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Spring Is Here, where do I plug in?

Posted by janepaints on Sunday, April 12, 2009

IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING. Nope, nothing to do with fiddles, (but fiddle could fit into it just fine) though all summer long I'll fiddle for hours on the sidewalks. I'm talking about my undiminished ever-there love of simple electric american folk music aka rock en roll aka pop-whatever aka who cares what ya call it. A fender guitar or two, an electric bass, a small drum kit, holler whatever is on yer mind and revel in the energy. Write yer own dang songs or sing old favorites, whatever feels best at the moment.

I've never understand all the Great Divides. If you like Old Time you gotta hate Bluegrass. If you like country you gotta hate R&B. Reminds me of high school. What clique you in? As far as I'm concerned, noise is noise and heaven don't much care which way you care to make it, as long as it's joyous and coming from the spirit.

It ain't even expensive. It' don't even have to be loud. Do it like Elvis, Buddy, Chuck, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Muddy Waters did it. Like the MG's done it. Little amps, small drum kits, nobody goes home with bleeding ears. Play real simple and real clean and it'll sound WAY bigger than it oughtta. Refrain from the gimmicks. All ya need is a decent guitar and a decent little amp. If the drummer's too loud, fire them and git a drummer who ain't too loud. Also fire any drummer whose kit has more than 4 pieces. Just ask Junior Brown or Willie Nelson, both a whom oughtta know a thing or two (since they does).

Yes, fiddle-n-banjo IS a classic sound and a classic combination and it ain't never left the American psyche. It just assumed new identities: Banjo: twang of Fender-telecaster. Fiddle: raspy sustained moan of a Gibson-style guitar. The two basic sounds that still dominate america's music. It ain't my fault if Gizmo Manufacturers decided to persuade folks to make those kinda noises via guitars rather than fiddles and banjos.

And it don't negate the validity of making those noises via guitars, either. Dunno why, but every spring I attempt yet again to find at least TWO local kindred spirits--a bassist & drummer-- and have some big fun making this kinda noise.

Oh, there's plenty of local players but they're all addicted to TOO LOUD and HUGE AMPS and WHERE'S MY GUITAR SOLO? IMO it's a lot more fun to focus on groove, good songs, ensemble singing, ensemble tightness and tone, tone, tone, tone, tone. Nobody cares about guitar solos except for (usually mediocre) guitar players. the only thing worse than needless guitar solos is drum solos, closely followed by bass solos. Also, people have forgotten one simple fact: a 5-watt amp is as loud as a trumpet and trumpets are PLENTY LOUD ENOUGH.

Do it like Bo Diddley: ditch the drums entirely and just find somebody can shake maracas.

But maybe this year the blessings will flow and find I'll find some co-conspirators for a minimal-gear-super-fun electrical garage band w/mayhem and mischief. It's SO MUCH FUN. As much fun as fiddling and banjo-fying.

So tonight, under the spell of the springtime moon, I uploaded three tracks (the kinda stuff I'm talking about here) to my FHO music archive. All were done here at home. Quick, first takes, simple recordings. Sometimes we call it 'The Aquatet.' They're towards the bottom of my mp3 page, all of them labeled WARNING NO FIDDLE CONTENT. However, as far as I'm concerned all have the same SPIRIT as fiddle music, that 'aw to heck with it' aiming for the toe-tap, juices-flowing, banshee howl of joy, git back to the shack and dance it up some. Plenty of time for serious statements and infinite emotional woebegonery when yer dead. Summer's nigh and the time is right for dancing on the beats. Or something like that. Don't you rock 'em di-dee-oh. Rocking in the weary land.

100 years from now this stuff will sound so antiquated and old-timey people'll won't scarcely hardly believe it. You betcha. Temporality gets old AND new-again pretty quick, in both directions, always. Fashion is fascistic.

I promise: my next blog entry will be totally fiddle-istic. Mayhaps I'll ponder the nature of f-holes or whether vintage used black diamond fiddle strings are actually worth the fortunes they're currently fetching on e-Bay auctions.

P.S. You wouldn't BELIEVE the incredibly cute pink electric guitar I got. It sounds like Chuck Berry. Basically, it cost nothing. The Gods Of Swap have been most gracious recently.

11 comments on “Spring Is Here, where do I plug in?”

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, April 12, 2009 @9:34:05 PM

Yeah, 5 watt amps are cool.
The basic reason they aren't viable is the
Modern Drum Kit- a sonically hyperefficient hearing killer!
Especially with a drummer who is more of an athlete than a musician.
BUT recently I heard Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem.
The percussionist plays a "kit" made almost entirely of "found percussion"
except I think the bass drum pedal- which is pounding on an old suitcase!
Nicest percussion I've heard in a LONG time, and I told him so.
It really had a unique character, and totally fit with the acoustic band.
(fiddle, guitar and bass)

With THAT kind of kit, 5 watt amps would be viable.


I agree there is a juvenile approach to this genre thing,
but there is a valid reason too.
Moods. I get annoyed with Sugar in the Gourd because I'll get in the mood to hear some Old Time string band or fiddle music, and a lot of the time what I get is quasi bluegrass or archaic blues. Nice stuff, just not what I was in the mood for. Those things should have their own "stations".

15 watts is also a pretty good size for an amp.
If the drummer has restraint, it can work for a band,
but you can also turn it down and play clean, or get some dirt
with the right pedal or two.
I also got into an electric guitar mood recently, and experimented and got some cool tones at fairly reasonable volumes.

janepaints Says:
Sunday, April 12, 2009 @10:28:08 PM

Sundry Aspects of the Loud Problem:


1. Modern Drumkits. listen to Louis Armstrong early tracks, or any number of (pre 1960's) jazz combos: rocking! Small kits, light sticks or brushes, REAL SKIN HEADS, not plastic, smaller cymbals. Drums designed as much with Tone in mind as with LOUD in mind. Levon Helm in the The Band had the right idea: plays an ancient wood-rim kit with REAL SKIN heads. Such drums are to modern drumkits as OT open-back banjos are to resonator-backed BG banjos. A Drum Revelation for me was seeing Junior Brown perform. Drummer had a snare and a cymbal, used brushes. Rocked like crazy. Or find a drummer that uses a good electric kit--they sound good and can match ACOUSTIC volume! Another revelation: playing in a NYC-based band with Dee Pop on drums. Dee has played with some of the best bands in NYC since wayback in the 70's, including work with high-profile rock bands like The Clash and Gun Club. Dee uses a kick drum, a snare, one cymbal, period--all of them small. Less is more. Playing with Dee felt like playing with Charlie Watts. Nothing but THE beats, the right and perfect ones.




2. The Roland Micro-Cube amp (and similar gear). Got one (accidentally--went into a store to buy guitar strings!) when they first came out. It's been 'my amp' ever since, like for 5 years now. I've played large outdoor rock fests with it, also large urban clubs like NYC's Knitting Factory & CBGB and Philly's World Cafe. It allows guitarists to operate like sax players. The amp becomes the bell of your horn. All ya gotta ask is "Where's my mic?" Aim the mic at the amp's speaker and let the PA do the heavy lifting. I put the amp on a stool or chair in front of me, aimed right at me, and also have it in the monitor mix so the rest of the band can hear the guitar. Don't even need an outlet--it runs on AA batteries. All the guitars (and even some of the bass) on the electric tracks that I posted were played through the Micro-Cube. It's not even 5 watts--it's FOUR watts! Hee hee. I have quit the Heavy Appliance pre-&-post-gig hauling business. Micro-Cube has all kinda effects built-in, so ya don't need any other goo.




#3. Mindless Following Of Custom: "since everybody got a huge amp, everybody gotta have a huge amp". I say "says who?"




#4. Long time spent in studios and touring in recording bands. In both realms the first thing newbies notice is Less Is More and Small Is Beautiful. Every guitar note on 'Layla' was recorded through a Fender Champ amp. Most touring concert acts use much smaller amps than most local rock cover-bands do. Let the PA do the work.

bj Says:
Monday, April 13, 2009 @3:19:23 AM

Girl, you are SO BACKWARDS! I'm chomping at the bit to UNPLUG. Just a bit warmer, and a bit more leaf cover (I can SEE those buds, c'mon GREEN) and I can grab the laptop and umbrella and work outside on the deck under the grape arbor. Or fiddle anywhere outside.

Plug in? How . . . quaint. ;-)

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Monday, April 13, 2009 @6:38:53 AM

I'm with BJ. Jane, say it ain't so! I hope that you get your musical indiscretions out of your system soon so that you can get back to concentrating on the good stuff that you do.

janepaints Says:
Monday, April 13, 2009 @8:14:09 AM

It's not 'either/or', It's 'both/and'. Like that great band from Detroit: 'Destroy All Monsters.' Likewise, I say "ignore all distinctions." Because they only exist in our minds, those hotbeds of fuzzy perception & polarity-driven. Not a case of 'change the paradigm', it's a case of 'there are no paradigms to change.' I'm always playing this stuff AND playing fiddle n' banjo n' guitar, just like I'm always composing 'classical' pieces on the piano & nylon-string guitar AND playing raggedy cross-tuned fiddle thangs, there'll be no distinction there. Sound is sound, music is music, who are we to discriminate? People from Utah should NEVER talk to people from Wyoming--ain't that saying the same thing? There'll be no distinctions there. Jamming with Melvin Wine felt no different than jamming with Charles Mingus, John Cale or Travis Wetzel: people having conversations using the language of non-verbal sound. Beyond that it's all some kinda swindle designed by Marketeers, Motto Manufacturers, Slogan profiteers, Advertising Criminals, Freudian-Fraudians and Buy Polar Addicts. Play and paint the way children color with crayons: mindlessly, devoid of concept, directly, anyway ya want to, don't stay within the lines, for the fun of it, on a whim, listening to inner angelic voices, filled with delight, in accordance with the universal whoopey nothingness everywhere. Walk the tightrope without safety nets. Stray. Weeds & thickets are more beautiful than ornamental gardens because there's no distinction there. I love culture-clash and Marvelous Mistakes. I'm writing this while listening to hardcore country. Faron Young. Webb Pierce. People like that are masters of modern jazz. I'm writing this while listening to Manuel De Falla and Debussy, both masters of punk-rock, I'm writing this listening to japanese koto music and other examples of digital hip-hop. I'm writing this while listening and listening can't happen good unless ya keep all 36 ears wide open. I'm writing this while listening to Balinese Gamelan music and other examples of Chicago Blues. I'm writing this while listening to Bessie Smith, master of 5-string banjo as imagined by unknown mathematicians from Alpha Centauri. I'm writing this while listening. I'm writing this while listening. I'm writing this while listening. Liss in. Liss in. Liss in. Stop thinking and listen. Listen, don't think. Listen until there is no difference between listening and thinking, between listening and playing. Play until composing and improvising are one and the same thing. All you need (and all you got) is ears. I'm listening to Buddy Thomas who shares all wavelengths with Jimmie Dale Gilmore with Eck Robertson with Grant Green with Maybelle Carter with The Byrds with Rev. Gary Davis with Celia Cruz with Leni Stern with Bill Monroe with Liz Carroll with Southern Culture On The Skids with Arthur Honneger with Pete Seeger with Gid Tanner with Texas Henry Thomas. I hear ALL America singing, both here and on all other planets. Get the wacks outta yer ears and things kinda open up. Hard knocks are for knuckleheads. Say yes to everything. James Joyce and Dr. Seuss collaborate on three-dimensional hologramic comic books about the nursery rhymes of fractal slide guitar as envisioned by sub-microbial intelligent beings inhabiting polynesian conch shells 26 centuries before the woeful mistranslations began, before Cain was ever wandering around trying to categorize everything.

whigski Says:
Monday, April 13, 2009 @10:09:27 AM

"Liss in. Liss in. Liss in. Stop thinking and listen. Listen, don't think. Listen until there is no difference between listening and thinking."

That reminds me of when I used to listen to the same Yazoo cassette recording (from the 20s or 30s) in the car back and forth to work and school everyday. One day I just starting singing one of the songs, one of my favorites. And I thought to myself, I'll bet that hasn't been someone's favorite song for...over fifty years. A haunting, sort of eerie feeling came over me. I haven't since had the slightest doubt about the power of listening.

Son House, I believe, put it another way. He said, "Until that song's in your head, you ain't gonna do $%#$!". At least, it's to the point and easy to remember!

janepaints Says:
Monday, April 13, 2009 @11:50:41 AM

Ah the ever-present Holy Synchronicity. For much of the winter the tapes in non-stop airplay on my car deck were Yazoo-label: Robert Wilkins, Bo Carter. Blind Willie Johnson, the Friends Of Charley Patton. Then spring begins to unsprung itself and the mix gets joined by Ant Farmers (wonderful tho obscure band from Albuquerque, NM), ZZ Top, Howling Wolf, Dwight Yoakum, Carlene Carter, Freighthoppers' bootlegs, Rev. Gary Davis, assorted 70's-80's british pop bands, Jimmie Rodgers, the Jimmie Rodgers Tribute that Bob Dylan put out on his Egyptian Records label, more Freighthoppers, Jim & Jesse, J.P. Fraley, country music radio stations, Stax Soul, Jo-El Sonnier, Sharon Shannon, Bill Frissell Trio, Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, the Byrds, more Freighthoppers, then more Yazoo tapes.
Lissen until when actual music (rather than stamp collecting or hot rod enthusiast get-togethers) walks up and bops ya on the head you'll know that it's happening and can respond in real time. Then listen to Al & Emily Cantrell do 'Don't Lock Up Your Love' or "A New Language.' Follow that up with The Band's version of 'Blind Willie McTell' and then crank up some more ZZ Top, followed by any radio station that might happen to be broadcasting Steve Earle's 'Guitar Town' which of course should be followed by The Raybeats, Chris Isakk, R.L. Burnside or maybe some Bob Wills. After that whatcha wanna hear is some south african pop music, especially Dan Nkosi or The African Youth Band which leads us to The Desert Rose Band plus Waylon Jennings wailing on 'Aint Living Long Like' This which of course is second-cousins to Arthur Smith's 'Florida Blues' plus 'Adieu False Heart' speaking of which now its time to put some Dirk Powell on the box, a perfect sonic partner to Tom Verlaine, especially the clawhammered guitar solo on 'Breaking In My Heart' which is closely related to the spirit which moves like thunder through every song the Glasgow band The Blue Nile ever recorded, which reminds me that recently Annie Lennox released 'Shining Light' which is pure celestial clearlight sonic crayoning, same as Mississippi John Hurt, Davey Swarbrick, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Cary Fridley and Greg Brown, that genius mumbly-bard from cornfield Iowa, where ghosts and corn converse in convergence under the continental ever jetstream winds on high. Then crank up some more ZZ Top and Freighthoppers again, too. Wrap it all up with Robert Wilkins' 'Old Jim Canann's', the best raggedy guitar ever, plus somebody was twirl-rapping spoons when that victrola was spinning, Memphis, 1930's gone but never gone.

whigski Says:
Tuesday, April 14, 2009 @10:32:28 PM

I bought Suzy Thompson's CD, "Stop & Listen", today. I mostly bought it for the title song (made most popular by the Mississippi Sheiks, I believe). From what you've said, I think would probably like it too. I wouldn't have mentioned it except it seems like it's right on topic here! Keep on liss in nnn, play in nnn...and do in nnn what you does!

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 @9:00:40 AM

Okay Jane, I still love you and your acoustic music, however, I edited my profile to put *acoustic only - not her electric alter-ego* parenthetically after your name in my list of favorite musicians. I have unplugged and I ain't goin' back.

ironworker Says:
Thursday, April 16, 2009 @4:25:55 PM

so glad to hear your voice again, jane. lots of us missed you.
i've gone both ways, actually several ways- unplugged o.t., plugged and unplugged b.g., plugged r+r, unplugged irish, plugged reggae.
there's so much music. there's so damned little time!!
as some of you know, about 6 months ago, i put everything else away except o.t.(90% w.va style). i feel as though a hole in my heart has a cool compress now, and i get to see folks i've played with for longer than i care to say. i missed the music,dancing, and friends more than i imagined i could.
BUT- i still listen to everything. i still love it all.
life is short, as we know.
play every kind of music that makes you happy. i'll always be a fan.

mudbug Says:
Sunday, April 19, 2009 @2:09:45 PM

Your William Burroughs, Naked Lunch monologue was right on. I play elec. and acous. musics in many styles and cherish great musaic, whatever the label. My drumsets, even if they came w/ 5 pieces, are all played as 4 pieces. I found a really sweet 1964, champayne sparkle, Gretch kit in be-bop sizes ( 18"bass drum, 14" floor tom.) It makes me feel like Roger Hawkins ( Muscle Shoals studio drummer, who played on Percy Sledges''When a Man Loves a Woman, Arertha Franklins' I never Loved a Man, and Wilson Pickets' Mustang Sally. Man, you can die right then and know you've fullfilled your purpose on this planet! If you're ever up this neck of the woods, give a hollar and we'll jam.

It's all about the groove.

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