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Jim’s Acoustic Guitar Gizmo!

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A few years ago, I came up with an idea to keep an acoustic guitar’s strap from falling off the endpin pickup jack. I called this little thing my Gizmo.

There is a problem with acoustic guitars fitted with an internal pickup; if you have a cable in that jack, all is well because the cable will keep the strap from falling off.

If you don’t have a cable connected to your guitar, and most of the time you are playing you won’t, there’s nothing to keep that guitar strap from slipping off the endpin jack, and then your guitar hits the floor or deck or whatever else is under it!

This irritating and dangerous problem happened to me more than once and could have had bad results. So I came up with this little Gizmo to keep the strap from slipping off when there’s no cable in the jack.

Here’s a photo of the original brass Gizmo prototype made for me from my specs by my buddy Frank Ford, the guitar repair genius at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California. Frank is, in addition to being the fellow who sold Joan Baez her first guitar and the most talented guitar repair-person I know of, a skilled machinist:

Gizmo Prototype

Gotta include this charming photo taken recently of Frank and Joan playing with some ukuleles in Frank’s store:

Frank & Joan

A few months later, when I was visiting the CF Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, one day, I had Frank’s brass prototype of my Gizmo in the pocket of my jeans and showed it to Brenden Hackett, Martin’s marketing guru and a smart and supportive guy. Brenden loved the idea and we showed it to various folks at the Martin factory. It was Brenden who encouraged me to get the Gizmo patented.

Patents take a loooong time to research, write, get drawings for and so on, and once submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it takes a loooong time for them to be processed and reviewed. But I did all the stuff one has to do to submit the patent and it’s been at the Patent Office for a couple of years, inching its way through the pipe.

Page Patent

Here’s a very low-end video I made one morning on my iPhone that shows the Gizmo and what it does. I made this video in support of a Kickstarter.com effort for the Gizmo. I had some great and enthusiastic supporters for this Kickstarter attempt, but didn’t generate enough financial backing to make the Kickstarter threshold. So it goes!!!:

While the Gizmo was still “patent pending,” one of my other great friends, Bob Shade, president of Hallmark Guitars, joined with me to have some prototypes and samples made overseas. We made them from brass with finishes in nickel, black and gold. Here’s what those look like:

Gizmos Final

Larry Stein, my very patient patent attorney, emailed me Friday afternoon that my Gizmo’s patent application has been published (whatever that means) and is in the final review stage now, after about two years. Maybe the Gizmo will finally come to fruition after all this time. Whether anything comes of it after that, I can’t say; it’ll need to be marketed by a firm with more resources than I have.

But if Jim’s Gizmo can help prevent someone’s nice guitar from being smashed to bits after a five-foot drop, then it’s a good thing!

Wish me luck!

Ya Gotta Start Somewhere!

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Here are some amusing videos from YouTube for your weekend edification and enjoyment. The first shows a musical young man originally from Baltimore, Frank Zappa, on the Steve Allen Show in 1963. Frank plays the bicycle:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9P2V0_p6vE

Zappa In 1959

For those with a limited knowledge of early television, Steve Allen was a former jazz DJ who was the first star host of the Tonight Show. He was a respected musical composer and also guest starred in the Superman newspaper strip as a lookalike for Clark Kent.

Frank seems somewhat shy yet articulate in this amusing sketch. Zappa was later busted in a police sting for making an allegedly pornographic audio tape; he spent several months in jail but had a successful career after that ordeal as the leader of the Mothers of Invention and other brilliant music endeavors.

Next, a 14-year-old Jimmy Page in 1957 plays skiffle on a British television show; the Hofner archtop guitar he plays seems as big as he is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfZ1AEdfd1o

Jimmy is the young man in the dark sweater and white shirt. He went on to play guitar in British music producer Mickie Most’s studio band, backing singles by Herman’s Hermits, Donovan and Brenda Lee. After that, he was in the Yardbirds and, of course, Led Zeppelin.

Young Jimmy Rocks

Onward we go, still in the late 1950s. We meet a pair of young singers working for various low-budget record labels in the New York City area. They recorded a lot of covers and a few of their own songs. Known professionally as Tom and Jerry, they struggled for years before splitting up. The guitar player and songwriter of the duo, Paul Simon, went to England by himself to try his luck. Art Garfunkel, the lead vocalist, stayed in the NYC area and concentrated on his college math studies.

