Tag Archives: 1960s

Keith Richards – “Life”

Few people in the history of the human race have had a life as unprecedented, indulgent, lucky, uninhibited, or impactful as Keith Richards’.  A full-fledged rock star since the age of 18, Richards has seen levels of excess and luxury unimaginable to even history’s most gluttonous monarchs.  A life even he never would have thought possible, Richards’ saga is one of mythical proportions, spawning enough mystery and folklore to fill volumes.  The creative force behind the greatest Rock n’ Roll band ever, Richards’ unlikely tale is sure to entertain even the least suspecting reader.

A book that in no way presents itself as “fine literature,” Life is a straightforward recollection of Richards’ journey from the rural wastelands of Dartford to international infamy as the original rock star – at least what he can remember of it.  Pieced together with the help of friends and contributors, this book is a fascinating story of a completely unprecedented life. Of course, it has its fair share of foul language, drug use, sex, violence, and let’s not forget, Rock n’ Roll, but Richards makes no attempt to glorify his past or impose his behaviors on others.  The focal point of the book is the music – something Richards serves above all else.  To put it simply, it’s the story of an English kid, immersed African-American music, who proceeds to use it as a vehicle for expression with a group of like-minded individuals, The Rolling Stones.  Like a lovable friend who just can’t keep it together,  Richards becomes an enticing character who, despite major flaws, you can’t help but empathize with.  Although a generally lighthearted read, Life will reveal a depth and sincerity behind Rock’s most notorious outlaw that will make you realize it’s not as easy as it looks.  As Keith says, “I’m not the guys I see on MTV, who obviously think they are me” – he is something far more complex.

One thing that I gained from reading Life is a greater appreciation for Keith as a musician and guitarist.  Recently, he was named # 1 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Top 100 Guitarists,” and I couldn’t agree more with their decision.  I mean talk about riff merchants – this guy is the wholesaler.  “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Happy,” “Satisfaction,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – 40 Licks is a vast understatement.  The king of tone, Keith is instantly recognizable.  As a player, he is amazingly well versed in the blues vocabulary.  I mean, all of the Stones are heavy into early African-American Blues – Chess Records, Robert Johnson, etc.  They may as well have Musicology degrees with a major in Blues – they really know their stuff.  Not only that, they even recorded at Chess records in Chicago during their first visit to America, where they were mentored by Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters!  But I digress.  Keith may not have chops like EVH, Hendrix or Page, but he’s channeling somethings much deeper – he is the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time.  Who would have thought that the torch of African-American blues would be passed on to five White, English lads?  Perhaps that is why Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons.

The real secret, that had many guitarists stumped for years, is Keith’s tuning.  Taught to him by Ry Cooder, Keith began primarily using open-G tuning in the late 60s.  From Low to High it looks like this  – DGDGBD.  Keith would also occasionally remove the lowest D string, giving him a 5 string variant.  This tuning is the distinctive characteristic of his sound.  Using what he calls “drone notes,”  Keith plays his signature IV/I – I phrase with barre chord shapes borrowed from standard tuning.  You’ll notice that open-G tuning isn’t drastically different form standard tuning, so it retains many elements of traditional guitar, but allows major chords to be played with a single finger – an elegant solution for getting an intoxicated Richards to play otherwise difficult progressions.  But in all honesty, it’s genius.  Few guitarists have fully embraced alternate tunings or applied them in such a creative manner.  Most people will toy with open-E, common to slide guitar, and hardly break out of the standard lick repertoire.  Richards took a unique alternate tuning and made it his iconic sound, and the sound of Rock n’ Roll – no small feat.

Overall, Life is a worthwhile read that demystifies one of the greatest cultural icons of the 20th century.  Hearing the tale from his perspective, you realize that there is a primal element to Keith’s philosophy.  A modern-day pirate, an adventurer in cultural exploration, Keith has simply lived his life the way he has wanted, all the while serving music like a god.  A man who seems to know no bounds, Keith developed his own moral code, which he strictly abides by, one that you may find more chivalrous than expected.  So if you’re a Rolling Stones Fan, Rock history buff, or just want a fun read about an unimaginable Life, check out Keith Richard’s Life.

“Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forget about the roll.” – Keith Richards

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The Vox AC15 Custom 1×12

Although ideally most of us would be practicing through a 50 Watt Marshall stack everyday, few of us have living situations that permit such awesome noise levels.  Sure, you can get an attenuator, but still, size, price, and general inconvenience are issues.  That why it’s important to have a bedroom amp – a smaller, quieter amp suitable for the apartment building or close quarter living.  But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t rock!  That’s why I picked up the Vox AC15, a bedroom amp that doesn’t make me feel like I’m putting on the world’s smallest performance for the local spider population.

Truth is, the AC15 C1 is more of a hybrid bedroom amp.  Today, almost every venue you play at is going to mic your amp and run it through the PA.  You can have a Fender Blues Jr. and it’s gonna come through the PA as loud as a stack.  50/100 watt amps are essentially pointless, unless you’re doing a stadium tour – but they are still awesome.  Nonetheless, bringing a smaller amp to a gig makes transportation easier, and as long as the amp sounds as good as a larger counterpart, will perform equally well when mic-ed through the PA.

The Vox AC15 C1 is a great, little amp that gives you bang for your buck.  With just 15 Watts of tube power, this amp has one 12″ Celestion Greenback Speaker and offers the full array of classic Vox tones.  It has built-in analog Tremolo, spring Reverb, a “Tone Cut” knob and full EQ for the “Top Boost” channel, giving you a lot of tonal flexibility.  I use it mostly for “chimey” clean tones and  dirty blues sounds, but have found that it breaks up nicely when pushed, without being overly loud.  It’s just a great amp for getting awesome tones at quieter volumes.  That being said I have used it on multiple gigs where it was mic-ed, and it sounded fantastic – nobody even knew it was a little 15 watt box.  The major downsides are no Effects Loop, and although foot-switchable, it doesn’t come with a foot switch, but at around $520 it’s hard to beat the quality and versatility of this classic amp.  Plus, the aesthetic of Vox is iconic, and their amps looks great on stage, subconsciously forcing the audience to draw connections between you and little band called The Beatles – not bad!

For more on the Vox AC 15 C1, check out the Vox website.

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The E.W.S. Arion SCH-Z Chorus/Vibe Mod, The Ultimate Chorus Pedal

The original Arion SCH-1 Chorus pedal is a legendary guitar accessory.  Coming to prominence during the 1980s, the SCH-1 became a staple on many professional pedal boards.  Known for its deep, lush chorus sounds and tonal versatility, the Arion SCH-1 secured its spot in stomp box history.  However, the SCH-1 has long since been discontinued by the Japanese based company, Arion, which today produces its modern brethren – the SCH-Z.  Many tone freaks argue the superiority of the SCH-1 to the SCH-Z, citing circuitry, country of origin (the SCH-Z is made in Sri Lanka), and most importantly, sound quality, but most professionals will tell you that there is very little difference, if any at all.  Save price of course – while a new SCH-Z is $50, the SCH-1 can easily fetch upwards of $100 on eBay.  This discrepancy is most likely due to rarity, as vintage pedals are very collectible.

Still, with all its perfection, many players sought improvement to the Arion Chorus pedal.  That’s where another Japanese based company, Engineering Work Store, comes in.  Partnering with rising pedal stars, Xotic effects, E.W.S. has created their own Arion SCH-Z modification.  Starting with an original Arion SCH-Z pedal, E.W.S. makes a series of modifications to improve durability and sound quality.  They make the pedal True Bypass, add a brighter LED light, improve the tone adjustment knob, create a more durable foot switch, and most significantly, change the “Direct/Stereo” control switch to “Chorus/Vibe.”  As opposed to having the option of producing a stereo signal, E.W.S. has created two different chorus options within a single pedal.  “Chorus” mode is a more traditional, subtle chorus sound, akin to a Boss CE-5 or TC Electronic SCF.  The “Vibe” channel is a deeper, more intense chorus, emulating the sonic phenomenon of a Leslie rotary speaker.  Although you lose the option of having a stereo signal, you gain an exponential amount of tonal range and diversity.  Plus, how many of us are really using a true stereo set up on stage anyway?

Overall, this is a flawless chorus pedal.  From George Harrison-esque Leslie sounds, to Eric Johnson chorus sparkle, to Stevie Ray Vaughn styled blues chorus, to just plain far out, this pedal does it all – and well!  A great blend of classic tone and modern technology, the E.W.S. Arion Chorus/Vibe Mod is a great purchase for anyone looking for a unique addition to their pedal board.  At $195, this is a professional-grade pedal that will exceed your chorus expectations and last a lifetime – just ask some of the pedal’s biggest proponents, Joe Bonamassa, Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, and Allen Hinds!

Check out the E.W.S. website for more information on this pedal

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Dunlop Jimi Hendrix ™ Fuzz Face®

The Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face has one of the most instantly recognizable tones in Rock history.  Popularized by Jimi Hendrix, this pedal has been used by David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and more recently, Eric Johnson.  Producing a thick, distorted, “fuzzy” tone, this pedal adds grit to any signal, creating something akin to the sound of a blown speaker.  This pedal is also equally popular amongst bass players, from Jaco Pastorius to modern Rock players.

Although originally produced by Arbiter Electronics, Dunlop Manufacturing assumed production in 1993.  Today, Dunlop makes four Fuzz Faces – the Fuzz Face, the Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face, the Joe Bonamassa Fuzz Face, and the newly released Eric Johnson Signature Fuzz Face.  Each one of these Fuzz Faces has a different aesthetic, and slightly altered circuitry, but strives for that classic Fuzz Face tone.  The Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face is a “meticulously faithful reproduction of Jimi’s 1969-1970 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face.”  The silicon transistors and hand-wired circuitry match Jimi’s pedal, and the turquoise casing and knobs match the original Fuzz Face Aesthetic.

Overall, at roughly $140, this pedal is a solid purchase for anyone striving for that Fuzz Face sound.  With only two knobs, Volume and Fuzz, it’s easy to use, and offers a wide array of tones, from mildly distorted to extreme fuzz.  The sound of the Fuzz Face can be a bit harsh if used incorrectly, but once you are familiar with the pedal, it’s easy to dial in the tone.  The biggest downside to this pedal is that it’s powered by 9V battery, with no AC adapter.  However, this can be solved by purchasing a special 9V power adapter for about $5 at your local guitar shop, making the pedal power source friendly.  Another downside is the size and arrangement of the input/output jacks.  Although the looks is very cool and authentic, it takes up valuable real estate on the pedal board and isn’t designed to work well with patch cables in a signal chain (I have a roughly 5″ cable I use from its output).  Nonetheless, these issues aren’t major, and are well worth the effort to get killer fuzz tones a la Hendrix, Cream and EJ.

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“Skydog – The Duane Allman Story,” written by Randy Poe

Anybody with a goal needs a role model or hero through whom they are inspired and educated.  As a musician, I find it extremely helpful to read biographies written about my idols.  By reading about someone’s life, you can learn enormous amounts about their character, their journey to success, their struggles, and how to apply their experiences, and resultant wisdom, to your own life.  Often times a retrospective look can easily identify the positive factors contributing to a person’s life and achievements, and point out the negative, helping future generations avoid the same pitfalls.

My most recent read was “Skydog – The Duane Allman Story,” written by Randy Poe.  The Allman Brothers are one of my all-time favorite groups, and Duane, one of my guitar heroes.  This book is the definitive biography of the man and the group, and truthfully tells the tragic tale of their haunting success.  From Duane and Gregg’s’ early childhood, to Duane’s sudden death, to the 2000 era Beacon Theater concerts, this comprehensive book has it all.

One of the great lessons I learned from this book was about the power of a team, or a group of people with a unified goal.  Much like a sports team, a band needs people at different positions to function maximally.  This could be drummers and bassists, songwriters and businessmen, personalities – there are many dynamics that make up band chemistry.  Duane and Gregg had each achieved moderate success in the late 60s, but it wasn’t until that fateful jam with Dicky Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley and Jaimoe Johansen, that they became a force to be reckoned with.  When this band, just like a sports team, was “on,” there was no stopping them.

Another interesting thing about the Allman Brothers was their mixture of “high” and “low” art.  All hailing from the South, their music was drenched in Blues, Country and Folk traditions – the music of the people.  These musics are typically orally communicated (no written music), lacking sophisticated harmony, and designed for purpose – emotional relief, work song, etc.  Conversely, the Allman brothers were heavily influenced by Jazz music, mainly John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  This music emphasized intellect, complex harmony, and extended instrumental improvisation.  Fusing elements from all of their influences, the Allman Brothers created a unique new sound, combining the Blues feelings with Jazz improvisation, instrumental compositions and Rock music.  This blend gave birth to some of the most original songs in Rock n’ Roll, like “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Midnight Rider.”

