strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Mark Knopfler - Dallas 2015

Still a bit gobsmacked with how good Mark Knopfler and band were last night. It’s all a product of Mark’s brilliant songwriting, arrangement, playing, production, and most of all his imagination. Mark is a storyteller in the truest sense and he inhabits his characters to a depth not unlike Kate Bush or Tom Waits. I often feel like he understands American and World culture and history better than most of the natives.

His band are monsters on their respective instruments, and in most cases that’s three or more instruments each. The tour lineup includes Mark Knopfler (guitar, vocals), Guy Fletcher (keyboards), Richard Bennett (guitar), Glenn Worf (bass), Jim Cox (piano, organ, accordion), Ian Thomas (drums), John McCusker (violin, cittern), Michael McGoldrick (whistles, uilleann pipes), and Nigel Hitchcock (saxophone).

This band can cover any genre and create any dynamic. Majestic is a great old venue (I’m deliberately not talking about the seats), and the sound was excellent. High marks for the Dallas audience as they all seemed to be real Knopfler fans and not just the socialites that sometimes inundate these shows (not looking at you, ATT PAC). Another really cool feature of this and the last few tours is that Mark offers the board recordings on little guitar shaped USB sticks a few months after the show. As this was a great performance (even according to Richard Bennett on his blog), this live recording should be a keeper.

For the gear heads: Mark played a variety of strats, I think the classic old Les Paul from the BIA era, the resonator made famous from the album cover, his old Pensa Suhr (on the second half of Telegraph Road, and shit yes, he played Telegraph Road), a steel string acoustic, and the Danelectro pictured here. Great feature on Mark’s most important guitars on SkyArts from a few years ago:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=9&v=27OT_FSWrIE

  1. Broken Bones 

  2. Corned Beef City 

  3. Privateering 

  4. Father and Son 

  5. Hill Farmer's Blues 

  6. Skydiver 

  7. She's Gone (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  8. Your Latest Trick  (Dire Straits song) (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  9. Romeo and Juliet  (Dire Straits song) (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  10. Sultans of Swing 

    (Dire Straits song)

  11. Mighty Man 

  12. Postcards from Paraguay 

  13. Marbletown 

  14. Speedway at Nazareth 

  15. Telegraph Road  (Dire Straits song)

  16. Encore:
  17. So Far Away  (Dire Straits song)

  18. Going Home: Theme from Local Hero  (with Nigel Hitchcock)

Interview with Troy Grady

Interview with Troy Grady of “Cracking the Code”

Troy Grady isn’t simply described or categorized. An attempt to distill him down to one or two words invariably falls short of capturing the complex arrangement of many talents which he brings to bear in his creative endeavors. So, I invented a new word: Multiinstrumentalamediaentrepreneurialinguist. Webster’s, take note. 

Troy Grady is the mastermind and primary creative force behind the groundbreaking web series, “Cracking the Code” which reveals the secret techniques employed by the virtuoso legends of guitar. The series unveils previously hidden nuances to the techniques that separate the all time great shredders from the six string punters clogging up Guitar Center and Youtube. (and, ahem,  the blogoverse). 

Troy’s keen intellectual mind, combined with a deep well of cultural references and visual media acumen has resulted in a series that is immediately entertaining but very dense and worth multiple repeat views. The series is part biographical, part historical and all educational. The guitar tuition alone is enough to justify a curriculum at the university level. 

Troy’s project stemmed from a lifelong love of music, and a special devotion to the heyday of 80s era rock lead guitar. The germ of the project actually began in his time at Yale, where he was majoring in Italian, you know, as most budding entrepreneurial guitarists are wont to do. Viewers of “Cracking the Code” will quickly surmise Troy’s shrewd analysis, wit, and his sponge like absorption of culture both past and present. 

 

D: Watching “Cracking the Code”,  I can’t even conceive of the amount of time and effort that must have gone into the project. 

T: It was harder learning the skills in the first place. Now we have this whole production system and language we use to describe these things internally between me and the guys (Troy has a team of 3 including himself) so it’s very easy to cook up these kinds of visuals now. But, it took us several, probably two years to actually develop that language, to get everybody with the same skills, to get to the point that any one of us could open up a project done by any one of the others. 

In his blog, Troy describes the initial responses the team received when they would try and preview animations in process to friends, family, the UPS guy. The initial efforts weren’t so well received until the team had a sort of epiphany in that the animations didn’t have sound or music.  In assembling the clips to allow room for sound effects and music, they realized that to keep an even and steady flow, they had to treat the vignettes as if they were a piece of music and apply a sort of rhythm to the process.

D:  I thought it was really interesting in your blog how you mentioned the use of the “metronomic click”. How you ended up approaching it like it was basically an instrument.

T:  Unless someone works in production, you can’t show someone a half finished project and get an honest appraisal for what it’s like. They can’t separate the analytical from the visceral. They don’t know how to look at that and say, “Oh, that’s going to be really great once you add music to it”, they just think it looks boring. It’s very much like trying to play unmixed tracks (music) to someone who’s not a recording engineer. They just sound bad. They’re like, “Oh, but it doesn’t have 2db of dynamic range, and it’s not brick wall limited” (this is a music production joke about the tendency of modern pop music to be so over compressed in an attempt to make it louder but resulting in a loss of dynamic range and vitality).

D: (laughs) As is preferred by John Q. Public. 

T: Exactly. 

D: What’s on the front burner right now?

T:  There are no big projects, but we do two main things that make money. We make the episodes of the show and we have this lecture series that we started called “Masters in Mechanics”, which is a monthly, very detailed investigation of a particular topic or player.  So it’s the juggling act between those two things and being pecked by the 1000 crows of everything else that you need to handle…

D: like interview requests…

T:  …and customer service emails, blog posts, posting things on Facebook, writing articles for Guitar World, which is another thing that we do now with some regularity. Making episodes is the hardest thing we do because they’re the most involved, they take the most time, and it’s the thing that everybody clamors for, ironically that we can’t deliver as fast as we’d like. 

So the lecture series was actually a way around that. By saying, ok, here’s something we can deliver, probably on a monthly basis, that is a huge amount of work, but of a different variety. So, if people want more of Cracking the Code, in some form, this is a way that we can deliver that. Whereas the show episodes are just going to have to take as long as they take, and until I get three more people here, there is no way that the pace is going to approach that of cat videos, and talking head blogs. 

D: and that is your competition…

T: It’s my own competition, I should be working sometimes. I need to watch Maru jumping into or out of the box. I actually don’t know what our competition is, we’re pretty much doing the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing on the internet. 

D: Yes, I was joking about the cat video, as far as actual competition, you don’t have any, you’re in a league of one.   

T:  I guess, but the internet has enabled you to make cheap things that are reasonably entertaining with almost no work and a high frequency of output. But we decided to completely do the opposite and make life difficult for us, by trying to make things with a pseudo-television level of production value that take forever to do.  

D:  What’s a typical workday like for you?

T:  I don’t know if we’ve really achieved a rhythm on that front. We do have an office, I have a studio that’s just down the block from the office, so that actually works out very well. I work better in an office setting. If I’m forced to work from home, inevitably naps happen at like 3 o’clock (laughs) that’s no good. Then I end up staying up way later than is really productive if you want to maintain any sort of schedule, so I like coming to an office. It’s usually a mixture of doing all the animation which we mainly do here, but any live playing and filming is done at the the studio, as well as soundtrack work which happens there if we need to record drums, or do anything, you know, turn on an amp or play drums. I tend to do that from the studio and I’ll do all that stuff early in the morning if I can and then come in here, hopefully by the middle of the afternoon at the latest and then take all that stuff and start assembling it or editing it. 

So, it’s almost like going fishing in the morning. You get up really early and you go and turn on all the gear and see what comes out, see what you catch. You put it all together and come back to the office and put it all together and see if you’ve got anything good. So, that is one rhythm that we have, on days when we’re doing heavy show production, and that’s usually toward the end of the episode when I start doing all the soundtrack stuff. We’ll plan for the soundtrack from the beginning, but we’ll only start doing towards the end once we have rough edits of all the animations together because sometimes the timing of the one thing influences the other thing. We’ll go back after the animations, and say “Oh, give me one more bar of space here because I want to have this particular thing happen in the song”, and I sometimes won’t know that until I’ve actually done the song, usually to a scratch version of the animation. So, it’s this iterative process, but that’s the good part of the process, because it’s usually towards the end which means we’re getting close to finishing it. 

D: It’s probably a fluid process. 

T: Yep, and the seminar stuff throws a monkey wrench into that, just because filming those 3-4 hour video marathons is entirely in the studio, and that requires planning, and a certain amount of caffeine and sustenance (laughs) to make it through seven hours worth of that. Then making sure you’re got it all and then invariably having to go back and edit and film these lick (guitar) packs that we distribute along with that. These are slow motion examples of things I talk about in the seminar, some of which I record before the seminar, and others of which I have to go back after we film the seminar, because I mentioned five different things that I wasn’t planning on mentioning and then we have to go back and film those things so we can include them.

D: Have you found yourself hesitating to answer a question or make a reference, because, like, “Oh my god, I’m going to have to demonstrate now”

T: Oh, yeah, absolutely, there’s whole topics, all the time. In fact, the guys are always trying to get the episodes to be shorter. Invariably, they become longer over time. This one that’s coming up, the Eric Johnson one, there was a whole scene involving Jimi Hendrix and the Mixolydian mode, which was really cool, and we were going to do these psychedelic colors, and Jimi shooting rainbows out of his guitar, and we had to cut that because of time. That didn’t make it into the episode, but it’s in the notes that we supply with the downloadable material. 

D: What are your earliest musical memories?

T: My parents are rock and roll generation people. We drove around in the 70’s with Rod Stewart blasting on an 8-track in the car.  I think growing up in a music friendly house was obviously of key importance because I have friends whose parents were from a generation prior to that, who listened to “Fiddler on the Roof” and Gershwin, and who were not very friendly to rock music and thought it was all a waste of time. In my household, even though they weren’t musicians, they went to shows in the 60’s and saw, like, Grace Slick walk onstage at the Fillmore East at 2am, just because she happened to be in town that day and was unannounced and just showed up at some other show. This was before the era of arena rock, and you could walk into Cafe Wha? and see some amazing act that you could throw a rock and hit from 20 feet away. 

I grew up understanding that people like Eric Clapton were geniuses. They weren’t rock and roll rebels, these were people that, if you did music, this was a thing to be admired. That’s not just true of my immediate family, but also my uncles and aunts, there were a bunch of musicians there, and it was understood in my family, and I don’t know why actually, but it was understood that this was an acceptable thing to do with your life. 

Being in the right environment certainly helps and having a supportive family environment, where things are tacitly acknowledged to have value. Even if someone is not beating you over the head and forcing things on you, if you’re a kid and you see your parents doing a thing and enjoying it, it only makes sense that is going to have some residual positive impact. 

D: Do you remember the first music you liked, or the first music you bought?

T: That’s hard to say, because I know when I was very young I had the little Micky Mouse record player, all sorts of kids stuff on 45s and I remember my grandmother giving me Englebert Humperdinck records like “Cuando Cuando Cuando” and “Please Release Me”, (laughs) and I used to listen to that, but I was not a rock fan as a kid per se, because that was what my parents liked and I didn’t know what the Rolling Stones were, or that they were such a big deal, or why you had to wait by the phone to call the radio station and win tickets to the Tattoo You concert, I didn’t know what these things were. But, that’s what they did. But, I liked Billy Joel, because we’re all from Long Island, so that’s a religion.

D: Well, they issue those, right? They come in the mail, “Here’s your new Billy Joel album”.

