Video Fridays: R.I.P., B.B. King

BB_KingI can think of no simpler and better way to sum up why B.B. King, who has sadly left us, so completely deserved his nickname, King of the Blues, than to point out that when I and millions of people around the world think of the blues, the sound we hear in our heads is B.B. King.

B.B. was the quintessential bluesman: raised a sharecropper on a cotton plantation, he knew and lived the hard life that is the very heart of the blues. Fortified by the gospel tradition, inspired by the blues from the very first time he heard it on the radio, he taught himself how to play the guitar, spent his Saturday afternoons, when done with work, busking and honing his craft, and was finally able to leave the plantation thanks to relentless touring on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Though he was unsuccessful in marriage — two failed 8-year stints, 15 children with 15 women — by all accounts he was a very warm, friendly, and generous person, beloved by all of the musicians who were fortunate enough to know him and/or share the stage with him.

Beyond the sound that I hear in my head, as a musician myself, when I think of B.B. King I think of the depth of his immersion in the music, the visceral feeling he could wring out of his instruments, both guitar and voice, and the visual component, the wonderful facial expressions he’d make as he performed evidence that he was totally committed to authenticity. He also smiled a lot, and the overall impression, as you watch him play, is that he felt deep gratitude and joy for his livelihood as a musician.

I have the closest, personal connection with his biggest hit, The Thrill Is Gone, as I’ve performed it in several bands that I’ve been in. I love minor key blues!

And so, without further ado, here’s this week’s Video Fridays installment.

R.I.P., B.B., thanks SO much for your wonderful music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: The Inflated Animals Of Rollin’ Wild

meerkatsForgive me, readers, for I have…

…well, I don’t buy all that stuff about sin, so…

Forgive me, readers, for it’s been over a week since my last post. (Yeah, that feels better.)

As I mentioned in that post, I took off last Thursday on my annual road-trip/camping/abalone-diving adventure, which was awesome as usual, but I came down with a nasty cold on my way back, and that was decidedly not awesome.

Anyway, it’s great to get back to my Fish & Bicycles thing, and I’ve got a very fun Video Fridays installment for you this week!

As I was lying in my sick bed, my wife showed me a video to cheer me up, and it was remarkably successful.

I’ve seen lots of cartoons with animals, in both traditional and computer animation, and of course the African animal kingdom got the full-on Disney treatment with The Lion King. So, you might think I’ve seen it all.

And yet, the folks at Rollin’ Wild have put SUCH a fun spin on the subject that I found myself utterly engaged and gratefully chuckling.

The spin? Well, the animators simply ask the question: What if animals were round?

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Legendary Band Breakups: Uncle Tupelo

utPutting a music group together is a fickle and challenging process, often filled with drama and angst, frustration and resignation.

You have to find a band of people who all like the same music, have similar levels of musical competency, have similar levels of availability for practice and gigs, have all the gear they need, among them have access to a practice space, and have similar levels of commitment to the project.

Given those parameters, and taking into account my own personal experience of putting together and being in rock & roll bands, it’s pretty easy to understand the mystique of the band origin story: those quasi-magical tales of when, for instance, Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards met; of how The Beatles and The Who really weren’t The Beatles or The Who until they played their first gigs with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, respectively.

Likewise, band breakup stories are also the stuff of legends, from irreconcilable artistic differences to sibling rivalries, or interfering spouses to the death of a member.

In the irreconcilable artistic differences category, one of my favorite breakup stories concerns a band I loved a lot in the early 1990s: Uncle Tupelo.

Uncle Tupelo slowly formed in the mid-1980s, going through several different lineups and band names, eventually solidifying as the trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn. Farrar and Tweedy were the two songwriters and singers, together they concocted an infectious blend of American roots music and punk rock sensibility, and yet they only produced four albums before their acrimonious end in 1994.

Just as The Beatles could never have indefinitely provided it’s four members with enough individual artistic outlet to keep them all happy, Farrar and Tweedy both had the songwriting and musicianship talent to be frontmen of their own bands, and they both gradually grew frustrated with only getting to write and sing lead vocals for half of the songs they recorded and performed.

Proof came when both of them formed new bands, Farrar’s Son Volt and Tweedy’s Wilco, and recorded their first albums within a year of Uncle Tupelo’s breakup.

I was so sad about the breakup, that when I got the first Son Volt and Wilco albums, I recorded both of them onto a single cassette tape, one song at a time, alternating songs from the two albums, and it very nearly ended up sounding like an Uncle Tupelo record.

However, Wilco would soon break away from a predominant American roots music orientation, and by their third album, Summerteeth, Wilco and Son Volt were so entirely different that a mixed tape attempt to keep Uncle Tupelo together would have been an incongruent mess.

Well, thanks to YouTube user songhunter1966, for this week’s Video Fridays installment we have a real treat, Uncle Tupelo’s very last performance, an entire May 1994 show featuring their final lineup, a lineup that tells the future: within months of their breakup, Tweedy would form Wilco with the drummer, Ken Coomer, who had replaced Mike Heidorn two years ealier, and bass player, John Stirrat; and when Farrar founded Son Volt he called on Mike Heidorn to be his drummer.

Watching this concert, even just a little bit, makes me wish Uncle Tupelo would do some reunion shows, and I realize that band reunions are a third category of legendary music history tales, but that will have to be another blog post, some other time.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Birth Of A Guitar

B&G Guitars
B&G Guitars
You don’t have to be obsessed with guitars, as I am, to appreciate this week’s Video Fridays installment.

In fact, I think it’s actually possible that folks who aren’t obsessed with guitars might actually appreciate today’s video even more than I do.

I’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles, most recently this past Tuesday, that I play guitar and sing in a Rock & Roll band. As a result, I have a pretty good understanding of the various parts of a guitar and how they are constructed.

And still, I found the following video, of a GORGEOUS custom guitar being built by the folks at B&G Handmade Guitars, to be absolutely captivating.

I think there’s a good chance that for many people who don’t share the guitar obsession with me, this will be a very cool, eye-opening insight as to what this process looks like, engendering a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry involved.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: The Onion Roasts Netflix

netflix-app-logoIf, like me, you are a Netflix Streaming Video subscriber, you know the drill.

You rationalize that, at $8.00 per month, less than one adult ticket at a movie theater, Netflix is an incredible deal. That same $8.00, after all, lets all of the adults and all of the children in your home — plus as many other people you can cram in front of your television — watch unlimited movies and endless episodes of TV shows each month.

But then, slowly but surely, you realize that Netflix offers a VERY small selection of recent movies, and an even smaller selection of recent and not-so-recent good movies, and often, before you even get to watch a good movie that you’d been trying to find the time for, you find it’s no longer available for streaming.

Before long, you notice just how much time you spend browsing the titles, clicking on the occasional thumbnail to read the description, cast, director, and viewer ratings, etc., looking for that diamond in the rough. Try doing this with a spouse or teenage offspring or a friend who has different tastes in movies or TV shows, and it is not inconceivable that you spend nearly as much time browsing as you eventually will watching a video. On numerous occasions, I’ve even browsed so long without finding anything that I want to watch that I eventually give up and move on to some other non-screen activity.

I’ve been a big fan of news parody purveyor The Onion for a long time, all the way back to when it was solely a paper publication, and I’ve featured The Onion in many of my Tweet of the Day installments.

Today, however, for this week’s Video Fridays, I’m sharing a video from The Onion that absolutely nails the Netflix phenomenon described above.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Donovan

donovanThere’s a time to rock, such as last week’s post featuring the music of The Who.

And, there is a time — such as a sleep-deprived Friday, after an exhausting, stressful week — to listen to a simple, beautiful song, sung by one person playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

I’m not a HUGE Donovan fan, but there are a handful of his songs that I love a lot, and when I came across a video of one of these, posted by a friend on Facebook this morning, it felt really, really good to hear it.

Catch The Wind is only 2-minutes long, but it soothed my raggedness, and as outside the past few days of sunny weather succumbed to the clouds of an approaching rain storm, at least one verse of the lyrics seemed offered up just for me:

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

Whether or not you feel as worn out as I do, I hope you’ll enjoy this sweet little ditty as this week’s Video Fridays installment.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Van Morrison – 1973

van-morrisonI’ve got a real treat for this week’s Video Fridays installment!

An Irish singer-songwriter I’m fond of, and who I’ve written about here before, Glen Hansard, tweeted this clip today of his fellow Irishman singer-songwriter, Van Morrison, performing his song Cyprus Avenue, from an amazing 1973 concert, and it is SO great on a number of levels.

First of all, there are singer-songwriters, lead vocalists, even frontmen/women, but not all of these are also bandleaders. And, if you’ve ever read up on Van Morrison you’d know that he was extremely picky about the musicians who played with him, selecting the cream of the crop, demanding that they follow his direction exactly as he wished them too.

This leadership is abundantly clear throughout this performance. You can see how the band, the incredible Caledonia Soul Orchestra, keep their eyes fixed on Van, stopping and turning and blasting out in response to a wide variety of hand and body gestures. As a musician, myself, I can attest that this is an extraordinary thing, it requires deep immersion in the music, deep listening, deep concentration, and, paradoxically, for the music to be good and enjoyable, this has to be done without sounding like any deep concentration is involved at all, so that the music feels natural and flows as if it was effortless, as is absolutely the case here.

Second, the musicians here are remarkable for another reason. This is a HUGE band, with a rhythm section, lead guitar, horns, keyboards, and a 4-piece string section, and yet there is a wonderful spaciousness to the music, the players don’t showboat and step on each others’ toes, they are, indeed, a true orchestra rather than a cacophonous wall of sound.

Third, there’s this sweet thing that happens at around the 3:30 mark, when a little girl appears on the stage, it seems from the smiles of Terry Adams, the cello player, that this might be her daughter, and the little girl stands calmly by Van Morrison’s side, in front of all those people in the audience, just hanging out, the cameras move away, capturing the rest of the band for a full minute and a half, and when it returns to focus on Van, you can see that the little girl is still there by his side, you see him look down at her and smile, smiles being a rare thing for Van Morrison, as he lets out a drag he’s taken from his cigarette, until, at one point, he leans over to say something to the girl, who now has a tambourine in her hand, and the girl starts walking away off stage, with the tambourine, all along with the song continuing, and Van starts to follow the girl, as if he intended to leave the stage in the middle of the tune, only to turn around abruptly and finish it out with an extended improvisational series of fits and starts.

Anyway, ’nuff said. It’s pure awesomeness.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend everyone!