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I just got the guitar…now what? (part 2)

Okay, so now we know what are all the parts of the guitar.  Let’s look at the stuff that we will be using most – the strings, tuning pegs and the frets.

Tuning

First of all, the purpose ot the tuning pegs is to tighten or loosen the tension on the string, thereby raising and lowering the pitch of the string respectively.  The strings can be tuned to any number of pitches, the standard tuning is as follows:

E – 6 -fattest string (“top” of neck)
A – 5
D – 4
G – 3
B – 2
e – 1 – thinnest string (“bottom of neck”)

I use a simple mnemonic: “Every Astronaut Does Good But Elmer”.  Most people will use an electronic tuner or pitch pipe entire guitar or a tuning fork to tune a single string and then tune the rest of the strings to that reference.  How does that work?

Nearly every electronic tuner has the ability to listen to the sound a string makes and tell you what the closest note is to that sound.  It generally will give some sort of visual representation to the player of whether they are in tune, sharp(#) or flat (b).  Tightening the string will make it closer to in tune when the tuner displays that the note is flat, conversely loosening the string will make it closer to in tune when the tuner displays that the note is sharp.  Remeber to ensure you are trying to tune to the correct note for the assigned string.

A pitch pipe generally has six tubes that you can blow in to and get a reference tone to which you can tune.  This helps build your ear for hearing the dissodence between notes that are not in tune with each other but can be quite a challenge for the beginner.

A tunning fork is a device that produces a single tone when struck.  There are designed to play one note that can be used as a reference tone.  Most guitarists that use tuning forks use forks that are tuned to “A=440hz”.  That means that the fork will vibrate 440 times a second producing the perfect A note.  When properly tuned your guitar’s A string (5th string) will vibrate at exactly 440 times a second.  Once that string is tuned, the guitarist can tune the remaining strings in reference to that string (more on that later).

Or you could just use this one from Guitar For Beginners.com :

Standard tuning
E
A
D
G
B
E

Now back to the stuff I mentioned earlier, tuning forks. A tuning fork is manufactured to produce a specific tone. That is their sole purpose.

Nice explanation on YouTube.

Tuning your guitar is a matter of simply tightening or loosening the string using the tuning pegs.  By turning your tuning peg so that the string is further wrapped around the peg is tightening the string and thereby making the pitch (or sound the string creates) “higher”.  Conversely, turning the tuning peg so that string is actually relieved off of the peg is loosening the string and causes the pitch to be “lower”.

In A Genre of Their Own

While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on musical genres, I have listened to a fair share of music in my time and truly dig songs from all types of genres. Usually I stay within the same 4 or 5 genres (namely classic rock, jam bands, reggae, bluegrass, and folk) but can’t help but love when musicians mix genres, cross genres, or create new ones all of their own. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a huge success but when it does work, it is one awesome sound…take for example the Easy Star All-Stars reggae remake of Pink Floyds’ Dark Side of the Moon.  Even more appealing is when I come across a group with its’ own sound that really doesn’t fit into one of the traditional genres.  The three bands below have only been releasing albums for the past 5-10 years, but they are so unique and so good at what they do I believe they deserve a genre all of their own and therefore I have taken the liberty to create some new genres for them.

Artist: J.J. Grey & Mofro New Genre: “Swamp Rock Funk”
While it is hard to compare J.J. Grey & Mofro to any other artist I have ever listened to, they could arguably possess the smoothness of Marvin Gaye, the funk of Stevie Wonder, the jams of Curtis Mayfield, and the masterful organ playing of Gregg Allman. Add to these resemblances some amazing harmonica playing and a screaming slide guitar, and you have one of the best bands to surface this decade. When you first listen to Mofro, you might envision a rundown house on a dirt road in a small Mississippi town back in the 1960’s. You can imagine a couple of guys sitting on the front porch on a blistering hot summer day singing about the good times and the bad times. There’s no audience, just soulful sounds and heartfelt lyrics that make you feel like you were sitting on that same front porch. The brilliance of J.J. Grey & Mofro is that they are a couple of white guys from southern Florida who weren’t even born in the 1960’s, yet their songs tell stories that bring you back in time when things were simpler. Do yourself some justice and listen to everything these guys have released….it’s that damn good!

Artist: Xavier Rudd New Genre: “Didgie Jam”
Imagine a voice that resembles Paul Simon, rhythms that compare to Bob Marley & The Wailers, and slide guitar playing that would make Ben Harper jealous. Now add the unique and mesmerizing sounds of the didgeridoo and you”ll have a sound the echoes that of Australian native Xavier Rudd. The first time I heard Rudd was live at the 2004 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. A group of us were heading back to our campsite when we were stopped dead in our tracks by a gratifying sound coming from one of the side stages. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard a the striking vibrations of a didgeridoo before, it was the fact that on stage there was one guy sitting on a stool playing an unbelievable jam with 5 different didgeridoos, a slide guitar, and the drums…that’s right, one guy! Since then, Xavier Rudd has added a full band and has expanded his offerings with a darker sound that features more slide guitar and deeper jams (as evidenced in its latest album Darker Shades of Blue). Even though he has shown an impressive range in his sounds, Xavier still sticks to his island roots and produces the kind of music that can turn a bad day into a good one!

Artist: Railroad Earth New Genre: “Bluegrass Jam Rock”
One of the members of Railroad Earth classifies themselves as “an amplified string band with drums” while another member says they are “a Country & Eastern Band.” However, the resemblance that might be missing the most from the bands’ description of themselves is that they are also a “Rock and Roll Band”! Before the band ever released its first album, an organizer for the world famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival got a hold of one of Railroad Earth’s studio sessions and they were quickly added to the lineup. Listening to the voice of lead singer Todd Sheaffer might remind you of little bit of Jerry Garcia, but there is a range to his voice that will be sure to surprise you. The bands’ last album, Amen Corner, has a harmony and flow that will give you goose bumps. It is a beautiful collection of songs that all have a sense of optimism to them, making it hard not to tap your foot and wear a big smile. Whether you are a country fan, a jam band fan, or a bluegrass fan, Railroad Earth is sure not to disappoint.

I just got the guitar…now what? (part 1)

Congrats…condolences…you just got a guitar!!!

Guitars are without a doubt the coolest and sweetest instruments ever created by man!!!  Take the piano for instance, there is only one place on the piano that you can play the E note an octave and a half higher than middle C.  One place?  On the guitar, you can play that note in 5 different places on 5 different strings.  Because of the way the guitar is tuned (in fourths – explanation coming soon), there is an amazing number of ways to approach chord construction.

So the guitar is the first instrument you’ve ever had and you thought when you saw it in the store or under the Christmas tree that I can learn a couple of chords and it’s off to the beach and and a campfire.  Well, yeah, that works if you want to play “Louie, Louie” for a 5 hour period.  So what do you do the next day?  Truck on down to the Guitar Center and pick up the simplest Mel Bay guitar instruction book.  You get  it home and start your journey into “Van Halen”-esque stardom.  Just make sure you master “Aura Lee” first.

Or…you could pick up a few basic theory rules and start way ahead of the crowd.  Probably the reason why you ended up here, so let’s look at some basic stuff.

First, let’s start by discussing some common terms for parts of the guitar.  Speaking the same language will be very important and a recurring theme in this series.  Let’s take a look at some parts.

Acoustic-Guitar-Parts Guitar101

Click on the image to see a bigger version.

Ok, that should cover the basics.

Next up, making sound!!!

How I Discovered My OCD

It wasn’t until high school (over 15 years ago) that I started really listening to the Beatles.  Of course, I had heard various songs of theirs prior, but high school is when I really began delving into their catalog.  Like so many things, my interest in the Beatles was precipitated by a woman.  After all, many great events in a man’s life occur during the pursuit of a woman.  I didn’t end up with her, however.  But that’s okay.  If recent pictures I’ve seen are any indication, I definitely ended up for the better.

