We’re all in this great hobby together because we love listening to and learning about music, and tinkering with our hifi gear.
As hifi hobbyists it’s easy to get so preoccupied with the hifi gear that we forget what attracted us to it to begin with, which is the pure pleasure of listening to music for the enjoyment it brings us.
Music has played an important role over the course of American history, providing a balm for people during difficult times, and providing a healthy outlet for creativity that has formed a soundtrack of sorts for a nation as it evolved and went through times of change.
One of the more difficult times in American history was during the Great Depression (1929-1939), during which my grandparents were all adults, and my parents were growing up.
A lot of people relocated from where they lived in search of work, in a desperate attempt at survival.
My father’s father, a descendant of immigrants from Scotland, had to relocate to a city to find work, so he could send money home to the family on their small and unprofitable horse ranch in Washington State, so they could survive.
It wasn’t enough during the Great Depression though, and eventually my father and his brother as children would move away to another city (Seattle) where they could find work, in order to survive and help the family. In spite of being a close family, the Great Depression split the family up.
On my Mom’s side of the family, my Grandfather “Sailor”, born on the Isle of Man, and an immigrant to the US, was not able to find work during the Great Depression with unemployment being in the 25% range, and he rode the rails looking for work for a while, until finally joining the Navy.
It was tough times everywhere.
The Great Depression affected nearly everyone, and author John Steinbeck described how his friend Ed Ricketts played music for him during times of great emotional distress, “… until he could bear to come back to himself” (Wikipedia).
There is perhaps no musical instrument more central to the American experience than the guitar because of its mobile nature, which John Steinbeck alludes to in his Pulitzer Prize winning Grapes of Wrath, where he tells the story about the plight of tenant farmers fleeing Oklahoma during the Great Depression to become migrant workers, in order to survive while they searched for work and better lives.
“And perhaps a man brought out his guitar to the front of his tent. And he sat on a box to play, and everyone in the camp moved slowly in toward him, drawn in toward him. Many men can chord a guitar, but perhaps this man was a picker. There you have something – the deep chords beating, beating, while the melody runs on the strings like little footsteps. Heavy hard fingers marching on the frets. The man played and the people moved slowly in on him until the circle was closed and tight, and then he sang “Ten-Cent Cotton and Forty-Cent Meat.” And the circle sang softly with him. And he sang “Why Do You Cut Your Hair, Girls?” And the circle sang. He wailed the song, “I’m Leaving Old Texas,” that eerie song that was sung before the Spaniards came, only the words were Indian then.
And now the group was welded to one thing, one unit, so that in the dark the eyes of the people were inward, and their minds played in other times, and their sadness was like rest, like sleep. He sang the “McAlester Blues” and then, to make up for it to the older people, he sang “Jesus Calls Me to His Side.” The children drowsed with the music and went into the tents to sleep, and the singing came into their dreams. And after a while the man with the guitar stood up and yawned. Good night, folks, he said. And they murmured, Good night to you. And each wished he could pick a guitar, because it is a gracious thing.”
I’ve been enamored with the guitar for a long time, and have been wanting to learn more about the lives and musical contributions of influential guitarists like Charley Patton (blues, 1891-1934), Mississippi John Hurt (blues, 1892-1966), Blind Lemon Jefferson (blues, 1893-1929), Blind Willie Johnson (blues, 1897-1945), Skip James (blues, 1902-1969), Django Reindhart (jazz, 1910-1953), Freddie Green (jazz, 1911-1987), Jimmie Rodgers (blues & folk, 1927-1933), Charlie Christian (jazz, 1916-1942), John Fahey (blues, folk, avant-garde, 1939-2001), Ralph Towner (jazz, classical, world, folk, 1940-present) Leo Kottke (folk, primitive, 1945-present), Eric Johnson (rock, 1954-present), and many others.
For a while now I’ve been searching out albums of guitarists that exemplify significant contributions to the artistry of guitar playing, whether it be rhythm playing, crosspicking, chord melody, fingerstyle, or something else.
This weekend I’ve got a couple of guitarist albums to share with you that I’ve been enjoying quite a lot of late.
The first LP is one I’ve mentioned quite a while back, but one that I’ve revisited lately to think about his advanced techniques, the limited edition offering of Michael Hedges’ Aerial Boundaries from Audio Fidelity (which was originally released on the Windham Hill label in 1984), remastered by Kevin Gray, and pressed at Quality Record Pressings.
Michael Hedges passed away at the young age of 43 in 1997, but during his way too short life he had a huge impact on acoustic guitar players.
Michael incorporated lots of different tunings, harmonics, hammer-ons & pull-offs, and percussive effects into his music, more so than anyone else recording at that time.
Aerial Boundaries is a tour de force of acoustic guitar playing, with numerous tunings and all of the above techniques on display, as well as others.
Not only is Michael’s music amazing, this superb recording that will leave you in awe of his clearly portrayed technique.
George Van Eps passed away a year later than Michael Hedges, in 1998, but at the age 85.
George Van Eps had a remarkable career playing live music, working as a studio musician, recording his own albums, and as an innovator, that made him an incredibly prolific and influential guitarist.
One of the things that George is known for was inventing the 7-string guitar, which had another bass string below the 6th string, so he could play bass lines along with his chording.
In the solo album, Soliloquy, George plays a seven-string guitar he designed, and you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s an upright bass playing a bass line along with him at times.
The recording is good, but not in the spectacular fashion of the remastered Audio Fidelity Aerial Boundaries album mentioned above, although it could be spectacular if given the same Audio Fidelity treatment.
I had fun listening to Soliloquy on my Westminster Royal SE based system, as well as my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre based system, which both brought George Van Eps to life before my ears.
I picked up my 1968 Soliloquy LP up off Discogs for less than $10 USD, and it’s an easy recommendation for those who love jazz, and want to hear some beautiful playing by an innovative jazz legend who changed the guitar by adding a seventh string.
Another great and influential guitarist was jazz guitarist, Howard Roberts (1929-1992), who worked playing live gigs, as a lead recording artist, as a sideman for a large number of performers, and also doing arrangements for film with, for example, Henry Mancini, and for the movie Bulitt.
For television, Howard played the theme for The Twilight Zone, and contributed to television music for shows as diverse as Batman, the Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, The Brady Bunch, Dragnet, Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, I Love Lucy, The Munsters, Get Smart, Andy Griffith, Peter Gunn, The Odd Couple, Dick Van Dyke, and I Dream of Jeannie.
Howard was a versatile musician, and able to play the guitar and mandolin, and had a particular fondness for the Gibson L-5 and ES-175 guitars.
On Good Pickin’s Howard is joined by Red Mitchell (bass), Stan Levey (drums), Pete Jolly (piano), and Bill Holman (tenor saxophone).
Good Pickin’s is another terrific jazz album, showcasing Howard’s versatility and exquisite playing. I picked up mine from Discogs for under $20 USD. Highly recommended!
Enjoy your weekend, and as always, thanks for stopping by!
May the tone be with you!