Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Fat Mama"

I really wanted to depart from the Allman Brothers-related material for my next recording. I also wanted to make it an instrumental so I could focus on playing and not singing. Herbie Hancock's "Fat Mama", with it's deceptively simple descending electric piano melody, is something I have noodled on for a while, so I figured it would be a fun challenge to work up a whole acoustic arrangement as the next track. Initially I wanted to keep the structure loose, using the original as merely a template that I could expand upon, but the song has a pretty rigid structure that I ended up retaining. Also, studio recording is rarely ever something that you can keep loose - you've got to have a plan, melody must have a design.

As I put the track together, I found I really wanted to add another sound to contrast the "horn section" of resophonic guitars. I had been learning fiddle, which is my first fret-less instrument, so it's been a bit of a challenge. The lack of frets requires a little more thought. Guitar is often about positions and shapes - you can change keys by moving everything up a fret. Fiddle does have has positions, but you still need to know what sharps and flats are in the key you are playing in and where those are on the neck - it is akin to playing a piano where all of the keys are white and the same shape. But a mandolin has the exact same tuning as a fiddle (GDAE) which makes it a great bridge between guitar and fiddle. I've hardly mastered mandolin, but I was able to quickly arrange a part for it that creates a nice compliment in the upper register echoing Herbie Hancock's funky electric piano lines.

Anyways, although I thought I was taking a break from Allman-related tunes, not only did keyboardist Chuck Leavell tease "Fat Mama" in The Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" in the early 1970s, I discovered The Derek Trucks Band also used to jam on "Fat Mama". I'm often reminded that it was a good thing I didn't try to become a professional guitarist because Derek Trucks seems to cover every single one of my favorite tunes - I'd be out of material.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Preachin' Blues"

Son House
I spent a long time recording the pieces of "Dreams", in the middle of which I took a break with Son House's "Preachin' Blues". As is often the case, I first heard "Preachin' Blues" via one of my favorite bands, The Derek Trucks Band. Their dirty, knuckles-bare cover kicked off dTb's 2nd album, 1998's Out of the Madness. It is a foot stomper, especially with Matt Tutor's gritty singing (it would be several years before Derek found Mike Mattison to be the definitive voice of his band). Years later Derek would incorporate the song into The Allman Brothers' sets on rare occasion, usually as the first half of an encore. Featuring just Warren and Derek, it was a uniquely stripped down performance for the typically 7-piece wall of sound. It was also one of the rare occasions The Allman Brothers would not feature a founding member on stage.

In the end, it is Son House's back-porch yelling on the original that defines the song. I wanted to keep it simple, and wasn't sure if I could pull the song off (some times less is more difficult than more), but also wanted to incorporate some bass and stomp box. It's definitely very different from the mostly instrumental pieces I've recorded thus far.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Duane Allman, 1970
After showing a passing interest in the song "Midnight Rider", my brother bought me The Allman Brothers Band: A Decade of Hits for my birthday. Initially, not every song jumped at me (eventually they all would - and then some), but I found myself spinning the disc over and over nonetheless. "Midnight Rider", "Statesboro Blues", and "Blue Sky" were immediate ear candy to me, but another song that was unlike anything I had ever heard slowly seeped into my brain more than any other: "Dreams".

Chalk it up to my untapped interest in jazz at the time (the structure is pure "All Blues") or just being 13 years old, but the ethereal 3/4 waltz pulse and the slow burn of Gregg Allman's lyrics and Duane Allman's slide guitar made it a fast favorite. The song became a concert staple for the Allmans and a set piece for Duane Allman who typically shared lead duties with Dickey Betts. The SUNY Stonybrook Archival release features a version clocking in at nearly 20 minutes - nearly 3 times longer than the studio version. The song never became the cultural phenomenon that its monstrous brother, "Whipping Post", eventually became, perhaps due to the band retiring "Dreams" after Duane Allman's death (the exception being a lush arrangement with strings and horns put together by Gregg Allman for his solo tours).

