More Blues History...and Supa Chikan


A little more about Blues History...can you stand it?


In case you haven't read my earlier bashing of Blues books, let me start this blog with a disclaimer: By definition, a Blues book is an attempt by some literary type to figure out someone else' culture....after that culture was uprooted, mangled, and mushed together with all kinds of other stuff in America....500 years ago! Sure, I'll take a shot....can't do any worse.


When we hijacked a whole lot of different people from West Africa, and threw them together in distinctly lesser conditions in America, what did we get, culturally? We got a rich oral tradition, kept alive by traveling musicians/storytellers called griots, who, while keeping the cultural traditions alive, were also the short-time stranger visiting the village (and viewed with both admiration and distrust, in the finest small-town tradition). Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because West African stories often have the element of trickery as an important component, the patron saint of the griots was Legba, god of music.....and deception! A little ol' trickster god who might put one over on you to satisfy some selfish desire of his own....what a choice for a musician deity! By the way, if you've heard the blues line “I'd rather drink muddy water, and sleep in a hollow log”, those images go all the way back to Africa, where the traveling griots would take shelter enroute in a baobab tree (and sometimes be found dead in there)....and muddy water indicated the Nile was getting ready to flood your farm (hence the association with bad luck). Oh, and you would, of course, meet the griot (or maybe Legba himself)... at the crossroads.


Well, as you might expect, it didn't take the white folks (who came to America partly to BE religious fanatics!) long to equate the mischievous Legba with the more sinister....wait for it....Satan! First of all, because they were suspicious of multiple deities anytime, and trickster gods (plus music and dancing...and keeping alive African traditions) were just too much! So, as we might also expect, the early, traveling bluesmen had an image problem......or was it an opportunity? Identifying themselves with the Devil tied them to the tradition, made them seem superhuman....and most importantly....defiant of the white man's rules! So Peetie Wheatstraw adverised himself as “The Devil's Son-in-law”, coated his cornrows with wax, and started shows with his hair on fire....way before Michael Jackson. Robert Johnson's obsession with the Devil has been well documented (maybe not ACCURATELY documented....was he poisoned? Stabbed? Both? Did he really spend his last hours barking like a dog?), but the question is: Was this Posturing, maybe with a little Marketing on the side? Or did life outside mainstream (read white) conventions convince these guys that they really WERE in league with the Father of Lies? Hard to really know, but I think the key words are: Life outside the mainstream (read: White) conventions.....fighting “the Man”, spurning the white hospital to consult a “root doctor” like an African griot.


One more note about the crossroads: I've been told this story very seriously by TWO different (white) blues fans....who don't know each other....after the tour, which includes a trip to the crossroads near the Stovall plantation, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil, and after a few drinks, our tourist decides that he's going to take a guitar and go down to that crossroads at sunrise (this worries me, because I always thought it was supposed to be sunSET, but whatever)....qnd both guys were startled when a black man, all dressed in black, DID approach them...the amusing idea now turned a little more real than they had planned, and thinking not of the mischievous Legba, but rather of our more sinister Lucifer, they each asked hesitantly: “ are?” And the man answered …............”Absolutely! I'm Supa Chikan (bluesman who lives nearby....and talks to chickens)....Wanna buy a CD?”

