Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


Pinche Blues Band and Michael Zubay

Pinche Blues Band at Boondocks Lounge a few years ago. Michael Zubay is at left playing bass.

My good friend and on-again-off-again bass player for the last eight or ten years, Michael Zubay, died last night from cancer. I loved him. We clicked both musically and personally. If I wanted someone to talk to who I’d trust, Michael was the guy. He was honest, helpful, tremendous fun to be around, and tremendous fun to play with. He also was funnier than hell and had a good, dark sense of humor. He was a very good friend and a very good musician.

Michael was an atheist, and in place of a religious service there will be a day-long jam session and party for all of the musicians he played with over the years. No date yet, but I’ll post video if and when it’s available.

Here’s probably the best recording I have of him from back in 2014 when we had the Pinche Blues Band together. His bass lines are absolutely wonderful (check out the syncopation and how much the bass line drives).

Michael wrote a number of songs, and we’ll record his best one, “No Job Blues,” on our next CD (probably as the Cholla Buds). I’ll post it once it’s available.

More later.

 


“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche (can’t find the source for this, but widely attributed)

* * *

“Why don’t people who don’t play music just get it over with and kill themselves?”

–Mick Berry, co-author of The Drummer’s Bible

* * *

“Real musicians don’t dance.”

–bumpersticker sighted in Tucson circa 2010

* * *

“Women dress for women, musicians play for other musicians.”

— G. Michael Turner

(The only quibble I’d have with this is that there’s also a certain feeling of power when you’re on stage and have lots of people up dancing — “Hey! Heh, heh! I’m making them do that!” — and it doesn’t matter if you’re up there in a 7-piece, it’s still “I’m making them do that!” — which probably tells you more than you want to know about the mentality of musicians.)


Cover tunes are the mainstay with bar bands. A lot of bar bands do nothing but cover tunes. There’s nothing wrong with that; a lot of bands, including the Beatles and Stones, started that way. But it’s limiting, especially if you slavishly copy the originals.

It’s more fun to play a mix of covers and originals, especially if you do the covers in a manner different from and preferably better than the original recordings. The prime example of this is Devo’s version of the Stones’ Satisfaction. Unless you listen to the lyrics, you’d never guess it’s the same song. It’s a masterpiece on both counts, probably the prime example of “making a song your own.”

And then there’s the problem that audiences do not want to hear your originals, and they’re really not thrilled with greatly differing versions of tunes they know. So pander. Play the covers that you love and they love, but don’t waste time playing them note for note: as long as the rhythms are right and you’re hitting the signature licks, they’ll applaud.

With the bands I’ve played with, that means playing a lot of Doors covers. They’re huge fun to play (I love playing them without keyboards — filling in everything on guitar), and you can improvise your ass off as long as you hit the signature licks.

Sometimes even that’s not necessary as long as you keep the lyrics right. Sometimes not.

If you’re playing in a bar band, are doing both covers and originals, the best way to go is to copy the signature licks on covers, and then play in the same style. Or not (Devo) if you can do better.

Then listen some more, and find other covers. Then listen some more and make more improvements.

The punters (sorry, I’ve been corrupted by Brits) will love it, and they might not even hate your originals, no matter how good and original they are. Play ’em if they’re fun; ditto with covers. Just have fun — don’t slavishly copy — and have fun with all of it.

Cheers,

Chaz


Cover of "The Bassist's Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydecoby Tim Boomer, author of The Bassist’s Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco

The most common role for a bassist is, of course, to support his or her band rhythmically and harmonically. Bassists are not limited to any specific role, however, as we can do considerably more, such as playing the hook (or the melody) and soloing, improvising, and comping.

Providing a solid foundation for a band is still, however, the usual role of the bassist—especially if you play in a dance band. The bassist is the bridge between the melodic players and the rhythm section. You live in both worlds: melody and rhythm. You are that bridge.

There is truth in the saying that “You make most of your money below the fifth fret.” You establish the chord being played and the basis of the pulse simultaneously by playing the root note of the chord on the first beat of a measure (and at most chord changes). Next in importance to the root, usually, is the fifth, then the third or seventh. Pretty simple stuff, but it works.

It is also common to play patterns. Bass lines. This does not prevent you from varying the pattern in a musical way by slightly changing the notes played, note duration, or by adding a little syncopation, but over the course of a song there will still typically be a pattern. This might seem obvious, or easy, but you need to lock in with the drummer, be aware of solos, notice when the lead singer changes the form, watch the dancers on the floor, try not to knock over your drink, and still keep it interesting.

You can learn a lot by watching the dancers and seeing the effects of your playing. A groove is a pattern, a predictable sound that dancers can follow. Watch them. Bassists (and the rest of the band) may get bored playing the same lines over and over again, so, of course you’ll fill and vary the pattern in other ways, but if you break the groove too often, dancers will get out of sync, the thread will be broken, and the dancers will stop.

One way to be creative, and keep dancers happy, is to understand playing “in the pocket.” This is often described as playing in such a way that the groove is very solid. The bassist locks in with the drummer and never wavers. Using the standard rock beat as an example, the drummer plays kick drum on beat one (the downbeat) and also on beat three, and the snare on beats two and four. The bassist also plays precisely on the downbeat, followed by a pattern. That pattern can be a little ahead of the beat or behind the beat or exactly on the beat. As long as the drummer and bassist are in sync with each other, and play/feel the downbeat at the same time, they are in the pocket. You know it when youre in it, as it feels like the music is playing you, or the entire band is one instrument.

If you are not playing for dancers, you can leave the groove at any time—but returning to it provides resolution in a song. For instance, in jazz, the bassist (or more often a horn player or pianist) plays the “head” (the melody played in the first verse of a multi-verse song) after several choruses of solos to bring the tune to a close. And the audience will recognize it—“Oh look, theyre playing that theme again”—and any improvisation that came before the final statement of the head will seem intentional.

In the same way, once you have established the basic foundation of a song, look for holes where nothing much is happening—a sustained note or chord perhaps, or a straight groove. You can then find a space to develop an idea—either melodically or rhythmically. You can repeat a note, syncopate, or play (a) note(s) outside of the pattern you’ve established.

You can also intentionally leave holes by resting, as in Reggae bass lines. This sets up a pattern that extends across measures rather than a pattern that repeats within a single measure. It still allows complexity, but in a relaxed context. It also allows your bandmates a lot of space. Study Miles Davis to learn about the spaces in music.

Developing your own style has a lot to do with knowing when to play and when not to. In a few words: “If in doubt, lay out.” Typically, if there are vocals, you simplify and come down in volume to allow the focus to be on the vocalist.

Another important aspect of playing bass is to learn to use fills tastefully. Fills are usually played at the end of four– (or eight- or twelve-) measure patterns that lead to a new section of a song or the repeat of a verse. They are not played in random places.

This doesnt mean that a bassist must strictly follow rules. Jazz musicians and jam bands often break rules, and often get away with it—sometimes with brilliant results. It is simply helpful to know that some styles sound better when you play patterns typical of them.

The bass now encompasses everything from standup bass to electric bass to synthesized and sampled bass. Basses themselves now feature not just 4 strings, but 5, 6, and even 12 strings; theyre produced with up to 28 frets. There are both fretted and fretless basses, acoustic bass guitars, piccolo basses, and onboard-MIDI basses. And its certain that more variations are waiting in the wings.

The technique of playing these instruments has also evolved greatly over the years. Bass technique is virtually unlimited now. You can combine nearly any style with any other, from anywhere in the world. You can use effects, tap, slap, pluck, pick, thump, play with a bow (or an e-bow). You can lay down an unmistakable heavy groove or take extended solos in a jam format. You can also just play roots, fifths, and octaves on a standup or a P-bass and be happy.

As one of my deepest influences, John Entwistle from The Who, said when asked what he thought when he saw another bass player, and what he felt about the camaraderie of bassists: “The first thing I think of is poor fellow” (and, paraphrasing, “poor bastard”). We are underrated and underappreciated, but essential.

I love bass. Thank you all for being bassists. We need more of us.


It’s always fun to see what other folks include on their “desert island discs,” so here you go. Since most such lists are for single genres and usually encompass ten discs, I’ve allowed myself more leeway here — listing all types of pop music — and am listing 25 discs, which seems fair given that they cover the following genres (jazz, blues, soul, funk, country, latin jazz, rock, and punk). I’m cheating by adding a list of “honorable mentions.” Whatever. Here ya go: my desert island discs, in no particular order:\

Desert Island Discs

  • James Brown Live at the Apollo (1960) — the seminal early funk disc. If you only listen to one cut off this, check out “I’ll Go Crazy.”
  • Kutche, by Saib Khaled and Safy Boutella — the best Rai disc. Incredibly good musicianship combined with intricate syncopation. Nothing else in the genre comes close.
  • La Cuna, by Ray Barretto — not for Afro-Cuban purists, this disc features a mix of genres (latin jazz, latin rock, funk, soul) with amazingly good musicianship by some of the best musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s (including Barretto, Steve Gadd, John Tropea, and Joe Farrell). The next time you’re impressed by some guitarist playing fast scalar passages, listen to Tropea’s solo on “The Old Mountain.” That’ll put it in perspective.
  • Songs for a Tailor, by Jack Bruce. Impressively inventive song writing, and better than competent execution.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.  The best, most driving rock album of the ’70s.
  • The Harder They Come soundtrack. Pretty much every great tune from this mind-numbingly boring, awful genre on a pair of discs. Huge fun and great lyrics.
  • Repo Man soundtrack. Minus the Sex Pistols, the best punk from the early ’80s all in one place. Iggy Pop’s title track is a gem.
  • The Sermon, by Jimmy Smith. My favorite type of music — hard-driving blues-jazz with great solos (especially those by Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell).
  • Jacaranda, by Luiz Bonfa. Not available on CD, this ’70s Brazilian-jazz-rock album features great songwriting and very good musicianship. Not for those who expect sambas or bossas.
  • Tied to the Tracks, by Treat Her Right. A great, hard-driving blues-rock album by the forerunner to Morphine. The lyrics are twisted, the harp playing is mind boggling, and this disc is better than anything by Morphine.
  • Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. Beautifully executed, the perfect background for a 3:00 am beer out on the patio.
  • Everlastin’ Tears, by Willie Edwards. Great contemporary blues. Edwards got totally screwed with this one, signing away the rights to all the songs to the producer. I can’t re-record any of this shit without dealing with the vampire who’s sucked Willie dry.
  • Are You Experienced?, by Jim Hendrix. Need I say more?
  • Strange Days, by the Doors. Every song is great, including two hard-to-play masterpieces, “Love Me Two Times” and “Moonlight Drive.”
  • Inner Mounting Flame, by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Great musicianship and proof that odd-time and compound-meter songs can drive. A whole lot of fun.
  • Are We Not Men?, by Devo. The best and by far funniest new-wave album. Contains the best cover ever recorded: Devo’s version of “Satisfaction.”
  • The Last Real Texas Blues Band, by Doug Sahm. Great, greasy R&B — a reminder of an era.
  • Sugar Thieves Live. Both a wonderful contemporary blues band and a throwback to classic material.
  • Losin’ Hand, by Al Perry and the Cattle. Well produced and very funny alt-country.
  • Ah Um, by Charlie Mingus. Probably the best, most intricate blues-jazz album ever recorded.
  • That’s The Way I Feel (Thelonious Monk tribute by various artists.) An absolutely fantastic, mind-boggling, at times hilarious (via Todd Rundgren!) tribute to the greatest jazz composer who ever lived (and, yeah, I’m counting Duke).
  • Bringing It All Back Home, by Bob Dylan. The first album that helped me focus my rage at the atrocities being committed to others and to me by the government and the corporations.
  • Barbeque Dog, by Ronald Shannon Jackson. A brutal, dissonant LP with one of the cuts simultaneously in different keys. Thirty years on, it sounds fresh.
  • How Shall the Wolf Survive?, by Los Lobos.  The first album by my favorite live band. A whole lotta fun, with uncomfortable things to think about.
  • Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. Not their best LP by a long shot, but the one I want to hear after having a few beers.

Honorable Mentions

  • Revolver, by the Beatles (best songwriters of the 20th century)
  • Abbey Road, by the Beatles. (see above)
  • The Doors (eponymous album).
  • L.A. Woman, by The Doors. Like so many other albums of this time, the first side was great and the second side sucked.
  • Beggar’s Banquet, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Let It Bleed, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Battered Ornaments (eponymous)
  • Harmony Row, by Jack Bruce. Damn near as good as “Songs for a Tailor” — the songs he saved up while being the bassist in Cream.
  • Thousands on a Raft, by Pete Brown. Fun stuff by Cream’s lyricist.
  • Raw Sienna, by Savoy Brown. Kim Simmonds’ attempt to match the Beatles. Not anywhere close to successful there, but a very good album in its own way.
  • Science Fiction, by Ornette Coleman.
  • Guitars Cadilacs, by Dwight Yoakam. Best country album of the ’80s.
  • In a Silent Way, Miles Davis.
  • Jack Johnson, Miles Davis.
  • Bitches Brew, Miles Davis.
  • On the Corner, Miles Davis. A great early genre-bending LP.
  • Jerry Reed’s Greatest Hits, most of the soundtrack from Jerry’s by-far best album, Smoky and Bandit II, plus the novelty hits (“Amos Mose,” etc.)
  • Junior High, Junior Brown. Huge tongue-in-cheek fun from maybe the best current guitar player.
  • Gravity, by James Brown. The best funk album of the ’80s.
  • L.A. is My Lady, by Frank Sinatra. I still can’t decide whether this is deliberate or inadvertent self-parody. Fun either way.
  • Birds of Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
  • Treat Her Right (eponymous album). Contains a fantastic cover of Harlan Howard’s “Everglades.”

 


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.

 

 


Porter Wagoner

I had a woman
I guess every man does
And every man thinks his is the best
Mine was
Stuck by me through thick and thin
Till it just got too thin

–Porter Wagoner, “Confessions of a Broken Man

For other perversely wonderful Porter Wagoner tunes check out “Sorrow on the Rocks” and “The Rubber Room.”