Oh yes he did. The Human Riff turned 70 today. And what a ride it’s been. For his body, for music, and for all of us. Happy Birthday Keith.
His use of silence/space, the 5-string open G Tele, playing milliseconds behind or ahead of the beat, the multitude and breadth of styles he could inhabit, the infectious grooves he could create, the heart and ‘tude he’s brought to the table all these years.
Oh, this rain it will continue
Through the morning as I’m listening
To the bells of the cathedral
I am thinking of your voice…
And of the midnight picnic
Once upon a time
Before the rain began…
And I finish up my coffee
And it’s time to catch the train.
-Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”
Talk-sing-whispers. Suzanne Vega burst onto the scene in 1985 with her eponymous debut on A & M Records. My friend Giles turned me onto it over the holiday break that year while we were visiting family and friends in Pittsburgh. It was a refreshing change-up at the time for acoustic music fans, and indeed the public at large, to hear something like “Marlene On The Wall” on the radio. Amidst a musical landscape dominated by synth pop, hair ‘metal’, modern R and B, a burgeoning alternative rock and post-punk scene, rap and more, came a record of quiet observations and introspective verse delivered in a half whispery singing style atop a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Qu’elle difference! A sparse but sharp set of backing musicians fleshed out the arrangements with a modern feel, mixing in atmospheric electric guitar and keyboards.
Her smash followup, 1987’s “Solitude Standing”, featured “Luka”, “Tom’s Diner” and a bevy of great songs including “Wooden Horse (Kasper Hauser song)”, “Ironbound/Poultry Parts” and the Homeric references of “Calypso”, presented live below from a July 2011 performance:
Now he’s even singing along with his guitar, ala George Benson. In the middle of a Dylan medley, no less. If this kid keeps coming up with new ideas and playing slide guitar like that, he’s definitely gonna make a name for himself.
Here’s Mick Taylor, March 7, 2013, in Madrid scattin’ and sliding through “Blind Willie McTell”, leaning into “All Along the Watchtower” and then taking it home. Wonderfully provided by jorjunkel:
Almost fourteen years after the mighty guitar band Swervedriver was put ‘up on the blocks’, here they were again in 2012; plying their stomp-box enabled brand of space travel rock and roll, debuting a new song, digging deep into their catalogue for some live rarities, and actually even appearing on national television.
It seems that more of the world is finally finding out about, and acknowledging, this great undiscovered treasure of the 1990’s a full two decades after their Creation Records debut. As formulaic rock and machine-generated beats continue their dominance of the airwaves, and ‘professional’ entertainment and contest shows (along with rock schools and “Glee”) reduce the performing arts to confident calesthenics and TV-ready sanitized deliveries, it’s nice to be reminded how potent a force untrammeled guitar rock is for your inner under-nourished soul.
Cover tunes are a great way to improve your chops and timing, learn how songs are put together, and can be a fun inclusion into a live set or album. During periods where I’m not writing and practicing my own stuff, I always have a song or two in mind to play along with so I can get out of my set patterns on the fretboard and maybe commit some new chord shapes or finger patterns to muscle memory. Many times those newly learned chord patterns can give you some ideas for your next batch of tunes. Other times, it can be a comical act of futility (“Siberian Khatru” from Yessongs, anyone?) where you’re just left flabbergast at the level of talent and genius in some people’s playing.
Since I started writing and performing my own stuff 20+ years ago, I’ve only done around seven or so cover tunes live or in the studio; and most of those were only done once. All but one of those (June’s “Lena Champagne”) got recorded and will be in the online sound files. The only two that got played more than once were two that I paired together into a medley to end the set with; kind of a ‘chaser’/treat for the audience, lol, after having survived an hour of fractured pop and no holds barred space rock/noise. It was fun to play, and I think we put our stamp on it as well; turning Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from a multi-verse song in 4/4 time (a 3/3/2 feel) into a 1.5 verse abbreviation with pitch-shifted and echoed vocals done in 3/4 time which still retained a heavy psychedelic impact. Then we nestled it in between a rock-flavored impression of Miles Davis’ “All Blues”, already in a 3-based time signature (6/8), transposed to the key of A to start and end the number. Although not the best version we did (I had mis-set the vocal effects knobs in the dark and had to fix them mid-song), one night it was caught on video, seen above. Cover tunes are always a good option to keep in mind; whether for that extra song in the set, or as a learning tool to help you improve your playing and arranging skills.
