Sunday, November 23, 2008

Island Music rocks La Plata!

Hey Rockers!

Do you need guitar strings? A new guitar? How 'bout a Gibson guitar? (Hard to come by in good ol' Waldorf!)

Then you need to go visit Keith Grasso, and his new music store, Island Music Company. Located at 600 Charles Street, in downtown La Plata, MD, this place is neat. (It's right across from the Dash In.)

I had heard a lot about it from my students, especially considering how new the store is. "Hey man, you've gotta check out the store!" So I went out this past Friday to see for myself what all the buzz was about.

I was very impressed. It's like going to a guitar clubhouse. The showroom is very small, but that just adds to it's charm. With a Paul Gilbert instructional video playing on the TV to educate the room, it's jam packed with awesome guitars. I spotted Gibson, Epiphone, Ibanez, and Fender brands, and I'm sure I'm leaving out half of 'em. My favorite was the George Lynch tiger stripe ESP. Neat stuff. We started chatting about Van Halen guitars, and Keith ducked into the back, only to re-emerge with a piece from his personal collection - The most beautiful purple EVH Wolfgang guitar you've ever seen.

Keith also told me he's a dealer for most major brands, so if it's not in his warehouse, he can get it for you in a matter of days.

I was perhaps most impressed with the sense of community that he wants to create. Keith was kind enough to put a stack on my business cards on the counter. Later, I was reading his website, and I saw that he's won an award for being the most requested guitar teacher in Baltimore. That's pretty cool he was willing to promote both of us in his store by putting out my card.

Not only that, but Keith suggested several other great ideas to promote guitar in the area. He said he had been meaning to call and introduce himself, but he couldn't find my number. Remember, this guy sells lessons too, at exactly the same price that I do.

That's a way of doing business that I can believe in, and I know where I'll be buying all of my strings, amps, and guitars - Island Music. I encourage you to check 'em out. You'll be a fan.

Rock on, Island Music!

Check 'em out on the Web at:
And in person at:

Island Music Company
600 Charles Street
La Plata, MD 20646

(It's on the left hand side as you head East on Charles Street. It's across from the Dash In. If you see the 7 11 on the left, you've gone too far.)

And check this out - pretty soon, they'll be open seven days a week!

Tell 'em I sent you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Suicide and Musicians

"Send in your skeletons, Sing as their bones come marching in... again...
They need you buried deep, The secrets that you keep are at the ready"
- The Pretender (Foo Fighters)

It was a year ago today. Her father called. "Hey, how ya doin'?" I asked. "Can I talk to your mom?" he said.

"Joe, what's wrong?" mom asked. I was having an average day up until that point. A worry here and there, just normal. Mom choked, sobbed...I'll never forget how she clutched my shirt and twisted for support. It was as if she had grabbed the detonator that we all have, and yanked. How one hand was holding the phone receiver, and her other hand tensed, seized the pen, and scrawled on the scrap of paper on the table

_______ Killed Her self.

The shaky, frantic, desperately black letters will forever be etched in my mind.

Gee, it's hard for me to write this, even though it's been a year. It still makes me feel sick. A lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky. And the Foo Fighter's hit song The Pretender will always play in my head when I think of that day.


I was getting ready for a big gig. "Hmm, where did I put the drill?" Lugging the amp onstage. Making sure I had the cables. Slightly stressed, but still good. The soundman showed up, and we started chatting. "Yo bro, how are ya?"

"Good man, 'cept I just got back from a buddy's funeral." "Geeze, man, that sucks. Who was it?" "Devin."


Devin? He's the guy who humiliated me honorably in a guitar duel. He beat me bad. A few years later, he took some lessons from me. I still don't now why. He was so much better.

Him and his buddies would always try to get me to play all sorts of shocking heavy metal over the PA at a family place. He was playing bigger clubs than I was, and man, he was good. I think one of the last times I saw him was at the crafts store. There he was, in his Dimmu Borgir shirt, and store apron, figuring out where to restock the fake roses. Not exactly metal. But darn smart. Most of the employees and customers are female. "Devin, you're brilliant. I admitted as I shook his hand. "How so?" He asked. "You know how!"

And now he's dead.

And now she's dead.

I didn't know either of them particularly well. I wasn't very close. They were both fine musicians. He was a black guy with dreads who played shred guitar. I was a white guy with 80's hair playing in an all black funk band. "Devin, somethin' ain't right here!" I said to him once.

