Wednesday, June 7, 2017

stray notes:A treatise on some mostly white blues guitarists

Stevie Ray is no more a wanker on the blues than are/were Albert King, Guitar Shorty, Buddy Guy or Vernon Reid, Blood Ulmer, Michael Hill or Sonny Sharrock, nor was he any less inspired by the pitched, aggravated dynamics the style demanded. He could keep a solo going, he could extended the sheer reams of bent notes, shadings and feedback into reams of pure, sustained rapture, a pain that does not subside--he was easily continuing the work Hendrix started, by bringing the blues into something that was as emotionally relevant to the times he surveyed, and he kept his guitar heroics honest--one can listen to Gary Moore, for example, and be impressed and overwhelmed by the sheer velocity and speed of his technique, yet not be moved by it, but with Vaughn, the heart of his feelings found their way to his finger tips and their calluses and managed a voice out of some dark night of the soul that exclaims, in high notes and low, rolling rumbles along the bass e string, that he has survived another midnight, another patch of bad luck, another bad fuck and worse drunk to see the sun of the following day again just to live the next twenty four hours on the promise of more blues, the one thing that doesn't lie, the one set of notes in any scale and key you please that renews itself endlessly as long as there remains some capacity to feel deeply and longingly in that arena that is the province of being human alone, to find another reason to live another day. Stevie found his reason, a day at a time, with his guitar .I for one and mighty glad he was around as long as he was. The idea that race alone , by itself, independent of any other considerations, determines the profundity of an artists' emotional credibility, is dangerous non-sense: similar kinds of arguments, with a different emphasis, have dominated the thinking of white supremacists for decades. It's about feeling, pure and simple, and human feeling transcends the ugly definitions we insist on giving ourselves and each other. The ability to play blues has more to do with style than racial origin ,I believe, style being the culminated expression of a personality that reverberates through an individuals' manner and presence, their conduct in the world. The very idea of idea is that an artist has some taken a medium and stamped with the evidence of his experience: their fingerprints are on every note, brush stroke, and drift of the poet's pen. Style, I think, is the intelligence and wit that translates accumulated technique into the felt art, experience. LedZep, in fact, were the last in the wave of British blues bands that slammed American shores in the late 60s; Page's original name for the band was going to be the New Yardbirds, in fact. On that score, many critics, myself included, at the time were brutal in their accusations that Page and Plant had ripped off the format of the original Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart. In any event, Zep's starting point was American blues, as it was with an entire generation of musicians, but Zep ceased being a blues-dominated band by Led Zeppelin 3 : all kinds of influences, musical and lyrical, came to define their middle to late work, and though there would be a signature treatment of blues tune here and there, and blues roots were always apparent, Zep had become as musically diverse as were other top British groups. As with most rock and roll wonders, blues is the origin of much, if not most of their inspiration, but the point is that inspiration takes an artist to their own identities and interest, distinct from the point of inspiration. I suppose Robert Cray is morally remiss in having the Beatles as his first guitar influence, and BB King really should have kept his mouth shut about how Django influenced is single-note style, or Chuck Berry should have stayed away from those country pickers and writers from whom he gleaned something about twang and storytelling, and Kevin Eubanks should purge himself of the John McLaughlinisms that pepper his solos. Wouldn't our listening habits be so much better if Hendrix had never seen/heard the Who? Jefferson Airplane, in their best work, more than most think, sound as edgy and quirky and ahead-of-the-curve as they did back in the 60's. Jorma is a unique guitarist whose style is quite adventurous, and it has the added virtue of being distinct--unlike today's schooled technicians who might have been popped out of the same mold, his electrified folk-blues-raga improvisation and chord are instantly recognizable as coming from only musician. The same cannot be said of many other rock and roll guitarists. For the rest, the albums I mentioned already sustain interest and are very listenable today, especially to anyone interested in grinding, splintery, avant-gard rock music laced with a sense of psychedelicized paranoia that , for a time, invigorated their albums. Johnny Winter And Live is one of those rock and roll albums that will stand as everything rock guitar work ought to be: fierce, aggressive, assured, stylish, technically beyond reproach, yet full of the feeling that makes your heart with courage. "Mean Town Blues" is an absolute masterpiece of slide guitar work, where Winter extends the art form and establishes himself as it's greatest player , and the shoot out on Good Morning Little School Girl" delivers the dueling guitar epiphanies that the Clapton/Allman team fell short of with Derek and the Dominoes. 