T: They do, yeah. Absolutely. It’s exactly like a Springsteen in Jersey kind of thing, perhaps less well known, but it’s exactly like that. Everybody knows the guy, or everybody knows the music and has some connection where their friend’s uncle’s roommate’s gardener was connected to Billy Joel in some fashion. So, I started on piano, it was the first instrument that I actually played, and of course Billy Joel music was the first stuff that I played. We did everything, from ironically not “Piano Man” first, probably more like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Summer, Highland Falls” and all the stuff that are more known to people who know the b sides and all the obscure songs. 

D: “And So It Goes”?, I’m sure you know that. 

T: Oh yeah, and everything off of “Streetlife Serenade” is great, “Turnstiles” is great. All those early albums had this very melancholic, almost folksy vibe to it.  They were all great piano songs, for various reasons. Then there’s the obvious sort of “Eruption” stuff like “Angry Young Man” the hammering on the C, the middle C, and then “Root Beer Rag” and a couple of others that are a little more showy.

D: How old were you when you started on Piano?

T:  Oh, I don’t know, single digits. We had an air organ, when I was really young that you plug in, it was like an accordion where you had buttons on the left for chords, and you had like a two octave keyboard on the right. My dad actually taught me how to play this, and to this day, he has no musical ability that I can think of.  The music they gave you with this was numbers, there was a little stick on strip of letters that went over the keyboard and the chords on the left were marked black for minor and white for major and the little book we had “On top of old smoky”, and it said like “1 - 1 - 3 - 5”. You would hit the white number one that would play the c major chord that went along with this and he actually showed me how to do it and that’s how I actually started playing keyboards.

D:  It’s like Piano tab (tablature, commonly used for guitar is an easier version of sheet music)

T:  Kind of, yeah. That’s exactly what it was, and my Dad’s a very technically minded guy, worked in home improvements for a number of years so it was no problem translating that. It was after that they put me in piano lessons at some point and that went up to about probably 8th or 9th grade when I actually stopped taking lessons because at that point I knew enough that I could just play the things I wanted to play. My sight reading abilities were beginner level. You were playing things that were like easy piano versions of stuff and I couldn’t stand it, but my composing and improvising skills were already kind of there at that point. I finally said, and I felt guilty about asking parents if I could stop going to piano lessons and they were like, “Sure, no problem” because at the point all I did was play piano all day. 

D: So you were learning stuff by ear?

T:  Oh yeah. There were a few key insights early on. Once I realized that “Oh, that’s what a chord progression is?” I didn’t know what that was, but once I realized that was the building block of modern pop music, essentially, everything took off from there and within a year or two, all the conventions of pop music had basically been totally distilled in my brain. I could listen to stuff on the radio and just play it. I was always using the SK1 for piano licks. We talk about this very briefly in the show, there’s a scene where I show “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” solo being played on an animated piano. That was one of the very first things I did with the SK1, was slowing down Billy Joel licks, and that was all major pentatonic stuff mainly on the white keys like C, F, and G. Piano has its own idiosyncratic vocabulary that’s not so easy to translate to guitar playing so I can’t say the one necessarily fed to the other, but these are all the interests just being mixed together, and the same tools were used to decipher them. 

D: I was amazed that you thought of the sampling approach. I love the newer things, the “Amazing Slow Downers”, but just as you show in the video, the old approach was to put the needle on the LP, play a few seconds, keep trying to put it back in the exact same spot, and you wear it out and scratch it and it no longer plays.

T:  I’m a little annoyed in that I think our experiences were so idiosyncratic that had I had an older brother or something, he would have been like “Dude, just get yourself a variable speed tape recorder and stop killing yourself”,  but I didn’t know that people were doing this in these ways. From working on the show, I’ve gotten so many emails from people with their own bizarre stories that range from modifying the rollers inside of their tape decks so that even though it was spinning at the same speed, with the bigger roller it was effectively going slower. I’m using the wrong terminology here, but basically physically modifying the tape deck to play back at a different speed so they could accomplish the same thing. There were a million different ways of doing this and it sounds like nobody really knew how anyone else was doing it, whereas now, I’m going to sound like old school, but now you just drop into any one of three or so applications for doing this, and there you go.

D: It’s on your phone with everything else. Kids these days…

T:  I know. The video games, the Rock Band games were huge for that. I don’t know if you remember when people started ripping the individual tracks. 

D: Yeah right, the multitracks, the moggs and the oggs. Love that stuff. (moggs and oggs are proprietary audio formats typically used in the various rock band video games. They were isolated individual tracks of each instrument which would allow a listener to hear individual parts and often revealed nuances not heard in the regular full band version of the song). 

T: I was hearing stuff that I had waited for 30 years to hear.

D: Absolutely. I know some of it was covers, but some of it’s the actual stems. 

T: Only the first version of the game was actual covers and they did a really good job, but no one knew the game was going to be that popular and because it became so popular, apparently it sparked this whole quest to get these master tapes which were hidden in all sorts of weird locations like buried in producer’s basements and the actually found a lot of them because they had a reason now finally now to get the isolated tracks and make money off it. So the popularity of the games helped resurrect a lot of these possibly lost tapes. So here I am listening to isolated guitar tracks from Van Halens first album. 

D: Van Halen was amazing when you could first hear just Eddie.

T:  Oh yeah! And you could tell it was live as a band because you could hear the drums bleeding in ever so slightly into the mic, or maybe it was crosstalk on the tape, but I prefer to think it was live mic bleed because that’s cooler. But you’re hearing this and going, “Oh, that’s what he played there” like where Dave (David Lee Roth) is yelling normally on the record (laughs) 

D: Yeah, something inane…

T:  Yeah, right. Someone then, of course, posted these on youtube. I remember looking up, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”, the guitar track, and it’s there, and I’m reading the comments, and one of the comments, obviously someone very young, who said “Oh, I just heard this great song yesterday, and I went on the internet to see if I could find the guitars, and here it is!!” (laughs)

D: I know, I hate you. 

T: Yeah, it’s like “Kid, you don’t know man!”

D: Exactly. It’s like “You don’t know the long slog of people trying to suss out Eddie Van Halen tracks on LPs”

T:  I know. I love to romanticize the good ole days, but the learning opportunities are just so much more immediate now. You can pickup more in 6 months on Youtube, things I didn’t even know existed. 

D: The tools are great, the Amazing Slow Downers are great when you approach it that way, but the one great thing about that era is that you basically were depending on your ear, there weren’t tabs for everything. Tabs are great, but if they become the crutch, you know full well…

T: Right. But I think of things I had to play that I didn’t know until at least six years of playing like harmonics, for example. Right hand harmonics (sometimes called false harmonics, the technique involves fretting a note on the neck with your left hand and holding usually your right index finger at a spot 12 frets higher and striking the string with your right thumb or pick. It’s a technique pioneered by Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins) - this was a thing I had heard, and had no idea how that was being done for the longest time. I remember being in the guitar store and seeing a salesman at Sam Ash fretting some super low note and hit some crazy Eddie Van Halen style high pitched right hand squeal and I’m looking at him like he sawed a woman in half. I realized that the learning process was so uneven, even for people who were talented and were seeking information, it just wasn’t that readily available. 

D: I saw on your blog you had interviewed Tommy Emmanuel. He talks about when he first started learning Chet Atkins songs, he just kind of intuitively figured out that he was playing the bass line, chords and melody. (all at the same time, live) He could just tell. Everybody else just assumed it was a studio trick, it was a bass line (played by a bassist), it was multi-tracked. But, that was his whole world and he just focused on it, he was going to figure out how to play it. There’s something to be said for people who grew up in that era and didn’t have a choice. 

T: He tells a funny story about the first Chet Atkins song he learned, called “Windy & Warm”. He listened to this forever and he couldn’tfigure out how the fretting worked and he finally was able to do it, but it was all these weird stretches and many years later when he met Chet Atkins and told him how hard it was to learn and Chet said “Oh, I used a capo”.  And Tommy’s like “Auuggghhhh!!” because he never knew.

D: He also tells the story that he started off using a regular pick, playing pick-style (holding a pick between the thumb and index finger and using the middle and ring fingertips to pick strings. A thumbpick frees up the index finger since the pick slides over the thumb and doesn’t have to be grasped by the index finger) but he saw an album cover where Chet Atkins was wearing a thumbpick, and he was like “That’s what it is!”

T:  Right, exactly. Who knew?  Which is why it’s so fascinating that these guys who had no one to learn from at all, got as far as they did, it’s almost like magic. Who did Tal Farlow have to listen to?  They had radio, maybe. If you wanted to hear a song again, you just had to wait around for awhile until they played it again. (laughs)  There were no other guitar players, no one playing the super out there stuff with the advanced picking that he was doing. He listened to Charlie Christian, who was a big influence. Charlie Christian is a great player, but of a decidedly earlier era, who did not have all the sophistication happening, the least of which on the harmonic side, but not the picking side of it either when you look at Tal’s playing now you can recognize right away what he’s doing.  You can see the sweeping in both directions, you see two way pick-slanting, and it’s amazing to look at this and go “Oh my god, no one stood a chance”. No one was going to know what this stuff was. Now it’s plain as day, you don’t even need to slow it down to see how these things work, you can just watch the guy because his hands are so big, any time he leans the pick in one direction or another you can see it with his giant thumbs. He probably has no conscious awareness of doing that, and how he figured that out in the 40s, I don’t know. 

D:  The thing I found amazing was how these guys independently figured this stuff out, even though they couldn’t really express it. I was surprised that Eric Johnson and Yngwie’s (picking) approach is pretty similar. I would never have thought that in a million years, just because they sound so differently, they play different scales and whatever, but technically that’s amazing. 

T: Absolutely. The musical styles being very different, but the string switching styles are essentially the same. That’s really what the similarity is. When you start to look at picking technique as a system of parts, each of which can be swapped out for other components, that’s how the similarity becomes more apparent. The way that these lines are organized, the rules that govern that are similar. That’s why I tend to think of them as being the same, but obviously there are other components of what they do that are not the same, or to varying degrees, only related. But I’ve come to see the string switching side of things being the most influential in determining what the player can and can not play, or what kind of things they are likely to build their style around, because that’s the biggest obstacle mechanically as far as picking is concerned, getting from one string to another. 

Your system for doing that is largely what determines the kinds of things you’re going to write and play. The greats don’t necessarily acknowledge this in a conscious way, but it’s very clear that they have a way of sensing the path of least resistance and they move forward and build all their cool licks and tricks around the things that are the easiest. It’s fascinating that they do in fact know enough that they can sense that. I’m sure we all got to a point that we said “Oh, this weird three note per string stuff is hard” but I kept banging my head against the wall trying to do it, whereas I am sure that at some point, when I was fourteen I probably played some two note per string lick, probably played it really fast, or a four, six or some even number of notes, probably played it really fast and clean, probably didn’t know why, and didn’t think enough to recognize it to stop and say, “Oh, I should do that”, focus on that type of thing. Whereas, a guy like Yngwie, by the time he was twenty one, he was writing albums and had built an entire style like this, so clearly he had reached that point, probably many years before that. Which is crazy to think. Probably by the time he was seventeen, his entire mechanical system was in place,   enough that by the time he was twenty one he had albums worth of material and he was touring with major bands and writing their material too. That is just mind boggling. 

D:  I haven’t seen too much of the Electromagnets, I’ve seen Eric (Johnson) play their tunes, but if you look at his very first Austin City Limits appearance, and I don’t know how long he had been playing then, I think he had been playing for awhile, it was like ’84, he was completely developed. 

T: Oh yeah. He was also older by the time we saw him on Austin City Limits. 

D: You’re right, the ’84 one, he was probably around 30ish or so (Eric was born August 1954). One comment about the Yngwie/Eric discussion. The thing that never occurred to me is to start a descending scale (going from the higher pitched to lower pitched strings) with a downstroke. It’s always been intuitive to me to lead in the direction that you were going.