Thank You Blog



Open Thank You ALL my musician friends


The night of the Bill Buckner World Series Game (1986, Game 6 for you non- Red Sox people) While the Buckner error was fatal, the baseball coach in me was almost more horrified by the Bob Stanley wild pitch that preceded it (not a good sign when, years later, the teammates are still debating if it was a passed ball), and so all night I tossed and turned, thinking “Buckner!”.....NO, Stanley!!!,, definitely Stanley...or was it Gedman?” When it came time to head over to the Dove's Nest (5 AM), I was as exhausted as I was frustrated. Opening waitress that morning was none other than Margaret Wasserman....who was biggest booster on recent Kickstarter campaign btw....and I turned to her in my grief and said “ Mahgret!....Buckner...Stanley....Stanley....Buckner”.....”Forget it” , she said, “It's gonna rain....if it rains 2 days, we pitch Hurst again, and they can't hit him”. “When did you get so tough?”, I wondered....but, of course, it only rained ONE day, we pitched Hurst on short rest, he came out (leading) after 5 innings or so....and the rest is history...not happy history......................................................................well, now I've found some closure.........for the past few nights, I've been falling asleep listening to final mixes of my new album “Party Up In Heaven”, and thinking “Isn't Emily Duff (sax) the most wonderful thing on this record?, wait...that would be Wally Greaney (harp),, definitely Wally...but wait, what about the keyboards (Paul Provost)?....No, stupid, the best thing on this album is the rhythm section (Jopey Fitzpatrick and Matt McMannamon).....but what about the Harp Girls?....and Rae Griffiths, sassing me on “Evrything I do”....and Devin, who did his best work EVER!! I think it's definitely, wait..what about Nick Borges' trumpet on Drownin'!!, Emily...........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


When I wake up, I think of all my other musical friends who I didn't get onto this record, and how awesome THEY all are...and Karen Traub gently telling me to do one more take...and Danny Bernini coaching the Harp Girls!....and I think of Trevor Sewell and Cassandra, whose songs were so incredible that I BEGGED to cover them........and all the people who put up hard -earned $$ on Kickstarter....and I know it sounds corny, but I ain't never seen no parting of the Red Sea, or guys getting carried around in a whale, but I'm pretty sure I HAVE experienced a couple miracles....thanx for hanging in through that convoluted story  

Everything I know about recording....cause I've screwed it up before!

Everything I've learned about doing everything possible wrong!!


     While recording my new album Party Up In Heaven, I started thinking about the recording's my 12th recording or so, but I had a steady parade of guests, each with different preferences and experience, and, while I couldn't go through my entire growing up process with each of them, I did try to use what I've learned to capture them at their best, with the least stress bunch of stories:


Things NOT to do in a recording studio (guess how I know these!):


  1. 1.     Don't buy a whole new rig that you're not too familiar with
  2. 2.     Don't put on new strings 10 mins before
  3. 3.     Don't wear elaborate stage clothes that are uncomfortable
  4. 4.     Don't bring a big amp with might be in a little booth, trying to hear headphone track!
  5. 5.     That really opinionated friend who just HAS to win arguments...leave him/her fact, don't invite anybody unless a) you really, really want their opinion or b) Like McManamon, they're so quiet, you forget what their voice sounds like!
  6. 6.     Don't go 3 hours without checking your tuning....especially if your band is all guitars, and is adding keys or horns later!!!
  7. 7.     Don't bring food or drink that is sticky or greasy
  8. 8.     Don't leave vocals til you're fact, go home if you're exhausted....or worse yet, have an argument in the matter what decision you come to after things get heated, no more good music is happening that day
  9. 9.     Don't even HAVE an argument in the studio...hammer out most of it ahead, and know who gets final word while in there....if that's not the person paying for session, figure out how to consider their concerns!
  10. 10.                         If you think a track is a weak throwaway, but want to try advised that simple stupid song seems to always come out perfect, while grandiose creation bogs down
  11. 11.                         Never even allow thoughts like “I've got to play the best I've EVER played” to enter your head
  12. 12.                         Don't work without some kind of a's really embarrassing to end up a verse short or have a solo that never got filled in...though ProTools can help that!!
  13. 13.                        Don't be so well rehearsed that you actually give a perfect performance in run- through....there'll usually be tech stuff to adjust, and you don't want to be longing for that “take that got away” while screwing up the next take
  14. 14.                         Don't be so poorly prepared that ½ the songs take 8'll forget what parts went by....”or was that the last take?....oh, crap, I just played a klunker....oh, let's just settle for some safe thing”
  15. 15.                         Do runthrough a lot like actual song (I've been known to build in a deliberate mistake...see #13)
  16. 16.                        Singer should be most prepared, so song doesn't sound like they're reciting/reading new lyrics off paper
  17. 17.                         Have paper around in case they DO forget
  18. 18.                         Try not to break up the band while there
  19. 19.                         If you put in a cute, in-song comment or intro, plan on getting REALLLY sick of hearing it later
  20. 20.                         What if you: break a string, chord, stick, drumhead, amp?   Prepared?
  21. 21.                         What if the first session goes extra fast....or extra slow?   Build in flexibility to use time wisely
  22. 22.                         If studio ok with it, arrive early and set up
  23. 23.                         If you're uncomfortable with the headphones, mix, temperature,'ll seem less like an excuse-maker if you adjust it BEFORE you blow a few takes....just don't irritate you bandmates or engineer being prissy!
  24. 24.                         If you're working with people you know, like and trust....then trust them....if not, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?   You haven't lived until it goes off the rails, horribly wrong etc.
  25. 25.                          Remember, everybody has had it go wrong sometime, it's way different from playing live (mistakes are immortalized! And no one claps at the end to make you feel better!)

