Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory

Yeah, I know. This would carry more weight if I were better known, but I’m not. I think this is good advice, anyway.

Here are a few samples of my songs for you to pick apart. (A note on the first song: I am a former postal worker.)

Hemingway once said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” That’s great advice for writing fiction and for writing songs (not so much for writing nonfiction). The takeaway is not to self-censor: knock the “what are you doing!? that’s awful” devil off your shoulder and just have fun. Who knows what you’ll come up with?

Of course, most of what you come up with won’t be good. So what? If even 5% of what you write is decent, let alone good, you’ll be ahead — you’ll have written something you wouldn’t have written if you’d self-censored. (The self-damning, self-censoring devil is far from infallible.)

Beyond that, here are a couple of other ideas:

  • Record every session where you’re trying to come up with songs
  • If you can’t record yourself and come up with something you like, play it over and over again, at least a dozen times: that way, there’s a decent chance you’ll remember it.

And another:Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second Edition

  • Either have a lot of beats down in your head (e.g., standard shuffle, 12/8, standard rock beat, polka, samba, standard swing beat, 3-2 clave, soca, waltz) when you write songs, or listen to rhythm tracks with the various beats. (Self-advertisement: About 20 years See Sharp Press published a still-unmatched encyclopedia of beats with close to 200 of ’em on CDs, The Drummer’s Bible).

That’s it. Some people claim to come up with good songs by writing something everyday, which is plausible — and will mostly result in crap; but again, that 5% that might be good . . . — but the best ones just seem to come to you whole. They usually take no more than a half-hour to write. The two examples above being Postal and Abductee Blues.

Don’t self-censor and have fun.

 

 


No, I’m not going to name the band or the bar, which would give it away.

They were incidental to why I went up to the local dive to watch the ‘9ers game. Unfortunately, the band came on during half-time, so I had no choice but to listen to them.

All of them were good to very good players (the bassist), and I haven’t heard so much wrong with a band (maybe three bands combined) in ages.

Here’s what was wrong:

  • They were way late setting up, the earliest of them arriving half-an-hour before they were due on; (normally you want to be there at least an hour before);
  • The drummer didn’t arrive until 20 minutes before they were due on;
  • He was so late they didn’t do a sound check;
  • They didn’t have monitors;
  • All they were miking was the vocals;
  • And as a result, the mix was way off during the first set, with the snare way too loud during the first three or four numbers;
  • Because they didn’t do a sound check, the vocal mics were feeding back, sometimes painfully, for half the set, and they didn’t have anyone riding the board so they didn’t adjust for it;
  • Despite the feedback problems, the vocals were too far down in the mix (yes, it is possible);
  • It sounded like the vocals were dry (i.e., no reverb or other FX);
  • On the final two or three tunes, they had some idiot sitting in playing claves badly — think the clunk, clunk, clunk of “Magic Bus” rather than the
    clink, clink, clink that you want — and just enough off the beat, and irregularly so, that it was annoying as hell;
  • They had two — not one, but two, count ’em, two — keyboard players, and on many of the numbers the keyboard player playing lead was using a soul-sucking artificial synth sound a la The Cars that was abandoned for good reason back in the early ’80s;
  • I didn’t like the guitarist’s tone (too muted in an attempt to be pretty — but that’s just me);
  • And (a more general whine) they advertised themselves as a “soul” band, but they didn’t do soul — they did lounge, the closest thing to soul being their closing number, Al Green’s “I’ll Be There”;
  • And, of course, just covers, no originals — it ain’t that hard to write originals, but writing good ones is another matter; why most musicians don’t even try it is beyond me.

At the break, they finally did a sound check. I had to sit through their first couple of numbers in the second set before the ‘9ers kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds. (Go ‘9ers!)

What I noticed was:

  • The feedback was finally gone;
  • The balance was a bit better
  • The vocals were still too far down in the mix;
  • They were still dry;
  • And their material was almost as awful, non-soulful ands non-original as in the first set.

The lessons here are pretty obvious:

  • Get there early enough to do a sound check;
  • Do a sound check;
  • Use monitors;
  • Mic everything (and I mean everything);
  • If you’re not competent to do a good mix, have someone along who’s competent to do the sound;
  • And above all deliver what you promise: if you promise blues, play blues; and if you promise soul, play soul.

 

 

 

 

 


An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory.

The word claves refers to two things (in English): the rhythms underlying Afro-Cuban music (especially the two-bar “son” or 3-2 clave pattern: 1, and of 2, 4; 2, 3 — a long pre-existing, basic pattern which Bo Diddley somehow had the balls to relabel as “the Bo Diddley beat”); and the approximately 9″-long (23 cm) hardwood sticks (usually mahogany or, here in the Southwest, ironwood), one slightly smaller in diameter than the other.

Claves are almost always misplayed on rock recordings. (They’re normally played correctly on Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz recordings.) Why? Rock musicians simply don’t know how to play them properly, and so get the dreary “clunk” sound — exemplified on the Who’s “Magic Bus” — rather than the much brighter “clink” sound when properly played. (The “clunk” is produced by wrapping your hands around the claves and banging them together wherever’s convenient.)

So, how do you play them correctly? There are three things to keep in mind:

  • Do not wrap your hands around them. Rather, cup your hands, grasp both claves about 60% of the way up with your thumb and index finger, and rest the butt on the heel of your hand. Again, do not grasp them.
  • If you’re right-handed, hold the smaller (skinnier) of the two claves in your right hand — it’ll produce a brighter sound when you strike it against the other. (If you’re left-handed reverse this: the thing to keep in mind is that the smaller clave is the striking clave.)
  • And strike the clave in your left hand about an inch or a hair over (about 3 cm) from the end.

