All posts by Jeff Koke

Performance: My Best Friend’s Girl by The Cars

Whew!

This is the first solo where I’m just glad it’s over. I don’t want to denigrate The Cars or Eliot Easton in any way. The song and the solo are amazing. It’s just not my style and it’s so damn fast.

I’m really glad I stuck with it, though. The speed and finger work I had to learn will definitely help me down the road. That said, I cannot wait to start learning the next solo, which is…  well, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn that.

I recorded this one sitting down. Standing up was just not comfortable for this one. Let me know how I did.

Progress Report: Best Friend’s Girl

I know. I know. It’s been forever since I posted. I bet you thought I had given up on this project.

But no. I’m still here and still plugging away. The summer was difficult as there is not a set routine, and finding the time to practice proved hard, but since school has started and I am back on a predictable routine, I’ve been practicing religiously. It’s starting to pay off.

Here’s a very rough video of where I am on Best Friend’s Girl. It’s by far the most difficult solo I’ve tried to learn, but I think I’m getting there. Let me know in the comments.

Solo #11 The Cars My Best Friend’s Girl
1:45 – 2:15

The Cars eponymous debut album has always been one of my favorites, even though I discovered it years after it had been released. It’s one of those albums that when you listen to it, you forget how many of the songs were hits and how good they all are: “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” “Bye Bye Love.” In my opinion it stands as one of the best debut albums in rock and roll, along with Boston, Appetite for Destruction and Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Here’s the whole song on YouTube — the solo starts at 1:58.

I picked this solo for two reasons. First, it’s got a completely different style and sound than the other solos I’ve been working on — a Chet Atkins twang-a-billy sound that George Harrison ripped off in the Beatle’s “I Will,” and which was lifted again by Elliot Easton for this song. It’s just a great, different and difficult solo, which makes it perfect for this project.

Second, I have a good story to go with it. I went to see the Cars in concert in 1983 as a Junior in High School. They played at Austin’s Southpark Meadows Outdoor Amphitheater, which was basically a large open pasture with a stage at one end and a 10-foot high wooden fence around it. It is now a gigantic strip-mall. I could wax nostalgic about the loss of one of Austin’s landmark music venues, but the truth is that it really wasn’t a great venue. I went to three shows there and don’t really remember enjoying any of them. It’s probably more entertaining as a mega retail center, with ten or twelve restaurants and a theater.

Regarding the concert, well, there’s no way to sugar coat this… the Cars sucked in concert. If you want proof, check out this YouTube video. Not only were they pretty lifeless on stage, the sound mixing was awful and their vocal harmonies were not on key. All in all it would have been a very unmemorable night, except for who I went to the concert with.

I went with my best friend Andy Hartsock and his girlfriend at the time, Kathy. She, coincidentally, had been briefly, and very recently, my girlfriend. So I got to experience the full frontal irony of listening to the Cars playing “My Best Friend’s Girl” with my best friend and his girl, who in truth used to be mine. And the Cars sucked, which was like salt in the wound.

Andy and Kathy broke up shortly after that, and she and I got back together and stayed together for about three years, so although I remember being hurt and lonely at the concert, it all worked out. And Andy is still my best friend.

Here’s a picture of Easton’s signature Gretsch hollow-body guitar. It’s got those two twangy humbuckers and a very distinctive sound. I don’t have access to a Gretsch, so I’m borrowing a Fender Telecaster from my buddy Dave (thanks Dave!), which is the kind of guitar Elliot recorded the song on in the first place.

Resources:

Video Lesson: http://vanderbilly.com/play.aspx?id=8281&opTyp=

Tabs: http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/c/cars/my_best_friends_girl_ver2_tab.htm

Backing Track: Sorry, there isn’t a good backing track for this song available. I had to scrounge it together from several sources and make my own. If you want a copy, send me an email.

Inspiration:

Here’s a pretty cool DVD that I’ve heard good things about, with Elliot Easton himself teaching many of his iconic guitar parts: http://www.amazon.com/Guitars-Elliot-Easton-Essential-Collection/dp/0739040294/ref=sr_1_1

Performance: Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi

This solo took way, way longer than I thought it would to complete. There are two main reasons for this. First, I didn’t play guitar for a month, mainly due to my Mom’s passing, funeral and interment ceremonies which took a lot of my time and emotional energy. I also got very busy at work during the same time, so I was doubly pressed for time.

Second, the solo is a lot harder than it looks. Getting all the pinch harmonics in the right places is a nightmare — I ended up doing pretty well with it, but it’s by no means an exact duplicate.

It’s a really fun solo to play, however, and one of my favorites so far. I hope you like it. Let me know in the comments.

Progress Report: Wanted Dead or Alive

Well, after about a month and a half away from my guitar, I finally have started daily practicing again. It feels good, except that I had let my callouses go away and I now have large painful blisters on my first three fingers. I’m getting really close on this solo, but I’m not quite there yet. I think another few days to a week and I’ll be there.

This was recorded on my iPhone using the front camera, so the quality is not as good as my usual posts, but I just wanted to get something quick and dirty out so my blog didn’t get too stale. Let me know what you think.

I’m Still Here

On Sunday February 13, my mother passed away after a six-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 67. Needless to say I’ve been distracted from this project and haven’t had the time to practice like I want. However, I’m still committed to the project and have been slowly making progress on Wanted Dead or Alive.

The notes of the solo are not difficult, but it is just loaded with pinch harmonics (“squealies”) and I’m just starting to be able to learn how to generate them consistently. This one may take me a while, but the learning process will be worth it.

I’m going to try to post more often and maybe record a “progress report” so you can see how it’s coming along. Thanks for sticking with me. More to come…

Solo #10 Bon Jovi Wanted Dead or Alive 2:42 – 3:08

In the early ’80s, much of the music that I consumed came through the television. MTV was a revelation and a revolution, and me and my friends could not get enough of it. We all lamented their long, slow slide from a music video channel, to something else, something less, something unworthy of their initials.

I think no other video defines that era for me than Bon Jovi’s stylistic, black & white, band-on-the-road video for Wanted Dead or Alive. The incredible irony of the video is that the song lamented the trials and loneliness of life on the road for a megaband, while at the same time made me as a teenage boy yearn for that lifestyle. As an adult, I think of how incredibly whiny the sentiment is — poor Bon Jovi and his international success. How hard that must have been.

But as a kid, I accepted it without cynicism. Yeah, it’s hard and lonely on the road, but it’s worth it to see a million faces and rock them all.

If Jon Bon Jovi is the driving force behind the song, then Ritchie Sambora is the linchpin that holds it all together. His ethereal and melodic 12-string riffs give the song its backbone, and his unexpected and raunchy solo that acts as the turning point to the song. Finally, he’s the voice behind the unforgettable one-word backing vocal, the soulful “Waaaan-ted!” that no one can resist singing along with.

In the video and on tour, Ritchie plays this iconic dual-neck Ovation. His solo is filled with what are known as “pinch harmonics” or “squealies” — they give the solo it’s hard edge and reckless feel, and they are not easy to create. The technique involves hitting the string with your thumb at the same time as the pick, causing a harmonic tone. I admit that I’m not very good or consistent at it, and that’s the one thing that might cause this solo to take longer than usual. We’ll see if I can get better quickly.

Resources:

Whole song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oot0GtjQuxQ

Backing Track: http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/play/bon_jovi/wanted_dead_or_alive_(2).htm

Lesson 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjTDfXqJOH0

Lesson 2, part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FaJMzuGU18

Lesson 2, part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INOxBN-Jeuc

Solo Tab: http://www.azchords.com/b/bonjovi-tabs-564/wanteddeadoralivesolo-tabs-69327.html

Music Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRvCvsRp5ho

Performance: Rockin’ the Paradise by Styx

The really hard part about this solo was trying to perfect the recklessness of the original. When Tommy Shaw plays it, it seems like it’s about to come off the rails at any moment. It has to sound both precise and rough at the same time, and that’s a hard feeling to capture.

I performed this with a little more energy than I have in the past, partly because I needed to really lose myself in the solo to achieve the sound I was going for, but ultimately I feel like it came out pretty well.

I apologize about the strange sounding backing track — there were no backing tracks available on-line, so I had to make my own by using an equalizer to pull the solo down as far as I could, while still leaving the bass and drums intact. I think it turned out OK, but it’s a bit strange at the beginning and end.

Solo #9 Styx Rockin’ the Paradise 3:20 – 3:59

Here’s the song.

In the late summer of 1981, I had just turned 14 and was about to enter my sophomore year of high school. My brother was almost 17 and going to be a senior. My favorite band at the time was Styx — I played the grooves off my copy of Pieces of Eight. I never thought they could top that album with all of it’s classics: Renegade, Blue Collar Man, Queen of Spades. Their next album, Cornerstone, was kind of a disappointment despite having the coolest album art and disk jacket ever created. But when Paradise Theater was released, and I bought it from Sundance Records on release day, I was blown away by the opening track.

The timeless piano and rich vocals that led surprisingly and seamlessly into one of the coolest guitar riffs to open a song. Despite some admittedly cheesy lyrics (“Let’s get together and futurize our attitudes”), the song absolutely rocked. By the time Tommy Shaw’s solo kicked in, I was sold. It’s always been one of my favorite opening album tracks, and I think it holds up pretty well over time.

That fall, right before school started, my parents amazingly let me and my brother drive down to San Antonio to see Styx in concert during their Paradise Theater tour, and A.D. 1928/Rockin’ in Paradise was the very first song I saw performed live by a rock band. I was mesmerized.

The whole show was revelatory to me, and watching them perform was the first seed of my desire to play guitar. Tommy Shaw strolling down the aisles during one of his extended solos as audience members reached out and touched his clothes was such an iconic rock star moment that I couldn’t help but want that for myself. Of course, I never got to that level, but I certainly got close enough that I can know how he felt.

The solo in Rockin’ the Paradise is not Shaw’s most difficult work, but it’s got a great bluesy feel that I feel will be fun to try to match. I admit that I’ve already been practicing it, so I don’t think it will be too long before I have a recording done.

Here’s Tommy Shaw’s Gibson Explorer that he played in that concert (maybe not the same one, but the same style). He’s since switched to a Les Paul, but I’ll always remember him as the skinny kid with the David Cassidy haircut and the black and white Gibson Explorer.

Resources:

Tabs: http://www.hot-tabs.com/download.asp?Tabid=10533 — this is a PowerTab tab, which requires special software. I could not find text-base tabs that included the solo. These tabs are not 100% accurate, and I ended up buying a Styx songbook that included tabs for the song, including very detailed tabs for the solo.

I could not find any instructional videos or backing tracks — I made my own backing track by EQing down the lead guitar, which works ok but is not ideal.

Inspiration:

Here’s a video of Styx in 1981 performing Rockin’ the Paradise in concert (in Japan) — this is the closest to my memory of the San Antonio concert.

Performance: Lights by Journey

I love the way Neil Schon puts his solos together. They have a lot of range and a variety of styles that mix together within the same solo to take the listener on a little ride. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels haphazard. It always seems to flow perfectly from one section to the next. I enjoyed learning this one, especially since it required me to improve my speed playing and precision. I’m happy with the way it came out, but let me know what you think in the comments.