Monday, August 25, 2008

Doyle and Debbie

Shot at the famous Station Inn in Nashville, this parody/tribute duo give a lexicon lesson in L'Amour. Genius.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Year of the Cat

Well, thanks to yesterday's Instalanche, I figure I have a few more readers of this blog, so I'd better keep on posting. Tonight's topic, as I sip a little George Dickel and Coke Zero, will be cats.

I am not a cat person. I grew up with a family dog, from when I was six years old to when I left for college. They might have had cats before me, but I never got into them, and it did not help that I was/am allergic to their dander.

For the past several years, a wild calico cat occasionally wandered through my yard and I always shooed it away. When I got married and my wife moved in, she would sometimes "talk" to it while I was at work. She swears she never fed it, but I wonder.

Last year was a scorcher here in Nashville and that cat showed up on our doorstep, sick and weak. We gave her some food and thought that was the last of it. Of course, she kept coming back, and one day she appeared with a bloody mess on her face from a fight she had gotten into. We tricked her into a cat cage and took her to the vet, where they patched her up and gave us the bill. We now have a cat.


Her name was originally Cat, Jr., before we spent real money on her. The name came from "Raising Arizona" where the Snopes brothers have their "own little Gale, Jr. now". Her new name is Simone, from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and because, being a calico, we had been referring to her as Le Chat L'Orange, which we pretended meant " the orange cat". It probably doesn't though.

Anyway, she has turned into a "mostly house" cat, but she does enjoy long walks in the dark and catching baby bunnies, which I then have to drive 30 miles to deposit at the animal rescue clinic. She has done for us what most pets do: given us something to look after and care about and be on the look out for. I think those are human qualities that need a little help these days, and Simone is doing a fine job.

Speaking of Year of the Cat...Playing around with my Line 6 KB37 keyboard with a Grand Piano patch in Garageband and I stumbled upon the intro to the "Year of the Cat", the 1976 single from Al Stewart. I've always loved the song for it's arrangement and great sonics. Engineered by Alan Parsons and co-written by the late Peter Wood, the song is an impressionistic tale of exotic romance with a cat lady in some Casablanca-esque locale. I think.

I love the string arrangement, the acoustic and electric guitar solos, and the fabulous sax solo that ties it all together. The intro is over a minute long. It's doubtful that such care and craftsmanship will be put into any pop songs in the foreseeable future, but I hold out hope that somewhere there's a kid with all of this technology who wants to record real instruments playing real music in an effort to bring some beauty to the world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Six-String Banjo

It's hardly a new concept, but it seems that I'm hearing more banjo sounds coming from various records these days: Keith Urban, Robert Plant, LeAnn Rimes. I suspect that sometimes what we are hearing is a session guitar player playing a six-string banjo, a hybrid instrument tuned like a standard guitar, but with the sound of a 5-string banjo. The newer sounds aren't being played in the Scruggs style, but more as just another tone playing a part in the arrangement. The typical (stereotypical) "banjo-y" sound is rare. This is not "Deliverance" or "Bonnie and Clyde".

Plant's recent duet record with bluegrass/pop diva Allison Krauss has plenty of examples of this new sound, used by avant-guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits) to creepy effect on "Nothin'" and as a pseudo-Django French-cafe rhythm pulse on "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us". Nice.

I've been thinking about getting one, and I found that Deering makes several models and in fact, Rusty Danmeyer with LeAnn plays one. We call it a "ganjo". In the hands of a steel guitar player, the 6-string can sound especially authentic, since the right hand techniques used in both are so similar. You can sound like a guitarist playing the banjo or a banjoist playing a de-tuned banjo.

Obviously some people have taken to it with ease. Here's Brad Davis - and a damn fine cup of coffee - with a lesson or two. "It's good for the 'double down-ups''s got a real cool sound to it." says Brad. Word.

It's a neat sound, familiar and ancient, yet new and exotic. I like that.

UPDATE: Welcome music-loving Instapundit readers. Thanks for stopping by and thanks to Glenn for the link.

Friday, August 15, 2008

That's Not a Resume'...

...that's a history book. 

Jerry Wexler has died at age 91.  He was a music pioneer, most notably as a producer of the Atlantic recordings in New York, Stax in Memphis and the famous Muscle Shoals sound. Check out how many of the classic records he made that you know by heart or have in your possession. 

