Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dez Prez Rankings: #37 out of 39

37 out of 39
Andrew Johnson (17th president)
Term: 1865-69
Party: Democrat-Union

Andrew Johnson has the dubious distinction of being one of two presidents to be impeached (the other being Bill Clinton). Recall from your Civics class, removing a president is a two step process. The House of Representatives impeaches a president, and then the Senate holds a trial with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted (and therefore stayed in office). Johnson was acquitted by one vote.

Andrew Johnson was a man with strong prejudices and grudges. As Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president (added to the ticket for balance because he was a Southerner), he was expected to do as all vice-presidents are supposed to do, that is go away after the election is over. But, as you may have heard, Lincoln was shot, so Johnson became The Man. And he wanted everyone to know it. A slaveowner and outspoken racist, Johnson saw no reason to try and improve race relations in the South after the Civil War ended. He did not feel that the former slaves may need a little protection in this brave new world of the South. Johnson came from humble beginnings, and he never forgave the arrogant planter class in the South who treated poor southern whites almost as if they were also slaves. So a man who hates both blacks and the Southern elites in power is now in charge of their postwar fates. He was in favor of the Black Codes passed throughout the South to keep the newly freed slaves in the same social position they had occupied under the whip. He also demanded that Confederate leaders come personally to him and grovel for forgiveness in order for them to regain their full rights as American citizens.

Johnson had a golden opportunity to impose a moderate but effective Reconstruction policy on the South if he had been willing to work with moderates in Congress. Instead, he refused to work with the moderates due to his prejudices and strict constructionist constitutional views by opposing the Freedman’s Bureau, various civil rights bills, and most importantly, the 14th Amendment.

So this sets into motion an unfortunate chain of events: Johnson campaigns in the midterms for congressmen who would support his Reconstruction policies. Yet Johnson is so unpopular that almost all of the congressional candidates that he stumps for lose. The Radical Republicans gain power and circumvent Johnson completely and impose a much harsher Reconstruction on the South than either Johnson or the moderates (or Lincoln) wanted, which in turn engenders lasting bitterness in the South. The South responded defiantly with Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, and later Reconstruction ended as part of a backroom election deal in 1876. Due to Johnson’s own prejudices and stubborn unwillingness to work with moderates in Congress whom he generally agreed with other than on racial policies, a harsh and divisive Reconstruction was imposed on the South by vengeful Radical Republicans, the repercussions of which were still being felt 100 years later. Racial issues in this country may have unfolded very differently if a different Reconstruction plan had been imposed.

ABOVE: Andrew Johnson has good reason to look pissed off. He is about to be ranked near the bottom of Dez's Presidential Rankings. Also, on the same night that Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a co-conspirator was to assassinate Johnson. The assassin assigned to Johnson lost his nerve and went home.

Johnson was impeached by a frustrated Congress who wanted him out of the way because of his flood of vetoes for everything they were trying to accomplish with Reconstruction. They passed the ridiculous Tenure of Office Act which required the president to get congressional permission to fire any official who had been given his position through Senate approval. They passed the law knowing Johnson would violate it because Johnson was at war with many of Lincoln’s cabinet members (who were now his cabinet). Johnson tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and the House pounced with impeachment charges. He was barely acquitted, due to the fact that he made deals not to stand in the way of Radical Reconstruction and that enough Senators determined that even though Johnson was universally hated, impeachment should not be used as a political tool.

• Johnson authorizes the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Seen as a waste of money at the time, once valuable resources were discovered it became one of the best bargains in U.S. history.

