Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Holy smokes, comrades!

I've had a tremendous insight today, and I want to share it with you!

It's the meaning of music, or at least how I see it. But before you hear that story, you have to hear this one...

Half a lifetime ago, but then again, that's not too long, I went through a phase that perhaps some of you could relate to. I would become intensely interested in various topics - paleontology, ornithology, magic, and photography, for example, and not unlike those love songs you hear over the speakers at the supermarket, I'd want to be with them forever. Further drawing on the grocery store analogy, it would then evolve into a tabloid story of "Josh tells paleontology he's finished." OK, scratch that, I guess nobody can relate to that.

Imagine my concern when I found guitar. I kept waiting for it to wear off, but it never did. The closest I ever came to quitting was two years ago, lugging amps through a bad section of Baltimore on my way to a low paying gig. "What are those cameras for on the street lights, man? Oh those? Police cameras...There's usually been a murder on those streets if there's a camera." I got through the gig alright, and after a few weeks, seemed to be back on the bandwagon, if you'll pardon the pun.

But still, there was that nagging doubt I had felt for years. When I read the articles with the guitar greats, saying how they could lock themselves in the cellar and practice arpeggios for 25 hours day at warp speed, have fun, and not want to do anything else, I couldn't relate to it at all. I mean, I could work all day at music, but I liked the blue sky and the breeze, and wandering around cities and watching trains. So where did this leave me?

Cut to yesterday. Wandering on back to the kitchen at my studio building, I picked up the latest issue of a popular guitar magazine that had arrived in the mail that morning. Waiting to hear the tasty "beep!" of the microwave announcing the completion of the veggie burgers, I thumbed through the pages and got more and more ticked.

BOY was it stale. It was either about old players telling the same old stories, or new players sounding like the old players, or an impossible permutation of an exotic scale "explained." Sure, I realized my sadness that I can't shred like Steve or Joe was probably a big part of it, but I was really annoyed.

It seemed that I might have reached the end of my interest. Yet, I knew that it wasn't music I was frustrated with, only the way it was portrayed.

I teach in analogies, and I guess I think in them, too. I was driving along today, and, to borrow a term from my mom, it's like my car is a magic phone booth or zephyr or something. I get the coolest ideas in it. Well, all of a sudden, I realized what it was:

It was if I was reading a writing magazine, and they were discussing Charles Dickens' choice of writing utensil, and if the latest brand of paper was really true to Tolstoy's legacy.

Missed was the story, message, very picture of life itself that these great artists were writing about.

I got really enthused about this train of thought. It means that I'm no longer just resigned to re-processing the same tired old scales and cliches. It means that they are brushes and paints with which to portray and interpret the world as I would like to share it.

Music as a sonic camera - that's what it really is. Vignettes of life, portraits of the ordinary and gut wrenching, a still life of the city. All of it, and the music is just the vehicle with which these pictures and feelings are conveyed. A camera is lame just sitting up on a shelf, and music can get boring if we're just living and breathing the notes, not living and breathing what the notes can coonvey. There's only 12 notes, and only 3 colors, but man, can we paint with 'em.

I love cars, but for all the shop talk, I love what they allow me to do more. I love that they allow me to show up somewhere and change the world. Sure, it was nice to have a Chevy 350 get me there (or D Dorian mode), but the things I accomplish once I'm there mean much more to me than how I got there. And so is it with music. Now, this is not to say that hard work and discipline are out the window. If I'm a sculptor, and I want to convey an idea using a metal sculpture, well, I'll have to learn to weld. I can't just paint it. And that might take some practice. But it's practice for a purpose.

I'm so excited. Now I can drink in that blue sky...and tell the world about it with a song.

What a great way to end 2010. I've finally, finally got something that makes sense to me!

Happy New Year! I'm off to go interpret the world!

- Josh

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Funny how a hat...

Merry Holidays, Comrades!

Ever notice how certain things can make you feel a certain way? For me, a funky cool pair of shoes makes me quick to move around, a tie can inspire eloquence and a "deal or no deal, sucker" kinda vibe. But today, a hat has soaked into my head. And it's not just any hat...It's THIS hat:

It surely got my mind inventing all sorts of crazy stories that would probably make a great System Of A Down song.

I am Lt. Josh "Prancer" Urban, of the 1224th Squadron, Santa Wing. I flew 50 missions over Europe over several Decembers, escorting Santa past the Luftwaffe in WWII so he could leave presents for the kiddies. We all called our commander Rudy, as he was a casual fellow. Nobody quite knew what was up with his nose, but in those days, we all sure knew how to drink, so we figured that might have something to do with it. Another cat was named Bubba...His plane was shot down once, but everyone was amazed that he survived. He proudly exclaimed as he climbed out of the smoldering wreckage "Bubbas bounce!" Yes, it sure was good helping Santa in those difficult times.

Well, that's your bit of randomness for today. Happy holidays to everyone, and as my commander Rudy pointed out once, don't wait for the fog to stop ostracizing people or not telling them that they're important.

Thank you ALL for being important to me!

- Josh

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday music picks!

Merry Holiday season, Comrades!

If you're sick of hearing R&B singers shriek horrid remixes of "All I want for Christmas is you"...wait, that IS a horrid remix to start with...but if you're sick of it, then step right up, step right up!

I was actually sitting in my studio just now, staring at the wall, not sure what to write. I didn't have anything to yell about. "And then my mom comes in, but I didn't hear her, and she says "mike" and I didn't say anything and then she starts yelling "you're on drugs!" Wait, that's not what happened, but that IS a great song...

OK, so I've found something to yell about: Cool holiday tunes!

If your music collection needs some kick, check out:

Merry Axemas - A Guitar Christmas Ya can't beat Steve Vai playing Christmas Time is Here, or Eric Johnson working his magic with The First Noel! Jeff Beck makes us all believers with Amazing Grace, and Brian Setzer dazzles with Jingle Bells. To make things even better, there's two volumes of this CD! Zakk Wylde even makes an acoustic apperance on the second.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - various TSO has a buncha holiday albums out, and they rock. Just go to iTunes, and you can't miss 'em.

Gary Hoey - Ho Ho Hoey Gary rips, and he does a great job playing a lot of tunes on this two CD set. It's high voltage, fun, and has great playing on it. I love his version of The Grinch.

Jimi Hendrix - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Only three songs, and one of 'em is a repeat, but hey, it's HENDRIX, dude! A must have!

I also dig some of the jazz holiday music, as well as the classical tunes...But the point of this blog is to get ya rockin' around that Christmas tree!

Go buy the CDs, comrades! You won't be dissapointed!

- Josh

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The color of music

Ain't green, yo!

Comrades! I hope y'all had a happy Thanksgiving! Ah yes, that strange American tradition where we are thankful, eat cranberry sauce shaped like a can, and then get up way too early to buy stuff.

Well, call me a comrade, 'cause I didn't do any of those things! OK, OK, so I WAS grateful, and let me tell you, I had a lot to be grateful for! One of those things was all the nice comments I got on my last post. Thank y'all! Very kind. I so appreciate it!

It's that time of year where money is flying through the air, usually at shiny trinkets that sometimes we need, and sometimes we don't. People are shopping for music gear in earnest, which brings me to...the point of this ramble!

What's the color of music? It ain't green, yo!

I was talking to a client of mine, and he's setting up a neat little beat production studio in his basement. He was getting burned out on how much everything cost. I invented a lecture on the spot - actually, to be fair, it's been cooking for a little while.

Us musicians are living in a great time to be creative. Sure, we can spend thousands of dollars on gear (I have), but most of the time, we don't need to. Yes, yes, call me a socialist! My students already do.

But check it out: Gear is a capturing device. It's a giant fishnet, if you will, trolling the waters to catch the fish of creativity. We can buy the latest recording gizmo, or high-end stompbox to give us that "SRV tone - guaranteed!" The gear, however, never creates musical ideas. Sure, it can spark them, but those ideas always flow one way - from our hearts to the world.

Music catalogs would have us believe otherwise. And to be fair, if I'm paying someone big bucks to master a record, I want to use decent mikes to record it, make sure my guitar plays good, etc.