They take up four pages in the AMG credits.

Here's the obit in the L.A. Times.

AllMusicGuide's excellent bio has this:
Wexler had first traveled to the South to plug Atlantic new releases on Dewey Phillips' radio show and found he liked the potential in the area. But when he heard about Stax Records through two hit releases by Carla Thomas, he flew down to Memphis and found a gold mine ready to be cashed in. At Stax there was already a firmly established, talented house band (Booker T & the MGs), a wonderfully funky studio where he could bring his acts to record, and a young label head, Jim Stewart, who was anxious for bigger distribution and green about the music industry at the same time. For Wexler, the relaxed environment at Stax was a revelation, and for Stewart, the presence of this seasoned New York hipster was a validation of Stax's talent and promise. For a short time it was a joyous partnership.

While other execs were beating the path in New York, L.A. and London, Wexler found his home in the rural and forgotten areas of the country. He brought in Sam & Dave, a duo he had signed out of Florida with the agreement that the act would be on the Stax label, but ultimately owned by Atlantic. In a sense, Wexler was exploiting all the hit-making factors of the Stax studio, but keeping the long-term profit earnings.

When Wexler brought another Atlantic artist, Wilson Pickett, to Stax in 1965, the result was the classic "In the Midnight Hour," but it also signaled the beginning of the end of Atlantic's association with Stax. The Memphis musicians could no longer take the headstrong Pickett, and by 1966 Jim Stewart began to see Wexler as an outside exploiter, casting him and his Atlantic artists away from the studio.

Ever the workhorse, it didn't take long for Wexler to bounce back. With the success of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," Wexler found an even more isolated group of talented young writers and players at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Once again, Wexler had happened upon a flourishing scene in the middle of nowhere and was determined to ride it for what it was worth. In 1966 he brought Pickett there to record and liked the results; soon FAME studios and its owner Rick Hall replaced Stax as Wexler's main base of operations. In 1967 Aretha Franklin, recently signed to Atlantic, flew in to the studio; the resulting single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)"/"Do Right Woman" was a smash hit, but again resulted in the severance of a creative relationship. After a heated argument between Rick Hall and Aretha's husband Ted White, Wexler (and Aretha) left FAME permanently -- however, not before Wexler could call a desperate Rick Hall and ask for his permission to use Hall's musicians for a King Curtis session. Hall agreed and Wexler, somewhat underhandedly, used the FAME rhythm section to finish the Aretha Franklin album in New York.

That same year, 1967, was an important one in Wexler's life. Wexler was named Record Executive of the Year for his work turning Aretha's career around, and Ahmet Ertegun sold Atlantic Records for $17.5 million. The two execs remained with Atlantic Records, but with the actual ownership in someone else's hands, Wexler began to work less and enjoy the riches more. He bought several boats and relocated to Miami Beach, where he set up his own version of a house band, the Dixie Flyers, at Criteria Studios, producing Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.

With the '70s came stadium-sized rock & roll bands on the scale of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and although both groups were signed to Atlantic through the '70s, Ertegun was able to change with the times much better than Wexler. He was no longer the head of Atlantic Records, no longer the sole man in charge of production, A&R or administration. While Ertegun and the rest of the company forged into the era of rock music, Wexler stayed behind, preferring to work with Southern musicians like Duane Allman, Dr. John and Delaney & Bonnie. And, just as Atlantic was changing, so too was the music that Wexler had helped bring to prominence. By the mid-'70s, Black music was transforming into funk, disco and rap, and artists that Wexler had produced, like Aretha, were changing as well. By relocating to Florida he had taken himself out of the loop, and feeling increasingly marginalized at the company, Wexler resigned from Atlantic Records in 1975.

Two years later, the crafty exec signed on with Mo Ostin at Warner Records, where he helped bring Dire Straits, the B-52's and Gang of Four to the label, but the industry was never the same as when he was co-head of Atlantic. 
Thanks for the great music, Jerry Wexler. You are already missed.

Friday, August 08, 2008

New Computer On The Way

Seems the trials and tribulations of my old Windows PC have finally peaked. It no longer is stable enough to work on - much less count on - and I'm going to have to decommission her and move on. I certainly got my money's worth and I'm excited by the prospect of the new, custom-built computer that should be finished by Monday.

I decided to contact Steve Lamm at Cryptic Globe Studio and I asked him to attempt a repair on the old PC. His diagnosis was a failing motherboard - not something you can fix cheaply. As much as I love my mobile laptop rig, I have several projects pending that need the desktop system, so I made the move and ordered the CGR-1 model. Here are the specs for those so digitally inclined:
4U Rack Mount Case
500watt PSU
CGR approved motherboard
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4Ghz processor
4GB DDR2 800 Memory
Lightscribe DVD burner
160BG SATA II 8mb buffer drive for OS
2 x 250GB SATA II 16mb buffer drives for Audio and Loops
Dual Head (DVI or VGA) ATI RX2600 256mb Video Card
Microsoft Keyboard Mouse Combo
Windows XP Pro SP-3
Fully tweaked for your audio software/hardware
System Restore Disk
1 Year Part and Labor Warranty

Rack mount case

This machine will be running Pro Tools M-Powered 7.3.1 and Cubase 4 for DAWs. I'll probably install Reason 3 and Live 6.0 eventually (as I am still investigating them) but I want to keep this rig lean and mean for a bit.

A couple of the features I think I'm going to really like:

The rack mount format makes it more mobile if I decide to cut tracks outside of my house and certainly will look cooler than yer basic tower. The Core 2 Dual is much faster than my current machine. The Lightscribe DVD burner is pretty neat. You can burn the data on one side, then flip it over and laser-etch graphics or titles or whatever onto the other side - no more cheesy labels or Sharpie scrawls.

Three discrete hard drives address the modern day recording method - one for the OS, one for loops and samples, and one for audio.

I'm still using the M-Audio ProjectMix I/O as my FireWire interface, and I've started getting a better handle on the several available types of preamps I want to have on hand.

M-Audio ProjectMix I/O

I'm definitely buying a pair of Amek CIB channel strips from a friend of mine, which will give me an uncluttered Rupert Neve-designed sound that should contrast nicely with the UA LA-610, which has more character and tubey goodness.

Amek Channel in a Box (CIB)

I'm also considering getting the Focusrite 428 package. Four channels of luscious ISA 110-based preamps. Nice. There's an optional digital card that allows you to use ADAT outputs and link two 428s together. A definite possibility for the future.

Focusrite 428

I'm gradually trying to upgrade my gear to end up with a smaller but higher quality setup than I have been using. Anything bigger and better that I might need for a project I will rent at the time.

Of course, I had to offset this purchase with something for the house, so a new ceiling fan/lamp for the TV room is laying in pieces on the couch, ready for installation. Maybe I'll get to it in the morning.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Two Gigs in One Day

We've been alternating playing an arena show and then a stadium show with Kenny Chesney all Summer long. On July 5th, we played LP Field in Nashville. We had passes for our wives and families, so Donna got to watch the show from my usual vantage point - guitar world.

Donna and Shamus, our FOH engineer

The crowds typically start coming en masse during LeAnn's show, and watching 40,000 people congregate in one place is pretty amazing.

Tim Akers and his accordion rockin' the stadium

My dear friend Elizabeth Cook and her band were playing the Opry Plaza that evening. Our shoe was done at 6:15 and the truck was loaded by 7:30, so we headed over to the Opry House to catch the second half of her Plaza Party gig.

Elizabeth Cook and Bones Hillman

EC has Bones Hillman playing upright bass with her. Bones spent many years in the band "Midnight Oil", and he was the bass player on the tour that turned out to be the best Rock show I have ever witnessed. Cool to meet him years later and get a chance to tell him that. Bones played with us when we opened for Elizabeth at The Station Inn on April 24th.

EC, Bones, Tim Carroll, the fabulous Marco Giovino

Elizabeth sounded great, an excellent mix by the house sound guy, and the rest of the band played wonderfully. Donna and I got to go inside at watch them play on the Opry show itself after they finished the Plaza gig.

Nashville is a pretty special place. You can go from watching LeAnn Rimes, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney play the modern style at the football stadium and then head out to the Opry for some old-school Country all in the same day.