Monday, February 20, 2017

A Little Diversionary Swing

In double four time.

I've often thought that the big musical instrument manufacturers may make musical instruments, but what they sell are dreams.  I've written sparingly here about my own dive back into guitar, the resumption of an interest interrupted for 20 years.  When I started again in 2010, it had been longer since I played than all the time that I played put together.  While I'm sure I know much more of what I'm doing, the realistic fact is that everyone in my age group is faced with declining abilities in the pure physical aspects of playing, and guitar is an instrument with a lot of physical requirements.  Any of the musicians of our youth will tell you that.  This simply not the time in life to look for new speed and flexibility, although that's no reason not to try.

The companies find themselves in the position of marketing to the dreams of younger players; 20-somethings or teens who have the hunger to play for other people and the drive to ... perhaps ... make something of a mark in that business.  On the other hand, guitar makers sell the most expensive models in their lines to people who play as a hobby, all sorts of professionals who work a daytime job and are doing alright; they just maybe get together with friends once a week.  I'd bet they sell hundreds of "entry level" guitars for every top end model.

What prompts this is an emailed article that I got from Fender.  As an owner of a couple of low end Fender products, they regularly try to tempt me with more.  Today it was centered on one of my favorite musicians, Mark Knopfler, and Dire Straits great first hit, "Sultans of Swing".  Specifically that what made Sultans into the monster song it became was their Stratocaster guitar.
The fingerstyle master originally wrote it on a National Steel guitar in an open tuning, he once explained to Guitar World.

“I thought it was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same,” he said. “It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat—which remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on the first album—and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.”

“Sultans of Swing” was initially recorded as a demo in 1977 and soon got some play at BBC Radio. A bidding war amongst record labels ensued, and Dire Straits signed a deal with Phonogram Records, who had them re-record it for their eponymous debut 1978 debut album. “Sultans of Swing” was officially released internationally as a single in January of 1979.

Of course, they're trying to imply that if you, yes you, get a Strat and work hard at it, you can sound like Mark Knopfler.  Chances are, you can't.  But there is a real chance there's some kid out there who is rabidly playing all evening instead of doing his homework that might be "the next Mark Knopfler".  As Mark Knopfler himself said in a BBC interview I saw (but can't remember enough to give you a link) that before Mark Knopfler became Mark Knopfler there were "lots of nights falling asleep with the guitar on my lap".

So now that I've whet your appetite for the real thing, while not the "album version", going almost 11 minutes vs. not quite six, they call this the most famous of the live performances captured on video.

This video has a mere 86 Million views on YouTube. 




    That's the dryest, most boring discussion of a song I like that made me realize just how workmanlike songwriting can be.

    1. The coincidence here is that Steely Dan and Dire Straits are our favorite bands from the 70s, and the two of us ended up spending much of yesterday listening to YouTube videos of the two of them. I hadn't seen that particular video, but Donald Fagen is a real genius, a great guy to study if you're trying to understand songwriting. Songwriting is more than just recycling recycling four chords. At least good songwriting is. Maybe that's what made these two groups something special.

  2. Some people have innate talent, and some don't.....

    1. A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell put out the theory that anyone could be the master of any skill, like playing music, with 10,000 hours of practice. It's a wonderful concept, and I'll bet it motivated a ton of people to just keep practicing, but it's just not true. At best, it's only one part of a complex situation. How does he explain the difference between different professionals? Did one spend an extra few minutes every day? Did Eric Clapton practice a few more minutes than George Harrison every day? Did the first chair violinist for the London Philharmonic practice 10 more minutes a day than the second chair?

      As in all cases of "nature or nurture", I say the answer is "Both". It's practice time, innate talent, the right feedback, and more.

    2. I love music, and I've had a lot of "Music Education". I can sight read music and sing out the notes, and get the pitch and timing right, and I can sloooowly pick out the notes on a keyboards.

      BUT.....I'm no musician, and probably never will be.

      I've had clarinet lessons, trumpet lessons, piano lessons, and guitar lessons. The only one that ever "stuck" with me was the piano.

      I wanted to play an E flat clarinet because it was what one of my grade school friends was playing, but the grade school orchestra I was in already had one of those, so they made me play a B flat clarinet which was just too long for me to reach all the keys!

      Strike 1....

      Then I tried trumpet "because it only had three keys". I could never get the hang of blowing it harder to make some of the notes, so strike 2.

      Then I tried guitar lessons because....1960's! Everybody was playing guitar because....BEATLES! I got fairly good at playing rhythm guitar, but stunk at playing lead because I didn't practice enough to get the finger skills down.

      I started messing around with piano and organ in college because I was doing roadie work for some friends in bands, but without an instrument of my own to practice on, it never really went anywhere.

      The only reason I got any good at reading music and being able to sing was that during my high school years I had daily classes in Boy's Glee Club my freshman year, and the I was in the A'Capella Choir for the remaining three years, so the "practice" was mandatory.

      And I really enjoyed it, so there was positive feedback there.

      I've considered getting a small keyboard now that I'm retired, and maybe trying piano again. My Dad was an excellent piano player, and we always had music around the house, so I've been exposed to, and can enjoy, all genres of music, from classical to hard rock, Glenn Miller to Pink Floyd, and country to Steely Dan, one of my favorite bands.

      So I agree 100% with nature and nurture, or as they argued about in that Three Stooges episode "ENVIRONMENT!'...."NO, HEREDITY!"....

    3. Considering that you have a lot of experience in music industry, I wanted to know if buying a fender stratocaster a good investment for a young person trying to learn guitar? please let me know your advice..thanks.

    4. Fender Stratocaster - since this thread is four months old, DrJim probably won't see this.

      I have no experience in the industry (I don't think he does, either), but I'd say a first instrument should be good, but doesn't have to be the top of the line. I mean, if you like Strats (I would assume you do by your name), you don't need to get the "$1500 American made". I have a MIM (Made in Mexico) Strat that cost under a third of that and plays very nicely. Fender also makes a line called Squier which get you down even lower to the $150 to $300 range, like this one.
      I've heard blues players who like the Squiers over the Fender strats.

      While I'm sure Fender hates it, other companies copy the strat except for minor details, too.

      Good luck!

  3. I guess if I want to play rock-a-billy like Bill Kirchin I should get a tele?

    1. Absolutely. If you get a Les Paul, you'll sound like Peter Frampton, Slash, or Joe Bonamassa and that's "right out" (as Monty Python said).

  4. Heh. So I bought a Tele off Craig's list about two years ago. Seller was musical director at the big mega-church in McLean Va.
    Nashville Deluxe MIM Tele, great shape, he was asking $400, pretty reasonable.
    I set up a visit, showed up at the appointed time, liked the guitar.

    He said, $325, take it and go, had been dealing with no-show lunatics calling from Craig's List all week, I was the first person that actually wanted to do business on a normal basis.

    Now I just need to move to Maine, stare into the sun, until I can play like Johnny Hiland.

    1. Made literally LOL with that. The funny thing is that Teles are the new hotness with the band at my church. In the last six months, at least 3 guys switched to a Tele. One from a PRS and another from a Taylor acoustic-electric.

      If staring into the sun would get me to sound like Johnny Hiland, I'd have to think about that. I've heard some of his chicken pickin' lessons on True Fire and the guy is amazing.