What Happens When a Musician Plays Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” on a $25 Kids’ Guitar at Walmart

There's a maxim that says, "It's not the guitar, it's the player." And the video above bears it out.

In this clip, musician Clay Shelburn and his pal Zac Stokes visit a Walmart at 3 a.m. and pick up a Disney Cars 2 toy guitar. Next, they proceed to play Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” and unleash the full potential of that $25 guitar. The Barbies all go crazy.

When it comes to the blues, any old guitar will do. That we know. But if you care to watch Shelburn play the same song on a guitar that runs north of $1,000, check out the video below.

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Hear Paul McCartney’s Experimental Christmas Mixtape: A Rare & Forgotten Recording from 1965

If you hear someone complaining about the scarcity of good Christmas music, you know they’re doing something wrong. As we pointed out a couple years back, you can keep a Christmas party going for hours upon hours with holiday classics and funky originals from James Brown, Johnny Cash, The Jackson 5, Dinah Washington, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Low, Bad Religion, Christopher Lee, The Ventures, and so much more besides.

And then there’s the Beatles, whom we wouldn’t ever think of as an acquired taste, but whose Christmas records may only appeal to a special kind of fan, one who appreciates, and perhaps remembers, the band’s aggressively cheerful spirit of marketing. Throughout the 60s, they made short, whimsical Christmas “flexi discs” for fan club members. These are amusing, but hardly essential, though I’d recommend putting 1967’s “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” on any playlist, holiday or otherwise.

While the band made their light and breezy 1965 Christmas record, Paul McCartney undertook a decidedly different holiday solo side project—recording experimental tape loops at home, including, writes author Richie Unterberger, “singing, acting, and sketches.” Only “three copies were pressed, one each for John, George, and Ringo.” As McCartney himself described the recording, “I put together something crazy, something left field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening.”

You can hear what survives of the recording above. McCartney calls it “Unforgettable” and begins the disc in an American announcer’s voice, “a fast-talking New York DJ,” Rolling Stone writes, followed by Nat King Cole, then “an inventive selection of songs by the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and Martha and the Vandellas.” McCartney described the project as “a magazine program: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops” and “some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard.”

Unfortunately, much of the experimentation has not survived, or made it to a digital format. Nonetheless, the tape “might be the earliest evidence of the Beatles using home recording equipment for specifically experimental/avant-garde purposes,” Unterberger notes, “something that John and Paul did in the last half of the 1960s, though John’s ventures in this field are more widely known than Paul’s.” It isn’t Christmas music, exactly, but when you put it on, you’ll know it began its life as a special mixtape McCartney made just for his bandmates, not the fans. We might think of it as the holiday album he really wanted to make.

via Dangerous Minds/Rolling Stone

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Academic Journal Devotes an Entire Issue to Prince’s Life & Music: Read and Download It for Free

Image by Ann Althouse, via Flickr Commons

For decades now, academics have made popular culture a worthy area of study, from hip hop, comic books, and Hollywood film and television to video games and internet culture. And for just as long, there have been those who sneered at the disciplines emerging around pop culture studies. But really, what are we to do with someone like Prince, someone so clearly, profoundly, a musical genius, with such an outsized impact on popular culture, that he cannot help being a major historical figure just a year and a half after his death?

Devote an entire journal issue to him, of course, as the Journal of African American Studies did this past September. This is not, by far, Prince’s first appearance in a scholarly publication. And a slew of academic conferences devoted to the artist this past year has raised him to the academic status achieved by other megastars like Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd. This special journal issue, however, may be one of the most comprehensive collections of Prince scholarship you’re likely to find online. And unlike the majority of academic articles, these are all free. Just click the “Download PDF” link under each title found on this page.

The issue was published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Prince’s signing with Warner Brothers in 1977, the day he “turned pro.” The following year, he released the debut album For You, to modest critical success. While it didn’t make him a star overnight, For You announced him as a virtuoso, “as Prince played every instrument and sang all the vocals, something unheard of, then and now.” Prince’s musical skill could be taken for granted. It is easy to do with an artist who reconfigured culture in so many ways that had nothing to do with playing guitar or piano.

