Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chris Chaney - Aguilar Artist Interview

Chris Chaney
Studio to stage and back again  
If your resume indicates that you have worked with artists like Alanis Morissette, Slash, Shakira, Celine Dion and Jane’s Addiction – you are completely off the charts on the diversity scale!

For bassist Chris Chaney, being well-rounded is paramount to success as a musician. In 2013 alone he has appeared on albums from Cher, Josh Groban, Tegan & Sara, Joe Satriani and the raucous Live in NYC from his full-time gig with Jane’s Addiction.

“I sort of pride myself in being diverse. Being adaptable is one of the keys to staying busy and working in this crazy music industry! In every genre of music there is greatness, so you have to do your history and dig into those styles and be prepared. I’ve barely scratched the surface on what’s out there but I’m a ‘lifer’ here - you can’t fill my head with enough!”

We caught up with Chris this past summer at Jane’s Addictions’ tour stop in Indianapolis to talk about the gear he brings to sessions, working on film dates and the value of reading music.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Popjunkie rants - Charlie Brown, Starbucks and Deluxe Editions?

I dislike Starbucks. A lot.

They sell coffee. And yet they brand it as selling you a lifestyle. C’mon, aside from agida how much of a lifestyle change will a cup of their brew offer? It’s still just coffee – really burnt tasting, horrible coffee. And I love coffee – just not from Starbucks.

But let me get to my story - I do my good deed the other day and ask a co-worker if he would like anything from the deli I was running to for lunch. His reply? A beverage from Starbucks - which was near the deli I was going to. Sigh…

I walk into the ‘Bucks and I have to say, it was beautiful. As such, the line was treacherous. So I begin my wait, finally making it to the counter and place my order. As I am paying, I look down to one of the numerous counter displays hawking CDs and scones and that’s where my trouble begins.

I see A Charlie Brown Christmas Special and feel compelled to pick it up after seeing that which always gets me into trouble - the dreaded yellow sticker on the package declaring that I am lucky enough to be holding a “Deluxe Edition”. Does that have the same effect on anyone else? I think it’s a guy thing. Seriously, how many times have I re-purchased the same music or movie because of a reissue which proclaimed, “Limited Edition”, “Special Edition”, “You’re a dumb-ass, so go ahead and buy it again Edition”.

The clincher? This holiday double-pack of fun contains a DVD and the soundtrack CD! For only $12.95 – what can be bad about that?

Until I walk out and head back to work when I start to think – “wait, don’t I already own the soundtrack?” Of course I do. But I justify the re-purchase as my CD collection is stashed at a storage space up in the Bronx and since I never added the disc to my iTunes collection when I had the chance, I can now listen to Vince Guaraldi’s classic score once again.

But then then pure terror grips me right on Broadway – I just bought a DVD! Excuse me? I only watch Blu-ray discs! Why don’t I hang a bed sheet on the wall and break out the 8mm projector? Maybe even find the Betamax tapes? DVD – my last possible resort. It makes me nauseous to type out the words “standard definition”. Break out the Pepto Bismol!  

A Charlie Brown Christmas Special is now available on Blu-ray disc and the soundtrack has been remastered. Did Concord Music Group just dump these two old discs into one combo pack to get rid of them to unsuspecting coffee addicts! I got duped. Dear lord – what kind of abomination is this – an entertainment graveyard?

It’s been a week and I still haven’t watched this. I haven’t even opened it. I guess I could return it but I didn’t get a receipt because, why would I need one? Of course, if I returned it, I would have had no reason to write this and then would have wasted both time AND money! Alright, it was only $12.95 but you get the picture.

At the very least, I will open it and watch the show – hopefully with a minimum of discomfort. I know that the soundtrack is fantastic, but I have one that was probably pressed in 1915!

So screw you Snoopy – I hope Woodstock takes a dump in your stocking! Or gives you a bag of Starbucks home brew coffee.

And Starbucks… your coffee still sucks!

Look at it, just sitting there mocking me. Deluxe Edition my eye!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tommy Grasso - Two Streets, video preview

Tommy Grasso - Two Streets, video preview

Fresh from his run of supplying hit guitar licks to Broadway shows such as Rock of Ages, singer/guitarist Tommy Grasso has just released the video for Two Streets, the first single from his upcoming album Back in the Day.

The New Jersey native is a mainstay on the NYC music scene, bringing his guitar talents to other Broadway hits including Passing Strange and Spring Awakening. As a bandleader, Grasso has released five full-length albums, including the soon-to-be released Back in the Day. The video for Two Streets is a scenic tour through downtown Manhattan – the old stomping grounds of this author.

If you are a fan of classic rock – think Bon Jovi in their more acoustic moments - have a listen by clicking here.

For more information about Tommy Grasso, check out

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pumpinhead 1 & 2: A Popjunkie Movie Review

Pumpkinhead (1988)
Pumpkinhead II: Bloodwings (1994)

The 1988 cult classic, Pumpkinhead, is one of those films where a decent story idea carries the entire project. Throw in a fantastically frightening creature and you can excuse the questionable acting skills and the obviously staged-looking sets. Directed by special effects master, Stan Winston (Terminator 1-3, Predator, Aliens… yeah, he knows creatures!) Pumkinhead created its own lore and wisely stuck to it throughout; creating a film that was effective in the scares department and just plain thrilling from beginning to end.

