Seattle’s First Lady of Rock: Nancy Wilson

Your weekly listen for 10/28/2014 is Seattle-based classic rock band Heart’s monster guitar mama, Nancy Wilson!

Ann and Nancy Wilson, better known as the two front-women of the rock band “Heart”, have enjoyed a long and successful writing and performing career beginning with their debut album in 1976. “Dreamboat Annie”, featuring the two hit songs “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man”, skyrocketed the Wilson sisters to fame as the first women in the history of rock music to achieve success writing their own songs and playing their own instruments. Though neither of these songs ever reached #1, they have stood the test of time and are still frequently played on the radio today.

Heart went on to have a multi-decade career. They had numerous hits in the 1970s and 80s, including “Heartless”, “Barracuda”, “Straight On”, “Never”, “What About Love” and many others. They earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and have been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

Nancy Wilson was clearly not about to be outdone by her male counterparts in the world of rock guitar. Here she demonstrates her virtuosic playing with a variation on her famous intro to the song, “Crazy On You”. I have learned the familiar recorded version of this intro myself, and I can stumble through it at about 3/4 speed. It’s tricky. In the version you are about to see, she smoothly transitions from “Crazy On You” into a blues progression, then to “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin, to the classic riff from “Hijinx”, another Heart song, and finally back to “Crazy On You”. If that isn’t impressive enough, check out the martial arts kick at the finale. This lady is not to be reckoned with!

Make Music With Anything: Artis the Spoonman!

Your weekly listen for 10/21/14 is Seattle’s legendary Artis the Spoonman! Artis spent many years living in and around Seattle and is well known at the Pike Place Market, where he used to perform regularly with another Seattle legend, the inimitable Jim Page (folk singer, songwriter and guitarist). He has also toured extensively through North America and Europe. Some of his more noteworthy performances include the David Letterman Show and a guest appearance with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. However, it was certainly the Soundgarden song “Spoonman” (written about and featuring him in the video) that skyrocketed him to fame. He claims the honor of being “the most famous spoon player in the world” and I have no doubt that it’s true. Watch and listen to find out why (here he appears on the show “Night Music” in 1989, hosted by the Grammy-award winning jazz saxophone player David Sanborn):

The tradition of playing spoons dates back to prehistoric times. Spoons evolved from “bones” or “folk bones”, which are flat instruments carved out of animal bones. Musical bones (still in use today) are played in approximately the same way as spoons, by holding two in one hand and knocking them together. Spoons or bones have been employed as musical instruments in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt as well as in Slavic, Russian and Irish folk music, Cajun music and Zydeco. In America, spoons and bones were used in early minstrel shows and “jug” bands.

Artis’ slogan is “make music with anything” and he certainly walks his talk. Notice that his collection of instruments includes spoons of both metal and wood in a variety of shapes and sizes to create different tones and resonances, a pie lifter, some forks (a regular dinner fork as well as musical tuning fork that is designed to create a particular pitch and carry it for several seconds), and several sets of folk bones.

Artis now lives in Port Townsend, WA and is taking a sabbatical from performing, but if he comes out of retirement, I will certainly put his show(s) on the Your Weekly Listen events calendar.

ACTIVITY: Parents of wee ones, here’s a GREAT indoor activity for the kids on a rainy day. Collect a bunch of different shapes and sizes of spoons and let the kids experiment with them to find out what kind of sounds they make.

Child Star Who Charmed a Generation: Shirley Temple

Your Weekly Listen for Tuesday, October 14 is the unmistakeable Shirley Temple!

This song is an excerpt from a film called “Curly Top”, about a little orphan girl named Elizabeth. First, a bit about the social context of the film. In the early 1900s, America had close to a thousand so-called “orphanages”, housing as many as 100,000 children, although perhaps no more than 1/5 of the children they contained were actual orphans. Many had living parents who were just too poor to support them. Orphanages had a reputation for being highly regimented: Children had to wear uniforms, and were required to march to meals and eat in silence. Corporal punishment was common. Fortunately, by the 1930s, orphanages had fallen out of favor in the public eye and President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed legislation to give public aid to indigent families so that poor children could stay at home with their parents. So this film reflected the progressive attitudes of the time.

Shirley Temple was one of America’s very first child stars and is widely considered to be the most popular child star of all time. Born in 1928, she was discovered by a film producer at the age of 3, appearing in a series of “baby burlesks”, (short films featuring toddlers). From there she went on to appear in many Hollywood blockbuster hits in the 1930s. She continued to appear in films into her 20s and then retired from show business to pursue a successful career in public service. Shirley was a U.S. Representative to the United Nations, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, the first woman to be U.S. Chief of Protocol, during Gerald Ford’s administration, and the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She also had three children and a long happy marriage to Charles Black, a former Naval Officer. She died of natural causes at the age of 85.

