Last night I found myself in the middle of 5000 people watching a band and, to be honest, it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. Quite eye opening in fact, the band in question was Panic! At The Disco. I’m guessing that if you have teenage kids, who have at some point in the last couple of years ventured into the realms of “insanity” that most teenagers seem to do, you will be aware of them.
Now, at risk of sounding like my own Father, when I first heard about them – or I should say, the day my daughter walked into the house head to toe in Panic! merch, I took one look at the name and style and thought “Well, this is going to be crap” and wrote them off instantly. Over the following months, her songs made it on to our playlists in the car and I became somewhat of a silent fan. His voice, which originally annoyed me, now fascinated me. When I found out that for the last couple of albums it was basically a one-man band, my interest was even more peaked. I still didn’t really get it the levels of fanaticism my daughter was displaying, but the songs were catchy and most of them had a big chorus, and I’m a sucker for a big chorus.
For Christmas last year Lisa and I surprised the kids with 4 tickets to see Panic! in 2019. Tears were shed, mostly by me, because the closest one to us was the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. I’ve seen a few bands there before and never experienced a good sound – it’s a pretty horrible room, kinda square and solid, so the natural reverbs are pretty immense. The sound engineer must have felt his stomach drop an inch or two when he first walked in.
As the calendar flipped over more and more towards the date of the show, our daughter was almost becoming feral about the whole thing, which was confusing me enormously. But as it was to be her first proper gig I went with it and enjoyed her anticipation. Last Monday (25th March), after school, we jumped in the car and went to Cardiff for the show. We did our usual Cardiff thing and met a couple of friends I went to University with, had something to eat, a quick pint and then entered the arena. The first support band was on and I was instantly dismayed as the sound was exactly as I remembered. We kinda walked around for a bit and found the best place to stand so that we could see the show and the sound was at its least bouncy.
After another support band, the lights dimmed and at the back of the stage a digital clock began to countdown from 10:00 to signify the start of the show.As the the clock was getting near to zero I had my first proper look around and discovered that I, Jason Wilding, aged 45 and three quarters (in combat shorts and Empire Strikes Back shirt) was indeed stood stock in the middle of about 4750 teenagers, mostly female, and about 250 slightly bemused looking parents.
BOOM… lights down, show starts. For the first few songs I was just watching my kids – their first proper show – I marvelled in their reaction. My youngest was singing and dancing (unfortunately at only 5’1” they couldn’t see much) so was just enjoying the atmosphere and music and our eldest, 15 who is a good 5’8” or so, was in floods of tears and singing every word perfectly, and some of those lyrics go past pretty quick. I think it was about the third song that I had another look around and noticed that the vast majority of the people around me were in a similar state. The first thing that went through my mind was the pied piper of Hamelin, his control of the audience was complete and all he was doing was performing his songs.
The band itself was at core a three piece (drums/bass/guitar) all clicked with some substantial backing tracks happening. Sax and trumpet players on one side of the stage and a 3 piece string section on the other it was a very tight. Panic! At The Disco is now basically the singer, Brendon Urie, writing and recording everything. The band he has with him on tour are extremely tight and very professional. In terms of a band performance, I’d say it was flawless.
I think it was about the 6-7 song I noticed that one song was ending and another was starting without Brendon talking to the audience at all, but it was slick, a couple of seconds between songs and he was jumping around and dancing like a mentalist and performing at the peak of a man on the top of his game. The thing about Brendon that used to annoy me but now intrigues me is his voice, he gives what I call the full gambit of Barry’s. Low to high, he goes from White to Gibb constantly and is phenomenal. Whenever he went very high the audience went bat shit crazy encouraging him to do it again and again.
I think it was about 20 minutes from the end that I realised that I was at this point having almost as much fun as my eldest was (my wife and youngest had by this point gone towards the back) and totally caught up with the atmosphere and energy of the show. Although, being of the age I am, my back was hurting so, you know, I was just happy to be singing along and enjoying the spectacle of the whole thing. It was about 2 songs before they finished (the main set) when Brendon started to properly talk to the crowd and this was when it hit me, this man – right now – is in complete control of my daughter and many, many, many other people’s kids, and for a split second I was terrified. However, you know, I’ve seen Vai live enough times to relate to that feeling.
When the show was over we made it back to the car and I was looking around again, fascinated by all these young kids who were basically in some kind of euphoric trance. All I could hear, from every angle, was “Brendon did this” and “Brendon did that”… so I did that thing that all Fathers do at that point, I started to interrogate my eldest daughter. By the time I had paid for the parking and got back to the car our youngest was already fast asleep in the back (a talent inherited from yours truly, much to the annoyance of my wife) and the other was still buzzing.
As we drove out through Cardiff I started to ask her questions, probably something I should have done months ago, because I went into the arena as a fan of decent music prepared to be entertained somewhat, you know, it was for our kids mainly. But I exited a fan of the band and, more importantly, I left as a big fan of the band and a bigger fan of Brendon himself.
I asked the usual stuff, “why do you like the music so much”, “what’s so special about him”, “why do you think that demographic relates to him so much” and so on and so forth… and I was getting the same answer back and for virtually every question “He cares about us”. I soon realised this was going to be the answer to every question, which made me change track… “How do you know he cares about you?” I then received a master class in modern marketing and making your brand relevant to you audience. Brendon Urie, over the years, has had ‘issues’ – I’m not going to go into them here, but they are well documented if you care to search. It would appear that he is well on the path of coming out the other side of them – within his music he talks about his issues, how he got over them and how he moves his life forward.