The premise is simple; Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is the local store owner whose son is hit and killed in a motorcycle accident. The driver of the bike is the requisite “movie-jerk” that leaves the scene of the crime – with his hysterical friends in tow. Moments after his son dies in his arms, the grief-stricken Harley goes down the supernatural path in search of Pumpkinhead - a demon who could be conjured to seek brutal revenge by someone who has been severely wronged.

Pumpkinhead’s keeper is “the scary, old Southern witch lady that kind of looks like a man and lives in a graveyard”. But she warns Harley that what he is asking “comes with a powerful price”. We come to learn how powerful a price by the end of the film. But like any good witch, all you have to do is go to her with your problems, make your sacrifice and voila – Southern demon justice!

And justice is certainly doled out in spades!

A guilty pleasure to be sure but nothing to be embarrassed of as Pumpkinhead is a solid ‘creature feature’ with one hell of a creature, a few good scares and pure, revenge-fueled mayhem!

But proving that you can get too much of a good thing…

Pumpkinhead II: Bloodwings has none of the scares or originality of the first film. In fact, it is frustrating to watch since it decimates everything cool that was established in the first movie. While there was a six year gap between the two films, trust that the time was not spent on plot development.

The worst aspect is the fact that the ‘plot’ is not revealed until three-quarters of the film is over! So while it seems like the monster is just killing poor country bumpkins at random, there is an actual reason for the carnage. But by that point – no one cares. But if you do care, it involves the now popular plot device where they have to “give the monster a backstory” to explain why he tears heads from their bodies. No surprise that this fails miserably.

Throw in bad acting, insipid dialog and the creatures’ beyond silly death scene and you end up with pure cliché-ridden crap that has caused me to de-evolve mentally.  

The most frightening part of all is that somehow, two further sequels were made!

I made a promise to myself that I won’t be watching them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Aguilar Artist Interview with Janek Gwizdala!

Janek Gwizdala
Multi-faceted Multi-tasker

Every musician wants to stay busy but Janek Gwizdala takes multi-tasking to entirely new levels. On the international modern Jazz scene, he maintains a busy, some may say intense, recording and touring schedule. But the UK-born, LA-based Gwizdala is also a respected columnist, educator, and author whose recently self-published book - You’re a Musician. Now What? - has been garnering rave reviews. He is also adept at engaging his large fan base through social media networking channels such as Instagram and Twitter to interact freely with his audience while promoting his latest works.

And if that is not enough, he formed the charity We Need Strings to help musicians around the world who do not have access to strings. With many players changing their strings weekly – even daily – Gwizdala saw that there was still life in these strings; enough life for the countless players with no choice. So far the response has been extraordinary as hundreds of lightly used strings have shipped globally to musicians in need.  

We were able to catch up with Janek in between breaks on his recent clinic tour of Australia and New Zealand to discuss a few of his many recent projects.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Felix Pastorius: My Aguilar Artist Interview

Felix Pastorius: Closing the circle

On the surface, it would almost seem like the act of simply playing the bass would bear an incredible weight for Felix Pastorius. On one side, his father was none other than the groundbreaking Jaco Pastorius; one the other, his current gig finds him filling the recently vacated bass chair for the Yellowjackets when founding member Jimmy Haslip left the group after 30+ years.

But Pastorius is not intent on trying to fill anyone’s shoes other than his own. After mere seconds of listening to him play, anyone can tell the man is prodigiously talented, but he falls into a very rare camp of musical offspring. Like Julian Lennon, he can sound eerily like his famous and iconic father but at the same time, sound only like himself.

And this is precisely what drives Pastorius – establishing a musical voice that stands on its own merits. As such, the last ten years have found him working with the like of Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews Band) in Mu’tet, Cindy Blackman and now, the Yellowjackets; forcing his musical range to develop and grow beyond his years.

The Yellowjackets new album, aptly titled A Rise In The Road, marks the beginning of a new chapter for the group, the closing of a karmic circle that began over 30 years ago. This circle began as YellowJackets member Bob Mintzer (tenor sax) was playing with Jaco in the early 80’s around the time that Felix was born. Coincidentally, not long after the Yellowjackets began their career. When Haslip left the group and discussion began about their future the young Pastorius’ name was the first to come up.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Craig Dobbins - The Popjunkie Interview

Craig Dobbins
A Gentleman, a Scholar and a Picker

After decades of slinging an electric guitar through both the dives and divinities of the east-coast music scene, this author was in sore need of inspiration. While I kept myself on a varied diet of musical styles over the years; the New Wave, Rock, Pop, Funk, Experimental fusion that was part of my lexicon of tricks was no longer satisfying, no longer interesting to me. In short, I needed a radical departure from standard operating procedure in order to grow.

That meant diving into the one style of guitar playing that was near and dear but extremely elusive – country finger-style guitar. To be more concise, I wanted to get a few Jerry Reed licks under my fingers!

