Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Beatles' Three Guitar Workout On "The End"

It was somewhat fitting, and the circle was completed when The Beatles wrapped up their career with a three guitar jam in the appropriately titled, “The End” on their Abbey Road album. After all, they had started their career as three guitarists playing together, and it seems a good place to wrap things up. 

It was Paul's song, and John Lennon said he wanted to do the solo himself initially, as he often enjoyed having a shot at being a lead guitarist (and he was usually brilliant when he chose to do so), but let’s let EMI/Abbey Road engineer and author Geoff Emerick tell the tale, as he was in the room when it happened:

There were quite a few empty bars to fill after Ringo’s drum solo on “The End” [Abbey Road], and George Harrison said, ‘Well, a guitar solo is the obvious thing.’

‘Yes, but this time you should let me play it,’ said John, half seriously. He loved playing lead guitar, but he knew he didn’t have the finesse of either George or Paul, so he rarely took a solo on record.

‘I know,’ he said mischievously, unwilling to let the idea go, ‘why don’t we all play the solo? We can take turns and trade licks.’

"George looked dubious, but Paul embraced the idea, and he upped the ante further by suggesting the three of them play their solos live. Paul announced that he wanted to take the first solo, and as it was his song, the others deferred. Ever competitive, John said he had a great idea for an ending. So, as always, poor George was overshadowed by his two band mates, and got the middle spot by default.

While they were practicing, I took great care to craft a different, distinctive sound for each Beatle, so it would be apparent to the listener that it was three individuals playing, and not just one person taking an extended solo. They were each playing a different guitar through a different amp, so it wasn’t all that difficult to achieve. I lined the three amps in a row—there was no need for a great deal of separation, because they were all going to be recorded on a single track.

Incredibly, after just a brief period of rehearsal, they nailed it in a single take.

For me, that session was undoubtedly the high point of the summer of 1969, and listening to those guitar solos never fails to bring a smile to my face.” Geoff Emerick, Here, There, And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles.

The beauty of “The End” is that there is not a sense of competition between the players, so much as there is a collaboration. By all counts it was a joyous occasion enjoyed by all three guitarists. While Paul and George’s solos are excellent examples of the style of melodic hard blues rock that was being played on stages around London at the time, John Lennon’s take on things is much more simplistic and crude. It is Paul’s song, so he gets the first slot, and his playing is not very far from what Harrison is doing in the middle position, and this has caused great confusion amongst listeners for decades. 

Three amps were lined up side by side, and I am assuming they were recent issue silverfaced Fender Twin Reverbs, but this is again difficult to verify. George was almost certainly playing his red 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard, a guitar which had started its life as a Goldtop model that went through the hands of The Loving Spoonfuls' John Sebastian, blues rock guitarist Rick Derringer, and a refinish before it ended up in the possession of Eric Clapton (who used the guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps") who went on to make the guitar a gift to George in early August of 1968. The guitar is still in the possession of George Harrison's estate. John was undoubtably playing his 1965 Epiphone Casino (serial number 328393) which was famously stripped of its sunburst finish, and is still owned by Yoko Ono Lennon - the Lennon estate has the guitar in its inventory under the designation, “The Revolution Guitar”. While I have not found a definitive answer on what guitar Paul McCartney used for this session, with various usually reliable sources saying it was either his Epiphone Casino or Fender Esquire. I’ve listened very closely time and time again, comparing it between different tracks Paul has played with both guitars, and I’m very familiar with both instruments as a player, but I cannot with any confidence saying which is actually on this track. The guitars were played live, and they were obviously playing very loudly - you simply get those bold, aggressive tones out quiet amplifiers.

Let’s look at the solos themselves:

In the first round, Paul and George both tear off slices of highly energized riffs that sound almost as if this could be the work of a single guitarist. Both parts are evokative of the playing of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix at the time, and are even very similar in tone. But then, in comes Lennon with brutally effective rhythmic stabs at his guitar that establish his very singular voice as a lead guitarist. He’s making it howl, not sing. 

In the second round you start to see more stylistic differences between Paul and George, as Paul continues to sound very contemporary with the hot British rock guitarists of the day, and now George answers with a very tasty double-stop outing (a double-stop is when a guitarist plays a melodic section of a song using two notes, as opposed to a single note or a chord (three or more notes)) that is very reminiscent of the soul music coming out of the American South. Paul and George's tones are also more noticeably different with Harrison's being a bit softer and smoother than his playing on his first go round. Perhaps he had switched to his Les Paul's rhythm (or neck) pickup from his lead (or bridge) pickup. Next, John steps it up a bit and fires off a brilliant volley of bent low notes in a seething homage to Link Wray.

His travelling record collection includes albums by Bo Diddley (three), Chuck Berry (two), Lenny Bruce (six), the Mothers (everything), Paul McCartney (Ram – and it's been played at least once), and Link Wray (with cover inscribed "To John and Yoko – thanks for remembering – Peace, Link Wray").

“The story behind the Wray inscription is that John and Yoko were getting out of the lift at 1700 Broadway, which houses Allen Klein's office, when they were confronted by Wray, who was going up to Polydor's offices in the same building.

“Wray apparently said, ‘Hey – John and Yoko.’ John didn't say anything to him, but turned to Yoko and breathed: ‘Yoko, that's Link Wray. Without him…’”, Richard Williams, Uncut Magazine, 1998.

For the third and final round, we see Paul go very guttural in his playing with a staggering, stuttering statement that he picks very aggressively and very close to the guitar’s bridge, giving it a taut, staccato tone that would not sound out of place on a Jimmy Page solo from early days of Led Zeppelin. George’s gorgeous climb up the neck suggests his very soon to be exploration of the slide guitar (which he had been hinting at in his playing, and in his love for Indian music for several years), but it’s just the musical motion you’re hearing here as he manipulates the strings with just his fingers and a pick. John wraps it up with a rave up that is the perfect marriage of where rock ’n’ roll guitar had started for him, and where rock guitar would go in the future. 

Everyone simply did what it was that they did as guitar players, without any real time or thought being given to anything other than having a play. They had seemingly come full circle to once again meet The Beatles.

Here is a video of the isolated guitars from the track, and below is a clickable time schedule for who starts playing at what point (the soloing starts at the 1:03 mark):

Paul #1: 1:03
George #1: 1:07 
John #1: 1:10 
Paul #2: 1:14 
George #2: 1:19 
John #2: 1:22 
Paul #3: 1:27 
George #3: 1:30 
John #3: 1:34

Monday, June 22, 2015

Joe Satriani - Shockwave Supernova - Ziggy Played Guitar

It finally sounds like Satch is having fun. Shockwave Supernova is the guitarist's fifteenth studio album, and while it continues a very long winning streak of largely instrumental guitar records, there is a palpable difference at play here. It's almost as if he has released the need to work under the constraints of musical theory and composition, and to embrace his inner Jimi Hendrix. There are some familiarities to what's come before, of course, but there is also a freshness and a sense of relaxation as he flexes his musical muscles. It's almost as if he's finally mastered all the rules, laws, and science, and is just making music.

When he rocks out on this record, and he rocks out a lot, it all sounds a bit less precious and predetermined - it rocks. You still have a wide variety of stylistic range, in fact, the first four tunes are all as different as night and day, but they work together because Satriani transcends genre at every turn, and makes it Satch music.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Coverdale and Hughes, Now Schenker and Bonnet - What A Great, Great Week For Rock 'N' Roll Reunions!

This past week has truly moved me. The week saw not one, but two of the greatest combinations in hard rock history reunited amongst hugs, love, respect, and loud, beautiful music.

First we saw David Coverdale reunited with his partner in The Unrighteous Brothers, his Deep Purple bandmate Glenn Hughes onstage at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, California on Tuesday, June 11 (last seen onstage together in 1976? I'm told they were last together onstage in 2000!),  and now we have videos coming in from Osaka, Japan wherein we see another amazing duo, Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reconvene for the first time in 33 years.

Never say never, they say, and both reunions were not just wonderful, they also make me pine for more of the same. I have had the privilege to speak and know all four of these characters a bit, and all rock 'n' roll excess and controversies long since left aside, I've heard all four express their love and respect of their old partners, and never a negative word. Having now seen them all together again onstage, I can't think that I'm alone in wishing, as a fan and curator of rock, that these titans of rock would somehow find a way to make some more music together in the autumn of their astonishing careers.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Robben Ford Band with David Grissom, Matt Schofield - Live Without A Net! - Gig Report

Robben Ford Band featuring David Grissom with guest star Matt Schofield
Harris Center
Folsom, California
June 7, 2015

There's nothing like spending a warm Sunday evening in the company of three great guitarists. Robben Ford is on the road supporting his new album, Into The Sun, and he proved to be a magnanimous guitar god, as he shared his stage with David Grissom as co-guitarist for the West Coast dates, and the added treat of a few tunes with British guitar star Matt Schofield. Musical sparks flew from the beginning to the end, but let there be no doubt, this was Robben Ford's stage, and he commanded it like a king.

I had seen several days earlier notification that David Grissom would be joining the tour, but it wasn't very clear as to what his role would be, and I wrongly surmised that he would be supporting Ford as an opening act, when in fact he was there as a member of Ford's band. I was even more blown away when I found out that they would be hitting the road with zero rehearsals. He was joining Ford, bassist Brian Allen, and drummer Wes Little, who both were inspiring in their expert work as a rhythm section (especially in their solo sections, which revealed the wider scope of their stellar skills), and to think that they were covering the broad boundaries of Ford's immense musical palette without out rehearsals was most astonishing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

David Coverdale's Whitesnake - Reigning Champs of Classic Hard Rock? - The Purple Tour Examined

Whitesnake: The Purple Tour
Wells Fargo Center For The Arts
Santa Rosa, California
June 2, 2015

Whitesnake are on the road in America, and they are taking no prisoners. David Coverdale is fronting one of the strongest bands of his career, and while the show is all his, he shares the glory and plays well with the other kids in the playground. If this band shows up in your neck of the woods do not miss this tour.

Coverdale's well worn, classic British hard rock vocal pipes are in excellent condition, and his utter command of both audience and band posits him as possibly the best of his class. Whitesnake had the sold out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center For The Arts in Santa Rosa, California in the palm of his outstretched hands for two hours of heavy rock bliss. Much has been made of the condition of David's voice, but he sounded amazingly up close and personal on this night.