Who’s blog is this? I mean…. really?

29 03 2017

For a while now, a few of us have taken turns writing posts and trying to share what we’ve learned with our other brothers and sisters.

Dark DaysLately, it’s turned into a remembrance page where we spend a lot of time feeling older than our old Strats and Teles while our friends go up into the clouds to rock heaven. Lately, I feel like the Grim Reaper…

So, if for no other reason than to defy death… I’m taking over the reins again.  I get a lot of mail about “y identity” as we set this up to be anonymous in the beginning, to protect our families and our privacy. I thought it’d be fun to stamp the blog with my picture to get the fires started.  But, the hell with it. It’ll put a face to the rantings… and more than a few cool guitars… and you’ll recognize me when you see me under the gels…

Alex

You might want to check in from time to time to see what we’re working on as we write new material.  One of the best places to start might be at my “Soundcloud” account.

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Kantner “final approaches” on Heaven…

30 01 2016

Paul Kantner
Paul Kantner – March 17th, 1941 – January 28th, 2016

Paul Kantner was  known for founding the psychedelic band “Jefferson Airplane”.

I wanted to take a couple of days to let this sink in. As we approach the jump-off into our own 2016 World Tour, Paul Kantner died a few days ago from complications due to a heart attack. His organs failed and the “Jefferson Airplane” great did his “final approach” to Heaven.

I remember Paul from the old days. Where bandmate and partner (they had a child together – China) Grace Slick was the reigning “Queen of Acid Rock”, Paul was the calm voice in the shadows keeping things moving forward.

Grace Slick and China Kantner    China Kantner

Queen Grace wasn’t just “the Mother of Acid Rock”. She also gave birth to Princess China, who went on to become an actress and an MTV VJ.

It was because of Paul and Grace Slick that I wanted to grow up to be a “Rock ‘N Roll” star.


Jefferson Airplane – 1967 – American Bandstand

There was something about Grace dressed up as nun singing her demonic lil heart out about love that just pushed my buttons… even at the ripe old age of eight. Every time I saw her backstage or at a venue, I admit that my heart skipped a beat.

But, this is about Paul…

Paul and I were both signed to RCA and he left his mark there, usually with his middle finger. He was nothing short of “outspoken” about his views on life, love and capitalist corporate enterprise. He was nothing less than cynical. LOL!

His views on “government and corporate suits” was best illustrated by an obscene (albeit unprintable on a family show) taunt on his song; “We Can Be Together” from their “Volunteers” album;

All that said, he once told me that he spent most of his youth “chasing the devil and he sure as hell wasn’t headed for heaven.”

Let’s hope he was wrong.

Of course, he also told me that he wanted to outlive Keith Richards and we all KNOW that Keith Richards IS the DEVIL! LOL!

Like many bands, Jefferson Airplane was birthed in a bar (in San Francisco in 1965) right in the middle of a “music explosion”. American youth espoused sex, drugs and rebellion and in my view there wasn’t anyone better to write anthems to that voice than Paul Kantner.

He told me once that; “You may be thinking it, but I’m actually SAYIN’ it.”

Marti Balin, Jefferson Airplanes original founder embraced Paul not only for his musical abilities, but for his manual dexterity. Marti once told me that Paul was “one of the few people he knew in the timeframe that actually knew how to roll a decent joint.” LOL!

From a middle-class house they took over in Haight-Ashbury, Jefferson Airplane became foundation to many social and political causes, usually between concerts in places like Woodstock and The Monterey Pops Festival.

Jefferson Airplane’s roots began as muddy as many. The band started out as a bunch of “60’s folkies” and evolved to combine folk, rock, blues and jazz into a fused mix that we now refer to as “psychedelic” music. Named after Blind Melon Jefferson, the band was surrounded by cats like Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead) and Jimi Hendrix, where Paul once confided in me that “the 60’s was a time when inspiration moved back and forth across streets like leaves blown around in the wind.”

He said that “in the 60’s, the stars just aligned and the doors to Rock opened wide.”

And, Paul answered the door. His body of work certainly testifies to that fact.

Like many 60’s bands, Jefferson Airplane spawned several bands after it’s break-up, including bands like Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship (which was later known as simply “Starship”) and others.

