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September 2009
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November 2009

Kenny Neal Live Blues

I managed to catch Kenny Neal live this summer at a Blues Festival in Redwood City.  Neal is an awesome blues guitar player with a charismatic style and a soulful voice that betrays his Louisiana musical upbringing.  He plays up-tempo R&B influenced blues as well as down-and-dirty blues on his '52 Telecaster.  His latest CD "Let Life Flow" has been winning awards across the US including the "Blues Music Award" song of the year for the title track.

Kenny Neal is touring in the US and Canada through the end of the year with gigs in Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Baton Rouge, Tampa, Chicago and beyond. 

Check out the videos from YouTube below to get a taste of Neal's latest music.

Time Won't Let Me


I read Bill Scheft's book Time Won't Let Me recently and thought this book does a great job capturing the energy of '60s garage rock in a present-day setting.  It's a story of a Boston-area garage band that reunites some 30 years later.  Or or at least tries to.  The personality quirks and passions that caused them to disintegrate the first time around are still there and it makes for a great story as things unfold.

Scheft is a one time writer for Dave Letterman with great passion for rock and roll.  Or at least what it used to be in the 60s when everyone who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was putting together a band.  Best of all, he does it with with humor and wordplay at every turn. It's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.  

The inspiration for the book came from Scheft's brother, who really was in a 1960's garage band called The Rising Storm that did reunite and is touring Europe this June.  The title is taken from a hit single from the Outsiders. 

Blues You Can Use


I recently picked up the Hal-Leonard book "Blues You Can Use" based on recommendations on Amazon.  Heaven knows I've bought my share of guitar books over the years, and it's been rare that I've felt like I got my money's worth.  I've never found a guitar book that has matched my skills and interests.  Sadly, I don't think I'm alone in this predicament.  The majority of music books are either aimed at rank beginners (starting with "Go Tell Aunt Rhody") or they are so complicated that unless you're already an advanced player it's hard to get anything out of them.  So I have a dozen different guitar instruction books sitting on my shelf gathering dust.


John Ganape's "Blues You Can Use" is not that kind of book.  It's one that's aimed squarely at the intermediate player who wants to learn blues guitar.  It's 96 pages and includes a CD with audio files of all of the lessons, many at both slow and full tempo.  Unlike a lot of music books, these songs sound like something you'd want to play!  Even the first lesson ("Texas Rock") has a Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe to it that sounds incredibly cool. 

I found these songs not only fun to play but they inspire you to practice and learn more.  The blues encompasses a broad range of genres and the book serves as a good introduction to basic shuffle blues, swing blues, Delta blues and hard rock blues.  Songs are in styles reminiscent of artists like BB King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Freddy King, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and others.

Ganapes covers the basics of 12 bar blues, blues shuffle patterns, major and minor Pentatonic patterns, blues scales, 7th and 9th chords and so on.  He spreads out the information across the lessons so you feel motivated to learn and apply the theory and not get bogged down. 

There are 22 lessons in the book and the author suggests that most students spend about a week on each one.  I moved through the early lessons at a faster clip, but the they definitely become more challenging as you progress.  And no doubt some of these lessons will require several weeks to master.  So far I'm just over a quarter of the way through the book and I am enjoying things enough to not only stick with the book, but I occasionally go back to practice earlier lessons. 

My only criticism is that while the book includes a CD of backing tracks, the guitar part is in both left and right audio channels.  If you want to play along to backing tracks without the guitar, you need  to buy a separate CD from the author's web site for $12.95.  Given that the book is only $20, it's still a good deal.   

Ganapes has also created several follow-up books including the more advanced More Blues You Can Use and Blues Licks You Can Use.  I plan on checking those out once I get through the rest of the book.  If you're an intermediate player, already familiar with basic chords and ready to learn the blues in a structured fashion, I fully recommend this book.

Guitar Backing Tracks


One of the things that's most important in practicing guitar is learning to play in time.  If you're not in a band, that can be tough to do.  Playing to a metronome gets boring very fast.  There are a handful of amps and headphone amps that have generic blues and rock backing tracks, but what do you do when you want to learn a specific song?  Playing along to CDs or MP3 files is a good start, but it's hard to hear how well you're playing when there's already a guitar track. 