He also (when not out on the road as much) does a lot of live streams talking about music and life, and all of it is overwhelmingly positive. He doesn’t care about people’s colour, creed, sexuality, class… anything like that, he just thinks that people are worth something and that they should love themselves and the life they live. He constantly communicates this to his fan base, which is overwhelmingly ‘millennial’ and they lap it up, as the world of social media and instant communication often leaves them feeling, well… shit. So, within his music and brand, he brings them up as much as he can. I like this attitude a lot, because as a parent you are painfully aware that as your kids get older you have less impact on their lives in terms of their self-worth and place in the world. On the flip side, I’ve also now realised that at times, Brendon Urie has my daughter in the palm of his hand in regard to her mental state. When she is feeling down his music – with the positivity it contains – brings her back up again. This scares me somewhat as he appears to be the kind of guy you want your kids influenced by, so right now him remaining like this is very important to me. If he were to let negativity overtake him, it would also have a negative impact on my kids. That is scary.
How the world has changed… when I was her age, all the music I liked was dark and designed to be hated by my parents. This band however, once you listen to them, is the exact opposite. Don’t get me wrong, she’s brought some utter crap in terms of music into our home over the years and I’ve diligently done my job by hating it, but right now, I’m a Panic! fan.
If your kids are into Panic! I suggest going with them to the show. The show will be enjoyable but that is nothing compared to the reaction of the kids that go to the show. Once you get over the fanatical hero worship levels of fandom (not that much different to when I first saw Iron Maiden in 1988 to be honest) you’ll see that music, in this instance, is doing exactly what you want it do – leaving the audience in a better place than they were in before they first listened to it. It’s safe to say that at times during the show it was the youngest I’d felt in years juxtaposed with feeling every day of my mid 40’s.
Oh yeah, this is a gear blog, right? Mike Naran – the guitarist - has a wonderful collection of weird and wonderful guitars and he was playing through a Kemper with no pedals. Sounded bloody awesome, no further comment required unfortunately, although I do think he’ll sound good with a couple of ours thrown into the mix.
Here are a few videos I shot on my phone on the night....
Quite a lot of the time when I see an event pop up on Social Media my reaction is usually one of these three: “A world tour means more than America and Canada”, or “Hey, you know there is life outside London as well?” or more often than not, “HOW MUCH???!!!??” – so, you can imagine my delight when mid-afternoon yesterday it popped into my news feed that Dan and Mick will be playing in a pub about an hour from me and it’ll be free to get in.
It took Lisa and I about 3 seconds to decide to go and check it out, as you know… ‘why not?’. We didn’t know what to expect as we saw that it was the ‘That Pedal Show’ band’s first outing and thought it would be cool to see and give them a little support!
They said in their post that they were “starting at 8”, which in the UK generally means “on stage at 9:30, so arrive early and spend money over the bar so we can be rebooked”… so, we made our way there and were somewhat surprised that at 8:10 they were already in full swing. It was a small venue, vocals only PA and packed to the rafters with people wearing TPS shirts (including myself). Obviously, the first thing you do is try to sneak a look at their boards without anyone noticing. As I looked over I was surprised to see a mate from the local music scene down here in Devon, Paddy Blight, playing bass for them. It was a weird moment, but he’s a great player and top guy so not really surprising as I know he’s had a ton of gear from Dan in the past.
The bar was right at the back of the venue and I managed to catch their eye as I walked by to say ‘hello’ (obviously, I wanted them to know I was there because I’m somewhat of an attention seeker) and at that point Mick decided to get everyone in the room to say hello to me, which was both the most embarrassing and ego massaging moment I’ve had for a while, not to worry though, the good feeling didn’t last when I found out the price of a pint, but you know, it was free to get in and apparently most pubs charge you both arms and a leg for a drink these days… **grumble grumble – back in my day… pound a pint… I remember when all this was fields etc.**. As I was waiting for the Guinness to settle they surprised everyone by going straight into a full rendition of Shine On You Crazy Diamond… which, for most bands would be a struggle but when you are a four piece with no keyboards, it’s verging on the downright insane! As you would expect, the guitar tones were pretty stunning. The great thing about the balance of Dan and Mick is that you have the two polar opposites of great tone. Dan is not shy when it comes to using pedals to get his sound, and constantly tweaks them on the fly, and Mick enters into blind panic if he has to change a patch during a song, but uses amp gain perfectly… the balance was spot on… And, I know you are wondering how he did the intro of Shine On, so to quote Dan when I asked him how he did it without the keyboards was “there was a shitload of reverb and delay on there”.
The one thing that I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised is that they both have great singing voices and the 3 part harmonies were on point. Whenever I’ve seen a band attempt “Shine On” if there isn’t that massive vocal boost on the main line it falls down the crapper, and they had it nailed. It’s worth noting that in terms of vocals, that was the biggest surprise of the night, both Dan and Mick have great voices… damn them, great players, great tone, and great singers too. And that’s before I get jealous of the fact Mick still has a full head of hair.
Anyway, enough of that, this is a gear blog? Right? So, what did they have… Well, Dan was obviously mostly playing his favourite Telecaster, “Red” going through a G2 controlled monster of a board. The vast majority of his tone came from his workhouse D&M and King Of Tone, through a Sovtek Amp (sent to him by Josh Scott) though Dry/Wet/Dry set up. I love a guy who’s not afraid to take tons of gear into a show!
Mick on the other hand, appeared to be relying mainly on Blue through his trusty Victory and Two Rock amps for his tone, pushed by a Silver Klon .
