Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tom Sawyer by Rush

Now at first glance, this may seem like an obvious choice being that I am a drummer and such, but the story for Tom Sawyer by Rush goes back much further than that. So let's set the wayback machine to 1982-1983 or so and I was 10-11 years old. Back then I had a friend named Chris who loved just down the block. I used to go over to Chris's house all the time. He was one of the first people I knew that had a personal computer at home. A Commodore 64 I think it was(I would have to look that one up to see if the dates match, so don't hold me to that). So anyway, I used to listen to tapes in his house. I was around music all the time but he had a tape that was much different from the stuff I had heard at my house. This one song in particular had the most amazing beginning with some cool keyboard sounds. The song was talking about some Tom Sawyer person (who I did not know of yet), but the best thing of all was the spectacular drum rolls that filled the middle of the song. Even then, a full 7 years before I would ever pick up a drum stick, I was blown away by this song. I remember asking Chris to play that (and YYZ) over and over again.

Now fast forward to the point where I did start playing drums. I was really into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other bands but I never really listened to Rush (mainly because my dad did not like them). Then one day I heard Tom Sawyer on the radio and the light bulb went off, I the memory if that song came flooding in. I immediately went out searching for the album containing that song. When I saw the album cover I vaguely remembered it from when I was younger. The album from front to back is probably their best (I did not say MY favorite). It was then that I switched from a Bonham style of drums to a Neil Peart style and have never looked back.

As a side note, I have practiced the majority of that album (sans Witch Hunt) and to this day Tom Sawyer is still very difficult for me to plays (for the record Neil said it was a challenge for him as well). The constant eighth notes on the hi-hat are a real test of stamina. If I practice often enough (which doesn't happen much anymore), I can build up that stamina but my hand is usually dying by the end of the solo of the song.

Another side note, I was in Best Buy one day and they had Rock Band set up there with a drum set. So I set up Tom Sawyer on expert level and started playing it. By the time the solos came around (which are very hard to do on those little sets and without double-bass) I had pretty much nailed it to that point and had an audience of a few people. It was pretty cool and I got to puff my chest out a bit on that.

Do you have a story about this song? If so please share with me. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Under a Glass Moon by Dream Theater

I have been extremely busy lately due to baseball games and my birthday :) So Dream Theater is one of my favorite bands in the world. Mike Portnoy (the recently departed drummer of 25 years) has been a huge influence on me. That being said I do have a story behind Under a Glass Moon from the Images and Words album. Many fans consider this their best album but I respectfully disagree but that is a who another discussion. When I was in college back in the early nineties, I was in a math class with this really long-haired guy (his name escapes me). Over the course of the semester we starting talking and I found out he was a death metal drummer for a local band. Once he took me to one of his band practices and I was blown away at what he could do. On the way to the practice he put in a tape of IAW and played me Under a Glass Moon. For those of you who are not drummers, the drum beat for this song is one of his more well known creations. I was immediately impressed. The double bass patterns in that song are cool as hell. Only later would I full grasp the technicality of the song in terms of the huge amount of odd time that is in the song as well. Several years later I bought IAW and liked it but I did not like the vocalist at first. Obviously I have changed my tune on him and now Jame LaBrie is one of my favorite. I guess he just had to grow on me (a lot of people say that about Geddy Lee from Rush as well).

Now fast forward a few weeks and I had invited him over to my house to check out my set and jam a bit. It was a cold rainy November day and we drove in his car. We got off the freeway to avoid the congestion and head up National Avenue. While heading towards home, a car pulled out in front of us, hitting the rear quarter panel of the driver side. The car we were in started to swerve from the impact and the fishtailed back only to have the guy nail us in the passenger side rear quarter panel. The same guy hit us TWICE! It turns out the guy was in his 80's at least, and upon further review had alcohol on breath. Luckily no one was hurt, although the second impact did jolt me pretty good. We waited forever for the cops to get there. While we waited the guy was so scared and/or drunk that he actually told me that it did not look that bad. Both quarter panels were smashed in!!! I felt bad because I got picked up before the cops showed up. He never did get a chance to come over again. We laughed about the old guy but it sucked that his car was messed up. So whenever I hear Under a Glass Moon I think of that day and the accident.

