Andalucia Steve the dream

I think music is more important than most people, maybe because I've been a musician for so  long the old brain cells get wrapped around the whole mystery of intervals, harmony, melody, modes, rhythm - it's and endless dance, a puzzle that is eternally unsolveable yet with a simplicity anyone can understand just by stilling themeslves and listening.

There is a deeper underlying mystery with music, the way it connects with space and time. Take swing for example - a form of musical rhythm that bends time, or at least gives our ears that impression. In swing the regular musical pulse is distorted giving the impression that there is less 'time' in between the beats than their actually are. this give the mind and body a signal that triggers a dance response. The universe at the most fundamental level constructed from vibrating energy strings and I think that musica is the highest reflection of our connection with the universe we live in.

I've been playing stringed instruments for over forty years. Currently I'm involved as a bass player and drum programmer in The Blues Raiders, a three piece that play a couple of times a month in Bar La Noria, Olvera, Spain.

Blues in Bar La Noria

Thought for the night

Balance and Soul

I often wonder what it is that separates the good from the great.

What it is that makes Stevie Ray Vaughan better than say, Eric Clapton. Or why is George Best a better footballer than say Bobby Moore.

I use the examples specifically because clearly Clapton is a wise, professional and experienced guitar player and Bobby Moore one of the most gifted footballers an captains England ever had.

Yet somehow there is a difference. I argue on no other evidence than that of my eyes, that the difference is of talent over schooling.

No matter how hard you try, if you don't have the necessary soul as part of your make-up you will only ever be as good as Eric Clapton. Similarly in football, guys like George Best, Gazza or half a dozen Brazillians I won't name here, have balance as an innate quality. You can train as much as you like but without that inherited quality you'll only be as good as Bobby Moore and never make that legendary Pele status.

The important lesson here is not to give up. When I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan from the second row at Hammersmith Odeon on the last night of his final tour, I gave up on playing guitar because I thought, 'gee - I can never be as good as him' - it took me years to accept that fact and pick up the guitar again. But here's the thing. I can be as good as Eric Clapton or a million other guitar players out there. Just don't pick the best one to measure yourself against because you'll always come up short!

[Originally published 5 April 2013]

Hi-Fidelity and All That Jazz

Why the vinyl is best argument is wrong.

I've noticed a trend on YouTube lately for videos of old vinyl records, and not only just the sound of the original record but with a video of the record playing. While this has me nostalgic for my sisters pink Dansette (with integrated auto-changer) it really bugs me when people claim this sounds better or somehow more authentic than listening to a digital version of the same piece of music.

Firstly it IS digital version of the same piece of music. At the moment when the person recorded it on their camcorder, it was digitized through an analog-to-digital converter built into the camera. If they used some video editing software it was likely re-compressed again when saved to reduced file space. What you're listening to is a digital stream from Youtube. Another issue is that this was not converted to digital by an experienced sound engineer who knows what he's doing with state-of-the-art equipment. It was done by a best fit algorithm on a cheap camera and its video-editing software.

Also what you are also listening to is something that has been recorded coming from a domestic loudspeaker. That loudspeaker will have introduced further distortion above the original signal. And whereas electronic circuits are so refined now that the distortion they introduce is in the thousands (or hundreds of thousandths of a percent, even quite expensive speakers these days can introduce as much as a couple percent distortion because they are mechanical devices and far less easy to fine tune. 

If you prefer the sound of vinyl on Youtube, it's fine and your personal choice, but I think its rather like the difference between listening to a live Pink Floyd performance that has been recorded through the mixing desk, compared to listening to a bootleg recording on a tape deck at the back of the room. It's horses for courses but I know which one I'd prefer to listen to.


[Originally 23 May 2013]

The Music from Siesta

Often overlooked masterpeice soundtrack from a now forgotten movie

I was really into Miles Davies and Marcus Miller. The whole Tutu thing and the way those two worked together really did it for me. So when it was announced they were collaborating on a movie soundtrack I was excited to go and see the film. Directed by Mary Lambert and released in 1987, Siesta was just awful. It started with the main character, awaking scantily dressed at the end of an airport runway, and then there is a sequence of flashbacks as she tries to figure out how she got there. The audience realy didn't give a stuff and the film was mainly unwatchable. I know this because I tried and failed to rewatch it recently.

However bad the film was, the soundtrack was excellent, and has matured with age, despite the 80's electronics dating the work in places. I didn't realise until I researched this piece today that the acoustic guitar was played by John Scofield, with Earl Klugh filling in on classical guitar. Apparently this was a low budget project delivered in a hurry, but Miller delivered some haunting melody and often draws on harmony from Miles' Sketches of Spain. With Davies blowing eerie Spanish themes over the top, this has to be the best soundtrack from a bad movie ever:

Best Guitar Solo Ever?

One of my favourite guitar solos of all time.

I've always been impressed by lead guitar breaks, especially when the solo becomes the propelling accent that drives the song along. I've not prepared a top ten, but very high up there would be George Harrison's solo on I've got my mind set on you wher he actually plays only three bent notes. George was a master of minimalism. Larry Carlton's Kid Charlamagne is another classic that took the song to another level.

My all time favourite though is Robben Ford, twelve bar punch in solo on this somewhat obscure track, Don't Let Me Down, by Michael Macdonald.

So imagine you are playing the guitar. It's a session AFAIK and you're brought in to do a twelve bar solo. How much energy can you raise? There is no harmonic movement and unusually the song is in 6/4 time, probably unfamiliar rythmycally. Well Robben pulled out a textbook tour de force solo. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, builds dynamically, has tension, passion and power. When I first heard this solo I listened to it again and again worshipping at the Robben Ford altar.

OK you could argue there are more technical, faster, or more harmonically ingenious solos out there, but for me this represents a really economical, creative and powerful solo for what was probably a Friday afternoon session. If I were the producer I would have been tickled pink. Enjoy! (If you're impatient the solo starts at 2:27)