Image result for stevie ray vaughan
And speaking of Clapton, it's my less than modest Opinion that Winter's blistering , probing slow blues on "It's My Own Fault" set a standard that took EC over two decades to match , in the Nineties, with is suddenly guitar assertive From the Cradle. Kenny Wayne Shepard has been wrecking my speakers lately. Yeah, I know, another white blues whiz kid, but this time with a difference, being that where Jonny Lang tries too damn hard to wedge a simulacra of feeling into his playing and singing -- unseasoned grunting and rasping and thinly sustained ostinatos do not make for an emotionally session -- Shepard tears it up without seeming to try. His bends and sustains cut and slap with a convincing sting, and his chops are sure and expressive, like Vaughn and Winter at their most inspired. And over him is the long shadow of Hendrix, who dosn't his shadow fall over. Also, and I insist, anyone interested what blues guitar might sound like in the next century ought to give a close listen to Michael Hill: I've been playing his Michael Hill's Blues Mob's album Have Mercy, and it cooks: an extension of the urban blues voice in the hip hop generation, his songwriting draws on Percy and Curtis Mayfield and strong gospel roots, and his guitar work is where Albert King , Buddy meet and Vernon Reid meet. Hill can tear it up with the best that comes against him. He ought to be better known. The reason Clapton has thrived , while the lamented Sharrock languished is that Clapton decided he would be a pop star with just strong blues influence, while Sharrock continued to play out of the mainstream, and off this planet. Mass audiences always go with the slicker, shinier, whiter package. The fact that Clapton is a white pop star doesn't diminish his chops as a blues guitarist, though. Nothing is that simple in this life. Unlike another white Pop Star, Sting, Clapton has mastered his instrument in the style he loves, when he actually plays the music he loves. I think Layla would have been better than that, but the real matter is my original point: Clapton is gifted collaborator, a band member who can contribute vocals, lead and harmony, tasty solos, and other ideas, in union with other band members. Layla is the proof of this. Clapton fused with Allman creatively, and the album, whatever I think of Clapton's gilded career as a purveyor of radio-friendly glop is a classic. This underscores three decades of missed opportunities for someone who is essentially a talented fellow traveler, not a leader of men, ala Hendrix. If you like the late Sharrock--what a loss!--you might like Larry Coryell's Live at the Village Gate, released in the Sixties. It's a power trio set up, bass, drums and guitar. The rhythm section is okay but unexceptional throughout, but they do leave a base for Coryell's noise making--blues bends in off-kilter passages, fleet runs, feedback extravaganzas, psychedelic mayhem. I don't know if it's currently in print, but it's worth seeking out: nascent fusion flash, inspired noise mongering.  There is a spontaneous bone in DiMeola's body: good as he is, fast as he is, he sounds mechanical whose playing is saved by some frequently exquisite writing. His solos, though, sound rote, and he bores me after a while. Vai, I think, is brilliant on many occasions, but I think of him as being the equivalent of Jose Feliciano, all flash, no substance. I know he can do better. There are many people still alive who are actually deserving of being hated. Hating Stevie Ray Vaughn for playing a Hendrix tune is a waste of a powerful emotion, and defeats the reason, I think, that Hendrix played guitar to begin with. Vaughn's rendition of "Little Wing" is beautifully done.It's a testament to Hendrix's genius that Stevie could find an identity very much his own even under a shadow as long as the Masters'. Brilliance inspires brilliance. This version of "Little Wing" is as good a take as any that Vaughn released when he was alive, and it seems to me that it would have been released, death or no. A key attraction to art is for someone to find who they are , in their search, as an artist. It's part of the process. It's a beautiful thing to listen to a musician find a voice of their own after being inspired. The Clapton version of "Little Wing" isn't my favorite version, but it was an honest one, and Clapton deserves credit for doing an arrangement decidedly un-Hendrix like. Great songs, which Hendrix wrote, survive their treatments. Holdsworth , ever since I first heard him with Tempest (with Jon Heissmann), Soft Machine (get "Bundles", if you can find it, the tune "Hazard Profile" is one of the busiest and most fluid jazz/rock improvisations of any sort), Gong ("Espresso") and Tony Williams, I've yet to come across another live guitarist who can match his constant state of inspiration, his ability to play fleet and soaring and maintain a musicality in his improvisations. He is the closest, I think, that a guitarist has come to Coltrane. "Taste" is a sensibility that a player brings to his playing, not some device; it's an intuitive ability to make a series of split second decisions about what note to play, how to play it, how many notes, how fast, how to to phrase the riffs, and so on and have what one does in that that brief window make musical sense, to create a mood, to convey an emotion. Taste, as you use it, sounds like it's a mechanical method one practices the way they would scales, or study for a driving test. It aint. Taste is that nearly indefinable something extra an artist has that sets their work apart. BB has it, Hendrix and Winter have it, Buddy Guy has in, indeed, and y es, or yeah, Clapton has it. "Taste" is a sensibility that a player brings to his playing, not some device; it's an intuitive ability to make a series of split second decisions about what note to play, how to play it, how many notes, how fast, how to to phrase the riffs, and so on and have what one does in that that brief window make musical sense, to create a mood, to convey an emotion. Taste, as you use it, sounds like it's a mechanical method one practices the way they would scales, or study for a driving test. It aint. Taste is that nearly indefinable something extra an artist has that sets their work apart. BB has it, Hendrix and Winter have it, Buddy Guy has in, indeed, and y es, or yeah, Clapton has it. Eddie Van Halen does not have it, and that's tough shit.




No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated due to spam. But commentaries, opinions and other remarks about the posts are always welcome! I apologize for the inconvenience.