Friday, May 14, 2010

50 Rock?

I started playing the guitar around age 9 or so. However, it wasn't until high school that I took it seriously. My guitar was my best friend for a long, long time.

At 16 I thought being 30 meant being old. And I would have found it odd to hear about guys pushing 40 jamming out to music in a garage or basement. Such behavior was for long-haired, misfit teenagers. My music preferences at 16 were the usual classic rock suspects, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and AD/DC for example.

Being an aspiring guitar player in 1987 I was a huge Eddie Van Halen fan. This picture is from around 1984. And Van Halen's album 1984 was the first heavy rock guitar album I played until the cassette tape wouldn't work.

No guitar player ever motivated me to pick up the thing like Eddie did. And no one ever made me frustrated enough to put it down. The first time I heard Eruption, I didn't believe it was a guitar played by a human that made those sounds.

But I discovered Van Halen in reverse. I didn't get into the old stuff until I got 1984 for my 13th birthday. I still think his guitar tone was at its best on that album.

I was also into the other 80's hard rock bands. The 80's was the decade of flashy guitar playing and I was a relentless student. I lived and breathed guitar driven rock music. It was all I listened to.

I remember my first car. But I remember the stereo better. It was a Kenwood cassette deck and if the key was in the ignition that thing was playing. I can clearly remember having the following tapes in my car all the time: Aerosmith's Greatest Hits, Van Halen I, AC/DC Back in Black, Boston's first album, and Led Zeppelin IV.

There were others that came and went, but the albums listed above were always in the rotation.

If you would have tapped me on the shoulder at 16 and told me that at 39 I would still be listening to a lot of the same music I would have believed you. Why would I ever stop listening to Van Halen?

Since I was a teenager, maybe younger, I have had a mental CD player in my head that rarely stops. Pretty much anytime I am awake there is a song playing in my head. And it's crystal clear. I will be running and have some completely random song pop in my head that I haven't heard in 10 or 15 years. More often than not, I will hear the whole thing.

I can actively listen to a song on the radio or on a CD while simultaneously playing another one in my head. This really freaks people out when I start humming the melody to a song other than the one we are listening to. 

It's not fun to get a song stuck in my head that I don't like. I was told the cure for this is to think of any Neil Diamond song. It works too. As long as I can have you here with me, I'd much rather be, forever in blue jeans...Oddly this is much like sniffing the coffee beans when cologne or perfume shopping. It cleans the old out.

Music that becomes a part of you is never outgrown. I might not listen to as much Motley Crue these days, but I turn up Looks That Kill whenever I hear it on Sirius. And I feel young.

I was 14 the first time I saw the Crue live. I will never forget that concert. Lots of fire and lots off explosions.

I have all of these great memories from high school that are stirred up by music. There are certain albums that will cover memories from an entire summer or fall of a school year.

One of my favorite 80's bands was Ratt. I was amazed at how good their guitar player, Warren DeMartini, was. Here is a picture of him from the 1980's. I wanted that guitar so bad. 

He was lightning fast and always seemed to hit just the right notes. He also played really cool looking guitars too.

The first time I heard Round and Round, I was hooked on this band. I followed them through high school and four albums. The fiery solos got better and the guitars cooler.

Since high school I have continued to play and still like guitar driven music. There have been times that I played more than others. When I lived in Austin, I was in a band that recorded a studio CD and played gigs a lot.

At one time in my life, albeit a short one, I made my living as a musician. I worked my butt off promoting the band, but it was a lot of fun. I miss standing on stage with my amplifier growling behind me. Hitting an open E chord through a loud tube amplifier feels like power.

When I left Austin I thought I had left my jamming days behind me. After all, I was going to law school. It was time to start my career and grow up. Party time was over. Bah!

Just because I became a lawyer doesn't mean it changed who I am. I didn't start listening to new music once I passed the bar. I didn't throw away a bunch of CD's because the lyrics are perverse and sophomoric at best. That stuff is fun. It's party music.

And though I don't party like I once did, I am not dead. Far from it. I may not like the booze but keep the radio on. And turn it up while you're at it. Thank you.

But I am not the only old person that still like this music. Some of the bands are still around. AC/DC toured last year for example. 

Picture their iconic guitar player, Angus Young, at 54 year playing his signature Gibson SG through a Marshall amp on 10. And doing it well. He has lost most of his hair, but he can still play. This is a recent picture of Angus.

Or how about when I saw Van Halen in 2007, reunited with David Lee Roth? There was my hero, Eddie, absolutely nailing Eruption and every thing else he played that night. I sang through that entire concert and listened to nothing but Van Halen CD's for a week. I still have all of the Roth-era CD's in my car. This picture is of Eddie during the 2007 tour.

I only missed seeing Iron Maiden because I didn't know they were in town. But I saw their documentary from the last tour. They can still bring it. And the lead singer is a licensed commercial pilot who logged many hours as they leap-frogged across the globe playing in every corner of it.

And even U2 are getting well aged. The Edge has no hair. Adam's hair is all gray. And Bono's signature mullet was ditched in favor of a short hair style much like my own. I saw them last summer at Soldier Field and they were amazing. Larry still looks young. He always will. [I don't care who you are, Bono is the coolest guy since Elvis].

