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