Archive for September, 2010
This solo came about in a roundabout way. It may take me a while to explain it all, so be patient with this post.
I originally had chosen “Keep on Loving You”, the 1981 #1 hit that I wore out on my cassette deck as I cruised slowly around the parking lot of San Marcos High School. That song, in many ways, symbolized my high school days. It was at once cheesy and powerful, an anthem to a young man’s inability to understand the workings of the female mind, and to the powerlessness we all feel when we are compelled to stay with the one person we just know we should not be with. The song has a lot of meaning for me, and a lot of memories, so I felt that it was a great solo to put in my list of 25 songs.
The problem arose when I sat down to learn it. It came too easy. I had memorized it after about 10 minutes. After 30 minutes (still in the same practice session), I had it pretty much down. After an hour with it with it, I could have recorded it. It’s only 20 seconds long, a fraction of the length of Mississippi Queen. I love the solo, but I just didn’t feel right picking a solo that I could learn in less than a day.
So I listened to some more REO Speedwagon songs to try to find another solo that would fit into the #5 slot. “Riding the Storm Out” seemed like a good possibility — it hearkens back to a time before the big REO sellout, where they became synonymous with ball-less ballads, competing for cultural mind-share and physical shelf space with Air Supply. But listening to the solo, I felt that was a bridge too far for me to tackle at this stage in this journey. I took a listen to “Roll with the Changes,” — this is a classic REO song and one that definitely defines their early success, but there’s not a single, powerful solo that stands out among the several amazing solos that punctuate the song.
If you’ve never heard the name Gary Richrath, you’re probably not alone. Most people who are not REO Speedwagon fanatics probably haven’t. He’s the man behind the pretty amazing lead guitar work on the early REO albums, and a vastly underrated guitarist. I wanted an REO song to fill this slot, but Gary’s amazing work was making it difficult to find a song that 1) was meaningful to me, 2) was challenging enough that I couldn’t learn it in a day or two, and 3) wasn’t so challenging that I wasn’t ready for it.
I found that song today — “Take It on the Run.” Appropriately enough, the song was actually written by Richrath and was the second big single off the Hi Infidelity album, after “Keep on Loving You”. The solo is around 50 seconds and is certainly challenging, but I think it’s reachable at this stage. The warm up is over. It’s time for me to move on to the next level, and I think this solo does it. Listen to the full song here. The solo starts at 2:05.
Here is Gary’s 1960 Sunburst Les Paul that he used for most of his career. It’s a undeniable classic, and he used it to record some amazing licks. I hope I can come close to capturing his tone and style. It’s going to be a lot of fun trying.
Tabs (not completely accurate): http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/r/reo_speedwagon/take_it_on_the_run_tab.htm
Backing Track: http://25solos.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/TakeItOnTheRun_Backing.mp3. This is my own backing track that I made using Rock Band 2, recording out of my stereo into the mic input of my video camera. The sound is not great, but there isn’t another backing track anywhere on the internet that I can find.
So, I feel a little foolish. Yesterday, I posted a whiny rant about how long it’s taking me to learn this solo, and then one day and two practices later, I have it pretty much down. I hit one or two questionable notes in this performance, but nothing I would worry too much about if I were playing live.
What I love about the solo is it’s deceptive simplicity. There’s nothing intrinsically hard about each individual element, but the way they are put together requires constant thinking about what’s coming up next. I thoroughly enjoyed learning it, and feel a great satisfaction in the fact that I learned the entire song. In just two weeks, I’ve added a whole new song to my repertoire.
Now I can form that Mountain tribute band I’ve always wanted to start.
I really thought this one would be less challenging. That’s why I put it as solo #4. I thought I would breeze through it, especially after learning the Nirvana song and Go Your Own Way, each in under a week. I’ve been practicing Mississippi Queen for 12 days, and I still feel like I’ve got a week or more to go before I’m ready to perform it.
Here’s are a couple of reasons this one is taking longer than I thought:
- It’s longer than the others. At 2:29, this is more than twice the length of the other solos I’ve learned. It also has a lot more notes. I was actually still learning pieces of the song a couple of days ago.
- There’s a lot to remember. I’ve got it memorized, but when I play it, I tend to mix up a part or play the wrong piece. It’s frustrating when I’m practicing, but when I perform it, I’m going to blow a gasket when I mess up at two minutes in. I don’t want to even try to perform it until I can play it through without forgetting or mixing up sections.
- It’s freaking hard. Most of the song I can play without too much trouble, but the section at the end that intersperses solo and rhythm is giving me tremendous heartburn. I know what I’m supposed to play, but in the heat of the song, my fingers won’t do what I want them to do.
I know this is all part of the grind of practice, and I’m not complaining — I’m putting in a minimum of an hour every day, and I’m still enjoying every minute of it. I just wanted to let those of you who are following along why I haven’t put up my performance of this “easy” song. It’s not as easy as it looked.
I’ve always been fascinated by people who seem to have an innate talent for music. I always wonder, when I watch these virtuosos, how much of their ability comes from being “born that way” and how much is from intense study and practice? The question for me is if you don’t have a lot of innate talent for an instrument, will enough practice still get you to virtuoso ability?
Here’s an honest to goodness virtuoso in action:
If you visit the guitarist’s site, he began practicing in his early teens, studied guitar “obsessively” in high school, and was mentored by guitar masters. It seems, then, that hard work, dedication, passion, and a lot of practice were the keys to his becoming a bona fide virtuoso. However, there are some clues in the biography that point to natural talent being an important contributor, such as references to his “uncommonly dextrous fingers” and his “keen sense of rhythm”. These sound more like inborn traits that can’t be learned.
