(Sorta) New Year Resolutions

In some ways, the day after a legislative session feels like New Years Day – if it only happened every 18 months. It’s time to move back to Houston. It’s time to see if my dog being house-trained is a fluke or not and it’s time to flesh out the home with a few more items that were put off until I had a fresh 18-month clock to enjoy them (namely, a big fat recliner that I can occasionally fall asleep in with my hound dog). The session also takes me out of my weekly volunteer routine at church, although I do manage to get back for random weekends. Hopefully they’ll have me back on a regular basis in a few weeks.

So, in addition to taking a proper vacation for the first time in over a decade, I thought I’d take the time to list a few more things I’m hoping to accomplish over the next 18 months:

Reading: If I really wanted to get nerdy about things, I could chart my life by the amount of reading I get done to the amount of driving I do. It’s a perfectly inverse relationship: whenever I had a car and a long commute, I got very little reading done. Whenever I relied on a METRO pass to and fro, I got a jack-ton of reading done. Currently, there’s a car and a short work commute (and the occasional urge to go shopping some place further than my local Fiesta). I may need to dust off the library card, sort through the Kindle, and carve out some time. But these are all doable things. Around the time of my move last year, the plan was to add a basset hound to the equation and I knew that would also suck up some free time. It did, but the training is now paying off. Elsie still needs play time from me, but I no longer have to spend an insane amount of time patrolling a very small apartment for things she’s chewed up or pooped on. Bottom line: I can no longer state a good reason for why I’m not going through at least one book every two weeks given all of my time constraints. I think this will just take some will-power to get back into the habit. I’m off to an abysmal start with the first two assignments, but proper shaming can wait until I’m back to having a 3 minute commute to work.

Writing: Yes, the blog and Almanac both need some pixels typed into them. But I’m actually thinking something more like this from a habit I developed somewhere around 2009-10:

2010-06-19-18.10

Seems that there used to be a project promoted by a church I listen to via podcast that involved a group of people devoted to transcribing books of the Bible. I gave this a shot on my own at the time and it was rewarding in a lot of different ways. I seem to have maintained a habit of collecting composition books with the intention of doing this again … without actually starting up again with the writing. So this gets added to the list of things to get back in gear with.

Recording: Tops on the “big expense” items that I’ve held off on until the Lege wrapped up is an upgrade of recording gear and a few new additions to the guitar gear. I’ve wanted to take a few ideas that I’ve recorded and flesh them out into fuller songs. Technically, there’s nothing stopping me from doing that with the equipment I already have. But the biggest impediment I currently have is the memory limitation on my 8-track recorder. It seems that the type of SD card it takes is limited and behind the times. If I wanted to stock up on 2GB cards, I’d be spending a small fortune to overpay for the privilege. And importing/exporting is a chore. So I’m upgrading that bit of hardware and creating a setup that lets me record a mic’d up amplifier rather than the more limiting tone of a direct line into the recorder (essentially the difference of hearing your guitar emulate something closer to a motorcycle rather than a bunch of angry bees). The amplifier and recording device are the easy decisions. The harder decision seems to be the microphones (what kind and how to use them properly) as well as the fine art of re-amping. I’m looking forward to it, though. There may be some unloading of guitar gear that I currently have in stock just to offset the crazy expense of new equipment that far exceeds the skill and talent I have to play and compose music.

More trips to the dog park: Elsie has long since made her proper introductions at the Danny Jackson Dog Park on Westpark. But her time there was bracketed by virtue of her young age and being in heat shortly before we left for Austin. So we’ve probably only managed to visit the place a handful of times last year. Little Elsie is now accustomed to a big backyard and a larger dog that she shares our Austin home with. I think we’re going to have to work in multiple trips to the park per week to compensate for her more isolated home life in Houston. The time commitment for a leash-free romp in the park is the least of my concerns. The need to bathe Elsie after each trip is the biggest issue.

That’s a sizable enough list of things that I’d hate to admit defeat over. With some amount of effort, there will be snippets and reviews from the reading list, music samples, cute puppy pictures from the dog park, and maybe some weekend posts updating the writing project. If not … who knows. Maybe just pictures of me and Elsie zonked out on the recliner.

HoundTV: Elsie vs Deer

I figured it was inevitable that little Elsie would run across a deer while we were living in Austin. And this technically is her second encounter with suburban-dwelling deer. The first time involved the family of deer running away anytime Elsie got withing 50 feet. This is from May 31st – and we finally had some interaction between the animals.

I like to think that Elsie saved the neighborhood from this (and two other) deer this day. But that would involve putting up statues in Elsie’s honor – 14-inch high statues. And people would just trip all over those.

Only the Hardest of Hard News Would Bring Me Out of Hiatus

Long time, no blog. My apologies for that. Normally, I would at least make some feeble excuse for neglecting my constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Rest assured that I bring momentous news to blog about upon my return …

» Rolling Stone: The Long Kiss Goodbye: The Search for Vinnie Vincent

The story is of some interest to the relatively high-brow Rolling Stone due to KISS’ induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the induction did not go along with the massive concert jam that we’re accustomed to by the newly enshrined. Turns out there was just enough bad blood between all parties to nix that. The original four did manage to save some nice words for their induction speeches, at least.

