Email Specials from March 2005

Friday 3/4/2005 ~ Donovan, "Barabajagal," non-word titles


Hey, I just noticed that today's date is 3/4/5!

Sorry I missed last week's email. I was driving to a guitar show in Spartanburg, SC. It's 9 hours straight south. (And we still weren't even close to Florida... Man, this is a big country!) My first thought was "Spartanburg," what a funny name for a city! What's up with "Spartan?" Then I remembered the name of our city... Hmmmmm

Anyway, Leo was along for the ride and he brought a CD called "Donovan's Greatest Hits." Donovan was a Scottish folk/psychedelic singer from the 60s. Although I hadn't thought about Donovan in years, he did have some cool songs... The biggest USA hit was probably "Atlantis (Way Down Below The Ocean)"... But there was also "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow" which, of course, contained the mention of "electrical banana".... This was later shortened and used as the name of a famous Pittsburgh punk club, The Electric Banana.

My all-time favorite Donovan song is "Barabajagal" featuring Jeff Beck on guitar. (Other players: Ron Wood on bass and Nicky Hopkins on piano). As we were cruising down I-79 attempting to sing along to "Barabajagal" I started thinking about other non-actual-word song titles. The first one that came to mind is an old Cream song, "SWLABR," the flip side of "Sunshine Of Your Love." Although I never knew what the title meant, I remember that Eric Clapton got some wonderful long, sustaining sounds in that tune. If I recall, the main riff in "SWLABR" is 9-notes long...but it sounds like one long sustained note...

There are four ways to get that Clapton extra-long-sustained sound. 1) Become Eric Clapton....OK, #1 isn't very practical... 2) Crank your Marshall up all the way and stand right in front of it, 3) Use a compression pedal, or 4) Buy the new Digitech Eric Clapton "Crossroad" pedal that has his signature sounds built-in.

This week's email multi-special features distortion pedals.


See you soon,


PS: "Barabajagal" was recorded in London on May 16 & 17, 1969. The Jeff Beck Group, with Jeff on guitar, Ronnie Wood on Bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Rod Stewart on vocals had already recorded two albums and toured the USA four times.

PPS: In honor of "Barabajagal" and "SWLABR" let's have a mini-contest. Name five other songs with non-actual word titles. (Example: "Da-Do-Ron-Ron" by The Crystals) The first five winning entries will win a free Pittsburgh Guitars T-Shirt, a free set of strings, and a free banana.

PPPS: As we were listening to "Donovan's Greatest Hits" I said to Leo, "Hey, this CD doesn't have my second-favorite Donovan song, 'Happiness Runs In A Circular Motion'!" When I checked into my hotel room in Spartanburg I turned on the TV and the first thing I saw was a commercial for Delta Airlines, and the song they were using in the commercial was "Happiness Runs In A Circular Motion" by Donovan!!! What a strange coincidence!!! Or was it?????

PPPPS: Customer Web Site:
Tower of Power

Friday 3/11/2005 ~ More non-word titles, "Radio Ga Ga"


Thanks to the many, many people who answered last week's email question. I was very impressed at how quickly everyone replied, and the variety songs they named. (Although, almost everyone picked ABACAB by Genesis...)

And congratulations to the first five folks, who won a free set of strings, a free Pittsburgh Guitars T-Shirt and a free banana!

Here's a sampling of some non-word song titles:

1. Doo Doo Doo - Rolling Stones
2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - The Beatles
3. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly
4. ABACAB - Genesis
5. Be Bop A Lula - Gene Vincent
6. Sussudo - Phil Collins
7. Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm -Crash Test Dummies
8. Mony Mony - Tommy James and the Shondells
9. Bawitdaba- Kid Rock
10. D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin
11. NSU - Cream
12. Bootylicious - Destiny's Child
13. EXP - Jimi Hendrix
14. WMA- Pearl Jam
15. 409 - The Beach Boys
16. SSS&Q - Robert Plant
17. Bron Y Aur - Led Zeppelin
18. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - The Police
19. Goo Goo Muck - The cramps
20. Da Da Da - Trio (Used in VW ad)
21. MMM Bop - Hanson
22. YYZ - Rush
23. Radio Ga Ga - Queen
24. The Shoop Shoop Song - Betty Everet
25. Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I Love You) - The Jetsons
26. Bang Shang-A-Lang - The Archies
27. Supercalifragilisticexpialidoshis - Mary Poppins


So, on Monday, this band of Irishmen came into the store... and they were very nice, and super-excellent players. Naturally, we struck up a conversation. (Although, I had to pay very strict attention to try to follow their heavy accents...) It turns out that they were in town playing at The Byham, backing an Irish singer, Mary Black. One of them is a Hofner collector, and he was quite impressed with our current display in the back of the store. I remembered that my 1960 Hofner Club 50 has a sticker on the back of the headstock that says "Matchetts Music, Belfast." So I took it out of the display case and turned it over, and he said, "Oh yeah, they're still in business! I shop there all the time!"

They invited me down to the show, which was great, and afterwards we had some beers backstage. (After all, there's a little Irish in all of us.) At that point, the guitarist, John Shanley, told me that he's recording a solo album in England with Roger Taylor from Queen. He said that Roger has Queen equipment all over his house. John said that he thought it was funny when he saw the keyboards that Queen would use, because they had little markings all over them, with the settings for different songs. He said, "So, I'd look at a keyboard, and there'd be a piece of tape with arrows pointing, and it would say 'Radio Ga Ga' on it."

I thought to myself, "First of all, most big bands don't tour non-stop, so there are probably rock musicians all over the world who have 'famous' equipment laying around their house... That's cool!" And then I thought, "Just this morning I sent out the 'You're a winner!' emails to the folks who entered the non-word contest... and one of them listed 'Radio Ga Ga.' What are the odds I'd hear THAT title twice in one day??"

In honor of Queen, this week's email special is on Vox amps and pedals.


See You soon,


PS: One of the other guys in Mary Black's band, the keyboard player, Pat Crowley, was looking at our Pittsburgh Guitars web site and he saw the 1980 picture of me with Ray Davies from The Kinks. I told him, "Ray gave me his address, so for the last 24 years I've been sending him the annual Flashcat Christmas Record. I wonder if he ever got them?" And John said, "I have tea with him every week. I'll ask him." I said, "What the?!?!?!" He said he'd let me know. If he does, I'll let you know. Life sure is strange, isn't it?

PPS: Thanks to the seven different folks who wrote to say that Cream's "SWLABR" (from last week's email) stands for "She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow." Hey, it was the `60s...

PPPS: Customer web site:
Mary Black

Carl and Ray Davies
More Info about The Flashcat Christmas Record

Matchetts Music, Belfast

Friday 3/18/2005 ~ Drum machines & the G-Dec


As I think about this, it's hard to believe how far things have come technologically speaking... When I opened this store 26 years ago I sold a product called "Drum Drops." "Drum Drops" were a series of albums... vinyl, 33 1/3, 12" record albums... that featured "songs" that were three or four minutes of just drums. Different songs had different beats, or feels, but that's all they were... just drum patterns. They were meant as background- to help you rehearse, or write songs, or maybe even record with. Imagine putting a record on your turntable (please consult an old person if you don't know what these terms mean) and cueing up song #4 so you could practice "Takin' Care Of Business."

Then, ten years later, I bought a Roland R-8 "Human Rhythm Composer." It was (still is, actually) a programmable drum machine... and I still don't know how it works. I can get it to start... and play a couple of beats, but it's basically a mystery to me.

So I was quite impressed with the newest Fender product: the G-DEC amp. It's a small 15-watt amp, with 50 different built-in drum and bass patterns. You can pick a drum style that you like AND it also plays the appropriate bass parts. Plus, you can easily change the tempo and key of any song. For the guitar sound you can pick 17 different amp-samples and 29 effects, and you can change the volume level of the drums and the bass, compared to each other and compared to you. It's loads of fun. Even Mark is enjoying it!

And on top of all of that, it's not expensive! Because of Fender's legal mumbo jumbo, we can't exactly say what we're selling it for... but it's more than $267 and less than $269. We got a half dozen in, and we already sold a few... if you get a chance, stop in and play with it. The new G-DEC is the most fun we've had with a new product in some time. It's a great tool for practicing your guitar. You can improve your playing, in all sorts of different styles and in every key and you don't have to worry about the drummer and bass player drinking all of your beer.

Also, because of the aforementioned mumbo jumbo, we can't have it as our email special, but we can use the item you'll need to plug your guitar into the G-DEC, a cable.