T: You’re saying that if you were playing a scale that was descending you would likely start on an upstroke simply because it moves in that direction.

D: Even with the two note per string patterns. As soon as you released the Eric stuff, I was like, “Good”, because that’s the guy, if I want to model anybody, that’s the guy. 

T:  That’s not too far off. There’s some validity to that idea, even if it’s not a strictly logical solution. There are playing styles that share some similarity to that mindset, for example, when I interviewed Frank Gambale.  Frank is a two way pick-slanter, you can see it whenhe does any sort of swept arpeggio, the pick leans very heavily, and I think we always knew this. We always saw the great sweepers doing this, people like Jason Becker, it just wasn’t obvious that it also had something to do with alternate picking.  But it does, because not all of Frank’s playing is sweeping. 

There are many times, even in the context of a swept passage, in which he will switch strings using alternate picking, but Frank is always leaning the pick in the direction of his motion. Not so much that he’s choosing pick strokes that move in that direction, but the pick slant itself leans in the direction that he’s moving. The reason he does this is because, if you think about the Yngwie picking system, which is a one way pick-slanting system, the ascending side of the Yngwie strategy, where the pick is leaning downward, permits him to switch strings using picking in all cases, so in other words if he’s moving from a lower string to a higher string on a downstroke, then he can use sweeping to do that, so he doesn’t have to jump over the string. 

If it’s an upstroke, then he can do it just using alternate picking because that’s how downward pick-slanting works. If you flip that scenario upside down, you can do the exact same thing going the opposite direction. You can use upward pick-slanting when you use descending lines, and you will always be able to switch strings with picking, no matter the occurrence. If it’s an upstroke string change, then you’re going to use sweeping this time, and if it’s a downstroke string change, you’re going to use alternate picking. This is roughly the Gambale system. It’s a bi-directional Yngwie, if you want to think of it that way. That’s why you don’t hear legato in his system, he only plays lines where the picking is going to work out that way, but when I interviewed him, I made him play a line that was sort of backwards for him. Where I said, “play a descending pentatonic line, but start it on a downstroke”. He understands pick slanting, he doesn’t call it that, but he knows the movement. I asked him why he did this. “Why do you lean the pick that way?” He said “sometimes I want to sweep in that direction”, which is certainly one way of looking at it, but if you’re descending with upward pick slanting that lean helps you sweep in that direction. 

But I said, “do a pentatonic scale, but lean the pick down”. He goes “Aughh, why would you do that, it’s so awkward”. But he did it, and he did it perfectly. So, in other words, if you’re doing two notes per string alternate picking and you lean to downward pick slanting then you start each string on a downstroke, then you would go down/up and everything would work out fine like the Yngwie system and Eric Johnson. So he did it, he did it perfectly, and he goes “Aughhhh, who would do that? It’s weird” because now I’m having him lean down but play a descending line which is effectively like leaning down but moving up at the same time. There was no other way to do it, it’s the only way it works, but that’s not how he thinks. 

It’s fascinating, but the idea that the movement has to somehow flow with the melodic flow of the line is not all that farfetched, and in his case, it makes sense, it’s just leaving abunch of other possibilities on the table, like the entire Eric Johnson system, for one, simply wouldn’t work that way because it’s a one way picking system. So, if you want to do his stuff, the easiest way, really the only way, actually, is to use downward pick-slanting, because of all the sweeping also.  

D: Especially how fluid he is with the two note per string patterns, and I love how you stress that a lot of people avoid this distinct sound that you have available that definitely sounds different, and his use of pentatonics and you can’t tell if it’s major or minor, that’s a big part of it too.

T: Yep, yep, absolutely.  I think a lot of people can benefit from playing his style of lines, because it completely sidesteps the whole issue of playing really fast on a single string, which everybody is sort of obsessed with. You can tell from listening to him that there isn’t ever a point where he does that (laughs).

D:  Yeah, I don’t know of any Eric Johnson tremolo (fast picking on a single string) Eddie Van Halen type picking, he doesn’t do that at all. It never really occurred to me, but you’re right. 

T:  No, and nor does he play any sort of patterns that move around on a single string like a Django or an Yngwie. What he think he does is because there are so few ways to play what he plays, other than the way he does it, is it minimizes the opportunities for mistakes.  The whole idea of hand synchronization isn’t really a thing with him, because he isn’t just picking really fast with the right hand and trying to sync up the left hand, that’s not a challenge. It’s really just one movement, it’s like hitting a snare drum. There’s a downward component, and an upward component. 

There’s never a point where he’s just trying to move the hand really fast, where everything turns to mush. Which, of course, is like the classic bad guitar playing when you're first learning picking is this sloppiness of the hands not being synchronized, then trying to move that across the strings. All of this is baked into his strategy already. It’s already solved for you.  

D: You just turn up the gain, that’s all you need to do, and you’re all set…

T: Yeah (laughs)

D: …    When you want to pick fast and sloppy. Changing gears, back to you a little bit. How would you define what you do artistically? How would you define your art? You can make this as broad or as narrow as you want. 

T: I’m not sure I understand the question (laughing). 

D:  Looking at what you do. Obviously it’s creative, it’s multimedia, there are multiple elements that go into it. Let’s consider this from another angle. What are you hoping to achieve with the creative projects you’ve made? It could be “Cracking the Code”, it could be original music. What’s your goal as an artist, what are you trying to do?

T:  My initial response is, I don’t use the term artist, because it just seems highly pretentious (laughs).

D: We’ll give you a pass, this is how the question was asked.

T: Yeah, and I don’t mean to accuse you of accusing me of something…

D: (laughing)

T:  It’s just I’m very pragmatic about a lot of things, and so for me it’s like “Oh, here’s a problem I can solve, and it feels good to solve a problem, here’s a thing where some of my skills can be useful. So it’s exciting to do that, and it’s even more exciting to do that for a living if there’s a way we can make that fly.  So, ultimately, to be able to do this in any fashion and actually have this be a thing I get up every morning to do is very satisfying, just for that reason. 

I worked for a number of years in executive recruiting before this, that was fun for a lot of reasons, because it was tech oriented, and there’s always be a component of technology in the things I do. That was also another entrepreneurial situation in which I ran a company, and so all the other associated things, it wasn’t just doing recruiting and making placements and working with clients, it was also running the business, building the website, writing the software that we used internally, so all that stuff was fun. I enjoy doing that kind of thing, and I enjoy using as many of the things that I do at any given moment, in any given undertaking, a certainly this stuff here probably hits on more of them than anything I’ve done before, in the sense that, every single skill that I have - technical, creative, or otherwise is getting utilized here. 

Even the business side of things is not going to waste either, being able to take a meeting or send an email, that’s currency in the digital era in the modern business world. I spent a lot of time doing that and building relationships, and I know how all that stuff works, and now I’m doing it in a slightly different arena. I like what we’re doing only because everybody likes to have a purpose. I can get up in the morning and feel like we’re doing something that makes the world a little bit better place, even as much as I enjoy the subject matter itself and just simply doing it on a physical level. I don’t know if that answers the question.

D: No, that’s perfect. Whether or not you use the term art, it is art, you could have just done a video on Youtube and said, “look, I did this high frame rate video analysis” and just distilled it down. It probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective. You could have taken the easy way out. You’ve put it in a package, like you said, that’s using all of your skills and knowledge. Your putting it in a format, that even though it’s highly technical in some senses, and granted, guitarists love to get into the weeds on stuff, butit’s in a format that even a non guitarist or non musician would enjoy watching it. 

Another question - What’s your educational background?

T:  I was an Italian major at Yale, and there was no particular intent there to do anything explicitly academic, it was just, I like languages, and the base skills are kind of in in the musical/linguistic arena. That was stuff I enjoyed doing. A lot of people look at language class and go “Oh, God”, that switch is just not turned on in their brain. Conjugating verbs is like, they live in fear of doing it like fear of long division or something. But for me it was always easy and fun. Italian was the main game, but I also did Spanish and German also. The language element is sort of conceptually related to the musical element. “Cracking the Code” as a project actually started in school, I did this as an independent study. While I was there I actually wrote the manuscript that basically would be covered, all the techniques, pretty much up to what we’ve seen in the show. That whole downward pick slanting thing was something I discovered in school and it thought “This is my area of expertise, I should do something with this”. 

Of course, the first stab at that was as overwrought as the show currently is, except in print form. It was just pages and pages of Dante allusions, psychology concepts, and I still have the dot-matrix printout in my house somewhere. There was actually I guy that I worked with who was a grad student at the time, Andrew Leonard, who is a fantastic guitar player himself, and he was a little bit older than me, and was like a 70s fusion fan who then went on to play classical guitar, and he was in the classical guitar program at Yale at the time, so he was actually my advisor for this independent study that I had cooked up. He ran the guitar program at, I want to say, a school in North Carolina, and he’s in Massachusetts now, I forget where, he teaches. But he’s a serious, hardcore classical guitar player and you can see some really unbelievable clips of him on youtube playing things like Koyunbaba, a really impressive, fiery sounding Spanish classical piece. He got in touch recently, he found the website and said “I had no idea you were still doing this”.  Turns out someone who watches the show was one of his students in North Carolina. So the circle is now complete.

D: The apprentice has become the master…

T: Not really…

D: I know, just finishing the quote. 

T: He’s a hardcore academic in guitar, which it’s cool to see that those worlds overlap. 

D:  Your love of language, is that something you had growing up, you know, family members, how did you get exposed, or how did you get into language?

T:  I think that’s another thing where the parental influence was like, “We’re going to have our kid learn another language”, because that’s a valuable skill to have. I give my parents a lot of credit for that. They gave me Italian lessons when I was young, only enough to do like the colors and the numbers. I remember we’d have a guy who came to the house who taught me how to say “Man, Woman, Superman, Spiderman” and all this stuff (laughs).  But that was enough that, if you give a kid any indication that a thing is doable, then I think the reverberations of that are such that the enterprise seems very approachable, and not so scary.

Later on, New York State Public Schools actually have a great language program, well they did, I don’t know if they still do. Language was mandatory throughout high school and in junior high you take 10 weeks of four languages, and then you pick which one you want to specialize in. When I was in seventh grade we did Spanish, German, Italian, and French. Once you hit eighth grade, you pick one of those and that becomes your language class through like 10th or 11th grade. So I picked Italian because that’s what I had previous experience with as a kid and I would say New York State Public School actually taught me to speak Italian, which is kind of amazing. I think it could have been done better, but the fact that it was done at all is kind of amazing. Because Americans are sort of famous for not being very aware of how people speak in other parts of the world. 

D: Yeah, we all think English is the language everyone should be speaking. So you literally had 10 weeks of exposure (to four languages)? That’s so crazy. 

T: This is a New York state thing, I don’t know if they do it in other states. 

D: Well, it may be in other states, but in Texas it’s like, “Well, if you want, you can try a foreign language, but it’s up to you, maybe try Spanish?”

