100 Great Guitar Moments – #80 to 71

Yes, it’s that time again when another 10 guitaristic delights get featured here for your listening pleasure.

It’s worth reiterating that this is a very personal choice that will vary over time and the great guitar moments are placed in no particular order of merit – apart from the last one, of course, which will be my current all-time favourite.

Steve Winwood – Night Train: He was great with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, but it’s his solo work which has some obscure but essential gems scattered amongst it. This track from his second solo album showcases him as a guitarist, although he played all the other instruments himself. It’s really just a jam, but it shows that he can play as well as any of his contemporaries – including Clapton.

 

The J.B.s – Doin’ it to Death: Two guitarists for the price of one here – the legendary Jimmy Nolen and the lesser-known Hearlon "Cheese" Martin. This is funk, with an illuminated capital ‘F’. OK, it’s simple stuff, but decidedly tricky to play for so long and keep the groove. Of course, this is really a James Brown song, but dear old James created so many band offshoots that it’s hard to keep track. Without JB’s prescription for funk, no Funkadelic, no RHCP – no funk at all. Dig the key change from F down to D. Take it to the fridge! Er…bridge!

 

Steve Vai – Blue Powder: I could have picked quite a few tracks by Vai to illustrate why he’s one of the few shredders who has something to say and not just wank away at. This version was issued as an exclusive Guitar player flexidisc and I prefer it to the later album version. It’s not exactly soothing music, but it has little lagoons of calmness within it. I love the subtle and Hendrixy guitar at 1:55 and the way the whammy bar opens this section. Vai plays with feeling here, but also a great deal of humour, and – to my mind at least – that’s an important and rather rare quality in rock music.

 

Robert Johnson – Stop Breakin’ Down: OK, Johnson’s been hyped and mythologised way more than anyone deserves. There are plenty of other great singers, writers and guitarists who contributed to the blues in a significant way. However, that doesn’t mean that Johnson isn’t worthy of all the plaudits that have come his way since his untimely death. It’s hard to listen to his guitar playing when the vocals are so plaintive and prominent, but it’s worth the effort. That’s real driving guitar and his thumb keeps a rock steady rhythm throughout. Essential blues guitar.

 

Les Paul and Mary Ford – How High the Moon: It’s Les’s tone which blows me away in particular. No-one before him had such a deep, rich sound and so much tonal variation. I have this hunch that he had his amp turned up almost to the point of distortion – certainly his guitar has an edge to it that no-one else had at the time. Of course, that’s all without actually mentioning the superb playing and the groundbreaking multitracking…

 

Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn: OK, it’s really easy to play, but tone is all here, with Duane playing the riff in unison with a piano, a bass, another guitar (I think) and possibly even another guitar – a six string bass? Whatever’s going on in the mix, it all adds up to a monster riff that just powers along. Sometimes less really is more…

 

XTC – The Mayor of Simpleton: Two for the price of one! Dave Gregory plays electric 12 string against Colin Moulding’s highly complex bass lines to produce a swirling piece of poptastic goodness. Gregory’s an excellent player who’s taken onboard virtually every style of playing but still manages to sound original. The lines he plays at about 1:50 – the end of the bridge section – are just beautiful. Moulding’s bass playing is just as uplifting and original. Throw in Andy Partridge’s clever lyrics and immaculate vocals and you have pop perfection. Andy’s no slouch on guitar, either…

 

 

Deep Purple – Highway Star: The line up with Blackmore that produced this track has to be one of the all time greatest hard rock bands ever. Yes, it’s headbanging music, but it’s intelligent too. The solo section starting at 3:50 with the harmony guitars is Richie Blackmore in a nutshell – no overt pentatonics, a dash of classical influence and melodicism in spades. At 4.43, he starts a rapid picking section which deserves special attention as the double-tracked guitars play catch up with each other and what seems ostensibly straight forward is really quite complex. There’s a multitrack of this knocking about on the net which will enable you to isolate the guitar tracks and study Blackmore’s contribution in depth.