• Johnson’s racism and bitterness towards Southern elites combines to make him one of the worst possible presidents to steer Reconstruction
• Johnson’s unpopularity and his refusal to work with congressional moderates who actually shared some of his views opens the door for Radical Republicans to impose a harsh Reconstruction that eventually implodes and creates lasting bitterness between the regions
• Although the impeachment was not due to any real wrongdoing on Johnson's part, the fact that he was so despised that the House tried to trump up impeachment charges just to get him out of the way shows a remarkable lack of political skill

RIP Gary Coleman, 1968-2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dez Prez Rankings: #'s 39-38

#39 out of 39:
James Buchanan
Term: 1857-61
Party: Democrat

Times of crisis demand great leaders. James Buchanan was not a great leader. Perhaps in more normal times, he could have skated through as a mediocre president that everyone forgets about. But his were not normal times. He presided over the disintegration of the Union with remarkable incompetence and impotence. Could Buchanan (or anyone?) have prevented the Civil War at this point? Probably not. The Civil War was not his fault. Go as far back as the Founding Fathers, and men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were privately predicting that the slavery issue (an issue which most of Buchanan’s predecessors, including Jefferson and Madison, tried to avoid and kick down the road for successors to deal with) would eventually lead to a violent resolution one way or the other. But Buchanan could have tried something. Anything. Even if it was the wrong course of action. Things were falling apart anyway, so what would he have to lose to try and exercise some decisive leadership?

Instead James Buchanan took the remarkable position that it was unconstitutional for the states to secede from the Union, but that he did not have authority under the Constitution to prevent them from leaving. Wait a minute. See if you can follow me on this, James: if something is unconstitutional, and you are the Chief Executive whose primary function is to execute the laws of the land (The Constitution being the highest law of the land), why don’t you have the authority to act again? Anyway, that was his position. So…uh…oh well. It was fun while it lasted, my Southern belle.

ABOVE: Not that this would effect his rating, but Buchanan was the only president to remain a bachelor throughout his term. It is rumoured, but not confirmed, that he was a homosexual.

• Being the Imperialist that I am, I appreciate that Buchanan pushed for annexing Cuba by force from Spain (where is the Constitutional authority for that one?) It would be kind of cool to have Cuba as a state, and I think we could have done it had we acted early enough.

• At a time when the sectional factions in this country were never more divided (North/South, North/South/West free soilers, abolitionist/slaveholder), Buchanan seeks no sectional balance in his own administration. He adheres to a pro-Southern viewpoint.
• Buchanan publicly blames the entire secession crisis on the abolition movement (a position he maintained until his death).
• Buchanan improperly intervened (remember Separation of Powers?) in the notorious Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, actively pushing justices from the North to provide votes in favor of the pro-slavery position, thereby in a sense, pushing to re-nationalize slavery as a legal institution.
• Buchanan split his party into two factions primarily due to his personal animosity towards Stephen Douglas (a benefit from this split was the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, though).
• Buchanan was wishy-washy when he should have been firm. He clearly had a pro-Southern outlook. OK, Fine. He emboldens the South because they think they have a friend in the White House, but then he pisses them off when he refuses to give up Fort Sumter. He therefore drops the powder keg that ignites the Civil War in Lincoln’s lap.
• Buchanan stands by impotently as seven states secede from the United States.

“If you are as happy, my dear sir, on entering this house as I am in leaving it…you are the happiest man in this country.” – James Buchanan to Abraham Lincoln on Lincoln’s inauguration day

#38 out of 39:
Franklin Pierce
Term: 1853-57
Party: Democrat

Times of crisis demand great leaders. Franklin Pierce was not a great leader. Perhaps in more normal times, he could have skated through as a mediocre president that everyone forgets about. But his were not normal times. He presided over the near-disintegration of the Union with remarkable incompetence and impotence. Could Pierce (or anyone?) have prevented the Civil War at this point? Probably not. The Civil War was not his fault…sound familiar? Unfortunately for our nation, we had a series of the weakest presidents in our history when we needed strong, bold leadership. Again, the Civil War was probably inevitable, but each of these presidents played their part in slamming the door on possible peaceful solutions during their bumbling administrations.

