How to Build a Record Collection

Since vinyl is in back in style, I’ll relate my own thoughts & experiences, which have been continuous since middle school. For me it’s been a worthwhile road, but there are many pitfalls. I’ll share some so you can (hopefully) avoid them, or at least recognize them quicker. Start by understanding this truth about human nature: music is emotional. That means it’s like food, money & sex– eliciting powerful responses. The universal human reaction is, everyone likes it and wants the best of their preferences for themselves.

Gain control of yourself by realizing that music is a lifetime choice. That means whatever you are liking as a kid, is what you are going to like as an adult. You don’t (& can’t) “outgrow” it. Whatever format you prefer, music is a lifetime commitment, and the medium is part of the message.

I got ripped off (price-wise) on my first few record purchases, which were at department store racks, and then Musicland in the Park Plaza Mall. Those institutions don’t even exist anymore. Back then, I was quickly informed by a Winneconne classmate that the Exclusive Company was the best place to buy records in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Their prices were always unbeatable on new vinyl, and probably still are. You need a good record store in order to build a decent collection.

The market has inflated since the 1980’s, when Exclusive Co new-vinyl releases listed mostly at $5.99, with superstars such as Madonna, Springsteen, Prince, etc listing at $6.99. Note, Indie releases were also often listed at $6.99, indicating there was a serious demand for them even back then. Classic vinyl was mostly $4.99, with bargain bins of 3-for-$10 on many classic re-releases.

Selection is always THE issue for the serious enthusiast, so eventually someone behind the Exclusive Co desk showed me their encyclopedia. It had every album still-in-print. For a $1 deposit you could order any record, and it would arrive in a week. It was the only way to acquire punk rock (or anything else outside the mainstream) in the Fox Valley area in the mid-1980’s. Cut-out bins were a method to acquire artists like Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and others who were (still are) disrespected by so many industry wheels. The public libraries had very little of this, while AM/FM radio & MTV never played it. That was how things were censored back then.

Used records should be the staple of any respectable collection, as it’s just too costly for most (with new vinyl now $20+) to build what you need from entirely fresh vinyl. Many essential records can be purchased for a few bucks apiece, in used record bins across America & beyond. Besides, who wants to be the schmuck who pays $20 apiece for albums that have been sitting in $1-2 bins everywhere since forever? Too much of this makes you an idiot over-spender, and those who know can always tell.

Bookstores often have record bins. How much disorganization, and “is it worth it?” are always considerations when approaching used records. A good rule is, the more disorganized, the less it’s worth it. You may find a pearl (or two), but usually it’s futile with a lot of back-breaking reaching & lifting. In the heat, it better be good– or else forget it. If the vendor hasn’t bothered to organize their bins into (at least) genres, then it is usually because it’s all junk.

As a point in training, first look over everything available and scan the few titles you see for quality of release & condition. Approach the best-looking areas and peel through a bin or two. How fast? Depends on the quality of what you are seeing. More good stuff means SLOW DOWN. Remember, this gets emotional, so look closely at the prices and consider your budget. If it’s all crap, then leave.

If a bin is filled tightly, you can’t really see the jackets, so grab a handful (or two) of records and pull them out. Look through them (on top of the rest), then gently place them somewhere close but out-of-the-way. There may be other people looking through, so stay out of their way too, as a courtesy.  Then go through the rest of the bin, seeing every cover clearly & easily. When finished with the bin, put the removed records back in, and move on. Believe it or not, there is a serious code to all this, and I’m condensing it for you.

When you see a title you like, check the record itself. Look at the label to make sure its title matches the jacket. It sucks when you get burned on that. Then look for scratches & warping. Pass on any significant warping, as it just won’t play. How much scratching you are will to put up with, depends on how much you want the album & the price. Many times, it’s dirt & grime, which can be cleaned off. All used records should be cleaned before playing. I use alcohol & gauze, because it’s cheap & effective. Use a circular wiping motion, and avoid too much excess as it leaves a residue. This will also protect you turntable’s needle, helping it last longer. Scotch tape any rips in the sleeve.

I acquired roughly half my collection from Renningers Flea Market in Mount Dora, particularly from a vendor named Wally Rossell– who is no longer there. He had a whole lot of selection, in difficult-to-find genres including classic rock, punk, reggae, jazz & country. He even had a significant selection of world music. It took me a long time to go through everything he had, and he kept acquiring more. I’m talking years. I eventually left him my phone #, and he would leave me a message when he had something new, which he knew I would like.  He knew what I liked, because we had discussions every time I purchased.

Record people love to talk about this stuff. Many vendors have bigger inventories at home and/or in a warehouse. Wally had been in the business for 40+ years, and will probably only leave it in death. I was always grateful for his efforts in finding amazing stuff, and NEVER argued with any of his pricing. Keep in mind, this is at a flea market in central Florida– where everyone haggles.

Records could only be sold at well-below their actual value from 1990 to ~ 2005, because the vinyl market was destroyed. In that time period, if you could hang on to your collection and had the means to expand it, you could acquire every essential classic record in every major genre for <$5 apiece. That’s what the music industry’s push to compact disc did to vinyl.

