Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fixing Leo's Mistakes

I don't like Stratocasters. Never have. Oh sure, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale and Jimi Hendrix made them sound good, but those were flukes. Dave Alvin gets a pretty fair tone from his too...but hell, he made a Mustang sound killer!

So, I bought a cheap Strat today. I couldn't resist. It's just so damned ugly...and did I mention cheap? I couldn't say no to the price!'s still a Strat.

Not for long.

This will be an interesting project, turning a Stratocrapper into a Memph-O-caster!

Step one, those pickups gotta go! Sweet Jeebus they sound plinky. Luckily, I have some Texas Specials that have been waiting for a forever home. Problem solved!

That 5-way switch...gonna be gone! Hate those things!

That damned volume knob and those ridiculous dual tone knobs...GONE! Leo proved his lack of guitar playing knowledge when he put that damned volume knob so close to the strings. Hell, a midget with stubby fingers would be hard-pressed not to accidently kill the volume while playing.

Sure sure...lots of  "tonal variety" with a Strat. Too bad most of it sounds like a guitar being played through grandma's transistor radio...and not in a good way. Seriously, they're the most overrated guitar on the planet.

OK, Leo got a few things right with the Strat. The body was ingenious for it's day. It was the Atomic Age and the Strat looked futuristic. It didn't look like a guitar. The double cutaways and the contoured body....nice! The recessed input jack, pure genius! The neck was just a slight variation on the Tele...and really, that's where most of a guitar's magic comes from. If the neck ain't playable, ya might as well make a lamp out of it.

Now that I have this's time to make it rock! Here's some of the changes you can expect to see:

  • New pickups
  • New knobs
  • New Pickup Selector Switch
  • New Pickguard
  • New Nut
  • New Bridge Saddles
  • New Wiring (maybe...we'll see how things work out)
  • New Tuners

When I'm finished, it's gonna be a keeper, not a weeper!

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

We'll just call this a personal update....

For those playing along at home, I haven't been as "active" as usual lately. There's a reason for that.


A year or so ago, I was diagnosed at diabetic. Then "not". Then probably diabetic. Then, probably not.

It's been a roller coaster. It looks like diabetes but doesn't act like it. So, lifestyle changes, lost 70 pounds, eat healthy, check my blood sugar often, worship at the altar of St. Wilfred...and now, for the 1st time since my diagnosis...I feel like crap.

I never felt bad before. But lately, my blood sugar has been tanking. It's been too low to be considered a diabetic since day 1. Therein lies the confusion for the docs. But the past few weeks has been a mess.

On a good day, if I eat like a pig, I can get my blood sugar near 100. Most days it starts out around 80 and tanks from there. 60s...50s...a few days in the 40s. I've passed out a few times. It ain't fun. I've also been feeling weak, fatigued (and I mean seriously can barely move kinda tired), and irritable as fuck.

However, my A1C is around 4. That ain't diabetic by any stretch. So, the docs are weening me off my meds...see if that helps. Hasn't so far.

Factor in all of my other health issues...well, it's been interesting. I'm used to feeling, at least, halfway decent. Not so lately. I just always want to go back to bed. I was ready to get violent with an old friend last week...that's when I knew something was seriously wrong. I left work early last Monday and stayed home until Wednesday. Almost left early again then...but made myself stick it out. My blood sugar went down to 50. And did every day the rest of the week.

OK...I'm following doc's orders...doing what I'm supposed to do....and really feel like crap...but I'm OK, as far as I know.

Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of this ASAP...really, I don't have this to do. I have too much going on to get sidelined like this.

So, for those asking...this is what's going on. Catch ya on the flipside!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chizmo Charles

I just heard that we lost the great Chizmo Charles. Damn....this sucks.

For the uninitiated, Chiz was, without a doubt, the Burgh's own King of the Blues. He'd been active in the local music biz for at least 60 years. No one sang like Chiz, nor was anyone that cool.

When I moved back here in 1990, I'd hear his name. He was already a well-established legend. One night, down at the old Blue Note, he was fronting The Mystic Knights...and knocking the place dead. The stage was up on the tiny balcony, and Chiz was down on the main floor, walking around with his million foot long mic cable, singing and shmoozing all the women. He was the ultimate entertainer. My buddy Doc was the guitar player in the band at the time, and he invited me up to sit in on a couple of songs. Chiz never noticed me heading up the steps to the stage. When it came time for a solo, I cranked up and blasted out some crazy, doublestop-filled licks. I remember Chiz turning and looking up at the stage wondering just where the hell that racket was coming from!