See You Soon,


PS: The issue with the Roland R-8 is that the controls are not user-friendly. It was probably designed buy a PC programmer. Remember how, before Apple invented the user-friendly Desktop platform, you had to type things like "cd\pdox35/m:65/c" just to get your computer to do stuff? (And then Bill Gates stole Apple's idea and named it "Windows.") (Fortunately, Apple is still inventing new ways to make our computing lives easier...)

PPS: Speaking of new ideas, DR Strings just sent me a couple of sets of their new coated electric strings. They're .10 thru .46, and the coating is Blue! If you'd like to try a set, be one of the first two people to write back and say so. The only requirement is you have to report back to us if you like them or not. The high-priced Elixir coated strings still sell well, so other companies are trying to follow suit. DR has decided to go with colors.

PPPS: As I was typing this, Scott was telling Betsy about the G-DEC amp, and he said, "It's pretty cool. It's not your rinky-dink Wurlitzer Fun-Machine. I'm surprised that everyone who tries it doesn't buy one." I think it's going to be a big seller for Fender. I'm sorry I didn't order more of them. Once I heard it I ordered more, but it may be a couple of months before they ship...

PPPPS: Hey! It just occurred to me! I wonder if those Drum Drops albums were how this whole turntable scratchin' thing got started? When guys are scratchin' does one of the two turntables only have drum beats on the disc?

PPS: Customer web site:

Friday 3/25/2005 ~ Leave some holes in the music


Sometimes when I'm driving around in my car I like to turn on a classic rock station and pan the stereo all the way to one side. You hear interesting stuff that way.

(You can, of course, do this with a contemporary station, but recordings today are so layered that you don't get the dramatic instrument isolation you hear on `60s stereo mixes.)

Yesterday I heard Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" and I was impressed with what WASN'T being played. In the verses, for example, after each line, like: "Get your motor runnin'..." the guitar player plays the familiar E, E... E, E, E, E6, E7... but the organ only plays one E chord. Likewise, in the chorus, during, "Born to be wi,iii,ii,iiii,iiiild..." (where he makes "wild" into five syllables...) the organ and bass play E, E, D, D, E while the guitarist only plays single E and D chords.

The casual listener doesn't notice when one instrument doesn't play every note... but the overall result is that, by laying out for some chords, the musicians let the song breathe. The exact opposite happens with many bands. I've seen groups with three guitarists and all three of them were playing the same thing. That approach makes a lot of noise, but not the greatest song. Song presentation is a lot more effective if you let a little air into the mix. A studio musician once told me, "The trick is knowing when NOT to play."

Hmmmmmm... I wonder if this approach applies to interpersonal relationships?

In honor of Michael Monarch, the guitarist for Steppenwolf, this week's email special is on the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff distortion pedal, which he may or may not have been using on the aforementioned hit "Born To Be Wild." (It's a plausible guess... He often used a 1958 Rickenbacker Combo 800 guitar... and those pickups are so weak that you would need help getting decent distortion...)


See you soon,


PS: I know what you're thinking: the bass lines on "Born To Be Wild" are pretty nice. How could a guy who looked as stoned as Nick St. Nicholas play those? Well, it turns out that the first two Steppenwolf LPs featured Rushton Moreve on bass. (Who may or may not have been as stoned as Nick St. Nicholas...)

PPS: You're probably also thinking: And how about Steppenwolf's keyboard player, Goldy McJohn! He had one big white-guy afro!

PPPS: OK, we may as well mention the drummer: Jerry Edmonton.

PPPPS: Of course, John Kay ended up with the name. (He probably WASN'T stoned when the contracts were being signed.) He's touring today as "John Kay and Steppenwolf," with a bunch of guys who weren't born when "Born To Be Wild" was recorded.

PPPPPS: You know, now that I think about it... "Born To Be Wild" was recorded in 1968, and although Mike Matthews formed Electro Harmonix in 1968, he didn't make the Big Muff until 1970... so Michael Monarch COULDN'T have used it on that song! Hmmmmm...

PPPPPPS: And by "E6" and "E7" in the third paragraph, above, I really meant "E add 6th" and "E add 7th". If you played E6 and E7 you'd be doing the jazz version...

PPPPPPPS: Customer web site:
Warped Tour 2005

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