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.

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter with a Beautiful Gretsch

… And now I return to Americana music. I have been following Josh Ritter for a long time. He is one of my favourite artists of all time. He hails from Moscow, Idaho. A city I have never been to, but I have been to Moscow, Russia. He has a way with words and a way with chords. I believe he has given a lot to folk and Americana and like all Americana musicians he plays a small body Gibson.

He comes to DC a lot which is great and like many performers he loves the 930 club.  He is one of the most charming performers I have ever seen. He has a lot of dialogue with the audience and it really shows how much he loves his fans.

He released an album last year called So Runs Away the World. I have to admit after The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, I didn’t know if I could like anything as much. SRATW grew on me at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it but now it’s one of my favourite albums, of all. He did an amazing reinterpretation of the Stagger Lee story on “Folk Bloodbath”. “Lantern” is my favourite song and now a standard on his set list.

These are my favourite Josh Ritter song not in any particular order

“Galahad” – I first heard this at his concert in February, it is the tale of Sir Galahad encountering an “angel” and then going to heaven . This song inspired me to start finger picking.

“To the Dogs or Whoever…” – The starter of the historical conquests album. It’s a very strong song and it makes for a great concert opener. It’s rapid fire and loud. I like it a lot.

“Girl in the War” – Tells the story of a love stuck in the water and a dialogue between Peter and Paul. Beautiful imagery and he rhymes kingdom with kingdom.

“Harrisburg” – I like that is an adventure song. Although it is a sad story of a man running away from his live. He plays this song acoustically on the album but in concert it is a full band and Zach Hickman sings “Papa was a Rollin Stone” during the last verse. Damn great Song.

“Lillian, Egypt” – Chorus just goes La La La. This usually drives me crazy, but not when Josh is singing.

“Good Man” – I recently realized I like this song. I listen to Josh Ritter a lot but I don’t always remember the title of the song.

“Temptation of Adam” – Beautiful and nuclear, if you have ever longed for someone but they didn’t see you as more than a friend this song is for you. Although I was never trapped in a missile silo.

I would recommend starting off with The Historical Conquests and then going on from there. There are a bunch of Youtube videos also, but I’m going to post the here. You’ll have to go find out for yourself.

Also …

If he ever comes to your town go out, buy a ticket and enjoy.

The Ninth Symphony

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

So I know this is kind of a digression from what I normally talk about but it’s definitely not about heavy metal. I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and It’s getting to be that season where you start to hear Ode to Joy and thinking about classical standards. It’s not that I start thinking about the Ninth only at Christmas time but it seems like an appropriate time to talk about it. In fact, I think about it all year long.

This is by far my favourite symphony, I even know the baritone solo that starts the choral part. Before I get into the symphony itself I’ll throw down a little bit of background about the piece. This was Beethoven’s final symphony and he was mostly deaf when he composed it. He hadn’t published anything in a long time when the 9th came out and he was beginning to be forgotten. He had made a huge impact in Austria when he wrote the Eroica symphony also known as the third, for Napoleon. However he scratched out his name when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. Beethoven was a big supporter of republicanism. Even though most of his employers were royalty. Gradually Beethoven isolated himself more and more so by the end of his life he was considered past his prime, a recluse and a malcontent. The fact that he probably didn’t hear his last symphony is a testament to how great a composer he actually was.

This symphony was an enormous undertaking, on Beethoven and everyone who performs in it. It has a huge orchestra and chorus with four soloists. It was one of the longest symphonies up until that point in time, and we actually have this symphony to thank for our current CD length. One of the pioneers of compact discs loved this symphony so much that he insisted that the whole composition could fit on one CD. So the CD’s capacity was increased for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes. The symphony takes about 1:15 to 1:20 to play.

There are four movements, but most everyone knows the last one, the choral part. The first movement is a tempestuous one. It does something really odd. It starts off with the orchestra warming up before it launches into the movement. Completely unheard of for its time. Then the key of D minor switches to D major, which was another innovation no one had done before. The second movement has this falling sort of opening theme with an emphasis on the timpanis. If anyone lives in DC and listens to WGMS classical station this theme is used whenever they come back from a commercial break. I won’t go into any more detail on the theory mainly because I know very little theory. The third is a slow movement an adagio but it then builds up to the momentous fourth movement. In the beginning of the fourth movement the “Ode to Joy” theme is first played by the basses alone, the bass at this time was not seen as a standalone instrument and is just one more think about how rare this symphony was. One more interesting thing about the fourth is right before the tenor solo a funeral style dirge starts playing. A funeral dirge in a joyous symphony? It makes for an incredibly interesting symphony. As if Beethoven weren’t interesting enough already.

A Young Beethoven

A Young Beethoven

A few facts about the Ninth Symphony

In the movie Immortal Beloved this piece is what Beethoven’s alleged lover forgives him over because of its amazing beauty.

Beethoven and his Ninth symphony is considered the beginning of the romantic era of music

The poem used in the choral part was written by Friedrich Schiller in 1783

It debuted on May 7th 1824 an was a major success. However a repeat performance on the 23rd was not well attended.

Versions to listen to

Just like covers of songs no two versions of the Ninth are the same

1. Leonard Bernstein- world renowned conductor, and probably the most well known

2. Kurt Masur – This is the version I heard first. Great version, not too fast.

3. Hungarian Philharmonic- I have their set of all of Beethoven’s Symphonies, just wonderful.

4. Karl Bohm – Placido Domingo is one of the soloists.

I don’t suggest trying to find it on Youtube, it’s hard to find the whole symphony done by one orchestra, but it may be the best starting point. I personally would go out and get a copy of it.

Everything Right is Wrong Again

Keepin' it clean TMBG from

I saw They Might Be Giants last night at the 930 and it was quite an interesting show. They played the album Lincoln almost in its entirety (the show was billed as a special Lincoln show, at first I thought they would all dress up as Abraham Lincoln but that was not the case). A bold move if you ask me. I know when I saw Social Distortion they didn’t play any of their hits, so maybe more of a punk rock move. Lincoln has some good songs like ‘Anna  Ng’, ‘Purple Toupee’ and ‘They’ll Need a Crane’ and a bunch of other weird ones. That totally seems like TMBG, but I guess they are not catering to a mainstream audience. However they still played, ‘Bird house in your Soul’, ‘Can’t Keep Johnny Down’, ‘Cloisonné’,  and ‘Why Does the Sun Really Shine?’. There was a lot of funny banter between the Johns and the Avatars of They. I like audience interaction and maybe that’s why I also love the 930 club so much and jiffy lube live not so much. They set up a camera so they could do the avatar show on stage.

This was my first TMBG show and I enjoyed it. It was just as strange as I expected and Danny Miller was playing some awesome guitars. I especially liked the zoot suit SG that he was playing at various points. Flansburgh was rocking a nice Fender Jaguar and during ‘Why Does the Sun Really Shine?’ he had swagger and croon. Linnell was playing on bass clarinet,  keyboards and accordion, pretty much essential for any modern recording band.

Great Show, also James K. Polk may be one of the best history songs ever written.

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants, Are they really giants? No they aren't

Americana Music Festival

This is America

Although, the Americana Music Festival was over a month ago the concert broadcasted by the Austin City Limits series. What a concert! There were some many guitars and banjos. If you were looking at the guitars like I was you could see almost everyone there had a L style Gibson blues guitar. Emmylou didn’t have a guitar but if she did she would be packing a J-200.

My favourite performances of the night were Justin Townes Earle singing his gospel single ‘Harlem River Blues’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’ with Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller. I really dig the gospel and soul style in “Harlem River Blues’. The organ makes for a strong, driving melody. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is another gospel song that has a simple powerful message and the banjo really makes this song. It gives an old time feel that is the embodiment of Americana.

I also liked The Civil Wars performance ‘Barton Hollow’ is a great song and it reminds me of  ‘Copperhead Road’ by Steve Earle. It has that haunting quality to it that really makes a powerful impact. I personally, I would throw a banjo is there but that’s my bias.

Joy Williams and John Paul White of The Civil Wars perform at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville

These were the performers and later on I will probably put some more info about them.

Emmylou Harris

Greg Allman

Buddy Miller

The Civil Wars

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Robert Plant

Justin Townes Earle

Alison Krauss

Amos Lee

Jim Lauderdale

The Avett Brothers

Elizabeth Cook

The Secret Sisters

There are a lot of You Tube clips you can see the individual performances  and below I have a link for the Americana Music Association homepage.