Email Specials from July 2008

Friday 7/11/2008 ~ Fast Singing Songs


Yesterday I was listening to the ol' satellite radio... and, as is often the case, they played a song I haven't heard in years: "Get Out Of Denver" by Bob Seger. (One of the beauties of satellite radio is that you never know what gems will turn up.) (And be turned up!) (Plus, the rock channels are somehow are able to bypass that regular-FM-radio rule that requires "Won't Get Fooled Again" be played every 53 minutes...)

Musically "Get Out Of Denver" is a typical 1-4-5 rock tune.... but I've always liked it because of the words-per-second ratio. Other songs may have more lyrics in a cumulative sense... for example, your average Bob Dylan composition probably has a greater number words... but not delivered in such a rapid-fire manner. Here's Bob Seger singing "Get Out Of Denver." (And notice how you can't listen to it without tapping your foot! That's a cool song.)

Hearing that vocal reminded me of another song. It's a bit obscure, but the flip side of The Monkees' big hit "Daydream Believer" was a Micky Dolenz vocal tour de force called "Goin' Down." Back when records came in the 45 format, you'd buy them for the hit side, and then get a unknown extra on the flip side. Sometimes it was a boring throw-away tune, but every so often it was a surprise bonus. To me "Goin' Down" falls into the surprise bonus category. I'm not even sure how to describe it. But one thing's for sure, it has a lot of words. And it may even beat "Get Out Of Denver" in the words-per-second category. Here's "Goin' Down" by The Monkees. (If you have time to listen to all four-minutes of "Goin' Down" there are some interesting dynamic changes later in the song...)

Off the top of my head I can't think of any tunes that are sung faster than these two. But you might! Let me know


See you soon,

PS: When listening to "Goin' Down," I realized that unlike "Get Out Of Denver," it is NOT a foot-tapping song. It's difficult and uncomfortable to tap because the freakin' beat is so fast! It makes me wonder if there is an optimal song-speed, to maximize the likelihood of foot-tapping....

PPS: Thanks to everyone who answered last week's "A" or "B" survey. Since I had already ordered fifteen of the new Danelectros I was happy to see that the majority of the responses were for answer "B." I asked for your prediction: Will the new Danelectro "Dano `63" guitar, which is a reissue of an instrument that was readily available back in the old days, sell as well as reissues of rarer, more-expensive yesteryear guitars? Most folks said, "Yes!" And initial sales response seems to indicate that you are right. We sold five of the fifteen in the first week.

PPPS: Speaking of interesting reissues, we saw something surprising at the NAMM show three weeks ago. I didn't mention it in my last email, because I wasn't sure if the deal was gonna "go down." But it has! Here's the story: A guy from Illinois is reissuing Harmony Rockets! I stopped at his booth, looked at the guitars, and said, "These are great! Send me some!" He explained that all he had were the display models at the show, and he could take an order, but he didn't know when the actual shipments would arrive. I knew that YOU would want to see these as soon as possible, so I told him I'd be back the next day to try to work something out.

After a hard day of NAMM-Show-ing, John-the-new-guy and I decided to stop at one of my favorite Nashville bars, Roberts, for a beer or four. (The hotel was across the street, so we weren't driving...) The band was wonderful and the beer was cold! And five beers later, who did we run into? The Harmony guy! He was already a couple of beers ahead of us. We told him we were from Pittsburgh, and he said, "I love tha' town!" (From this point forward I will be translating what was actually said into coherent English.) He continued, "I've always been a Pirates fan. I can name every guy on the 1960 World Series Team!" And he did! I said, "Very impressive, sir. But, if you claim to be such an expert on the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates team, can you answer this question? Bill Mazeroski got all of the glory for his game-winning home run, but who was the REAL hero of the final game of the 1960 World Series?" And without spilling a drop, he immediately answered, "Hal Smith!!!" And I said, "Right!!!!" And he said, "I love you guys!" And we decided right there that rather than wait until the rest of the world got the new guitars, we would buy his display models that he used at the show.

And as soon as he got back to Illinois he packed them up and sent them to us! We now have six different new Harmony Rockets.... in all of the options: single cutaway; double cutaway; two pickups; three pickups; red; and sunburst. And I believe we are the first store in the country to actually have these in stock! Stop in and check them out! They look, sound and play, just like the originals!

