- RSS Channel Showcase 2131186
- RSS Channel Showcase 2562476
- RSS Channel Showcase 4910303
- RSS Channel Showcase 7230750
Articles on this Page
- 05/28/13--12:58: _Review: Bass Master...
- 05/28/13--13:33: _Jimi Hendrix Bassis...
- 05/28/13--14:40: _Jazz Guitar Corner:...
- 05/29/13--05:04: _'Play Rock Guitar' ...
- 05/29/13--05:06: _Interview: Alex Lif...
- 05/29/13--05:06: _Thirty Years After ...
- 05/29/13--05:07: _Dear Guitar Hero: A...
- 05/29/13--05:08: _Review: ENGL Gigmas...
- 05/29/13--05:08: _Review: Strymon Mob...
- 05/29/13--05:08: _Exclusive Lesson Vi...
- 05/30/13--07:11: _IK Multimedia Ships...
- 05/30/13--07:27: _'Pink Floyd: The Bl...
- 05/30/13--07:28: _Was Jimi Hendrix Ou...
- 05/30/13--07:46: _John Petrucci: New ...
- 05/30/13--08:28: _Interview: Black St...
- 05/30/13--08:48: _Review: Traynor YBA...
- 05/30/13--09:39: _Gig Review: Primus ...
- 05/30/13--10:01: _Feels Like Home: Gr...
- 05/30/13--10:36: _James "JY" Young of...
- 05/30/13--11:16: _Rockin' the Country...
- 05/29/13--05:08: Review: ENGL Gigmaster 30 Combo Guitar Amplifier
- 05/29/13--05:08: Review: Strymon Mobius Modulation Effect Pedal
- 05/29/13--05:08: Exclusive Lesson Video: Owl — "Send"
- 05/30/13--07:46: John Petrucci: New Dream Theater Album "in the Home Stretch"
- 05/30/13--08:48: Review: Traynor YBA-1 Bass Master Tribute Guitar Amplifier
Already known for his work with a multitude of bands and musicians, including Steve Vai, Talas, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big and Niacin, bass maestro Billy Sheehan recently kicked off two new projects — PSMS (Portnoy-Sheehan-MacAlpine-Sherinian) and the Winery Dogs with Mike Portnoy and Richie Kotzen.
And don't forget the new Nicain record, Krush, which you can read about here.
Sheehan recently took some time out of his insane schedule to conduct a bass clinic tour, stopping off at the Guitar Center in West Los Angeles on May 13.
It was a very intimate setting with a crowd of around 30 people. Sheehan arrived amid cheers and opened up with his usual amazing bass playing, showcasing a sizable chunk of his skills through a host of impressive licks and runs. He then introduced himself and promised attendees that he'd make every attempt to ensure that the clinic would be useful for music enthusiasts, not just a place for him to show off.
He talked briefly about his gear setup then started a long Q&A session. But it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Q&A; he brought along a stack of items related to his career, which he gave away, one by one, to everyone who asked a question. There were shirts, CDs, DVDs, hats — all kinds of good stuff.
He answered a wide range of questions and addressed a host of topics related to his career. His responses were detailed, sincere and often humorous. Stories from old shows were shared, plus opinions on bass-playing technique, four- versus five-plus-string basses, influences, signature models, playing with "rhythm freak" guitarists like Paul Gilbert, neck bends, jazz players, developing music a "vocabulary" and more.
He was more than happy to demonstrate certain points by playing bass whenever appropriate. Without turning it into a marketing campaign, Sheehan provided a detailed description of his bass and setup and explained why he uses them and not others he has used in the past. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the session was his lesson and demonstration on how "good writers write, great writers steal." The crowd also enjoyed his dig at flashy musicians who can’t do basic rhythm parts.
Sheehan’s clinic tour is over, and even though you’ll probably be able to find YouTube clips posted by various people who were in the audience, I suggest you visit one of these clinics in person when Sheehan comes to your town. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction with a musician like Sheehan. He poured his heart, soul and energy into this West LA session.
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. He briefly moved away from the Los Angeles scene and explored metal in India, but he is now back in LA continuing from where he left off.
Billy Cox, the bassist who worked with Jimi Hendrix as part of the Band of Gypsys and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, will hit the road with his own band on a multi-city tour.
The tour, which is billed as Billy Cox/Band of Gypsys Experience, kicks off June 19 in Northampton, Massachusetts. In addition to Hendrix classics such as "Machine Gun" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," Cox will showcase his blues roots, drawing upon the trove of performances and recording sessions he made with Slim Harpo, Little Milton, Gatemouth Brown and Freddie King.
"It was Jimi's dream to use a second guitarist," Cox said. "He was getting into a new phase of his music and he felt that one guitar limited the band and limited the new music that he was creating. There were glimpses of what he was trying to do at Woodstock with Larry Lee as the second guitarist. But that idea was not able to continue. Now, almost 43 years later, I am grateful I have the opportunity to continue the dream with two dynamic guitarists, Dani Robinson and Byron Bordeaux.”
“Our show could be described as triangular in context, we perform not only Hendrix, but some originals and some old school,” Cox adds. “We are most especially committed to giving the audience an evening of good listening and fun. Dani and Byron embody the spirit of guitar showmanship."
Dates for the Band of Gypsys Experience:
June 19 - Northampton, MA - Iron Horse
June 20 - Norfolk, CT - Infinity Hall
June 21- Stanhope, NJ - Stanhope House
June 23 - New York, NY - City Winery
June 24 - Washington, DC - Hamilton
June 25 - Wilmington, DE - World Café
June 26 - Sellersville, PA - Sellersville Theatre
One of the most common questions I get from jazz guitarists of any experience level is, “How do I bring a more modern sound into my jazz solos?”
While there's no single answer, there are some things we can do in order to inject a bit of modern jazz flavor into our lines.
The first modern-jazz concept I like to explore with students who are new to this type of playing is to think and play two chords at once over a single harmony.
This means that if you see a G7 on a lead sheet for a tune you are playing, you are thinking about playing G7 and Db7 over that chord, as in the example below.
There are a number of ways to do this, thinking of two chords at once, but one of the most popular uses two chords that are a tritone apart, such as the G7 and Db7 in this example.
Notice how the G7 arpeggio lays out all the “inside” notes, R-3-5-b7, while the Db7 arpeggio, when played over the G7 chord, sounds the b5-b7-b9 “outside” notes. So, when exploring this idea (of playing G7 and Db7 over a G7 chord), you can create tension with the Db7 arpeggio and release that tension with the G7 arpeggio.
With that bit of knowledge under our belts, let’s look at how this idea would sit on the neck and then take a look at a sample lick that uses this idea over a ii V I chord progression.
Now that you know you can use two arpeggios a tritone apart in your solos to bring a sense of tension and release to your lines, let’s explore these two arpeggios from a technical perspective on the neck of the guitar.
You can take this concept to any 7th-chord arpeggio you know, mixing one fingering for G7 and one fingering for Db7 in each octave. But here's one I like to use because it covers a large amount of real estate on the neck and sits well under the fingers at the same time.
Try working on this fingering at a variety of tempos and in as many keys as you can across the neck of the guitar.
When you can do that comfortably, try coming up with one- and two-octave fingerings of your own that you can use when playing two arpeggios a tritone apart on the neck.
Side Stepping Lick Example
To help you get started with the tritone side-stepping concept, here's a ii-V-I lick that uses this concept to outline the G7 in bar 2 of the phrase. Notice how I used a melodic pattern to outline both of the tritone chords, G7 and Db7, which helps tie them together.
When applying “outside” concepts such as this, it often is helpful to use a pattern over one chord that repeats when you play the outside chord in order to keep them connected in a melodic fashion. Try learning this lick in C, then take it to all 12 keys around the neck. When you can do that, write out three to five of your own ii-V-I licks using the tritone side-stepping concept over the V7 chord in each phrase.
When you’re ready, you also can begin to insert this concept on the fly when soloing over tunes, but it’s best to start with a few licks first to get the sound of the two chords in your ears before you dive into this idea in a real-time solo.
How to Practice Tritone Side-Stepping
Once you have worked out the examples above, you can take these ideas further in the practice room in order to ensure you have a well-rounded learning experience as you explore thinking two chords over one in your jazz guitar solos.
Here are some of my favorite practicing ideas to help you get started.
01. Sing the root of a chord and then play the root and tritone arpeggios over that root.
02. Play a 7th chord on the guitar and then sing the root and tritone arpeggio over the chord.
03. Put on a jazz blues chord progression and use the tritone approach over the I7, IV7 and V7 chords in that blues to hear how it sounds in a blues tune.
04. Solo over a jazz standard and every time a 7th chord comes up, use the tritone concept to hear how it sounds in a jazz standard situation.
05. Write out a single-note solo over your favorite tune, then memorize it as you would any technical study, using the tritone approach over as many 7th chords as you can in the progression.
Do you have a question or comment about this approach? Post it in the COMMENTS section below!
Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a senior lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).
Start playing rock guitar today with the ultimate DVD guide, Play Rock Guitar.
With more than two hours of lessons, Play Rock Guitar gives you everything you need to play in all styles of rock, including classic rock, metal, blues, thrash, alt-rock, punk and more.
Designed for players of all skill level, Play Rock Guitar shows you everything from tuning to playing rock scales and techniques for soloing. You'll learn to rock like AC/DC, solo like Slash, shred like Slayer and play guitar like many other of your favorite guitarists.
• Strum Patterns
• Major/Minor Barre Chords
• Power Chords
• Scale Exercises and String Bending
• Picking Exercises
• Combining Arpeggiated Picking and Strumming
• Dominant/Major/Minor 7th chords
• How to Write Single-Note Riffs
• Pedal Tones
• Soloing Building Blocks
• 3-Note Groups in A minor Pentatonic
• Power Chords: Putting the Fifth in the Bass
• Suspended Chords
• Chord Embellishment with Thumbed Chords
• Articulations Exercises: Pull-Offs/Hammer-Ons
• Blues Scale Exercises
• Essential Licks
• Fretboard Tapping
• Sweep Picking
Despite an intensely devoted fan base and decades of massive success, Rush have been, for much of their career, regarded as the World’s Least-Hip Rock and Roll Act—the band of choice for adolescent boys mesmerized by 20-minute prog-rock epics, extravagant drum solos, and lyrics filled with tales of snow dogs, warring trees and French national holidays.
In the past few years, however, Rush have come to be cast in a more laudatory light. They've been embraced by Hollywood on television shows like Freaks and Geeks and in films like I Love You, Man, and the band members — guitarist Alex Lifeson, vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart — autographed Stephen Colbert’s hand during an appearance on The Colbert Report.
They have also been praised by a host of bold-name musicians and music fans—from Billy Corgan and Kirk Hammett to Jack Black and South Park co-creator Matt Stone — in the award-winning 2010 documentary, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.
Now, in what could be viewed as perhaps the final step in their mainstream image rehabilitation, Rush will this year be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honoring in a very public way the myriad commercial and artistic achievements of the band’s almost 40-year recording career. In that respect, it is also a fitting time for them to reissue their 1976 prog-rock classic, 2112, which represents a landmark moment in their commercial and artistic development.
Prior to recording 2112, did it really feel like the end was near for Rush? It’s been said that you took to calling the Caress of Steel tour the “Down the Tubes tour.”
That is how we were referring to it. And it definitely felt that way at the time. That was a very difficult tour. We were already extremely in debt, and it was just getting worse and worse. The crowds were getting smaller and there didn’t seem to be much interest in the album at the time. Everybody around was concerned about what the future was going to be. So there was a lot of reflection. I thought, Well, you know, I guess I could be a plumber again if I had to…
As the story goes, prior to your recording 2112, Rush’s manager, Ray Danniels, and your longtime producer, Terry Brown, actually met with your label, Mercury, and led them to believe that you were going to return to a more straightforward rock sound.
[laughs] Of course they did! I’m sure they were saying things like that right up to the delivery of the record. They probably were like, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna be great! It’ll be awesome!” But as the record was coming together we all truly were very excited about it. I don’t know if we thought we had quite what we ended up with, but we did feel it was something special.
Did Mercury every put any specific demands on you to return to a more commercial sound?
Not really. The essence of our deal was a production deal, so we were responsible for delivering the record, the artwork — everything — in its completed form. It was really up to us. But they did lament the fact that we seemed to no longer have the same interests as we had initially. And they were concerned about that. Of course they were concerned about that—they had invested a lot of money and time and effort in us. And they wanted only what was best for the band, which was for us to make them a lot of money! And that’s fine. They’re a business and that’s what they do. I get it. That’s okay. Truthfully, I think it lit a fire under us.
The actual song “2112” was the most involved piece you had done up to that point. How did it come together?
We entered the studio with that song in pretty close to final form. Or at least it was in pen sketches rather than pencil. But the truth is, we didn’t really have the time available to us to go in the studio and write and record a record like we do now. A lot of “2112” was written in the back seat of a car and in cold dressing rooms while on tour in northern Ontario. Then it was just a matter of preparing ourselves and getting all the material ready. Then we’d go into the studio, spend a week recording and mixing, and that was it. You get back out on the road. I think the whole 2112 album took somewhere around a week to do.
That’s very quick. But we were recording live for the most part. Back then, you only had eight tracks. We might have had 16 by the time of 2112, but there wasn’t a lot of space on those tracks. So you tried to record as much as you could in one go. We did the basic tracks live off the floor, which is really how we recorded right up through [1982’s] Signals.
What was your setup?
I played mostly my [Gibson] ES-335, and I know I borrowed a friend’s Strat, which you can hear on things like “Discovery” [Part III of “2112”]. So I had those two electrics in the studio with me, and then for the acoustic parts I had a Gibson Hummingbird that I borrowed from that same friend. For amps, I had a Fender Twin and a Marshall 50-watt and 100-watt. I’m sure I had a couple Marshall cabinets as well. My pedals were a Maestro Phase Shifter and Echoplex, and a Cry Baby wah.
