Email Specials from July 2011

Friday 7/8/11


From the Bottom (end)
Part 1

I was hanging out with my siblings at a family reunion earlier this week and the ol' satellite radio played "That's The Way (I Like It)" by K. C. & The Sunshine Band.

I turned to whoever was nearby and said, "I hope the bass player on this track got some of the writing credit!" (Yeah, I know, I probably analyze life too much...)

I made the comment because the song is really only one chord (I believe it's "C"), so musically there's not much to it. But the powerful bass lines add spirit and drive, and make the recording come alive.

Here's the tune.

(It turns out he didn't get any credit, by the way...)

I thought of that bass line Wednesday night when I saw Panic At The Disco on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. (I didn't think they were still around, but they actually have a new CD out.) Panic's bassist is from the "I only play repeated 1/8th notes" school of bass playing.

I believe that approach started back in the punk music days, when folks who couldn't really play their instruments just started banging away. There was nothing wrong with it then. But bass can add so much more to a song... it bothers me to see guys who are playing bass lines that are so simple even I could play them.

Here's Panic At The Disco on Jimmy Kimmel.

I know it's a taste thing. And maybe my personal attraction to old R&B songs, where the bass really moves, is affecting my preferences. But I think the bass, regardless of the genre of music, should offer more to the song than just "thud thud thud thud thud thud thud thud." Just my thoughts...


From the Bottom (end)
Part 2

Speaking of bass parts, one thing that always adds to the power of a song is a brief bass slide. Especially coming out of a break in the song. I'm sure there are more recent examples, but the first two that come to mind are from my childhood.

Listen to this bass slide at 0:27

And this one at 0:42 and 1:17

They are brief and subtle, but add to the song.

If you can think of better (and newer) examples, send `em in. And if you play bass, add one to a song the next time you play.


From the Bottom (end)
Part 3

Speaking of subtle bass parts, a few weeks ago The Monkees were in town, and that reminded me of a bass part that I've never seen anyone play correctly.

The Monkees had a 10 million-selling hit with a song called "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." (Well, some folks may have bought it for the A-side of the single, "I'm A Believer"...)

The song is in E, and the chords to the verse and chorus are E, G, A, C. So, whenever folks cover the song, the bass player starts with the open E-string and works his way up the neck to the C at the 8th fret. However, the subtle beauty to the actual bass line in "Steppin' Stone" is that the bass player goes down to the C. He starts with the E on the A-string 7th fret, goes up to the the D-string 5th and 7th frets for the G and A, and then drops down to the C at the A-string 3rd fret. Musically, they are the same notes, but landing on that lower C at the end of the line adds drama and power to the song.

Here, listen to the bass line: "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone"

I've always liked that.

Bass is important! Send in your favorite bass parts!


See you soon,


PS: Here's Scott playing the "Steppin' Stone" bass lick on a Gretsch Model 6073 bass, exactly like the one Peter Tork pretended to play on The Monkees TV show.

PPS: The Monkees got a lot of grief for not playing all of the instruments on their first few records. But that was, and still is, a very common practice. For example, Brian Wilson used session players to record the Beach Boys' band tracks while the rest of the group was on tour. The actual band would do the vocals when they were in town. Today it's even worse. The producer prepares the entire song on a computer, and then the "singer" approximates the vocals while the computer corrects his or her pitch.

PPPS: The bass on "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," as well as "Last Train To Clarksville" and "The Monkees Theme Song," was played by session guy, Larry Taylor. Less than a year after those recordings Larry joined the band Canned Heat, where he was renamed Larry "The Mole" Taylor.

Here's Larry Taylor at Woodstock, still playing higher up the neck! (And higher from the neck up!)

PPPPS: Speaking of session guys, the players who recorded hundreds of band tracks in Los Angeles in the 1960s (including Beach Boys and Monkees sessions) were affectionately known as The Wrecking Crew. And one of their most sought after guitarists was the late Tommy Tedesco. His son Denny Tedesco has just completed a documentary about those players and the hit songs they performed on. The film, called The Wrecking Crew, is on extremely limited release, and will have a one-time only showing on Sunday, July 24th at Duquesne University. We'll have more info about tickets in next week's Email Special.

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: M.O.T.O.


Wednesday 7/20/11 ~ All Questions Are Answered!

Hey! Sorry this is a half-a-week late! We had some computer "server" issues last Friday, just as the Email Special was ready to send. Unfortunately, I have no idea what they were, or how this "mailing list" thingy works... I'm more of a "A 1963 Gretsch Country Gentleman should have red felt washers under the mute switches; they didn't switch to black felt until 1964" kinda guy...

I suppose I could have saved this until this Friday... but I didn't want you to wait a day longer to hear the story about the bass player in KC & The Sunshine Band.

Of course, if I'm sending this today (Wednesday) then do I write another one for Friday, two days from now? Or do I wait until next Wednesday?? But then would they always come on Wednesdays??? Or should I skip this Friday and send the next one on Friday, the 29th?????

Aw... I can't take the pressure........ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.....................................

Anyway, here's last Friday's Email Special, delivered the way old fashioned mail was... a few days late.


I love the Email Special! All questions are answered!!

Last week I mentioned that the bass line in KC & The Sunshine Band's "That's The Way (I Like It)" is so significant that the bass player should have gotten partial writing credit. When you listen to the song your foot taps with the drums, but your head bobs with the bass line. The songwriters listed on "That's The Way" (and for that matter, all of the Sunshine Band's hit songs) are Harry Wayne "KC" Casey and his songwriting and producing partner, Richard Finch.

An hour later I got a reply from Email Special reader Rick M. in Florida. Rick knows KC's cousin, Jim Casey. So he called him, and asked who played bass on that song. It turns out that the bass was played by co-writer, co-producer Richard Finch. So the bass player DID get writing credit! He co-wrote the song!

The Email Special readers can answer almost any question!! Thanks, Rick!

Meanwhile, here at Email Special headquarters we received lots of replies about bass playing. And they fell into three categories: Favorite bass parts, favorite "lead" bass players, and favorite bass "slides" as per last week's comments.

Here is a sample of the links we received:

Favorite bass parts:

"Bernadette" or anything played by James Jamerson for Motown

"Mayor Of Simpleton" by XTC

"Cool Jerk" by The Capitols

"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" or anything played by Paul McCartney

"Shotgun" by Junior Walker & The All Stars ***** (see below)

"Give It Away" or anything played by Flea (also: great slide at 0:10)


Favorite lead bass players:

Stanley Clarke

Victor Wooten

Marcus Miller

... and someone half their age...
Tal Wilkenfeld

Email Special reader Jukka A. was inspired to play bass by Finnish bassist, Pekka Pohojola
"Dancing In The Dark" by Pekka Pohojola


Favorite bass slides:

"Under My Wheels" by Alice Cooper (0:08)

"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by the Police (0:35)

"Peg" by Steely Dan (0:06) (1:36) (a great bass line in general!)


And, of course, the ultimate bass song:
Spinal Tap!


The link that slowed me down... and by that, I mean I had to turn up the volume and listen to it loud several times!... was Jr Walker's "Shotgun." What a song!

It opens with a short solo, and then the chorus. You can hear the bass player get the groove going. Then, in the first verse, he starts hitting staccato notes on the "1" and "2," to give the song a funky feel. (at 0:37) (And it sounds great!) Then... and here's where most drummers play the song wrong... in the chorus (at 1:03) the drummer starts playing 1/8th notes on the bass drum (if you were counting, it would be "1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and"...) At that point, the bass player hears what the drummer is doing and smooths out his pattern. He plays the same notes, but not as staccato-like on the first two. He changes it to a slightly smoother groove. And you know why? Because these were two human beings playing at the same time! Yeah, that's how they used to record!

After the chorus, the bass drum pattern switches back, and the bass player does the same. When the next verse comes up, it's just as funky as the first. Actual musicians play together like that. It's a magical thing.

(And it's an eye-opener... or rather ear-opener... when you first hear those bass drum 1/8th notes. Once you know they're there, you'll really love this song!)


See you soon,


PS: Last week I mentioned a new documentary about The Wrecking Crew, a group of west coast session guys who played on hundreds of records. This movie is not in general release, but will have a one-time-only showing at Duquesne University on Sunday, July 24th, at 6PM.

I am so looking forward to seeing this! From a rock & roll history perspective it's a must-see film.
Here's the trailer.

Since this is a Duquesne University presentation, there are different prices for students, and outsiders (i.e. the rest of us.) Student tickets are $15, and non-student tickets are $25. But I know that a lot of our customers want to see the movie, so we've made a special deal with Duquesne to offer student-priced tickets through Pittsburgh Guitars. (After all, we are rock & roll "students"!!)

We should have the tickets this week. Stop down and get some. (Since all of the money goes to Duquesne, the ticket sales are 'cash only.')

PPS: Customer of the week: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band


Friday 7/29/2011 ~ The Summer NAMM Show


I took a quick drive down to Nashville last weekend for the summer NAMM Show. The trip was lots of fun for lots of reasons.

First of all, the NAMM Shows are always a blast. We get to visit with established companies, like Martin and Vox, and order their newest stuff. (Examples from those two companies: Martin has just introduced a D-28 with a thinner profile neck. The D-28 is already our biggest selling Martin guitar. (Paul McCartney uses one, and he could buy any guitar in the world!) (Oops. That McCartney comment was just a parentheses inside a parentheses...sorry.) (Hey, so was that!) (Wait a minute....) (OK, let's get back to the original parentheses...) Anyway, the D-28 is a fabulous, successful guitar. But as you probably know, Martin's primary competitor, Taylor, has been selling a lot of guitars, too. And Taylor's big selling point is that their necks are thin, like electric guitar necks. So, Martin is now introducing a D-28 with a thinner neck... called the D-28P. We just sold our last regular D-28, so we ordered both the standard one and the new thinner neck model. We should have them both in soon... maybe today... so you can compare the two.)

(Alright... that was too long of a parentheses... So I'm gonna drop the parentheses thing all together...) (...starting now...)

And Vox has introduced a new amp that we love, the "AC-15C2 Twin"! Back in the old days we used to sell a lot of Vox AC-30s. The only problem with the AC-30 is that it's darn loud. In recent years we've sold more AC-15s. Same great sound, less louditudiness. But the AC-15 only comes with one 12" speaker, compared to the AC-30s two 12s. So, Vox has now introduced a 2x12 AC-15, the AC-15C2 Twin. It's the perfect balance between the AC-15 and AC-30. Naturally, we ordered some of those.

Another fun thing about NAMM is meeting folks who are trying to break into the marketplace with a new product. Every once in a while, we'll see a run-away success... like Kyser Capos, who showed up at the show one year, and by the next show they were selling millions. (That's a guess... but at least thousands!)

Here are some new products we found... It will be interesting to see which of these companies are still around next year...


1) Have you ever poked your eye out on the sharp edge of a guitar string sticking up from your headstock? Well, you won't have that problem anymore, with these: Point Guardz!

2) Have you ever started to learn to play guitar, and complained that the tips of your fingers hurt from pressing down on the strings? Well, these will ease your pain: Gorilla Tips!

3) Have you ever wanted to carry a picture diagram of every guitar chord around with you, in book form, in your pocket? Now you can, with this: the Ultimate Pocket Sized Guitar Chord Reference Book!!


But the really fun thing about Nashville is the 400 block of Broadway, right near the Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Grand Ole Opry). This one city block contains at least ten bars, with non-stop live music, from 11AM until 3AM every day! It's amazing. The bands change every four hours, and there is never a cover charge. So, you can start at one end of the street and by the time you've watched groups play all the way down the block, you can turn around, start over and see different bands!

All of the stages are at the front window, facing inward. Here are cell-phone pictures John took at Legends Corner. The most famous of these Nashville clubs is Tootsies, but it also has the smallest stage. Here's some video from Tootsie's. Tootsie's has a larger, second stage in the back room, which you enter through the alley behind the Ryman. Here's a picture I took there. Sorry it's so fuzzy. Beer was involved.

And needless to say, every musician in every club was great! Here's a video of The Don Kelley Band playing at a club called Roberts Western World. Don Kelley has been around for years, and he always has smokin' hot guitar players. If you decide to move to Nashville to make it as a guitar player, these are the kind of people you'll be up against. Here's another video.

Last weekend I saw at least 20 bands...and I was impressed that 90% of the guitarists were using Telecasters. It warmed my heart to think that over 60 years ago Leo Fender designed a simple little guitar... and that design has survived, virtually unchanged, as the go-to guitar for country music.


See you soon,


PS: You can't see it in my fuzzy picture above, but the guitarist in Tootsie's back room was using a Classic Vibe Tele Custom (double-bound sunburst). We have one of those in stock now. Here's John with it on the roof.

PPS: Yes, you are correct, in the Tootsie's back room photo above the drummer in the band is female. I saw two different female drummers last weekend, and they were both great.

PPPS: As I was typing this, the two Martin D-28s arrived! In addition to a thinner neck, the new D-28P also has a slightly wider fingerboard at the nut. I'll report on customer feedback next week!

PPPPS: Customer of the week: The Goo Goo Dolls



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