Paddy's bass board
I would love to see the guys take this band out on the road out on the road properly, but you know, they both have real jobs as well as providing us with all the content we have come to expect from That Pedal Show on a weekly basis. The main reason for me writing this is that all four of them were just having fun and playing the music they loved with their friends (and this music was an eclectic mix to say the least, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for those who will get a chance to see it in the future let’s just say if you like songs from a mixture bands such as The Bros Landreth, Soundgarden, Pink Floyd, QotSA and Tenacious D, you’ll be smiling).
We had to leave before the end, as it was so busy and we couldn’t find somewhere to sit (we are both old and have bad backs!) and as I was driving home I came to the conclusion that music, mostly, should be about having fun with your friends and making a noise that you and the people who are listening to it find enjoyable. We are all guilty of taking ourselves FAR too seriously sometimes, and it’s great to be reminded about what it’s all about. Fun. Dan and Mick are obvious such good friends that making music together is pure joy for them. What we all need to do, obviously, is get them to tour the planet and remind everyone!
If you’ve been in the trenches of the guitar community on Facebook, Instagram, TGP, Reddit, etc. then you’ll know Greta Van Fleet has become a bit of a hot topic lately. These are 4 guys between 19 - 22 years old from a small town in Michigan and blasted on to the scene playing some old school, riff-driven rock and roll. The more I got into their playing and reading up on them, the more I noticed a massive contention in the music community towards them. Immediate comparisons were drawn between them and Led Zeppelin, often in a disgusted manner. I saw many comments regarding how they were a knock-off of Zep, copycats, unoriginal, etc. Interestingly enough though, there were just as many people praising the band for bringing “real rock and roll” back to the masses. But who’s right?
I need to be upfront and say something that’s going to be controversial but worth exploring: I really dig what Greta Van Fleet is doing, and at the same time I’m not a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. If you close the browser right there then I understand, but at least hear me out. I’ve had some things going on in my life recently that have opened my eyes a bit, and it’s made me take a step back from the depths of the gear and music communities to look at the bigger picture and the fundamentals. I’m 32, and I grew up with a father that loved classic rock, but he leaned towards the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Clapton, and AC/DC. Mom was into a lot of Motown stuff and my brother was into country music (he’s a HUGE Alan Jackson fan, same with Brooks and Dunn). During my pivotal years, I was hit with all sorts of music and came to appreciate all music because of it. I completely dig some of Led Zeppelin’s hits, and felt it was a necessity to learn some of them as a rite of passage as a guitarist. In general, however, aside from those few classics I wouldn’t say I’m a “fan.”
For me personally, it comes down to timing. I’ll admit that I was quite stuck in my ways when I was a teenager and viewed loads of artists purely in two categories of like or don’t like, and typically made my mind up VERY quickly before giving many songs a chance. I supposed with age comes experience and wisdom, and I’ve come to appreciate even an abundance of new music that I honestly didn’t give a chance to back in the day. With GVF, I discovered their music at what I consider a pivotal time where guitar-focused music is becoming less and less popular. I needed something or someone to reignite my passion for the instrument, and the rawness really hit home for me as a player. As of late I’ve either been plugging straight into the amp or going with the minimalist approach with an OD (95% of the time it’s the Pantheon now), a boost of some sort, and a delay. It’s really helped me refocus on what I love about the instrument without covering it up under layers of noise and effects. I guess you could say I identify with Jake Kiszka right now, as he’s just plugging into a single treble booster and a couple of Holy Grail reverb pedals straight into a cranked Marshall. It’s just a few brothers jamming, and absolutely loving it. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to get up there and do what we love if people dug it?
My favorite thing I’ve ready recently on a YouTube video (and I’m paraphrasing) is “Who cares if they sound like Led Zeppelin, Zep doesn’t make music anymore. At least these guys are putting out new rock and roll music. Bring on a (Pink) Floyd type band!” GVF is catching a ton of heat for people saying they’re derivative and completely unoriginal. Why can’t people just accept things for what they are? They’re not meant to be a ground-breaking band, they’re playing classic rock at sold-out shows. If you watch some of their concerts on YouTube, there are just as many older people as there are younger. People are there for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, and what’s so wrong with that? There are plenty of sonic pioneers that are creating some incredible and truly unique sounds that will inspire others to pick up their instruments. At the same time, I imagine (and hope) that maybe the guys from Greta Van Fleet will inspire new players to pick up the instruments and fall in love with the music like we started to with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Who, and all of those other incredible bands. After all, the saying is that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Was extremely excited to hear Brian’s latest chasing tone song choice last week, as it was featuring one of my favourite bands from the 80’s, and one that I consider to be HUGELY underrated… The Cult.
The Cult signified a massive moment for me growing up, as they introduced me to the concept of taking a song, a small but perfectly formed one, and exploding it into a huge extended remix – or what us people of a certain age call “A 12” remix”. From what I can remember, they didn’t record anything different, just took the composite parts of the original and cut them all together and mixed them up to make what I can only imagine be the perfect version of the song to hear live! I remember the thing that really grabbed me was the different textures of the guitars, tones, riffs, and hooks that went in to make a 4-minute hit and be able to bring it out to a 6-minute epic. Anyway, enough of that, here it is…
So, this was all about 1985 or so, when I was deep into Iron Maiden and all that stuff, so it was a departure for me to concentrate on a three chord band who were all about the hooks. In 1987 they followed up the massively successful “Love” album (that featured ‘Rain’ and “She Sells Sanctuary”) with “Electric” that took them one stage further, more hits on both sides of the Atlantic and them fairly well cemented into history. On this album was the track “Love Removal Machine” that was a pretty decent smash the dashboard, roof down, foot down type of track… and it’s this one that Brian gives the full breakdown treatment to. It was classic Cult of this era: open, riff-laden and more hooks than a tackle shop. Although for me, on a personal Love remains the pinnacle of the Cult’s output (you know, it’s that time and place thing), “Electric” is by far a better album in terms of hits and just great rock and roll songs.