Can you recall what Geddy used?
It would have been his Ricky [Lee’s Rickenbacker 4001 Jetglo bass]. And probably Sunn amps, or else Ampeg SVTs. But that was it. The gear was pretty streamlined, because we couldn’t afford a lot. We had the tools that worked, and we took care of them.
In that regard, from a musical standpoint, “2112” is actually rather raw and straightforward. As far as sidelong epics go, it’s pretty accessible.
I think that’s because, really, it’s made up of a group of songs. So there’s variety, pacing, dynamics. There’s an overall story, of course, but musically the sections break down into individual pieces. The  Hemispheres album [specifically the track “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”] is an example of that as well. The key was to make it so that there was enough going on to merit listening to these pieces as their own individual components.
Another nice touch is the fact that, musically, the sound of each movement of “2112” reflects what is happening in the lyrics: “The Temples of Syrinx,” which is sung from the viewpoint of the priests, is an aggressive piece, while “Soliloquy,” in which the protagonist takes his own life, is slow and mournful. The song that makes this connection most literally is “Discovery,” in which the protagonist finds an old and discarded guitar and sets about learning to play it. You mimic this journey throughout the track—the recording even begins with you tuning up a guitar.
I approached my parts as if I was the character. In the story, he comes across this guitar. It’s been sitting around for a long time and chances are it’s not in tune. So the first thing he does, as anyone would, is to try to make it sound pleasing to the ear. Then there’s like a fast-forward in terms of his learning how to perform. He starts playing, and speeds up to the point where he’s actually composing something. I tried to get across the sense of, here’s someone who has come across this thing and it’s sparking the very same thing in him that it sparked in his ancestors, this creative energy in his spirit.
When you tracked it, did you actually just tune the guitar and continue on through the song in real time?
I think so. We did it a few times, because we wanted to get it all in one take. I detuned the Strat, and then it was a matter of putting it back into tune, but not in such a painstaking way that it became too much the story of tuning a guitar. [laughs]
Something else I wanted to ask about was your copping a piece of the theme from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture for your solo in the “Overture” section of “2112.”
I was just kind of paying homage, you know? He had his 1812 Overture and we had our 2112“Overture.” It’s our little nod to that.
Maybe this is a real stretch, but I always wondered if there was more to it—Tchaikovsky’s piece was written to commemorate Russia’s defense of the homeland against Napoleon’s invasion. In a sense, “2112” was Rush’s defense of its artistic spirit against outside forces. You were both standing your ground.
Yes, very much so! A fight’s a fight, right? [laughs] So that’s a part of it for sure. We were very aware of that.
Here’s something else: “Grand Finale,” the final section of “2112,” concludes with the phrase, “Attention all planets of the solar federation. We have assumed control.” The first sentence is made up of seven words. The second is made up of four. Each is uttered three times. Mathematically, that comes to 21 words for the first sentence, and 12 for the second. 2112.
Oh, I didn’t know about that!
So it wasn’t intentional?
No. But that’s pretty cool! That’s the first time I heard that…but yes, that’s exactly what we were thinking!
You learn something new every day.
Absolutely. I had no idea.
After the intensity of the first side of 2112, the second side kicks off with “A Passage to Bangkok.” In addition to being a pretty straightforward rock song, it also features one of Neil Peart’s more lighthearted lyrics. Basically, it’s a drug tune.
For sure. It’s tongue-in-cheek. And that’s always been an element of what we do. I think it’s maybe more prevalent now than it was back then. But we still had a sense of humor.
One thing that I always found particularly funny is that, while it sounds like a true story, the fact is that none of you had ever traveled to any of the places—Morocco, Lebanon, even Bangkok, for that matter—mentioned in the song.
Nope! We might have shared a copy of High Times magazine or something and looked at all those places, but that’s about it. [laughs]
Was marijuana big for you guys?
Oh, sure. I mean, we were very young, and we were products of the Sixties. So it was not uncommon, to say the least.
Do you feel that in general the songs on the second side of 2112 get overlooked?
Absolutely. And I think we in the band are guilty of that as well. We always think of that one song. But we loved the ones on the other side as well. “A Passage to Bangkok,” “Something for Nothing,” “Lessons”… And I’ve often wanted to bring back “The Twilight Zone,” because it’s such a quirky little song. It would be really cool to attack it again with sort of our new way of approaching our older material.
After 2112 was released, how could you tell it was connecting with people? Did the size of the crowds increase?
That was a very gradual thing. We went from playing small venues to playing slightly less-small venues. And we just continued on that rise. We played everywhere, all the time. We played 250 shows a year, plus we recorded one or two records in that time. So we really worked a lot. And it was quite a slow build over the course of six or seven years. And I think that’s a good way to do it. We could see that we were becoming more popular, that people were becoming much more connected with our music. But we still had no airplay. So even as it was getting bigger, it felt like we were this kind of cultish band.
Even if that cult was growing bigger, the press still was not in your corner. Was it the NME that called you “pinko socialists” around the time of 2112?
Actually, I think they were the ones that called us “neo-Nazi fascists.”
How did that affect you?
Well, that was an interesting time. I remember that interview we did with the guy from NME. He came to our hotel, and we had a nice conversation. There was an argument, and there are two sides to an argument. Neil took one position and the journalist took the other. And it was all in good faith. Just presenting two different opinions. And then the article came out, and it was, we’re Nazis and we would sell our families up the river. and all we cared about was money and we were selfish. All this stuff. And that’s not us at all. And Geddy’s parents came through the Holocaust, so he was very, very sensitive to that. We were all very sensitive to that because of him. So it was kind of a weird thing. But the NME was very much kind of a red, socialist sort of rag, and that was great press for them. It was the lowest of the low. But at the end of the day, I don’t know where that journalist is, but we’re still working!
You’ve never been a critic’s band, to say the least.
Certainly, after a while we developed a tough skin, because most of the press we got was not very flattering. But we never cared, because we went out and played every night to sold-out audiences filled with people who really loved what we were doing. So it didn’t really matter. And in some ways it’s better that way, because you’re not in the mainstream. You have some anonymity.
But the tide has changed for Rush. You’re finally getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though it took a long time to even get on the ballot.
I think we’ve been eligible for the last 14 or 15 years. But our position has always been that if we’re not part of that scene, that’s okay. But I think for our fans, they were…they were pretty pissed! And that’s the thing about Rush fans. They’re very vocal with their piss-iness. [laughs] So it’s nice to get have it happen. And we will go to the ceremony and graciously accept the honor, for us and also for our fans. We’ll get up and play a few songs and make it a really special event. I know my mom’s going, I think all our moms are going. They’re pretty excited about it.
Moms like that kind of thing.
Moms love that kind of thing.
So now that you’re finally Hall of Famers, Rush fans will have to find another cause to take up.
Well, there are certainly still lots of fans that are not happy with the decision to put us in the Hall of Fame. They feel that we should have stayed out. But it’s not such a big deal. At the end of the day, let’s all just be happy.
At least you’re no longer being called pinko socialist neo-Nazi fascists.
Exactly! So there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Like, “Hey mom! Look! I’m not a Nazi anymore!”
Photo (above): Getty Images
Life Without You: Thirty years ago, Stevie Ray Vaughan took the world by storm with Texas Flood. As Sony releases the ultimate anniversary edition of that album, we celebrate the phenomenal rise of the last great blues guitar hero of the 20th century.
In May 1983, only days before Stevie Ray Vaughan was scheduled to play his first concert with David Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour, his career had reached a fork in the road.
Texas Flood, his debut album with his band Double Trouble, was in the can and set for release the following month, but the tour with Bowie, which was scheduled to last until the end of the year, threatened to postpone his ability to effectively promote the album until 1984. Facing a choice between increasing his exposure as a supporting member of Bowie’s band or supporting his solo career on his own while the album was still fresh, Vaughan chose the latter.
The choice was not as difficult as it might have seemed initially. According to Chesley Millikin, who was Vaughan’s manager at the time, Bowie’s management reneged on an agreement to allow Double Trouble to open select dates on the tour, and even prohibited Vaughan from doing interviews without prior permission, which made it difficult for Vaughan to even talk about Texas Flood.
Then there was the issue of Vaughan’s pay. While the $300-per-show rate was the same as what other members of Bowie’s band were being paid, and was certainly not out of line for a supporting touring musician in the early Eighties, Millikin thought that Stevie deserved more. It seemed arrogant and reckless for Millikin to demand higher pay for a relatively unknown musician than the seasoned pros in Bowie’s band, but when Millikin pointed out that Bowie was being paid $1.5 million for a headlining appearance at the US Festival, it made Bowie look unreasonable and cheap.
In the end, Vaughan wasn’t actually given a choice between staying with Bowie or bowing out. Millikin made the decision for him moments before Bowie’s band boarded a bus headed to the airport to catch a flight to Brussels, Belgium, where the tour’s first show was scheduled. Bowie’s tour manager was instructed to remove Vaughan’s bags from the bus, leaving a confused Vaughan on the sidewalk, wondering what he was going to do next. Millikin’s decision turned out to be the right one, however, as Vaughan earned instant notoriety for allegedly telling Bowie to take a hike while gaining the freedom to concentrate fully on promoting Texas Flood and giving his burgeoning career the full attention it needed.
While it would have been fascinating to hear Vaughan jamming on Bowie classics like “Station to Station,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “Fashion,” had he remained with Bowie the world would have been deprived of his now-legendary show at the El Mocambo Tavern in Toronto, his pairing with Albert King for the Canadian In Session broadcast, and his first appearance on the Austin City Limits television program. We also would have missed his fiery performance at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, originally broadcast on WMMR radio and officially released for the first time on Sony’s new 30th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Texas Flood.
It’s likely that, even if he had remained with Bowie, Vaughan would have risen to premier guitar-hero status upon the release of Texas Flood. The album was about as perfect a showcase for his immense talents as he could deliver. Recorded in just two days, Texas Flood essentially captured Vaughan and Double Trouble performing a live set at a magical moment in Vaughan’s career, where his seasoned performing experience, fresh excitement over new opportunities and desire to make a definitive statement coalesced.
“Stevie said that we waited all of our lives to make that first record,” Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon says. “After that, making records was work.”
“We didn’t know we were making a record,” adds Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton. “We basically played all the songs we had been playing at the gigs. We’d record something, listen to it, and if it sounded good we’d go on to the next song.”
While Let’s Dance provided only a fleeting glimpse of Vaughan’s talent, Texas Flood laid it all on the line. The depth and diversity of his talent were perfectly presented in the rollicking rockabilly boogie of “Love Struck Baby,” the swinging blues of “Pride and Joy,” the burning instrumentals “Testify” and “Rude Mood,” and the ethereal jazz-inflected closing track, “Lenny.”
Although blues and roots music were far from pop music staples at the time (the only exceptions being a handful of artists like George Thorogood and the Stray Cats), Vaughan and Double Trouble gained exposure on MTV via an honest, low-key performance video of “Love Struck Baby,” shot on the band’s Austin, Texas, home turf at the Rome Inn bar. Looking like a gunslinger in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, Vaughan cut a commanding figure that was in strong contrast to the girlie-man glam-metal musicians and prissy new-wave guitarists then dominating MTV’s playlist.
For the first few months after Texas Flood was released, Vaughan and Double Trouble booked shows at clubs and theaters, playing to sold-out audiences numbering from 400 to 2,000 fans. When their booking manager landed them the opening slot for the Moody Blues’ U.S. tour, they suddenly found themselves in front of audiences of 10,000 to 20,000, greatly increasing their exposure.
“Our first gig with the Moody Blues was at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in front of 21,000 people!” Shannon recalls. “Our record hadn’t become that successful yet, but we were playing in front of coliseums full of people. We just went out and played, and it fit like a glove. The sound rang through those big coliseums like a monster. People were going crazy, and they had no idea who we were. We started drawing bigger crowds and playing bigger places. That validation by so many people gave us more strength to really take off.”
By the end of 1983, Texas Flood was certified Gold in the United States, with sales exceeding 500,000 units. To keep the momentum going, Vaughan and Double Trouble entered the studio in January 1984 to record their second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather. The band spent 19 days at the Power Station recording the album, and this time around executive producer John Hammond (who also co-produced Texas Flood) was present during the tracking sessions. “We had this big budget,” Layton recalls. “We were camped out in New York City, and we felt like we could do whatever we wanted.”
Vaughan wrote four of the album’s eight songs, including “Scuttle Buttin’ ” and the title track. Compared to Texas Flood, the cover songs that he chose for Couldn’t Stand the Weather were a better reflection of the band’s live sets, particularly the Jimi Hendrix song “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which had been a highlight of Vaughan’s performances for a long time. “Cold Shot,” a hit on MTV and rock radio, was written by members of Vaughan’s previous band, Triple Threat, and “The Things That I Used to Do” and “Tin Pan Alley” were blues standards that dated back to the Fifties.
“ ‘Tin Pan Alley’ was the first tune we cut for the record,” Layton recalls. “We had been doing that song for quite a while, and when we were in the studio getting sounds, Stevie said, ‘Why don’t we just go ahead and play something?’ So we played ‘Tin Pan Alley,’ sort of as a warm-up. When we were done, John Hammond said, ‘You’ll never get it better than that,’ and he was right.”
Double Trouble immediately hit the road in February 1984 after completing the album, booking a world tour that took them to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, in addition to North America. Thanks in part to their relentless touring schedule, Couldn’t Stand the Weather enjoyed instant success, selling more than 250,000 copies within its first month of release and reaching a peak position of Number 31 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Later that year, on October 4, 1984, Vaughan and Double Trouble performed a historic concert at Carnegie Hall, joined by Dr. John on keyboards, the Roomful of Blues horn section, Stevie’s brother Jimmie, who played rhythm guitar, and vocalist Angela Strehli.
