Saturday, October 24, 2020

Guitar Heroes: Robert "One-Man" Johnson


purchase [Housedog Music Presents]

Robert "One Man" Johnson is a personal guitar hero to me. The first time I took a stage to play guitar for a large group, I had no idea what I was doing. Well, that's not entirely true. I had enough of an idea  that I invited Robert to join me. He ended up doing most of the show, since I had only come prepared to play about 15 minutes' of material. I have been blessed to join him on stage again since then.

Robert was in Istanbul as an English teacher back then. He took advantage of his musical skills by using them to enhance his classroom - incorporating song in his lessons, at times getting his students to help in the writing process. Following his stint in Istanbul, he and his wife headed further east for other teaching jobs and experiences: China, Japan....

He is invested in his playing to the extent that wherever he goes, he finds venues to play and as a result makes contact with other musicians to collaborate with both live and in the studio. His website (and brand), give us only a glimpse of his extensive original repertoire and many collaborators, including but not limited to Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters .. and well, you just go check it out for yourself.

The "One-Man" moniker comes from the fact that he plays the guitar, harmonica, sings and taps a cymbals with one foot and his personally invented foot piano with the other. At the same time.

Check it out:

Thursday, October 22, 2020


Well, it's five years since I, grudgingly it reads, gave this band any pentime, but, you know, time has been kind to their memory, a new boxset retrospective, released round about now, raking up a fond nostalgia I am finding infectious. Hindsight further adds to the scallywag, loveable rogue image they allowed to be cultivated around them. For rogues they almost certainly were, or fiends even, certainly in the drug sense. But that is not what I have come to gaze upon, more the realisation that, amidst all the chaos and chutzpah, there band had a fair few rather good guitar slingers. Which, for a band that history famously places largely around the bassist, one Philip Lynott, makes for an interesting tale.

Like most, I first heard of 'em back in the very dim and distant, with a song that is still more likely to appear in compilations of folk music than of rousing rock anthems. But great it is, the guitar part, courtesy Eric Bell, arguably opening the door to any number of celtic rockers, from Big Country to Runrig. Lynott's drawled vocal just the right counterpoint for the crossover smash it became. Possibly the first time trad.arr. looked so good. But Eric Bell was not long for the band, abruptly walking off stage, mid-set, in 1973, "exhaustion" cited as his reason, with nary a regret ever offered, even as the fame of the band eclipsed his own part therein. In truth, his exhaustion was the sort that came in bottles and wraps, as described here, but his later legacy never built on the promise of his work with Lizzy over their first few recordings.

This left Lynott, along with drummer Brian Downie with a predicament, how to replace a guitarist who, in one song, had transformed the image of the band and their place in the market. Answer: if one guitarist let's you down, get two! This response, very much in keeping of the devil may care vagabond hero, as in the (Bell included) song, The Rocker, became their declared image. The two guitarists were Scott Gorham, allegedly hired because of his nationality, American, and his extravagant mane, and Glaswegian street fighter and musical polymath, Brian Robertson. Robertson was very much the lead foil, at least from the basis of his track record and experience, being hired because he could play. And play he could, responsible for defining the twin guitar sound, allegedly telling Gorham what to play, how and when. An accomplished writer too, he contributed to some of the material from this iteration of the band, actually their glory days, if Lynott still wrote the bulk, and most of the hits. However, he was another guitarist with a thirst, having to skip an important US tour on account of a hand injury, sustained in a drunken brawl, defending the honour of fellow Scots toper, Frankie Miller. His place, temporarily at least, was taken by Gary Moore, who clearly made a mark, if dispensed at the end of the tour. The next album was recorded as a three piece, but needing the dual guitar attack, Robertson was taken back, if on probation. But it couldn't and didn't last, as frictions flared, initiated at one point by Robertson's refusal to overdub new guitar parts on live album, Live and Dangerous. Which, at that time they were.