Again, though, all of these are capturing devices - not creativity itself. So, what?

Stop letting money, or lack of it, get in your way. As strange as it sounds, I've seen both get in the way. BB King learned on a wire of sorts.

Have you seen that video of the band in NYC that got their instruments stolen, so they played their song on their iPhones?

Amazing! I'm personally working on a "Charlie Bit Me" remix with the app of the same name and some loops provided. "OW CHAALIE!"

Try recording a weird reverb sound by putting your guitar amp in the bathroom, or an empty room with lots of reflective surfaces (reflective to sound, that is.)

Got the DJ app on your phone? It's cool!

I had a student one time who worked construction, and he got himself a kiddie guitar from Walmart and rocked out on that. He loved it!

Don't want to pay ten or twelve bucks for a slide? Use a deep-well socket wrench. You think the delta bluesmen paid a week's wages for a slide? Huh!

A pencil and rubber bands make a great capo, too.

Come on - don't you realize what the gear manufactures are? They're not gonna help you stick it to the man - they are the man!

Music can't be silenced. When the slaves drums were taken away, they built banjos. As a side note, I'd like to shoot the guy who took the drums away - a.) because he was a meanie, and b.) because now look what he did. Banjos got imported.

So get crackin', and create music with what you already have. I bet it sounds awesome! And when you've got a tune, send it to me. I'd love to hear it!

- Josh

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Streetlights

Happy Thanksgiving, Comrades!

Wow, I've got a lot to feel grateful about this year, and one of those things is you good folks reading this! I really appreciate the audience.

Thanksgiving is an increasingly complex holiday for me. It used to be lame. No presents.
Then it started to get meaningful. Then I lost my cousin a few days before the holiday. I now keep a gratitude journal, and that got me thinking. I'm often confused with the topic, and unwittingly alienate and offend people with my persistent questions on the emotion. This is in contrast to the times I intentionally alienate and offend people, mind you! It all boils down to this: People say I should be grateful to be breathing. I answer that it's the default state for a healthy person like me to breathe. I finally got it hammered out. If I substitute "Appreciate" for "Gratitude", I've got it.

I always think of Thanksgiving as the gateway to the holiday season. My mom has told me before that she thinks of Christmas as hope and light in the darkness. I always liked that. In lieu of my cousin's passing, this theme of light in the dark seems to take on a more urgent meaning, and the need to appreciate imperative.

The theme of people mattering, and letting them know that they matter, has become an important one to me. So what better time to think of it than around Thanksgiving.

One of the things I'm most appreciative of this year is The Streetlights. You're probably a Streetlight. This term hit me the other day. I went across the street to buy yet another box of veggie burgers to microwave. (I really need to pack a lunch.) I ran into the guy who keeps the frozen food isle stocked at Food Lion. He's probably about my age, and we're always laughing and joking, saying "Hey man, why'd you take the burgers off sale?" Without fail, because of that guy, I leave the frozen foods section of the rather dingy store with a big grin on my face.

Then it hit me - he's like a street light, illuminating a lonely corner of the world, and providing light for the passerby.

We all want to matter. We all want to count. Celebrities garner all the attention, and they're like the screens in Times Square. They illuminate the way for a lot of people. But anyone can be a Streetlight, and sometimes we're most grateful for the lonely lamp on the dark country road in the rain.

This can tie in to guitar. Next time you're playing a lousy gig, instead of cursing your luck, or hating Justin Bieber even more, illuminate that room with a righteous tone. Of course, strive, aim to burn your brightest in the best possible location. But always, always light up where you are. Don't wait till you're in Times Square to throw some photons to the good people.

Ya never know who's lost in the dark.

Shine on, and Happy Thanksgiving.

- Josh

Friday, November 19, 2010

Light up the Sky

I wonder if she was writing it about this time three years ago today. Her goodbye note. I guess the pen really is mightier than the sword, 'cause it sliced 'n diced everyone pretty good that time. I went down by the river today, and watched the wind converse with the water, and saw an eagle negotiate his passage with the breeze. Everything was bright and fresh, and her absence in this world was unnoticed to the eagle and the breeze as a stone tossed in the swirling waters, it's concentric rings of influence fading fast. But for those of us on the shore, the sound of it dropping into the darkness remains.

I'm going over to Mom's house to put up Christmas lights with the fam. We probably won't light them yet, but they'll be there. It seems a nice thing to do today...To put another beacon in the world to light up the darkness.

Maybe if we're all lighthouses, then those of us who can't see through the storm will find their way. Maybe if we shine that light of attention and caring out into the squall, we can light up the sky and bring someone safely to shore.

I'm always annoying people by asking "are you really OK?" I figure the worst that happens is they think I'm rude, and that's probably a given, anyway. Start asking people, yourself. You never know who you'll help. I wish someone had asked her.

And if you need to talk, I'm always here.

- Josh

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Honor, In Memoriam

The leaves are falling today, and they cover the ground. My feet rustle through them, and I look at them all, lying there, fallen from the trees. It's Veteran's Day here in America, and it's a rather fitting time of year.

I saw the old men in their World War II hats collecting pocket change for the VFW. I strode across the parking lot, feeling as young as they once did, and shook their hands to thank them. I wanted to put something in the jar, but money's a little tight right now, and I only had a few twenties in my wallet. I lied to their courageous old faces and said that I had just dropped my money off at the bank. Ten minutes later, I realized - banks are closed for Veteran's Day. D'oh! Mannn....So, in honor of them, and all of the soldiers, I turn to the format of the blog.

I'm a fiercely political animal, and probably will always be. I read the editorials almost every day, and watch the politics play out in Washington like a mean-spirited football game. I've volunteered on several campaigns, and have been involved for years. I also love history, and am fascinated with the stories. Throw all that in the mix, and you could imagine how I ponder on days like today, when I see my friends wound up so tight from time spent in Iraq...When I shake the hands of those guys from the VFW, and wonder how many times those frail fingers had to pull a trigger...When I look over at some music gear that a vet friend gave me, and wonder how in the world did he emerge from brutal war to be so generous and kind, much less alive?

It all confuses me, and the first place I go is the causes and solutions of conflict. But then my political questions subside, and I put them away. It strikes me that we should have a day, maybe the day after Veteran's Day, when we ask ourselves these questions.

For me, today is about them, and honoring them, and realizing what a part of their lives they've given up. To remember their buddies who, like the leaves today, covered the ground, and who aren't around to reach for the sunshine. To reach out to the grunt who just lived through hell in the desert, and who's maybe having a bit of a tough time getting used to life stateside. To remember all of the wars, and all of the tears, and all of the struggle and sacrifice. I think of the chill I got looking at the Iwo Jima memorial, and how they left plenty of room on the pedestal - that's where they carve the names of the battles. I think of all of this, and the immensity of the thoughts are staggering. I'm not quite sure what to do - except to shake the hands, doff my cap, and honor their sacrifice.

And I do.

In Honor, In Memoriam,

- Josh

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan...

Is who I was (sorta) compared to in my LATEST CD REVIEW!!!

OK, Comrades, a lot has happened in the past week or so. I had a CD release party and student recital. It rocked. I went to the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally. I kicked a baby there. Accidentally. The stupid yuppie lady wouldn't move her three wheeled stroller. Ooops. I wore my communist shirt with an "I Voted" sticker on election day. Ironic. I got on iTunes. Exciting!

But check it out - someone used my guitar playing and Stevie Ray Vaughan's name in the same sentence. WOWWWWWW! LOOK AT ME!!!! LOOK AT ME!!!!!

Urban, one-man band, releases CD

Friday, Oct. 29, 2010

Click here to enlarge this photo
Submitted photo
The cover image on Josh Urban's new CD.

Early on, it's industrial blues. Later, Josh Urban's debut EP, "Signalman," conjures, if you can imagine it, a blend of industrial rock and jazz fusion.

The five-track effort ends, meanwhile, with a feisty foot stomper, "The Good Lord's Lasso," which comes out just in time for Halloween. None of this, though, is about to be undone by the third track, a spoken-word ramble aptly described by its title: "Radio W-HAM."

