The Way to Amarillo

With my summer off, I've been spending a great deal of time surfing the web. It's a reasonably good pastime when it's 95 degrees outside. I think my favorite video that I've come across so far is a makeshift Neil Diamond video put together by some troops in Iraq. It makes me happy. Neil Diamond pretty much always make me happy.

I'm not sure, but it almost looks like they filmed it on a phone.

Social Distortion Rocks

In a rare weeknight outing, I saw Social Distortion at the Promowest Pavillion on Thursday night. This was the first time I've ever seen them live, and I was not disappointed. They put on an incredible show. The band sounds every bit as good live as they do on their albums. Mike Ness' raspy, melancholy, and often furious vocals laid down over the driving guitars made for pristine Social D. Of course, with a band like Social Distortion every song is a rock n' roll joy, but some of the highlights were their renditions of greats like "Sometimes I Do," "Story of My Life," "Prison Bound," and "Ring of Fire."

Mike Ness still possesses all the energy and ferocity of his earlier days, now accompanied by a wisdom gained through years of learning lessons the hard way. All of this comes out in his near perfect guitar playing and vocals. He was ably backed by the other members of the band, especially by the skilled guitar playing emanating from Jonny "2 Bags." The crowd fed off this energy and made for an exciting concert experience.

If I had any complaints about the show at all they would be, first, that the bass and low end sound at the Promowest occaisionally overpowered some of the vocals and guitar. Whether this was on purpose or simply the way the sound works at the venue, I do not know. My only other gripe is that the band played almost all of their songs that a fan needs to hear except "Ball And Chain," and despite the amazing set list of the night, I must say I left with a sense of disappointment at not getting to hear the song that turned me on to Social Distortion so many years ago. Perhaps if they had taken the stage just ten minutes earlier, rather than at ten o'clock, they could have squeezed it in.

In any case, I will go back to see them again, to be sure, and the show served only to further strengthen my love and respect for one of the best rock bands of our time. I give the show 4 1/2 out of five stars.

I'm a Spring Break Rocker!

Yesterday I was flipping around the tele and decided to check out what was on the On Demand TV channel. There's a great free service they have called Mag Rack, which the cable company bills as a video magazine rack. In particular there is a set of programs called Guitar Xpress, which is a bunch of free guitar lessons for everyone from the beginner on up. They have shows on getting started, chords, and how to play songs, etc. It's pretty cool, and it beats paying for guitar lessons.

So I decided to check out one program in particular called Basic Soloing. It was great. As sort of an intermediate-beginner, I have become interested in how to add a little spice to my guitar playing, more than just practicing chords, and I have been unsure of how to proceed. I know improvisation and good guitar solos depend a great deal on scales, but which ones to learn? This program showed me everything I needed to know to get going. I was playing and improvising with some basic blues scales in minutes, and since the show was On Demand, I could pause and rewind as often as I needed. What a blast!

Now I know nothing can replace regular lessons with a good guitar teacher, but when your budget is tight this Guitar Xpress thing is great. I can honestly say that I can take or leave digital cable, cable in general, and even television all together. This is the first time since Sesame Street and maybe the occaisional Nova or National Geographic special that the television has given me real value for my dollar. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an Am Pentatonic blues scale to practice.

Knockin' On Heaven's Door

The song "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" by the legendary Bob Dylan is most likely one of the best known songs in the history of rock or folk. It is also probably the most covered song ever. Hundreds of bands, from professionals to garage bands have this song in their encore arsenal. I'd be willing to bet every guitar player in the US can whip off that famous sound, or at least wants to.

For me the song has always been a favorite, although Bob Dylan's version was not the first version I'd ever heard. The song is easily in my "Top Five Songs of All Time List." I first heard it on a shitty, rediculously over-priced bootleg tape of a Guns N' Roses concert. (I was actually ripped off, since the concert had been shown numerous times on cable - the famous live show at the CBGB). On that tape was the live version GNR did, before they put it on Use Your Illusion (was it I or II?) . I was blown away. The deep well of despair in the voice of Mr. Rose, the soaring heights of what is, in my opinion, one of the best guitar solos of all time, the simple yet hypnotic rythm of the song - all transported my fourteen year old mind to a place I'd never thought music could take me. Man, what a great song.

Now, I've been a wanna' be guitarist for about twenty years, forever trapped in that transitional stage between ultra-beginner and it's-now-getting-a-little-challenging beginner. The one song I've wanted to know how to play, since the day I first heard it, was "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." But being blessed with zero natural musical ability, I need someone to show me everything. Today someone did. My friend and colleague Rodger showed me in just a few minutes the rythm pattern I had not been able to discern for myself since I was a freshman in high school. I can't put the guitar down. I am again caught in the simple but soulful embrace of the song, once again imagining my rock and roll fantasies, this time with real sound. I am Bob Dylan.

Rodger also had a cool idea. See, since I am such a fan of the song, I have acquired numerous covers of the tune. How cool would it be to put together a compilation CD? Of course, it would be a legal nightmare given all the copyright stuff, but it would still be worth it. I bet someone's already done it. I haven't checked. Anyway, I'm off to rock out to Mr. Dylan's song. "Mama take this badge from me. I can't use it anymore. ..."