Go Bengals!

Ok, a quick update.  The Cincinnati show was at the 20th Century Theater.  When we first started playing the room sounded cavernous.  There was a ton of echo in the room that made it hard to hear what was going on on stage, but after a couple songs it settled down and I could hear.

The energy from the crowd was awesome and fueled two of the smoothest sets we’ve ever played.  The transitions between songs were amazing.

Afterward we went to Habits, a bar across the street from the theater.  We had some fun hanging with the locals, and I had a couple of friends up from Athens, OH who were there and we all had a great time!

Rachel Bischoff is our guitar/bass tech and she had changed the strings on the Languedoc for me and polished it as well.  The thing looks beautiful!  Thanks Rachel!

I have more to write about, but not now.  I have thoughts about how quickly the time is going by and how this blog is helping to keep it all straight in my memory.  I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Now it’s time for a little nap before our show.  Today’s question:  If you could make a new career for yourself out of one of your hobbies, which hobby would you pick?

Madcago?

Ok, show summaries:

Chicago:  Awesome.

Madison:  Awesome.

I love Chicago.  I’ve only been there a handful of times, but each time I’m so taken with the vibe of that city.

Mike’s wife and eleven month old daughter came to town, and in the afternoon, I got to hang with them.  I was crawling on the floor playing with the baby.  I love that!  After sound check, I got to babysit for a little while.

The venue, Park West, is one of my favorites.  It’s spacious inside, and dark, but it’s carpeted, the stage is nice, and the room has great sound.  Last year when we were here, we did the Variety Show with a script and a bunch of circus acts intermingled into our set.  Not this year.

We’ve been doing two sets the past few shows because there’s been no opening act, but we’ve now decided that two sets is the way to go, even if there is an opening act.  That works for me.  I like playing longer, and the break in between is a nice way to regroup, or correct sound issues or whatever.

Afterward a bunch of us went to The Kingston Mines, a great blues club.  There were two bands playing, alternating in each of the two rooms.  One band was ok, not really playing blues at all, but the other band was one I’d seen there before, and they SLAY the blues!  They had such great grooves and great sounds.

Bus call was 3 a.m. and we were still late, getting back to the bus after 3:30.  Oh well.  Fun was had.

Madison is also a very cool place.  In the afternoon, I walked around a little and went to a coffee shop and caught up on some phone calls.  It was a gorgeous day (rain seems to be following us this tour for some reason) and it was nice to sit outside in the sun.  After the coffee place closed, I went to a little park and sat on a bench for a while.  It was nice and relaxing.

After sound check I went to the hotel for a shower and by the time I got back, I had missed my dinner opportunity.  A few people were headed to a party nearby so I tagged along hoping there was food and I was lucky enough to be fed by some very nice people there.  There followed a rousing conversation about some game called Oregon Trail.  We had  been discussing  the pronunciation of “Oregon” and they started talking about this.  I’d never heard of it, but they all had played in school even though they were all from different places.  Interesting.

We had a very interesting show, especially first set.  There were lots of little mistakes, and even a couple of train wrecks, but there were also some magical, deep jams.  Second set was also cool with some surprise tunes emerging out of the jams.  Mike pulled out an Express Yourself, a tune that Mike and I had learned for Costa Rica but that this band had rarely rehearsed.  Even with no rehearsal, it was one of the best versions ever.

I sang three songs last night.  It’s rare for me to sing that much.  Usually I do one a set, maybe.  We did Willow Tree.   The band is doing a great job with that one.  We did Talking Heads’ Cities second set as well.  It was a real crowd pleaser.

Today’s topic is soloing.  A guitar solo is like an empty canvas, to some extent.  Or maybe it’s a canvas that someone has put all the background paint on, leaving you to do the foreground stuff.  Or maybe it’s like painting the Mona Lisa but putting some else’s face on it.  Or maybe…

Which approach to take for any given solo is dependent on a variety of factors.  For example, if you have a single verse to solo over, you’re going to take a different approach than if you had an unlimited number of verses to solo over.

