Wednesday, February 2, 2011

R.I.P. White Stripes

The White Stripes have officially broken up, according to their website.
The White Stripes would like to announce that today, February 2nd, 2011, their band has officially ended and will make no further new recordings or perform live. 

The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. 

It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve What is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way. 

Meg and Jack want to thank every one of their fans and admirers for the incredible support they have given throughout the 13 plus years of the White Stripes’ intense and incredible career. 

Third Man Records will continue to put out unreleased live and studio recordings from The White Stripes in their Vault Subscription record club, as well as through regular channels. 

Both Meg and Jack hope this decision isn’t met with sorrow by their fans but that it is seen as a positive move done out of respect for the art and music that the band has created. It is also done with the utmost respect to those fans who’ve shared in those creations,with their feelings considered greatly. 

With that in mind the band have this to say: 

“The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful.” 

Meg and Jack White 
The White Stripes

R.I.P. the best band of the last decade by far. I really hope this isn't permanent.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Third Man Band

Last night Jack White was on Conan with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson and the Third Man Band promoting their new collaborative album, The Party Ain't Over.

The band also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman last week playing the rock and roll standard "Shakin' All Over."

In addition to his own bands (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather), White has played with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, appearing in the latter's concert film, Shine a Light.

He also become a renowned producer when he set up Third Man Records in Nashville and worked with legendary artists like Jackson and Loretta Lynn.

I could do an entire post about why I think Jack White is the best musician of the last decade but I'll save that for later. This is just a bit of a news update, as I happened to catch the end of Conan last night and was thrilled to see him on the show again. He was also first musical guest on the show back in November.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Led Zeppelin Song of the Week: In My Time of Dying

This song wasn't actually written by Led Zeppelin, although their version is certainly the most famous. It appears as the third song on Physical Graffiti and is the longest song in the Led Zeppelin studio catalog.

(due to the Youtube restrictions, the video cuts a bit off the end of the song)

The song is a folk/blues standard and the lyrics are based on an old gospel tune called "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed." The music here, however, is all original, featuring Jimmy Page on slide guitar in Open A tuning, and the writing credits list all four band members.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gibson's Top 10 Guitar Stylists

Over at they've made up a list of the "most influential guitar stylists."

10. Curtis Mayfield

Along with James Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolan, Curtis Mayfield pioneered the funk-guitar sound that continues to be adopted by such torch-bearers as Prince and Nile Rodgers. Utilizing a self-devised tuning based on the black keys of the piano, Mayfield played with a choppy, muted style that revolutionized R&B rhythm playing. His masterpiece, the Superfly soundtrack, sounds as fresh today as it did upon its initial release nearly 40 years ago.

9. Jonny Greenwood

Few contemporary guitarists have forged a style as eclectic as that of Jonny Greenwood. Citing such far-flung influences as Miles Davis, Can and (especially) new wave guitarist John McGeoch, Greenwood often uses his instrument to achieve near-symphonic effects that range from lush soundscapes to aggressive maelstroms. A supremely gifted composer, Greenwood has said his playing is so closely aligned with Radiohead’s distinctive songcraft, he’s not sure he could play with another band.

8. The Edge

Lots of guitarists have forged a style based on the judicious use of effects, but few players have done that with as much finesse as The Edge. As its most recognizable, The Edge’s sound chimes and shimmers with a clarion beauty, as the U2 veteran employs delay and reverb to add specific colors to the notes emanating from his fingertips. Many contemporary players have cited The Edge’s influence, among them Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Coldplay’s Jonny Buckland, but no one else sounds quite like him.

7. Tony Iommi

Heavy metal would be far less heavy were it not for the dark, minor key riffs of Tony Iommi. With his ever-present SG, Iommi continues to craft melodically menacing leads and foreboding blues-based solos that sound like the aural equivalent of the Frankenstein monster. As evidenced by such Black Sabbath classics as “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” no one has managed to combine brooding tempos and memorable riffs in the way Iommi has.

6. Les Paul

Simply put, the great Les Paul was the man who made the sound of rock and roll possible. Paul’s technical innovations were so pioneering, people sometimes forget that he was a premier guitar stylist. Singing six-string trills, newfangled fretting techniques and dizzying manipulations of time signatures were all part of his stylistic repertoire. No less an icon than Jeff Beck once said, “When I heard Les Paul [playing] things like ‘How High the Moon’ and ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,’ I wanted to be that. It goes way before the influence from ’60s rock and roll.”

5. Duane Eddy

No guitarist is more closely associated with “twang” than Duane Eddy. Along with his close friend and producer Lee Hazlewood, Eddy forged his unique style by playing lead on his bass strings, employing a technique that produced a low, reverberant sound. Hazlewood suggested the distinctive approach after hearing a pianist who’s own style incorporated playing melodies on the low keys of the piano.