Having never made a tactile connection with the steel-string acoustic guitar and the fact that fingerpicking on a Stratocaster just seemed unnatural, my engine was stalled before getting to the starting line. Fortunately, things began to come together for me – the most important being my “discovery” of the nylon-string guitar. Like my beloved Fender, this was the instrument that could get me from point A to point D - if only I could learn how to play it! No easy feat.

With a little online research, I found Craig Dobbins and the Acoustic Guitar Workshop [AGW]. The Alabama-based Dobbins began publishing the AGW in 1993; teaching those curious about this style and accurately transcribing some of the works from the masters of the idiom. Having bought book after book looking for further insight into the works of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, the AGW was revelatory – finally, someone who knew what real “pickin’” was and could actually teach it!      

The AGW is now in its 20th year of publication and has lately been going digital – issue by issue, Dobbins has been making back issues available as PDF/mp3 downloads. Now all of Dobbins work can be made readily available to hungry students at any time. This is in addition to Dobbins’ current roster of private students, recordings, and Skype lessons!

How do you conceptualize or compile the songs/lesson for each issue of AGW?
It varies. Some issues have a theme, but most have a variety of music. I try to include something of classic Nashville fingerpicking (Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Paul Yandell, etc.) in each issue, and I decided from the beginning that I would always include a hymn or gospel song. Apart from that, it’s music that interests me and that I hope others will enjoy as well. I also include my own original tunes from time to time.

Much of the music that you transcribe is music that you are a fan of – does that make it easier when you break certain songs down into a lesson?
Oh certainly. The last thing I’d want to do is spend hours and hours preparing a piece of music that I didn’t even like!
I transcribe each song in notation/tab, with both left and right hand fingerings, and chord diagrams where applicable. I usually talk through the music and play it slowly and then up to tempo. When possible, I include the original recording by the artist. 
I’ve been able to transcribe the music of many of my heroes, and some of my friends too - people like Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Paul Yandell, Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel, Guy Van Duser, Richard Smith, Jim Croce, The Beatles - the list goes on.

You recently began offering back issues of AGW as downloads – how has that been going and will you be converting all issues to digital form?
It has been going well. You know, today people want everything now, so downloads are the way to go. We’ll be converting everything we can. Some tunes are controlled by publishers who don’t allow PDF downloads of music from their catalog at this time, so of course we’ll honor that. It all depends on licensing and permission. For now, some issues will be available as downloads or in print (or enhanced CD), and others only in print form. 

Also, it’s not just AGW - most of my books, book/CD sets, and CDs are also available as downloads now. And of course, there’s Lick of the Week, which is all digital. Each week we email a new lick in notation/tab, with performance notes, mp3 audio, and QuickTime video.

All available downloads are listed on the Downloads section of my website.  

What new projects are in the works for you?
Well, I’m always working on something. As Chet used to say, “Trying to keep a few simoleons coming in.” So I’m working on two new CDs - one is all Gospel, and the other is all original tunes.

You also collaborated on a new signature-model guitar…
Yes, Kirk Sand has just added the Craig Dobbins Signature Model guitar to his lineup. I’ve played a Sand since 1993, and I’ve owned the one you see and hear on most of my projects since 1996. So, it’s quite an honor to have this new signature model. I confess, sometimes I find myself just peering through the soundhole at my name on the label. You can read all about it on my construction blog:
[Attention guitar geeks – you should really check that blog out!]

I’ve also expanded my endorsement with TV Jones pickups and guitars. I’ve been using his pickups in my Gretsches for several years, and he recently sent me one of his Spectrasonic C Melody baritone guitars. It’s great fun, and I’ve been writing and recording with it quite a bit. There’s a clip of me demonstrating it on the TV Jones website

Thank you Craig for taking the time to chat with Popjunkie! Your work is truly inspiring – inspiring me to practice a lot harder!

The latest issue of the AGW (Vol 17 No 2) is #66. And for Jerry Reed fans, do not hesitate to check out Craig’s’ Jerry Reed transcriptions page. It is a must for any serious picker!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Depeche Mode – A Popjunkie concert review

Depeche Mode – A Popjunkie concert review
Barclay’s Center, September 6, 2013

“Goodnight Brooklyn!”

Now there are three words you would never expect to hear at a Depeche Mode concert! But there they were – the kings of electro gloom in the house that Jay Z built.

Only a few shows into the North American leg of their massive Delta Machine tour, Depeche Mode packed Brooklyn’s year-old Barclay’s Center, for a career-spanning set laden with hits, deep cuts and new material. Over thirty years into their influential career and Depeche Mode attacked the stage like elder statesmen showing that they can stay musically relevant in a volatile musical climate and prove to the younger, uninitiated in the crowd – of which there were many – why they are still selling out arenas.

Lead singer Dave Gahan was in especially fine voice; his deep baritone echoing through the hall with authority and swagger. He presided over the fervent crowd like a preacher holding court in front of his doom-infused followers. His glam-cohort, Martin Gore, alternated between keyboards and guitar and more than ably held his own with his beautifully careening tenor harmonies.      