Just after writing this, I read Alligator records President Bruce Iglauer's column in Living Blues.....speaking about his recording of Lonnie brooks Live:   "Lonnie was quite excited, as he had just been given a new amp, designed by a famous manufacturer of pickups....It had lots of special features, but instead of being our biggest help, it turned out to be our biggest problem"

Love is All Around (Even In A Guitar?)






I CAN”T be the only person who's wondered this.....You'll be listening to some streetwise, tough ghetto singer (or rapper), all about the mean streets and killin' people and selling drugs, and how you can't trust nobody....and in the middle of the album, there'll be a love song.....a REALLLY SAPPY, Saccharine, cliche-ridden, ooh-ah—isn't love song......and you'll wonder: Where on the mean streets did he meet Paul McCartney? This is not a new phenomenon....Tower of Power would be funkafying about how they were gonna “Knock Your Damn Self Out!!” for half an hour....then it was time for “You're Still A Young Man.....WAHOOO!”....and the same band that covered “I'm A Man” and made it MEANER !!! (Chicago Transit Authority) went straight to innumerable variations of “Color My World”...but I wrote those off to the gradual and insidious process of falling in love with your own horn section. Let me explain: If you have a lyric line that's not that strong...say it's a not-very-clever cliché type line...but you have a powerful horn section land on a really big-sounding Chord to underline it, it suddenly sounds Moses has just come down from Mt. Sinai with those two tablets....”Oh, THOU SHALL NOT KILLLLLLL!!!!!” ...Got it!! This works so well that the band starts to rely on it more and more (and the horn players get better and better at it), and it becomes like a drug addiction, complete with the diminishing returns. Similarly, if the singers voice is so beautiful that he could “sing the phone book”, singing something more profound and possibly controversial starts to seem like too much trouble....after all, everyone Oohs and AAAhhs when he sings “Baby, I Love You” so why mess with success. But I gradually realized that this doesn't explain ALL the Sappy love songs.

There's also the guy from the mean streets who has so much success that he starts to be more about the mean streets of Malibu (Hello, Bruce Springsteen), but that doesn't explain the phenomenon either ...though it would explain where he meets Paul McCartney....

Then there's the bio-chemical explanation: Sexual arousal causes the pituitary gland to secrete oxytocin, a substance that induces feelings of warmth, desire to bond, understand, care for the love object. It even allegedly makes the annoying habits of the beloved seem cute and/or brilliant. So, instead of singing “It Must be the Money!', the rappers should be singing “Must Be The Oxytocin”...this would explain why the SONGS seem brilliant to the artist and the listeners who've just fallen in love (“They're playing OUR Song, dear!”)....and annoying to everyone else. Come to think of it, I recall detesting “Isn't She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder when it first came out...”What a sugary piece of crap”, I thought....”and it has a “baby solo” (baby sounds....”More reverb on the baby, please...and we'll need a little more baby in the monitors”)....Stevie Wonder needs THIS? What next, will we need someone to die to drum up sympathy for the next song (known as the “Seasons in The Sun” principle)? Five years later, as yet still unmarried and child-less....I thought “Isn't She Lovely” was the greatest song ever apocalyptic horn chords, but brilliant harmonica riffing, gorgeous chord changes, I'd almost burst into tears if it came on the radio....well, not that I'm ungrateful for my kids, but they're all now teenagers or older....and I think that song is a saccharine piece of crap again.