Tired of playing in bands, Urban, a guitar teacher in Waldorf, has ambitiously spearheaded his own one-man band project. In other words, everything you hear on this album, and everything you will hear at his CD release concert tonight, was set into action by him, be it Stevie Ray Vaughn-flavored guitar licks, Frank Zappa-like vocalizing or the sounds of a looping drum machine.

If you would like to see Urban's one-man show and, as he puts it, "his trademark tacky fashion style," head to his party.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And the vapor from our breath seems to freeze in a question mark

The thought hits me sometimes - He should be here. She should be here.

It seems to follow me like a skillful shadow, so cold and empty, keeping out of sight most of the time, until I'm sitting in the recording studio, listening to the engineer play a track back that I wrote about them being gone. Why aren't they here in the studio, too? They should be here...

It's a beautiful fall day, and I walk across the street to the guitar shop. All of a sudden, I notice the blue car that looks like his - why isn't he inside selling guitars and showing off shred guitar?

The house lights go down, and the orchestra tunes up - the first chair violin walks onstage - my god, she's got the same hair. That so could be her.

I had a student by today who had to skip last week's class due to a death in the family. Barely standing, they showed up to the lesson. It was their 15 year old cousin and niece this time.

Why aren't they here?

I think it was the facebook post that I saw today. "It's so and so's birthday today. We miss you, buddy."

In honor of them...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't cut Pablo off in traffic...


Went on a mini-vacation with my Mom and Bros, and took a day trip to the National Gallery of Art. Holy smokes! I really appreciated it this time. There's these buildings filled with priceless art, and we get to look at it for free! The gift shop was having a sale on prints of the art, and I picked up Picasso's The Tragedy for two bucks. Now that's a deal! My mom first pointed the painting out, and it's been a favorite ever since. It is profound.

The print is sitting in my teaching studio now, and has evolved into quite a lesson. Check it out:

Here's the painting:

Take a close look at it. Note how deep it is, and you can tell that the people are in a very bad place. It's lovely! OK, sure, not that they're in pain, but how powerful and alive a painting can be.

How is this? Sure, sure, I know there's technical reasons. My students have actually been teaching me a lot. According to them, blue means sorrow, and bare feet mean discomfort. I applaud the young cultured folks! Rock on!

The cool thing is - it was conveyed even before I knew this stuff. That feeling jumps right out of the painting.

So, I've come up with a nifty songwriting challenge. (But not limited to the songwriting medium, other artists!) Write the sonic brother to that painting!

How? Far be it for ME to say how Picasso works, but this is what I've been lecturing on for hours about:

Put a lot of intention behind the note. Let's check out driving. If someone cuts you off, you'll honk angrily at them. Store that sound in your mind. (I poked myself in the eye today pointing to my head - my finger hit my hat, and slipped off the brim, into my eye. Ouch.) Next, picture seeing your buddy on the road, and you honk friendly-like. Store that sound. Now compare. How is it that the exact same note, with exact same tone, sounds completely different?

It's that intention! (Sure, sure, and context, and how long you lean on the horn, etc. But for all you excessively literal folks, I'd like to say - go take a hike.)

Now that the excessively literal folks are off looking for the nearest hiking trail, we'll get back to our example.

Think of your voice. You can say "Hi!" if you've just won the lottery, or "Hi!" if you're ready to rip someone's face off. The word is the same, but the intention behind it makes the space between the lines read very differently.

Now - playing music. Feel a feeling, and pour that into each and every note you play. Don't worry so much about mechanics. Do you think "huh, I wonder how I have to tense my throat to sound angry?" Nope! You just yell!

Play what you feel right now. Then, be an actor, and play whatever feeling you choose. It's way cool, because not only can we express ourselves, but we can tell stories.

See if you can write the counterpart to The Tragedy. Send it to me, I'd love to hear it!

Rock on!

- Josh

Monday, October 4, 2010

Human soundtracks

Annnnnd a Happy Belated Birthday to the one and only Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughan!

I hope you folks listened to some of the late, great Mr. Vaughan yesterday! Wait - this blog has taken a few days. It was last week.

Anyway, got a cool thought for you today. But to get to it, first the story...

I was doing some busking (street music) this weekend. I'm very fortunate to have access to such a great pitch. It's in historic Alexandria, Virginia (USA), right on the waterfront. Setting up with an acoustic guitar, I can jam to my heart's content as the breeze blows in off the river, and entertain the people who stroll along.

Early October is a peculiar time on the docks. The days get shorter, and the wind runs up the river with a melancholy warning for the revelers. It tells the man who makes the balloon animals first, and seems to make his brightly colored shirt fade a little, like the leaves clinging to the trees in anticipation of the Winter. It must be a cousin of whatever agent makes the carnival music slightly out of tune as it echos through the chilly and empty fairground. The party is almost over.

I was standing and strumming, playing Stormy Monday, and a little dust devil wandered up and made the leaves whirl in the corner next to the cold concrete walls. I stood in it and played the blues. Winter was certainly on it's way. I decided that it would be my last gig on the waterfront until the spring. A few hours later, and the random drunk shooed away from my set, I addressed the night and the lights sparkling on the water, stood up a little straighter, and after a little consideration as to what was a good season's end song, I started to softly play Tears in Heaven.

It was way cool...All of a sudden, I felt like I was in a movie with a soundtrack! I was the soundtrack! The lights took on a softer glow, and the docks looked downright cinematic.

Here's the thought:

We are the soundtrack. We are the nightlife.

Choose what you play with great care and thought.

Rock on!

- Josh

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bad habits my foot

Happy October, everyone!

Wow, I think this is one of my favorite months. Besides, it's Stevie Ray Vaughan's birthday on the 3rd - coincidentally (or not) the same day as my stepfather's. A great month all around!

Pursuing any discipline gives one a before-and-after perspective on what they were told, and what is actually the case.

The business of learning guitar has some rumors going around that, at best, are amusing, and, at worst, discouraging legions of would-be greats from ever picking up the instrument. Well, OK, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, and acting just like what I'm preaching against, but hear me out for a minute.

It wasn't that long ago compared to, say, the way the line at the DMV moves, but about a decade or so ago, I remember standing in the guitar shop. I was awed by the walls lined with guitars of all colors, and the smell of new amplifiers wafting through the air. (It is actually quite a wonderful smell.) The salesman told my father quite earnestly "He should sign up for guitar lessons. You don't want him to pick up any bad habits."

Who would argue with one of these messengers of music, and purveyor of the ultra-cool - a guitar salesman?! Not teenage me, that's for sure! Besides, I was dying to take lessons, and couldn't wait to get one of those guitar cases that I could put stickers on. (Things really haven't changed that much.)

So I signed up, and I'm so glad I did. I'm writing this sitting in my office in my home that I own. I bought it with money I made as a guitar instructor myself.

But here's the thing - I never saw any bad habits to avoid.

I can explain...

A lot of instructors scare people into taking lessons by ominously mentioning bad habits. So far, I know of one of these frightful habits, and I am going to tell you right now, and take the scare tactic teachers out at the knees! (MAN I've had way too much caffeine!)

- Make sure your thumb stays perpendicular to the neck of the guitar - don't have it go parallel.


*hums a certain Queen song.*

Guitar is an instrument of innovation, experimentation, and inspiration. Sure, there's technique, and many lifetimes can be spent acquiring perfection. But sign up for lessons because a teacher can help you learn faster, more efficiently, and inspire you to new heights. My lessons with my teacher were something I looked forward to each week, and were a source of inspiration. But you don't need a guitar teacher to learn guitar. Funny that I should be going on about this, but I think it's true. Hey, I think a good teacher can be the best thing for learning! But if you can't afford one, can't find a good one, or would rather learn from a book, that's fine, too!

Maybe all the bad habit camp folks mean is that they can make the road easier. True, true. I call it the evolution of teaching. I learned from my teacher's mistakes, and my students have learned from mine. It's scary how fast these kids are learning the material sometimes. But the road rarely leads off a cliff, so don't be afraid of trying stuff on your own.