Pierce preferred a lasses-faire approach to governing, and that is fine in times of relative tranquility. But at a time when the country was experiencing growing pains and the ominous sectional crisis that eventually erupted into Civil War, we needed more from our Chief Executive. Pierce’s administration will be most remembered for Bleeding Kansas. Pierce supported Sen. Stephen Douglas’s fateful bill that replaced the former Missouri Compromise with allowing popular sovereignty rule in the new territories as regards to slavery. Before, a line had been drawn coast to coast outlawing slavery above the southern border of Missouri (it was allowed in Missouri itself), while allowing it south of that line. Douglas’s bill proposed allowing the people of the new territories themselves to decide the slavery issue, starting with Kansas and Nebraska. All hell broke loose. Competing slave and free governments claimed legitimacy in Kansas, and violence erupted. People flooded across the border to swell the ranks of the pro-slavery forces, who sacked the territorial government in Lawrence. Pierce sat on the sidelines and said that the violence in Kansas was not serious enough to demand Federal intervention. Bleeding Kansas was the transition from heated words to actions on the road to Civil War, and Pierce offered no leadership during this crucial time.

The rudderless administrations of Pierce and Buchanan leading up to the Civil War did not cause the war, but they definitely allowed it to happen as quickly as it did and spiral out of control.

• Trade is opened with Japan
• Gadsden Purchase (S. New Mexico and S. Arizona bought from Mexico)

• Ostend Manifesto is leaked and made ineffective due to Northern protest (it claimed that if Spain would not sell Cuba, we could take it. Northerners protested not because they objected to more American territory, but because Cuba would be a new slave state and add to Southern power in the Senate)
• Pierce recognizes William Walker’s illegitimate regime in Nicaragua, thereby soiling our relations with Britain even further
• Pierce was completely inept in dealing with the Kansas crisis, which set us up for the Civil War

ABOVE: The melancholy Franklin Pierce. He had reason to be depressed, aside form his inept performance as president. Not only was the country falling apart under his administration, he and his wife watched their 11 year old son get decapitated by a runaway train car at the beginning of his term in office.

OK all of you James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce fans out there. Tell me why I'm wrong.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dez's Presidential Rankings

I have been fortunate this year to teach AP U.S. History to a group of great students. This opportunity allowed me (or forced me) to delve deeper than ever before into presidential history. My students were always interested in comparing presidents and their respective administrations. We had many debates in class over whether this president was ultimately successful or not, or whether a president could even be judged based on grander events out of his complete control.

Since I love to list and rank things, Dez’s Presidential Rankings seemed a logical next project. Perhaps my readers are a bit tired of the music and film talk, so let’s focus on some history and politics for awhile. In fact, my political posts have traditionally received more comments than any other topics.

So, how to go about this in a consistent and fair way? Most of you probably are aware of the many presidential rankings that have already been conducted and released to much controversy and discussion. Wikipedia does a great job compiling these lists in an excellent chart here. (I completed my rankings before looking at these other rankings, by the way, so as not to be unduly swayed).

I divided the presidents into four quartiles, and then ranked within each quartile. Some of this is, frankly, not fair. If you are a gifted president in extraordinary times, you will probably be ranked highly. If you are a gifted president in more ordinary times, you will not be ranked as high. Is it your fault if you did not serve through an important war or other such crisis? No. The opposite is true as well. A bad president in times that demand great leadership gets the lowest of ratings, while a equally bad president who served through tranquil times and therefore didn’t really do much damage will not be ranked as poorly. So yes, the times will sometimes have a great deal of influence on the ranking of the man. Also, I have noticed that sometimes inaction is the correct action. We will discuss that as well when it comes up.

Each entry will try and list the pros and cons of what was done during the administration and then include an explanation of why I put that president where I did. Hopefully this can foster some debate and discussion.

Will my rankings surprise you? Probably not overall (feel assured that Washington and Lincoln aren’t in the bottom quartile, for instance), but there are going to be some surprises that are either higher or lower than conventional wisdom. The two presidents that I had the most difficulty with were Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. For that reason, they are two of my favorite presidents to study and discuss with my students (in fact, I make them write a “Defense of Richard Nixon” for me that is often illuminating for students who only associate Watergate with him). Both men aspired to greatness, and both accomplished it in some areas and spectacularly failed in other areas. So how do you rank that? I guess you will see.

