Sunday, January 29, 2006

Places That I've Gone

I'm out of town for a few days, so I thought I'd send some traffic to a few of the sites that I frequent...

Dave's Guitar Shop...toy store audio engineering website for gear freaks.

TapeOp...a grass roots recording website and magazine

All Things Beatles...comprehensive

No Depression...roots rock and alternative country magazine. There is music out there you need to hear. You can learn about some of it at this site.

Not Lame Records...jangly Power Pop clearinghouse.

Country Standard Time...a mostly B.S. free Country music site.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Audio Birthed the Radio Star

I added a track from the latest project I am working on, a song called "Good Samaritan". It's available here: SoundClick

Written and sung by Donna Beasley. Bass and drums played by Steve Mackey and Angelo Collura, respectively, percussion by Butch Simmons and tracked at Smash Recording, my former studio. Guitars by me, recorded at Soon To Be Re-named Studio, my new digs a/k/a "The Spare Room". Mixed and whatnot on Cubase SX...a fab audio recording program.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ummm...What's A Guitar Tech?

Several people have asked me what a guitar tech does and how it is different than being a roadie. Well, the term "roadie" is considered a little demeaning in many circles since the actual job has become increasingly technical as new and better ways to put on a show put more demands on a tech than simply tuning a guitar. A guitar tech, at least the way I do it, is responsible for getting the artist's equipment ready to perform at it's best on a daily basis.

My typical day starts at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., depending on what the particular venue is. Sometimes the lighting and audio crews need longer to get their gear loaded in and set up. When the lights and P.A. are far enough along to allow the space, the backline call comes. Backline is essentially all of the band gear: amplifiers, guitars, drum kits, keyboards, etc. All in their road cases, usually on wheels.

Once I get all of my gear in my "world", I open the guitar trunks amd remove all of the instruments and put them in "guitar racks", which are 6-space stands that the guitars rest in. I re-string every guitar every day, unless it does not get played more than one or two songs in the set. If the previous show was in an outdoor venue, I change all of them. If the artist has a corrosive sweat, you will certainly change every day. While changing strings, I check to make sure all of the parts of the guitar are functional. This would include examining the tuning pegs and nut, the volume and tone pots, the input jack, and the bridge and saddles. Any loose nuts or screws on the pickguard, neck or straplocks would be tightened. I check the intonation every few days. After stringing each guitar, I stretch the strings to get the play out of them so that after a medium tug, they return in tune. Any less and they will slip out under show conditions, any more and they get a bit dull. After all of that, I polish the guitar and put it back in the rack.

If the artist uses a wireless system, I change all of the batteries in each pack and check the RF level of every frequency. Sometimes you will get into cities and venues that have a lot of interference, so I find the audio guys and have them run a scan to find open freqs in the range of the wireless units I am using. I also check each pack and tighten screws and antennaes.

It's more common than not to have a pedalboard full of effects pedals. My responsibility is to keep them working and to make sure all of the knobs are on the right settings. Some artists have their guitar techs run ther effects for them, freeing them up to concentrate on putting on a better show. A popular controller that helps consolidate multiple settings is the Bradshaw switching system. It is fully programmable and can operate the various ins and outs of amps, pedals, rack gear and wireless units.

Amplifiers are also the guitar tech's gig. Keeping a tube amp up and running takes a little preventive maintenance. Spare tubes, a multimeter and a schematic will get you through most situations. Amp repair is not my forte, so I am glad that most artists I have worked for have plenty of spare amps on the road. In fact, spares are a necessity not a luxury. Any piece of gear that could cause a loss of more than a few minutes in downtime during a show should have a spare ready to go. This can nearly double the workload, but there is no option.

Any additional instruments will also fall under the guitar tech's job desciption. Harmonica, percussion, etc.

When showtime comes, I make sure all of the first two or three guitars are in tune. The trick is to stay at least one song ahead if you are working with an artist that changes guitars frequently during the show. They may decide to skip a song, and you need to be ready. Also, if you are running the pedalboard, you need to juggle tuning the next guitar while hitting buttons on and off, getting the next wireless system ready, and keeping a spare ready for whatever guitar is on stage at the moment. For example, let's say the artist is playing a Les Paul with P-90 pickups. After handing the guitar off on stage, I will come back to Guitar World and tune the backup, keeping an ear on the arrangement so I don't miss an effect or amp switching cue. I then begin tuning the next song's guitar, again hitting all of the cues, and after the song is over, I switch the effects and amp settings to the next song, switch the wireless unit and get the next guitar out to the artist.

This flurry of activity makes a set go by pretty quickly. As a tour progresses, you can fall into a groove and it all becomes second nature, which can be dangerous if you get sloppy. You need to keep focused at all times, and it is rare that you get a chance to actually enjoy the music like the audience does.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mixin', Arrangin', and Guitarithmetic

Since my profile claims I engineer, produce and play guitar, I've finally posted some MP3s at SoundClick to back it up. These clips are examples of projects I have worked on with singers Donna Beasley, Gina Butler and Molly Slone, and a song from my own upcoming album. Further details are available under the "story" tab.

Last of the 1,000 Dances

Soul shouter Wilson Pickett died yesterday. I've played versions of his smash "Mustang Sally" in nearly every bar band I ever joined. It's a universal song, like "Proud Mary". Everybody knew it, all of the girls loved it, anyone could scream it out - but not like Pickett.

He always seemd to be the dirtier, nastier version of Otis Redding to me. His women were a little trashier, his night clubs a little seedier, his music a little coarser. He was the Rolling Stones to Redding's Beatles. Both enjoyed the stellar backing of the Stax house band, and guitar genius Steve Cropper co-wrote "Midnight Hour" with Pickett, as well as "Dock of the Bay" with Redding.

It's sobering to see the great artists of Rock and Soul's Golden Age passing away so rapidly and so young. Guess I'll get out the Stax compilations and toast "Wicked Pickett" goodbye.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

And Now, Direct From Liverpool...

Video may have killed the radio star, but seeing these old Ed Sullivan clips is certainly a treat. Without any decently recorded live albums, the only evidence of how great a live band The Beatles were exists solely in old video footage.

After they stopped touring in 1966, they increasingly wrote and recorded music that would have been impractical to perform live, even if they had the desire to do so. Paul McCartney has been doing later period Beatle songs in his shows and they translate wonderfully. My favorite Beatle period is 1965-66. For the most part,the instrumentation is still two guitars, bass and drums, but the songs are deeper in meaning and the maturity and craft they bring to a 2:30 Pop song is still exciting 40 years later.

Check out "Help!". They absolutely nail the arrangement, the vocals, and George has his tricky guitar lick down cold...amazing.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Yeah, That's Right

Don't be suprised if the next time you hear angels singing there is a smooth and mellow baritone underpining the host of Hallelujahs and Hosannas. Lou Rawls passed away and with him goes a brilliant exmple of the once-common phenomenon of a Pop voice raised on Gospel Music. I don't hear much,if any Gospel in the current Urban Music artists , and I wonder if that influence will only be heard second or third hand from now on.

Rawls came up singing praise music and "crossed over" to Pop with a charmingly silky voice that caressed your ears and made you wish you were that cool.

What music fan didn't try to match the deep and sexy delivery of "You're Gonna Miss My Lovin'" when it came on the radio? Just singing the first line of the verse, "You'll never find...", in a deep voice sets my wife to smiling. And in how many other songs do you get to jam on an extremely rare "air piano", tapping out the confident lick that answers the opening vocal phrase?

According to his website, this was Lou Rawls' take on the shortcomings of disco, a style of music he never embraced, though others did at the time: "A lyric has to mean something to me, something that has happened to me. I try to look for songs people can relate to because I know the man on the corner waiting for the bus has to hear it and say, 'Yeah that's right.'". In an era when Popular Music lyrics make disco ditties sound like Cole Porter, that kind of artistic fortitude will be sorely missed.

Here was a guy you could listen to with your parents and both of them would agree that he was great. That puts Lou Rawls on a par with Sinatra in my house.

Unfortunately, the man on the corner waiting for the bus knows we'll never find a voice like that again.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Wy-in' Time Again

Took a short weekend trip to Fresno, California for a one-off with Wynonna at the Chuckchansi Casino in Coarsegold, CA. All flights were full, but I luckily got aisle seats on all of them, and unexplicably bumped into First Class on the Fresno to Dallas flight, which was great.

Wynonna On Stage

The band had not done any shows in this particular configuration for many months, but they sounded like they were on the last day of a long tour... nice.

View From Guitar World

We stayed in nearby Bass Lake, CA. It is an old school resort used in the John Candy movie "The Great Outdoors". Very cool knotty pine cabins, complete with a kitchen and a Weber grill on the deck. I bought some brats at the market and cooked up a batch for our poker game.

Cabins in Bass Lake

Loft and Kitchen

In an effort to get everyone home for New Year's Eve, we had to get up at 3:00 a.m. (after getting back from the venue at around 11:30) to catch our 6:30 flight to Dallas and on to Nashville. I caught about three hours sleep in the cabin, then hopped on a bus for an hour to go to Fresno, then waited two hours for the flight out. The First Class bump was a blessing, I fell asleep before we took off and woke up to find out we were in the air already...that's an odd feeling.