Email Specials from July 2007

Friday 7/6/2007 ~ "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay"


I turned on my old satellite radio as I drove home from the Pittsburgh fireworks on Wednesday night... and randomly dialed up the "1950s Channel." There I heard a song with a 49 year old prediction! I was entertained by the song for a variety of reasons: the youthful exuberance, the only-using-one-microphone-for-four-guys mix, the 16th notes on the piano, the entire primitive recording actually... But it was the words that really made me smile.

The song is "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay" by Danny & The Juniors.
Here are some sample lyrics:

"Rock and Roll will always be, I'll dig it to the end
It'll go down in history, just you watch, my friend
Rock and Roll will always be, it'll go down in history
I don't care what people say, Rock and Roll is here to stay."

It was recorded in 1958. Danny & The Juniors were 17-year-old kids who, like all 17-year-olds, felt that theirs was the ultimate music and would last forever. (Of course, the "adults" of the late 1950s hoped it was a passing fad... just as THEIR parents disapproved of that wild "Big Band" music of the 1940s.)

It's interesting, though, that Rock and Roll was not only NOT a passing fad... it's still flourishing almost 50 years after Danny sang those words! Sure, "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay" is a little heavy on the doo-wop vocals and a little light on the electric guitar, but the chord structure is the same I-IV-V that we know and love today. Music is now louder and more complex, and recording techniques have changed significantly. Stylistically things look and
sound a lot different. But deep down inside, it's still Rock and Roll. And I like it.

It turns out that Danny was right: It is here to stay.


I was also amused buy the modulation in the last two verses of "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay." Modulation is an interesting musical trick that adds a touch of excitement to a song. You're cruising along, enjoying the tune... lets say it's E-A-B... and then suddenly everything goes up a half-step to F-Bb-C! It pumps things up!

The first example of repeated modulation that comes to mind is "My Generation" by The Who, which modulates THREE times at the end! (Hey, it just occurred to me that in "My Generation" Pete Townsend sings, "I hope I die before I get old." I bet he's glad THAT prediction didn't come true...)


I'm not sure if anyone uses modulation in rock music anymore... but you still hear it in country tunes. In fact a few months ago I saw a country singer on TV playing a song using a capo. When the song modulated he very smoothly reached down and slid his capo up one fret, and kept playing the same chords, now in the new key! It was very impressive. And you could ONLY do that with the fabulous Kyser Capo. Put it on, take it off, or slide it up a fret, all with one hand!


See you soon,


PS: "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay" was written a mere six years after New York DJ Alan Freed first used the term to describe a new style of music. The terms "Rock" and "Roll" had been used for years in R&B music, but generally to referring to activities other than music, if you know what I mean, if you see where I'm comin' from, if you catch my drift... like "Good Rocking Tonight" (1947) by Roy Brown or "All She Wants To Do Is Rock" (1948) by Wynonie Harris. In 1951, The Dominoes released a song called "Sixty Minute Man" (again NOT referring to music!) which contained the lyrics, "I rock `em, and roll `em all night long, I'm a Sixty Minute Man." Shortly afterward Alan Freed started to describe up-tempo songs that combined Gospel, Swing, and Rhythm & Blues as: "Rock And Roll."

PPS: Oddly a few years ago the term "Sixty Minute Men" was used in TV football ads. I don't know if it was just here in Pittsburgh for the Steelers, or if it was a nationwide campaign... And, yes, I realize that a football game is sixty minutes long... but still...

PPPS: The hope that Rock And Roll was a just passing fad lasted for a long time. A few years ago I interviewed Duke Kramer, who was one of the main guys in the Gretsch organization during the early 1960s. I asked him what they thought of George Harrison prominently using Gretsch guitars. He said that they didn't pay much attention to it. They were happy for the publicity, but the general feeling in the company in 1964 was that Rock And Roll would soon pass.

PPPPS: Although Danny Rapp was the lead singer, it was one of the Juniors, Dave White, who wrote "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay" as well as their other big hit, "At The Hop." When the band broke up
Dave pursued a songwriting career and wrote several other million selling songs, including "You Don't Own Me" recorded by Leslie Gore, and "1-2-3" recorded by Len Barry.

PPPPPS: Getting back to modulation, I can only think of one song that modulates DOWNWARD, the original version of "I Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash. It has a strange feel to it. When you modulate up, it gives the impression that the song is getting faster and more exciting. Modulating down almost gives the impression that the song is slowing down. And naturally the vocals get lower and lower. Of course, Johnny Cash had the right voice for that. I think by the end of the song he's an octave lower than when he started.