I admit, however, that seeing some of these dinosaurs of rock seems a bit sad. I remember them in their prime when they were young. They drank and smoked too much. Any of them that have lasted this long had to of dried up at one point. And decades on the road coupled with that lifestyle makes many of them look much older than they are.

One founding member of Pink Floyd is dead. Two of the Beatles are dead. Ringo will outlive them all, I predict. Eddie Van Halen had a tumor removed from his tongue and a fake hip implanted. Mick Mars from Motley Crue also had hip problems.

When the day comes that Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page dies, I will feel a tremendous sense of loss. Though most of their great work was done about 30 years ago, still having them around and knowing they're alive makes me feel good. Jimmy still looks pretty good with that Les Paul in his hands.

Somethings are just simply timeless. How about Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and his signature black Stratocaster? Awesome!

Last night, Ratt played down the street from where I live in a pretty small venue. You may have been there. It's a bar called The Cubby Bear. It's right across the street from Wrigley Field.

I found out Ratt was touring a few weeks ago. They also released a new studio album. I bought it on iTunes. I like it. Through the benefit of modern recording studios, the production is very polished. The music sounds like it came from the late 80's, but it's a bit heavier. More bass in the mix, I think.

Warren is still in the band. The lead singer, Stephen Pearcy still sings. And drummer, Bobby Blotzer, hasn't lost a step. Ratt's original second guitarist, Robin Crosby, died a few years ago. In his place was former Quiet Riot man, Carlos Cavazo. He can smoke too. Here's Carlos from the 1980's.

Carlos' riff from Metal Health was the first really cool rock song I learned how to play on the guitar way, way back. A-D-G-G-C-C-A.

Here is Carlos from 2010.

I never saw Ratt live. I don't know what I was expecting last night. Honestly, I went to watch Warren. Being a guitar geek, I always like to look on stage and see what gear the players are using. I started doing this as a teenager. Nothing has changed.

Last night I stood about 10 feet from Warren. I walked right up to his guitars before the show. And I stood behind his amp rig. He was using Soldano amps.

Not a big surprise. Soldano amps are hand-made in Seattle and are expensive. Carlos had one too. They are known for hard rock/metal tone.

 Warren still plays Charvel guitars. Only now he has his own signature models. And Charvel is no longer a very small San Dimas, California manufacturer, making guitars by hand. These days, Charvel is owned by the giant Fender Music Corporation. The guitars are well made, however. Here is what his signature models look like.

Warren was simply awesome. He hasn't lost anything. His technique is a thing of mastery. I enjoyed watching him work. 

It's ironic that when I was 15, I would have given a couple of toes for one of Warren's Charvels. They were my favorite guitars. Today, however, I wouldn't trade him one of my PRS guitars for two of his Charvels.

Here is Warren looks like these days.  He has aged very well.

I played one of his signature models last fall. Eh. It felt like a Fender Stratocaster neck and I prefer a shorter Gibson Les Paul length neck. But Paul Reed Smith makes much better guitars than Gibson.

In case you're wondering, I prefer the McCarty, Custom 22, Single Cut, and DGT models. Here is what one of my guitars looks like.

Here is another one of mine.

 The irony is even a little thicker. The guitar I grew up worshiping turned out to be one I don't even like. I wrestled against Strat length necks for a couple of decades. Those were the guitars I thought I was supposed to play. One day a Les Paul ended up in my hands and that was all she wrote.

I am playing in a cover band these days. Our next gig is on June 24 out in Buffalo Grove. It will be my first gig in almost 10 years. It's also my first real cover band. I had mixed feelings about doing it. In Austin, musicians in cover bands are viewed as lower 6th.

I like the other guys in my band. I am the youngest, which sounds odd since I am almost 40. But the guys in Ratt are either in their late 40's or early 50's. I still can't get my head around that. When I was 16, dudes in their 50's didn't shred through loud, distorted amplifiers. I am smiling just thinking about how odd it is.

I am glad there are still some older guitar players around that record and tour. It makes me feel less weird still jamming out at 39. It lets me know that it's ok I still love the music. It lets me know it's ok to never stop playing guitar like I play it. It's part of me. Always will be.

At 16 I thought, well actually I didn't think about getting old. And I didn't think about anyone else getting old either. Deep down I am surprised these guys still play so well. But I shouldn't be. They have been doing it long enough. No, I think I am surprised they never stopped and put the guitar down.

I just subconsciously expected them to. Why? Maybe I felt it was a fad. And if I grow out of it, surely the musicians have to as well. Wrong. It's music, not fashion. People that grew up on Frank Sinatra still listen to Sinatra. Once music becomes part of you, it's permanent. At least in me it is.

My band plays no Ratt. No Motley Crue. No Metallica. No Led Zeppelin. But the stuff we play is well known to most people, and I think that's the point of a cover band. I will still get to stand on stage in front of a tube amplifier and hopefully help people have a good time.

And really, that's what rock and roll has always been about. A good time.

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