Those”pony-tails and suits” will tell you that the secret to a career in music starts with your name:
Those”pony-tails and suits” will tell you that the secret to a career in music starts with your name:
I have people ask me how I got started as a guitarist.
After all, to make it big, you have to gain entry into a very small club. I tell them that it’s serendipity at it’s most bizarre application…
Here’s a case in point;
I started out in Rock ‘n’ Roll early. In fact, my first gig was as a walk (crawl) on in a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic called “World’s Greatest Sinner.” My big brother and I were being tended by my mother’s sister (otherwise referred to as “The Commie Aunt” by my father), while both my mother and father (card carrying killers) were out “hunting,” pillaging the landscape in the US Government’s attempt at making the world safe for Democracy. 🙂
We’d been stationed at El Toro, a US Marine Air base that lived in the middle of orange groves that went on for thousands of acres.
El Toro was a weird place. The base’s logo ( a “Flying Bull”) was actually designed by Walt Disney. We actually knew Lee Harvey Oswald, who was stationed there from December of 1958, to the spring of ’59. Supposedly there’s a photograph floating around of him holding me as a baby. We also knew counter-culture guru Kerry Wendell Thornley, who was in the same radar unit as Lee.
My aunt had come to stay with us, due to a “domestic dispute” involving her, her soon-to-be ex, and a butcher knife. Oh yeah, an ambulance and the police were also involved…
But, no charges got pressed, the “ex” healed with a nasty scar, and Ginny came to live with us. She was a 6′ Amazon of a woman allergic to bras, totally caught up in the celebrity of Southern California, and deeply embedded in the surf “Rock” scene. And, as male children, we were enamored by her. (That came later, though…)
She was friends with Frank Zappa, who was a young college kid writing a film music score for Timothy Carey, a Hollywood bad boy turned director, who recorded low-budget films for the masses. Now, we’re talking late 1960 or 61…
I forget, because frankly, I was about 2 or three years old.
One day, she took us to Long Beach, CA, and we got our first taste of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hollywood fame… The cinematographer took one look at us, and stuck us in front of that camera, and our future was revealed… 🙂
I suspect that she did it simply because my parents couldn’t stop her. I suspect that she thought it would give my father an aneurysm. I suspect that she did it because SHE was trying to get in front of that camera. I even suspect that she might have been a “commie.” But, we didn’t care. We loved her anyway.
Why am I bringing this up, after all these years? Because I just watched it again on late night TCM. I wasn’t aware that any copies still existed! 🙂
Damn, I was a cute kid…
We have a photograph in our family archives, of me being held by the young Frank Zappa, who looks like he’s holding a hostile alien…
The film, just in case you haven’t seen it, is a sorry Timothy Carey tale of a demented “Elvis worshipping” insurance salesman who tires of a traditional life, and wakes up deciding he’s God.
It’s undeniably one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and I’ve gotta tell you that even over forty years later, it’s STILL way ahead of its time! It’s a grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes insane and decides to become the “rockabilly messiah.” Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine.
To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being.” Their creedo is:
“There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”
This is seriously whacked stuff, folks… Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame, sorry Dennis!), ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges–especially one promising “No Death.”
When the political machines get wind of his Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a big snake!
You won’t believe Tim’s performances. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down… He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilliy movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life.
Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras were simply pulled off the streets (I know, because my brother and I were among them), and the score was provided by a young musician… Frank Zappa.
See? The post went “full circle.” Remember the “Commie Aunt” connection? 🙂
Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable:
“As a sinner he’s a winner,
Honey, he’s no beginner!
He’s rotten to the core,
Daddy, you can’t say no more!
He’s the world’s greatest sinner…”
If I ever move to an underground farm, stock it full of big-breasted goth girls, and start a cult… that’s gonna be my theme song… In fact, I should probably have the lawyers start working on the music clearance now, just in case…
There’s more… so stay tuned… because playin off-key really sucks! 😉
(Well, actually, I’ve been playing with the idea since about August of 2008…)
And, I’ve even started getting my shit together, so I could get this ball rockin’, but something always came up…
First, I got married… again! That always screws things up! 😉
Then… a hurricane ate our house, and all it’s contents. I had to say goodbye to several of my guitars, and a lot of sound gear!
And if that wasn’t enough, between trying to rebuild and trying to keep things flowin’…
We had a baby! I don’t know how it happened… well, I know “exactly” how it happened (if you don’t you’re on the wrong blog, bucko!) and now he’s tearin’ up the joint!
But, time stands still for no one! I’ve seen stuff… I’ve played stuff… I’ve even seen history… (I was there at Record Plant in the 70’s [1974 to be exact] when Lennon and McCartney “played” together for the last time)…
So… no more wasting time, We’re gonna start anew, with no more lookin’ back, and no more lookin’ over somebody else’s shoulder.
Here we go…
All you have to do is spend 20 minutes at Guitar Center, to realize that a guitar is a “babe” magnet. With the right axe even a geek can get laid, provided the licks are there! But, how do you actually learn to play it? And, what if you’re (gasp!) left-handed? Oh shit… Things just got way more complicated!
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but being a great guitarist isn’t about getting laid. It’s about being a rock solid performer, who channels his or her heart and soul into that guitar, and then bleeds energy out to the audience. THAT gets you laid…
And confidentially, you need to get your priorities straight. If this is all about your “naughty bits,” you have much bigger problems!
Let me guarantee you that you’re gonna spend hours that last for months, getting your chops… And then, you’re gonna have to conquer your stage-fright, and show the world what you’ve got. Being a “lefty” isn’t a curse!
Hell, some of the greatest guitarists that ever lived are (gasp!) lefties!
Lemme see… Jimi Hendrix comes to mind;
No one ever tuned into the “cosmic progression” and saw more possibilities for the electric guitar’s place as rock’s “pillar” instrument than Jimi Hendrix. Jimi integrated blues and jazz, used them as his springboard, and then mercilessly pushed his instrument to places his peers could only dream of. Legions of us have been trying to duplicate his licks ever since. But alas, there’s only one “Jimi.” Interestingly enough, Carlos Santana once speculated that Hendrix’s style may have been partly rooted in his Native American heritage. I’m thinkin’ it was the “peyote…” but what do I know? 😉
Then there was that cat… Tommy “Whats-his-name…” you know… the guy with Black Sabbath?
It’s been said that Tony Iommi is the man who invented the heavy metal riff. With his ever present SG, the Black Sabbath maestro established the gloomy, minor key patterns and foreboding blues-based solos that continue to define the darker side of the rock genre. Few guitarists have uncovered more permutations within a singular, self-imposed approach. And that includes “righties…”
We’ll throw this guy on the fire, too; Elliot Easton
Catchy as they were, Rick Ocasek’s neurotic pop songs wouldn’t have been the same without Elliot Easton’s economical leads and spot-on, song-serving solos. Trained at the Berklee College of Music, Easton brought a Beatles-like touch to such Cars classics as “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Fittingly, Gibson honored him with his own signature SG.
Play nice and I may have some kind of a contest to “pass it on…” to a deserving “lefty!”
In fact, somebody sent me one… Not bad at all, the neck was so smooth it reminded me of an old joke about “hand-jobs…” 😉
Let’s not forget one of my personal favorites; Sir Paul McCartney
In addition to being the most melodic bass stylist in rock history, Paul McCartney has unveiled spectacular six-string artistry on more occasions than you can count! He may be “old school,” but acoustic classics such as “Yesterday” and “Blackbird” remain essential for aspiring guitarists who give equal weight to brilliant songwriting and impeccable technique. It’s a measure of his talent that even in his “old age,” at any of his live performances Sir Paul makes material look deceptively easy.
And just because I’m a “Southern California Boy,” I’m gonna throw in Dick Dale;
The long esteemed “King of the Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale went out every night and showed ’em how it was done! Dick exerted a huge influence on ’60s groups such as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Now, before you start callin’ me “Grandpa,” I’ll point out that even though Dick was probably before your time, his trademark single-note staccato technique had a tremendous impact on aspiring guitarists everywhere. In fact, virtuoso players like Eddie Van Halen and even Pete Townshend considered him a guitar-playin’ God! And, Dale’s use of exotic Middle Eastern scales (now quite commonly used) was considered daring (and even decadent) for its time as well.
And I can think of a bunch more! Guys like Al King, Otis Rush, Tim Armstrong, and Al McKay, just to name a few!
So even if you’re a lefty, you can do it! I’ve got faith in you. And, if you can’t… well… I still can, and in the end, it’s all about me, huh? 🙂
Okay, I’ll admit that I’m in the biz… I’ve lived in studios and sound rooms all my life. I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go. I’ve tossed their posses out of “green rooms,” and I’ve even stolen a girlfriend or two…
(Frankly, I’ve loved more guitars, than people.)
I’ve owned studios in L.A., New York, and even Las Vegas. I’ve owned more guitars than a guitar store. I’ve toured in more countries than I can remember…
Through it all (and the 70’s are still kinda hazy), I’ve contributed to what I think is a pretty solid body of work, with an “Artist list” that goes on for several pages. In fact, if you started playin’ all the stuff I’ve worked on, that iPod of yours would keep playing for weeks continuously.
The funny thing is that I sit at home, in the studio, playin’ my ass off, with my kid in the sound room listening like he can actually hear each and every note. I’m surrounded by records hanging on the wall… Yet… my kid is still amazed when Jeff Beck knows my name… ‘cuz I’m just “dad.” And he thinks Joe Satriani is a God… Go figure! Oy Vey!
And, you don’t stop playin’ when you’re thirty, either! Lots of us tour into our 50’s and 60’s. Some of us keep at it, writing scores for film, and jingles for advertising. And some of us get to the point where we don’t even have to leave the house, anymore, to shred for some serious cash… I know some of those guys. In fact, they meet at my house, on a regular basis!
Here’s a tip; If you wanna keep your licks, you have to work at it. And, it’s hard work, despite how easy it looks on MTV and VH1…
But, I’m getting sick and tired of hearing people whining that “they can’t crack in,” or they can’t learn to play, because of this or that. “Waaaaaa-waaaa-waaa!” That’s just crap! To those guys, I just say this; “Grow a spine!”
It’s about talent, determination, and drive.
It’s that simple.
First, you learn the fundamentals. Then, you learn the tricks. Then, and only then, you start getting “original.” Stevie and Carlos didn’t come out of Momma’s chute with a guitar neck glued to their little hands and a pick in their mouths… Jeff and Joe didn’t go to Wal*Mart and buy a can of “Incredi-Shred.” They learned to shred, by practicing for hours that lasted for days, going on weeks. And then, after their fingers stopped bleeding, they started over.
And it doesn’t matter if you’ve got an “inny,” or an “outie.” Girls can shred, too! Just ask Lita Ford, or that Aussie Wonder “Oriantha!”
As a “leftie,” much of what I’ll teach here will pertain to that “chosen few,” who despite being “wrong-handed,” are gonna conquer their dragons, and learn to shred like one of those guys on “Iron Chef!” 😉
For those of you “righties” that stop by, the principles will still apply, you’ll just have to practice the “application,” in the mirror. Don’t feel bad, some of us have been doing it for years… 🙂
We’re gonna talk about the business of making music, in spite of those who would watch you fail.