Remembering Chris Squire

Yes, going round and round and round…

A year has come and gone since the passing of Yes bassist Chris Squire, and his absence is palpable. I was lucky enough to see him twice, during the In The Round tour of 1978, supporting the Drama album, and then in 2013 in Massey Hall, Toronto.

Although I have been a fan of Yes since the mid 1970’s I never truly appreciated the enormous musical power provided by Squire and his road-worn Rickenbacker.

Whereas many bass players are content to stand back and drive the bus, Squire was never in the background, literally or musically. His enormous persona dominated the live stage. He strode around like a Tolkien giant, conducting his band mates and the audience simultaneously, alternately scowling in concentration and then beaming with satisfaction.

But it was his virtuosity as a musician that was really head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries. For Yes, the bass was never just an device that delivered the bottom end of a tune. Squire played it as a full instrument, delivering lines and counter melodies in exquisite harmonies – often minor – to those being played by the equally fiery fingers of the other brilliant musicians who were part of the lineup at one time or another.

Squire played bass the way Bach wrote his fugues. Melodies crossed over each other with force, yet with delicate balance. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the recording studio, watching the collective genius of Squire, Howe, Anderson et al as they pieced together their tunes.

I am also fascinated by successful musicians like Squire who hang on to the same guitar for decades, as he did with his cream colored Rickenbacker. Like so many others, he had the money and pretty much every instrument manufacturer on the planet eager to give him a guitar or ten to play and endorse, And yes, he did have a few of those. But above it all, he stayed with his 1965 Rickenbacker, through re-paintings, neck shavings and even the odd piece on it that didn’t work. I love that. Andy Summers of the Police and his beat-up double coil Telecaster; Sir Paul and his Hofner Beatlebass. Brian May’s Red Special. It’s wonderful when these people stick with their favorite instrument like an old sweater, even in spite of the carefully made replicas available.

There is some fabulous pro-shot footage of Yes playing live in 2002, which shows the band in top form. Everyone seems to be smiling, and the chemistry between Squire and drummer Alan White seems to be extremely strong. They close with I’ve Seen All Good People, and the show is made even more powerful by the presence of the awesome Contemporary Youth Orchestra. Here’s the link to YouTube.

With Squire’s untimely passing, the band has moved into a new edition, with longtime sideman Billy Sherwood taking on the task of filling Squire’s enormous shoes, again, both literally and metaphorically.

There are sadly very few bassists who are recognized for their virtuosity, stepping over that line from fancy bass work to actual composition. Sir Paul is one, certainly, Geddy Lee, absolutely, and Les Claypool. I find the hallmark of great music to be something you can play over and over again and never tire of it. In large part due to the sophisticated layering of so many great musicians, much of the Yes catalog fits into that category, thanks to the genius of Mr. Chris Squire.

 

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Billy Joel: A nod and a wink to 19,000 friends

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 2014. Photo by Steve Prentice.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 2014. Photo by Steve Prentice. (That’s why it’s so far away)

I had the privilege of seeing Billy Joel play Toronto’s Air Canada Center this past Sunday, and it was a treat. Having seen many pro bands deliver tight, well rehearsed 3-hour shows as part of a multi-city concert tour, it is easy to get used to cool professionalism washed in the magic purple of stage lighting. But with Billy Joel, you get all of that along with a remarkable intimacy that turns the cavernous concert arena into a merely oversized cocktail bar, with the seasoned piano man himself tinkling the ivories.

His opening joke – “Billy Joel couldn’t make it tonight – I’m his father”  actually works, especially when he pauses, mid monologue, to look up at himself on the scoreboard jumbotron thing, and say, “I look so much like my old man…” before turning back to the crowd with that twinkle in his eye that seems to say that he genuinely enjoys sharing these anecdotes and stories with an appreciative crowd.

It makes you wonder whether the spontaneous rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was truly spontaneous – I mean did the band rehearse, or are they, as I would like to believe – just that good that they can play any tune that the master summons up?

