Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


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: ,

Technically, all of these guys (especially Cray and the keyboard player) were great. Sometimes it’s just nice to see good players do their thing, no matter how predictable.

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 all in 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, nowhere. The only remotely interesting beat was one the drummer did on the snare and floor tom, shuffling the first beat, and then doing the rest straight (One …. a 2 and …. and 4) while using a shaker in his right hand.

The horrible part is that most of the audience loved it (including the GF — about 10% of the audience walked out, to their credit). 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 Festering Christ, seeing Cray playing this formulaic crap is pathetic. He’s so much better than this. Or could be.

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

 


“The only thing hurts now is the pain.

 

My good bud Al Perry will have a new CD out soon, and I’ll be doing the graphic arts design for it, but for the cover graphic by Winston Smith.

As if to prove that Tucson is the smallest million-plus town in the country, one late recent night I met a guy at a Q-T to buy an equipment rack in the parking lot around midnight off craigslist. He stepped out of his truck, and it was Loren Dircks, guitarist from Gila Bend. One of Al’s longtime close friends, and a fantastic guitarist and good guy.

Another thing about another good guy — I wrote to Junior Brown recently and heard back from his wife, Tanya, about the guitar stand he uses in place of a strap. (I could probably use four of ’em — one for a solid body, another for an acoustic-electric, a third for a six-string banjo, a fourth for another acoustic-electric or solid body tuned in open A.)

The guy who built Junior’s stand, Michael Stevens, was good enough to write back and tell me how to build such stands. He didn’t have to do it — it was just out of the goodness of his heart. What a nice guy.

Yeehaw!

This sort of shit happens all the time around here. You think Austin’s cool? It is, but welcome to Tucson.

 


It’s been a while since we’ve posted one of these, so this’ll be a bit longer than usual. Given these dark times and the need for comic relief, we’re mostly featuring Funny Internet Crap this time around. We’ve found some choice items so, as always, hang onto your hats and enjoy.

* * *

  • Deadstate is always good for a few laughs amidst the political and religious horrors it tends to cover. Our current favorite story is “University psychiatrist: Saying Trump is mentally ill is a ‘terrible insult to the mentally ill.'”
  • Rudy Rucker’s Juicy Ghost is a  “a political sci-fi story,” that the standard sci-fi magazines thought was too hot to handle. (Rucker is a very well established sci-fi author — normally the mags would gobble up any short story he submitted.) So, because none of the magazines would publish it, Rucker put it up in its entirety on his own blog. It’s short, but highly enjoyable.
  • Everyone loves a good prank, and for some fun examples see this story about Jeff Wysaski’s “obvious plants.” They good, but not as good as the following fake poster plastered all over Santa Cruz a couple of years ago:

  • And everyone loves to indulge in schadenfreude (feeling joy at another’s misfortune). And it’d be hard to top the amount of pure joy one feels when viewing this video taken inside a restaurant in China by a live-streamer who filmed herself trying to eat a live octopus. By far the best thing about this is that she did everything from planning this animal-abuse atrocity to attempting to execute it herself. Bon appetit!
  • Speaking of animals and sheer nuttiness all wrapped up in a conspiracy theory, check out this story about the Birds Aren’t Real campaign. (Yes, birds have all been replaced by surveillance drones.)
  • If you think most modern pop music utterly sucks, you’re right. For an entertaining exposition on just how and why so much of it does, check out Axis of Awesome’s “How to Write a Love Song.”
  • And what better to finish with than what might be the funniest short video ever posted on Youtube dealing with fishing, rednecks, and beer. You’ve gotta love this guy.

And as we’ve said before . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . That’s all folks!

Porky Pig