However, it remained a central cut for the band and fans, and was used as the title of the band's 20th anniversary 4-disc retrospective and reunion tour. Thanks to the return of a slide guitarist to the band (Warren Haynes) for the Dreams tour and reunion, the song was dusted off and returned as a set piece for each of the band's rotating slide guitar virtuosos up until the band's final show October 2014. Even Dickey Betts, who was never comfortable playing Duane Allman's slide guitar parts, would masterfully tackle the first half of the solo section until his dismissal from the band in 2000.

The song remained relatively the same, with each guitarist adding their own flavor, as evidenced by the legendary Fox Box concerts, which documented the Allmans' three night stand at the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA, in 2004. "Dreams" was the only song repeated and featured a different player (Haynes, Derek Trucks, Jack Pearson) taking the solo each night.

Perhaps due to the song's subtleties, or perhaps due to the incredible talent needed to even think about playing the solos live onstage, the song has rarely been covered. Gregg Allman's good friend, drummer Buddy Miles, took an Otis Redding-ish spin on the song rather than attempt to replicate the Allmans' modal jazz swing. Less successful, southern rockers Molly Hatchet covered Buddy Miles' arrangement of the song, which borders on parody.

I wanted to put my spin on the song, but without reinventing the wheel. I knew it was going to be piano instead of swirling hammond organ, and resophonic guitars instead of Gibson Les Pauls, but wasn't sure how it would all take shape. I even thought about adding fiddle and tenor saxophone, but the song is better when kept simple (and I can sing about as well as I can play fiddle, which isn't very well). I'm not sure it's always successful, my time-keeping and singing probably aren't up to the task, but regardless, here is my take on The Allman Brothers Band's "Dreams".

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Soul Serenade"

Duane Allman & King Curtis
The first version of "Soul Serenade" I ever heard was Duane Allman paying tribute to his great, fallen friend, King Curtis, in the middle of an epic "You Don't Love Me" recorded at A&R Studios radio broadcast (brought to you by 7-up). I absolutely loved the song, it was nearly perfect in the same way "Little Martha" is a perfect song - it is achingly sweet, yet relatively simple. It could go on forever and no one would complain.

Although "Soul Serenade" isn't as well known as other soul ballads, it has been covered plenty and adapted to genres as diverse as reggae and jazz. Aretha Franklin included a short and soulful version of the song on I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, which is natural since King Curtis did a lot of horn arrangements for her and his band opened for her on tour (both released live albums from the same set of epic Fillmore West shows). Since the song was first recorded by Gloria Lynne, "Soul Serenade" has been covered by Lou Rawls, Willie Mitchell, Hank Crawford, David Sanborn, Quincy Jones, Ronnie Earl, the Funky Butt Brass Band, and just about everyone who has every picked up a saxophone. Even King Curtis himself released at least 3 versions of the tune.

The song came full-circle for me when Derek Trucks Band named an entire album after the song, kicking the album off with what is essentially a tease of the song. Derek eventually featured a full work out of the tune in his live sets. The Allman Brothers would honor Duane and King Curtis with the song at least 4 or 5 times in the last decade - at the Beacon Theatre with King Curtis' band, The Kingpins, in 2006 and 2009; and in the middle of "You Don't Love Me" at Peach Fest as well as their final show last October.

I had been noodling on Duane's short and sweet version for years, and adapted it to slide (just as Derek had done to amazing effect). I made it the next song in this acoustic project. I dropped the key down to E to give myself enough neck room to start low and bring the song to a high crescendo - you need at least 2 or 3 octaves. It still didn't really feel like enough room, but I really couldn't go any lower without making it too heavy (it is typically in A flat or thereabouts). This made the song a little more slinky than the typically brighter versions, so I tried to play that up a little.

I wanted to include an intro, as Duane Allman did when he seamlessly transitioned into the song in the middle of the "You Don't Love Me" jam, and as Derek Trucks has done since. I was also inspired by some of Dickey Betts' instrumentals which feature extended intros. I decided to open with my tricone and piano, but I didn't want to get too self-indulgent, so I tried to keep it within the theme of the song and relatively short.

It was the most work I've done on actually arranging a song. My previous tracks are pretty straight forward adaptations. I also wanted to keep it pretty loose, which is difficult when you are creating structure and playing every instrument track one at a time.