Unfortunately, the bands’ greatest commercial success would come after the death of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.  Just 25, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in the bands’ hometown of Macon, Georgia.  Not long after, and just three blocks away, Berry Oakley, 24, was also killed in a motorcycle accident.  The death of these two key members was a crushing blow to the group, who were in the midst of recording their most famous album, “Eat a Peach.”  Much like other bands with iconic fallen leaders – Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones – the Allman Brothers’ losses thrust them into a new musical direction, paying tribute to the deceased, while trying to fill their void.  When “Melissa,” “Ramblin’ Man,” and “Jessica” skyrocketed the Allman Brothers into commercial stardom, it was a haunting success that should have been shared by all.

Ultimately, this book is a great read for any Allman Brothers fan or Rock n’ Roll history buff.  Outside of the ABB, Duane was an active sideman who contributed to many sessions, most notably Derek and The Domino’s’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.”  His story is riddled with appearances and anecdotes from many cultural icons, connecting the dots between the ABB, British music and American Pop.  A unique, inspiring, and tragic saga, “Skydog – The Duane Allman Story” is a must read for any aspiring musician.

“There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” – Duane Allman

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“Francesca,” the LSL Saticoy

About one year ago I was on the hunt for the perfect Stratocaster.  Wanting something more unique than a brand new, stock Fender, and not wanting to spend a fortune on a real vintage Strat, I was checking out boutique guitar makers like Nash Guitars and Mike Lull Custom Guitars.  Then, during a lesson with guitar great Carl Verheyen, he recommended a local company called LSL Instruments.  He was a big fan of their guitars, and told me to contact Lance, the owner of LSL.

So I called up Lance about getting a guitar, and he recommended I come by the factory.  I live in West LA, so it was about a 20 minute drive to Van Nuys where I pulled up in front of the understated LSL headquarters.  Hanging outside was a group of guys, all clad in work clothes and covered in paint and sawdust, the kind of crew that reminded me of my grandfather and his bronze casting foundry.  Out of the bunch came an older gentleman, Lance, who greeted me and led me on a tour of the factory.

Inside, the place even looked liked my grandfather’s foundry – raw materials, tools, paints, chemicals, interesting smells.  Lance explained that he and the crew make everything (except for some plastic and metal components) in house.  They shape the bodies and necks from raw wood.  They cut the pick guards, and lay the frets. They hand wind their pickups, mix their own custom paint colors and do their own aging.  Basically, this small, in house operation is the closest thing to what I’d imagine a pre-CBS Fender factory to be like.  Pretty cool!

Needless to say, I was completely sold.  This was definitely the company that could deliver that ideal Strat – and I loved that I knew exactly where and who it was coming from.  Lance and the crew gathered up a few various guitars and had me plug into a Bogner amp, testing all of the different combinations of elements.  LSL offers bodies made of Swamp Ash, Alder and Pine – yes, Pine.  They have the option of 50s or 60s wound PUs, Maple or Rosewood Necks, and various neck shapes, widths and radius options.  They also have an essentially unlimited amount of finish colors and designs, done to your liking, complete with Nitro Cellulose Lacquer and topped off with a signature aging process.

That day I was playing a lot of Eric Johnson and Carl Verheyen inspired, intervallic rock type licks – and this is what I ultimately hoped to do with the axe.  Upon hearing this, the crew recommended the following combo: Pine Body, 60s PUs, and Rosewood Neck.  Unable to take orders directly, Lance sent me down the street to California Vintage Guitars where I placed my order.  I opted for a thick, V-shaped neck, minimum aging (LSL requires some amount) and a Surf Green finish – The Strat of my dreams!

Long story, made somewhat shorter, about 8 weeks later my guitar was ready.  I picked it up from CVG and was stunned.  There she was, “Francesca” (LSL gives all their guitars a woman’s name with  a name tag on the neck plate).  The Pine body is so lightweight, the guitar easily weighs under 6 lbs – built for the stage. The NC Lacquer allows the guitar to vibrate with the strings, giving it a very “live” feel.  And the PUs perfectly capture that hand wound vintage sound.  Ultimately, it’s an awesome guitar, and as close as you can come to a vintage Strat without breaking the bank!

LSL has been on a steady rise ever since.  They now have a Carl Verheyen signature model, and an ever expanding list of distributors, where you can purchase already crafted guitars or place a custom order.  LSL models include the Saticoy (Stratocaster), the T-Bone (Telecaster) and the newest addition, the Topanga ( Les Paul Jr. Double Cutaway).  For more info check out the LSL Instruments website.

“Never sell a guitar, that you don’t want to keep.’ – LSL Instruments

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