T: Exactly, well, we had a program, I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but in New York State there’s a Regent’s Board that decides all the things that you’re supposed to study in high school. There’s a track that you follow, that’s the high end of the public school track where you get a Regent’s diploma, and I believe at the time, California was the only other state that had this. I have nothing but positive things to say about that. It’s kind of a common core concept, which I think has come under fire, for a lot of reasons which are probably specific to the teaching industry that I don’t really know about. But the idea that there’s this sort of Hogwarts type curriculum you have to master was a cool concept. I remember, Regents is in all these different subjects, you take language, earth science, bio, chem, physics, english, and then all the math, every year was a different level of math. Regents level math wasn’t anything super fancy but you got up to serious trigonometry right up to knocking on the door of calculus. Had I remembered everything I was taught in high school, I would be like the most knowledgeable guy on the block outside of people who are academic mathematicians (laughs), not that that’s saying much, but …

D: You’d be great on Jeopardy…

T: Yeah, I’d be Jeopardy champion and I’m a big fan of a certain amount of standardization because I know once I got to college and they said, “Here, do whatever you want”, then I did whatever I wanted which meant not doing anything hard anymore and just doing that stuff that was easy and/or fun. Maybe I’m not the right personality for that, maybe I need a little more boot camp. But I think there are certain people who take to that, people who are academics, who are going to dive deep into this particular subject, but for me I felt like it was a less focused experience that wasn’t the Hogwarts kind of training camp experience that I liked about high school.  

D: Do you remember any really high point success or failures that you had, maybe moreso in music or in art, but creative pursuits in general? Do you remember any successes or failures that kind of changed what you did, or shaped how you developed?

T:  In the show we’ve tried to portray a certain amount of these little victories, like using the SK-1 (this alludes to his discovery of using a very early and rudimentary sampling keyboard to grab a small section of audio and slowing it down so he could learn it on piano or guitar).  If anything, I think those things were probably the most important because any one bit of information you could get your hands on back in the day could be incredibly valuable in terms of understanding work in the bigger picture, because again, information was just not easy to come by. 

We had this once scene in the show that I really wanted to put in that I had to explain to the guys that work with me why this was a big deal, where all the metal guys are in the record store reading the tablature books, and trying to memorize the sheet music. I used to do that, I would go into like Sam Goody in the back, in the rack where they had all the rock songs written out, and I would try and memorize as much of the music, like these Ratt easy piano song books. 

D: And they’re so accurate, by the way. I’ve got my Rush “Moving Pictures” sheet music book from 1981 over here somewhere, and it’s darn accurate, I can tell you.

T:  Oh yeah, I know.  I had the Van Halen I and II sheet music books at home, and there was no tab, it was only staff notation. Actually, I’ve gone back and looked at it and some of it was pretty accurate. It was always hit or miss, like you said, you never knew what you were going to get. Of course there were no tabs, so you didn’t really know how the hell any of this was supposed to be arranged. So having one moment, where you could figure out how something actually worked, on piano that was typically some kind of chord progression where you would go “I can do the flat 7 dominant 9th thing” and that’s like the Layla chord progression and now you go back to your tonic after that, and that was like one extra arrow in your quiver that you then could use and understand and write a song with. 

D: When you were learning piano back then, by ear, were you slowing it down, just trying to keep up with the music, or did you get it on sheet music and then develop your ear, how did that progress?

T: No, it was all just chord progressions. You learned how to listen to that, usually by just following the bass, ultimately. For me, the piano journey is so different than the guitar journey because you don’t have to worry about the technical as much. You’re not concerned with playing the notes, because they’re there. There’s only one middle C, you just push the button. Whereas on guitar…

D: That’s true, you usually have five choices, at least.

T: Oh yeah, five times five times however many notes are in the phrase and then it quickly becomes unmanageable. So, someone like Yngwie, of course we knew what the notes in the arpeggio were, that wasn’t the hard part. We just didn’t know, or I didn’t know where they were being played and certainly not how he could be possibly be picking them at that speed. 

D: Yeah, what’s he doing with is right hand?

T:  I didn’t know what sweeping was. None of that’s present on piano, so piano guys will sit around and it’s all about chord progressions, just finding cool progressions and ways to play leads over them. In pop music in particular, it’s just, you very quickly realize it’s this very highly reusable system of a very small number of chord progressions that are different from another, and you’re always looking for new ones. So anything that’s outside, or moves out of key suddenly becomes interesting, like that Layla chord progression where, that cool chord they hit, it’s in the piano breakdown in Layla, which is in D, and then there’s a C9 right before it goes back to D and you’re like “Ooh”!  what’s that, how do you play that chord and have it make any sense at all. 

D:  When you were taking your piano lessons, were you learning more of the advance chord forms, or did you figure that out?

T:  No, those were the little victories. They taught me what a seventh chord was. As soon as I knew that , I was like, “Oh, that’s that thing that you’re hearing everywhere, and then all the sudden that unlocked like a thousand things. This one teacher I had was the guy who ran the music school in my town, and he was a real working musician from the club days in the 40’s and 50’s and he played swing tunes on piano, keyboards in bands. He taught me one or two of these jazz style kind of comping chord progressions, that alone, that was so much information there because I would have never figured out from listening to a rock or a pop song. Right away that unlocked a thousand possibilities.  The vast majority of technical things I’ve learned, I learned from a tiny amount of technical stuff. This four hour volcano seminar (on Yngwie Malmsteen) we did, is one lick. Basically all these techniques I learned from dissecting this one 5 second lick from this instructional video. You can pull from this almost the entirety of his picking technique.

D:  You talk about it, I don’t know if you use this phrase, but you see it in so many disciplines, “the chunking” - it’s like the guys who can memorize the 400 digit numbers, it’s all chunking, it’s pattern recognition. 

T:  Oh yeah, any of these breakthroughs, sometimes it’s these very specific and small breakthroughs that just help you understand a whole lot of other stuff. Like I said, back in the day, any little nugget you could discover unlocked a whole new dimension of possibility. 

D: You allude to the fact, that you had the Yngwie stuff down for a long time. When did you start playing guitar?

T: Probably like seventh grade, I think it was the summer between seventh and eighth grade.

D: When did you get to the point, because you’re ridiculous now (ridiculously advanced at guitar, check out the link to his videos/page), when did you get to the point where you were like, “I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m pretty satisfied”, because you’ve had Yngwie down now for what, ten years or longer?

T: Oh, twenty.  It’s in the show, the whole pop tarts thing, that’s real. That was exactly how it happened. I had no picking skills before that, that I could rely on, and that day, instantly from that point on, all the down pick-slanting stuff was done. It was maybe over the course of the next few months or so, it just sort of got baked in. At that point, and that’s not all alternate picking, it’s just in the Yngwie and Eric Johnson styles. Those were the guys I was listening to. Once I made that realization that it was the pick-slanting and switching strings after upstrokes, it was instantaneous. I could play it that day. Like minutes later, it was done.

D: That’s obviously a huge success.

T: Oh yeah, because precisely like many of us, I had the catalyst.

D:  How long had you been playing when the pop tarts event occurred?

T:  Like five or six years, but from like age fourteen to twenty, a very formative period when you don’t have anything else to do but sit in your room (laughs)

D: What was your daily schedule like, did you have an average amount of time you spent practicing?

T: Oh no, I was never a practicer. I was more like, just turning on “Unchained” (Van Halen song) really loud and just playing stuff. I had no patience for practicing, because it never worked. Now I’m a practicer, because now there’s a system you can follow that actually works. I’ve tried practicing and it never produced results. I’ve gotten better results from just kind of screwing around, not really paying any attention at all. But I wasn’t really a great player, I was a better piano player by a long shot, and a better songwriter. I could do your standard 80’s pentatonic, Eddie Van Halen pentatonic licks and some tapping, and that’s about it. We wrote all kind of funny songs, like this song “Food Town” we talk about in the show which was like a Beastie Boys/Weird Al kind of song about supermarkets. It was just a silly thing we used to do in my bedroom with the Casio sampling keyboards, all my friends would bring over their keyboards and drum machines and we would just do this kind of electronic rock guitar kind of thing. That was all kind of fun and games. In terms of the hardcore technique that your average kid has now just from watching Youtube, I was nowhere near that but I had spent enough years building up just basic things like hand speed and general music knowledge that when that pop tarts thing happened, it immediately explained why I had been having all these troubles trying to do picking, up until that point. 

I think from that point, I was like a sophomore in college, so from about age twenty until approximately 30 or 31 I didn’t have the three note per string dynamic down. I just figured I was hearing it wrong, or there was some kind of catch. I didn’t have video, really. You couldn’t see what Steve Vai was doing. A good portion of what he does is in fact downward pick-slanting with sweeping, exactly the same way that Yngwie and Randy Rhoads do it. Of course not everything he does works that way, but so much of it did that I could sort of ignore the others as flukes. I didn’t own “Intense Rock” (Paul Gilbert), I never even watched it, so I didn’t even know that pure three note per string alternate picking was possible. It was just not a skill that I had, and it’s not a skill that Yngwie has, either, actually. So for ten years, that’s the only way I played and it just became second nature. It was with the Batio (Michael Angelo Batio) tape “Speed Kills” that I figured that out. That would be another success.

D:  Do you play any other instruments besides guitar and keys?

T: I’m a passable studio drummer, only to the extent that I need to record patterns and parts. I probably don’t have enough drumming chops to play in a band and just be the drummer.

D:  Is that something you did so you could write, basically?

T: Yeah, and I did a very brief, like one year, in marching band in high school, just enough to know what the issues were, but not to get any good at it. We all wanted to play drums, and we had drum machines and we were always trying to fake drums and get good drum sounds. That was always the mark of your recording skills, as a kid with the four track cassette, because you couldn’t mike up a drum set in your house, really.  So well used drum machines, the better keyboards had the better drum sounds. The Casio SK1 drum sounds were almost laughably terrible, they sounded like a metronome, a little blippy,  plastic noise. But then my friend got some advanced Yamaha thing and it had this incredible sampled drum sound, and we were blown away, it sounded like Trent Reznor to us, we were like “Oh My God”.  So drums were always a thing, and as soon as I had the space and the time, one of the first things I did was to go out and get a drum set. 

I did a little banjo in high school, that was another thing I sort of figured out, like Scruggs (Earl Scruggs) style bluegrass banjo, and harmonica was another thing I figured out, I’m not that great at them but I had a little insight. 

D: I’m sure you’ve experienced that with each new instrument, the learning process is accelerated because you’ve learned all these other instruments, and definitely for string instruments you’re going to have some crossover. 

T: Right, it is. The insight with the banjo is because there’s a thumb string which is an octave higher and that fast sound we all associate with, that Scruggs sound, this rolling and very complicated, sort of Baroque sound, turns it is just an artifact of having the damn thing tuned right, which I never knew how to tune a banjo, I had one, and you tune it right and all of the sudden there’s all these very basic rolling patterns become possible with very little effort and that’s the sound, as soon as I realized that, it was like every banjo song I had ever heard. 

Harmonica, there’s a trick to that as well, playing blues harmonica, you play the harmonica a 5th above the key that you buy it in, and all of the sudden all those cool bending sounds become possible.

D:  You realize that you have a fairly unique dichotomy in that you’re very analytical and creative, you know, the whole right brain/left brain thing, if you subscribe to that. That’s what I think is so great about the whole project is that you have that analytical mind that typically doesn’t exist in guitar circles, at least not to that extent, as you said, you’re bringing all your skills to bear in this project. 

(We had already run over an hour at this point, so I asked Troy for one more question).

D: If you could give your 18 year old self any advice, what would it be?

T: Lose the mullet. 

D: (laughing) That’s always good advice, at any age. 

T:  It’s the hair really, because I’m from Long Island. It’s not like “Back to the Future 2”, well that, maybe “Buy some Apple” (stock).  

D: There you go, fine. Nothing in the path of your creative life that you would steer differently or accelerate? Granted, this is kind of a time travel question, so the Apple stock thing is not necessarily an unfair answer. 

T:  I always think about that, and I think we all have because we grew up in the era of Back to the Future, and definitely with me it’s “No more hair blower” because you’re just frying your roots and it looks terrible. And do something besides buying the Camaro because it was a complete waste of money, I should have just bought some Cisco or Microsoft or something, and then I could have bought all the Camaros I wanted.

D: But you have the memories.

T: I have the memories of the Camaro, yes, so I can’t really complain. 

D: In the process of this experience and your exposure, have had any starstruck moments? Anybody that you met, and thought “Holy crap, I’m talking to so and so”?

T: Not really, I haven’t really met that many famous people. But I may be past the age of starstruckedness, at this point, or maybe it’s my personality. If I met Eddie Van Halen or Billy Joel I don’t even know if I would have that reaction, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see when that actually comes to pass. 

D: You’ve definitely met some ridiculous people, at least from my standpoint. Looking at your blog, and seeing that you had actually talked to Tommy (Emmanuel) I was like, “Oh hell yeah!”.  Do you have any plans with the Tommy stuff? It looked like you had filmed him. 

T: Oh yeah, that stuff was all supposed to be part of season three of the show where we’re getting to the live interviews, at this point I can’t even look that far down the road. We realize that people wanted to see some of this material, so we started editing some of those interviews into these little packs of downloadable licks with slow motion and tablature. But they’re super time consuming to edit and I don’t know how really interested people are in seeing that stuff. I know a few people are very interested in seeing certain players they like, but it’s not clear, it’s not like we sell tons of them. 

D: Yeah, commercially viable or not.

T:  Well, yeah. They’re very useful for me, as things that we can incorporate into the lectures and other things. “Here’s a clip of so and so doing this lick which you can now look at”  The Batio stuff in particular, we made a lot of use of lately in this antigravity seminar, it’s great to have such an indisputable reference material.  The things that he’s doing that I’m saying that he does, that we look at in historical footage is much more evident in this super intimate close up footage that I have. So that’s great, and I’d love to do more of the Tommy stuff, he was great to work with. His managers were super nice and he’s a very nice guy himself, so I would love to do something with that, it’s just a matter of time and manpower. 

D: Oh sure, no pressure. Just curious. Any parting thoughts, anything you want me to know or put into the interview?

T:  I think it’s more about what you wanted to know and you’ve gotten a pretty well rounded picture of where all these skills come from and how I got here, which is interesting. I feel a little self indulgent (laughs) being able to recite all this stuff, I’m not sure I’m a person of enough marked importance to be having this conversation, but if this could be helpful to other people doing this kind of work, fantastic. 

D: I think it’s absolutely helpful, and think what’s great about you, is that you’ve brought all these skills to bear, and you’ve created something unique. You really have. Whether or not everybody wants to know about alternate picking and wants to know some of these techniques, who cares?  It’s culturally very significant. All the guys, the Eric Johnsons, the Eddie Van Halens, whether or not everybody needs to know their technique, their techniques have allowed them to make music that has touched millions and millions of people, so to me it’s very significant. 

 

Extra special thanks and sincere gratitude to Troy Grady for sharing his very precious time and for being such a thoughtful, literate and open interview subject. Double extra special thanks for his efforts in creating and sharing “Cracking the Code”, which is legitimately a huge milestone in understanding the techniques of the guitar greats that have escaped most mere mortals who pick up a guitar and dream big. 

Sup...

Thought I would briefly drop in for a midsummerish update. I'm going into my second week of no homework and I'm getting antsy already. Still waiting to see if Berklee will update and finalize the music composition program curriculum. I've been taking some macprovideo courses (reviewing some theory and trying to dive in a bit deeper with Logic. still lots to learn).

Ye Olde Gloriouspaste Fedexerish Transport Apparatus is bringing forth some sonic splendor later today in the shape of Korg's flagship synth, the Kronos 2. I ordered one of these in April and it's just now being delivered. Somewhere between high demand and manufacturing/shipping shenanigans lies the answer as to why it took three months. No matter, it's in my hands tonight. And sometime in the next 15 or so years I might justify the expense.

I had put off getting a powerful synth workstation for a long time, mostly because I couldn't justify the need (which is still largely the case), but looking forward to the coming semesters at Berklee as well as my goal to dual major in production and composition, I'm pretty confident I'll have many practical exercises and projects by which to utilize and slowly master it. It's been heralded by many professional artists and producers as the best in the industry at the current time. My only small concern is the keybed feel. I have no doubts it's good, I'm just accustomed to the Roland RD700 I've been playing for five years. In all other aspects I'm confident it will exceed my expectations. I can't wait to try all the preprogrammed patches (Baba O'Riley, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Superstition, etc.). There's enough for a keyboardist in a cover band to play about 12 hours continuously without needing to create anything new. I'll have more to say I'm sure, but it will probably take months if not years for me to wrap my head around all it can do. 

Rest in Peace Carolyn

Carolyn Bullock Hightower Laughlin was suddenly called home on Sunday, May 10th, 2015. She was surrounded by family and wrapped in love’s embrace in her final days. 

Carolyn was born March 4th, 1943 in Sayre, Oklahoma, the only child to Buford and Colleen Eastham.

Carolyn grew up in the panhandle town of Borger, Texas and then left home to embark on her life’s journey with high school sweetheart, Loal Hightower, Together they raised five children and were married for 39 Years. Carolyn worked in accounting for many years, a large portion as comptroller for a group of interventional radiologists. Among her many charitable callings was volunteering for children through CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a cause that she held dear. She was a godly woman that walked in faith her entire life and loved her church families just like her own. She later married Richard Laughlin, and they shared their last years happily in Tyler, Texas. 

Carolyn bore the burdens of marriage and motherhood for all of her adult life, raising all of her children with strength, grace and steadfast love. Carolyn never wavered as a Mother, neglecting her own needs over those of her children and grandchildren up until the day she passed. She gave all her love until she had nothing left to give, and then she let go. Her loved ones are her strong and proud legacy and they will live on in her honor, forever carrying her in their hearts.

She is survived by daughters and sons-in-law, Deborah and Larry Cano, Dianna and Scott Hamil, Danielle and Courtney Perkins; son Dennis Hightower, son & daughter-in-law, Darren and Aeyong Hightower; granddaughters Heather, Christina, Amanda and Jaesa; grandsons Chris, David, Adam and Athen.

Busy Busy Busyerington...

It's almost surprising I have found a few minutes to quickly update the blog.  It's been a very busy couple of months since I posted last. Between work, school and trying to practice I've been essentially moving non stop from wake until sleep every day. Ironically, the days I thought I would still get some good practice time (weekend) are often the days I don't find any time to practice. I've been saving my weekly assignments that are project based until the weekend, and these end up eating up big chunks of the day. My best practice days have ended up being Mon-Thu. I haven't been able to maintain my previous 3 hours a day by any stretch. 2.5 hours is a great day because it generally means I got 30 minutes on everything. 

I've had a few weeks where the scope of the work just overwhelmed my practice schedule in general. That combined with a few fix up projects in my studio (mainly installing acoustic treatment) wiped out a few weekends and several weekdays as well. Aeyong has been gone to Korea the last five weeks, so taking care of all the household stuff has really kept me moving at full speed. She comes home tomorrow, and it will be great to have her back. I essentially have 2 weeks left this semester and then the next day we start the spring semester. 

A big development has been the creation of the Music Composition for Film, Television, and Games degree track and I'm orienting towards pursuit of a dual degree with that and production. I will be busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest for the next four years. All that being said, the past two months have been fantastic for my development as a musician. I finally shared my original work with friends and classmates, as well as a brief cover of a Coldplay tune "Amsterdam" that featured me singing and playing all the instruments. 

I couldn't foresee a time when I was going to be ready to do that before, and now I've done it and it was no big deal at all. I've only had a few friends take the time to listen to it, but I've gotten positive feedback from all of them including one who I've respected for years as a musician. It's a small validation, but a really big deal for me. I've known I had something, but I always wondered if it would be enough for others to consider it worthy of the effort. Now I know that it is. Enough laurel resting, I've got work to do. 

2015 arrives

This year and the three to follow promise to be a very challenging but ultimately rewarding period of time in my development as a musician. The week after next I begin my Bachelor of Professional Studies in Music Production through Berklee Online. I have decided to take an optimistically large first bite by enrolling in five classes.

If my personal and professional life are still intact at the end of the semester I will probably continue this policy depending on whether I deplete my GI Bill authorizations or not. The way the VA calculates annual limits is a bit nebulous. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be a semester limit so if I'm running low on funds I can either take fewer classes in the other semesters or just pay the difference.

It's hard to predict what aspects will be the most challenging. Because I've been interested and have read up on many of these topics over the years I don't worry as much about the comprehension of the material so much as the amount of actual coursework. This combined with working full time could mean I'm back in the PA school mode of constant study/homework in my non work waking hours. If it's necessary then that's what I'll do. 

I tried to select a mixture of technical and artistic courses so I'm not too bogged down in one type of thinking. I decided to take the Math for Musicians course and get it out of the way. I missed the testing out by one question, although I would have missed more if it wasn't multiple choice. I haven't had Algebra, Geometry or most of what was on that test since the early 80's. I have my doubts about the applicability of everything in that course, but I know there will be some benefit when it comes to understanding electrical and acoustic theory in later courses. Not to mention that basic sound theory is based on math in large part (frequencies, octaves, etc.). 

Not that I post frequently to begin with, but I wonder if will have enough free time to post much going forward. Although the amount of post worthy material is likely to increase exponentially in this program.

Peeps...

Greetings from the great electronic wasteland to my audience of one. Things continue to progress towards the pending music production degree with Berklee. I've gotten approved and enrolled in five courses for the first semester. I've mixed a couple production courses (Pro Tools 101, Music Production Analysis) in with a few hopefully easier courses (Developing Your Artistry, Guitar Chords), and what is the least appealing, non musical but still mandatory (for me) course, Math for Musicians. I was one answer shy of testing out of the Math requirement, but it was mostly Algebra, Geometry and other math topics I've literally not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago. Apparently the math is considered integral to courses like Acoustics and others that may actually use math. I'm assuming it can't hurt, and I want to just get it out of the way now. The guitar chords course shouldn't be overwhelming although I'm sure I'll learn something. I managed to score well enough on the theory test to skip ahead to the 200 level courses. 

I got the full version of Pro Tools, and at this point I still prefer Logic, but I'm getting accustomed to how Pro Tools works as well. There are many similarities. Logic is just a better organized, intuitive, simple yet powerful DAW. Given the choice, I'll probably still use Logic, but Pro Tools is so ingrained in the professional community and Berklee has gone all in with AVID, so there's no avoiding it. I also upgraded some of my studio. I got Focal Alpha 80 monitors, a Blue Microphones Baby Bottle, an SE Electronics Vocal Shroud/Acoustic Isolator, and made a big upgrade by getting an analog preamp, the UAD 4-710D which is essentially a four channel mic preamp with dual transistor/tube capability.

I've got the Baby Bottle, my SM58, and the e906 and SM57 in the amp iso box hooked in right now. I haven't been using the iso box because I've just got the Port City OS 212 in my main room (it's a bit too large for the box). Eventually I'm going to get a 1x12 to keep in the iso box permanently and then the e906 and SM57 will get more use. I'll eventually get a Royer 121 to combine with the 57, but that's probably a few years away. The 4-710D is a great piece of kit, which is true for all the UAD stuff I own. I find I like the blend of the transistor/tube more than either one isolated. There are several UAD plugins I still plan on purchasing, but I need to space those out. My next big studio upgrade will be acoustic treatment for the main mixing room and the vocal closet, along with ARC room correction software to get it calibrated. That may be a Christmas present, or I may wait until next year. 

I still have a few textbooks to buy for the first semester, and I know down the road there will probably be some software purchases specifically for certain classes. I think the East West Symphonic VST  is required for something down the line.  I want to upgrade to Komplete 10, but it's not a high priority right now. I've been trying hard to maintain a daily practice schedule which remains (and will remain) a challenge with the five disciplines. I'm sure I will have to scale back quite a bit once school starts. The trade off is I will be learning other valuable music and production related skills and techniques (not looking at you, math). I'm going to find a way to at least maintain my chops if I can't improve them as much. If I have to practice in shorter sessions on alternate days, that's what I'll end up doing. 

