Tag Archives: Guitar

Bringing Soul Back – David Lee

21 Dec
David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell

David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell
Photo by Antoine Sanfuentes

Willie Mitchell knows soul music. In 1969, a little known R&B singer named Al Green came into contact with Mitchell after struggling with his first release. After hearing Green’s voice, Mitchell quickly scooped him up as a vocalist. His instrumental piece of advice? Find your own voice. Be unique.

David Lee is unique. Born in South Korea in 1986, Lee and his family moved to Virginia when he was eight. After voraciously diving into new music, Lee borrowed an acoustic guitar from a friend and played it until his fingertips were frayed and the guitar was worn. He devoted his time to writing and recording several songs, but, like Al Green, he had difficulty defining a sound after years in the studio. Enter Willie Mitchell, who almost 40 years after discovering Al Green, was inspired by Lee’s smooth voice and perspicacious sense of melody. Mitchell took Lee under his wing as one of his last projects before his death in 2010.

Without Any Guard, the culmination of five years of labor (three with Mitchell), will be released in February 2013.

David Lee’s endearing voice carries his tunes. In “Stay Away From You,” the last song on his 11-track debut, his sweet John Mayer-like croon washes over a tranquil blues rhythm. There is a coffee-shop quiescence to the track; a touching sentimentality best suited for a quiet venue. It’s an impressive song despite seeming so effortless. This is one of Lee’s best attributes. He makes good music seem so easy. And as any wise musician will tell you, this is not an effortless task.

“Happy Birthday” begins with a picked riff – comparable to a bit of a Pachelbel’s canon/Always on My Mind mixture – proceeding into the main rhythm, a toe-tapping beat. The vocals are laid-back, but they remain subtly powerful and delicate. Lee balances power and control. His singing is skillful. In the CD version of this song, Lee is joined by a chorus that echoes “don’t let your heart down” and adds even more power to the piece without ever seeming overdone.

Lee’s music is engaging, melodic, and bluesy. He is a soul singer with his roots now fully embedded into a soul culture that Willie Mitchell first thrived in more than 40 years ago. Lee is an exciting new artist, and I fully endorse his new album. Don’t miss out!

Pre-order Lee’s debut album at: www.davidleetunes.com. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

It All Sounds the Same – Pop Imitation

30 Jul

Only three chords to go

Are you one of those people who think all of the songs on the Top 20 sound alike? Well, you may just be right. A team of Spanish researchers explored the extensive Columbia-born Million Song Dataset, a consolidation of one million songs of the last 50-or-so years into data bits, and found that music today has gotten louder and blander. Such plangent pablum can do a real doozy on your ears and your faith in the progression of music.

As the researchers told Reuters, “In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations — roughly speaking, chords plus melodies — have consistently diminished in the last 50 years.”

You see, the problem is not so much the lack of creativity in music, but the minimal desire for anything different. I refuse to condemn the music industry for putting out the same junk over and over again, because that is the music making them money. If we as a collective music listening public demanded more create tuneage, we would get it. But that is long gone. Mainstream has turned away from anything different. To have a hit song today that will repeat on the radio around 15 times an hour, you need a simple, singable, loud song.

What caused this gradual “dumbing down” of pop music? I’m not sure. But sometime after around the early 70s, the mainstream stuff just started get worse and worse as a whole. Yes, there are always outliers. Even some well-written, creative pieces today slip through the seemingly impenetrable wall of uncreative song production and hit the charts. I will say, though, it is happening less and less.

All this talk about music copy cat syndrome got me in the mood for a little basic chord theory. It’s been a longstanding joke among guitarists that an individual can learn just four chords on the guitar and impress members of the opposite sex with sweet renditions of hundreds of songs. When we talk about that, the chord progression we are discussing is the insanely catchy I-IV-vi-IV progression, one of the oldest tricks in guitar book. The chords in this progression change by key but some popular examples are C – G – Am – F and D – A – Bm – G, the latter of which is used in the video I am about to show you below.

This is Axis of Awesome, an Australian comedy/music trio, that, in their song “Four Chords,” sample more than 40 songs that follow the same basic chord progression. “Four Chords” is an excellent example of what we discussed above. And, the singer looks a bit like Jack Black.

Go try it out for yourself. Turn on the popular music station in your area and see if you can pick out the basic chords being used. Because, let’s be honest, it may be the ones used in the video above. Oh, and don’t forget to turn it up. There you have it. The formula to create a great pop song. Add in a lyric about love, parties or loving to party, and you are set.

Top 25 Guitarists of All Time: # 20 Les Paul

9 Jun

Hello everyone,

So as I am writing this it is still currently Les Paul’s birthday. Funny how these thing’s work out, right? I know I’ve been away for a while, so take your anger out on Matt. It is time to continue this list and there is clearly no better time than the present. There is a great deal of fascinating stuff about Les Paul and I’m not talking about that nifty guitar thing Google had up…even though that was awesome.

Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss and played jazz as well as country guitar. Rock and roll exists in large part because of Paul’s part in pioneering the electric guitar. If you want to talk about someone being influential, here’s your guy. If it wasn’t for his work, many genres of music would never have evolved.

In 1940, “The Log” was built in the Epiphone guitar factory. This was no mere cylindrical slab of wood, but one of the first solid-body electric guitars. There was a great deal of drama when the Gibson company changed the design of the guitar without Paul’s knowledge in response to declining sales. Les wasn’t so happy, but went on after an unpleasant divorce to put his name on the guitar, followed by “SG.” This designation stands for “solid body,” and gained immense popularity after Eric Clapton began playing the model, as well as the ES-335.

In addition to the immensely important innovation, Les Paul also delved into multi-track recordings. With a push from Bing Crosby, Les Paul went for it, creating his own studio, utilizing acetate discs instead of magnetic tape.

So, why does Les wind up at #20? Because…he helped make all these things possible…not to mention he was a pretty good guitarist.

Best Guitar Riffs and Exercise Song- Motorhead “Ace of Spades”

30 Mar

Sometimes you just need a song that kicks you in the ass. A song that makes you want to run around or lift heavy objects. A work-out song. So what fulfills the qualifications of an exercise song? The song must be upbeat and loud. Those are two musts. The song needs to move constantly. If there is a stop, it must be very short and it must lead directly into what has made you want to put the treadmill at 8.0.

Now, imagine a world where your favorite exercise song also finds its way onto the list of best guitar riffs of all time. Motorhead, the English heavy metal band, accomplished both tasks. They not only lead my extensive list of workout music, but also they perfect metal guitar with “Ace of Spades.” Eddie Clarke‘s hard guitar sound is masterful. It is quick and efficient. The repetitive riff is proof of why the band gave Eddie the nickname of “Fast.”

I must say that Lemmy’s voice is the raspiest kind of 20 packs a day good. He strains himself to crush songs. He sings in a controlled grunt. Clearly, though, the infectious riff carries the song and provides its strength, and for that it holds a spot on our best guitar riffs list.

There is actually an acoustic version of this song. I know, really? Well, Lemmy’s voice is defined more through this version.

Robin Trower is Live

22 Sep

Robin Trower has made a career of flying under the radar. He put together eye-opening guitar pieces for Procol Harum when he played lead guitar for them from 1967-1971. And then he created his own power trio and went on to record one of the best rock/blues pieces of the 1970s. Seriously, “Bridge of Sighs” (1974) is as good as it gets. But, ask about Robin Trower today, and besides the classic rock intelligentsia composed of people who lived during the era and classic rock diehards like myself, most people do not know about the wonders of Robin Trower. But, tonight, I want to dig slightly deeper into Robin Trower. I want to go under his more known Bridge of Sighs and Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973) and explore the realm of one of Trower’s underrated, underrated albums. You following me? The man is underrated twice over. Go underneath the surface and find the awesome chocolate filling.

Robin Trower Live - 1976

Robing Trower’s power trio (which also consisted of drummer Bill Lordan and excellent vocalist James Dewar) performed a live set for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. The concert was at the Stockholm Concert Center in Sweden. It took place on Feb. 3, 1975. In an interview with Guitar Player magazine in 2006, Trower said that they were not aware the show was being taped, thinking they were playing for a radio broadcast only. “We were loose and uninhibited, and we played one of our best shows,” said Trower.

It was not one of their best shows…it was their best show. The sound that seeped from his guitar that night was magical. And, one cannot forget about the wonderful drumming by Lordan and Dewar’s croon. As for live albums, the album is not looked at as one of the better ones of the favorites, but, I am telling you tonight that it is certainly up there. The album is a must-listen and if you like good blues guitar you should start listening to Mr. Trower.

Here is “Alethea” which he also performed in Sweden. This recording is in London in 1975.

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