And in a perfect world, there would be a stage full of Vinnie Vincents, Bob & Bruce Kulickses … perhaps even an Anton Fig sighting or an homage to the late Mark St. John. But to mention KISS to a child of the 70s or 80s is akin to mentioning the Beatles to a child of the 60s (or anyone else for that matter). There are only four names anyone cares about. In this case: Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter. And that’s all that the HOF officials wanted to show off.

Yet, within the KISS Army exists a strain of thought that holds the belief that it was Vinnie Vincent alone who kept the band on track through the 80s, writing era-appropriate material that kept them in arenas and out of the downward spiral through the club circuit. I tend to share that belief. But, then again, I also picked up a copy of Vinnie’s solo CD, Boys are Gonna Rock, eagerly and unapologetically.

The Rolling Stone does a decent job of updating the status (if not the whereabouts) of one Vincent Cusano. Most of the twists and turns, I’ve kept tabs of over time. The latest being some odd discoveries of dead dogs in his back yard after some accusations of spousal abuse. But since then – not much to report.

There exist a handful of musicians from the 80s who somehow boggle the mind over their lack of output since their glory days. There are some sporadic recordings of Vincents’ since his second and final Vinnie Vincent Invasion album in 1988. All horrible dreck. Plenty of guitarists from the era went on to reinvent themselves after the years they’re most known for. For some reason, Vinnie never proved capable of that. A darn shame, I think. Even if his material from the 80s was decidedly over-the-top, it at least provided some fun for those of us who struggle to play well short of that.

Anyways, I promise not take time off from blogging until the next obscure artist from the 80s gets a write-up. But just to make sure, there is some new material out by Jake E. Lee and the singer from Stryper has a new solo release and biography coming out in early May. So there’s that to look forward to.

First Inventions (Year Four)

Splitting time in Austin away from my gear for most of the first five months didn’t do wonders for maintaining much of a practice habit this past year. And while I’d hoped to do a few cover tunes, that ended up being an even-more-severely neglected aspect during my practice time. But there were a few notable accomplishments among the tidbits below. At the start of the year, I still had a fairly new Compressor/Sustain pedal that I’m not sure how I ever lived without before. And somewhere in the course of a year, I picked up an inexpensive BC Rich Mockingbird with the goal of using it to test some new and different pickups (which I have yet to try). I’ve already got my eye on a new toy for this coming year and there’s no legislative session to take me away from my toys for much of this year. So hope springs eternal.

Here’s a bit of the work that I’ve hit the big red record button for this past year. With a little luck, maybe you’ll find something that appeals to you (or not).

Tropica.mp3
This would probably be the best noodling of the year I think I’d want to work on if I ever get around to taking some ideas into a studio.

Slow_Jam.mp3
Slow_Jam_2.mp3
Just a nice eight-note, low-string melody here with a little bit of improvised elaboration once it gets going. Most of the ideas I develop for melodies come about from developing a familiarity with the fretboard and trying some ideas based on visual patterns, mathematical patterns, or some other not-so-artsy means. This one, I’m moderately proud to say, came from hearing and took a couple of practice sessions before I felt I had all the right parts in place for it to sound nice.

LiveModes.mp3
This is an extended re-tread of a drill that I like to play to go over modes. The main, repeating lick that you hear in this is just me going up the modes until I do a full octave higher than I started. A great way to learn where notes are on the fretboard, easy to transpose to different keys, and just enough melody to keep it interesting. Whenever I initially stumbled onto the lick and recorded something with it, I didn’t do the full octave. What motivated me to record this time around was that I had some trial DAW software that I wanted to experiment. I think there may be some faint harmony lines in this one, but I’m not sure. I do recall testing the software to see if it made life any easier for recording harmony lines. In any event, I never bought the full software.

Zaz_Easter_Tune_13.mp3
The title suggests that I’m ripping off something from a Neil Zaza guitar lesson I purchased. And from the sound of it, I’m really leaning on the new Compressor/Sustain pedal. There’s also a very unintentional nod to Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” in this, too. Not bad for a slow-moving ditty.

Five_Chord_Discount.mp3
I think I should have called this one “Aldo Nova Ripoff.” But then all the cool kids at Guitar Center would look at me and say “What’s an Aldo Nova?”

Big_Band_Greg.mp3
Another “What the heck” moment with some of the more old-school rhythm patterns built into my drum machine. Just working with a standard arpeggio drill for me and trying to make it work with a Benny Goodman style backing. I’ve done worst things.