Paul Kantner played rhythm guitar and backed the vocals behind greats like Grace Slick and Marty Balin.. With Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady playing guitars and bass and Spencer Dryden on drums, the band went on to become one of Rock’s legends.

For a time, Jefferson Airplane literally grabbed lightning out of the sky and then trapped it in a bottle. Whatever “it” was, they had it and they had an entire bottle of it.

Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and is scheduled to receive the Recording Academy’s lifetime achievement award later this year. As one of the masterminds (and one of Jefferson Airplane’s most prolific songwriters) it’s a shame that Paul didn’t live to see it.

Rock Trivia; Paul Kantner was on David Crosby’s sailboat and together with David and Steven Stills they wrote the rock classic “Wooden Ships”. I know this is true as David told me so, himself.

“Starship” may have built their city on Rock and Roll, but Paul Kantner certainly did his part by paving the roads leading to it.

So long, Baron. May you find that tollbooth in the sky.

(David Crosby referred to Paul as “Baron von Tollbooth” and to Grace Slick as “The Chrome Nun”. Paul later used those nicknames on his studio album (with Grace Slick) – “Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun”.)

Grace Slick and Paul Kantner - The King and Queen of Pyschedelic Rock

May he rest in peace.





The King of Blues isn’t gone… He’s just touring with Angels now.

16 05 2015

It took me a day to write this. I’ve spent the last several hours trying to think of something to write that would capture my feelings. A difficult week ended with tragic news. A dear friend, a King among men…  has left us.

It’s a sad day for us here at the studio. We just got the word that BB has passed.

bbking002BB died peacefully, in his bed, in his sleep after decades of making us laugh and cry and literally beg the Big Guy Up There to make us guitarists that could be good enough to stand on stage with BB.

BB and Eric (Clapton) convinced me that I needed a 335. Then, they taunted me as I struggled to stand in their shadows with it. LOL!

BB told me once that playing was about feeling; “Shake that wrist. Play from your heart and let you soul sing!” He reminded me constantly that; “You can’t play it wrong, you just have to play it YOUR way…”

Despite many claims, BB King wasn’t a “showman”. He just waltzed onstage and then played. He didn’t HAVE to show off. He just grabbed that guitar by the neck and strangled it until it did what he wanted it to do. That axe was just an extension of his heart. That axe was his soul’s microphone.

b-b-king-lucille-2008From personal experience, BB was the sweetest Axe Man there ever was. Kind to a fault, always with something nice to say, always ready to share and even SHOW you how to tackle something new or difficult. Even when he was in pain, the smile on his face could warm your heart and make you want to be a better player. When he walked into the room, you knew that you had to be on your “A” Game.

From Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson on down, all the way to my friends Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton, the great blues men proved that it is the journey, the story and the soul that matters most. It’s the phrasing, the spaces between the notes… the call and response… and BB did it with his most beloved of lovers… Lucille, his guitar.

Unlike Rock or Jazz… Blues is no reason for a party… it is a baring of the soul.

BB’s passing isn’t about the death of  a legend, it’s about the gift he gave us… the generous baring of his heart and soul for all of us to see and hear. And BB did it like few others.

From all across the Universe, people are mourning the passing of the King;

The “King of the Blues”, guitarist and singer BB King, has died aged 89.

King, known for his hits My Lucille, Sweet Little Angel and Rock Me Baby, died in his sleep in Las Vegas.

Born in Mississippi, King began performing in the 1940s, going on to influence a generation of musicians, and working with Eric Clapton and U2.

bb_kingOnce ranked as the third greatest guitarist of all time, he had been suffering ill health in recent months.

He was recently taken to hospital with a diabetes-related illness.

Fellow musicians paid tribute to King including blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who often played with him.

“BB King was the greatest guy I ever met,” he wrote on Instagram. “The tone he got out of that guitar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings… man, he came out with that and it was all new to whole guitar playin’ world.

“He could play so smooth, he didn’t have to put on a show. The way BB did it is the way we all do it now. He was my best friend and father to us all.”

Lenny Kravitz who tweeted: “BB, anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one.”

Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora added: “My friend and legend BB King passed. I’m so so sad, he was so great to me. We’ve lost the King. My love and prayers to his family.”

Actor Hugh Laurie said: “Oh God. BB King. Let the sad times roll.”