Anyways, I present "Soul Serenade"

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mushroom Cigar Box Guitar

I've been working on a new track that I hope to finish soon that I'm really excited about. In the mean time, I thought I'd do a little shop talk and feature a few of the guitars I'm using for this project.

First up is a guitar that I am really fond of, but haven't actually used to record with. Just when I thought I had all of the guitars I ever would want, I happened upon Bruce Gootner's Cigar Box Guitar tent at one of my most favorite places on earth, Wanee Music Festival. I wasn't familiar with cigar box guitars at all, but was immediately enamored with these simple instruments that lend themselves perfectly to slide - like a lap steel or Hawaiian guitar. This one is 3 strings with a single pick-up that plugs into a 2-watt humidor amp, which I thought was pretty cool. Not only does it sound pretty cool acoustic or electric, the mushroom makes it a great keepsake from Wanee Fest. I hope to bring it back there next year to pick at near the camp fire between sets.

Now that I have one, I've since stumbled upon Daddy Mojo Cigar Box Guitars, which are of a whole other caliber (and price range). That resonator looks and sounds amazing.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Games People Play"

I've actually only heard the Joe South version of "Games People Play" once. It's a decent song, and not one that I would choose to arrange as an instrumental on my own. I have King Curtis to thank for that, whose Grammy-winning version featured a young session guitarist named Duane Allman on slide guitar and, oddly enough, sitar. The tune appeared on the first Duane Allman Anthology, which was a gateway for me to all kinds of music - Johnny Jenkins' Ton-Ton Macoute, Delaney & Bonnie, Cowboy, John Hammond, Aretha Franklin's "The Weight", Wilson Pickett's "Hey Jude", etc.

But it was King Curtis' sweet and soulful take on a pretty standard pop hit by Joe South that struck me. Listening to Joe South's version, it could be Harry Nilsson or BJ Thomas-lite - it's fairly forgettable. In King Curtis' hands the strings, steady strut, and none sense singing are replaced with Muscle Shoals' soul-drenched horns, a steady swing, and of course, a sweet alto sax. King Curtis' version resonated with me and quickly became one of my favorite tunes and it wasn't long before I adapted it to slide guitar. Naturally, it seemed like the logical next tune for this acoustic project.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Ain't Wastin' Time No More"

The piano part for The Allman Brothers' "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" is one of the only complete songs I know on piano (much to the dismay of many friends who wish I'd learn another) so it was naturally the next in line for me to record. Gregg Allman wrote the song in the wake of his brother Duane's death, and it kicked off the Allman Brothers' next album, Eat A Peach. Duane Allman is known as a spectacularly talented guitarist, but it was his reinvention of electric slide guitar that made the biggest impact on aspiring guitarists listening at home and in the crowds. That's why it's quite a statement that the first guitar you hear on Eat A Peach is Dickey Betts' slinky slide. It has been well documented that Dickey was uncomfortable playing Duane's electric slide guitar parts, but the band wanted to prove they could soldier on, and electric slide was such a big part of the band's sound at that point.

"Ain't Wasting Time No More" would be a regular part of the band's set lists until their first break up in 1976. It wouldn't be played again by the band until 1995, where Warren Haynes took over slide duties and the band added a nifty patented Allman Brother guitar harmony line to close out the tune. During the most recent lineup of the band, the band took advantage of being loaded with not one but two talented slide guitarists by giving slide solos to both Derek Trucks and Warren and dropping the harmony part.

I really recorded it into the ground, it is a really tough song to translate to acoustic. When played live by The Allman Brothers, it is a slide guitar show case, usually soaring into the upper register of the instrument. Since I couldn't hang out at the 21st fret on my tricone and spider cone, I had to rely on melody. Also, I really had to let this song breath in between its crescendos, as opposed to "Albatross", which needed a little more production throughout. Also, my singing hasn't gotten much better...

UPDATE: A few years passed and I could no longer cringe at the sound of an upright piano and an electric bass recorded on a clip-on mic so I retooled this track. Still the same arrangement, just an increase in fidelity.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Acoustic "Albatross"

I just finished up my acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac's beautiful instrumental, "Albatross". Having never really been a big Fleetwood Mac fan, I was surprised when I looked up an ethereal tune from the documentary, Man on Wire, and found it was from early underrated and overshadowed Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac. Most people only know the much more popular Lindsay Buckingham/Stevie Nicks Rumors era-Fleetwood Mac material, but they started out as a much more bluesy unit.