Baba_Gilberto.mp3
Paul Gilbert has closed shows with “Baba O’Reilly” when he was in Racer X and Mr. Big. The Mr. Big version was the coolest thing in the world: Billy Sheehan playing the guitar parts on bass, and Gilbert playing the keyboard parts on guitar. There’s only three notes to it (all part of a B power chord). But the picking is a beast … at least for me. This was a bit slower than I wished I could play it at the time, but it came out sounding fairly decent. Plus, I decided to break up the monotony of the arpeggios by hitting those big Pete Townshend chords myself.

MegaMystery.mp3
I didn’t do a great deal of cover tunes this past year and I’ll have to atone for that. This particular bit of a cover came about after listening to a lot of Megadeth, waking up one morning, and wondering how hard it would be to play the rhythm to “Peace Sells.” Kinda easy it turns out.

SVROPC.mp3
Imitation_Alien_Kiss.mp3
Alien_Slide_Festival.mp3
Each of these has a bit of a Steve Vai-style flair to them … at least in my mind. What surprises me about that is that, while I’m a big fan of Vai’s, I rarely find myself wanting to sound like him because it’s a very different sound than what comes naturally to me. But considering how much of his music I’ve listened to over the years, it shouldn’t be too big of a shock that something would ooze out like these two takes. I’m pretty sure that both benefited from the addition of a Compressor/Sustain pedal, also.

Descending_Harmony.mp3
I did not do enough work with harmony guitar parts and this was an effort to do something about it. If the lick sounds familiar, it’s the same one played at the end of the Slow Jam 2 tune above.

There were a few feeble efforts to play some two-tapping ideas cleanly. Some better than others …

Chicken_Fried_Tapping.mp3
In_&_Out_of_Time.mp3

And a new phone with a decent camera graduated some practice time to video archival. A more recent tripod allowed me to switch from the not-so-great front-facing camera to the much-better, 13MP back-facing camera in the last video here.

The Strat-O-Matic Rex Ryan

» NY Times: Before Football, Jets’ Ryan Mastered Table Baseball

This is every kind of awesome …

The same guy who encouraged cheap shots while playing football with his two brothers and who recently ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, would also jockey to draft Manny Mota, a Strat-O-Matic superstar. By day, Ryan would plot aggressive schemes as one of the N.F.L.’s more creative defensive coaches. By night, in his slivers of spare time, he would scour the Internet for player-card sets that had eluded his collection.

I’ve spent a few summers playing Strat-O-Matic and a few other board-based baseball games. So the rest of the story detailing Ryan’s skill as a pre-sabermatrician dice jockey is pretty heartwarming.

Like Ryan, adulthood finds ways to intervene and companies like Strat-O-Matic get harder to find as Office Depot replaces Toys R Us in my weekly shopping routine. My current fix for baseball has migrated to the smartphone. And that’s the 2011 edition of 9 Innings Baseball by Com2Us. I can’t say I was immediately won over by the game – there are elements of it that seem to make the game aimed at pre-teens. But the level of difficulty and mathematical realism of the game are close enough to keep me playing.

After trying my hand at a few dozen exhibition games, I mistakenly started my first full season of play with a team I really don’t care for: the New York Yankees. I was a bit overexuberant with trades to sort out the failings of my pitching staff. And I managed to learn a bit about a few new players that I hadn’t noticed in recent years (seriously … Adrian Gonzalez … who knew?). I managed to win the World Series, but it was still a learning “season.” The level of mastery is sufficient enough to be really good at the game without feeling like you’re playing Tecmo Bowl football with Bo Jackson. That Gonzalez guy finished with a batting average of just over .400.

After that, I opted to make the Houston Astros over in my own image. This was pretty easy to do since the roster of the real life Astros was changing on an hourly basis. This alleviated any remorse over roster changes that I saw fit to make. But I still liked the idea of sticking with some of the players that had come up through the Astros system and I think I’ve proven my General Managing smarts by clinging to Michael Bourn as my centerfielder. I’ve managed to earn three more World Series championships with the game and have since discovered my niche with these style games: pick the unknown player that you can turn into a future (albeit, completely fictional) Hall of Famer.

Upon realizing that any infield that consisted of Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson, and Brett Wallace wasn’t going to make the cut in any baseball regime that I call the shots with, I pulled the plug. In came Brendan Ryan from Seattle, Adrian Gonzalez (ostensibly from my old Yankees team), and Robinson Cano from the Yankees. Sure, plugging in two All Stars and a defensive genius is an easy upgrade. Gonzalez was, indeed a rock star for a season and a half. But his “card” on my roster wasn’t quite as strong as Brendan Ryan’s (who barely hits north of the Mendoza Line in real life). Ryan would end up a Triple Crown winner for me in Season Three of the Astros. I let Gonzalez go when he failed to hit over .400 for me. So the present infield is as follow: 1B – Jimmy Paredes (an Astro system player); 2B – Brad Hawpe (not even in the majors this season); SS – Brendan Ryan; 3B – Clint Barmes (a legacy Astro player). The present outfield is anchored by Bourn in CF and I’ve got Jason Bourgeois in right, and Jordan Schafer in left. Those are all real-life Astro players from the era that the game was produced in. I’ve previously had some success with Sam Fuld and Brandon Belt, but their cards strength generally meant that I was platooning the other two spots for much of the season. This season, Schafer may end up leading the league in homers for me. My catcher started off being Humberto Quintera until I got an upgraded card for JR Towles, who broke the .400.