Here's John with one of my original 1968 Harmony Rockets. And here's John with a brand new Harmony Rocket. He says the Rockets rock! Here he is with both!!


PPPPS: More news next week about the First Annual Pittsburgh Guitars Golf Outing (Sunday, August 17) and the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #5 (Saturday, September 13th). Both are filling up rapidly.

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: The Hush Sound

Friday 7/18/2008 ~ More On Fast Songs

I enjoy the weekly Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special for two reasons: (1) It gives me a chance to ramble on about music and guitars (my two favorite subjects); and (b) we get such fun responses from you, the Email Special readers.

Last week I mentioned the rapid-fire lyrics in Bob Seger's "Get Out Of Denver."

* Several folks wrote to mention other versions of the song- including a frantic 1976 recording by the British Band Eddie and The Hot Rods, and a 1996 version by another British Band, the legendary Status Quo. (Status Quo's cover wasn't quite as fast, but in their defense by 1996 they were all about 80 years old...)

* Derwin, originally from Bob Seger's hometown of Detroit, is a long-time Seger fan. He said, "The last time I saw Bob I paid $1.50 cover in a bar on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn!" I bet it was a great show.

* Other people commented favorably on "Goin' Down" by The Monkees. I was glad to see that, because I think The Monkees are under-appreciated. They got a bad rap when it came out that they didn't play the instruments on their early recordings. Meanwhile, today's recording stars don't even have to sing in tune, since everything can be adjusted with pitch correctors.

* Many folks mentioned other songs with lots 'o lyrics. Some of the suggestions were fairly obscure songs... but a big hit, mentioned several times, was R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." And, yep, it's a good suggestion. Here is "The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)."

* What really surprised me, though, was that three readers listed a song that I had long since forgotten, "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)." This 1974 top-ten hit was credited to a band called Reunion, but it was really just studio musicians fronted by "The Godfather of Bubblegum," Joey Levine. Joey wrote, produced, and often sang lead on a number of late 1960s "Bubblegum" hits, including "Yummy, Yummy Yummy" by The Ohio Express, and a song I've always liked, "Quick Joey Small (Run Joey Run)" by the Kasenetz Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. When the Bubblegum music craze faded, Joey started an advertising company to produce TV-jingles. He has written spots for Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, Sears, Toyota, and many others. Even if you haven't heard "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)," if you've ever watched TV, you've heard a Joey Levine tune.

* And here is "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)."

* It's odd that I forgot about "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)" since I once used its melody in a song I recorded with my band, The Flashcats. (Before we get to the song, here's a brief history: I formed The Flashcats in 1979, and for the next seven years we played non-stop gigs. Finally, in 1986, we decided to cut back to one or two shows a year. This century we do one yearly show, at Christmastime.)
For the past 27 years The Flashcats have recorded and sent out a Fan Club Christmas Record. (Yes, the people who joined the Fan Club for $5.00 in 1981 have gotten their money's worth! Twenty-seven years of records, cassettes and CDs!) One year, many many years ago, I decided to add a bonus song to the Christmas tunes... a fun, song-parody trip along with the band. When we got to the end of the tune I wanted to list some of the places we played and the fans who came to see us. "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)" came to mind, and I used its format at the end. The song is called "On The Road With The Flashcats." If you're a Dr. Demento fan you may have heard it on his radio show.
(Notes about the lyrics: Unlike today, when most clubs have built-in PA systems, in the 1980s bands carried complete PAs and lights. So we all had big trucks and a road crew. Betsy, Joe, Tim, Russ and Steve, mentioned in the first verse, were our road crew. "Moosey" mentioned later in the song refers to Bull Moose Jackson. Bull Moose had numerous hits in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including one later covered by Aerosmith called "Big Ten Inch Record." We revived Bull Moose's career in the early 1980s... but that's a story for another day. The rest of the lyrics should be self-explanatory.)
We wrote and recorded this in one night. And since we didn't have the technology to do otherwise, the band track is all one take. I'm not the best drummer in the world, but I can do medleys! Here is "On The Road With The Flashcats."