Accepted

I got an acceptance email from Berklee the week before last, and the official letter yesterday. I start in January 2015. This is great news, and I anticipate this will be one of my most significant milestones not just in music, but in life itself. Music is one of the great joys of my life, so the opportunity to learn and grow as a musician and producer is a dream fulfilled. Now back to our regularly scheduled gear & sundry related ramblings.

I was going to buy the academic version of Pro Tools, but have decided to go with the full version since the academic is generally not upgradeable. After the most recent round of gear purchases, I will wait until late October early Novemberish before upgrading. My learning and practice plan has remained essentially unchanged. The greatest challenge is effective time management.  With trying to regularly practice 5 separate disciplines (voice, drums, keyboards, bass, guitar), a good day of practice generally runs at a minimum of 3 hours, and a really good day may run 5+hours. I have days where I only practice for 1-2 hours and feel like I'm slacking. My available time for practice will most likely be cut short once I start school since I assume most of my assignments won't be specifically tied to a certain instrument. I'll probably have to adapt to striving for 30 minutes 5 times a week on each instrument. 

I may plateau a bit for the four years of school, but I anticipate I'll grow so much as a musician and producer in general that it will have a lasting positive impact on all of my instruments. 

Drumming Goals

Jared Falk of Drumeo.com fame had a video about effective practice. One of the key elements was creating a list of 5 medium range (1 week to 3 months) goals for our drumming and then commit to it by announcing it on social media. Since this is technically social media, I'm committing to it here. No one in the world at large besides Aeyong and my dogs knows I'm a "drummer" now, and I'm not quite ready to announce that yet. My preference to announce that is after I'm able to record a video of me playing a complete song of at least intermediate difficulty. My medium range goals for the next 3 months would be

1. Get my 32nd note playing up to 80 BPM (I'm struggling at 60, so this is a fairly lofty goal).

2. Get my 16th note triplets up to 80 bpm (if I can do the 32nd note, I should be able to do this as well, I'm currently at 70-75 right now).

3. Finish learning "When the Levee Breaks" - I'm pretty close to locking down the basic beat, but I will have to work hard on the fills, especially the fast ones near the end, this may be too lofty. It will probably take years before anyone thinks I'm starting to sound like Bonham (not that anyone truly can sound like him). 

4. Learn Smells Like Teen Spirit (not necessarily at full speed, but who knows? I haven't really started learning it yet, only the triplet opening so far).

5. Make progress on some Neil Peart part, preferably YYZ or Xanadu. I haven't really started on anything by him yet, but one of my "milestone" goals as a musician is to be able to perform all 3 parts from a Rush song like YYZ and record a video of me doing it. In a way this is just a means of measuring progress for my goals, but it will also hopefully provide a good example of my level of proficiency when trying out for bands or at least demonstrating to potential recording clients that I am competent musically. 

NOTE: He wants them ranked in order of difficulty - 1 is probably the most difficult since it's very specific, 3. is also specific and most likely fairly difficult, 2, 4&5 would be more difficult if I had a specific benchmark with either one, but I just want to work on these (as long range playing goals) and I don't have a real specific goal yet since I have to actually start working on them. I may post a specific BMP or % of full speed goal for 3 months after I've practice them enough to know where I stand. 

Bloggery bloggington

Time for another infrequent update. What's happened since last I committed electrons to this dark, forgotten corner of the internet?  Of most significance is that I have applied for the Berklee College of Music (Online) Bachelor of Music Production degree, with an anticipated start date of January 2015. I'm not sure why I didn't previously make the connection between this course and my still valid (but eventually expiring) GI Bill benefits. I had looked at individual courses within Berklee and some other online colleges, but for whatever reason I didn't realize that there was actually a Bachelor's program in a Music related field that I was actually interested in that would be eligible for the GI Bill.

I won't know if I'm accepted until next month, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Firstly, since I have a reliable means of paying for the degree, and secondly, my academic records while not perfect, (I made a couple of Bs in PA school) are pretty competitive (3.8 cumulative GPA with two master's degrees).  What I don't have is any significant professional or academic music experience, but I'm hoping that since there aren't any specific prerequisites in those areas, that I will make up for in my enthusiasm for music. In my personal statement I related my lifelong love of music, my rekindled musicianship of 10+ years, my multi-instrumentalism and love for all things music production related. 

The course curriculum reads like all of my online self learning activities for the past 10 years. Looking through the entire course requirements and syllabi, I was amazed at how every course was something I was either interested in learning, or something I actually had already studied on my own. My dream scenario would be to channel this knowledge into a musical occupation that could pay the bills, but that isn't the only end goal. I know that regardless of whether I continue to need to work full or part time in healthcare, that the knowledge and experience I gain from this course will make me a better musician and I can't put a price on how valuable that is for me. 

My realistic goal is to continue improving my home studio as much as possible (without making structural changes to our current home), and eventually buying a home on a one acre lot and building a music studio from the ground up. I hope that with time and experience I can begin to attract clients and gain work through word of mouth and advertising. This is a path that some full time (and highly regarded) professional studio owners have followed. The other nice thing about owning/running a studio is that age isn't the limiting factor that it may be for musical artists that are just starting out. I will continue to be a musician, and hope that this knowledge and experience with facilitate opening new doors for me in that area as well. I just never get tired or bored with music at large. I may briefly run out of steam when I've been practicing a certain instrument, but that's easily remedied by picking up a different one, or studying an aspect of production, etc. 

It's hard to express how exciting these possibilities are for me. It's also nice to at least consider that it may be possible to earn a living equivalent to our current standard of living. Success as a musical artist can be a much more fickle target. I know plenty of world class artists who have their dedicated fan base but are otherwise ignored by the public at large. Success in music is often not directly correlated to talent and hard work (a small caveat in that the really hard working musicians who understand that they must do more than just write/record songs, often find a way to succeed through touring, videos & other merchandising).  

The true "If I win the lottery" (in a music sense) would be to build up a successful studio/operation as well as create my own music that might actually garner enough interest to release albums and even tour, if only on a small, regional level. Neither one of these is necessary for me to be happy in music, because I'm already there and I'm not making a penny doing it (quite the contrary, I spend quite a few pennies doing it). The greatest satisfaction would be in having the freedom to only need to "work" in music, and to have my own business that I can dictate the schedule, etc. I am confident that if I'm accepted to Berklee that I will be able to eventually build a free standing professional (albeit, not in the league of the Power Station or equivalent) studio and with the knowledge and experience gained in school I'll be able to record my own as well as others music in the best possible format. Maybe it will only be on nights/weekends when I have the time away from my regular job or maybe it will grow to a full time operation. I'm on board for the long haul either way...

Loaded and ready for action...

To quote Stewart Copeland from the heretofore best documentarish video concerning the Police (The Police Around the World).  

In this case, I think he was making a joke about his clothing choices, but in my case I'm actually referring to a firearm. After 46 years (including 23 in the Army), I finally purchased a handgun. It was disturbingly easy to do so. Since moving to Grand Prairie, we hear about more recurring criminal events that are closer to home (luckily our subdivision is actually pretty quiet and calm) and we were faced with the reality that despite a monitored security system, dogs, and door/window locks, we still weren't prepared if anyone ever broke in and was armed.  

I'm very familiar with both rifles and handguns, having carried and qualified on a regular basis during my 23 years in the Army. Despite this, I've always been philosophically against firearms in the hands of private citizens, since I can't see any justification for their possession other than to kill or harm. I'm a realist in that there's no benefit from outlawing guns at this point, because then it would just be the criminals with easy access to firearms. It is surprising that you can just walk into dealer, fill out a two page form, and within about 5 minutes you're the legal owner of a firearm. 

I'm hoping we only ever get to shoot it at the range, but despite being philosophically opposed to gun ownership, I'm even more opposed of the idea of my wife or myself facing down an armed intruder with a steak knife or a golf club. We got a Glock 19, which is a very reliable handgun and is widely used by military and law enforcement. It's not particularly pretty, but it gets the job down and it will deliver enough rounds to stop someone who decides to ignore the security alarm sign, the locked doors/windows, the security alarm itself,  and my dogs. 

I'll be taking Aeyong to the range and getting her comfortable with it. I'll most likely eventually buy a second gun for her and we'll probably get certified for the concealed handgun license. I don't see myself ever embracing the gun advocate/NRA lifestyle, but it's just the reality of our society that handguns are so prevalent, and if you're facing down a gunman, you don't want to be wishing you had a gun, because by then it's too late. 

Oh kids...

Another infrequent update. Spring is here, mostly. The official yard cutting season began last Friday and continues today. Relevant events since last: Queen is touring this summer and they'll be making a stop in Dallas. Other than a few opportunities back in the early 1980s, this will be the first time Queen has come anywhere close to where I live. Obviously the original lineup would be the dream gig, but they'll be touring with Brian May & Roger Taylor and they're two of my all time favorite musicians. Brian has always been a favorite of mine on so many levels: tone, songwriting, and just a general approach to life in his intellectual curiosity. He's an astrophysicist in his spare time, how many musicians (especially such influential musicians) can say that?  Well, one, actually. They have Adam Lambert of american idol fame, and he's done several gigs with them in the past. Based on what I've seen, he's a perfect replacement for Freddy, even if he doesn't sound precisely like him.  This is one of the all time most anticipated shows I'll ever see. Only Zeppelin or Floyd would rival seeing Queen.  

Another "first time" concert next week will be Alter Bridge at the HOB in Dallas. I've seen Myles Kennedy two times with Slash, and he's just as amazing live as he is on record. I'm looking forward to a band I've been listening to for four years now. I got into Creed primarily because I like Mark Tremonti's tone, even if I don't consider him a primary influence. I never liked Scott Stapp, he's the definition of a douchey lead singer, but I can generally ignore the singer if I like the musicians. It's really fortunate they had a falling out, because Alter Bridge is a superior band on so many levels. 

I also got tickets for Yes, who'll be stopping by at the Verizon GP in August. They're going to perform Fragile and CTTE in their entirety along with tracks from their upcoming album "Heaven & Earth" and some other hits. They performed CTTE on the last tour, but as far as I'm concerned they could do that every tour and I wouldn't get tired of it. The most unique aspect of them performing Fragile will be all the solo tunes. I'm pretty sure I've seen them perform all the group tunes on the album, but besides MFAD, I don't think I've heard the other tunes live. I'm looking forward to this new album. Apparently the newest singer (that position in the group has had more turnover in the past 5 years than almost any other spot) Jon Davison contributed to some of the songwriting. Steve Howe also contributed and I'm not sure about the other members yet. The went with a different producer from Trevor Horn this time with Roy Thomas Baker, who they were apparently supposed to collaborate with a long time ago but it fell apart for some reason. I think they wanted to try something where the band were the sole songwriters since on the last album the title track "Fly from Here" was largely an old Trevor Horn song from the Drama days. 

I also picked up the CD for another "new" band, The Winery Dogs. The band is composed of Ritchie Kotzen (of Mr Big, Poison, solo, etc. fame), Billy Sheehan (in my opinion, the equivalent of EVH on Bass, literally), and Mike Portnoy (previously of Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Flying Colors).  It's a unique blend of over the top musicianship (they are not afraid to engage in the fiddly bits) with a sort of hard rock/pop song structure. Tone wise they're somewhere between 70's hard rock and 80's pop metal. The songs are fairly pop in the construction, but they benefit from how amazing all three players sound individually and combined. Not to mention that Ritchie Kotzen is not only a monster guitarist, but he's an amazing vocalist as well. I knew he was a great player, but I had no idea he was such a powerful vocalist. Billy and Mike are great backing vocalists and there are some really interesting harmonies in these tunes. They're going to play the Granada in May, and I actually bought the concert tickets before I had heard the album, because I knew I wanted to see Billy Sheehan live and that if nothing else they would all impress as musicians. Now that I've heard the album a few times, I'm really looking forward to this one. 