So, Billy’s gear on this. What do we know? Although Billy is well known for using a Gretsch (and now has a signature with them that is based on a ’75 Baldwin era White Falcon) this album was ultimately revolving around Les Paul’s, in the words of Billy himself it was “...purity and method were the keys to this recording... so it all boiled down to the right amp and cab with correct mike(s) and the Les Paul... no pedals used at all on the session apart from a wah were obvious on certain tracks...” which to me makes sense as the low ends are WAY too tight to be a hollow body, it’s tighter and more under control.
The album was produced by Rick Ruben (this was the first album he had recorded with a full band in a studio) after the band was not feeling the ‘first draft’ of the album (due to be called ‘Peace’) with the producer of the Love album, Steve Brown. Rick agreed to remix the album providing they could re-record “Love Removal Machine”. Rick stripped Billy back and made Ian more aggressive vocally. At the time, in the studio, Rick was listening to a lot of AC/DC, in particular “Back In Black”, so there is an element of guitar driven rock and roll to it, hence the reduction in the signature swirly stuff that we all fell in love with on “Love”.
What do I hear in this track? Well, we already know that Billy loved his Marshalls, and this just screams a Marshall that is clipping beautifully. Pushed hard by a Les Paul and not a trace of effects, so no tubescreamer’s or anything else (although I think that solo tone has something happening). Really puts me in mind of the players that came before, and some of Billy’s heroes in particular Malcolm Young, Mick Ronson, and Paul Kossoff. There is a lot of room in the tone, so not only is it close mic’ed but some serious room mic happening. The whole thing with the Electric album compared to Love was that it was more rock and roll, more of that classic 70’s thing happening… Which, for me, is why it’s never going to be quite as classic as Love was… I mean, listen to the intro of “She Sells Sanctuary”… JC120 with the inbuilt stereo chorus, flanger, phaser, two delays, compression, and reverb… just amazing and most certainly groundbreaking. In fact, if you are not really that familiar with The Cult, start with Electric and then once you’ve digested it all, hit up Love and then marvel at 1985 in all its glory!
Yep, that's clickbait. But I only use clickbait when whatever drove me to write a piece is somewhat silly.
Had one of those moments on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that was most definitely a moment of disbelief. I think it was the first one in a long time that I couldn’t understand what I was reading, so… you know me… thought I’d put this out there in the vain hope of correcting a misconception.
It all started with this picture...
...which as you can see is long time Wampler signature artist Brent Mason in the studio playing a rather nice looking white Gibson SG. I fully expect you to all know who Brent is, but in case you don’t, let’s just say this… Brent has been one of, if not THE, first call session musicians on the Nashville studio scene for over 30 years for guitar. In a nutshell - Brent is one of the most recorded guitarists in history. As well as being a Grammy Award-winning artist he is also a 14 time winner of the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Guitarist of the Year Award and a 2-time winner of the CMA Award Musician of the Year (being nominated every year since 1991). In 2011 he was inducted into the Thumbpickers Hall of Fame. He has played on well over a thousand albums and shows no sign of letting up yet, in fact, click here to see his list of credits on Allmusic (although it does have to be said, this list is woefully incomplete… About 6 years ago many record labels stopped putting the musicians who played on albums on the sleeves, and that would appear to be where AllMusic get their credits from, so a lot of the more recent work is uncredited. When you consider the last 3 George Strait albums and the most recent Blake Shelton, of which Brent recorded for and not listed on AllMusic, this becomes a glaring omission. I do believe that AllMusic tends to only note music recorded and released in the US so stuff outside is also missing… it also only shows music that has been released, so all the demos are not on there, songs that didn’t make the album or released on Indie labels… So, by my estimations, take the AllMusic list of credits and at least double it to get an idea of how many recordings Brent has made over the years) – now (rant over about AllMusic) if you have the patience to go down that list all the way back to 1985 then props to you, but in case you don’t, here is what you will see. He has played on a lot of country music over the years. And I mean a LOT. I’m not wrong if I were to say ‘He’s just about played with everyone”. However, if you look closely, you’ll also notice that he’s played on a lot of things that aren’t country as well. In fact, if you don’t know about the other side of Brent, I strongly suggest you check out the album he recorded and self released with his brother Randy in 2006, “Smokin’ Section”. His knowledge and vocabulary in jazz and western swing is his strength (in my opinion), which often surprises people as they think “He’s a country guy”… which of course he is, but as a wider part of the puzzle of his playing.
I get what you are thinking now… Jason, why are you writing this piece? Well, the thing that shocked me was the number of people on the thread (that went with that picture) saying things like ‘The SG threw me for a second’, 'why are you playing an SG', 'what happened to your tele' and comments similar to that.
I’m in the VERY lucky position of knowing Brent (in fact, it was getting to know Brent about 10 years ago that ended up with me working for Brian), so I got into a little bit of a conversation about this with him as I was staggered by it, I thought everyone knew that he played other guitars. I mean, we ALL know that THE highly modified Grey ’68 Tele is his number one, but you know… a telecaster only works on the songs that a telecaster works on. What happens when he needs something that requires an LP, an SG, a PRS, a Strat, an ES335? Well, this is what happens. Brent puts down the Tele and picks up his LP, his SG, his Strat and so on… you see, he’s got a LOT of guitars at his disposal. You don’t get to where he is musically and reputationally without having the right tools for the job. I look at it this way, Brent is an artist (let’s say for the purpose of this comparison a painter). If Brent was going to paint a picture would he only use one brush? Nope. He’d use what he needs to get the job done. He may have a favourite brush that he likes to use, but you know, other brushes will be used to create the perfect picture.
