Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting bits of advice on songwriting, some of which I follow, some of which I don’t. A few of the following suggestions are from yours truly; most of them are from others, and their origins are lost in the mist of time.

Here’s the advice, with that on lyrics first, which seems the area of greatest need.

Lyrics

1. Just rhyming isn’t good enough. listen to any type of popular music from blues to rock to country to corridos and you’ll see (well, hear) what I mean:: the lyrics are cliched or nonsensical in easily 90% of the songs. All their authors were concerned with was rhyming (and, often, being inoffensive), so they reached for the first handy cliches and words that even vaguely rhyme, and produced junk.

2. Speaking of cliches, avoid them; and if you use them, use them in a way that mocks them or is otherwise funny.

3. Say something. Make people think, feel, or both. Make a point (political, social, or personal), express genuine emotion, and/or be amusing. One of these three things is usually adequate, and if you write a song that incorporates two of the three, you should have a winner.

4. Humorous self-mockery often makes for great lyrics.

5. Avoid earnestness (humorlessness, taking things, especially oneself, too seriously). While seriousness can be fine, earnestness never is.

6. Try to use real rhymes rather than false rhymes. As an example, a real rhyme for “bone” is “stone,” and a false rhyme would be “home.” False rhymes are very common in song lyrics, and they’re not the worst thing in the world, but it’s better to use real rhymes if you can, as long as they don’t detract from the lyrical content — if they do detract, it’s generally better to use a false rhyme that better expresses the meaning.

Music

1. Record what you play while you’re practicing or rehearsing. You never know when you’ll come up with a good song idea, and if you record it you can go back to it. (I’m far from alone in losing song ideas [progressions, melodies, comping patterns] I didn’t record but was sure I’d remember.)

2. If you can’t record a song idea (or a complete song — sometimes they just come to you), play it at least a dozen times to get it in your head. This isn’t as good as recording it, but it increases the chances that you’ll remember it.

3. If you’re playing with others, take at least a few minutes at every rehearsal to improvise and see what you come up with.

4. Experiment with different rhythmic patterns. It’s very easy to get stuck in familiar rhythmic ruts; make an effort to get out of them. How? One way is to check out drummers playing different beats on Youtube. A more efficient way is to use a rhythmic reference book such as The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, which includes CDs with close to 200 different beats. In either case, using Youtube videos or a reference book with CDs or DVDs, put on a track with a rhythm you’re not familiar with, and see what you can come up with.

5. It’s also not a bad idea to experiment with using two different beat patterns in a song, one for the verses and the other for the bridge. Robert Cray’s “That’s What I’ll Do” is a good example: for the verses, it uses a standard jazz pattern (swung, but shuffling only on the 2 & 4) and for the bridge it uses a backdoor shuffle (shuffling on all 4 beats, but with the emphasis on the final triplet of every beat).

6. Don’t be oddball just for the sake of being oddball. Unusual rhythmic, metric, or chord changes are fine as long as they work. That is, they should have a musical point. (If your bandmates are enthusiastic about the song the odd changes are in, they probably work; if they don’t like them, or politely say nothing or give tepid praise, they probably don’t.)

General Advice

1. Have a notebook handy so you can write down musical ideas, lyrics, or possible song topics when you can’t record them and especially when you don’t have an instrument handy.

2. Set aside some time every day for a year to write a song, and don’t quit until you’ve come up with one, no matter how poor. Those who’ve done this (I haven’t) say that while over 90% of what they came up with was crap, they also came up with some real gems, and that it’s made songwriting easier for them.

I hope that you find at least some of the above useful.

P.S. Here are mp3s for a few of the songs I’ve written over the years, both music and lyrics. I hope you enjoy them.

And here are a couple for which I wrote the music but not the lyrics:


My longtime friend, ex-bandmate, and co-author of two books published by See Sharp Press (The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, with co-author Jason Gianni, and Stage Fright: How You Can Beat America’s #1 Fear, with co-author Michael Edelstein), is bringing his well reviewed one-man play, Keith Moon: The Real Me, to Hollywood.

Here’s a bit more info from the producers:

Its showtime this coming weekend at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood at 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard. Keith Moon: The Real Me opens Friday night, March 23 at 8:00 pm.