The group’s tight set was both delicate and dynamic in equal measure – from the bombastic A Question of Time to the gentle piano-only version of Home. The selections from this year’s fine Delta Machine album held up well against the more familiar material; a testament to the band’s songwriting craft. Those looking for hits were not disappointed as the band tore through well-worn hits such as Enjoy the Silence, Personal Jesus and Just Can’t Get Enough with aplomb. The crowd went berserk as the band reached back to Black Celebration and Policy of Truth but the surprise of the evening was But Not Tonight

This track was single in 1986 and even tacked onto US editions of the Black Celebration album – but until this tour had never been performed live. The piano-only version sung by Gore saw an impassioned, joyful sing-along from the crowd. Gore himself seemed pleasantly surprised by the response the song generated – the large video screens could not hide his smile.

Despite the number of full-throttle moments in the show, there were a few misfires – 1990’s astounding Halo was performed in a recently remixed by Goldfrapp version which was anti-climactic considering it was parts of the band’s encore set. New single Should Be Higher was going over famously – the digital images which shot around the venue’s multiple screens was beyond cool – until they reached a breakdown where Gahan tried to encourage a sing-along with the crowd. Unfortunately, the attempt fell flat as the song was too new and the falsetto part he asked people to sing was not really what you would ask 15,000 rapturous concert-goers to join in on. While this section was short, it felt like a lifetime.  

Of course the weak moments were few and could not diminish the power of a show this strong. Not many bands can stay this potent three decades into their recording career but Depeche Mode is performing at an all-time high.

So when is the concert film coming?

This was actually the best of the photos I took - which says a lot for my photography skills!

Set List:
1 Welcome to My World
2 Angel
3 Walking in My Shoes
4 Precious
5 Black Celebration
6 Policy of Truth
7 Should be Higher
8 Barrel of a Gun
9 The Child Inside (Martin)
10 But Not Tonight (Martin)
11 Heaven
12 Soothe My Soul
13 A Pain That I'm Used To
14 A Question of Time
15 Enjoy the Silence
16 Personal Jesus

17 Home (Martin)
18 Halo
19 Just Can't Get Enough
20 I Feel You
21 Never Let Me Down Again

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In case you missed it – Deathstalker – a Popjunkie movie review

Journey to an age of awesome magic – that’s an 80’s tagline for you!

It is curious how 80’s pop culture was so wrapped up in the latest of things – even the future of things. We were enamored with the latest technology, hot new music, cutting edge music videos, etc. But there was also a strange trend of sword & sorcery epics that hit cinemas regularly in the early part of the decade. Maybe as we were so entranced being in the ‘now’ – parachute pants, Culture Club and the like – that there was a secret desire for a more humbling experience; a paean for the “good old days”. Of course, in 1983 it was not as if one’s grandfather were alive in the Middle Ages so it is odd that fantasy genre became as marketable as it did.

And if any time in history could have combined the Dark Ages with smoke machines, lasers and teased-out hair; and still make it work, it was the early 80’s.    

But then we come to Deathstalker – yes, it is spelled as one word – a film that is almost unfair to review because everything about it reeks of awfulness. It’s as if the sole purpose of this movie is for the audience to make fun of it – which is going to be easy to do. To be honest, it would come as no surprise if the entire cast and crew knew they were working on a stinker of magnificent proportions. It really is that bad. And yet, unbelievably, three sequels were made!

The film has a very simple plot – there is not much of one. The main character is out in the wild raping and pillaging when an old witch somehow, randomly contacts him telling him how to find a mystical sword that will make him invincible. She then tells him of a villain called Munkar who has a mystical amulet and chalice, which when combined with the aforementioned mystical sword, would make the bearer… even more invincible?

Munkar is holding a tournament to find the most powerful warriors in the land – this way he can kill them and have no competition when he finds the powerful sword. Since Munkar is a wizard – and an evil one at that – he has already prophesized about Deathstalker having the sword. If he can kill him in the tournament, he can get the sword and be all-powerful. Or at least the most invincible-est wizard ever. But things don’t really go his way and Deathstalker gets both the amulet and the chalice and shoots a green laser from the sword and the movie ends.

The official trailer will show you all you need to know. Unless you want to see boobies and then you have to sit through the entire film

A deep and multi-layered story for sure but let us turn our attention to the Deathstalker himself.

The central character is a bulked-up thief, murderer, and womanizer. With all these attributes, it truly dazzles that he is the ‘hero’ of the film. And of course, the fact that the hero’s name is Deathstalker should make you question why we are rooting for him anyway – it’s just not the name for a hero is it? And let’s not forget the whole womanizing, stealing, killing thing going on.

Let’s pause there and look at how women are treated or thought of in this film. Mostly it comes off as a complete narcissistic (and chauvinistic) male fantasy – the sex and nudity are completely over the top! The women are there only to delight the men in the film as every woman (save one) is a sex slave in Munkar’s lair. And the men most certainly take advantage of this fact - breasts are constantly bared for no real reason and the sex happens often; just to give us something to look at! The gorgeous Lana Clarkson – bare-breasted under her very open robe - makes for quite the appealing warrior. All one can say after looking at her nubile frame is, “burn in hell Phil Spector”!

