2016-02-02 00.37.37

2016-02-02 00.37.24

These are basically four note chords. Open strings to be played are indicated.

Okay, I feel like bragging. I’m gonna just put it out there. This is something I’m proud of. Whether I’m wrong or right – life is too short to not want to make a few mistakes now and then; too short to not want to have the dialogue. So here goes…


I’ve been brushing up on my mandolin and guitar a little bit, recently.

For many years I played the guitar as a ‘lead’ instrument – meaning, for me, that I’d play mostly single note melodies, patterns and riffs.

When I realized what huge dimensions of the instrument I’d been missing – as accompaniment; or even as a more rhythmic, chordal or harmonic instrument – I was crushed. Crushed, I tell you! I pretty much put it down for some more years.

And, you know… it seems like any simpleton that ever actually tried to go out and interact with other players would’ve long since realized their limitations. It shouldn’t have been such a shock…

When I saw how beautifully some piano playing friends of mine accompanied singers, it really opened my eyes…

I was more of a loner; trying to do it all on my own. I was kind of ashamed when I realized how much of a loner I actually was!….

I don’t know. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
The way we shame ourselves


For me, then, trying to learn the mandolin – after years of that kind of guitar playing – was counter-intuitive. It seemed like a completely different instrument.

Be that as it may – or not.

Eventually, having a nice mandolin around; learning to appreciate it’s portability; listening to other mandolinists; trying to dig what their ‘thing’ is; and, well, just trying to grok the instrument – gave me a slightly more engaged perspective.

My guitar playing has also since been evolving into a more harmonic, chordal and rhythmic style.

So recently… having both mandolin and guitar close at hand – I found that learning things on the mandolin, just plinking around – opened up the guitar for me in a nice way, too. When you have to re-learn where to put your fingers on the new instrument, it brings a different focus on the first instrument, too.

That’s really all I want to say about the mandolin! Don’t let me confuse you! I’m really talking here about the kind of things that inspire me! The muse


I have my guitar sitting out in my room. That’s supposed to be important; having your instrument close at hand for when the spirit hits you.

This morning I glanced over at it and visualized or heard a three chord progression. I picked up the guitar and tried to play something resembling what I had imagined. And – voilà – there you have it. (Although it demanded the fourth chord for resolution.) I’m not sure if this is exactly what I heard… But the fact that I could come up with something from out of the blue was very satisfying.

Don’t ask me what these chords are. I just think they sound nice together.


Mandolin signed by Tom Rozum (top); David Grisman (Dawg, center); and Chris Hillman (bottom). Three of my inspirations, for sure!!

Mandolin signed by Tom Rozum (top); David Grisman (“Dawg”, center); and Chris Hillman (bottom). Three of my inspirations, for sure!! At Wintergrass, Tacoma, Washington, February 2001

One of my favorite David Grisman albums is Mondo Mando. It’s really atmospheric. It reminds me of a fall day – nice traveling music! Check it out.

Tom Rozum’s work with Laurie Lewis – The Oak and the Laurel and others – as well as his solo Jubilee – is very emotive.

D’oh!! [slaps forehead] And, oh! Ry Cooder’s mandolin playing is not to be missed!

Steve Earle! Don’t forget Steve Earle!!

Here’s something else I found inspiring – it’s a Josh Homme tutorial on YouTube featuring the man himself. I found the section from 2:27 minutes to 3:05 – about his use of octaves – to be especially interesting. There’s also some humorous comments – with a lot of humility, too – talking about guitar players’ ‘styles’ from 8:25 to 9:05

I think Dave Edmunds is one of the great under appreciated talents of roots rock ‘n roll. How would I describe his music?

I like upbeat, up tempo rock music – a lot. I like virtuosity on the guitar; clever songwriting; expressive singing; and good interpretation and arrangement of others’ work, where it eclipses the originals or adds something ineffable.

I saw him play at a nice small auditorium during one of Seattle Center’s Bumbershoot festivals, some years back, playing solo with just an acoustic guitar. What a talent!

I put together a playlist on Spotify called Edmunds, Lowe and Rockpile. Some of my favorite, stand-out tracks from the playlist are: Standing At The Crossroads; Born Fighter; Home In My Hand; Halfway Down; It Doesn’t Really Matter; I Love Music; Girls Talk; Almost Saturday Night; Three Times Loser; When I write the Book; and You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine.

Nick Lowe is a great talent, too. I love his voice; he’s a fantastic singer! He brings a great sardonic sense of humor to his singing and lyrics.

Rockpile and some of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe’s ‘solo’ work are all basically the same band. Nick Lowe played bass and sang. Edmunds sang, as did guitarist Billy Bremer. Terry Williams played drums. Wow! What a band! They put out an impressive collection of work.

I like trying to guess whether it is Lowe or Edmunds singing on some tracks. Their voices are sometimes similar; and sometimes have their own interesting nuances. This is particularly evidenced on their note-perfect interpretations of Everly Brothers tunes. It’s obvious to me that they influenced and complimented each other tremendously, as musicians.

