Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ricky Nye and the Paris Blues Band Jump Steady CD Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the December 27, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

When Ricky Nye and the Paris Blues Band’s latest CD arrived, I noticed that it was recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was reminded of all of the great bands that have come out of that city. In fact, one of my favorite bands from the 1980s, The Raisins, is from there, and it turns out that Ricky Nye is actually Rick Neiheisel, their keyboardist. What a small world!

Whatever name he goes by, Ricky is a fabulous keyboard player and singer, having done quite a bit of work over the years with various artists and leading his own bands, including Ricky Nye and the Red Hots, and Ricky Nye Inc. Ricky Nye & the Paris Blues Band is his latest group, and Jump Steady is their third studio release. Collaborating with Mr. Nye on this album are three Frenchmen: Anthony Stelmaszack on guitars, Thibaut Chopin on upright bass and harmonica, and Simon "Shuffle" Boyer on drums; they have been working with Ricky for over five years. Special guest Brian "Boss" Hogg from Kentucky also joins in on the saxophone.

Nye self-produced Jump Steady, which was recorded in just two sessions; Bill Gwynne engineered the album and it was mixed by Ashley Shepherd. It has twelve short tracks (all of them under four minutes each), and they can be lumped into a two different categories: classic boogie woogie and more straight-up piano driven blues. This should not be a shock to anyone, as the group’s name does say that this is a blues band…

Ricky chose some heavy-hitting cover tunes and also wrote four of the songs on this album, including the opener, “Rockin’ Roller Coaster.” This song sets the tone for the rest of the CD, letting the listener know that they are in for a good time. Ricky hammers out a piano line that is lively but technically better than anything you will hear in a bar room. Hogg’s saxophone is a nice counterpoint to the whole Jerry Lee Lewis vibe, and at a mere 2 ½ minutes in length this one made me sorry it ended so soon.

Big Boy Crudup’s “Mean Ol’ Frisco” is next up, and you are probably familiar with the cover version that was done by Eric Clapton. Nye and the guys sped this tune up quite a bit and did an admirable job, despite the big shoes they had to fill. Then the tempo throttles back for the straight-up blues of “But I Forgive You,” which is a true song of love and forgiveness, considering all the terrible things the subject of this song is accused of doing.

“New Orleans Murder” does indeed have a Crescent City feel, with a funereal pace and a spooky sounding tape delay guitar sound. Stelmaszack does a very smooth and tasteful job on the guitars, and this original tune is a real winner. Another Ricky Nye original, “I Ain’t Crazy” follows this one up, and we are treated to some lovely syncopated piano work with a little harmonica flavor on top. This two-minute instrumental is really neat, and I will surely be using it to set the mood for one of my upcoming parties.

Nye and the boys then proceed to lay down some rocking boogie woogie for the next four tracks. Bassist Thibaut Chopin brings some neat harmonica parts to the Delmore Brothers’ “Pan American Boogie” and Nye gets a workout for both hands in Pinetop Smith’s instrumental “Jump Steady Blues.”

“Buggy Ride” is the last Ricky Nye original (and another instrumental), and it truly sounds like it is from another age. As with the rest of the album, Shuffle Boyer does a rock steady job on the drums for this track. We also get a great version of Big Joe Turner’s “Boogie Woogie Country Girl,” and I am glad that Nye did not feel compelled to copy the original version of this song (or any of the covers), but rather played it in his own style.

To finish up the CD, the band serves up three classic blues songs: Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind,” the classic (and very dirty) “Honey Dripper Blues,” and Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” And these wisely chosen covers cement the fate of Jump Steady – this is a fabulous album! Ricky Nye put together a collection of twelve unique songs, and each one is short enough to leave the listener wanting more. I highly recommend that you check it out when you get a chance!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

2012 Martin D-18 Golden Era Acoustic Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a guitar that I really need to try to hold onto, a 2012 Martin D-18 Golden Era acoustic. This could possibly be the best acoustic guitar I have ever owned, right up there with my old Santa Cruz Guitar Company Model D. This a beautiful dreadnought that any guitarist would give their left nut to have.

The D-18 guitars have been popular models in the Martin line-up since they were introduced in 1934. These guitars hit the market at exactly the right time, and its playability, full range and sweet tone were just what the performers of the day were looking for. As time went on, this became the signature model in the company’s line-up and they became the guitars of choice of for musicians from all genres, including legends such as David Crosby, Andy Griffith and Elvis Presley.

The D-18 received a few changes over the years, in some cases to improve deficiencies, and in other cases to make production more efficient (cheaper). As a result, the current D-18 is a very good instrument, but there is a cadre of players that believe that the pre-war ways were better, so Martin created the D-18 Golden Era guitars for them.