And singer Will Young added: “BB King- the most wonderful blues singer and  guitarist. I suggest everyone gets one of his records to hear true soul and spirit.”

A former farmhand, King was awarded his 15th Grammy award in 2009 for his album One Kind Favor.

He was also inducted into both the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rolling Stone magazine placed him behind only Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Until recently, King performed in at least 100 concerts a year.

He fused together both jazz and blues on his beloved guitar, a Gibson ES-355 he lovingly dubbed “Lucille”.

In the early part of his career, he played to exclusively black audiences, but his heartfelt vocals and undeniable talent saw him embraced by a much broader fanbase as time went on – touring Europe and topping the charts.

Younger musicians such as Clapton and Steve Miller, who admired his work, introduced him to a new generation of fans in the late ’60s with hits like “The Thrill is Gone”.

Albums such as Live at County Cook Jail and BB King in London followed.

At the turn of the millennium, aged 75, he once again achieved major commercial success with the Eric Clapton collaboration Riding With the King.

“King’s is now the name most synonymous with the blues, much as Louis Armstrong’s once was with jazz,” critic Francis Davis wrote in his 1995 book The History of the Blues. “You don’t have to be a blues fan to have heard of BB King.”

BBC © 2015

BB didn’t leave us. We’ll hear him… see him every time one of his legacy of songs crosses our paths. We’ll remember him for who he was… a kind, gentle soul with a guitar bigger than a continent. Rest well, BB, we’ll be reunited soon.

bbking001Until then, just do what you do… and make the angels weep with joy as they listen to you…





Remembering George Harrison…

29 11 2014

If you’re a guitarist, the end of November marks another dark day.

The man who said; “The Beatles saved the world from boredom” George Harrison, the lead guitarist with the  Beatles and  a multi-talented singer-songwriter in his own right, died of cancer on this day in 2001 at his home in Henley-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire, England.

George Harrison

George Harrison (February 25, 1943 – November, 29, 2001)

George wasn’t born into wealth. His dream of becoming a rock and roll star began when he was riding his bicycle through the streets of his Liverpool neighborhood in England as Elvis Presley songs blared from passing cars.  A close childhood friend of Paul McCartney’s, George actually auditioned for John Lennon on the upper deck of a UK public bus. He later joined the Beatles.

George was best remembered as “the quiet Beatle”. He let John Lennon and Paul McCartney share the spotlight while he spent most of his time lingering in the back line playing his guitar, doing what he loved best.

Here’s George doing what he did best, with the great Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Ringo Starr;

While my guitar gently weeps…

Here comes the sun…

Billy Preston – George Harrison Tribute – My Sweet Lord

If ever a man was loved by his fellow men, George was a pillar, loved and admired by many…
Concert for George

Today, George… my guitar weeps… RIP.

 





At the corner of Clarksville and Blues…

29 11 2014

As you can imagine, life sometimes throws you curves. We’re out slaying dragons and rescuing damsels in distress, mostly the ones that have found their way backstage, but… 🙂

We’ve talked about some pals of ours, The Secret Strat Project guys, before. We recently learned that they are busy building  more incredible guitars to send overseas  to soldiers. Their custom guitars are quickly becoming legendary. They’re literally recreating some of History’s “lost guitars” and putting their own spin on them.

In a time where custom shops are building “custom handbuilt guitars” on tightly controlled schedules in assembly line conditions, it’s “a lesson in old school” for these guys. They literally breathe life back into Swamp Ash and Maple, Alder and Rosewood. We’ve played some of the guitars they’ve crafted. The Stratocasters and Telecasters coming out of The Secret Strat Project rival Masterbuilt axes coming out of the most well-known custom shops in America.

Capt America2-webThe recipients are very lucky guitarists, indeed.

When I spoke with them last, they told me about their new project, “The Crossroads Guitars”.

The guys at TSSP are going to build (12) Blues guitars in the “Crossroads” flavor. They’re going to build Resonators, Strats, Telecasters and even a hollowbody or three.

As I listened, I understood exactly why they were doing it. Anyone who is caught firmly in the grasp of the Blues would. As I thought about their new project, I wondered how many young guitarists know the “Crossroads” tale, so I thought I’d acquaint you with it. It’s  a tale told many times that described how a very famous guitarist named Robert Johnson, found his way to fame as one of the most beloved Blues guitarists of all time.

It was in the dark of a moonless night, deep in the bowels of the South…

Robert JohnsonIn the Mississippi River delta where Robert Johnson was born, the locals said that if an aspiring bluesman waited by the side of a deserted crossroads in the dark of a moonless night… the Devil himself might come and tune his guitar, sealing a pact for the bluesman’s soul and guaranteeing a lifetime of easy money, women, and fame.

As many watched the rise of Robert Johnson, they claimed Johnson must have waited by the crossroads and gotten his guitar fine-tuned for the price of a silver coin and his soul.

Robert Johnson was a Mississippi blues singer and songwriter, who according to legend, sold his soul to Satan “at the crossroads” in exchange for his remarkable talent on the guitar.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Robert Johnson started playing blues guitar in the late 1920s. His wife and child died in childbirth around 1930 and the event tore him apart emotionally. In his grief, he withdrew and is said to have devoted himself to the guitar. Part of the “evidence” supporting the Crossroads tale comes from reports that he dropped out of sight for a while in the early 1930s and returned a much-improved guitarist.

It is said that at the stroke of midnight, he walked down to the windswept crossroads at the junction of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Reciting an ancient incantation, he called upon the Devil to make his deal. In exchange for Johnson’s immortal soul and a coin, the devil tuned his guitar, thereby giving him the abilities which he so desired. From then on, the young bluesman played his instrument with an unearthly style, his fingers dancing over the strings. His voice moaned and wailed, expressing the deepest sorrows of a condemned sinner.

In 1936-37 he recorded at least 29 songs in Texas (San Antonio and Dallas) and then returned to Mississippi to play and sing in clubs and bars. His mysterious death at the age of 27 added to the legend: He died in 1938, falling ill after playing a party and dying four days later.

Some people said that Robert’s deal with the devil came due and as evidence gave the fact that they had seen him on all fours, howling at the moon the night he died……

Undisputed facts about Johnson’s life are few and far between. More often than not, his legend has obscured the few grains of truth that can be discerned. According to the myth, the young bluesman desperately longed for fame and fortune.

Whatever the reason, Johnson died at the young age of twenty-seven, and left a legacy of Delta Blues music that has influenced guitar players like Muddy Waters, and his songs have been covered by several rock stars, including Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. In 1986 Robert Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs include “Crossroad Blues,” “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Terraplane Blues.”

 





Remembering Jeff Porcaro – Rock Legend

14 08 2014

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently and somebody asked me;

“Man, you played with everybody! And you knew everyone else! May I ask… who do you miss the most?”

I had to think about it for a moment. Most of the guys I knew who have left us, left so much behind that I never really got a chance to miss them. They are “still” here.

Almost 40 some-odd years later, I’m not thinking about “stats” or even walls lined with gold records. I’m thinking about guys who were SO important, so foundational that they left a mark on us that never faded.

When you think of it THAT way, I miss a lot of guys, Gary (Moore), George (Harrison), Ravi (Shankar) and even guys I never got to meet, like Hendrix and Jim Morrison whom I got to know by their music – which  became such an instrumental part of my own music foundations…

I remember meeting Otis Redding as a kid.  I met Jim Croce (we had mutual friends) a few times before he passed. I talked with Muddy Waters several times.  I met Stevie Ray Vaughan several times. I knew Danny Gatton (one of the world’s best Tele players, hands down). I have photographs someplace of Frank Zappa holding me as a kid, like I was some kind of alien lifeform.  Billy Preston. What can you say about Billy Preston?

But in this moment in time, I have to say that I miss Jeff Porcaro the most. I almost felt like it was fate to be asked this, a week after the anniversary of Jeff’s death. 22 years later, he’s still larger than life.

Jeff Porcaro RIP
I remember Jeff Porcaro from North Hollywood as a kid. I lived in OC and we drove into LA to play. I probably looked like a demented moron, riding my Harley or my Norton up PCH into LA with a guitar jammed into saddlebags on each side of the bike.

Walking into a room that Jeff Porcaro was in was like coming home. He made you feel like you belonged there. It was like a big fraternity – without the hazing and the beer bongs.