The Blasters – including the brothers Phil and Dave Alvin – and the solo work of Dave Alvin – also rate high on my current play list. I also made a playlist for them on Spotify: The Blasters and Dave Alvin.

Dave Alvin is one of the primo, number one, undisputed great writers of Americana music. And he’s always a threat on guitar! He’s collaborated as Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women with two of my favorite female singers – Christy McWilson of The Picketts (check out their 1993 album, Paper Doll) and Laurie Lewis (Another fine songwriter! Check out her albums Earth and Sky: Songs of Laurie Lewis and True Stories.)

Phil Alvin – what can I say?! He’s one of the classic vocalists of the Americana genre. His voice conveys excitement and joy. It’s a little similar to Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Malford Milligan of Storyville. Very expressive and soulful. One of my current faves.

Finally, a word about John Doe. I saw him do a free short set at Easy Street Records in Seattle, around the time of his solo album Keeper, in October 2011. Wow. As a fan of the band X‘s album Under The Big Black Sun since the early ’80’s, the great dissonant blend of his and Exene’s voice – and the great instrumentation – was a part of my DNA.

He had another female singer with him. It was all acoustic, I think. But wow. That voice! His presence! It made me think I’d died and gone to heaven; moved me to tears; and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – all at once! I was working hard and didn’t have the energy to go see him at The Tractor Tavern later that night. But I just want to testify! – if you ever get a chance to see him solo – do yourself a favor – Go!!

Check out my playlists at Spotify –   Search for:  Amy8Trak and then click on fair_choice for additional ones.

Sunrise Over Sea

John Butler is almost unbearably hip. That’s a pretty big compliment. His lyrics are smart, tough and principled.

He’s a great guitarist. Given the number of great guitarists in the world, that doesn’t hold very much weight. But it’s rare that I come across a set of music like this that really gets me excited. This is music that makes you want to get up and do something. You can’t pigeon-hole it. You’d have to listen to it and define it for yourself. I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are.

One of the few comparisons I make is a couple of spots where his slide playing is reminiscent of Sonny Landreth’s; another big compliment. He’s using it as a flavor. Again: hip. A lotta, lot of flavors and textures here. According to Wikipedia he plays mostly amplified and processed acoustic guitars. …Wow! Cool.

He’s a good singer, too. He sometimes sings like a rapper and/or raps like a singer, fast and rhythmical. The words aren’t always legible, but I’m not sure lyrics have to necessarily be completely heard and understood. There’s kind of an old joke about singers intentionally slurring the words. Back in the day, people would wear vinyl records down, trying to decipher them. It’s the feeling. When read separately, the words can lose their punch. It doesn’t mean they’re bad lyrics – they’re lyrical. It’s music. Anyway, the point is that it all adds up here to be very punchy singing, indeed. It expresses what it’s trying to express.

And, hey. The CD insert has a handwritten libretto, with drawings even.

It’s hip. Very hip. It’s Cool. It swings. That’s a style you don’t hear very much. You hear it a lot in jazz singers. You’ve gotta get it right. If it’s insincere, it’s transparently about style, not an individualistic expression. Some good ones that come to mind are Mose Allison, Gil Scott-Heron and Eddie Jefferson. Or think Billie Holiday. Timeless, right? Anyway, I dig hip.

On this set, the John Butler Trio swing like a mother. The bass, drums and guitar play in unbelievably tight counterpoint that is ultra-syncopated.

If you haven’t heard this set, check it out.

poster from Guitar World or one of those mags, signed by Dick Dale @ The Backstage in Ballard (Seattle), circa 1994

text on poster:


“I’ve only had the one guitar all my life,“ says Dick Dale of this battle-worn left-handed Strat, nicknamed “The Beast”. The guitar has served the self-proclaimed “King of Surf Guitar” faithfully on every track he has ever cut, from his debut single, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” to his latest album, Unknown Territory. And even if this guitar hasn’t fallen out of a plane on takeoff or been run over by a car, as Dale claims, it is a survivor; most axes would’ve been reduced to kindling by 34 years of daily use and abuse.

According to Tom English of the Fender Custom shop, who went over this guitar with a fine-toothed comb while he was designing the new Dick Dale Signature Series Stratocaster, “The Beast” was built in 1960. The original electronics have long since been modified to suit Dale’s needs: an extra switch instantly engages the neck/middle pickup combination, regardless of what the five-way switch is set to, and all of the pots, except for one volume control, have been removed. Dale strings the guitar upside down with super-heavy bridge-cable-like .014-.060’s.

Although the guitar used to be sunburst, Dale claims to have refinished it at least nine times in order to foil would-be copy-alikes, who in the guitarist’s early-Sixties heyday, would paint their guitars to look just like his. “I used to go in and have it painted every week just to be cute,” he grins. “Finally, my buddy, who used to paint cars, painted it the first metal-gold-flake.” Dale affixed two stickers atop this last coat of paint; an American flag on the top horn, and a Kempo Karate emblem, which he received from his martial-arts instructor, whom Dale alleges was also Elvis Presley’s bodyguard.




