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October 2007

Andy Walo Trio - House of Blues

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I had the good fortune to travel to Las Vegas on business recently and was able to take in two different blues clubs.  The first evening was at the clean, well-lit smoke-free House of Blues. You can argue whether it's a real blues club or just a Disnification of the blues, but musically it was excellent.  Andy Walo Trio preformed a great live set of rocking blues numbers.  Walo is originally from Sweden but has been in the US for many years working in Chicago with Junior Wells and most recently in LA with his own band.  Walo tours regularly and is definitely worth catching live.  The set included his own music as well as some classic blues songs by John Lee Hooker and others. Walo has just completed some west coast gigs and hopefully there will be more in October and November.

I had just picked up a new Canon G9 point & shoot camera which I used to snap some photos as well as a video clip on YouTube.  Frankly I was surprised at the high quality I was able to get on video.

 


Radial's ToneBone Classic

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Since I've got a ton of travel scheduled right now I suckered recruited fellow guitarist and gear anoraks  Richard "Legs" Mason and Mark Sunderland to pitch in on some gear reviews.  First up is a summary of a recently acquired effects pedal, the ToneBone Classic.   If you're the type who don't like to read all the details are just looking for the bottom line, here it is:  Go buy one!  It's that good.

Product: ToneBone Classic
Manufacturer: Radial Engineering
Retail Price: $180 USD --Slightly higher -- like twice as much --in the UK

Tested by playing a standard Fender Strat and a MusicMan Luke (EMG Active pickups – humbucker at the bridge) through the clean channel of a Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special 1x12.

What does this pedal sound like? Fantastic. Think warm American style tones rather than brasher English tones. This pedal is great for Blues, Country and Rock. For Hard Rock and Metal it’s still great but you’ll need a humbucker guitar for it to sound at it’s best..

Is it easy to use? With three 3-way switches and four dials to tweak, the permutations are almost endless so its not the simplest of pedals to get to grips with. It’ll take you a good hour of experimenting to understand its capabilities. BUT the manual gives 12 sample settings that get you started. Some of these are exceptionally good tones.

Can I copy popular tones from my guitar hero? Very flexible. Big range available. Try the ‘Water Smoke’ setting out of the manual with the middle and bridge pickups on the strat and you’ve got a great warm creamy tone for both lead and rythm. Or checkout ‘ZZ Texas Riff’.  High fuzz tone. The MusicMan gave it some real grunt. ‘Clean Voodoo Child’ was fabulous with the strat – very Hendrix/SRV at the neck, right through every pick-up combination.

How does it compare to other popular pedals on the market? We have tried the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive, Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer, Expandora, ElectroHarmonix British Muff, along with the new TC Electronic Booster & Distortion pedal. It’s more flexible than all of them. No discussion.

What practicalities do I need to be aware of? Its a robust well built peice of kit. Its also reasonably quiet that means you could use it to practice, perform or record. Its very versatile.

What will my guitarist friends think of this pedal? What other pedal has Steve Lukather, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai and Gary Moore all telling us to buy one? This pedal is street-cred  personified.

What would make it perfect? 3 memories (ala Line6 DL4 pedal). A 9vc dc power input like a Boss or Ibanez pedal or even a 9v ac input like a Line6 would mean you could power it up alongised other ‘standard’ pedals from one voodoo labs Pedal Power 2 Plus.

Score out of 10?  9.0!

You can learn more about the ToneBone Classic and other effects pedals on Radial's web site www.tonebone.com. Hopefully we'll get some additional gear reviews coming from Richard, Mark and other contributors from the UK and around the world.  If you've used any of these or similar pedals, feel free to add comments to this or any of the stories posted.


Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s

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Still counting the days until Guitar Hero III or rival Rockband appears in time for Christmas?  Then check out Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s.  It's a bit pricey at $50 for 30 new songs, but if you want to rock out to hits from your youth, it's a must have.   The song list includes: We Got the Beat, I Ran (So Far Away), Radar Love, Turning Japanese, What I like About You, Synchronicity II, Ballroom Blitz, Lonely is the Night, Heat of the Moment as well as tunes from Poison, Anthrax, Twisted Sister and Judas Priest.  However, some of the songs are really more keyboard oriented than riff rock anthems.  I don't think anyone ever air guitared to Flock of Seagulls before. 

