Sunday, April 06, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Something in these two pictures is the same. Can you figure out what it is? I'd love to hear from you when you figure it out. Bonus points if you hit on the the special thing that ties three subjects from these two pictures together.

While you're thinking on that, I would like to give a shout out to Martin Scorsese on his inspirational and electrifying documentary/concert film Shine a Light.

Ain't nothing wrong with vintage, baby.

It was the first time ever that I was able to distinguish the sound of specific equipment onstage -- guitar pickups, amps -- to actually close my eyes and know exactly what I was hearing. After following his record of music documentary making I have a hunch that this was Scorsese's executive creative call.

I don't care what kind of pickups one uses, how jumbo your jumbo frets are, or how kick-ass your groove tubes are: Most of the time you get on the stage and everything turns to mud. A hollow stage, the shape and material of the room, the placement of the equipment, screaming people -- there is nothing that will not contribute to the mud. Sometimes you get so lost in the mix that you just stand there, trying to hear your own amp.

In that case the only solution is to turn it up loud and play it through two amps. Not a bad thing: It actually makes you play more tastefully.

I feel like I've spent my career trying to find my "voice" in a club setting without simply twiddling the volume knob on the guitar and the amp. I learned from Danny Marks a long time ago a simple formula: bass at 3, treble at 7, and reverb never more than 3 (volume is a personal taste-slash-pain-threshhold thing).

To that I add a little analogue echo for the appropriate slap-back and boost the volume into just this side of overdrive for the straight-ahead rockers, some chorus for the ballads, and a super-clean Steve Cropper chunka-chunka sound for the R&B with a mid-speed echo for the reggae and ska whukka-whukka stuff. I have a couple of wah pedals that I dust off for that purpose, too. Great fun. That's mostly for the Fender Telecaster, but also applies to the more diva-ish Gretsch Chet Atkins Nashville with the Bigsby arm that does not like temperature or humidity changes.

But...once you start singing as well as playing, you get distracted by your need to look out into the audience and get into party mode, play Musical Director, and sing on key. Add a big crowd of friendly music lovers and you can forget about it. Mud.

So how nice was it to have an advocate for clean, distinct sound that was so clear I thought I was in my basement, just me and my own equipment, responding to each other's voices. I actually feel guilty for not paying that much attention onstage.

Thank you for your sensitivity, Martin Scorsese. And thanks for understanding and demonstrating how important these things are to the musicians. At the end of the day, it is the listener who is the beneficiary.

So....have you figured out the answer to my quiz yet?

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