1990 Les Paul Custom in White

This baby was the one I always wanted. I've been a Les Paul fan ever since I had even a passing interest in guitars. While others lusted after the gorgeous sunburst standard models, for some reason I had an even stronger lust for the Les Paul custom, particularly a beautifully-aged white (cream) color.

Well I found this beauty on Ebay for a very reasonable price. Part of the reason for the deal was the fact there had been many mods on the guitar. From my understanding, the first owner was a heavy metal/hair metal player who likely had a Randy Rhodes fetish. The custom had gold speed knobs like Randy's (as opposed to black). The headstock had been drilled into and refitted with a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, and high gain pickups installed.

Second owner got the guitar and went "Holy F***! What has this guy done with this beautiful instrument!" He took off the Floyd, ditched the woofy metal pickups, and installed 57 Classics.

There were some discolorations and some slight scratches in the finish, but that didn't bother me at all. It had been played a fair bit which isn't a bad thing and when I got it I was surprised at how well intact the frets were. They were squared off instead of rounded (probably for jazz play), and set beautifully into the ebony board with large block inlays. The 57 Classics sounded pretty good and handled jazz, classic rock and even some country playing. The action was also the lowest I have ever seen or felt on a guitar which makes sense as that's what these guitars are known for.

When the Les Paul Custom first came out they were known as "light touch" guitars. The low action meant you couldn't play too aggressively. Again a great guitar for jazz.

I traded the guitar in a few months after getting it. Why? Well it was a great instrument. I can't say I was really dissapointed in the quality of the workmanship. The one drawback it had was that it was HEAVY even for a Les Paul. It was at least a pound heavier than my LP studio and a good 3 pounds heavier than my Tokai LP sunburst. The custom actually sounded a lot like the Tokai (which carries a Dimarzio virtual PAF pickup in the bridge).

It actually sounded too much like the Tokai. My first thought was getting rid of the Tokai but as it was lighter and would fetch a much lower price than the Custom, I let my dream guitar go.

He shoots. He sings part II - NHL Telecasters

In some ways I can't think of an odder combination than NHL hockey and the Fender Telecaster.

When I think of Telecasters I tend to think of places like Tennessee, Georgia and Bakersfield, California which aren't exactly hotbeds of hockey (sorry Gary Bettman). Still Robbie Robertson played the Tele and he's as Canadian as you can get.

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?

Hey Little Dude

The Ovation "Little Dude" was a failure of a marketing name for more than one reason - The first of which was the fact it wasn't so little. I recall mine weighing a small ton. Of course it didn't help that one of the handles had come off and the thing was covered in slippery black leather and was extremely awkward to carry. Of course I shouldn't be too unkind. It was made in the era of poor PA systems so a guy needed a huge amp just to be heard in any sort of decent sized club.

Still, what were they thinking when they came up with the name? Granted this ad is from 1970 so perhaps they thought hippies would find the name comforting. Frankly I can see it causing more problems than not. Imagine you're playing a gig and the guitarist from the opening band comes up.

"Dude, I dig your amp. What is it?"

"You mean this Little Dude?"


Awkward silence reigns until the first guitarist asks again. "But like what kind of amp is it?"

"I told you. It's a Little Dude."

"Yeah, funny man. Look, if you don't wanna tell me it's fine. Just because you're the headliner doesn't mean you can screw me around okay? I was just asking a "f*ckin friendly question!"

You'll lose more potential friends with these amps, but get a great reputation about being secretive with your gear.

But back to my personal story. I got this amp in early to mid 80s the same time I got the Raven SG pictured on the right. They both came from a pawn shop that was operated by two men nearing their 70s who were the biggest characters I ever met - and probably the biggest rip-off artists.
They told me this was a tube amp - which it wasn't, but to demonstrate the tone, one guy plugged in the guitar cranked it up and started wailing away on some Clapton licks. The sight of this old geezer tearing it up on a hundred watt amp at nearly full volume with sound pressure levels high enough to shake the windows made me want to buy it. I think I paid about $200 for it, which in 1980s dollars was probably more than it was worth, as they go for about the same price now. Ovation only made these for 2 years before abandoning them. Perhaps the name put people off.

That amp never sounded quite as good as it did in the pawnshop. First of all, I could never turn it up to it's "sweet-spot" in my parent's house or my first small apartment. Early transistor amps like this one are likely what gave solid state a bad rap in the guitar amp department. Most of the time I played it, it was cold and lifeless sounding. Of course, I could barely play back then so it could have been me.

