Shawn Lane 1963-2003

One of the many ways in which I have been fortunate in my life is that whenever someone important to me has died, it has been expected and received with some measure of relief. I’ve had two grandparents die after prolonged illnesses and now one of my greatest musical heroes has left us under similar circumstances. Shawn Lane was the single most incredible musician I have ever witnessed. His talent was boundless and his skills otherworldly. Yes, he was probably the fastest guitar player in the world, but more than that, he was a composer of exceptional depth and breadth, a master improviser in any genre, and a virtuoso on both guitar and keyboard. After a series of painful weeks at Baptist East hospital in Memphis, including a lung biopsy last week, he lost a long fight with a variety of health conditions on Friday evening, September 26, 2003.

The man was pure music. The tragedy of his existence was that he was blessed with every talent imaginable but had no means by which to deliver it to the world at large. Through various dealings with an industry that doesn’t value pure instrumental genius, a series of shady business characters (the first of which being Maumelle’s own Butch Stone), and his own inabilities as a businessman, Shawn never got a fair break and that’s why you’ve probably never heard of him. Had this been the 18th century, Shawn would have easily found a patron to fund his endeavors and tolerate his eccentricities. Alas, the 20th century wasn’t ready for Shawn, nor the 21st.

I only met Shawn once: at Juanita’s in the mid-90’s when was playing with his trio along with Jonas Hellborg on bass and Jeff (Apt. Q258) Sipe on drums. The entire show was improvised. I’ve never seen musicians play like that and I doubt I will again. After the show, Shawn listened politely as I babbled on and on about his Powers of Ten CD and how great the show was. He gave me his phone number and said if I was ever in Memphis to call him and we would hang out. I never made the time to take him up on that generous offer, and now I never will. It was one of those many things I kept thinking I would always be able to do at some indefinite point in the future.

And now at age 40 he’s gone. His catalog is erratic – many of his best works are out of print. The full Shawn Lane discography can be found here. You can get to know Shawn by reading this 1992 article from Musician magazine. It gives a good insight into who he was, and it ends with this appropriate message:

"It’s all a trade-off in that . . . it’s time. It really comes down to time. You don’t know how much time anybody’s got left. You might be hit by a car or just drop dead any minute, so what’s more important to you? To spend all this time doing something you don’t like at all, but have a couple nice cars and a nice house, or would you rather live in maybe a less nice house and drive a less nice car, but spend your time doing what you enjoy?" He laughed, turned away and started playing "Bennie and the Jets."

Thanks, Shawn, for everything. You’ll be sorely missed.

Tips for Better Giggage

Last weekend was the second in what I hope won’t be a series of remarkably shitty gigs. We drove 5 hours to Nashville to play a free show (because we’re that nice of people), and the event was organized by people who clearly know nothing about event organization. Here, then, are some handy tips to remember when planning your next entertainment event:

  • If you’re going to have bands, you need to have power. Lots of it. Not a few outlets with some extension cords. This particular weakness manifested itself in frequent two-second power drops while the bands were playing. For me, it meant resetting all my sounds whenever the power went out. Which can be tricky if you’re already distracted by silly things like musical performance.
  • Be sure to schedule at least 15 minutes of downtime between sets for bands to set up and break down. If you don’t, the headliner (read: us) that you scheduled for 7:00 will start at 9:00.
  • If your event is outdoors and set to run beyond sundown, set up your stage in a location with adequate permanent lighting. Yes, musicians have stage lights, but what happens when they need to pack them up? In last weekend’s case the answer was: headlights.
  • If you’re counting on an influx of audience members from, say, a nearby water park, make sure that said water park isn’t one day away from the end of its season.

Nevertheless, I had a highly enjoyable weekend. It consisted mainly of driving, but Bassgirl Natalie and I passed the time by playing CDs for each other, going to used book stores in Memphis, hanging out with Roy, Jo, the Murphys (Nica and Mac) and Ross Rice and generally discussing Life, the Universe, and Everything (not the Douglas Adams book, although she was actually looking to find a used copy of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the Memphis bookstores we went to).

Once again, I have been provided with the perfect example of a journey being far more important than the destination.

Moss Gathered

Roling Stone made a list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time.


This from the magazine that put Britney Spears on the cover twice in one year for no apparent reason other than tits and ass. I’m supposed to consider this magazine a credible source on guitar playing? I’ve always had very little musical respect for Rolling Stone, and now I have even less if that’s at all possible. This was the magazine of Hunter Thompson and Cameron Crowe. I’d even cite Ben Fong-Torres and Jan Wenner as influential people in the topic of music and culture. These are people for whom the very concept of a Top 100 List is beneath their sensibilities as writers. And if such a journalistically odious task were forced upon them, they would no doubt endeavor to do a more thoughtful job than the current staff.

I’m not complaining about their choices – every man and woman on the list is their own genius, but the rankings appear to be bereft of any criteria whatsoever. Otherwise, why would Duane Allman be #2 and Randy Rhoads be #85? Or Eddie Van Halen #70 – Eddie Van Halen dominated guitar playing for over a decade, his influence almost as wide as Hendrix. He’s easily in the Top 10 for the criteria of influence, creativity, originality, and technique. Are they just trying to get under my skin? Vicious bastards. I’m not even going to bother linking to their crap; that would generate publicity, and that’s all they’re trying to do.

