Wishbone Ash

wishbone ash in concert
Wishbone Ash and their Orange amp rigs in the 1970’s always put on a fantastic show.

Wishbone Ash was a forerunner to the guitar sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles. Wishbone Ash’s album ‘Argus’ was out by 1972, a year before the first Skynyrd album.

Their album ‘There’s The Rub’ has some great guitar work, with melodic solos. A great study for aspiring lead players. High points on the album are ‘Don’t Come Back,’ ‘Persephone’ and ‘Lady Jay.’

The rhythm-guitar parts on ‘There’s The Rub’ are varied and interesting. The rhythm-guitar in Persephone uses 6th and 3rd lines. Persephone is a study in arranging for rock rhythm-guitar.

The King Will Come is probably their biggest hit. It uses a single-line hook instead of a chordal background, like in Clapton’s Sunshine Of Your Love and Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Except this one’s spookier, darker than Love or Haze. The lead is a soaring ‘wah’ solo similar to the feel in Clapton’s solo on Presence Of The Lord.

Blowin’ Free was probably their second biggest hit. This one starts out with a rhythm-guitar riff based on a moving the open ‘D’ chord shape up the neck, and alternating against the open ‘D’ string. (Warning: wicked little-finger stretch if you’re not used to it. May want to barre across three strings instead of just shifting your standard ‘D’ chord shape.) The verse has a unusual open-position rhythm-guitar riff. There’s a slow section with some nice solo guitar lines. This is followed by another solo section that’s a little like Allman or Betts.

This album also has some great material for bass-players. The bass lines jam, they’re all over the place. But they are completely coherent and appropriate to the moment. A little like McCartney and Entwhistle.

According to Wiki, John Wetton played with them after King Krimson, so there’s a direct link with Trapeze and Uriah Heep. More to say about some of these guys in later posts.

Wishbone Ash was a pioneering group that influenced many of their contemporaries. One of the essential high points of 1970’s rock guitar.

Historical notes: Wishbone Ash played at a free outdoor concert in 1975 at Fair Park in Dallas, sponsored by KZEW 98 FM. It was called the ‘Can Jam.’ Admission was a can of food for the local food bank. Radio stations used to do that sort of thing back then. Also performing that day were Freddie King, Blue Oyster Cult, Head East, and Black Oak Arkansas.

ABC’s Wide World Of Sports used instrumental sections of Don’t Come Back as music for a pre-recorded segment in the early 70’s. Another time, WWS used parts of Yes’ Close To The Edge in a segment about ski-jumping.

The King Will Come got air radio airplay in Dallas on KNUS, KZEW, and KRLD (?), and in Houston on KLOL. Blowin’ Free was played on KNUS and KZEW.


Songs About the Music Business

Here are three songs recounting the simple joys of life under contract with a major label. Turns out to be a popular lyric theme during this era. All of these songs feature fantastic guitar work. We’ll dig into a few of those parts later. But for now, enjoy three great songs from the ’70s. All on the ‘KZEW 98 FM’ playlist on Spotify.

Pink Floyd – Have a Cigar

Joni Mitchell – Free Man in Paris

The POV in this lyric hinges around the sixth and seventh words, ‘he said.’ Except for this phrase, the rest of the lyric is in quotation marks.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Workin’ For MCA

A Great Virtual Station on Spotify – KNUS 98.7 FM Dallas

The first of two new virtual radio stations on Spotify.

The ‘stations’ are recreations of playlists from two Dallas radio stations from the late 1960s through the late ’70s. This is classic rock radio as it really was. These playlists are intended as entertainment, but they’re also historical documents, if based only on my personal recollection.

The Spotify playlist ‘KNUS 98.7 FM DALLAS’ includes music played on the legendary mixed-format station, and spans the years 1968 to 1973. It has more than 380 songs.

KNUS covers the era of the supergroups. The Beatles were the backbone of KNUS’s playlist. They also featured the Doors, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Allman Bros, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Badfinger, Free, Cream, Blind Faith, Traffic, Crosby Still Nash & Young, and Jefferson Airplane, to name a few. Probably 80% of KNUS’s airtime was divided between only about 45 bands.

Dallasites from that time remember KNUS as a psychadelic and hard rock station. True enough. But they forget how jazzy it was. Right next to Deep Purple, the James Gang and Mountain, was amazing new music from Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Brian Auger. And new music from old-school jazzers like Miles, Dave Brubeck and Yusef Lateef’s Detriot.

