Friday, December 16, 2005

When We Did

This morning my brother Matt sent me an MP3 of a guitar improvisation that I just had to put up on my MP3 page. I think anyone who's interested in my music should enjoy this too. Many thanks bro!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Al Oud

In an unrelated search, I excitedly stumbled upon this website featuring MP3s of rare performances by several master oud players of the last century. Absolutely amazing stuff and worth the download times. The gentleman who runs the site seems keen on preserving this music and appears to be a serious oud player & enthusiast. The oud is possibly the ultimate plectrum (played with a pick) stringed instrument and in the hands of players like these guys (or someone like Hamza El Din), the oud is a peerless tool for the deepest human expression.

The first oud I ever heard was Hamza El Din's on this classic Vanguard recording:

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Hazards of Recording, a Continuing Story...

Last night we got what was left of a snowstorm that hit the central midwestern states pretty hard. By the time it got to Ohio it was tame & picturesque in a Christmas card kind of way - just the thing to fire up some inspiration to record a few acoustic guitar solos (MP3s soon). Of course when it's cold outside the furnace comes on, usually right at that critical quiet spot in an otherwise inspired and unrepeatable take. As a "safety" measure I always click the furnace off during short winter home recording sessions. The problem is that last night I forgot to click the furnace back on after shutting the studio light off and hopping into bed. Needless to say, the "winter wonderland" I awoke to this morning was not a cheerful vista through the living room window!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Give Peace a Chance

It was 25 years ago today...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ears to the Ground

I'm particularly interested in the current resurgance of acoustic music going under the cover of "FreakFolk", "Acid Hillbilly" or "New Weird America". Gotta love a new generation of kids getting hip to Robbie Basho and John Fahey and mixing it up with Syd Barrett-esque acoustic psychedelicism!

I'm especially pleased to know that this kind of stuff can thrive in a world where talent-starved personality cultists, MTV darlings and American Idols are shoved down our throats like syrup of ipecac.

Projects in the Works

Had a good talk on the phone yesterday with Bret Hart about a few projects in the works. One is the second between Bret, Jeff Sampson and me. This one is going to be pretty heavy duty free-improvisation on "porch instruments" (Bret's definition of anything you can play without electricity on the front porch). Another is a revisitation of a trio consisting of Bret, Bob Jordan and me. A few years ago we put out The Un-Real Book (a low-fi dark jazz manifesto) under the name Three Channel Switch. This time we may explore working to (re)assemble pre-existing recordings (of ourselves) with current free-improvisations. Anything can happen with these guys - a year ago Bob sent me a 45-minute cd recording of himself dismantling his gas furnace (complete with commentary) mixed with percussion and Wurlitzer piano tracks!

Bret also encouraged me to send copies of Grendel and Vermis to Phil Kellogg in Berkeley. Phil's a superb guitarist and has done much to keep the legacy of John Fahey's "American Primitive" school of guitar alive, including organizing and performing at the recent John Fahey tribute concerts in Portland, OR. Phil's also connected to uber-improviser Henry Kaiser so who knows what could come of this.

Thanks Bret!

Friday, December 02, 2005


Got a note from Andrew McIntosh (the "Taped Crusader" from Down Under) that he's podcasting and has uploaded a show featuring none other than Rotcad Zzaj!! Rotcod (that's him in the picture) and I have made a bunch of great music together and he's one of my all-time faves (as a person and a player) in the indie music and improv scene.

You can download the show here (you click the little yellow arrow at the bottom to hear it), and the first tune comes from a fun collab Zzaj & I did a couple of years ago.

Hmm. Now this podcasting thing has me thinking...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sorry for the temorary outage

Oops - working on getting the old posts back up - sorry for the temporary outage!

