Tag Archives: Keith Richards

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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Lollar Charlie Christian Pick Up

In the world of aftermarket Pick Ups, Lollar is a breath of fresh air.  Started by expert guitar luthier, Jason Lollar, Lollar specializes in boutique PUs for guitar, bass, and steel guitar.  Unlike most aftermarket PU companies, which are geared toward high output, modern tones, Lollar makes classic, vintage-styled PUs – using modern technology to achieve classic tonality.  Their product range is probably the most unusual and diverse of any PU company, making Stratocaster, Telecaster, Humbucker, P-90,  Jazzmaster, Charlie Christian, and “Miscellaneous” PUs.  Within these categories are many classics, like the Stratocaster Vintage Blackface, Dog Ear P-90, ’52 Tele Neck PU, and special PUs inspired by Peter Green, Johnny Smith, and Charlie Christian.  Jason Lollar also makes some unique, one of a kind PUs, like the Chicago Steel, designed for slide playing, Single-coil within a Humbucker, and “the Broiler,” which has a bell-like tone a la John Lennon.  Ultimately, Lollar is constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional PUs, creating exciting and new inventions to compliment any playing style and achieve any tone.

For those of you who don’t know Charlie Christian, he is one of the original guitar legends.  Christian was a key developer of Bebop, the language of improvisation, guitar technique, and was one of the very first people ever to take an amplified guitar solo!  He was most well-known as a member of Benny Goodman’s Sextet, one of the first integrated bands, but has become legendary for his influence at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem – the birthplace of Bebop.  Here, in after hours jam sessions, Christian would exchange choruses with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and other Bebop greats, as they developed this new style of Jazz.  Christian’s improvisational style is his greatest legacy.  Often said to be “horn-like,” Christian was one of the first guitarists to play single-note solos instead of chords, emulating the solos of a horn.  Through his single note improvisational style, Christian invented many phrases, licks, and ideas that would become building blocks for the language of Bebop.  His influence can be most strongly heard in Wes Montgomery, who learned to play by transcribing Christian’s solos.  Adding to his legend, Charlie Christian died at age 25 from tuberculosis, leaving an incredible legacy behind.

The style of the early pick ups used in the first electric guitars have become known as Charlie Christian PUs.  Preceding Humbucking technology, these PUs were single coils, but had a different sound than the modern-day single coils you would find in a Strat.  They had a depth and richness more akin to a P-90, and a unique fullness that set them apart from other PUs.  Today, Lollar makes Charlie Christian PUs designed to be housed in a traditional arch-top guitar, but their most popular CC model is designed for neck position in a Telecaster.  This is the PU I have put in my Telecaster, and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” associated with the Telecaster, you gain a new dimension of tone that is sweeter and richer than the conventional Telecaster sound.  I originally used this PU to adapt my Tele for a Jazz setting, but as I have experimented more, I find it’s a perfect sound for Blues, Rock, Pop, and Folk-Rock.  It makes my Tele sound more like a Strat, but even more harmonically rich.  The only downside was the shape of this PU required my local shop to cut my pick guard, an operation they weren’t too familiar with.  However, they learned, and did just fine, leaving me with a unique and great sounding modification to my Telecaster.

So if you’re interested in after market pick ups that will help your guitar, and your tone, stand out from the crowd, check out Lollar Pick Ups!

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The Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store, Los Angeles

Alas, another new section for ROW – “Shops.”  Boutique guitar shops are some of the most unique and interesting stores.  Often owned by passionate enthusiasts, each shop has its own niche specialty, and the few authentic guitar shops that remain are quickly becoming historic icons in their given communities.  From vintage rarities to custom builds to quirky items, boutique shops offer refuge for the true guitar aficionado, fed up with the mass cookie-cutter production of chains like Guitar Center and Sam Ash.  So, in the “shops” section, I’ll highlight some of my favorite authentic guitar shops from around the nation.

First up is one of the finest modern guitar shops, geared towards helping the contemporary professional – Mesa Boogie Hollywood.  As many of you know, Mesa Boogie is an American amplification company.  Started by repair man Randall Smith, the company has its roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, with original clientele including Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and Keith Richards.  What initially started as “hot-rodding” Fender amps turned into the development of an entirely new amp company, MESA/Boogie.  Today, Mesa Boogie is one the premier amp manufacturers, and has a wide range of products, from classic rock tubes to modern heavy metal rectifiers.  One thing that’s unique about Mesa Boogie is their authenticity.  Although equally popular as some of the name brand amp companies, (Marshall, Vox, Fender) Mesa Boogie operates like a boutique manufacturer, not supplying mass-produced gear to Guitar Center or Sam Ash.  That is one of the very reasons for the Mesa Boogie Shop Hollywood.  Directly across the street from a booming Guitar Center, this store is an understated showroom for a refined company, stocking only the finest gear for the true aficionado.

Primarily, the Mesa Boogie Store is an outlet for Mesa Boogie amps.  They keep a great selection of new and used MB amps that exemplify their entire range of product.  Mesa Boogie is a custom shop – they take custom orders, and build custom amps one at a time – so this store is sort of showroom to give you all of the potential options in person.  Aside from testing out all of the amps, they are also swatches from all of the custom finish options and great examples of all the possible customizations you could order.

But aside from being a custom shop, the Mesa Boogie Hollywood store is just one of the best guitar shops in the world.  Their pedal selection is immense. This photo features one of about 7 cases filled with boutique pedals from Xotic to Suhr to Maxon and beyond.  As for guitars, they have a huge selection of amazing axes from some of the finest boutique builders.  Nash, Suhr, Collings, Mike Lull, and Sadowksy are just a few of the great brands they always have in stock.  They also have a massive selection of accessories, featuring tubes, pick ups, picks, and a custom-length cable station.  And did I mention they also have dozens of Mesa Boogie Amps?  Basically, this store is a dream come true for any modern guitar player looking for cutting edge gear.  You can walk in, grab a great axe, a fine pedal, and plug into a world-class amp – it’s a must visit.

So if you’re in Los Angeles, make sure to check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store @ 7426 W Sunset Blvd.  Also, for inventory and a list of suppliers, check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood website – you’ll be impressed!

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Fender Highway One Telecaster, Honey Blonde

The Fender Telecaster is one of the most iconic guitars in history.  From Keith Richards to Bruce Springsteen to Joe Strummer to George Harrison, no player can resist its unique allure.  Able to function equally well in country, rock, jazz and blues, the Tele knows no boundaries.  In good company, I too was taken in by its siren song , and have been under its spell ever since . . .

Not long ago, Fall 2009 to be exact, I began to get serious about collecting guitars.  Like most beginning collectors, I wanted to start with the basics – and there is none more basic than the Fender Stratocaster.  So, I began my journey by purchasing a Fender Highway One Series Stratocaster.  Smitten with my acquisition, I soon decided to move on to the second collection essential – the Telecaster.  Just a few months later I went window shopping on the historic West 48th street in New York City, and a quick dip into Sam Ash resulted in the second addition to my budding collection.

The Fender Highway One series is(was) a unique transitional series for the Fender corporation.  Although still available, the HWY 1 is on its way out, and will soon be completely discontinued (or more appropriately, replaced by the American Special series).  The idea behind this slew of guitars was to make an affordable, entry level, USA-made Fender guitar.  Most guitar players are aware of the great discrepancy between an American-made Fender and a Mexican-made Fender, but for those unaware, generally there is a huge difference in materials, craftsmanship, overall quality and most importantly, holding of value.  Although Mexican-made Fenders are cheaper, they depreciate drastically upon purchase, and are typically sub-par instruments, while American-made Fenders hold value and are of higher quality, they are upwards of $1000.  To bridge the gap, Fender created the HWY 1 series – American-made guitars at approximately $700.

The Fender HWY 1 Tele is modeled after the 1970s Fender aesthetic.  It has classic block lettering on the headstock, and a vintage styled bridge and saddles.  The body is a huge hunk of Alder, there are 22 jumbo frets and a modern C-shaped neck.  One of the coolest and most unique things about this model is its Satin Nitrocellulose lacquer finish.  In congruence with vintage Fenders, this thin finish allows the body to breathe and vibrate with the strings, giving the guitar a more “live” feel.  The finish color is Honey Blonde, and in combination with the NC lacquer, has translucence, allowing the body’s wood grain to show through.  Ultimately, this guitar has the look and feel of a 1970s Tele, with modern playability and price tag.

I think this guitar is awesome.  I have since sold my HWY 1 Strat, but I can’t part with the Tele – it feels like a worn in pair of shoes, fits like a glove, feels like butter, etc.  It’s one of the most comfortable guitars I have ever played and the HWY 1 styling looks amazing.  I use it as my travel guitar, and despite having been stowed away for thousands of miles, has never given me any problems.  I have heard complaints about the finish wearing in too quickly, but personally I think its a perk, giving each individual instrument character (plus I love the “liveliness” of NC lacquer).  You will notice that I have replaced the neck PU with a Lollar Charlie Christian PU – but I will save that for another review.  Overall, I use this axe to play jazz, blues, country and solo chord-melody arrangements, and find its sounds and look continuously inspiring.

So go out and get one while they’re still available!  As we all know, American made, discontinued Fenders can become pretty valuable over time – and why not get some quality playing with a great guitar in while you wait!

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