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Researching the Blues

Box sets and Best Ofs lead to a tuned ear

I've had Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (Amazon | Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings) and Muddy Waters: The Chess Box (Amazon | Muddy Waters - Muddy Waters: The Chess Box) for many years. Late last year, I picked up Howlin Wolf: The Chess Box (Amazon | Howlin' Wolf - The Chess Box: Howlin' Wolf and truly discovered the incredible music by this blues master. In fact, I found this compilation better than Muddy's, probably because Wolf had nearly the same band throughout, giving him a consistent sound over the years. I've also found that I've developed an ear for Wolf, being able to tell it's him as the tune starts. This is something I was really good at as a kid, and it's cool that I can still do it.

Thanks to Jimmie Vaughan and Omar Kent Dykes, I've discovered the music of Jimmy Reed (Amazon | Jimmie Vaughan & Omar Kent Dykes - On the Jimmy Reed Highway). This led me to buying The Very Best of Jimmy Reed (Jimmy Reed - The Very Best of Jimmy Reed). Again, I've discovered the brilliance of this artist, and also developed an ear for picking him out when I hear one of his tunes. I've also done this with Memphis Slim: The Folkways Years: 1959-1973 (Amazon | Memphis Slim - The Folkways Years, 1959-1973).

Next on my list is Little Walter. I stumbled on to this one for a strange reason. A fellow keyboard player posted this YouTube video of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2008 to show how the band behind James Cotton wasn't listening to nor following Cotton, who is a brilliant harp player in his own right. But, from this, I heard Little Walter's original Juke, and I'm blown away by how he played. Of course, he's also all over The Chess Box :Muddy Waters but I feel like I need some of his solo stuff, which has those great instrumentals.

Thu, 2008 04 24 at 5:02 AM |Permalink for this entry

Protect Your Hearing!

In late January, right around my birthday, I developed tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. Subsequent tests showed I had some high-frequency hearing loss in both ears, maybe a little worse in the left. It is said that tinnitus can be caused by the hearing loss. Over the years, I tried to protect my hearing, but admittedly have let it slip at times and a jam in late January was one of those times.

Let me tell you that having tinnitus sucks. It seems that I don't have it as bad as some others, as it does not keep me up at night and it's not constant. I "hear" it at various times throughout the day, most noticeably in the late afternoon after a long day of trying to get things done.

I know a lot of people who do nothing for their ears when around loud music or noises, and I hate to see it. I spent years not doing anything to protect my hearing, and I'm sure that the repeated exposure is what got me where I am today. I think all musicians should use earplugs. The natural acoustic volume of instruments like drums and horns is very loud, and when you throw in other instruments that have to be balanced in the mix with those such as guitar and even voice, that's more than you should subject yourself to for a couple of hours at a show, whether you're in the audience or performing.

Lori and I had custom molded earplugs made for us. I wanted her to get a pair because she had problems getting the generic ones to fit, and was thus less likely to use them. Now, with the custom fit earplugs, they fit her perfectly.

Mine came in Saturday and I had a chance to try them that night at a party with a not-too-loud (but loud enough) band that was playing. The biggest thing that surprised us is how flat they are. I mean, except when I spoke, everything sounded rather normal, and it made us wonder if they were doing anything, until we took them out and heard the difference. Normally, when you put in generic earplugs, they cut out most of the din of the room. With these, the din sounded the same, at least relatively speaking. I can see that as a disadvantage in a sense, but in reality, it's better that they're not coloring the music.

Before I left for the party, I put mine in with the solid adapters. We got them with 15 dB filters and they also come with solid adapters for maximum attenuation. I went over to the drum kit in my studio, and whacked the snare as hard as I possibly could, and it just sounded like a snare, but not as loud. Replacing the solid adapters with the 15 dB filters, the snare was louder, but still very tolerable.

I recommend that every musician get these. Considering how much you pay for other gear, this protection is way worth it, especially because they are so clear and flat. My only complaint is that the little "handles" that make it easier to pull them out rub on a spot on my ear, because of the way my ear is shaped. Lori didn't have that problem and I suspect most people don't.

BTW, I got mine in the same colors as the ones shown on this page right under the text, "ES49 Custom Fit Earplugs."

At the very least, do yourself a favor and get some generic earplugs to protect your hearing. The foam ones are okay, but they aren't flat and I thought they were terrible for listening to music. I do use a pair of foam plugs when working with power tools, mowing the lawn, etc. The generic musician plugs from Etymotic (also available from Westone) and Mack's are pretty good and available for around $10 - $12 a pair, though I think you can buy quantities for less than that. However, if you're a musician or music fan, the custom molded plugs are the best bet. They cost a bit more, but as I said, considering how much you spend on other musical gear, this investment is worth it.

Here are some other resources.

Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.)
American Tinnitus Association
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

Protect Your Hearing!

Tue, 2008 04 22 at 2:41 AM |Permalink for this entry

The New Guy at Thursday’s Jam

The four of us (Lori, Rebecca, John, and I; Phil couldn’t make it) got together last Thursday night. Here’s what Rebecca said about the jam afterwards.

Joe, if I may be so bold, you seemed a bit different since committing to and announcing your “transition”... I dunno—you seemed more relaxed, more experimental I guess. Like you really just *felt* better. Hard to describe. But it was cool, because it made me realize that maybe I’m not crazy for wanting to do the same thing, because maybe there’s really something to it. Not that I’ll be doing it any time soon, but nonetheless… Ah, I’m babbling. The point is I’m happy to see you pursuing this. And I hope it all goes the way you want it to. Whatever that may be wink

I realized upon reading this, she’s right. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. But, I’m sure it’s the result of that bit of extra confidence that I’ve been giving myself lately because of this “career change.” I often say things to myself like, “hey, this is my job” or “I’m a musician, I should play like one.” It also doesn’t hurt that overall I’m much happier with who I am and what I am trying to be than I have been in a long time.