What I did get was something more valuable, something even more consuming than a woman.  What I got were the seeds for a lifelong exploration of Beatles music.  The first two CD’s I purchased were The White Album and Please Please Me, two extremely diverse listening experiences.  Nevertheless, I equally loved them both, and reveled in the joy and exuberance of their first album while I would marvel at the introspection and experimentation of music created just five years later.  And if memory serves correctly, it only took a couple months of working at the local fast food joint to obtain the rest of the catalog.

So I listened repeatedly to arguably the greatest catalog of music ever issued by a single band (save for Yellow Submarine).  I listened so much I absorbed every melody, harmony, and lyric.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t listen to anything but the Beatles for quite a while.  Why would or should I?  Nothing else compared.  This was the Beatles, man.

The problem was, although their catalog is relatively extensive, it didn’t satiate my need for Beatles music.  But I owned everything they ever released.  So where was I to go?

At that time a radio show (note: FM radio, not internet radio, Pandora, or podcast) played every Sunday called “Breakfast with the Beatles.”  Essentially, it was two hours (or so) of only Beatles and related (solo) music.  But the most important part of the program was near the end.  That’s when I would hear alternate mixes and studio outtakes.  I remember distinctly hearing on my boom box (yes, boom box) the Abbey Road medley without the “1,2,3,4,5,6,7 all good children go to heaven” lyric.  I also remember hearing edit pieces of “Thank You Girl.”  Wow.  Where did this come from?  And are you serious?  There’s Beatles music I haven’t heard?

And thus, the journey really began.  After searching for a while, I located a local music store called “Now Hear This.”  This store soon became my haven.  They sold bootlegs.

Bootlegs.  I’m not talking about illegal copies of released music, I’m talking about unreleased music.  There are primarily two types of audio bootlegs: studio recordings and live recordings.  Although I enjoy the occasional live recording, I am fascinated with studio recordings.  And, lucky for me and every other Beatles fan out there, there is no shortage of Beatles bootlegs.  Although expensive (thirty-five bucks a pop), every bootleg I bought there was well worth it.  My first purchase was, of course, a Beatles bootleg called Unsurpassed Masters vol. 3.  It was released by a “company” called Yellow Dog.  The importance of this volume is it contains multiple takes of Strawberry Fields Forever.

Okay, now here’s where my OCD comes in.  During the previous months when I dove headlong into the Beatles music, I also read any credible book on the band and watched any available documentary.  Therefore, I knew the released version of Strawberry Fields Forever consists of two separate takes that George Martin had spliced together.  Listen to the song again, and at almost exactly the 1:00 minute mark you’ll hear a distinct change in Lennon’s voice.  This is because both takes were performed in different keys.  Furthermore, one take was faster than the other.  In order to merge the two takes, one take was sped up and the other slowed.  The result is a warping of sorts to Lennon’s voice that is nearly imperceptible during casual listening, but very noticeable when you listen for it.

Anyway, the bootleg contained both of the original takes, which are strikingly different from one another.  The other track I still enjoy is the first take of Strawberry Fields Forever. To me, the music of this take best complements the mood of the lyrics; the slide guitar and simple arrangement captures the longing and loneliness of the narrator reminiscing on childhood.  I know this take was later released in the Anthology series, but here’s the funny thing: the version on the Anthology is not the true unedited take.  For some reason, in the official release of take one, they removed the background vocals during the verses.  Why?  I don’t know.  The background vocals are beautiful and lush, a perfect commingling of the Beatles’ three primary singers.

Over time (after all, thirty-five bucks a disc was quite expensive) I acquired all the Unsurpassed series.  Some of the highlights of the series: Hearing John Lennon ask “What kind of solo was that?” to Harrison after One After 909 in 1963 (a song they apparently shelved until the Let It Be sessions some six or so years later); the multitude of mess-ups during I Saw Her Standing There and the studio banter between Lennon and McCartney between takes of the songs; the astoundingly jaw-dropping a cappella version of Because; the demo versions of Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps (both versions are solo Harrison with just a guitar, and both versions feature extra verses not present in the released versions – “I watch from the wings of the play you are staging / While my guitar gently weeps”).