Tom And Jerry

A record producer, Tom Wilson, liked a cut on their very obscure 1964 album, Wednesday Morning 3am, and on his own volition, had electric guitar, bass and drums added to Paul’s simple background guitar on the tune. He released this version in 1965 without the knowledge or approval of Paul or Artie and it became very popular. Columbia Records quickly got the duo back together to capitalize on the unexpected popularity of the song, Sounds of Silence, and Simon and Garfunkel became a best-selling musical team.

Here’s a sweet-sounding 1960 single by Tom and Jerry entitled Just a Boy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGXLjRBcXyo

The Beatles Flunk An Audition

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At the end of the last Beatles public performance, held on the roof of their Apple Corps building on January 30, 1969, John Lennon remarked, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition . . .”

Seven years earlier, they didn’t. On January 1, 1962, The Beatles, consisting at that time of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, auditioned for the Decca Record label in London; the Decca producer was Tony Meehan.

Decca Records rejected The Beatles, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” Of course, this verdict, delivered by an expert in a suit (no one at Decca Records would ever admit who it was) is the single most egregious mistake in the history of show business.

In the last few days, news outlets have been breathlessly reporting that the original Decca audition tape has been found after 50 years and will soon be sold at auction. What the articles usually fail to say is that Beatles manager Brian Epstein had several copies of that original tape made and that the audition has been available to Beatles fans for many years in very good-quality audio bootlegs.

Here’s CNN’s report:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/23/showbiz/england-beatles-audition-tape/index.html

And here’s TIME Magazine’s:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/23/rejected-beatles-audition-tape-to-be-auctioned-in-london/

One factor that might have lead to their rejection was the selection of songs that Epstein insisted they play at the audition. Epstein’s thinking was to show the range of material that The Fabs could handle, and he wanted to move them away from the rough-edged, leather-clad image they had developed on their own.

He put them in nice suits and chose their songs for them on this important day.  There were a few original Beatles songs mixed in with Broadway show tunes, a Buddy Holly cover, a couple of Coasters covers and some romantic ballads. There were no rough edges.

The order of the songs at the session was:

Like Dreamers Do (Lennon–McCartney)

Money (That’s What I Want) (Gordy/Bradford)

Till There Was You (Meredith Wilson)

The Sheik of Araby (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)

To Know Her Is to Love Her (Phil Spector)

Take Good Care of My Baby (King/Goffin)

Memphis, Tennessee (Chuck Berry)

Sure to Fall (In Love with You) (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)

Hello Little Girl (Lennon–McCartney)

Three Cool Cats (Leiber/Stoller)

Crying, Waiting, Hoping (Buddy Holly)

Love of the Loved (Lennon–McCartney)

September in the Rain (Warren/Dubin)

Bésame Mucho (Consuelo Velázquez)

Searchin’ (Leiber/Stoller)

Here are some of the tracks from that session:

01 Like Dreamers Do

07 Memphis

09 Hello Little Girl

14 Besame Mucho

Epstein continued shopping this audition tape around and on June 4, 1962, The Beatles were signed by EMI-Parlophone comedy-record producer, George Martin, who could see the group’s potential. Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) replaced Pete Best on drums in August of ’62.

Decca Records, stung by the ridicule they received after The Beatles became the most successful music group in world history, signed The Rolling Stones on the advice of George Harrison. And John Lennon told Brian Epstein to keep away from the musical side of The Beatles.

These Hits Missed!

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Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, kids were suddenly the buyers of popular music. AM radio (which at that time was really the only kind on the airwaves) was playing lots of music aimed at kids and young adults and wherever there’s a buck to be made, some sharp promoter will come up with a way to exploit the situation. Nothing illegal, but these experiences were how kids learned to read the small print and be less trusting of grownups.

In the third grade, my allowance was 25¢ a week, and I did my best to get the most value for my two dimes and a nickel. Once, on a grocery trip with my mom, I saw a standalone cardboard bin that sold hit records at a great price: 39¢!!! What a deal!!! At that time, a legitimate 45rpm single by Elvis or Chuck Berry might cost 79¢ or more.

So I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes and the next time I went to the store with mom, I bought the record.

Yeesh. I hadn’t counted on the hit song being performed by a studio band that wasn’t even close to what I was used to hearing:
Wake Up, Little Susie/Silhouettes by two unknown Tops Records bands, 1958:

That first track didn’t sound quite like The Everly Brothers and as for the second, it wasn’t even close to the version by The Rays or The Diamonds. What a burner for me, huh?

Nowadays, though, it’s kind of fun to search out some of these tacky cover versions. They range from lackluster to lame to absolutely rank. But the purpose was to get the pennies out of a kid’s pocket and into the cash register and I suppose that was one way to make a living playing music. The musicians and vocalists seldom got credit on the records, but they probably preferred it that way!

Here a Jailhouse Rock cover by Jimmy Helms from 1957 from one of those cheapo records; he doesn’t manage to get his phrasing of the lyrics in alignment with Elvis’, so he just drops lyrics here and there:

When The Beatles came out, there were a slough of fake Beatle records out there. Woe to the kid who, like me, lived in a small town and asked his mom to pick up a Beatles record when she was going to the big city for the day. That unfortunate kid might be surprised by something like this:

I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Doodles, 1964:

Or even this:


I Want to Hold your Hand, by The Buggs, 1964:

It happened to me more than once, and I learned not to ask my mom to purchase records for me anymore.

The Monkees Were Cool Then and Still Are Today!

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Many folks in the late 1960s slammed the Monkees because the band was formed for a TV show, obviously patterned after the Hard Day’s Night-era Beatles. They were snidely called The Pre-Fab Four and worse. Be that as it may, I loved the songs they did, even though studio musicians played the instruments on their first couple of albums.

Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith

I can remember on my 15th birthday, Saturday, January 14, 1967, getting my dad to accompany me as I drove, on my learner’s permit, to a music store in Marathon, Florida, where we then lived.

I spent my hard-earned $12 on the first two Monkees singles (Last Train to Clarksville/Take a Giant Step and I’m a Believer/(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone and albums (The Monkees and More of the Monkees). I even had enough left over to buy my first guitar capo; one of those stretchy elastic ones.

I was so excited that I accidentally locked the keys in the car and my dad had to break one of the the little side-vent windows that cars had back in those days to get us back in.

Of course, I spent the next few weeks sitting on the side of my bed trying to learn to play the songs on my Silvertone guitar and never getting close.

It wasn’t long before the Monkees (Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork) asserted themselves and began writing and playing the music on their TV show and records. When they toured in 1967, they got Jimi Hendrix to be their opening act, at least for a couple of weeks before he bailed, and when they made a movie, called Head, they had Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson assist. So these young men weren’t as uncool as some insisted. They were fun, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously.

One major thing they had going for them on their show was a great-looking car, based on a ’66 Pontiac GTO, called the Monkeemobile:

After the show ended in 1968, the group fractured as far as playing live was concerned. Mike Nesmith’s mom, Bette Nesmith Graham, had made a fortune after inventing the typewriter-correction fluid Liquid Paper or White Out, and he had no financial incentive to join Dolenz, Jones and Turk (real name Peter Thorkelson) on tours. Last February, at age 66, Davy Jones died of a heart attack.

Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz

Strangely enough, after getting together at a tribute show to honor Jones, the three remaining Monkees decided to do a full-blown tour, and they’ve done it in style. Rather than try to sing the hit song most associated with Davy Jones (Daydream Believer), they’ve chosen to ask an audience member to come on stage and sing the lead vocal. There are several videos on YouTube of the various folks doing this; here are a couple:

From a concert in Cupertino, California; these two young ladies do what I consider a great job:

Here’s a rehearsal concert in Escondido, California, with audience member Mike Ackerman filling in for Davy; he does fine:

It’s a nice, fitting and fun idea and even though some of the audience members sing wildly off-key, one has to respect their courage to get up on stage in front of thousands and have a go.

So The Monkees are still making music and having fun, and that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

The Times They Are A-Changin’

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Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

The Skipper

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As long as I’m talking about Nashville buddies who have wonderful blogs, allow me to introduce you to Skip Adams!

Skip Adams and I go waaaaay back. When I first moved to Naples, Florida, back in mid-1960s, I ran into Skip– literally, with my Corvair into the back of his car– and he was kind enough to forgive me. With his brother, Danny, we played some gigs with me trying to alter my nasty old Silvertone electric guitar to play like an electric bass. Nobody in Naples could play guitar like Skip, and that caused a lot of resentment.

One time, I traded Danny something or other for a little motorbike, which I tried to keep a secret from my mom. When Mom found out, she went roaring over to the Adams’ house, spitting fire and planning to tell Skip and Danny’s mom a thing or two about the hooligan kids she had raised and how they were a bad influence on her little angel. Millie Adams became my mom’s best friend and they became even closer when my father passed away in Skip’s and my senior year in high school. They were a pair, those two, and set Naples on its ear! Skip and I played around in various band formats when he had to time to class up whatever I was trying to promote; high-school hops, country-club gigs, whatever.

After high school, Skip stayed with his music and in a big way. In addition to his film and television credits as an editor, sound supervisor and music supervisor, Skip is also a songwriter, musician, record producer and music publisher with several top-ten records worldwide to his credit. Dave Mason, Survivor and Sam Harris are among those who have recorded his songs. He currently makes his home in the Nashville, Tennessee area; he was based in LA before that, where he owned and operated a successful studio. He’s worked on over 40 TV shows or movies, including The Wonder Years, Dawson Creek, and LA Law, and was nominated for at least one Emmy.

A few years ago we all gathered in Naples for our high-school reunion, and had the happy idea of playing acoustic music together one night at a Class of 1970 barbecue and then playing a few electric sets at the reunion dinner. With Jeff Gargiulo as band director, alternating lead guitar with Skip, we rocked the joint to the point that folks not associated with the reunion stopped me on breaks to ask if we were for hire for other occasions down there! I played rhythm guitar on my old Mosrite electric and just tried to keep up. Another NHS rocker, Skip Reznor, played the keys, Mike Threlkeld was on violin, and Nick Koch came in on drums toward the end of the evening, giving the Miami session player Jeff had arranged for us a rest. We may have grayed up a bit, but we had ’em all on the floor dancing and laughing and that’s what it’s all about.

I’d expected Skip to have grown musicially in the 40 years since I had heard him, but I was unprepared for what he came up with. It was so soulful, tuneful and advanced from what other guitar players I knew were doing that I was shocked. But Skip has always shocked people; he can’t help it. He zigs when the rest of us are trying to figure out how to zag. In his hands, which had always been more than capable, his guitar sang out clear, focused and elegant melodies that no one else could have come up with.

Jim, Skip and Jeff; still rocking after all those years . . .

Please check out his blog, which traces the creative and songwriting process:

http://blogadams.com/

Delta

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My great friend from Nashville, John Beasley, created an amazing blog that takes you on a tour of blues-related sites in the Mississippi Delta.

Beaz knows whereof he speaks. He’s a talented singer and player, and makes the best margaritas you can imagine. He can do anything in the world except teach me how to play Deep River Blues as well as he does.

You will enjoy the trip through the Delta with Beaz as your guide; that I guarantee.

The photos shown were taken by the Beaz and show the outside neon sign and stage at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The Ry Cooder/Steve Vai Crossroads Guitar Duel

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A wonderful 1986 Walter Hill film, Crossroads explores the relationship between a Julliard-trained college boy who loves the blues (Lightnin’ Boy, played by Ralph Macchio) and Willie Brown (played by Joe Seneca, who shared a birthday with yours truly).

The plot is that Willie, like his friend and mentor, the blues legend Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the Devil– at a crossroads, of course– in order to be the best harp player in the world. Lightnin’ Boy will try to save Willie’s soul (and his own) by winning a haircutting guitar duel with the Devil’s guitar player, Jack Butler, played by the astonishing Steve Vai.

Here’s the duel, which is actually played by Steve Vai with Ry Cooder playing Macchio’s part, or at least the bottleneck portion of it. I’ve heard so many conflicting stories about who played exactly what in this sequence that I don’t believe anyone except Cooder and Vai and maybe the film/sound editor knows for sure!

Macchio’s hands are obviously sped up in the Peganini’s Caprice #24 section but he does a rather nice job of mimicking the actual hand positions. He was coached by Arlen Roth, who has a ton of great instructional materials available on many aspects of the guitar. The harp playing in this clip is by blues great Sonny Terry, whom I was lucky enough to meet in Tampa one night in 1972.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6nbos_crossroads-the-guitar-duel_shortfilms

Macchio’s “playing” a ’70s maple-necked Telecaster (either an American Standard or a Japanese Squier; no skunk-stripe on the back of the neck) in this, while Vai “plays” a red variant of his trademark Jackson whammy-barred specials. Most folks say Vai played his portion of the actual duel on his heavily customized “Green Meanie” Charvel guitar in the studio.

This is, to my knowledge, the ultimate guitar-playing scene in any flick. Some ’60s albums used to be labeled, “Play it LOUD;” I recommend “Play this video FULL-SCREEN!”

And LOUD.

When Les is More . . .

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I have always been attracted to oddball guitars, and have had a bunch of them. However, the three classic electric guitars– the Fender Stratocaster, the Fender Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul– were ones I always passed up. Maybe it was because they were so frequently seen; I don’t know. These three icons of the guitar world were all developed between 1950 and 1954 and a lot of companies have either copied them outright or made their own variations of them. More on that in a second.


In the last couple of years, as I amble into my dotage, I finally gave in and got a Stratocaster (though not a Fender; more on that in a second, too!) and a Tele (made by me from various old-timey Fender parts). The Telecaster is now my favorite electric. For those of you who don’t play guitar, there’s a big difference between acoustic and electric guitars; in my mind, they are two different instruments. I started on bass, coming to guitars as I did from playing a baritone sax, and then mainly played acoustic guitars.


For some reason, guitar players develop an affliction called Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS. I try to ignore it, but seeing rows of Tolex guitar cases all over the house proves I came down with GAS a long time ago. I guess I still have it, though I try to keep it in check.

My latest GAS object of desire is a Les Paul, but not just any old Les Paul. The one I want is a type that Gibson made for only a few years: The Fretless Wonder Black Beauty model. Its official designation is the Gibson Les Paul Custom, and it was originally made from 1954 to 1960. These originally sold for about $350 but command astonishing prices now– say $15K or so. I saw one for sale on the Net this morning for $37K. And most of the ones I’ve seen in person have been modified with taller frets. I play with a very light touch and the original flat, tiny frets would be perfect for my style of playing; most players today hate those kind of frets and have them changed to the more modern type.

Since the original Fretless Wonders are so pricey, I looked into Gibson’s “Historic” and Vintage Old Stock reissues of those guitars. Even those are past the $3K mark; I’ve seen some selling for over $7K. Yeesh!

Now Gibson Guitars realized several years ago that their prices for guitars built here in the U.S. and built using the original materials and finishes were beyond the reach of most players. And as the quality of the American-built Fenders and Gibsons declined– and they surely did when accountants controlled the companies–Tokai and a few other Japanese companies blueprinted the original classic guitars and painstakingly reproduced them by hand. Gibson and Fender both gave in and had their own Japanese contractors make guitars for them, and they are quite good. I have a Japanese Fender reissue of a 1951 Precision Bass that is a beautiful instrument. And the Stratocaster I got a year or so ago is one of the early-’80s Tokais and it is a spooky-good recreation of a two-color sunburst 1956 Strat– just like the ones Buddy Holly used to such good purpose.

So I looked at the Tokai versions of the 1950s Les Paul Customs. They’re beautiful and exact copies of the Gibson Les Paul model I want, but even those are selling now for over well over $2K. And, being a crazy GAS-afflicted guitar player, I wouldn’t be satisfied unless the Les Paul I got was one of the tiny-fretted, fat-necked gloss-black nitrocellulose-lacquer-finished Les Pauls! Really!!!

So to heck with it. No Les for me. As I struggle to find a permanent day job in this frustrating economy it makes no sense to throw that kind of money at a guitar. Besides, Patty has learned to count those hardshell Tolex guitar cases and I am scared of her. But can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have a black Les Paul ’58 Custom that matches Murphy, my Boston terrier?!?!?!

Les Paul presents Paul McCartney with a custom lefty Les Paul.

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