It took a while for me to master the pitching side of the game. But I’ve had the good fortune of riding Wandy Rodriguez’s arm to 20-win seasons every season. Brett Wallace is still on my roster and went 30-0 for me last season. I’ve always like J.A. Happ and continue to keep him on my roster. He’s pretty solid, but that’s usually predicated on yanking him after 6 innings. I experimented with another “scrub” player in the rotation for two seasons by adding Rick Porcello from the Tigers. Not a particularly strong card, but I got decent results. At some point, I lucked into a very good card for Henry Sosa, a former Astros system player that barely had a cup of coffee before going overseas to play. He won 20 games for me last season and is currently in the midst of a strong second half of the season for possible Cy Young hardware against the new guy in my rotation – some guy named Verlander. Hey, I saved money by dropping a lot of big contracts. I deserved that one.

The bullpen was shored up first by adding Dan Bard (Boston) as my closer. I think he’s now in the minors. More recently, I added Blake Hawksworth from the Dodgers in middle relief. But it’s been another legacy Astro, Wes Wright, who’s my big bullpen star this season. Also, I’m convinced that Kevin Slowey of the Twins is the Manny Mota of this game. He’s a middle reliever with enough stamina to use as a starter if you lack the confidence in one spot of your rotation. I had him as a starter in my first year with the Yankees and Astros, but moved him into a long relief role for the past 2.5 seasons.

Seeing so-called “scrub” players do well in a game like this is one of the entertaining factors. I vaguely remember some players from the Legends deck of Strat-O-Matic cards that were far enough into history to not be an everyday name to me. But I never found an Olmeado Saenz until I managed my smartphone team. And this season, that player is likely to be Jimmy Paredes, who is bouncing between the minors and Astros in real life. I’ve got him on pace to hit north of .450 (with all but two non-pitching positions occupied by .400 hitters).

Anyway … hats off to Rex Ryan’s nerdiness. I guess I can relate a little.

William Moody (aka: Percy Pringle III), 1954-2013

» NY Times: William Moody, 58, Pro Wrestling’s Paul Bearer, Dies

I had only a brief moment as a wrestling fan and they all happened while living in Mississippi in the late 70s. International Championship Wrestling came on every Saturday morning, showing matches recorded Friday night in Greenwood. One of the highlights of my time in Mississippi was making a pilgrimage to the Sportatorium (actually just a big metal shack that held a few hundred folks) to watch a live recording.

There are a handful of characters that I can recall quickly from watching those matches. Some of them went on to the big time as many of the independent wrestling circuits of the time folded into the Ted Turner enterprise. In later years, I’d occasionally end up leaving the channel on TBS for too long, with wrestling going on as my background noise. Every once in a while, I’d take notice when Terry Gordy would be announced, instantly remembering his Mississippi days. Another that made it to the big time was a manager going by the name of Percy Pringle III. The Mississippi circuit was one of his first television breaks. He would have been doing this just after leaving the Air Force. Pringle would eventually change characters and go by what would become his biggest: Paul Bearer, manager for the Undertaker.

I left wrestling behind when my family left Mississippi. Nothing could replicate what I saw then. I know that I was aware of Percy Pringle still being involved in the Turner/McMahon era of wrestling. But it wasn’t enough for modern-era wrestling to capture my interest. In the age of Google, however, I did find myself taking an interest in Pringle’s blog. On one occasion, I emailed the man himself, asking for some reminders of names and characters of other wrestlers that I grew up watching and he was gracious enough to respond, closing with an even more gracious:

It’s memories like yours that really make me appreciate what I do.
Take care.
~PP3

With all that said and done, I was saddened to learn of William Moody’s passing as I ended up leaving the television on another channel for too long this evening. Sad, but a little bit happy to see that they included a bit of footage from his younger, blonder, Pringle days. I’m guilty of doing a YouTube search on some of the early wrestling footage of my earlier years once every blue moon and ending up watching some interview with Moody instead. He’s as good of a story-teller as he was a character actor. And every instance demonstrated a very authentic person who loved what he did. I’m glad his work was a part of my childhood.

First Inventions (Year Three)

This may very well be my obligatory end-of-year recap-style post. I honestly felt that there wasn’t going to be a great deal of recorded work that I’d want to encapsulate here. But there seems to have been much more than I thought. One of my hopes for the past year was committing more time to learning some cover tunes. I made a dent on that, but nowhere near as much as I’d hoped for.

A lot of the other work that I cataloged as truer “First Invention” collection material turned out better than I’d recalled. There’s still an aching need for more practice time to get my playing as clean as I’d like. But some of the items below suggest a bit more growth than I’d sensed this past year. I’ll take it.