What I love about studio bootlegs is gaining insight into the creation of a song.  The music of the Beatles is so good it appears effortless and sometimes simplistic.  Listening to the studio outtakes gave me an appreciation for the effort and work they invested in their music.  You get to basically hear how their mind’s worked, how they pushed one another towards greatness, and how experimental and innovative they truly were.

Bootlegs, as least these kinds of bootlegs, are for serious fans; fans, like myself, who’ve listened to and learned every studio recording, but are left still wanting more.  The released versions are only a fraction of a band’s history.  To even attempt to understand a band and their music you must explore the roots of what grew to the released versions of songs.  Unfortunately, studio outtakes aren’t available for every band.  But for the Beatles, there’s a plethora from which to choose.  I would recommend the Unsurpassed Masters and the Purple Chick recordings to anyone interested in Beatles music.  It will only increase your respect and enjoyment of the Beatles.  And, it may… just maybe… satisfy any OCD tendencies you may have.

In the future I will post more comprehensive opinions and reviews of bootlegs I enjoy.  Don’t worry, I won’t review Beatles exclusively.   But I figured the Beatles are always the best place to start when concerning music.

With Warren (1990 – present)

With Warren” marked the resurrection of the Allman Brothers Band.  Warren Haynes showed up at studio in 1989 to do some vocal backup work.  Dickey Betts was recording there as well.  Dickey had heard Warren play and asked him, in jest, if the producer had brought Warren in to replace him on his own solo record.  They had a laughed and Warren ended up complimenting Dickey’s playing on the solo effort, “Pattern Disruptive”.  Next thing, Warren is the new guitarist in the ABB.  Warren brings a spark that they had been missing since the death of Duane.  Don’t misunderstand, Warren isn’t the new Duane.  Playing styles are completely different but what Warren did bring is a the drive and work ethic that Duane had back to ABB.  He pushed them to be more than what they had become and remember why they got into the ABB in the first place. 

“Seven Turns” starts off blazing with “Good Clean Fun and runs through numbers like “Low Down Dirty Mean,” “Shine It On,” and “Let Me Ride“.  Almost all completely written by Dickey (aided by new pianist Johnny Neel and Warren).  The killer for me is the track “True Gravity“, probably the best instrumental to come out of the ABB since “Jessica”.

“Shades of Two Worlds” was almost overlooked by most people.  This returned ABB to their truest blues roots since “Idlewild South” .  “Bad Rain” and “Come On In My Kitchen” are flatout smokin’ acoustic blues.  They both invoke a back porch feel that is missing in a lot of electric blues.

“Where It All Begins” might not be as strong as the previous two but contains some of my favorite tracks.  This is a “live-in-the-studio” album.  Recorded like the days of old without many overdubs.  It has a good earthiness to it as well.  It has possibly my favorite and simplest Haynes’ composition “Soulshine”.  To me, an absolutely beautiful folk song.  Other high points, IMHO, are “All Night Train”, “Sailin’ Cross the Devil’s Sea” and “No One to Run With”.  These are well written and have the good blend of lyrical content and jam sessions.  “Back Where It All Begins” is a great groovin’ jam with Dickey and Warren trading really hot licks.

Then 9 years later, “Hittin’ The Note”.  A little background here, ABB had pretty much called it quits – Allen Woody and Warren Haynes left to form Gov’t Mule.  Dickey was working on Great Southern, Gregg was putting the finishing touches on “Searching for Simplicity”,  Butch was doing Frogwings with Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Marc Quinones and Oteil Burbridge.  In 2000, Allen Woody, bassist on the previous 3 albums, died while preparing to tour with Gov’t Mule.  This was the impetus behind Warren coming back to a new version of ABB.  Butch Trucks brought Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge to Jaimoe and Gregg.  He convinced Warren to come back and they moved on without Dickey for the first time since the formation of the Allman Brothers Band.  What was produced was the most electrifying album since “Brothers and Sisters“.  The combination of Warren and Derek are the closest thing I have heard to Duane and Dickey.  Truly complimentary, truly melodic and just amazing.  This is also the first time we hear Haynes taking a big role vocally.  This bounces back from smokey lounge jazz fusion that would make Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock take notice to whiskey drinkin’, cryin’ in your glass blues that could make Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker sob in their graves.  “Firing Line“, “Who To Believe”, “Rockin’ Horse” are the real rockers on the album.  For those in need of serious blues, “High Cost of Low Living”, “Desdemona”, “Old Before My Time” and the Stones’ cover “Heart of Stone”Jazzers will love “Woman Across the River”, “Maydell” and the amazing “Instrument Illness“.

