Tag Archives: Guitar

The Night Folk Owl – Willie Ames

12 Mar

Willie Ames @ Whisky A Go-Go - 20th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards voting party - by JAMES IRWIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Willie Ames has toured all 50 United States, distributed 35,000 CDs to the public, and won several solo artist awards including the Solo Artist of the Year in the 20th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards and National Solo Artist of the Year and performer in the Phoenix Music Awards 2011.

So, yeah, more people should know about this folk guitarist/banjoist/singer/songwriter. Ames has been playing guitar since he was five years old, and, at 18 decided to pursue music professionally. He added a banjo to his repertoire at 23.

Ames plays a distinctive style of classic folk music that focuses on heavier percussion, reverberated noise, and a guitar/banjo style that combines the flavor of early Dylan and Dave Van Ronk with heavier folk artists like Amos Lee. Ames then adds a banjo to the mix, and, instead of falling into the bluegrass banjo trap, the music has an edge that sets him apart from other folk musicians. Listening to Ames’ music is fit with unconscious toe-tapping and head-nodding. The beats are almost funky. The sound is multifaceted like a bean dip (light guacamole on top and heavy beans on the bottom). Gosh, I just compared music to a bean dip. If that’s not a sign to introduce a song, I don’t know what is.

“Night Owl,” the title track on the album, perfectly represents what I mentioned above. The beat is authentic. The echoed sounds are reminiscent of a dark night in a deep forest. Ames’ voice reminds me of the Holy Modal Rounders (only slightly), a folk duo from the Lower East Side in the 60s who released an excellent version of “Hesitation Blues.” I hate to be so simplistic, but the song is just cool. I like listening to it.

“Stumbling Home” is certainly lighter. The banjo rhythm is catchy and constant. It’s a great song to listen to if you want to unwind. It relaxed me.

Check out more of Willie Ames at his website, Facebook, and Twitter

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.

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