* But enough about songs with lots of words. Sometimes one word says enough! Yesterday we received a giant new shipment of Fender Gig Bags...

I thought you'd like to see the packaging. In 1946 Leo Fender wasn't yet making the six string guitars that we know and love, but that was the year he formed the "Fender Manufacturing Company" to make lap steels. So, "Since 1946" is a legitimate slogan for the current Fender Company. I'm just not sure how to pronounce it: Here's John with a new boxed gig bag. This week's email special: Fender Standard Gig Bags! "Sinece 1946"!

See you soon,

PS: Of the many songs submitted by readers last week, one really made me smile with its super fast lyrics. It's a jazz song recorded in 1960 by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross called "Cloudburst." You have to listen through the first verse and chorus to get to the fast part. "Cloudburst" Ha! I just listened to it again.



* The Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #5
at The Rex Theatre, Saturday, September 13, 2008
- This show is still two months away, but the set-list is already 4/5 filled! If you'd like to sign up, email John soon.
We'll provide the Vox amps and the drums. You bring your guitar. If it's just you, we'll have a house band to back you up. (You can even just sit-in on rhythm guitar for a couple of songs, if you'd like!) Individuals get two songs, entire bands get three. All Beatles music, all night!

* The First Annual Pittsburgh Guitars Golf Outing
at Rittswood Golf Club on Rt 8N, Sunday, August 17, 2008
- Even though I'm not a golfer, I'm looking forward to this. John has explained that since it's a "scramble" everyone hits from the best shot. So, all I have to do is not spill my beer! The cost for the Greens Fee, the Golf Cart, food, drink, and prizes is $44.95. Payment must be made by August 3rd. Lots of folks have signed up already, but we have room for a few more. Just make sure you duck when I'm at bat. Wait, is that what they call it?
Email John

PPPS: Customer of the Week: The Asylum Street Spankers

Friday 7/25/2008

"What Model Is That Guitar In The Window?"
Vintage Guitar History Lesson #356 2/3


I'll never forget my first love. I was seventeen. She was a red 1968 Gibson ES-335. Sadly, in 1974 we went our separate ways. She moved in with some guy from West Mifflin. I turned my attention to a beautiful blonde 1972 Fender Strat. There have been many since... and along the way I've tried to learn everything I can about guitars, and the magic they hold over me.

Back in the early days of vintage guitardom, there were no reference books on the subject. (And no internet.) And music stores in those days sold all types of instruments, so you were lucky if they had a few new guitars among the horns and pianos. There was nowhere to go to see a wide range of older, used guitars. Guitar knowledge had to come from magazine photos, album covers, and whatever catalogs could be found. Naturally there was some confusion along the way.
In the early days I remember one Gibson term that was particularly perplexing: The Les Paul "Junior."

When I was young I saw someone on TV (black & white TV, of course) playing a 3/4 size Gibson acoustic guitar... so I knew that Gibson made smaller sized guitars. When I first heard the name "Les Paul Junior," I presumed that it was a short scale Les Paul. After all, "Junior" sounds like something that's smaller. But, NO!! It turns out that Gibson used the term "Junior" to refer to a guitar that was a budget version of the original Les Paul. It was still a normal full-size guitar.

The original "Les Paul" was introduced in 1952. (Here's John with two of them.) It had a wonderful gold finish and two pickups. And it was constructed from two different woods... a flat mahogany slab, with a carved maple cap. In 1954 Gibson decided to market a less expensive model for students and beginners. The new guitar utilized just the flat mahogany base, and only had one pickup. It was called the Les Paul Junior. Not smaller, just plainer.

(Although to further confuse future scholars, Gibson offered this new guitar in two different finishes, with two different names! The sunburst version was called the "Les Paul Junior." The yellow, "limed mahogany" version was called the "Les Paul TV Model." (No wonder I was a confused child!) Years later, the common term for the yellow model among vintage guitar enthusiasts is "Les Paul TV Junior." At least that is a little more consistent.)
Here's John with both a Les Paul Junior and a Les Paul TV Model. (Same guitar, different colors.)

