Category: blog


Guitar as Catherdral

This gorgeous photograph was taken by Bjoern Ewers as part of a series of posters for the Berlin Philharmonic. Simply astounding!

Kellerman Rocks MVBS Festival

We trekked up to the IH Mississippi Valley Blues fest on July 4th and enjoyed an amazing day of live music. Standouts included Bill Sims and Mark LaVoie, playing old school Delta blues with some sweet harmonica. We also spied harmonica wizard Matthew Skoller in the audience catching the grooves.

The Shawn Kellerman Band ripped up the main stage just as folks were starting to freak about the rain. A few drops fell and the radar looked dire, but the festival was spared and Kellerman destroyed the set. We had a chance to stop by and talk with them after the show – it was Kellerman’s birthday and the MVBS provided a huge cake for him.

Other standouts were Kim Massie, belting out with an amazing voice, and for the headliner, it was the Tommy Castro Band featuring Debbie Davis on guitar, Magic Dick (of J. Geils Band fame) on harp and Sista Monica on vocals. The rythm and blues revue tore up the stage and Sista Monica riveted the crowd with an amazing parformance.

All in all, another great year of music for the MVBS. Great job guys – keep the blues flowing!

In Praise of Joe Price

How many of you listen to your bloated iPod on shuffle nearly all the time? I made the move to shuffle a few years ago, because I didn’t have time to scroll through every musical Tom, Dick and Harry when I wanted to hear a tune. Most of the time, I get a wonderful, eclectic mix of songs… at times it’ll be something awful and at other times, inexplicably, it’ll rattle off six Beatles songs in a row… how’s that work?

Then every once in a while, a song will come on that will make you stop dead in your tracks… something amazing that compels you to stop what you are doing and just listen. Sometimes, I’ll have to look at the artist to see who is making my feet tap. Other times, I know right away who it is. Joe Price is one of those artists I recognize instantly.

Joe’s music forces me to stop what I’m doing and listen, smile and tap my feet. It’s a crazy elastic form of old-school guitar blues that sounds like nothing else. The rhythms bounce and hop like a super-ball on caffeine, and at times, it sounds like two or three guitars at once, with a crazed cat-in-a-bag thrown in for good measure… but it’s all just Joe slapping and hammering those strings and layering vibrations and tones over each other into this heady cocktail of joyous musical energy.

I play blues guitar as a hobby, and at times, I listen to a guitarist and go “wow, I’d love to be able to play like that!” That’s NOT how I feel when I hear Joe play (either live or on my iPod)… I know with absolute certainty that there is just flat-out no way I can ever play like that… but the music compels just the same. The crazy tunings, the breakneck rhythms and the growling, dancing bass notes work together to weave a unique and utterly un-copyable sound and tone. No one sounds like Joe Price… not before, now now… probably not ever.

If you haven’t seen Joe Price (and his lovely wife Vicki) play live, then shame on you… look them up and go see them this summer. Buy his CDs and load them on your iPod… support his music and then, one day in the near future, you’ll hear one of his songs come on and you’ll stop dead in your tracks and just smile. And isn’t that what music is all about?

Joe Price’s website

Can You Learn Music Online?

I just finished up my second 12 week online course from the Berklee College of Music (the last one was their Blues Guitar Workshop). This go-round, I tried out Basic Improvisation, a multi-disciplinary course on the basics of improvisational soloing.

While it kept me away from open mics over the last three months (every free moment I could dedicate to music was consumed by this course!), it really was a wonderful experience. I’m really amazed that online music education can be so effective. Each week, students are presented with videos (from the instructors), lesson text, written music and web-based jukeboxes filled with tunes to illustrate key concepts. Online class meetings each week provide a chance to share with students and get direct, non-email teacher feedback. Each week, we worked through one or two major assignments that we had to record and post as MP3s.

As a computer geek who makes web applications during his day-job, their course site is top-notch and I’m a little jealous of all the bells and whistles it has.

In the improvisation course, we spent time working on transcriptions skills, listening skills, playing with accompaniment, note-based and rhythm-based motifs, chord tones, chord scales and chromatic approach shapes. While most of the class didn’t really deal with the type of old-school mono-bass blues I like to play, I was able to see how I can sally-forth and apply that knowledge to the way I play the blues.

