Archive for February, 2013
During the recording of the last album, “Querida“, I recovered and used an old ‘friend,’ the Fender Telecaster guitar to try some ‘cues‘ on the title track. It always surprises me what a set of new strings can do for a guitar. It had been a few years since I have played the guitar (forsaking it for work with the Native American-style flute), so I wasn’t altogether confident about laying down tracks with it. But the results became my favorite, and title track at the last minute before going to press with the album.
“Project: Beneath the Mask”
Musical Equipment Notes
This time, as I return to the studio on a project with the working title, “Beneath the Mask,” I am consciously bringing the guitars with me. At the time of this writing, I am working on the first track, and have brought a wonderful sassafras flute in low A made by Leonard McGann of Lone Crow Flutes. I was dosing-off one night and heard in my mind’s ear the flute having a musical conversation with an electric guitar. The guitar licks were thick and smooth – thicker than the Telecaster might make. So I went for the Stratocaster — an American-made Texas Special with a double-coil pickup in the bridge position.
This particular guitar has been set-up by excellent luthier, Paul Stebner of Guitar Remedy in Orange County, California. Paul has done a lot of inspired work for me over the years. I found that usually, stock guitars require that work to play well, especially when purchased new from a retail store. Typically the necks are not set-up with the strings close enough for me, the intonation is not perfect, and the frets are rough and chunky.
I purchased this particular guitar at Guitar Center a dozen or so years ago. I can remember grabbing one like it off of the wall of guitars and plugging it in to a VOX AC30 amplifier. I loved the look of the guitar — the ash grain of the body showing through the red sunburst finish. But – it sounded just OK.
I put it down and went out and looked on the wall and there was another, just like it. I brought it into the practice room and plugged this one in. It was better, but I needed something else — something more — something to really justify the purchase.
Almost disappointed, I went out to look at the wall a third time, and way in the back of the store, I thought that I saw another Stratocaster like the first two. That’s a little unusual, even for Guitar Center. So, for the third time, I plugged a guitar into the AC30. “Oh, My!” I said to myself. “It sounds like chimes!” I couldn’t believe my ears.
I turned the guitar over to look at the finish on the back of the guitar; It was deeply scratched, perhaps by some customer who really wanted to rock-out while wearing an over-sized belt buckle.
The sales guy said, “That’s OK. Go ahead and buy it, and we’ll have another one shipped to you.”
I said, “No way! I’ll take this one — even though it has been mauled.”
We concluded the typical Guitar Center crapola deal by arguing whether or not Fender includes a case at no extra charge, and whether the dings would be discounted. True-to-form, they wouldn’t budge until I produced the Fender catalog that clearly showed the instrument shiped case-included.
Paul half-surprised me by saying, “this is the best neck that I have ever seen on a Fender guitar; it’s virtually perfect!”
“I know,” I said.
“And, by the way,” Paul continued, ” I was able to buff-out some of the scratches, but not all of them.”
Anyway, the instrument didn’t disappoint.
This may sound a little stupid (it does to me), because as a boy, I would have done anything to be able to afford a guitar effects pedal like a Fuzztone. I can’t tell you how many hours my friends and I would browse the now-gone, iconic Ace Music in Santa Monica. The two brother-owners, Hank and Jack were patient with us, knowing we had little money to spend. But I guess they instinctively knew that little boys do find ways to get their heart’s desire and would eventually be back with the cash — and boys become men with even more cash! And over the years, we did return – until it was gone.
Nowadays, I do my browsing on-line; I don’t have the desire to argue at Guitar Center, and TrueTone Music in Santa Monica is not (unfortunately) convenient.
I was browsing zzounds.com to replace a defunct 20 year-old MXR Dynacomp Compressor and remembered, “I used to have a bunch of pedals … I wonder if they survived the move from California?” I went to the storage locker and found the old pedals – cobwebs inside of the cases and a patina of age on the surfaces. I checked the 9 volt batteries; surprisingly there was no leakage or corrosion and the Blues Driver battery still worked! So I arranged the effects to start this project:
The result? I plugged-in the ‘Strat,’ tuned it, queued-up a rhythm track and hoped for the best:
Notes on the “Why”
I have adopted a habit of pondering the why’s of what I do. The how’s do not seem as important any more. I think that dragging-out the guitar and effects pedals again repairs some of the threads of time in the fabric of my life. My childhood musician friends are mostly gone. My father, who was at once an obstacle and enabler of my musical pastimes is long-gone.
These guitar riffs seem to penetrate the fog of time and reconnect me to whom and what I once held dear. I don’t fight it; I embrace it. I let my heart break. And in doing so, the music oozes out like sap from a cut pine branch.
Notwithstanding the vaulting emotion of the last paragraph, I have just hung-up the telephone with my Mother who has informed me,
“You know why you started to play the guitar, don’t you? It was because of me! Your father and I bought matching souvenir guitars on a trip to Mexico, and your father had the bridge replaced at Wallach’s Music City (Sunset and Vine) so that I could play it.
You took the guitar away from your own mother as I was playing scales one day saying that I ‘was so tone-deaf that you couldn’t stand it any more!'”
Mother is right. If I hadn’t commandeered that guitar, I am sure that I would have even more ‘issues’ than I do today. She played much worse than she sings — and sources close to her would suggest that she sings like the character Lili Von Shtupp (played by Madeline Kahn) in Mel Brooks‘ feature film, “Blazing Saddles!”
Project: “Querida“ (Una Persona Amada)
Trusting the Muse
There is a scene in the re-imagined “Battlestar Gallactica” series (2004 – 2009) in which the Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace character (played by Katee Sackhoff) sits at a piano bench with a disheveled composer as she spars with him about the worth of an emerging composition. The man at the piano turns to it and bolsters himself by saying something like, ‘trust that the music will come.’
I think that I feel something similar at the end of every project as I step up to the ‘void’ in an attempt to perceive whether anything musical appears. I don’t worry anymore — I just trust that it will.
I can’t mention Battlestar Gallactica without paying respect to the music of Bear McCreary, whose score haunts me (in a good way). Bear’s ‘cues’ make a great series superb, and vocalist Raya Yarbrough is breathtaking as she sings in what may be Sanskrit.
Remembering Monte Zucker … Again.
Anyway, as I return to the studio for another album that features the Native American-style flute with some orchestrated accompaniment, I find myself thinking again of my late photographic mentor, Monte Zucker. I am not alone in this pass-time. Most of the people who met Monte mention him as often as possible. I am just one of the more recent devotees. Great photographers like Clay Blackmore, Hanson Fong, Robert Lino, Joe Bruch and Michele Gauger have much more time-in-grade in their affection for Monte.
One of the highlights of the second half of my life was studying location photography with Monte in the Yucatan. I don’t think that in the hours outside the photographic intensive that we ever talked about photography. We would joke and chat about love and relationships and the things that we found important at the time.
Finding a Distant Sweetness
So, as I remember Monte with affection, the music turns sweet and perhaps a little exotic. In Scottsdale (the last time I saw him), he was soon about to learn that he was dying of pancreatic cancer. I thought something was wrong – he seemed tired and swollen. But all he could talk about was being in love! And love runs through the tracks of this album.
The album art for “Querida” is an image that I made in the Yucatan with Monte and my friend and photographic master, Michele Gauger:
Embracing Instruments Formerly-used
Hejaz Scale Flute
Like many people who play the Native American-style flute (or guitars for that matter), I have inadvertently become a sort of collector of the instruments. After obtaining a number of must-have items, we look for something perhaps more exotic or unique.
When it comes to flutes, if I want exotic, I turn to Russ Venable. In this album, for the track “Ana Bahibbik,” I used one of his maple flutes tuned to a Mid-Eastern, or Freygish scale. I may be altering reality as I look to the Mid-East through decidedly Western eyes, but to me the track reminds me of warm nights, urgent love and belly dancers. The result was a lot of fun to produce:
Adding the Electric Guitar
Growing up, my friends and I could think of nothing more important than owning a Gibson ES-335 guitar. It wasn’t quite as cool as Chuck Berry’s ES-345 stereo guitar, but it was just as unapproachable. We scoured the pawn shops in Los Angeles on the improbable chance of finding one, but in the end would have to settle for something less dear.
When I was older and more flush, I got my ES-335 and loved it for a few years, but I found that by that time, my guitar-playing style was served well by a Fender Stratocaster and later, the Fender Telecaster. I wasn’t particularly looking for country twang, but a chain of events including befriending a guitar virtuoso from Tennessee and filling-in on a country music bandstand for a vacationing Oklahoman lead guitarist sent me down a road that led to Fender if not more.
I haven’t guitar played steadily for years — a psychological disorder that I acquired after dodging beer bottles thrown at the stage and being jumped in the parking lot after several gigs manifested itself in an aversion to holding the instrument for more than a few minutes. It is probably the reason that I gravitated so quickly to the Native American-style flute for my musical outlet. Flute aficionados in my experience tend to be a bit more docile than country music fans. But those quizzical memories are fading now, so this week, I went over to a friend’s who was keeping an American Fender Nashville B-Bender guitar for me to retrieve it and to see if I could still make it ‘sing.’
I used this pretty baby for the album on the track, “Querida.” For the track, I ran the guitar through a Roland preamp on a very clean setting. I was surprised how tasty the guitar sounded — it needed very little post-processing and appears on the track with a little echo and reverb, but little else in the way of signal conditioning. The guitar can also be heard as I make a few rhythm flourishes after the solo. On the track, an F# Native American-style flute made by Colyn Petersen has a dialog with the ‘Tele.’
All-in-all, the “Querida” album, along with the last (“In Another World”) have been made during a period of rest and relaxation. The music to me presents itself with more hope mixed in with longing than an album such as “Seeking Balance,” which is filled with plaintive flute calls that ask musical ‘questions’ without waiting for or expecting the answers.
I plan to release “Querida” on February 14, 2013.
1. Cezannesque – Fm Black Walnut Flute by JP Gomez, Vocal by Neysa (with special thanks).
2. Princessa – Low Dm Lacewood Flute by Geoffrey Ellis.
3. Drift Away – “Deep Blue C” Diatonic Scale Flute by Steven DeRuby, Low Dm Flute by JP Gomez.
4. Opaline – Fm Black Walnut Flute by JP Gomez.
5. Rondo – Gm Blue Ponderosa Pine Flute by JP Gomez.
6. Cisne – Low D Flute by JP Gomez.
7. La Huera – “Deep Blue C” Flute by Steven DeRuby
8. Ana Bahibbik – E Mid-East Scale Flute by Russ Venable.
9. Cantinela -“Deep Blue C” Flute by Steven DeRuby.
10. Ruby’s Love – F# Babinga Flute by John Stillwell.
11. Twilight in Tulum – Generic Pan Flute, “Deep Blue C” Flute by Steven DeRuby, Conch Shell by Peruvian Shaman, Don Francisco.
12. Cita – F# Yellow Cedar Flute by Colyn Petersen.
13. Querida – F#m Yellow Cedar Flute by Colyn Petersen. Fender Nashville B-Bender Telecaster Guitar. Vocals, Bill Leyden.