Getting back to the early days of confusion though, just when I figured out that the "Junior" was a full-size guitar, I ran across something odd... a "Junior" that really was "junior." It turns out that during the 1950s Gibson took the "students and beginners" concept one step further. In very limited numbers they also manufactured 3/4 size versions of the Les Paul Juniors and Les Paul TV Models. The bodies were the same, but they had shorter scale necks. It would have been funny if they called this model the "Les Paul Junior Junior!" But the official name was "Les Paul Junior 3/4." (And of course, the yellow one was the "Les Paul TV Model 3/4.")

Here's John with both a Les Paul Junior and a Les Paul Junior 3/4.

Now, you're probably saying to yourself, "Frank, what happened in 1959 when Gibson redesigned the Les Paul Juniors and TV Models into double cutaway guitars?" Well, the Les Paul Junior was changed from sunburst to red... the Les Paul TV Model kept its color... and, yes, they continued to make a handful of 3/4 versions. With the 3/4 size models they again used the same body, with just a shorter neck.

Here's John with a 1959 Les Paul Junior, in the new red color, and a 1959 Les Paul Junior 3/4.

After looking at that picture, you're probably wondering about the white pickguard on the junior Junior. I know, me too! I've had that guitar for many years, and I've often wondered about it. It appears to be original. Well, last week a new book was published about the 1950s Les Pauls, containing photos of rare and unusual models. ("The Early Years Of The Les Paul Legacy" by Robb Lawrence) And from older photos it has been determined that during the 1959 NAMM Show Gibson displayed some of their newest models with white pickguards! After all of these years, I finally have an explanation of the white pickguard!! The 3/4 Les Paul Junior that John is holding above was made for the 1959 trade show! A new factoid! I'm so happy!

And THAT'S what inspired today's email. Despite years of studying old guitars, there is still more to be discovered. And I love learning new guitar tidbits!!


See you soon,


PS: From 1955 through 1958 you could also get the single-cutaway Les Paul TV Model (that's the yellow one) with two pickups. The model designation was "Les Paul Special."

PPS: From 1959 through 1960, the double-cutaway years, the Les Paul Special could be ordered in yellow or red.

PPPS: So to recap the color options:
1954 - 1958....
single cutaway, one pickup, sunburst: Les Paul Junior
single cutaway, one pickup, yellow: Les Paul TV Model
single cutaway, two pickups, yellow: Les Paul Special (started in 1955)

double cutaway, one pickup, red: Les Paul Junior
double cutaway, one pickup, yellow: Les Paul TV Model
double cutaway, two pickups, yellow or red: Les Paul Special


PPPPS: While the Junior, TV Model and Special stayed the same through most of the 1950s, the goldtop Les Paul Standard was improved almost every year. By 1958 it had humbucking pickups and a gorgeous sunburst finish. The fancier, black, Les Paul Custom was introduced in 1954. By 1957 it, too, had the new humbucking pickups.

PPPPPS: Despite the fact that these 1950s Les Pauls are such wonderful guitars, it's hard to believe that by 1960 sales were down. So in 1961 Gibson decided to revamp the entire solid-body line. All of the models, the Les Paul Junior; the Les Paul TV Model; the Les Paul Special; the Les Paul Standard and the Les Paul Custom, were redesigned into the SG body shape... a thin, double-cutatway body, with sharp points and beveled body edges. The traditional Les Paul body shape wasn't made again until 1968.

PPPPPPS: I can't really explain how happy I was when I found out about the white pickguards at the 1959 NAMM Show. Learning something new like that is one of the reasons that I still love this store. Another reason is that you never know what will walk through the door. We're now in our thirtieth year and just this week I saw something that I've never seen before! In 1959 Gibson wanted to offer a guitar that was even cheaper than the aforementioned Juniors, TV Models and Specials. They introduced a much thinner, and even plainer guitar called the Melody Maker. This week we bought a 1965 Melody Maker from a gentleman who broke it, and attempted to repair it, when he was 12 years old. His repair job is so entertaining that I'm going to keep it just as it is! 1965 Gibson Melody Maker, with slight repair.

PPPPPPPS: The official year for the switch from single-cutaway to double-cutaway on the Les Paul Junior, TV Model and Special was 1959. However, a few double-cutaways were shipped in late 1958.

PPPPPPPPS: Customer of the Week: The Replicas!

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