Saturday, March 12, 2011

Solos (part 8 of ___ )

Like Carl, I've maybe got a couple more shots with this--perhaps going out with one big blast... although I expect there'll be the inevitable slight returns plus stray suggestions arriving in the mailbag.

But before the blow-out finale, perhaps it's time for some more general comments.

I must admit I don't really know much about the history of the guitar solo, about how it came to be such a thing... Until this past week-and-a-bit I've never expended an ounce of thought on the subject...

Your rock writers, generally speaking, don't talk about things like solos. Or indeed about any exhibitions of musicality for its own sake. That kind of thing is the preserve of the musicians magazines, the guitar monthlies... Maybe it gets talked about in the metal mags?

But with your sort of mainstream/alt-middlebrow type publications, things like skill, technique, virtuosity... these don't tend to come up either as a topic for discussion or indeed as a metric of value, something on which an artist might be graded... oh you might talk about a great sound that a band has, or a cool guitar tone, or you might praise the production, or an aspect of the arrangement, and a certainly the crafty mixing of influences... but a discrete spectacular instrumental display of prowess? (It's as rare as a film critic pinpointing the nature of a cinematographer's achievement).

Perhaps this is down to the long lingering influence of punk's anti-"technoflash" stance (that's what they dissed it as, in 1977 - technoflash!) as perpetuated largely undiminished through indie, alternative, into grunge ... for sure grunge let back in a lot of Seventies stuff (including facial hair) but one thing it did not rehabilitate was the Guitar Hero thing... grunge was about heaviosity in strictly the groove and riff and doom-gloom burdened vocals sense...

It was probably quite different during the pre-punk music press days, the days of Beck Rules and Clapton-Is-God.. I haven't read hardly any pre-1977 issues, but I'm imagining that you would have gotten some seriously slavish and drooling instrumentalist-worship and solo-attention from Melody Maker especially, and also ZigZag (what with their West Coast fixation - and we've not really had any nominations for Quicksilver, Country Joe and the Fish, Airplane Hot Tuna or even - I don't think - Grateful Dead, amazingly). But yeah punk must have wiped all that out and it never came back, really, give or take a Built To Spill.

But anyway this is a preamble, I'm working up to wondering about the Guitar Solo, and I've not done any investigating, this is just scraps I'm pulling together from the alcoves of memory, plus some assumptions-- but, where did it come from exactly? Presumably the idea of soloing, as a long, extended exercise in expression - as a soliloquy in fact -- presumably that drifted over from jazz? Chuck Berry and the other early rock'n'rollers didn't really do solos as such did they? They did short and to the point lead breaks. Same with the early Beatles. It's all concise and pithy, and while full of skill and flair, it's not exhibitionist, indulgent, or spectacular. And you're very quickly back to the Song.

And then the blues... now I confess I have never really "done" the blues properly, but going by my limited exposure (bit o' Muddy water, bit o' John Lee, bit o' Howlin') I'm wondering: did the black pioneers of the electric blues go in for reams of lead gtr wankiosity? Would that not in fact be an invention of the white bluesman, influenced/addled by jazz, drugs, India, Art etc etc? So that would be Paul Butterfield & Mike Bloomfield, John Mayall, Electric Flag, Allmann Bros, Edgar/Johnny Winter, Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac...

The milestone in this evolution would be "East-West", the title track of Paul Butterfield Blues Band's 1966 album, which is over 13 minutes long and has Miles-influenced modal jazz flavours in it...

I mean to say, the black blues dudes would NEVER do--as per Allman Bros--an elongated jam that lasted both sides of an album's side, would they? At least not until white guys showed there was a market for it. Original blues dudes would still have some affiliation to the origins of blues as dance music, as entertainment. Or so I'm guessing (correct me if I'm wrong).

I imagine the twangy instrumental rock'n'rollers--The Shadows, Duane Eddy, et al-- had a lot to do with stoking a taste for lead guitarisms. In fact Chris Cutler in his interesting File Under Popular book points to the Shadows in particular as crucial, unacknowledged precursors/seed-beds for the prog sensibility: the idea that rock could leave behind the song and become a vehicle for instrumentalist exploration...

Crucial figures in the rise of the solo... The Byrds (Coltrane + raga) ... The Yardbirds and Those Who Served In its Ranks: the first Guitar Heroes, Clapton Page Beck.... Hendrix obviously ... and Cream

Someone who's not been mentioned yet at all is Pete Townsend, a total Guitar Hero -- but you associate him with crashing powerchords more than with either riffs OR solos... I can't remember a single Townsend solo


Okay, back to the favourite solos.

It's odd that Johnny Marr has not been mentioned once so far, I don't think. He was just about the only Guitar Hero of the indie-Brit Eighties. My last Fave Solo post having been Queen reminded me that probably the first really conventionally full-blown Solo-as-Solo in the Smiths songbook was the Brian May-esque flourishes that split apart "Shoplifters of the World" (starts about 1.30). It seemed shockingly, thrillingly rockist at the time, but it's all over in about 20 seconds.

We haven't had many black lead guitarists have we....


well i can't find Sly and the Family Stone, "Don't Call Me Nigger Whitey" on YouTube (they have Jane's Addiction's version, and some dude called Gene Harris's version)

but then there's this

John Martyn's "Small Hours" got mentioned by Carl, but what about the playing on this 4.30 onwards, the audio quality here ain't so hot but still ... that is religion, that is...

Postpunk! Not a great time for the guitar solo, maybe. Lot of great, super-innovative guitarists though, and some solo-ish bits crept in... Andy Gill.. probably Bruce Gilbert... John McGeoch... Alan Rankine.. but nah, let's give this dude some props

he may have looked like a reet twat in his spex but he played some tasty guitar... (2.03 onwards)

Paul Reynolds is his name (no relation)

Rowland S. Howard was a genuine Postpunk Axe Hero

Too many contenders really, here's just a couple

this really takes off from about 3.50

Now does this count as a solo? Not quite... but it is a great bit of unhinged postpunk guitar from David Byrne -- starting to singe its way into the mix around 3.40 onwards, really taking off at 4-20 and almost you'd think a take-off of Keith Levene

okay that's all for now... back in a bit