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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Pea soup, pea soup, pea soup

We all have our sordid little secrets.

Here’s one of mine.

I like disco music!

Kindly note that disco dancing is something else all together.

I dance as well as Stevie Wonder performs brain surgery.

But disco music…that’s different!

Like so many musical trends – glam, punk, electro-pop, indie, etc – I came to it a while after it was at the height of its popularity and, in the case of disco, by a rather roundabout route.

Having got fed up with gigging and not making serious dosh, I applied for and got a very well-paid gig playing guitar with a club band. They worked all sorts of places – British Legions, workingmen’s clubs, social clubs, sports clubs, night clubs, company bashes, promotions, corporate hospitality events and weddings.

Prior to that I’d usually been the sole melody player or lead guitar to someone’s rhythm guitar, but now I had to learn to play with a keyboard player in the band.

Due to the keyboard player (the late Graham Bond’s cousin, no less!) covering the lower middle and middle frequencies with synth pads – sustained chordal sounds to fill in the backing and create a full sound– I had to ‘sit’ on top so my chords were seldom open or power chords. Instead, I had to play little 3 or 4 note chords in a higher register than the keys were occupying.

It was a real learning curve, but as the band played a fair amount of disco I had to master the style and I came to love it.

If you listen to something like a disco standard, there’s a hell of a lot going on. Take ‘Boogie Wonderland’ by Earth Wind & Fire.

 

There’s the drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, horn section, string section and vocals all with their own distinctive parts and all meshing together to create this very busy but nevertheless very direct and propulsive whole.

It’s ensemble playing at its finest in pop and rock and – in its own way – a neglected work of pop genius.

Here’s another great disco act – Chic:

 

.The way that Bernard Edwards on bass and Nile Rodgers on guitar work together is simply amazing and has never been bettered. OK, Rodgers may not be a flashy player, but just listen to the guy – there’s some very complex little fills and chord riffs that are played in an almost ‘throwaway’ manner, but the track needs them to keep the groove going.

Even the most mundane and cliched disco track often has something in it that makes it ascend – in spite of its cheesiness – to some sort of well-crafted dignity:

 

Yes, like me, you probably heard it back in 1865 and thought, ‘What a piece of shit’.

Yes, but it’s a shiny piece of shit – just listen to the lines the strings play. Nowadays, those lines would probably be created totally through computer software, but back then it was played by a real string section and arranged by someone who could write music.

It also has that classic hi-hat sound – described by XTC’s Andy Partridge as ‘pea soup, pea soup, pea soup’ – and when the then XTC drummer Terry Chambers employed it for ‘Generals and Majors’ it wasn’t in a mocking way.

 

Note also the cunning way that you have disco drums with a ska beat…

To conclude, here’s another of my favourites:

 

It’s just a shame it’s not the 11 minute album version.

Burn, baby, burn…disco inferno…burn the mother down…

And why the fuck not?

And are there any more sordid little musical secrets?

‘Fraid so…

Andy Partridge wins award!

It’s time for the annual BBC folk music awards.

Look at the bottom of the article:

Other winners at the awards included Lau, who were named best group and All You Pretty Girls, by Andy Partridge, which was named best original song.

Wow!

How the hell did Partsy manage that with a song that’s 25 years old?

Ah…someone covered it.

I bet Andy’s laughing his socks off…

Jellyfish is dead – long live Jellyfish!

In 1993 I heard a song on the radio that completely blew me away – ‘The Ghost at Number One’ by a band called Jellyfish.

I’ve always been a sucker for well-crafted pop music with melodies, harmonies and imaginative production – which is odd because I can’t listen to the Beatles anymore – and this song certainly delivered these and then some. They reminded me a bit of XTC – of whom I am inordinately fond – but more American, not unsurprisingly. I bought the album, heard ‘Joining a Fanclub’ from it and thought I’d died and gone to powerpop heaven!

Here’s a live version which is great, but doesn’t quite have the lushness of the studio version.

It was all there – soaring harmonies, crunchy guitars, witty lyrics, some great production tricks and the whole glorious concoction summed up in a mere few minutes everything I love about music. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint either…

I then found that they’d made an album before – ‘Bellybutton’ – and bought that, too. Not quite up to the standard of what to most people is ‘the difficult second album’ but pretty damn good.