I remember one time I was looking at guitars with a client, and I was chiding him on picking the strings a certain way. One of the salesmen came over and said "Hey man, maybe he'll invent something new!" Johnny B. couldn't have been more right!

This invention and innovation is a magnificent thing about music. Where would we be if little James had always kept his amp at a respectable volume and didn't flip his stratocaster left handed?

We might not be listening to Purple Haze.

Learn on, good people! In what ever way suits you. Invent, innovate, inspire, and be inspired.
The world of music awaits you.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do something with your music (or art...or writing!)


We're in the age of the internet, and living in a time where the Annoying Orange makes a quarter of a million dollars with a silly laugh.

We exist in a plane of possibilities, and it's up to us not to waste them! Recording this EP has been so empowering for me. I'm giving them out left and right, and I'm even wearing a Josh Urban shirt right now! (The official announcement will be soon.)

I've been urging all of my students, and now you, too, to do something with your music! Check out Audacity, the free recording program! Put your songs up on myspace! Get a YouTube channel! Do something! Play campfires. Look up blues jams and open mics. If your town or city allows it, play street music! This isn't just limited to musicians. Writers- start your own blog if you haven't already! Artists, find a local art resource of sorts. (This is sad. My mother's an artist, and I don't even know what to recommend to other artists. But I'm sure you'll figure something out!)

The world ain't gonna take itself over!

Rock on!

PS. Send me some of your music, art, writing, or accounting! I'd love to see what you've done!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Selfish question

Hey hey hey rockers!

OK, got a selfish question for ya that I need some help with: What style does my music sound like? I've described it as blues, rock, and adult alternative. Input is much appreciated! Strike that - friendly input is much appreciated!

CD baby has stumped me with the category description of my music.

Check it out at

Thank you, good people!

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Record away!


Wow, I hope everyone's been enjoying the approaching autumn season! At the risk of sounding severely un-rock 'n roll, days like this make me wish I were a butterfly.

Wait wait, I can explain! Really!
I was out on my morning exercise, and it's literally a walk in the park. I passed a Monarch butterfly feeding at a fall flower. That buddy goes all the way to Mexico! On his little spangled butterfly wings! He doesn't have to worry about marketing and border crossings and all the madness that is life. He just flies on the wind.

Then I came back to my old self, Rammstein songs filled my head, and I kept on plotting to take over the world.

Here's one thing that's been helping me in my journey so far - recording ideas. Yep, yep, I've mentioned recording many times before, but the technology has changed significantly since I got up on the recording soapbox! (I actually own a separate voice recorder. My iPhone makes it obsolete, but I have it anyway.)

If you have a cell phone, especially a smartphone such as the reigning iPhone or any of it's lesser rivals (passive-aggressive punch at my Android-owning brothers here), you've most likely got the capibility to record sounds. Speaking as the top dog, an iPhone owner (smirk!), I can use the stock voice recorder, or many apps available. I use FourTrack. It was ten bucks, but you can record four tracks (unfortunately, not all at once - it's not multi-tracking.) The app lets me mix them together, and send it to my computer. It rocks!

The point is - recording is extraordinarily helpful to musical progress. Be it perfecting shredding, or capturing the latest idea for a folk song, it's there, and it will help you. I like to use it for a.) listening to the track fully (I can't when I'm playing), b.) capturing ideas, and c.) charting progress. It's cool to look back a few months and say "wow!"

Since you probably have a recorder on that phone, use it! How much easier does it get? (I'm yelling here.)

I was just telling a client today how helpful it is for soloing. So - Arnold Schwarzenegger voice - Don't be a girly man! Get da recorder app! Yah yah! Use it! Yah yah!

Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Making of an EP - Final chapter - Hello, World!


I'm done! I'm finished! The EP is ONLINE! I'm super proud to introduce to the listening audience my latest studio effort! Will you please put your hands together for....Signalman!

This is my first "real" recording, complete with vocals, drums, and even keyboards! I'm responsible for every single sound on it.

It's been quite a journey, and I've had an awesome team to help me through. From my brother Noah putting my website online, graphic design help, and answering endless photoshop questions, to Mike Mori helping me figure out the mixing and recording phase of the project, and acting as assistant producer, to the good folks at the Oasis record plant, Bill Wolf doing the mastering, my Mom for her much appreciated consultation, business and creative advice, and of course, my brother Zakk for his marketing input, and sitting through many conversations and rants about the project! Every single one of these people got dragged into this project, and they were most gracious with their help.

Thank you all!

And, without further ado, please take a listen to Signalman.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Handy Street

Hey hey hey!

I hope everyone's doing well...and has had a chance to listen to Radio W-HAM!
It's my zany radio track explaining a song I had written about a laundromat in Jersey. It's what happens when a nun tells you to shut up and you're stuck on a train.

Anyways, here that very same song is! It's track #4 off my upcoming EP. It's what I've been working on for months. It was quite a process to write, record, and mix. I learned a ton, and I really recommend songwriting if you haven't tried it yet. By the way, I plan to write an account of the journey very soon. Yay! That'll put ya to sleep.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'll see my new YouTube channel!


Wow oh wow am I on a roll with the music business stuff! This is SO MUCH FUN! Y'all should really try it. Anyone who says it's boring isn't doing it right!

Check it ouuut! I've got a YouTube channel now! Please visit and subscribe!

I've got a single up there from the new EP, and a bunch of iPhone Chronicles. See, I take that mighty phone around with me everywhere, and one night, about a year ago, I was walking out of the grocery store. I happened to notice a Katydid (type of bug) on the camaro. The Katydid is my favorite musician ever. They just have great tone. It was a summer's night long ago when I first noticed them. My mom said "listen, it's like the symphony in the forest!" I still remember gazing across the street into the trees, and hearing them in the distance. "Katy did...Katy didn't...Katy did..." Ever since then, I love to listen for them in the early summer, and enjoy their chorus all season long, until the cold slows them.

So, I whipped out the iPhone, and interviewed the symphony musician perched on the trunk of the camaro. (I stopped the interview when I noticed another customer wondering why some dude was talking to a car at ten o clock at night in the parking lot.) And then I interviewed a kitchen table a few days later...And all sorts of zany videos followed!

Check 'em out, and I'll also be posting music on the channel as well. (That's REALLY the main reason.)

Hope to see ya there!

Rock on!

- Josh

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Six Years!


I was walking through my living room today, and I raised my hand. As I did so, I saw my iPhone. See, it's glued to my hand. And I noticed the date: Wednesday, September 1st.

Six years ago, it was also Wednesday, September 1st. It was my first day teaching guitar at Hot Licks Guitar Shop. Boy was I nervous. Andy was my first lesson, and by some miracle, he's still my friend on facebook. He just wanted to use up a lesson coupon, and the guy knew exactly everything that I did. Usually, I can get away with teaching a guitarist who's on the same level by showing them something outside of their normal genre. But the quirks in Andy's playing style were exactly the same as mine. Wow, that was scary. He was very gracious, though. Thanks, Andy!

There was the girl who hated guitar, and was there 'cause her mom and grandma made her play guitar. There were the kids who really liked it. There was Sam, with his Blink-182 wristband and punk attitude that made me laugh. I sweated some serious bullets that first day...and that first month, really. But folks were patient, gave me a chance, and let me teach.

I locked the door to my office today, and went back to Hot Licks to say thanks. I shook my guitar teacher's hand and said "hey man, thanks!" "It's been six years already?" he asked.

Unbelievably, it has.

I'd like to thank each and every student who's sat in that chair, and listened to me opine about music, life, and learning. It's been a lot of fun! From the Annoying Orange drawings that grace the dry erase board, to the fun of routing the iPhone gun app through the PA and scaring the neighbors, to the darn good questions I get about music theory, it's been great.

I was talking to a gentleman at an event recently, and he expressed his view that I was lucky to get to pass knowledge on to those willing to listen. I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks to everyone for not only giving me the time, but also the platform (and sometimes, the soapbox!) from which to instruct. I know I'm supposed to be the instructor, but I've learned so much from my six years as a guitar teacher.

Thank you. I'm very grateful.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Making of an EP: The single is out! The single is out!