The idea is to start somewhere and end up somewhere.  A great place to start is the melody of the song.  If I have a single verse to work with, sometimes that’s what I do:  play the exact melody of the song.  This is very effective for ballads because the melody already has emotion built into it, and then you can tweak the emotion by adding a little vibrato, or by bending up to one of the notes, or by harmonizing a line.

If the solo can stretch out, the melody is still a good place to start.  Each subsequent verse can alter the melody, or embellish it, or vary it in some way, until maybe by the last verse the melody has been done away with altogether and the solo ends up in totally uncharted territory.

In some cases, the solo might be over some new progression that has nothing to do with the verse or chorus progressions.  In this case, a good approach is to create a melody for that section.  Sometimes this can be done in reverse where the beginning of the solo starts with varying, unrepetative lines, but by the end, some simple repeating melody has been created.

When I’m creating melodies for solos, there are a bunch of tricks that I use.  Sometimes, I create a melody by using a melody from a different song.  It could be a song that we’ve already played, or one further down in the list (foreshadowing), or it could be from some song not on the list.  It could be from ANY song really.  A variation of this trick is to use a melody from a song, but only use one aspect of it, for example, using the rhythm of a TV show theme song, but with different notes.  Or using the notes of a song but with a different rhythm.

In most cases, simple is better.  People relate to simple.  I can play these blindingly fast licks for an hour, but it’s when I hang on one note for a full minute that gets people going.  Similarly, repeating a simple melody over and over also gets people going.

I think when people watch live music, they are putting themselves in the musician’s place.  That’s why simple works.  When they see someone hanging on one note for a long time, or the playing the simplest melody repeatedly for ten minutes, they think, “Oh, I can do that,” and they relate to the music.

There’s a Mike original we do, Only A Dream, and the guitar solo is near the end and it’s over a progression that’s not part of the verse or chorus, and it’s a weird progression.  The song is pretty fast with a lot of fast notes and frenetic energy.  I’ve been struggling to come up with interesting solos over this.

Finally last night I realized that I was getting lost in the frenetic energy of it all, and I took a step back and said to myself, “I’m going to find simple melodies in here.”  I started playing long single note melodies repeatedly over the frenzied progression and I found these long tones weaving through the chaos.  It kind of felt like being in a calm boat on rough waters.  I was riding over the top of it all.  Eventually, I brought it to a level close to where everyone else was, playing frantically, but because I had started simply, the effect of the fast notes was emphasized, and the solo had become a cohesive statement rather than a bunch of fast notes lost in a sea of fast notes.

After the show last night, we went to a club a couple of doors down where a Phish cover band was playing.  Pretty funny.  The club was packed and Mike got mobbed in there.

We have a day off in Cincinnati today, and a show here tomorrow.  The Steelers are playing the Bengals in town today, and at the hotel bar, there were shirts representing both teams.  I think there’s some music going on in the neighborhood tonight as well.

Today’s question is:  What song is in your head this very minute?

Not catching up just yet…

So, yeah, I’m way behind.  I know.  I was totally under the weather the past few days and was sleeping chance I could.

Quickly, the Memphis show was cool.  It was in a very large place, and at first, it was totally empty and we were concerned about it being cavernous, but it filled up pretty quick, and they had used temporary walls to reduce the size of the room.  It ended up being a great show!

Nashville has always been one of my favorite cities.  The strip of honky tonks downtown is a great place to see amazing musicians just about any time.  Mike and I walked the strip before the  show and had fun having lunch with my friend Jeff Pitchell who we ran into on the street.

We had two guests at the show that night.  Guthrie was a Nashville guitarist who is friends with Jeff Belote (the drummer from the 2003 Inide In tour) and he was crazy good!  With him we played White Freightliner and Swamp Music.

Then we had a surprise visit from Tara Nevins as well, and she came up second set to sing Peggy-O with us.  Wow.

We had a day off in Indianapolis, and Mike and I went to see some music and I think we were the only two people in there who weren’t in one of the bands.  Anyway, one of the bands took us to the neighborhood where our Vogue show was going to be the following night.  Cool neighborhood!  We went to a hookah bar, and we actually ordered a hookah.  I took quite a few puffs off of it, but didn’t run out for a pack of Marlboro the next day.  Whew.

The show at the Vogue was awesome!  The crowd was totally into it, and we had one of the girls from the band the night before come up and sing a really vibey version of the Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand.  We had watched a Daniel Lanois documentary the night before, or two nights before, and this girl’s version was slow, spacey, yet powerful, and we were all in that zone.  It was a highlight.

It was also Tom Cleary (keyboards)’s birthday and we surprised him on stage with a cake and a gift later on.  Fun!!

Ok.  I know these are quick updates and not as detailed as the prior entries.  I’m going to get back to more regular blogging after this, but I’m thinking of changing the flavor a little bit.  We’ll see.

Anyway.  I’m back and no longer under the weather.

We are about to go on and play one of my favorite rooms, Park West in Chicago.  I love this town!  I love this room!

More later…

A Lot Of Rich People…

… in Birmingham!  Wow.  We had a great show there!  Oteil and Jess were there, which was awesome and intimidating at the same time.

Mike had asked me a couple days prior if there was anything about the band I would change.  I came to him a couple days later and said I’d like to see more dynamics (volume changes) in the music.

So prior to the show, we did a couple of jam exercises (we do these often) that revolved around dynamics.  First, we played Follow The Leader, where one member would control the volume of the band.  And then finally, we did an “eyes closed” exercise where we all followed the natural dynamics of the jam.

This made a huge difference in the way the jams and solos went.  I’d venture to say that during the first set we almost overdid it.  (Or maybe we were nervous with Oteil leaning over the rail listening attentively.)

But second set was amazing.  It had everything.  We got loud, we got soft.  We were complicated, then simple.  It was one of my favorite sets so far.

On the bus the night before, we worked out vocal harmonies to Gillian Welch’s Time The Relevator, and we spent the break running the vocals over and over.  So when we opened the second set with it, it was totally under our belts, and it was deep.  The vocals were gorgeous and the jams went way in and way out at the same time.

Afterward, we hung out at the club drinking with some locals, and then started the drive to Memphis.

Yesterday, we had a day off in Memphis.  I’ve never been here before and this was one of the one’s I was looking forward to.

Memphis is on the Mississippi River, and I’m told that it used to be a stop on the way from the deep south to Chicago.  As a result, there are a ton of blues clubs in town.  There is one street, Beale Street, that is like a mini New Orleans where they close off the ends of the street, and you can walk from bar to bar with your drink.  We saw a couple of bands (it was really dead down there last night) and ate some good barbeque.

Tonight we play Minglewood Hall.  It’s a nice room with a very large stage and large sound absorbant curtains hanging in the back.  Rachel bought an oriental rug for my side of the stage which also helps too.  Sound check sounded great in there, and the room was empty.  It only gets better with people in the room.

Today’s question:  What cover song would you like to see our band perform?  We’re always looking for interesting material.  Oh, and we started learning another of my originals today.  Of course I can’t tell you which one!!!!

Freebird!

Freebird Live actually.  We had another great show last night.  The first set was especially good for me.  The club was small, intimate, with a small stage, and it was packed.  It was hot and humid, which I love, and we churned out rock and roll all night long.

At sound check, we learned Mike’s song, The Beltless Buckler, an interesting, almost ballad like tune from his Inside In CD, and we played it second set.

Second set was LOUD last night.  (What?)  I have this technique of closing up my ears that I use when I play.  You know that feeling when you yawn and your ears pop open?  I can do the opposite and close them up.  I use this quite a bit because when things get too loud, I can’t distinguish pitch, and it makes it very hard to sing.  So, if you see me grab my nose right before I sing, I’m probably closing up my ears!

So yes, it was a loud rock and roll show last night to be sure!

Before the show, Mike and I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, and I met up with my very old friend, Carrie, who my song Carrie was written about.

Afterward, we met the owner of the club, Judy, who is Ronnie Van Zandt’s widow.  She’s very sweet and appreciated that we did Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Swamp Music.

Today’s band member:  Craig Myers.  Craig is our percussionist, and he’s the youngest member of the band.  He’s got great energy and great talent.  He’s taken a number of extended trips to Africa where’s he’s lived with the musicians over there, and learned their language and culture, and learned to build and play their instruments.  He’s got a great sense of rhythm and adds a youthful energy to everything we do.  He also plays the gnoni, an West African stringed instrument that he made himself.  We play a couple of tunes written specifically for this instrument.  I love it because it’s tuned to kind of a Gm pentatonic scale, and we play songs in C with it, so it gives it a very modal feel.

There were some great answers to yesterday’s questions!  Thanks!  The correct answer for #1 was -4.  However, I think all the answers I saw were correct.

Today’s question has to do with nightly rituals.  I’ve got my bus ritual down where before I go to bed I put my glasses, cell phone, and Ian’s ipod touch in my bunk, go have a snack and a drink, then climb into the bunk and either listen to Pandora on the itouch, or watch some TV on the itouch.  My bunk has a DVD player attached to the ceiling, but I haven’t taken advantage of that yet.

Anyway, today’s question is:  what’s your last ritualistic thing you do right before bed?  Oh, come on… you can tell us!!

Oh Atlanta!

Wow.  What a great show we had last night.

Well, before I get to that, we had a day off in Atlanta on Wednesday.  We stayed at the Ritz Carlton, and we had a nice plate of fresh fruit on the desk when we checked in.  Mike, Tom and I went to lunch with Colonel Bruce Hampton Ret. at an Asian restaurant.  Bruce is hilarious.  He’s got a zillion stories.

After a nap and dinner at a little diner around the corner from the hotel, Mike and I went to a little Indian restaurant where there was a jazz jam going on, and Todd and Tom were playing.  There was a great sax player, Deji Coker Jr.

It was a nice, relaxing day off.

Yesterday, the show was at The Variety Playhouse which is in a very cool little neighborhood called Little Five Points.  We had a great dinner beforehand and a coffee from Java Lords.

There was no opening act, so we were scheduled to play two one hour sets.  The first set was an hour, and it was ripping.  We closed the set by having Bruce sit in on an old Aquarium Rescue Unit tune, Yield Not To Temptation.  Ripping.

The second set was long enough to be a whole show in itself.  Deji came and sat in on Tom’s song Nobody Home, and on our version of David Bowie’s Deranged.

The second set jams were deep and explorative.  The crowd was way into it.  Everybody was dancing.  The lights were over the top.  I’d say it was one of our better shows, maybe second best of the tour.  Great fun.

Afterward, we went to Java Lords again and hung out with Sufi (hi Sufi!) and Eli from Rubblebucket, who was also playing a couple doors down from where we were.

Today’s song is Spiral.  This is another Mike original that’s in 6/4 time.  It’s a very dreamy song, with a few dream sequence sections.  It starts out with a verse progression based on his bass line, and has a dreamy vocal line atop kind of a complicated bass line.  Then there’s a little instrument dream section that segues into the chorus, which is in a key that sounds completely unrelated, even though it is.  It makes it very hard to find the first note of my harmony.

The second verse is pretty much like the first, and the second chorus starts right away with no dreamy segue, but after the second chorus, we head into a jam that’s loosely based on an F to G progression.  The jam is supposed to be dreamy and lasts for a while until on queue, we head into some diminished chords which segue us back into a verse.  Coming into the verse happens so out of the blue and unexpectedly that it’s very hard to get our bearings.  This last verse has harmony too, so I have to find my note and rhythm on the spot.

After the last verse, we head into the last chorus which is like the others except that my harmony lines answer Mike’s lines, kind of like a round.  I have to modify the harmony a little bit to stay in tune with what Mike’s line is.

After the last chorus, there’s a big drum fill and we go into this guitar melody that’s very powerful.  We repeat it a couple times, jam on it a little, and come back to it for a big ending.

I love this tune.  I love the dreamy quality of it.  The harmonies are beautiful, and the lyrics are creative and flowing.  The jam lends itself to go to some interesting places, and the whole tune is very conducive to some trippy lights.

Today’s question, submitted by Mark, our FOH engineer, is: what’s 4-18?  And part 2 of the question is: How do you turn a negative into a positive?

Asheville Cats

Well, after a very nice Mexican dinner, we went BACK to the chocolate shop.  I had another liquid raspberry truffle and it was just as good as the first.  It’s kind of strange, having that kind of chocolate experience, knowing that there’s nowhere at home to get that kind of thing again.  It’s kind of sad.  ::sigh::

Anyway… after chocolate, we played our show at The Orange Peel.  I thought the show went well, but the room was very boomy sounding, surprisingly.  The room was mostly wood, and I expected a warmer sound.  The stage was wide, and I felt that we were kind of spread out.  Mike is using a stadium sized bass rig, so in one sense, it was good to be off axis and away from his bass cabs.  However, when we originally designed the stage setup, we made it so that Mike and I would be nestled in between the keyboards and percussion with the drums behind us.  I felt like we were too spread out to get that nestled feeling.

The boominess of the room made my guitar sound pretty thin.  I decided to take advantage of a modification that was done on my Vibrolux.  I bought the amp only a few months ago, and it had been modified by someone already.  There’s an extra volume control in the back, and I’m not sure how it’s wired, but it allows the amp to break up at much lower volumes.  A couple songs into the set, I turned this control up a little bit.  The result was a rounder tone that had more body within the context of all the sound in the room.

The band played great.  We really concentrated on writing a relaxing set list, and even though we veered from the list after two songs, we did play a very nice, relaxed set.  Jeff Sipe sat in with us for Walls Of Time and for Can’t Stand Still.  Jeff was with the original Aquarium Rescue Unit and now plays with Keller Williams.  He’s one of the nicest guys I know, and just kills the drums.  Amazing.

My friend Karl was there.  Karl used to see Creek back in the early 80s and lives down here now.  After the show, a bunch of us went to The Emerald Lounge for a funk jam.  They asked me up to play and I sat in on The Chicken.  Todd was on drums for that, as well as a bunch of the Rubblebucket folks.  (Rubblebucket is Craig Meyer’s main band and they opened the show.)

Then Mike showed up and they had him play what I think was a free form funk jam.  Much fun was had, playing, drinking, and chatting it up with the locals.  I saw quite a few people who I knew there, old fans and whatnot.

I thought I would create a couple of new sections to the blog, the first of which is:

Today’s song: Another Door

Another Door is one of  Mike’s originals from his Green Sparrow CD.  We use this tune as an opener quite often because it’s peppy, has a great dance groove, good harmonies, an interesting middle section, expandable guitar solo/jam, and a big ending.  It makes a great first impression.

The tune starts with an expandable introduction that has us all playing this triplet type pattern for a few bars and then we all stop for a percussion solo.  We do this repeatedly until I give the cue to start the tune, then we do an intro and right into the first verse and chorus.  The first chorus has 3 part harmonies on a couple of lines, but then the second verse has me harmonizing with Mike all the way through.  The second chorus is fully harmonized, and then we go into a composed middle section.  This section has a written lead melody that I do, which is kind of a warped “ZippityDooDah” melody, with weird extra beats in it.  While I’m doing that, Tom is playing these carnival type organ lines and Mike is doing contrapuntal lines on the bass.

After the composed middle is the guitar solo, which is more of a jam than a solo.  We jam out on a   I   IV   progression for a while and eventually, I cue us back to the introduction line and we do the third verse, in harmony, and out to a repeated chorus which turns into a keyboard solo/jam.  Then on cue, we do the ending tag.

I love this song.  It’s in Ab, which is a challenging key for the guitar, and I have a low harmony, which is also challenging.  There are a lot of words but they flow and tell a great story.  The harmony is fun because the words go by fast and because it’s fun to match Mike on the timing and inflections.  The “zippy” section is cool because it warps a very common melody and plays with your sense of time.

One of the coolest apects of touring is getting to check out some great places.  This tour is taking me to a few places I’ve never been, but always wanted to go.  Asheville is one of those places.  I’ve been hearing about it for years and always wanted to check it out.  Another is Memphis, and another is Toronto.  Today’s question is:  what city have you always wanted to check out?