Even Deathstalker himself partakes in the pleasures of the flesh; in fact, his normal stance goes something like this: “Hi, my name is Deathstalker and I just ripped your top off. I didn’t get your name but you can tell me after we have sex.” He’s a smooth talker all right. It is possible that in 1983, this would barely have raised an eyebrow but 30 years later, it is quite surprising.

The gore spews freely – including a little creature in a box that eats a man’s eyeball – but the action is fairly tepid. The campy special effects are also completely fake-looking - like the miscellaneous trolls and beasts that look like men in cheap rubber suits sprayed in a clear slime, because fake creatures look much more real if they are covered in shiny goo.

And then there’s the pig man. Piggy looks like one of the Gamorrean guards from Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. At one point, we find him sitting at the dinner table, looking with disgust at the cooked wild board spread out before him. As he takes in the gastrointestinal debauchery on the table, he surely must be contemplating the irony of his existence, living in Mukar’s dungeon, a mere minion for the evil wizard, cast out from his native lands by the other pigs who shunned him for walking upright - and not possessing the body of a pig. But the conflict wells up within him as he picks up the boars head on a stick – and starts eating it! Sweet revenge? Hunger? Discuss among yourselves.    

And there it is – far too many words devoted to a single, horrendous film that time has mostly forgotten. But I really must leave it here as I am currently seeking out a copy of Deathstalker II.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Aguilar Artist Interview with... Steve Jenkins

Steve Jenkins
Coaxial Flutter

Steve Jenkins is clearly enthused about the release of his long-awaited new album Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter. And how could he not be? His last album as a bandleader was 2004’s critically-acclaimed Mad Science, which cemented his status as one of the new breed of modern electric bassists who fuse Jazz, Rock, Avant-Garde, Funk and Heavy Metal into an experimental springboard for musical exploration.

Jenkins sets himself apart from the pack through his strong compositional sense rather than his instrumental prowess – although both, not surprisingly, are incredible. But raid-fire bebop licks or machine gun slapping is not where Jenkins puts his focus. Lately, his use of sonic manipulation is intended to be revelatory and inspiring to the listener. His use of effect pedals on …Coaxial Flutter will leave even the most jaded listeners questioning if what they are hearing is indeed a bass solo! This approach allowed him to expand his musical vocabulary and opened up new possibilities for his solos, which, rather than merely impressing listeners will certainly surprise many.

We recently got the chance to talk to Steve about the making of his new album and how he got some of those cool bass sounds!

To read the rest of the interview, please click here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Aguilar Artist Interview with Darryl Anders

Darryl Anders’ AgapeSoul

Some people look great in hats. Some people wear many hats - metaphorically speaking that is. Bay Area bassist Darryl Anders clearly falls into both of these categories as his reach in the music industry extends far and wide - and he looks rather dapper in a fedora!

Known by many throughout the MI world as the Bass Products Manager at Jim Dunlop, Darryl also has an impressive roster of performing credits including stints with Tower of Power and Booker T. Jones as well as records with Zigaboo Modeliste, Vicki Randle and Charlie Peacock. His recording/ production credits also include creating music for RockBand and Guitar Hero video games.

Darryl can now add the title of "Band Leader" to his skill set as evidenced by his recently released album Believe in Love from AgapeSoul. With his bass sitting loudly (and proudly) in the mix, Anders clearly steers the ship but his years of experience as a sideman give him the restraint needed to bring a well-rounded – and soulful - listening experience rather than being a straight "chops record". Anders agrees, "For me, the most important thing was to make a record that was not a bass record. I wanted listeners to focus their attention on the songs as a whole and to make music that makes people feel good in a world that is constantly throwing you curve balls".

Ditching the electronic trappings that plague so much modern R&B, AgapeSoul relies on the band member’s killer musicianship and strong writing rather than loops or samples to bring their songs to life. From the straight-up funk of the title track to the sublime balladry of If I Ever Loose This Heaven, Believe in Love is one of the finest modern Soul/ R&B albums you will likely hear in 2013.

To read the rest of the interview, please click here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In case you missed it – Lionel Richie (1982), album review

In case you missed it – Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie (1982)
***** (out of 5)
Motown records

Friends, family - I have a confession to make. For the past year I have been battling an addiction. An addiction that has me thinking about getting an afro, a polo shirt and a Rolex.

Yes, it is that bad.

You see, my addiction is to Lionel Richie’s debut solo album.

The funny thing is I grew up listening to this album; I was there when this album was the hottest thing out there. This was the days of having a home stereo so while you could spin vinyl at home, you had to record said album onto a cassette to listen to it in the car. That is assuming you had a cassette deck in your car in the first place!

My Sister and Brother In-law would play this into the ground as we would cruise around Danbury, CT with the sunroof open. Hey, a sunroof was a pretty swanky option in ’82! So, there we were – the only Italians in the state of Connecticut driving a Mustang with tinted windows and an open sunroof blasting Lionel Richie! Good times.

