A GONZO GUITAR MENU - SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Now to the guitars. They are part of a limited series of 100 guitars put out by Fender which had a clear pick guard and the emblem of one of several NHL teams on them. These two are for sale if you're interested. The top one on Kijiji, and the bottom one on E-bay. Click the links to find their respective web pages, but act soon or the items will be gone and the links will be broken. And take a deep breath before you check out the asking prices. For what it's worth, one player of these limited edition models describes the guitars as nothing special in terms of sound, but for the die-hard hockey fan they may be worth it due to the fact that they're so rare. I wonder how many of the 100 are residing with Canadian owners?
Here's the one I bought. Very similar to Brian's original. The knobs were slightly different (white plastic instead of metal) but otherwise an incredibly faithful visual reproduction. The finish was top-notch. These guitars play like a dream. The round shape feels comfortable against the body, the neck feels great and they are beautifully balanced. Holding one of these will also guarantee you'll stand out on any stage or bandstand.
Hmmm, do I want to play music or hockey tonight? Well with the Gretsch TK-300 you can do both. This beauty is currently being auctioned off on Craigslist which is where I got the photo.
As for the title - I'm sure these three ladies meant it in the nicest way. Now lets take a look at the coifs. They're difficult NOT to notice hunh? Hair so large and unnatural that it warps the face to the point that you can't really be sure they're actually women. The one with the glasses reminds me of an interviewer with the BBC in London. His name is Nigel something or other.
Yeah. For some reason when I see these ladies I suddenly get an urge for Jiffy Pop. Perhaps the hair was meant to distract you from the identical home-made dresses. Or the fact that green and red are the worst colors to mix when printing text. They probably used the album as a test for color blindness.
Now we come to the present. This is a publicity photo for a Christian rock band called Skillet. For the most part the hair is now subdued. But the fellow in the front has adopted a coif that, while smaller, pays homage to Christian hairdoos gone by. Personally, I think his stylist was trying to do a Geraldine,(see below) but just didn't have the volume needed to get the job done.
Sometimes it is not until we get older that we appreciate certain things. That's certainly the case with the guitar I'm about to talk about. When I was a teenager I wanted a Les Paul badly, but even a relatively inexpensive copy was hard to come by for under $300 in those days. Knowing I didn't really like my Strat, I went to a pawn shop to get another guitar and amp. The guitar I came out with was this Raven SG copy.
From the research I've done it seems like Raven's were made in the Far East for the Canadian market. While a budget brand, they were well made. Even though I was far from knowledgeable about such things at the time, looking back I recall the guitar had pretty decent action and was relatively well set up and easy to play.
As I gaze at the photo, I'm struck by just how cool a guitar this was. Neck and headstock binding and block inlays starting at the first fret gave it a very upscale look. Then there's the obvious aftermarket pickup upgrade in the bridge. When played wide open on a small tube amp this thing probably roared. Too bad I was using it on a big transistorized beast, but I'll get more into that on another post.
Of course the tastiest part of this whole guitar lies behind the bridge with a Bigsby style vibrato unit (or whammy bar as we used to call it back in the old days). I've never seen a Bigsby on Gibson SG and I have no idea if this sweet piece of hardware came stock on this copy-guitar or was installed afterwards like the pickup.
These Bigsby style units only have a semi-tone worth of give - which really wouldn't cut it for 80s hair metal playing - but they have a very sweet sound when used properly. The major drawback of the hardware is its heaviness but on a light SG it works perfectly to balance the guitar and keep it from being neck heavy.
So what happened to this instrument? Well after learning basic major and minor chords and little else I gave up on the guitar. I moved a few times and the massive amp I had was really getting in the way. I left the amp and guitar in a friend's basement and years went by without me asking for it back. Eventually it was loaned to another friend and from there it disappeared. Now that I can play better, I often wish I had it back even for an afternoon to take it out for a run and see just what it could do.
In the darkness of a club if you want to adjust your volume or tone you have to quickly select one of as many as four knobs - not an easy feat when you're playing. With only one knob to worry about it's a lot easier to use. And there's good reason to use it. The volume knob gives you a host of options in a cranked amp. Set up a good distorted lead tone on 10, then roll the volume back to give yourself a nice crunch or clean sound.
Here's an example. In this short video I start off with the volume on 1, and do a near clean verse of Sweet Home Alabama. I notch it up to 5 for a great AC/DC sound, then up to 10 for some hairy, distorted Neil Young.
Contrast the SE One to this feature-full but mind boggling old Harmony below and you can imagine which is easier to change on the fly.
The PRS SE One is not only a great guitar for the money, it's a great guitar - period. While it's made in Asia to keep the price down, its playability ranks up with any professional guitar I've picked up.
PART II - Universal Truth #4 - Music will take you places - including some places you'd rather not go
By late 1989, I had developed a good reputation at the magazine I was working for. As one of three music writers I was responsible for covering many of the acts that gigged regularly in the west end of Toronto. I had already interviewed the likes of Mick Taylor, Nash the Slash and had developed a niche as the classic rock specialist at a time when classic rock was still a happening part of the scene. That's why I found my next assignment a little confusing. I knew something was up the way my editor, Stephen, hemmed and hawed as he spoke to me on the phone. The conversation went something like this. Keep in mind the prevailing rock attitude in 1989 was heterosexual in the extreme.
Stephen: Ummm, your next assignment is a little different. It's a uh, well - they call themselves the Hotshots.
Me: What sort of music do they play?
Stephen: Well ummm. They don't. They dance though. Have you ever heard of Chippendales dancers?
Me: What? You mean they're the female equivalent?
Stephen: No. They're guys.
Me: Male strippers?! You want me to cover male strippers!? I'm the rock guy?
Stephen: Well they kind of go together you know. Strippers and rock bands.
Me: Groupies maybe. Female groupies. These are guys!!
I think he knew his logic was flawed so he changed his tact. This story needed some "delicacy" in its delivery and he felt I was the only one who could write it and keep it clean. It was probably a lie, but it worked and I accepted the story. Thankfully I didn't have to go see one of their shows. I could interview their spokes-stripper on the phone.
The guy I interviewed was actually very cool and had a good sense of humor about what he did. The article was relatively painless to put together and I even had enough confidence in my masculinity to put my name on the by-line.
Looking back on my article the thing that amuses me most is the line about their group getting into a fight with Chippendales over the rights to use a name once associated with old furniture and two animated chipmunks.
I am sure the fight was metaphorical and involved legal teams rather than fisticuffs, but I still have this Jerry Springer type image in my mind of a battle-royale between the two groups and all you can see are massive shoulders and little pre-tied bow ties flying everywhere.
As to Mr. Lyndall, whom I interviewed. I tried looking him up on the web without success. He must have retired from stripping to a quiet public relations job somewhere - his co-workers quite unaware of his past.
Most of the time this happens when a popular guitarist signs a deal with a corporate instrument manufacturer, but sometimes an artist just becomes so associated with a particular model that it gains their name. So is the case with the Avalon Shaggs model, seen played by Dot and Betty Wiggins of The Shaggs.
These shaggy-haired girls (hence the unfortunate band name) are arguably the most bizarre musical success story of all time. The group consisted of the three (eventually four) Wiggins sisters from New Hampshire.
Apparently, their father was told by a fortune teller that his daughters would form a band and become famous. Withdrawing them from school and forcing them to take vocal and music lessons, Austin Wiggins eventually payed for them to record the above album. Of the one thousand copies that were pressed, only one hundred were every officially distributed.
In the pre-YouTube age, even a cult following was unlikely, but somehow a copy of the album may its way into Frank Zappa's hands. Frank promptly declared they were better than the Beatles and were his third favorite band of all time. As to their music, it has been described as fresh, naive, creepy, melancholy, brilliant and terrible. Frankly, there is absolutely no way to describe The Shaggs music so I've uploaded a video courtesy of YouTube member hoglevid. You must play it to believe it.
Okay, I'll give you a minute to recover from that song. You may be thinking the same thing I am - they had music lessons? The second thing that comes into my mind as I hear their music is the poor engineer who recorded it. What was he thinking? I just picture some old guy with a crew cut and a polite smile - his eyes glued to the recording levels trying desperately to focus on anything but that sound coming through his headphones. At some point, I picture his mind giving up and him thinking - "Please, someone just shoot me!"
Now back to the gear. The Avalon guitars, which were made in the late 60s, are still a bit of an enigma. They're likely of Japanese origin given the over-curved cutaways and headstock. The Japanese companies of the 1960s and 1970s loved this style as they were reminiscent of Moserite guitars which were played by the most popular American band ever in Japan - The Ventures. The guitar could also have been inspired by the Burns Bison
Makers of catalogue grade musical equipment often sold similar gear under different brand names. As to the Avalon brand however no one knows exactly which company made them.
I have heard mixed reviews on these guitars. Some consider them terrible, while others love them. Considering the girls could afford upscale Gibson and Fender amps, this off-brand seems an odd choice. However, when one considers that that Avalon featured a bass done in exactly the same design - the choice of guitar becomes clear. I can picture Austin Wiggins - the girl's father - choosing these instruments for their visual symmetry. This was obviously important to him as the the girls usually dressed alike.
The group's cult popularity, when added to the fact that no one else of any consequence ever played these bizarre looking Avalon instruments, have made the group synonymous with this brand of gear. Both the bass and the guitar are now known to collectors as Shaggs models.
Much and all as I may make fun of The Shaggs music, one thing is clear - they will enjoy a musical place in history and a popularity that I'll certainly never attain. And what's the likelihood that there will ever be a guitar that the world associates with me?
Les was a man who constantly reinvented himself. Starting out as a country star called Rhubarb Red, he started playing jazz as a hobby in Chicago and eventually moved to New York to be part of the jazz scene there - forming the Les Paul Trio, and working with numerous band leaders including the great Bing Crosby. Moving to Los Angeles he eventually met and married vocalist Mary Ford with whom he had amazing string of hit records as well as television show sponsored by Listerin. Here's a short episode. Check out his his lead break starting at the 1:05 mark. Possibly the greatest guitar solo ever. Wow.
In a business where it is considered suicide to be out of the public eye, Les did more than his share of disappearing from the limelight then coming back stronger than ever. At the top of the jazz game and tired of being constantly imitated by other guitarists Les left the New York club scene for over a year, working on his inventions and coming up with totally new sounds that he was able to get with multi-tracking. He came back more popular than ever.
Then there was the car accident that left his right arm in a cast for over a year. Thankfully he had the doctor set his arm in a way where he could still sit and play guitar. In the late 1960s he disappeared again for more than a dozen years before making an award-winning album with Chet Atkins which was recorded in less than a day.
He also won a Grammy in 2006 at the age of 90. In his waning years he played two sets every Monday night at the tiny Iridium jazz club in New York. Even in his 90s, he knew how to put on a show that made every single patron leave with a big smile on their face.
EXTRA EXTRA EXTRA
Let's don our Sherlock Holmes deerstalker caps and try to do deduce as much as we can from this photo.
First off, either they've got ugly wallpaper or the inner wall of the basement has been dismantled - leaving the old newspapers used for insulation when the house was built exposed to sight. Hmmm it's the early 70s so let's go for ugly wallpaper.
Part of what confuses me is the make-up of these four gents. This was back in the day when there were two kinds of people - hip and square. The two guys on the sides are obviously in the hip camp. They're wearing groovy paisley tops - the kind which were relocated from the women's section to the men's department in fall of 1971 at the local Beamish department store. The dude on the right is also playing a cool white Vox Phantom-style guitar which would normally get use playing psychedelic pop or some gritty early Stones tunes.
Contrast that with the other two. The fellow on drums looks like the deputy sheriff from some backwater county in Georgia. Finally, the front-man playing the hollow-body electric guitar looks far short of hippness due to his lack of hair and plain brown shirt. Yep those two are square.
What's even more baffling is the fact that Mr Paisley Blouse is playing the sax. The saxophone was considered decidedly old-school by most bands at this time, which is why there are no sax solos on the first Black Sabbath record.
So what the heck kind of music would these guys have been playing when this photo was taken?
One thing we can tell is that the tune is in F, because both guitarists seem to be strangling their guitar necks to make that F chord.
The guy up front looks decidedly country - but the sax doesn't really work on a country tune. Jazz ? A slim possibility but the instrumentation still seems off. A Herb Alpert tune? mmmmm Spanish Flea seems a little improbable.
The one thing all those guys would have had in common is rockabilly. Two guitarists, a drummer and a sax can really do justice to an early rock and roll number. In my mind now when I see this photo, I think of them playing something by my favorite early rocker Eddie Cochrane. Maybe even C'mon Everybody. It won't let me embed the movie but here's the link.
For those who are interested. You can follow the following links to see the same song played by:
U2, Led Zeppelin, Sid Vicious, Humble Pie and of course The Stray Cats. Eddie's stuff is great and his music has been covered consistently by major artists. If he hadn't left us so early he would have easily been as legendary as Elvis.
But let’s face it, cultural trends tend to take a few years to make it mainstream. By 1972, the same small towns where people would have shot a hippie on sight were suddenly full of men with long hair, massive sideburns and tie-dye shirts
Which brings me to this photo.
Oh my. I actually remember this party.
Of course, what I remember mostly consists of sitting in a corner pulling images from a Popeye comic with Silly Putty. We children were easily amused then. However, I do remember the band and the band was probably why I was there.
My grandmother was something of a musical legend in and around Madoc, Ontario. Not only did she play piano at the Legion every Saturday night – she also played the organ in the United Church first thing on Sunday morning. Believe me, the way they all drank at the Legion that couldn't have been easy, She was so admired as a piano player that no jam session or gathering of musicians was the same without her.
She was probably in her 70s when these photos were taken but would likely have been the life of the party – along with my dad who at some point donned my mother’s wig (yes wigs were big in 1972 – VERY BIG) and played drums. Much to my dismay, I can no longer find that photo anywhere.
If I ever do find it, I will put it on this site and my father will likely strike me dead from heaven.
Oh, I do have more to say about these photos, but I will leave that until the next blog post.