If no one ever experimented or tried new stuff out, we’d be a sorry lot living in caves with bare walls throwing rocks at animals to get ourselves dinner. No bows and arrows, no wheels, no electricity, no computers, no space travel, no web conference calls discussing neutrinos, no s’mores. There’s also a lot of utter crap we wouldn’t have to deal with as well: pollution, cluster bombs, advanced marketing techniques for someone’s useless trinket, GMO’s in your organic brown rice, PR firms and microwavable s’mores.
This applies to music, arts and philosophy just as much as it applies to technology, science and commerce. There will be inspiring innovations, and there will be crap in its wake as well. The larger point is about moving forward through exploration, curiosity and creativity. You’re not going to learn how to ride a bike until you try; and that includes some scraped knees and elbows along the way. But you’re not even going to be able to do that until someone’s curiosity and ingenuity invents the tires, spokes, handlebars and metallic frame first.
Experimentation in the arts isn’t generally viewed as being as crucial to humanity’s fate as advances in medicine, food development and technology are. C’est la vie. But some of the earliest attempts at communication (and all arts are at their core simply a form of communication), from wall paintings, carvings and music to storytelling, constellations and early attempts at written symbols have generated more than their fair share to our general welfare and advancement. And if you’re an aspiring artist, writer or musician, or even an established pro in the creative arts, at some point in your development you’re going to have to try new things or new ways of doing things as part of the learning process.
Welcome. Thanks for dropping in. The first batch of tracks uploaded to the new site here span from a live 1991 gig onward through the 2000’s; a good intro to my somewhat chameleon-like output and various bands/projects over 25 years of songwriting, experimentation and music-making.
There’s lots of guitar here, of course: acoustic, electric, slide, prepared guitar, lap steel, fx freak outs and more. And songs of all sizes, be it a full electric band or a solo folkie nugget. But there’s also the sound-making adventures I’ve always been fond of taking that get featured as well. The lap steel/fx duet with shortwave radio that is “Hurtling Thru the Information Age”. The contagious (literally) electric prose of “Language”. The Pink Floyd cover arranged for autoharp, tea kettle, trash pail, cassette case and seashore. A guitar conjuring up CB radio voices and phone conversation in “Word Travels Fast”. Vignettes from the Urban Candid Mic-ing series. The tabla, gong and organ sounds coaxed out of an old Richenbacher slide guitar on “Steel, Delay and Buddhist Monks” and more. It was always that thirst for sounds and how they could be presented that drove my musical engine. That some of them landed on their feet was just a bonus. So hopefully while you’re here today you can scroll thru a playlist and find something that appeals to your listening needs, whether in the songs and pieces or in the lab experiments.
The bookends are still to come. The most recent material (2007-present) and the earliest stuff (pre-1991) still are not represented onsite yet, for very different reasons. The newest stuff is mostly unfinished; instrumental guitar pieces which still need arrangements, a few songs with drums and vocals, and some promising electric bazouki sessions done recently at PureLand Sound Studios out west. The oldest material, on the other hand, is all on 20+ year old cassettes that have braved the weather extremes of my various moves through the years; some need a simple digital transfer and cleanup, while others have succumbed to breakage, tape hiss or de-magnetization. But the ‘fun’ stuff done on the 4T will be remixed where possible. That process was ensured when local audiophile NZ donated a double-speed 4T cassette machine which will allow a revisiting of those heady days of the Tascam PortaStudio; the first generation of home multitrack recorders, the true forbear of the affordable and portable DIY multitrack recording systems everyone enjoys today.
November 22-30, 2011. While construction continues in the music room, there are music players in the sidebar to allow you to quickly grab-n-go with a pop-out music player and get back to surfin’ the web. The playlists let you choose between five styles of Jeff C Radio to listen to; each is a 30 minute mini-set, except for the Slow Space one (17:00), and you can easily scroll thru tracks to go back or skip ahead. There is also a new musicplayer at the bottom of the list which will allow you to scroll through a random ordering of all the tracks onsite if you would prefer an index-by-surprise approach.
Keep an eye out for improvements as we tweak the music players, normalize track volumes and bring more material on board from disparate sources together into a cohesive blend of new and old. We’re very happy to get to this stage of the ‘construction’, and hope you’ll give a curious listen while you’re here. Now there’s more than just a quiet front porch to hang out on; we have a front door and a hallway and we have tunes-to-go. The kitchen and couch can’t be far behind. So like the song says, “Come on in, pull up a chair. Talk to me, thanks for stoppin’ by.” Cheers!