Tag Archives: guitar

Keb Mo on cover

Keb’ Mo’: Modern Master of American Roots

keb moMusician Kevin Moore of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) paid his dues as a session musician, struggling to find his voice, before finally discovering the blues infused roots music he is recognized for today. When he debuted as Keb’ Mo’ two decades ago, he embarked on music that he admits is “too happy for the blues, too funky for folk, and too city for country,” building a successful career as a singer and songwriter in the wider genre of American roots music.

Mo’ recalls leaner times, and how hard he worked to establish himself as a Los Angeles studio musician. Then he got what he thought was his big break in 1980. “I had a nice record deal and it was a big flop,” he admits. “By 1982 nobody was calling me for gigs. So, I thought, ‘This is it.’”

He wasn’t thinking about giving up music, but he had his doubts about his ability to earn a decent living in the industry. “I was wandering around doing whatever—I played salsa music, blues, and I tried to play jazz,” he says.

Then something that he calls magical happened—though he didn’t know it at the time. He took a gig subbing for a friend in a blues combo at Marla’s Memory Lane supper club in Los Angeles. He continued playing that Monday night gig for two years, transforming himself in the process.

“That’s where I got my indoctrination into the blues; that was my fresh start,” he explains. Before then, Mo’ was resistant to playing the blues. “Growing up in L.A., in the pop songwriter scene and trying to do sessions, it wasn’t like I was going to get any traction playing the blues.” Or so he thought.

“I began to look at my gifts as they were, instead of what I didn’t have,” he explains about the transition. He says he’d always been a pretty good songwriter, had pretty good vocals, could play guitar, and had a good rapport with the crowd.

“The next thing I needed was commitment,” he says. “When I had commitment, that took me to another realm. I started getting a completely different reaction when I took inventory of myself and was willing to ‘die’ for my craft, so to speak.”

Keb’ Mo,released in 1994, earned gold-record status. For his second Keb’ Mo’ album, Just Like You (1996), he earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, as he also did with Slow Down (1999), and Keep It Simple (2005).

Mo’s blues infused, personal ballads come directly from his heart. “Songwriting has to be personal. I usually start with a thought,” he explains. “For instance, the funny little [song] ‘More for Your Money’ is a chronological look at the world of retail. “As a kid, I remember walking home from school in California. If I had a nickel left I could get a candy bar … a whole Snickers for a nickel.”

keb-mo-playingIt was the land of the brave, the home of the free, but some of our jobs shipped overseas;  … It was a high price to pay to get more for your money today,” recites Mo’. “They opened up a store that took a whole city block, whatever you need you know they got. But it was a hard price to pay to get more for your money today.

That song is on his BluesAmericana album released last spring, which he sees as a signpost of artistic and personal growth. “I really shared deeply,” he says, explaining how he expressed intimate feelings with a deeper understanding that comes from life experience. “It’s a deeper place, and a deeper sense of what you have to dig into to get yourself to the next place in your life.”

The album was nominated for the Best Americana Album Grammy, as well as Best Engineered Nonclassical Album, and its hit single “The Old Me Better” was nominated for Best American Roots Performance. Mo’ has credits on the album for banjo, guitar (acoustic, electric, resonator, and slide), harmonica, horn arrangements, keyboards, organ, piano, and tambourine. Plus, he produced the album himself with co-producer Casey Wasner.

“I want to stay in until the job is done to my own satisfaction and producers are expensive. Maybe I don’t have the budget for the producer that I would like to have, but I’ve got time on my hands, loads of time,” he says. “Maybe a producer could get it quicker, or they could send me down a path I don’t want to go. I have a clear path about what I like and what I think I am musically. I like to hold myself to the highest standard. I’m probably going to push myself further than a producer is ever going to push me.”

The album took about three months to produce, not including the songwriting. Having his own studio allowed him another advantage. He could set up the room exactly as he wanted. “Are you into feng shui at all? I set it up energetically. I wanted something really cool to happen,” he says.

The industry has changed a lot in the 20 years since his debut as Keb’ Mo.’ “You can’t stay in the way of change,” he concedes. “I’ve had to think differently and also pay attention to what is going on because it changes so fast. You really have to have one foot in the present and one foot in the future all the time.”

