From ut-emx!cs.utexas.edu!sdd.hp.com!uakari.primate.wisc.edu!ames!agate!stanford.edu!mcnc!ecsgate!seals Sun Dec 22 20:52:13 CST 1991
Article: 20365 of rec.music.makers
Path: ut-emx!cs.utexas.edu!sdd.hp.com!uakari.primate.wisc.edu!ames!agate!stanford.edu!mcnc!ecsgate!seals
From: seal–(at)–csvax.uncecs.edu (Larry W. Seals)
Newsgroups: rec.music.makers,alt.fan.frank-zappa
Subject: “Good Guitar Stuff” – an observation by Frank Zappa (long)
Keywords: Zappa, Guitar Player article, Jan ’77
Message-ID: <1991Dec19.205727.675--(at)--csvax.uncecs.edu>
Date: 19 Dec 91 20:57:27 GMT
Followup-To: rec.music.makers
Organization: UNC Educational Computing Service
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Xref: ut-emx rec.music.makers:20365 alt.fan.frank-zappa:682

I’m posting the following for a coupla reasons; I was asked to by some
fellow Zappa fans and I thought it would be a great read for other
guitar players in rec.music.makers. I resisted the temptation to
cross-post it to alt.rock-n-roll where there has been, of late, a
constant thread on who’s better, who’s best in the guitar world.
Perhaps it will find its way over there, but then I’m sure none of the
involved would read it.

————————————————————————

[Note: The following is an article originally appearing in the January
1977 issue of Guitar Player magazine. It is appearing here without the
express permission of either Guitar Player or Frank Zappa (all rights
reserved by GP and/or FZ). All typos are mine. lws ]

“Good Guitar Stuff” or “Stereotypifications”?
———————————————
The Evolution of The Guitar’s Use In Pop Music: Brief Version

By Frank Zappa

Foreword by GP: Besides being one of the most advanced guitarists and
composers in the rock field, Frank Zappa has consistently been one of
the idiom’s most outspoken satirists, both lyrically and on paper. Here
Frank gives his own insightful view on the changing role of the
instrument in pop music. —– GP

During the fifties it was rare to find a guitar solo on rock or R&B
singles – it was usually the honk-squeak tenor sax syndrome taking up
the space between the dridge and the third verse. When a guitar was
heard (usually on the blues or country items I was collecting), its
function bore little resemblance to today’s collection of pathetic
lick-spewage and freeze-dried stereotypifications (all of you sensitive
guitar fans who actually get off on our current psuedo-academic era of
polished efficiency had better read another article).

If you have access to them, take the time to listen to the guitar solos
on “Three Hours Past Midnight” (Johnny Guitar Watson), “The Story Of My
Life” (Guitar Slim), or just about any of B.B. King’s singles from that
period. For my taste, these solos are exemplary because what is being
played is honest and, in a musical way, a direct extension of the
personality of the men who played them. If I were a music critic, I
would have to say that these values for me mean more than the ability to
execute clean lines or clouds of educated gnat-notes.

Other examples of good guitar stuff from that era might include “Lucy
Mae Blues” (Frankie Lee Simms), “Happy Home” (Elmore James – even though
Elmore tended to play the same famous lick on every record, I got the
feeling that he meant it), and the work of Hubert Sumlin (and Buddy Guy
a couple of times) on Howlin’ Wolf’s things. I’m sure there are other
hot items, but this is a short article.

Also, to be fair about it, there are some classic examples of sterility
then too in the kind of rock solos on the Bill Haley singles and the
obnoxious kleen-teen finger work on the New York-based R&B vocal quintet
records (on labels like Gee, on the up-tempo numbers with the
ice-cream-cone chord changes).

Then we get to the Sixties. We get there partly because R&B was being
produced to death (strings on Ray Charles and Fats Domino records, etc.)
and because England was starting to ship back some recycled Fifties
music, played by people who were younger and cuter than the original
consumers (and who, especially in the case of Rolling Stones fans, had
never heard the original recordings of their revamped Slim Harpo/Muddy
Waters repertoire… and not only that, folks, if they *had* heard the
originals, they probably wouldn’t have liked them at all, since neither
of the original artists named above were as prance-worthy as Mick
Jagger).

Obviously, part of the recycling process included the imitation of Chuck
Berry guitar solos, B.B. King guitar solos, and even some abstractions
of John Lee Hooker guitar solos. The guitar was becoming more prevalent
in backing arrangements on singles, especially as a rhythm instrument.
Solos on most white-person records of that day and age tended to be
rhythmic also, especially in surf music. Almost everything that
survives in popular memory (the greatest hits, in other words) was
designed for the purpose of dancing – but mainly just to sell. The
Sixties saw the beginnings of record production as a science in the
service of commerce, with heavy emphasis on the repetition of successful
formulas. The best that can be said about this period is that it
brought us Jeff Beck at his feedback apex, Jimi Hendrix at his
overkill-volume bext, and Cream, which sort of legitimized jamming a lot
onstage (so long as you could prove British descent, usually by reeling
off musical quotations from blues records which most Americans had never
heard [radio programming nerds made sure that you never heard any of
that stuff because *Negroes were playing it*, and they did their best to
protect the young audiences of the Fifteies and early Sixties from such
a horrible culture shock, while over in England the better musicians
were lusting after vintage blues records, actually obtaining them, and
having these records form the basis of their playing traditions]).

So briefly to review, I would characterize guitarism of the Fifties as
having, at *its* best, exploratory qualities not possible before the
advent of heavy amplification and recording studio machinery; more
rhythmic interest, and, in some instances, real humor, style, and
personality. At it’s worst, the guitarism of the Sixties brought us
amateur strummery; several swift kicks at the Fender Twin Reverb
springs; the archtype of folk-rock 12-string swill (the predecessor of
the horrible fake-sensitivity music we have today with the laid-back
sensitive-type artist/singer/songwriter suffering person, posed against
the wooden fence provided by the Warner Brothers Records art department,
graciously rented to all the other record companies who needed it for
*their* version of the same crap); and the first examples of the
“psychedelic guitar solo” not to mention _Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida_-ism.

Obviously this is condensing and leaving out a lot, but I’m sure that
all of you entirely-too-modern persons who have read this far are
getting anxious for something more relevant to your lifestyle – and
you’re absolutely right! A perspective of musical history has
*absolutely no place in today’s thrilling musical world*. Yes, that’s
right, you heard right!

How could any of this information be useful to a musical world that has
reached a point of sophistication that accepts concepts like The
Super-Group, The Best Guitar Player In The World, The Fastest Guitar
Player In The World, The Prettiest Guitar Player In The World, The
Loudest Guitar Player In The World, The Guitar Player In The World Who
Has Collected The Most Oldest Guitars In The World (some of which have
been played by dead guitar players who were actually musicians), and so
forth?

The history of Pop Music has a habit of telling us who we really are –
’cause if we weren’t that way, we wouldn’t have spent billions of
dollars on those records, would we? After careful training by media and
merchandising people, the entire population (even guitar players) has
been transmuted into a reasonably well-groomed, odor-free,
consumer-amoeba which is kept alive only to service manufacturers and
lives its life by the motto: biggest, fastest, loudest is most and best.

So forget about the past; it means nothing to you now (unless you can
find a way to play it louder/faster – which probably wouldn’t be too
hard since even infants today can play as fast as the earliest
Mahavishnuisms). Let’s face it, once you learn the 28 or 29 most
commonly used rock doo-dads (a few country licks, a little Albert King,
a pentatonic scale here’n’there, get your heavy vibrato together) you
are ready to live; to be what will be known in the future as “The Guitar
Player of the Seventies”. Yes, soon *you* will belong to the ages, and
when you’ve finally got you album contract, and it finally comes out,
and it sells ten million copies, and when every beginning guitar player
sits at home and hears you wanking away at phenomenal speed with your
perfect fuzz and your thoroughly acceptable execution, and when that
little guy with his first guitar (him and the ten million other ones)
says to himself” “Shit, I can do that,” and proceeds to memorize every
awe-inspiring note, and then plays it faster than you… (maybe gets his
32nd notes up around a dotted whole note = 208). And not only that,
after learning your solo faster, he transposes it up a minor third,
steals some of his mother’s clothes, gets a job in a bar, gets
discovered, gets a record contract (with an advance ten times bigger
than yours), makes an album (with a better budget than yours, because
he’s going to be the next big thing according to the executives at the
record company, and they don’t mind spending a little extra for real
talent). And not only that, while you just figured out you can’t play
any faster because you haven’t had any time to practice because you got
coked out on the royalties of your first album (and you still have to
record ten more according to your contract), and it’s time to do your
second album, and you’ve been asking recording engineers how a VSO
works, meanwhile the little guy with his mother’s clothes on gets his
album out on the street, and it sells twenty million copies, and
somewhere out there, there’s twenty million other little guys with their
first guitars, and they’re listening to your recycled wank, and they’re
saying…

————————————————————————

 

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I cleaned up my tab for Sonny Boy's Help Me and made it into a short book. There's a Kindle version for 99 cents, and if you buy the paperback you get the Kindle free.

Playing "Help-Me" In the Style of Sonny Boy Williamson II: A step by step, note for note analysis of some of Sonny Boy's Signature Riffs

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I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

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A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


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