Friday Five: Les Paul

Today is the anniversary of the passing of Les Paul, who left this planet on August 12, 2009.  What better way to mark the occasion than to celebrate some of the music that lives on because of what he created.

Here are five songs with amazing performances by guitarists playing their Gibson Les Paul electric guitars:

5. “Mr. Brownstone” (Guns ‘N Roses, 1987)
Slash is a Les Paul man, a dedication that pays off on the band’s legendary debut album, Appetite for Destruction. In an album of memorable solos, this song about heroin (the first released on L.A. radio in advance of the album) holds its own.

4. “Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones, 1988)
Keith Richards is the best of the best.

3. “Whipping Post” (The Allman Brothers Band, 1969)
When I watch Duane Allman play all I can think of is that line Marlene Dietrich delivers at the end of Touch of Evil: “He was some kind of a man.”

2. “Hideaway” (John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, 1966)
Clapton’s work here sounds like he lets the guitar do what it was meant to do and, yet, makes it do what it never did before.

1. “How High the Moon” (Les Paul & Mary Ford, 1951)
And the man himself, showing off his skills on the solid-body six string he made.

lespaul1

Friday Five: Ramblin’

ramble:

verb ram·ble \ˈram-bəl\

1: to walk or go from one place to another without a specific goal, purpose, or direction
2: to talk or write in a desultory or long-winded wandering fashion
3: to grow or extend irregularly

Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going until you’re there. And sometimes you don’t know where you’ve been until you’ve left and come back. And other times we never really come back, now do we?

5. “Ramble On (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
4. “Ramblin’ By Myself (John Lee Hooker, 1960)
3. “Midnight Rambler (The Rolling Stones, 1969)
2. “Ramblin’ Man (The Allman Brothers Band, 1973)
1. “Ramble on Rose (The Grateful Dead, 1972)

dead

Grateful Dead, Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, Whitney, NV, May 1993.

Friday Five: 1992

Life is filled with pivotal moments, periods of time that change us in fundamental ways. Most of us don’t have many, but the ones we do have are indelibly part of our story. I’d guess, for most of us again, those moments are far more frequent in our teens and twenties than at any other period of our life.

I turned 20 years old in 1992 and it was a year of pivotal moments for me. I read Marx for the first time and got seriously into Chicano history. The L.A. riots flipped my sense of the world upside down. I studied abroad in England in the fall, my first time needing a passport and my second time on an airplane. I got my first email account.

Here are just five of the songs that I associate with this period in my life. There are many more, but these are all from 1992 and all occupy a soft spot in my heart.

5. “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” (Los Lobos)
Even though I had known Los Lobos for years, this song came from the first of their albums I ever bought, 1992’s Kiko. It’s a mystical album, folksie and spiritual, and the song is indicative of the whole. I was moved by the sound, the organ and the odd chords. It melded perfectly with where I was and who I was, with a nod to where I was from.

4. “Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang” (Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre)
It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic. This song preceded the album’s December release by about a month. It was the first time I heard Snoop Doggy Dogg. All I can say is that it made an impact, seemingly with everyone.

3. “Galileo” (Indigo Girls)
I had friends who were Indigo Girls fans throughout my first two years of college. If not for the success of this song, the folk duo were the kind of sound I might never have encountered if not for college. This mainstream hit, however, made them unavoidable for my generation, and helped put them on regular play on my stereo.

2. “Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton)
I liked this song so much when I first heard it that I bought the soundtrack to the movie Rush, which is how the song–a love letter to Clapton’s son Connor, who died tragically at the age of 4–was first released. It was poignant and bittersweet. On January 16, 1992, Clapton performed it along with some of his classics and other songs as part of an acoustic “MTV Unplugged” concert. The concert would air later in March, result in a best-selling and Grammy-winning album later that summer, and signal the start of the next phase of Eric Clapton’s career. That acoustic version continues to be one of my favorite live performances of any song.

1. “That Feel” (Tom Waits)
Tom Waits was starting the third decade of his musical career when I discovered him. I never knew he existed before that and when he came to me it was like coming home. My first encounters with him where, simultaneously, a live 1974 recording (Nighthawks at the Diner) and 1992’s Bone Machine. This song, the final track to that album (which won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album, go figure…) is a duet with Keith Richards. It sounds about as beautiful as two drunk alley cats singing to themselves as they wallow in self-pity. It’s beautiful.

Friday Five: Uncle Danny

The Sandoval family said goodbye to one of our own today.

Danny Sandoval was an amazing man. He was a loving father and grandfather, and a loyal brother and son.  He was a beloved cousin and nephew.  To me and my siblings and cousins, he was an uncle.  He was my Uncle Danny. And he was one of the most influential people in my life.

Uncle Danny was a caring and accepting man.  Honestly, he was one the most non-judgmental people I ever known.  He took people as they were and saw in them the good that they carried.  In that alone he made a profound impact on me.