All we have left of him is a guitar we can pawn for two hundred bucks. That's two pairs of shoes.

She was scary good on the violin. Nobody listened to her cry for help. Now she's gone, and all we have left is a stone. A rock.

We are all intensely interconnected in the grid of human experience. No matter how isolated or insignificant someone feels, "unplugging" from this grid rips out untold numbers of hearts, scars faces, and mutilates consciousness.

There should always be help there. There should always be a hand to grab for those stumbling in the darkness.

She tried, and was rebuffed. How could that have happened?

As musicians and creative people, we can get lost in emotions sometimes. Check out Kurt Cobain. OK - It's so important to help ourselves, and to help each other.

If you or someone you know is in a bad place, here's a few things you can check out:

Please - visit the site. If for nothing else, for me. For her family. And for his family. And how about for yours?

Also, us young people tend to band together. I've talked to people over instant messenger before who were in a very dark place. The number one rule here is: get a professional involved. You cannot, and should not, try to be a hero and do this on your own. It could end up very bad. I'll say it again: Get a pro involved. Click on those links above, and if those don't work, email me, and I'll put you in touch.

The US number is:


Worldwide (click HERE)

Listen hard to your music. Listen hard to your tone. But listen the hardest for a cry for help. Talk to your friends. Check in with 'em. Talk about something real for once. Here's a list of warning signs.

Take good care,

"Even if I say
It'll be alright,
Still I hear you say you want to end your life,
Now and again we try,
To just stay alive,
Maybe we'll turn it all around,
'Cause it's not too late,
It's never too late"
- Three Days Grace Never Too Late

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Acoustic tone

Greetings, rockers!

Whew, what a crazy and fun few weeks. I'm less than a week away from closing on the first (of many) real estate deal of my life. I'm buying a house! Needless to say, I've smashed through my minutes limit on my cell phone, covered pages of paper with notes, and have been going hard. So, that's why The Doghouse hasn't been barking quite as much lately. I've still got readers waiting for their questions to be answered. I really do apologize for the delay, but I'll get to 'em as soon as I can.

Here's a couple of neat ideas for you today. The first comes from acoustic guitar wizard Al Petteway. I've had the privilege of attending a clinic hosted by Mr. Petteway, and his tone blew me away.

I'm a very electric player. When I pick up an acoustic guitar, I pick it up, beat on the strings, try to squeeze the non-existent sustain out of the strings in a guitar hero bend, beat on it, slam it around, and... wonder when the shop is gonna have the electric fixed.. Haa!

My brother said "hey, even I know that's not gonna work!"

I've always sorta thought that acoustic guitars only sounded one way. I'm extraordinarily tone aware with an electric rig, but I never paid much attention to my acoustic sound.

But check out this vid of Al. I think you'll see how crazy my thought process was. Man, what tone he's got! An interesting thing to me is the way he lets some strings ring out to fatten up the sound. Sort of like sustain on an electric guitar.

The second point today is the inclusion of the word "Meh" in the Collins English Dictionary. According to the AP:

Publisher HarperCollins announced Monday the word had been chosen from terms suggested by the public for inclusion in the dictionary's 30th anniversary edition, to be published next year.

The origins of "meh" are murky, but the term grew in popularity after being used in a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer suggests a day trip to his children Bart and Lisa.

"They both just reply 'meh' and keep watching TV," said Cormac McKeown, head of content at Collins Dictionaries.

The dictionary defines "meh" as an expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Examples given by the dictionary include "the Canadian election was so meh."

The dictionary's compilers said the word originated in North America, spread through the Internet and was now entering British spoken English.

Man, can you imagine being Matt Groenig? He got a word in the dictionary! Actually, that's a testament to pop culture evolving a language. And so too is it with music. Blues doesn't really fit with Mozart's view of the musical universe, and Hendrix turned rock on it's ear. But we shouldn't stop with "Purple Haze!" How can you evolve the artform?

(Hint - start by just being yourself, and playing that with sincerity.)

Rock on!

Josh "Donald Trump, jr"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Paint the White House Black

"Josh, I want you to run sound for this band I know. They need a sound man for their rehearsals."

"Sure, Chuck!"

So I showed up for the rehearsal, and my playing changed forever. I had stepped in to the world of Go Go.

Pioneered by guitarist and vocalist Chuck Brown, it's a music native to Washington, DC. - My hood, homie! A mix of funk, rap, reggae, and latin, it's the modern day tribal beat of the inner city. Specific to the DC region, it's had limited success in the rest of the states. However, it continues to grow and evolve . (By the way, I once sold a pack of guitar strings to Mr. Brown himself - it was neat!)

Check out this video for a good idea of some ol' school Go Go. I just found it, and it is funky! It's by a band called Trouble Funk - they were big in the 80's.

Fast forward to the present day, where most guys didn't look like Mr. T any more.

So I showed up at this rehearsal to run sound. Boy, it was a big band. There were a gazillion members, and they all liked their monitors hot, and their sound to be right. In between sweating bullets to get their sound perfect, I grew fascinated with the hypnotic conga drum beats, cowbell punctuations, and keyboard hooks. These guys could jam!

So, the sound gig led to a guitar gig, and I was with the Posse for a good long bit. Go Go has a history of violence and drugs at their gigs, but these guys 'n gals were a religious outfit - havin' a holy ghost party! I'm not even Christian, but they took me under their wing, and I learned a lifetime worth of groove in my stint in the band. I was the only white guy in the band, but they helped me out with my fashion and groove, and pretty soon, I had a cool hat, could swing 16th notes, even do the special hand shake! (It did take me a lot of practice.) I had a blast in the band.

Of course, a cool thing the patient guys in the Posse showed me was that being of Lithuanian descent wasn't my problem in not grooving at first, no matter how much I hollered about the direct correlation of rhythmic impairment to low melanin levels. It was what I listened to, practiced, and played. I eventually got my act together. (As a side note, one of the grooviest bass players I've jammed with was from Sweden, underscoring the point made above.)

Playing in a band that was different that my normal style of playing was a terrific experience. Try it if you get a chance!

A 30's something white guy client of mine gave me this cool tape of old go go bands. It's great, and I love to crank it up to get some groove in my playing. It's called Paint the White House Black.

How fitting since last Tuesday!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Vote, Sucka!

Heyyy Rockers!

Man, I hope everyone had a super cool Halloween. I got stoned on Reeses Pieces, but that's the hardest stuff I'll ever do. (But you will start to see things if you eat enough!)

It's a great time of year for Halloween. Why? It's Election Day in America on Tuesday! I hesitate to mix up politics in my blog, but I'm making an exception today.

It is so important to vote! Pllllllllllleaseeeee do so! I'm begging you! Especially you readers who live in the so-called "Swing States." (States that could go either way - Republican or Democrat. These states make all the difference in deciding the outcome of the race, as Florida did in 2000, and Ohio did in 2004.) Some of these important battleground states are:

North Carolina
New Mexico

Now, even if you don't live in a swing state, it's super important to get out to vote. I live in Maryland, which is expected to fall on Barack Obama's side, but I'll still be there to cast my vote for him.

Yes, I'm voting for Obama, as I believe he has the leadership, vision, and opportunity to take America in the direction that I feel is right. But hey, that's just me! I guess that, as a blogger, while I'm about as low as you can get on the totem pole of endorsements, I'll still venture to say - I endorse Barack Obama for President.

However, that's not what I'm here to talk about. I've been talking to a lot of people in this election season, and I encourage everyone, regardless of political affiliation, to step out, get involved, and make their voice heard. It's vital, and it's the fabric of democracy. And in delivering my endorsement, it is my sincere hope that I don't offend any of my clients with differing political views. I respect each and every one.

I was thrilled to hear an eight year old and nine year old debating presidential politics as the guitar lessons were switching over. She was for McCain, He was siding with Obama. It's great to see that folks are paying attention!

Don't know where to vote?

Here's a Map!

If you're on the fence about who to vote for, drop me an email, and we'll have a chat about it. And I won't even be too much of a salesman!

Too young to vote? Take it upon yourself to get an unmotivated adult out to the polls. I've been working on community issues since before I could vote, and there's so much you can do without being of voting age.

I've got a buddy, James, who's much more outspoken about his choices, and if you'd like to check out his blog, it's called The Political Caveman.

It's very opinionated, but I guess that's cool if you're into it.

Still undecided? Here's something that James posted on his blog, and it had me laughing pretty darn hard!

So get out to vote, sucka! Bring a theory book, stand in line, and make your voice count. I was chatting with a buddy at the gym, and we both agreed that there should be a new rule: If you don't vote, you can't complain about the state of the world.

Thanks for reading, and I'll get back to guitar in the next post.

Rock on!

- Josh

PS. All comments on this post, regardless of opinions expressed, will not be published. Thanks for understanding.