The very idea of ranking artists is inherently absurd, but just so that you, my blog-reading public (all two of you), can be set straight on a better approximation of the facts from a better source than the hacks at Rolling Stone, here are the Top 10 Greatest (Rock) Guitarists. I add “Rock” because there are too many astounding flamenco, classical, and jazz players on whom I’m not qualified to pontificate:

1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Eddie Van Halen
3. Eric Clapton
4. Jimmy Page
5. Jeff Beck
6. Robert Johnson
7. Keith Richards / Ron Wood / Brian Jones (Rolling Stones)
8. Kirk Hammett / James Hetfield (Metallica)
9. Kurt Cobain
10. Steve Vai

My criteria are influence, originality, and technical ability, in that order. My primary source being the 13 years of exposure I’ve had to the opinions and articles of numerous and sundry guitar magazines, all of whom have, at one time or another, attempted such list-making folly in their off-peak months. And for those of you, who like myself, care little for popular things, here’s my list of peripheral guitarists that should be heard more often and given more press:

1. Shawn Lane (buy a Shawn Lane disc – he’s in the hospital right now and will need the help with bills)
2. Eric Johnson
3. Steve Morse
4. Richie Kotzen
5. Blues Saraceno
6. Mike Keneally
7. Paul Gilbert
8. Michael Hedges
9. Michael Manring (bassist)
10. Wayne Krantz

I’m Down with OLP

Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I thought I was immune to it by now. After 13-odd guitars, my guitar lust should be sated. But now guitars are getting cheaper. China is making some killer guitars for $200. Like this one:


I had to have it. I bought it Thursday at Banjo Center. It’s unbelievably great for the price. The brand is OLP, which stands for Officially Licensed Product; in this case, it’s a licensed copy of an Ernie Ball Axis, which was what used to be the Ernie Ball Eddie Van Halen model. So in a way it’s another signature model to add to my collection (Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Blues Saraceno, Richie Kotzen). I can’t put this thing down. It’s the best $200 I ever spent!

Man Walks on Fucking Moon


I can’t say enough great things about this DVD. I’ve never been an especially great Led Zeppelin fan – the only CDs of their I own are Presence and the Page/Plant No Quarter album. I have some vinyl, but really I’ve always accepted Zep as a given; something that was influential to the stuff I listen to, but not something that totally grabbed my attention. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual thinker (and maybe because “Song Remains the Same” was lame) but seeing and hearing these guys playing in their prime is a revelation. A message from the past that not only says, “this is what great rock is” but also implies that much of what passes for rock today is predominantly derivative, lame crap. And I’ve only watched the first few tunes of Disc 2.

Tone Tone Tone

Speaking of revelatory experiences, I drove 3 hours to Fayetteville last night to see one of my personal gods, Eric Johnson. He Who Has the Tone. This is a guy who, for all his guitar prowess, can do something few guitar players can do – move the chicks. The crowd consisted mainly of guitar players (predominantly male) and their girlfriends, and I noticed that while the guys stood motionless with their arms crosed (as musicians so often inexplicably do), the gals were swaying back and forth and even dancing. Eric writes good pop tunes and keeps his shows a 50/50 split between instrumentals and vocal tunes, so there’s something for everyone. Hopefully my friend Kerri wasn’t too bored. She made me chicken and broccoli. Mmmm. And she loaned me her Pantera and Megadeth CDs so that I could stay amped while I drove the three hours back to LR.

It’s Ron

The Incredible Moses Leroy returns. Leave it to the guy who made my favorite record of the last two years to come back with an ultra-spiff new website.

Incredible Moses LeroyIML is really just Ron Fountenberry. There seems to be a real band around him this time, but it’s his brainchild. I’ve discovered that the new record features some work by Roger Manning, Jellyfish‘s keyboardist, and Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto. This is particularly amusing to me because now I can put 3 degrees of separation between Jellyfish and De La Soul (Miho was on Handsome Boy Modeling School with Prince Paul, who produced De La Soul). IML’s last record, Electric Pocket Radio, is utterly fab – every song is its own genre. Click that link and you can get it for as low as $7 from the good people at

Meanwhile, Utterly Random Link #1 in a continuing series.

Music Haul

Dear god, save me from myself. had a $4.99 CD sale (plus free shipping over $50).

Here’s what I got:
Tears for Fears : Seeds of Love
Springfield, Rick : Best of Rick Springfield [UK]
Violent Femmes : Viva Wisconsin
Redding, Otis : Love Man
Oingo Boingo : Boi-ngo
U2 : Rattle and Hum
MC Hammer : Let’s Get It Started (the record he made before he went pop)
Third Bass : Derelicts of Dialect
X Ecutioners : Built From Scratch
Campbell, Glen : All-Time Favorite Hits
Harris, Emmylou : Pieces of the Sky
Invisibl Skratch Piklz : Shiggar Fraggar Show, Vol. 5
Anthrax : Persistence of Time
ABBA : Gold: Greatest Hits
Bissonette, Gregg : Submarine
Curfman, Shannon : Loud Guitars Big Suspicions
Incubus : Make Yourself
Chevelle : Point #1
the Churchills : You Are Here (yes, I already own it, but it's *that* good)
the Corrs : In Blue
Astley, Rick : Whenever You Need Somebody (not sure why I bought this…nostalgia maybe?)
Fishbone : Reality of My Surroundings
Devo : Greatest Hits
Kool Moe Dee : How Ya Like Me Now