October 26, 2012
Guitars and Music
American Standard, Arlen Roth, Crossroads, Crossroads movie, Crossroads poster, Devil's guitar player, Green Meanie Charvel guitar, guitar duel, Jack Butler, Japanese Squier, Joe Seneca, Lightnin' Boy, Peganini's Caprice #24, Play it LOUD, Ralph Macchio, Robert Johnson, Ry Cooder, Sonny Terry, Steve Vai, Telecaster, Walter Hill film, whammy-barred guitar
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.
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!”
October 3, 2012
Guitars and Music
Apple Records, Beatles, George Martin, James Taylor, jingle factory, Joan Sutherland, Kermit the Frog, Linda Ronstadt, music video, Randy Newman, Rider in the Rain, Ry Cooder, Tampa Theater, The Eagles, The Odeon
Hey; he said it; I didn’t!
Great clip of three of my favorites live at The Odeon in NYC in 1983: Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman and a slicked-down Ry Cooder. I have the complete performance on VHS somewhere but no way to play it.
Here’s their version of Mr. Newman’s Rider in the Rain from his Little Criminals album. On the record, he’s backed up vocally by The Eagles, who started as Ms Ronstadt’s backup band.
This clip is a great example of what I believe is a good rule for music and other things: Take the prep and practices seriously, but have fun with the performance. It’s obviously sung in a key that isn’t Mr. Cooder’s first choice, but I love what he does with it.
When Patty, her brother Billy and I saw Randy Newman at the spooky old Tampa Theater live in the 1970s, he worked solo. He is so talented and tuneful.
In George Martin’s memoirs of his days with The Beatles, he describes visiting Mr. Newman at a jingle factory in LA. He had been sent by The Fabs to recruit Newman as their first Apple Records artist. Newman turned Mr. Martin down, as writing jingles on demand was steady work and he had a family. The Beatles chose James Taylor instead for an Apple release, and he’s done pretty well!
As has Randy Newman.