My sense is that natural ability has three main effects on the road to being a virtuoso. First, it gives you a boost — a head start that makes learning things a bit easier and breakthroughs more frequent. It makes you more likely to be noticed by teachers and given better instruction (you see this in sports all the time). Second, natural talent — in part because of this boost — fuels passion for a skill. The better you are naturally at an instrument, the more likely you are to want to practice, and to maintain your interest and passion for the many years it takes to become a master. Finally, a specific lack of natural talent can provide a ceiling to your excellence. If you are not naturally dextrous, you can only improve your ability so much. You can work extra hard and sometimes overcome an inherent weakness, but given the same passion and practice time as someone with natural ability, you will not be able to match their skill.
I take comfort in that fact, for some strange reason. I don’t think I have any specific natural talent for guitar, or at least what I do have is not exceptional in the world of great guitar players, so I won’t be disappointed if I never become Ingwe Malmstein or Stevie Ray Vaughn. I don’t yet know where my ceiling is, and I’m really enjoying the road to finding out. I hope that I will surprise myself and excel beyond my fairly optimistic goals. it gives me great joy when I do something on the guitar that I thought I was incapable of. I don’t need to be a virtuoso to be a great guitar player, and I’m comfortable with that.
I’ll still always be fascinated by guitar gods, so I’ll close with this little gem, from my favorite rock guitarist, John Petrucci of Dream Theater.
Here’s the song. I’m just going to learn the whole thing since it’s short and mostly solo anyway.
I don’t have a heartwarming story about the first time I heard this song. Its popularity had already waned by the time I got into Rock music and I don’t remember any association with it as a teenager, although I’m sure I heard it played on the radio from time to time. My love for this song came much more recently.
My son Carson is a video game fanatic and a huge Rock Band fan. For a 7-year-old, he is quite good. He plays most songs on hard or expert level and has really developed a taste for classic rock songs. One of his favorites is Mississippi Queen. Watching him rock out, even with a plastic guitar controller, is one my life’s greatest joys. I’ve grown to love the song as much as he does.
Since I decided to do this solo, I’ve done some research on Leslie West, the guitarist behind Mountain. While Mountain was kind of a one-hit wonder, Leslie is a well-known and popular guitarist — a true “Mountain” of a man — who still plays festivals and shows, and hasn’t lost any of his skill. Check out the Inspiration section below for a great recent video of West playing the classic riff from Mississippi Queen.
Leslie West played a number of guitars over his career, but the one shown here is the guitar he used to record much of his early work, including Mississippi Queen. The original hangs in the Hard Rock Cafe. It’s a Gibson Les Paul Jr., which West is widely credited for boosting in popularity.
Instructional Video (2 parts) — http://www.vanderbilly.com/Guitar-Lesson-Mountain+-+Mississippi+Queen+(Part+12),6673,1.html
The Mountain Man himself playing some licks from Mississippi Queen — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtZNWhv3VvM
Leslie West, Joe Satriani and John Petrucci (from Dream Theater) jamming out to Goin’ Down. Way too much guitar talent on that stage. — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQyt_xy2mMQ&feature=related
I have to say I’m in awe of Lindsey Buckingham. He makes a simple solo so rich and full of character, and he does it effortlessly. I could spend months on this one and still not approach the silky smooth transitions that he has. I feel good about it though. A full week of practicing 30 minutes to an hour a day got me to the point where I would feel comfortably performing this in public.
I admit that I played this with a pick. I practiced it with fingering for a while, but I have used a pick for years and it’s too much of a change just to learn this one song. It would have taken much longer to get it anywhere near this level. It’s also not an exact replica of the recorded solo, but given the way Lindsey improvises on stage, I felt I was entitled to a few small liberties.
I really feel like the techniques I’m learning at this stage are really going to pay off later, when I get to some of the really hard ones. On to solo #4, which I’ll announce tomorrow.
First things first: the song.
Lindsey Buckingham is one of the most underrated guitarists I’ve ever heard. While he doesn’t go overboard with solos on Fleetwood Mac’s recordings, at his live shows he sometimes performs 5-7 minute long solos and his guitar work is incredible. He does it all without a pick, using his fingers and fingernails to create a distinctive sound.
His guitar is distinctive, too. He plays a custom-made Rick Turner Model 1 that was built specially for him in the 1970s. It’s a beautiful guitar, and its unique tone has served Buckingham well over his long, prolific career.
The solo is not very complex, but it’s played with a lot of style and character that I think will be challenging to capture, with little embellishments between the major phrases that require precision and finger speed. I hope that I can get close.
For some reason, despite the popularity of the song, there is a dearth of resources available for learning the solo. I ended up purchasing a superb video instruction from ivideosongs.com and had to build my own backing track from a multi-track file I found with extensive Googling.
Instructional video can be purchased for $2.99 from http://www.ivideosongs.com/song/rock/electric-guitar/go-your-own-way/fleetwood-mac/8630.aspx . This is guitar instruction for the whole song, both electric and acoustic parts and it is very, very thorough.
Backing Track can be downloaded in .mogg (multi-track Ogg Vorbis) format from http://www.mediafire.com/?nzzjzymjmjx . You’ll need a multi-track audio processing program like Audacity to open it. Then delete the two lead guitar tracks to create a backing track. I make no assertions as to the legality of this file.
Fleetwood Mac performing the song live in 2004. I took my 8-year-old daughter to Dallas to see them on this tour, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve experienced.
Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries performs the song unplugged at a French radio station. Haunting.