For me, it filled out my collection while keeping a budget. Speaking of controlling your spending, bootlegs are budget-busters and they will always cost you extra– no matter who is selling. Wally had more bootlegs than any other vendor I’ve ever come across, and I bought a few from him. Here’s my advice on boots: limit yourself to those artists you truly adore and can’t get enough of. Many bootlegs are live recordings, so have a good understanding of that artist. Are they a good live performer by reputation or personal experience? Also, you are gambling on the sound quality- if you don’t know for sure. A little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous, and stick you with costly lemons. Focus on the artists you love most, who really kill it live, and you’ll avoid expensive disappointments.

As far as what to buy? That’s up you you. Here are some rough guidelines:

1) Whatever you favorite genre is (pop, rock, rap, country,,,) start with the major artists. There’s always a reason they are loved (now) globally, and have lasted. You’ll probably relate to them as well.

2) Trace the roots of your favorite genre(s). A lot of the stuff kids are hearing today came from Charlie Parker, James Brown, the Beatles, Velvet Underground… There’s lots of cool stuff you’ve never heard, waiting to be rediscovered.

3) Expand into different world music genres. If you like rock music, or rap music; understand this music is being created in new forms– globally. The Internet puts it at your fingertips, but you have to know how to find it. First, you have to care.

4) Have fun! This is the most important rule, so I’m putting it last. Don’t be a “collector,” who buys & catalogs their records as museum pieces, but never plays them. Buy records that excite you, and make you want to play them again & again! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, as long as they work for you. When done this way, the pay-off is priceless joy.

Strange as this may sound, I now consider my record collection to be an organic entity, connected to my being. On a daily basis I can go to it, and make a selection that immediately transports me back in time. The dominant medium before 1990 was vinyl, meaning CD and mp3 aren’t the same experience. If you grew up in that time, it’s much easier to understand and relate to what I’m saying.

Regardless, the message we receive from music (however it’s delivered) instantly impacts us, and changes our mood. If I’m feeling down, and I put on a Muddy Waters record, I’m hearing someone relating to me before I was born. That’s a timeless artist influencing others, and that’s the magic in the grooves. Way cheaper (and more helpful) than therapy!

Final thoughts:  My collection is defined as straight rock, lean & mean; < 2000 LPs & < 300 45’s. It’s all pre-1990. After that, I listen on CD or mp3/streaming as (once again) that’s the format of the time. All mentionable rock record collections start alphabetically with AC/DC. Note that if you’re gay or a woman, then ABBA is a more likely starting point. As an illustration, here’s what I have for AC/DC, and how it rates using the hated Rolling Stone magazine 1-5 star system.

High Voltage (1975) Five stars: One of the best-ever rock album debuts. These bad boys from Australia always had issues getting US distribution. Classic rock buffs initially hated AC/DC because they rocked so hard, making them look bad. AC/DC never cared about that shit, which is what won them so many young male fans.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976) Five stars: Banned in the US (due to salacious content) for a long while, until Bon Scott’s death in 1980. This record has strong punk influence.

Let There Be Rock (1977) Four stars: The weakest Bon Scott album. Only eight tracks, and one of them is a repeat from Dirty Deeds (“Problem Child”), but most deliver a groove; and a two are deservedly rock-radio classics– “Whole Lot of Rosie” & the title track. This record often gets slagged by AC/DC haters who have too much time on their hands. Even Young, Young & Scott’s worst songs shredded Bob Dylan & the Rolling Stones at that time. That wasn’t allowed to go unpunished by the music industry.

Powerage (1978) Five stars: Their best album, and the last AC/DC collaboration with producers Harry Vanda & George Young. Every song has top-notch songwriting & delivery, with clean & tight production. Cliff Williams on bass is an improvement. There are nine songs on Powerage, and at least eight would have sounded great on radio and become classics if played consistently. It’s a very disrespectful joke that rock radio still only plays “Sin City.”

If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978) Four-and-a-half stars: AC/DC could bring it live. The only problem here is there isn’t enough, as this should have been a double album– at least.

Highway to Hell (1979) Four-and-a-half stars: Not quite as good as their 5-star classics, but still essential. You can hear a little more commercial sound in the production, but the band is staying true to their roots. This is the last Bon Scott album, as he died during the recording of Back in Black on February 19, 1980.

Back in Black (1980) Five stars: Brian Johnson took over on vocals, and there was enough remnant songwriting (& inspiration from Scott’s tragic death) to pull off one last masterpiece. This is probably the most classic heavy metal record ever, as every song delivers from beginning to end. It’s also the only good AC/DC album with Johnson singing.

For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981) Two stars: Only the title cut and a few others groove, the rest is filler. Bon Scott was the genius that propelled AC/DC to the top, and it’s now clear that Brian Johnson has none of his creative wit & intellect. This is where you jump off as a sensible heavy metal fan (oxymoron?), as Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard & Night Ranger are all more interesting at this point.

74 Jailbreak (1984) This as a 5-song EP of early Bon Scott material. I don’t bother rating EP’s, they’re either cool or they suck. This one is cool.

Guitar Notes: AC/DC was formed by brothers Malcolm & Angus Young. Anyone playing rock guitar since, has been influenced by these two, or else they suck. I rarely see them covered, and it’s because they’re too good and most aren’t up to their standard. Every AC/DC fan picks their favorite guitarist, and most go with Angus for his incomparable lead style– blending blues & classic rock into modern heavy metal. He was also the showman (especially after Scott’s death), parading around stage in his classic reform school outfit. But as much as I love Angus, I’m really a Malcolm protoge. For me, the heart of AC/DC’s sound, is the HEAVY riffing– which is Malcolm Young. One of the best bands ever.

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Videos: Over & Out

These are the three official videos for Over & Out.  All are edited & produced TomP.

“DDSeuss” features images from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) archives:

In “Many Miles,” images were gathered (Google) to portrait one of the great jazz artists of the 20th century:

“Sun-Wind-Bird” features the outstanding photography of Bill Haley, (the few Florida photos are RS):

A complete archive of his photos can be found at Bill Haley-FHPhotography on Facebook.

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Slow Resistance Wins the War

This death saddened me, as Chris Cornell had an amazing singing voice, one of the most powerful in rock music. Soundgarden was one of the original grunge bands that rose up and conquered pop culture during the alternative music revolution of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Originally on SubPop, then SST (two of the most prestigious alternative labels of the era), they were signed with A&M for Badmotorfinger (1991), which broke them through with classics like “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined.” Drug problems can really mess up a band, and Soundgarden was no exception.


The grunge era began with Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney, Nirvana, etc. It came from college/alternative rock. College radio was still an independent force back then, and college-kid DJ’s determined the ‘playlists’ which were often wide-open for new indie-label releases. REM was really the first US ‘alternative’ band to sign a major promotion & distribution (P&D) deal; first with IRS, then Warner.

Most elite indie acts were denied similar deals, because it would have collapsed the manufactured ‘classic rock’ market, which became an ossified Rolling Stone magazine-controlled industry by the mid-1980’s. It was Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Prince, Bob Dylan… forever.  Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground, P-Funk & the rest of punk rock & reggae were dismissed, along with every amazing new band on indie labels such as: SST, 4AD, Caroline, Touch & Go, SubPop, Twin/Tone and dozens of others.

Things haven’t changed much since, as the ‘alternative’ genie was put back into its bottle by the mid-1990’s. Popular music soon became the Counting Crows & Sheryl Crow.  That’s when I got disgusted, and serious about music, and these are the artists that most-influenced me.

The industry scooped up college radio, when the grunge revolution collapsed due to lack of political leadership. Many of it’s leading artists expressed no serious political thoughts, or else deferred them to the Democratic party; first in the form of Jerry Brown/Al Gore (pseudo-environmentalism), then Bill Clinton (anyone but Bush) in 1992. Without a serious direction for all this artistic talent, the energy it created was dissipated into safe bourgeois channels, and it’s artists mostly became irrelevant (or dead) soon after.

The people making this music were doing it simply because they believed in it. In the 1980’s, synth & schlock glam were en vogue; and kids were being trained en masse to buy into this Huxlean future. Madonna was at her peak, and more than any pop artist, she defined the MTV-generation. Madonna was/is a tremendous talent, who (as most artists do) fails to understand the full implications of her artistic power. In the end all her ‘rebellion’ has led to her full-throated support for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party, under the liberal construct of modern feminism. That is how she stays a big star, living in luxury.

Indie & grunge had nothing to do with this–at least initially. Since these artists knew they weren’t getting MTV/radio support, they could play whatever they felt. That is the revolutionary sub-current than runs through so much of the ‘underground’ music of this era. It still resonates powerfully today, which is why it has been largely marginalized by the establishment.

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Over & Out (2017)

Tom Pearce recorded the last Ric Size studio album on Tuesday, May 16th– with everything you see in these photos:

It took ~ 3 hours total, with set-up & teardown. All photos, scans, layout & design by TomP & Ric Size. These are the tracks:

 

      1. Birth of Song - Ric Size

 

      2. Up Around The Clock - Ric Size

 

      3. You Are My Brother - Ric Size

 

      4. Ddsuess - Ric Size

 

      5. Who Are They ? - Ric Size

 

      6. Tased - Ric Size

 

      7. Many Miles - Ric Size

 

      8. Yes / No Wave - Ric Size

 

      9. Waves - Ric Size

 

      10. You Drinkin A Beer? - Ric Size

 

      11. Permanent Revolution - Ric Size

 

      12. Sun Wind Bird - Ric Size

 

TomP did all the sound set up, miking, engineering, etc; while I provided the guitar, songs & performance– in my spare bedroom.  It was a LOT nicer than the Hwy 19 & Main St. studio, to say the least. Those are actual cardinals chirping on “Many Miles.”  Work with what you’ve got.

Tom Pearce recorded, edited, produced & delivered Over & Out in under a week. Photo below is his home studio, running Studio One 3 Pro mastering plug-ins. Have I mentioned the importance of a producer who is an artist and can finish?

“Yes/No Wave” was self-recorded/produced on a Fostex 4-channel cassette recorder, in 2001.  It is the only multi-track recording on this album. Note the higher pitch in my voice.

Fan note: We are still working on Re-Magnified. That project has taken a new & exciting creative turn, and we look forward to getting definitive versions of those songs produced sometime soon!

When care is taken to observe the immutable principles of sound dynamics, a producer’s job becomes much easier.

Also note, this gets product (new songs) to market quicker. If this sounds like the way you would like to record, then contact Tom Pearce at Last Minute Productions in Tavares, FL for all your audio recording needs!

Any promotional tour for Over & Out will depend on the money.  Haven’t seen any so far, and if that maintains, then that’s it.  All I ever wanted to do was share my songs. I did it on my own terms, paid the price, became profoundly influential, and survived. As they say in showbiz, that’s a helluva run!!

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My Musical Muse

I read this interview with Thurston Moore recently on songwriting. If I had to list the ‘best’ rock-era songwriters, Moore would certainly be near the top. It’s always silly to compare when it comes to art, but it is also helpful to know who the best are. Those are the ones you learn from & imitate.

The best songwriters sing their songs and also play an instrument, and usually lead a band or at least a stable core group of musicians. They will find the perfect working partners in musical colleagues & in the production sphere. This requires being able to interact with others and control egos, including your own. That is difficult in an age when anyone with a hit, instantly gets blown up into a superstar by the industry/media hype machine.

For me, having a song title and finding a melody hook are my starting points. The title acts as a reminder of what you are writing about, so your verses can feed seamlessly into the chorus. The melody hook from both the verse & chorus generates a rhythm, from which lyrics flow. I write all my songs on paper, usually on the back of an envelope with a pen. My guitar is out, and used to re-implant the melody as needed. Try to get the lyrics roughed out as quickly as possible. When being creative, keep the ideas fresh & fast– don’t get bogged down in details. Polish those out later.

Experimenting with song structure is a great idea for expanding your repertoire. Many novice songwriters fall into the trap of making every song the same, as far as verse-chorus-(2x)-solo-verse-chorus framework. Try writing songs without choruses. Vary the length of your compositions to break free of boxy concepts. All guitar players & songwriters should (at least) experiment on bass.

The most radical (recent) departure from conventionality for me has been the use of a slide. As a groove player, I noticed my pinky was often doing nothing, so I decided to put it to use. This adds an element of attack that few other singer-songwriters have. My solo performance can swing & rip better than many full bands due to this innovation. This scares most colleagues, along with all club owners & industry types– so I’m blacklisted.

This leads to the point of paying the price to be who you are. Understand what it is, and deal with it. Don’t change who you are, to become ‘successful.’ That’s when you start sucking. This requires patience & endurance. If you are any good, people will start to recognize your talent, as long as you put in the work.

What is the work? It’s reading EVERYTHING and learning as much as you can. The more you know and the more worldly conscious you are, the better your songs will be. You need to get out into the real world, and experience it with real people, in real relationships. This allows you to absorb all perspectives, and please note this includes nature itself. Someone needs to speak for all the animals being devastated, etc…

The more you immerse yourself in reality, the more relatable your songs become. Music fans want to hear music that speaks to them. If all you can write/sing about are your tormented love affairs & sexual conquests, then most of us aren’t going to be interested. It’s selfish and we’ve heard it over & over, endlessly already.

Find some other aspects of your life that listeners can also connect with, and go with it the next time your creative urge strikes. Once again, you need this for versatility, otherwise you’re a one-trick pony. We already have too many of those hacks hosting open mic nights with their tip jars empty. Every one of their ‘originals’ sounds the same, and their performances only generate pity applause. It’s sad & painful to experience. Don’t be like that.

Another creative area is covers. When performing songs from other artists, pick those you are most-influenced by, and learn (what you consider to be) their best songs. Too many avoid the best, because their songs are too difficult to perform well. Yeah– that’s the point in separating the talent from the wannabe’s!

I believe in many ways this is how you discover your songwriting muse. Apply this attitude to covers, and what you’ll notice is that each artist has a distinct style of composition & delivery. Some of your favorites will be naturally easier to play than others, and this becomes a key discovery. It tells you who your deepest influences will be, as you discover yourself in musicianship. For me it became Graham Parker in songwriting & vocal delivery, and Kurt Cobain in guitar style. My friend and working partner TomP, definitively convinced me that my preferred production style is Sonic Youth.

You only learn this through focus & dedication. I do believe there is an element of prodigy too, but with that said this ability is inside all of us. Music is primal. Music is much more basic & essential than film or any other art form. The heartbeat is our most basic rhythm, and it has been mimicked in music since man’s earliest existence. Finding your music muse is the natural expression of our humanity’s desire to creatively express itself.  Find it and set it free.

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Women Who Rock

I’m not strict when it comes to genres. You can rock any form, including classical music.  There are plenty of women playing & conducting Mozart, the greatest rock-star ever.  These are the women I (mostly) respect in the various popular music forms which have evolved from the 1920’s (birth of audio recording), up through the year 2000 or so. This review hits the highlights, and is by no means exhaustive.

Bessie Smith (1894 – 1937) was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s & 1930s, and a major influence on jazz singers:

bessie_smith-empress_of_the_blues

The Carter Family were traditional folk music, the first vocal group to become country music stars. They originally recorded from 1927 to 1956, and still exert a profound impact on bluegrass, country, gospel, pop & rock:

carter-family

Mahalia Jackson (1911 – 1972) was the ‘Queen of Gospel.’  She explained, “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free. It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”

mahalia-jackson

Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996) is still the ‘First Lady of Song’ & the ‘Queen of Jazz.’  No one sings the Gershwins’ or Cole Porter’s songbooks better:

ella-fitzgerald

Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959) had a profound influence on jazz music, as no one sang with more feeling:

Patsy Cline (1932 – 1963) was country music’s biggest star. Her hits began in 1957, and continued until her tragic death. She was killed in a multiple-fatality crash of the private plane of her manager, under murky circumstances:

patsy-cline_walking-after-midnight

Shirley Scott (1934 – 2002) was a hard bop & soul-jazz organist.  Known as ‘Queen of the Organ.’

shirley-scott

Early-’60s New York girl groups totally rock:

chiffons-1963

So do mid-’60s New York girl groups:

shangri-las

As did the Phil Spector girl groups:

spector-the-ronettes

Joan Baez was the original female folk-rock artist:

joan-baez-bob-dylan

The folk genre eventually became ‘singer/songwriter’ with artists like Joni Mitchell:

joni-mitchell

Nina Simone (1933 – 2003) was a true artist. She was a first-rate singer, songwriter, pianist & arranger who was able to work with (and earn the respect of) elite jazz artists such as Miles Davis. Simone was a civil rights activist when it mattered, and could work in virtually any musical style from R&B to classical:

nina-simone

Motown was the hit machine record label of the mid-late 1960’s, and the Supremes were label owner Berry Gordy’s top act:

supremes3

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas recorded some of the most gritty & danceable R&B of the Motown hit-making era:

marthav_motown

Tammi Terrell (1945-1970) & Marvin Gaye (1939-1984) is my selection for top duet couple. Terrell was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1967, and had eight surgeries before succumbing to her illness at age 24:

tammi-terrell-marvin-gaye

Maureen Tucker was the drummer for the Velvet Underground.  Nico was the original bad girl, who became an artist no one understood.  This is where they fit in chronologically, but really they’re ~20 years ahead of their time:

andy-maureen-lou

nico7

Shocking Blue was a late 1960’s Dutch psychedelic rock band, which has famously been covered by Bananarama & Nirvana:

shocking-blue

Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane were okay, I guess:

Janis Joplin (1943 – 1970) was a raw & uninhibited blues singer. Excess led to her accidental drug overdose, after only four albums including the posthumous Pearl (1970):

janis

In 1968, singer/songwriter/dancer Gal Costa became a part of the Tropicalismo movement, which was a Brazilian artistic movement whose anti-authoritarian & revolutionary expressions made them a target of censorship & repression by the military junta that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985:

gal-costa

Cuban singer Celia Cruz (1925 – 2003) was the ‘Queen of Salsa’, the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century:

celia-cruz

Googoosh is an Iranian singer/actress of Azerbaijani origin, and the most iconic pop diva in the Middle East. She is famously known for remaining in Tehran following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and not performing again until 2000 due to the ban on female singers:

googoosh_iranian-diva

Country music traditionally paired its upcoming female stars with moldy oldie males, in order to give them the boost they often needed.  Dolly Parton was no exception:

porter-dolly

Aretha Franklin is the Queen of R&B/Gospel, with the perfect blend of attitude and vocal power:

lady-soul

Tina Turner’s version of CCR’s “Proud Mary” is possibly the most-covered karaoke song in pop-cultural history:

tina-turner

As for Hollywood, Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972) is the likely greatest musical ever filmed, and Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles was a performance of a lifetime:

cabaret-1972

Same with the unstoppable & incomparable Barbra Streisand in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? (1972):

babs

Bette Midler was a Broadway performer who made her film debut in 1979 with The Rose, a hard-hitting fictionalized account of the life & death of Janis Joplin– one of the most stunning debut performances in Hollywood history:

bette-midler-1979

It’s a mystery why so many people hate on Yoko Ono, she was good enough for John Lennon (1940-1980), who always considered her an artist:

john-lennon-yoko-ono-1971

Jessi Colter was one of the few female country artists to emerge from the mid-1970s “outlaw” movement, which also featured Waylon Jennings whom she married:

jessi-waylon

The Swedish act ABBA helped bring disco to America, for better or worse:

abba_gold-records

Disco (1974-80) began as a street vibe, with DJ’s as artists & genre leaders. Disco was influenced by soul, funk, glam, reggae/dub & punk. It spawned new-wave, rap & electronica:

disco-box_4cds

Disco was a genre dominated by women, and Donna Summer & Gloria Gaynor became its greatest artists:

queen-of-disco

Disco was an explosion of minority street culture, gay pride, and feminism.  Acts like Sister Sledge, Chic & a host of one-hit wonders including: Shirley (& Company), Vicki Sue Robinson, Rose Royce, Lipps Inc, Anita Ward, (and too many others to list here) made some of the most enduring dance music ever created.

gloria-gaynor

These and other cultural institutions birthed in the 1970’s, were controlled by corporate machinery through record labels & radio monopolization.  This revolution in popular culture was quickly over-saturated and shamelessly exploited until its impact finally subsided.  By 1980, disco was history and newly-arrived MTV was channelling kids into new wave (Eurythmics, pictured below) and pop metal:

eurythmics

For some, punk is what really rocks and Patti Smith was the original poet:

patti-smith_-horses-1975

One of the greatest forgotten punk singers is Poly Styrene (Marion Elliot) of X-Ray Spex, accompanied by saxophonist Lora Logic (Susan Whitby):

xray-spex

The Raincoats were formed in 1977 by UK art students Gina Birch and Ane de Silva, inspired by the “anyone can do it” spirit of punk:

raincoats

Blondie was Debbie Harry (singer/songwriter), with good help from (guitarist/songwriter/lover) Chris Stein– when he behaved himself. Blondie began as NYC punk, and quickly became the biggest crossover artists of their era. “Heart of Glass” is punk/disco crossover; “Rapture” is THE original rap crossover; and “The Tide is High” is rock/reggae crossover:

blondie

Anyone who ever tried to start a band knows that good bass players are hard to find.  Punk/alternative has a long tradition of women on bass, starting with Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads):

tina-weymouth-talking-heads

Exene Cervenka was a lead singer for X, the legendary Los Angeles-based punk band:

exene-cervenka-in-x

The Slits (formed in 1976) in the words of band leader Ari Up:
“We felt naturally feminist without saying so. At the time you were expected to comb your hair perfectly neat and be glamorous, like the magazines tell you to be. You couldn’t be naturally sexy. I felt we were very sexy by nature. If we wanted to be sexy we were, but not to please men. We just did our own thing. In this way, we threatened society. The witch hunt was on. I was stabbed in the street, just for looking the way I did, by a guy who looked like John Travolta.”

slits_cut-1979

Post-punk feminism exploded with Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders), B-52’s, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joan Jett, the Go-Go’s, Cyndi Lauper, etc…

pretenders-1980

b-52s

pat_benatar

the-go-gos

The biggest MTV star, and icon of the 1980’s (and into the 1990’s) would be Madonna, who today is the indisputable ‘Queen of Pop’:

madonna

Cuban emigrant Gloria Estefan became the 1980’s biggest Latin crossover artist, sparking a global interest in Spanish dance rhythms & beats:

gloria-estefan

Country singer/songwriter Reba McEntire became the genre’s biggest female star, and eventually crossed over into Hollywood television:

reba-mcentire

Pop music always rules the charts & drives the industry. Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey became the next generation of divas that followed in the wake of Madonna:

janet-jackson

mariah

Female bassists in alternative rock included Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, pictured below), Kim Deal (Pixies), and D’arcy Wretzky (Smashing Pumpkins):

kim-gordon_sonic-youth

The Carpenters had a pop sound all their own in the 1970’s, up until Karen’s death due to anorexia in 1983, and (believe it or not) she is still cited by alternative artists as an influence:

karencarpenter

Iceland’s Bjork debuted in 1988 with the Sugarcubes, and has since become a pioneer in electronica:

sugarcubes-1988

More conventional female singer-songwriters of this era included Suzanne Vega, 10,000 Maniacs, and the Indigo Girls.  Among this genre is Tracy Chapman, a shy but gifted storyteller who never fit into the industry mold– talkin’ about a revolution:

tracy-chapman-1988

With hip-hop exploding in the late 1980’s, Queen Latifah became the first female rapper to gain notoriety, and since has become a global icon:

queen-latifah-1989

Sinead O’Connor became a superstar when she released I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1989), which is a gorgeous album of beauty, love & pain:

sinead-oconnor

Perhaps the most enduring female artist of the alternative/underground era is PJ Harvey, a bona-fide, multi-dimensional punk diva:

polly-jean

Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (1993) is one of the most stunning & sublime debut albums [a double!] ever released:

exile-in-guyville-1993

Belly’s Star (1993) had already been reviewed on this site: [1]

belly-1993

Babes in Toyland from Minneapolis were the hardest-rocking feminine trio ever, a total ‘no compromise– no brakes’ act:

babes-in-toyland

Bikini Kill was the quintessential riot grrrl band, led by songwriter/vocalist Kathleen Hannah, and anchored by guitarist Billy Karen:

Where Women Are Today in Music:

The point of this exercise is to illustrate that women have always had a powerful voice in popular music.  Feminists who scream that a woman’s perspective is still being suppressed, simply don’t acknowledge any of this musical history and therefore render themselves foolish in this discussion.

With that said, there are serious challenges facing women with a musical message today.  Since the liquidation of grunge in the mid-1990’s, it’s been a constant corporate & political assault on musical freedom, leading to the homogenization & commodification of popular music:

lauren-hill-1998

sheryl-crow

What began as Sheryl Crow and Lauren Hill (both above), became Brittany Spears– as banality became institutionalized:

brittany-spears

Soon after came American Idol & Hanna Montana, as the role for women in music became increasingly being channelled into cookie-cutter pop divas:

american-idol

beyonce4

taylor-swift

lady-gaga-2015

The industry model of making an album, followed by marketing & promoting it for 2-3 years is now dead in the age of the Internet & social media.  Kids today move to new artists and fresher musical trends in the time it takes a superstar act to make their next record.  A good example of this is Adele, who conquered the world with 21, but has stiffed with her recent follow-up 25.  By the time 29 (?) comes out, her fans will have grown up and moved on:

adele25

What Adele (and others like her) need to do is re-evaluate their performing schedule, and make time to get back to writing songs, but the industry they work for won’t allow them that luxury. Why this isn’t possible, no one ever explains, because everyone is so focused on making money. The best new artists (male & female) will come from outside of this milieu, and smash this ossified bureaucracy with independent music & a new delivery model.

amy_winehouse

And music fans can’t wait.

HONORABLE MENTION
Sarah Vaughan
Linda Ronstadt
Carole King
Fleetwood Mac
Dionne Warwick
Loretta Lynn
Tammy Wynette
Emmylou Harris
Bonnie Raitt
The Roches
Heart
Gillian Gilbert (New Order)
kd Lang
The Vaselines
The Primitives,
Cowboy Junkies
Hole
Kate Bush
Alanis Morrisette
Sarah McLachlan
ETC…

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The Guitar Handbook (1982)

This is the most complete & essential textbook for any guitar player:

the-holy-bible

Within its contents is everything one needs to know about this instrument to get started.  For instance, here is every guitar chord (below the 12th fret) in the key of D:

guitar-chords-in-d

The Guitar Handbook begins harmlessly enough with a biography & photo section of many of the most innovative players across the various genres from Django Reinhardt (jazz) to Jimi Hendrix (electric rock) to Stanley Clarke (jazz bass) to Robert Fripp (experimental).

Next is a section on the construction of acoustic, electric, & bass guitars which is helpful for all players to know, or at least be familiar. Finding the right guitar for your style & ability is a combination of ‘feel,’ along with a basic understanding of what a well-built instrument looks like.

electric-acoustic-electric

My overall preference is for electric-acoustic, which is defined as an acoustic guitar with a built-in pickup and 1/4″ pin jack. The pickup is typically powered by a 9-volt battery, and considerations of the electronics comes down to: 1) the usefulness & reliability of the rudimentary controls, and 2) the ease of battery replacement.

acoustic-electric_pickup_controls

An acoustic-electric allows the player to be ready for any venue at all times, with a compact rig. Well made acoustic-electrics play louder than most Gibson & Fender electrics. The acoustical resonance inside the guitar body tends to overdrive the crude pickup, so the sound output will typically be much hotter than any solid-body electric guitar. It helps to be aware of this, when using the 2 or 3 primitive level controls. Experienced musicians don’t ‘leave it up to the sound guy,’ because they are often not skilled (or sober) enough to help. Listen and use your best judgment for getting a strong signal output, without overdriving & obliterating everything in distortion.

yamaha-acoustic-electric-guitar

The next (and most intense) section of The Guitar Handbook concerns playing the guitar. This contains everything you need to know to become a guitar Jedi, and it comes with the understanding that if you don’t know all this– you’re nothing.  It starts with reading musical notation & guitar tabulature, then continues into right & left-handed technique, followed by open chords, three-chord theory, barre chords, transposing, tempo, rhythm, time signatures, pitch, scales (major & minor), keys, modes, harmonics, intervals, triads, minor sevenths, added ninths, suspended sixths & polychords.  Harmony & melody are also important, and are briefly discussed, as are alternate & open tunings.

rhythm-guitar-handbook

Then we get into improvisation and lead guitar techniques such as bends, hammer-ons & pull-offs, trills, tapping, slides & vibrato.

Note:  As a guitar player, you always need a bag-of-tricks you can go to for padding out the jams as the ‘tip jar’ is passing around. These are your blues & rock licks, ascending & descending runs, double-note licks, arpeggios & octaves, etc… which you must have. Otherwise you stink.

Robert Fripp definitively sums up harmonics here:

fripp

After first reading Fripp’s words as a young boy, I admit that I was afraid to touch a guitar string for awhile, due to all these heretofore unknown consequences, of which I had just been made aware– but still didn’t really understand. Today, I’m grateful that I was able to get past all this at some point.

fripp_let-the-power-fall

Note that it is impossible to play any early U2 songs without a complete understanding of the Mixolydian mode, and its intimate relationship to the Dorian & Ionian modes.

modal-music-theory

Don’t even try to play anything by Rush (or Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing”), without dedicated study into the construction of polychords, as this is considered very disrespectful by purists.

theguitarhandbook_fretboard

The rest of The Guitar Handbook is guitar maintenance, amplification, electronics and sound processing– which are critical subjects for any serious musician. Many don’t have a clue, and most use too many effects with too much amplification and/or other processing. Reverb, equalization & compression are the most basic & helpful sound processing tools– both in-the-studio & live.  Knowledge in speaker placement, sound reinforcement, public address (PA) systems, monitoring, recording, miking up and avoiding feedback are critical skills– each rooted in science & experience.

biamp-f1

If you are the guitar player that doesn’t know this stuff (because you so artistic) then it’s time to check your head, because you’re a joke and are nowhere near ready to perform.

Just sayin’

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Dischord: How to Run a Record Label

Ian MacKaye is a musical artist and founder of the punk bands Minor Threat and Fugazi.

ian-mackaye_fugazi

Both bands were formed in the 1980’s, and both are today considered legendary & seminal by hardcore punks.

minor-threat-1

Their music is still available, because Dischord Records owner Ian MacKaye retained control of his music. [1]

fugazi-demo

Instead of selling his catalogue to a major label for big money, MacKaye decided (a long time ago), to put artistic community and free expression ahead of a pile of cash. [2]

fugazi_3

The correctness of this approach is in the fact that his tiny independent record label which was formed in 1981, still exists and is thriving. [3]

fugazi

Dischord Records has an impressive roster of punk bands (current & past), with pressing, distribution & promotion deals for the artists on their label. [4]

minorthreat-outofstep

It takes brains, guts, and a ton of hard work to succeed the way Dischord Records has.

fugazi_2

Now in their 35th year, this is a model for how an artist should manage their career; make great original music, control the copyrights & publishing, record everything when active– then retire on time and build a killer website for promotion & online commerce of the back catalogue.

first-2-7-singles

Discord Records lives on because people always care about great music.

minor-threat-2

I’m taking a walk on the yellow brick road
I only walk where the bricks are made of gold
My mind & body they’re the only things that I’ve sold
I needed the money cause I’m getting old

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Carlos Montoya: Best Guitar Ever

