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Wednesday, 06 July 2022


Back when I was a young man - about 50 years ago - I worked in rock'n'roll. I those days the product was music and musicians. Today the product is entertainment. Yes, there is a difference.

Do you want to hear really skilled, creative guitar players? If so that's a good start. I suggest you begin with herb Ellis. And pat Martino. Then go to Wes Montgomery. A currently living and working guitarist is Josh breastbone.

If you believe as do I that it takes 10,000 hours to become skilled, these are your heros. Most rock guitarists achieve fame after only a few hours of what they laughingly call practice.

In the spirit of this post, I'd really recommend


Ah, so *that's* where the "music" comes from that I hear when I'm on hold to the bank.

"You are number seventy-five in the queue. Please hold, your call is important to us..."
"You are now number seventy-five in the queue. Please hold, your call is important to us..."
[more "music"]
"Wot, you're still here? You are now number seventy-two in the queue..."
[yet more "music"]


Sorry Michael, this makes you sound pretty old. Kanye West has as much mastery over his art & craft as anyone. I think if you took the time to understand what he does and how he does it, you’d be impressed. He’s also mentally ill and arguably out of control, but that’s beside the point. I’d encourage you to take more time to try to understand something before you criticize it.

[I've learned it's unwise to criticize musicians of any sort because you'll offend someone who loves them. But I really hate that guy and his music. Sorry if this offends. (I don't hate hip hop at all.) --Mike]

Hendrix was not famous because he could play the guitar well. Only guitar nerds care about that (I am a guitar player & guitar nerd). There were many guitar players at least as proficient as Hendrix before him and there have been many after him.

Hendrix was famous for two reasons: he wrote great songs and melodies (this is important), and he was the first person to make really good use of technological developments which had taken place since about 1960. In particular he was the first to really understand that by using really loud amplification with a solid-bodied guitar you could make a completely different instrument, which had never been heard before. Obviously others had had glimpses of this – Clapton, Townshend, and so on. But Hendrix was the first to really grasp the implications of it.

In the same way Jimmy Page was the first to really understand that recording technology allowed recordings of electric bands which sounded far more natural than previously – compare Led Zeppelin's first record (recorded in 1968) with Sergeant Pepper (recorded 1966). The earlier record is by far the greater, but it does not sound like people playing in a room, while the later one does.

Similarly Pink Floyd were the first to show for a big audience what a studio, if you really pushed it, could really do in 1972, and later other people discovered what you could do with turntables, with samplers, and so on.

Einstein did what he did because he was there at the right time: he had fantastic insight, yes, but also the mathematical tools (which unlike Newton he did not invent) existed (just!) to let him use his insight.

But for music, more important both than the exploitation of technical developments and than the technical proficiency is the songs. I simply do not care that Hendrix was a great player: I care that he wrote Little Wing and Purple Haze, that he found a complete new song in All Along the Watchtower.

And when I listen to HipHop, what I am listening to is the poetry: I do not worry whether they can 'play their instruments' any more than I worry whether Shakespeare could play hers.

If Jimi was still alive he would be turning 80 later this year. Perhaps I could catch a set at our local music venue for about $30!!

Still dreaming.

Well, Kanye West is a rapper and a record producer. Rapping isn't the same as singing, but it serves an analogous function in that it's the way words are incorporated into a recording or performance. Whether hip-hop is "music" or not is an old and rather tiresome argument. If it isn't music, then neither is the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", the musical backing for which consists mostly of tape loops of various sounds. (Then there's "Revolution 9", which is another matter entirely.)

But the issue of hit records not requiring musicians extends well beyond hip-hop. It used to be that if the singer couldn't stay in tune or the musicians couldn't play the parts, you couldn't make a record anyone would want to listen to (well, unless you were the Shaggs). That's no longer really true, because singers can be auto-tuned and musicians can be replaced by programmed parts or samples. This does not come without a cost: one reason most popular music today is so simple (in musical terms) is that the people making it (and buying it) don't really know that much about music beyond the hit-making formulas they've learned to use. There are exceptions, of course, but it does seem like there's a much higher percentage of simple music on the charts today than was the case even in the '90s (to say nothing of the '50s). The music industry, now dominated by multi-national corporations, doesn't really care anymore about the content of the recordings they sell as long as people will pay for them.

Do you think you might make this argument because you don't listen to country or country-blues? There are some extraordinary instrumentalists there.

[I'm not making the argument! Just passing it along. Food for thought sorta thing. I heard a terrific song on XM Radio yesterday that the dj said was by a guy who was discovered on TikTok making music in his living room. Very unfortunately I couldn't stop driving to take a snapshot of the singer and title, but maybe I'll hear it again. I listen to very little country rock but I have some favorites, like Aaron Lee Tasjan's "Karma for Cheap" (more rock than country but he's based in Nashville I think) and Hurray For the Riff Raff's "Small Town Heroes." I could name a bunch more but I can no longer remember band and album names in my head and I have to go look them up.... --Mike]
[Oh and I like Edward Phillips. And a song called "Put the Hurt on Me" by Midland.]

Talk, walk, attitude, ink and crazy hair have replaced talent, dedication and accomplishment as attributes to be admired it seems.

Mike, the Sophie Howarth book is a beaut. Thank you so much for the link! It arrived yesterday and I will savor it slowly.

Now on to the music video - I found the virtuosity of their use of the technology fascinating. The music itself, a little thin. There is so much great music being played live in the studio (and recorded live in concert) these days that doesn't require much technology, and a lot of it seems to be on Bandcamp. It's a delightful rabbit hole!

“Every generation has something new to offer, and you've got to take them on their chosen terms.”

Umm. No, I don’t. I can simply choose to ignore them. Which for the vast majority of today's stuff is what I elect to do. It does not matter one whit to them that I don’t listen to their product. And, as I don’t listen to whatever it is they put out, it has zero impact on my life.

Seems an equitable exchange to me.

And Interesting video, that I ado not agree with entirely.

I grew up in the seventies and music was about all we had as a common teenage/ young adult interest. It was a thing that distinguished us from our parents and I suppose looking back it was a lifestyle thing as well. In the UK "Hippies" listened to Rock and "Skinheads" listened to Reggae and we also dressed according to our musical faith.

My son and his friends have other distractions that glue them together. Music seems relatively unimportant to this generation. Nike trainers or a Dolce and Gabana Tee shirt are the modern generational glue.

He cites a lot of Jazz players. Did Pat Metheny, a huge jazz star, for example, ever sell millions of records or get in the charts in the seventies or eighties? Or was he like many other Jazz musicians cited in the video a very big fish in a little pond.

Here in Italy and I quess Europe, talented musicians still sell records and fill stadiums. The problem with Rock is that it has run out of things to say and most of the current set of Rock Groups are clones of things from the past. Why listen to a Magenta, when an old Genesis record is so much more inspired?

Jazz and the Jazz players mentioned have another problem. Metheny, Corea, Shorter and many of the others he mentioned played a form of Jazz that was quite "easy" to listen too. Jazz and the players I mentioned have moved towards producing more complex and "difficult" music, which obviously has a much smaller pool of listeners.

Today as a music lover and creator for whom terms like "fame" or "money" are secondary, you'd go to wikiloops. Just playing and sharing is what it's all about, and some of us are even photographers, hobbyists and professionals alike... being on YouTube or having lots of followers says nothing about the music or any other art, it's not measurable like "who runs fastest", thanks $deity$...

I think Rick is misremembering the past. There was no shortage of pop pablum in the era of Hendrix, we just (rightly) forgot about those artists. Search "Yesterday's Papers" on YouTube for interesting spoken renditions of columns in music papers from the late '60s and you'll rediscover how derivative it was.

There was also heavy involvement by producers who were often more accomplished musicians than their young charges. They smoothed and shaped the rough edges of this music to be consumed by a young audience (who didn't necessarily want to be challenged musically, so forget complexity).

I think the argument by Rob Chapman in his book about Syd Barrett that rock was a reactionary movement and as soon as it strayed too far from its roots and simplicity artists and fans pulled it back (see punk, grunge, etc. as a reaction to prog or even metal with its virtuosity).

I don't really care about Kanye but his ideas are his own and rap is a musical form. I think there's a better argument to be made against P.Diddy for being an empty suit, but he's no longer relevant.

I think that to a large extent one’s personal musical preferences are set very early, and nothing will ever sound as exciting as whatever it was you heard when you were an adolescent. For me that was the Beatles, Stones, Who, Small Faces, Supremes, Four Tops - you get the picture. But - I also think that you can’t just listen to the same music for the rest of your life, so I try - really, I do try - to listen to new music. I enjoyed Britpop in the 90s, but that was quite like the 60s so it was easy. More interestingly I got heavily into Trance music (and some other forms of dance music) in the 90s, and I still enjoy that. Hip-hop and rap - I just don’t get that at all.

The other thing I will say is that it must be much harder being a young musician today than it was in the 60s and 70s. There is so much more musical background out there, and it is so easy to get hold of, than was ever the case previously. I can’t imagine the pressure this puts young musicians under, trying to produce something fresh when 60 years’ of music can be summoned up in seconds.

Craig says, "...because singers can be auto-tuned and musicians can be replaced by programmed parts or samples..."

And many "photographers" say, "No need to get it right in-camera, just fix it in Photoshop, come on, grandpa you're living in the past if you are worried about exposure and composition."

I'll listen to 50 year old music played by people that can just sit on a stool and actually do it without fixing it. And I'll look at photos shot correctly on slide film with more appreciation than the product of some guy that doesn't know what an f-stop is but spends hours on a computer fixing things that use to be done right before the shutter was released.

Grandpa, out.

I still live in the 80's.

If the purpose of your post was to elicit a snapshot of your readership demographic, then you've succeeded.

I have a deep fondness for session players.
The Wrecking Crew, the Muscle Shoals players and Area Code 615 a just blow me out of my socks. They made ok talent shine and when they played with people like Aretha Franklin they made music history.
Interesting to note that one of the most prolific jazz players ever is still touring and recording at 85.
Ron Carter is currently touring Europe but will be back in the states later this year.
He has over 2100 albums under his belt.
Look up who he has played with. It will make your head spin.

I agree with Bill Burr’s take on Kanye West. Spot on.

Mike, I think where your comment hits the hardest is with singers' voices. Before Autotune, a singer had to be able to hold pitch, now that isn't as important. I'd also echo the comment above about current music tonal complexity. A lot of pop music I hear these days has the musicality of a kid's playground chant. In contrast, have a look at this analysis of the chord changes Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" - Masterful!


Now of course Stevie Wonder was a genius even in the context of the 1970s music scene.

Ooh, no. Jimi Hendrix is a terrible example for a questionable thesis (as I understand the thesis). Jimi wasn't merely a good musician, he was a revelatory and revolutionary musician, and he was also much more: a gifted arranger, songwriter, producer, showman, and a fresh, charismatic presence.

He probably would be famous today, though he'd be playing with a lot more toys, and perhaps would be more consciously recognized for his diverse talents.

Eddie Van Halen is a similar case. A phenomenal guitarist and innovator, deserving of his reputation as a musician. But fame-wise? His and his band's unambiguously pop-oriented sensibilities, abilities and outsized ambition are vastly under-credited.

And of course, the history of manufactured pop acts with questionable musical abilities is well-known. That, by the way, is not a knock on musicians whose primary instrument is the studio and associated electronics. Call the latter producers if that's more comfortable. The fans don't care.

It is somewhat different in genres like classical, jazz or bluegrass, whose audiences have always cherished instrumental prowess. But even the greatest pop instrumentalists needed something other than chops, be it arrangements, songs, an "act", novelty (whether it had anything to do with musicianship), charisma, band chemistry, management, etc.

I think Kanye can use a sampler pretty well (or at least could, don't know if he still has any chops), and I'd say the sampler is the most significant musical instrument of the past 50 years, Or at least the last quarter of the 20th century, being replaced by the DAW (or computer) in this one.

I don't care for Kanye's music at all... never have. He always seemed to me to be one of the major forces dragging hip hop down after an amazing run of really expressive and powerful music. He plays his game and has done well by it, but it's not for me. But I'd rather debate the aesthetics than ability/chops.etc. Because that's just one piece.

Technique gives you options, but it doesn't guarantee you'll make good choices. Anyone suffer through Lang Lang's Goldberg Variations?

Anyway, there are so many ways to enjoy music... to each their own.

My heart still smiles whenever I hear Tony Bennett sing 'that song'. Most of my days are spent listening to jazz, classical guitar, and my "likes" played through Alexa: Neil, Joni, and the rest of the folk rock gang.

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