So get out the spandex, put on some hairspray and rock like you never did before.  Available for Playstation 2 only.  Though I would guess these songs will end up on XBox Live for download at some point.

Note also: Guitar Hero III will be coming out for the PC and Mac this fall. 


Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush Live

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Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush was the first live concert I saw nearly thirty years ago in Montreal at a crappy outdoor all-cement sitting area at La Ronde, a local amusement park.  It was a double bill with Eddie Money who had just scored his first hit single with "Two Tickets to Paradise."

Frank Marino was famous for the myth around him as some kind of reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix.  He did some pretty nice covers of "All Along the Watchtower" and a few other classic guitar songs and had an excellent live album that was tearing up the charts on FM radio those days. 

Now thirty years later, Marino's been on the road touring through Europe, US and Canada.  If you remember him from the old days, be sure to check it out. Or if you want to see a classic rock guitar virtuoso up close in a club venue, now's your chance.  The current tour takes Marino and his band across the US to Chicago,Vegas, Santa Ana, Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Annapolis, Nasheville, Atlanta and beyond.  In the bay area Marino will be playing at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz on September 26, and the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana September 29.


Six Pack with Marcus Ryle of Line 6

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Marcus Ryle, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, co-founded Line 6 more than ten years ago along with partner Michel Doidic.  Marcus is responsible for all product development and research initiatives at the company, including the POD modeling system, ToneCore effects pedals, Variax modeling guitars and the Vetta and Spider series of amplifiers.  According to MI SalesTrak Line 6 has become the second largest amplifier supplier after Fender and a recognized innovator in guitar sound. 

Marcus is also a classicly trained pianist and has worked as a professional musician recording with the likes of Chicago, Lee Ritenour and Chaka Khan.  Continuing with our "Six Pack" interviews, Marcus took some time out of his weekend schedule to give www.guitarvibe.com readers a behind the scenes look into developing new products at Line 6 and some of the challenges of combining modern modeling technology with classic tube amplification. 

Q: You've got a background both as a professional session musician and as an engineer. How do you draw on those elements in your role at Line 6?

Marcus: For me, they’re directly connected. I’ve always been drawn to music and technology, and the purpose of technology for me has always been to serve music. At Line 6, there are lots of people with a similar point of view, so there’s lots of great collaborative inspiration.

Q: How do new products get created at Line 6? Are you purposefully looking to disrupt competitors in existing markets? Or is it based on speaking with customers and dealers about what they want?

Marcus: The source of new product ideas can come from anyone in the company, or from anywhere outside. We talk to musicians about what they would like to achieve, what impedes their creativity, as opposed to asking what products they want. We then brainstorm about how we can best meet these needs. Disruption becomes a natural byproduct of the process if musicians embrace our solutions.

Q: You've been working with Bogner Amplification on a new Spider Valve amp. What's it been like to combine digital modeling with tube-based amplification?

Marcus: Working with Reinhold Bogner has been a lot of fun, as well as educational and inspirational. Reinhold has a tremendous knowledge of tube amplification, but more importantly, he has incredible ears. We share an inherent quest for tone, without regard to what technology it takes to get there. It has been exciting to combine the “best of both worlds” of modeling and tubes in the creation of the Spider Valve family.

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Now that the product has been announced, some folks have been asking the obvious question “why”? Many people have gotten the impression that Line 6 was “anti-tube”, but a simpler way to describe us is “pro-tone”. Modeling has evolved tremendously since we started, and we are quite proud of the fact that the tonal capabilities of our products have ended up in the hands of some of the best guitarists in the world, and on countless best-selling records.

Equally important to us is providing guitarists with choices on how that tone gets delivered. In the recording environment, the entire signal path can be captured with modeling – from the guitar body & pickups, stomp boxes, preamp, tone stack, power amp, speakers, microphone, and the environment it is recorded in. The “delivery” of the tone in the studio is via studio monitors or headphones. Performing live, many guitarists like the tone delivery to be through a PA system, monitoring through wedges, stage fills, or in-ear monitors. Others want their tone delivered right through the power amp and speakers in their guitar amp.

