Long, drawn out solos (was Re: It's a boom not a recessi

Mike Curtis wd6ehr@KAIWAN.COM
Wed Nov 27 17:57:17 EST 1996

Time to take this private....

On Wed, 27 Nov 1996 MoreJoe@aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 96-11-25 20:01:35 EST, wd6ehr@KAIWAN.COM (Mike Curtis)
> writes:
> << I've worked with a few bands that had short song lists (under 100).
>  BORING.   >>
> Remember Mike, Bordom comes from within.

Boredom (sp) is indeed our reaction to (perceived lack of) external
stimuli, sameness, etc.  What is boring to me may not be to
someone else.

But that's totally unimportant.

Regardless of its source, it nevertheless is very real.  Even though I
like it on occasion, I still refuse to eat pizza every night, and so do
most normal people.  I know one man who eats pretty much the same thing
every night.  He's miserable and petty.  My opinion is that it's more than
coincidence.  He runs his whole life this way.  My take is that he places
so much value on safety and familiarity that he is willing to be bored to
tears with his life.  He has a university degree in agriculture, but sells
used cars 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

> Some of the great blues artists
> were quite limitied in the scope of playing,  Muddy, Elmore, Albert King,
> Charly Patton, but they remain giants in the eyes of many... partially
> because they worked  what they knew to express themselves in an artistic
> manner.

Quite true, although I don't consider the scope of Muddys playing to be
limited.  An examination of Muddys music that goes beyond the superficial
will show a lot more variety than one might think at first.  Elmore had a
respectable variety, too, but IMHO camouflaged it by overusing the same
lick.  Stevie Ray Vaughan had a great variety in his music (i.e. Riviera
Paradise can be defined no other way than jazz), which I suspect is one
reason why many blues traditionalists criticise him so harshly.
Nevertheless, he remains one of the most popular blues artists.

>   I am sure you are a fine player, but the reason you are, has little
> to dowith the ten thousand songs and more to do with how well you communicate
> on the the ones you play on any given night

True, but it's not nearly as unrelated as you imply.

One of the most important (and most underrated) aspects of music is the
performers enthusiasm.  A bored performer gives a boring performance.
Even BB King varies his songs nightly.  When one plays songs by rote
memorization, how much feeling can one put into them?  Sure, all the NOTES
are perfect, but a machine can do that.  The performer must be properly
motivated if he is to put feeling and emotion into the song, and
communicate it well to the audience.

And of course the performer must be sufficiently skilled to be effective.
Many people who are not musicians/entertainers have more than enough
feeling and emotion, but without the mechanical skills are totally unable
to make acceptable music.

How would variety affect communication?  It could if a person spent their
life only learning a variety of songs but never mastering them.  (Quantity
but no quality).  In many cases, I don't actually "learn" songs.  I hear
them and remember them.  I have an excellent ear and perfect pitch.  If
I've heard a song a few times, I can usually do it, at least
instrumentally.  And of course reading music vastly increases this.  One
of the owners of a prominent Orange County blues oasis told me that he
figured that one of my biggest edges over other bands was my ability to
read music.  (I worked there as a single - the first ever - they're a LOUD
blues rock venue).  While I think he may be overrating it a bit,
nevertheless it is a significant factor to be able to instantly take notes
from a chart and express them as your own.

But my biggest edge is my ear and musical ability.  When I work with Big
Jay McNeely, he often starts playing without telling us the key, song, or
anything else.  Sometimes it's something that we've never heard, maybe an
obscure tune from the 40's or something like that.  He can't dop that with
most bands, but I can _usually_ figure it out.  But sometimes he'll throw
a real curve - something with a nondefinitive melody.

Right now I'm listening to a song being played in G - something off a
Charlie Musselwhite CD.  Charlie is right now using a C harp in second
position (usually a safe call - but Charlie uses several other positions,
and transparently, sdo it's not always a "gimme" to figure out what
position he's using).  The guitarist is using a standard third fret G
chord, doing a "Bb/C" double stop lick.  I didn't really catch the words
(I usually have to transcribe words), but I could handle the tune as an
instrumental decently just from a single hearing.  And of course I'll be
listening to the album again soon :-)  This is how I get most of my tunes.

If one is a good enough musician, one does not have to endlessly practice
and perform a small number of songs.  If one has mediocre abilities and
skills, one must spend all of ones resources to master the songs they're
doing.  One of the best guitarists I've ever worked with was not an
intelligent man nor a quick learner.  It took him a long time to master a
new song.  But he was willing to put in the time required, and was a great
guitarist as a direct consequence, but was stylistically quite limited.

Other great musicians I've worked with had good ears, read and understood
music, were fast learners, and could do just as good a job with a lot less
effort.  Instead of putting a lot of time into each song, they would
instead put their time into mastering their instrument, learning more
songs, and oftentimes mastering other styles.

I don't have to work with poor musicians, fortunately, unless they're
sitting in.  But I have that covered - I tell them they can do "one song".
If they're good, I keep 'em.  If not, we take a break and the gear gets
shut off.

One very important thing about music for me is that it should ALWAYS be
fun.  Not just for me, but those listening as well.  If it's not fun for
the audience, I might as well stay home and play in my studio.

 -- IronMan Mike Curtis
New Cassette available - email for details

More information about the Blues-l mailing list