And then, after two more albums, Lionel faded off my radar and by the late eighties, I was wondering what had happened to him. Well, he made a pretty big comeback in the mid-nineties and has been doing quite well for himself since them but that was still not enough to really bring Richie back into my consciousness. No, re-discovering this gem came down to simple randomness.

Did you ever have a song in your head that just will not leave? What about if that song was one that you haven’t heard in decades? And all you do is only remember a few lines of the chorus? That is the predicament I found myself in during early 2012 and I had to do something about it. So like any 13 year-old looking to find new music, I just went to YouTube and typed in the title of the song that had so dominated my obsessive-compulsive mind – You Are.

And the flood gates opened! I was once again ten-years old, sitting in the back seat of that Mustang!

I bought Lionel Richie, the album, not long after this and was astonished at not only how much I remembered but how incredibly great the entire record is! It plays more like a hits compilation rather than a debut album but that is hardly surprising as Richie by this point, was no stranger to upper ranges of the singles charts. Opening with the insanely catchy – and funky – Serves You Right, Lionel Richie never falters. Tell Me, Round and Round and the aforementioned You Are might be some of the peppiest tracks Richie ever penned.  

Lionel Richie is never shy when it comes to stunning ballads a fact that does not get lost here but with material this good the album never sinks into maudlin territory. From My Love, You Mean More To Me and the stunning Truly – when the tempos slow, Richie absolutely soars.

So, the 2003 remastered version of Lionel Richie sounds fantastic and has been getting plenty of attention on my iPod but it still makes me wonder… Does it sound even better when played in a 1981 Mustang? I’m going to grab a polo shirt, flip up the collar, throw a sweater over it and find out!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In tribute to Jerry Reed Hubbard 1937-2008

As September 1, 2013 marks the five year anniversary of Jerry Reed’s death, I wanted to write a tribute to a musician that had inspired me greatly over the years. Jerry, this one’s for you son!

 It’s hard to describe the feeling a music fan feels when a respected artist passes on. Selfishness is a term that comes to mind because the feeling that the talents you have come to look up to, even depend on, are no more. You feel cheated, robbed of one who brought you so much joy; how could the music come to an end? It is an easy question to ask when listening to the music of Jerry Reed since he was full of so much life, vigor and natural, god-given talent, that it is next to impossible to think of his voice being silenced.

As a guitarist, he stood alone; instantly recognizable, he left a vast catalogue full of knuckle-busting instrumentals that will have many pickers scratching their heads for generations to come. As a singer, he sounded like every word that left his lips would be his last. His vocal performances were exuberant, at times cheeky and down-right soulful. His songwriting won him multiple Grammy Awards and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. When Hollywood beckoned, Reed found even bigger success. He may not have been Laurence Olivier, but he didn’t need to be, his on-screen persona, like the man himself, was so charming and likeable, that his work in Smokey and the Bandit alone will cause him to be remembered by millions.

Ironically, Jerry was so talented in everything that he did, his guitar talents, which cannot be understated, went overlooked by the masses. Countless guitarists have cited Reed as an influence and yet to the public at large, his entertaining performances on shows like Hee-Haw and The Glen Campbell Hour, usually showcased Jerry Reed the entertainer. And every country singer strums a guitar right? Sure they do. But no one picked liked Jerry Reed.

Those in awe of a great musician always remark how they “make it look easy” and Reed was no exception to this sentiment. Watching him play Jerry’s Breakdown, one of his most well-loved instrumentals, Reed made it seem effortless even though what he played was extraordinarily difficult to recreate. But even more extraordinary – perhaps even frustrating – is that while one can hear the countless hours he surely spent sharpening his skills, there is a sense of reckless abandon in his playing which begs the question, “Is he really even trying or did he just make that up in a single flash of inspiration?”

There is a good case for the latter theory since he ended up releasing over 35 studio albums in his lifetime. To be even more specific, he released 12 albums between the years of 1971 to 1974 alone! Most artists are lucky if they can release three albums in their prime years. Jerry’s prime (1967-’77) saw the release of around 18 discs! And the music didn’t stop there as Jerry wound up releasing albums right up until 2008 – a mere few months before he passed.

When I first heard that Jerry Reed had passed on, I thought of one of his songs called I’m a Happy Man. I don’t know why. I grabbed my iPod and played this song. In a way, it sums up the man – or what I think of the man - better than any simple tribute could.

Jerry Reed Hubbard
© Vector Music, BMI / Sixteen Stars Music, BMI

Woke up this morning a smile on my face
Looked out at the world what a beautiful place
The sun's shinin' in a blue sky above
A home and family surrounded with love

And I'm a happy man a happy man I won't take time to be sad
I am a happy man a happy man who's thankful and so glad
That I've been taught not to pity myself but live every moment of life that's left
There's just not enough time to be anything else
Anything else but a happy man

I won't be bitter cause I won't take time
For that kind of thinkin' to clutter my mind
A man just has such a little while
To spread a little joy and give a smile

So I'm a happy man a happy man...