Seven Turns by The Allman Brothers Band
Thank God that Warren Haynes
found his way into the studio that
Dickey was playing in!!!

Shades of Two Worlds by The Allman Brothers Band
Thick electric and acoustic blues
throughout the whole album.

Where It All Begins by The Allman Brothers Band
This album as a whole might be the weakest
of the first 3 but still has some
of the best songs.

Hittin' The Note by The Allman Brothers Band
Just my favorite ABB album.

Pattern Disruptive by Dickey Betts
Warren Haynes and Johnny Neel in some pre-ABB work

Searching for Simplicity by Gregg Allman
Gregg rehashes the ABB sound without the
band but included Derek Trucks

With Duane (1969-1971)

This might seem to a huge slight to the amazing talents of Forrest Richard “Dickey” Betts but is more of a defined change in the sounds and direction the band took.  “With Duane” saw the formation of the group and the had Duane “Sky Dog” Allman as the engine of the group.  He pushed and prodded everyone to be better than they thought themselves to be.  This brought to us the studio albums “The Allman Brothers Band” and”Idlewild South“, producing staples such as “Dreams“, “Whipping Post“, “Revival“, “Midnight Rider” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed“.  This was also the category that sees the release of the highly lauded “At the Fillmore East“.  The only live album that I have owned in more formats than I care to mention ( currently stuck on the 1992 Polydor release called “The Fillmore Concerts” which is a remix by Tom Dodd of both nights).  On October 15, 1971, “At the Fillmore East” goes gold; 14 days later “Sky Dog” was gone.

Bridging the gap between “With Duane” and “Without Duane” was “Eat A Peach” containing live tracks from Fillmore and more ABB staples, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “One Way Out”, “Melissa”, “Blue Sky” and “Little Martha”. So, that’s what?  10 undeniably classic tunes captured on 3 albums in less than 3 years, oh and let’s throw in one of the best live albums ever recorded…ever?  And that’s just the first category!!!The Fillmore Concerts by The Allman Brothers Band
The album that started them down the road.

Idlewild South by the Allman Brothers Band
Smokin’ yet not receiving the kind
of sales they expected.

The Fillmore Concerts by The Allman Brothers Band
The first opportunity for
the world to hear ABB live

The Fillmore Concerts by The Allman Brothers Band
A great mix of the original
Fillmore East concerts editted
by Tom Dowd
Eat A Peach by The Allman Brothers Band
Despite the tragedy of losing Duane,
the band played on.

Without Duane (1972-1981)

Without Duane” really had its peaks and valleys.  It started pretty strong despite the loss of original bassist, Berry Oakley with “Brothers and Sisters. Lamar Williams stepped in and the now Dickey Betts driven ABB became more laid back and easygoing and not as driving as the previous category.  “Wasted Words”, “Ramblin’ Man”, “Southbound” and “Jessica” are just classic.  But that’s pretty much where things slow to a crawl for 17 years.  What was to follow didn’t really create too much of a stir.  1975’s “Win, Lose or Draw” was just bad.  Other than a decent cover of a Muddy Waters tune, it just completely misses the mark.  According to Butch Trucks, this was the beginning of the “we’re rock stars” timeframe.  He stated in an interview in 2009 that the music at that time just became second fiddle to the partying and lifestyle.  1976’s “Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas” returned ABB back to what they did well still and that was perform live.  This album has a great representation of the cuts off of “Brothers and Sisters and “Win, Lose or Draw but it’s the 17+minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” that is the crux of the album.  No longer being able to do the fire and brimstone of the Fillmore days, this version is brooding and open making room for Greg Allman and Chuck Leavell to vamp.