What's really going on here? As best I can dope it out, there's a couple of things at work.....First of all, maybe the gentle feelings of love are not that familiar to the songwriter from the mean streets, so he falls back on cliches because he's out of his (or her ) comfort zone....Or maybe it's the opposite: The feelings of love are UNIVERSAL, maybe it's ignorant to think otherwise, so the songwriter comes up guessed it....the same lines as everybody ELSE!!! (Go, Oxytocins!!!)......or maybe it's deeper than that....maybe the power of love is SO overwhelming that NOBODY fails to be one's really “Qualified” to distill THAT down into a 3 minute lyric everyone falls a little short there, yet feels the need to TRY to process the experience. (remember a couple of blogs ago)



a postscript: Wildcat O'Halloran (once called “one of the most entertaining songwriters on the current blues scene”......and later called “derivative” by same magazine, who at least didn't say I needed an autotune) mostly writes funny songs (e.g. next album will feature a song called “I Don't Need An Angel, Just Not A Rollercoaster”), but will include what he refers to as a “praise “ song on next CD.....hope you don't think it's stupid....but, if ya do......that's right ….”Must Be The Oxytocins”

That Natural Rhythm



Back in the 80's, when Drum machines were becoming popular (we actually thought they sounded like drums!), some of the fancier ones had options to “humanize” the machines. A couple of them called this feature the “shuffle” button, because we supposedly “knew” that real blues drummers didn't keep perfect time, but were somehow more interesting because of this imperfection.....well.....color me puzzled! I played with Kenny Johnson (James Cotton, Steve Miller, Kenny Neal drummer), one of the greatest of all time, and I'd swear on a stack of Modern Drummer Magazines that he kept PERFECT TIME!!! If you set a metronome to match his pulse, then walked far enough away that you could no longer hear him...then walked back into the room, he and the metronome would still be exactly what are they talking about?

I think what was actually being described (and poorly imitated) were varying ACCENTS during the “shuffle”. I just saw an article by a Berklee prof where he described a 4 beat measure as being like the word “alligator” (a 3 beat was “crocodile”). For those of you who aren't musical pros, a shuffle beat in Blues is like “alligator” with a strong accent on “gat” and a sort of strong accent on “All”....they blues drummer would vary the intensity of the accent (as fast as Kenny's hands were, he would wait until the last possible millisecond to deliver a mighty blow on the accented beat, alternating seeming unconcern with sudden focused intensity....projecting a classic Blues attitude in the process)'s Kenny: . When playing a slow blues, the drummer plays 6/8 (or maybe 12/8) still with varied accents and a sharp snare pop on the 4th beat of the 6, sometimes described “6/8 on the cymbal, 4/4 on the snare”....think “croc-croc-o-DILE-croc-croc, croc-croc-o- DILE- croc-'s that: ….note that, after Kenny's death, the drum chair was passed to another monster player Bryan Morris.....can't find one of him really going wild, but here's a sample of the Blues with the energy really pumped up:

I'm having so much fun with these clips, I've forgotten my point, but don't care!'s Kenny Johnson doing same song:

Just for fun, let's finish with our own Joe Fitzpatrick playing a “New Orleans street beat” which is a march syncopated until it fits into African-American form.....that's what plays when you come to the wildcat site!


Life of cars?

  Cat not thinking about songwriting

Nobody would be interested in a song about the life of cars


While playing my newest song for my band late at night at the Southwick Inn during break time, I got hit with this familiar question: “Is that song autobiographical?”.....WELL...I couldn't help firing back the old joke shown above.....but, the fact is...they're ALL autobiographical! Or maybe that's an overstatement, but the whole idea of creating art is processing the experiences of our life in a simplified way that makes us (and the listener or viewer) able to understand them. It, in effect, gives us CONTROL over those experiences, whether beautiful or harsh.