I've had misfortune to visit on me
To break my weary spirit and bring me to my knees
But a man can never learn to appreciate this life
Till his joy's been mixed with trouble and strife

So I'm a happy man a happy man...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Steve Stevens - A Popjunkie Interview (2008)

Here is an interview I did with Steve Stevens right after the release of his last album, Memory Crash in 2008. While this has been on my Popjunkie site for some time, I wanted to share it here.

Steve Stevens: Inside the “Theater of the Mind”
Steve Stevens is the rare guitarist, and even more rare rock guitarist, who can display more versatility in his day job than most will in their entire career!  And that’s not counting the dozens of outside projects in which he has been involved in.  Don’t let the still-wild hair or black nail polish fool you; Steve Stevens is anything but a one-trick pony.           

Stevens is, of course, world renown for his work as guitarist and co-writer for Billy Idol.  In Stevens, Idol found his musical soul mate; one who could not only rock but rock with taste, flash and more importantly, originality.  The duo, which produced a stream of hits during the 80’s, is still going strong as 2005’s Devil’s Playground easily attests.

Instead of using his status to garner a few high profile and higher paying gigs, Stevens chose projects to reflect different sides of his musical personality from the fiery fretwork he displayed with Robert Palmer, Michael Jackson and the Thompson Twins (check out his six-string anarchy on Roll Over, or the ‘better than it should be’ cover of The Beatles Revolution) to his “we’re not worthy!” performance on 1986’s, Grammy-winning “Top Gun Anthem”. 

He formed Steve Stevens’ Atomic Playboys and released their first (and only) album in 1989 which, while not a chart-toping hit, further cemented his status as one of rock’s flashiest and most versatile axe-slingers. With Billy Idol, he had tremendous creative freedom but, ultimately, was bound to serve the song at all costs.  Here, his guitar was allowed to roam over whatever sonic terrain it felt like.  The album had it all: funk, soul and Middle Eastern acoustic flourishes all intertwined with sheets of pounding hard rock.  And if he felt like taking a one minute and 45 second guitar solo, as he does on the hellacious title cut, so be it!

Just when global sales of Aqua Net could get no higher, the 90’s came.  Guitar solos, spandex and long hair were out and many of the 80’s guitar heroes either went into seclusion or were forced to cut their hair and grew goatees as an attempt to stay relevant.  Stevens did neither.  Instead, he joined the Vince Neil Band for a one album stint.  While the album may have been a creative misstep, it did feature boatloads of his scorching lead work and gargantuan guitar tones.  Even then, his acoustic flamenco playing was being flaunted in the most unexpected of places.  Stevens soon rebounded by rejoining Idol to record the thoroughly rockin’ theme song to Keanu Reeves 1994’s hit film Speed

Stevens’s next project was the perfect showcase for both his prog-rock sensibilities and flamenco playing: Bozzio Levin Stevens.  The trio, which featured innovative bassist Tony Levin and drum legend Terry Bozzio, allowed for plenty of musical interplay within their lengthy, abstract improvisations.  Here, Stevens playing was completely ‘in the moment’ without the limitations of pop song structure.  After two albums with BLS, Stevens love for Flamenco guitar came to the forefront with the masterful, Flamenco A Go Go

The all-acoustic affair was the work of an artist who after 20 years in the industry could still dazzle with his musical restlessness.  Leaving his day-glow painted Les Pauls at home, Stevens was every bit as impressive wielding nothing more than his nylon-strung flamenco guitar.  Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of Flamenco A Go Go is how it not only displays the growth and sophistication in Stevens’ compositional sense but how strong those talents had been all along!

All of this leads us to the recently released, and very electric, new album, Memory Crash.  Recorded mostly at his home studio, The Purple Room, Memory Crash is a Steve Stevens tour de force featuring the hard rock riffs, impassioned acoustic playing, fascinating tones and yes, even those ray gun sounds that we’ve come to expect from Stevens.  But that’s not too say that you’ve heard it all before, there are still a few tricks up his black leather sleeve!    
Popjunkie recently entered Steve Stevens’ “theater of the mind” to talk about his new album, the future and of course, guitars.

Let’s talk about the genesis of this record. Instrumental guitar albums are such a niche thing nowadays: what inspired this album?    
I’ve really avoided doing an instrumental electric guitar record my whole career; although I did my Flamenco A Go Go record.  What really changed my mind was when we went out on the road after the last Billy Idol record and did a stint on the Warped Tour.  That convinced me that there’s a new generation of kids who are really into guitars.  And that wasn’t the case through the 90’s you know?  It was almost like being a virtuoso guitarist was more like a hindrance than a help (laughs)!  So, I thought the time was right.  That combined with seeing kids as young as 14 years old on You Tube playing my Top Gun Anthem, I thought there was an audience out there.  I thought, “I might as well show ‘em what I can do!”  So, that’s what gave me the confidence to do my own instrumental record.

Did you have anything that you set out to achieve with this album?
I think that my record is different from other guitar instrumental records that may be focused more on the ‘shred thing.’  Mine I think focuses more on imagination and composition and it just so happens that the guitar is the instrument I express myself on.  You know the stuff that I grew up listening to and the guitarists that I dug so much when I was like 13/14, were all the English prog-players like Steve Howe and Robert Fripp.  I wanted to keep the spirit of that style of guitar playing alive on this record. 

