Saturday, October 17, 2020


Why does the phrase "Guitar Heroes" always have me thinking the wanton destruction of guitars? I guess it’s my age, as the sure fire way to gain that status in the 60s would be, literally, to fire it up. Or to smash it up. OK, let’s disregard the apocrypha that inform us of the dodgy guitar, just off stage and out of audience view, hurriedly sleighted into use and destroyed, night after night, whilst the more precious gear went back into the mink lined crate. And why always guitars? How come the keyboards or drums never took equivalent bashings? (Alright, well nearly never….)

John Hiatt has famously had
words to say about the practice, rightly decrying it. But he has had oodles of previous posts here, so I have to think harder. The good news is that there are actually a lot of songs about guitars, often by guitarists who are no slouches on the instrument either. There are even a slew of songs about guitarists by guitarists. One I have covered here before, but not this one below.

I am not going to blether ever onward about my love and awe of RT. Partly because I could and partly as I, and others, have already. But the song, not, I agree, his strongest composition, does at least give some faithful insight of who he was trying to emulate,
  in his bedroom all those years ago. But I notice that one of the fellas included in the song always appears in the lists of the favourites of our favourites, that being Hank Marvin, of the Shadows. Those queueing up to pay homage to this mild mannered anti-axe hero are many and varied, including some surprising names: Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Neil Young even. (And you thought From Hank to Hendrix was about Mr Williams?!)

I like the video above, if only presenting Hank and the boys in a slightly cooler setting than the usual suits, grins and little dances. Not that they too, in hindsight, don't have their own certain whiff of something unattainable.

There is something slightly thrilling in revisiting these old tunes and these old clips. Remember this is the cusp of the 60s and England. Sure, we had rock and roll over here, but a largely gentler and milder version, nothing too shocking to shift our upper lips. Cliff was as rowdy as it got, the Shadows getting their break as his backing band. The advent of the Beatles so then tilted the universe that Cliff and the Shads seemed forever displaced to light entertainment and TV variety shows. But, listen again: that tone, that tremolo. Magnificent.

He has even had a tribute album created in his honour, Twang!, with an A list of the gurners and shredders, including those mentioned above, along with Mark Knopfler, Brian May and Peter Green, all lining up to play his praises. It’s a good listen, too, in turns surprising, as you realise quite who is on it, as well as realising and remembering quite how good a body or work he produced all those years ago. But who does he rate and who were his inspirations?
Here's a pretty good interview and, unsurprisingly, it lists the icons of the golden age of rock and roll, Scotty Moore and James Burton to name but two. He comes over as a decent fella, too, with feet still firmly on the ground.

So you can keep your long hair, your tapping and your pedals, when I want something simple and sublime, gimme some Hank!

Guitar Heroes , get 'em both!!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Guitar Heroes: Scrap Metal

Gretchen Menn: Scrap Metal

The guitar, of course, is the signature instrument of rock music, and it should also come as no surprise that over the years, I’ve written about, or at least mentioned, most of my favorite guitarists on this blog and elsewhere. Never Eddie Van Halen, whose untimely loss inspired this theme, but he’s a guitarist whose talent I appreciated, but I never was a big fan of the music he created (and it was nice to see that most serious obituaries of EVH mentioned one of my true favorites, Allan Holdsworth, as a primary influence on him. Which sounds weird--as if I was happy that EVH died. I’m not.) 

So, rather than tread down another well-worn path, I decided to write about a great guitarist, about whom I know very little—Gretchen Menn. I first learned about Menn when my wife showed me something in a Smith College publication about her. Menn, a proud member of the class of ’97 (my wife is ’82; my daughter is ’15), was a music major at Smith, and it led me to check out her music. And it turns out that, in pretty much every way, Menn is a real badass.

According to her website bio, Menn, whose father was the editor in chief of Guitar Player magazine, studied classical guitar before moving on to rock and jazz. At Smith, she “convinced a professor to allow her to launch a special studies project on the music of Frank Zappa. Her analyses of “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” and “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” showed an interest in genre-bending composition that would manifest later in her original instrumentals.” 

After college, she went to flight school, flying regional jets before turning to a music career, playing in a few different projects before releasing her debut album, Hale Souls, from which our featured song, “Scrap Metal” comes. It’s a classic guitar shredding showcase, and as a shredder, Menn takes a backseat to no one. But she is much more than just a technical wizard. Again, quoting from her website, “[s]he has studied, in equal parts, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Morse, Frank Zappa, and Jimmy Page.” 

Speaking of Jimmy Page, Menn is the guitarist, playing Page’s parts, in Zepparella, an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band. You can see her here channeling Page, bowed guitar and all:

In 2016, Menn released her second solo album, Abandon All Hope, a musical adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. Not surprisingly, it is a little more complex and varied in tone than her debut, and includes strings and other instruments (and a chorus), all orchestrated by Menn. Here’s the first track, “Shadows.”