I was set to get tickets for Fleetwood Mac who are touring with the complete Rumors era lineup since Christine McVie has rejoined the group. Unfortunately, they followed the whole corporate greed ticketmaster process and so the first presale was AMEX which means all the online scalpers got the tickets before anyone else. When I last checked individual tickets within the first 20 rows were running $450 plus. It's sad since were able to see them in 2004 with fan club tickets for $200 a ticket and we were 4th row center. We'll probably just look for a video after the tour.  I really prefer the approach that bands like Rush and Iron Maiden have adopted which requires the ticket purchaser to be at the venue when the tickets are scanned in. This essentially eliminates any online scalping. The couple of times I've had the chance to get tickets this way, I've alway gotten great seats. We had 3rd row center for Rush. 

On the musical gear front, I got the Roland V-Drums about a month ago and I'm slowly learning to play them. They're awesome to have and I'm trying to train my four limbs to keep time independently. As with any instrument, you don't become aware of the nuances until you play it. Keeping a basic 4/4 beat that will cover a huge amount of pop/rock music is easy enough, but real mastery is going to take years. Right now I've really got to focus on my right foot in it's role to keep the main pulse of the song going. It really has to have a mind of it's own so I can be free to play fills and move around the drum set without losing the beat. It's hard to quantify but I've been feeling that there has been a collective musical benefit from playing these various instruments. I know for certain that the physicality of playing bass has strengthened my fingers beyond where they were despite playing guitar for over 10 years now. I see it in my guitar and keyboard playing in that certain movements or chord shapes that were previously very difficult, have become easier over time. I also believe my ears have improved, ironically in that I've been just randomly picking tunes to play bass (heavy emphasis on the Police since the physical effort is generally easy enough, although the timekeeping is challenging since they play odd time signatures and really focus on the upbeat) lines with, and I've found that the more often I just randomly pull up tunes and play along, the quicker I'm able to latch on to the chord progressions. 

Aeyong and I celebrated our 24th Anniversary a week ago. She didn't really want anything specific, but we had a small financial windfall since we overestimated (on purpose) our escrow payments and I got a performance bonus at work. I used this to get her a nice 60in LED TV for the master bedroom. We had moved rooms around after I got the drums, because I was trying very had to minimize the sound transmission of the kit. Even though it's digital and relatively quieter than acoustic drums, there are still physical contacts being made and some of the low end sound really cuts through walls and floors. I built (with an assist from Aeyong) a drum platform based on designs seen online. It's two 3/4 in MDF boards with tennis balls in between and wrapped in low indoor/outdoor carpet. The whole platform sits on a 4 or 5 piece thick foam exercise mat system. It doesn't eliminate the sound transmission, but it does reduce it, and that combined with her being able to retreat to the master bedroom and watch TV has helped make my nightly noisemaking a bit more tolerable. 

Updates, mostly gearish...

The holidays have come and gone. Things at work have been fairly steady, although a certain unnamed individual's attempt to portray himself as a visionary may have backfired on him. Time will tell. Not a lot new to report on the home front. Aeyong and I struck a deal that means she will go to Korea next year with a bigger expense account as well as helping pay for knee surgery for her mother. We would have done that anyway, but she usually tries to only spend money on the traveling costs and tries to just spend time with family. That is probably what she'll end up doing anyway, but I told her to shop if she wants to. Knowing her, she'll spend money on her family if she spends any. 

I, on the other hand, have chosen a decidedly less altruistic path. I'm going to finally get the biggest (in sheer size and cost) item that I've had on my gear wish list for the past five years or so. Drum roll, please. No pun intended. Still scratching the noggin?

It's drums, I'm getting drums. My ultimate musical goal is writing and recording music for myself. If others ever get any enjoyment from it, great. But ultimately, I undertake this process for my own personal fulfillment alone.  I've always aspired to write the music that has most inspired me, and that generally has been heavily weighted towards bands with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards.  Of those, keys probably open up the sonic landscape the most by virtue of synths and samplers, and If I want to go orchestral or soundtrackish, that's where the keys and synths come in.  That being said, I've always wanted to have a good handle on what I consider the four dominant instruments in popular music. 

I've wanted to learn drums so I could facilitate writing (regardless of the fact you can program drums to sound real or not), so I could improve my sense of rhythm, and just because I love the instrument and I've truly always loved the drummers in my favorite bands. If I were to make a top ten list (the creation of which I generally try to avoid) for guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers, a healthy chunk of the roster would come from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Police, and a few others. Of those just mentioned, Bonzo, Bruford, the Professor, and Stewart Copeland are held in my highest regard. Sorry Nick, I love you and wouldn't exchange you for another, but you're not in the same category as those mentioned.  

There are many others, especially in Jazz - the various PMG alumni (Antonio Sanchez, Paul Wertico, Danny Gottlieb), Jack Dejohnette, Steve Gadd, Billy Higgins, Peter Erskine, etc.  There are too many to count actually. Despite the august nature of those mentioned, I'm sure to avail myself of some less steep summits before commencing skyward.  Zeppelin will probably be a starting point, although it will take years to get to a level at which I won't be embarrassed, much less master the beats o' Bonzo. As with bass, guitar, and keys, I'll definitely put a few "unattainable in the near future" tunes in my practice list. One of my long term goals is to be able to perform and record all parts to certain tunes. While they're not as common, there are a few videos of people performing all the parts to songs out there on YouTube and the like (YYZ comes to mind).  

After negotiating with Aeyong, I talked her into letting me get what I consider the best electronic drums on the market, Roland's TD-30KV-Pro series.

http://www.roland.com/products/en/TD-30KV/

 I'm getting electronic drums for multiple reasons. One, they're relatively quiet compared to acoustic drums, and two, they're very powerful and flexible when it comes to sounds and recording. Not to mention all the percussion and drum samples I have on my computers that I can now trigger with these drums. And I anticipate being able to use these indefinitely without feeling the need to upgrade.  I didn't want to wait any longer since I'm not getting any younger, and I will need several years to really start honing my ability to a level I can use in recording.  

Cards & letters...

from people I don't even know. You know the words. Not literally per se, but I've gotten several offers on bandmix to join various bands, usually of the cover variety. Looking at the details of these offers has made me realize a few things. First, I needed to emphasize that I'm a guitar player with minimal keyboard and bass skills. It shouldn't surprise me, but stating you can play keys and bass in your profile means you'll get a lot more offers for those roles than guitar. Guitar players grown on trees, apparently. The other realization is that I still haven't worked at learning a set of cover tunes likely to be in any cover bands set list. I get involved in trying to learn songs by guitarists I like (Eric J, Tommy E, etc.) which are not normally on the cover band set list. I think I would enjoy a stint in a cover band, if only to play with other musicians and in front of people, if only for a brief period of time. But until I have a fairly robust personal song list, I don't feel ready to accept an offer since I don't know how many songs and in what time period I might have to learn them to get ready for a band gig. So I'm going to shift my practicing around a bit and work on a few of the typically most requested tunes. I'll probably start with "Don't Stop Believin", "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Sweet Child o' Mine".  I already know parts of those tunes, but I've never committed to learning the whole thing. Once I have them under my fingers, I'll make a vid for youtube & bandmix to post. I still want to have about 10-15 songs on my youtube channel to show the variety of things I can play as well as covering a variety of styles. Those three should be a good start. 

Troops...

I suppose it's been a bit. We're fast approaching holiday season here with Veteran's Day weekend starting tomorrow evening followed by Thanksgiving in a few weeks. Significant events since the last post?  Mostly purchases of stuff. Dining room table, what for the holiday eatage. The prematurely necessary upgrade (replacement) of the iMac and Aeyoung's further cracked iPad.  I was wanting to wait and buy a new Mac Pro when they went on sale in December, but I decided to try the mobile hotspot option with my iPad and Aeyoung's laptop and discovered I could have essentially full laptop functionality with the interwebs at work. Which is nice (without going into detail about said use of interwebs). Did I mention I started playing WOW again? No? Never mind.

Apple's most recent reveal included new macbooks and ipads. I bought the high end version of the macbook pro (from which I'm typing this) and the high end lte version of the ipad. I am fairly confident I would have waited another year or two for any of these upgrades if the imac's graphic card hadn't bought it and aeyoung hadn't delivered the killing blow to her ipad (I drew first blood with the thing a few weeks after we bought it). We've been trying to conserve the fundage a bit until we get the 401K replenished in another two years, but some of these things have a mind of their own. I've essentially stopped looking for concerts to attend, which is sometimes a significant part of the budget. There are a few artists that I will go see no matter what, but last I heard Zep and Floyd aren't due to tour anytime soon.

 Things at work are okay. We have actually had quite a light schedule thanks to our leaders in Washington and the furlough. The number of claim requests getting processed drop to nil since the regional office was affected by the furlough, but I expect the numbers will start climbing back up before too long. My last post discussed the unfinished game conundrum. So, with that in mind, I decided to jump back into playing WOW which won't help me complete any of those unfinished games and is just adding more time/money into a game that I've played around 40 days worth of. Yes, that was days.   WOW just has a special quality that always draws me back in. I'm leveling another mage this time, although I'm specced as a frost mage as opposed to my previous fire mage. And I can say frost is much more effective when soloing. I've been playing for a month and I'm just about level 73. I'm probably going to keep going and then upgrade to Pandaria once my character is ready for those zones. 

Most likely the new PS4 and Xbox will be released while I'm doing this. It's a veritable surfeit of gamage, my friends. I'm starting to think I'll never finish the PS3 and 360 games that are gathering dust currently. I've got a few steam games I'll play when I get around to them. I'm actually more interested in the new technology in these systems as opposed to any specific launch titles. The new kinect's higher resolution and ability to track not only individual limb movement but also the force of the movement means that the interactivity for the fitness programs is at a much higher level now.

 I watched a demo of a chubby game journalist (redundant?) trying to follow the Insanity workout and it looks very promising. It constantly tracks body movements and gives you instant feedback with various scoring metrics. At one point it was comparing his score to females aged 30-45 and he was falling short so he put a bit more effort into it to reach the goal. I gather there are all sorts of data to use like your former best, your xbox friends/family, all time records, etc. That's just the kind of geeky oneupmanship I like. Basically it's saying, "We know you know you're a fatass. But do you realize how much of a fatass you are? Didn't think so. Try harder, fatass"  It looks like most of the P90X workouts are on there as well and it also appears that all the kinect fitness programs (and there's a metric ton) will be free to play (at least for the first year) for xbox live gold subscribers. I think I may be moving my workouts up to the home theater in the near future. 

 

First World Problems: Unfinished Video Games

This doesn't quite rank up there with food, water, affordable healthcare, anything a respectably productive person would complaint about, etc. I have a bad and quite long lived habit of not finishing video games. This dates back at least to circa 2000, and probably even before then. It became a significant issue when I was stationed in Korea between 1998-2000 and pc games were available at well below the retail cost, and that's all I will say. I had a habit of visiting one of the game "retailers" about once per month and stocking up on several titles. The results was that I had a significant library of games nearly overnight, most of which I never finished (if there was a campaign or progression to the game at least) and some I never even played. Seeing as how cheap they were, and the fact that many of them weren't exactly marquee games with high ratings, it didn't bother me so much. 

