Monday, February 25, 2008

Props for Joe Ely

Texas Head '77: Joe Spins Stories with Ten Gallon Attitude.

Been listening to Joe Ely again lately. Seems I get a hankerin' for the Texas balladeer's music every so often. Burned a "favorites" CD for the car with West Texas Waltz, Cool Rockin' Loretta, Dallas Froam a DC9, Row of Dominoes, She Never Spoke Spanish to Me, Gallo de Cielo and a couple others.

What made me think of him this time was that he appears briefly in the Joe Strummer documentary that's out now. I guess I didn't know that he and Strummer were good friends. Wow, talk about uncommon bedfellows: A London punk and a West Texas cowboy.

Yep, Joe's the Real Lone Star Deal.

(Not to mention, he's launched the careers of guys like Charlie Sexton, Will Sexton and David Grissom, all of whom played lead guitar in his band at one time or other).

Joe Ely Homepage

PS: Forgot to mention that with my band The Derangers I opened for Ely in '97 at Mama Kin. Got to hang with him back stage and got his autograph. The best part was, we were to play first of three, but the middle band didn't show up, so we got bumped up to right before Ely. By the time we went on, like ten-ish, the place had filled up with Ely fans, who really dug what we were doing. We were at the top of our game by that point, so that was a good night for us. And Ely and his band were amazing, of course.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Mysterious Track 16

While doing Anastasia Scream's "Moontime" LP at Nashville's at Sound Emporium Studios, we encountered some bizarre happenings. I'm not jivin' you. Some really crazy wierd shit happened. In one anomalous event, we recorded a loud thunderstorm that was happening outside the studio. This was a real boomer. I quickly threw on a blank 2" 24-track reel, popped track 16 in to record, and put a mic in front of an open doorway. This was a $3,000 Neumann U47fet that happened to be handy, and the studio assistant was none too happy later when she saw it placed inches from the torrent outside.

We recorded about six minutes of big rain and thunder. It's not like we had any plans for "the storm track", but thought it might be cool to have. (And besides, we were like, wicked baked, y'know?)

Eventually, we needed that reel to record songs, so we put track 16 in safe and recorded around it. Pretty much forgot about it.

Days later, when we were mixing this finished song called "Blues", I remembered track 16. About two minutes in to the song I eased fader 16 up. At one point right before the song, which is raging full-on, breaks down in to a quiet part, Chick Graning sings, "there's a hole in my head where the rain gets in," and, BOOOOOOMMM! A huge rolling thunderclap follows his phrase right on beat, and rolls and rumbles for about 20 seconds right through the breakdown! (The low-frequency of it vibrated the whole control-room)

Yes, for real.

Of course anybody listening would assume we very carefully placed a thunder sound-effect right there in the song. But no! It was there before the song was even tracked.

The breakdown is followed by this manic sax solo, so we left the magical track 16 in behind there...with the rain and thunder and sax wailing, it sounds like total madness!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Need for The Needle...

I’m a Vinyl Junkie!

It didn’t take long but I swear I am addicted to playing records. The whole process has hooked me; taking the record out, cleaning it with the Discwasher thing, reading the liner notes and admiring the great big jacket art. etc. Mostly though, it’s the sound. My ears crave this all-analog aural opiate. No digital jitters. Gimme my fix of smooth, soothing hi-fi audio.

I put the Shure M97Xe cartridge on last night and what a difference! The signal is quieter now, more highly detailed and yet silky smooth. I might as well have been using a rusty nail before.

I think it was Rupert Neve who said he observed that when you play and listen to a record, you relax and unwind and drift and dream. When you spin a CD, by contrast, you feel jumpy and hyper and fidgety. He thinks it has to do with the ultra high-frequency harmonic content of analog, vs. the band-limited nature of CD digital. He thinks the brain responds to the super-sonic frequencies, finding them pleasing, even though theoretically the ear can’t “hear” them. Apparently Neve thinks there’s some AIR UP THERE.


Sonic Smoke.


Whatever the cause, my lips are smacking just waiting for the needle to drop once again...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tres Hombres Revisited!

On my new quest for vinyl, I have now received a few records, including U2’s 20th Anniversary pressing of “The Joshua Tree”. Nice. But the one I'm rockin' out to the most is ZZ Top's 1973 masterwork, “Tres Hombres”, re-cut from the original analog masters and pressed on to 180 gram audiophile vinyl.

I grew up in Texas and Billy Gibbons was my guitar God. I don't know how many copies of "Tres Hombres" I wore out trying to get his licks as a kid. To this day his earlier work (pre "Eliminator", pre MTV, pre 24-inch beard) may be my favorite rock guitar of all. I mean the guy plays like a mean motor-scooter, mama! That blues-driven, amp’d-up style is overdosed with Texas hot sauce. Mmmmm doggie!

Billy’s guitar sounds and the way they recorded and layered them were ahead of their time, and still my favorite tones other than Hendrix. Gibbons could pluck chimey, bell-like chords from a Strat or milk his vintage “Pearly Gates” Les Paul for every sonic color she had. He was one of the inventors of the "thick" tone; the "fat" sound. False harmonics, right-hand hammer-ons and pick-dives were new tricks in the early ‘70’s. He took the syrupy “Woman Tone”, established by guys like Clapton, Peter Green and Duane Allman, and added a searing harmonic liveness, like a high-voltage wire with too much juice coursing through it. You knew sparks could fly at any moment.

The Reverend Preacheth: A Nudie-Suited Billy with Pearly, 1975

So I play this record, and my jaw drops. Frank’s kick-drum socks you right in the solar-plexus, Dusty’s bass lays down the bad-ass eighth notes, and Billy’s guitar scorches. Chunky! And again, I’m listening to an all-analog signal path. Hearing the original master like this makes me really respect the recording engineers at Brian Studio in Texas and Memphis’s legendary Ardent.

The songs? Well, this is simply the most bodacious, bluesy batch of Texican tunes ever tracked, inviting us to get low-down and boogie, y’all! The LP opens with the righteous “Waitin’ For The Bus”, then busts in to the smoky, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, a track that showcases Billy’s prowess on the Fender Strat. Then comes a helpin’ o’ “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”, whose hair-raising solo is Billy G. at his blistering best. It’s arguably the best recorded solo of the Reverend’s illustrious career, and it still rips my head off every time.

Side two opens with “Move Me on Down the Line”, one of those long-gone lost and forgotten album cuts. It’s a surprisingly tasty little nugget of straight-up rock. And of course, buried in the middle of side two is…yes, “LaGrange”, the monstrous, monumental hit about the best little whore house in Texas. It’s a Muddy Waters riff on trucker speed and mezcal. Still love it! The opening chord riff is plucked while Gibbons mumbles (it has been reported that this was the scratch vocal, recorded by the talk-back mic while he was doing the basic guitar), followed by the big, bad chuggin’ train thang. The trio is incredibly tight here. I still admire how the first solo is a Strat and the second is the Pearly Gates Les Paul. It’s like havin’ a first course of brisket and a second of ribs.

“Tres Hombres” spins its Tall Texas Tales like a twister in a trailer-park. It’s a true Rock Hall of Famer, at least in my book.

I’ll never apologize (to Pearly or anyone else) for lovin’ that Li’l Old Band from Texas! Have Mercy!

Gibbons Gets A-Low Down 'n' Dirty!

It's All About The Tone, Baby!