One of the best things I’ve seen said about Brent over the years I’m been an avid fan is the description that he is a musical chameleon - he is able to switch between many many styles at the drop of a hat, instantly camouflaging himself into his surroundings. This is why he is in such demand, which is why he has to have so many guitars at his disposal… Here is a snapshot of the guitars that Brent uses in the studio
- Fender ’68 Telecaster, modified by Joe Glaser – probably the guitar people most associate with him, because… well, you know, it’s legendary. Seymour Duncan pickups… all pretty stock apart from the SD ST2 in the middle (that only has half the stack wired that he brings in via that third pot, a ‘blend’ pot). Mini Gibson HB in the neck and Glaser B bender.
- Fender Cream Tele, with Glaser B Bender.
- Several PRS “Brent Mason” signature models
- Gibson ’71 Les Paul gold top, with mini HB
- White Gibson 1972 SG
- PRS Mike Mushok Baritone (tuned to down to B)
- Whitfill Turquoise Baritone
- 1998 Red Gretsch 6120 Duane Eddy model, with Bigsby
- PRS 12 string
- Fender ’65, stock – survived the flood of Nashville 2010 and was bought back to life by Glaser.
- Gibson 1968 335 (also survived the flood and Brent is on record in saying that it sounds better now than it did before the flood after going through Glaser’s workshop).
- Blue Ridge 371 Parlor Acoustic
- 2011 Buddy Holly Tribute J45, made for Brent by Daniel Roberts
- 2016 Gretsch Resonator Acoustic
- 1986 Alverez gut string
I guess the reason I’m writing this is that, well, Brent is one of my favourite players to have ever walked this earth, so any excuse to write about him is good with me. Also, to act as a stark reminder that just because a player is famous for using one guitar, it won’t be their only one. The great thing about being a musician is all the gear we get to play with, all the time, and that applies to the players who achieve legend status as much as it does to a humble player like me.
I’d like to thank Brent and Julie Mason for indulging me, once again (they have been doing this for years now and I’m eternally grateful), and providing me with the info that completed this piece.
I was doing my typical boredom-induced zombie scrolling deal on Facebook the other day and happened upon a Woody Harrelson meme that said, “When people who only play “original music” crap on my cover band” and has Woody drying his eyes with money. It made me laugh, but it also made me think of another post I saw a while back that argued that cover bands aren’t “local music.” Both of these polarizing posts kind made me question where musicians place their value in their music, and I just wanted to talk through some of the points here (especially after having a discussion with a friend who has very different opinions than mine).
I’ll start from my end because it’s what I’m most familiar with. I love writing music and creating riffs and songs, but at the basis of my playing, I just enjoy playing covers. They’re fun, they get people up and moving because they’re identifiable and it’s a relatively straightforward thing that you can build from with your own unique flourishes should you choose to or play it exactly like the records...the choice is up to the player. For me, I like playing it note for note with the recording. It’s equal parts nostalgia and the desire for perfectionism is a world that lacks it completely. My OCD makes me want to nail each note exactly how the pros did it, and when I finally accomplish it then I feel successful. That’s been a driving force and where the bar has been set for myself since I started playing. I’ve always played covers because that’s actually how I’ve learned a lot of theory is piecing it together how the pros do it, because I don’t have the focus to sit down and practice scales…I never was a “studier.” When I did learn scales, it turned me into a robot because of that cushy feeling of false safety; if I stayed in the box I knew I couldn’t play a dreaded wrong note. But, it led my lead-work to be…scaley? No emotion, just notes in the scale. So, I went back to piecing theory together from songs, and that’s how I’ve personally connected the dots. It can be considered derivative if you broke it down, but it works for me and makes me happy and I try to play to the song and the band as much as trying to stand out.
My buddy is from the opposite line of thought. He gets ultimate enjoyment from writing songs and riffs. His fulfilment comes when he creates a lead lick or catchy rhythm part that he wouldn’t mind hearing again. He knows a few songs, but 95% of the time he chooses to create something in a jam than to cover a song, it’s just not interesting to him. He’s very into unique tones and doesn’t want to sound like Angus Young or EVH or any of the classics. He wants to create his own sound and for lack of a better description, to leave his own mark on the world. It’s something that I never wrapped my head around as a teenager as we’d go to jams and he’d want to make something up instead of playing a known song (to him that was boring). As we got older we both realized that a lot of what’s so great about guitar is the ability to adapt, so we’ve made stuff work.
Fundamentally, going back to the meme’s as referencing (welcome to citation in 2018), who is wrong and who is right? The answer? Both are right and wrong. I know, that sounds like a cop-out but hear me out. There’s playing music for fun, and then there’s playing music to earn money (surplus income, or sole income if you’re a full-time musician). You’ve taken a lot of time to hone your craft, and exposure bucks don’t pay the rent, unfortunately. So, fair compensation for the service you’re providing is what’s needed. To that end, a musician must be willing to adapt to what the customer is expecting. Whether that’s a bar gig trying to help sell some food and beer for the venue, or whatever scenario arises. In general, however, people are looking for identifiable songs. I’ve had several friends who have gone to bars to find out the band was playing nothing but originals, and they ended up leaving. It’s just the society we live in. Everyone has to start somewhere, and many of the famous acts played covers until they got their foot in the door and added in their own material along the way. I guess my point is that there can’t be a polarizing thought-process when it comes to music. Being part of a community means helping it grow, and admittedly it’s something that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your own integrity to achieve either. My point is, even the biggest stars in music STILL play covers, because there’s something identifiable and nostalgic about hearing those notes, and sort of tying those nostalgic feelings to the personality of the artist covering them…sort of a way of the person covering the songs to express a bit of who they are and what they love.