 

Albert Collins – Collins’ Mix: To be frank, Albert was a bit of a one-trick pony, but when the trick’s so good, you don’t really give a fuck. Playing with a capo and a tuning all his very own, Collins cranks out angular lines which sort of spit out at you but sit well over a funky accompaniment with organ and horns. Collins started out as an organ player and it shows in his playing. I wish he’d explored the idea of a small organ/guitar combo rather more than he did. I have this idea that with the right person, he’d have ended up with the blues equivalent of Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith…a blues organ combo – now that’s a very tasty prospect indeed!

 

 

Masters of Reality – Kill the King: Stoner rock from its uncrowned king, Chris Goss. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the guitar lines are just beautiful, with acoustic, whammy bar lead and what is absolutely one of the monster riffs of all time. There have been occasions when I’ve played this track upwards of a dozen times in a row, cranked up to the absolute max.

 

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100 Great Guitar Moments – #90 to 81

Time for another 10 in the list – an eclectic mix ranging from jazz through rock to psychedelia.

The Shadows – The Savage: There’s nothing wrong with a simple job well done, but sometimes, musically, it can be a tad lacklustre. That’s how I normally feel about the Shadows, but this track is an exception. Employing a strange, rather percussive tone, Hank Marvin plays his socks off on this track and takes a fantastic solo at 0.55. The rest of the band is great, too – especially Bruce Welch’s rhythm playing.

 

 

Martha and the Muffins – Echo Beach: This was the first song I ever knowingly heard with a chorus effect on guitar, and the fretted and open string riff that opens and punctuates is one of those ‘That’s nice – how did he play that?’ moments. It’s simple, but effective, and just one of those things that encapsulates 1980 for me, when you still had punk attitude, but the music was getting a little less basic.

 

Jimmy Smith – Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Hammond magnificence from the late Jimmy Smith set against a superbly-arranged (much kudos to Oliver Nelson) backdrop of horns and a rhythm section. This includes some sterling rhythm work from guitarist Quentin Warren which could well have been played on a Stratocaster as the live video posted here shows him playing one. Unusual in jazz, especially in the early 1960s. Warren kicks the whole thing along really well with a lot of funk feel and choppy chords.

 

 

Magic Sam – Lookin’ Good: A bit of an obscure one, this. Magic Sam Maghett was a young blues guitarist hotly tipped for fame when he died soon after his breakthrough appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. If you want to hear the original of this, then you’re on your own, as it’s not on YouTube or Spotify. However, YouTube does have a similar and equally brilliant version of this tune at 2:40 in. It’s like John Lee Hooker on speed and played on a borrowed guitar – the late Earl Hooker’s who was, coincidentally, a cousin of John Lee…it gets incestuous, don’t it?

 

Charlie Christian – Solo Flight: Seminal stuff, this. Although it might sound a tad ‘polite’ to those raised on rock and distortion, Christian’s playing is both raw and adventurous, with his melodic but bluesy lines charting the transition from swing to bebop. Also of note is the way he plays across the rhythm and leaves plenty of space inside and between his lines. It took a long time before jazz guitar re-emerged from the blandness that followed Christian and regained its freshness and vibrancy, even though the price it largely paid was selling out to ‘fusion’.

 

The Cars – Tonight She Comes: A pop band with rock and punk sensibilities but also a true grasp of melody. Eliot Easton is a very tasty player indeed and his solo in this song both soars and twists with some particularly fine use of the whammy bar at 2:00 in on the video below. Nice to hear the ‘idiot stick’ used to add to a line, rather than dominate it gratuitously.

 

 

David Grissom – Video end titles music: You’ll have to go on YouTube for this as it’s taken from the end of a tuition video that Grissom made several years ago. OK, it’s just a jam but, with that tone and feel, he could record nursery rhymes and they’d sound fucking fantastic. Very bluesy, but with country flourishes, he’s another player who makes you ask, ‘What the fuck did he do there???’ A descending lick at about 0:55 in the first video below is the first of many such moments. Also, listen to the chords Grissom uses – lots of open strings.

 

Davy Graham – Angi: Ask people who wrote Angi and most will say Bert Jansch or, perhaps, Paul Simon. However, it was Davy Graham and this is the original version, played by the composer. Simple – it’s not the most challenging piece – but effective and it’s all down to the execution of the composition. Here, Graham gives it a bittersweet quality by combing the melodicism inherent in the chord structure with a very bluesy feel.