The D-18 Golden Era brings back many of the original features, with the benchmark being the 1934 D-18. Most notable this includes a stiffer Adirondack (Red) spruce top that allows the use of 5/16” forward-shifted scalloped X braces. This results in improved top vibration as well as overall volume and clarity.

Besides the Adirondack top, Martin also uses first rate materials for the rest of the guitar. The D-18 GE has solid mahogany neck, back and sides, as well as an ebony fretboard and bridge (not to be found on a regular D-18), and a Brazilian rosewood peghead overlay.

There are some neat appearance clues from the original models, too. These include a large Golden Era-style peghead logo, old style 18 abalone fretboard markers, fossil ivory nut and saddle, and open-back nickel Waverly tuners with butterbean knobs. Rumor has it that open-back tuners were used during the war to conserve metal. Hmm.

The hand-signed label from CF Martin IV is pretty obvious, but you might not notice some of the neat stuff that they put inside the guitar. The mahogany blocks, the dovetail neck joint, and the cloth side strips are really nice finishing touches, for sure.

The hand-shaped neck has a pleasant V profile, and the generous 1 ¾-inch nut width and wide spacing at the bridge make this a great strummer, flatpicker of fingerpicker. I find the neck very comfortable to play for longer sessions.

And the craftsmanship is first-rate. The high-gloss finish is perfect (and not too thick), and the frets are level with an easy-playing action and not a hint of fret buzz. It came out of the box not needing a single thing. When I change the strings I only use the original equipment Martin medium gauge strings (as recommended), and I have been very happy with them.

My god this is a truly wonderful instrument. My workhorse Takamine EF341SC is a great guitar with a nice clean tone and great playability, but it pales in comparison with this Martin. The neck is great and the action is slick so it plays like a dream, but the sound is something else. The clarity of the tone is out of this world. Fingerstyle playing will quickly highlight any flaws in technique as slightly misfretted notes come off as tremendously dull when compared to what this instrument is capable of.

With no break-in, the top already has a very loose sound, as if it has already been played for a few years. The usual tightness of a new acoustic is not there, which is a real blessing. It has great volume potential, and the more you lean into it, the more you realize how well balanced it is from string to string with incredible mids and highs. This guitar makes me a believer in mahogany, and may have solved the mahogany versus rosewood debate for me.

This D-18 Golden Era guitar did not come with electronics, so I had a K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup installed. This is a nice choice for these, if you want the versatility of being able to plug in. It is a no-frills unit that only requires that the tail pin hole be enlarged, and it is easily removed if necessary.

These guitars are fantastic, and if you want one there is a price to be paid. A brand new Martin D-18 Golden Era has a list price of $4499 and a street price of $3399, which includes a nice hard case and a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. Think of it as an investment in your future, as these guitars will last a lifetime if kept in a loving environment.

By the way, I have had the opportunity to tour the Martin factory and have seen first-hand the care that goes into building these guitars. It made me proud to own one. If you are ever in Eastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey, I highly recommend that you stop by their factory for a tour.

I have to do my best to hold onto this one, and not get distracted by the next shiny thing that catches my eye.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gibson Guitar Factory Tour --- Memphis, Tennessee


I am endlessly fascinated by the manufacturing process, and coupling this with my interest in guitars it was a no-brainer to check out the Gibson guitar factory tour when I was in Memphis recently to tour the Graceland mansion.

The Gibson guitar company has three factories in the United States (their Epiphone line is built overseas). They build acoustic guitars in Bozeman, Montana, solid-body guitars in Nashville, Tennessee, and hollow/semi-hollow body guitars in Memphis, Tennessee. The only facility that offers tours is Memphis.

The Memphis Gibson factory is their newest facility, and it employs about 60 people that finish about 50 to 60 guitars each day. It takes up a full city block, just a stone’s throw from the famed Beale Street and across the street from the FedEx basketball arena. By the way, do not wear good shoes if you are going to Beale Street.

The building has a retail store with an impressive array of their Gibson and Epiphone guitars, basses and mandolins. They also have a nice selection of apparel and accessories. None of it is cheap. You will pay $10 for the tour at the retail store for the tour, and you should really call ahead for reservations so you don’t get shut out.

We went on a Saturday, and all of the tours that day had sold out ahead of time, so it was good that I called ahead earlier in the week. They had us wait in the lobby until the tour started, and the lobby is huge, with not much of anything to look at. There are a few jukeboxes that don’t work and some pianos you are not allowed to touch.

At the appointed time, the tour guide gathered us around and gave us our instructions: no photography, you have to wear safety glasses (provided), stay with the group and do not step over the black and yellow lines on the floor. Easy enough. He also warned that it would be dusty and there would be fumes present. The tour was supposed to take no more than 45 minutes.

We started by walking through a corridor lined with all manner of Gibson guitars, where he explained a bit of the history of the Gibson company. Then we went to the far end of the shop, where he showed us where they humidify the wood and how presses are used to form the tops, backs and rims. There was some machinery running, so he plugged a microphone into a PA speaker so he could be heard. He was most unenthusiastic, and I had trouble making out what he said. But, I have been to other guitar factories before, so I could see what was going on and could explain it to my son.