Fleetwood Mac, 1969
I ended up layering a lot more tracks than I thought I would have to, since the original is so bare. The original creates a lot of atmosphere using reverb and echo, studio effects that I wanted to avoid for this project.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Statesboro Blues" & "Little Martha"

Here are the first two tunes I've recorded, "Statesboro Blues" and "Little Martha", the former of which features my first time ever playing bass.

"Statesboro Blues" is an old blues song written by Blind Willie McTell and famously covered by The Allman Brothers Band on At Fillmore East. Guitarist Duane Allman first taught himself to play slide guitar after hearing Jesse Ed Davis play slide on a Taj Mahal record, particularly Taj's cover of McTell's "Statesboro Blues". The song stuck in his head, and a few year later "Statesboro Blues" became one of the Allman Brothers' signature songs, and thus, a slide guitarist's staple tune. After Duane passed, fellow Allman Brothers guitar God Dickey Betts, a solid slide player in his own right, reluctantly played Duane's slide parts. It wasn't until Warren Haynes joined the band in 1989 that another slide player would tackle Duane's slide parts. Jack Pearson and Derek Trucks would both eventually take the rotating slide guitar chair opposite Dickey Betts, until Dickey's messy departure from the band. Shortly after Betts' departure, Warren Haynes returned to the fold, giving the Allmans two slide guitarists who would alternate slide duties on a nightly basis. In recent years, the song has come nearly full circle and Taj Mahal has sat in with the Allman Brothers on his own arrangement of "Statesboro Blues".

Duane Allman, 1971
"Statesboro Blues" is one of those perfect songs. 4 minutes long, lean, and a ton of fun. I've always loved playing slide, and adapting songs to acoustic slide is part of the purpose of this project. It's also important to me to break these songs down, learning all of the parts to see how they interact. Learning to play bass is a lot more fun and easy than I initially thought it would be. I figured "Statesboro Blues" would be a great way to start.

Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident shortly after At Fillmore East went gold. At the very beginning of his success and recognition, he was gone. Before his death, he left the world with perhaps the most perfect song ever written, "Little Martha". The only song Duane Allman ever wrote for the Allman Brothers appeared as the final track on the Allman Brothers' 1972 album, Eat A Peach. It's practically a lullaby, and was named after a monument of a young girl in Rose Hill Cemetery (as was "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed"), not far from where Duane Allman himself lies. The instrumental was recorded as a trio, with Duane on dobro, Dickey on acoustic guitar, and Berry Oakley on bass, though the bass was dropped from the final mix (that version has since been released as well).

Little Martha Ellis, Rose Hill Cemetery
The Allmans rarely performed "Little Martha", partly out of respect for Duane, but also because they were an electric jam band first. "Little Martha" typically only appeared playing over the PA at the end of shows to signal that the music is over. Over the years, as other artist such as Jerry Douglas have performed the song, the Allmans have resurrected it here and there. Former Allman Brothers pianist Chuck Leavell performed "Little Martha" on keys at a Volunteer Jam in the late 1970s as a tribute to his former band, who had broken up at the time. After the success of their MTV Unplugged Show in 1990, the reformed Allman Brothers included an acoustic set in the middle of their live shows, but still only very, very rarely performed "Little Martha". Dickey Betts arranged an electric jam on "Little Martha" with his own band in 2004, but it was dropped from set lists soom after. It wasn't until the Allman Brothers celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2009 that the song would return to their set with a modest regularity. The band created 4 distinct arrangements: a guitar duet, a trio with bass, bass solo, and with the full band that would segue into the instrument portion of "Blue Sky".

In a beautiful tribute, "Little Martha" was performed by the Mercer Strings among the tombstones of Rose Hill Cemetery.

Friday, June 19, 2015

BrettBob's Back Porch

Welcome to BrettBob's Back Porch, featuring music I've put together. More to come soon.