Two new things that I’m happy to have recently are a new guitar and a few new effect pedals to give the stuff I play a bit more sonic range. Hopefully, they come in handy for much of what I decide to record next year.

Second Takes
Jessies_Girl_(take_1).mp3
Jessies_Girl_(take_2).mp3
Hit_Me_With_Your_Best_Shot.mp3
I had set out to record more cover tunes this past year and only did a modest job of that. Among the songs I did get around to, a few turned out good and the rest remain “works in progress”. The relatively good ones I ended up with were Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and to a lesser extent, Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Somehow, I ended up with an alternate guitar solo idea for “Jessie’s Girl.” Other than that, it’s no accident that these two songs have the same guitar player performing the solo: Neil Geraldo. Given that the other cover tunes I did in years past were with guitarists from England and Canada, Geraldo qualifies as the first American guitar player that I’ve covered.

SinceYou_2.mp3
My first effort of the year was actually to cover a favorite of mine, “Since You Been Gone.” The song was originally performed by it’s writer, Russ Ballard. But the versions I grew up with were from Blackmore’s band Rainbow and the cover of that version performed by Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz. I realized early on that I had a problem of trying to cover the Blackmore version after playing the Alcatrazz version about a million times as a guitar-playing teenager. So I ended up improvising the solo and dropping the arpeggios during the verses that Blackmore played. I’m content to chalk this up as a warm-up for doing more cover tunes.

Heroes.mp3
This cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” came about later in the year after a little disappointment that I hadn’t done more cover tunes. I decided on this song because it was relatively easy (and hence, quick to record), plus there was a spacey Mick Ronson guitar part that I wanted to see if I could record well. In the end, the playing and recording are easy. The mixing … I still need to find more time for.

GB2U_First_Draft.mp3
Scandal’s “Goodbye to You” was slated as my next project after Rainbow, Springfield, and Benatar. The wall I ran into was that I’ve always wanted to play the keyboard part on guitar and play the overall song a bit heavier than the original. The keyboard parts, I’ve found much more challenging than I wish for. Playing the song heavier than the original is easy enough. As for the solo, I’d probably prefer to take another shot at. The result here is a snippet of the song since I had hoped to re-record or re-mix the rhythm guitar part (and never got around to).

Spotlight_(clean).mp3
Spotlight_(dirty).mp3
This is a repeat effort of an instrumental version of Beth Orton’s “It’s Not the Spotlight” (which is a cover of Rod Stewart’s cover of Bobby Bland’s song). I did this with two different tones after I moved onto a period of seriously chasing guitar tone. Nothing special about these two. But they both turned out ok, which is another way of saying I haven’t settled on a tone for this song yet.

Working_Intro.mp3
This came about after a lengthy hiatus of cover tunes. This is a snippet of a cover of Rush’s “Working Man.” The song wasn’t originally on my list of songs to cover, but it came about after hearing the song somewhere and realizing that trying to cover a fairly easy Rush song wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m not a fan of the solo on the original, though. So I’d probably need a lot of time to think up something of my own to play for that part.

First Inventions
Unfinished_Melody.mp3
This recording was early in the year, so it matches a lot of the work I recorded in the first two years – a sort of mini-song that might one day be attached to another mini-song. Also, I did a lot less harmony guitar recordings this past year, so the fact that the technique is used here makes it fun for me to listen to. There’s also a section with a tapping technique that I don’t know how I stumbled onto, but I truly love. I’m sure that all of the ideas I end up playing are ripped off from someone that I heard during junior high or high school. But I’ll be darned if I know where I got the idea for it now.

JSRO2.mp3
I’m not sure this truly qualifies as a Joe Satriani rip-off, but a lot of the slower melodies I play like this tend to come from some form of inspiration caused by listening to Satriani. I don’t think this is as good as the one I created in the first year. But it never hurts to have multiple ideas from the Satriani section of my brain.

YJMRO.mp3
This came about after I decided to practice a diminished minor scale. I swear, I used to do this back in the 80s and couldn’t really hear that “Egyptian Sound” in it. This time around, I hear it. So I combined a basic scale run with sortofa-arppegio backdrop and came up with what may be the closest I’ll ever get to an Yngwie Malmsteen rip-off.

FenderBender.mp3
One of the frustrations I ran into recording Benatar and Springfield tunes was that my guitar was way too heavy-sounding no matter what I did to get something more suitable for an 80s pop sound. This songlet is nothing more than me taking my new guitar (a low-end Fender Strat) out for a ride. It’s not accident that I put a rhythm track on it that lends itself more to a poppy, strat sound.

Twelve_Forty_Five.mp3
This is actually the most recent thing I’ve recorded. It’s all kinds of raw, but I wanted to start laying down some tracks for the idea in case I ever get around to finding the right tone for it and practicing it more. I do plenty of noodling around with lead lines or melody lines. But I’ve always been a complete slacker when it comes to rhythm playing. So this was an outgrowth of my effort to do a little something about that.