That's where backing tracks (also called jam tracks or music-minus-one) come in.  The idea is to play along to the music that has the guitar parts removed so that you can fill in.  You can buy backing tracks from outfits like and online at sites like Playing with the Band.  These are high quality recordings by professional session musicians that re-create classic rock and blues songs with room for you to add rhythm or lead guitar.   Playing with the Band has downloadable professional backing tracks for $1 each.  Or you can buy a sampler CD pack  Classic Rock - Vol I with with 50 tracks for $17.99.  This includes classic rock songs like Pink Floyd's "Money," The Beatles' "Revolution," The Who's "Pinball Wizard" and seven others.  There are 10 songs with 5 different variations: full song, without rhythm guitar, without lead guitar, without any guitars, etc. 

I've also discovered a new site called that has hundreds of free backing tracks created by amateur musicians.  These aren't necessarily perfect re-creations, nor do you get the variations of with and without lead or rhythm guitar parts, but they are good enough to help you practice a song from a book or tab file.  I found dozens of interesting songs here ranging from classic blues pieces ("The Thrill is Gone," "Still Got the Blues") to relatively obscure new wave songs ("Watching the Detectives," "Anarchy in the UK.")  Since these are put together by fans, you'll find plenty of classic rock music from U2, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, AC/DC.  And you can play the songs from the web site or download the MP3 files for personal use.  My only complaint is it would be helpful if it indicated the key for each song.

If you're into the Blues, you might also enjoy Guitar Center's backing tracks from their King of the Blues contest.

Ramones: End of the Century


I recently watched the 2003 Ramones biopic "End of the Century."  It's the story of the Ramones over their 22 year career as they emerge as the original punk band from New York's CBGB's to influence every major metal, punk and alt band of the last 30 years.  Without the Ramones, I don't think you'd have had bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, GreenDay, Offspring, Metalica or others.

I must admit, I was late to the Ramones party.  I never listened to their music until seeing this movie and I'm sorry that I missed out.  While there's a definite sameness to their two-minute buzz-saw three-chord rock, there are enough stand out songs and 50's era harmonies to make it worthwhile.  The good news is, it's still a unique sound many years later.  But unfortunately, the Ramones story outlasted the founding members Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny who each died rather tragically within a few years of disbanding.

The movie does a great job showing the roots of the Ramones from their humble origins in Queens, to their influential UK gigs in 1976 and their reconciliation that they would remain unheralded road warriors, eeking out a living but never achieving a hit record or stardom.

Check out the YouTube excerpt below showing the Ramones' 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the year after Joey Ramone's death of lymphoma.  Dee Dee would die of a heroin overdose just two months later.   And Johnny succumbed to cancer two years after that.

Anvil - Now on DVD

"Anvil: The Story of Anvil" is coming out on DVD this week and it's as a good a movie as ever has been made about rock and roll.  Anvil is not the story of a hugely successful band; it's not U2 or Led Zep recalling their hard scrabble days from mansions in the hills.  In fact it's a band I'd never even heard of.  And I can't say I'm a big fan of thrash heavy metal.  But the movie is great.  As Bill Murray might put it, it's a Cinderalla story about a working class band from Toronto 25 years after their career peaked.  They're still at it, married with kids and holding down day jobs, still looking for a break.

While Anvil pioneered thrash metal and influenced the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeath and others, they never achieved any success after their first three albums.  But the band never split up, they just kept on playing to smaller and smaller audiences, sometimes outnumbering the fans.  Critics have hailed the film as a true-life "Spinal Tap" and there's certainly some funny moments as they go on tour, miss trains, don't get paid and still keep on playing.  But there's a kinship you will feel as the band slogs on with its ups and downs.  At 14, guitarist Steven "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner made a vow to become rock stars and and more than 35 years later, they're still living the dream. 

The film, by first-time director and former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi, premiered at Sundance in 2008 and has been winning audiences over ever since.  If you haven't seen it, get the DVD which also includes bonus footage and an interview with Lars Ulrich from Metallica.

Anvil will be touring the UK in November and then the US and Canada in January & February 2010. 

Still Crazy


Still Crazy is one of my favorite rock movies.  It's a comedy and as funny as Spinal Tap, but with better music.  It tells the story of Strange Fruit, a fictional UK band from the 70s that follows in the familiar trajectory of Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac.  After losing a founding member to drugs, the band disintegrates and attempts a reunion many years later.  The film stars Billy Connolly, Bill Nighey, Stephen Rea and Jimmy Nail who contributed greatly to the music.  The soundtrack is a gem with original songs that capture the spirit of an era better than you might expect.