The most enduring memories I will carry about my Uncle Danny are his sense of humor and his love of music.  Like all the Sandoval brothers, Danny was quick-witted and had impeccable timing.  Not only could he make you laugh, but he loved to laugh himself.  Watching my dad and his brothers crack each other up was one of my favorite things as a kid.  To join in as an adult was even better.

Danny was also a gifted musician and a lover of music.  It’s the first thing anybody thinks about when they think of Danny.  He had an amazing voice, one of the best I’ve ever heard.  And he could do amazing things on a guitar.  He was in bands all throughout his life.  Though he was never famous, or never made a living at it, it was his passion.  And he was good at it.  Mostly self-taught, my Uncle could play the boleros he learned from my grandpa as well as the rock and rhythm & blues he loved from his upbringing.

Our love of music and, in particular, the guitar, was part of the bond we shared.  Simply put, he was my guitar idol.  He was also my teacher.  My Uncle Danny gave me my first real pick.  When I was a kid and showed him how I could switch between the G, D, and C chords, he showed me how to play an A chord and then how to make the switch easier to other chords.  When I was a teenager and I had inherited one of my grandpa’s guitars, he taught me how to do an A-minor and an A-7. When I started really working at learning songs in my 20s, he opened a new world for me when he showed me how to play ninths.

I loved to watch my Uncle play and sing, but I also loved to talk about music with my him.  He was a walking encyclopedia of 20th century popular music, especially 60s and 70s rock.  While he had his favorites, he was also non-judgmental when it came to music.  For me, that was always a lesson because it seemed incompatible with being a diehard fan.  But my Uncle had respect for music, musicians, and for the love people had for both.  He didn’t judge what you liked if you liked it because he knew what a powerful thing that was.

When I started to get into heavy metal, we could talk about AC/DC or Black Sabbath or Metallica, even though those weren’t big for him.  He knew them as a musician, but he also appreciated that they meant something to me.  He could show me what they did or why they sounded how they sounded, to give me something more to appreciate about them.  I always admired that about him.

Mostly, I remember him talking about the guitarists and the music he loved, because that’s what I loved to hear.  And, if my Uncle loved it, I made a point to like it too, because it had to be good.  I remember back in the 80s, when I was in high school, he was talking about Bob Seger to me and one of my aunts.  I knew who Bob Seger was but didn’t think that much of him.  I remember I asked him, “Why doesn’t he make music anymore.”  My Uncle answered, “Because he’s Bob Seger. He doesn’t have to.”  That was it! Even to this day I will defend the music of Bob Seger to anyone.

A lot of this blog is about music.  That’s because a lot of my life has been about loving music.  I work it into my classes and into my family as a result of that love.  That love comes from a lot of places.  It comes from my dad and my mom, from my grandpa, from my childhood.  And a big part of it has always come from my Uncle Danny.

Until the day I die, I will always think of Danny Sandoval when I play the guitar or listen to the music that we loved.  He’s always been a part of my passion for both.  I miss him dearly already, but I am glad that I can feel him in so many songs.

Here are some songs, a little more than five, that I will always associate with his talent and his love.  Rest in peace Uncle Danny…

“Pride and Joy” (Stevie Ray Vaughn)

“Spinning Wheel” (Blood, Sweat, and Tears)

“Whipping Post” (The Allman Brothers)

“Got to Get You into My Life” (The Beatles)

“You’re Still a Young Man” (Tower of Power)

“Vehicle” (Ideas of March)

“Funny (How Times Slips Away)” (Joe Hinton)

“Sleepwalk” (Santo & Johnny)

“Colour My World” (Chicago)

“Take the Money and Run” (Steve Miller Band)

“All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix)

“Long Train Running” (The Doobie Brothers)

“Machine Gun” (Jimi Hendrix)

“The Letter” (Joe Cocker)

“Does Anybody Really Know What Times It Is?” (Chicago)

“Big Love” (Lindsey Buckingham)

“Oh! Darling” (The Beatles)

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (The Beatles)

Friday Five: 1991

The early 1990s were an eclectic period in popular music and my tastes were no different. Combined with my (st)age––that powerful period in life when you’re actively discovering who you are and deciding who you want to be––my wide interests make me a fan of so many songs from those years.

Some of that is about the memories songs incite. When I hear “3 Strange Days” by School of Fish, for example, I am instantly transported to the job I worked each break from school, processing checks at two in the morning. Some of it is the ironic fanaticism of my generation, a way of seeing and judging that could make things as stupid as this both enjoyable and, somehow, meaningful.

There are a lot of songs from 1991 that I want to people to know about, songs I wish they played more often on the radio, songs that deserve to be played more often. But there’s no way I could get that list down to only five.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard at all to come up with the five songs that meant the most to me that year, songs that I obsessively played on repeat, again and again.

