Vanessa Renee Williams

Earlier in the week I went to Blues Alley for the first time. I grew up in DC and I have been to the 930 and Black Cat dozens of times but I never made it to Blues Alley before.

Blues Alley has a really great fell to it. I completely understand why it is such a DC institution. There is no street access, it is literally only accessible via the alley. Enough about the venue because Vanessa Renee Williams was the reason I was there. She is a local DC gospel singer, and unfortunately there is only one you tube video of her that I found. She has an amazing voice and I would never have known about her if a family friend weren’t working on a CD with her.

From what I understand she mostly sings in groups and this was one of her first solo shows. I thought it was a great combination of talented singing, appreciation of having people come out to see her and her own quirky style. At one point she sat down at the piano and pretended to play Fur Elise. It was a great impression. She could really set up a Victor Borges style show between singing and joking.

She brought her daughter up on stage to sing and they did a great duet. It was powerful.

The next day I only listened to my Aretha Franklin Pandora station. Vanessa Renee Williams made me do it.

All I can say is that I want to be at her next solo show.

Below are a few links

Here is her MySpace



American Aquarium

I know I haven’t written anything in a while but I am going to start writing more again. One of the most recent concerts I went to was Justin Jones at the 930 club. While I really liked Justin Jones, the opener American Aquarium was really good. They are produced by Jason Isbell formerly of the Drive By Truckers and it sounds great.


One of the best things about American Aquarium is the lead singer BJ Barham. He has a Springsteen swagger, a great voice and a great red acoustic gibson. The other best is the lap steel player who plays in every song. The band has a really close feel. It seems like they all get along and there isn’t any tension in the band.  I appreciate the bluegrass jam vibe with country rock and roll.


Here is a link to their site


and a good song to start you off on


Guitar: An American Life

There is a wonderful book that came out several years ago called Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes. The book goes through the history of the guitar especially its life in the Americas and the US as well as Brookes’ journey through getting a new guitar. His old trusty guitar was broken on a flight and he decided it was time to get another one. I really liked the history of the guitar and how it is intertwined with the banjo and  the identity of the American people. The guitar used to be a ladies instrument, where as now it is a phallic symbol for rock stars. This is a great book for someone who is interested in history, guitars or both. Mr. Brookes is an writer for his blog and NPR, as well as his own books.

I am glad I got this book and it has definitely given me a new appreciation for the life and art of a luthier. However, the only problem I had with the book was the treatment of the electric guitar. He seemed to treat it as an instrument for punks and that folkies and classical musicians were at the top of the guitar chain. As someone who is interested in everything, I think that is a narrow view. Especially since the electric guitar is an American instrument. Sure it’s based off the Spanish style guitar, but at this point they have totally different uses, sounds and histories. Although to be fair putting both acoustic and electric guitars in a book that size would do neither justice. Hell there long books totally dedicated to telecasters and SGs.

I still recommend this book to anyone interested in the amazing history of the guitar or who is interested in the relationship a luthier has with his clientele.

This is his website.



I have a love for world music and especially this band. Sazarino is fronted and I assume created by Lamine Fellah. He is an Algerian who currently lives in Ecuador. He is also very political which I love. He sings in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dioula and a bunch of others I can’t distinguish. It is infectious world music. I first found out about him from a Putumayo record. The song “Cochabamba” was on it. I couldn’t find any lyrics or anything about it really. However, I easily found and bought the Album “Ya Foy”. It is a grooving album. I love the world/reggae feel and I would probably put it at the top of my favorite albums list. The album is also full of Babylon imagery which is very important in reggae music and Rastafarianism.  So far it looks like only one album (Ya Foy, 2009). But hopefully, there will be something else coming out.

If you like reggae or world music and you are looking of something else, I highly recommend Sarazino.

