Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stratocaster in the Morning

I had a few minutes to kill while I waited to send my daughter off to school on the bus. Here is a quick 30 second improv on my strat through a Classic 30 amp.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stevie Ray Vaughan, his clones and John Mayer

I am a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was working at Musicland in 1984 when he started to break out into the mainstream and was hooked when I heard "Texas Flood." Being a guitar player, I was drawn to his original revved-up blues rock and his interpretations of music by Otis Rush, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, et al. During a time when most guitar players were using rack-mounted processors and effects that needed a degree in engineering to operate, here comes SRV with a battered pre-CBS Stratocaster, going through a few effects and into an old Marshall or Fender amp. There was nobody playing like that in 1984 who was in the music mainstream, although there were probably plenty of unknown guitarists playing in a similar style all across America. He was the first to break out in the MTV world who was different.

I was lucky enough to see SRV in concert in August 1989, during the In Step tour. It was an outside concert on Harriet Island in St. Paul. I may have been far away from the stage, but I still fell under the magic of his music.

Which leads me to this: since SRV’s death, there have been many clones come out, like Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Corey Stevens, and probably thousands of others around the world, all brandishing Sunburst strats and wearing a hat.

This leads to severe criticism on guitar forums all over the Internet. Are these musicians original? Are they just copies of SRV, who he himself proudly admitted that he took from the people before him, and made the songs his own?

I used to think these guys were silly to try to emulate SRV. Now I think it is great, because in today’s bland music scene, they are least trying to keep this kind of music alive. SRV is not around anymore to do it, so why not all those guitarists across the world? I see it all over – particularly on YouTube - with young kids, picking up a guitar and wanting to play like SRV. How cool is that? The fact the young kids, both boys and girls, are doing this kind of music instead of listening to Hannah Montana, that Spears lady and others, is a very good thing!

Onto John Mayer: I am always amazed at how much criticism is leveled at John Mayer for daring to sound like SRV. Here is a guy who loves to play guitar and is one of the new great, young guitar players with mainstream success, bringing SRV’s style of music back into light. And all these guys do is complain about how stupid Mayer looks when he plays, or that he found success playing AOR music before going into the blues with the John Mayer Trio. We, as guitar players, should appreciate any effort that a guy like Mayer makes to keep SRV’s (and others) brand of charged-up blues rock going.

It really does not matter to me that it has all been done before. I just like the music, and how it makes me feel. I miss Stevie Ray Vaughn. But his music and spirit is alive in all of us who like to play in his style, paly his songs and learn from what he did. I suppose it is the passing down from one generation to the next. Maybe someone out there will discover a new direction to take it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Childhood Guitars - Conn and Ibanez

I thought it was appropriate to write a few words about two other guitars I had in the 1970's, since I covered the Univox High Flyer a few weeks ago.

Peter Frampton was all the craze in the mid 70's, and so were black Les Paul Customs. Of course, getting a real Les Paul was out of the question, so I found this little plywood gem, a Conn Drifter. It was actually a nice guitar, with fake humbucking pickups and a bolt on neck. I painted the plastic white to look like Frampton's Les Paul, and even added white paper to the neck to make it look like a set neck! That is something a 13 year old would do! I recall being very proud of this guitar and sold the Univox to buy it. I have found very little information on Conn, other that it was Japanese made and probably made by Aria Guitars. Here is one link I found on Japanese guitars from that era. And another interesting link on Asian guitars, the VintAxe Forum. Most of us young guitar players started out on Asian guitars. They had a bad reputation of being cheap copies.
Until I got this one - an Ibanez Stratocaster. I traded the Conn for this. It was my second choice as the real Fender Stratocaster, used and selling for $192 (!) in 1977, was sold when I went back to the store. The strat was a great guitar, with a laminated maple fingerboard on a maple neck. I bought an Ampeg VT-22 amp along with the guitar for a total of $250. The Ampeg was loud, which my dad did not appreciate. It did not have a master volume, so to get any distortion you had to crank it up. I have tapes of me playing this setup, and for a ninth grader in 1977, it was not too bad! These stat copies are highly regared today, as quailty copies, at a time when real Fenders were having quality problems and did not have a good reputation. Are these collectable? I can't seem to find the answer that. People do collect Ibanez guitars, so I am sure they have gone up in value over the years. Here is a link to an Ibanez collectors page. This guitar had a cross between a matte and glossy finish, which had cracks in it soon after I bought it. I do not know what the body wood was, as I probably did not care one bit back then.
As I view this site, I remembered getting Ibanez catalogs back then, and seeing that they made dead-on copies of Gibson Flying V's and Explorers, which are very expensive these days. Tommy Bolin and Ricky Medlock played the Destroyer (Explorer copy) as did Eddie Van Halen, who took a saw to his. Bob Mould of Husker Du used the Rocket Roll (Flying V copy) for many years. These guitars are known as "Lawsuit" guitars, as Gibson supposedly sued to stop them from making them to sell in the USA.
I own four Stratocasters today, and I as I listen to the tapes of me playing the Ibanez with the Ampeg cranked, I can say that it sounded like a Stratocaster should.
I traded this guitar in late 1978 for a 1978 Les Paul Deluxe in wine red, another guitar I wish I had today. I wonder where the Ibanez is today. Probably somewhere down in southern Minnesota or Northern Iowa, perhaps?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quiet Riot concert - 1983 in Minneapolis

Here are a few pictures I took of Quiet Riot in July of 1983 in Minneapolis at the Parade Stadium. It was the Northwestern Beer and Barbeque concert. They opened, followed by Joan Jett, Greg Kihn and the headliners, Lowerboy. I got right up front for Quiet Riot, as they were not hugely popular then. I had that Metal Health cassette in my car most of that summer. I wish I could have seen them with Randy Rhoads, though. I have Quiet Riot two, recorded in the late 1970's. It is more pop metal, if there is such a thing. I will add more pictures later this weekend.