Do you have any memories for this song? Please let me know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Peace Among the Ruins by Presto Ballet

Ok, so you like Styx, Kansas, Old REO (before they went soft), the you really need to check this band out. Presto Ballet, a band out of Seattle (its not what you think) founded by the guitarist from Metal Church (one of my favorite all-time thrash metal bands) Kurdt Vanderhoof. He was influenced by the 70's bands like Yes, Genesis and those listed above. He put together a great band and recreated that 70's sound. How did they do it you might ask. They recorded EVERYTHING in analog. Do digital BS anywhere. The bottom sounds are phenomenal and there is a real mellotron in there as well. As of this writing they just released their third album Invisible Places (with a whole new line up). I do not have this one yet but plan to get it soon. So I am going to discuss their first album and may do each album over time. However, the lineup for the first two albums are as follows:

Kurdt Vanderhoof - Guitars, additional keys
Jeff Wade : Drums
Brian Cokeley : Keyboard
Scott Albright : Vocals
Brian Lake : Bass 
Kurdt Vanderhoof has subtle yet powerful guitar riffs sprinkled throughout the album along with some good lead parts. Scott Albright has the perfect voice for this project. He is a cross between Dennis DeYoung from Styx and Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon. Jeff Wade is a more than capable drummer who keeps the parts interesting. Brian Lake, never heard of him before this, but I am a fan now. The bass lines on this album meld perfectly with the music. Brian Cokeley, this album would not be the same without the keyboards so he deserves a lot of credit for the sound.

Track Listing:
Peace Among The Ruins: Simply put, one of the best songs I have heard in a long time. The beginning just punches you in the gut and then cools out into a great groove. This song has some subtle odd time which makes it very fun to play.
The Fringes: a bit more synth in this one. Very Styx-like. There are some great vocal harmonies in this song during the chorus which has a bit of trippy feel to it. This is a foreshadow of some of the other songs later on the album.
Seasons: again a ton of great vocal harmonies. This song is straight out of the 70's. The chorus has the same chord progression as Ghost of a Chance by Rush. I don't think it was intentional and it fits great.
Find the Time: This song is No Quarter part 2. It starts with a mellotron! The beginning is mellow and later builds up. There is a great synth sound in there as well. I love No quarter and I love this song.
Speed of Time: A mellow number that starts on the acoustic guitar and adds some synth over it. Then bursts into a great driving groove with a nice keyboard overlaying the melody. The chorus has layered harmonies, again catching that classic rock vibe.
Sunshine: this is a straight-up hippy song from the late 60's. I love the vocals on this tune. Be careful, this song will get stuck in your head all day.
Slave: this song starts with that low moog sound, slowly building the tension with guitar and drums until the drums bust into a Bonham-like fill to get to the full riff with Pink-floydish synth over the top. This is a much heavier song than the previous few.
Bringin' It On: Last but not least. Starts with an acoustic guitar and the singer. Eventually it builds slightly with the drums coming in and grooves from there. This is a song to raise your lighter to.

The band also released 3 full songs free to download that were recorded for this album but not put on it. The link for them is here:
Get these songs!! They are just as good. Let me know what you think about this band. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dear Prudence by the Beatles

So the is a memory from only a few days ago. For Mother's Day I got my wife a bunch of goodies from the kids and I (she said it was too much but Ididn't think so). There was chocolate, candy, a homemade trinket form the kids and various other things; including the White Album by the Beatles. Ever since we started doing karaoke, my wife would since Dear Prudence (story behind the song) and I had never hear that song before. Her older brothers liked the Beatles so she heard it a lot as a kid. So when I was gathering gifts for Mother's Day, I thought it would be nice for her to have it so she could listen to it in the car (or on my ipod). We cranked up that song in the house while I was making a nice breakfast and right there a memory was born. We had a great day. We went to the Milwaukee Art musuem which my wife and I had never been to (very cool by the way). Later we then went out to lunch/dinner. I was a real nice day for mom.

Dear Prudence is a song that showcased their Indian influence (along with other songs of course) and I think that is what really attracted me to the song. I have always enjoyed that sitar sound (al la Ravi Shankar). There are other songs that feature that sound that I like as well including Dream Theaters Home, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, In the Light (I know that is keyboards, but still), Heart Full of Soul, Paint It Black, My Little Man (Ozzy) and many others I can't think of right now. Maybe I will do a post about this fascination.

So do you have a memory from this song? Please let me know.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thunder Kiss '65 by White Zombie

I have never been a big fan of White Zombie but the song Thunder Kiss '65 song reminds me of some really fun times I had with my buddy Mike. Mike and I were the only two our gang that did not work 2nd or 3rd shift so we would hang out at the bars together. I had just turned 21 (1993) and was looking to tear it up. We had a bar we would hang out at everyday of the week except maybe one (Wednesday's , I think). Well one of the best days was Thursday's at Amman's. The thing about this place was how cheap the beer was. You bought a cheap plastic mug from them and then on Thursday's you could get refill's for 25 cents. Yep, 25 cents. So for $2-$3 you could get pretty hammered, and we did. I think we used to spend more money on pool games than we did on beer. Is was a great night too, because it was sponsored by the local rock station so you heard cool songs as well (not just dance stuff).

We would show up around 7 pm to be some of the first ones there to get a pool table. Then the place would be jam packed by 9:00 pm and stay that way until ~11:00 pm when the 25 cent special ran out. By then though we didn't need any more beer and just hung out, watched the scenery and tried to play pool if my vision was not too blurry. So at that time the Thunder Kiss 1965 was very popular and it was the song that got everyone going. There would be people dancing, head-banging, bouncing to this infectious groove of the song. For the longest time I did not even know who did the song. It was always sort of the crescendo of the night. You were usually sweating after that song. It was very fun. Eventually things began to slow down and the bar would begin to thin out. Then we would go through the Taco Bell drive thru, head back to Mike's place and I would spend the night since I lived much further than he did from the bar. Next week... Same thing. We did this for about a year. Unfortunately thugs starting coming to the bar and it was the beginning of the end for these fun nights.

Do you have any memories of this song? Please let me know.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Favorite Bass Players

I had a long weekend so I was not able to post anything. Since I talk about drummers I thought I would switch it up and discuss my favorite bass players since they are the other half of the rhythm section. There are so many to choose from and the ones listed are purely my opinion (obviously). So let's get right to it.

Geezer Butler, Black Sabbath
I have made no secret of my love for Black Sabbath and a huge part of their sound (besides Iommi's mega-riffs) if the bass tones from Geezer. Geezer made Toni sound better by complimenting his riff through the use of harmonic notes and even full chords on the base. He played much more melodic than many of the bass played of the time and I love it.
Songs to hear:
  1. Fairies Wear Boots
  2. After Forever
  3. The Writ
  4. Hand of Doom
  5. Killing Yourself to Live

Geddy Lee, Rush
This is a no-brainer. Geddy not only has the chops on the bass but he can sing while he plays those chops. Like Neil Peart, Geddy spawned generations of bass players that were not content to just stick to the bottom and play a simple backbeat. Geddy was playing up and down the entire neck of the bass and even soloing in some song. Truly one of the best rock bass players of all time.
Songs to hear:
  1. Xanadu (duh)
  2. La Villa Strangiato
  3. Red Barchetta
  4. Marathon
  5. Too many more to list

Chris Squire, Yes
Like Geezer, Chris Squire is the definition of a melodic bass player. Being in a progressive juggernaut like Yes allowed Chris to truly explore what a bass could do and be an active part of the melody. Chris is a master at playing harmonic melodies and even lead parts. The difference between him and Geddy, Chris uses a pick. I always thought Chris had a great voice as well.
Songs to hear:
  1. Close to the Edge
  2. The Ritual
  3. Awaken
  4. On The Silent Wings of Freedom
Steve Harris, Iron Maiden
Wow. That was all I could say when I had 2nd row for Iron Maiden on the Fear of the Dark Tour. You can't help but stare at Steve Harris' fingers. He is so fast and has the gallop beat down to a science. There are many times when both guitar players and Steve are all playing the same notes. Steve can nail down the back beat but also turn on the fingers to do a lead just like a guitar player. Simply amazing.
Songs to hear:
  1. Run to the Hills
  2. Powerslave
  3. Invaders
  4. 22 Acacia Avenue
  5. Alexander the Great

John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin
While he may be the silent member of the best band ever, he is also a phenomenal bass player. He is so versatile and could melody as well as stay in the groove. He played with and without a pick and oh yeah, played keyboard as well. Always in the background, even on stage, he kept the songs chugging along when Page was soloing.

Songs to hear:
  1. How Many More Times (my all time favorite LZ song)
  2. Whole Lotta Love (duh)
  3. The Wanton Song
  4. The Song Remains the Same
  5. Achilles Last Stand
John Entwistle, The Who
While the rest of the band was a bit sloppy in their playing as a whole, John was refined and could fly around the bass. He also perfect the four finger technique where he could hit many notes in a short period of time. I always loved the tone of his bass as well. He fit in perfectly with The Who but also kept the songs grounded. I was sad the day I heard he passed away. He was rock royalty in my book.
Songs to hear:
  1. We Don't Get Fooled Again
  2. Can You See the Real Me
  3. My Generation
  4. Bargain
  5. Sparks
John Myung, Dream Theater
My biggest complaint about Dream Theater is that John Myung is way too far back in the mix. The guy is an amazing bass player but it is hard to hear him. There are several theories as to why this is. I am not going into that here. I have seen him live several times and I can attest to his fluid fingers and amazing technique.
Songs to hear:
  1. Metropolis Part 1
  2. Lifting Shadows off a Dream
  3. In the Name of God
  4. The Dance of Eternity
  5. Octavarium

Notable Mentions (great players, just not as into these as the others)
  1. Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck)
  2. Jaco Pastorious (Weather Report, Solo)
  3. Tony Levin (King Crimson, LTE)
  4. Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, etc.)
  5. Les Claypool (Primus)
  6. Justin Chancellor (Tool)
  7. Paul McCartney (The Beatles)