Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Oh, Boy!"

Today in rock history, Buddy Holly and The Crickets had their only number one, “That’ll Be the Day,” this week in 1957. Their next two singles, “Peggy Sue” and “Oh, Boy!” also made the top 10, while “Maybe Baby” and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More” (written by Paul Anka) were top 20. Buddy Holly, apart from being a rock and roll pioneer and hit maker, is also known for championing the then-new Fender Stratocaster solid-body electric guitar, at a time when everybody else was using the big arch tops and hollow bodies, and it wasn’t necessarily cool to use a strange, space-age-looking solid body electric guitar like the “Strat.” It, along with his black plastic glasses, became his trademark. The Strat has become a rock and roll legend, too, that can count guitar greats Clapton, Beck, Mayer, Buddy Guy, and others, as users. Ever since I picked up the guitar 4 years ago, I knew I had to have one. I don’t know if you’ve read my first post where I said I’d be lucky to get a Strat by the time I was 60? Well, the time is now – when my oldest son took my Epiphone SG Junior off to college with him in August, I was a guitar short, and it was time to look around for a new one. Now, I look at guitars and check the on-line listings for what’s out there nearly every day, but now I started to look for a nice used Strat in earnest. In terms of Strats and strat clones, you have quite a range – from the imported, low-budget “Squier” versions to the ultra expensive Signature and Custom Shop models. What I needed was something that was somewhere in between the Squier and the more expensive USA-made Strats. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who shops on eBay – I need to play a guitar, have a look at it, and see how it’s set up, before I can buy one. I also am fond of buying used gear – there’s nothing like a nicely broken in, well-set-up guitar that needs nothing done to it before you can play it. I get most of my used gear from MusicGoRound stores. They are a national chain of stores specializing in new and used musical instruments. You can check out the inventory all over the country online at My local store had several used Strats, so I went in to check them out, and came home with a sweet electric blue, Mexican-made model, 1999 vintage, for about $280, including gig bag. The Mexican Strat is a good value, bridging the gap between the Squier and USA made models, while featuring the quality of an “American made” (well, Mexico is in North America…) Strat. The five-way switching between the three single-pole pickups gives you incredible versatility, from a twangy, Buddy Holly-like sound through my Kustom solid-state amp, to a distorted snarl through my Epiphone Class A tube amp. With this tonal palette, I’ll have years of fun just figuring out all the different combinations of tone! “Oh, Boy!” indeed!

Thanks to for the trivia, and, as always – keep on rockin! Buddy Holly forever!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Legends in Their Own Time

My wife and I made our annual trek to the Mn state fair in search of show rabbits, the state's biggest boar, blue ribbon food bargains, and free music, among other things. My wife's sister came along for the first time this year to sample that unique state fair experience - one part deep fat fried anything, one part people watching. We had scoured the fair website for the free stage schedule and took in the flat-picking championships. "Flat-picking" sounds impressive, but it's mostly just picking a complicated bluegrass-style melody on the steel-string acoustic guitar with a pick, usually with a cohort along to provide the rhythm. Too much for yours truly to attempt, although I think I recognized some of the chords the other guitarist was playing. Fun to watch, but I had come to rock, so to speak, so it was on to the evening free stage appearance of the Beatles tribute band "Liverpool Legends." This band, based out of Branson, Mo (now don't hold that against them until you've heard me out) has the advantage of being managed (or at least had the stamp of approval) of George Harrison's ("Yes, that George!," as their promotional blurb points out) sister Louise. We arrived just as the previous performance of the talent show let out, so we were able to elbow our way up to second-row seats. The equipment on stage certainly looked authentic, down to vintage-looking Vox AC-30's and Ringo's Ludwig drum kit. When the boys hit the stage, we were treated to Fab-Four lookalikes, in the dark suits and moptop hair of roughly the "Help!" era. They not only looked like the Beatles (some poor fella looked enough like Ringo to be his twin - as "George" said in his stage patter, "Your nose is big enough that I can pick it from here!"), but sounded exactly like them as well. I was amazed - their stage act was "spot on," as the British would say, down to the correct Gretsch, Hofner and Rickenbacker guitars and "John's" bobbing up and down to the beat like a marionette. They even bowed after each song, which is a Ed Sullivan-era detail that I remembered watching them back then as a 12 year old in my grandparent's living room. What's more, they came out after intermission as the "Sgt. Pepper" band, authentic down to the neon costumes from the album cover and George's day-glo hand-painted, psychedelic Strat. They soon had us up on our feet dancing and screaming. They played the big ones - "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Yesterday," "Got to Get You Into My Life," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," etc. They played stuff the Beatles themselves never got to play in concert; for example, with the help of a "fifth Beatle" on keyboards and synth in the shadowy back of the stage, they played a letter-perfect version of "A Day in the Life" that had my jaw hitting the floor. Too soon it was over, after the cell-phone waving encore of "Hey Jude," they left us screaming for more. Well, "I'm a Believer", as the Monkee's used to say (the were, after all, America's answer to the Beatles, but that's the subject for another blog), and it was a bit of heaven for this rabid Beatles fan. Check out the band on their web page,, check 'em out if they're ever in your town (or you're in Branson), and, until next time, keep on rockin'!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Thanks For the Memories!

I did get together with the afore-mentioned remnants of Too Much Fun this past weekend in America's heartland (AKA Des Moines, IA). To liven up the mix, it's customary for the host dude to bring in members of his local bands to join the jam. So this year, in addition to Rick, Bob and myself, we had Jim on drums, another Bob on guitar, Randy on keys, and a fellow known only to me as "Callahan" on bass. All excellent musicians in their own right. With this expanded group, we could branch out and play some tunes we never attempted in the TMF band. So, crowded into the basement rehearsal space, we pounded out tunes like "Don't Dream It's Over," "Doctor My Eyes," "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," a couple of Pink Floyd tunes, etc, which are tunes I don't usually play and are fun to fall in on as best I can. We also had a couple of TMF "Unplugged" sessions (although Rick broke a string on his acoustic so it wasn't all unplugged - he had to use his Strat) with just the three of us TMF alumni, which gave me a chance to try some acoustic guitar. I'm still at the point, though, where I need a chord chart or tab in front of me or I get lost real fast, so I couldn't join in on too many of the tunes I didn't know. An excellent time was had by all, and next year it's my turn to host, so I'll need to start preparing for that (like, getting in a band here so I can bring local musicians to the party!). So, until next year, rock on!