One trend that Mo’ is enthusiastic about is the resurgence in popularity of vinyl, something his audience seems to appreciate. He released a vinyl version of BluesAmericana this winter.

Aside from keeping up on all the changes, Mo’ says it is important to him to stay focused on his personal “dharma.” “I have to stay on the prime point of why I’m in the music business, which is to serve, to play music, to entertain, and to do my best as a person—to live my dharma and not do it for the sake of how many units I’m going to sell.”

keb-mo-albums“It always puts me back to [ask myself], ‘Why are you doing this? What if it all goes away? What if Spotify, CDs, vinyl, and everything goes away? What if the electricity goes away? What am I going to do then?’ I’m going to get my acoustic guitar and a cup and I’m going to play … unplugged,” he laughs.

One thing that Mo’ is certain of, no matter how the industry changes: roots music, like the blues will never go away. That means a lot coming from a man who dismissed the blues early in his career. “If you are a young person and having fun musically, at some point you are going to hear the blues. You may hear it before you hear it, but at some point, you are going to hear it and go, ‘Holy crap!’”

“Life is going to make you hear it. It might not be the blues, it might be old country, gospel, old folk music, but real music, real people,” he adds. “The blues is folk music, folk music is where all the classics and these things come from.”

“You can go and learn all your fancy scales and fancy chords and try to get the right beat and a hit record. It lasts for like two weeks and then you’ve got to get another one, but you can’t … But then you go to the blues, something real,” he says. “That’s why Van Morrison and B.B. King [of Local 71 (Memphis, TN)] can still work right now. There are a lot of artists who make a fine living who never had a hit because they dug into something real.”

The longtime union member, cites the AFM as an essential organization that has aided him in his career. “I was able to borrow money to get instruments, buy a car, and when I got poor, they worked with me to help me pay all my debts. And then there are all the ‘little things’—the recording fund, pension, and there are all kinds of benefits. If you work hard the benefits of being a union member will pay off and it will be a big key in your future when you are older, plus there’s the camaraderie,” he explains.

He says union membership is not just about the benefits; it’s also about the musicians decades ago who struggled to get fair pay and job protection for others. “You need to be a union member because the union is your heritage as a musician. People pay fair wages to musicians now because of the musicians union,” he says.

Mo’s advice to upcoming musicians, aside from union membership, is simple. “Don’t follow in my path, make your own path,” he says. “Be steady, learn all you can, learn to read, learn really good timing. Learn how to play a little bit when a little bit is needed and learn how to play a lot when a lot is needed. And always listen, listen, listen. Music is 90% listening and 10% playing.”



PRS P245

PRS P245 Guitar

PRS P245

Short-Scale Guitar

Perfect for players who prefer short-scale guitars, the PRS P245 is a vintage-inspired single-cutaway guitar with an LR Baggs/PRS piezo system to provide both electric and authentic acoustic tones. With two output jacks it can be plugged directly into an amplifier or into a soundboard’s direct input. The new 58/15 vintage style pickup, shorter 24.5-inch scale, and 22 frets, give P245 a true classic voice that is recordable and gig ready. It features figured maple top, mahogany back and neck, rosewood fretboard, nickel hardware, and is available in 18 distinct colors.


The Matthew Bellamy Signature Black Cort Guitar

The Matthew Bellamy Signature Black Cort Guitar

Cort-MBCThe Matthew Bellamy signature black Cort guitar features a unique shape and incorporates a sleek maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, solid basswood body, special Manson Guitar Works bridge humbucker, and true single coil neck pickup. A kill button allows a wide range of guitar effects to be created by the player without resorting to outboard effects. The headstock features the Muse guitarist’s signature along with the Cort logo.


The Ultimate Guitar Bass Bonanza

The Ultimate Guitar Bass Bonanza: 50 Great Rock Bass Transcriptions in Notes and Tab

The Ultimate Guitar Bass BonanzaThe Ultimate Guitar Bass Bonanza contains 50 note-for-note accurate transcriptions for top songs including: “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen), “The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy),  “Brick House” (Commodores), “Carry on Wayward Son” (Kansas), “Come Together,” (The Beatles), “Creep” (Radiohead), “Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana), “Smoke on the Water,” (Deep Purple), “Stand by Me” (Ben E. King), “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns N’ Roses), “Walk This Way” (Aerosmith), Wonderwall (Oasis), and more.

The Ultimate Guitar Bass Bonanza: 50 Great Rock Bass Transcriptions in Notes and Tab, Hal Leonard Corporation, www.halleonard.com.

les paul

Les Paul: The Wizard of Guitar Strings & Gizmos

les paulFrom the time he was a young boy and his mother would let him “take something apart” if he got all his chores done on time, Les Paul has had a drive to learn what makes something work. The family piano, the radio, and various household appliances — Paul took apart whatever he could get his hands on. And invariably it worked better when he was done with it. When he was about nine years old, he got his hands on a guitar, and the world has never been the same. Over the years he tinkered and toyed, figuring out how to get his guitar to play through his radio. And this was just the beginning. He didn’t just want to change the way his instrument sounded live; he wanted to change the way live music sounded when it was recorded.

Paul lives and breathes through his guitar, even at 86. Every Monday night at the Iridium in Manhattan, the Les Paul Trio performs to a packed house. But his playing, which defines his life to this day (despite his fairly severe arthritis), is only a part of what makes Paul the living icon that he is. He is the inventor of the solid body electric guitar — which exists today as Gibson’s most popular Les Paul model — almost unchanged from when it was first introduced in 1952. He also introduced the world to multitrack recording with his 1948 hit “Brazil.” The song featured six guitar parts, all played by Paul. The pioneer of overdubbing and electronic reverb didn’t stop there. He fashioned the first 8-track by stacking eight tape machines on top of one another and synchronizing them to play perfectly together. Virtually all of modern music, whether recorded in the world’s most technologically advanced studios or by someone working with a home-recording system in their basement, is made using innovations sparked by the inventions of Les Paul.

A lifetime member of both Local 802 in New York and Local 47 in Los Angeles, Paul will always be grateful to the union for the assistance given to him when he was in a devastating car accident in 1948 that shattered his right arm and elbow. At Paul’s insistence, the doctors set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle a guitar and pick at the strings.

As a musician, Paul soared to popularity in the ’50s with his late wife, Mary Ford. The combination of Ford on vocals, Paul on guitar — along with Paul’s cutting edge re-cording skills — sold millions of records, including such hits as “How High the Moon,” and “Vaya Con Dios.” He has influenced almost all genres of music since the ’50s, especially blues, jazz, country, and southern rock. Today his music of choice is jazz, although he won a GRAMMY in 1977 for Best Country Instrumental Award Performance with the late Chet Atkins for their “Chester and Lester” album. In 2001, Paul received a Technical GRAMMY award.

Paul continues to absorb knowledge like a sponge. “You would think that a person would say ‘Well, I’ve retired, I’m going to go on a boat and just drop a line and wait for that cork to go down,'” says Paul. “Instead, in my case, it’s just a constant learning, a constant curiosity, to see what’s going on — the great steps forward, along with the obstacles that come with progress.

“We have mono, and we’ll get our music to where we’re very proud of it. And then we make it stereo, and the problem becomes twice as tricky. And so then you go to surround sound, and it just goes deeper, deeper, deeper. And then you get to digital and from digital, it goes on and on. It just never ends. It’s amusing, it’s interesting, and it’s scary — it’s just something. It’s a wonderful time with the way we’re progressing, when we think of where we were a couple of hundred years ago. But I’m not sure that we’re not getting to a point where we’re outsmarting ourselves!”

Les Paul is just as likely to tell you about his need for speed as he is to share his passion
for music and the manipulation of sound. But even those stories eventually come around to music.

“This one state trooper pulled me over, and I told him ‘I’m Les Paul, I’m a musician, a guitar-player,’ and he says, ‘Well, I hate music.’ Now how do you hate music? So I thought I might be in trouble, but then I told him that his radar was off. I offered to drive by again at exactly 70. He liked the idea, and since I helped him calibrate his radar gun, he let me go!