Still, the thing looked cool. The black leather covering was neat. It often did in a pinch as an extra chair or table when needed. And it had it's own reverb tank so if you bumped into it, it made a massive crashing sound.

Unfortunately, I went through a phase between university and my first few years of work where I moved 13 times in 10 years. I also lived in several 3 and 4 floor walk-ups. After schlepping this thing through a couple of moves I left it at a friends house for a few years, where it got loaned out to another friend then slowly vanished along with the SG guitar.

The Irresistable Lure of Brian Jones' Teardrop Guitar

An enigmatic man needs and enigmatic guitar. No one knew this more than ex-Rolling Stone Brian Jones.

At the beginning, leader of men - notably Keith, Mick, Bill and Charlie. Originally the Stones were Brian's band. However, when manager Andrew Loog-Oldham started locking Mick and Keith into empty rooms with their guitars to create a hit songwriting duo, Brian became the odd-man out.

For a while, before drugs and his backyard pool took an end to his life, Brian was still the fashionable figurehead of the band. The Stone with style. And no more so was that evident in his choice of the Vox Teardrop guitar. This has to be one of the sexiest pieces of modern design ever conceived. Simple black on white. Male and female shapes. In many ways the yin and yang of electric guitars.

I always wanted one, but the originals are rare and are well beyond my wallet. Thankfully Phantom Guitars in Oregon makes a relatively affordable copy and I was lucky enough to find a used one on Ebay for an even more affordable price.

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.

If you are sensing a BUT here, you are right. I loved everything about this guitar except the sound. The sound was definitely thin. Well the guitar has narrow single coil pickups so that was to be expected. There's always a trade-off between thin and bright right? Not here. Not only was the sound thin but it lacked any brightness at all.

I was tempted to see if I could find new pickups for it even though they were an oddball rectangle design. However, I wasn't sure that was the problem. I think it was more likely a lack of good string tension. The strings merely passed through the back of the bridge rather than through the body (such as on a Telecaster or Strat) I could have tried to get someone to custom make me a new bridge but that seemed a lot of work since I couldn't guarantee it would solve the problem.

Reluctantly, I traded it in when I bought my next piece of gear. It's too bad. Looking back I should have had more photos taken of me playing it. Of course, I could never be quite as cool as Brian Jones.

He shoots! He sings!

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.

These guitars were made in the mid-to-late 1970s. They look so un-Gretsch that its hard to believe the company actually made these. You can tell the influence that the Japanese guitar manufacturers with their love for pointy shapes were having on the market. I think the Victoriaville hockey stick factory provided the neck and headstock. (Umm, I'm only kidding about that).

As for what it sounds like you can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/mattiddings
Not too shabby after all!

Universal Truth #5 - Hair is Important in Christian Music

As many of you know, live music is re-emerging as a way to get parishioners back to visiting their houses of worship on a regular basis. Christian pop music has become popular again. In fact, it's easier to get a gig at a church as it is in a bar these days.
Christian pop has long been a fixture in the U.S. and while I don't follow the genre religiously (pun intended) there is one thing I have noticed about the visual style of the performers. Much like Duran Duran was all about the billowy shirts, Christian Pop is all about the hair. Let's take a quick walk through some Christian Pop history and see what we find:

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.

Okay that's one example you say. It doesn't prove a thing. Let's move on to

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.

Okay, to the 80s now. Lest anyone think I'm picking on the fairer sex - let's have a look at how the guys stack up hair-wise. Here's Mylon LeFevre (Mylon???). During the 70s Mylon actually played with the likes of Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. He even won a Grammy. Then, after a near fatal drug overdose in 1980, he devoted his life to Jesus and cleaned up his act.

What did he do with his new found sobriety? He grew his hair of course. Perhaps he felt he had to do it from an aesthetic point of view in order to balance out the crocheted blouse and ornamental neck-piece. For what it's worth he's still preaching and has his own ministry. His website is http://www.mylon.org/

If you don't recognize her hair then surely you recognize her face. Yes its Lisa Whelchel who played Blair from the Facts of Life TV show. Lisa's talents also ventured to singing and in the 1980s I remember her being booked to perform at a church not too far from where I lived in Brampton, Ontario. I had a crush on her and even though I wasn't a Baptist, I almost went to see her sing. Almost. Hey, I was probably about 13 and all my friends were into heavy metal. Who was I going to go with? Anyways, back to the hair. It's big, it's Christian, but from a guy who grew up in the 80s, it also rocks. If you're going to have big hair and your a woman, this is how you want to look.

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.

GEAR - The Raven SG circa 1970s

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.

GEAR - The allure of the White Stratocaster

In a previous post, I told you all about my first guitar - a catalogue grade plunker that I returned so I could get a better instrument at the guitar store. And this is the instrument. A Harmony Stratocaster copy circa late 70s.

To tell you the truth, I still wasn't entirely happy with this guitar either. You have to remember this was the early 1980s and everyone was playing what later became known as hair metal. The guitars of choice were Super-Strats with high gain pickups and the popular guitar colors ranged from bright red to lime green and banana yellow.

And what of this thing before me? Without even thinking about how it sounded my eyes were already disappointed by it's drab look. It was technically "white" but in reality white on a Strat - even most copies - is a dull beige. Why were they even selling guitars in this color? Well of course now I know. Jimi with an "i" played one of these, and he played it on film in concert movies such as Woodstock. Drab as it is, this color is associated with the magical creativity of one man.

Does that mean the guitar plays any better? Ummm no. It's all poppycock (as the British say) really. If spending half a million on a 1959 Les Paul isn't going to make you sound like Jimmy Page, having a white Strat certainly won't make you sound like Hendrix.

Of course, THIS guitar isn't even a real Strat. It's a Japanese copy. Even so, its pickups were bright and weak just like a regular Fender model. And that's really not a great thing when you're trying to play Van Halen riffs through the 100-Watt solid-state amp which can be glimpsed behind the guitar. The sound coming out of there was cold and lifeless. I eventually bought a distortion pedal which made things sound a little better but it still wasn't inspiring.

What else was wrong? Compared to the guitars I have now, the action was incredibly high. For fingers not used to playing, it was painful. I knew enough to adjust the action by fiddling with the tiny screws on each string saddle, but never had the courage to try to adjust the truss rod (which is probably what it needed). It was also a makeshift hardtail Strat. It looked like the whammy-bar had been broken off by the previous owner but either he or the guitar tech had done a pretty good job in adjusting the bridge piece so there wasn't a lot of give.
I never quite liked the maple fingerboard either. The thick varnish they used on it didn't give a very good feel to the guitar when I played it. The one thing I did like was the headstock. A bit smaller and less round on the end than the Fender's, I still prefer it visually to the real strat.

After several years of storage, I ended up giving it to a friend. After getting another Strat copy later in life (a Tokai), I ended doing the same with it. I'm not sure why, but I don' t really like Strats. Perhaps because I've never played a real Fender version.

Actually I think it's more to to do with the scale length as well as they way it sounds. Or maybe I haven't spent enough time trying to coax the magic out of those single coil pickups. The Strat is the world's most popular guitar. There must be a reason - and not just the color of the paint.

GEAR - The Beautiful Simplicity of PRS SE One guitar

In the world of Rock and Roll, simpler is often better. In the 1950s, what made Rock and Roll different from other popular music was both the small size of the band (often a trio) and the raw simplicity of the music. So it's no surprise that simple, but well made guitars and amplifiers have been a staple of the genre since almost day one.
The PRS SE One guitar at left is the perfect example of stripped down functionality at its best. It's based on the Gibson Les Paul Junior design which was originally made as a student guitar but caught on with many pro players from Leslie West to Billie Joe Armstrong.
The PRS SE One has a similar pedigree. The SE stands for Student Edition and boasts a relatively budget price. Don't let that fool you however - despite being half the cost of a similar Gibson, the PRS sports several design improvements. The lower cutaway is sculpted for easier access to the higher frets, while the back is slightly contoured to your body so it doesn't dig into your ribs.
Another difference is the scale. At 25 inches, it's a little longer than the Gibson which gives it slightly more string tension and a bit of a snappier sound. The action is also less rubbery if you prefer light strings such as .09s. It also has a wrapover bridge and a soapbar pickup which has that fat, toneful and slightly ragged sound that's typical of the design.
The neck is one of the most comfortable I have played and once you pick it up, it's hard to put down. But perhaps the thing I like most is what it doesn't have. Rather than separate volume and tone controls it only has one knob - volume. Like most electric guitars however, lowering the volume also bleeds off some of the treble so it's a tone control as well - plus it responds to the dynamic nature of your playing. Here's a short clip of me improvising some blues on it through a Fender Pro Jr. amp

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

For many people, strippers and Rock and Roll go together like rum and Coke (or heroin and death for that matter). Both lifestyles are associated with sex, drugs, travel and lots of heavy partying. Perhaps that's why people forge a mental connection between the two.

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.

Universal Truth #4 - Music will take you places - including some places you'd rather not go

During the age when live music was still king, low level jazz cats often got regular gigs playing music for exotic dancers in raucous burlesque houses and strip-joints. One famous example is actor Bob Crane.

Primarily known for his title character in Hogan's Heroes, Crane's first job in showbiz was as a drummer playing with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra when he was only 16. Following a move out west, Crane became a popular disc-jockey at KNX radio in Hollywood and parlayed his notoriety into acting gigs.

Always a musician at heart, the story goes that he started playing strip-clubs for fun and to keep up his musical chops. After hitting the big time with Hogan's Heroes, he often showed off his skill at "beating the skins" on TV variety shows such as the Red Skelton Hour from which this video is taken. Have a look...

This video is eerily prescient in its symbolism. Crane's regular strip-joint gigs meant that he was often surrounded by others with voyeuristic tastes and strong sexual appetites. His own appetites continued to grow and eventually he was introduced to a man by the name of John Henry Carpenter - a salesman of early video equipment. He and Carpenter began a sordid friendship which involved picking up numerous women and videotaping their sexual liaisons.

Crane's sexual tendencies became known throughout Hollywood and TV work soon dried up. After a while things reportedly became tense between Crane and Carpenter, but their relationship ended when Crane was found bludgeoned to death in June of 1978. While Carpenter was suspected, he was never convicted of the murder.

Crane's death was as infamous as his life and photos of the gory crime scene are far too accessible in this age of Google. So much so that the site where I got his headshot actively discourages people from doing an image search of him.
Oddly enough this blog post was supposed to be about me, but I've written so much about Bob, you'll have to wait until my next post to find out the connection between me, music and strippers. Thankfully my story is much less tragic.

Mr. Bat Sings

I got this from my friends at Show and Tell Music. It's from a 1981 album that few people have actually listened to, but the cover lives on in infamy as one of the most disturbing of all time.

Was Mr. Batt a refugee from the mad house? Or a jazz artist named Harold Battiste?

All evidence supports the former if anything . Mr. Batt was a white gospel singer - very white apparently - and his music had no thematic connection whatsoever to clowns.
According to the album cover he was accompanied by the enigmatic Mrs. L.E. Tweten - perhaps on a circus organ. Whether he was trying to imitate KISS or Pagliacci is unknown, but he is to music, what John Wayne Gacy is to art.

GEAR - The Bizzare story of The Shaggs model Avalon guitar

Ever since Les Paul signed the first major endorsement deal for a solid body guitar, anyone who's ever strapped on a six-string has dreamt that one day they will have a particular guitar that will bear their name.

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.

How do they sound un-Shagged?I got this clip from YouTube member Terser, who was able to find a beat up but otherwise intact version of the Avalon

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?

GEAR - More Cheap Plastic Amp in Action

I haven't posted much lately as I've been recovering from a nasty cold. In the meantime here's a little something I put together a couple weeks ago when I was experimenting with recording my cheap Harmony amp from the early 80s. Cheap little amps can sometimes record surprisingly well. I didn't spend a lot of time composing this and most of the parts were done in one take. Still... it doesn't sound too bad.


I like to think if you got up on a ladder and turned all the knobs to ten then the security grill would rise and the store would open.

GEAR - Early 1980s Harmony Plastic 5-watt practice amp

In my last gear post, I told you about my very first guitar which I bought in the early 1980s. That guitar is long gone, but oddly enough the cheap plastic transistorized amp I bought with it from Consumer's Distributing is still in my possession.

The amplifier itself has absolutely no make or model designation printed on it anywhere. I assume it's a Harmony, because the power cord that came with it is imprinted with the Harmony logo. The cord can be detached and the amplifier can run on 6 batteries which I think are "C' batteries. Does anything even use C batteries anymore? Okay okay, maybe a couple of things but lets keep it clean here.

Back to the amplifier. I can't remember how many watts it actually puts out, but I'd think 3 to 5 watts maximum - and transistor watts at that. A half watt tube amp could blow this baby right out of the water and throw it into a tree.

The amp features a bright and normal input as well as a volume and tone control. It also offers a 1/4 inch headphone jack. I decided to open it up for the first time and noticed it has a 5w 4 ohm speaker. There are a handful of other small components mounted on a PCB and that's it - pure catalogue-store, grade-z amp!

Why did I keep this cheap plastic thing? Well it never took up much room. More importantly, it's incredibly light. The speaker magnet probably weighs close to a pound, and the rest of the amp probably weighs in at less than half that. It's a model of simplicity. The plastic doesn't exactly have the resonance of a nice speaker cabinet but the thing sounds pretty woolly when it's cranked up. One thing I love about it is that it's SO underpowered, it precludes the need of having a distortion or overdrive pedal to switch from clean to dirty. So with all due respect to Jimmy Page, here's an example of what this amp can do on it's own with absolutely no effects whatsoever.

For more gear related postings go here.

Universal Truth #3 - We can all learn from Les Paul

As I was coming back from my vacation in Alberta, I was saddened to learn of the passing of legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul. It’s safe to say that no single man in the history of modern music has had a bigger influence than Les. His music crossed the genres of jazz, country and pop and also had a great influence on rock and roll. His inventions, which included the solid body electric guitar (like the two Les Paul models seen above) and multi-track recording made much of the music from the 1950s to the present possible. To really appreciate Les you should check out the PBS documentary Les Paul Chasing Sound

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.
I was lucky enough to see him twice in that tiny club. The first time, we were surrounded by audio engineers who were in NY for a conference. Believe me, every one of them knew that their jobs had been shaped by this little old man and his inventions. The second time we went, my girlfriend Susan and I were right at the front of the stage. She did this sketch.

Those two shows were among the most memorable concert experiences in my life. Listening to Les crack jokes and tell wonderful stories while his arthritic 93 year old hands played impossible melodies made you feel that everything was right in the world. Blessed with perfect pitch and a brilliant mind, he never wasted a single bit of his potential and everything he gave to music he got back tenfold in success and enjoyment. He was humble, but confident. He worked hard and took chances and was rewarded for his efforts. Most of all he seemed to love the world and his place in it.
We may not all have his talent, but we can certainly learn from his determination and love of life.
You brought a lot to the table Les. We'll all miss you. And say hi to Mary for us too.

LIFE LESSON #9 - Be Versatile

Here it is ladies and gentlemen, my first published article. Next to an advertisement for some bar with the ridiculous name of BG Cuddles. Yes that's the 80s for you. Let's move on.

The year was 1988 and I had just been hired as a stringer for Pulse magazine. My first assignment was to interview a country singer by the name of Reg Benoit.

Reg, it turns out, was a heck of a nice guy. He was known as the "man of a thousand voices" because he could imitate a number of different singers. Having seen him perform, a better description would have been the "man of a dozen voices". That being said, he was quite talented, as at least six of those voices were female.

Imagine walking down a lonely street and hearing the sound of Dolly Parton emanating from inside a dusty little bar. The music is obviously too loud to be a jukebox so it must be a band. You decide to walk inside. As your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness of the bar you look up expecting to see a beautiful, well-bosomed blonde that's pouring her heart out as she sings a song about losing her man. Instead you see - a short, hairy Newfoundlander with a full beard.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet we can learn more about Reg's career here. About 10-years after this article appeared he suffered a serious spinal cord injury. However, Reg took it in stride, became a pastor, and moved into music full-time playing charity events and seniors' homes. He is still gong strong and was inducted to the Pathway of Fame in Peterborough, Ontario. It all goes to prove being versatile in work, and in life, is a lesson well learned.


And here's something extra. I actually found the first draft of the article and had it scanned. Yes kids it was done on a typewriter using copy paper. Any changes were done by hand as you can see. You can also see the archaic way journalists used to identify each page of their story. The first page was the lead. At the end of the page (if it went to another), you would write A copy next. The next page would be called A copy. Followed by B copy, then C copy etc. until you reached the end - at which point you would type -30-

Why not just number the pages you may ask? I asked my first journalism professor that same question and he said, "This is the way it's done and if you're going to work in this industry it's the way YOU WILL DO IT."
I miss the hard-bitten, no-bullsh*t old journalism. No one held your hand back then.


Okay, the photo below still fascinates me. As mentioned in the previous blog post, I was at the party where this picture was taken more than 35 years ago. However, beyond my Popeye comic and Silly Putty I can't really remember a lot about it.

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.

Universal Truth #2 – For most people, the Summer of Love was 1972

Yes 1967 was a big year for hippies. More than 100,000 of them converged on San Francisco that summer. It was the year of The Monterey Pop Festival . It was also a year that saw large gatherings of hippies in big cities across North America.

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.