If you can spare 5-6 hours a week of musical study time, it’s a great investment in learning. Check it out here.

Les Paul

This week, guitar great Les Paul died. To tell the truth, I was never a huge fan of the Les Paul guitar (I love Telecasters), though my one electric guitar, called a “The Paul”, is a solid mahogany Les Paul with enough heft to stop a crack-crazed sumo wrestler with one baseball-bat-like swing.

But I do love tipping points… I love the decade-long, Gordian-knot like tipping point of Charlie Patton/Son House and Robert Johnson… the Velvet Underground, the Beatles, Hendrix… those musicians crafted a moment or series of moments that carved a deep path for others to follow.

Les Paul was one of those tipping points. In the throws of the Depression, he was an innovator, not only in playing guitar, but in amplifying and electrifying that guitar. He took an acoustic instrument and gave it a voice loud and powerful. Like Henry Ford, who couldn’t really visualize what he was doing until it was too late, Les Paul didn’t see the monster chops of Jimmy Page, Slash or Hendrix. Didn’t anticipate feedback, the raged sound of over-heated tubes, wah-wah pedals and the like.

Les Paul created the electric guitar and developed a sound that was sweet, smooth and urbane… jazzy, bluesy riffs that we’re like some smooth Kalua cocktail. I remember in college listing to his albums made with his wife Mary Ford… the sweet, jazzy, poppy songs they’d perform together… wonderful music.

Then every once in a while, in the middle of a song, Les would take a guitar break and shred that fretboard, blending blues, country and soon-to-be-rock runs with his jazzy chords… playing the bass strings with a pick, running the neck from low to high… sliding, hammering and pulling off, delivering a 20 second guitar solo that would just leave your jaw hanging open.

He was truly a tipping point, and those scales started tipping a half century ago with the like of Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and Bill Haley… and imagine that thread of guitar innovation as it moved through Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix, Leslie White, Eric Clapton and Jorma Koukenen… and into modern guitar masters like Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen, The Edge, Stanley Jordon and Robert Fripp.

A true innovator may have left us, but the scales have already tipped and there is no turning back. Better turn it up to eleven!

Best Amplifier Ever!


A few weeks ago, I took delivery of my new custom made Hahn Signet amplifier. What a gem! Hand made in Galva and Texas, this low wattage tube-powered beauty is a real throwback. Simple volume, gain and tone controls give a surprisingly wide range of sound options.

I’m playing my Phillips archtop through it and it’s the sound that amazes me… clear, crisp and with just the right amount of fuzzy edge to deliver that vintage blues sound I’m alays looking for but rarely find.

In the past, I used a Voodoo Sparkle Drive pedal to get the sound right, but this amp delivers just what I want straight up, and I love not having any other electronics in the way between the guitar and amp.

The quality of the custom craftsmanship is amazing… from the custom cabinet (finished to match my Yamaha piano) to the tube amp chassis, everything is neat as a pin, professionally done and done with flair and an eye to lasting quality.

I rarely get on bandwagons, but I’m certainly on the Hahn Amplifier band wagon… if you are looking for a wonderful small tube amp with amazing sound, be sure to check them out! You can even head to the image gallery and see me playing through my new amp at an open mic at Budde’s… check it out here.

Best Songs Using Slide Guitar


Death Letter Blues, Son House
If there was a “platonic form” of the perfect Depression-era blues song, this would be it. Powerful, driving, tragic and empowering, this song is a towering achievement. House heavily influenced Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and most of modern music along the way.

Come on in My Kitchen, Robert Johnson
Women were said to weep openly when Johnson played this song in juke joints. This is the masterwork of the first modern blues guitar player, full of passion and tense with sexual energy. Women want Johnson, men want to be like him. No wonder he’s the “King” of the delta blues singers.

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, Blind Willie Johnson
Johnson is, hands down, the best slide guitar player ever. It’s not even close. He used a pocket knife as a slide, and hit such perfect notes that the music compels an inescapable, deeply emotional reaction. There’s a reason why his music is rocketing off into space on the Voyager probe, showcasing the very best humanity can achieve.