At still other times, the mood is calm, etheral, contemplative. Like Don McLean’s Vincent, Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, or Alice Coltrane’s (John’s wife) manic harp strums on her Huntington Ashram Monestary album.

KNUS often included entire albums in their playlists. This is a testament to the strength of some of the albums released at the time. This was before the era when record companies instituted ‘one-hit-per-album’ rules.

A lot of this music was not very well recorded. They just didn’t have the techonolgy at the time. There are a few terrible bass guitar tones on these tracks, because it was really hard to find good bass strings back then. Some problems were just due to carelessness. What about the ‘dropout’ in the guitar track in the opening of Smoke On The Water? Or the crummy upright piano they used to record Colour My World, after the great engineering on Chicago Transit Authority? A lot of great music didn’t make the cut in today’s classic rock radio market because of poor engineering. But in recent years, a lot of those old records have been remastered, and many of them sound better as a result.

There are practically no women artists in this list. Fleetwood Mac was still being fronted by Bob Welch. Linda Ronstadt was still learning the ropes as a solo artist, just out of the Stone Ponies. There was the single hit from Smith. Carole King and Carly Simon each had three of four hits, Judy Collins with her one big crossover hit (Someday Soon), and that was just about it.

The real KNUS included AM radio hits from the ’60s, and occasional bubblegum hits, especially weekday mornings. I’ve excluded the AM hits. This playlist gives you the authentic flavor of the late-great KNUS on a typical afternoon or evening.

More later on the story of KNUS, its importance in radio history, and it’s (sorry to keep repeating this word) legendary creator, ‘The Maverick of Radio,’ and a personal hero of mine, Gordon McLendon.

KNUS 98.7 FM DALLAS Playlist on Spotify

This embedded playlist has only 200 songs. There are more than 380 songs in this playlist if you go on Spotify. If you don’t have the app, just check out the 30 second clips. It’s a great way to sample the flavors of this incredible station from the past.

You can also find KNUS playlists at the HoustonGuitar channel on Youtube.

KNUS Playlist – Part 1 (Skip the first video – don’t shuffle – complete albums at the end of the list)

KNUS Playlist – Part 2  (Cool to shuffle)

Another Spotify playlist, ‘KZEW 98 FM DALLAS’ is comprised of music from the legendary successor to KNUS. “The Zoo” playlist covers the years 1973 to 1978. The real KZEW was around in one form or another until 1989. I chose ’78 as a cutoff point because ’78, give or take, is another stylistic turning point in rock. More about the Zoo playlist another time.

The real KZEW included a lot of songs from the KNUS playlist. To preserve the unique character of each playlist, I have excluded KNUS songs from the KZEW playlist.


Yellow Submarine – The Trailer

The trailer for the MCMLXVIII film, Yellow Submarine. A gripping, if not entirely coherent tale of the Yellow forces of Good in their battle to conquer the Blue forces of Evil. For its time, it was original. All these years later, it’s still fun and imaginative.

By 1968, the only notable animated films were from Disney. Comparisons with Disney’s  Fantasia were inevitable. Yellow Submarine uses a simpler animation style than Disney’s films, at times minimalist. New, specialized film/animation techniques in Yellow Submarine influenced later animators like Ralph Bakshi in Fritz the Cat, and Wizards. It also influenced Terry Gilliam and Monty Python. (Python’s John Cleese has a hilarious scene with Beatle Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers in The Magic Christian.)

Many people at the time assumed that Peter Max created the artwork for the film, because the artwork is in the style of Peter Max. Many people still believe that today, though Max had nothing to do with the film. Just like the way that people today still think the Beatles recorded all those Badfinger songs. The art director was a German illustrator, Heinz Edelmann.

The Yellow Submarine album is as unusual as the film. First, it’s unusual to release a studio album by a major band as a film soundtrack. It’s unusual that the band plays on only the first side of an album with only four new songs. The second side is George Martin’s orchestral compositions for the film.

The orchestra on Yellow Submarine was recorded in a way that no one had heard before, by isolating and close-micing some instruments. From the opening measures, there is something different about the tone of the orchestra. Not like anything you’ve ever heard on Deutsche Grammophon, or from the film studios. It still sounds unique today.

Pantomiming live-action with music is usually a bad idea. In The Producers (1967) and Mad, Mad World (1963), for example, the music closely follows the action, and it becomes tiring quickly.

In cartoons, the rules are different. The music almost always follows the action.  Martin’s musical pantomimes always enhance the action and the humor. With Yellow Submarine, Martin joins the ranks of great composers for animation like Carl Stalling for Warner Bros and Scott Bradley for Hanna-Barbera.

About the music itself. Side 2 opens with a musical depiction of Pepperland. It’s quaint, orderly, thoroughly boring, and a little at odds with the visual extravagance onscreen. It seems to set the musical rules, but it’s a sucker-punch.

Tracing the path from order to chaos is a common artistic motif, like the gradual destruction of Col. Ripper’s office in Dr. Strangelove, or the destruction of Pyramid Picture’s offices in Girl’s Night Out (season 2 Made In Canada).

Martin’s score descends into eerie disorder from the first few seconds after  Pepperland. As you progress through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Holes, the Sea of Monsters, the  March of the Meanies, the musical landscapes become steadily more ominous. This sequence culminates in the strangely beautiful Pepperland Laid Waste, before order is restored again in the final track, Yellow Submarine in Pepperland.

If you haven’t heard it before, I hope you’ll check out George Martin’s memorable score on Side 2 of Yellow Submarine.

A lot of Beatles fans deride this album, but in my opinion, those people are simply wrong.


It Doesn’t Matter – Manassas Live from 1972

A live performance of It Doesn’t Matter, originally released on their 1972 debut album. The first Manassas album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard chart, and was certified Gold (500k+ copies).

Falling and spinning Losing and winning  Keeping my head
Watching for signals Wearisome vigil Was I mislead
I remember you said That you don’t want to forget me
It doesn’t matter Which of our fantasies fail
Every tomorrow Looking tomorrow A piece of today
Run a bit faster Here comes the catcher Making his play
You had better not stay You will soon be surrounded
It doesn’t matter Which of our fantasies stay
Lonely and winsome calling For someone living right now
Something is shallow ugly and hollow Doesn’t even allow you to want to know how You might live for the living Give for the giving
moment by moment One day at a time
It doesn’t matter It’s nothing but dreaming anyhow

Hugh Masekela 1939 – 2018

South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, hailed as “the father of South African music,” passed away January 23rd at the age of 78.

Many in America first learned of Masekela when he joined Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. He also arranged music for the broadway play Safafina! He recorded more than 30 albums between 1963 and 2016.

His instrumental single Grazing in the Grass charted at number 1 in America in 1968. Here in Houston, Grazing in the Grass has been the theme for Randy Lemmon’s Saturday garden for years.

My favorite Hugh Masekela track, the title track from his 1989 album, Uptownship.


Performing Bring Him Back Home with Paul Simon at the African Concert

… Seems like only yesterday. The giants are leaving us one by one.


The Wizard by Black Sabbath

This song is a great example of 70s hard rock. Stylistically similar to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Tull and the other blues-based hard rock bands of the time. This simple, uncharacteristically benign lyric is said to have been inspired by the Gandalf character from the Lord of the Rings books. Find this song in the KNUS 98.7 FM playlists on Spotify and Youtube.


KNUS Playlist on Youtube - Part 2:


KNUS Playlist on Youtube - Part 1:
(Skip the first video - don't shuffle.)



Music Appreciation – Introduction

‘Music Appreciation’ is one of the tags I use here. I write ‘music-appreciation’ posts for a few different reasons. ‘Nothing else to do’ isn’t one of them.

I write these posts because I know from experience that exposure to music is the best predictor of whether any person, young or old, is going to stay when they come in for lessons on guitar, bass or piano. A person who loves music is more likely to stay on and do well than someone else with real aptitude, but no real love of music.

It’s not just that exposure is good, it’s that a lack of exposure is a problem. I’ve had this discussion with more than a dozen other teachers, and we all agree. But what to do about it? We don’t want to spend lesson time trying to get someone to take an interest in this or that song. It’s hard to impart a passion for music to someone else. Remember Blackboard Jungle? (“…Listen to that coronet.”)

Another reason for these posts is I believe that part of being a musician is knowing what’s good. I’ve know of many great players who don’t make great music, I believe, because they don’t really know what great music is.

I also think it’s important to know the history and literature in any area that you’re serious about studying. The history of rock, especially the history of ’60s and ’70s rock radio, is a little misunderstood. That’s important, because in the ’60s and ’70s, rock radio was the only place people learned about new music. Radio was the source for anything new. Much more on that later.

Finally, these posts are here in the hopes that some of my less-informed students, and their parents, will get a clue and take an interest. If you don’t like any of the music here or on my Youtube and Spotify playlists, then I have to ask, “Why are you here?”