As a performer, Shirley was primarily and actress and a dancer (you can see how expressive she was, and easily understand why so many audiences fell in love with her adorable, cheerful performances). Obviously she was a competent singer too, but she possessed no extraordinary musical ability. Her appeal lay primarily in her sincere and engaging countenance. Though just a child, she came across as being very warm, down-to-earth and happy-go-lucky. If there is one thing musical performers of any age can learn from her, it may be that unless you are in a punk or hard rock band, or some other musical style that prides itself on expressing anger or indifference, audiences generally respond best to performers who can reach out and relate to them on their level. I believe Shirley Temple did this exceptionally well, and it may also account for her great success as an international diplomat.

References:
http://pages.jh.edu/~jhumag/496web/orphange.html
http://www.shirleytemple.com/biography.html

Revolutionary Acoustic Guitarist Playing Double-Necked Guitar: Michael Hedges

Your weekly listen for October 7-14 is the legendary Michael Hedges. A trained classical multi-instrumentalist, he is best known for his percussive acoustic guitar style, and influenced musicians such noteworthy musicians as Pete Townsend, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Cosby, Stills and Nash. The techniques he used – alternative tunings, two-handed tapping, slap harmonics and use of unique guitars such as the harp guitar he plays here – all existed before in separate musical realms, but by bringing together these and other elements, he developed his own very unique style. Since his tragic and untimely death in 1997, a generation of acoustic guitarists have followed in his footsteps. Andy McKee and Jason Kertson, featured in last week’s blog post, were certainly both influenced by Michael Hedges. Had Michael lived longer, I’m sure his music and his name would be more widely known. As it is, he is legendary among guitarists and revered by a small but fiercely loyal fan base.

Let’s look at just one of Michael’s distinctive techniques: right-hand tapping. This is where the player takes the right hand, usually reserved for strumming and picking, and brings it up on the fretboard. This technique has existed for centuries in folk and classical music, and has also been explored in North America by guitar pioneers such as Dave Bunker, the developer of the Touch Guitar, and Emmett Chapman, who invented the “Chapman Stick” (both electric instruments). The right-hand tapping technique was later popularized in the heavy metal sphere by Eddie Van Halen. However, Michael Hedges was the first modern acoustic guitarist to utilize right-hand tapping extensively throughout his music, and he used it in a very different way. Heavy metal guitarists employ tapping mainly to get as many notes out as fast as possible. Michael used the technique to layer the music, playing bass (low notes) and melody (the tune) at the same time, which resulted in a much fuller and more complex musical tapestry. People have described Michael’s playing as being more like an “orchestra” than like one man playing a guitar.

I mentioned that right hand tapping had its origins in folk and classical music from centuries ago. Here is an example of a technique known as selpe on a Turkish instrument called the baglama. (The selpe starts about 1:15 in.) The artist is Kemal Alacayir. The style he plays is Turkish classical music, and as you can see, selpe is the exact same thing as the right hand tapping used by guitarists playing modern styles.

Teen Guitar Prodigy Plays Two Guitars at Once: Jason Kertson!

Your weekly listen for 9/28/2014 is Jason Kertson of Seattle, WA. Now seventeen years old, Jason began learning to play the guitar at age 7 and began performing in coffee houses and other venues when he was 9. Here he presents an instrumental piece by guitarist Andy McKee entitled “Drifting” on two guitars, using one guitar for bass and percussion and the other for melody.

This piece isn’t actually all that technically hard to play in terms of requiring a lot of hand strength or speed. However, it does involve a lot of hand and rhythmic co-ordination. Both hands are doing a lot of different kinds of movements simultaneously. If you can pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time, you’ll be off to a good start on “Drifting”. This kind of co-ordination just takes patience and practice to develop.

For intermediate or advanced guitar students, there’s a great breakdown of how to play this piece on one guitar below. Fortunately, Andy McKee, the composer who generously posted this instructional video of his own tune, was a guitar teacher before he became a full-time touring performer, so he does a superb job of explaining it in relatively easy terms. Note: Andy’s guitar here is in DADGAD tuning, as opposed to the standard guitar tuning EADGBE. For whatever reason, Jason’s version on two guitars is actually in DADGAD flat (which would be Db, Ab, Db, Gb, Ab, Db).

I haven’t learned to play this piece, but after studying both these videos, I’ve concluded the reason Jason decided to do it on two guitars was probably to address the problem of having his hands run into each other on the guitar neck (which Andy discusses at around 5:13 in the instructional video). I haven’t been able to figure out any other advantage to doing it this way, although of course it looks like a super badass guitar stunt in a video (and I’m not saying it’s not)!

Jason Kertson plays in and around Seattle quite a bit. Keep your eye on his facebook page for his next upcoming performance: https://www.facebook.com/JasonKertson

Andy McKee hails from Topeka, KS, and now tours internationally. He’s coming to Benaroya Hall on December 11. Buy tickets or check out his full tour schedule here: http://www.andymckee.com/#!tour/c1yk3
(Special note for guitar nerds: His website features dozens of tabs also! Check it out.)

Kudos to both these gentlemen for some very fine acoustic offerings.

– Charlotte