Ask yourselves: Why do we play games ? Why do we encourage children to play sports? One answer is: Those games are like extremely simplified life lessons (that don't really hurt, despite our tendency to describe them in life or death terms...yes, Red Sox fans, the whole idea is: we don't REALLY die). Well art is like that, and songwriting, since it involves words...and those words are fit into an evocative musical framework that makes the emotional experience even more striking, is one of the forms most likely for that process to be at least somewhat transparent to an outside observer.

While my pal Devin's question prompted this blog, it might have been kicking around in my subconscious (waiting to be processed into an understanable form) since I saw old friend Al Fuller a couple of weeks ago, since I seem to remember Al being one of the MANY songwriters I know who have been hit during a relationship break with the dreaded barb “This oughta give ya a couple more song ideas, AL!”. I'm pretty sure one of Taylor Swift's boyfriends fired off some variation of this old favorite. And a number of my songwriting friends have had significant others ask/beg/order that they NOT write about the relationship. Well, bad news, significants! The songwriter may make that promise, but they will almost always break it....they HAVE to process life experiences in this way! It's like the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, who wrote:

Jeremiah 20:9 |

Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. …..didn't think I'd be quoting the Old Testament, did ya?

All that being said, these constructions are ART, they're not reality. When I was teaching the band the chords to “All I Want For Xmas is a Divorce”, and wife Amy burst into the room, shouting, “Did you write that?”....WELL....I HOPED she remembered that. I WAS a little concerned when she said, “That's the best song you EVER wrote”,...and she must have remembered about the art stuff...several Christmases have passed...and I've written several more HORRIBLE songs (wait 'til she hears “Everything I Do and Everything I Say”)...thick skin can be a virtue when dealing with songwriters. I think it was Woody Allen who said, “We try so hard to make things come out perfect in art, 'cause they usually don't come out that way in life”.....just had to get that off my chest.....but that's the whole point, isn't it?

Own your own Music

 “Have you ever played anything other than your own music?”


Playing in New York is always equal parts exciting and grueling, but sometimes my favorite part is actually the ride down, where I get some uninterrupted time with my bandmates to listen to and talk about music, in a way we'd never have time for in a club/ And when that means uninterrupted time with the lovely Emily Duff, all the better. Thing is, I'm sooooo opinionated and verbal (and loud), and Em is so soft spoken and gentle, it almost takes all that time before I can draw her out enough for her to get some words in edgewise! She is, after all, a grad student in Jazz arranging (not for dummies!) and I've seen how quickly she picks up things in a studio situation, so I was thrilled when she started to tell me some things about her band The Raft (only kid band I love)...and we discussed some things in the area where music and marketing meet (When a business person asks you to describe your music, you HAVE to have an answer ready....for me The Raft starts with polyrhythms, but it's about what THEY think it's about.....would it be better if they had a “signature song”?....well, yes, but if you try to force that it always comes out hokey, I said):

Her seemingly innocuous question at the top of the page actually gave me pause....I started to say “Of course I've played other music”....but then I thought about it.....when much younger, I played in a band where we covered “Heart of Gold” and “Drift Away” (try to picture me gritting my teeth through those, not to mention the “Proud Mary” requests)....but even then, I was basically hanging around, waiting for us to get to an Albert King song that I had foisted on the group....I wouldn't have had many of my own compositions then, but I'm pretty sure I already had a DIRECTION. And while I've certainly played a lot of covers in my life, it's always been some song from the blues tradition that I think an audience needs to hear...or needs to hear what I do to it!

Now, any one of my contemporaries undoubtedly has spent a lot of time thinking about the conflict between “playing what the people want to hear” and “following your own special muse”, and I'm sure I'll get a few comments based on their experiences..which I welcome...but I'm mostly going in another direction today....just a couple of thoughts on that minefield subject:

There was a time that Hollywood did “market research” about films by having someone walk up to theater patrons leaving a movie, and asking them what they'd like to see next... They stopped doing that when they realized that folks coming out of an Erroll Flynn pirate movie tended to answer “Uh, I don't know....maybe a pirate movie” other words, IF EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE WERE A CREATIVE GENIUS, THEY'D ALREADY BE MAKING THEIR OWN MOVIES!!!!! Which is not to say the opposite fallacy: Make your own music, it doesn't matter what the audience wants---is correct----the truth, as I see it, is more complex.....let's cut to the chase....


The answer, for me, goes like this: A musician is a COMMUNICATOR....the act of making music is, in itself, pleasurable, but music as a PERFORMANCE ART, involves telling somebody something! If you're spending hours on social media, and thousands on advertising, and driving the proverbial 500 miles in the $500 car for the $50 gig, desperately trying to get people's attention, ask yourself: IF YOU GET THEIR ATTENTION......What was it that you wanted to tell them? It doesn't have to be profound, or even verbal, but YOU need to know the answer....otherwise, you're like a dog chasing cars....if you catch one, what are you going to do with it? If your message is “It's fun to dance” or “Look how fast I can play this guitar”, that is NOT, in my opinion, any less of a message than “We need to end war” or “ Women in Africa are oppressed” might be less cosmic, but what I'm stressing here is that the message needs to be CLEAR, it must be communicated to the listener clearly, so they feel something!!!!!!!!!!! Whether the message is IMPORTANT isn't the point...the point is, if you think you're a great musician, but absolutely NOBODY is getting might be kidding yourself....this might be one of those “My music is better than it sounds” things. In this worldview, while the audience doesn't LEAD the creative process, they are CRITICALLY important; they will tell you....listening, brother musicians?....what's getting through... and what's not.

Now, this might sound like it's leading up to that old saw, the 100% rule. For those not familiar, that rule of performing states that, if something in your act works 70% of the time, and flops 30%, you need to gradually replace that with something that works 80%, eventually honing an all 100% lineup......surprise, surprise, surprise, Sgt. Carter....I hate this rule! Honor this turkey, and your act will get more, and more, and more, and more predictable, stale and formulaic. HOWEVER.....ignore this rule completely at your peril....that audience is not your enemy....just as you are sending out your “message in a bottle”, they're trying to send one back! They're trying to tell you how to get better!!!! That is the true meaning of “critic”, after all.

So how does this answer Emily's simple little question? Well, answer is: No one REALLY plays anything other than their own music. Some people have burning messages inside that they simply MUST communicate...and others haven't thought clearly or found out yet what they want to say, so it comes out “Please like me, I could play something you liked that someone else said....maybe Proud Mary?” But either way, if you want that to be your message, that's up to you.  

So you wanna open Blues shows, kid?



     Actually, no one's goal in life is to be an opening act....except maybe me in 1973, when touring Blues Legends like Muddy Waters would start show with some rock band out front, and I'd say:  “Wait, how about somebody who actually FITS on this bill!  I can do the job better...and cheaper”.   I was cheaper all right!   One time early on, James Cotton came up to me with a handful of hot dogs, straight from the club's steamer (they can't yell at HIM for dipping into those, he figured)  “Hey, I saw your check when I got mine, and I figured you might need a little help... might as well get SOMETHING out of this gig” he said.

    Speaking of the legendary Mr. Cotton, he was the second blues star I ever opened for.  John Lee Hooker was the first, and, while was, after all “THE HOOK”, his pickup band was not that over-awesome.   Cotton was another matter...I rehearsed my bandmates ruthlessly (current sidemen should have seen how driven I was then!)....I threw every arranging trick up-to-and-including the kitchen sink, I chewed the scenery, I stood on my head, I played slide with a shot glass......and it took about a minute for me to realize I was gonna get DESTROYED!!!!  Afterwards, after watching the legendary band leader referee a minor dispute between bassist Charles Calmese and Kenny Johnson (do gods have minor disputes , I wondered?), I asked Kenny how much rehearsal it took to perfect all the special hits, and tricks of “Cotton Boogie” .  “What rehearsal?” he replied.  “When we left Chicago a year ago, that was a simple we got bored we added stuff, 'til it became the way you heard it now”.   At first I was positive he was playing “put on the white boy”, like the time he told me professional musicians don't drink at all....and was interrupted by Calmese complaining “They want us to start, and we're not even DRUNK yet!”, and I'm still not sure...but now, after 40 years, I could see how it COULD have been true....interplay between high level blues musicians is kinda like that game  that used to advertise “Minutes to learn....a lifetime to  master”.   Anyhow, the power, interlock, and immediacy of the music made me slink home, vowing to do better next time...or the time after that....or the time after that.

     I recently sent a Youtube video of that band (actually just before that tour) playing “The Creeper” to someone passionately interested in blues, but relatively new to it...and she asked me if that performance was a special “magic moment” for the Cotton Band.  I think she thought I was playing “put on the white girl” when I told her that I'd seen them play that song 100 times (former road manager Muggsy used to let me into a lot of shows because I once loaned Matt Murphy a Twin Reverb in an emergency) and it was always that good ..usually Calmese was driving the bass boogie and re-arranging his “Big Apple” cap while the whole thing was going crazy...........but, several hundred words later, I digress.

     Point is, Don't Even Be Thinking: “ I'm gonna cut the headliner” ain't  a competition, it's an exhibition.......also the audience paid for tickets with THEIR name on the top, they LOVE the headliner....also you're likely to be more of an annoyance than a help to the show, thinking that way........................and NUMBER ONE:  IT AIN”T GONNA HAPPEN!!”    About 15 years ago, I opened for an up-and-coming Rock (but Blues-based....yes, I hate that term too) Band, just endorsed by Rolling Stone Magazine.   At the end of my set, 4-5 guys approached.   “WOW!” , they said. “That was incredible!   We've seen the headliner half a dozen times, and they can't TOUCH that set you just did.”  Yeah, Right.....45 minutes later, as I was lugging the Supro thunderbolt (I remember now that the rock band's harp player wanted to buy it!) to the car, I paused to say good night to these guys.....who were now PRESSED up against the very front of the stage....mesmerized....their faces flashed no sign of recognition whatsoever....had they met me somewhere?  Faces seemed to say they didn't remember.....can I get a “Poor Poor Wildcat” here?

   So, why do we do shows, I mean?   Well, let me count the ways:

  1. We get to see an idol for free....and name drop... “he used my guitar” afterwards
  2.  We get to see exactly HOW the legend gets over/destroys us...usually you'll note that whatever the star does best, he finds a way to make a particular feature at key moment of show.
  3. We may get some name recognition...even pick up a few fans... (although, when they show up at our next gig at Joe's Dive, they may be underwhelmed!)
  4. We can compare gear.  Blues people like OLD!   One time, I showed Debbie Davies a part guitar I was building (she had admired my battered Tele, which is a '65)   and, out of habit she asked me what year it was.   “If I finish it soon, it'll be a 2000” I answered.
  5. It is an important fact of local band life that, when there's publicity about a show, a LOT more people will see the publicity than will see the show.  “You just played with Bo Diddley, didn't you?” they'll say....sometimes a year later!
  6. There's always the chance they'll say “ Start late, and run over”....or “can you loan me an amp?”
  7.  Or maybe, just maybe….someday you WILL cut the headliner…..if they look like someone hit them in the head with a shovel, aren’t very friendly, and the crowd still remembers who you are at the end….to quote Scotty, “It JUST MIGHT WORK, Captain”

If you thought the last one was too technical.....

While reading this week's Valley Advocate insert about the Institute for Musical Arts in Goshen, most people probably thought "Isn't that nice that they're teaching girls to rock!"  or maybe " It's about time Women banded together to teach girls to rock!"...or maybe "Look at the little girls in the pictures rocking...isn't that cute?" being me, the reaction was totally different.  Was I the only one thinking "Are those solid-state guitar amps they gave those girls?"  "How they gonna 'Rock like the guys' with solid state guitar amps!!!!!   What are they teaching those poor misguided girls?"....But I it digressing if it's right at the start?....oh, never mind.

Back to the Serious Business of Scales to the serious business of scales!!


No stupid stories about John Lee Hooker thinking I'm a Mormon, or Bo Diddley tuning his weird square guitar (he had stomp boxes built inside it,BTW), no, no, today we're back to the serious business of scales. You may remember our trip through the so-called “minor pentatonic” (Bill Russell's quote- “If I wanted to avoid everything in America that I considered racist, I'd lead a hermit's life” comes to mind, but I digress already)....anyhow, we're on to the so-called “major pentatonic” know, the country scale.....non-musicians, think of the song “Yakity Sax”....or, oddly, the start of “My Girl”. In the key of A (psst, non-musicians....that means song probably starts, and definitely ends with an A chord accompanying whatever else is going on) that scale would be : A, B, C#, E, F#...and again, there would frequently be passing tones, especially C, used as we climb from B to C#....and, remember what this looks like on the guitar (with no black keys, guitar reminds us that some of our conventions like no black key between B-C and E-F are, guitar world, it's always: do we go up one fret (½ step) or 2 frets (whole step)....all keys work the same, visually as well as audio-wise)....oh, yeah, we were remembering: up 2 frets from A to B, up 2 frets from B to C#, next string same fret as B gets us E, 2 frets up gets us F# (and if we want octave A, it's next string, same fret as E). Now, here's where it gets really interesting....the blues scale for F# would be:

F#, A, B, C#,E (F# octave).....ain't them the same notes???? Starting on F#, with an F# chord in the background, they sure sound different!!! But guitarists have now found the ultimate 2 for 1 sale!! Because the fingering for the blues scale near the standard “first position” A chord, will conveniently also get us the F# country scale....right near the “third position” F# chord....and vice versa (see accompanying video for clarification). If keyboard players are now lost (never mind non-players), let's look at key of C: Blues scale would be C, Eb, F, G, Bb.....same as Eb country: Eb, F, G, Bb, C.


Advanced players may have spent hours learning other “modes” in order to solo over more complex chord changes....especially Dorian/ Mixolydian against II-V changes beloved by jazz guys. Note that, in Key of C, Dorian would be D,E,F,G,A,B,C....but C country would be: C,D,E, G,A, which approximates Dorian.....and Mixolydian woud be

G,A,B,C,D,E,F...which it also approximates, especially if we drift back into blues scale and pick up that F...F to G whole step helps us cover those changes with our 2 fingering patterns! We're not working harder, we're working.....dumber!!


Where this applies directly to blues is, it gives us a lot of interesting color in our soloing, and adds subtlety to our stock phrases...if you've always thought, for example, that B.B. King is playing the same solo or intro every time, try playing'll find that he's a master of drifting from one scale to the other to create something that seems both familiar and yet interesting and new. B.B. has studied those jazz modes as well, and actually goes there from time to time (but not enough to hurt his playing, blues-wise!). Confused? Remember rule number one: If you land on a real klunker while fret either way will be a good note....and if you land on the klunker so strong that you can't slide over, repeat the phrase with the klunker and then slide over one fret...people will think you did it on purpose!.....oh, and the other rule #1: always trust your Cat!!

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Dec 22, 2017
Shutesbury Athletic Club
Shutesbury Massachusetts
Dec 31, 2017
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Northampton MA
Dec 31, 2017
First Nite
Northampton Massachusetts
Jan 19, 2018
Springfield MA
Jan 27, 2018
Fort Hill Brewery
Easthampton Massachusetts

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Upcoming shows

Dec 22, 2017
Shutesbury Athletic Club
Shutesbury Massachusetts
Dec 31, 2017
City Sports Grille
Northampton MA
Dec 31, 2017
First Nite
Northampton Massachusetts
Jan 19, 2018
Springfield MA
Jan 27, 2018
Fort Hill Brewery
Easthampton Massachusetts

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interview up on 11/25/11