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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.

Music Really Does Makes the World a Better Place

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I heard of Jackie Guthrie’s passing yesterday when Rip Tragle, a friend of the Guthrie family and a member of the Shorpy community, posted this lovely photo he took at Jackie and Arlo’s wedding, back in 1969:

I didn’t want to post the image here without Rip’s kind permission, but he granted that just now and I’m pleased and honored that he did.

The title of this blog entry is from a series of bumper stickers that my old friend John Pearse used to give away when someone bought his guitar strings or accessories. Lord knows I bought a bunch of both, and once even bought a high-end Martin guitar from John, but the sticker he created is what’s on my mind today and John may have had the Guthrie family in mind when he wrote it. It seems to be very apt when considering the passing of Arlo Guthrie’s wife, Jackie. They were married for over 43 years.

The Guthrie family has consistently used music as a way to make the world in which they found themselves a more human, more kindly place.

What they had to say may not have always been politically correct, and I may not have agreed with every position the various members of the Guthrie family took, but no one could say that they didn’t do more than their share to help others find happiness and peace.

Woody Guthrie’s famous statement, placed prominently on his guitars, remains a touchstone for why many people picked up the instrument in the first place. Woody’s musical and philosphical DNA has spread over much of the world and many folks may not even be aware of it. But they owe him.

Arlo came into most of our lives through his wise and witty 1967 song, Alice’s Restaurant, properly titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, and that song was a breakthrough on many levels. It was funny, fact-based and a fingerpicker’s joy. So infectious and joyful was his playful delivery that it may have masked the more serious message of his words: Official America can sometimes be a blind lumbering beast that can step on people unless someone shouts a warning.

I recall playing that record for my dad, who had no taste or interest in music and was an outspoken opponent of the “hippy” movement or anything that smacked of a lack of respect for authority. Dad tried hard not to laugh as the song progressed but at the mention of “mother stabbers and father rapers” he surrendered and enjoyed himself and the song. I couldn’t believe it. Dad had let his short hair down, if just for the duration of a song!

So today we remember the Guthries and all they have meant to us. For those of you who haven’t listened to the music and message of the Guthries– Woody, Arlo and his and Jackie’s children Abe, Sarah Lee, Cathy and Annie– I encourage you to please take the time to do so. And here’s Arlo’s website: http://www.arlo.net/

Their world is our world and it’s a wonderful place to be.

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