Thursday, July 30, 2009

Regular Tuesday/Thursday Gig at the Wetmore Smokehouse

Well, it only took me seven months - LOL! - but I finally found the pluperfect situation for one of the two twice-weekly gigs I've wanted. Starting next Tuesday the 4th of August, I'll be performing at the historic Wetmore Smokehouse and Saloon, which was The Wetmore General Store from 1891 until the sixties sometime. That's right, it's the same building that was built in 1891, and Willie Nelson used to play there when he was young, and I mean young: Before he left Texas for Nashville! There was a railroad station there in the old days - the tracks still go by there now - and so the store and cafe were a landmark rest stop and watering hole.

Wetmore was long ago swallowed up by the ever-expanding San Antonio - when we moved to SA after dad retired from the Air Force in 1972, the deed was already done - and technically my new house is in what was once Wetmore. That's right, this gig is less than two miles from my house!

Like many opportunities like this that present themselves, personal relationships and interactions had a lot to do with it. I had a deep need for a burger and fries the other night, so I stopped in to eat. The waiter, Eric, asked if I'd been there before, and I said no. Well, the bartender yelled, "Welcome!" and I told him I'd recently bought a house in the neighborhood. Turns out the bartender was actually the General Manager, Steve Girard, and not only that, but he was two years behind me at the same high school, MacArthur, that we both graduated from! Really cool deal.

So, The Wetmore has a stage and music Fridays and Saturdays, and I asked Steve if he'd ever thought of live music for the dinner crowd. Well, one thing lead to another, I dropped of a demo CD, and he called back very into the idea. So, there you have it.

Oh, their food rocks. I had the California Burger, but the real hit was the Jalapeno Corn Bread. WOW! I won't mind eating there twice a week. I Will Play for Food! LOL!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Ax: Blackbird Rider Nylon String w/RMC Polydrive

I have been looking at this guitar and scratching my chin for quite a while. Many, many months. Blackbird Guitars kind of promotes their Rider Steel String and Rider Nylon String guitars as the ultimate in durable go-anywhere-with-no-worries travel instruments, but they also mention that, although they are small, they sound full-sized.

So, you can forgive me for thinking that the Rider Nylon was a small guitar - as in shorter than normal scale length and narrower than normal nut... but that isn't the case: The scale is the standard 650mm and the nut width is also standard at 2.0". The only thing small is the body, and since I play electric nylon string guitars - including a Parker Nylon Fly - I actually like that.

Well, as I began to look into them with more than just idle curiosity, I discovered that not just the body, but the entire guitar... is hollow! Being, as the Rider is, made of hand laid molded carbon fiber allows this. There are several advantages to a hollow neck and headstock: The entire guitar is a sound chamber, the neck isn't heavy - a heavy neck is a problem if you stand to play as I do sometimes, because the guitar's neck wants to inch down as you perform - and the rigidity of the carbon fiber means you don't need a truss rod. The guitar weighs only 3.25 pounds, which is lighter than my Nylon Fly!

The clincher for me is that the Rider Nylon is available with the same RMC Polydrive that I use in my Godin and Parker guitars. I gave up on acoustics for performing a few years ago because my concert classicals were just too valuable to schlep around, and the less expensive ones weren't as fun to play as my electrics. I do miss having an acoustic for some situations though, and this small and nearly indestructible ax could be just the ticket. So, I put a deposit down on one last night... after a few beers to work up the nerve. LOL!

Besides, it's 2009 for crying out loud: Why are we still killing trees to make guitars?

It looks funky, but it's grown on me.

Yet more Georgia, because... wait for it... here it comes... Georgia Rules.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Guantanamera - "Joseito" Fernandez

This is one of those songs I've loved since I was a boy. The version I first heard does not seem to be on YouTube, as I was living in Panama at the time, and it was on a local Spanish language Panamanian AM station that I first heard it. Probably the most familiar version to those in the US is the classic version by The Sandpipers.

However, the real classic version seems to be this original version, which Joseito played on Cuban radio.

There seems to be more than a little confusion over the provenance of this song, and the "official" lyrics are actually written by Jose Marti. You can read the whole story at the Wikipedia entry.

In any case, the music I found is of a solo piano arrangement by, of all people, Pete Seeger. I can't post it because it's still under copyright, but a Google search will reveal it to you, though it's way out of the top results, so you'll need some determination.

The only solo guitar version of this I found on YouTube is by Edgar Cruz, an acquaintance of mine - his brother Mark and I were in the same graduating class at Texas State when we got our Master of Music degrees - but Edgar takes more of a Flamenco/Rumba approach to it.

Well, I don't play that Flamenco strumming style at all, so I wanted to stay true to myself and try to get Seeger's piano version onto the guitar as much as possible, but in a key that would work well for my instrument, and with a little of what I remember of my favorite versions from years past.

The piano music was in D major, and I thought of a drop-D version, but I already have Eu So Quero Um Xodo in drop-D, and I really need a crowd pleaser in E major, which works for the guitar as well, so that's what I did.

Here's the MIDI to m4a (AAC) version I made in iTunes: Guantanamera

Our four measure introduction is just a comp figure of parallel thirds with a bass line underneath. Seeger seemed unable to transcend his inner white guy, and so the syncopations I added at the end of measures one and three are not in his version. I thought that sounded hopelessly square, so I added those.

This is an interesting song, for one reason, because it starts with a chorus, and not a verse. I tried to add as much of the background as I could - which I incorporated into the bass line - to keep the groove going, and I think it came out quite nicely, though there are some tricky moves at the end of measure six. What you have to do when you write difficult things, is to ask yourself, is the musical payoff worth the effort? I'm not entirely sure yet, and won't be until I, you know, actually learn how to play it. So, this is very much a v1.0: I only did this arrangement a couple of nights ago.

I wanted the chorus dark and brooding, so it is in a low register, and I have the seconds there at the end, which is an effect I really, really like. The anticipatory syncopations are again something I added to get a cooler, more Latin feel. For the verse that starts at thirteen, however, I moved the melody up an octave from where it is in the piano version, which allows me to put the B, C-sharp, D lick in the middle, which you often hear in the background singing, or other instruments in the various arrangements. The eighth note thirds I have in fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, and twenty were quarter notes in Seeger's version, but again, that didn't sound authentically Cuban/Latin to me, so I went with the eighths.

At the last eighth of eighteen is a low F-sharp with a seventh-fret B in the lead. This is a heck of a stretch, and another one of those things I'll have to see about. It sounds cool, but it may not be worth the effort. Keep in mind I want to perform this. LOL!

Another interesting thing about this song is that the verses end with a modified version of the second phrase of the chorus. I had to return to the lower octave with the melody here, and fortunately - much good arranging involves happy accidents - this works excellently. The verse then repeats, and is followed by another full chorus. The Dal Segno takes the piece back to the head of the verse. In performance, I'll skip the repeat the second time through, but there's no way to instruct MIDI to do that (That would be a nifty update for Encore), and I wanted to keep this on two pages for this post. So, just pretend the second repeat isn't there in the m4a.

There are several good ways to end this piece, as listening to any of the good arrangements of it will reveal, but I chose to exit with the opening vamp, since it was only heard at the beginning, and it's really cool and quintessentially Latin. Not sure when I'll get around to this arrangement, as I'm going to start on some G major pieces next week, one of which is an arrangement of Bach's Jesu that I did over two years ago!

Absolutely must have an hispanic babe for this post; with freckles, no less!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Cancion Mixteca- Jose Lopez Alaves

First the OT news: I had my first "real" gig in San Antonio yesterday, so I've broken the ice. It was for a function at the Menger Hotel, which is right next to the Alamo on ground where much of the fiercest fighting took place. For some reason, I thought that was an appropriate location for my first gig back in The Alamo City.

I didn't blog about that gig or the preparation for it because I didn't want to jinx it. It's not that I'm superstitious, you understand... I just didn't want to jinx it. LOL! Anyway, it was for a lady's organization and I played excellently, if I do say so myself, but with all of their talking, I wonder how many even heard. I had my poor little Bryston 2B-LP/Lexicon MPX-G2/Turbosound TXD-081 rig turned up to maximum, and it still wasn't quite loud enough! Those ladies could talk!!! Next time I'll have to take the Bryston 3B-NTB/Lexicon MPX-G2/Turbosound TXD-121 rig: The difference between two channels of 60 watts in stereo to two channels of 120 watts stereo is ginormous, and the Turbo 081's 8" LF drivers compared to the 121's 12" drivers is really no contest. I really was lost in that gigantic ballroom.


OK, on to the business at hand. Cancion Mixteca is one of those pieces you've heard a gazillion versions of all of your life if you live in the Southwest, even if you don't know the song's title. This version is bassed on an arrangement by Tim Sparks, but there are literally hundreds of versions of this, many of which you can check out on YouTube.

Ry Cooder's arrangement from the old film Paris, Texas is particularly nice, plus there's the added bonus of classic Nastassja Kinsky:

I didn't want anything so fancy, in fact, I wanted a more straight ahead version so that it would be instantly recognizable. For that, using Tim's simple arrangement was perfect. I changed nothing in the lead part or the form at all, but I made the accompaniment richer and more active in an effort to capture something of the vibe that a guitarron player would add to the piece.

Here is the MIDI to m4a (AAC) version of the arrangement: Cancion Mixteca

Tim just had repeated B's in the bass of his version for the first three measures, and just the skeleton of the G major chords. Though I can't come through in the MIDI to AAC conversion, I'll start this out with some moderate finger-roll strums, which is something I do a lot with my five-finger right hand technique. For the bass I just alternated the third and root of the G major triad, which is something our imaginary guittarron player might do.

After four measures of five voices, the texture reduces to four voices in measure five, and then three voices in measure six, which makes a smooth transition into the more spare texture. Here the bass is playing alternating root and fifth of the D dominant harmony, which is our bass player in action again.

In measure ten the voices are further reduced to two for the parallel tenths, and the last two beats of eleven sound like a single voice in the bass leading to the concluding dominant harmony. Note that the final phrase is five measures. This is common in this style, and it's where the singers take a dramatic long note before launching back into the tune. Knowing this kind of stuff is indispensable, because mucking about with the form in a piece like this will confuse people familiar with the song, who will want to sing or hum along, trust me.

The next phrase starting at fourteen is really nice with the high thirds and the alternating open G and D strings. G major really is the perfect guitar key for this. Note again how elastic and organic the phraseology is: From fourteen to 24 is basically a six measure phrase followed by four measure phrase. I love this kind of thing, and strive for elastic phrasing in my own writing.

The elastic phrases continue on page two, and not that the pitch climax of the piece is a very high minor sixth from F-sharp to D, which is at the tenth fret. Only in G major could this work so well, because the D and A bass notes are open strings.

Not only is the phrasing interesting, but the form is too: The opening A section never returns. Rather, there is a D.S. to the second section, and a leap to the ending after that. Of course, the original version is a song with lyrics, so the singer would be returning to the top for another verse. If people start singing along, as I'm sure they will given the right circumstances, I'll do that too.

How hot is she? She's so hot the countryside spontaneously combusts whenever she walks by.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Robert Plant, Commander of the British Empire

Congratulations to Robert Plant, as he received a CBE from Prince Charles the other day.

I hope I look that good when I'm his age!

Anyway, I knew he'd eventually sell out to the establishment, but The Who did it first. LOL!

Nice use of light and shadow. The rest of the pic makes her look like Zebra Woman, or something. I likey.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The iPhone as Recording Studio

A friend of mine, and occasional commenter here, emailed me an amazing link the other day. It seems that there is an app for the iPhone called Four Track that turns the iPhone into a digital multitrack recorder.

So, The 88 used the iPhone/Four Track combination to record their song, Love is the Thing.

As you can see, they did the editing and mixing in Pro Tools but they used the iPhone and the iPhone's built-in microphone to lay down the basic tracks. That's pretty incredible.

Long time readers know I have a "Jesus Phone"...

... with Jesus as the wallpaper, natch, but mine is the original 8GB EDGE iPhone, and I've never gotten into the whole app thing. Well, my contract is up on my two-year-old iPhone, so I'm going to get a new 32GB 3GS iPhone, which will allow me the memory and functionality necessary to use Four Track and some other apps that I find interesting, like the Tom Tom turn-by-turn GPS navigation system.

There is also a pretty decent music notation/composition sketch pad app called Composer that requires a 3G or 3GS iPhone I'd like to get. When I got the iPhone, I just wanted a phone that would allow me to email, surf, and listen to my iTunes library. Now, it's turning into a music production device. Unbelievable.

Hat Tip to John!