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8th April
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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30th March
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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24th March
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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23rd February
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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…

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30th January
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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21st January
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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13th January
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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3rd January
2011
written by Jeff Koke

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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28th December
2010
written by Jeff Koke

My wife and I generally don’t do big Christmas gifts for each other. We think of Christmas as mostly for the kids and would rather spend our money on them than on each other. We always manage to come up with something small and meaningful to exchange on Christmas morning, but rarely are they the kind of “oh wow!” presents that my wife gave me this year.

To me the perfect gift has three elements. First, it needs to be a surprise. My wife has a wish list on Amazon and generally I get her something from her list, which ensures that she’ll like it, but it kind of removes the sense of unexpectedness. The gift she got me this year was very much a surprise — I knew it had something to do with my solos project because she asked me for a list of the songs and albums six weeks ago, but I had no idea what she was going to do with that information.

Second, the gift needs to require effort. Most gifts require merely traveling to a store, or more likely in these times, to a web site. A little wrapping and you’re done. The best gifts are those that are hand-made, need significant work to assemble, or require trips to multiple stores. Angie’s gift to me this year involved all three. That doesn’t even include the effort it took to keep the whole thing hidden from me — using her parent’s credit card, having things delivered to friends’ houses.

Finally, the gift needs to be meaningful. When people talk about getting bad gifts, often they mean that the present didn’t have any meaning. The giver didn’t choose something that reflected the recipient’s personality — a favorite color, hobby or style. The gift that my wife gave me had meaning on multiple levels. First it related to my project that is a central focus for me right now. It also drew upon my love for vinyl records, specifically the large beautiful cover art. And it involved the very albums that are my favorites for the very reasons I chose them for this project.

The perfect gift that Angie gave me was framed album art for all of the solos that I’m doing for this project. She went out and bought some used albums, and found high-resolution artwork for those that she couldn’t find and had them printed. Twenty-four framed albums in all (not 25 because two of the songs are from the same album). It was an amazing surprise that took a lot of effort and was extremely thoughtful. I can’t express how that makes me feel.

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9th December
2010
written by Jeff Koke

After a week and a half of daily practice, I have this solo down… except… for… one… freaking… part! If you view the song here, the part I’m pulling my hair out about is at 2:22. It’s a fast-moving downward run that I just can’t play cleanly. I know all the notes, but I can’t move my fingers fast enough with enough precision to play it … not yet anyway.

So, I’ve broken out the metronome for the first time in this project. It’s not a real metronome — my iPad app AmpKit+ has a built-in one that works great. The song runs at about 195 bpm, so I started practicing that run at 120 bpm. I could do it pretty easily at 120, so I moved up to 130 and then 140, upping the tempo each time I was able to play it cleanly 5 times through at that speed. I’m now working at 180 bpm. I think a couple more days practice and I should be able to do 195 — at least I’m hoping.

This kind of problem was one that I was anticipating and actually looking forward to overcoming. Some of the solos that are still to come have incredibly fast parts, and I’ll need to have good learning techniques in place, and a heightened dexterity to be able to play them. It is the first time, though, that I’ve run up against a real wall, where I’ve learned every other part of the solo to performance quality, but can’t quite get one part. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

There’s a word in the guitar world for super-fast finger work. It’s called shredding, and certain guitarists have based their entire careers on it. It’s pretty amazing if a little one dimensional. Check out this guy to see what I’m talking about.

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