I really thought that this band was going to be HUGE, but after those two albums…nothing…

Remember, this was when Grunge was at its height. Nirvana were right there dominating the music scene and Seattle was the new Liverpool, San Francisco, LA, what you will. Jellyfish didn’t look right amongst all of this (see photo below for how they looked for their first album and, OK, they might have toned down the outfits for the second album but that is NOT a good look!), their sound wasn’t basic enough to appeal to the grunge fans and, reading between the lines, it seems that there was a certain amount of conflict within the band which had caused an earlier personnel change after the first album.

They split in 1994 amidst a certain amount of acrimony from what I can gather and I thought that that was it.

However, virtually everyone that was involved in the band – whether as permanent members or as studio-only participants – has gone on to other things which go a long way towards making the demise of Jellyfish more tolerable.

I’ve managed to track down as much of this post-Jellyfish music as I can and there’s some simply stellar stuff there with the whole lot forming an incestuous and tortuous patchwork of music – ranging from electropop to an ELO pastiche with Slash somewhere in the middle.

So, here’s a quick rundown of as much of the continuing story as I’ve managed to discover.

Here’s the original Jellyfish line up which appeared on the Bellybutton album:

Andy Sturmer – vocals, drums, keyboards, guitar
Roger Manning – keyboards, vocals
Jason Falkner – guitars, bass, vocals
Chris Manning — bass, vocals (live only)
Niko Wenner — guitars, vocals, keyboard (live only)

Falkner left after touring the album as he got fed up with just being the guitarist and Chris Manning also left as he didn’t like touring.

Here’s the Spilt Milk lineup:

Andy Sturmer – vocals, drums, keyboards, guitar
Roger Manning – keyboards, vocals
Tim Smith — bass, vocals
Eric Dover – guitar, vocals (live only)

They also roped in Jon Brion on guitar. He’s a genius – on keyboards he seems to be able to play anything in any style and his recent concerts are mostly one man affairs with him seemingly liable to drop any song in the world into the setlist at anytime. He’s released a fine solo album, too.

Anyway, Jason Falkner released several excellent solo albums, including two CDs’ worth of instrumental Beatles tunes, as well as a collaboration with Brion in a band project called the Grays, releasing but one album called Ro Sham Bo. He also recorded another band project called TV Eyes, the album is called this too, with Roger Manning. Falkner also found time to participate in a sort of ELO tribute/pastiche album with Manning and Sturmer (remember him?) which came out as Alpacas Orgling by LEO.

After Jellyfish Roger Manning went on to form Imperial Drag with Eric Dover and they released a great album, with glam overtones, lots of guitars and some androgynous lyrics.  Manning then released a couple of solo albums, the latest of which, Catnip Dynamite, is probably more like Jellyfish than anything else released since the band split up. Not surprising, since Andy Sturmer was involved. He wasn’t idle after Jellyfish broke up either. He made hit pop records in Japan with Puffy AmiYumi and is currently writing music for Disney and other animation projects.

Dover then went on to sing with Slash’s Snakepit and worked with Alice Cooper and then brought out an album called Stranger than Fiction under the band name of Sextus and I believe he calls himself that name now. It’s the only album I’ve mentioned so far which I haven’t got, but his MySpace page has some tracks from it and, sure enough it’s mindblowingly good. So good, in fact, that I’m going to order it after I’ve posted this blog entry!

Tim Smith formed a band called the Umajets after Jellyfish and Eric Dover and Roger Manning guested on their debut album.

Chris Manning is a record engineer and producer now with a whole slew of successful credits and Niko Wenner – as far as I know – is in an experimental outfit called Oxbow, unless there’s two guitarists with the same name. If it is the same guy then the latest Oxbow album – The Narcotic Story – is the most un-Jellyfishish (!) solo venture of the lot.

(Pause for breath)

And so it goes on..I’m bound to have missed out some collaboration or other as it’s such an involved and complex history. Has any defunct band ever been so prolific and so ready to join tagteam forces in some sort of fractalistic musical frenzy?

I purposely haven’t given any links in this entry – the story’s so involved that it’s probably more fun to find it out for yourself. Start with this (OK, I’ve given you one link!) and then just chase the links. You’ll discover some interesting stuff and some fabulous music. I haven’t been even remotely disappointed by anything which came out of the ashes of Jellyfish and I hope you won’t be either.

Of course, it would be great if the band would reform and maybe they will – by accident.

They’ll all find themselves in the studio together one day, working on someone’s solo album and realise that the band’s back together again!

Just for a giggle, here’s Puffy AmiYumi’s take on ‘Joining a Fanclub’.