This is one of my most popular posts. I would infer that it’s the humility, energetic music and performances of Dick Dale that make him so enduringly well loved; as well as being an inspiration to many guitarists.

A reader wrote, “To back up a little bit, Dale was known as Richard Monsour when he was growing up in Quincy, Mass., and playing trumpet in the Quincy High band. Originally a drummer, Dale had first wanted to be the next Gene Krupa. His guitar work has always had a raw, percussive quality, and like his dad, Jimmy Dale, plays both drums and guitar.”

This really makes sense.
I don’t totally understand the use of guitar as a percussion instrument, although one day in the park I heard someone playing and it was very obvious. The piano is considered a percussion instrument, too; though, it is of course, so much more. I guess it’s just one of the many mysteries of music and the arts that makes life interesting.


Wikipedia article on Dick Dale


Guitarist Dick Dale performing at the Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 28, 2005. A really excellent photo, by Mike Burns

Transcribing the text on the poster got me thinking about my first electric guitar. Here in the photo you see my friend Kevin Travis from high school with my Fender Musicmaster guitar. He painted it in an American flag motif for me. Good job, huh? He’s standing in front of his 1940 LaSalle. I think it’s a cool picture; very iconic of the times.  From October 1971. Photo courtesy Kevin Travis

Other autographs:

Jimmy Dale Gilmore, also from The Backstage in the ’90’s

paperback book cover signed by Hot Tuna touring band at The Backstage circa 1996: Jorma Kaukonen (JK), Jack Casady, Pete Sears, Michael Falzarano and unknown (drummer).

I can still vividly see Jack Casady signing that in purple felt-tip pen, so fluid and artistic; what a hero of the bass, anyway! Jorma – gracious humility with fans.

Paul Westerberg

This is a fun list I took part in for Facebook.

Hmmm, now who did I forget? LOL Okay, yeah, I obviously took longer than 15 minutes, and there’s more than 20, but it was so much fun….


The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Twenty guitarists that will always stick with you.  List the first 20 you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in what guitarists my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in new notes, cast your picks and tag people in the note – in the tag line).

1.   Ry Cooder – rocked Bumbershoot 1974 with just a mandolin! Yeah!!

2.   Sonny Landreth  – amazing, unique slide technique & tone

3.    Johnny Winters   – the fastest blues guitarslinger, back in the day – a great body of work

4.    John Fahey  – tortured avante-folk & blues genius, fingerpicking, alternate tuning & slide

5.     Leo Kotke   – genius folk & blues finger picker & slide

6.    Tony Rice  – quite a bluegrass flat-picker

7.    John Frusciante  – Red Hot Chili Peppers, solo

8.    Andres Segovia   – classical

9.    Clarence White   – the Byrds, bluegrass/country

10.   Bob Dylan – what can one say? Yep!

11.   John Cippolina    – Quicksilver Messenger Service

12.  Richard Thompson – great to see live!

13.  Don Rich   – Buck Owens’ 60’s guitarist

14.   Jorma Kaukonen – Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna

15.   Paul Westerberg – The Replacements, solo

16.   Tommy Stinson – Replacements, Bash and Pop

17.    Albert King   – “Born Under A Bad Sign”

18.    Jerry Garcia  – The Grateful Dead, other – so much listenable music

19.    Ronnie Earl    – bluesy jazz

20.   Brother Oswald – dobro guitarist

21.    Neil Young – I love “Powderfinger”

22.   Dick Dale  – surf-guitar pioneer/king

23.   Dave Alvin    – The Blasters & various

24.   Lowell George   – Little Feat

25.   Hubert Sumlin  – Howlin’ Wolf

26.   Johnny Thunders – NY Dolls; invented whiny-tone

27.   John Mayall – a father of British blues; prolific

28.   John Olufs – the Picketts, Red Dress, other

29.   Robert Cray   – soul-blues

30.  Bo Diddley  – soulful & rhythmical rock pioneer

31.   Jerry Douglas –  Dobro guitarist

32.   James Burton  – Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson

33.   Wes Montgomery  –  Classy jazz player – octaves & chord melodies

34.   Also must mention: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Ron Wood, Robbie Robertson, Steve Cropper. I wish I was more familiar with the great soul/rhythm & blues guitarists.

added 4-5-12:

35. So good I had to count him twice, lol! Clarence White – Byrds;  influential bluegrass flat-picker and Telecaster player; co-inventor of the Parsons/White B-Bender (which allowed for pedal-steel type effects on the guitar); country-rock pioneer. Listen to one of my favorite tracks featuring his playing on “Tulsa County” by the Byrds. That guitar sounds like beautiful birds swooping around you! Inter-played with the beautiful accompaniment of Byron Berline’s fiddle.