During a recent interview I was was asked to come up with a list of ten guitarists who formed my initial inspiration as a budding guitarist. Here's the list, but be aware that this list doesn't necessarily reflect my favorite guitarists or later inspirations, only those who were fundamental to my formative years (some of these may suprise you):

My Personal Top Ten List of Influential Guitarists
(Specific to my formative years)

In alphabetical order:

Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck was someone I heard early on and I was (and still am) stunned to find out how many different sounds a person could make with an electric guitar, an amplifier, ten fingers and a deep imagination. Beck’s work continues to inspire me (from the feral, Link Wray-meets-Les Paul early Yardbirds to his current “postmodern jazz club from Saturn” work), and his has always been a lesson in putting substance behind the flash.

Ace Frehley. During a recent interview I remembered that when I was a kid the (very small) local library had about 20 cassette tapes* and about 50 records. One of the cassettes was Kiss Destroyer and it was dark and it scared me in a good way (thanks in part to Bob Erzin’s production). Frehley’s melodicism (coupled with an approach that drew equally from British blues, San Francisco acid rock and New York glam rock) still moves me. Thus also begins my love affair with Les Paul guitars.

George Harrison. RIP. George Harrison was always about guitar in the service of the song – probably one of the most important lessons lots of people never learn. George always came up with the best riffs and was able to funnel his influences into a unique and personal voice. "Tasteful elegance" doesn't begin to convey the beauty of Harrison's genius and his slide work is perhaps his greatest signature contribution to the instrument. Harrison's study and incorporation of the music of India establishes him as one of the earliest practitioners and advocates of “world music”.

Michael Hedges. RIP. Michael Hedges was the first guitarist I encountered where the composition was more important than the instrument. Hedges developed signature “extended” techniques (on acoustic guitar) to fully reveal the intensely beautiful and enigmatic pieces of music he sculpted from his restless imagination. Michael's use of alternate tunings and his percussive tapping on the body of the guitar has influenced my solo guitar playing immensely.

Jimi Hendrix. RIP. Another one of the cassette tapes* in my childhood local library was Jimi’s Smash Hits. I think that was the actual start of my awareness of the guitar as a tool for great personal and artistic expression on a deep level. Of course it was Hendrix’ unique & personal incendiary genius that ranks him among the greatest artists of the 20th century, and in that regard I consider Hendrix to be on the same level as Albert Ayler, Jackson Pollock or Igor Stravinsky.

Steve Howe. Steve Howe was the first guitarist I heard who loved, studied and incorporated many different guitar styles into his own. Howe was adept at various blues, rock, jazz, country, classical and flamenco styles (with a vast guitar collection to accommodate these various sounds) and always tastefully drew from this large pallet in service of the hurtling, cinematic music of Yes.

Leo Kottke. Leo Kottke showed me that a single acoustic guitar was capable of standing alone as a solo instrument capable of telling complete stories filled with melancholy, bitterness, love and humor. It was also through Kottke (specifically his 6 and 12 String Guitar album) that I first encountered alternate tunings and slide techniques.

John McLaughlin. John McLaughlin was the first “jazz” guitarist I ever heard (his Extrapolation was one of the records at the library* when I was a kid), and his intense technical virtuosity coupled with his visionary compositions and improvisational fearlessness was special. Like George Harrison, McLaughlin developed an understanding and love for Indian classical music that continues to inform his artistry. McLaughlin is one of the few guitarists who developed a signature tone on both acoustic and electric guitars, mastering the subtleties and nuances of each.

Matt Wallack. My brother Matt and I discovered those tapes (see *above) at the library together and we spent many hours listening to cassettes and FM radio while drawing pictures of guitars and goofing around, making “radio broadcasts” with our little tape recorders. Later on we managed to get ahold of a ramshackle drum set, a guitar and set up in the garage (where else?) and did little more than have good, noisy fun. I owe all of my love of playing the guitar to Matt. Peace & love brother.

Frank Zappa. RIP. Zappa’s music and guitar playing was something that immediately sounded “right” to me when I first heard it. His guitar playing in particular (influenced by blues guys like Johnny “Guitar” Watson and – oddly enough – human speech patterns) was enigmatic and visceral, and his guitar solos always told richly detailed (sometimes humorous, other times scathing) stories. Again, the lesson with Zappa was “be yourself.” Word.