Wow! I'm so excited! The single is out!!!

So: Here's the schedule of events. The CD is off at the record plant getting replicated. It should be out in about mid-September. In the MEANTIME, be sure to "like" my facebook music page, 'cause I'm gonna be putting another single out in the meantime!

Oh boy! Oh boy! What fun!

Rock on! And thanks for listening!

- Josh

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mama said Knock You Out!

Hey rockers!

Us guitarists can be a fiercely competitive lot...most of the time! I've written philosophy on that before, but I've got an update. Check it: The vibe of competition has many elements that are useful, nay, vital to brilliance and success. Included are motivation, focus, energy, enthusiasm, and the prioritizing of the task at hand. Unfortunately, we usually use it to try to tear other people down to our level, instead of building ourselves above their level. Indeed, we confuse a positive difference between our level and theirs as a plus, without looking at the overall level. In plain English, a negative view would be: if I'm ten units better than him, I'm rockin'.

But if he's zero units, I need to step back and say "hey, I'm only ten units up the ladder!"

Much better would be to take aim at someone at say, fifty units, and strive to achieve sixty. I still get my contrast, and meanwhile achieve radical success.

Bad competition tears down to our level. Good competition builds up, and above, their level.

"Okaaaaaaaay" you might say, "but so what? How do I put this into practical application?"

That's what I'm excited about! I've been working really hard on my CD, and it provides a great venue to be competitive. If I see one of my peers really kickin' butt, instead of trying to discredit their success in my mind, or rationalize my lack of it (success, not mind!), or worse yet, take the YouTube way out, and slam 'em for a bad hairstyle, I now go back to my work with double focus!

Try it!

In the style of "Mama Said Knock You Out", Ahhh AAAAHH aaaahhh AAAAAh,

I'm gonna knock you out! Mama said knock you out!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yah yah!

Hey Rockers!

So, what's the "right" way to play guitar?

I mean, I'm in the business of teaching, and everyone asks me that. I think I infuriate them when I say "well, any way that works!"

That's an idea that I'll stand by. I mean, let's look at a few historic examples: Blues, playing a minor scale over three dominant seventh chords. You gonna tell BB King that he's wrong?

Hendrix: By any earlier standards, his amps sounded broken. He sure gave stadium re-roofers a great gig, though!

Eddie Van Halen: Two hands on the fretboard? And what about that ratty guitar that's now going for 25K a replica?

You get the idea. There's many, many right ways to do something, especially if it's as general as playing music. How 'bout specifics, like what scale to play over what chord? One time, I was studying with three great teachers. I asked them a theory question, and I got three different answers. Finally, Mike Stacey, one of these teachers, said to me "Dude, there's three right ways to play it."

I've figured out two things for myself. Use 'em if you want 'em.

1. If it sounds good, it is good.
2. Concerning technique, look for the efficient way. And do that.


Now go make history!

Rock on!

- Josh
PS. Sometimes, things take a minute to sound good. I mean, I didn't like metal at first, and has anyone ever seen Back To the Future, where he plays Johnny B. Goode to a crowd of stunned nerds? So listen for potential, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Take note

For once,

I don't have anything to say.

This goes to show: anything can happen. Be inspired!

- Josh

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Making of an EP - steaming toward the finish line!

Hey hey rockers!

Whew, sorry I haven't been too much fun in the blogosphere! I've been spending any available minute in my studio mixing this CD down! It's SO CLOSE! I've gotten in touch with a mastering engineer (he comes highly recommended, and I'm thrilled to be working with him!) I've been burning CD's right and left, listening to them in my car, on the computer, etc etc tryin' to get that mix just perfect. Stupid bass guitar. Grrr....It won't EQ just right. I've been working in photoshop, getting the album artwork just right. I've been dragging my brother out of the house at night to have him take pictures of me wearing a 40's hat and wool coat looking somber in the back yard. But it is ALMOST there! And I CAN'T WAIT! I'm so excited! SO, once all this is done, I will a.) start writing some better blogs, and b.) send y'all a copy!

In the meantime...Before my next student walks in, here's something to think about:

Start a sonic journal. Try writing a song every day and record it, no matter how bad it is. Now, if you're not a musician and you're reading this, you can apply it to your field, too. If you're a writer: start a blog. If you're a ice might need some gloves, 'cause your hands will never warm up! But you get the idea.

Too often us guitarists overlook songwriting as stuff best left to people named Ani with really strange hair. (And this is coming from a guy named "Poodleman.") But NO! Start writing those epic metal songs! Mega shredding alone won't write the song for you.

Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Serenading the pavement

Hey hey!

I hope y'all have been staying cool! I haven't. I hate this weather. I also hate people who complain, but I will break my (non-existent) positive rule today, and say I'd like to complain about this. Being in business, and dealing with other businesses, if something isn't right, you pick up the phone and yell at somebody about it. "You call these guitar picks?!" But the weatherman is just like an umpire after the call at home plate is made, and yelling doesn't do any good. Phooey.

So, I'll give it up, and talk about something productive! The summertime is a great time to get outside and play some street music!

I've been meaning to myself, but the CD project (almost done!) is top priority right now. I've learned a lot playing on the street, technically called busking.

Now, of course, check with your local laws to make sure that it's allowed in your city, but most likely it is. I play in Alexandria, VA, and other than a noise ordinance, they say "have at it!"
It's fun, challenging, and a neat way to pick up a few extra bucks. It's also a nice contrast to have an endless audience as opposed to a stationary one.

Here's what ya need to get started:

- An acoustic guitar (or electric with a loop station - or an electric/acoustic Ukulele! I've seen it! It's AWESOME!)

- A bowl for the money! I used a guitar case once, and some rich boater dropped a dollar in the case and said, sincerely actually, "good luck with everything, buddy." Grrr! Of course, that's not the first time people have thought I was homeless...There was the bum on the subway asking for donations, and then he said to me "Hey, we should get YOU some donations!" OK, it was a bad hair day.

- Several songs. You don't need a bunch to get started - just a few, 'cause you'll end up repeating them, as the crowd always changes.

Find your "pitch" (area to play), while being respectful of any veteran buskers, and get ready to rock!

Curtis Blues, my street music mentor, has taught me there's two main types of customers:

- The walk by traffic, throwing a dollar your way as you jam.

- The show traffic, where a large crowd gathers, and you put on an impromptu gig for 'em. (Make sure you can get 'em to pay - people love to slink away at the outskirts.)

You'll also get the folks who will just stop and ask for a song. These are great, BECAUSE they can be the start of what buskers call "an edge." People tend to be skittish, and won't stop unless other people are already stopped and listening. So, if you can get a few people watching you, the more cautious will stop and listen.

There are many, many aspects of street performance, and I don't have a clue about most of them. I've shared what I know, and hopefully it will be of use to you in your quest. It's quite a learning experience, and a great way to sharpen stage skills.

So, throw your fear in the garbage, put on some brightly colored shoes, and hit the streets! It's way fun.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How many colorful people?

Hey hey!

Whew, it is HOT on the east coast. And, strangely, my car must have been feeling the burn, too, because it decided it needed a new water pump. Hey, I can understand the hydration thing!
So, since my mom's a saint, she loaned me her car for a few days while I'm fixing mine. (My mechanical skills, while present, aren't exactly high ranking in the 'speed' department.)

And it seems that whenever I borrow mom's car, there's a great mix cd in the player with System of a Down and Rammstien. Ha! Seriously! This is actually because my younger brother also uses her car, BUT she gets a kick out of the music, and really likes the System stuff. (She's unsure about the Rammstien, because nobody is exactly sure what it's saying, and nobody wants to know, and mom's a very kind and harmony type of person.) (And by the way, please don't feel obligated to tell me what those guys are singing about. I prefer the bliss of ignorance. I assure you, I am a happy guy!)

So, anyway, I was driving to my teaching studio today, and I was listening to this one track. It starts out with a simple little keyboard riff, and then the chaos starts. But it's a typical German chaos - a focused, brutal, precision sonic attack. It rocks! It's actually easy to play on guitar, and I started to ponder the question "why does one riff over and over sound so darn cool?"

All of a sudden, my ear caught a subtle keyboard line in the background. The humidity so omnipresent these past few days must have acted a catalyst to the flashback that the song triggered, because, BAM, there I was...

It was years ago, and I was a camp counselor/terrorist trainer at a high school environmental leadership camp. We were out to save the world! (Some of the attendees are still keeping up the good work. I'm immensely proud of them.) My hair was super long, and super humidified, sort of like a cat that went through the washing machine. Yngwie Malmsteen lived at the top of my music charts, and if it wasn't fast, it wasn't good. If I had listened to the mosquitoes droning outside the main lodge that summer's evening, I would have thought their wings sluggish.

There was a guy there also named Josh, from New Jersey, and boy, was this guy from New Jersey, in the best sense of the word. Cool, with it, and he knew what was up. He was also a big rap fan, and he was trying to convince a younger version of myself that I could give up my diehard metalhead ways occasionally to enjoy the spitted word. I was a hard sell, but the other Josh had some interesting points. We were all standing around in the lodge, trying to look cool for the hippie chicks, and talking about music. The girls promptly ignored us. But we didn't realize it, so we kept talking.

"Look man, listen for the chord change in the back." All of a sudden, I heard what he was talking about. Behind the rhymes and the synthesized hi-hats, I heard a canvas of sound, subtly coloring the soundscape. And then it changed, and so did the picture. It was cool - and really slick! A far cry from the "LOOK AT MEEEE" mentality of the 80's music I was so obsessed with...

"DU! DU HAST!" the stereo growled, and snap, I was back in the blazing Tuesday afternoon, the rap and the enviro girls and my epic mullet all evaporating in the sun.

But Josh's New Jersey accent seemed to linger for a moment in the car, saying "See? See? That chord change is why rap is so catchy, know what I'm sayin', bro? See? Chord change there...Chord change there...See?"

And it seems to me that the subtle use of the keyboard lines is one (of the many) thing(s) that make those Rammstein tunes so darn cool, and keeps those riffs so fresh and face melting.

But it's in the subtlety that the genius is to be found. If the guy who tracked the 'boards was intent on his mix being out in the front, it would have been lost. The different parts being played were actually somewhat busy, but faded almost to the edge of imperception.

It struck me that, when faced with an arrangement choice, it's almost like planning a party. We can have weird Uncle Bill over, but that means that we probably shouldn't have weird Uncle Sam over either. (Where DOES he get off wearing hats like that?) Maybe we can balance it out with the cousins who are pretty standard.

Each part in our music is like a colorful, or not colorful, guest. How are these guests gonna work together, while keeping the party going, yet keeping the roof on? How many are there gonna be? Generally, the more there are, the quieter they should talk.

Be an event planner!

Scratch that, be a musician.

But you might try not scoffing at your ma the next time she's trying to figure out the guest list!

Rock on!

- Josh

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aces high!


Woooooeeehooooooo! I totally want to get my pilot's license now! My brother Noah just went for a flight in a little Piper, and all the brothers are enthused now. I have grand visions of a fighter squadron, flying across the country, with Iron Maiden blaring through the speakers, but they are being boring, and say only one brother plane in the sky at once. Lame. I mean, sure I ran that go kart OFF the road and IN to the telephone pole, but that was an isolated incident, I assure you. A MiG 15 is much different. I wonder if it has subwoofers or not...."Flaps...Check...Mega machine guns...check...subwoofers...check."

I've been having some fun conversations with people over the past few days about the magic of writing things down. Have you tried it? We all have goals in life, and music. Writing them down allows us to really specify what it is that we're after. If we know what we're trying to go, we can figure out how to get there.

I know it sounds pretty stupid, but the writing is a powerful way to achieve. Even more than helping with specifying our goals (getting the sweep picking to 4 bajillion beats per minute so our rivals' faces melt, for example), it seems to send a signal that "hey, we mean business."

Try it! I was cleaning recently (believe it or not), and I found a paper that I had written of what I'd like my life to look like a few years prior, down to having a corvette. Well, I don't have the vette yet, but I DO have a loud, red Z28 Camaro! And a lot of the other goals on the paper had either hit their mark, or were darn close.

How can we get what we don't ask for?

Write it down. Mean business. Then go out and achieve.

I'm going to set aside five dollars today for my pilot's license. And I'll write it down as soon as I get home.

Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Local news!

Hey hey!

OK, no philosophy today - just some announcements. Your brain will appreciate the break!

STUDENTS! Or anyone in the DC Area! I'm hosting a rock 'n roll recital on July 23rd! It's called The ZakkFest, in honor of an especially cool student of mine. You don't have to take lessons from me to play in it. Drop me a note for details, and I'll sign you up!

Shady businessmen! And Students!

I've got a few open spaces in the summer schedule, and I'm looking for a few more students. Refer your friends, and get $20 per friend! Sell 'em out! Lie, tell 'em lessons are fun, and send 'em this way. You'll be paid for your efforts and sales pitch. (I once gave a student a $100 bill for commission. That could be you!)

For Everyone

I'm thrilled to announce my new single, Workaholic Blues, will be due out within two weeks! Yeah! Stay tuned for further details!

Well, that was a pretty lame blog post, so I ask you this:

Why have you not set off an air horn in Good Fortune's ear?

That'll wake it up.


Rock on!

- Josh

Monday, June 21, 2010

The point, bro


I hope everyone has been stayin' cool in this muggy warm weather we're havin' near DC. I've been doing the lizard thing - wearing lizardy sunglasses and staying in the cool of my studio. And my CD is benefiting from it, let me tell you! I finally got some decent solo tracks down.

But the other day, I was just lunchin'. It was horrendous. I had every local guitar player sitting on my shoulder, metaphorically speaking, and my artistic vision was obscured, to say the least. "Josh, we're gonna pick on your chops if it's not fast enough, your tone if it is, and your hair if everything's perfect."

I was trying wayyy too hard to play a particular arpeggio in at a particular time stamp, and have a certain note value at a certain place, and it was just a mess. I stopped by Mom's for lunch, and she gave me a great bit of advice.

"Josh, you're a good guitar player. You're just having a bad day. Put it up, and try it again tomorrow."

So I did, and it worked. You'll most likely hear the tracks I'm referring to, as I think they're keepers. The jury's still out, but they should make the cut.

The thing that really, really struck me after recording the bad tracks was a mental picture a photographer. This shutterbug has obtained a spiffy new camera, and he's gonna show his buddies what it can do. He sees a picture that is worth a million bucks - but instead of capturing the very soul of the view, he starts fiddling with settings, changing lenses, adding filters, and trying to be technically perfect. In the process, he so misses the essence of the shot, and the light fades away from the day, and leaves him standing in the dark, fit for a National Geographic safari, his camera a crutch instead of a jar to capture the fireflies of inspiration.

An old point and shoot camera would have been way better. Sorta like how old clunky blues riffs can somehow express the depth of the pain we feel every day, as well as the joy.

So shred, rockers. Shred well. Practice, get that ideal tone...But don't let technique get in your way. Transcend it, forget about it, ignore it, I don't care. Just don't let it get in your way! Of course, this applies to any artist, or person for that matter.

Sometimes ya gotta ask yourself: What's the point, bro?


Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, June 10, 2010

About twenty cents


It's been a little while since I've thrown my two cents into the vast swirling void that is I'm overdue!

I hope everyone's been good and is progressing nicely on their path toward world domination!

Dealing with a negative Ned?

My brother Noah calls them...

The Most Essential People

They always say the critics are our best friends, but sometimes that's hard to see, so caustic can these critics be sometimes. I'll run with the chemistry example, because success can be viewed as a process, a reaction if you will, with many agents causing ignition.

I'm sure we've all had the experience of a naysayer beautifully illustrating the path we're on if we don't change our ways. My favorite cosmic 2x4 in the face is when the party matter-of-factly states that we'd better start measuring the drapes for our house of failure, and they don't even realize it. They're dead on right, because, sometimes, the rest of the world isn't as blind as we are, and if we keep on the same path, we will need to order some extra-mediocre shades, indeed.

It's usually said like "Well, so when are you gonna go into sales? Wouldn't it be nice not to play dive bars?"


Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These are some of the most essential people - the arsonists who light that fire under us, and burn us into action. The acid that eats through the blinders, and gets us to wake up, smell the chemicals, and say "Hey man, I'm gonna get some better gigs, and make this happen!"

They're usually about as strong as the chemicals used to bleach my hair, and Jimi bless 'em for that, because you know that's some darn good stuff! The faster the blinders come off, the faster we can strike a ready pose, and say, "eat my dust, suckas!"

Jeff Beck...

Was the most amazing guitarist I've ever seen. I caught his show at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, and promptly had a reason to buy a new mind. Mine is in tatters. I've been on a new tone quest...that doesn't involve gear. He got so many tones out of his strat without even stepping on a pedal. He used the volume and tone controls, whammy bar, and hit the guitar occasionally to make it sing alien.

Very inspired, I've been having my students jam through a Fender Blues Jr. (15 watt tube amp) and pay super close attention to details like vibrato, slides, picking attack and intensity, and the like. Jeff showed me, as he filled the concert grounds with the magnificent sound of his soul, that...if you think it sounds good, it can sound even better.

I made the grevious mistake in the past of saying to myself "I'll concentrate on tone when I can play fast." This makes about as much sense as a chef saying "I'll make the soup taste good when I can chop the food really fast."

Play fast! But make it sound like a million bucks. A student jokingly asked me yesterday if sounding like $999,999 was good enough. And my answer?


Rock on! And start paying attention to your tone TODAY. It's just awareness.

- Josh

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are you a mover or shaker, foo?

Hey hey!

It's been a crazy good week! I gave my second clinic yesterday to about thirty homeschooled kiddies who aspire to play the guitar. What a great time! I was running up the road to get to my teaching studio, and I decided to stop to get a sub. I'm standing in line at Subway behind two little old ladies who only wanted HALF of a six inch sub, and wanted to know the price of everything, and were in no hurry whatsoever. It got me thinking about several things. a.) would a stray hair curler most likely left in their hair crumble when I smote them for taking up all my time, b.) how nice it must be to have all the time in the world, except of course, that they'll probably die next week, and c.) how it's gotta suck to be old. Ha ha!

And d.) if I ever run for political office, how you guys will either blackmail the heck out of my bank account, or bury me with all these things I say.

Old people don't seem to like the Information Age, and believe it or not, I'm starting to side with them in a roundabout sort of way. Oh sure, I'm a proud shareholder of Google (I have exactly one share), and I have a feeling my fortune will, at least in part, have a .com after all the zeroes on the check!

But information can be insidious in how it robs us of our power of conviction and action. I see it all the time with my students, especially my clients above thirty. They want to learn the best way, and in seeking the shortest path to the top of the mountain, they spend their day reading the map at the trailhead while everyone else already has their hike on!

And this debilitation in the name of research isn't limited to guitar - on the contrary, I see everyone talking about how to be better people instead of actually going out there and doing the work. This is a broad theme that can be applied in many disciplines.

If you can't think of anyone, how 'bout the person reading this blog right now? AW SON! Gotcha! Well, OK, a little training here and there is OK.

But we need to know when to draw the line, stop researching the perfect running stride, and jump on to the track. Hit the ground running! This brings me to a cheesy point and a question:

Are you a mover or a shaker? Do you get stuff done, or stand there trembling, wondering the best way to do it?

(I tend to be the latter, unfortunately.) But you know what? Before you go out to buy a book on motivation...You know all you have to do to make the transition?

Just start.

That's it!

Rock on!

- Josh

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mom's greatest hits


I sure you hope you fellas remembered today is MOTHER'S DAY! I did. (Whew!) I'd like to take a few paragraphs here, and a departure from the normal music vibe, to tell you a bit about my mom.

First off, there's a misconception going around the internet in general, and facebook in particular, that, for example, Joe's mom, or Sam's mom is the best. I'd like to settle any and all rumors, and say for a fact that, sorry Sam, it ain't so. Mine's the best. There. Now that that's been cleared up, we can move on.

I've learned from being raised by Mom that it's not a job for the faint of heart, under-qualified, or lazy. Fortunately, unlike Joe's mom, my ma is none of these things. She did all the usual...Great cooking, reading to us three boys, home schooling us (a herculean effort, to be sure, as we were adverse to learning), teaching us to be kind, and letting us climb trees and catch fireflies. Then there was the unconventional, selfless giving - like the time she delegated the only spare room in the house into a model train room for me. We built an 8'x8' train set, and it was awesome. Or when she gave me half of her studio space to build my own little teaching studio in it...AND let me graffiti the wall to make it look rock 'n roll!

As we grew older, she has evolved into a senior-level cabinet member, a chief-of-staff of sorts for us. Here's a few (paraphrased) lines from conversations we've had over the years...Now, these are the funny lines...I can't even begin to count all the kind, compassionate advice and guidance she's given me...BUT - these are not included here because, a.) go to Hallmark if you want to read mushy stuff, and b.) these quotes are a heck of a lot funnier!

Shopping for an unconventional outfit for my (homeschool) senior prom...
"WOW, these yellow chuck taylors match that cummerbund with the Toucans on it! Buy 'em!"

When I was five, living in Greenbelt, asking how dating works...
"Well, let's say you meet someone...say her name is Nancy. You say "hey Nancy, you wanna go for a walk?" You take a walk with her, and you have a good conversation, and you get to know what she thinks." (I felt the butterflies in my stomach way back then!)

When I was fifteen or so, sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out a career path.

"Well, it looks like a choice between the sciences and entertainment...." We both looked at each other and said..."Entertainment!"

On careers in general...
"Follow your heart, and the money will follow."

When I was fourteen, and said "Mom, Dad, I think I wanna dye my hair blue."
"It's about time!"

On girls...
"What are you doing with that loser, Josh? What do you see in her?" Then my brothers start chanting "Dump her! Dump her! Dump her!"

On basketball at first glance, trash talkin' at second...
"They used to call me Hoops Lorei!" (I think we figured it out after "Ollie 360 Lorei")

On Killswitch Engage...
"What is this stuff? Little boy music? Get me some real metal."

When I was twelve, and really into bird watching...

"If you like birds, then make 'em your thing! Hey, why not become a world famous ornithologist?!"

(That was especially cool, because it made me believe I could do anything I wanted, and be really, really good at it. I carry that lesson to this day.)

And, perhaps the most fateful...

"Why don't we get you an electric guitar? You can try out Uncle Mike's, and see if you like it. "

Thank you, Mom. You've done, and continue to do, one heck of a job! Happy Mother's Day!

Love always,

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mike's advice


Got some great insight for you today...Actually, it's from my buddy Mike.
I've known Mike from Driver's Ed way back in the day...We both suffered through a program we were sure was run by the mafia. I mean, the instructor was an old Italian guy, and he hated the class. We were pretty scared. For example, the first day of class, the dude holds up a steering wheel. "This is a steering wheel" he says. "No KIDDING!" the class yells back at him. He snapped, yelled at us, and we were all scared of him ever since. During the two weeks of terror, since we were sitting at the same table, we found out we were both musicians. While some of the other kids were on a smoke break (and they were really smoking, and it wasn't tobacco), I got to chatting with Mike, and we've been friends ever since. Mike showed me how to mix live sound, and he's off in LA doing sound for movies and TV shows right now. (He's a great example of how a great work ethic gets you far.) I'm always calling him up asking for advice about recording gear. I've asked him a million questions, and he's walked me through setting up a great little home studio.

But listen up, all you gearheads - remember, the gear serves the music, not the other way round!

I was asking him if he thought I should get another piece of gear to finish tracking vocals on my CD (which has been in the works for almost two years), and here was the quote of the week!

"People are always looking for the next piece of gear to sound even better, but there comes a point where you just gotta say "I'm recording this" and focus on the creativity, not the gear."

Bravo, bravo! Well said, Mike!

Draw a line, state what it's going to sound like, and get it done!

Rock on!

- Josh

Monday, May 3, 2010

A mega, mega justification

Somebody get me a DOCTOR!

My adopted sister pointed out that I have the fatal signs of G.A.S. today...Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Yes, yes, it's true! I just ordered THIS:

Ohhhhhh Boy! I can't wait for it to arrive! It matches my yellow and black Nike's (courtesy of my mama!)

"Doc, is it bad that I bought a guitar to match my shoes?"

"No, son, it's called having an image."

Yes, yes. I can no longer justify guitars as tax breaks, even though they are. I am writing this one off in my mind as a necessary expense of visibility, which is what I'd like to discuss today.

I learned a lesson the easy way last year when I was playing my first stadium gig. OK, OK, I was one of many local musicians playing at a sub-minor league stadium for a charity even, and only a smattering of people noticed me, but - there were close to three thousand people there, and I did get to say "What's up, Waldorf? Are you ready to ro000ccck?"

One of my buddies said he showed up, and saw my rig set up from across the stadium...He wasn't sure it was mine, but then saw the Plutonium orange Ibanez RG and said "oh yeah, that's Josh's setup."

Visibility, be it literally, such as highway safety colored guitars, or from a multitude of positive interactions with people, is something worth boosting. Get out there and shake hands (and don't give 'em the dead fish grip), look people in the eye, and say "Hi, I'm here to rock your face off. Hope you enjoy!"

What can you start doing right now to boost your image in the industry and the scene?

Here's what I'm doing - maybe you'll get some ideas. (Remember, I have an over-the-top persona, blending close to a musical comedian.) I know they're specific, and may only work for me. Take it with a grain of NaCl2 (salt.)

- Zany colored guitars. I've got the M-16 (photos coming soon. Friend me on facebook in the meantime to see it there), and the Tiger is on the way. I plan on spray painting a strat, and that'll be my AK-47. Add that orange Ibanez, and I'm literally visible from space, bro!

- Shoes. Talk about a great conversation starter, and something for people to remember you by. My current favorites are a pair of Nike's that match the Tiger guitar. (Yellow, with a black swoosh.) I've gotten money playing street music because people liked my lime green wrestling shoes. Ironically, they walked away when I started playing, which was discouraging, but hey, I got the buck!

- Positive, professional interactions. Be polite, be on time, smell nice, thank people after the gig, and be that consummate pro that you're striving to be.

- Talking to the crowd. It's just fun! People seem to like it, too. Hey, it makes me feel like a million bucks. For all my cynical comments, I genuinely like people, and connecting with them from the stage, including them in the music, lifts the whole room to a better place. Are you ready to ROCK?!

- Stupid props. I've got a cordless drill a la Paul Gilbert (check it out on youtube) that alternate picks REALLY fast, and makes a cool sound with the pickups! Now that's 9.6 volts of pure memories.

- Of course, playing good! I'm working so hard on writing, playing, and putting on the best show that I can. For me, time onstage has helped me a lot. Practice does indeed make perfect, or at least a good rock show. Well, I'm gettin' there. I've come far enough to see how far I'd like to go!

- Free stuff. I'm working on my marketing strategy right now...OK, just pondering it...But it seems that an investment into free stuff like stickers, CDs, etc, is probably the best advertising budget. I'm not sure yet, and I'll report back to you when I figure it out.

Hopefully these actions gave you a few ideas of your own. The point is - take action! All the World's a stage...Own it!

Hey, maybe visibility can be my mega, mega justification of my new guitar on the way.

Can you see me now?

World, are you ready to ROCK?!

- Josh

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just show up


Boy, am I motivated! I had the honor and the privilege of seeing the one and only Mike Dooley at a motivational workshop last Sunday in DC. Mr. D has been featured in The Secret, and his book Infinite Possibilities recently hit the big time on the New York Times best seller list. He was talking about harnessing the magic of life to create unbelievable awesomeness. There was one point in particular that really affected me, and it was when he said "Just show up."

Yes, Just Show Up. We're always looking for the magic solution, the knock 'em dead one liner, and the right card to play. Well, for me at least, and it was encouraging to hear Mike touch on this theme, life is a series of small steps, actions, and each of our individual Romes are built with a hundred thousand bricks.

He had the great point of just doing a little extra. He told a story about his neighbor who's so practical he's downright zennish. The neighbor told his kids in the corporate world "Look, just get to work five minutes before you need to, and leave just a little later than your coworkers."

What if us musicians complained a little less than our peers about the industry, and wrote a song instead? What if us artists just spent an extra minute picking that perfect color? What if we showed up at our gigs a little extra excited to play music? What if we were constantly and consistently striving towards our dreams with small, mundane, but measured steps?

What if we just showed up?

Luck will certainly have a better chance of finding us. The thought struck me: If God/the Universe were a CEO at the local networking meeting, wouldn't we make a point to make sure we attended those meetings on a very consistent basis in the hopes of catching her eye? Even if we were just the coffee pigs? (See Muppets From Space to get the reference. Ms. Piggy is a coffee pig at a TV show.)

Start networking with luck! And Just Show Up!

Thanks, Mike!

Rock on!

- Josh

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

What's up, good people?

Inspiration is a topic that's integral to a multitude of topics, including, but not limited to,.........zzzzzz...

OK, let's try that again! Most of you reading this blog are artists of some sort, right? And art needs electricity, energy, and inspiration to really go BAM! and rip everyone's face off, metaphorically speaking, right? And many times we go to create our art, and there just ain't no inspiration to be found, right?

What to do, what to do? It's like we're waiting to be zapped by lightning, but the sky is as cloudless as...uh, whatever is usually cloudless. Not a storm cloud anywhere, and certainly no high-voltage inspiration ready to strike us like a divine flyswatter.

I was chatting with a client today, and I asked him how his songwriting was going. "Not too good" he said. "I haven't been inspired lately."

This idea popped into my head, and I shared it with him.

Songwriting (or any other creative pursuit) is a skill, and like any other skill, it improves with practice. I've found that while, sure, it's best if a song just tumbles out of your mind, often times it doesn't. Wrestling with it, sweating to hammer it into a framework, yelling, pulling your hair out, calling your mother and whining about how the song is really lousy, reading books on the craft of it, taking walks and talking to yourself to figure out your sound, checking facebook a dozen times, and then finishing sometimes the way it goes for me.

And you know what I've found? Inspiration actually starts to show up. Of course, I want to have a kernel of something I care about in the song, or a topic that means something to me. Suicide (I lost a cousin to it), war, being zany...All of these things matter, but sometimes that doesn't write the song automatically, or guarantee that it'll be easy.

It seems, though, as I create the tune, commit lyrics to the paper, build the drum tracks, dial in the guitar tones...that slowly, but surely, the inspiration starts to gather and crackle in the air.
It's as though the act of me striking out to write a song starts the process of the storm clouds gathering, and I'm building a platform high in the sky that's a lightning rod for genius. It might be a perfectly clear day when I set out building this platform, but as the structure goes in to place, the sky darkens.

If you want to capture that electricity, sometimes ya gotta be like Ben Franklin, and go fly a kite up in that sky! And then it'll find you.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ten minutes


Wow, does life ever stop? No! And that's a good thing! I mean, people die, but to do lists never, ever vanish.

Wait, don't cry! There's hope! Life is like a gym, and always throwing challenges at us. They make us stronger, if we lift 'em.

With music, or anything for that matter, sometimes it seems impossible to get anything done. Take gardening - ever time I turn around, I need to do hours of yardwork, bro! And it's just discouraging. I'm in the middle of the CD project, bills keep showing up and....You get the picture. I was on the phone with my Mom, and the idea came up that goes like so:

Ten minutes a day hacking away at a project is a great start.

Sure, it would be great if we could practice for ten hours a day every day, but you know what? Most of us can't. So instead of putting off that practice, or that yardwork, or that financial planning, just dedicate ten minutes a day to each challenge. Whittle down those anvils hanging over your head, and watch your skill grow. Ten bucks to a savings account is way better than nothin', and the same with your practicing. As the Samurai would say, "Attack the Corners!"

And as System of a Down would say......


Rock on!

- Josh