There are four presidents who will not be ranked. This is either because their terms were too short to accurately judge them or their terms are too recent to assess them with the appropriate historical context. Therefore William Henry Harrison is not ranked (he only served for one month before dying. Ironically, he wanted to quell concerns that he was an intellectual lightweight and too old and feeble to be effective, so he ended up giving the longest inaugural address in history on a bitter cold day and in order to prove his vitality, he refused to wear a hat or overcoat. He died a month later from pneumonia). Likewise, James Garfield is not ranked because he was assassinated so early in his term (the assassin was an anarchist looking for a patronage position. Garfield’s death ushered in reforms in civil service that we still have today). I cannot judge Barack Obama yet, obviously. Although, I can say that when all is said and done his term will be quite significant. Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen. Same goes for George W. Bush. Some of his most important decisions have yet to play out completely (the Iraq War), so only time will tell whether they ended up being good or bad decisions.

ABOVE: George W. Bush will not be ranked

That leaves 39 other presidents that will be ranked and discussed. (I know that Barack Obama is officially the 44th presidential administration, but Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and therefore will be considered in one entry and as one administration).

Stay tuned for the worst president we’ve ever had…

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dez's Top 30 Guitarists: #'s 3-1

The interest in my upcoming Dez Presidential Rankings seems strong, so let's wrap up the guitarists...

3. Unfulfilled Potential : Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills & Nash (& Young), Manassas, Stills-Young Band, solo)

Stephen Stills is the best example of a phenomenon that I have encountered through years of making Mix Tapes/CDs/iPod Playlists. A blank CD nowadays can hold 80 minutes of music. If I said that you have a single disc to make a “Best of” from different artists, the Stephen Stills disc would indicate that he was one of the greatest artists in rock history. His single disc collection would stand shoulder to shoulder with a single disc distillation of The Beatles, Stones, Who…you name it. It really would (and does, because I’ve done it). The problem comes if you move beyond that first 80 minutes or so of music. There is a precipitous drop after that.

I don’t know what his problem has been. He had the talent. He obviously was capable of greatness, as evidenced by the aforementioned single disc “best of” experiment. But he just did not reach that peak nearly as often as he should have. Part of it was hubris. He believed the accolades that he received early in his career and sort of coasted for long periods after that initial burst of creativity with Buffalo Springfield and the early Crosby, Stills & Nash stuff. Another reason is that he has not taken care of himself over the years, battling with weight and substance abuse problems. His once wonderful singing voice has been shot for decades now. His first two solo records are mixed bags of greatness and embarrassment. He has really only made two great solo records from start to finish. One is the first Manassas record (Manassas masqueraded as a band, but it was really Stephen Stills with some great support players) and the second is his 1975 live outing, Live. Everything else is spotty.

Anyway, as a guitar player. Stills is a fine electric player (although sometimes rather lazy), but where he shines is on the acoustic. His guitar picking, at his peak, is inventive, melodic, dexterous, stunning. You can choose various moments throughout his recorded career: the gorgeous folk picking of CSN’s “Helplessly Hoping,” the inventive playing throughout the CSN classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the lovely acoustic playing all over Manassas, his signature (and greatest) storysong, “Treetop Flyer.” For me, though, with what may be my single favorite guitar solo in any song, his greatest moment is on Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird.” It is a full on barnburner of a song to begin with, but where you would expect a screaming electric solo, he instead jumps in with a brilliant acoustic solo. He attacks the guitar. There is no other way to describe it. Within that minute and a half of acoustic picking in “Bluebird” is all of the creativity, excitement and barrier busting of 1960’s rock and roll. It acknowledges folk, country, blues…all of the precursors of rock and roll. Yet it is something new altogether. Stills has never bested that minute and a half from 1967. Neither has any other rock guitarist.

ABOVE: Stills doing "Treetop Flyer"

2. The Indifferent Genius : Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group, solo)

I will try to keep this brief, because over the 2 and change years of GNABB, I have frequently tried to spread the Gospel of Beck. You’ve heard this before. While Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page have had more celebrated careers, it is Jeff Beck who was the greatest of the Holy Trinity of guitar players to emerge from the ranks of The Yardbirds. Hell, just compare each guitarists’ work within that incubator band. Clapton was, even then, the stodgy blues purist (who left the band because he felt they were getting too “pop”). Page was doing interesting things, but already looking forward to what would become Led Zeppelin. The most groundbreaking, interesting, innovative time period of The Yardbirds was Jeff Beck’s tenure as lead guitarist. He could do blues, but he wanted to take it to other places. He was experimenting with new sounds, equipment and techniques of playing. Some of the greatest psychedelic music of the time period was on those Beck-era Yardbirds sides.