“It was a dream for Stevie to play Carnegie Hall,” Shannon says. “He went to all lengths to make that show happen. We had special mariachi suits made just for the gig. We brought all of the special guests to a soundstage in Austin called Third Coast, rehearsed for three days, and had everyone fitted for their clothes. The record [Live at Carnegie Hall] tells the whole story of that gig. That’s some of my favorite playing from Stevie, ever.”
Unfortunately, as the gigs got bigger, so did the group’s problems with drug and alcohol abuse. The band members had picked up the habits from years of playing in clubs, and the effects began to wear heavily on Vaughan. It showed on his next studio album, Soul to Soul, released in September 1985. After a failed attempt to add a rhythm guitarist and second vocalist to Double Trouble, Vaughan hired keyboardist Reese Wynans to give himself more freedom to concentrate on his singing and solos.
But even with the additional support, Vaughan seemed distracted, and both the original songs that he wrote and his selection of cover material wasn’t as strong as it had been in the past. Soul to Soul failed to light a spark with his audience, and it remains the only one of his studio efforts that failed to achieve Gold certification.
After finishing the recording of Soul to Soul in May 1985, Vaughan and Double Trouble toured almost nonstop for more than a year. While on tour in Ludwigshafen, Germany, on September 28, 1986, Vaughan’s alcohol and cocaine addiction finally took its toll on him, and he passed out from dehydration.
Layton recalls that when doctors revived Vaughan, Stevie told him, “I need help.” When the tour arrived in London a few days later, Vaughan sought the care of Dr. Victor Bloom, who had helped Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend recover from their addiction problems. After Vaughan returned to the U.S., he checked into a rehabilitation program at Peachford Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
During this time, Epic released the live album Live Alive, compiled from four concert performances recorded during 1985 and 1986. Vaughan admitted that the performances were not among his best and noted that numerous overdubs were recorded later to fix mistakes. While on tour to promote Live Alive, the newly sober Vaughan started writing songs for In Step, and he remained on the road for most of 1987 and 1988.
On January 25, 1989, he entered the studio to start recording that album and completed it two months later. When In Step was released in June 1989, critics hailed it as his best album to date, praising both the maturity of his playing and his honest treatment of his addiction problems in the songs “Wall of Denial” and “Tightrope.” The album also featured fewer cover songs than his previous efforts and benefited from several collaborations with Austin singer-songwriter Doyle Bramhall. In Step was also Vaughan’s most commercially successful release and his first to achieve double-Platinum status.
With his destructive habits behind him, Vaughan’s creative muse was renewed. In late 1989, he went on a coheadlining tour with Jeff Beck, and in January 1990 he filmed a live acoustic performance for
Vaughan and Double Trouble spent the summer of 1990 touring extensively, including a pair of shows on August 25 and 26 opening for Eric Clapton at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. During the early hours of August 27, after joining Clapton, Jimmie, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray to perform a rousing version of “Sweet Home Chicago” for the second show’s encore, Vaughan boarded a helicopter to fly to Chicago. However, the pilot’s vision was impaired by fog and the helicopter slammed into a nearby ski hill, killing the pilot, Vaughan and other passengers.
Vaughan was buried next to his father at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas, on August 30, 1990. His spirit still lives on today among countless blues guitarists who steal his licks and futilely attempt to duplicate his powerful tone and touch. While many guitarists have kept the blues alive over the years, there’s no doubt that the blues would not be as popular and vital as it is today if Vaughan had not come along and changed the public’s perception of the genre.
He's the founding lead guitarist of classic German metallers Accept as well as a professional photographer. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is ...
The Balls to the Wall album cover is so iconic. Is it true that one of you guys is the hairy-legged dude? — Roddy
[laughs] No, it’s not one of us. It was actually a boxer, this very fit personal trainer. [Accept’s manager and lyricist] Gaby [Hauke], who was known as Deaffy back in the day, had the idea for the album cover. We loved it, because it was powerful and symbolic. People translate it in all different ways, but the song “Balls to the Wall” is about standing up against aggression and oppression and revolting against your oppressors. So the guy on the cover with a clenched fist seemed to make sense in that context. We never realized how controversial having a guy’s hairy leg on the cover would be in the U.S. [laughs] But hey, it’s an iconic cover, nevertheless.
Accept’s new album, Stalingrad, is amazing! What was the main guitar you used on the new record, and just how many Flying Vs do you have in your collection? — Gary Norris
Actually, I don’t have a whole lot of guitars, because I’m not a guitar collector. I still have my main Gibson Flying V from the Eighties, but I haven’t used her for a long time. She’s basically retired. My main studio guitar is a Hamer Strat that I’ve been using since the Nineties. It’s a nice neck-through Strat with EMGs. I’ve got a collection of about 10 to 15 guitars that I use to try to give each song a different treatment. I have some older Strats and some other Flying Vs, including one made by Jackson that’s pretty nice. I tend to use more Strats in the studio than Flying Vs. For me, Flying Vs are more of a live guitar, because it’s not the most comfortable thing to sit and play.
The tones on Stalingrad are killer. What was your amp setup? — Curtis Zwible
Here’s a little-known secret: I recorded the whole album with a Kemper Profiling Amplifier [which provides a range of emulations and lets players create a sonic profile of their own amp]. I came across it a year ago, and when we started working on the album, we really put it to the test. We had my regular setup, and we fed everything into the Kemper. We A/B’d the sounds, and they were identical. It’s the same sound, just coming out of a different box.
So I used my handful of old Marshall, Randall and EVH amps, along with my main Wizard amp, and we fed them all into the Kemper amp. Then we used the Kemper to fire them back. When Stalingrad first came out, I didn’t tell anyone that I used a Kemper, because you know how people are. They’d be like, “Oh, I can hear that it’s not a real Marshall.” But now that the album is out and people like the tone, I’m telling everyone about the Kemper.
In the mid Nineties, there started to be classical influences in your leads. Was Uli Jon Roth a direct influence on you? — Christofer Johnsson
Uli Roth has always been a huge influence on me, but I wouldn’t even presume to be on the same level as him. He’s an amazing player, one of the best out there. The whole thing started with Metal Heart, in 1985, where I used some classical elements in the solos and the songwriting. I’ve been a fan ever since, and it’s become somewhat of a trademark for me. I think it has to do, at least a little bit, with the fact that we’re from Europe. I think all Europeans are more into classical music and maybe more influenced by it, too.
I never understood what happened between the band and [original Accept vocalist] Udo Dirkschneider. How did it all fall apart, and why hasn’t a proper reunion stuck? — Niilas Frohm
Yeah… That’s a tricky question. [laughs] Without stepping on anyone’s toes, I just wanna say that when Udo quit 25 years ago, it was a conscious decision by him, us and everyone. We all felt it was time to move on. He wanted to have his solo band, and we wanted to go in a different direction. We tried a lot of singers, but nobody really worked out until now. That’s the short version of a long story. When we found Mark [Tornillo, lead singer for Accept since 2009], we thought, Wow, this should have happened a long time ago. Actually, two or three years ago we asked Udo if he wanted to join us, but he didn’t want to, because of his own band. So that’s that.
You live in Nashville now. Is there anything you miss about Germany? — Karl Geist
There is. But having traveled the world, I find you always miss something somewhere. If I’m back in Germany, I miss the U.S.; if I’m here, I miss Germany. But I do miss German culture, beer, bratwurst, chocolate…all the good things in life! [laughs] But Nashville is a music city. And what other choices are there? It’s either L.A. or New York, both of which I couldn’t see myself living in. But Nashville is laid back, and it’s a very easy way of living here. I love it. It’s full of music everywhere.
When you were working on “Balls to the Wall,” did you know that it was something special? — Mike
I had a feeling that the song might do something for us. It was catchier and better than some of the other stuff we’d done. We spent six days mixing just that song, and then spent two days on the rest of the record. Everyone knew it was the one, and we had to get it right. That song came about after Gaby read a British magazine that described Accept as being “balls to the wall.” We’d never heard that term before. But it sounded so cool, and she said, “Write a song called ‘Balls to the Wall.’ ” So I wrote the riff and chorus idea and brought it to the guys. [Bassist] Peter [Baltes] suggested the verse, and it all fell into place in 10 minutes. It came together so quickly that we were suspicious, like, Has this been written before? Are we fooling ourselves? [laughs]
I’ve read that you’re also a professional photographer. How did you get into that, and what kind of stuff do you shoot? — Maristella Fois
I started shooting in the Eighties, when Accept began traveling the world. I was documenting our travels, tours and backstage band stuff. People always encouraged me to keep going with it, and that led to a very serious passion with photography over the years. My first love is music, but my second love is photography. It’s a creative field, and it’s what I did for 10 to 15 years during one of Accept’s hiatuses. I shoot editorial, advertising, corporate stuff…mostly guys in suits to be honest. [laughs] I tend to shoot stuff totally unrelated to the music field, but I love it. It’s like I have two personalities. People that hire me as a photographer have no idea I’m a musician, and vice versa.
How much of your talent were you born with, and how much did you have to practice to perfect your technique? — JtC
Well, I’m not a big believer in talent. If you want to get ahead, it’s mostly about persistence and willpower. It’s 5 percent talent and 95 percent willpower. I know people with immense talent that never go anywhere, because they don’t have the focus or work ethic. Talent alone doesn’t mean shit in my mind. I think I do have a certain amount of talent, but I don’t think I was born with anything supernatural or outstanding in any way. I have to work on things a lot harder than other people. But I am willing to do the work.
What do you remember about touring with Judas Priest in 1981, before you really hit it big? — Raymond Wong
Ah, that was our first-ever glimpse into the professional world of touring. Back then we were like little kids standing on the side of the stage every night watching our heroes perform. Nowadays when we go out, we’ll watch a band once in a while. But back in the day, watching Priest was like, Wow, that’s what real pros look like! They had real equipment, trucks, roadies, cases…and we had nothing. [laughs]
The following content is related to the March 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.
Germany’s ENGL amplifier company is renowned for creating monstrously big and powerful heads, like the Fireball, Invader, Powerball and Screamer. With their aggressive sound, high-performance note tracking and blitz-fast bass slam, these amps deliver spectacular levels of speaker-driving volume and sound pressure.
The following content is related to the July 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.
Over the past 20 years, many companies have developed products that promise to accurately reproduce classic analog effects, but Strymon has turned that pursuit into both a science and an art. Perhaps the best testimony to the quality of Strymon’s effect pedals is the near-ubiquitous presence of their products in the pedal boards and racks of countless pros, including some of the most conservative analog-purist guitarists.
The Mobius is Strymon’s second “large-format” pedal, sharing a similar configuration to the company’s popular TimeLine delay unit, but the Mobius specializes in various modulation effects, including chorus, phaser, flanger, rotary, vibe, tremolo and much more. With true stereo inputs and outputs, MIDI in and out, and memory for 200 presets, the Strymon Mobius boasts the power of a professional-quality rack processor while offering the convenience and immediacy of a stomp box.
Today, GuitarWorld.com presents an exclusive lesson video featuring Owl guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis.
In the video, which you can check out below, Mezilis shows you how to play "Send," a song from Owl's new album, The Right Thing, which was released April 9 by Overit Records.
"'Send' is absolutely one of my favorite tracks off the new Owl album, The Right Thing," Mezilis says. "All the different emotive layers and tonal modalities make for a good amount of fun in performing it live, and the recording has a great overall vibe to it as well.
"I'd say the solo on this track is one of my proudest moments on the record, along with that crushing end-groove that begs to be cranked up. It's been my pleasure to share some of the techniques of performing this song with you."
Catch Owl Live
6/21: Santa Barbara @Whiskey Richards
6/22: LA @Viper Room (with Killcode)
More shows to be announced soon!
IK Multimedia is proud to announce that iRig HD, the highly anticipated guitar and bass premium digital interface for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac, is now available from electronic and music retailers worldwide.
Guitar players around the globe can now plug into their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac, and rock out with studio quality sound. The new iRig HD also comes with IK’s AmpliTube App and software for a complete “out of the box” playing experience.
iRig HD is a high-quality, compact digital interface designed so that guitar and bass players can easily plug their instrument into an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac, and rock out with studio quality digital sound. iRig HD features a compact ultra-slim design, fits in any gig bag, backpack, computer case or pocket, and comes with interchangeable adapter cables to provide universal device compatibility. As with many other IK accessories, iRig HD is manufactured in Italy using only premium components and rigorous quality standards.
Lightning compatible — all cables included
iRig HD is a Lightning compatible mobile guitar interface that comes with all the cables you need to make the right connections with your devices. It is a simple “plug in and play” interface, featuring a 1/4” instrument input jack, and plugs directly into the digital input of any iPhone or iPad via the included cables. Not only is the iRig HD perfect for mobile guitarists, but players can also use iRig HD with a laptop or desktop Mac computer, thanks to the included USB cable.
Supports your favorite mobile music-making apps
While iRig HD offers great performance with any digital audio processing app, it comes with the AmpliTube App, a superior sounding “ready to go” expandable guitar rig complete with virtual effects pedals, amplifiers, speakers and a recorder, plus four new virtual amps and effects available exclusively for HD users. AmpliTube FREE can be greatly expanded via in-app purchase with the entire range of AmpliTube apps including officially licensed versions based on Fender®, Jimi Hendrix and Slash sounds. Guitar and bass players now have the widest range of amplifiers and effects at their fingertips with over 55 outstanding mobile gear models for jamming and recording on the go. iRig HD is class compliant, so it can be used with any mobile app, like Apple's GarageBand, that supports digital audio processing.
Supports your favorite studio setup
Not only is iRig HD the perfect interface for guitar and bass players on the go, it can also be used on Mac laptops and desktops and take advantage of the superior processing power of the Mac OS platform. For Mac users, iRig HD comes with AmpliTube Custom Shop**, IK’s free amp and effects application and DAW plug-in, which allows players to choose from hundreds of top quality amplifiers and effects from world’s top manufacturers like Fender, Ampeg, Orange and Soldano. Players can purchase this gear à la carte, as they need it, thus creating a truly customizable software rig.