What Does It Mean To Be “On”?

Last week, I played a short set at Budde’s open mic over in Galesburg. It was one of the best sets I ever played… but why?
I wasn’t particularly technical; I screwed up a few times, but kept going. So why did it feel so good? I think part of the answer lies in audience reaction – for some reason, they were paying more attention than normal and supported my playing with cheers and hoots. Obviously, that gets a musician motivated.
But I think it was more than that… for some reason, confidence was strong (that’s not a given), so I sang louder and with more conviction. Though I’m not sure why I felt better that night than others.
What I noticed most was that I felt part of the music. I wasn’t just playing a few songs – I was inhabiting them. I was feeling the strings, flowing with the music, almost surfing over the music with the lyrics. I was in there and believing it, and because of that, I think the end product was greater than the sum of its parts.
I was a magical feeling, but certainly elusive for me. Maybe one day, the recipe for that magical musical gumbo will reveal itself for me; until then, I’ll be content for those rare moments when I truly inhabit the music. After all, that why I keep coming back to play!

Last week, I played a short set at Budde’s open mic over in Galesburg. It was one of the best sets I ever played… but why?
I wasn’t particularly technical; I screwed up a few times, but kept going. So why did it feel so good? I think part of the answer lies in audience reaction – for some reason, they were paying more attention than normal and supported my playing with cheers and hoots. Obviously, that gets a musician motivated.
But I think it was more than that… for some reason, confidence was strong (that’s not a given), so I sang louder and with more conviction. Though I’m not sure why I felt better that night than others.
What I noticed most was that I felt part of the music. I wasn’t just playing a few songs – I was inhabiting them. I was feeling the strings, flowing with the music, almost surfing over the music with the lyrics. I was in there and believing it, and because of that, I think the end product was greater than the sum of its parts.
I was a magical feeling, but certainly elusive for me. Maybe one day, the recipe for that magical musical gumbo will reveal itself for me; until then, I’ll be content for those rare moments when I truly inhabit the music. After all, that why I keep coming back to play!

Best songs utilizing the ‘wah-wah’ guitar effect

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Electric Ladyland, 1968

This is the grand-daddy of all wah-wah songs and the Platonic Form of electric guitar for many an aspiring players. Flat out, this may be the best electric guitar song ever put on vinyl. Gifted guitarist Joe Satriani sums it up this way: “It’s just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity.”

The Ring
Robin Trower
Victims of the Fury, 1980

No one has mastered the depth and breadth of electric guitar sounds like British rocker Robin Trower. Easily one of the greatest Stratocaster players in history, Trower flows from the ethereal to the raw in his guitar work. Victims of the Fury is a masterful album, and The Ring is unequaled raw, wah-powered brilliance–the guitar line is so aggressive, it’ll peel paint.

Soul to Soul
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Soul to Soul, 1985

Stevie was perhaps the best technical guitar player ever. Not as creatively brilliant as Hendrix, but easily his master in technique. In Soul to Soul, he delivers a romping, wah-infused instrumental that’s both as catchy as it is edgy. It’ll make your eyes water at the same time you’re tapping your foot. The ease and accuracy of his playing, coupled with the rich tone, is simply unbelievable.

Charlie, Joel and Fred

Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing both Charlie Hayes/Joel Fleming and Fred Dixon prepare for their upcoming Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival performances at an open mic at McMahon’s Pub in Monmouth.

Charlie and Joel were on fire, with Charlie playing both acoustic and electric Dobro slide guitar. It was amazing hearing the tone and range from Joel’s harmonica playing–certainly not the sound you hear from your garden variety blues harpist. His high-end solo on Shake Your Money Maker was simply amazing!

Fred was working through a potential set, trying out the best flow and fit of a number of way-old-school blues songs. It’s simply amazing the depth of material he has access to. He was telling me that his love of deep blues came from his childhood in Chicago (he moved up there at 12), where his “hillbilly” accent and poverty governed who he could and could not hang out with. There, with the poor kids on the streets of Chicago, he fell in love with the authenticity of the blues.

I’m getting psyched about the show–I can hear in my head the flow from one act to the next and I think it’ll be a day to remember!

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