“Usually they see the license and say something like, ‘The Les Paul?’ Sometimes he’ll say, ‘I play guitar,’ and I’ll say, ‘Yeah? You any good?’ Now I’ve always got my guitar in the trunk, so I’ll get it out and hand him the guitar and he’ll start to play, and I’ll show him how he could be better if he did it this way or that way, and here I am with this police officer with his left foot up on the bumper …”

Usually the officer is so ecstatic about getting an impromptu lesson from a guitar legend that he forgets why he pulled him over in the first place.

les paul oldPaul is the first to admit that life as a professional musician has its perks. But he’s not going to tell anyone that it’s easy. “Once in a while someone will come up and tell me that they bought their son a guitar, and I’m tempted to say ‘Why?!'” laughs Paul. “No, that’s terrible advice to give,” he went on, serious. “The guitar is a wonderful, wonderful instrument; it does so much for a person. It solves a lot of problems, helps you put up with the world. I guess this applies to music all around the board; you can always turn to your guitar and shut the world off temporarily.”

For those who don’t play, the guitar has a way of getting under your skin. Which would be the only way to explain why someone suffering from painful arthritis in his hands still shows up to the club every Monday evening to jam. “It’s something musicians can do, which probably most other people can’t, and that is to go to such a ripe old age and continue be able to communicate through your instrument with other people, young, old, it doesn’t matter.” He also feels a responsibility to continue to entertain people for as long as he can. “There’s a thing about jazz; it’s serious, generally speaking,” explains Paul. “I have a whole different approach to it. To me there’s a lot of laughs, lot of humor. Put it this way: people pay to come in, and they probably come with one thought in mind, and that is to be really turned on with a lot playing. Music, music, music. They come in here to get their mind off of their problems and to be entertained; that’s what we do. And when they leave they say, ‘Jeez, I’ve had a wonderful time!’

“I have three other players; they’re all great. There’s Nicki Parrott on bass, she’s just great. There’s Lou Pallo, who has been with me many years. He’s the foundation, he plays the rhythm and the background and he sings. Then I have Frank Vignola, who is a very fine technical guitar player. It’s great to have the three of them up there with me, because there’s a lot of things that I would put on a record — where I could put down multiple tracks — but when I come out on stage I can only do one. With my hands and the arthritis, I’m lucky if I get one-tenth of what I’d like to do. So having these other three musicians with me, we work around it. They just give me great support. That’s where it really shines, the mix of all of us. They work hard!”

And Paul has no intention of slowing down any time soon. In addition to playing every Monday, there are several books that he’s “threatening” to write, as well as several other archival and museum projects he’s involved in. “Every once in while I’ll take on a fistful and go for it,” he says. “It’s like there’s always more, and more, and more.”

Although his one-night-a-week gig is just about all his hands can deal with nowadays, Paul cannot stress enough the importance of practice to an aspiring professional.

“Practice. That’s the thing,” he asserts. “You need to practice all the time. If you really want to be with it, you have to just absolutely, constantly keep on your playing. My advice to anyone is that there just aren’t enough hours in a day; be religious about it. That’s the key.”

The thing about practicing is that playing also breeds creation. With a constant flow of music from your head right out of your fingertips, you never know what you may end up with. “If you spend enough time with it, you can really communicate with that guitar,” says Paul. “You surprise yourself. Before you can think of it, you’ve already played it.”

While the life of a professional musician has got to be one of the most enjoyable careers, it’s also probably one of the most difficult in the sheer amount of time it takes to maintain your craft. “It’s a lot different than being a plumber,” laughs Paul. “But I’ll tell you what, that plumber isn’t jamming at midnight, either! He doesn’t come home and say to his wife, ‘Hey, put your clothes on, I want to take you over and show you this job I just did!’

“Here’s another little bit of wisdom that runs across my mind,” muses Paul, “It’s not so much the intro as it is the ending. It’s easy to walk out on the stage, but you better have something to get the hell off! That’s where you get caught. You get out there and it doesn’t matter — you could be up, down, in the middle, whatever — but when it’s time to leave, you better have something up your sleeve, to be able to give it your best shot!”