Plus, exclusively for iRig HD users, AmpliTube Metal**, the definitive collection of the world’s best high-gain amps and distortion stomp boxes for every imaginable metal tone, is also included for free. AmpliTube software can be used as a standalone amp and effects processing powerhouse, or as a plug-in with many popular digital audio workstation (DAW) programs, such as GarageBand or Logic.
iRig HD at a glance:
• High-quality instrument-level 1/4” Hi-Z input jack
• Detachable cables for Lighting, 30 pin and USB connector compatibility
• Preamp gain control
• High-quality, low-noise, high-definition preamp
• High-quality 24 bit A/D conversion
• Powered by the iOS device or USB
• Ultra-compact and lightweight
• Comes with AmpliTube FREE* app plus 4 new HD exclusive gear models – The Metal 150, the Metal W, the Wharmonator “whammy” pedal and the X-Flanger
• Comes with AmpliTube Custom Shop and AmpliTube Metal** software for Mac laptops & desktops
Price and availability
iRig HD is available now from music and electronics retailers worldwide, and costs $99.99/€79.99 (excluding taxes). For a complete set-up, also check out the other IK mobile products including the iKlip iPhone and iPad supports for stage and studio, the soon-to-be-released iRig BlueBoard wireless foot controller and the iLoud range of musicians’ portable speakers.
*Download from the App StoreSM. Four free gear models are available after an iRig HD is plugged into the device. **Register and download from the IK Multimedia web site.
Catch a rare inside glimpse of one of the world's most revered guitarists, David Gilmour, and his iconic Black Stratocaster.
Pink Floyd: The Black Strat was written by Phil Taylor, Gilmour's personal guitar technician and the band's chief backline tech since 1974. He was the only man to know Pink Floyd's equipment better than the band.
This expanded edition of the book contains new information and many unpublished photographs that further chart the Black Strat's illustrious history. Amending and elaborating on the previous edition, it also continues the story where the last one left off with all the latest live appearances, information and photographs, including Gilmour testing the Fender Black Strat replica models; performances with David Bowie, Jeff Beck and others; and much more.
Was Jimi Hendrix spinning out of control during his final days in the studio, or on the verge of a new breakthrough? New evidence emerges on People, Hell and Angels, a new album of previously unreleased studio recordings.
Bassist Billy Cox has fond memories of his final days in the studio with Jimi Hendrix, recording at New York’s famed Record Plant in 1969. But trips to and from the studio with Hendrix were another matter entirely. Cox recalls that the legendary guitarist was something of a reckless driver. A jaunt across Manhattan in Jimi’s silver Corvette could be a hair-raising experience.
“We’d go into the studio around eight o’clock in the evening,” Cox remembers, “and a lot of times we didn’t come out until noon the next day. When we came out of the studio, he’d have his guitar, I’d have my bass…and the Corvette was a two-seater. So we take off, and my face is hangin’ out the window, along with one of my legs, and Jimi’s got his guitar in the back. We’re goin’ through traffic, and I’m sayin, ‘Oh, lord, you gon’ run into somebody!’ He scared me. I’d get out at the hotel and say, ‘Whew, man! I made it safe and sound.’ ”
As fate would have it, it was drug-and-alcohol-related asphyxiation, not reckless driving, that claimed Hendrix’s life not long after the scene Cox relates. But by then, Jimi had already vastly enriched rock guitar’s lexicon of licks, tricks and aesthetics. He raised the bar for rock guitar heroism. Or as Cox puts it, “Here we are 42 years later, and we’re still celebrating his genius.”
Hendrix never got to finish the album he was working on at the time, leaving fans, rock historians and pop culture geeks perpetually wondering what he was up to in the studio during the final year and a half of his life. Back at the tail end of the Sixties, some said he’d lost the plot, that the glory days of Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland were behind him, and never to return.
Then again, there were those who said that he was on the verge of creating some new progressive form of music exponentially more revolutionary than what had come before. There was talk of a collaboration with Miles Davis arranger Gil Evans, although there’s not even a hint of that among the mountain of unfinished tapes Hendrix left behind.
“Jimi was frustrated before he died, because I think the public didn’t understand him,” says Eddie Kramer, the recording engineer who worked most extensively with Hendrix throughout his years of fame. “He was so confused as to which way to go.”
So was Hendrix on a crash course with musical disaster, wasted on dope and wasting tape while the studio clock ticked off dollars? Or was there some grand, redeeming vision that would have turned the whole thing into another Sgt. Pepper’s, Bitches Brew or Exile on Main Street?
Elucidating the musical truth of Hendrix’s final recordings has been the almost 20-year mission of Kramer, archivist/producer/historian John McDermott, and Janie Hendrix, who is Jimi’s half sister and the head of Experience Hendrix, the company that manages the late guitarist’s estate.
In 1997, they released their best educated guess as to what that final album might have been. It was called First Rays of the New Rising Sun, the name that they conjecture was at the top of Hendrix’s list of tentative titles for his work-in-progress.
They followed it up in 2010 with Valleys of Neptune, another scoop from Hendrix’s deep barrel of end-game demos, work tapes, jam tapes, party tapes, unfinished masters and so on. McDermott, Kramer and Experience Hendrix recently dropped another glimpse of Hendrix’s final days at work in the studio, People, Hell & Angels.
“We’re filling in the library with the last missing piece, from a thematic point of view,” McDermott says. “On Valleys of Neptune, we looked at the final recordings of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and then Jimi’s first steps with [bassist] Billy Cox. ‘Here,’ we said. ‘This is Jimi outside the Experience.’ So it includes the very first recordings the Band of Gypsys made in the studio, Jimi with the band he had at Woodstock and him playing and guesting with friends like [R&B sax man] Lonnie Youngblood and [vocal duo] the Allen twins. The idea for us was to say, ‘This is all the stuff that was among his portfolio of music that was cut after Electric Ladyland.’ Hopefully it shows some of the avenues that this guy was traveling down as he was trying to decide what the future held.”
The tracks span the period from March 13, 1968, through August 1970, although the main focus is on an extended run of sessions held at the New York Record Plant in mid 1969. It was a time of profound change for rock music and for Hendrix himself. He’d just moved back from London, where he’d first risen to fame and where he recorded the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s game-changing first three albums. He was back in his home country, but all was not well.
Hendrix had parted company with Chas Chandler, his co-manager and the producer who had given shape and substance to the first three Experience albums. Experience bass player Noel Redding would soon leave the fold as well. Redding and Chandler were both exasperated by the guitarist’s newfound fondness for tinkering endlessly with musical ideas in the studio and only occasionally coming away with a master take.
But that too was a sign of the changing times. The business and aesthetics of rock music were in the midst of a revolutionary transition. Where the music industry had once viewed rock music as a passing, cash-in-quick teenage fad, more-enlightened entrepreneurs were starting to realize that rock held enormous long-range business potential, not to mention all the excitement that comes with the forging of a bold new art form.
So in a sense, Hendrix had landed in the right place at the right time when he got off the plane in New York. Two gentlemen named Chris Stone and Gary Kellgren had joined forces to create a new kind of recording studio on West 44th Street. Stone was an MBA marketing wiz connected with the Revlon cosmetics empire at the time. Kellgren was one of the best engineers in New York, noted for his pioneering work with eight-track recording and tape-based effects like flanging and phasing.
While the best recording studios had historically been cold, antiseptic, lab-like environments attached to record labels like EMI or Columbia, Stone and Kellgren hit on the idea of building an independent state-of-the-art recording studio situated in a comfortable, hip living room–style environment. Along with Frank Zappa, Hendrix was one of their first and best clients, paying a handsome hourly rate to hang out, jam and party with friends, experiment with musical ideas, strive for master recordings and generally make the Record Plant his midtown pied–à–terre.
“Oh, Chris and Gary loved Jimi,” McDermott says with a laugh. “At the end of the day it was like, ‘Just keep stacking those tapes up, fellas. Let him be in there as long as he wants to.’ Because they’d be able to say, ‘Hey, we got the top guy at our facility.’ And the bills always got paid. It wasn’t like they had to chase someone to get paid. Jimi paid his bills.”
This is the somewhat amazing part. The recording funds weren’t coming from Hendrix’s record label, Reprise, recoupable against future album sales in the usual music manner. Instead, Jimi was footing the bill himself.
“It never went through the record company,” McDermott confirms. “It drove his management and his accountant crazy, but the bills went to his management company, and they paid for all those sessions.”
For Hendrix, the investment seemed well worth it. Before he hit it big, he toiled for years as a studio guitarist, playing budget, nail-it-in-one-take R&B sessions. Hendrix relished the idea of having the hippest new studio in America as his atelier and all-around bachelor pad. He’d also started to assemble his New York team. Kramer was shipped over from England, where he’d distinguished himself as an engineer at London’s celebrated Olympic Studios. Stone has vivid memories of Kramer alighting from the car sent to pick him up at the airport, decked out in a cape. And when Kramer wasn’t around, Kellgren’s world-class studio engineering chops were at Jimi’s disposal.
Even before setting up shop at the Record Plant, Hendrix had shown a marked tendency to view recording studios as party spaces, and the guest list was pretty wide open. “The hangers-on became a problem,” Kramer says. “They became a problem for Chas, and certainly for me. Sessions would be tough, because Jimi couldn’t say no to his buddies. He’d have invited the street sweeper and the cleaning lady and the record company president with him.”
But now, with Chandler out of the picture and the Experience on the skids, some of Jimi’s buddies started to make it out of the party room and into the band. Some of them earned their keep in that capacity better than others. With Redding’s imminent departure from the scene, Hendrix called on Billy Cox, an old friend from the guitarist’s days in the Army and a musical colleague who’d played many a chitlin circuit gig with the guitarist in the early Sixties. Cox had deep experience backing greats like Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Freddie King, Gatemouth Brown, Rufus and Carla Thomas and many others on stages, recording and TV studios. He was also solid as both a musician and a personality.
“Jimi Hendrix and I were musical confidants when he began his musical career,” the bassist says. “And I was his musical confidant till the end.”
Cox began by recording with Hendrix and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, but soon another drummer entered the picture. Buddy Miles came from the same R&B roots as Hendrix and Cox, and had gone on to be a larger-than-life figure in rock music, a voluble, volatile veteran of the Electric Flag with guitar hero Mike Bloomfield and his own Buddy Miles Express. The Hendrix, Cox and Miles trio would soon be known to history as the Band of Gypsys.
“We were all the same age, and we had all come up under the R&B influence,” Cox says. “I mean Buddy was with Wilson Pickett, and I played behind Pickett when he came to Nashville. So we all played the same kind of music and had a lot in common.”
One of Cox’s many musical virtues was his ability to mesh equally well with both Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles. “Mitch was more soul influenced from a jazz perspective,” Cox explains. “And Buddy was a hard-hitting rock and roller. But both of them were good, and I had no problem playing with either one. I came out of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia scene, and I was familiar with a lot of the jazz artists from there. I tried to play a little jazz years before, and I liked Mitch’s influence. And then with Buddy, you had the R&B, blues, gutbucket hard rock thing, and I liked that also. That was part of my DNA.”
In that light, it’s interesting to compare one of People, Hell and Angels’ standout tracks—the Hendrix standard “Hear My Train a Comin’ ” laid down with the Cox/Miles rhythm section in May 1969—with a version by the Experience just a month earlier. While the two recordings are very close in arrangement and tempo, Hendrix clearly sounds more relaxed with Cox and Miles and tears off a blindingly brilliant guitar solo. He’s one of the few guitarists on earth who’s amazing even when he’s noodling in the studio at four in the morning. The People, Hell and Angels set packs quite a few solo guitar epiphanies, albeit cast as diamonds in the rough among unfinished tracks.
“What’s so cool about Jimi is you can hear how excited he gets when there’s a dialed-in player or players on the track,” McDermott says. “It lifts him to a different place. You can hear it when you listen to ‘Voodoo Child’ on Ladyland, and you can hear it with Billy and Buddy on ‘Hear My Train.’ Whenever he feels like the people with him are locked in, he can soar.”
Fans of the Band of Gypsys’ one official recording, the highly regarded, self-titled live album from Fillmore East, will be especially interested in People, Hell & Angels, which contains no fewer than four studio recordings by the short-lived trio.
“When Jimi went to Billy, he didn’t say, ‘You’re gonna replace Noel,’ ” McDermott recounts. “He said, ‘Come up and help me.’ And when Billy first came in April of ’69, it was really about making good on some of these songs that Jimi had struggled on with Noel. Noel was a tremendous musician and deserves a lot of credit, but I think there was something with Billy. In all the turbulence of Hendrix’s life, it was important for him to have a steadying friend, who would understand his desire to work on demos over and over again until he felt he had it, whereas Noel was hoping to get it in one or two takes and move on. I think that kind of philosophical difference really was critically important.
“And as for Mitch Mitchell versus Buddy Miles,” McDermott continues, “I think Mitch was Jimi’s guy, but he did realize that Buddy brought something special for certain songs that was almost part of his personality. That thump and that excitement was different from Mitch, but it certainly fits a song like ‘Earth Blues’ [another frequently recorded Hendrix composition, performed with the Cox/Miles rhythm section on People, Hell and Angels]. You hear it. When you compare that with the version that has Mitch on drums, it’s markedly different. The R&B funk vibe is there. It becomes a different song.”
Hendrix was clearly searching for the right rhythm section sound for the material he was developing. A lot of the 1969 recordings seem like an effort to arrive at a definitive basic track over which Jimi could record vocals and the filigreed layers of guitar overdubs that were essential to the Hendrix magic.
But was the material really worth that much effort? Most of it is blues-based stuff or blues covers, which was not unusual for the time. Blues records were extremely popular in 1969, and blues-based artists like John Mayall, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, and the Al Kooper–Mike Bloomfield tandem were enjoying major success. Traditional blues artists like B.B. King, Albert King and John Lee Hooker were also crossing over to the rock audience in a big way.