 

The Lemon Pipers – Through With You: Obscurity time again, with the band most famous for ‘Green Tambourine’ playing perhaps the best song the Byrds never wrote or recorded, and stretching out into a 9 minute raga rock piece with wah-wah 12 string electric guitar, delay effects and panning. Add to that vocals which sound very like Keith Relf of the Yardbirds and you have something very special indeed.

 

Pantera – Walk: The late Dimebag Darrell could be a very quirky player and his solo in ‘Walk’ is one of my all time favourites. It’s just plain loopy, but in all the right ways, played with great skill, feel and an almost classical sense of melody, with that diminished run towards the end.

 

Well, 20 down…80 to go…

100 Great Guitar Moments – #100 to 91

Well, here goes…

Mansun – Wide open Space: Although I rate this song very highly – likewise the band and their brief recorded career – it’s the guitar intro that particularly appeals to me. Dissonance is the key here, with an alternately-picked guitar going from an unsettling E played against an F to a totally harmonious major triad. It sets the whole song up very nicely and suits the subject matter very well.

 

David Bowie – Drive-in Saturday: Sometimes the guitar can be used orchestrally, as in this example. The stellar Mick Ronson (RIP) plays some big beefy lines and chords in the chorus – starting at 0:54 – that could have been played by a string section using mainly cellos and double bass but weren’t, thank goodness. A better-known example from him is the title track from the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album, but I prefer the guitar in this song.

 

The Smiths – This Charming Man: Again, it’s all in the intro with Johnny Marr playing a mutated mix of African High-Life music and the Byrds, although the whole track is an exercise in creative rhythm guitar playing. Who needs a solo when you’ve got guitar playing like this?

 

The Beatles – And Your Bird Can Sing: I’m not a Beatles fan, but the harmony guitars throughout are a reminder that Wishbone Ash didn’t invent the concept. George and Paul play the lines on a Lennon composition that he described as "another of my throwaways…fancy paper around an empty box". In which case, I’m very happy with the paper, bugger the absence of a present…

 

 Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures: This time: the whole damn track! From the beautifully-bizarre arpeggiated chord at the beginning, through the controlled feedback to the plaintive concluding solo, this is probably as good as rock guitar playing gets and it’s not bludgeoning its way into your consciousness with speed, volume and distortion all the time.

 

Al Stewart – Rocks in the Ocean: Time for a solo – and one from one of my many guitar heroes, the highly-talented Tim Renwick. I love the melodicism that he puts into his playing and this solo is a prime example at 3:06. His playing soars on this and it’s definitely one of those guitar moments that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

 

Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover: I used to get ‘Guitar Player’ magazine every month back in the 1980s and one of the great things about it was the free flexi-discs that used to accompany it. Often exclusive recordings, this very track was featured one month. Johnson re-recorded it for his second album, but it wasn’t a patch on this version. Again, melodicism is at work and amidst all the technical skill, there’s a tuneful thread weaving its way through the piece, constantly changing and shifting. Beautiful playing!

 

 Blind Blake – Blind Arthur’s Breakdown: Time for some acoustic goodness with a stunning piece of ragtime guitar from 1929. Yes, that’s just one guitar, although you could swear that sometimes it’s two players going at full chat. The guy was a true genius and some 90 years later, there’s still no-one to better him!

 

King Crimson – Red: Say ‘power trio’ and people immediately think of Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. However, during the final stage of the first flowering of Robert Fripp’s King Crimson, they were ‘reduced’ to a line up of Fripp on guitar (and occasional keyboards), Bill Bruford on drums and John Wetton on bass and vocals. Not that this caused their output to suffer any decline in quality. This track has that dissonant quality that few people can use effectively and as a written guitar instrumental is a million miles away from what most people expect one to be. Nothing flashy, just very muscular playing.

 

Django Reinhardt – Limehouse Blues: I’m a sucker for Jazz Manouche. There are many great gypsy jazz guitarists, past and present, but all roads ultimately lead to Django and this is one of my favourite pieces of his. Sounding as fresh as it must have done way back in the 1930s, this has it all. Sublime soloing from Django, great violin by Grapelli and that rhythm – la pompe. Who needs a drummer? I especially like the dischords Django plays at about 1:50 and then he solos again, along with Grapelli. Stunning stuff and, above all, such happy music!

 

Well, there you go.

That’s the first 10 and only 90 to go.

The next 10 will come just as soon as I can make the time.

Meanwhile, enjoy the choices and try and find more by all these people to listen to. It’ll be worth it!

4 dusty gems from the 1970s

I don’t know about you, but one of the most rewarding ways of spending a few idle moments is a good old fussock around YouTube looking for musical gems.

Here’s a few that I’ve bookmarked recently…

10cc…they were always a bit too clever-clever for me, but I seem to have become a real fan of late. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is a great song – witty lyrics, an interesting chord structure and great ensemble playing. This is a live version with a nice jam at the end…note the changed lyrics…

 

Another fantastic 1970s band were Be Bop Deluxe, with the sublime guitar playing of Bill Nelson.  I used to play this tune in a band called ‘Spud and the Fabs’ – and sing it too…

 

The early to mid 1970s were great musically – it was still OK to be able to play your instrument well, as the Edgar Winter Group show in this 10 minute version of ‘Frankenstein’. It was OK to look as if you were actually enjoying yourself, too…

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mott, with Ian Hunter’s flawed yet consummate ability to live and breathe rock and the way that the band were so shambolic yet never quite fell apart.  Incidentally, Mrs Shark went to school with two of the band – Buffin and Overend Watts…and yes, he really does sing ‘cock in hole queen’, the rude little monkey…

 

Andrew Gold RIP

A few minutes’ casual surfing earlier this morning revealed that Andrew Gold died a couple of days ago.

I suspect that many people’s reaction to this would be “Andrew who?”, but if I mention a few songs that are associated with him – either as writer or performer or even both – then it might jog a few memories:

  • Lonely Boy
  • Never Let Her Slip Away
  • Building a Bridge to Your Heart (by Wax – a duo of Gold and Graham Gouldman, ex-10cc)
  • Thank You For Being a Friend (the Golden Girls Theme)

In fact, Andrew Gold was a hugely talented guy – as a composer, singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and producer.

It was his guitar playing and arranging which made Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ album one of my favourites, and this track a real stand out:

Gold is the bearded guy playing the cherry Les Paul.

He was all over that album…

Then there’s his songwriting – ‘Lonely Boy’ had great lyrics and a superb melody which combined to make, looking back, what I’d call early ‘powerpop’:

However, that’s not to trivialise what was a profound piece of lyric writing, albeit disguised within a very jaunty framework.

How about ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’?

OK, maybe a bit schmaltzy, but it’s still a well-crafted song and makes something like Chris de Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ sound like the 12th rate piece of maudlin shit that it truly is.

And here’s ‘Building a Bridge To Your Heart’ by Wax:

OK, maybe a bit 80s, but it was the 80s, dammit, and amongst some of the pop fluff, Wax stood out as quality pop. In fact, Gold almost became a member of 10cc at one time.

Here’s a nugget of quality Gold which reminds me a tad of Steely Dan, with some nice guitar – although I’m not sure it’s Gold himself. I suspect it is:

And here’s the ‘Golden Girls’ theme:

Not that everything Gold did was high profile, commercial pop…

In 1996, he released a strange album under a pseudonym – “Greetings from Planet Love” by The Fraternal Order Of The All – which parodied 1960s psychedlia in much the same way as XTC did with their Dukes of Stratosphere project. One of the tracks on the albums is a superb Byrds pastiche with amazing McGuinn type Rick 12.

If you have Spotify, please give ‘Space and Time’ a listen. I can hear at least 4 Byrds classics referenced in it and it may be the best song the Byrds never recorded.

So, a very talented guy, indeed, and more of a loss to music than I realised until I started renewing my acquaintance with him.

Indeed, I’ve been aware of Gold since 1974 with Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Heart Like a Wheel’, but as is often the case, when somebody like him dies, you don’t realise how talented he was until it’s too late,

Fortunately, it’s not too late to enjoy his legacy.