PPPPPPS: Getting back to songs mentioned in the first PS: The second record ever released by Elvis Presley was a cover of Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight."

PPPPPPPS: And as long as I've mentioned Wynonie Harris in the first PS, if you ever get a chance to pick up any of his recordings, please do. He was a great singer and put everything he had into his vocals. I've always admired singers who don't hold back. My favorite Wynonie songs: "Lovin' Machine", "Good Morning Judge" and "Bloodshot Eyes."


PPPPPPPPS: Customer web site:
The Deceptions

Friday 7/20/2007 ~ Plastic Case Hinges


Yesterday I opened a case for a 1980 Stratocaster and Kerplunk! the top of the case just fell right off. I wasn't surprised.

The early 1980s were not good times for Fender. Business was bad and they were looking for ways to cut corners. One corner they wanted to cut was the cost of hardshell cases that (in those days) came standard with Fender guitars. Fortunately a new California company called SKB was making great strides with injection molded plastic. As an alternative to the tolex-covered wooden case that had been in use for decades, SKB was able to offer Fender a lightweight plastic case.... and for less than $10!

The new 1980 plastic cases worked well. Well... until 1985. That's when the hinges started to come off. The tops and bottoms of these new plastic cases were mounted on aluminum rails, and they were connected together with a small metal hinge. However, the hinge was not actually attached to the aluminum rails, it was merely stuck through the plastic on the side of the case. The hinge had little teeth that help it stay put. Here are pictures of one that still works and one that doesn't.

Once in the mid-1990s I was at a party at the SKB factory and had drinks (lots of them) with one of the company founders. (I think he was the "S"...) I asked him about those early Fender cases. He said that SKB suspected from the start that the hinges-with-teeth might eventually be an issue... and they offered to rivet them on for an extra seven cents per case. Fender told them they couldn't afford it. (This was the "darkest before the dawn" time for Fender. Now, of course, Fender is more successful than ever... and all of their hinges have rivets.)


As I put the case back together yesterday I started to think about other commonly seen musical instrument issues. For example, the leather handles used on amplifiers made in the 1950s regularly break. (Don't pick one of those up by the handle!) The molded plastic brown handles used on early 1960s Fender amps also can't be trusted. (Same!) And speaking of handles, the black plastic handles from mid-1970s Gibson L6S cases and the brown plastic handles from late-1970s orange-ish-brown Kramer cases almost always break. (The L6S is the worst of all Gibson cases, which is odd because L6Ss are not heavy guitars. The metal-necked Kramers? Those handle breaks are justifiable!)

As for guitars, old Hofner instruments often need a neck re-set. (It's an easy fix, though. You just look at them sternly and mention Oktoberfest and the neck comes right off.) 1978 Fender guitars generally have finish problems. (A bad batch of paint that tends to fog, crack and flake.) The 1969-1970 slot-headstock Gibson EB0 and EB3 basses invariably have neck adjustment problems. (They had just changed these models from short scale to long scale, and I don't think the new longer truss rods were designed properly.) And don't get me started on the binding issues on Gretsch guitars made in 1966!


Talking about these problems makes me have even greater respect for old instruments that have stood the test of time. I have Gibson guitars from the 1930s and 1940s that play and sound as good today as the day they were made. And the all-time winner has to be Martin. I often wonder if years and years ago a guy sitting at his workbench in the Martin factory thought, "I'm going to make this guitar so it lasts for a hundred years!"

Here's John with a 118-year-old Martin from 1889.

And here's an even OLDER one from 1874 (133 years ago!).

A few days ago we sold a Martin 000-42. Imagine that guitar still being played in 2140!

The computer that I'm typing this letter on is a two year old iMac PowerPC G5. It's already outdated. I KNOW it won't be around in a hundred years (or even five years). But it's pretty cool to think that some stuff we're selling here at Pittsburgh Guitars might be making music a century from now. I wonder what kind of songs they'll be playing?


See you soon,


PS: The SKB guy didn't feel bad about the hinge issues. He thought that for as cheap as the cases were, a five year life-span wasn't bad. On the other side of the coin, here's a picture of the case for the 1874 Martin, which still works perfectly.

PPS: Customer web site:
The Rock-It Band

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