But the preponderance of blues-based material among Hendrix’s final recordings seems to disprove theories that he was onto some bold, new progressive jazz-rock direction. And if the folks at Reprise were expecting another Hendrix hit on the order of “Foxey Lady,” Purple Haze” or the guitarist’s popular cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” they would have been disappointed; there is certainly nothing of the sort to be found among the tracks on People, Hell and Angels. If anything, at the end of his life Hendrix seemed to be heading back to his bluesy roots. And few people had more of a right to go back there than him.
“By the time I got onboard, I’d say his direction had kind of changed,” Cox confirms. “Some of his songs from that time, like ‘Freedom,’ ‘Up from the Storm’ and ‘Dolly Dagger,’ were based on little riffs that we’d come up with together back in the early Sixties. Some of them were insane at the time. Jimi would say, ‘Man, if they heard us play some of this stuff, they’d lock us up.’ We didn’t write any of that stuff down. We remembered it. Jimmy called them ‘patterns.’ I call them ‘musical riffs.’ We had a lot of them in our heads.”
Another virtue of the Record Plant, complementing its great gear and a penthouse vibe, was the fact that it was right around the corner from the Steve Paul Scene, at the time one of New York’s hottest rock and roll clubs. Hendrix would drop by to jam with artists on the bill, including one notable run sitting in with the Jeff Beck Group. He’d also round up musicians from the club and bring them over to the Record Plant to hang out and cut some tracks, perhaps most famously tapping Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith) and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) to play on “Voodoo Child” from Electric Ladyland. But that kind of thing went on all the time, according to Cox.
“We’d start at eight P.M. but maybe stop at around 12 or one in the morning and go out. And at that time, the Scene, Ungano’s and a lot of clubs like that had a lot of the big artists playing there. Jimi would say, ‘I’m recording over at the Record Plant, come on by.’ And we’d go into studio B at four A.M. or so and just have fun for a couple of hours. I was the new kid on the block. Didn’t know a lot of people. And all of sudden I’m jamming with Stephen Stills, Johnny Winter, whoever.”
Or even some lesser lights of the rock fraternity. On the evening of April 21, 1969, Hendrix and Cox stopped by the Scene and ran into members of the Cherry People, a group that had got to Number 45 on the 1968 pop charts with the psychedelic bubblegum track “And Suddenly.” They were in town to get out of their deal with Heritage Records and had dropped by the Scene to console themselves, having failed to secure a meeting with the head of the label. Their road manager, Al Marks, himself a guitarist, had met Hendrix backstage on a few prior occasions. On the strength of this, Marks made bold to approach Hendrix’s table. Marks has vivid recollections of the evening.
“Jimi said, ‘Sorry I don’t remember you. But hey, you play in a band? You got a drummer?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s right here.’ He goes, ‘You wanna do a session with us tonight?’ I looked at him: ‘You gotta be kidding. You serious?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, man, meet me at four o’clock at the Record Plant.’ He meant four A.M.”
Marks, Cherry People drummer Rocky Issac and guitarist Chris Grimes couldn’t believe their luck when they were buzzed into the Record Plant building and shown into the studio. Gary Kellgren was already in the control room setting up for the session. The three Cherry People were even more amazed when Hendrix himself turned up at around 4:20. He sent Marks out to park his Corvette while he set up the recording room to suit his requirements. Marks recalls Hendrix using a pair of Acoustic amps and cabinets for the session, which may have belonged to the Record Plant.
Once everything was ready to go, Jimi asked, “Okay, who’s the drummer?” Issac was duly installed behind the studio’s kit; Marks and Grimes were assigned to play percussion. Both Marks and Issac recall working through versions of “Roomful of Mirrors,” the Elmore James song “Bleeding Heart,” “Stone Free,” a freeform jam called “Drone Blues” and “Crash Landing.” But things didn’t go particularly well. Issac was extremely nervous and not at all used to Hendrix’s practice of just kicking into a song and expecting all the players to follow him.
“I went over to Billy Cox and said, ‘Billy, I’m used to learning a song first,’ ” the drummer recalls. “I don’t know what’s going on here, and I’m scared.’ And Billy said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on either, but I’ve got the advantage of having played with Jimi quite a bit and I’m able to follow him.’ I said, ‘Well, he’s not cueing me in or anything, and I keep messing up.’ He said, ‘Do the best you can.’ ”
The evening went downhill from there. “I think it was around 10 or 11 in the morning when we got done with ‘Roomful of Mirrors,’ ” Marks says. “Meanwhile, we’d gone back into the control room after every take while Jimi stayed in the studio. He wouldn’t come out into the control room. And Gary Kellgren had a bowl full of rolled joints and an ashtray filled with cocaine. After every take, we’d light up a joint and pass it around.”
“Anything you wanted to take was available,” Issac adds. “Alcohol, coke, speed, pot everywhere. There was plenty of everything. The whole time I’m having an anxiety attack. I couldn’t drink enough. I couldn’t take enough speed. I was falling apart. But Jimi was so generous and gracious. I felt he was disappointed. But he took me in the control room where he was mixing down ‘Stone Free.’ He sat me down at the controls and showed me how to pan the drums from left to right. Pretty soon I’m sitting there with him doing a mix.”
Also in the control room that evening was Devon Wilson, Jimi’s main lady at the time and the subject to the song “Crash Landing,” a forerunner to “Dolly Dagger” that finds Hendrix excoriating Wilson’s hard-drug use and the toll he saw it taking on their relationship. One of the famed late-Sixties’ supergroupies, Wilson was also involved with Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman at various times. She passed away under mysterious circumstances at New York’s Chelsea Hotel just six months after Hendrix’s death. Marks remembers her as, “very tall, very thin, very beautiful. She sat in the corner and just smoked. Didn’t talk. She was as high as the rest of us.”
So it is perhaps no surprise that the evening didn’t amount to much in terms of viable master recordings. “It was funny to watch Gary Kellgren as the night progressed,” Marks says. “He started messing up a little bit, and that’s when he called the session that night. He couldn’t make it sound right anymore, so it was like, ‘Okay, we’re done. We’re wasting time and tape.’ That’s exactly what he said. When the faders started looking like double faders, that was it.”
What is surprising, given the evening’s unrewarding musical trajectory, is that Hendrix asked Issac, Marks and Gaines to return for another session a few nights later. Jimi gave the drummer $400 for the night’s work and $100 each to Marks and Grimes, with the promise of the same again when they returned. When Issac got back to New York from the Cherry People’s D.C. home base for the second session, he garnered some further insights into his Hendrix’s life at the time.
He met Jimi at the office of his manager, Mike Jeffrey. A hard-bitten, old-school rock-and-roll business sharpie with a reputation as a gangster—some even say that he arranged Hendrix’s death—Jeffrey didn’t welcome Jimi’s latest protégé with open arms. He clearly wasn’t pleased to fork over cash to cover hotel, meal and incidental expenses for Issac and another member of the Cherry People, guitarist Punky Meadows, who hadn’t been engaged to play on the session but had tagged along to meet Hendrix.
“I felt like Mike Jeffrey would have rather just taken a gun and shot me than given me two dollars,” Issac says. “Jimi knew he was getting robbed, moneywise, but I don’t think that was the big thing for him. He wanted some freedom, it seemed to me. Jimi and I were talking, and he told me, ‘I’m so fucking unhappy. All the guy [Jeffrey] wants me to play is ‘Foxey Lady’ and ‘Purple Haze’ over and over and over. Everything I write he wants to sound like that.’ I think he was at a point where he had to do something. He was so unhappy with management. He didn’t say anything about being unhappy with Mitch or Noel Redding. And of course he didn’t say anything unkind about Billy Cox. But he did say that Mike Jeffrey was just about to kill him.”
Fortunately, everybody stayed away from the control room ashtrays during Hendrix’s second session with the Cherry People, on April 24, 1969, which yielded the take of “Crash Landing” heard on People, Hell & Angels. “Jimi came in very businesslike and knew what he wanted to do,” Marks recalls. “It wasn’t the same social atmosphere as the first night. He was very direct and to the point. Apparently he had listened to the roughs. He came in and said to me, ‘Okay, if you’re going to play maracas, you need to do this, this and this. He directed each musician. He had like a bandstand thing to hold sheet music. There were blank sheets of paper on it and he was writing lyrics for ‘Crash Landing’ as he was playing. He’d tell us to keep going and he’d be writing down lyrics and starting to sing them. Then he’d say, ‘Okay, from the top…let’s go.’ ”
“He was magical,” an awestruck Issac recalls of Hendrix’s studio performances. “Seeing him in the studio was like seeing him onstage. Maybe not quite as much theatrics as he displayed onstage, but he didn’t make mistakes. There was genius there. That’s the feeling I got.”
“His fingers were the size of rulers,” Marks marvels. “They were huge!”
The evening also yielded a version of the aforementioned “Bleeding Heart” posthumously released on the Valleys of Neptune set and arguably more adventurous than the Cox and Miles version of the same tune heard on People, Hell & Angels. The more up-tempo feel and funk-jazzy chord substitutions of the Cherry People version certainly offer a more radical recontextualization of the Elmore James original than the straight-ahead slow-blues reading that Hendrix, Cox and Miles gave the tune. With all due deference to the “anything Hendrix ever did was sheer genius” crowd, it’s possible that the law of diminishing returns had begun to set in as 1969 wore on.
Certainly, the Cherry People’s eyewitness account of their two evenings at the Record Plant with Jimi Hendrix puncture the myth of Hendrix’s infallibility. It’s clear that many of Hendrix’s Record Plant evenings were more like a party than a serious attempt to capture master recordings. Cox takes credit for reining a lot of that in.
“By the time I got on board, all that kind of stuff changed,” he says. “It had to change if we were going to get any quality work out there. Jimi and I talked about it, and he knew what he had to do. He had to buckle down and get it together.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Cox says that Devon Wilson’s visits to the studio became less frequent once the bassist was firmly ensconced. “It tapered off and she didn’t come in as often,” he says. “It changed. Prior to me getting onboard they’d say, ‘Oh happy day, let’s go out and just have some fun.’ But we kind of got to the point where we had to get down to brass tacks and get serious about the thing. The studio no longer became a place of play; it became a place of work. A sacred place. I told Jimi, ‘We’re lucky to be here. We have to make the most of it.’ ”
As one of the world’s biggest rock stars, and one notorious for his sexual prowess, Hendrix certainly didn’t lack for female companionship. The ladies were more legion than the joints in Kellgren’s “hospitality bowl.” But Hendrix’s relationship with Wilson cut deeper than that. It was a dysfunctional pas de deux of drugs, music and love.
“There were certainly other women in his life, but I think Devon was the one,” McDermott says. “She was the one who was fascinating to him, in terms of personality, obviously her beauty and also her outlook. It was a very passionate relationship between her and Jimi, but it wasn’t always steady. She was fiercely protective of him, in a certain way. I’m told by friends that she always thought she was advocating for Jimi and his best interest. Although, when Jimi built his own studio, Electric Lady, one of the things they did—and something she was very much in favor of—was put a closed-circuit camera on the door so they could see who was trying to buzz their way in. And there were many nights when Jimi would see Devon at the door and not let her in. He didn’t want the drama. But what person doesn’t go through that in that kind of relationship?”
Adding to the romantic turbulence in his life, Hendrix was in the midst of a full-scale business and legal crisis. When Chas Chandler walked, Hendrix lost not only the creative partner who had helped shape his most successful songs and recordings but also the “good cop” on his management team. As a former bassist with the highly successful British Invasion group the Animals, Chandler was a musician and could empathize with Hendrix’s musical aspirations and relate them to his business concerns far more harmoniously than the more mercenary Jeffrey. Hence, Hendrix’s remarks to Issac about Jeffrey’s just wanting him to play “Purple Haze” over and over again.
Legally, Hendrix was battling drug charges at the time, as well as a lawsuit filed by Ed Chalpin of music publishing company PPX Industries. Chalpin claimed that the guitarist had a contractual obligation to PPX dating from 1965 and thus superseding Hendrix’s management agreement with Jeffrey and Chandler. Chalpin stood to gain a sizable chunk of all revenue earned by the Experience and their three top-selling albums, if not all of it.
The compromise was to give Chalpin the proceeds from a Jimi Hendrix album, the live Band of Gypsys recorded on New Year’s Eve 1970 at the Fillmore East, plus a piece of any and all future Hendrix profits. While revisionist critical zeal has placed the Fillmore disc on an artistic par with Hamlet and the Mona Lisa, it was nothing more than a quickie live album banged out fast and cheap in order to chill out Chalpin. According to Eddie Kramer, Hendrix himself was less than pleased with the album.
“I don't know that it was something Jimi liked 100 percent,” Kramer says. “I think he was disappointed in some of the excessive [vocal] warbling of Buddy Miles. There was a tremendous amount of editing done on it. There was a huge amount of jamming and stuff that didn’t quite fit on the record. The editing was a little untidy at points. But having said that, I think it’s a wonderful example of Jimi being able to play with a reasonable amount of freedom.”
“Mitch had gone to England when Jimi got into the problems,” Cox recalls. “[Jimi] was threatened with a lawsuit. So it was decided that we’d do a concert album, and I said ‘Well, I’m in.’ That’s what friends do. And Buddy was around at the time.”
But the Band of Gypsys didn’t always fare as well onstage as they did at the Fillmore shows. A subsequent concert, at Madison Square Garden, was a notable disaster, the band retreating from the stage halfway through its second number, offering apologies to the crowd. This proved to be the group’s final live performance. Events like these gave rise to turn-of-the-decade feeling that Hendrix had perhaps lost it. This impression was compounded by the uneven, somewhat shambolic performance that he turned in at Woodstock with his ill-advised, under-rehearsed and unfortunately named six-piece ensemble, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. With Chandler gone, there was no one to tell Hendrix when he had a bad idea.
“I think the core band of Jimi, Mitch and Billy, were great at Woodstock,” McDermott says in defense of the guitarist and his ramshackle backing. “I think the other guys [guitarist Larry Lee, percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan] were trying, but they’d just never played something that big before, or with something that powerful. They were used to playing clubs and things like that.”
Larry Lee was another old buddy of Jimi’s who’d just come out of the Army, where he’d seen service in the Vietnam War. Lee would go on to many years of success as Al Green’s musical director and songwriter. But in 1969, he’d just begun making the uneasy transition from the killing fields to a society that had been radically remade in the wake of civil rights, the hippie scene, psychedelia, the sexual revolution and other sociocultural phenomena of the late Sixties. It was all a bit too much.
“Larry, God bless him, had just come back from Vietnam and wasn’t quite ready for the hurricane that was Hendrix’s popularity and all that went with it,” McDermott says. “Had Jimi employed him on select songs, you would have seen real value come out of his contributions.”
The two tracks on People, Hell & Angels that feature the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows lineup show them in a much better light than their Woodstock performance. Their studio recording of the ubiquitous “Izabella” is certainly tighter than the Woodstock rendition, with Lee effectively doubling Cox’s bass line much of the time and playing a supportive role overall. And those who mainly think of Larry Lee as the guy with the out-of-tune guitar and ridiculous headgear at Woodstock might be surprised to hear his artful jazzy comping on “Easy Blues,” a 12-bar jam from another one of Hendrix’s long nights at the Record Plant.
“I came up with this little riff,” Cox recalls of that impromptu recording. “I just kept playing it. I didn’t know the tape was going. Jimi looked at me and started laughing—jumped in and started jamming. We just did that to loosen up the fingers. We laughed because it was just a riff.”
“I think Jimi was really intrigued by the idea of having that second guitar, that rhythm guitar, in there,” McDermott says. “And Larry was a sympathetic figure. He wasn’t trying to out-duel Jimi or anything like that. He understood rhythm comping and things like that. And that’s one of his real benefits.”
“Larry was part of that same R&B thing as me and Jimi,” Cox adds. “He came from that time period. Jimi, at one point, felt like he needed assistance. Because a lot of times we were playing these riffs, the bass and the guitar together, but he wanted a guitar to keep doing that when he was playing solos. But he didn’t really need that. When the deal went down, he didn’t need any help.”
But what really brought an end to Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, in Cox’s view, was not musical considerations but the dictates of “the office,” by which he presumably means management. “That group had problems because the office didn’t want it to be,” Cox says. “And so it no longer was. [Management’s thinking was] ‘We started with this [three-piece power trio] formula. Stick with the formula.’ ”
In the midst of his own troubles and the search for a new, post-Experience musical direction, the legendarily generous Hendrix still had time to help out his friends. That side of him is reflected on People, Hell & Angels by two tracks where he happily played sideman to some of his old cronies. One of these recordings is a high-energy, old-school R&B track “Let Me Move You,” led by vocalist and sax player Lonnie Youngblood, with whom Hendrix had worked in the mid Sixties. Youngblood and Hendrix’s Record Plant recording of “Let Me Move You” is arguably the most outstanding track on People, Hell & Angels, an absolute scorcher.
“Just listen to what Jimi’s doing, comping under Lonnie,” McDermott says enthusiastically. “Crazy!”
The rhythm section of Hank Anderson on bass and Jimmy Mayes on drums is so unquenchably on fire that one wonders why Hendrix didn’t just draft them to be his new backing band. He’d worked with Mayes around 1966 when they were both in the touring lineup of Joey Dee and the Starlighters, a group that had scored a big hit back in 1961 with “The Peppermint Twist.”
“Yes, you could have seen Hendrix in a little club with Joey Dee in ’66,” McDermott says. “And then, six months later, he’s doing ‘Hey Joe’ and he’s a star in England. The time frame is amazing.”
And once Hendrix shifted operations from the Record Plant to his own brand new studio, Electric Lady, in mid 1970, one of the first projects he undertook was to overdub some hot guitar on “Mojo Man,” a track by the singing duo of Arthur and Albert Allen, a.k.a. the Allen twins. The two were old friends of Jimi’s and were recording at the time as the Ghetto Fighters. Like “Let Me Move You,” the tune offers eloquent testimony that Hendrix’s abilities as an accompanist and supporting player had been by no means diminished by his massive stardom.
Electric Lady was to have been Hendrix’s salvation—artistically, financially and otherwise. “The idea was, ‘Hey we’re going to stop paying the Record Plant a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. Now we’re gonna have our own place,’” McDermott says.
“For almost a year and a half prior, Jimi had had no supervision. So a lot of time went into experimentation," Kramer says. “But as soon as Electric Lady was finished, he came in and it was like, ‘Wow, this is my place!’ The amount of work we accomplished in just four months—from May through August—was amazing.”
Today an institution on 8th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, Electric Lady had previously been a venue called the Generation Club, which Hendrix had planned to purchase and turn into another hip Manhattan nightspot. “But Eddie Kramer was the guy who came in and said, ‘Hey, don’t just have a little night club with a recording studio. We’ll make this the best recording studio in the world!’ ” McDermott says. “Eddie explained it to Jimi, and Jimi said, ‘Okay, I trust this guy. We’ll do it.’ ”
While Hendrix had paid for the Record Plant sessions out of his own pocket, had had to take a loan from his record label to float Electric Lady, deepening his obligation to Warner/Reprise and giving the company additional leverage when it came to his forthcoming, vexatious and long overdue album. One reason why Gary Kellgren, rather than Eddie Kramer, had engineered many of the Record Plant sessions in 1969 is that Kramer was downtown getting Electric Lady together much of the time. And while Hendrix’s Record Plant sessions may have seemed like one long party out of bounds, the guitarist allegedly knew exactly where the gold lay among the mountains of tapes he’d piled up there in mid 1969.
“Eddie Kramer told me that one of the first things they did when Electric Lady opened in May of ’70, even before they actually recorded anything, was that he and Jimi went through all the tapes that they had pulled over from the Record Plant,” McDermott says. “And that Jimi knew exactly which ones he wanted to play. He was like, ‘Hey, listen to this one. I want you to hear this song.’ And it would be ‘Roomful of Mirrors’ from November 1969. ‘Ezy Ryder’ was another one. And they started to figure, ‘Okay, we’ll put a fuzz bass on this, and I’ll overdub some guitar…’ And then there were other songs where they said, ‘Our new studio sounds so good, let’s just recut this one.’ ”
Of course Hendrix never got a chance to do any of that. By July he was back on the road, playing a troubled tour of Europe with Cox and Mitchell. Cox flipped out on acid; not everybody shared Hendrix’s legendary ability to eat loads of LSD and still be more or less functional. The group was booed in Germany. “I’ve been dead a long time,” Hendrix said, all too prophetically, at the end of a bad night onstage in Denmark. A few days later, on September 18, he died in London.
There is clear evidence that Hendrix knew he was in trouble musically. “When he went to England, he looked up Chas Chandler about three days before he died,” Kramer says. “And he talked to Chas about getting the old team together. I could see why he was frustrated. I’ve always maintained that what he needed was a year off—a time away from touring and the pressures of the record company and management, a time to think about where he wanted to go.”
But had he lived and even been able to take some time off, would Hendrix, producing himself for the first time, have been able to pull a coherent album from the sprawling mass of variant takes and alternate lineups he’d accumulated during the year and a half prior?
“At one point, he made notes about making it a three-album set,” McDermott says, “which was pretty ambitious. It was around the time when Electric Lady opened. People, Hell & Angels was one of the tentative titles he’d written down, so it comes out of that period. He knew he had this bounty of material and he said, ‘Okay, we’ll make a three-album set,’ when he had Reprise banging on his door for just a single album.”
McDermott is certain that, had Hendrix lived, he would have finished the sprawling album, if only because of his financial obligations. “He had to pay back Warner Bros. for the loan he’d taken to build Electric Lady, and had made his first payment in August prior to his death,” he says. “And with the pressure of having to deliver the Band of Gypsys album to settle that litigation, I think you would have seen Jimi pull the record together. Now would he have been able to keep it a double, much less a triple? Who knows? Management and the record label might have said, ‘Hey, we need 10 songs and we need them now.’ Or Jimi may have said, ‘Give me a month and we’ll have the rest done.’ He made a lot of progress prior to his leaving for Europe. It’s certainly possible that they could have had something, if not for the fourth quarter of 1970, then the first quarter of the following year.”
So what we’re left with on posthumous releases like People, Hell & Angels and Valleys of Neptune are essentially basic tracks—or attempted basic tracks—waiting for overdubs. But so much of the beauty of Hendrix’s music lies in his gift for weaving gossamer webs of guitar overdubs and lyrics that combine hallucinogenic, Dylan-esque imagery with the wry wit of a soul shaman. Without those things, we’re left with something that feels, at times, painfully incomplete.
“I think the basic work tracks were there and solid,” Cox says. “The problem was words. A lot of times Jimi was lost for words, trying to put words together and make them right. And then his overdubs—that was his way of talking to you. The man was incredible with backward tapes.”
So newcomers to Hendrix are heartily encouraged to start with Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland, the finished masterpieces. Releases like People, Hell & Angels will mainly be of interest to completists, the “any Hendrix is good Hendrix” demographic, and the kind of trainspotter market that has sprung up in the wake of the Deadhead board tape-trading phenomenon.
As for the rest of us, rather than force ourselves into another semi-sincere rapture about another set of marginal Hendrix outtakes, it would be more meaningful and respectful to view them for what they are: the sound of a great artist trying to jam himself out of a jam, not at all sure of where he was going and not entirely in control of the steering wheel. These rough-hewn and half-hatched tracks actually become more poignant in that light.
At the end of the Sixties, who really knew where he or she was going? At the time, Clapton, Page, Beck and Townshend were also in the midst of major artistic transitions and career reinventions. Hendrix was certainly determined to get there with them. Two days before his death, he said as much in his final conversation with Billy Cox.
“He said, ‘Hey man, we gotta get back in the studio Friday and change a few little things and get it right,’ ” Cox recalls. “ ‘They’re raising hell about getting it out.’ And I said okay. We had maybe 15 songs he wanted to work on.”
Cox seems to have mixed feelings about the fact that—for himself and Hendrix, unlike most other musicians—“even our practice tapes have been exposed to the public. And all of my wrong, bad notes have been exposed. But, hey, people can’t get enough of Hendrix.”
Does he think Hendrix would have been comfortable with all of us hearing his works in progress?
“I don’t think so,” Cox says. “With the perfectionist he was, I think he would like to have something completed. That’s what he was all about. He was a perfectionist when it came to the music. One wrong note and he was upset. ‘Oh man, I messed this up.’ That’s how he was. That’s what made him Jimi Hendrix.”
Photo: Getty Images
Dream Theater are hard at work recording their upcoming studio album, the followup to 2011's A Dramatic Turn Of Events.
The band recently shared two of guitarist John Petrucci's Facebook posts:
"Just finished my final lyric for the new DT album. I start solos in about a week. Time to put down the pen and get to the woodshed!"
... and ...
"In the home stretch on the DT sessions! All vocals are done. Cutting solos."
In a recent interview with Roadrunner Records, Petrucci had this to say:
"First of all, it's been going great with [Mike Mangini], and as much as we've been a band together for about 15 years, we haven't really experienced that process together. We've been in the studio for a few weeks now, and he's been amazing. Chemistry is great, the writing process and the whole vibe is great, and his role is to let his personality shine as a drummer, creatively and to have his input and his musical personality really come through. And I gotta tell you, it's happening.
"When people hear the drumming on this album, they're gonna be pretty freaked out. On the last album, he did a great job, but he wasn't there for the writing process and he was interpreting drum parts that I had programmed. Even though he used his creativity, of course, to change them up and do his thing, I feel like now he's just Mike Mangini unleashed. It's all him. It's all his creativity, all his decisions and ideas and man, the guy's an animal."
The album is expected to be released this summer by Roadrunner Records. Stay tuned for updates as we get them!
Sometimes the same legacy that allows a band to pack arenas after multiple decades is the same thing that weighs a band down creatively. Fans, after all, tend to want their classic rock bands frozen in time.
In the case of Thin Lizzy, not only are there lofty expectations set by classic albums like Jailbreak and Bad Reputation, but there is also the looming specter of the band’s late, great frontman and bassist Phil Lynott, who died in 1986 and without whom the band has never released a record.
But with a revitalized lineup full of top-notch songwriting talent, it was only a matter of time before the idea of a new Thin Lizzy record became inevitable.
"That's the No. 1 question we're getting from people — are we gonna record some new material?,” said longtime guitarist Scott Gorham in a 2011 interview with Billboard. “The fans seem to trust this lineup, and I don't blame them. We've kind of jumped this emotional hurdle together.”
Late last year, it was announced that the band had decided to rechristen themselves Black Star Riders, a name suggested by Ricky Warwick, and taken from one of his favorite movies, Tombstone. It was also announced that — while the possibility of performing in the future as Thin Lizzy was not off the table — the band would cease touring under the name at the end of 2012, making it clear that this was a band ready to start fresh.
“The name change was the right thing to do,” says guitarist Damon Johnson. “It was the right thing to do, because these songs stand on their own. Ricky Warwick is a proper, professional songwriter.”
Johnson is no hired hand, either. Although he’s only been a part of the Thin Lizzy camp since 2011, there’s no mistaking that he’s been with the band in spirit since he first heard them as a young guitarist during their heyday. Johnson is the kind of Thin Lizzy fan who will happily discuss the finer points of Gary Moore’s playing on Black Rose for hours, and whose eyes light up at the very mention of Vagabonds of the Western World.
“We had such reverence for the idea of making a Thin Lizzy record,” Johnson says. “We knew it had to be the best stuff we had had a part in writing in our entire careers. That's the beauty of this Black Star Riders record is — I know people listen to it knowing this was going to be a Thin Lizzy record, and it is because of our deep love for the legacy of this band, our deep love for Phil and his genius.”
