Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tools of My Trade (the electrics)

This was inspired by Pogo. Actually, I get flack from people that know me because I get all sidetracked on political rants, cooking, and almost never write about my life in the music industry.

So, this one goes out to Pogo and all the other guitar players out there. It's about how I tend to look at my guitars as a tool box and not a collection of instruments.

First I'll start with the workhorses, these are guitars I use most of the time. They are Stratocasters. With a twist. I built them. The only cheating I did was that I took the body blanks to a friend of mine who is a master builder for Fender and he snuck them onto the computerized router/planers. Oh, yeah, and the necks were built by the same guys that built my 5-string banjo. They have the presses and stocks of cured woods and they build beautiful stuff. I told them that I wanted ebony fingerboards, big fat silver frets, a minimum of inlay (that's a personal thing, I don't like the feel of the big inlay stuff under my fingers) and that's what they gave me.

For the guts of the instruments I went to the guys who used to do the sound tech work for the Dead and a bunch of other San Francisco groups. They have a thing where you can get a Strat harness, all wired up. It's like the fabled '65 "Fat" strats. Two single coil pickups, one double humbucker at the bridge. There is a switch that will turn the bridge pickup to single if that's the sound I want but I usually leave that one alone and just go for my Silver Anniversary Edition strat when that's the sound I want.

I use a Fender stock bridge, no tremelo or stuff like that. The tuners are top of the line Schalers. I can't stress enough to beginners or even dedicated amatuer players. If you have, like friend Pogo, gotten an off-label axe to start out with, if you want to progress I would suggest that the first thing you do is replace the bridge and the tuners. A bridge that won't hold the strings steady and still under high tension and tuners that lock into pitch are crucial. It's also one of the ways those joints save the money they save. Think of it like beefing up the suspension and getting low profile wide ass tires for your off the floor sports car. The bodies and necks on them are fine, they are built to factory specs. You can, a little at a time upgrade them at your pleasure. I would start with bridge and the tuners because, if you were to upgrade the electronics you would mainly be amplifying an out of tune axe. ugh.

I string them heavy. My reasons are that thick strings under higher tension when tuned to pitch produce a richer tone, greater sustain and hold their pitch better than skinny strings. I buy my strings in bulk from a warehouse online. Right now I'm working with Dean Markley Jazz sets. When the case of strings I am using gets low, I will look for the cheapest sets in the high gauges that I like. I also like flat wound strings for electrics. Less finger noise. These are the gauges of the strings I use starting with the high E. .013 .017 (.026 wound).035 .045 .057. Anybody reading that who is a player is probably saying "Jesus Horatio Christ that's thicker than my acoustic!" You're right. If you want to get that big, ballsy, sound, this is the best way to get it. I would also suggest that if you try to go to higher guage strings to do it slowly. You don't get extra points for murdering your fingertips. A lot of little practice sessions, where you quit when it keeps on hurting too long after you take your hand off the strings is better than marathon runs that risk blisters or even bleeding. Expense really doesn't buy you any quality here. Good decent strings sound like good decent strings. I change the whole set when ever I change strings. I also change the whole set when I've put around 20 hours on them. If it's a live show situation I change strings right after the last show of the night.

I finished the strats with a combination of tung oil and clear laquer. They gleam. Deep, warm gleam. I have three of these all built along the same lines. I have three because one is tuned standard, one to open G, one to open D. The open tunings are for working with a bottleneck. It's a whole other instrument really and will get it's own posting. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Buy a chromatic electronic tuner. Don't skimp and buy a cheapo. Buy one that will allow you to see how far off you are. You'll get to where by sound and by feel you'll be able to get close. The thing is though, with pitch close does not count at all. I use an old Korg with a VU style meter and a through line so I just plug the guitar into the tuner, plug the outline of that into the amp. I check my stuff all the time.

I like the way that Stratocasters sound. They sound to me like an electric guitar should sound. There are other types of electrics out there, hell, I own a few of them but, for me, it's that stratocaster sound. Nothing like it. When it's totally called for I reach for one of my other tools in the box. These are pretty much stock off the rack guitars. I use them for sounds that you just can't get anywhere else.

'68 Les Paul Sunburst (because nothing else sounds like a Paul) I love their sound but for long term playing they are too damned heavy. My left shoulder is ruined from years of slinging Pauls. I play it sitting down.

