Of Sound Mind

I bought some old issues of Bass Player Magazine recently at Banjo Center for $1.99. In one of them I found this marvelous pearl of wisdom from iconoclastic producer/bassist Bill Laswell:

“Hundreds of years from now musicians will be laughing at how stupid we were, thinking about category and genre and style and territory and culture. It’s sound!” – Bill Laswell

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.

Weekend Reflections

Good show at Cajun’s on Saturday. Finally we had a decent gig, so Natalie won’t think we’re total losers. Brian the soundguy said she sounded even better than Roy. Plus she brought cookies. Mmmmm…cookies.

Sunday it was rainy. I saw two ambulances on Rodney Parham within 300 yards of each other. One was for a no-injury accident. The other was at a retirement home. Few things are as depressing as seeing an ambulance at a retirement home. In the rain. You’re pretty much assured that someone has died or is very near death.

So I went and got a smoothie. Then I went to Banjo Center, which is evidently where all the guitar-twanging kids go on a rainy day. I guess it’s not the best weather for skateboarding. I bought a bunch of bass and drum magazines for $1.99 each. And I talked to Frank Cox and his kid for a bit.

Last night I watched “The Red Violin” which is a great film about the history of a 300-year old violin. All the stories about its creator and owners makes me wonder if in 200 years someone might make a movie about the life of a vintage Fender strat or something. I wonder about the lives of my guitars sometimes. What secrets are they keeping? What have they seen? Well, only a couple are older than I am…so maybe they haven’t seen or done a whole lot. Although most of them were born on another continent…

Avast Ye

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. So I’d like to take this opportunity to honor an unsung hero in the pirate community: Captain McAllister from the Simpsons:

Where's me Grog?

The Captain was responsible for such classic nautical bon mots as "You knew I was a cross-dressing pirate when you married me, now where’s me grog?" and "Aarr, I’m not attractive." I was afraid I might forget about Talk Like a Pirate Day, so I put it on my calendar:


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.

Weighty Brass

OpurtThe Penguin Returns! Berke Breathed is drawing again, and Opus will return to the funnies in November! This is the first time I’ve ever seen a cartoonist make a comeback, and I am ecstatically glad to see it. Bloom County shaped my existence in innumberable ways. It is by far my favorite comic strip of all time. Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side were the greatest of strips for this generation, but Bloom County was like a second family to me. I own every book and have read every strip multiple times. My friend Kevin and I can still quote lines from it – and my copy of Bloom County Babylon still has his phone number on it from when I met him in 6th grade. Just the other day I made a mix CD for a friend that featured the "Gene Simmons Never Had a Personal Computer When He Was a Kid" ad. The stuff is encoded in my DNA. I can’t praise it enough.

I always wondered if the success of Bloom County was fueled by the Republican administrations during which the comic flourished, now I suspect I was right. In any case, I hope the strip maintains its wit better than Outland, which, while more visually creative, lacked the clever writing of its parent strip.


I can only suppose this is some kind of server error. Although it may be the work of a cheeky developer.
Cgi-local folder within cgi-local folder to infinity.


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

And the Award Goes to…

Jo AwardAs I was leaving work on Friday, Jo told me that I was the coolest guy she’s met online. That’s always nice to hear, as I assume she’s met several people online. Maybe I’m wrong. So I thought, “that’s such a nice thing to have said about me, I think I’m going to write that on a certificate and present it to myself.” Well instead I goofed off in Photoshop and made this thing. I would’ve spent more time on it to make it more clever, but I’ve had other stuff to do this weekend like being sick and studying for the LSAT.

Sickness and Good Bass

Is it Cold and Flu Season already? Perhaps it’s the recent temperature drop around here, or maybe it’s because I haven’t been taking my vitamins (Total cereal says it has 100% of my vitamins covered – perhaps it’s all just another lie), but I’ve been sick since Tuesday night. I felt it coming on after leaving the UCA gig. We had the classic no-audience gig for the first time. We were playing a pep rally at UCA (colleges have pep rallies?) and we went on after the peppiness. Evidently there was just enough pep left in everyone to grab their free pizza and evacuate the building. I suspect that the populace of the rally were coerced into attendance by their respective frats and sororities, and once that obligation was fulfilled, they exited post haste. Oh well, we got a paid rehearsal in a big hall. We used the time to goof off as much as possible. I turned my guitar up really loud and played some Steve Vai riffs for my own gratification.


And here’s the new bass player for Superflux, Natalie. She’s a jazzer and a pianist, so she’s like a real musician and stuff. She’s the first bassist we’ve had that seems to really lock in with the bizarre sense of humor that Steve, Cara and I exhibit. Not only does she tolerate our dumb (yet often overly erudite) jokes, she openly participates in them. So that’s a real plus. Not to mention that she has pretty much nailed the tunes in just a few weeks’ time. Plus she’s cuter than Phil or Roy. And they’re both handsome men. Not that I’m gay or anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…