Mon, 2008 04 21 at 7:13 AM |Permalink for this entry

Songwriting With GarageBand

This is an interesting series of articles on songwriting and using a Mac to do it. It's not the approach I'm currently using, but I've used similar methods in the past, albeit with sequencers and four-track cassette recorders!

In Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting, he discusses recording vs. songwriting, and says, "I eventually came to the conclusion that writing and recording are as oil is to water. Church and state. I could go further and say mutually destructive—but short of that I choose to think of them as a bicameral legislature, a system of checks and balances. Each area of expertise influences the other but for each to function perfectly perhaps the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing."

Still, I'll keep reading these articles and probably continue to link to them here.

Thu, 2008 04 17 at 7:02 AM |Permalink for this entry

Blog is done?

Almost

I have everything working on the blog now, including having all the old backfilled content in there, I think. The RSS feed should be working, so go ahead and subscribe, get the posts automatically.

The only thing now is to get latinforunemployed.com pointed here, but I'm waiting on my host to fix something before I do. Once that is done, you'll be able to visit using just that URL.

Wed, 2008 04 16 at 12:45 PM |Permalink for this entry

All In The Family?

I'm afraid to start a "family business" but we will see what happens...

My niece told my sister Kathy about my career change. While my niece plays guitar, sings, and writes some lyrics apparently, my sister is learning piano and says she has "lyrics literally everywhere because I write literally everywhere." So we are now talking about doing things together, possibly with various combinations of the three of us. I'm interested in what kind of lyrics Kathy writes. I actually have no idea. Kathy and I are 12 years apart and we are very similar in some ways, and very different in others. It could be an interesting combination.

What's funny is that I seem to be getting way more response to being a musician/songwriter than I ever did to being a web developer. I really thought there would be a lot of interest in me being a web developer, that I would get a lot of people asking me about it and working with them. OTOH, I was kind of expecting a lot of "are you crazy???" reactions when I told people about the music choice, and I seem to be getting the opposite reaction. There are two possible things I could be missing though. The first is that maybe I did get a lot of response to the web stuff, but it's my enthusiasm for the music that is making me see what reaction I'm getting to the music career. The other is that maybe my lack of enthusiasm for the web stuff might not have sold it to people like my enthusiasm for the music is doing.

Wed, 2008 04 16 at 8:11 AM |Permalink for this entry

blUGHing and More on Lyric Writing

Things don't always go as planned

I spent way more time than I had planned getting the blog layout working, and there are still things I would like to do. This reminds me of why I'm giving up on web development. It's like pushing a rope. Uphill. Back and forth, back and forth, trying to get some stupid little thing working. Ugh.

I heard back from Keri. "I liked the first one, it fits the song well and I think hold and control are a good fit, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees and all that..thanks!" That's cool, and hopefully a start for more collaborating, but really I only wrote one line. Still, I'm thinking about seeing if she's interested in the song I wrote for Beth Black, "Because." This song of Keri's reminded me of "Because." OTOH, I'd like to see if Beth herself wants it first, for obvious reasons.

Tue, 2008 04 15 at 12:02 PM |Permalink for this entry

Lyric Writing and Blogging

Wrote lyric with Keri, worked on this blog, other news

This is actually the first entry in this blog. The "previous" entries are backfilled, but there's some stuff there that is just too good to ignore!

This morning I saw a message from Keri Richardson that she was looking for help with her song, "Up To No Good," kind of a light soul song, like india arie, as she described it. I've sent her two ideas I had for the verse, I am excited to see what she thinks of it.

I told my niece Nicole about this Big Adventure, and she's excited. She actually writes some, plays guitar and sings. I don't know if it's more than a hobby for her, but maybe we can work together sometime.

I heard from Connie, Jeff's wife, and she says it's 100% sure they are moving back to Houston. They don't expect Jeff to come back to the band, but we've already talked about collaborating on songwriting, as he hopes to have some free time once he starts his new job. We could also do stuff like the Houston Musician's Meetup, where Blue Funk could play our three songs as Blue Funk, and then we could "back" Jeff on his songs, even if Rebecca sings them.

Tue, 2008 04 15 at 9:34 AM |Permalink for this entry

Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith

Familiar Ground?

I bought Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting around ten years ago, and got pretty far into it IIRC, but I never finished it. So, I've started reading it over again. I'm amazed to find that, in the first two chapters, the stuff he talks about doing, how it works, how it doesn't work, what blows it, is exactly the process I go through writing songs.

So I'm wondering, was he spot on, or did I get more from the book the first time around than I realized, or both?

It's a great read if you're interested in the process of songwriting. He's a bit opinionated at times, but he has the credentials to back that up, so I guess I'll give him a pass. wink The funny thing is, I'm not terribly familiar with his songs. I know I've heard some of them such as "Up, Up and Away," but I don't know them well enough to really analyze them or anything. I'm sure I haven't heard any of the songs in years.

Mon, 2008 04 14 at 10:47 AM |Permalink for this entry

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

Absolutely inspiring

I just watched this speech this AM. I can't recall if I watched it when I first downloaded the podcast video version, but it hits me a ton right now. I love this speech, and right now, he nails exactly what I'm doing (or trying to do, anyway). I have the podcast on my iPod touch so I can watch and listen to it whenever, too. smile


Fri, 2008 04 11 at 8:24 AM |Permalink for this entry

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