He later complimented my playing, and coming from the likes of him, that was a serious compliment. He'd played with everyone.

I'd run into Chiz at The Decade now and then, or at various shows. He was everywhere. When I used to wear my hair in a giant pompadour, he always told me I had the best hair in show biz! He was a riot.

The world will be a much sadder, quieter place now that he's gone. At least he left us some music...and I highly recommend checking it out.

Rest In Peace Chizmo! That great band in the sky finally has a singer!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Dog

I'll tell you this story as it was told to me, by my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Wise.

When I was a kid, our school was right near a cemetery. As the school budget was iffy at best, a lot of our field trips, when we had them, were cost effective, to say the least. This meant that all they cost was time. In all honesty, these were the more memorable least for me.

One day, our 2nd grade teacher took us on a field the cemetery. This might sound creepy or morbid to some, but really, it was pretty cool. Union Cemetery, was behind the school (and possibly where the really bad kids ended up). As cemeteries go, it's a winner. I read once that it's considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Folks have prom and wedding photos taken there. It's as beautiful as any park.

On this field trip to the cemetery, we were taught about different types of trees, plants, customs, and local history. To me, one of the more memorable bits of information was about the dog statue.

The story goes that the dog's owner was an elderly bachelor. Popular among his small group of friends, he died alone with no family to really mourn him...just his faithful companion, a spaniel.

The dog was so heartbroken at his master's passing that he laid down on the grave and wouldn't budge. Friends came by to feed him, but the dog wouldn't eat. The dog eventually died there, on his master's grave...presumably of a broken heart.

One of the bachelor's friends was an iron worker, and apparently a true friend. He wanted to memorialize this tale, so he formed a statue of the dog out of metal, painted it, affixed it to a stone platform and placed it at his friend's grave, where it still sits today.

When I made plans to go to Ohio today to visit the old graveyard, one of my goals was to find this statue...if it was still there. I 1st heard the story 40 years ago, and it was old then. Who knew if it was even still there. My memory being swiss cheese since the coma, I'm lucky to not get lost in my own house, let alone a large cemetery I haven't visited in decades.

After wandering around for a half hour or so, I ran into a lady. She, like me, is a fan of the cemetery and visits often. I asked if she knew where it was, and she admitted she'd not seen it nor heard the story. A recent transplant to the area, she was tickled to hear the story.

Finally after walking all over the cemetery, I remembered that it was up on one of the hills, so uphill I went. I finally found it. To my pleasant surprise, someone had recently placed a ribbon on the dog. The statue itself is looking pretty beat and weathered...but you would too after decades outside. This was the first time I really took a good look at the dog. The artwork is impressive! The iron worker seemed to capture the dog's feelings of loss. See what you think.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Kid

It's been awhile since I've blogged...mostly because I doubt anyone cares to read about my mundane existence or my less than exciting job. Really, it's boring as hell.

Anyhoo, spring has finally sprung and the weather has been decent. We, in the greater Pittsburgh area, were blessed with a beautiful weekend. While I probably should've done some yard work, I just didn't feel like it. I've got a fair bit going on in my private life that has my brain in serious need of distraction, and yard work just wasn't gonna do the trick. So today...I went to the park instead.

I tried getting ahold of a few friends to see if anyone wanted to find something interesting to do...but no one wanted to do anything, so having no qualms with flying solo, I grabbed a guitar and headed off to my favorite park. (Pittsburgh has a large number of fantastic parks!)

Just as I hoped, there were hardly any people there...just the way I like it. I swear, the older I get the less social I am. I saw a young family enjoying the day, a few cyclists, an old guy walking his dog, and that was about it. This particular park is down by the river, so it always amazes me that more folks don't use it...but seriously, it's A-OK with me that they don't. Too many people would ruin it.

I parked the car (the HHR Puff-N-Stuff), grabbed the guitar and a bottle of water and headed for the far end of the favorite spot. It has a nice view of the river, one of our many bridges, boats, birds, some interesting historical markers, and lots of rocks. Nice and shady too!