The result of that deep love for the legacy of one of rock’s all-time great bands is All Hell Breaks Loose, an album that sounds like what it truly is: a bunch of Thin Lizzy fans getting together and writing an album of timeless, working-class rock music. Tracks like “Hey Judas” and the lead single, “Bound for Glory,” feature the dual guitars and rollicking swing of early Lizzy, while the album’s title track barrels ahead like something out of Iron Maiden catalog. “Kingdom of the Lost” channels the band’s Celtic roots, while “Blues Ain’t So Bad” is a fitting nod to another late member of Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore.
“We want everyone to listen to the whole thing,” Johnson adds. “If you just want to the stuff that sounds like Thin Lizzy, it's there. But if you listen to it from top to bottom, you can't come away not thinking, ‘That's a great band.’”
With the band’s rebirth just beginning to take shape, we caught up with Johnson to talk gear, the clarity of Malcolm Young, and just why all hell is about to break loose.
GUITAR WORLD: So before we get into Thin Lizzy, how did you first get into music?
My parents loved music and there were a lot of records played, a lot of radio played. And even music shows on TV, it was constant. My folks were into traditional country artists like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, but there was a lot of the mainstream music as well.
Growing up in Alabama, you were kind of a slave to whatever the radio was playing. But one of my friends would have a brother who had some records, or you'd have a neighbor up the street who was starting a band, and you'd hear them playing and it was just mystifying.
Who was the first band that really caught your ear and made you want to play rock music?
For anybody that was in middle school in 1976, they'd be lying if they told you that their first favorite band wasn't Kiss, because it was. It kind of started there, and that's where the love of guitars — particularly Les Pauls — came from. From there it wasn't long before I went headlong into Lynyrd Skynyrd, which was such a great hybrid of rock music and country music, particularly with Ronnie Van Zandt’s lyrics. And even back then I can remember thinking, “Wow, I wish I could write songs. That's incredible!”
Shortly after that, I had a band with my friends, and you know you turn each other onto music. I guess really it was Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy at the same time. And then of course Van Halen came along and blew the door off.
It must have been a no-brainer to pick up a guitar when you grow up listening to bands like that.
There was just so much emphasis on the guitar with all the stuff that was around at the time. I was one of the lucky kids. I had an uncle that had a Fender Jazzmaster that he played a lot, so it was really broken in. He had sort of given up electric guitar and shifted to acoustic, so he gave me this guitar. It was so easy to play. I wish I still had that guitar, because I spent hours on it picking out Bad Company songs and Allman Brothers songs.
Somewhere around my junior year of high school I turned a corner and started to be able to figure out anything. Those first two Ozzy solo records came out and I think I learned everything on 'em. I thought, "This is the shit! I want to play like Randy Rhoads!" [laughs]
You formed Brother Cane in 1990 as a vehicle for your songwriting, releasing three studio albums in a five-year span. After the band split up in the late ‘90s, what came next for you?
After Brother Cane ended in 2000, sort of by accident I just got on this journeyman career where I was writing songs, I had a couple of cuts that other people recorded. I played with a great singer, a guy named John Waite. That was my first real sideman gig that I ever took. John turned me on to a lot of great music. And then the Alice Cooper call came out of nowhere, and that was just an amazing opportunity for me. I don't know that I would have been ready to take an opportunity like Thin Lizzy if it hadn't been for Alice.
You talk about some of these classic band that are so revered, you have to be a great performer as well as a great player. And there's no better performance school than Alice Cooper!
And then in 2011, the call comes down to join Thin Lizzy…
It was a great moment in my history. In July 2011 I was with Alice and we played a show in Belfast — Def Leppard, Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy, all on the same bill. I was so elated. I had met Scott Gorham a few years earlier with Alice — we had actually played golf together. And it was such an amazing day for me because I had such reverence for Thin Lizzy and Scott. I thought, How cool that I get to meet one of my greatest heroes and spend some time together.
We stayed in touch, so in 2011 I was excited to get to see Scott again and watch him with the band. I remember going out front and watching the show. Before going back and putting the makeup on for the Alice Cooper show, I was in the crowd. That very night, Richard Fortus, who was playing with the band at the time, had a conversation with Tommy Henriksen, who was one of the guitarists with me in Alice Cooper, and he said, "I'm about to have to go back to Guns N' Roses and the guys are going to have to get another guitarist for this run of dates they're doing in October in the States with Judas Priest.”
And without missing a beat, Tommy goes, "They should call Damon. Damon knows those Thin Lizzy songs better than anyone!" So that night on the bus Tommy told me that he said that to Richard, and I thought it was really cool of him to say that. But I said, "That's not going to happen." And sure enough about two weeks later I got a call from their management and it just blew me away.
Alice has been so good to me. He's been like family; I just love those guys and their families. We were together for five or six years. I called Alice. That was my first phone call after I talked to my wife about it, and he didn't skip a beat. He said, "Damon, that's your favorite band of all time." I can't tell me how many times Alice was recording his show on the bus, and whenever he would play Thin Lizzy he would get me on the air to talk about them. [laughs]
So he said, "You've got to do this." So that was an incredible endorsement. I've said it before, it wasn't like a dream come true, because I would have never fathomed that that would even be possible. It was just incredible.
How soon after joining the band did you realize that a new Thin Lizzy record was a possibility?
Well, about three shows into that tour, we had a great couple of rehearsals. I think they thought Richard was going to come back. But we had a great time, and I know Scott had expressed to management that, "We need a band. We need a guy who can always be there." Because Richard and Vivian Campbell are both word class guitar players, but they happen to be in enormous bands.
Scott asked me one night after a gig if I wanted the job permanently, and I think the very next day was the first time I heard talk of a new record. I knew that a new Thin Lizzy record was a massive concept in itself, and on paper you think, Here's this classic band that wants to continue to grow and expand their fan base and do like so many other classic bands, and the only logical thing is new music. You have to have something to talk about, something to promote.
So I just remember, Ricky called me after Scott asked me to join and said, "Let's get lunch together." And he said, "Listen, they want to make a record, do you think you would have any ideas?" I said, “Fuck yeah I got ideas!” [laughs]
We had such reverence for the idea of making a Thin Lizzy record. We knew it had to be the best stuff we had had a part in writing in our entire careers. That's the beauty of this Black Star Riders record is — I know people listen to it knowing that this was going to be a Thin Lizzy record, and it is because of our deep love for the legacy of this band, our deep love for Phil and his genius — you know, Phil's a part of this record. We wouldn't have written these songs if it wasn't for Phil. There's no way. It wouldn't have sounded like that.
When you guys made the decision to call the band Black Star Riders instead of Thin Lizzy, for obvious reasons, did you feel a bit of relief that you didn’t have to live and write up to that legacy?
It was a tremendous amount of pressure off, especially for Ricky. And Ricky deserved that, because Ricky needs to be recognized on his own laurels and on his own talent and ability. Plus, I'm as big a Thin Lizzy fan as anyone, so to the people who were already expressing concern or outright distaste for a Thin Lizzy record without Phil on it, I completely understand. If I wasn’t in the band, and you come to me and tell me they're making new music, I would have been like, “No way, I'm not interested. I don't want to hear it.”
And how much of a drag is that, and how unfair is that to Scott and to Ricky? So I think selfishly he and I both wanted to make a Thin Lizzy record, just because of the legacy, just to be a footnote in history. And I guess in a way we are still a footnote to Thin Lizzy because the whole idea of having a classic sound and changing the name, I can't think of another example of that.
When writing the new album, how did you and Scott develop your roles within the dual-guitar sound of the band?
The thing I've got to tell you from a guitar/writing standpoint, Scott is so free of any ego about it. Never did he make me feel like it had to be a certain way. It was kind of the opposite. He said, "Damon I want you to write anything you want. Don't try to sound like Gary [Moore] or anyone but yourself."
I think the Thin Lizzy-ness of the songs, some of that has to do with the tempos, some of it is the chord structure, but there's no question that the instant we would put any kind of a harmony on there — when Scott Gorham bends a note, it's so uniquely him. Just in the way so many great blues players are, like an Eric Clapton, like a Jimmy Page.
Your guitar tone on this record is really crisp. How did you go about dialing it in?
From a gear standpoint, for me, it could not have been simpler. When the idea came up to make a Thin Lizzy record, I thought, I know the four amps I'm going to bring and I'm going to bring like five guitars and I'm going to need a bring a box full of pedals, just to have options.
I made the entire album with one Wizard amp, one Les Paul, a wah pedal, a Rotovibe pedal, and then I played Kevin's Stratocaster on one song, “The Blues Ain’t So Bad.” That was it, that was absolutely it. I didn't even change speakers. I'm passionate about Wizard amps. I've been working with Rick St. Pierre at Wizard amps since 1995. We became friends, and he developed what he calls the Modern Classic. It's a dual-channel amp. He sent me one of those to try right as I was joining Thin Lizzy, and I just thought, "He's done it."
So with Lizzy I have a Vintage Classic and Modern Classic, and I run them at the same time. I don't switch between them. The Vintage Classic is like an old super lead, pure tone. The Modern Classic gives me a little more gain, a little more sustain, especially for the Gary stuff.
When I was in the studio, I had the Modern Classic and Rick's new amp, which is called the MTL, and truthfully I think the MTL was on 85 percent of the record by itself. Kevin, who's recorded some amazing guitar player, the very first day, the very first, "Okay let's try to get a sound." I plugged straight into the amp, cranked down on a couple of power chords and he said, "Well that was easy. We're done!" I really wanted to get some of that Malcolm Young clarity.
AC/DC represents another great classic band that never went overboard with stacking guitars and still managed to achieve some truly massive sounds.
Kevin Shirley and I specifically talked about Highway to Hell, that whole album, when we were setting up to start recording. With any producer, they'll ask what you're feeling, and I just said that I would love to have the economy of those early AC/DC records, just the overall sound of it. And if you listen closely, those aren't stacked guitars on those records; it's one great guitar tone and one great guitar part in each speaker. That's what Scott and I were going for.
I’ve seen a lot of people try to replicate those tones with the gain cranked all the way up, but most people don’t realize how clean Angus’ guitar tone really was.
Totally transparent. When those guys hit a power chord it's like you can hear every string on the guitar. To me, that makes it musical. You're hearing the notes, it's not just sound. It's music. Here's a chord, and they put the third in this chord here but they don't when they go to the chorus. It's a different vibe, a different place on the neck. You can't hear that if you've got your amp just totally gained out.
I don't know, brother. I think that's a massive influence that comes from growing up in the South. I had some great players, and they really put me through the ringer about finding my tone. I mean I got my feelings hurt, in my early twenties, because I'd show up with my Marshall amp with the gain cranked to 10 and my pedal, and I'd turn that shit on and I could play a thousand miles per hour, and they're like "No no no no. First, we're going to take this pedal away. Then you're going to plug straight into this really cool amp that you've got and back that gain back to about 3."
"Three?! What? No way, that's going to sound like shit!" But they loved that I kind of got it quickly. That was good fortune that I had that happen. On this record, you can hear Scott really clearly in one side and me on the other.
I’m not sure if it’s Kevin Shirley’s production, but the first track on the record, “All Hell Breaks Loose,” has a few sections that are reminiscent of another great two-guitar (well, now three-guitar) band, Iron Maiden.
That's a heavy track. What I can tell you about Kevin on that song, is that "All Hell Breaks Loose" was another song where we wanted to think AC/DC. The original demo that we had had a little more of a shimmy in it. It was a little busier with the rhythm section and the verses. But when you listen to it now the drums are all four on the floor, and it give us room for those big ringing power chords to have space.
That was a great Scott Gorham riff.
There’s an unmistakable Thin Lizzy vibe to many of the songs on the record. Was there a conscious decision to start the record off with something that might subvert expectations a little bit?
It's the perfect track to set the table, because it isn't so overtly Thin Lizzy. It isn't metal, it's just overtly powerful hard rock. The record immediately follows with “Bound For Glory” and you think, There's the Thin Lizzy! Scott really fought against "Bound For Glory" being the first single. And he's since come around.
And then “Kingdom of the Lost,” which is so Celtic and kind of anthemic. We put a lot of love into the sequence, a lot of debate. By committee, everything worked out. I think we got the right single, we got the right sequence, we got great artwork, and we definitely go the right guy to produce it. So many people made record and go, I wish we would have done this, I wish we would have done that. Maybe I'll get into some of that later on, but I just feel like, man, we did it! It's just right.
Black Star Riders’ debut album, All Hell Breaks Loose, is available now on Nuclear Blast Records.
The following content is related to the July 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.
Known to many as the Canadian Plexi, the original Traynor YBA-1 from the late Sixties and early Seventies has developed a cult following in recent years among budget-minded guitarists who seek outstanding tube tone. The original YBA-1 flew under the radar because it was marketed as a bass amp, but its circuit closely resembles the late-Fifties Fender tweed Bassman 5F6A circuit, a perennial guitarist favorite that was the inspiration for the Marshall JTM45.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its parent company, Yorkville, Traynor is producing the YBA-1 Bass Master Tribute amp in limited numbers. The YBA-1 accurately reproduces the sounds and features of the amp’s original design and adds a few modern upgrades as well.
Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane, collectively known as Primus, started doing a run of "Primus 3D" tour dates last year, and they've extended it into another tour leg for 2013.
The show promised to augment Primus’ music with 3D visuals and Surround Sound for an entire evening with no opening act. The Fox Theater in Pomona, California, played host to one such show on May 19, and the place became Primusville for the evening.
The giant horde of Primus fans flocked to enter the gates of the Fox, the merch lines were long, and the specially made event posters, priced at a hefty $30, were selling like hot cakes. Everyone picked up their free 3D glasses upon entering, and the backdrop screen displayed this warning:
“Images presented here may cause symptoms of vertigo or motion sickness to those with sensitive constitutions. If feelings of dizziness or nausea become apparent, remove glasses, look away from the screen and try not to vomit on your neighbor.”