Flamenco is classical & gypsy folk music from Andalusia, Spain. The genre’s acknowledged master & most creative innovator was Carlos Montoya (1903-1993). Montoya had parents who came from gypsy parents, making him “gypsy on all four sides” as the saying goes. He always insisted that was required in order to play in true flamenco style.

carlos-montoya

The goal of life is to create yourself a soul.   –Alejandro Jodorowsky

Carlos Montoya was a prodigy from the start, then was disowned by purists who claimed he broke too many rules. Montoya mesmerizes in his speed, precision & dexterity. He did it with ease, and lasted forever. He played a sold-out Carnegie Hall on his 80th birthday, and his last public performance was at age 85. Here’s a final brief interview, describing himself & his life:

Eddie Van Halen is rock music’s hailed guitar master, and he acknowledges Carlos Montoya as “an inspiration & genius.” [1]

Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images

Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images

Montoya was unpopular among aficionados because he abandoned the compás (strict time signatures) which had evolved within flamenco over hundreds of years. Montoya typically does not keep perfect tempo, but speeds up & slows down on feel. The speed & precision of his picados is breathtaking & hypnotic, and his pace & stamina are superhuman. This is All-Universe on guitar:

For non-musicians information, it’s much harder to perform acoustically. Electronic amplification, sound processing & effects are all modern advents, which have made recording & live performance much easier for musicians. That’s why everyone uses it. Carlos Montoya plays under the strictest restrictions, performing with an unplugged acoustic guitar.

He creates the sound of at least two guitarists at most times and will often accent that with rhythmic tapping of his fingers, palms & heel stomps. That’s three musicians in one. No one else has ever approached that level of guitar mastery.

carlos-montoya_flamenco-fire

The first Carlos Montoya album to discover is Flamenco Fire (1958), probably the greatest post-war record of the genre. This is flamenco in its pure gypsy essence, with half of the eight songs played solo, and the other four accompanied by Tere Maya on vocals, heels, hand-claps & castanets.

No photos are to be found on the Internet of this gypsy woman, who was an artistic equal to the flamenco guitar master.

carlos-montoya_malaguena

Malaguena (1961) is a concert recorded in NYC. Listeners are flabbergasted during every performance, only to erupt into uncontrolled applause immediately after. Wait in vain for the flubbed note or missed string during every difficult run, strum or transition– IT NEVER HAPPENS.

from-st-louis-to-seville

From St. Louis to Seville (1959) is an amusing record, in that it is a really bad idea to have any other guitar player with Carlos Montoya. As discussed above, Montoya sounds like a band all by himself, and there is simply no need for another (clearly inferior) guitar player cluttering up space which Montoya can use more creatively & effectively.

bad-idea

Whomever the ‘other guitarist’ is, he gets schooled early and after about two minutes of trying (hopelessly) to keep up, resigns himself to the background for most of the rest. In the middle of side two, Montoya starts a song and the drummer starts in with a bass beat, which quickly is cut-off, as Montoya starts with his percussive tapping & footwork. This automatically keeps the bass & ‘other guitar’ out, and it becomes the most amazing song on the album.

carlos-montoya-his-flamenco-guitar

Hypothetical Situation
Hey Ric Size, wanna perform with Carlos Montoya?
NO! I just wanna watch & listen.

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Use & Abuse of Personas

Artists create personas to protect themselves, it’s not a new concept. Assuming an alter ego allows freer expression of culturally inexpressible ideas.

Captain_Beefheart_And_His_Magic_Band_-_Mirror_Man

A persona adds a layer of personal protection, as the public needs to work through an image to confront & understand an artist on a personal level.

Dylan Shades

This allows the art & ideas to speak for themselves (at least for awhile), instead of succumbing to the cult of celebrity. Fame brings money and excess, which are dangerous & corrupting influences to anyone.

Double Nickles on the Dime

With the rise of the Internet, anybody with a computer or mobile device can create their own online persona.  Andy Warhol’s vision of everybody being famous for 15 minutes is now manifesting itself in all kinds of awful, weird, and simultaneously wonderful ways.

Andy Warhol 6

Online, people can be whatever they want without much repercussion, due to the layers of screening & anonymity. The cyber-world is sleazy & creepy, but also filled with revolutionary potential. Communication of ideas has never been faster, and people are starved for real information & discussion on anything & everything.

Flair

The downside of social media is that it allows a vehicle for evil & hate to spread its poison, especially when left unchecked, therefore it must be combated effectively & diligently. [1]

Trump on 9-11

Innovative network television programming is virtually dead. Most of the best current films are documentaries created by independent filmmakers, as YouTube & Netflix are rich sources of engaging & serious independent film content. Hollywood needs to be largely understood as a waste of talent at this point.

Star Wars: Episodes 1-3

No thinking kid (or adult that has survived with his/her brains intact) believes any corporate-sponsored news, which is 100% lies & half-truths.  One thing I’ve noticed while researching and engaging in social media, is when reading an article on MLB.com, ESPN or NASCAR.com… I often find the comments just as helpful (if not more so) in terms of facts & ideas as compared to the article.  Fifteen seconds of fame for the poster.

Fakebook Screenshot

Dialectics in politics applies when long-term difficulties & seemingly hopeless situations are suddenly wide-open playing fields for opportunity & victory. Personas, when used correctly, allow elusiveness in being focal points for online influence & clout, which is necessary to revolutionarily transform & socialize our planet.

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