The weirdest thing is that Jeff wasn’t a “good friend”. I just “knew” him. I spent time around him. I liked and admired him. He was already “old school” in a “new” school, the original School of Rock. You looked up to him. You wanted to be like him. He “had” it, whatever “it” was.  Those guys that he hung out with (guys like David Paich and Steve Lukather) were “Kings”. We were more like the adoring court…

Jeff came from one of those families. Mike, Joe, Steve, Jeff, they had more music in their fingers, in their souls…  than most of the rest of the rock world combined.

It was a “small world”. Everyone knew everyone else. In the circus that was SoCal, the Porcaro’s OWNED Hollywood.

Jeff Porcaro was a legend. He was magic. He had more soul than James Brown, Little Richard and BB King combined. When he walked into the studio the room just crackled. He made everyone better. He was intense, funny, wicked. If he looked over his glasses at you,  you were usually in trouble. He knew that you were screwing up.

He was the heart and soul of rock. Lots of musicians revolved around the music. Not Jeff. Music revolved around HIM. You really can’t “fix” a drum track. Drums are visceral.  Jeff was the King of the “one take” killer tracks.

He was every musician’s big brother. He helped a LOT of musicians coming up. In fact, most of them never knew that he’d gone to bat for them. It’s a long list – a lot of guys that everyone now knows as legendary – that owe Jeff a solid for the jumpstart he gave their careers.  I know. I’m one of them.

His work was legendary. Sonny and Cher, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, hundreds of studio sessions. He was always “dead nuts” on.

He listened to Miles Davis, Hendrix,  the “old schoolers”, Blues, Jazz, the classics.

I was just plodding through college when Toto formed. Jeff wasn’t the “leader” of Toto. He was Toto’s “shepherd”. He helped guide some of the most talented sessions guys on the planet (they played on like… 5000 albums between them) into becoming a worldwide global sensation on stage.

Here’s a piece of Toto trivia: A lot of people don’t know that the guys from Toto “made” Michael Jackson’s album, “Thriller”. People actually hated them for that. The album was tanking in production and Quincy  Jones reached out to Jeff to see if he could save it. Combined with contributions from cats like Steve Lukather, they turned Michael’s album into one of the most important Rock and Roll albums of all time. It was just unfathomable that a bunch of white kids could bail out Quincy Jones and help make “Thriller” so magical, so important.

Rolling Stones actually tried to crucify them for that. They implied that Quincy actually “made them settle down and play with some taste”. Toto is one of the only bands in the history of Rolling Stone to tell them to “fuck off and take their magazine cover with them”. It was Jeff who called them and told them to get bent.

Jeff had a heart condition. He wasn’t a “hard-core druggie”. He snorted a little coke. A lot of people did, but he wasn’t a slave to it.  He was the “sheepdog” for most of the rest of us. He had uncles that died of heart disease and heart failure. His arms hurt all the time.

People thought; “He’s a drummer. Duh!”

It wasn’t his arms, it was his heart.  They said it was carpal tunnel. It wasn’t. The blood wasn’t getting to his hands. His arteries were hardening.  Then, after doing some yardwork, he had a seizure and he passed away.

Nobody saw it coming. He said he was going to the doctor. He wasn’t. He didn’t want to worry anyone. I remember how shocked we all were.  There were a lot of guys that we figured would check out before we did. Jeff wasn’t one of them.

He died at his home on August 5th, 1992. Wow, it seems like so long ago that I attended his funeral.

And now he’s probably up there, playing with Hendrix and “Trane” – John Coltrane.

The rest of us, those guys who wear headphones 10 hours a day working… will never ever hear anyone like him again.





Help a kid out, huh?

3 06 2014

We’ve gotten a few private emails lately from people asking about how to get their young children interested in the guitar.

A guitar, even a student sized guitar, can be quite intimidating ot a young child. You need to think smaller…

Wanna inspire a youngster to play stringed instruments?

Get them a ukulele. Seriously.

Ukulele

It’s easy to learn, it makes you happy right from the “get go” and it’s scaled for a smaller variety of music maker!

Some of them are amazingly cool, and they inspire kids to pick them up and strum like crazy!

ukulele-fingerpicking

You can’t really make a mistake and if you’ve got rhythm and you can get your timing to act right, everything will be a grin that lasts for days!

lexx-sig