Tag Archives: Music

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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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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The Ancient Art of Weaving and Band Telepathy

Keith and Ron and the "Ancient Art of Weaving."

Keith and Ron and the “Ancient Art of Weaving.”

Whether you are a fan of the Rolling Stones or not, one of the most fascinating things about them is their guitar musicianship. When people talk about great guitarists in the worlds of rock, blues and R&B they often highlight virtuosos like Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, who admittedly can play clean and fast like no-one else; but Rolling Stones, as staffed by Keith Richards and Ron Wood (not the Mick Taylor or Brian Jones chapters), draws attention to another sort of expertise, that they themselves call the “fine art of weaving.” These two long-in-the-tooth players roll around the necks of their guitars like two figure skaters on a rink, each doing their own thing, but somehow fitting perfectly. If Keith goes up the neck, Ronnie goes to the far end, and the licks intertwine, as can be heard so well in tunes such as “Beast of Burden.”

It might seem relatively straightforward to do this, with blues-based rock lending itself so easily to lazy lengths of twelve-bars, but most bands do not do this. There is the rhythm guy and there is the lead guy.

The fine art of weaving is a craft that comes from years and years of endless live performance – something most musicians can only dream of, but it highlights the essential element of any successful live band, which is a form of telepathy, in which every member of the band knows what each other will do, and can, as a result, perform confidently. This confidence reflects in everyone’s performance, and then projects out into the audience.

Many bands perform in a woefully under-rehearsed state, having practiced the tunes a few times, but not having perfected the show. Each member is still just a musician, and the five or six of them have not yet fused as a group, and this shows.

On-stage telepathy comes from hours of rehearsal and live play. It comes from an attitude that a performance is more than just knowing the set list. Mick can hand off to Keith and Ron. Phil Collins handed off to Mike Rutherford. Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson both had absolute faith in their musician and dancers to never have to look over their shoulders once to know if all was unfolding as it should.

For the 99.9% of us musicians who aren’t in the full-time professional league, rehearsal time is scarce, and gig opportunities usually hard to come by. But it is essential to recognize that the ability to play one’s own piece of the tune is only a small fraction of the end product. If you are in a five-piece band, ten you are not one-fifth of that band. You are more like one-tenth. Because no matter how hard you practice at home, it is the “act” that counts equally if not more than the actual tune.

In my humble opinion, a rehearsal should run through at least one set from start to end exactly as it would be played on stage, including the prepared announcements and banter (if any). Only then will true telepathy start to develop.

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Walkin’ in Memphis

Memphis - Beale Street

Memphis: Beale Street. Everyone who is anyone has played here.

I went down to Memphis in the Spring of 2010. I wish I could say we went down as a band, but that time has not quite come yet. I went down on business, but mainly so that I could walk the streets of that hallowed city. It isn’t hyperbole to say that there truly is something in the air down there. Beale Street at midnight. That’s where it happens. A couple of blocks closed to traffic, and almost every establishment jumping with the sound of blues, soul, funk, played by people who really should be doing it professionally, on tour with the greats of the business. Who knows, maybe some of them do. I stepped into B.B. King’s and watched in awe. One guitar player looked like Matt “Guitar” Murphy. The other looked like John Byner, the comedian. He played a Strat upside-down, the way Hendrix did, but musically he played like Stevie Ray, except his face constantly was contorting with grimaces and and open-mouthed stares, as he pulled every note – note perfect – out of himself and through his beat-up instrument.

Memphis breathes music. Around the corner from Beale Street is the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, where sequined and fur-lined jumpsuits belonging to the King, as well as to Isaac Hayes and a host of other giants, nestle quietly and forever, alongside the mixing consoles from Sun Studios and from Stax Records, and guitars from Carl Perkins.

Between Beale Street and the Museum, and just up a slight rise that makes up part of the banks of the Mississippi, is a statue of a young Elvis, hips and acoustic guitar swinging.

Steve outside Graceland

Steve outside Graceland.

I had a driver who took me to Graceland, which was once a stately mansion, but now looks more like “just” an affluent home. Nice, to be sure, but not on par size-wise with the mega-homes of the Billy Joels of the world. Elvis might have owned two planes (they’re parked across the street), but he couldn’t have taxied either one of them into the foyer, which I think Billy Joel can, and John Travolta still does. My driver patiently took my picture outside the gates of Graceland, and was able to keep the shot tight enough so that the gas station and the fast food restaurants that now flank the estate did not make it into the picture. But of course, the mansion’s true size is in its history. What it stands for as a home and shrine. It is worth the detour to see it.

I have been lucky to have visited many cities in my day, but few come close to having the palpable air of the love of music that Memphis has. New Orleans, yes. Parts of New York City, perhaps. But it seems to all come together, there, next to the big gray river, and it’s a place to which I long to return.

– Steve

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