Gary Moore now bounced back in, his shared Irishness perhaps a better foil for Lynott, and, amongst a flurry of further hit singles, came the above, an epic, the title track of 'Roisin Dubh', back in the hinterland of rock and roll with traditional Irish folk. A direction I would have liked them to pursue further, but the swaggering lifestyle choices of powders and poteen probably put paid to that. In 1979, in classic Lizzy style, Moore left the band, mid-tour as ever. Astonishingly he was subbed by, of all people, Midge Ure, the soon to be Ultravox-er, but he had been one of a crew of musicians involved in Lynott's other side-project, the Greedy Bastards, wherein he allied with a number of punk and new-wave musicians to distance himself from being a dinosaur like other rockers of the earlier '70s.

In truth this was heralding the end. Other guitarists came and went, Dave Flett for one, once of Manfred Mann's Earthband, propping up the ship of Lynott, Gorham and the omni-present Downie. Ure hovered around the fringes for some time, sometimes on guitar, sometimes as a keyboard player, but he too didn't last long after the last great Lizzy guitarist was recruited. This was Snowy White, with a track record encompassing both Pink Floyd and Peter Green. A more sober minded individual, his gravitas gave the band a final lift. But he too left, in 1982, frustrated by the ever more confused borderlines between Lynott solo and Lynott Lizzy. Not party to the prodigious opiate enthusiasms of much of the rest of the band left him also somewhat apart. 

I confess I thought that was about it, only discovering whilst researching (ha!) this piece that there was then a further and final guitarist, John Sykes, ex of the NWOBHM stalwarts, Tygers of Pan Tang, very much dragging the ambience in a metallic direction. Thereafter, with both he and Downie having by now had time off for bad behaviour, Gorham had had enough, setting the scene for a farewell tour, as famous for the struggles to score heroin as to keep the band upright. A september festival gig at Monsters of Rock, surely an apt title, in 1983 and it was all over.

Lynott, the focus and frontman, died in 1986 of drug-induced multiple organ failure. Gary Moore died of an alcohol related heart attack in 2011. Eric Bell and Brian Robertson still play and record music sporadically. John Sykes "revived" the band name in 1996, persuading Downie and Gorham to join him, but this didn't last. Scott Gorham held the baton for a while, until Downie also jumped, whereupon Gorham re-branded as Black Star Riders, "out of respect to Phil Lynott". They gig on, with a sound exactly of classic Lizzy. Brian Downie has his own band, 'Alive and Dangerous'. Snowy White has had both his own band and ongoing working links with ex-Pink Floyd man, Roger Waters. Midge Ure has an ongoing solo career. Dave Flett, most ironically, is an addictions counsellor in Florida.

One band, five guitarists, six if you include Ure, seven even with Flett. Makes the boxset seem a whole lot more interesting?

Deep pockets?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Guitar Heroes: Two from the past


purchase [ Casino / DiMeola ]

purchase [ Electric Dreams / McLaughlin]

They blew me away. That's in the past tense, as in  - I don't listen to them much these days. But they were a major part of my musical formation. So .. this is kind of a trip back down memory lane. Maybe these sounds will reverberate with you.

A search of the SMM blog for a few guitar players that came to mind shows that 2  have not been featured much here. Curious. They are both top of the list for fame and, of course, skill, but SMM writers have not posted much about them.

The two are related - in that they collaborated on a 1981 live album together with Paco De Lucia (who I mentioned in our annual memoriam back in 2015. SMM alumnus Geoviki touched on one of my choices previously, as did I at various times in the past. But they haven't been noted as much as it seems to me they ought.

The common thread here, aside from being sterling guitar players, and the <Friday Night in San Fransisco> collaboration album is jazz-fusion. Blisteringly fast fingers/notes. So many so that both of my choices below have been critiqued as playing too many notes.

Al Dimeola's guitar style mostly caught my attention with its Mediterranean sounds. Mixed with a touch of jazz, the result is ... well... listen for yourself:

John McLaughlin has always come across to me as a little more to the east on the world map in terms of sound. Able to bring that sound back west, in my mind <My Goal's Beyond> and the Mahavishnu period are firmly rooted in a more Asian than Mediterranean sound: