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Another Blues Gig


Apologies that it's taken me a while to post this write up on last month's blues gig.  Somehow the videos were hard to get hold of and some of the footage shot on iPhone rather than my usual Canon G9 left something to be desired.  Nonetheless, I've posted video of most of the songs.  (We had one near train wreck, which no one in the group wanted to see again.)

The gig was heled at Red House studios in Walnut Creek, where we practice on Monday evenings in a Blues workshop.  I think everyone was less nervous this time, but still a few things went awry.  In some ways it was a miracle that we even pulled off the gig as we had one person recovering from surgery and two others who earlier in the day were borderline as to whether they would be able to make it at all due to respitory ailments.  For reasons I cannot fully explain, we substituted one song about 20 minutes before going on stage.  In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea, since we had not played it together in many months.  

Nonetheless most of the gig worked out well.  We started with the 1977 Stranglers song "Hanging Around" which is about as far away from the blues as you can get.  Although the video doesn't show our awesome intro, it does a pretty good job capturing the energy of this song, especially the tremendous drums & bass from "the rhythm chicks" Holly & Lynn.  I'm singing vocals (occasionally off-key), James does a fantastic solo, and we started and ended together, so that was pretty cool.  I was more relaxed for my solo than the last gig, though I should have had more volume, as usual.  

I played on a few other songs ("Shakin' All Over," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Ain't no Sunshine") but to me the standout songs were "Messin' with the Kid," "Hurt so Bad," and "Juke Joint Jump," the latter featuring our ever-inspiring blues instructor Jeff Magidson.  

It's been fantastic to play with so many awesome musicians: Lisa is phenomenal on vocals (and guitar), Val is a brilliant guitar player, James is a superb showman, Tom has made major strides in the last few months.  Best of all, the whole crew are great to work with.  There's no doubt that playing at Redhouse has helped me improve my own abilities.  I don't know when our next gig will be, but we will continue to make progress gradually, week after week, gig after gig.  

Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks Live At The Warfield

I went to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band at San Francisco's Warfield this past Sunday.  It was a great show by an 11 piece band that included two drummers, a three piece horn section, great backing vocals and two tremendous guitarists.  Susan Tedeschi's vocals were soulful and moving. And Derek Trucks is no slouch on the guitar!  

I managed to shoot quite a bit of the concert with my Canon G9.  Audio quality is great, but the camera has some shake due to the zoom.  Nonetheless, for anyone on the fence about going to see them on their current tour, I hope this will convince you this is a heckuva rocking band.  Whether you like soul, blues or funk, there's some great music that will get you moving.

There were several excellent songs from the new album Revelator and if you get a chance to see Tedeschi Trucks live, you should definitely do so.  It's a fun evening not to be missed, especially for blues guitar fans.

Note that I was contacted by folks associated with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and asked to remove some of the videos.  They said it was ok to keep a few videos on YouTube but I guess they were uncomfortable having too much posted live.  I can't say I agree with this approach, but what the heck, you gotta respect the artists wishes, right?

Also, astute readers may have noticed that my frequency of posting has slowed down in recent months.  I've taken a new job and so I expect posting may stay sporadic.  Nonetheless, I'll try to post the occasional concert video, music or gear review when I can.  Meanwhile, enjoy the videos from a great concert.

Line 6 JM4 Looper


In my quest to play along to some backing tracks that go further than the basic MIDI files included in the Fender G-DEC Combo Amp I picked up a Line 6 JM4 Looper pedal recently.  In effect, this is the "brains" of Line 6's Spider Jam amp in a 5 pound package without the amp, speaker and cabinet.   The whole thing measures about 12" x 7" x 2.5", or about the size of four single-purpose effects pedals. 

If you're looking for a simple gig-ready looper pedal to lay down some rhythm guitar and then play some riffs on top of it, the JM4 Looper may or may not be the right thing.  But if you'd like to make things more interesting with drums, backing tracks, built-in amp models and effects, then the JM4 Looper has a lot going for it. 

There are 350 (!) different pre-set tones covering an even broader range of songs, artists and styles.  Want the exact tone for Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" solo? It's there.  Pink Floyd "Another Brick in the Wall" solo?  Check.  AC/DC's "Back in Black?"  Got it.  Ozzy Osbourne's "Barking at the Moon"?  Hey, there are three different tones for that one.  There are so many tones built in here it can be pretty overwhelming: Joe Satriana, Albert Collins, The Police, ZZ Top, Dire Straits, Guns 'n' Roses, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Rush, White Stripes, Maroon 5, Slipknot, to name a few.  The tones are organized into different banks (for various eras, artist styles etc) but it can still take a while to go through all the choices.

Jm4_ui But the real power of the JM4 Looper is the backing tracks.  There are around 100 jam tracks in various styles (rock, blues, metal, country, jazz).  Admittedly, with so many choices in both backing tracks and tones, you may never use all of them.  But with the approach Line 6 has taken there's something for everyone. 

There are great blues tracks, metal songs, country jams, stadium rockers and more.  Because these are recorded by professional session musicians, even songs outside your favorite genre have an energy and sound to them that makes it easy to play along.  There's also an "endless jam" capability that makes it easy to jam to the songs without it feeling completely repetitious.  And you can speed up or slow down the tracks or modify the key.  However, when you do, the audio distorts a bit.  So if you want to change something from the key of E to F, that's ok.  But if moving it more than two half steps, the percussion starts to sound very artificial.  So you're probably just better off learning how to play these songs in the proper key.

Recording and practicing to the backing tracks is dead easy.  You select a backing track using the Songs button, or if you want it bare bones, just select the Drums button.  Rotating the big dial button lets you scroll through the choices of songs or drum tracks.  The JM4 Looper will automatically dial in an appropriate tone.   Then click the record button and you'll get a 4 beat countdown to start.  You can record multiple layers or, as I often need to, hit the "undo" button to start again from a clean slate.  To transfer the song to your PC, press the save button and then select "Mix down to WAV file" option.  You can then use iTunes or other programs to compress the WAV file into a standard MP3 file.

Sample MP3 Files

If you click on the MP3 link below, you'll hear a backing track of "The Thrill is Gone" in Bm with some simple Pentatonic solo riffs. I've also experimented a bit with some of the delay capabilities, though honestly I don't think I did the effects justice.  Still you can get a sense of the quality of the backing tracks and the built-in tones.

The Thrill is Gone (MP3)

I also recorded a riff from the Metal Method instructional DVDs with more of a hard rock feel to it.  In this case, I played a simple rhythm part (G7, C7, D7) over a built-in 70's Groove drum track and then dialed up the Laguna Coil - Pizza  solo tone and hit record.  The solo uses the G Minor Pentatonic scale.

Metal Method Riff (MP3)

Note: Some readers have had trouble with the embedded MP3 player above.  You can also click on links to the MP3 files The Thrill is Gone or Metal Method Riff directly to open them in a new window or right click save them to your computer.  Also, for some reason, the Metal Method Riff recording has a lot of pops and clicks. I'm trying to figure out the problem on this...

While the JM4 Looper is cheaper than the full-blown Spider Jam amp, it's a significant investment.  The street price is typically $330, though you can occasionally find it for less.  Still, right now, this is the best device there is when it comes to providing a combination of high-quality jam tracks, built-in effects and tones and easy recording capabilities.  And not only is it a blast to use, but the more you use it, the better you'll play.