'65 garden variety Telecaster in trick stringing scheme. The trick is to take the bottom four strings and bring them up an octave. This compresses the chord structure and makes a tight brilliant sound that will penetrate through all kinds of noise. For blues, rock and roll, or country rythym work it cannot be beat. I did fiddle with the pickups a bit also, I use an old middle pickup off a strat at the neck and a big old humbucker off a dead Paul at the bridge. I just realized that telling all of that probably has you saying "Garden variety my ass!"

'68 Rickenbacker 12 string (when the producer wants something that sounds like a Ricky 12, the only thing that will do is a Ricky 12) I have a small change here that makes a huge difference too. The separation on the bottom two strings is two octaves instead of one. That's how Leadbelly did it. That's how I do it.

'74 Gibson L5, the ultimate blues axe. Everything else pales.

Those are the current electrics in the line up. Others have come and gone but these have stayed. I love them all in their own way.

crossposted at Big Brass Blog Gettin' Bigger all the time!

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Reposting With Some New Information

This post was originally posted 7-23-06. I got a comment on the post today which will be printed in full at the bottom.

Like a composer that writes for his own performance, Lindsay wrote for his own readings. Many of his manuscripts are like scripts for the stage. He was exuberant, thoughtful, outrageous, and very American.

This is one of my favorites. I would have put it on the sidebar but the lines are too long and would have to be broken, ruining the scan of the words. . .

The Leaden-Eyed

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world's one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

-- Vachel Lindsay

I received this email today:

Thanks for spotlighting Vachel Lindsay. I serve on the board The Vachel Lindsay Association, a non-profit organization devoted to the legacy & ideals of the poet. We've been active for 60 years here in the Vachel's hometown, Springfield, Illinois.

I blog about Vachel on behalf of the VLA here.

I love Lindsay's art, his bardic devotion to the oral tradition. His politics are particularly good, with the obvious exceptions of his early prohibitionism and enthusiam for the missionary movement.

The Leaden Eyed is a particularly good choice to represent the poet's considerable body of work in one short poem. His was a democratic, populist and utopian voice.

Thanks again for remembering this great American dreamer.

This is an excellent site that contains a wealth of information on an important American poet. I urge you to visit. Reading Lindsey is something I believe is essential to understanding the character of America itself. As the writer said, there were some unfortunate aspects of Lindsey's politics, but whether or not you agree with his take on a subject or his position on an issue, there were never any hidden agendas with him. You knew without any doubt exactly where he stood and what he believed. The things that Vachel Lindsey believed were things that he believed in the middle of his bones. I wish we had poets approaching that today.

crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Friday's Random Ten

If it's Friday it must be time to the random ten where I offer a little glimpse into the music I listen to when I'm not making irritating jingles to help guys sell you stuff.

Baidhen Fheimili - - Sinéad O'Connor
Watermelon - - Leo Kottke
Respect - - Otis Redding
Eggs - - Martin Mull
When You Da Viper - - Fats Waller
16 Shells From a 30.06 - - Tom Waits
Crossroads - - Eric Clapton & Jeff Beck (live bootleg from San Diego)
Big Mamou - - Waylon Thibedeaux
Heart Full of Soul - - Yardbirds
O'Carolan's Concerto -- Me (an outtake because I really needed a manicure)

Bonus Track (hit random twice and take the top)

54-46 (That's My Number) - - Toots and the Maytals

What ya'll listening too?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


This organization was started by returning veterans who want to make sure that their voices are heard in the election cycle. I've done some research on them and found out that General Wesley Clark is a board member. They are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans speaking out and up for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. They state that the core mission of is:
to support the veterans of America's most recent conflicts as they run for public office, and to ensure that no politician in Washington gets away with votes or words that hurt the troops and veterans.

I'm down with that.

Watch their ad Body Armor. It is being run in Virginia and is, quite simply, the best political ad I have seen this cycle.

There is also a button you can click to donate to them so they can keep running their ad. I did.


I got comments working again. I wish I knew how I messed it up in the first place. Sorry the Haloscan experiment failed so miserably. Feel free to leave any comments on Ann Richards here.

crossposting accomplished at a place where there ain't no season on varmit, no bag limit neither.

Ann Richards R.I.P.

I must confess that I loved Ann Richards even before she nailed Bush's daddy's ass to the wall in her speech in '88. I was in Texas to play and hang out with some of the Texas boys and one of their ringleaders said "We need to play for Miss Ann's picnic."

We went and were having a fine old time. Miss Ann was a gracious, and genuine host. Naturally gregarious and a hoot and a half. The best part happened when, by Texas law, we launched into "The Yellow Rose of Texas." After we had finished Miss Ann came up and said "Don't ya'll know the real words to that one?" We said that we thought we had just finished singing the real words. Miss Ann said no, and she told us about a young "high yellow" slave girl named Emily Morgan West (or Emmy Morgan, Emmy West, or Lilly Moore) of legendary beauty who was captured by Santa Ana during the Texas Rebellion. There is no historic documentation or verification for anything in this story, which to a Texan, only makes it that much closer to the truth. Santa Ana fancied himself a lady's man and did his "Napolean of the West" best to woo her. Emily lead him on and around. She was able to smuggle plans and information to Sam Houston before the battle of San Jacinto. In an alternate version Emily kept Santa Ana so enraptured the morning of the battle that his army was left leaderless and was defeated.

For those of you who forget, here's a midi file to
listen to and refresh your memory.

Miss Ann, I have been singing this version ever since that day. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching me "the real words."

The Yellow Rose of Texas was a woman fair to see
Though many loved her beauty, she lived in slavery,
When war was fought in Texas and the battles shook our lives
General Santa Anna took Emily as a prize.

She's the sweetest rose of color that Texas ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew,
You may talk about your Clementine, And sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me.

He tried to win her favors, thought himself a dashing man
But his courtship she rejected, and she stole his battle plan;
Then sent it to Sam Houston, for this she found a way
And so the Union Army fought and won the day.


Where the Rio Grande is flowing lived a woman brave and fine
A heroine of the people and honored in her time
The Yellow Rose of Texas has long been laid to rest
But history would be different without the lovely Emily West.


Ann Richards was 73. She was also an immortal spirit. Fare thee well Miss Ann, you've earned your rest, we'll keep on working.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog


I was trying to install Haloscan comments and all that has been accomplished is that comments have now been disabled. I am trying to wade through the problem. If you missed a chance to comment I apologise. It's not that I don't care what you have to say, it's about that I'm a rookie when it comes to HTML coding and do stupid stuff that I don't know how to fix.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked A Cake

In honor of the resurection of The Big Brass Blog I offer my own recipe for what many consider to be the ultimate expression of the Cake Maker's Art.


There is a lot of legend and lore surrounding this cake. It originated at the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna. This cake was developed on orders of Wenzel Clemens Prince Metternich, who was bringing guests to dine at the hotel. His orders were to create something his guests had never tasted before. The problem was that the world famous pastry chef of the hotel was sick and unable to leave his bed. Franz Sacher, then sixteen years old and an apprentice in the kitchen took it upon himself to create this cake. This recipe is the one used at the hotel to this very day. I have included a small variation at the end of the post for those of you who remain too lazy or too scared to temper your chocolate.

First, the ingredients:

4 1/2 ounces sweet butter (unsalted)
4 ounces powdered sugar
6 egg yolks
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (more on this later)
4 1/2 ounces cake flour (sifted)
6 egg whites
3 1/2 ounces baker's sugar (extra fine granulated but not powdered)
Apricot Jam
extra chocolate and cocoa butter for glazing (or get coveture chocolate)

alternate glaze of ganache:

1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons sweet butter

That isn't too intimidating now is it? Again, as with the most sublime foods, there is a theme of simplicity. Be ruthlessly demanding in your choice of ingredients. The level of success here demands it. I use Challenge brand European style butter when my relatives in Ireland have allowed their care package duties to slide (yes, I'm talking to YOU my dear daughter!) . Irish butter is almost it's very own product. Yes, they use cows like everybody else, but the Irish butter is quite frankly the best in the world. (which means SEND ME SOME NOW!). I buy my eggs from a neighbor who gently raises Rhode Island Reds. They run about her yard, scratching and hunting bugs. She feeds them by hand every morning and night. At night they roost in a special coop amid fresh straw. These are some happy critters folks. The eggs they lay reflect that satisfaction. One must, however, be on guard against the occaisional fertilized egg in the batch. They have a tiny bloodspot on the yolk and must either be set aside for a less important recipe or given to the dogs (who always wait at a polite distance when I am cooking). For the cream, I use the Manufacturing Cream product from a local dairy. It has a butterfat content of 40%. Hey folks, this ain't no sissy health food here, this is Viennese Pastry. For the chocolate I use Trader Joe's Pound Plus Bittersweet® it is Belgian and very good stuff. If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you consider moving right now. They are an essential component of civilized existance. I also use their house brand of premium Apricot Jam. It is luscious.

Now, let's get to baking.

Over simmering, not boiling water, melt the chocolate until it is smooth and glossy. Take care not to allow any water or steam to get into the chocolate. It will sieze if this happens and that ruins everything. Be Carefull. I mean it. Carefull.

Separate the eggs. Have two bowls, one smaller one for yolks and a mixing bowl for the whites on either side of you. Use a small dessert bowl in the middle for catching the whites as you separate them. If a yolk breaks, or you find a fertilized egg discard it bowl and all.

Now cream together the butter and powdered sugar then add, alternating slowly, the egg yolks and melted chocolate. Mix this until it is completely smooth and has a sensual glossy look.

Beat the egg whites at a medium speed until they are foamy. Then begin adding the baker's sugar a teaspoon at a time until you have Stiff Peaks. That means when you raise your whisk or beaters the points stand straight up without any flopping. Slight curling is acceptable, but we want VIAGRA stiff. Got it?

Now gently, calmly fold the egg whites into the chocolate batter, then do the same with the cake flour.

Turn into a buttered Springform® cake pan and bake on the middle rack at 350° for an hour. Cool on a rack for at least an hour. Then remove from the pan.

Slice the cake in half horizontally and generously slather (god i love that word slather it makes me feel all decadent and stuff) between the layers with Apricot Jam. Transfer this to a buttered marble slab that has been painted with a base of Coveture Chocolate. To make a regular bittersweet chocolate into a coveture simply add cocoa butter to it while you are tempering, this will make for a thinner coating. Using a pastry brush (which is merely a camel hair paintbrush) coat the outside of the cake. When it has hardened, carefully trim around the edges and place on an appropriately dramatic serving plate. (I use a cut crystal pedestal) For a totally cool look you can also sift powdered sugar over a doilly or other cool pattern. If you don't want to bother with the tempering, or don't trust your instincts on adding in the cocoa butter you can usually find a coveture grade chocolate at the Godiva store. If you really don't want to bother you can use a simple ganache to glaze.

Take the cup of cream and heat it right up to the boiling point. Then dump it over the chopped chocolate and butter. Mix it until it very smooth. Paint this over the cake and allow to cool completely.

That's the Sacher torte my friends. If you edit out all my ramblings you'll find that this is merely a moderate level of difficulty recipe. It shouldn't take much more than 20 mintues of work along with an hour of baking time. Give this one a try, you'll be a legend of the dining room. Franz Sacher ended up owning the hotel where he created this. I have had to settle for extra good behavior from my children and an occaisional inspired roll in the hay after dessert.

Oh yeah, this is best served mit schlag (unsweetened fresh whipped cream) and either espresso (not latte, not cappuchino bitchez, espresso in a goddamn demitasse!) or a nice Earl Grey (cream, no sugar) tea.

I have this crossposted at BIG BRASS BLOG

Big Brass Blog Rides Again

For those of you who are fans, as I am, of Shakespeare's Sister the The Dark Wraith Forums and the fearless and eloquent Pam Spaulding they have united once again under the banner of

The dead clever Wraith has written some delicious code that provides a platform with beau coup bells and whistles. Enough to keep ADD afflicted gits like myself amused.

Oh, yeah, they have graciously invited me, yeah, little ol' me to be a contributer. I am both flattered and honored to be included among real writers like these. I shall try mightily to live up to their estimation.

Go There Now

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Words I Say To Banish Fear

This saying was paraphrased in Longfellow's Hiawatha and many other places. I have seen it attributed to many different native americans. Because of the citation by Longfellow I am certain that it predates the Apache Nana that I was taught said this. Therefore, without an attribution beyond oral tradition, including an admission that this comes from my own memory I will give you this.

When it comes your time to die
Be not like those whose hearts are so filled
With the fear of death that they weep and beg
For a few seasons more to live their life
Over again in a different way.

At your time, stand up tall,
Look your death in the eyes
Like a friend that has come to greet you
Sing your Death Song proudly
For you are a Warrior,
Going home.

Monday, September 11, 2006

General Wesley Clark on September 11th

This my friends is why I loves me some General. I got this email today. This is why when it comes to getting me off of my country butt to do some heavy political lifting, General Clark is the man. Hoo-rah!
I think there are two clear paths ahead. This nation can listen to the dictates of fear and hubris as the administration alternately ignores Al Qaeda and then trumpets their success. Alternately brags about success in Iraq and then ignores it, and all the while beats the tom-toms for war with Iran.

Yes, our country could slide that way if we listen to the dictates of fear. But we have nothing to fear in this country. We're still the greatest power in the world. And we can be the greatest force of good in the world. And we can keep ourselves safe.

I'd like us to resolve on this 5th Anniversary of 9/11, that we as Americans no longer need live in fear. We should live in determination that we'll protect ourselves. Support our friends and allies around the world. Work together to solve the common problems that face mankind. And above all, we'll make sure that at home that we never sacrifice the liberties and rights that define our country. Even in an effort to protect ourselves.

We can have it all. We can do it all.

We just have to be courageous and face the facts as they are and work for the future as we want it to be.

You can visit WesPac, his website to keep abreast of his speaking engagements and fundraising activities. Like I said in the previous post, I not only will play for free for mon general, I kick in some money to boot.

Stuff I've Read Today

I was thinking to myself "You waxed all poetic about how you weren't going to do anything special for the anniversary of the attacks and now you want to do this?"

OK, here's how I rationalize it. I've been learning rationalization by listening to republicans and raising teenagers. I'm getting pretty good I think. It's this. My normal business involves sitting at the computer and reading newspapers and writers from all over. I read a lot. I read books, magazines, newspapers, I love to read. So, in essence, reading these things is my normal practice of the day. Here's some of the stuff that touched me.

pretty dumb things written by chelsea girl usually I read her blog because she's hot, She writes hot, sexy prose. This post is about how she feels five years later. i read it and decided to call a couple of friends of mine who live in new york just to say "I love you and I'm thinking about you today." She even put the post below a fold because she felt in retrospect that it was maudlin. Honey, if you live in New York, were there that day, I am more than willing to forgive you a little maudlin.

The Dark Wraith analytical and eloquent, of course, that's business as usual for this guy. I even made a comment, complete with mispellings and grammatical errors which he is usually to gracious to point out. If this site is not on your regular list of reading, it should be. Reading both posts and comment threads here has gone a long way toward making me into a better writer.

Ken Levine a well respected comedy writer talks about a personal loss on this day five years ago.

Tennessee Guerilla Women this post has nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with a young woman getting beaten badly by an asshole that claims to be a "musician" and a "man." I say the motherfucker is an asshole, talentless and genderless. I also say that he could practice the one instrument he claims to play everyday for the rest of his miserable fucking life and I will still be better than him and making lots more money in the music industry. If you have the time, check out the entire roll of postings at this site. They are free thinkers in a sea of conformity. They deserve our support. That means dropping a little in the old change jar.

Back on topic tata one of my six regular readers and a frequent comment presence has a post which is part of 2,996 project. She talks about a single one of those who died this day five years ago. She also includes a clip of Aaron Neville who is glorious singing Bird On A Wire. Worth the price of admission alone.

In a comment thread below I stated that I have played some benefit shows for The Jersey Girls. I thought I might explain that I have a 3 tier system for how I approach a benefit show. Usually it's for a cause that I actually support (if not, it's just another gig and I charge scale) and what I do is tier 1: I must charge scale for my performance because that's how my union works. For a normal cause that I support I deduct my expenses (travel, lodging, stuff like that) and write a check for the balance.

tier 2: I write a check that matches what I've been paid and donate that. I handle my expenses myself.

tier 3: I write a check that takes what I've been paid and doubles it.

So far this year, Wesley Clark and the Jersey Girls are the only ones to make tier 3.

Now, in the true spirit of going about my business I'm going to shower and go to a noon AA meeting. Maybe stop and get some lunch. The deus ex fax machina which dispenses my revenue stream hasn't coughed up any work today. So when I get home I'll take care of the critters, make some dinner for me and the boy.

Mainly, going about my business.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My Plan to Commemorate 9/11

Is this. Nothing. I intend to go about my business. If the fax machine spits out a musical chart, I will lay down my tracks like a good worker bee and send them off to make me a little money and they will use it to sell you some more stuff. I will not be walking around in fear and trembling at the thought of a caliphate ruled by Osama bin Laden reaching from Indonesia to Spain.

I have always felt that the best memorial for those who died that horrid day would be to put up another building. Gleaming steel and glass towers and go about our fucking business.

If you are in a boxing ring or a martial arts match and your opponent gets in a good one, you shouldn't stagger and acknowledge it. Instead, smile. Invite them in to do it again, then nail the son of a bitch.

I will be looking through photographs for Random Flickr Blogging, I will practice my instruments, I will go into the kitchen and make something wonderful to eat.

I will not live my life in a state of apprehension and fear. That is the state both Karl Rove and the terrorists of Al Qaeida want to have me be in. Fuck them both. Business as usual baby. That's me.