The show moved through a number of his lesser-known pieces, such as Vienna, before ending up with his most successful upbeat rock tunes. Even the train wreck that occurred during “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” where he tripped over the words after straying too far from the teleprompter and forced the band to restart did nothing to calm the energy of the full house crowd that stayed standing through the entire  second half of the show.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 9, 2014. Photo credit - someone who posted on Twitter.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 9, 2014. Photo credit – someone who posted on Twitter.

He is a giant in the business, but he talks to his audience like he is everyone’s grandpa now, the way Bill Cosby does. Responding to a song request shouted out from one of the front rows, he said, “No! I’m 65. I’ll get to it when I’m ready!” But again, the wink and the smile in his voice showed a good-natured comfort that can only come from decades of live performance.

Technical virtuosity aside, what struck me the most about Billy Joel was the way he connected with the audience. He knew he was actually in Toronto (not every act seems to know or care where they are), and his stories of playing Massey Hall and Maple Leaf Gardens, and his recognition that his absence from the city during the 2003 SARS outbreak meant that “we sucked here for a while” added a connection that everyone felt. It was also appreciated by many that his drummer wore a Maple Leafs jersey.

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Bob Culbertson and the Chapman Stick

Bob Culbertson playing on Pier 39, San Francisco, August 2013

Bob Culbertson playing on Pier 39, San Francisco, August 2013

Walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco very recently, I heard the most beautiful music floating across the late afternoon breeze. It sounded like a trio, playing a gorgeous flowing piece of easy-listening jazz; there was no percussion, but something that sounded like a marimba, accompanying a harp or two – an actual sit down harp, not a harmonica.

I approached Pier 39 in search of the trio, but what I found was something and someone far more amazing. I had discovered Bob Culbertson, master of the Chapman Stick. He was playing a tune I did not recognize, but I stood enthralled for a full ten minutes, listening, for it sounded like he carried an entire band in his two hands.

The Chapman Stick: where guitar meets piano.

The Chapman Stick: where guitar meets piano.

I had never seen a Chapman Stick in person before. It is a remarkable instrument that resembles the neck of a guitar, but longer, and with no actual body. It is worn vertically, from belt buckle to shoulder and is played with both hands primarily pressing the strings down onto the frets. There are different models, having either 8, 10 or 12 strings, with the heavier bass notes in the centre, and lighter melodic notes toward the outside.

The result of this complex playing arrangement, at least in the hands of a master, is remarkable, and Bob Culbertson is indeed a master. His slender fingers walked up and down the Stick’s fretboard, threading their way constantly and carefully to new footfalls. The was no dramatic strumming, as guitarists are prone to do, no rocking of the body as pianists do, and of course no sharp intakes of breath as horn players most do. Instead the music just came from this delicate dancing caress, and it was remarkable.

Dubbed “The Segovia of the Stick,” Bob’s playing delivers everything that a jazz trio can do. Sensitive, captivating melodies backed by a walking bass line, with counterpoints weaving seemingly effortlessly between. That one person can keep track of so much and deliver so much is truly amazing.

Many years ago when Stanley Jordan was still relatively unknown, people marvelled at the idea that music could be drawn from a fretted string instrument by hammering rather than plucking. I remember hearing a jazz station DJ introducing a Jordan track one time by daring the listeners to believe him when he said there was only one musician playing.

The hammering technique for guitar has a number of masters and devotees. In Toronto we are lucky enough to have an amazing player by the name of Andrew Lopatin who actually plays in the subways. He too, is worth stopping and listening to, even if you are late for work.

But the Chapman Stick goes far beyond what a six or seven string guitar can do. It has a soft, flowing musicality that truly benefits from sensitive pickups doing the work of amplification. It is not well known in popular music circles; perhaps the most well-known player is Tony Levin, an alumnus of King Crimson, and acts as diverse as Mike Oldfield, the Blue Man Group and the Dave Mathews Band have also experimented with it.