A_Rough_Idea.mp3
One of the substitutes for practicing rhythm parts is doing stuff like this. I don’t doubt that this would sound good if I found another idea to attach this to.

Latin_For_D.mp3
Eep_Arp.mp3
SwingOfThings.mp3
When I had felt as if I’d recorded less music this year than in the past, a later realized that a lot of what I did end up recording were ideas that I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose after a quick practice session. As a result, some items such as this were recorded on my phone placed on the top of my amp. This conserved time for me and removed some mixing headaches I’ve run into with my recorder recording both guitar and drum machine. The sound quality is noticeably worse, but most of the stuff I end up recording this way is nowhere near the point of trying to work into something like a song structure. These tracks are some of the better ideas I think I’ve captured. Now to find some time to do something with ’em.

pablopentatonics.mp3
Freefall.mp3
This combination of phone recording and multi-track recording demonstrates what can happen from keeping an idea handy. The Pablo Pentatonics lick came about after realizing that I couldn’t play a lesson from Paul Gilbert as fast as he could. But I thought it sounded good played slow. So that warranted a phone recording. By the time I had an idea for where that lick could come in handy, it worked out pretty nicely.

Lydian_Jam.mp3
Among the lessons I’ve picked up online are some modal/melody lick collections from Robbie Calvo off of Truefire.com. Never heard of the guy before I bought the lessons, but I like what he does with scales and modes. This is a pure rip-off of one of my favorite lessons. It’s faster than I might of liked – this recording came about pretty quickly, so there wasn’t a lot of time on my side to get it just right.

HeyHoRO.mp3
The_Sellout_Song.mp3
Both of these songs grew from my attempt to learn the chords to the 1982 MTV classic, “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” by Steel Breeze. I’m not able to isolate the guitar track out of the MP3 to take a stab at covering it and I’m not about to try to rebuild the rhythm patter on my recorder. Besides, the guitar solo on the song is impossible to play. That’s right … impossible. But taking the chords in a different direction was plenty of fun.

Rainy_Day_Blues.mp3
Rainy_Day_Redux.mp3
One other thing I got from trying to play the Steel Breeze song and Paul Gilbert lick was an appreciation for the pentatonic scale. I completely despised it during my Yngwie-induced guitar snob teen years. But I’ve managed to find a few pentatonic licks that are becoming a bit of a cliche in my playing.

Pentatonic_Thing.mp3
And occasionally, I take a pentatonic lick and try to combine it with arpeggios and a few Yngwie-inspired licks. Not sure that the overall combination here is great. But it was fun.

DeathAlleyDrill.mp3
Another reason why it hasn’t felt as if I’ve done more “real” recording was because I spent some time recording a lot of drills without trying to stretch them out. This is an example of that. I’m basically doing an A-minor scale run taken from Richie Blackmore’s solo to the Rainbow song, “Death Alley Driver.” And, again, there’s some harmony in there. I may make it a New Year’s resolution to do more harmony parts.

TheDustOffTheirFrets.mp3
One thing that felt very common over the past year were lengthy stretches of time where I didn’t pick up the guitar. A lot of times, that made for some frustrating practice sessions to get my fingers back in working order. But a few times, I landed on something fun like this shortly after rolling out of bed.

174th_Circle_of_Heck.mp3
Pure drill recording here. I like the way it sounds when the guitar part clicks over to the distorted fast version of the drill. That is all.

DiscoShred.mp3
This may have been recorded in 2011, but I never really did anything with it then. Unfortunately, I haven’t done anything with it in 2012 other than posting it to facebook. I like the idea of combining disco and some shred guitar parts, though. One day, I’ll do the idea justice.

Fender’s Pain, My Gain

» NY Times: A Guitar Maker Aims to Stay Plugged In

Interesting story about the travails of the musical instrument biz, from the view of Fender Guitars.

Mr. Fender’s company, now known as the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, is the world’s largest maker of guitars. Its Stratocaster, which made its debut in 1954, is still a top seller. For many, the Strat’s cutting tone and sexy, double-cutaway curves mean rock ’n’ roll.

But this heart of rock isn’t beating quite the way it once did. Like many other American manufacturers, Fender is struggling to hold on to what it’s got in a tight economy. Sales and profits are down this year. A Strat, after all, is what economists call a consumer discretionary item — a nonessential.

Of course, I take issue with that word, nonessential. A few interesting points worth highlighting …

– It turns out that Guitar Center, a significant distribution channel for Fender guitars, is controlled by Bain Capital. Coincidence, no? And for what it’s worth, Guitar Center’s debt is now rated as beneath junk status by Moody’s. Coincidence? … doubt it.

– It seems to have slipped my attention that Fender is trying to go public on its own. The most recent effort has been laughed off since Fender’s sales are in decline. But part of their approach to making up for the loss of sales is to find new markets, licenses, and co-branding to make up some of the difference. This brings me to where I seem to have benefited from this story.

As it turns out, my current guitar of choice is a Charvel Telecaster with a Fender strat neck. Charvel has since scaled up to try and sell guitars without licensed necks. But it was pretty sweet finding a mid-priced super-strat type of a guitar with a known quantity for a neck. At the time I was shopping around, the necks on all of the Charvel models was something people were falling in love with. My own experience has been nothing short of great.

I typically find time for a very limited couple of hours a week to play, jam, or practice. Definitely not enough of a time commitment to revive any rock-star dreams, but enough to have fun with it. In the couple of years that I’ve been trying to pick the habit back up, I’ve since found myself longing for a guitar with a thinner sound than my Charvel’s humbuckers crank out. One option is to start experimenting with new pickups in the existing guitar – not something I’m crazy about. Plan B is to just pick up a Fender strat one of these days. Pretty safe bet that it happens one of these days.

ADD-ON: Since the story offers me an excuse to post proof of my own musical mediocrity …

Princess Bride Turns 25

» Newsday: ‘The Princess Bride’ at 25 — You think this happens every day?

Sticking with visual media for blog material today …

Fantasy/fables based on books that aren’t “Harry Potter” popular rarely go gangbusters at the box office. But “The Princess Bride” seemingly became a home rental/movie channel/DVD classic because practically everyone whose ever been convinced to view the film has walked away a fan, if not an out-and-out fanatic.

It has created, beyond the speech of the swordsman Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin) a collection of quotables, exchanges and terms so large that for those who speak geekspeak, it may almost rival “Caddyshack.”

Some time, long long ago, I used to count the movie as my unqualified favorite. And I’ve probably spun the DVD for it a hundred times or so. That was before I got old and jaded, of course. Now, I don’t think I really have a favorite movie. But “The Princess Bride” is still up there.

Like 99% of all fans of the movie, I never saw it during the original big screen run. I could be mistaken, but I believe it caught on as a regular Easter showing on USA in the 90s. In my period of obsession with the movie, I remember that the tales of how hard it was to market the movie, which may have contributed to its lackluster showing in theaters. You be the judge. Here’s the trailer …

For the life of me, I don’t know what the heck that movie would be about if that’s what I had to go by. Good thing it landed well on cable.

Happy 25th, Vizzini!

One Election Season Diversion

The recurring tinnitus that re-emerges from loud heavy metal shows, I can handle. The fact that the time spent on this much enjoyment came purely out of the allowable hours for sleep in an otherwise 24/7 campaign run for me … not so much. Really feeling it on the day after.

But the band still rocks. This year, the ballads were cut from the setlist (even “Honestly”). It was heavy and Michael Sweet didn’t shy away from a few tunes that let him show off the pipes. Very nice to see as the band gets a little bit older. One key bit of inspiration from the show was that I think I’ve realized now how much I’ve been attempting to mimic their twin lead harmonies. There are a lot of bands that do that on a regular basis, of course. And Stryper has never been very original in their approach. But I think I now get that it was Stryper that really sold me on harmony leads way back when. So once the election season takes a breather after May 29th, hopefully I’ll have some energy left over to try and create a few new uses of that technique.

What’s weird (to me) is that Stryper has seemingly fallen into the trap of “bands I love, but whose songs I rarely try to pick apart on guitar”. There are a lot of great bands that fall into that category. But with a jolt like last night’s, I may have a little motivation to add a Stryper tune to the “Second Takes” project of recording/learning cover tunes.

The opener this time around was a DFW-area band, Supernova Remnant. Not a bad band and nice to see a regional Christian metal band. I picked up the CD as a small show of support and plan to pick apart one little technique in a song that I liked of theirs. Sheesh … guitar projects piling up already?

Not So Heavy Rotation

Since the blogging is slowing down due to some campaign-related workload, I think it’s an opportune moment for a navel-gazing look at my MP3 playlist. For one, it’s a better change of pace to go from campaign work to “anything but politics” than it is to riff off of the news of the weird. Besides, its never short of amusing to revisit these things a year or two later to see what on earth I was listening to. For you normals out there, fear not … there’s not an abundance of Stryper, Krokus, or Yngwie Malmsteen on here.

With that, here’s what’s spinning in my phone …

1. I Do (Paul Gilbert)
I believe this is a Japanese bonus track off of Gilbert’s first solo album. So I never had the chance to listen to this 1000 times in a row back when I picked up the CD (that’s what we called MP3s back then, kids). Considering how much I enjoyed where Gilbert was artistically back in this period, I’m playing the heck out of this one for good reason. The guy seemed to have left Mr. Big with a terrific understanding of pop sensibility and how to combine it with having a load of fun on guitar. Here’s the video to prove it in this case.

2. Do You Love Me (Paul Stanley)
I never got into the original recorded version of this tune for one simple reason: I had only two KISS albums as a child: Alive and Alive II. That was my most devious plot to trick my parents who agreed to buy me two albums for a birthday present. This song didn’t make the cut of Alive II. I probably heard it while playing a friend’s copy of Destroyer from time to time. But the song really never took until the Unplugged Reunion. As far as a full-bore electric version of the tune, I have to confess that the Starman’s solo, live rendition is pretty solid.

3. Michelle Don’t Live Here No More (Last Autumn’s Dream)
Why Mikael Erlandsson isn’t widely known outside of Europe is a mystery to me. This is off of a relatively recent release of one of his projects. If you’re a fan of anything remotely AOR or melodic rock, check it out. If you like what you here, there’s also some solo material that he’s done, as well as another band project called Salute … which is harder to find outside of the export market.

4. Hands Tied (Scandal)
Hard for me to believe this was on the same album (that’s what we called CDs back then, kids) as “The Warrior.” But the love affair with this song is borne of my need to listen ahead to the next artist I plan on covering before I record the one I’m working on now. Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” will get a few tracks tonight. A certain, obvious Scandal tune is planned after that. Here’s hoping I mess up neither of them.

5. The World We Live In (MacAlpine)
This is just me, digging up some obscure 90s AOR metal that I’ve not listened to in ages. MacAlpine refers to erstwhile shred guitar player, Tony MacAlpine, spending some bucks trying to join in on the supergroup phenomenon that gave us Mr. Big, Damn Yankees, Bad English, and to a lesser extent: House of Lords. I think its a shame that Tony Mac never made it with this project beyond the first release (that’s what we called it when you could buy either a CD, album or cassette, kids). The band came through Houston on tour. I remember thinking MacAlpine was a bit sloppier than the other shred guys I caught back then (for the record, Vinnie Moore was spot on with his material). Oh, and the singer made me shout out the chorus to a cover of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” because I wasn’t there to give a rat’s behind about the singer. I don’t remember the moment really being the hit of the show.

6. Sing Over Me (Jonathan Salas)
Unknown kid out of the Katy area that opened for Stryper the last time they played the House of Blues. He deserves to be bigger than he is. He’s still a kid, so there’s this thing called twitter that he uses more than anything else. You’d be treating yourself right if you picked up his CDs.

7. Loved By You (Lincoln Brewster)
My weekly routine, when done properly, usually involves switching over to some churchy tunes on Friday to get amped up for Saturday and otherwise not merely rush through my Friday like a workaholic of some sort. Brewster’s about as good as they get for an easy-going, centering sorta song. There’s certainly other material of his that shows off the guitar a bit more. For whatever reason, though, I usually like his slower stuff. The irony is that my palate is in so much need of a change of pace when I leave church on Saturdays that I go straight to heavy metal afterwards.

8. Song of the Saints (Page CXVI)
An unfortunately little-known band that a few hipster types are tuned into. They make their way to my church every so often and they’re usually a welcome treat. What they do with classic hymns is pretty amazing. This is easily my favorite tune of theirs, but there’s a tighter bundle of tunes vying for second place. One of the other things I love about them is that they sell instrumental backing tracks for all of their releases. The music is a bit out of my own stylistic preference, but I’m still holding out hope to do something with my guitar over the backing track of this one.

9. Justice Will Roll Down (Sandra McCracken)
McCracken is the wife of one of my faves: Derek Webb. I’ve tried to get into her tunes a number of times, to no avail. Then she came out with a “reworked hymns” project that included this and a few others that I fell in love with. The band at church has put this into the worship setlist a few weeks in a row, which helps remind me to re-insert this into heavy rotation.

10. Shadows of the Night (Pat Benatar)
And this is me, fading out of my Benatar phase. If tonight’s recording session goes halfway well (which, for me, translates to “incredibly well”), I think its time to focus on playing some Scandal and then get into the more guitar-heavy tunes I’ve planned to cover. That aside, Neil Giraldo has never gotten his due as one of the best guitar players of the 80s. I’m convinced that part of the reason for taking so long to record “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is because I really wanted to spend some time learning a few elements of Giraldo’s style that occur outside of that song.

So that’s what’s on my earbuds this past week. If there’s anything similar to this sorta material that you think might be new to me, feel free to let me know.

A Quick Aggre-blogpost for the Day …

Apologies for the dearth of blogging. The last half of the past week got a bit busy. A couple of things to note very quickly, though:

– Kuff interviewed all of the HD137 candidates last week. Gene Wu is a client, so I’m biased in my preference.

– This week, Kuff gets to CD14, where Nick Lampson gets the grilling.

Stace moved into my ‘hood. He won’t last a month.

– Oh, and this happened when I picked up the guitar and hit record. It’s not me singing … I just play guitar.

Jessies_Girl_(take_1).mp3

The latest phase of plucking away at my noisemaker has been to explore some songs that I grew up loving in order to learn from other guitarists and develop a little better knowledge of song structure. This tune was exactly as much fun as I anticipated the project being, although I’m sure the neighbors have a different opinion. Next up is Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Another Neil Giraldo solo. And if it goes well over next weekend, I might do another Benatar tune to maximize this chapter of the learning experience.