4. Robert Fripp

Sometimes fitted with a serrated edge, other times delivered with celestial beauty, Robert Fripp’s ferociously original playing has always pushed at the boundaries of what rock music could be. In an era when his peers were immersing themselves in the blues, the King Crimson mastermind embraced avant-garde influences, and in the process created painterly experiments with ambiance and tone. King Crimson songs such as “20th Century Schizoid Man” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Pt. 2” pit melody against maelstrom in ways that thrill to this day.

3. Bo Diddley

The late Bo Diddley will forever be best-known for developing the “Bo Diddley beat,” a percolating, rumba-like chug based on the “hambone music” popularized by street performers. Fact is, however, Diddley’s hard-edged guitar style was just as distinctive. First with a Gibson L-5, and later with custom-made instruments, Diddley became a master at dialing in just the right tone and attack to achieve his driving rhythms.

2. Pete Townshend

Windmilled power chords, controlled feedback and calypso-on-steroids strumming continue to be the hallmarks of Pete Townshend’s pioneering style. Live, Townshend’s playing often takes on an orchestral power, as it approximates the majestic sweep of such masterworks as Tommy, Who’s Next and Live at Leeds. Asked about the origins of feedback as musical texture, Jimmy Page once observed, “Pete Townshend obviously was the one … who made the use of feedback more his style.”

1. Chuck Berry

By melding the swing rhythms and horn-like solos of Charlie Christian to the electric blues of T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry essentially created guitar-based rock and roll. Utilizing the simplest of ingredients – double-stop riffs, memorable intros and well-place slurs and bends – Berry came up with boundless six-string permutations. With the possible exception of Robert Johnson, no guitarist forged a style that had a greater impact on rock and roll’s seminal players.
A few glaring omissions (Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen?), but a pretty solid list I suppose. The top two specifically I could not agree with more. Pete Townshend gets a lot of praise at Gibson but is a criminally underrated guitarist- it seems very few people really understand his role in the creation of rock music.

And of course, Chuck Berry started it all. As Ted Nugent puts it, "If you don't know every Chuck Berry lick, you can't play rock guitar." 

Improvisation vs. Composition

Alright, this topic will probably only appeal to fellow musicians, but it's one that has been bothering me for a long time.

I first started playing guitar because I was listening to guys like Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, etc. Their music appealed to me a hell of a lot more than whatever it was that I was listening to before that (mediocre indie bands), and I loved listening to live recordings of these guys- they put out some of the best live albums ever (Clapton in Cream with Wheels of Fire and Live Cream, Duane Allman in the Allman Brothers with At Fillmore East, Pete Townshend in the Who with Live at Leeds, etc).

If there's one thing that all of those players have in common it is that they improvise every solo they play (for the unaware, "improvise" just means that they make it up on the spot). So naturally, when I began playing the guitar, I just always knew that you were "supposed" to improvise your solos. It never occurred to me that you might play the same thing every time, honestly. Obviously I learned some solos note for note, but I just assumed that when I got in a band I would improvise because that's what all my heroes did.

The first full song I learned, like a lot of people, was "Stairway to Heaven." The guitar solo in that song is legendary. It's a magical melodic masterpiece. Everyone knows it. It's probably the most renowned solo on any instrument ever.

But when playing it live, Jimmy Page always improvised it.

Yeah, the first couple measures are about the same, and the ending is the same, and there's that repeating lick in there that he always plays, but everything else is wide open.

Like most budding rock guitarists, I spent hours learning the studio version of that solo. But I spent many more hours improvising in the key of A minor over the song. Like anything in music, improvisation is a skill that needs to be honed and I've spent countless hours attempting to hone it (with mixed results).

Fast forward a few years and I "discover" Guns N' Roses. Also around this time I am listening to a lot of Rush and I greatly admire both Slash and Alex Lifeson. I look up live videos of these two great musicians and I discover that every solo they play live is almost identical to the one they played on the record. And I'm baffled.

Perhaps the MOST baffling part is that these two guitarists, Slash and Alex Lifeson, had the same influences as me. They were all into Clapton, Hendrix, Page, Townshend, et al. Now to this day I still do not understand why they do not improvise like their heroes did. It can't be that they think people expect to hear the same solo as they recorded on their album and will be disappointed if they don't...because Jimmy Page clearly never had that problem. So what is it?

Now, we all know that music is an expression of emotion. Maybe more accurately, a communication. To me it seemed obvious that when you play a guitar solo it should very much be in the moment- you should be expressing or communicating what you feel as you're feeling it, and not trying to replicate what you felt a year or a decade ago when you recorded the song.

Of course, you can express yourself by playing composed music...that's what all the classical players do. But to be honest, I am not interested in classical music for that very reason. It's not coming from the player, it's coming from some dead white guy from hundreds of years ago. But that's a different story.