There will also be a show on Saturday at 8:00 pm and a matinee on Sunday at 3:00 pm. If you can’t make it on opening weekend, the production continues through April 15.

There will be a wine and cheese reception after the Sunday, March 25 matinee. This show will probably sell out, so get your tickets soon if you would like to join the festivities.

For a bit of inspiration, you can see Mick in action in this preview video.

(The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award ceremony is coming up on Monday, March 26th. Keith Moon: The Real Me is nominated for Best Solo Performance in 2017.  Wish us luck!)


A few years ago I gave away about 3,000 LPs to three friends and KXCI after realizing that I slapped an LP on the turntable about once every six months. That left me with (now) about 700 CDs.

Here’s what, over the following years, I find myself listening to. I’m not saying this is the best material in any of these genres — far from it — it’s just stuff I like and listen to repeatedly.

Check it out, you might like some of it:

Rock

  • The Doors, L.A. Woman — probably because I love playing Doors covers in bands.
  • Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks — when this came out in the ’70s it was the world’s greatest head cleaner.
  • Devo, Are We Not Men? — very funny, musically inventive, and contains the world’s best cover ever (“Satisfaction”)
  • Repo Man soundtrack. Absolutely great, the best of punk. My ex-GF/ex-wife saw the movie with me when it came out, and as we were walking out of the theater, after listening to me and the rest of the audience bust a gut over the horrors it contained, she said to me, “You Americans are sick!” (She was a colombiana — and she was right.)
  • Dead Kennedys, Too Drunk to Fuck (EP). Funny, explicit, and surprisingly hard to play up to speed.
  • Treat Her Right, Tied to the Tracks and the eponymous album. These guys later became Morphine, which IMO was a step down.
  • Jonny Chingas, Greatest Hits. A lot of very funny, pretty good stuff musically, including Se me paro (“I have a hard on”), and an indication of how much wonderful material this guy might have come up with if he hadn’t been killed in a drive-by. More enjoyable if you understand Spanish.

Blues

  • Willie Edwards, Everlastin’ Tears. The best blues album you’ve never heard — it sold about a thousand copies.
  • Doug Sahm, The Last Real Texas Blues Band. Yep, the same guy from the Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados. (And, yep, that’s how they spell it.) Greasy r&b-oriented blues. The final cut, “T-Bone Shuffle,” has probably the world’s greatest walking bass line.
  • Sugar Thieves Live. The material is wonderful and this has two, count ’em two, great vocalists, either of whom could easily front a band. Absolutely killer.
  • Pinche Blues Band, Postal. My old band. I’m partial.
  • Randy Garibay, Barbacoa Blues. A great melding of Mexican/latin music and blues.

Jazz

  • Charlie Mingus, Ah Um. If you don’t like this, you’re dead.
  • Misc. Artists, That’s The Way I feel. An ’80s compilation of Thelonious Monk tunes featuring everybody under the sun. Lots of great stuff, including a wonderful cut by (yes!) Todd Rundgren.
  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue and On The Corner. Kind of Blue is probably the best LP ever for sitting on the patio and having a beer or a glass of wine at 3:00 a.m. On The Corner is a tremendous, ahead-of-its-time genre bender.
  • Jimmy Smith, The Sermon. One of the finest blues-jazz LPs ever, featuring B3 master Jimmy Smith, an incredible guitar solo by Kenny Burrell, and a couple of great sax solos.

Latin

  • Ray Barretto, La Cuna. Not for purists, but a wonderful Afro-Cuban CD featuring exceptional musicianship.
  • Luiz Bonfa, Jacaranda. Not sambas, but basically latin rock. Lots of great tunes and very good musicianship.

Country

  • Al Perry and the Cattle, Losin’ Hand. Good songwriting, good musicianship, and very funny.
  • Junior Brown, Junior High. This is just a five-song EP, but if you’re going to have one Junior Brown album, this is it. Features his best version of “Highway Patrol.” (I think it’s also on three of his other CDs.)
  • Jerry Reed, Smokey and the Bandit II soundtrack. Jerry Reed was a terrible actor but a funny guy and one of the best guitarists ever.

Soul/R&B

  • James Brown, Live at the Apollo. The seminal funk album. “I’ll go crazy” is worth the price of admission.

World/Misc.

  • Cheb Khaled and Safy Boutella, Kutche. Best rai album ever, with very good musicianship.
  • The Harder They Come soundtrack. Incredibly, this contains almost every reggae track worth listening to. (Yep, there ain’t a lot of ’em.)

Classical

  • Bela Bartok, Fourth String Quartet. Written in 1927, this is still in all likelihood the best string quartet ever written. In parts, it’s rock and roll-like.
  • Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time. Written in a POW camp in the early ’40s, this is probably the second best LP ever for sitting on the patio and having a beer at 3:00 a.m.

Zeke Bob says, “check it out.”

 


(I’ve been spending way too much time on work the last couple of weeks — I work, therefore I am — and so haven’t had time to write for the blog. I’ll be out from under the worst of it in a few days, but in the meantime I’m posting a few short things I think subscribers will enjoy, including this, part of which I posted a few months ago.)Willie Edwards Working Man CDThis new one is from one of Willie Edwards’ self-produced CDs. Willie got thoroughly screwed after signing one of the worst recording contracts ever written — the CD, Everlastin’ Tears, only sold about a thousand copies and Willie surrendered the rights to a dozen mostly great songs — so he’s turned to self-production. The lyrics below are from “Police State on the Rise” on his self-produced Working Man CD. (Sorry, but the song isn’t available online; the closest and only thing available is his “Helpless, Hopeless Feeling” from the Everlastin’ Tears CD, which certainly isn’t the one I’d pick as a sample of his work.) Anyway, here’s the first stanza from the all-too-pertinent “Police state on the rise”:

Police state on the rise
By the same old guys
With the same old lies
Comes as now surprise
Well it’s very plain to see
It’s about your liberty
Police state . . . police state . . .

If you live in Vermont (yes, Vermont), check the local music listings. I believe that Willie still performs occasionally, and I’d highly recommend catching him and his band.


We published about 250 posts in 2017, and consider the following the 50 best. We’ve divided them into categories to make navigating easier; as with our past “best of” lists, the Humor, Politics, Religion, Music, and Science Fiction categories account for most of the posts. (Because several of the posts fit into more than one category, they appear in more than one place.) We hope you enjoy them.

Humor

Politics

Religion

Music

Economics

Civil Liberties

Science

Interviews

Addictions

Anarchism

Science Fiction


One of my recent musical projects crashed and burned because one of the other band members (a great guy and great player, who I consider a friend) wanted to do what the rest of us considered pointless, time-wasting rehearsals on needlessly complex versions of covers.

(Covers? I mean come on. Give me a break! Unless you’re doing something as brilliant as Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction,” why even bother?)

For example, take the Junior Parker tune “Mystery Train,” that Elvis made famous.

Standard 12-bar blues done in straight time.

Well, why on earth do it as a 14-bar tune and then drop back to 12-bar form for _one_ of the solos? No point as far as yours truly and the rest of the guys could see. A needlessly complex time waste (in rehearsal) that no one would ever notice.

How useless and pointless.

Then we get to the complex shit that makes sense.

Let’s take probably the most complex tune time-wise ever recorded: “The Dance of Maya,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, on the “Inner Mounting Flame” album. (I could be, and probably am, wrong about some of the particulars — hey! I’m a guitar player, not a drummer!)

It starts out in a straightforward compound meter 10/4 time (3+3+4), then goes to a straightforward swung 20/8 time (1… a 2 … a 3… a 4… a 5… 6…7 and), then goes double time on it, then drops back to the relaxed 20/8 time, and then superimposes the 20/8 on the 10/4.) Over and out. It’s unimaginable in any other form.

Absolutely brilliant. It just works. Blows you (at least me) away.

Pointless complexity is useless. True complexity can be beautiful.

 


For some unfathomable — which means “I don’t have a clue” — reason, “Mustang Sally” has been the most requested song in American live music venues for decades, far eclipsing such musical horrors as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

A few years ago the now-defunct music site Guitar Squid did bar bands a favor by posting the following uncannily accurate “Mustang Sally” flow chart. Enjoy.

Mustang Sally flow chart