Back together for their final album for Capricorn, 1979’s “Enlightened Rogues” wasn’t so much a bad album as it was an uneventful album.  “Crazy Love” was the hottest track on this on and it still holds up today.  Running a close second was “Just Ain’t Easy“.  Dan Toler brought some fire back to Betts playing and David Goldflies took over the bass duties from the recently departed Lamar Williams (he and Jaimoe went to form Sea Level in 1976).  The last two albums of this category “Reach for the Sky” and “Brothers of the Road” were for Razor & Tie records and were seeing the ABB come into the ’80s and that wasn’t good for any of us.

Brothers and Sisters by The Allman Brothers Band
An amazing tesatament to
the fortitude of ABB after the
loss of Duane and Berry Oakley
Win, Lose or Draw by The Allman Brothers BandA fairly uneventful release despite
a two year span since “Brothers and Sisters”
Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas by The Allman Brothers BandBack to a live album and still the best
way to experience ABB
Enlightened Rogues by The Allman Brothers BandBetter than most but not great,
“Crazy Love” is the best track by far.
Reach for the Sky by The Allman Brothers BandJust not very good,
very gospel but “Angeline” shines.
Brothers of the Road by The Allman Brothers BandJaimoe fired, pop-sheen,
does this make sense to anyone?

The Allman Brothers Band – Best Band Ever?

That’s huge!  The Allman Brothers Band best band ever?  Ever!!?  Not The Beatles?  Not The Stones?  The Allman Brothers Band…ok, they are really good, potentially great, but the best band ever?   Resoundingly, YES!!!  There has been no other band that has evoked the kind of visceral emotion and pulling at every heartstrings.  I grew up on a steady diet of Santana, Yes, Led Zeppelin and Elton John.  Being hispanic, admitting that there are higher planes of musical existence than what Carlos has taken us to is akin to Stephen Hawkins telling us there is no such thing as black holes.  So what is it about ABB that keeps me coming back to them?

Let’s take a deeper look at the catalog that makes me love the Allman Brothers Band above all others – at least for the present time.

First, I separate the albums that ABB did into 3 categories that I think truly defines their sound:

  1. With Duane (1969 – 1971)
  2. Without Duane (1972 – 1979)
  3. With Warren (1990 – present)

Not trying to slight Dickey, I love Dickey…in a strictly non-sexual, uh…man there is no getting out of that one.  Dickey Betts smokes on the Goldtop, back to the categories. “With Duane” was a short 2-3 years but maybe the best because it was so raw.  “Sky Dog” drove the Allman Brothers Band into the stratosphere.  Take an hour and a half out of your busy life and sit down with a pair of headphones or an extremely large pair of speakers that shuts out everything else in the world and put on “At the Fillmore East“.  What I found so amazing about the ABB during that time is the pure energy of it all.  The 1st album was the blues like I had never heard before.  Southern fried tones with really kickin’ grooves – all beautifully colored with the best whiskey drinkin’ voice in rock…period.

Without Duane” was not the most prolific time for ABB.  Best thing that came out of it was “Brothers and Sisters“.  Despite continuous issues, death of Duane and Barry, the bankruptcy of Capricorn – their label, the marriage/divorce/marriage/divorce of Gregg Allman and Cher, Jaimoe and Lamar leaving to form Sea Level and all of this combined with their rock star mythos issues (drug, drink and way too many groupies).  They still kicked out good tunes but not at the level they did before.  I personally loved their live stuff still.  This was nearly the end of ABB.

With Warren” was the ressurrection of ABB.  Never have I heard the kind of jazz fusion, rock, southern tones and fat, fat rhythms.  Three great albums in 4 years then nothing for 9 years.  Some touring, some live recordings but no new material.  I could’ve been happy with just that but then 2003 – “Hittin’ the Note”.  Take a listen, you will be addicted as well.