Prince’s radical, if very complicated, redefinition of gender and cultural expression provides an example, writes Deirdre T. Guion Peoples, of “Optimal Distinctiveness,” in the way he “negotiated his social identity.” He lived an ardent, consistently utopian vision in his music and also in his life; and his “singular vision of utopia cast women as essential to its creation,” notes H. Zahra Caldwell. And Prince’s “creative practices,” James Gordon Williams argues, “were linked to his covert, but avid, support of social justice initiatives that support black humanity.”

These ten articles elaborate things we thought we knew about Prince, but maybe didn’t, and introduce us to aspects of his life and work we’ve never considered. They are joined by seven essays and personal reflections and two book reviews. Read online or download the special Prince issue here.

via @WFMU

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Brian Eno Presents a Crash Course on How the Recording Studio Radically Changed Music: Hear His Influential Lecture “The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool” (1979)

The rapid development of studio technology in the 1960s could seem like something of an avalanche, started, say, by Phil Spector, expanded by Brian Wilson, who spurred the Beatles and George Martin, who inspired dozens of artists to experiment in the studio, including Jimi Hendrix. By the time we get to the 70s it begins to seem like one man drives forward the progress of studio as instrument, Brian Eno—from his work with Robert Fripp, to the refinement of almost fully synthetic ambient music, to his groundbreaking work on David Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light in 1980.

Eno called himself a “non-musician” who valued theory over practice. But we know this to be untrue. He’s a profoundly hypnotic, engaging composer, player, and even singer, as well as a virtuoso practitioner of the studio recording arts, which, by 1979, he had honed sufficiently to expound on in a lecture titled “The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool.” By '79, when Eno delivered the talk captured above at the Inaugural New Music American Festival in New York, he had already done so three times. In 1983, Down Beat magazine published the influential lecture (read it here).

Eno displays the critical acumen of Walter Benjamin in discussing the history and cultural significance of his art form, with philosophically punchy lines like his take on jazz: “the interesting thing about improvisations is that they become more interesting as you listen to them more times. What seemed like an almost arbitrary collision of events comes to seem very meaningful on relistening.” A very Eno-like observation, underlining his central thesis, which he delivers in a measured series of clauses to construct a sentence as long as some of his compositions, but one, nonetheless, with perfect clarity:

In this lecture, I want to indicate that recorded music, in certain of its aspects, is an entirely different art form from traditional music, and that the contemporary composer, people like me, those who work directly in relation to studios and multi-tracking and in relation to recording tape, are, in fact, engaged in a different, a radically different, business, from traditional composers.

How does Eno make his case? Recorded music substitutes the “space dimension” for the “time dimension,” and thus has a “detachable aspect,” it’s portable—and never more so than now. Eno seems to anticipate the current technological moment in 1979 when he says, “not only is the whole history of our music with us now, in some sense, on record, but the whole global musical culture is also available.” This results in a break with the European classical tradition as composers acquire “a culture unbounded, both temporally and geographically.”

Before the development of recording technology in the late 19th century, limitations of time and space ensured that every musical performance was a one of a kind event, over forever when it ended. In the 20th century, not only could recording engineers reproduce a performance infinitely, but with the medium of tape, they could cut, splice, rearrange, manipulate, and otherwise edit it together. With multi-tracking, they could create a unified whole from several disparate recordings, often from different times and places. And, as the audience for recorded music was a mass consumer market, popular musical tastes, to some extent, began to shift the kind of music that got made. (Eno has since expressed highly negative criticism of contemporary music that relies too heavily on studio technology.)

Eno begins rather drily, but once he gets going, the lecture becomes totally engrossing. He covers the mixing of Sly and the Family Stone’s Fresh, discusses Sly Dunbar and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s studio inventions, and those of his own Another Green World and Music for Airports. He offers a crash course on basic studio technology, and describes owning a recording of a recorded telephone message from Germany that sought apprehension of the Baader Meinhoff gang by playing a recording of one of their voices. He may be one of the most coolly dispassionate artists in modern popular music, but Brian Eno is never boring. Read a transcript of the lecture here.

via Techcrunch

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stream 74 Sun Ra Albums Free Online: Decades of “Space Jazz” and Other Forms of Intergalactic, Afrofuturistic Musical Creativity

He was born Herman Poole Blount, but the many who appreciate his music and the otherworldly philosophy behind it know him only as Sun Ra. Or rather, they don't just appreciate it but find themselves transported to other places by it, even places located far beyond this Earth. Often space, as the title of the 1975 Afrofuturist science-fiction film that stars Sun Ra states, is the place, and if you seek to take such an interstellar journey through jazz music yourself, doing so has become easier than ever: just steer your ship over to Bandcamp, where you can stream the music of Sun Ra and his ever-shifting "Arkestra" for free.

Since you'll have no fewer than 74 albums to choose from, you might consider charting your voyage with Bandcamp Daily's guide to Sun Ra and his Arkestra's prolific and varied output.

It begins with his "Chicago Space Jazz" years in the 1950s, many of the recordings from which "sound a lot like jazz with traditional forms, rich ensemble writing, and plenty of swing," but which already show such characteristic choices and tools as "peculiar intervals and juxtapositions, the newly-developed electric piano, lots of percussion, extra baritone sax, group shouts, and so forth," as well as the influence of "exotica and mood music," the Bible, "occult philosophy," and cosmology.

The guide continues on to Sun Ra's time in New York in the 1960s, where "the 'space jazz' or quirky hard-bop of the Arkestra’s Chicago days starts to morph, reflecting the new 'free jazz' ideas being developed literally all around them by Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and others." This period culminates in The Magic City, "a nearly 28-minute tone poem, collectively improvised under Ra’s cues and direction, without preconceived themes; at times it is brooding and spare, at others it is full-on screeching saxophones." Thereafter came a time of solo and small-group work, and then of mind-bending live performances that the Arkestra, under the direction of longtime saxophonist Marshall Allen, continues to put on to this day.

Sun Ra himself ascended to another plane almost a quarter-century ago, but if you believe the elaborate mythology that remains inseparable from his musical work, he still exists, in some form and in some galaxy, no doubt imagining new kinds of jazz that the mere human mind may never sufficiently evolve to comprehend. Streaming these dozens of albums that Sun Ra left us on this Earth, you may not immediately think to compare them with the music of David Bowie, but as far as 20th-century outer space-oriented self-reinventors go, those two are in a class of their own. As Blount became Sun Ra in the 1940s, so David Jones transformed from Ziggy Stardust into the Thin White Duke into Aladdin Sane in the 1970s. Both remained musical experimenters all their lives, as their discographies will always attest, but when Sun Ra reinvented himself, he stayed reinvented.

Stream Sun Ra's albums at Bandcamp, and know that you can also purchase digital downloads of these albums (in MP3 and FLAC formats) for a reasonable price.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Future of Blues Is in Good Hands: Watch 12-Year-Old Toby Lee Trade Riffs with Chicago Blues Guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks


Earlier this year, we highlighted some footage from 1989, showing then 12-year-old Joe Bonamassa wowing crowds and announcing his arrival on the blues scene. Years from now, we might look back in similar fashion at this footage of 12-year-old blues prodigy Toby Lee. Recorded last month at the Blues Heaven Festival in Denmark, this video features Lee trading riffs with Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks. It runs a good five minutes--enough to convince you that the future of the blues is in good hands.

By the way, Toby has a Youtube channel where you can watch him evolve as a musician. Below, see one of his earlier clips, where, as a 9 or 10-year-old, he pounds out some Stevie Ray Vaughan in a cowboy hat and tiger suit.

via Twisted Sifter

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Giant Clown Sings a Creepy Cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”

You can't unsee this. You can't get it out of your head. Tonight, in your dreams, you'll see Puddles Pity Party, the 6'8" clown, singing a creeped out version of Radiohead's "Creep." He's backed by Matthew Kaminski, organist for the Atlanta Braves. You've been warned.

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