HR-57 Jazz Bar


If anyone lives in DC, like I do, you may have heard of HR 57. HR is a jazz and blues club that I have been going to lately. I have been listening in on the jams sessions and they are really great. I have to admit when it comes to Jazz hard bop and cool jazz are not my favorites but I can sit and listen for hours. So if you go with me be prepared for listening and little talking. I usually prefer New Orleans style like some Louie Armstrong or Cab Calloway but this is a lot closer.

There are a few key things about HR that I really like

1. You can bring your own wine or beer or liquor. They have a little charge at the door but it is well worth it, because their drinks are more expensive.

2. You can bring an instrument and jam with them onstage. I have brought my guitar but I have yet to go up on stage. Unfortunately, I know shit about jazz guitar and I don’t want to look a fool. I could play some blues but I feel like people are there more for the Jazz. The last time I went with my guitar is was kind of this calling people up in sequence and I got scared. There is an open mic night at the big board across the street that I will one day go to, I think I can play some old time or Americana and it will fit in a little better.

3. Always a great horn player. I love trumpets, saxophones, trombones, any brass at all.

4. Posters of Robert Johnson and Charlie Parker on the wall

If you live in DC or are on a trip and want to see some great Jazz. Go to HR-57. I love the Jam nights, and I the regular nights are fun.

Meanwhile, I’ll be learning some jazz chords.

Diary of a Player by Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley Book cover from

Brad Paisley Book cover from

I recently finished this auto biography by Brad Paisley with David Wild. It is an interesting book that recounts how Paisley got to where is it today. It is a lot of memories from his youth in West Virginia, and a lot of praise for his country idols. It was a little bit of guitar talk but no where near the scale I like, which to be fair is not the reason he wrote the book. However, he did include a great story about a guitar he got from Gruhn’s Guitars, but I won’t give it away. A lot of the memories are reminiscing about his grandfather who introduced him to the guitar and his band in wheeling comprised mainly of senior citizens who knew how to play. I didn’t know much about his back story so it was cool to see how he got started, but the biography took a while to get going. He fills the ends of chapters out with quotes from other musicians who are talking about him.

The parts I really enjoyed where the ones about him in Nashville. He started out as a songwriter and eventually ended up as a performer. Also how he met his wife. Probably one of the funniest love stories I have heard.
Brad Paisley tells a lot of heartfelt stories, but it can’t help but seem like the beginning to another volume. He takes a long time detailing his early life, but then speeds through the end. Now, I can only hope that he will write a sequel or maybe something more in depth about his Nashville years and current career.  It was nice to get an insight into how Brad thinks and sees himself.
I recommend this book if you a) like Brad b) want to hear stories about awkward youth or c) like stories about young country singers.
Link posted below

Music Wood and Sustainability

Taylor against a blue Wall

Taylor DN3- This is my guitar, it is not made from Bamboo.

I love guitars, obviously, but I am also into conservation. I have been seeing a lot recently about wood conservation and most of it from guitar makers. This comes from an industry that in realy consumes a very small percentage of the world’s lumber. Consider how much lumber goes into building one house versus one guitar. Even if the wood used for guitars is much better and is hardwood, rather than soft wood. Or consider how much paper is used in a day, all of that comes from wood pulp. Maybe a good reason to go out and buy an iPad.Music Wood is a Greenpeace based organization that has joined with Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, Martin and Taylor guitars to help advocate conservation of wood. This means that the guitars are build with sustainable woods purchased from reliable dealers. I am totally in favour of this and maybe this will help change the government’s mind about taking rosewood from Gibson. I really like supporting companies that practice sustainability and really by being careful they are helping themselves in the long run. When I first saw this list I was very proud to see almost all of my instruments came from companies who were on the Music Wood list. Now if only Schecter could buy sustainable woods.

The site is good, it has a lot of articles on differences that are being made in the music industry. One feature I thought was cool is the interactive map that shows which woods come from and which woods are used on which parts of the guitar. They *are also working on a documentary, which will be out in 2012*. I think it sends out a good message. I usually am a Sierra Club and Conservation International man, but this definitely makes me like Greenpeace more. Now if only they could stop asking me for my credit card number on the street.