In the end, what is the point of cutting down another musician? It doesn’t matter if you’re in a cover band or an original band in the end. If you’re doing what you love, screw it, it doesn’t matter what people think. I’ve seen discussions of covers being derivative, but that’s something that is defined by each player.
Playing music is the greatest, and surely, that should be enough?!
Well, I’ve just one of the best weeks I can remember for a long time!
As you probably already know, I play in what bDub calls a “Dad-Rock” cover band and love every damn second of it. If I am honest, we are OK, we are tight and we always have good tone – we play the kind of music that would get us booted out of any US bar but over here, that kind of Americana/Blues/Country stuff is quite rare so we, at least around here, quite different to most other bands on the circuit. I’ve known all the guys I play with for almost 30 years and have been playing with them on and off for that time, although it was only a couple of years ago I fully joined them after the guitarist (the first guitar player I ever saw play live – albeit in a different band - in early 1988) unexpectedly had to quit the band after being there for 24 years. So… it’s not a serious musical adventure, it’s just some old friends who get on very well playing the kind of music they like to the best of their ability. The band, Dirty Money, is somewhat of an institution around these here parts. On Sunday we played in the afternoon, outside (in the last hurrah of the flailing UK summer) a lovely time was had by all – it was just a laid-back moment of loveliness that we all thoroughly enjoyed. I must admit, I like afternoon gigs as it means I’m home by 9 and can get a decent night’s sleep. 2am and I just don’t mix like we used too.
Then… Monday. Well, you may have read my last blog piece about it we saw the unbelievably perfect Joey Landreth. You can read about it here.
On Tuesday we were off again to see one of my favourite musicians, Mr Adrian Legg. Now, I have history with Adrian, I first saw him supporting Joe Satriani in March 1993 (the concert that provided the live track “Flying In A Blue Dream” for the album Time Machine) and for me, Adrian completely and utterly stole the show that night. You can picture it, lots of long-haired rock guitar god types all going to see ‘the master’ and in support is this wonderfully quietly spoken man with just an Ovation guitar. As he walked out we all kinda went “What the…?” but within the first 4 bars, the entire venue had their jaws on the floor in stunned disbelief what they were seeing. As we left the show that night, all around me all I could hear was talk about Adrian. I mean, everyone was blown away by Joe, but I’m pretty certain Adrian picked up a lot of fans that tour (he then went on to do a G3 tour with Joe and Vai) and I quietly just bought all his albums and retained my level of fandom over the years, I was delighted to connect with Adrian when the social media explosion happened and we often (and still do) talk about gear. He’s one of our artists in the most lovely way, he only uses stuff he likes that can make him sound incredible, and he still sound incredible - it’s so cool to see one of my favourite players sporting a Tumnus to make his acoustic guitar bite and growl in the perfect way. About an hour from us a small club run by a certain Mr and Mrs Quayle (who have a son you might be familiar with. Let’s just say… they created a Dual Fusion of their own), and they occasionally have some really good players performing so we go on up when we can. It was lovely to see Adrian again, not seen him for a couple of years and he honoured me by playing a request that I had asked for – “Mrs Jacks Last Stand” that is just one of the most beautiful pieces of solo guitar I can think of.
Adrian often tours the US, you can find tickets here. if you get the chance, you’d be mad not to go. It was a very, very, very special night for all concerned (this was the first time I could take Lisa with me so she was delighted to finally meet Adrian, Richard and Leslie - Tom’s Mum and Dad – in the flesh. You gotta love Leslie, she often starts a sentence with “Oh, I shouldn’t tell you this but there was this one time, when he younger, that Thomas…” and BOOM, there is my material for the next NAMM flight to wind him up!)
A couple of days followed that was just work and family stuff and then on Friday, we were off out again to see an exceptionally cool and fast-rising star named Kris Barras. Man. I wish you could have seen it. I’m not the biggest blues fan in the world, as a lot of it just gets repetitive after a while, but there are certain bands and players that take the mould and smash it to a million pieces, all the time retaining the core of what makes a great blues band. Kris, quite simply, is a phenomenal player. I was listening intently all night as I kept hear different styles flawlessly fall from his fingers… it was about halfway through I suddenly realised what was happening. Every time he changed guitars, his playing slightly changed with it – but not completely, just another version of him. I’ve never really seen that in a player before. You know what it’s like, when someone plays a different guitar they tend to be the exact same player just with a slightly different tone with a couple of specific tricks thrown in… but Kris was actually adapting his style and voicings to compliment his guitar which was a real mind bend for me. When he was on the Tele, some incredibly subtle yet perfectly placed country fills were coming out right alongside some more biting bluesy stuff, then when we went to the Strat, the attack changed, as did the note choice, as did the feel of his playing… same when he went to his HB equipped guitars (a PRS and Seth Baccus Nautilus) everything changed again… I think I could tell you what guitar he was playing ‘now’ (in a blindfold test) on any given gig not by the tone, but how he changes his playing. I really wish I could articulate this better as it’s probably reading like a nonsense but within his own unique style, I could hear Gary Moore, The Allmans, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, Skynyrd, Mr BB (The) King, JoBo, Derek Trucks, Clapton, Beck… the list is endless, but each of those influences came out, perfectly morphed into his own style, according to the instrument he was playing. Class.
Then, after seeing those three incredible players during the week, three players that are respectively either at the sitting at the top of their genre, or comfortable in the fact that they changed millions of players and can still shake them to this day or one that’s raising up so fast it’s hard to keep up with them… All these players inspire me to be the best I possibly can… on Saturday night, I took Lisa to see her favourite guitar player play live, fortunately for me, that actually is me… and that’s just about the best feeling in the world for this hapless romantic old fool.
In all the years I’ve been playing I’ve made the mistake of only listening too and ripping off other guitar players in order to find my own ‘style’. Yep, this was a big mistake. More recently I’ve been listening to other instruments to expand my palette and I’ve been having a ‘meh’ time with it… coupled with a constant desire to get my head around a more modal approach to make my playing more interesting, it just ending up as a more frustration (and let’s face it, I’ve had one of the very best explain it to me multiple times – Mr Tom Quayle)… I’ve understood some of it, but you know, I can’t find a way of putting it into a vocabulary that is mine.
This has been changing recently and it’s come from the most unexpected of sources.
… so… backstory.
I first met Dave when I was about 16, he’s 8-9 years older than me and from the moment I first heard him play I was utterly blown away by his musicality. He’s a piano player. Classically trained, a music teacher, and just a frightening sense of melody and structure. Way back then, I was hugely intimidated (and that’s a reflection of me, not him, a more lovely and open man you could never meet), that I just could not ask him anything… Our paths have crossed many times over the years and although I’ve always had the utmost respect for him as a musician, I never thought of talking to him about it all. A couple of years ago I saw on FB that he was doing a solo show close to me, so I went to see him. First time I’d seen him in years! We caught up and went our separate ways… then at around that time Mrs Wilding had a couple of piano lessons with him and they became friends, he was very understanding that she couldn’t always fulfil her lesson slots due to her illness, and then last year when he became poorly she was there for him and the friendship became stronger. Once he was a little better, he came over and he just fitted in with our family and it became a regular thing - “it’s Saturday, so Dave’s coming over”.
Since the time I first met him and then during the time we barely saw each other, Dave has made a career out of teaching music/piano and has gone so far as to earn a doctorate in music composition. So, if anything, I should have been more intimidated by him than I was before. But, now I’m 44, I’m a lot more secure and confident in my musicality so I’m more open to speak to people…. That first day he came over he only played a little piano and music didn’t come into the conversation, but ever since then at some point in the day we end up playing. I am VERY lucky that my wife is a musician and my kids play everything they can get their hands on, so music is always happening in the house.
It was about a month ago and Dave was just messing around on the piano and this incredible run came out of nowhere and I sat there, on the other side of the room, with my mouth agape. He looked up and laughed and said “what?”… so, I just said “What the &%^$ was that?” and he said “Oh it was just an *insert explanation here* and it made sense. I don’t know why it made sense in what he said, because it was no different from a guitar player saying it, but I think because it sounded different, and I could then look at it and have it in black and white (and also see and understand the chord he was using underneath it) there was what you might call a lightbulb moment.
I’m not arrogant to say that because of this I have Quayle levels of theory at my disposal, but what has happened is that I’ve found someone, and a way, to demonstrate this kind of thing and then transfer it over to guitar and my own playing. I’ve started to understand how different intervals work over different chords and I guess I’m kinda approaching my solo construction slightly differently, maybe in a more piano way… not just a bunch of guitar-shaped boxes and scales, but a more fluid movement between them… but my playing has definitely changed because of my weekly jams and chats with Dave. This became obvious last weekend. As with any local music scene, it’s all slightly incestuous… the band I’m in now Dave was in during the early 90’s. So, after coming over Dave came with me one day (this was about 8 weeks ago) to the gig to see everyone. This was the week that he and I first talked theory and construction, so it was me he was seeing play that night. Then last week, he also came and saw us again, and was a couple of my lead lines caught his attention - a couple of times he looked at me and smiled and nodded… one of the times I said to him, well I mouthed, “That’s your fault” and he laughed… I realised that without actively knowing it, I had lifted part of his approach and taken into the guitar, into my own playing/style.
So, kids, the lesson in all this is this… if you have musical friends that aren’t necessarily guitar players and they have a better understanding of music than you do, pick their brains, take music as a thing outside your instrument and blatantly steal their lines and ideas. There is a huge chance it will make you a better player.
Sometimes a chain of events happens that results in your life being changed forever. I could trace this story back to how a pointless gobshite (to all those not familiar with British vulgarity, you're welcome) from England started to work for the fastest growing 'booteek' effects company in the world in 2011, but that's another story, instead I will start this on the NAMM floor, Friday the 20th January.
I was hanging with my bud Andy Wood on the booth, I met Andy through Tom Quayle about 5 years ago at the show, he's used our pedals for a while and we quickly became friends, as you may expect I am an ENORMOUS fan of his playing, he's amazing, but also of him as a human. Funny, intelligent and just a down to earth great guy, he's a joy to be around. So, as usual, we were hanging and he said "Hey man, let's go out and have a beer" and usually at NAMM we are too busy to do this, but I knew we were off to the Celestion Party that night so I said to Andy, you should come. Fortunately, he did!
We arrived somewhat late (no surprised there) and after enjoying the Arnie Newman Band for a while I found Andy at the back with about 5 other guys so I went to hang for a while. As we are guys, the introductions weren't quick, we just drank and laughed and had a great time. Eventually Andy introduced me to the guys, which transpired to be most of the upper echelons of Suhr. To one side and being quite quiet and reserved was this guy in glasses and a beard who Andy introduced me to as "Joey". Now, as we say here, the penny dropped from a great height, it was Joey Freakin' Landreth. I'd been quietly accumulating a massive man crush on Joey for about a year, marvelling at his playing and songwriting (let alone his voice) and here I was completely unsober and face to face with him. I played it cool, said I was a massive fan (fortunately I had good knowledge to back it up with) and we hung for a bit. I was picking his brain about his intonation (was delighted to hear that it's mostly down to hard work and dedication) and other stuff. He mentioned that he was doing a tour of the UK in a couple of weeks. Usually when this happens I get all excited for nothing as to most artists a UK tour means "London, Manchester, Glasgow" which are all hours from me (and let's face it, in the UK, if it ain't within a half hour most people claim it's not local enough to bother with) but it turns out that Joey was playing in my home town, 15 minutes from where I live. He gave me a CD (Whiskey) and put me on the guest list for the show - I was a little uncomfortable about this, as I was a little drunk and I didn't think he would remember, plus, I have absolutely NO issue in paying for a ticket to see an up and coming artist such as this.
So, I spend the next two weeks quietly (and not so quietly) trying to get as many people to this gig as possible, I wanted Exeter to be good enough for Joey to come back for. The last thing I wanted was him to be in this quiet big room and there be not enough people there for it to be comfortable for anyone.
Last night was the night of the show. My long suffering wife, Lisa, and I picked up our good friends Phil and Hazel (I've know Phil for literally years and years, he saw my first gig that was bizarrely 26 years ago that day, but that's another story) and off we went. The venue was a new one to me (last time I was in town it was a shitty discount sportswear store) and was desperately trendy and cool. Name was on guest list, result! As I walked in, I noticed large beards where everywhere, the fridges were stocked with beer that I had never seen before and being offered around there were pulled Pork or some strange Cauliflower canopé things. I'm more of a "pint of Guinness and a packet of Peanuts" kind of guy. So from the outset I was out of my comfort zone.
As I went to the bar (full of dread as these places are never cheap) I noticed a familiar face at the bar and it was non other than the lovely Mick Taylor, a long time industry legend who I first became aware of years ago as the editor of Guitarist magazine and more recently as one of the hosts of That Pedal Show with Dan Steinhardt. We had a quick catch up and a little business talk (I'm going up next week for something exciting to be featured on the show, although hopefully not me personally) had a quick chat with Joey - looks like he did remember me, which was nice - and off we went to find a seat. Fortunately (for Joey), the place had a very healthy attendance so we had to make do with a crappy seat at the back. The support acts came and went and then it was show time...
Now, it's taken me a while to get to this point because I wanted to set the scene. Sometimes, you go to a show and you get blown away and that's that (for example, every time I see Vai I am left speechless) but other times you go to something and the whole experience is what takes it from being blown away all the way up to a defining moment in your life. This was a defining moment, it was a masterclass, it was everything a musician - and most importantly a guitar player - needs to see at one point in their life.
Starting with just an acoustic guitar, he built the set foundation perfectly. There wasn't any of the trademark genius of Joey's slide playing, but rare moments of complete wonder within the songs that caught you and carried you on to the next one. His ability to hold the attention of the room, and to be heard in every corner at a reasonable volume (3 people talking at the back would have been heard everywhere but it just didn't happen) was spellbinding. As he eventually moved onto the Suhr superstrat and then the Collings he is most associated with, the tension and almost unbearable anticipation of what he was going to be doing next was palpable in the room. I first "lost it" during his well known cover of Eddie Cochran's "Hallelujah, I love her so" and then struggled to keep it together throughout. His last song was dedicated to his Grandfather who died a couple of weeks before was just stunning, there were many of us who couldn't keep their emotions in check, it was just one of those evenings.
So, why am I writing this - you could say I am on somewhat of a mission to make as many people as possible aware of Joey Landreth. His star is rising, and rising fast, and it is my hope that everyone who reads this gets to see him live sooner rather than later. It's one of those experiences that not only restores your faith in a music industry that appears to spew out nothing but shit, but makes you realise that the guitar is a vehicle for so much beauty it's our duty to make it talk, weep or shout as often as possible. I can't think of anyone who can do the above as well as Joey, but I walked out as inspired as I've ever been to play more, practice more, use different styles/voicings/tones/expressions and just be a better musician. I can't think of many other players who can do that to a middle aged cynic like myself.
Please buy his CD, see him live, or do whatever you can to make sure this guy - and lest we forget his incredible work with his Brother in the Bros. Landreth so we should include David and that band in this - are as huge as possible. The future of music will thank you for it.
Thank you Joey, for restoring my faith in music, and being just a lovely lovely man.
Lesson 5: Chromatic Scale
Breaking out of the pentatonic boxes doesn’t mean that you have to totally change the way you play guitar and start all over again, in fact, it’s very much the opposite! It simply means that you use your pentatonic knowledge as the foundation to build a more varied library of ideas.
In this lesson we look at applying the chromatic scale to the minor pentatonic scale. The chromatic scale is playing all 12 available notes, one by one, back to back! As you can probably guess, this isn’t the most beautiful sound out there and kind of sounds like the first thing a 5 year old does when they first pick up a guitar! However, in the right context, chromatics can sound great! Have a look at this diagram:
In this fretboard we show the A minor pentatonic shape 1 with a few chromatic notes on the top two strings. The pentatonic notes are our safety notes, and the chromatic notes work out as ‘out notes or ‘tension notes’ that can be quickly resolved to the pentatonic notes. This is a good example of how to take a chromatic scale and break it into small, effective chunks. Have some fun with these ideas over any backing track, and you’ll quickly get the idea and be able to apply this to your own solos!
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