tons of quotes and interviews throughout his long career, and it painted a very detailed picture of each stage of his life.

That said, the detail did make the book feel a bit tedious at times. I actually liked that it covered the lineups and recording dates, and despite the detail never wanted to put it down. It required some patience to get through despite its very reasonable 325 pages. For fans of blues or its offsprings like blues/rock, it’s a must-read. I loved that it called out things to notice in particular songs (like a short drum solo in one of the early Chess songs, some of Hubert Sumlin’s particular guitar solos, etc). For fans of music and live performance, highly recommended. For more casual music fans, it’s good and recommended but with that caveat.

Funny Stories

I don’t want to give too much of the book away, so I won’t outline too many here, but there were many, many incredible stories of Howlin’ Wolf’s days on the road.

One of my favorite, though a bit sad, stories is a gig in which Sam Lay was playing drums. Sam had a loaded pistol in his pocket and got a little too exuberant with his drumming… and consequently blew off one of his testicles! Incredible.

The Wolf was a strict bandleader, and would fine his musicians for showing up late, or not dressing in uniform (black slacks, white shirt). One of his drummers wore different pants – still black, and pretty close – but not right. If I remember, his uniform ones got ripped or stained shortly before the gig. He did the whole show and the Wolf didn’t say anything. Afterwards, he said something like “well, you made $12.50 on the gig, but I have to fine you $10 for not wearing your uniform.” the drummer pulled out his pistol and got his money. Tales of guns and fighting about. It was a different, and rougher, time.

His Childhood

Chester Burnett’s was a tale of incredible perseverance. As with many blues artists that grew up in the South in the early 20th century, life was hard. His father left. When he was just a child, not even a teenager, his own mother threw him out of his out. He had to walk – with no shoes – miles to a relative’s or relation’s house. His new father was very strict and harsh, and eventually even that home didn’t last. After accidentally killing a prized and valuable pig owned by his new father, he left for good to be out on his own rather than face the coming beating. He overcame his difficult childhood through strength, will, and intelligence.

I always knew Howlin’ Wolf as a singer and harp player. I didn’t realize how much he played guitar, especially early on. Once he got to Chicago and started relying on Willie Johnson, Hubert Sumlin and others, he didn’t play as much – but he was still a great guitar player with a long history on the instrument. This is a part of his career I need to listen more to.

Early Music

I had no idea that Howlin’ Wolf played with Charlie Patton, who in many ways was a mentor. He played with many of the delta greats and was just as much a bridge between the delta blues and Chicago blues as Muddy Waters. I knew more about Muddy Waters’ delta blues history from his acoustic recordings. I always associated the Wolf with Chicago blues. The great migration from the Southern Delta to Chicago is well known in this history of the blues, but what I didn’t realize is that Howlin’ Wolf himself traces that entire route!

I also had no idea that the Wolf was somewhat “discovered” by Sam Phillips, and did his first recordings for him. It was only after building success in Memphis that he was approached by Chess in Chicago and moved up there for bigger fame and fortune. There are a lot of quotes from Sam Phillips, and he strongly believed in the Wolf.

King of Chicago

Once the Wolf moved to Chicago, he became one of the two “kings of the hill” along with Muddy Waters. Their relationship was more complex than I realized. They were very different people, with very different approaches to leading their bands, despite both being figureheads of Chicago blues and having similar paths of moving north after early success in the south. They approached their bands differently, and they approached Chess differently. Muddy Waters – according to the book – was much more inclined to do what the Chess brothers asked him to do. Howlin’ Wolf had a much stronger opinion, or was more vocal, about what he wanted to do with his music. He pushed back more. He certainly expressed this within his band of directing how he wanted things to be played. While to me his music seems more loose and rough, it was a result of a very clear direction.

I also gained a huge respect for Howlin’ Wolf’s business savvy. It was and still is almost unheard of, but he pain his musicians’ Social Security so that they could have a better future. He was extremely diligent in the monetary aspect of the music business. While he was a strict bandleader, almost without exception his musicians grew to love his approach.

Later in the Wolf’s life, it was stunning how many health problems he overcame while still gigging right up to the end. For example, he would go in for dialysis 3 times per week, and time it so that he could “recover” while travelling to gigs. Then he’d give 110% on the gig.

Listen More

My Year In Review (Dec 31 Update)

For the first time ever, I practiced every single day this year – 366 in a row! Given the travel restrictions and cancelled vacation plans, it’s made it a lot easier to do. Usually when I miss it’s because the family and I are out of town for a week or something and I want to take a little time off. This year, even when we did get away I could practice rhythm or ear training, and it was only a few days. It also helped that when my wrists and forearms started getting sore around October – not enough breaks – I was able to shift to drums and ear training and give myself time to physically recover. The travel guitar and Pandora I picked up a few years ago also helped.

As I outlined in this post, my goal for 10+ years has been to practice at least 15m per day. I did have to become okay with taking some time off, both to recharge my focus and to give my wrists and forearms a break.

As usual, I really try to focus on “what am I going to learn today” instead of “how much time am I going to spend.” I was relatively focused, and I do have some highlights.

The thing I want to share with others is that despite a challenging year for many reasons, music kept me grounded Music was my therapist. Music gave me focus and peace of mind. My plan of “15m per day” continued quite successfully, and as long as you keep learning you will improve. It’s the process, and finding joy in the process. It’s not about finding happiness in a destination. With something like music or guitar, you will never reach the end. Enjoy every day!

What I Learned

  1. Continued progress on my new album project. I haven’t had large blocks of uninterrupted time with family out, like I usually get once a year, but I did make good progress on small tweaks: solos, arrangements, etc. I started a Trello board to keep notes on each song in progress, so I don’t lose track of thoughts like “need to modulate solo section” or “add break after verse 3” or “rhythm guitar tone isn’t meaty enough.” It’s been handy. I used some of my songs for practicing on the drum kit, and some of my “non-guitar” time to iterate on lyrics. I’m excited for this, but it’s too early to see if it will see a 2021 release.
  2. I got a lot better on drums, and put in about 40 hours of rhythm and drum practice over the year. I didn’t have tons of time on the kit, but I did lots of rudiments with the metronome and overall I feel way more comfortable. I learned a bunch of basic tunes on drums, like Back in Black
  3. I spent some time on ear training as well, and did an online course in addition to practice with intervals.
  4. Almost finished a guitar arrangement for Maple Leaf Rag – I bought the sheet music of a really cool guitar arrangement for my birthday, and I’ve been working on it since. It drastically improved my finger picking, as well as renewed my reading skills (such that they are). Dec 31 Update: I have the whole thing! I definitely still need to polish it, but I’m comfortable and able to execute every measure. I’m ALMOST finished with it, on the 5th of 5 pages, and I hope to have learned the entire piece by the end of December. Then I need to spend some time polishing.
  5. Wrote and released the Coronavirus parody single!
  6. I learned tons of songs in a bunch of different styles… and mostly forgot them a month or so later, but it was good ear training. Off the top of my head: several Rush songs, Reggae, rock, blues, jazz.
  7. Worked on improving over the cycle of 4ths (mostly using Jamie Abersold backing tracks) and refreshed my knowledge of a bunch of jazz standards.

What Was Challenging

The biggest challenge again was that after 9 or 10 months, my forearms and wrists started getting very sore, and I had to take a month off of guitar entirely. Fortunately, I could focus on drums and rhythm. I did a lot of rudiments out on the porch with a metronome. I also did some ear training online and at the keyboard. All in all, it gave me a chance to keep growing my musical knowledge, while giving my wrists a chance to heal.

I also didn’t do as much writing and updating my blog as I had previously done. To be honest, I was super busy this year and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

Writing has also been challenging given the intermittent time I’ve had. Most of my practice is early in the morning before my son wakes up, and I have limited minutes. Historically I write a lot better when I have a long, open block of time to really get into it. I also like to be able to sing parts as I’m writing lyrics, and that’s tougher with family around (and sleeping). That said, I didn’t let this new project fall off the radar and made some quantifiable progress. I also continued to jot down interesting riffs, melodies and lyrics as they come.

Stats

It’s Friday morning, December 31 and I just put in 20 minutes of practice. While I may play some more later in the day, here’s where we’re at for the year:

Days Practiced: 366
Hours: 164
Average Minutes/Day: 27
Hours of Rhythm (mostly drums): 41.5
Hours of Ear Training: 7.75

Here’s how my historic trends shake out over the last 10 years:

Free CDs and MP3s Through 2020

2020 has been a tough year for most of us, so in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I’m offering mp3s of Atlantis and the Zeyer CD for FREE through the end of 2020.

Just use the contact form to send me a message with which you want. Continental US only for the CDs, and don’t forget to include your shipping address.

Visit the Atlantis page for details
Visit the Zeyer page for details

Don’t forget that both are still streaming! For me, though, I want offline music, able to be backed up and played in a variety of settings. If you want the same, let me know and I’ll get it to you free.

Happy holidays and stay safe out there, everyone!

Coronavirus


This song came about while listening to Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire” during a run. For some reason, the rhythmic similarity of “Jump in the Fire” and “Coronavirus” stuck out and I started putting the lyrics together.

“Coronavirus” is a parody (derivative work) based on Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire” – all the lyrics and performances were done by me. See Legal section below for more details.

Get Your Free MP3

Simply contact me and I’ll send you the mp3. Fast and easy!

How to Help Musicians During the Pandemic

Musicians that survive on live performances are having a particularly hard time during Covid. There are a number of great organizations set up to help touring musicians survive while unable to work, and to be able to get back on the road when possible. Please consider donating to some of these organizations doing really important work.

Fueling Musicians

Joe Bonamassa’s Fueling Musicians Program is an emergency relief plan for touring musicians affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This initiative is designed to support musicians by providing financial assistance for essential living expenses such as food, shelter, and more. Fueling Musicians provides immediate cash payments of $1,000, as well as pre-paid gas cards of $500 to help struggling musicians get back on the road again when it is safe.

All Within My Hands

The Foundation aims to assist and enrich the lives of members of the communities who have supported the band for years, as well as encourage participation from fans and friends. All funds raised will be donated to a cross-section of national and local charities… every penny from your donations will go directly to our charity partners.

Save Our Stages

The mission of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) is to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.

Other Options and Thoughts on Helping

The Video

Lyrics

The lyrics actually came to me while running a few months back, and “Jump in the Fire” came on my Workout playlist. At the chorus I started singing “Coronavirus” along with the song. I sat down and wrote the rest of the lyrics, learned all the parts to the song, and recorded it over the course of a couple weeks.

Down in the depths of seedy Wuhan
Bats with Covid-19
Spreading all around the Earth
As quick as you’ve ever seen
Is humanity cursed, will it get even worse
Not enough test kits
The stock market crashed, people don’t have the cash
The economy’s in the pits

So come on     Coronavirus
So come on     Coronavirus

With phlegm in my lungs and death in my blood
The end is closing in
Breathing with a ventilator
The nurses are wearing thin
The doctors all shout to search out
And find a better way
Follow the rules and don’t be a fool
To live another day

So come on     Coronavirus
So come on     Coronavirus

So don’t shake hands, or gather in groups
Want to play it safe
Trying, all, to flatten the curve
I guess we shelter in place
Living you life with social distancing
It’s all around everyone
Watching movies alone, or working from home
Stay home whenever you can

So come on     Coronavirus
So come on     Coronavirus
So come on     Coronavirus
So come on     Coronavirus

Come on jump in, yeah!

Legal

“Coronavirus” is a derivative work based on Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire.”

Writers

  • James Alan Hetfield (PRO: ASCAP, IPI: 126306108)
  • David Scott Mustaine (PRO: BMI, IPI: 205503805)
  • Lars Ulrich (PRO: ASCAP, IPI: 126291585)

I reached out to Q Prime and Metallica management to get permission to make this derivative work, but have not received a reply, so sharing freely and hopefully can get some donations to the valuable organizations linked on my page that help musicians. I will not monetize unless legal permission is obtained from the publishers… but that’s not the point, anyways.

Some of My Favorite Livestreams

In the current landscape, lots of artists are doing live streams. Personally, I’ve been (thankfully) too busy to watch as much as I’d like. There’s also just so much out there. Here are a few I’ve carved out a bit of time to watch and they’ve been great.

JamBase Live Stream Repository

The first stop, and one of my favorite resources is the JamBase website. They have a great schedule and calendar of Live Streams, so you can keep an eye on what’s going on and coming up. Check it out here: https://www.jambase.com/livestreams

They cover a lot more than Jam Bands, it’s really a live music repository. Or, more accurately, what was formerly live…

Dead & Co. “One More Saturday Night”

Every Saturday night at 5pm PST / 8pm EST Dead & Co. streams a past show. I watch on Facebook, but there are other options. That one is streamed by nugs.tv but I believe there are other options. The sound quality is usually incredible, as is the video. Definitely worth a watch and after the first one I definitely tried to carve out at least a little of my Saturday night to watch.

Saxon Pub

One of my favorite places in Austin, TX is The Saxon Pub. They host all kinds of great music, including a near-mandatory evening every time I get out to Austin: David Grissom on Tuesday nights. I also caught Sue Foley there a while back, and a variety of great blues, country and rootsy artists. They’ve been hosting a lot of great streams over the last few months, check out their Facebook and Instagram sites for schedules and streams.

https://www.facebook.com/thesaxonpub

https://www.instagram.com/thesaxonpub/

Keeping The Blues Alive

Joe Bonamassa’s organization to promote music for kids has also been helping Fueling Musicians over the last few months. It hosts a great variety of streams, from individual artists like John Oates, Larkin Poe or Ana Popovic; to sharing videos from the KTBA cruises or Joe’s Concerts. There’s always something good to watch.

Live From Clarksdale

Clarksdale, MS is still a blues Mecca, even without having nonstop live-and-in person blues. They’re compensating by having a packed schedule of shows at Live From Clarksdale. There are tons of local and regional artists, so turn your ears onto something new. Streams are often on Facebook, but there are other avenues. Check it out!

Book Review: “Up Jumped The Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson”

Summary

Of course I’ve been a fan of Robert Johnson for a long time, and added “The Complete Recordings” to my list of favorite blues records. Details on his life were fuzzy; but rumors, myths and stories abound. This book as meticulously researched by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, who each spent decades on it. I appreciated how the book was very clear about what parts are documented fact, which have strong records to support them, and which parts are more speculation. It doesn’t try to fool you into thinking a rumor is a fact, or vice versa. It’s an engaging, hard-to-put-down read and I can’t recommend it enough for fans of music, blues or simply early 20th century American history.

What I Learned

The great things about this book is that it brings you along as an itinerant musician in the American South during the late 20s and early 30s. It’s one thing to imagine and get focused on the romance and embellished stories; it’s something entirely different – something deeper and more real to read about how many miles they had to walk. Using train routes to get from town to town. The lack of accuracy with birth and death record. Growing up as a sharecropper in the deep south in the early 20th century – especially growing up and not wanting that life!

It was cool to see pictures of census forms and birth and death records. It was a bit revelatory how inaccurate those were. People took their best guesses at not just dates, but names. The book has aerial maps of land so you can see the location of key buildings and plantations in his life.

It was interesting for me to hear about the various musicians Robert Johnson played with on his travels – who he got along with, who he didn’t. He often performed – as was the norm for a lot of that music at the time – as a duo. One guitarist would play rhythm, one would play melody or lead. He would gig around with someone for a while, then take off for another destination. A lot more people played with him that I realized.

Another cool thing about the book was explaining the language used at the time, which helps explain some of the context. For example, when he sings “…with a rider by my side,” rider refers a girl he’s seeing.

On that note, I didn’t know Robert Johnson had married young. Part of the tragedy in his life is having two important women – his wife, and later a woman to whom he may as well have been married – both died. He kept in touch with the families, such that they were, but throughout the book those losses weighed heavily on him.

Finally, had no idea Robert Johnson had travelled so widely – from the delta up to Chicago, to Canada, and New York. While he obviously spent a lot of time in the delta, he was more worldly than I expected. This puts this line in “Sweet Home Chicago” about “California” into new light.. maybe a bit aspirational. The book also covers a lot of his specific routes from town to town, and which highways likely took him there. If I ever get back to that part of Mississippi, I may want to get this again as a map!

Visiting Missippi and Exploring Yourself

On that note, there is actually a really good iOSapp called the “Mississippi Blues Trail.” I can’t recommend it enough. A few years ago I visited the BB King Museum in Indianola, MS and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. I wish I had the app at the time, I would have made more stops along the way. It was an amazing trip, and I really enjoyed both.

https://visitthedelta.com/the-blues

Where To Buy

I got it from my local library system (support your local library – it’s an incredible resource for your community!), but it’s available at your favorite bookseller. Obligatory Amazon link: