Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review - Ronnie

On the heels of the Clapton autobiography, I dove right in to “Ronnie,” by Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. What a contrast.

Where Clapton had a fairly negative childhood experience that led him to have relationship and addiction issues throughout his life, Wood had a really positive, nurturing childhood that led to him having addiction issues his whole life.

And whereas I felt like Clapton got smarter over the course of his life (even though he remained stupid - or at least, addicted - for a really, really long time), Wood made the same damn mistakes again and again – mostly financial. I mean, the guy gets so overstretched financially that he has to ask the Stones for advances of millions of dollars before tours, just to get out of debt.

Self-admittedly, he just can’t say no. So when someone comes to him with a harebrained investment idea – hey, run your own spa, it’ll only cost you 30 million dollars – he takes the bait again and again. It’s actually very frustrating to see him mess up over and over. He’s like the multi-millionaire version of the guy who goes out on the crabbing boat for months, makes tons of money, comes home, spends all of it quickly, and has to go back out again to make more.

The best part of the book for me, actually, is the part before he joins the Stones. His formative years are really entertaining, and you get a good sense for his virtuosity as a musician. The guy really can play anything, given the right amount of time. He has a great attitude as well. Very happy go lucky and generous, (whereas Clapton was always kind of a dick). His stories about how he got started in the early 60s, all the bands he played with, and his time with Rod Stewart and The Faces, are good segments.

Also in contrast to Clapton, I don’t get the sense that he has completely kicked the junk. As with every other rocker in the 70s, there are loads of stories of excess and drugs. Once he joins the Stones, it goes off the charts. He was even a freebase addict for five years in the 80s, but he never says why or how he kicked it. The number of dangerous scumbag drug dealers and enablers that were around his family and especially his kids is pretty shocking and pathetic.

Anyone who follows the Stones knows that the recent Bigger Bang tour was his first tour sober. Meaning, the first time the guy, who is now 60, ever played onstage without a buzz. Mick and Keith actually toyed with not bringing Wood on the tour, he was so bad off - so, he cleaned up. It is amazing that he pulled it off for such a long tour without full relapse, but you also get the impression that he still parties. After reading the Clapton book, I am not sure how well that bodes for his future sobriety.

The other great part about the book is how in depth he goes into his artwork. People may not know this, but Wood has always been a fantastic artist. Given financial discipline, he could make a living off of just his drawings and paintings. His work is excellent – some samples here. He talks about how he got started, and how he sketches his band mates in rehearsal and uses art to fill the plentiful down time on the road.

I’d recommend this book to any Stones fan, as it’s a pretty insightful look into how the band operates – Wood says they travel on tour in a “golden prison” where every luxury is provided, but they don’t have the freedom to actually get out and be in the real world. It’s busses, planes, five star hotel rooms, studios, concerts and repeat – for more than a year at a time. Would drive any lesser man nuts, but obviously they have the passion and with every tour, move into new territory as the world’s biggest and oldest touring band.

And even though he’s still the “new guy,” having just joined the Stones in 1975, I’d say it would be pretty tough to justify a version of the Stones without him. This book gives great insight into the man and his life and times.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Private Lesson from Alex Lifeson

A new company called iVideosongs aims to offer virtual music lessons online, featuring video downloads of guitar pros demonstrating their playing techniques. In many cases, these are private instructors giving lessons. But in some cases, they have signed up the original artists.

One of which is none other than Alex Lifeson from Rush. Yes, for $9.99, Alex will show you how to play Limelight, Spirit of Radio or Tom Sawyer in a 35-45 minute video lesson. Check out some short clips here, here and here. This is really cool, and I just might pony up some dough to get these.

Where was this service when I was wearing down tape machines rewinding these songs in the mid 80s, trying to figure them out for myself? Now, I can get a lesson from the famous guy who wrote the thing! Killer!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Book Review - Clapton

Santa was very good to me this year, spoiling me with CDs, DVDs and books I am too lazy to go out and get myself.

One of the books I got was Eric Clapton’s autobiography, Clapton, which I plowed through in just a few days. It’s organized well and moves at a good clip.

I really wanted to read this book despite the fact that I am still an emerging fan of Clapton. I have always been a fan of his when he sits in with other people or does one off jams. For example, his work on Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, or his blazing rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” from the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert.

But I find his solo work spotty and totally overrated for the most part. My faves are things like the RUSH soundtrack, 24 Nights and the album he did with B.B. King, Riding With The King. I find most of his 70s and 80s work pretty forgettable.

The book helped me appreciate his work much more, however, because I got the impression that Clapton would agree with me about the spotty nature of his career! I mean, I always knew he had addiction issues – heroin in the 70s and booze later on. But I had no clue the guy was a full blown raging, pathetic alcoholic for more than 20 years. Even when he was riding high in the 80s, with all those bogus (but successful) albums with Phil Collins producing, he was growing worse and worse in his addictions.

The first thing my friend Al and I agreed on about Clapton’s book was what a total pile this guy was. He stole his friends’ women, totally corrupted a minor who eventually overdosed, fired his bandmates and managers left and right, and had zero loyalty, breaking up every successful group he ever played in. Of course, when you spend most of your childhood raised by your grandparents, who tell you your mother is your sister when it’s really your mother, you’re bound to have issues.

The book is a fascinating and sobering (no pun intended) look at addiction. For example, at one point Clapton has a bottle of booze and a shotgun and is going to kill himself because he has hit bottom. But he doesn’t do it because he thinks, “If I am dead, I won’t be able to drink anymore.” Wow. That is serious addiction. I can’t even fathom that level of addiction and it made me reel out a mile more rope with which to cut Clapton some slack.

But somewhere in the late 80s, when he finally kicks his addictions and his unhealthy relationship patterns, he turns into a pretty good guy. And miraculously, he stays clean (and has been for more than 20 years), even when his son dies tragically by falling out a 40 story window in downtown New York.

Now, Clapton helps people beat addiction through his Crossroads facility in Antigua, is a caring father and husband and by all accounts has his shit fully together and is the happiest he’s ever been in his life. Not the ending I would have predicted.

The books reminds the reader that life is a journey and it’s never over. Yeah, you may be an addict – and a total prick to boot – but you can always change. You can always turn it around and there is always hope. And now, I want to go and re-visit all of the albums I looked over, now that I feel that I know the man a bit better.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Triumphant Return

Remember Triumph? Those Canadian dudes that always got compared unfavorably to Rush? Seems that guitarist Rik Emmett, who has been very vocal about never playing with the other two guys again, had a change of heart when his brother passed away from cancer. His brother said, “Dude, reunite the band” or something to that effect.

So they are playing the Sweden Rock Festival in Norje, Switzerland in June and Emmett says they may tour in 2009. Hmm. The other two guys, bassist/keyboardist Mike Levine and drummer/vocalist Gil Moore, have been inactive for years, so they are going to need to dust off their chops to share the bill with the likes of Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Blue Oyster Cult, and Joe Satriani, who have all been touring, well forever.

I saw Triumph on a total whim in the mid 80s. In the days when I would get concert tickets months in advance and get progressively more geeked up as the weeks flew by, it was a total anomaly to get tickets mere hours before a concert. But that’s what my buddies and I did for Triumph. Even still, we were able to stand right in front of Emmett and I remember thinking that they were great.

Go to iTunes and revisit the catalog: Fight the Good Fight. Magic Power. Never Surrender. When The Lights Go Down. A World of Fantasy.

They were pretty good. Pretty overlooked. We’ll see if they can dust the cobwebs off of their legacy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stolen Items

So, I am slowly getting caught up from my few days off and HAVE to re-post two items from friends' blogs that other folks may not see.

The first is a captivating tale right out of Scooby Doo - The Mystery of the Garbage Can Arranger. Get the first-hand here and then here.

The second is a YouTube of this sick drummer named Marco Minnemann. In this clip, he is playing along to samples of voices from tv and movies (Futurama, Monty Python, etc), which of course are in all sorts of odd times. This guy is truly ill and needs too be attended to...

Thanks to Voxmoose and Dr. John for these.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Floydian Slips NYE Rehearsal Video and Portland Review

While lounging around in Mexico, I put together a montage (sing it like on Team America - it's a montage!) of clips from The Floydian Slips rehearsal on December 30, 2007.

We were prepping for the New Years Eve show, and doing sound check to boot. The clips were filmed by a friend of the band and I just stitched them together.

Also, we had a nice review of the Portland show from Glide Magazine here.


Hola from Mexico

Just got back at 2 AM today from Mexico - nice Cancun vacation with no kids and no agenda.

Time to troll through a gabillion work emails. Yay!

PS - I took the photo. It was really nice there! Got a lot of reading done so reviews are a-comin'. Stay tuned...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Look Out World - Vinyl is Coming Back!

According to TIME Magazine, vinyl records are making a comeback with younger listeners who are not pleased with the tinny quality of MP3s and enjoy the large format artwork and overall experience offered by the ole Big 10 Inch format. From the article:

Like the comeback of Puma sneakers or vintage T shirts, vinyl's resurgence has benefited from its retro-rock aura. Many young listeners discovered LPs after they rifled through their parents' collections looking for oldies and found that they liked the warmer sound quality of records, the more elaborate album covers and liner notes that come with them, and the experience of putting one on and sharing it with friends, as opposed to plugging in some earbuds and listening alone...

The article continues to state the obvious:

Large album covers with imaginative graphics, pullout photos (some even have full-size posters tucked in the sleeve) and liner notes are a big draw for young fans. "Alternative rock used to have 16-page booklets and album sleeves, but with iTunes there isn't anything collectible to show I own a piece of this artist," says Dreese of Newbury Comics. In a nod to modern technology, albums known as picture discs come with an image of the band or artist printed on the vinyl. "People who are used to CDs see the artwork and the colored vinyl, and they think it's really cool," says Jordan Yates, 15, a Nashville-based vinyl enthusiast. Some LP releases even come with bonus tracks not on the CD version, giving customers added value.

It's great to have 13,000 songs on something the size of a pile of business cards, but it's also nice to see that young folks are starting to get hip to the way that many of us grew up listening to music on a turntable.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Floydian Slips Videos from Seattle

Had two great shows (same night) at The Triple Door in Seattle last Saturday. That place is the bomb. It's basically a supper club that holds 300 people and serves awesome food and beverage.

The room was acoustically very good and the sound was consequently pretty awesome. The first show was sold out and the second had about 175, which was great for our first trip up there.

It was challenging to have to prove ourselves to an audience who has never seen us before. We are so spoiled with the Eugene audiences who hang on every note. These Seattle folks were not as easy to turn. But in the end, we got a great response and the club wants us back. We're thinking summer time.

In the meanwhile, here are a couple of vids:


Have A Cigar

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Geddy Lee and the Joys of Winter

Catching up on some blog reading, I found this video on Voxmoose's blog so appealing that I had to pillage and re-post it here. Some good advice, kiddies. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dave Grohl Good - Alaska Airlines Bad

As I rot in the San Jose Airport because Alaska Airlines just cancelled my flight home to Portland (I came down here today for a meeting if you can believe it), I am catching up on my mail. See Alaska Airlines Sucks for some chuckles I am especially appreciating just now.

My buddy Bruce sent me a cool article today with drummer Dave Grohl's tips for living a happy life. They are rock star appropriate but also show how cool of a dude he is. See the whole list here, but below are a couple of my fav's:

3. Moderation in all things.

I'm nearly 40. The last thing I want to do is wake up with a raging hangover and have to listen to Elmo songs with my daughter. I might be able to drink longer now; I just don't drink as often. If I get a night out with some friends and J├Ągermeister, it's going to be a long night, and somebody's going home with cracked ribs.

4. An audience is an audience.

To me, music was an escape from working in a furniture warehouse. It still feels like that. And at the end of the day, does it matter how many people are standing in front of you when you play a song? You're still going to play music. I'd be just as happy as I am now if I was at the sh**hole down the street playing Creedence covers for six people.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Neil Peart Writes to Isorski...

...23 years ago.

Back in the 80s, word got out that Rush's drummer Neil Peart would personally answer his fan mail. Being such a Rush-head back then, I wound up writing him a letter in response to an interview I read with Neil in Modern Drummer Magazine.

I was in high school, in a band called Osiris at the time, that covered some Rush - we did Limelight, La Villa, Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions, as well as farting through things like 2112, YYZ, Spirit of Radio etc. The drummer and I learned Grace Under Pressure end to end and used to play it (just guitar and drums) for a lark.

Anyway, I got a response postcard from Neil one day during a break from band practice. Needless to say, it was pretty inspiring!

Today, there is a guy named Andy Olson who is gathering Neil postcards to a special Web site. He posted my card over the weekend. There aren't a ton of them posted yet, but it's pretty cool to click through the few he has there.

Voxmoose, I know you got one about a year after I did. Send it to Andy if you still have it around!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Floydian Slips Video - Brick Part Two

The Pink Floyd cover band I am in, The Floydian Slips, rang in the new year in Eugene, Oregon Monday night to a sold out house of 1,200 raving lunatics. We had a blast! Below is a video I managed to pop onto YouTube today in between getting my head back into work and tackling a million things.

We play Saturday in Seattle and next Saturday the 12th here in Portland. That'll give me my Floyd fix for a few months.

Enjoy the vid.