I sat down on one of the rocks and just started playing. Some old country, some slide, just whatever I felt like. A handful of people walked over to listen, they seemed to enjoy themselves (not that it mattered to me, really...but it's always nice to know I still some level of skill). They were all very polite and thanked me for the music. I just smiled, nodded, and kept on playing. Finally, it was time for a change of venue.

At this end of the park is a neat old stone overlook down closer to the river. That's where I really like to go. It's quiet, secluded, and has a gorgeous view. It's peaceful. There's often graffiti and some broken glass (kids? winos? who knows!) but it never dissuades me. I just like it there's where I headed.

As the weather was perfect, 74 and sunny, I took off my jacket, picked up the guitar and resumed playing and singing. I guess my voice was carrying as when I looked up the steps, I saw a handful of people had gathered, and were all seeming to enjoy the music...or the sight of some old guy acting the fool and singing old songs...either way, they applauded when I stopped for a bit to enjoy my water.

A little while after I resumed playing, a young kid and his mum came down to the overlook.  Really, I didn't want an audience...but hey, it's a public place. Nothing I can do about it. The kid, probably around 10 years old or so, had this mean, thug wannabe look on his face. He eyeballed me when he got to the landing and I gave him a "Howdy chief!". He replied with a half-hearted "Sup". His mum, just smiled, and went about ignoring the view in lieu of her phone...which was obviously more interesting than me...which again, was A-OK with me.

I just kept on playing.

The stone wall of the overlook is about 3 feet high or so, and a couple of feet thick, so the kid did what any kid his age would do...he climbed on it. He was just amusing himself, while his mum pleaded with him to be careful and not fall into the river. Mind you, it'd be a 20 or so foot fall. I wondered if my guitar would work as a short term flotation device...just in case.

Every now and then, I caught the kid checking me out. I don't think old country blues was something he was familiar with...but he seemed to be enjoying it. Like any kid his age, he was keeping himself busy climbing the stone wall along the steps while mum chattered on her phone. The kid also kept his eye on me. Did he think I was gonna bug his mum? I was too busy doing my own thing to really be bothered.

Finally, he comes back down to the overlook, sits up on the wall near me, and was seriously checking out the music I was playing. He started snapping his fingers along with the rhythm. I thought it was pretty cool. He jumped down off the wall, still snapping away, and started stomping his feet in time with the music. He was really digging it! I have to admit, it made me smile...and it made me play better. Song after song, he just got into it.

Finally, his mum decided it was time to go. She gave me a smile and tried to get junior's attention. I don't think he wanted to go...but as we all know, at that age - what mom says, goes. As he headed up the steps, he turned around, came back to me and said, "Hey Mister! Thanks for playing music!" It was the most genuine compliment I think I've ever received. His whole demeanor had changed in the short time we were in each other's company. Gone was his thuggy grimace...replaced by a more age-appropriate smile. His eyes seemed brighter. I overheard him and his mum as they walked up the steps.

Mum: You seemed to like his music.
Kid: Yeah! He was really good!

Halfway up the steps, I couldn't hear them anymore...but again, it made my day. This kid probably hasn't heard a lot of acoustic music in his life, let alone live and in person. It seemed to have a positive effect on him. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part...but really, I think it did.

Hey Kid! Thanks for diggin' the music! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Return of CW Stoneking

I've come to a conclusion: my favorite musical contemporaries truly are legends...just in an alternate universe.

Let's face it, so-called mainstream music has pretty much sucked for decades, and it gets worse every year. Luckily, there are brilliant, unknown (to most) legends out there cranking out amazing sounds. One of these is the most amazing CW Stoneking.

CW (which apparently stands for "Stanley Rogers"), Stoneking first came to my attention over a decade ago, thanks to my friend Kiz. She sent me a link to a video of his, and I've been hooked since. At that time, he was still doing his 'hokum' blues sorta stuff. He sounded like a time traveller from the 1920s, with a voice that just doesn't fit his face. He tends to sound a bit low and croaky and barky to the uninitiated. After a few seconds, you realize that it's perfect for his music. Followers of mainstream crap music will be aghast and confused, no doubt.

I don't like to come across as a music snob, but I guess I am. I see the mainstream stuff for what it is...crap...crap made in order to create income. Music shouldn't be about making money. I'm pretty sure that wasn't Bach's main motivation. I could be wrong.

CW Stoneking should be a household name...and I'm pretty sure that in the alternate dimension where my musical tastes originate, he is. His new 'rekkid', "We Gon' Boogaloo", is his first in over 6 years. I was starting to worry. Had he decided to chuck it all and become an accountant? How could a man with that much talent just go quiet?

Well...he did neither. He put some great thought into this new record...and wasted a few years trying to write from a perspective not his own. Once he got back to himself, he re-invented fire.

Gone is the acoustic resonator, the banjo, the tuba and horns. In comes some brilliantly distorted electric guitar and (WTF?) chickee background singers! Once again, he has managed to sound like a lost gem, transported to our current dimension from wherever he comes from. He still defies being pigeon-holed into any particular genre. He's just CW Stoneking. Those are the musicians and writers I prefer. The ones that are nothing more than themselves.

But what about this new it good? Hell yes! It's raw, it's rollicking, and he sounds as good as ever! Rather than just run on about it, I'll let ya listen for yourself.

And yes...he'll still play some old-school blues stuff now and then.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weird Dreams

Weird dreams...we've all had them.  Possibly the most disturbing dream I've ever had was a recurring nightmare that I had throughout my 20s and 30s involving killer, man-eating vampire penguins. I might add, this was also during my better living through chemistry years.

Usually, like most, no matter how odd my dreams might seem, they dissipate throughout the day; usually before I've had my 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee. Maybe the caffeine zaps them out of my conscious brain...who knows.

But, this morning, I awoke from a particularly weird dream. It wasn't was just weird.

It's been said that we don't dream about strangers. Every face in our dreams is one that we have, at some point, seen in our waking lives. This morning's dream was a veritable Who's Who of faces from my past, present, and faces we've all seen on TV/movies/media.

My friends Rob, Gary, and myself were playing a pick up gig. This, unto itself, is not weird. We've done many of these. The venue in the dream was odd. My mind knew it was part of a bowling alley, but it was a bar with an open wall facing a small road. People were walking past, some stopping, some not. Musically, we were really ON in the dream. I recall that, in the dream, I was playing some weird old 1960s Japanese double cutaway, semi-hollowbody guitar. It was sort of blue...strung with heavy, flatwound strings. Odd that I'd dream about that.

If the dream wasn't anything spectacularly weird at this point, it was about to be. Three well-known faces entered the bar through the open wall: rockabilly/country legend Narvel Felts (who I've met on numerous occasions), Burl Ives....and Mitt Romney. In the dream, they had been at a political rally together and had decided to go drinking afterwards. They were feeling pretty rowdy.

Narvel got up and sang a song with us, and soon he, Burl, and Mitt were yelling out requests. Irritating as it was, we managed to play each one. Burl Ives was sitting in a chair with a giant mug of beer and half-singing along.

Mitt Romney was seriously getting on my nerves. He was trying to dance (which most men of his age probably shouldn't do in public anyway) and kept screaming for one song. What disturbed me most was that it's my favorite song of all time - "Besame Mucho".

I love that song, and even more, I love playing it. But I didn't want to play it for him. Mitt Romney is not allowed to enjoy that song! But...I eventually gave in and played a blistering version. I was nearly laying on the floor, propped up only by the guitar...I remember the way those flatwound strings felt under my fingers.

When we finally finished, Mitt was so moved by the version of "Besame Mucho", that he gave me $100 tip. Not to be outdone, Burl Ives pulled out a wad of bills big enough to choke a horse, and peeled off 5 c-notes and gave me a $500 tip.

Rob felt that he should get part of the tip...but Burl told him he already gets enough money from the royalties from his recordings of some of Rob's grandfather's songs.

The dream started to break down and get weirder from that point on. Someone broke into Rob's car and stole a box of 8 track players. Gary and I were in a brightly lit grocery store, and one minute he had a black eye, the next he didn't, and then he did again. Later in the dream, we ran into an old friend of mine at a bus the dream, she was moonlighting as a stripper and a hooker. Just for kicks. She invited us over for ham hocks and iced tea...and then the alarm clock went off.

Weirdest part...I've remembered this all day.