5. “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” (Boyz II Men)
A song of change and of transitions, a song of memories and love. I never stood a chance.

4. “Why Should I Cry for You” (Sting)
Sting made his 1991 album Soul Cages to process his father’s death. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. I used to put on my head phones and push play, then just sail away…

3. “Lithium” (Nirvana)
It was an album that made me feel alive, confused, angry, powerful, and peaceful, all at the same time. This was the one I played the most, the one that made me feel his genius.

2. “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica)
I bought Metallica’s “Black Album” the day of its release. I remember being surprised by the melodies. I thought it was the end of Metallica, and one of the best albums I had ever heard. This was my Gen X anthem.

1. “Black” (Pearl Jam)
I loved Pearl Jam’s Ten for the way it made me feel. It was like these guys were playing the soundtrack of my guts, in sound and words.

Friday Five: 1990

It was a good year for me, a big year.

In 1990 I graduated high school and started college. For a young Chicano, who came from a family who didn’t have a lot but always had enough, that was probably one of the more important transitions in my life. College changed my world.

My world had already been one that contained transition, hybridity, and knowledge of the multiple. We were a family of both immigrants and US-born. We were spread throughout East LA, in Chicano suburban barrios in the San Gabriel Valley, and Mexico. Like the movements my grandparents made, my dad and mom and two sisters also made movements. We went from working class to middle class in my youth. We went from a family of 5 with no college graduates to one with one, and then another…until we were 5 bachelor’s degrees, 4 MA degrees, and 2 PhDs.

My world was dominated “minority” people, communities, and cultures. It was centered on the late-20th century US popular culture, but also on African American culture (especially West Coast black culture), on Chicano-LA culture, on Filipino second-generation culture. We gravitated to and drew identity from the strands of popular culture that were often not the mainstream, dance club music, funk and soul, hip-hop. As I participated in other cultural strands–notably hard rock and some heavy metal–I never stepped out of the shared culture I knew, I never ceased to be conversant in it or to draw identity from it.

This is the thing about not being part of the mainstream in the United States, when that mainstream negates your existence culturally, socially, and politically. You still are rooted to communities that operate in all those realms, you developed your own sense of “peopleness” as you do, but you also become expert at the culture that is simultaneously “yours” and “theirs.”

And then came college. In college I entered a space that was dominated by a specific kind of late-20th century cultural whiteness, a place that was brutally unaware that their way (of thinking, dressing, having fun, dancing, of hoping) was not the only way. It was an introduction to a new world for me, including new music, but also a long process of coming to terms with who I was/am. My main advantage was that I knew them and the content of their world when they did not know mine.

Part of my growth was a greater awareness and appreciation for the culture I came from. Songs I never liked all that much, styles of music that I knew but did not necessarily love, became more meaningful to me then. They were markers of my community, the one I had left to come to college. They were ways of embracing my difference, my special knowledge, a process that helped protect me from what could sometimes be a difficult adjustment. They were also declarations of my knowledge, my rootedness to a world that “they” never knew existed.

That happened at the same time parts of that people-of-color culture (we didn’t call it than then, not yet) were becoming fully intrenched in the mainstream, too.

Here are five songs from 1990 that represent that for me.* They are not songs unknown to anyone, certainly not to others of my generation. But what they meant for us was, I think, distinct than what they meant for the upper class white kids at my college.

5. “Mama Said Knock You Out” (LL Cool J)
“Don’t call it a comeback!” With that line LL Cool J begins a powerful and aggressive track that would become his biggest hit of all time. He was a very well-known person in my world well before 1990. He had been up and down already just in the period of my high school years. Songs like “I Need Love,” “Going Back to Cali,” and “I Need a Beat” were classics to my young mind. The punch of this chart-topper made it a favorite to dance to in those years at college. It was like a musical declaration of your oppositional strength.

4. “Poison” (Bel Biv Devoe)
You can’t get more mainstream than Bel Biv Devoe, the trio that spun off from 80s boy group New Edition. It was that history, though, that made them mean something more. We had grown up with them, they were “our” boy band. And when they became kinda crude (and sexist) and obvious with their breakout song “Poison”––reminding us “Never trust a big butt and smile”–it somehow seemed right, it seemed authentic. Their success made you, well, proud.

3. “U Can’t Touch This” (MC Hammer)
This might be the biggest song of the year, a commercial hit that made Oaktown rapper MC Hammer a household name, and his baggy pants a cultural phenomenon. But he wasn’t new to us. Hammer’s “Turn This Mutha Out” was played at every house party I ever went to, a track (like Rob Bases and DJ Eazy Rock’s “Joy and Pain”) that never failed to fill the dance floor. When “U Can’t Touch This” played at my senior prom, there was a humor and celebratory feel to it. It was both stupid and, strangely, ours.

2. “Humpty Dance” (Digital Underground)
“Alright, stop what ‘cha doin’, ’cause I’m about to ruin, the image and the style that you’re used to.” I want you to know that I typed those words without listening to the song or checking them online. I can go all the way to the end of the song that way, too. Digital Underground was a funny, creative, eclectic grouping. Known for being the starting point for the career of Tupac Shakur, their 1990 album Sex Packets spawned two hits, “Doowatchyalike” and this classic. Digital Underground’s album was pretty dirty, something that wasn’t in-line with the success of this single, but something that somehow made it more authentic. There’s no assimilative politeness or decorum here.

1. “Groove Is In the Heart” (Deee-Lite)
I remember being at a freshman orientation dance in college, an event that took place the week before classes started, a social held outside in the middle of a closed-off street. I was feeling it already, the feeling of being one of so very few of who you were, the feeling that was a stark contrast to the world I had know, to the world that made me. It comes with bursts of confidence, of fear, of self-doubt and, later, anger. When this song came on it seemed like, for a precious moment, there were only people of color dancing in the streets. I don’t have words to explain what that meant. Deee-Lite, the multiracial dance/funk/club group, who were clear precursors to acts like Black-Eyed Peas a generation later, never hit it bigger than with this song from their debut album. It featured funk legend Bootsy Collins, a man I thought was in the group until about a decade later. The song is a classic, both now and then.

*The word “classic” is going to be used a lot here.

Friday Five: 1989

The end of the 1980s was the high point of the reign of hard rock.  After Motley Crue and (especially) Guns N’ Roses, if you had long hair and you were in a guitar band that played L.A. clubs, you just might become a rock star.

The formula was simple: you had to have at least one guitar-driven rock video and one ballad, usually a love song.  Oh, people loved them some big-hair, 80s rock ballads!

So here are five of my favorite rock ballads from 1989…

5. “When I See You Smile” (Bad English)
When Journey broke up, guitarist Neal Schon (who started Journey before Steve Perry and later reformed the band without him) reunited with former Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain and joined forces with vocalist John Waite and bassist Ricky Phillips, two of Cain’s former bandmates from The Babys, one of Cain’s pre-Journey projects. Billed as something of a US-British “super group,” the band had only minimal success, largely due to this hit ballad.

4. “Heaven” (Warrant)
Probably one of the most successful of the second-tier 80s rock bands, Warrant hit it big with their debut album Dirty Filthy Sticking Rich, an endeavor that spawned three MTV hits that crossed over to the radio charts. This ballad was the engine to their album sales. They’d repeat their success with their follow-up album Cherry Pie a year later, and another ballad (“I Saw Red”) before disappearing under the wave that was grunge.

3. “Patience” (Guns N’ Roses)
Guns N’ Roses might have been the most respected of the 80s rock bands.  They were seen as more talented, artistic, and authentic than the MTV manufactured kind. G N’ R Lies––the follow-up to their monumentally successful album Appetite for Destruction––was an acoustic EP (“extended play,” or not quite a full “long play” album) release from the band, a reflection of the way they honed that reputation.  “Patience” was the only release from the album, and so its only hit.  It’s a masterful example of the genre, in some ways because it is so simple.  (It wasn’t the only song to be widely known, however. Among the unreleased tracks was “One In A Million,” a song that featured lead-singer Axl Rose spouting off in a racist and homophobic mini-tirade.)

2. “What It Takes” (Aerosmith)
Aerosmith were kind of the granddads of the 80s rock movement, a 70s rock band that experienced a “second career” starting with the release of their 1986, best-selling album Permanent Vacation. The follow-up, 1988’s Pump, was an even bigger commercial success. “What It Takes” was the album’s final single to be release, barely scrubbing the charts in 1990. As an owner of the album, however, it was on frequent play for me throughout 1989 and 1990. This quickly became my favorite Aerosmith song, mostly for its bluesy rock style, but also for the feeling of playing my cassette and driving with the windows down as I went to meet friends for a night out.  It still sounds like youthful grown-up-ness to me.

1. “Love Song” (Tesla)
Sacramento-based rockers Tesla straddled stardom until their 1989 album The Great Radio Controversy made them into the proverbial “overnight success.” In truth, their love of the blues and Northern California 70s rock really gave them a distinct sound, and secured a reputation of more legitimacy in the hard rock world than if they were “only” a ballad-playing MTV band. That said, they remain forever known by one song––one ballad––one ballad that just might be the king of 80s rock ballads.

For a bonus treat…the song played a memorable role in the band’s acoustic album, Five Man Acoustical Jam. Recorded live in Philadelphia, the song acted as a transition to a short “electric” set. The crowd’s sing-a-long speaks volumes about the song’s popularity.