Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rig O' The Month - June 2008

June's Rig O' The Months come to us from the Eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland. Over the past few years, I've had the pleasure of corresponding to Mike O'Reilly, an acquaintance whom I became associated with a couple years back via The Fret.Net. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I was name-dropping some of my favorite Canadian musical artists in a post reply, and Kim Mitchell and the Tragically Hip happened to come into the dialogue. An avid Canadian rock fan himself, Mike took a shine to that, and we soon exchanged several e-mails - each time finding out we had more and more in common: music, muscle cars, hockey, and of course, the social arts. As far as guitar playing is concerned, Mike's passion rests firmly in the Fender Camp, though when we'd exchanged e-mails late last fall, he was actively pursuing a vintage Marshall via a U.K. connection.

Last week, I received an e-mail from Mike, along with pics of some very delectible Fender thoroughbreds. In his own words:

"Thought I'd send this along ... a pic of the rig I'm currently gigging and using in the studio .. a 1964 Fender Bassman AA864, 1966 Fender Bassman cab loaded with original Jensen C12-NS, 1966 Fender VibroChamp. I run these through a Boss ME-10 digital multiple effects board in stereo. When mic'd either through the PA in stereo or in the studio this combonation is nothing short of aural masturbation. The Boss lets me also run either of the amps alone like an a-b box or in the aforementioned stereo. The digital reverb is very good and the chorus is the standard Boss . . . killer. Anyway - - maybe a candidate for "Reader's Rig of the Month" on TONE FARM."

No matter how you slice it, sixties-era anything from Fender rates very highly, esp. steeds of the Blackface bloodline. And yes, perhaps even as highly as the art of auditory self-pleasure . . . ;~) Thanks for sharing, Mike - and congratulations on being the Tone Farm's Rig O' The Month!! J.

P.S. - Be sure and "double-click" the photo for the full-sized, Fender-licious version!

The hotter . . . the better!

Every once in awhile, something comes at you from out of nowhere. Unexpectedly; and without explanation. Kind of like a long throw from the outfield - only, in this particular instance, it lacked the typically arcing trajectory that makes up for gravity’s pull. It was a laser shot - on a rope and deadly accurate. Such was my introduction to the music of the late Rory Gallagher

My typical workday always involves music, and in most cases, it’s the sublime drone of an XM Radio station in the background. On this particular day, the dial was set to the "Deep Tracks" station, which pulls heavily from the late 60’s classic / early 70’s power rock / avant garde catalog. Seemingly, in the middle of a rather "typical" set list, I hear the sound of an edgy, overdriven Stratocaster. Not "edgy" in terms of the tone being overly bright - - but in the sense of it being on the "edge" of an emotion. A raw, jagged nerve. Kind of like that feeling you get when you’re watching a scary movie . . . that split-second before a super-scary part. Anxious. Unnerving. That kind of edgy. I rose from my chair to inspect the XM display dial, curious as to the origin of this fantastic Fender sound.

The salvo of Stratocaster power chords at the beginning of "Walk on Hot Coals" relays immediate notice as to what will immediately transpire. This is no-holds-barred, full-tilt blues rock, delivered by players who understand the meaning and purpose of doing it well.

Another thing that struck me immediately about the mood of "Walk on Hot Coals" is its fusion of energy – a singular, allied, contiguous flow of musical passion. Certainly, Gallagher’s masterful Stratocaster work is at the striking point of the formation, and his playing blends a style that's borderline hard rock - yet with a respectful nod to both ethnic and blues roots. The arsenal of amazing tones that accompany his music serve faithfully and obediently - benchmarks of a highly-skilled player. But like any great guitarist, the end effect is indeed dependent on the sum of its parts. The powerful, decisive guitar chords of this song contrast beautifully against the Doors’ish bounce of Lou Martin’s electric piano. Gerry McAvoy (bass) and Ron D’ath (drums) are beautifully efficient as the band’s rhythm foundation, fully understanding their roles in the context of the song.

As the number unfolds, the band soon finds itself feeding its guitar player ample leash from which to explore. A glorious extended solo soon unfolds, and I find myself entranced; held captive to each note. Using a variety of masterfully executed techniques (string bends, staccato picking, on-the-fly p'up position changes), Gallagher weaves and winds the listener through the song – never stopping at one point long enough for you to catch your breath. Through this extended improv, I am struck by how Rory "feels" his way into a run or passage. Not as if he’s playing it, but almost like he’s following a path - - provided by the music itself - - though never quite sure where it’s going to go. Some might think that this is something that can be learned or practiced; to be turned on and off on a whim. Not so. This is a gift, and an extraordinary one at that. In simple terms, this is a guitarist searching for . . . and then . . . finding the very soul of a song. What he finds he communicates with you through his guitar. You, the listener - are left to bask warmly in the glow of its omnipresent emotion.

A crescendo of crunchy power chords soon alerts me to my work-bound reality, and it seemed to me as if I had been lost in a swirling array of Strat-o-luscious-ness for hours. I grin slyly, fully aware of the experience that just transpired. My only thought at that point: "Where do I get more of this?"

My collection of Rory Gallagher CD's has expanded considerably in the short period of two years, and includes the following releases: Rory Gallagher (1971); Deuce (1971); Live In Europe (1972); Irish Tour (1974); Against The Grain (1975); Calling Card (1976); and BBC Sessions (1999). I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any to guitarists and music fans alike, though I am a bit partial to the (2) 1971 studio releases from the standpoint of variety and performance. It goes without saying that both of Rory's live albums are essential listening - esp. for the guitar set.

GUITARIST: Rory Gallagher (all guitars, vocals)
BAND: Lou Martin (piano); Ron D'ath (drums); Gerry McAvoy (bass)
SONG: "Walk on Hot Coals"
ALBUM: Irish Tour

HIGHLIGHTS: Gallagher presents the listener with a stunning array of guitar techniques and tones – from roaring, overdriven Stratocaster; to beautiful acoustic balladry; to stinging steel guitar slide. Raw, gritty vocals narrate mile-deep, soulful renditions of original songs, blues standards, and an amazing cover of Tony Joe White’s "As A Crow Flies".