Listening to Bob Culbertson play is simply awe inspiring. There are moments when it seems he is not actually playing at all, but merely holding the Stick upright, while it does the work. But that’s an unfair description. Bob is a master – one of those extraordinary musicians who becomes part of the music. It flows through him, to the instrument. Glenn Gould, the pianist, was like that. So was Vladimir Horowitz. Robin Williams and Eddie Izzard share this talent in storytelling and comedy. There is something that seems to go beyond mere practice and delivery, beyond merely working an instrument to make art. With artists like Bob, there doesn’t seem to be any force required. He simply lets the music descend into him and play itself on the strings.

But it would be unfair too to dismiss all the years of hard work and practice that Bob must have put into his craft. His face is placid as he plays, but his eyes are sharp. He scans the crowd, singling out those who truly enjoy the music and he makes a true connection.

Thankfully, for those who cannot get to San Francisco to see him, his music is available online, and this is obviously the easiest way to experience his true genius. His website is www.stickmusic.com.

For me, a musician who has always struggled to make a guitar do what it is supposed to do, it is a rare privilege to look over the fence and observe a true virtuoso – someone who is a conduit of melody – and to partake in its all encompassing beauty.

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Why I Admire Performers Like Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

To be honest, I have never given Mariah Carey much thought. As an aging rocker raised on Elton John, Paul McCartney and U2, I have certainly experienced my share of glamorous musicians and diva antics, but I have never had much time for warbling femme-fatales, and so she, along with Celine Dion and Beyoncé have always been kept in a soundproof box in the back of my mind. To be fair, I admire any entertainer who can stand up in front of a crowd and wow them, regardless of the type of music they perform, so I never went so far as to say mean things about them. Its just that the specific tone of their singing never appealed to me. OK, maybe Cher once in a while, but I have always preferred female performers with a little more of a gruff edge, like Melissa Etheridge and Susan Tedeschi, and a little less time spent in the makeup chair. This (photo upper-right) is how I have always understood Mariah Carey to look. I figured this was probably actually her passport photo, given how glamorous she is.

So it amazed me when I saw her in one of the best movies I have ever seen, Precious, by Lee Daniels. This is a tough movie to watch. It is gritty, brutal and extremely memorable. The performance by Gabourey Sidibe was stellar, but in my opinion the show was completely stolen by Mo’Nique, who is better known as a comedienne.

Mo’Nique played a real SOB of a mom. A TV-addicted welfare case who treated her daughter worse than dirt. And it is only (SPOILER ALERT) during her tour-de-fource scene at the end of the film do you truly find out why. Her character was not a pretty character, but Mo’Nique played it well.

Mariah Carey was in this movie too. She played the social worker who sought to understand and fix the problems in Precious’s life. And she looked like this.

Also Mariah Carey

Also Mariah Carey

No makeup. No big hair. No radiant skin. She looked like every other 9-to-5 schmoe out there who has a job to do, but who doesn’t really like it very much.

I find it extremely admirable when beautiful celebrities shed their skin and reveal to the world that beneath it all, they are still one of us. They weren’t born looking like Halle Berry (OK, maybe Halle Berry was). They were lucky enough to make it big in a vicious industry where most fall away, and their product is big, wonderful excessive enormousness.

So I salute both Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique for taking what some might consider a big risk in appearing on the big screen in all their plain normality. To me this only makes them more beautiful.

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What if John Lennon had lived?

John LennonI was sitting in a Starbucks recently and a track from John Lennon’s Double Fantasy came over the restaurant’s sound system. I was 15 years old when that album came out, and had already been a Beatles/Lennon fan for a decade. I remember how that album, from the first three bell tones of its first hit single Just Like Starting Over seemed to herald a new age for this brilliant songwriter. Clean and sober, ready to literally start over, ready to share his remarkable talents with the world once again.

Lennon seemed to possess a triple threat as a songwriter: brilliant wordplay combined with enormous tenderness, as well as the ability to create memorable hooks or riffs that guaranteed permanent implant into a listener’s ears and heart.

His death happened long before the age of social media or even cellphones. In an era when newspapers and television reigned, expressions of regret over his death came from all corners of the globe, even from the dark interiors of the Soviet Union, an unheard-of connection with the West which presaged the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet system itself. It showed just how pervasive beautiful music actually was; to penetrate the darkest, most oppressive areas of the world, to flourish among its people.

Obviously the songwriting team of Lennon & McCartney produced a dizzying collection of monster hits, any one of which most bands would trade their souls to claim as their own. And Sir Paul has continued to thrive, creating beautiful pop tunes, and entertaining well into his seventh decarde.

But Lennon had a deeper, more introspective style. He seemed able to touch people with his poetry, cynicism, and his message of peace in a way that went beyond music itself. Dare I say that his approach was on par with the peaceful “non-action” actions of people such as Gandhi and Mandela. Yes, these men suffered much more, but all three changed the world through non-violence and sheer charisma.

Others have come along to attempt to fill the Lennon shoes: Bono comes to mind. Yet for all of  Bono’s star power, there seems to be something essentially corporate about him. He has the power to flirt with world leaders, he speaks at Davos, and can look the Pope in the eye, but he seems, at least to this observer, to still be one of them. Lennon was never one of them. How would the various leaders of the world’s countries and multinationals have responded to his political fearlessness?

How different would the world be if Lennon had not been taken from us?

Take 9/11, for example. For such a tragedy to unfold right in the middle of Lennon’s beloved adopted hometown. What tune could he have written? What call for global peace could have been wrung from his soul to match and exceed the magnitude of this carnage? I believe the world would by now have a new and universal anthem for peace, had he had the chance to write it; a magnum opus from a man dedicated to non violence.

And what of any additional work with McCartney? There is no doubt they would have come back together. The world would have demanded it.

Of course I could be totally wrong. Maybe he would have turned into a parody of himself, botoxed, facelifted, and unwilling to let go of his youth, like Steven Tyler.  Maybe he would have matured into a genteel older version of himself, like Sting or Peter Gabriel. Or maybe he would have died anyway, from something natural or unnatural. But had he been able to have stayed with us, his words and art would still have to come out. He would have been a force to be reckoned with, creatively, socially, politically and musically.

He left behind both towering achievements and an indefinable void, with the rest of us just wondering what might have been.

 

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God Made Me Funky: A Mighty, Singularly Excellent Sound

Publicity shot of God Made Me Funky from their website. Photo credit: Arthur Mola

Publicity shot of God Made Me Funky from their website. Photo credit: Arthur Mola

Walking through the crowded closed-off stretch of Toronto’s Queen Street East during the middle of the Beaches Jazz Festival tonight (July 26 2013), a few questions came to mind.

  1. Why do they call it the “Beaches Jazz Festival” when Toronto’s fine citizens voted just a couple of years ago to name this area of town “The Beach” and not “The Beaches,” even though the latter sounds better to me?
  2. Why also do they call it the “Beaches Jazz Festival” when so little jazz is actually played? Maybe I arrived on “Funk and Disco” night, because most of the dozen or more bands I saw were playing material that was definitely not jazz. It was good, it was energetic and the crowds were loving it, but it was not jazz.
  3. Who decided to post a band every half-a-block? Obviously someone not familiar with outdoor acoustics. Every street corner had a band pumping out high-energy music, not only to stir the relaxed crowd into movement – (even nodding heads in time with the music would do, people!), but also to drown  each other out, or risk being drowned out themselves.
  4. Who brings small dogs to a crowded street festival? They are way too small to be seen by people who are looking through the crowd for their next source of entertainment or food, and the poor little things must be frightened to death by the din of the music and so many legs.

Regardless, the festival was great, and the weather was perfect. The bands themselves were tight. As per usual, many of the musicians were busy reading their charts rather than making eye contact with their audience, so I must assume they were having fun, inside their cones of concentration.

As we headed back through the throng after having traversed the length of the festival’s six (or more?) blocks, we stopped at a crowded Starbucks for a coffee, and that’s when the magic happened. Because that’s where God Made Me Funky was playing.  GMMF is a Toronto-area band that does funk right, because they actually look like they are having fun. Here’s what amazed me about them:

  1. Their act was tight: the tunes they played were flawless. Like, Prince-level flawless. Pauses, time changes, call-and-answers, every note, every beat, every hand gesture and eye contact was spot on. These guys were not introspectively grooving to the tunes inside their heads; they were painting the audience with big fat brushes full of music. Just lathering it on.
  2. Their act was fun. Like Barenaked Ladies fun; Like Black Eyed Peas fun. They enjoyed playing and they enjoyed charging the audience with their power. Although they have probably played this show a thousand times, they looked like it was a thrill to be playing with each other, and that there was a real party going on.
  3. The whole band was in on it. Like Frank Zappa. Like Louis Prima’s band. Like Great Big Sea. It wasn’t just the front line singers making the moves. The rhythm section didn’t just stand back and drive the bus. They all worked the line. The musicians played wireless. They hopped to the foreground and rolled back again. They wove in and out. They played!
  4. Their sound was singular. Like Beatles singular. Most bands I hear, including my own, tend to sound like four or five musicians playing along to the same tune. But GMMF does what the Beatles and Prince do: they do not sound like “so many performers;” they play so tightly that it becomes one big, clearly beautiful sound. Perfectly balled up as a solid chunk of funk, everything clear – the vocals, the drums, everything where it should be, but all part of a bigger sound rather than just a band. Like the vocals of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison never sounded like three guys – they sounded like one really big unique thing.

Am I gushing? Well. just a little. I have been trying to get performers to understand this concept for years. A live band plays for its audience. It must deliver a package. Rehearsals are where the tightness comes from. It sucks in all the energy, so that it can be blown back into the crowd come performance time. People need to see a band having fun, and performers need to know how to perform, not just play.

I can understand now why GMMF plays so many dates. They are a live act that just keeps giving to its audience through well-honed professionalism combined with true Canadian charm. Check them out wherever you can. This is a link to their website. They might even make you funky.

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Choosing a band or a DJ: What to do?

Absolutely Jack - Live Music delivers great memoriesWhen you are looking to entertain your guests, one of the primary questions regarding entertainment is whether to hire a live band or a DJ to deliver the music. The choice generally is easy: it comes down to cost, and DJ’s are cheaper. They play the exact tunes that your guests know and love from the radio and YouTube, and given that they are usually a group of one, maybe two, they will likely be more reliable in terms of showing up.

DJs provide a great service, much like Starbucks or Subway do: a consistent packaged product, tweaked for your own preference, at a reasonable price.

However, most event planners and brides that I know do not consider Starbucks or Subway when selecting a caterer. They want a team of people who will deliver excellent food, prepared specifically for the event, in a professional and dignified manner. And that, believe it or not, is what great event bands do. They are not wild rock and rollers; they are focused on delivering a unique excellent multisensory product that generates a sense of event.

A great band generates excitement and feeds it to the audience: live musicians are alive. They see the audience and the audience sees them. There is a personal connection; eye to eye, smile to smile. A live band can see what works, what motivates people to dance, what makes them happy. They deliver music as a gift – carefully created and hand delivered. It is a very personal experience.

A great band knows a lot of tunes and can play what your audience wants. A great band consults with the client; works with the client to determine which tunes and sequences would work best. A great band is responsible enough to rehearse regularly and fully, so that the delivery of the tunes is respectful, to both the audience and to the original artist. Most bands are not tribute acts. They interpret tunes faithfully and assign the singing duties to those who can best deliver. They have a wide range of tunes to pull from, and their experience helps deliver them in the most effective manner.

A great band is a special event :  a sense of occasion. Your guests see people on stage; talented musicians who are ready to give their all for the audience’s enjoyment. This performance will be unique; no other party or bride will have exactly the same collection of tunes, jokes, comments and special memories. Their product is as valuable as the food on the tables and atmosphere of the event itself.

A great band looks great. They dress the part. They dress to impress the audience, to look like something special. They are great-looking people holding great -looking instruments, under great looking lighting. There is a certain wonder to seeing musicians; they hold the key to the magic of an evening. They deliver energy and enjoyment. You only have to look at the air-guitar players that every audience reveals that show just how many people wish it was them up there on that stage, looking cool, delivering the pleasure.  It’s not just the music. It’s a whole look and feel.

A great band means the music does not have to stop. Event planners often worry that the music and momentum stops the moment the musicians take a break. But great bands are already on top of that, ensuring additional music is made available over the PA during the breaks. The momentum never ends, but the excitement always rebuilds when an audience sees a band return to the stage and pick up their instruments.

A great band has passion. Musicians love to play music and it shows. They live to deliver joy to audiences, and audiences pick up on this. It becomes part of the vibe of the moment and of the memories that last long after.

A great band is reliable. Working musicians are craftspeople, not divas or rock stars. They understand the importance of an event, and they understand that the event starts long before its actual date: planning and preparation are essential.  A great band works hard to make its clients’ lives easier and stress-free by removing the worries about hiring a group of musicians. A great band shows up early, sets up and sound checks efficiently and with respect to others who are also setting up. They constantly monitor for satisfaction and take care to craft their performance in an agile way that rides the momentum of the event. Great bands are all about excellence in customer service throughout the entire multi-week life of an event.

Are great bands expensive? Well, they cost more than DJs do. But they deliver more also. A band of three or four or even six musicians represents decades of practice, education and experience in the business of delivering a quality product.  Like a great catering company, chef, emcee or event planner, their value is in their experience and professionalism, and their price reflects that. Great bands need never be prohibitively expensive; but they do deliver above and beyond what they charge. They deliver a very human and very tangible emotional product that is more than just music. It is an integral part of the event itself.

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Yes! You Can!

Yes at Massey Hall, April 11, 2013.

Yes at Massey Hall, April 11, 2013.

We went to see Yes play at Toronto’s Massey Hall yesterday (April 11). That’s my back-of-the hall iPhone photo. They delivered a flawless performance, playing three albums in their entirety, and ending with “Roundabout.” Just like the Rolling Stones and so many others, they dispel the myth that live performers have an expiry date, and though most of the Yes line-up are now in their sixties, they powered through the tunes with a crisp accuracy that very few bands can attain. Massey Hall has excellent acoustics, and the signature sounds of Yes – Chris Squire’s custom-wired Rickenbacker 4001, and Steve Howe’s crystal-clear guitars reached all the way up to the nosebleed seats.

So, indeed most of the band members are in their sixties, but not so the lead vocalist, Jon Davison. Jon is amazing. He sings with pronounced passion and soul in the demanding alto range established by his predecessor, Jon Anderson. Even their names are strikingly similar. He blends so well with the music and looks so happy up on stage, it was hard to believe he is such a new addition to this giant of a band.

Yes frontman Jon Davison. Photo from Wikipedia.

Yes frontman Jon Davison. Photo from Wikipedia.

His story, too, is an amazing one, mostly because he has lived the dream of many hundreds-of thousands of musicians: he went from fronting a tribute band to fronting the band itself. How unbelievably cool is that?

According to Wikipedia, Jon was a musician friend of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, and long story short, Hawkins was also a friend of Chris Squire. So the connection was made.

An ironic twist here – Davison actually replaced another tribute band frontman, Benoit David of Montreal, who was the first to take the heat from Yes purists for replacing Jon Anderson, and who was sidelined, just like Anderson, with respiratory issues.

So along comes Jon Davison, and his voice peals beautifully through the complex verses of 1970’s Yes, and captures the spacey, lyrical Roger Dean-ish mindscapes that most members of last night’s audience grew up on.

For someone such as myself, who relishes virtuoso musical performance, and who strives to play as accurately and as soulfully as his own minor talent will allow, to watch truly gifted artists at work is an absolute pleasure, and to see artists such as Davison literally fill the space between legends such as Squire, Howe, Alan White and Geoff Downes, adds an additional vicarious thrill.

Yes has a gruelling tour schedule ahead of them. I wish them many, many standing ovations along the way. They deserve them all.

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Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Lucy

They all loved Lucy.

They all loved Lucy.

Today (March 30) is Eric Clapton’s birthday. Of course the man needs no introduction, so I would rather talk about Lucy. Mr. Clapton is known as one of the pre-eminent and most famous users of the Fender Stratocaster, definitely a guitar that suits his clean and melodic style. But he was not always a Strat man. Back in the days of Cream and the Yardbirds, Eric played Les Pauls and Firebirds. He was a Gibson guy.

One of the most famous Les Pauls in rock history, then, has to be Lucy, the red 1957 Les Paul Goldtop upon which Clapton played the beautiful solo on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

According to Wikipedia, the guitar was first owned by John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, who then gave it to Rick Derringer in a trade for an amp.  The finish became very worn, so Derringer’s father took it back to the Gibson shop where it was repainted red. Derringer did not like the feel of the repainted guitar, so he sold it to a New York music shop, where Eric Clapton found it and bought it. He played it for a while, but because he “already had a Les Paul” he gave it to George Harrison. George was struggling with the writing of “Gently Weeps” so he invited Clapton to come to the recording session. Clapton noted that George’s solo didn’t sound “Beatle-y” enough, so he sat down and delivered. Again, according to Wikipedia, “Clapton laid down the track in a single take; but later stated that he was so high at the time he doesn’t remember it at all.”  George kept the guitar, but it was stolen during a robbery of his Beverly Hills home in 1973, where it traded hands a couple of times, it went to Mexico and eventually was recovered by trading a couple of other guitars. George kept Lucy, and presumably it is still part of his estate.

This leaves me with a couple of questions:

With so many guitars in the world, how come just a handful get to live storied lives like this one?

And also, these musicians have piles of money and access to all kinds of instruments. How come they lend and borrow from each other like this? I think it’s cool, but are they really that stuck for a good guitar? George Harrison’s brown Telecaster has a similar story. It was given to him by Joe Walsh.

It all makes for wonderful lore, and it certainly helps out the marketing of high-end Signature series reproduction guitars, but you have to wonder a.) whether these stories are true; b.) whether any of the world’s greatest guitar solos would have happened the same way if they had just picked up any old studio guitar lying around;  and c.) whether they will live on for centuries, like Stradivarius violins, to be played by successive generations of gifted artists.

Anyway, happy birthday, Mr Clapton. Thank you for making it all look so easy.

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Steven Tyler and the power of networking

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry getting along for once...

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry getting along for once…

Today (March 26) is Steven Tyler’s birthday. As the flamboyant front man of Aerosmith he has made a great living playing in and leading one of the world’s most famous rock bands, while not taking himself too seriously. The staccato vocal rhythm prevalent in a lot of his tunes comes from the fact he was a drummer first, playing drums in his upstate New York hometown. He also learned a great deal about composition by sitting under the piano in his home while his father, a classical musician, played. He would write tunes with “two hands” in mind and would go back the studio and say “bass, you play what my left hand is doing on the piano – yes, he can play piano too — and guitar, you play what my right hand is doing. So as weird and strung-out as he may still appear, he is a wise man of rock – very smart in both the ochestration of tunes and of course the choreography of a great live show.

But as with many immortal partnerships (Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richards, Elton & Bernie) the soul-mate connection between Tyler and his amazing guitar player Joe Perry leaves us with the intriguing thought of what might have happened if they never hooked up. According to Tyler’s excellent autobiography, Do The Noises In My Head Bother You (which is even better as an audiobook, read by Tyler sound-alike Jeremy Davidson), Perry was playing around in other bands, and it was only the connection they had to a summer camp that got them together. Perry, as a teenager, was the fry-cook there.

Now this may not be networking in the truest sense of the word, but it goes to show just how much fate pays a major part in our lives. If Tyler had not gone back to that summer camp, would we have Aerosmith? If Jagger and Richards had not bumped into each other and started talking about blues records, would the Stones ever have existed? If Reg Dwight and Bernie Taupin had not seen and answered the same newspaper ad, well, who knows?

One of the greatest stepping-stones to personal success and satisfaction comes from the people you know. They provide opportunities, for business, for gigs, for advancement in all areas of life. When we reflect on all of the great might-have-beens and all of the great victories, they are usually due to being in the right place at the right time – with someone else.

Your personal network is your best tool for getting ahead, and should really be nurtured every day.

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