Saturday, December 16, 2006

Guitars, Cadillacs, Hillbilly Music

This past October, my wife and I decided we needed to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. We live in Nashville and the HoF is a tourist attraction we had not yet taken the time to check out. Wow, what an amazing experience. I believe it is the best $11.00 you can spend in town. I walked the entire building, looking at and reading nearly every exhibit, but the musicians and their gear were most interesting to me.

This is Merle Travis' Bigsby guitar. Travis is the first popular exponent of the fingerstyle technique that bears his name - "Travis picking". It was developed by Chet Atkins and many others after him, but Travis' version uses just two fingers on the right hand to get a galloping, rhythmic, fretted version of stride piano. Paul Bigsby was a guitar builder who's claim to fame is the Bigsby vibrato - that skinny metal bar that you grab and shake to bend the strings in pitch - up or down. Chet mastered this technique, as well. This particular guitar has no vibrato bar on it.

Merle Travis' Bigsby

The fabulous Buck Owens was a lead guitar player for many years, but after finding fiddler Don Rich and helping him become the seminal Tele-bending honkytonk guitar player, Buck stuck mostly to rhythm guitar, though he still cut loose on occasion. He had a few red, white and blue guitars made up for the stage show, eventually licensing the idea to Sears, who sold many thousands of them.

Buck Owens' Red, White and Blue Guitars

There is an entire wall at the Hall of Fame with this mural on it. Some folks forget that Elvis came into the music scene as a Country artist - there was no Rock and Roll at the time. He played the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Old Opry. His ace guitarist Scotty Moore is on the right.

Elvis and Scotty Mural

I'm sure this fit right in at Graceland. Elvis' gold piano.

Keys of The King

Chet Atkins. The greatest guitarist that ever lived, period. He influenced everyone after him, and contributed an enormous amount to Country Music and the Music world at large. A true genius.

Chet's Guitars

This is the console from the famous RCA Studio B control room. Many classic records were channeled through this hunk of wires and tubes. This board helped define the sound of the genre.

RCA Studio B Console

Premier session drummer Larrie London's kit. London was the top-call drummer in Nashville for many years. He passed away giving a drum clinic at a music store.

Larrie London drum kit

Cash. You've seen the movie. You know the songs. Your parents and grandparents know the songs. Icon. This is his Martin D-35, a slope-shouldered beauty.

Johnny Cash's Martin D-35

Merle Travis got a bigger, fancier guitar in this Gibson Super 400.

Merle Travis' Gibson Super 400

Chet had a D'Angelico guitar, a hand-made gem from the famed New York luthier John D'Angelico. Chet's guitar was an acoustic, he needed an electric so he put pickups and a vibrato bar on it. He later regretted it. June Carter knocked this guitar off it's stand and broke the neck. It was restored and Chet used it to record his "Almost Alone" album. The D'Angelico commands top dollar on the vintage guitar market - when in original condition.

Chet's D'Angelico

Bill Monroe's Gibson F-5 mandolin. The most famous instrument in Bluegrass music. Monroe played this mandolin throughout his career, until a vandal broke into his home and smashed it to pieces with a fireplace poker. Gibson repairman, the late Charlie Darrington and team restored the hundreds of slivers and rebuilt the priceless F-5. Darrington was tragically killed this year by a drunk driver.

The F-5

Jimmie Rodgers was present at the birthplace of Country Music, in Bristol, Tennessee. He favored the small, parlor sized Martins.

Jimmie Rodgers' Martin 00-18

Canadian Hank Snow, long a Grand Old Opry staple, was a Canadian flatpicker and singer. He had several custom made guitars.

Hank Snow dreadnaught

Maybelle Carter pioneered the fingerstyle guitar techniques that Travis and Atkins later expanded and perfected. Her thumb and finger strumming style allowed her to pick out melodic lead patterns in what became known as the Carter-style. Maybelle was the first widely-known Country lead guitarist. This is her fabulous Gibson L-5, used on virtually all of the Carter Family sides.

Mother Maybelle's Gibson L-5

Emmylou Harris has used a Gibson J-200 to support her sweet and fragile vocals for most of her career. The thumping lows and fat mids of a J-2oo are a perfect bed for her voice to rest upon.

Emmylou's Gibson J-200

If you are ever in Nashville for a visit, please take the time to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame. For musicians, music lovers, Americana buffs, it's the best bargain to be found.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's All Geek To Me

Here's a post for the Gear Geeks that read this blog. My new gig filling in for Jerry Sabatino in his Aerosmith bass tech slot is going fine so far. I've done two shows to date, one in Montreal and the second in Minneapolis. I took a few shots of the stage rigs.

The bass rig as played through by Tom Hamilton (and his stand-in for this tour, David Hull) is pretty straight ahead. All Ampeg heads split three ways into a "dry" cab, a "wet" cab and the stage cabs. The dry and wet cabs are kept in iso boxes off stage. The stage cabs are a pair of Hartke cabs in triplicate. The spare stacks are for aesthetic and insurance purposes.

Bass Stacks

The super-toneful Brad Whitford has a great rig that his tech Greg Howard has compiled. He is presently using a Blockhead prototype amp (on the left) into a pair of Bogner 4x12 cabinets. For smaller venues, he uses a Divided by Thirteen head (orange head on the right).

Whitford Stacks

Brad and Greg are pedal fans and he has a nice assortment of mainstays and a few revolving spots. Greg has a "Pedal of the Week" placard that gets placed next to the current favorite.

Whitford Pedalboard

The set list draws from early classics and later smashes. You really can't go wrong with a 30+ year career to draw from.

Minneapolis Setlist

Russ Irwin is the keyboardist/vocalist who adds a bit of texture to the guitar-heavy attack. Here's a shot of his rig, with Steven's percussion toys and harmonica amp in the foreground.

Keys/Percussion Rig

Joe Perry has the most complex rig on the stage. Guitar Tech Jim Survis has plenty on his plate every day, keeping the vintage amps up and running.

Perry Amp Stacks

Lots of radical sound makers on Joe's board versus Brad's more traditional setup.

Perry Pedalboard

More heads behind the stacks.

Perry Amps

The rack houses the wireless and various switching units and effects.

Perry Rack

A theremin adds to the Zeppelin/Beach Boys vibe of weird sounds. Perry runs it into an octave divider and a delay pedal.


Joey Kramer's custom hardware is white powder coated. He sounds great, as always.

Kramer Kit

I'm having a great time out here so far. The band is playing and sounding great, the crew and production staff is on top of things and they have been very helpful in getting me up to speed with the gig. Tomorrow night we play in Edmonton, we flew in here this afternoon. We travel to Calgary after that, then on to Vancouver, Reno and Sacramento.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

We Can See Heroes, Just For Two Weeks

This year continues to surprise me with the amount of opportunities I have been given and the great success rate of most of those ventured. After doing two weeks with America's greatest Pop/Soul band, I now head out with Rock icons Aerosmith.

I had posters of these guys on my teenage bedroom wall. I devoured every copy of Creem or Circus or Hit Parader that I could find. I got an early songbook and learned my first power chord with these guys. Now I get the pleasure of hearing them for half a dozen shows.

My buddy is leaving the tour early, and I am filling in for him, teching for bassist Dave Hull who is filling in for Tom Hamilton. Should be a lot of fun.