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Solos

April 8th
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 1 Comment

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

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March 30th
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 3 Comments

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.

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March 24th
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 0 Comments

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.

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January 30th
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 0 Comments

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

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January 21st
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 1 Comment

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.

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January 13th
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 1 Comment

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.

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January 3rd
2011
written by Jeff Koke | 2 Comments

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.

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November 28th
2010
written by Jeff Koke | 1 Comment

Here’s the song — the solo starts at 2:03.

Bear with me through this lengthy story. This song brings a strong memory to me every time I hear it, but it takes a while to tell.

In the summer of 1982, when I turned 15 and had just gotten my learner’s permit, I experienced one of the central adventures of my youth. It was well known to the boys of San Marcos High School that every summer, Texas high schools would send their top drill team girls to Southwest Texas State University (now simply Texas State) to participate in Drill Team Camp.

The girls were holed up in Falls Hall a featureless dormitory facing University Drive, one of San Marcos’ busiest thoroughfares. One afternoon, two friends and I drove down and “chatted up” some of the young women as they poked their heads out of the dorm windows. My friend Hunter was a pretty smooth operator and persuaded a couple of the dancers to sneak out with us later that night. All we had to do was figure out how to get them out without their chaperone knowing. We talked about it and decided we would bring a ladder so they could climb out of their second-floor window.

I seriously thought they were joking, but I snuck out at 11pm that night and drove down to the dorm with an aluminum extension ladder crammed into my parent’s 1979 VW Bus. My other friend Bob decided it was too risky and declined, but Hunter was gung-ho and the girls were true to their word. We propped the ladder up against the side of the dorm in full view of the entire town and they climbed out of the window.

We drove out to 5-Mile Dam, a secluded swimming hole on the Blanco River. It was dark and we were the only ones there. Hunter took one of the girls off into the woods to do who knows what (ok, I think I know), leaving me in the van with the other drill team majorette, whose name I don’t remember, but I think might have been Beth.

I slipped my favorite mix tape into the casette player and we talked. And talked. And talked some more.  I knew that I should make a move, but I couldn’t work up the guts. Then “Lights” by Journey came on the stereo, and I knew this was my chance. It was the perfect moment. I swiveled in the driver’s seat and looked at her. Her young, pretty face was lit up by the radio’s light.

“Beth,” I said.

“Yes?” she replied, looking at me expectantly.

I paused. “Do you like Journey?”

“Um, sure…” she said. I imagine she sounded disappointed, but who knows?

And that was it. The moment passed. Hunter and his girl emerged from the trees and we drove back to the university. When we got back to the dorm, the girls invited us into their room, which they shared with two other dancers. Of course, we wanted to go, but didn’t like the idea of leaving the ladder propped up against the side of the building for anyone to see. So we climbed into their room and pulled the ladder up through the window after us. We sat on their beds talking, with my Dad’s extension ladder stretched out on the floor, until 5 am.

I had another adventure trying to sneak back into my parent’s house at 6 am, but that’s another story and I’ve already written too much. It’s probably for the best that nothing unwholesome happened with Beth, but I’ll always think of “Lights” as a reminder of missed opportunities in the midst of boyhood adventure.

Journey’s guitarist, Neal Schon, was and is an amazing inspiration to me — both before I became a guitarist and since. As much as Steve Perry’s voice, the guitar work on Journey songs is essential to creating their signature sound — Schon’s playing is always distinctive and technically brilliant. Lights is certainly not the most difficult Journey solo I could have chosen, but the meaning the song holds for me won out over my desire for a challenge. There are certainly some difficult parts, but I think I will get it down fairly quickly.

Although Neil played a Gibson Les Paul during the time that Lights was recorded, he went on to design and sell his own line of guitars, one of which is shown below.

Resources

Backing Track: http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/play/journey/lights.htm (Not great, but the best I could find)

Instructional Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2W9rytIv4M

Tabs: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/j/journey/lights_ver2_tab.htm

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November 22nd
2010
written by Jeff Koke | 1 Comment

Sometimes the best way to improve something is to not practice it. I’ve know about this phenomenon since I was a gangly 14-year-old kid who used to go to the arcade every day and try to set the high score on the Tempest machine. I would get slowly and steadily better at it, but it was only after I went on a week’s vacation and came back to machine after a break that I bested my high score, and by a substantial margin. The brain needs some time to process skills.

Last week, I spent 4 days away from my guitar (not by choice, just due to circumstance), and when I came back to it this past weekend, I had improved my ability on this solo, so much so that I felt comfortable recording it today.

David Gilmour’s style is something I don’t think I could ever fully match, but let me know if you think I came close.

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November 10th
2010
written by Jeff Koke | 2 Comments

I know it’s been a while since I posted, and the truth is I’ve been heads down learning this solo. I feel really good about where I am, and I recorded this video in the anticipation of it being the final performance video, but I’m not quite there yet.

The issue is that David Gilmour is a frustratingly precise guitarist. His timing is really hard to match, and with the clean sound of the guitar, any mistake is glaringly obvious. While there aren’t too many mistakes in this performance, there are enough that I’m not satisfied with it. I’m going to work on it for another week and see where I am.

Thanks again to George Coller for the Strat loaner. I think it sounds awesome on this song.

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