Battered by the Ornaments

Pete Brown.

Who?

Well, if like me you were around and listening to music in the late 1960s then you might remember him as the lyricist who wrote with various members of Cream.

I hope he got a good royalties deal because, amongst other songs, he wrote ‘I Feel Free’ and ‘White Room’ with  bassist Jack Bruce and ‘Sunshine of your Love’ with banjoist Eric Clapton.

Anyway, perhaps it was writing for a band that inspired the move, who knows, but our Pete formed his own band in 1968.

Pete Brown and the Battered Ornaments comprised Brown on vocals with Pete Bailey (percussion), Charlie Hart (keyboards), Dick Heckstall Smith (sax), George Kahn (sax), Roger Potter (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar) and Rob Tait (drums).

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Quite a line up, and one which actually delivered on their debut album ‘A Meal you can Shake Hands with in the Dark ‘. Although the music is hard to characterise, it’s actually a pretty early stab at British jazz rock – think Hatfield and the North and National Health – with the added humour of Brown’s lyrics and delivery.

Spedding, Hart, Kahn and Heckstall Smith take some great solos whilst the rest of the band provide a rock solid but flexible accompaniment.

For me, there are four stand out tracks which add up to well over half the album so not too bad a ratio of goodies.

The opener, ‘Dark Lady’ has some great slide guitar from Spedding (he plays a lot of slide throughout the album)  with an explosive solo from Heckstall Smith. Hart plays some lovely Hammond on this which is surprising because although he was hired to play keys, he’s not best known as a keyboard player. Brown supplies singing which is both effective and idiosyncratic.

Cream fans will be interested in Brown’s own 12 minute version of ‘Politician’, which has far more verses than the Cream track, and this features a very funny spoken improvised intro from Brown all about the events that lead up to the events in the song itself – the bit about him kissing his butler on the fly still amuses me greatly, even after over 40 years…oh and the mention of a girl’s ‘flowery khyber’…and the ‘politician’s pinstripes vibrating with neon glow’. There then follows a sax solo – no backing – which sounds like someone being very sick but in a good way and then the song itself. No Clapton riff, but instead a very uptempo 12 bar with great saxes and slide guitar. In fact, I prefer this to Cream’s version.

‘Sandcastle’ has a great bass riff with a faintly Eastern melody, wah slide guitar and flute. No laughs here from Brown but the band really carries this track so no matter.

The other stand out track is a 12 minute 12 bar which shows that the Battered Ornaments could have been a blues band to reckon with. Entitled ‘Travelling Blues (Or The New Used Jew’s Dues Blues) it has great solos again and more clowning from Brown who wants to go to the country (man) where ‘the colours of the cows are cool’.

The other tracks are good, don’t get me wrong, but not up to the high standard of the four described above.

So, what happened next?

Well, they recorded a follow up called ‘Mantelpiece’ and then they got booked to support the Stones at the legendary Hyde Park gig.

Things were looking good!

However, in a move that I believe is without precedent in rock, the band sat down, decided Pete had to go and sacked him!

A bizarre move as it was Pete’s band in the first place…

‘Mantelpiece’ had Pete’s vocals wiped and replaced by Chris Spedding’s and the band was renamed – rather predictably – ‘The Battered Ornaments’.

The Ornaments had zero success – despite playing Hyde Park with the Stones – and Pete went on to form Piblokto, which was OK but not up to the Ornaments’ standard.

Surprisingly, Pete Brown’s still.making music and his recent stuff bears investigation. His recent collaborations with Phil Ryan (ex-Man, ex-Piblokto) are a little too serious for my taste but the band is good and Brown sounds as if he’s taken singing lessons.

Anyway, as ever, Spotify is your friend and you can hear ‘Meal’ (and Piblokto and the recent Brown/Ryan stuff) and judge for yourself.

I think it’s a great little album.

Ritchie before the fairies got him

OK, he’s as mad as a fucking carrot and seems to have permanently forsaken rock music – preferring to be away with the fairies – but Ritchie Blackmore can play like an absolute god when he puts his mind to it.

Here he is from 1970, playing the red Gibson and showboating outrageously with Purple on ‘Wring that Neck’: