Listen to this track by former blues-rock titans turned folk and pop-oriented concern featuring an evolving line up, Fleetwood Mac. It’s “Dust”, a song written by the band’s 21-year old guitarist and vocalist Danny Kirwan, and featured on the band’s 1972 album Bare Trees. The song features lines from a poem of the same name by Rupert Brooke, an Edwardian poet who died in 1915.
Kirwan joined Fleetwood Mac when fellow guitarists and original members Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer were still both in the band. The Then Play On album would feature Kirwan’s dual lead vocals and his emerging talent on the guitar, which was a tall order when considering Green’s enormous stature as a player in particular. By the time the elder guitarist departed the group in 1970, Kirwan was well-established to take his place, or at least become the focus in Green’s absence.
This song is evident of Kirwan’s influence, which was the slow drift away from the blues, and into a more wistful, pastoral, and more radio-friendly direction during a time when folky singer songwriters were making headway when it came to selling records. This song in particular would reveal something else about Kirwan though, and would unfortunately foreshadow his fate at the same time. Read more
Listen to this song by guitar-shredding wunderkind, and singer-songwriter Kaki King. It’s “The Betrayer”, a tale of shadowy double-dealings that serves as the opening track to 2010’s Junior, her fifth record.
The Delete Bin is a songs blog. And so it was very hard for me to choose a representative track from an artist who changes course from record to record, and from song to song, offering a wide range of styles and approaches even on a single album; folk, neo-classical, rock, post-rock, prog.
But, where this is often the symptom of an artist who hasn’t found her voice, here I think it’s the case of a spectrum of talent that is wider than most, with an associated artistic hunger to explore. Her own work, plus collaborations with acts as diverse as Foo Fighters, Timbaland, and The Mountain Goats certainly bears this out.
This track comes out of an interest in the songwriting side of her talents, with her formidable skills as a guitarist supporting it. And lyrically and thematically speaking, this particular song touches on another personal interest, too. Read more
Listen to this track by progressive rock guitarist, composer, and one-time Genesis member Steve Hackett. It’s “Ace of Wands”, the lead track from Hackett’s debut solo album, 1975’s The Voyage of the Acolyte. This is an album he recorded and released while still a member of Genesis, and with the help of two of his bandmates; Phil Collins plays drums and sings lead on a number of tracks, and Michael Rutherford plays bass, and second 12-string guitar.
What can be gleaned from this track is just how important Hackett’s playing is to the classic Genesis sound; angular, yet lyrical, and evocative of a certain spirit of the time that actually pulls the whole genre into focus. Hackett takes his influences of rock and classical music, and synthesizes an approach to both, making the music on the record extremely evocative of a something that suggests a wordless narrative unfolding, like a soundtrack to a film that the listener makes up as the music plays. That’s what prog always strives for, after all! Read more
Listen to this track by British instrumental guitarist, composer, and the Fierce and the Dead member Matt Stevens. It’s “Eleven” as taken from his most recent solo record Ghosts, which you can buy on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ basis’. It is his follow-up to 2008’s Echo, which you can also purchase on the same terms.
Where one might expect delicate melody lines and aural wallpaper arrangement in instrumental guitar composition, or flashy soloing, Stevens makes chords and rhythm prominent. Melodic value is important here. But, Stevens’ music is about texture, subtlety, and atmosphere for the creation of mood. Sometimes, it’s about sheer attack on the fretboard, not in a showy way, but in a way that attracts the attention of the listener to appreciate its depth.
And as for genres, take your pick. Is Stevens’ music roots music, experimental jazz, post- rock? Well, yes. But, at the same time, not really.
I spoke to Matt via email and talked to him about his unique approach to the guitar, about making records and promoting them on the Internet, and about life outside of a band as opposed to in it. Read more
Here’s a clip of roots music archivist, film composer, world music ambassador, and slide-guitar superhero Ry Cooder with a 1987 performance of Billy ‘the Kid’ Emerson’s “Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile” in Santa Cruz, California, a town which Cooder incorporates cleverly into the narrative for this particular performance. The studio version of this song can be found on his 1980 album Borderline.
This tune is a quintessential rock ‘n’ roll song, full of sexual vigour, and with a touch of Tex-Mex and Zydeco flavouring heating things up even more. The band here is stellar, including stalwart session drummer Jim Keltner, Van Dyke Parks on keyboards, Flaco Jimenez on accordion, among others. The calibre of the playing certainly helps to attain a funky groove about being horny and being down and out without wheels at the same time. This is ripe subject matter for rock ‘n’ roll, drawing a distinct correlation between the two.
Ry Cooder himself is a fascinating musical figure, being something of a boy-genius when it came to the guitar and many other stringed instruments when he started out. Before the 1960s had concluded he’d worked with Jackie DeShannon, Taj Mahal, and the Rolling Stones. By the 1970s, Cooder built a career as a gatherer of R&B, folk, and pop gems from decades past, and re-positioning them in new contexts. His slide playing became his trademark, as did his ability to repurpose old songs, many of them minor hits and forgotten treasures into a succession of celebrated albums, like Boomer’s Story and (my favourite) Paradise and Lunch. His 1979 Bop ‘Til You Drop LP was the first major label album ever to be recorded digitally.
Yet this would be merely a stage in his career. His 1980s work eventually turned to scoring films, the most high profile being the evocative and impressionistic score for the film Paris, Texas starring Harry Dean Stanton who also sings on the soundtrack, and with contributions from fellow stringed-instrument mage David Lindley. He would also score the film Crossroads, a film which also concerned itself with blues folklore, making Cooder something of a logical choice as film composer.
Apart from his work with John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, and Nick Lowe as the short-lived Little Village, Cooder would have a third phase of his career by the 1990s with world music albums featuring Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, and later with a group of Cuban musicians later to be known as the Buena Vista Social Club. This latter project would make stars out of all participants, with a smash hit album and a celebrated film by Wim Wenders, profiling the story of how Cooder discovered a group of masterclass, and very elderly, Cuban musicians and brought them into the limelight at Carnegie Hall in 1998.
But overall, Cooder is a phenomenal guitarist and arranger, incorporating an incredible stew of influences to take old material and make it shine in a new context while not betraying the original spirit out of which it was born. That’s a skill that isn’t to be underestimated, and in this Cooder is one of the best at wielding it.
Here’s a clip of cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow guitarists Andy Summers (the Police) and Robert Fripp (King Crimson) with the title track off of their 1982 collaboration, the instrumental I Advance Masked. This would be the first of two albums the two musicians would make together, following up in 1984 with Bewitched. And, just as an aside, it’s Andy Summers’ birthday today!
It may seem to many that these two players were hoeing different rows of the pop music pumpkin patch. By 1981-82 when this track was recorded at Fripp’s Dorset England home studio, Summers was a part of the biggest band in the world with several hit singles behind him and many in front. Fripp was a part of rock’s intelligentsia, having founded progressive rock’s first tier band King Crimson while also serving as something of a technical wunderkind to other artists like David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Peter Gabriel.
Yet, the two men shared something of a passion for exploration in the field of instrumental music, and the nature of avante-garde improvisation. Yet, they were not interested in what had gone before as far as guitar albums went. They wanted to present the guitar as a textural instrument, an instrument that can allow for an atmosphere, rather than just to lay down a bunch of flashy rock solos. As a result, the record wasn’t what a lot of rock fans expected, of course. Yet, it sets out what it’s designed to do, which is to set up each piece as something of a mood, and the suggestion of a landscape or locale, with ambient sounds being as important to the whole as the melody lines are.
After recording I Advance Masked, and its follow-up, Summers and Fripp would stick to their instrumental paths, even if their respective bands would be sidetracked. Both the Police and King Crimson would dissolve by the mid-80s, in Fripp’s case because he was the primary mover of his band, with the King Crimson name being more about his own vision for an approach to music, rather than a stable group. Outside of the Police, Summers would make a career out of instrumental albums, bringing in rock, jazz, and ambient sounds, which he plays with here. And Fripp would continue collaborations with other artists such as David Sylvian, Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree, The Orb, and with musicians in temporary groups like the League of Gentlemen and the League of Crafty Guitarists.
When I bought the album, I was surprised by how few reference points I had for it. I wasn’t sure about it. But, then a lot of the subtleties began to come through for me. There are a lot of jarring moments on this album. They were experimenting, after all. But, there are also moments of absolute, crystalline beauty which makes me wish they’d made a few more albums together.
Here’s a clip of one who once sat atop the mountain of guitar divinity, Davey Graham, here with a medley of the folk-standard “She Moved Through the Bizaar” (aka “She Moved Through the Fair”) and Graham’s own “Blues Raga”. Davey Graham recently succumbed to cancer, aged 68.
This medley had a tremendous influence on another piece of music, “White Summer”, which featured regularly in live sets by the latter day line-up of the Yardbirds, as led by one Jimmy Page, who you may have heard of. He later formed a group called Led Zeppelin, which turned out pretty well for him. And the Graham influence continued on pieces like “Black Mountain Side” and “Bron Yr-Aur”.
Music and how it influences musicians is a mysterious force. And each musician of worth tends to pass at least something of themselves onto someone else, who in turn does the same. But in these terms, Davey Graham was a significant conduit of this particular phenomenon, although many music fans don’t know him by name.
Although he had a low-key career, his influence on the British folk boom at the end of the 1960s created a stylistic ripple effect that has lasted up to today, thanks to legendary club date appearances and his 1962 instrumental hit “Anji” (inspiring a famous cover by Paul Simon). His influence on early folk-rock, and even the British R&B scene is interminable, touching on artists as diverse as Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Paul Simon, and of course Jimmy Page as mentioned above.
Ironically, many of the styles Graham introduced into the folk and rock worlds hailed from the very countries that made stringed instruments like the guitar popular in the first place – India, and the Middle East being two of the most prominent, with cultural influences into southern Europe, most notably Spain where the guitar was invented in the form we now recognize it.
Davey Graham knew no limits when it came to styles on the guitar. But he was not only a virtuoso, he was a cultural ambassador to musicians around the world.
Here’s a clip of Ex-Stone Roses axeman and all-around Brit-pop guitar hero John Squire with his band The Seahorses, playing their sole 1997 hit “Love is the Law” as taken from their album Do It Yourself.
In Britain the Stone Roses cast a long shadow, having been nearly universally loved by both indie fans and dance music fans. The band, co-led by Squire and singer Ian Brown, had been successful in bringing the two seemingly disparate worlds together along with other bands of the early 90s era like Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, and Inspiral Carpets. But, the Roses had the distinct advantage over and above their peers; they put out a signature album that was lauded as a masterpiece of the scene, that being their self-titled debut in 1989.
The debut record seemed like the resurrection of the rock scene. The genius of it was that it took many of its cues from the Manchester dance club scene too, as typified by what was going on at the Hacienda where bands like New Order were the leaders of the scene. The debut ensured that the Roses would be recognized as one of the great British bands of the era, with many fans eager to hear what they would come up with next.
However, the follow-up album took five years to make, and when it hit, it came off as something of a disappointment even though it is a solid effort. Brown and Squire were at odds creatively and personally. And with a record killed by its own hype, plus inter-band tensions, the group understandably disbanded officially in 1996.
For me, by the time I’d heard this record, I’d yet to hear anything from the Roses. I was living in England at the time, and knew the Roses only by reputation. This helped my view of “Love is the Law”, which is a bit more ‘rock’ than anything off of The Stone Roses. Squire’s chops as a guitarist were undeniable, pulling from the styles of 60s and 70s influences, yet sounding thoroughly modern and fresh at the same time. Much like the eagerness fans experienced in waiting for the Roses to follow up their debut, there was a great deal of expectation surrounding this new band and their new album too.
But, I just thought it was a great slab of British rock music – anthemic, melodic, and with sterling guitar playing too without being flashy. Unfortunately, it went nowhere in terms of establishing a new career and band for Squire. After the innovations of the Stone Roses, this new band were largely looked upon as being ordinary, which wasn’t what Squire had been known for by any stretch. After a tour, and studio disagreements, the group split in 1999, not having put out a follow-up.
Squire is clearly a gifted player, with an ability of taking his influences and doing something really new and musically energizing. His career and ability are not unlike another arguably underachieving Mancunian guitar hero – Johnny Marr. Yet, even Marr found his way on to the records of others, and eventually found a new band too in Modest Mouse. Let’s hope Squire’s solo career, with two albums put out, will frame his playing as it should.
Here’s a clip of pick-dissing, thumb-picking jazz guitar savant Wes Montgomery with one of my favourite numbers of his, a take on John Coltrane’s “Impressions”. The most famous version of Montgomery’s can be found on the live album Willow Weep for Me featuring his work from the seminal Smokin’ At the Half Note sessions, also featuring Paul Chambers on bass, Wynton Kelly on piano, and James Cobb on drums – the same rhythm section Miles Davis employed on his landmark album Kind of Blue.
In this clip, Montgomery is on tour later in the year with an entirely different group of musicians (Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass, and Jimmy Lovelace on drums, all pictured in the clip). Nineteen Sixty-Five was a busy year for Montgomery, putting out several albums and touring them abroad as well as on domestic club dates.
By the time touring commenced, he had something to prove to jazz critics, who’d all thought he’d gone soft by putting out more instrumental pop-oriented material. But, the tour blew any doubts out of the water, as did his live albums recorded during that period. Montgomery was at the height of his powers here, with his unique thumb-picking style that denied all logic, but was undeniable in terms of execution.
He had less than three years to live by the time this footage was recorded, dying too soon and very suddenly in 1968 as the result of a heart attack at the age of 43. But, he made the most out of his last years by being one of the most influential jazz guitarists ever to have drawn breath, up there with his heroes Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, both of whom also revolutionized jazz guitar. Montgomery continues to influence guitarists today, with his approach to tone and phrasing being a part of the unwritten textbook of jazz improvisation.
For more about Wes Montgomery, check out actor Anthony Montgomery’s site, Wes’ grandson. You may recognize him as Ensign Travis Merriweather from the television series Star Trek:Enterprise, among other roles.
Here’s a clip of British folk guitar demigod Richard Thompson with his song “the Sights and Sounds of London Town” as taken from his 1999 album Mock Tudor. He’s accompanied here, among others, by ex-Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), a frequent collaborator since the 1960s, and mandolinist Pete Zorn.
This tune is one of my favourites of his, one that not only showcases his guitar-playing, but also frames him as a consummate storyteller. This is an original tune, yet you can tell it’s rooted in an older approach and series of themes common to folk music. This is a modern tale of the downtrodden in the big city. These are stories of poverty, of victims, of opportunists, that make up the landscape of a town without mercy, a place so big that it’s easy for the innocent, the naïve, to get swallowed up.
Richard Thompson is something of a phenomenon in his home country, having been a member of the classic line-up of British folk-rock outfit Fairport Convention, as well as putting out albums under his own name as well as those along with his one-time wife Linda Thompson in the 70s and early 80s. Along with his remarkable skills as an instrumentalist, Thompson came into his own as a songwriter as well, often exploring the darker side of the human condition, true in many ways to the folk traditions out of which he built his own body of work.
Thompson is venerated among guitarists, celebrated by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 100 guitar players of all time. And as a songwriter, he’s been covered by artists as diverse as REM, Shawn Colvin, and the Corrs, among many others. Along with his time in Fairport, he was a sought-after session musician who contributed guitar on Nick Drake’s first two albums, among many others. By the early-to-mid 70s, Thompson collaborated with, and married, Linda Peters with whom he would make several albums up until the early 80s, including the critically celebrated I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Pour Down Like Silver, and their final album Shoot Out the Lights, which is known as their ‘divorce’ album.
From here, Thompson continued to record as a solo artist, along with contributing to the work of others, including Gerry Rafferty, Crowded House, Bonnie Riatt, Norma Waterson, and his and Linda’s son Teddy Thompson. He frequently appears at Fairport Conventions’ annual music festival Cropredy Festival, and tours as a solo artist with frequent releases.
A more recent project, Richard Thompson – 1000 Years of Popular Musicis a 2 CD & 1 DVD Set which does what it says on the box, with material that ranges from folk tunes dating back to the days of the Norman conquest (“Sumer is Icumen In”), to the industrial revolution (“Blackleg Miner”), the Kinks (“See My Friends”), and Britney Spears (“Oops I Did It Again”). It’s a varied, ambitious project that ultimately shows the similarities in pop writing across the ages, more so than the differences.