Part of Beck’s problem with breaking through to mainstream popularity is that he can never keep a band line-up together past maybe two records. Notoriously hard to work with, he also takes breaks from the music biz altogether for years at a time. Sometimes he seems more interested in following his other passion, restoring old cars, than playing music. He also has horrible timing. On The Yardbirds first important tour of the U.S., the one that would have broken through here, he either quit or was fired (depending on who you believe). His most celebrated line-up of The Jeff Beck Group (featuring a young Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass) imploded a week before they were due to be headliners at a little ‘ole music festival called Woodstock. So, they didn’t show (if you look at the promo posters for the festival, you will see The Jeff Beck Group as one of the most prominent names advertised). He auditioned for the spot as Mick Taylor’s replacement in The Rolling Stones (wouldn’t that have been interesting?), but Mick and Keith asked him to leave after he kept complaining about how boring their three chord songs were to play (Keith was so pissed that he wiped clean all of Beck’s guitar playing on the tapes). Sounds like a Spinal Tap career, and in fact, the Nigel Tufnel character was largely based, both physically and otherwise, on Jeff Beck (a fact that Beck loves talking about to this day).

As comical as all of that has been, Beck is acknowledged by many guitar greats, both living and deceased, as one of the very best. Jeff Beck was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite guitar player and the only one he considered a true rival. Carlos Santana has been quoted as saying “we all know that Beck is the cat on guitar.” So even if the general public doesn’t fully grasp it, most people who actually play the instrument understand that what he does is simply incredible.

ABOVE: JEff Beck playing "Led Boots"

1. The Laidback Master: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits, session work, solo)

Well, here it is. My favorite guitar player in the world. Knopfler’s playing, especially on the early Dire Straits records, is immediately recognizable for its crisp, clean sound and his fingerpicking style. Even on the electric, Knopfler rarely uses a guitar pick, preferring to finger pick. That is the real key to his style. If you ever listen to live Dire Straits, especially on the live record Alchemy, you realize that Knopfler is a master of dynamics. The 14-minute tour de force “Tunnel of Love” from Alchemy is the perfect Exhibit A. He brings the song from a whisper to roar and back again several times, building the tempo, dynamics and emotion through his lead guitar work. The same goes for “Sultans of Swing” on the same record.

I’ve always said that a truly great guitar player has a sound as recognizable as a singer’s voice. Knopfler has played guitar (and produced) on many records for other artists, and I can always instantly pick him out. I will check in the credits, and I’m always right. From Van Morrison to Randy Newman records, Knopfler leaves his mark when he’s backing them up. But, crucially, he never upstages them. He knows that his job is to back up the artist and add to the music. It is still clearly a Van Morrison or Randy Newman song, but just made much better with Mark Knopfler’s contributions. I guess that he is the ultimate compliment for a session player.

Dire Straits has long been a favorite band of mine, and Dire Straits was basically Mark Knopfler. Which is why it comes as a surprise that his solo career post-Dire Straits has been so disappointing. He has toned down the guitar playing and decided to concentrate on being a songwriter (he can be very good) and a singer (not his strong suit, especially as he has aged). His songwriting, musically speaking, has gotten lazy, predictable and dull. But that aside, his greatness will always be on those six Dire Straits studio and three live records, as well as all over many other artists’ work.

ABOVE: Great vintage clip of Dire Straits doing "Lady Writer" from '79

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Programming Note

Hello loyal reader(s) of GNABB. I am very excited to announce that a new list is on the horizon. I can tell by all of the comments that you have really enjoyed the Top 30 Guitarists, but this next list will move into the realm of politics and history. Due to my teaching assignment this last year of AP U.S. History, I have really enjoyed diving into presidential history. Presidential Ranking is not a new thing, but it still stirs up controversy and discussion whenever a new list is released. So right now I am compiling for your reading pleasure Dez's Presidential Rankings, and I will reveal my Rankings shortly. I've already got the bottom Quartile all worked out and in order. So I will wrap up the Guitarists list with a whisper over the next week and then we can dive into the presidents...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dez's Top 30 Guitarists: #4

#4. Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac, solo): The Eccentric Craftsman

Fleetwood Mac has been blessed throughout its long and varied history to have several absolutely brilliant guitarists. The first was, of course, Peter Green. Green is still revered as being the equal of Clapton, Beck and Page in the 1960's Guitar God Sweepstakes (hard to argue against Green if you listen to the blistering "Oh Well" from his time period). After Green went nuts and dropped out of the music biz, fine players like Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwin, Bob Welch and Bob Weston came and went through the Mac ranks. Casual fans don't realize that the classic Fleetwood Mac line-up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham didn't exist until their 10th studio record and 8th year as a band.

At any rate, Lindsey Buckingham transformed The Mac into a 70's and 80's pop juggernaut. Buckingham played guitar, arranged and produced all of their biggest hits. He was the one primarily responsible for their sound in their 70's and 80's heyday. If you listen closely to the guitar work on Buckingham-era Mac, it is always tasteful, creative, serves the songs perfectly and has complexity. His solos aren't usually in your face. In fact, his best guitar playing is usually done when he is not soloing, but laying back and creating guitar textures for the songs. During those two decades, Fleetwood Mac had three very different songwriters (Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie), and to Buckingham's enormous credit, he was able to tailor his guitar lines to serve Stevie's often mystical, dreamy tunes, Christine's pop confections, or his own quirky, off-kilter compositions. It is telling that during the brief period in the early 1990's when he left the band, they had to get two guitar players to recreate Buckingham's playing on the road.

Known as a studio wizard/tinkerer to the extreme, he sort of went off the deep end in the 80's and 90's, both on his strange but interesting solo records and the 80's Mac albums. But the playing was always superb.

Buckingham is a killer electric player, but he truly shines on the acoustic. Funny enough, it wasn't until the 1990's and on that he decided to really show his stuff in obvious ways. I think his solo acoustic bombshell of a performance of Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love" on their live reunion album The Dance was a revelation to many. I know it was for me. Since then, both on his solo records and subsequent Mac records, he has really put his dizzying acoustic fingerpicking playing to the forefront. I would also recommend Live at the Bass Performance Hall (a solo record) as well as a showcase for Lindsey's formidable chops.

ABOVE: Lindsey's jawdropping solo acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac's 80's hit, "Big Love"

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dez's Top 30 Guitarists: #'s 6 and 5

6. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd, solo)

David Gilmour's playing is never really that fast or complex. But he picks just the right notes at the right moments (much like Clapton, at his best. But Gilmour does it more often than Clapton, hence his higher ranking). Roger Waters's often cold lyrics and arrangements are offset by Gilmour's warm tone and playing, which is one of the things that makes Pink Floyd's dynamics so interesting. Gilmour is the most melodic and lyrical guitar player I've ever come across. His famous solo in Floyd's classic "Comfortably Numb" stands out as one of the all time greats, but check out his work in the epic "Echoes" for the best of what Gilmour can do.

ABOVE: Latterday Gilmour-led Pink Floyd plays one of the most beautiful songs in all of rockdom, "Wish You Were Here"

#5. Jam Man: Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band, Derek & the Dominoes, session work)

It is not Duane Allman's fault that many subsequent guitar players mistake length of jam for greatness. Just because he sustains interest in a 22-minute titanic version of "Whipping Post" on the ultimate jam album of all time, the Allman Brothers Band's Live at the Fillmore East, does not mean that every axe-slinger to come along since should try the same. Go back and listen to the inventiveness of "Whipping Post," where it must be said that Allman is aided by second guitarist Dickey Betts and bassist Berry Oakley.

Allman was the greatest slide player in rock history. What made his and his band's music so exciting is that while rooted in blues and country, they took those roots to new places. Duane Allman was like a John Coltrane or Miles Davis. He approached improvisation wide open, and had the chops to take it wherever he wanted to take it. That is really the key, he had the skills and adventurous spirit of a jazz musician, but used it in rock, blues and country settings.

His work with The Allman Brothers Band aside, he was also an impressive session player. Duane's tasty licks grace tunes from the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. His slide playing is all over Eric Clapton's opus, Derek and the Dominoes' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Duane's presence pushed Clapton to his highest peaks, just so he could keep up with Duane. It is Duane Allman playing the glorious slide guitar line through the song and coda of "Layla." But my favorite Allman solo comes on the Fillmore East album. He takes the second solo (after Dickey's) on "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." This is one of the most ferocious and passionate solos I've ever come across. Goosebump inspiring stuff.

It is a tragedy that Duane died so young (in a motorcycle accident), because as talented as he was, he was still developing and probably had not even reached his peak as a player.

ABOVE: This isn't the exact version I was talking about, but it is still a smokin' "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from the Duane-era Allman Brothers Band. Duane takes the second solo near the latter part of the song. Listen and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Think Her Favorite Stones Record is Between the Buttons (UK version)

I have also found that she really enjoys Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dez's Top 30 Guitarists: #'s 8 and 7, The Revolutionaries

8. New Age Revolutionary: Michael Hedges

Michael Hedges wasn't a household name, but in guitar circles he was acknowledged as a true original. He arrived on the new age Windham Hill label, but there was much more to Hedges's dramatic acoustic style than the New Age tag would suggest. With prodigious technique, an often percussive attack, wild tunings, and a whole new way of approaching the acoustic guitar, Hedges was every bit the revolutionary on the acoustic as #7 below was on the electric. Which is why they kind of belong together on this list. Most of Hedges's releases, unfortunately, do have a New Age sheen to them, which is why I would suggest Live on the Double Planet. Stripped down in the live setting, raw and often beautiful, this is Michael Hedges at his best. He has a sense of humor, too. Check out his groovy cover of 80's one hit wonder Sheila E.'s "A Love Bizarre" or his own fun "Funky Avocado," both on LOTDP. Unfortunately for guitar lovers, Hedges was killed in a car accident in 1997.

ABOVE: Ignore the cheesy, New Age setting. Listen and watch this dude play. This is one of his signature tunes, "Aerial Boundaries." Hedges was one of a kind.

7. Electric Revolutionary: Jimi Hendrix (Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Gypsys (sp.), session work, solo)

If I were creating a list of most important or influential, Jimi Hendrix would obviously top the Guitar Mt. Olympus. But this is my list of personal favorites, and #7 is nothing to scoff at! With the electric guitar, there is Before Hendrix (B.H.) and After Hendrix (A.H.) He fundamentally changed the instrument. Even more incredible, there are sounds he made using the rudimentary equipment available to him in the late 1960's that people still have no idea how to replicate. His soloing was unparalleled, but he also was an intricate and wonderful rhythm player. Just listen to some of his quieter tunes like "Little Wing," "The Wind Cries Mary" or "Angel." He was also a great bluesman. The guy could do it all. It is also noteworthy that he has such a small discography (three studio records, one a double, and one live album released in his lifetime, plus a smattering of posthumous releases), yet it is so influential and so uniformly brilliant. His guitar playing often overshadows the fact that he was also an excellent lyricist, engaging singer and talented producer. "Genius" is a label used too loosely, but Hendrix is one of the few in popular music who really qualifies. My favorites? Oh man, the groove of "Highway Chile," the beauty and poetry of "Castles Made of Sand," the transformative cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," the wah-freakout of "Voodoo Child," the funky bounce of "EZ Rider" name just a few.

ABOVE: Many of Jimi's tunes are so familiar, I decided to pick a more obscure one to showcase his talents. This is the slowburn Vietnam nightmare "Machine Gun." It is rather long, but listen to the sounds he gets out of that guitar. By the way, that is the legendary Buddy Miles on drums.