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For the last forty years, the two choices for power amplification in a guitar amp have been tubes or solid state. When we first introduced modeling amps, we took all of the advantages of solid state amplification and optimized it for the best tonal delivery possible. But the feel and responsiveness of tube amplification is an option we also wanted to provide. Thanks to Reinhold’s collaboration, we can now deliver great tone through your choice of solid state or tubes, while also being able to deliver the best direct tone possible.

Q: Guitarists are notoriously conservative. With Line 6's use of modeling, it's sometimes considered too radical by those who want vintage sound from vintage gear and seem reluctant to try anything new since the 1960s. Do you think this is changing with younger players who have grown up digital?

Marcus: It’s human nature to be reluctant to change behavior. Younger people are often more open to new technology because they haven’t spent decades repeating one particular behavior. But there’s nothing wrong with someone not wanting to try something new. If a guitarist is content with their tone, there’s no need to change it. But more and more people of any age are discovering that modeling provides the best and easiest path to a wide range of great tone, and ultimately that benefit draws people to try something new.

Q: What was the reaction at Line 6 when Fender announced the VG Strat? It felt like they were sending a shot over the bow with their marketing messages about not requiring special cables or a users manual.

Marcus: What’s that quote about the sincerest form of flattery? Seriously, it’s not clear to me that their marketing message was a shot over our bow – Variax does not require any special cables (it can run on batteries, just like the VG Strat), and since it only has one extra knob compared to other electric guitars (to select models), I don’t think it requires a user manual either. But unlike the VG Strat, Variax can also be powered through a standard stereo ¼” cable, or from a PODxt Live.

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And unlike the VG Strat, Variax can be optionally connected to a computer and let you create your own guitar model by moving pickups, changing bodies, etc., and create any alternate tuning you want. Maybe Fender thinks this is complicated? Or maybe they weren’t talking about us at all. But either way, we just look at Variax as providing more options (if you want them), and ease of use at the same time.

Q: A lot of the recent innovation has been around amps and effects, with new versions of the POD etc. When can we expect to see something new in the Variax line up?

Marcus: Well, of course we can’t talk about potential future products. But I can say that we are always exploring new ways to provide a wide range of tone for musicians. The only thing for sure is that there will be more products from Line 6, but you’ll just have to wait and see.

Argh!  Ok, I tried to get some hints on future Variax models!  And although Marcus denies it, maybe there are some "unannounced top secret products" in the photo at the top of this posting.  The Line 6 Spider Valve is expected to be available in October.  More information is available on line at Line 6.


Six Pack with Greg Kihn

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In the Bay Area of San Francisco Greg Kihn is equally famous as an 80's rock star (Jeopardy, The Break Up Song) and as a DJ on classic rock station KFOX where he's led the #1 rated morning show  for more than ten years.  As if that's not enough, Greg has also put on a series of "Kihncerts" around the bay area attracting bands such as The Who, Boston, Eddie Money, Pat Travers, George Thorogood, Foghat and others along side his own Greg Kihn Band (GKB).   On Saturday September 22nd, KFOX will host the "Summer Sendoff" concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre featuring Greg Kihn Band, The Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller Band and more.  Tickets start at under $20 which is a great deal. 

Q: You've played a lot of gigs and shared the stage with a lot of bands. Do you still get excited about playing big venue concerts like Shoreline?

Greg: I haven't been nervous since 1967, but I still get a major kick walking out in front of a big audience. The Shoreline is extra special because of all the great music that has been played there.

Q: I saw several of the Kihncerts and was totally blown away with the show you did with The Who at Shoreline in 2004. I think that was one of their only US shows that year. How did you manage to get them on board?

Greg: Well, I still owe the Who money from 1978 from when I recorded at their studio Rampart in London in Battersea Park. Maybe Pete figured he could collect. Actually I go way back with the Who and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. It's a great honor to open for them.

Q: What should fans expect from GKB this time around at the Summer Sendoff?

Greg: I always try to come up with new material every year. This year I'm working up some of our older songs from the GKB catalogue. People always seem to request them.

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Q: What's it like having your son Ry in the band? He's such a awesome guitar player.

Greg: I am so proud of him. I'd like to point out that we've had many great guitarists in the GKB and Ry is the best of them all. He can play any style. He's even got a college degree in Jazz Guitar! Look out for Ry's solo CD sometime soon!

Q: As a DJ who has been the most interesting musician for you to interview? Do you get nervous interviewing someone like Paul McCartney or Maria Holly?

Greg: I love talking to people and I always try to make it conversational. I try to not ask the standard questions. I never get nervous. Ever.

Q: I've read and enjoyed your books (Horror Show, Big Rock Beat, Mojo Hand). Can we expect any more rock 'n' roll fiction any time soon? How about a tell-all about life as a rock star?

Greg: You read my mind. I just finished my latest novel DEAD AIR and I am going to write my memoirs next. A collection of short stories based on my years being a musician.

I couldn't find any good live footage of Greg Kihn Band, so instead here's a link to Weird Al Yankovic's parody "I lost on Jeopardy."  Whatch for Greg Kihn driving the convertible in the last shot. 


Moonalice at Moe's Alley

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I caught Moonalice, Roger McNamee's all-star band at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz on Friday of the labor day weekend.  Moe's Alley is one of the best small clubs in the area and the perfect venue for this kind of band.  You can get right up close and into the music as the above photo shows.  (From left to right: Ann McNamee, Roger McNamee, Jack Casady and G.E. Smith.  Not shown: Pete Sears on keyboards, Barry Sless on Pedal Steel and Jimmy Sanchez on drums.)

The band came on promptly at 9:30 kicking things off with the Sonny Boy Williamson blues number "Eyesight to the blind (Talk about your woman)" with G.E. Smith on vocals delivering some scorching Telecaster licks.  That was followed by a couple of original songs with Ann and Roger on vocals and then back to some more rockin' blues including "Train Left the Sation," Pete Sears' song "Fair to Even Odds," the traditional song "Barbary Ellen," Marshal Crenshaw's "Cynical Girl" and then a extended jam that started with an original tune "Road to Here" and ultimately led into a down and dirty slow-speed version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash."  It was great to see Jack Casady really digging in on the jam.  By this point, the audience was at the band's mercy and G.E. launched into Junior Wells' "Messin with the Kid" with some smoking guitar work by G.E. on his Telecaster and Barry Sless on a custom Scott Walker guitar and a nice keyboard solo by Pete Sears to round it out. 

The highlight of the evening was G.E. Smith covering Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."  But this was no pale imitation; G.E. made the song his own from his forceful vocal delivery to his slide guitar solo.  To me it proved G.E. was the star of the show.  He's not only "master of the Telecaster" but an all round musical force who brings out the best of everyone in the band.  G.E. was all smiles during the show, enjoying the opportunity to cut loose on his songs and filling in where needed on others'. 

Barry Sless played with studied concentration in his solos, in a manner reminiscent of the Grateful Dead with intricate noodling and improvisation. And he never seemed to break a sweat even when the sound from his pedal steel dropped out at one point.  Jack Casady was meticulous in his bass playing, keeping beat with his eyebrows.  One can assume that after so many years of playing bass, it's his heart beat.  Jimmy Sanchez kept perfect time on drums, playing with subtle variety and force when needed.  Just a few numbers into the evening, Roger let loose into a whirling dervish of sweat, hair, glasses and bowling shirt.  He was a little more controlled when he stepped up to sing vocals and his style was not unlike T-Bone Burnett or a baritone Dylan during his Nashville Skyline period. 

My only beef with the show is that it sometimes felt like three different bands playing in three different styles.  Roger and Ann's songs were mellow and romantic; G.E.'s were rockin' and Pete Sears' were musically great, but sometimes lyrically depressing.  There's nothing wrong with having different styles, but the the flow between the styles wasn't always smooth.

Moonalice is touring the US this fall with gigs in Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, New Jersey and elsewhere.  If you like rockin' blues or jam music, this is well worth seeing.  I've embedded a slide show of some of the photos I took from the Moe's Alley gig using Google's PicasaWeb.

If you're in the bay area, Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz has live music just about every night of the week with a range of blues, reggae, rock and local talent.  A few of the upcoming gigs include James Hunter (Sept 7), The Subdudes  (Oct 6) and Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Sept 26), the first rock concert I ever saw, back in Montreal some 30 years ago.