This turned out to be merely a statutory warning, more like a disclaimer than anything else, because none of the 3D visuals were of the kind that would cause motion sickness. In fact, my biggest concern going into the show was whether the visuals would distract from Primus' inherent goodness.
I know they’ve put in a lot of time, effort and money into making this a 3D show, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It didn’t add much, and I'd be totally fine seeing Primus play the music with regular 2D visuals. In fact, the floating layer of 3D visuals even overshadowed the wonderful stage presence of Les, Lar and Jay, as we could barely see them with the 3D in the forefront.
That said, the visuals did provide us with a few powerful moments, like during "Southbound Pachyderm," when we witnessed an effect that made us feel we were entering a spatial cave or something of that sort. It was psychedelic and one of the many highlights of the show. I enjoyed the Surround Sound, and I often simply closed my eyes to absorb the music.
Claypool is obviously the center of attention at a Primus show. Not to be outdone, however, LaLonde delighted the guitar lovers in the audience with his brilliant work throughout the set, especially on "Golden Boy" and "Over the Falls." He even dusted off a thrash metal riff when Claypool openly teased him about his stint with Possessed, but he followed it up with the bluesiest licks you'll ever hear. Meanwhile, Jay played his part on drums, keeping the crowd going even as Les and Lar changed and/or tuned their instruments.
The first set ended with crowd favorites "My Name Is Mud" and "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver." As is customary in this "evening with Primus" format, there was a 25-minute half-time break at around 9:10 p.m., during which Popeye cartoons were shown on the screen.
This second set focused more on the music as Les talked much less frequently than he did in the first. It was a true musical display, with longer songs, plenty of rocking moments, tempo changes, a variety of bass instruments, pig masks and delightful guitar play by Lar on songs like "The Toys Go Winding Down" and "Harold of the Rocks." The encore began with an even more entertaining medley by him, consisting of Deep Purple and Slayer riffs. The show ended with "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver."
These 20 songs didn't leave any Primus fan disappointed, and in response to the genius show put on by Claypool & Co., the raucous crowd gave back plenty of energy to spur on the band. Every song was greeted with loud cheers, and people from the front row to the back indulged in jumping and dancing. "Jump pits" replaced the usual mosh pits at this show.
As for the 3D glasses, I’d say it helps taking them off in between songs just to give your eyes a breather. Besides the music and visuals, Claypool’s banter was brilliant, and his taking the mickey out of a certain fan from Liverpool was beyond hilarious. Owing to his goofy and eccentric personality, he had the crowd’s complete and undivided attention at all times.
Primus’ new show is well worth your money and then some.
01. Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
02. Last Salmon Man
03. Golden Boy
04. Southbound Pachyderm
05. Over the Falls
06. Lee Van Cleef
07. John the Fisherman
08. My Name Is Mud
09. Jerry Was a Race Car Driver
10. Extinction Burst
11. Dirty Drowning Man
12. The Heckler
13. American Life
14. Seas of Cheese
15. Jilly's on Smack
16. The Toys Go Winding Down
17. Moron TV
18. Harold of the Rocks
20. Wynona's Big Brown Beaver
Remaining Tour Dates:
05.31 Winnipeg, MB—Burton Cummings Theatre
06.01 Maplewood, MN—Myth
06.02 Chicago, IL—Riviera Theater
06.05 Charlottesville, VA-nTelos Wireless Pavilion**
06.06 Hunter, NY—Mountain Jam Festival*
06.07 Toronto, ON—Danforth Music Hall
06.08 Toronto, ON—Danforth Music Hall
06.09 North Tonawanda, NY—Niagara River Rocks*
*Not a 3D show
**Co-headline with Gov’t Mule
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. He briefly moved away from the Los Angeles scene and explored metal in India, but he is now back in LA continuing from where he left off.
Greg Howe and I have a few things in common. First, we share a mutual interest in a certain instrument, and we both cut our teeth performing in clubs in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, area.
But that's pretty much where our similarities end. After all, Howe went on to score major success with his fretboard prowess, releasing critically acclaimed albums and supporting some of the biggest names in music. Now Howe finally gets the chance to return to his roots with his new band, Maragold.
Together with bassist Kevin Vecchione, drummer Gianluca Palmieri and powerhouse vocalist Meghan Krauss, Maragold's debut album is a refreshing change to the monotony that has the become the current state of music. Bluesy, tasty and soulful are just some of the adjectives that describe an album that demands to be turned up to 10.
I spoke with Howe to discuss the new album, working with a female vocalist and his days playing the Lehigh Valley scene. Howe also let me in on the real secret to becoming a successful guitarist.
GUITAR WORLD: How did you hook up with Meghan for the Maragold project?
Meghan was gigging on the East Coast in some cover bands, and Kevin had heard of her. He was doing some gigs there as well and went to check her out one night. He thought she was great, so he had her come over to his apartment to do some recording. I remember he sent me a picture of her and at the time, I had never even considered having a female in the group. But after he had sent me the recording they made, that was it. [laughs]
How would you describe her?
She's so powerful and edgy. It's almost like she has a distortion pedal that she can turn on her voice whenever she wants. Some of the material we had already written was designed for a male voice, but she just jumped right in and took over. Lyrically, there were some songs we had to cater to her more, and her range was different so certain songs we had to transpose. But for the most part, it was a smooth transition.
What was the process like creating this type of vocal album as opposed to an instrumental one?
It was very comfortable. I feel like I'm more back at home then I have in years. One of the things I've been saying about the instrumental side of my career is that it was never something I had planned. When I first got out of high school, I never even considered the notion of being an instrumental guitarist. But when the whole Seattle thing became popular in the early '90s, there wasn't a whole lot of room for guitar playing.
With no one being that interested in guitar anymore, I built up my studio at home and made instrumental records. It became an opportunity to make a name for myself in the instrumental world because there wasn't anything else clicking at the time. In a way, it was also a blessing in disguise. The instrumental realm forced me to really push myself in terms of the guitar. In order to stay relevant, I knew I would always have to push the envelope and bring something fresh to the table.
How did the songs come together for this album?
In many cases, I'd already have the foundation of the song ready, and once Kevin came on board sometimes things would change. He'd have ideas or sometimes the two of us playing together would inspire a different route for the B section. For "Evergreen is Golder," that main riff was one I had written several years ago for another project that didn't happen. But I always thought the riff, as simple as it was, was still catchy. So when Kevin and I got together, I broke it out again and we developed it into something a lot more complete and cohesive.
Are you making plans to tour?
We're getting geared up to play out live as often and as many places as possible. I haven't toured the States in years and am really looking forward to it.
What are some of your best memories of playing the Lehigh Valley music scene?
That whole scene was fun. I remember we used to do a lot of underage clubs, and those were a blast because they were more like concerts and were always packed. People were always right up to the front of the stage. It was that youthful angst that made it fun.
Other Shrapnel alumni went on to be in groups, like Paul Gilbert [Mr. Big], Marty Friedman [Megadeth] and Richie Kotzen [Poison].
Was being part of a group like that something you might have considered?
It depends. I discovered once I stepped off of the big tours like Justin Timberlake, NSYNC and Rhianna that it wasn't as fulfilling for me to just be a sideman playing for someone else's project. If one of those kind of groups had approached me about coming on board as a real member and participating in the whole creative aspect, I might have been interested. I have to be involved as an artist and part of the process, or it's not as fulfilling. Those big tours were fun and very lucrative, but they helped me realize that what really motivates me is not even the guitar. It's the creative process. If guitar playing ever became illegal, I would still be a musician creating music. That's what really motivates me.
In all of your years of giving lessons, what's the one thing you believe most guitarists seem to lack?
The toughest thing for a lot of guitarists to do is to come to terms with what their goals really are. When people are trying to become great guitar players, they're usually basing that on some objective view instead of their own view. I doubt very much that Robben Ford ever stresses out over the fact that he can't play three-octave diminished arpeggios a million miles an hour. I don't think that's a goal of his or adds anything to his music. There's no purpose for him to do that.
Guitarists have to recognize what it is they want to do musically and then have a clear vision about the musical statement they want to make and work toward it. It's pointless to learn a million Hungarian minor scales if you're intending to become a blues guitar player. If you want to be the guitar player in the American Idol band (where you have to learn 15 new songs a day) then you should be working on sight-reading. If your goal is to be an artist, you should work on composition. If your goal is to be technically proficient, you should be doing exercises. If your goal is to be a great blues player, you should be spending time on nuance and the importance of your tone.
The truth is there's no such thing as being the best guitar player in the world. There's only a such thing as being the best you can be, and that will reveal itself when you figure out what your goals are.
For more information about Maragold, visit maragoldband.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.
Styx's new DVD/Blu-ray, Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight — Live, captures the band performing their two classic multi-platinum '70s albums live in their entirety for the very first time.
The DVD, which was filmed at the historic Orpheum Theater in Memphis, is the ultimate showcase for the albums helped establish Styx as a global phenomenon and defined their sound for a generation of fans.
I spoke with Styx guitarist James "JY" Young about the new project, plus his early days, seeing Jimi Hendrix perform and the future of Styx.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this project get started?
It started as a notion that a promoter who's close with our manager came up with. He had the idea of us performing the Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight albums live in their entirety in the order in which they originally appeared on the vinyl LPs using the latest in HD technology. For us, it was an experiment and also a way to give our real die-hard fans the chance to hear some songs that we had never played live before, and some others we haven't played since the late '70s.
Did you have any reservations about doing it?
I was a bit skeptical at first, wondering why people would want to hear obscure songs. But considering that six million people bought the Grand Illusion album and more than three million bought Pieces of Eight, there's a huge audience out there for those LPs. It's what I view as our progressive rock heyday and emphasizes what the current incarnation of the band is all about.
What was it like performing some of those obscure tracks live for the first time?
The actual performances were great, but we hadn't rehearsed those songs, so there was a lot of pre-production work. We literally had to go back and figure out how we did certain things on them [laughs]. My biggest concern though was how the show would end. We typically end the show with "Renegade," but the way the album works, "Renegade" is the second-to-last song on Pieces of Eight. The last song is where we go into this ethereal thing with a real dreamy, tropical vibe. But after a few hours of performing those two albums, we began to play softer and slowly faded and you could hear the crowd swell, until there was a thunderous applause at the end.
Let's talk about a few songs from those albums: "Miss America."
The Grand Illusion album was originally a Dennis DeYoung idea. He already had the "Grand Illusion" song to start, and I was a little bit late to the party. One night, we were out on the road and I thought about one of the biggest grand illusions: the beauty contest that’s held every year in Atlantic City, the one where someone declares a young woman the "Queen of the United States." They're there for a year and then you forget about them. I started reading up on it and found out that the Miss America pageant was really just some guy's idea to promote Atlantic City as a vacation destination. That song became my contribution.
"Blue Collar Man"
We were on stage at a sound check when Tommy [Shaw] started playing this thing and then Dennis just started played something on the keyboard that later became the intro. We really needed a great rock song and I knew right away that it was going to be it. The topic of it was great.
"Renegade" was something Tommy had brought in and originally was nothing like what you hear now. Tommy had been listening to a lot of Alan Parsons; particularly a song called "The Raven," which is very quiet and done with synthesizers. He was inspired by that song, but Tommy's demo was quiet and unassuming. I, being the guy who likes to rock things up, [laughs] felt we needed an arena rock track, so I pushed to turn it into one. Everyone agreed and ultimately it worked out for us.
Tell me about your musical upbringing.
I started out playing clarinet and taking piano lessons on and off until I was about 14. It was then that my uncle bought a classical guitar and showed it to me. That was 1964, and the Beatles had just made their impact in the States. There was something about the guitar that I just loved.
I remember going out and getting a Beatles song book, and my brother and I coughed up $25 apiece and bought a guitar. I started playing seven hours a day playing from the song book and ultimately was introduced to Jimi Hendrix and the Who. I saw Hendrix four times and was in the front row to see the Who July 4, 1967, in Chicago. Professionally, I started out playing Gibsons then switched over to Strats, went to Kramers in the '90s and back to the Strat in the new millennium.
What was it like seeing Jimi Hendrix perform?
Jimi Hendrix was a guy from the second moon of Mars that somehow landed on planet Earth. He embraced all of the British psychedelic stuff, but also everything that I loved about the blues. He was the embodiment of everything that was going on at the time, and he just blew my mind! A cousin was reminding me recently of a time we saw him where I had binoculars. I was busy watching Hendrix's hands to see how he fingered some of those songs. I remember seeing how he ultimately played "Foxy Lady" (which was somewhat unorthodox), but I learned how he did it by watching him play.
What do you like most about what you do, and do you ever foresee Styx slowing down?
For me, I love the sense of adventure about being out on the road and playing for a different audience every night. It's an exhilarating thing. What we do on stage is the fountain of youth. I look at B.B. King, who's in his 80s and still out there loving it. We have a semi full of toys and a bus full of people who help set up our toys. Then we get to go out play with our toys for an hour and half in front of an audience. We all have fun doing it and there's a sense of joy that permeates through all of it. Why anyone would ever want to quit that is beyond me.
Photo: Ash Newell
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.
The following content is related to the July 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.
Here's the inaugural Guitar World column by Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts!
Welcome to my new Guitar World column. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to do something like this, and I’m excited to have this forum to share my thoughts on guitar playing and music with an audience of fellow pickers.
Over the course of my career, I’ve learned a lot of valuable musical lessons through collaborating with talented colleagues in the recording studio, performing onstage alongside some mighty fine musicians and observing great guitar players doing their thing. I have some worthwhile advice to impart and would like to start things off in these first couple of columns by reflecting on how country, rock and pop music and guitar playing styles have influenced me.
In later columns, I’ll talk about how jazz and fusion music have inspired me too. Along the way, I’ll tip my hat to some of the many great players from varied genres who have shaped my musical vision over the years, and explain specifically how they’ve done so, in terms of technique, feel and overall approach and spirit.
For the rest of this column, plus tabs, pick up the July 2013 issue of Guitar World.