Fast forward to my resumption of guitardom, I have even less budgeted time for video games, at least compared to the past. I go through video game phases now, where I will really be into games in general, or I'll have a specific game that I want to play and then I'll be playing more than usual. That being said, I never completely neglect music, so I don't ever have those long gaming sessions I would have in the past. I'll go sometimes months or longer without playing at all, and then I'll have brief periods of regular play. 

I have had a few periods of a massive increase, most notably since 2004 was WOW in 2005. I played WOW essentially every day for a few hours if not more until I hit level 59 a few months later. I then put it down for I think over a year until the next expansion came out. I would repeat this cycle with new expansions, although I have never bought Mists of Pandaria, and won't. Ironically, although I have played WOW probably more than any other game in history (I think my total time played count is up around 25 days or so, yes, that's 25 days as in 24 hour days, as in 600 hours), I never really got into being a guild member and doing raids. 

The aspect of WOW that sucked me in was the enormity and variety of the world, regions, dungeons, cultures, etc. There was always another area of the map or dungeon, etc. that you either hadn't checked out yet, or your character wasn't strong enough to go into that region yet. 

In reality, you don't "finish" WOW so much, but after playing 600 hours or so, I've had my fill. Where I've had the most unfinished games is probalby within the past few years, mainly since I started playing guitar again. If memory serves, I at least have the following games with campaigns or main story lines that haven't been completed:

Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock, Mass Effect 3, Fable II, Assassin's Creed I/II, Crysis II, Sim City 5, Demon's Souls, Deus Ex (recent one), Alan Wake 2, Arkham City. I'm forgetting several I'm sure. You could add several games I've played briefly, mainly in the MMO category (The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2).  I will say that I have finished several games that I had either already owned or otherwise intended to play and never got around to it. This is an example of how long I wait: I didn't play COD4 Modern Warfare and MW2 until 2012/2013, essentially 4+ years after the second one came out. The graphics were definitely dated by that point, but it was nice to pay $10 for games that still stood up (at least in campaign mode for me, I have no interest in multiplayer with the legions of trolls and nerdragers that frequent those games).  I also finally got around to finishing portal 1 and 2 which were brilliant games (especially 2), and Arkham Asylum which was a good game for what it did, although some of the boss fights were extremely frustrating.

Now it's fall 2013 and with the impending release of two new consoles, I'm really at a point that I feel I need to finish at least my console games so I can start the new generation with a clean slate. Some of those games listed are PC games, so I don't prioritize them as highly, although I'd like to finish all these games. I guess it's a good problem to have, my problem is that I don't want to just give up a game that I paid money for. I guess I'm just going to budget some weekend time and finish Red Dead, Assassin's Creed I, and Fable II. Demon's Souls is such an enormous pain in the ass that I'm not sure about that one. 

Everything breaks

at least in the realm of computers and electronics it seems. I have been a pretty stalwart advocate for Apple products, but in reality nearly all of my Apple computers have eventually suffered a major mechanical breakdown to render them unusable. The latest casualty is my 2009 iMac, for which I already had to replace the hard drive last summer (only to find out 2 months later Apple was recalling them). Now it's starting to flake out with graphic "anomalies" which render windows and icons completely black or scrambled and effectively unusable. A bit of online research revealed that other users with the same problem needed to have their logic boards replaced. In the Apple realm, I've learned that logic board replacement is usually about as cost effective as buying a new computer. I already suffered a logic board failure with my Mac Pro after its warranty ran out and that's what prompted the iMac purchase back in 2009. In fairness, the Mac Pro failure was because I tried to upgrade the RAM and accidentally didn't completely seat the ram in its socket before powering up the computer, and apparently this caused it to short circuit and fry the logic board. So that's two unusable Macs to add to my first mac laptop that I purchased in 2008 for my Afghanistan deployment that essentially died (would no longer power up) in 2011ish.  At that point I had bought a newer macbook pro, so the loss wasn't as significant. Still, in retrospect, we've had some pretty crappy luck with our Apple computers. But for some reason, I'm still motivated to buy a new one. I bought my first new Windows pc in many years (I think at least 5) back in 2012 because I was getting back into pc gaming. I learned that despite all the improvements over the years (Windows 7 was a definite leap ahead of Vista, which was the last OS I had been using), the windows experience still fell short of the simplicity and power of OSX.  I have been staying abreast of the Mac Pro update news, and they finally announced a completely new model this past June. I wasn't going to be as quick to upgrade until the iMac died, but not it seems I won't have a choice. I'll definitely pay extra for the applecare protection which is kind of a shitty requirement since these computers are not priced competitively to start with.  

Why I love my job(ish)...

Love is probably a bit strong, but there are several things about my job that make me not hate it. To wit:  1.  Regular hours with no nights, weekends, or call (unless I want to work overtime on Saturday to make extra money. Which I don't.)  2.  I'm mostly in control of my day and destiny. In other words, I can work as fast or as slow (usually the former) as I want and I'm not affected by the productivity of others (or the lack thereof). 3.  I have my own office, which is my private sanctuary where I can listen to music, use my iPad, etc. without interference/noise from outside. I sound like I hate people which is not the case, but it's nice to have your own personal space when you have noisy/smelly/etc. co-workers. 4. Kind of related to number one - the work is predictable and manageable. Some days I'm busy all day, but most days there are cushion times built into the schedule so I never feel overwhelmed. 5. Pay, benefits - while federal salaries are normally 10-30% below their civilian equivalents in gross salary, when you consider the benefits (pension, paid leave, health insurance, 401K), then my job is very competitive. Never underestimate the value of a pension. Even if I had been a smart investor and had been saving/investing towards my future since a young age, I most likely would have lost a huge chunk of that in 2008-2009. Because I retired from the Army I will have a very sizable monthly check for the rest of my life, regardless if I work or not. While the federal employee pension isn't as sizable as the military pension, it's essentially the same benefit. Although I do have a 401K that I've been investing in, the federal pension I'll be eligible to receive when I retire will combine with my Army pension and VA disability to essentially ensure that I won't need to work past my mid 60's unless I really want to. Also, the benefit of paid leave is considerable in this job. I worked as a DA civilian and then contractor after I first retired and my annual leave was somewhere around 10 days total. I think I had 10 sick leave days as well. In this job I am authorized 26 days of regular leave and 13 days of sick leave for a combined total of 39 days paid leave per year. And  I've been accruing that amount since I was hired. Most jobs require you to build up tenure to accrue the higher amounts, but not this one. Authorized/paid leave is a huge deal for me. I grew accustomed to 30 days of paid leave per year in my 23 year Army career, and that first year as a civilian with only 10 days of paid leave was a stark contrast to what I was accustomed to. This total doesn't include federal holidays.

Hey there sports fans...

A bit of a gap since the last update, as it happens. I've been back to work for the past 5 weeks, after a 3 week "vacation" in which we moved into our new home. Everything went relatively smoothly with the move with no significant problems. Along the way we cleared our rental and managed to get our security deposit back. I also managed to get in a fender bender on the day before we cleared the house. Luckily there were no injuries and my truck only sustained minor damage (I had to replace the passenger side mirror). My only official wreck in 30 years of driving (I may have been pulled into the magnetic field of a parking lot light pole many, many years ago. But that wasn't officially recognized by any municipal authorities) (probably because they weren't aware).  

We spent most of the 3 weeks trying to get the house in running order. We made some furniture and other household upgrades to include a new living room sectional sofa (aka Aeyong's new bed), nice tool bench/cabinet for the garage, 3 new ceiling fans, a metric crapton of additional network and speaker wiring, and multiple landscaping upgrades (flowers, shrubs, trees).  We also bought a new refrigerator and washer/dryer. It's a good thing we got our earnest money back from the Royal Crest Conundrum (that's the official historical title, mind) because we burned through that and more. 

We still have many upgrades planned for the future, but it will be a process over many years. We'll eventually add a patio, pergola, and outdoor kitchen to the backyard, but that's probably several years down the road. In the near term, we have two years to pay ourselves back for the 401K loan we had to take out to sell the Killeen house. We also plan on getting a new car (the first in 8 years) for Aeyong and I'll take the Pathfinder for the work commute. We don't want to add the car payment on until we clear the 401K loan. We could afford the new car now, but we adopted a pay as you go (not counting the house sale) policy many years ago, and we try not to carry any more debt than is necessary. A mortgage and a car loan are about our comfortable limit, for anything else we pay in cash. Since we have the outstanding 401K loan, we'll wait on the car. This policy allows us to live comfortably and still maintain the lifestyle we are accustomed to living. 

Music wise I went to see Slash at the Gigantour in Dallas. Great show as usual, if a bit shorter than normal since it was a festivalish show. I also saw Device which is the singer from Disturbed and I think a dude from Evanescence. They were pretty good. I also saw Hellyeah ? which is Vinnie Paul's band. I regret wearing sandals and being against the front of the stage. Total rookie move, by the way, but most bands I go see don't motivate the mosh as much. Black Label Society seemed good, although I'll be damned if I understood a word he sang or could really hear what he was playing. I skipped out on the headliner, Megadeth. I have Peace Sells, but I have never really gotten into Mustaine's singing or the music for that matter. 

We also saw Rodrigo & Gabriel at the newish? ATT Performing Arts Center in Dallas. They put on a good show like the last time we saw them in Austin, although they had a bit more set dressing. The audience seemed primarily composed of the hoity toity who have the disposable income to see and be seen in the arts district. My concert t-shirt was decidedly below the expected (not enforced) dress code of the cognoscenti.  It is a nice theater to see a show, though. We're going back in November to see Harry Connick for the first time in ten years. He's touring his latest album, and we're hoping he'll actually throw in some old hits. We previously saw him on a Christmas tour, and that was all that he played. No hits or non Christmas tunes (not counting about 30 seconds of Sweet Georgia Brown on the piano). 

Speaking of artists we haven't seen in a long while, we're going to see Steely Dan for the first time in, wait for it, ten years tomorrow night. They're not touring an album, but seeing how seldom they tour, we wanted to make sure we caught them. We have total nosebleeds since I wasn't sure prior to the move if we would be going and waited until several weeks after they went on sale to buy them. We'll be taking advantage of the video screens I'm sure. 

There's more to update, but I'm already running out of electrons at this point. 


Updates

We're on closing eve, and if all goes well we will find ourselves sleeping in our new digs tomorrow night. Not a lot has happened since the last update other than the incremental process of buying the house. We've already purchased our appliances and scheduled all the utility/etc. transfers as well as house/carpet cleaning for the rental we're departing. Every move seems a bit more tedious since we have been mostly moving to bigger places with each move which means we have more room for stuff. On that note, I did buy the Port City OS 2x12 cab I had been discussing. Daniel Klein from Port City had traded a few emails with me when I had asked a question on their website so he contacted me when he had a show demo cab that he couldn't sell as new and offered me a decent ($125) discount. I knew I was most likely going to get one of these cabs this year, so it seemed worth it although I really wanted to wait until after we moved. I like the cab, but I've been having mixed results with the AxeFx. I think there are probably a finite number of amp heads that are ideally suited for the cab, and the patches probably need to be created from the ground up. I'll be working on that in the new house. 

After we close tomorrow the plan is to pick up a uhaul truck and self move the essentials as well as the fragile/expensive stuff we don't want to put in the hands of the movers. The real move will be a week from tomorrow, but we plan on living in the new home starting tomorrow night. We will load up the king size bed, as well as most of our clothing and kitchen items. I'm also going to be taken all the home theater gear as I need to re-wire the theater and it will give me something to do this weekend after we've moved our essentials. We've done some of the minor needed repairs to the rental (patching & painting drywall). We're hiring a house cleaning company as well as a carpet cleaning company to come through once we've had time to get all of our stuff out. I'll need to give the lawn a final mow/trim/edge probably the day before the movers come.