A lot of times, when people have a home studio they tend to make everything sound perfect but with Memory Crash, the music feels alive; it’s raw and energized and doesn’t feel overdone.
I think that’s largely due to using a lot of vintage guitar amps and old-style recording techniques.  I use Pro Tools but I don’t like records that sound like they’re what we call, “in the box”, which is that whole, ‘everything’s done within Pro Tools’ sound.  I recorded all my guitars and stuff with tube pre amps and ribbons mics.  We mixed the record on an analog console as well; we didn’t mix it in Pro Tools so it kept the warmth and the character.

You did a large majority of the record by yourself.
The other main musician on the record is (Billy Idol drummer) Brian Tichy and he’s kind of coming from the same school as me.  His favorite drummers are all those 70’s guys, John Bonham and so on, and that helped to keep the record “human”.

Did you track the album with live drums or were they added later?
I don’t have the capability to record drums at my studio so the album was actually completed with me using a drum program called BFD.  I programmed all the drums, tracked my guitar to the programmed drums and then brought all of my tracks over to Black Sound Studio in Pasadena and replaced all the electronic drums with Brian.  In a couple of cases, my guitars didn’t fit with the live drums so we re-recorded them.

For Josephine has a very cool odd-time breakdown in it.  Very Prog.
Yeah, that’s my homage to Steve Howe of Yes!  Someone recently told me it sounded like something off of Relayer which I took as a compliment!  I figured I’d put that at the end of the record and that’s my little thank you to Steve Howe.

Is that your vocal on the song For Josephine?
Yeah, it is yeah.

That’s the first one since “Woman Of 1,000 Years” on the Atomic Playboys!
(Laughs) Yeah, right!  You know, I’m not a singer but it’s written for my fiancé and I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing that song, so it is what it is (laughs)!

Are you using a pick or fingers for the fast acoustic passages on Small Arms Fire & Prime Mover?
That’s with a pick.  I have a nylon-string, flamenco guitar that’s made by Pedro de Miguel.  I got that guitar because I was listening to Gerardo Nunez who’s an unbelievable flamenco player and I found out what guitar he used.  He’s got the best recorded flamenco tone of all!  I eventually just got the same guitar!

There is a large variety of textures in your guitar parts. 
Yeah, I love putting ear candy in my music.  I listen to music a lot with headphones, my nightly ritual is falling asleep to playlists that I make on my iPod!  And records like, Close To The Edge by Yes or Selling England By The Pound by Genesis, all have such cool little ear candy for you, “theater of the mind” kind of stuff.  I guess I’ve just been brought up on that music, it’s in my blood.

What kind of effect were you using to get that Uni Vibe tone?
The Uni Vibe I use is made by KR, and Kevin, who owns that company, has become a buddy of mine; we’re internet pals, and he and I would send each other vintage Hendrix footage.  An example would be Cherry Vanilla on this record.  I was really going for the later, Roomful of Mirrors-era Hendrix and even the stuff he did after Electric Ladyland, like War Heroes.  So, I’d kind of tell him a sound and he’d whip something up and send it off to me (laughs) and I did that with a number of companies that I work with. 

We have a mutual acquaintance in John Suhr – did you use his new Badger amp on this record at all?
I sure did yeah; the Badger is on a lot of this record.  All of the Strat-style playing is a Suhr white Strat that was actually built for Scott Henderson.  I called John and said, “I need a Strat, I’m starting this record and I don’t have a good Strat.  I’d been out to his shop and he showed me that noise-canceling technology that he’s got and I fell in love with it because I’ve always loved the sound of Strats but they always were too buzzy for me!  And he solved that, it doesn’t alter the sound of the pickups or anything.  I think that’s why there’s a Hendrix-y vibe on this record which I’ve never been known for that simply came about by having a great instrument.

Was this guitar used on The Day of the Eagle?
Exactly, same guitar.

So what’s next for you?  Will you going to tour for this record?
Well, I’m back in the studio with Billy Idol, we have a greatest hits record coming out that will have 3 or 4 new tracks on it so we’re starting to record those and then we go out on the road starting in June.  Since Brian is in Billy’s band, hopefully I can squeeze in some solo dates on my off days.

I always ask this to whom ever I chat with - what is something that you are finding inspiring right now?  It does not have to be musical either.
I’m inspired by, and I know it sounds cliché but I’m inspired by life itself really.  I’m in a different place in my life, I’ve finally found my real partner, my fiancé and she’s part of my life and my music.  She coordinated the photos for the record, got me the photographer to do it and all that.  And it’s great to have somebody that understands you; I don’t have to explain myself.  We’re gonna get married this year and I’m real excited about that.  You know, I think I’ve finally… for many years I was very restless (chuckles) in my personal life; always looking for something to fill a hole.  There’s the old adage that, “healthy mind, healthy body, healthy creativity” so I’m really in a great place to make music right now.

Popjunkie must thank Jeremy Bonaventura and Peter Morticelli at Magna Carta Records for making this interview happen.
A huge thank you to Steve Stevens for not only, taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us but for all these years of great guitar sounds!