Category Archives: Music Licks


rap_postIn my last blog I ended by saying, “… don’t get me started on rap…!” So Lets get started….

Rap. Not a big fan. There are things I like and a whole lot I don’t.

Let’s start with what I like:

I like Rap when the beats are huge and very danceable (ironic considering I cannot dance worth a damn). However, I do love a great groove I can feel. Some rap has that going for it. I enjoy a rap piece that also has a well produced and massive bass line. Then a well syncopated lyrical delivery is icing on the cake. I like it! The rapper I like best is Tupac. His voice was thunderous, authoritative, powerful and had a “sing-songy, yet brutal, ” lilt that resonated with me on a ” Don’t Fuck With Me” frequency. Curious, as this is a frequency that Hard Rock and Heavy Metal resonate on – an interesting overlap there…. His huge voice seemed at odds with his slight stature. I think that made him all the more cool. Plus he doubled all his vocals in the studio and they never quite matched, and this lent itself to a unique sound all his own. His lyrics, even I could understand (poetry was never strong with this one…). He was sincere and passionate and had more charisma that just about anybody. For real. He was at the head of the West Coast vs. East Coast-rivalry, which was all bullshit, especially if you consider that he was a New Yorker representing the “West Sieeeeeeeeeede!” One of many red flags suggesting this Rap stuff is basically full of shit. I’ll get more into that momentarily. Poor Tupac started to believe his own bullshit and it cost him his life. He didn’t even make it to 30. That sucks….

What I don’t like:

I believe Rappers have successfully perpetrated THE greatest con in entertainment history. They beat the system! Normally I’m all too happy to see people beating the system (as long as no one gets hurt). However, in this case I’m not happy about them beating the system even tho I admire the shit out of it. I just don’t like that they enjoy the rewards in musical achievements when they aren’t even musicians. It sucks, but again, you gotta admire it on some level.

Here is the con job: Rapper and Hip-Hop Whatevers have fooled just about everyone into believing they are musicians. From radio executives to TV personalities right down to 1st and 2nd graders. Some of the finest musicians in the world will never know the fortunes the Rapper and Hip-Hop Whatevers enjoy. They will never take home Grammy Awards, which Rapper and Hip-Hop Whatevers abscond with by the ton, year after year.

Rap has been dominating radio and video going on 40 years now, when all other genres enjoy a 10 year life span, if lucky. Most Rapper and Hip-Hop Whatevers, maybe all of them, can’t play a single instrument, at least not at any level that could be considered professional. Most of them can’t carry a tune, tune a guitar or know a single musical note from anything! Yet they reign supreme and their accomplishments and “musical genius” is lauded from The New York Times to Rollingstone Magazine, to Forbes to Wallstreet Journal,- just about every major periodical – all the way to the Grammys themselves. Its THE greatest CON ever perpetrated in entertainment history! You though Rock Hudson passing himself off as straight all those years was a feat! Bullshit! Rock’s got nothing on rap! Wait…. I don’t like the way that sounded…. OK. HUDSON had nothing on rap. There. That’s better…..

In the beginning, rappers took heat for sampling other peoples’ music and then just rhyming spoken -word and being called “musicians” for it. So some of the bigger money artists like Jay Z and Snoop now use live bands with top notch musicians to lend legitimacy to their claims at being musicians. Its like me stealing my mom’s leftover – Awesome Tuna Casserole out of her fridge, traipsing it around, telling the world that I made the Awesome Tuna Casserole and I’m the greatest chef in the World. And then when people start to figure out that I can’t cook (mainly the professional cooks out there) well then I just hire Wolfgang Puck and his crew to work in my kitchen while I hold up my arms like a champion and demand to be recognized as a great chef!! And then every major Cuisine magazine writes me up as a cooking genius, I go on all the major TV shows while they all adore my amazing prowess in the kitchen. I win all the awards, make millions of dollars etc etc etc. All the while I couldn’t even crack an egg. And then real cooks sit at home writing a blog for there web site complaining about it….. ahem….

But hey its working. I see Jay Z all over TV shows where the hosts of said shows introduce him as one of the greatest musicians of our time and then fall over themselves practically trying to perform fellatio on him or cradle his sac, gently easing his genius ass into the guest chair, as Bill Maher does every time Jay Z comes on his show. Painful to watch.

My friends who love Hip-Hop tell me Jay Z is the shit. I try to listen and while the music he has on his tracks either sampled or composed by real musicians (for which he would take FULL credit for) sound great. I find his rhyming and “flow” to be lazy. Many rap fans feel its Sacrilige to say that and I apologize to devout hip-hop fans for any offense. But I just don’t get it. Tupac kicks his ass. Besides. If you’re a hip hop fan you probably aren’t even reading this. So fuck you! LOL!

I mentioned the compositions ol’ Jay Z undoubtedly took credit for. This is another huge slice of the rap con that drives me nuts. Producer / Songwriter credits! I don’t now how many hip-hop folks have won Grammies for “Producer Of The Year” or some such thing. I listen to Jay Z’s “Show Me Whatchyou Got” Its a cool sounding track. Its live (unsampled) music played by live musicians. Other than coming up with his lyrics, I can’t he imagine what else he did for that track. I seriously doubt he came to the musicians with notation and charts with the chord changes and rhythms all written out and said, “this is what I want you to do.” Or even sat down on a piano or guitar and explained, harmonically, how he wanted to arrange this piece. More than likely he had great players around him playing delicious chords, none of which he could ever name. and said “…. yeah! That one! Play that one!! I like that!…” Or just listened to his band play and chime in with a “… yeah that shit is dope! Do that thing you just did but first play that other thing you did that was dope…” Boom! Producer of the Year! Song Writer Of The Year!!! Countless Grammys, accolades and riches for that…. Wow.

Not to pick on Jay Z. He’s just an example of what is rampant in Hip-hip. And any rappers out there who truly can play musical instruments and have years of dedicated passion and love behind their musical proficiency I take my hat off to you! Much respect. Wyclef Jean of the Fugees is a musician. He can play the guitar really well! Remember the Fugees? Hip-hop act from the 90’s. Wycle Jean at the helm, they also had that gorgeous gal Lauren Hill (currently in jail for tax evasion), who later went on to do a solo album and win “Producer Of The Year” at the Grammy ! You think she can play a single fucking note on anything??? Think she knows her way around a studio patch bay? Think she even knows the difference between an AEC cable and an XLR cable??? I doubt it. To further illustrate the the charlatan nature of rap: Lauren grew up with Zack Braff in a very white New Jersey suburb, in a very white neighborhood, went to very white schools etc etc. Her “street cred” is nil. Ironic how she’s so racially militant.

Is Rap a legitimate art form worthy of reward and respect? Yes! Absolutely. Are rappers musician worthy reward and respect in the music business? No! Absolutely not.

I wish there was another forum or area of art they could occupy away from music. Maybe then people who actually are musicians can enjoy some time in the sun. Maybe then people who really know music, dedicate time, blood, sweat and tears to their instrument(s) and the study of music, wouldn’t have to die broke and unrecognized. At least have a chance. I know there are other non-rap genres that do well in the music business, but they aren’t rock, so they suck! LOL!!! Seriously there is limited room, and hip-hop is taking up a LOT of space. Maybe there could be The Annual Story Tellers Award Show to recognize and reward the story tellers and poets, which is what rappers truly are. Just stop giving them our Grammys and call them musicians!!

I have close friends, pro musicians, who love rap. “Why!?” I ask. Begging someone to teach me what the big deal is about the art. My dear friend Jason, who is a young black man from a black neighborhood explained that it was the sound and story of his hood. His life. Makes sense. What about the 95% of the rap- fan base that are as far removed from the hood and the American black experience as I am??

The truth is that 95% of the world couldn’t tell you the difference between Jimi Hendrix and Cannible Corpse. Between Metallica and Stevie Ray Vaughn. They couldn’t tell you if that’s a guitar they’re hearing or a kazoo; a flute or a bass guitar. And its on these unsuspecting, sadly uneducated and wholly unsophisticated ears that Hip-Hop has come to rely on for their very existence. Fabulous marketing strategies and fantastical tales of street warfare and misogyny fuel young, awkward pre-pubescent boys with testosteroney fantasies of being hard. And the rest???? I guess they enjoy a clever turn-of-phrase and/or they just like a good beat to dance to.

There are people out there who appreciate and love a great musician. They usually love rock music, and usually hate Hip-hop.

So that’s what I don’t like about Rap. Its a con. I’m a musician. Not 50 Cent. Not Eminem. Not Jay Z. Not DMX. Not even Tupac (RIP). On and on and on … Am I being unseasonable? Ok. Go tell a Navy Seal that you’re a decorated war veteran ’cause you “kicked ass on HALO 4 and you’re on your way to the White House to receive the Medal Of Honor for your valor on the battlefield “. Go tell Barry Bonds that YOU’RE the Homerun King ’cause you play Nintendo. Go tell a fireman that your buddy Todd “… is a respected fireman ’cause he can light his farts!” See what will happen then! See what I mean? That’s Rap. A bunch of Halo playin’ fart lighters! They’ve fooled just about everyone!

Now don’t even get me started on them perpetratin’ straight up wanna-be Gs, be trippin’ on a mufuck talking’ about some computer programed bullshit. ( You know. Those folks who just use computer programs and make random programmed “music”??)

Ya feel me, Dawg!? Peace out!!!!

Pop Music

popmusic_postI HATE pop music. So here’s a bit of rumbling, complaining, thinking “aloud” and, perhaps seeking to better understand “pop”. Thanks for indulging me….

So formulaic, predictable, trite, cliche, over- done, unimaginative, stupid, etc etc etc.

To me pop music- and “pop culture for that matter” – is disingenuous, phony… the essence of what is ugly about “ambition”. It laughs in the face of the masters. It flips the bird to Mozart, Beethoven and countless other masters of music innovation. Pop music seems to have more to do with business acumen and “connections” not real artistic ability.

Want commercial success? Write a pop hit! I know dozens of musician’s woking tirelessly trying to “crack the code”. Great musicians trying and trying and trying. Clearly there’s a formula. The same lame, tired chord changes every other song (you know those ridiculous “4 chords” EVERYONE uses). Just change the beat a little, get a whiny, little-bitch, my-male- genitalia-hasn’t -developed yet, or I- have- absolutely- no- testosterone-vocal part/melody, and get a polished, high-fi sound. Done. LOL! I really make myself laugh… its a gift….

Over and over again my friends, who laugh at my intense distaste for pop music, tell me “… just dumb it down. DUMB IT DOWN!!” So deep is my hatred for the “hits”, many of my colleagues pursuing pop- music success have concluded the best way to determine if their songs would be hits would be to have me listen to them, and if I despise them with the white-hot fire of a billion suns, it will be a smash hit! Yeah I hate pop music that much!

So what a conundrum. Learn music inside and out. Study the masters. Hone your craft. Study those harmonic and melodic movements. Learn to appreciate and marvel at the clever iterations and creative mutations of 12 notes that have been done throughout history. Learn your instrument to the point of proficiency, virtuosity, and expressiveness. Now forget ALL of that. Harken back to the first 3 months of music lessons and just use that. IF you want commercial, Pop- success that is….

I heard Bruno Mars on Pandora and the song was so simple it was literally childish. I mean a child could do it. Simple chords, simple movements. What a kid would do with the first 5 chords he/she learned on the piano when they were 9 years old. Lest you believe I’m ripping Bruno apart let me state here I have the utmost admiration for Bruno. He is a bona-fide badass! No doubt! The next batch of songs that came on were equally childish. But that’s pop music now. And listening to Bruno I can’t help thinking, how far we’ve fallen since the likes of Billy Joel or Elton John who weren’t necessarily pop stars, but singer/songwriters… like Bruno.

I wish I loved pop music. I wish I loved and participated in the “art” of pop music. I could maybe be rich. That’d be nice. One pop hit and you’re set for life. And your kids too! No wonder everyone wants to do it. So why, some may ask, don’t I write the cheesy, easy stupid songs? Because of the very nature of “pop” itself: Do you have the business acumen, drive, ambition and connections??? Because THAT above ALL else is the key to pop stardom. And that aint me. I love music, even more, guitar playing too much.

Once in a while, it seems, a pop song slips through the cracks that shows some thought and a bit of harmonic and melodic sophistication… I’m listening to Christine Perry right now. Great fucking song! Maybe there’s hope for pop (and me) yet!

Now don’t get me started on Rap….!

Johnny Winter

jwinter_postJohnny Winter passed away this week. I thought I’d share my thoughts and my experiences with Johnny.

As a guitar player, Johnny was always in my consciousness. Not unlike a kid who’s into baseball and has an “awareness” of The Babe.

Yeah I knew Johnny was a blues legend. I knew the image: Bluesman with the voodoo hat and the uber-bright blue tattoos. Thats about it.

Im not sure but, someone, sometime played me some Johnny Winter and, to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. I came up in the time of Eddie Van Halen (Long may He Rule) and other 80’s metal gods of shred. My exposure to the blues was limited to Angus, Eddie, Warren, Yngwie (sometimes bluesy), etc etc. Not traditional blues by any means, but a new, modern, highly stylized blues.

In my late teens I finally got Hendrix whom to that point I had despised. But I finally got it! I became obsessed. SRV had just died and I listened to him and loved it. Through SRV I came to Hendrix, and then onto the past masters.

Without digressing any further from Johnny, I only wish to make the point that while I had been into the blues in the modern sense, I had finally come to appreciate, love and understand it, for real, in the more traditional sense.

Cut to many years later, and I get the gig with Johnny’s younger bro, Edgar Winter. While we got to know each other he often told me that Johnny was the shit back in the day, he was all fire etc etc etc…. And I just kinda said “…yeah yeah yeah…” while rolling my eyes. Many of my guitar player friends asked me if I had met Johnny Winter and was he really any good or just another sloppy “blues man”. They really didn’t know. And by the time I had met Johnny he was sitting down to play and was looking addled and a lot older than his years. In fact, the stories of his hard living were better known to me than his musical history.

Edgar gave me many of his albums and many of Johnny’s albums and had me pay particular attention to Johnny’s albums “Johnny Winter And…” and “Second Winter”. This coupled with the treasure trove of great videos on You Tube of Johnny in his prime… well…

I can say, unequivocally, Johnny Winter was one of the most important, influential, explosive, authentic, charismatic, talented and tragically- overlooked guitar players of all time.

I’ll go further: The late great Stevie Ray Vaughn owes a sizable chunk of his arsenal to Johnny. Thats putting it lightly. I never realized this until I took the time to hear/watch Johnny in earnest. It shocked me, if I’m being honest. SRV (and I say this with ALL respect to one of my faves) was so busy apologizing to the old black blues-masters for the success he’d gained on their music that he failed to give Johnny the nod. The nod that would have properly given credit where it was due, moreover would have turned GENERATIONS of the multitudes of SRV’s fans on to a true blues legend who spent the later years of his career in relative obscurity. I do believe that the vast majority of SRV’s devotees are unaware of the roll Johnny played in the blues and rock world and in the all-mighty SRV’s style.

So now I invite the blues fans of the world who think the blues start and stop with SRV, Kenny Wayne Shepard, and Joe Bonamassa. PLEASE get to know Johnny Winter. For real. In depth. Learn about him. Listen to him sing. Play. If you truly are a blues fan you’ll be amazed and then pass him on to the next generation. He deserves his spot in the Pantheon of Greats for all time.

Over 11 -12 years I’ve had a few visits with Johnny. Often, in the beginning, with some trepidation, I visited with Johnny for a hang. His legend loomed large and the stereo type of the temperamental blues man was a little daunting. I felt sure he’d think of me as some young rock guitar punk who didn’t really have a clue. The truth about Johnny is anything but.

Johnny Winter, despite what one may think of an authentic bluesman, comes from old Texas money. He and Edgar were raised in the most genteel of old Texas circumstances. Bible, education, values, a loving home, and impeccable Southern- manners. He was at once foul-mouthed and exceedingly gracious. He checked his watch every 3 minutes to see when he can finally get on stage. “… hey Paul! When are we getting on stage? I wanna fucking play already!!” LOL!

I’ll close this out with a more personal, slightly self-aggrandizing anecdote. After infrequent visits over the years, Johnny kept asking me to say my last name and explain where it came from. Somehow he just never wrapped his head around it. Last year Scott (Johnny’s long time bass player) came up to me while I was getting off stage and they were coming on. He told me, with some excitement, ” …. hey, Johnny was listening to you play and he said, “… hey man! Rappa…Rappo…Poppa…Porpa … Proprot…. Edgar’s Guitar Player… He’s good!’ “

That meant the world to me…. Rest In Peace Johnny.


Rock Star

rock_star_postIn my last article I talked about the “prodigy”. I touched on the idea that the meaning of words seem to spread like old tattoo ink on some old -Gloucester hooker’s tramp-stamp. Bad analogy. Sorry. I just wanted to say “hooker” and “tramp stamp”. What I’m saying is that adjectives, especially ones of a superlative nature, are used to describe things that actually have nothing to do with the reality. The word “genius” for example. How many times have heard that word to describe a person, idea or thing when they are absolutely not deserving of this accolade? Or calling a kid who can play “Pride And Joy” on the guitar a “Prodigy”. There are many examples.

The word(s) I want to talk about today is “Rock Star”. Not only has this word been so thoroughly over used to describe people undeserved of the title, but it has given rise to a population of phonies and posers, who believe wearing the clothes and having “attitude” (and even a TV show), puts them on a par with “Keef” Richards.

I can’t go through the channels of my basic-cable bundle without seeing some guy with black spiky hair with his eyebrows pierced; his arms and neck covered in Tattoos, slurring his words and putting his heavily be-ringed fingers up in the ol’ “devil horns of rock” sign. What is he doing on TV???? He’s baking a fucking cake. Thats all. He’s stumbling around his kitchen and talking to the camera; his every other word is bleeped because he can’t talk about putting “…fondant around the top tier…” with out dropping “F-bombs”. Clearly this guy fancies himself a Rock Star. Can he play an instrument? Maybe. But he aint on stage playing rock’n’roll, dazzling thousands of adoring fans who paid to see him. He’s a baker.

On another channel I see the same kind of guy (tattoos, piercings, etc etc). He’s fixing a car. He hammers out dents and repaints a car and somehow this makes him Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. Yeah he’s on TV, yeah he’s banging’ a lot of broads, probably has a lot of money…. Is he playing drums on stage and dazzling thousands of adoring fans? No. He runs a body shop.

The list goes on and on. Plastic surgeons, gardeners, chefs… Even skateboarders, basketball players, soccer players, pro athletes et al. All tattooed up, pierced, acting the fool…. Look at “The Bird” on the Miami Heat. He’s rich and famous. Covered in tattoos, piercing, hair-gel…. I’ve heard the term “Rock Star” used to describe him and the people I’ve mentioned above…Is he a Rock Star. No. He’s not.

I hope this doesn’t make sound bitter or annoyed. I’m not. I am amused by this cultural observation. And I’m amazed how the meaning of “Rock Star” has devolved so dramatically.

So here’s how I define “Rock Star”: A person who is famous for playing rock’n’roll music. duh

If you dress like a Rock Star and act like a Rock Star, but you don’t get out there on stage and perform for your hard-won audience, then you’re not a Rock Star. And no it doesn’t count if you have a garage band you jam with on weekends and play an occasional gig at a local bar.

If you look like a Rock Star, but you bake cakes…. You’re a baker. If you look like a Rock Star and you lay bricks…. you’re a brick layer. If you look like a Rock Star but you’re an asshole…. you’re an asshole. hehehehehehehe.

Honestly, I don’t care that people want to look like and act like they’re Rock Stars. Does that diminish the stature or “quality-of-presence” of the true Rock Star? Are there any real “rock stars” now that every other person is a “rock star”? I dunno. Maybe nothing can diminish the glow of true rock stardom.

I always wanted to be a rock star. I don’t consider myself a rock star tho I have definitely earned the right to wear it! Some old friends always affectionately call me “Rock Star”. Well, if every other Joe Blow is a “rock star” then I don’t want to be a rock star!

…. Yes I do. 

… This kid’s a Prodigy!


I thought I’d share my thoughts on this rash of “prodigies” that seem to crop up everywhere.

The number of times I’ve played in towns where proud fathers and local towns-people come to me before, after and DURING shows to brag about the town’s young, prodigy -guitar superstar are WAY too many to count.

People I have never met, who are on Facebook, tag my name to videos of some 7-year old guitar player, playing “Purple Haze” or “Black Dog” or “Badge” etc etc….

YouTube is RIFE with these “prodigies” playing classic rock tunes or some mildly convincing blues licks. And these videos hail from every corner of the globe. From Po-Dunk, U.S.A. to some tiny fishing-village on one of the gazillion remote islands in the Philippines.

The word Prodigy is definitely one of the many words we English speaking- peoples have overused so badly, its meaning has become cheapened; the force of what it denotes is drastically reduced. For example: Mozart was a bona fide, real-deal prodigy. Are you telling me a 5 year old kid playing “Smoke On The Water” is also a prodigy?

So what do I think of these young musicians? I think its cute. Am I impressed? Not really. But like I said…. its cute.

So what is the big deal about “prodigies”. I think we see someone become very good at something very very quickly and we think, “…well if he/she is this good now, imagine how great they’ll be when they’re 20! or 30! or 40!!! Oh my God at 50!!!!” We seem to hope, or worse, expect that the “prodigy” will improve exponentially. And that’s exciting. However, the truth is they will not….

As far is I can tell, a “prodigy” (as we define it by today’s standards) is just a person who “get’s there” a little, or a LOT faster than most. Where it may take your average musician-aspirant, of decent natural- talent, and average of 10 years to master a particular technique, the “prodigy” may do it in 2 years. Or 5 years…. whatever. faster than most.

So what happens to a 14 year old who is as good as an average, decent, 23 year old at blues rock? Well he gets a lot of hits on YouTube. He may get to jam at the NAMM show in some booth with Steve Morse or something. He may get to do some fun gigs around the area where he lives. But ultimately he’ll be 23 years old and he’ll be just another good blues-rock 23 year old-guitar player. He got good fast, but that exponential improvement doesn’t happen. I’ve never seen it happen.

Listen to Mozart’s work when he was 11. amazing!!! Now listen to his music when he was 30. Its still great, but is it really much better than when he was a kid. yes, but not that much!

Joe Bonamassa is the top dog in the blues-rock world. He is a tremendous guitar player. You can go on YouTube and find videos of him absolutely BLAZING at 11 years old, 12, 15, etc etc. Listen to him now. Is he WAY WAY better now than he was at 15? no. He’s not. He was just as fast and just as clean as a child as he is now.

Listen to Yngwie at 19 and now. Any difference?

Eric Gales, one of my favorite guitarists. Listen to him playing when he was 15 and listen now. Huge difference? Not really. Sure his chording and melodic sense has improved like fine wine, but overall he sounds pretty much like he did then.

Its popular to say that Jeff Beck has improved exponentially. Listen to his guitar work over the last 30 years. He sounds fantastic through every era, and with only subtle changes to his approach, and only to suit his own musical whims. Exponential improvements? Nah.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the above mentioned musical heroes . I was making the point that the state of “prodigy” is an ephemeral state. That kid who is beyond his/her years in skill will be another face in the crowd in very short order.

The truth is, there are very very few people who deserve the title of prodigy. They come around once in a blue moon. 

So what do I call a kid who gets great at an instrument faster than normal? : Talented.

A kid who comes along and composes symphonies or scores movies with epic John Williams-esq scores at age 9…. That’s a prodigy.

Your kid’s great for his/her age? Wonderful. Take a lot of pictures. Take video. Get them on T.V.. Do everything you can to get them a jump on a musical career for when they turn 20, and everyone else has caught ’em, and now they’re just one of a ga-zillion really good players….

I met a Russian kid at the NAMM show 3 or 4 years ago. He was 13. He grabbed a guitar and started playing some 9 minute Paganini piece on the guitar. Picking every note. Fingers flying all over the neck. Effortless. SUPER fast! I know a bunch of guys who can do that, but they’re grown ups. And thats why it was neat to see a kid doing it. He’ll be 20 in short order and it won’t be that impressive anymore. He definitely won’t be playing it much faster or cleaner by then or any time else. He just happened to get that technique down in 2 years rather than the usual 10-15 years it takes. But we gathered around, smiled, shook our heads in “disbelief”…. It was cute.