Do this, and you’ll get a great sound — better (at least in this regard) — than The Who. It’ll take a bit of practice, but you’ll get there quickly.

 

 


“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.

 

 

 


(First off, apologies for any grammatical or other lapses in the following: I haven’t slept for two nights, now, and am feeling a bit tetchy.)

Anyway, getting to the topic at hand, I played two-and-a-half sets at one of the local bars on Thursday night, and two songs in I wanted to kill the bass player (no drummer).

Why? His time sucks. He was pushing the tempo in almost every song. And that was exhausting for me, trying (unsuccessfully) to hold him back. His poor sense of time/rushing robbed me of most of the joy of playing music. I felt like King Canute, trying to hold back the tide with a pitch fork.

And that’s totally unnecessary.

It’s easy to develop a good sense of time. It’s boring, but it’s easy. Spend fifteen or twenty minutes a day on it for maybe three months, and you’ll have at least a decent sense of time. Most amateurs never attain that, which is why they remain amateurs.

My pal/bassist told me something the other night that was incredibly revealing: we were playing with another friend, a drummer, and the bassist was screwing up all over the place. At one point, when I waved my hands and said “Stop!” he was half a beat in front of me. His excuse? He couldn’t hear the bass drum — as if keeping time wasn’t his responsibility (as it is for everyone; but in a band it comes down like this: drummer first, bassist second; guitar/keys third; and in the absence of a drummer, it’s the bassist’s job.)

So, how do you develop a good sense of time? As I said, it’s easy but boring. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use a metronome. Play scales, play along with tunes (the drummer is almost certainly playing along with a click track). Metronome apps are easy to find and are free. There’s simply no excuse for not using one. Use a metronome or metronome app fifteen minutes a day for three months, and you’ll have decent time. You’ll find it boring, but it won’t kill you. And other musicians will want to play with you. If your time is crap, the good ones won’t. Suck it up and do the necessary work.
  • Subdivide. Get in the habit of doing it. In straight time, count 16th notes (“one-e-and-a two-e-and-a” etc.) or in swung time (“one and a two and a” etc.). I went out dancing with the GF recently, and she told me she could see me mouthing the subdivisions. It’s a great habit to get into.
  • Play slow. And count. It’s way easy to get into playing fast passages and then telling yourself, “Damn! That sounds good!” Slow it down, count it, and you’ll have it.

If you think that’s too boring, and won’t do it, you’ll never be any good.

 


No, we’re not talking about Trump, for once. We’re talking about the disgustingly dishonest ads claiming that Medicare for all will increase healthcare costs.

How stupid do they think people are? (The question answers itself.)

The insurance industry is buying tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions in ads attempting to convince morons that having a parasitic middle man in the healthcare-supply chain is somehow good, that it’s somehow good supporting a parasite whose only function is to extract the maximum amount of dollars in return for providing the minimum amount of healthcare.

You can gauge how effective that system is by realizing that the per-capita cost of healthcare in the U.S. is twice (often more) that of any other industrialized country, and that, in contrast with those countries where healthcare is universal, we have close to 40 million uninsured people and half-a-million medical bankruptcies annually.

The insurance/pharma vampires are spending massive amounts of money on online ads: Last night, while I was accessing on Youtube the Alacranes Mojados tune “Chorizo Sandwich” and Jonny Chingas’s “Se me paro” and “El Corrido del Bato Loco,” (yes, “bato” — perhaps the funniest tune ever recorded; the other two are close), I was assaulted with corporate ads opposing universal healthcare. These corporados, these merciless assholes, are targeting the people who have most to lose if they buy their death-dealing/profitable bullshit.

If you ever wanted proof that capitalism is inherently evil, this is it. Death and misery in pursuit of profits. Those responsible should simply be singled out, lined up against a wall, and shot. I’d happily pull the trigger.

Robert Cray review 9-2-19 Tucson

Posted: September 8, 2019 in Music
Tags: ,

I’ve been wanting to see Robert Cray since he released a number of great blues albums in the 1980s, notably Bad Influence, Too Many Cooks, and Strong Persuader, which featured great songwriting, vocals, and guitar playing, and which were basically an updated version of (jazz influenced) West Coast Blues — and I finally saw him last night.

Technically, all of the guys in his current band (especially Cray and the keyboard player) are great, and sometimes it’s just nice to see good players do their thing.

Having said that, I was bored shitless. Cray played somewhere between 16 and 20 tunes (counting the two encores — kudos to him for that), but all of the tunes were in a very narrow tempo and rhythmic range: all in straight time, but for a single song, and almost all in a very narrow tempo range I’d estimate at about 100 – 120 bpm. A lot of the time the drummer was just playing a standard rock beat and minor variations thereof. That ain’t blues, no way, no how. The only remotely interesting beat was one the drummer did on the snare and kick drum, shuffling the first beat, and then doing the rest straight (One …. a 2 and …. and 4) while using a shaker in his right hand. As well, the structure of a good majority of the tunes was quite simple, and had nothing in common with blues progressions, let alone jazz progressions.

In other words, Cray wasn’t playing the blues: he was playing rock with a very thin blues veneer.

The horrible part is that most of the audience loved it (about 10% of the audience walked out, to their credit; I would have, too, but the GF was into it). The only changes in the tempo were in the final tune before the encores (about 140 to start and ramped up a bit from there) and the second, slow encore, which was probably in the mid-80s).

I’m very glad that I got comps for this — yes, I’m biting the hand that fed me — but Jesus F. Christ, seeing Cray playing this formulaic crap is depressing. He used to be so much better than this.

Assuming he continues this crowd-pleasing, money-making crap, I wouldn’t drive across town to see him.