On the other hand I have been seeing more sustainable resource guitars and instruments. I saw a bamboo guitar and there are a lot more carbon fiber guitars coming out now. I haven’t played any bamboo ones but I have played a RainSong carbon fiber. I like it, it sounds pretty good and it is not sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. I still like my Taylor but if I lived in Arizona i would consider it. However, I’m not ready to give up on wood.

Here are some links
Music Wood
Bamboo Guitars – Who knows?     Also bamboo is a rapidly growing grass

* I edited this thanks to Josh G. He pointed out the documentary is not out yet. So don’t fret if you thought you had missed it.


Reggae and Jimmy Cliff

I’m going to take a step into the Reggae scene for this post. Reggae has its root in R and B music and obviously Jamaica. The genre originated out of Ska, and No I will not talk about modern Ska music. Ska has a much more of a focus on brass and horns for its melody, reggae on the other hand is mostly guitar and keyboard based. The keyboard is usually an organ sound and it has this nice bubbly sound that keeps the music going. The guitar is usually bright and staccato. The beat usually on the 2 and 4 beat. This makes the time signature most commonly 4/4. Like most popular genres. Any way the beat it called a shank. This is a reggae specific term for the upbeat on the 2 and 4 counts. The guitar and organ are crucial parts but without bass your reggae is nothing, and you can’t just throw in a bass lines that plays the root notes. That’s flat and boring. The bass has to walk and jump around. It creates the melody. I personally think reggae has some of the most interesting bass lines out of any genre (old school R and B is the other great bass genre). The importance of bass is overshadowed in so many genres, but here it has a chance to shine. Enough theory already.

Most people know about Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and The Wailers. They really popularized reggae and brought it off of the Island. However, favorite Reggae singer is Jimmy Cliff. According to Wikipedia he is more popular for his movie appearance in The Harder They Come than for his music, which I think is a shame. He has a great tenor voice and has written songs addressing everything from love to protests.

Jimmy Cliff playing a classical guitar. Shirtless men Count on this blog: 2 courtesy of

Jimmy Cliff playing a classical guitar. Shirtless men Count on this blog: 2 (Courtesy of

Jimmy started out in the early sixties when the ska and reggae movements were just starting. His early hits include” Hurracane Hattie” and “Miss Jamica”. In these early hits you can really heard the stomping, driving ska beat that was so typical of the genre. His later hits include, “Hard Road to Travel” and “Vietnam”. The song “Vietnam” which came out in 1970, was very popular and Bob Dylan even called it one of the best protest songs. That in itself is an honor, coming from Mr. Times they are a changing. Later hits were a cover of John Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” and he performed a version of “Hakuna Matata”. I remember hearing his version of “I Can See Clearly Now” when I was young, but I realized who he was only much later. Jimmy released Sacred Fire recently. It is an EP and has a cover of The Guns of Brixton, a great Clash song.

I have a few of my Favourite Jimmy Cliff songs below. I think he is a great way to get into reggae, especially older reggae. Along with Jimmy I do like John Holt, Toots and The Maytals and Desmond Dekker (in Ob-La-Di Ob- La- Da Desmond with a  barrow in the marketplace refers to Desmond Dekker).

Jimmy is still playing and going strong, on his site you can he him singing a few songs on TV.

The Harder They Come


I Can See Clearly Now

Struggling Man

Hard Road to Travel

Interesting fact: Jimmy Cliff is the only living musician with the Jamaican Order of Merit and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Jimmy’s Home page

This should be a good starting point, for Jimmy Cliff and for Reggae music, unless you are already into it. Then I have just provided some handy links.

Jimmy Cliff looking stylish. From

Jimmy Cliff looking stylish. From

Ian Stewart: The lesser known member of the Rolling Stones

Ian Stewart was a crucial part of the Rolling Stones and he was there since the beginning and he was the pianist. Think about how so many Stones songs would sound with out piano? Just empty. The piano was a big part of the Stones sound. Ian Stewart was an original member of the band along with Mick, Keith and  Brian. Even before Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts came in. However, he was pushed out of the official band because of publicity. He didn’t have the right face, Andrew Loog Oldham said Six in a band was too many and piano was not a cool enough instrument. Ian was also Scottish. In those days of the early 60’s, the goal was to make the band very marketable and also to sell merchandise. It is no different today.Ian remained in the band as pianist and road manager, he set up guitars and brought equipment in and out as well as being the full time pianist.

“It was obvious that Ian Stewart didn’t fit the picture. I’m not dissing him as though he wasn’t part of the whole thing, but there were a lot of numbers which he didn’t play on. It was plain that Ian didn’t want to be a pop singer.”

Mick Jagger, 1965

I don’t personally believe this quote, I think Mick used it and Ian also assumed this attitude for the sake of the band. He said that he liked the peace and quiet of the anonymity. I still think he would have liked a bit more recognition. On the other hand it is believed that The Stones would not have made it as far as they did with Ian as an official member of the band. Andrew Loog Oldham and Ian also had bad blood between them and certainly disliked each other So that may have also played a role.However, this position allowed Ian to work on many different projects. He collaborated with Eric Clapton, Ringo, Steve Winwood and Led Zeppelin. Speaking of Zeppelin how about another under appreciated member, John Paul-Jones.

Unfortunately, Ian died on Dec 12th 1985 from a heart attack at age 47. It was a great loss for the music community. In February the next year, The Stones played a tribute concert for him. Ian Stewart was very influential to the Stones and when they were inducted into the hall of fame. The current members insisted on having his name along with them. All in all, it is sad that he was marginalized in a band he helped form and shape but at least he got recognition.

“Ian Stewart. I’m still working for him. To me the Rolling Stones is his band. Without his knowledge and organization … we’d be nowhere.”
Keith Richards, Life

Some of the notable songs that Ian worked on
Brown Sugar
Dead Flowers
Honky Tonk Woman
Stupid Girl
It’s Only Rock and Roll (but I like it)

* Some of my favourite piano parts like Tumbling Dice and Sympathy for the Devil were played by Nicky Hopkins another great pianist but that will be for another post.

This will be my last post before the New Year and I won’t be doing anything until mid January. Also this is my 35th post, Word press tells me it means something special, but I can’t tell what it is.

Fretboard Journal

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from

If you are interested in all things guitar (both electric and acoustic), bass, banjo and/or mandolin, I would recommend Fretboard Journal. It is a great magazine and I think the articles and photos are far superior to many other boutique guitar magazines.  They have been publishing for about 6 years now and it’s a quarterly journal. It’s also the only magazine I don’t throw issues away. I’m not a photographer but there is something very down to earth and real about the photos they take. It makes these incredible guitars seem very accessible and tangible. Unlike other magazines that but there rare beauties on a pedestal never to b touched or played and any worthwhile musician knows that instruments were made to played not collected and kept in a display case. That is why Stradivarius violins are still played and rented out to violinists. Sure its Yitzhak Pearlman and Hilary Hahn but still they are being used.

They recently released their fall issue with Gillian Welch on the cover. She is one of the most important women in Folk and Americana music today, and I love it. When I found out about his magazine about a year ago, it really started to motivate me to read about different tone woods and try experimenting with guitar building and modifying. I guess you could say along with Old Crow, Fretboard Journal helped make me the man I am today. It also has opened me up to the wide world of independent luthiers and builders. That may also mean I’ll make my next guitar a small business one rather than a corporate one.

The issues range from $8 to $18 depending on how you buy it, at the stand vs. subscription. This is the only magazine so far that I bought a subscription to the day I saw it. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is.

Wonderful magazine, great topics.