Now, there are certain cases where I can see that playing a guitar solo note-for-note can be great. There are some solos that are just so good you know you'll never top them so you might as well not even try (but again, that never stopped Jimmy Page). There are some solos that are more than just solos...they're melodies, they're themes for the song. Take "Estranged" by Guns N' Roses. Slash composed melodies on the guitar that are integral to the song. You wouldn't want to improvise those. I also saw an interview with Tony Iommi, the guitarist from Black Sabbath, who made that same comment about one of his solos in "War Pigs." It sounds more like a riff than a solo, really, and it sort of just became another riff of the song, so he played it the same way each time.

These cases are excusable. But everything else? Well, in my opinion they should be improvised. But that's not going to stop me from seeing these artists who don't improvise live. I've already seen Slash once and am going to again next month, and I'm going to be seeing Rush in April. I'm sure the shows will be great, but think of how much greater they might be...

Soundgarden Update

A few hours ago, seven photos of Soundgarden rehearsing in a studio were posted on Facebook in an album called "January 21, 2011," all with 2011 copyright tags so we can assume they're new.

(note the Pete Townshend portrait in the upper right)

New album? Tour?  Earlier this week Chris Cornell announced a solo acoustic tour set for spring, something I've been hoping he'd do for a while. It's a little early for the band to be rehearsing for a summer tour, though. Could they be planning something before Cornell's solo tour in April?

Some acoustic Chris Cornell for you guys:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pearl Jam 20th Anniversary

From Rolling Stone:
Dreamed up by their manager, Kelly Curtis, on a drunken night in Las Vegas 10 years ago, Pearl Jam’s plan for the 20th anniversary of their first album, 1991’s Ten, is ambitious. Starting with a deluxe reissue of their second and third albums (1993’s Vs., 1994’s Vitalogy), the yearlong celebration will also include the unveiling of a Cameron Crowe-directed documentary about the band and a massive self-curated festival this summer.
“In our wildest imagination, we never even thought we’d last this long,” says bassist Jeff Ament. Adds Curtis, “Our goal is to document the fact that we’ve been around for 20 years – people who haven’t seen this band for a long time are gonna say, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember!’"
At first, the band members were reluctant to devote much of the year to nostalgia, but Curtis slowly persuaded them. “It’s not something they normally think about,” says Curtis. “They’re always thinking about the next record – not old stuff.”
First up is the Vs. and Vitalogy box, which comes with previously unheard bonus tracks (including an alternate version of “Corduroy” and a guitar-and-organ version of “Betterman”), an entire 1994 Boston show and a cassette from their Monkeywrench radio series. “On the Vitalogy tour, Eddie [Vedder] drove around in a van with a little pirate radio station in it,” says Ament. “It was a way to play music with our friends, and an anti-big-label thing. It was like a house party.” 
The band has also been working with Crowe on a documentary that chronicles its entire career. “I just saw a rough cut,” says Ament. “It was so fucking weird seeing footage of stuff I didn't know anybody was taping at the time. The whole movie is Cameron’s love letter to us – but it’s equal parts complimentary and really painful. It shows our growing pains and some real bad times, including Roskilde [the 2000 Danish festival where nine fans were trampled to death during the band’s set]. It was just really hard to watch.”
Around the time that Crowe’s movie opens in late summer, Pearl Jam are planning a massive “weekend bash,” as Curtis calls it, somewhere in the middle of the country. Details are still being worked out, but it will probably be a two-day event involving multiple bands and Pearl Jam headlining both nights. “We’ve played enough festivals that we know what makes them exciting,” says Ament. “We want to give people places to go that aren’t necessarily musical – second stages and all that kind of stuff. We’re asking our friends if they want to play a couple of shows with us.”

The group plans special sets at the festival, but don't expect to hear any of their classic albums performed straight through. "We talk about that stuff," says Ament. "For me, personally, it starts to become a little bit of a nostalgia thing. I remember we once did Tenstart to finish and it didn't work very well because it was kind of a little bit too down...I think we did a good enough job of mixing up the sets every night that we give people a taste of every record."
When the festival is over, however, it’s back to business as usual. “Ed and I were just going through old photos, journals and clippings for the box set,” says Ament. “By the end, we were both like, ‘Ugh, we’re done with the past for a while.’ We’re ready to work on new songs and get excited about what’s 
 Whoa. A lot of information there.

I only recently (relatively speaking) got into Pearl Jam so I haven't yet had a chance to see them live. I would travel quite a ways to see this Pearl Jam festival. My guess is it will be held in Eddie Vedder's home town of Chicago (that's the middle of the country, right? And it's a hell of a lot closer to me than Seattle). And I can only imagine who they are going to get to back them up- Soundgarden surely, Neil Young, maybe even the motherfucking Who could easily be the top festival of 2011.

I'm also excited about Cameron Crowe's documentary. He's been connected to the band since their inception (Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament all had acting roles in Singles and contributed to the soundtrack).

They also unofficially announced that they would be working on a new record, I suppose that will be out in 2012. I hope it's as good as their last one (Backspacer, 2009), which I thought was easily the album of the decade.

Here's a taste of what might be on the new album- a song called "Of the Earth" that they performed several times on their 2010 European tour: