Posts Tagged ‘Rock’


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.”

 


An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rck, Jazz and Blues Musicians

Over the years, friends and acquaintances who don’t play music have asked me one question over and over: “I want to learn an instrument — what should I learn?”

At that point I ask, “Why? What do you want to do with it?”

If they just want to  learn one for their own pleasure, just want something to play at home, I tell them to learn whatever they want, but that they’ll probably be happiest learning an instrument that can produce chords (basically guitar or piano), that they shouldn’t spend more than a few hundred bucks for it, and that they should bring along someone who already plays the instrument when they go out to buy one. (As a beginner, if you walk into a music store by yourself and buy an instrument, chances are you’ll be reamed — or at least end up paying twice as much for a new beginner’s instrument as you would for an identical used one on craigslist, where beginner’s gear is always plentiful.)

One note here is that of the other popular learn-to-play-at-home instruments, the flute is probably the easiest and the violin is very probably the hardest to learn. An additional advantage of flute is that the fingering is the same as for the sax, so if you ever decide to learn sax and already play flute, you’ll be most of the way there.

If someone wants to learn an instrument to play in a band, my answer is a bit different. I still tell them not to spend more than a few hundred bucks and to bring along someone who already plays the instrument when they buy one. In most cases, however, people will want to learn guitar or, less commonly, piano, and I advise them to learn something else. Here’s why:

  • Guitar — guitar is relatively hard to learn, and there are far more guitar players around than players of any other instrument. In addition, audiences are used to a very high level of musicianship from guitarists, much higher than from players of any other instrument in a typical band set-up. So, it’ll take a relatively long time (probably several years)  to get your playing up to an acceptable level to play in a band, and even once it’s at that level you’ll face a hell of a lot of competition. That’s why guitarists in bands commonly haul around the p.a. system (a major pain in the butt)  and do the booking (a perhaps even worse pain). If you’re an adult beginner, want to play in a band, and want to learn guitar, my advice is simple: don’t —  learn something else. If you’re dead set on learning guitar, though, also learn how to sing: that’ll help in finding bandmates, and if you learn to do it well it’ll eliminate a major headache: dealing with vocalists. (I’d phrase it “egomaniac vocalists,” but that would be redundant.)
  • Piano — learning to play piano well is perhaps even more difficult than learning to play guitar well. There are fewer keyboard players than guitar players, but unless you’re content with staying in the background and serving as support in simple styles (most types of country and rock), it’ll again take a long time to get your playing up to an acceptable level. Audience expectations of keyboard players aren’t as high as for guitar players, but they’re still pretty high.

That brings us to the instruments I’d recommend to beginners who want to play in a band:

  • Electric Bass — This is probably the easiest instrument to learn, and if you practice an hour a day your playing should be good enough to be out playing in a rock, country, or blues band within six months to a year. Another advantage of bass is that decent bass gear is cheap: if you know what you’re doing, you can put together a (barely) “gigable” used bass rig (bass guitar and amp) for three hundred bucks. One disadvantage of bass is that while there are fewer bassists than guitarists, there are still a lot of them, so you’ll face plenty of competition. Another disadvantage is that bass isn’t a whole lot of fun to practice by yourself. A third disadvantage is that bass gear is heavy. (Bassists seem to have a thing about massive amps. Years ago, I played with a friend who used an SVT. The cabinet alone weighed 155 pounds, and it took two of us to lift it out of the bed of a truck. Bass combo amps aren’t as bad, but they’re still quite a bit heavier than guitar amps.)
  • Drum Set — The advantages of drums are that it’s relatively easy to get your playing to an acceptable level on them, they’re a lot of fun to practice, and you can buy an okay, gigable set used for around four hundred bucks, maybe a little less. Another advantage is that if you have good time, a good kick foot (playing the bass drum pedal) and a good backbeat (on the snare), you’ll have a relatively easy time finding people to play with, even if your chops are only decent. (Few things are more aggravating than playing with a rushing [speeding up] or dragging [slowing down] drummer. A drummer with good time, a heavy kick foot, and a heavy backbeat is worth his or her weight in gold; chops help, but are secondary to those three things.) Still another advantage of playing drums is that while the number of drum patterns is virtually endless, you can get by in most rock and blues bands playing only two patterns: the standard rock beat and the standard shuffle. Add in a few others (probably polka, standard surf, soca, mambo, waltz, 12/8, and two-step) and you can handle a good majority of gigs.  The primary disadvantage of drums is that hauling them around, and setting them up and breaking them down, is a major drag.
  • Saxophone — Sax is relatively easy to learn, very easy to haul around, and there are considerably fewer sax players than bassists or drummers, let alone guitarists. So, if you can play sax decently, you should have a relatively easy time finding people to play with, and you almost certainly won’t get stuck hauling around the p.a. or doing the booking. One disadvantage is that the saxophone of choice in almost all styles of pop music is the tenor sax, and a good used one will set you back about fifteen hundred bucks. However, alto saxes can be used in almost all styles, you can buy a decent one for around three-hundred to four-hundred bucks used, and the fingering is the same as for the tenor (and baritone and soprano), if you’d ever want to upgrade to a tenor.

If you’re thinking about learning an instrument, I hope this is of some help to you. If I’d known these things decades ago, I’d have saved myself a lot of time and grief by taking up sax or drums rather than guitar.