Then we went to another station where he explained how the body is assembled, what adhesives are used and how the binding is installed. Across from there was a CNC machine that was routing neck joints, and this was actually the only manufacturing that was going on that day (Saturday afternoon, you know). He talked a bit about how the necks were assembled, and said that the fretboards are actually made in Nashville, and that the frets are installed and Plek’d at the Memphis factory. Maybe that explains why so many Gibson necks are crappy these days.

Then we went on to where the guitars are sprayed, and it smelled heavenly in there! He explained about the different steps of the process and why they use the finishes that they do. This stuff is fascinating, and it the vapors gave me a nice light-headed feeling.

Finally, we ended up in the final assembly area, where he talked a bit about how the electronics and hardware are installed, and how the guitars are tested. It turns out that 4% of the guitars they build are scrapped because they are so flawed that they cannot be fixed. I would not be proud of this statistic.

And that was it. The tour only lasted about half an hour. I liked seeing the facility, but did not come away impressed with the Gibson company. The manufacturing facility was dirty and seemed disorganized, and the tour guide was unkempt, apathetic, and was wearing a torn and dirty t-shirt. If this is the best that Gibson can do, they should really think twice about allowing their customers in to see the operation.

I have to contrast this with the Martin guitar factory tour, which was fabulous. Their facility is much nicer (though it is older), the tour guide appeared happy to be there, and they provided headsets so that you could hear what the tour guide was saying. Oh, and the Martin guitar factory tour and parking are free.

So, I would not make a special trip to downtown Memphis to see the Gibson factory tour, but if you are in town doing something else, and do not mind spending $10 (and $10 more for parking), it would be an ok thing to check out.

As I said earlier, if you want to go on a tour of the Memphis Gibson guitar factory, call ahead to get a reservation as the tours sell out quickly. The tours are offered on the hour, and keep in mind that you might not see as much activity on the weekends.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Radial Engineering JDI Direct Box Review


I rained down praise upon the Radial Engineering Firefly direct box last month, but they have a lot of other great products in their line-up, including the JDI passive direct box.

Radial Engineering builds an impressive collection of products, including one of my direct boxes, the aforementioned Firefly. Their stuff is comes dear, as they use quality components and their boxes are built with workers earning first-world wages in Canada.

First off – why would you need a direct box? If you want to send your instrument’s signal directly to the mixing board, a direct box will allow you to do this with a minimal increase in outside noise as well as reducing signal loss. It does this by converting a high impedance signal to a low impedance signal, as well as balancing this signal.

If the impedance is lowered, it will travel over long lengths of cable with less signal loss. Unfortunately, low impedance signals are more susceptible to noise created by magnetic fields – and just think of all of the magnetic fields created on stage by the amplifiers and lights. Old-school landline telephones also send low impedance signals over ridiculous lengths of wire with virtually no added noise. How do they do it?

They use balanced lines, which I am sure you have heard of if you have ever messed around with sound equipment. Balanced line split the signal into two equal parts, with one part in phase and the other part purposely inverted (out-of-phase). There is also a magnetic shield, which makes up the third pin of your standard XLR cable. Outside noise that passes through the shield is picked up equally by both wires. When the two signals come back together, the out of phase signal is brought back into phase along with the noise it has collected. The original signal is now in phase and the noise goes out of phase with its counterpart and cancels itself out.

So, a direct box (or DI box) takes care of all of this in one little component: It converts the high output impedance of the pickup to a low impedance signal and convert the unbalanced connection to a balance the line. Then you can plug it straight into a microphone line input and put your sound into the hands of the by running the board.

The Radial Engineering JDI is a bit more spendy than other simple direct boxes on the market, but it is a durable piece of equipment that works very well and should last for the rest of your career.

Looking at the unit, it is about the same size as an effect pedal, and it has a solid steel chassis, painted in a lovely green hue with neatly screen printed graphics. It is shaped sort of like a hardcover book, so the steel wraps around and protects the switches from being torn off if you drop it or as it bangs around in your road case, There is a rubber pad on the bottom to help isolate it and to keep it from moving around.

The input panel has the usual 1/4-inch instrument input and traditional thru-put (to send your signal on to an amplifier). There is a merge switch that changes the thru-put jack into a second input, thus allowing a stereo signal to be summed into a mono signal. The instructions printed on top if the box, in case you forget how it is supposed to work. There is also a -15dB pad switch in case you have an exceptionally hot input.

on the other side, the output panel has a balanced 600-ohm XLR connector with a hot pin 2 hot per AES specifications. There is a polarity reverse switch to toggle pin 2 and pin 3 to allow interface with older non-AES compliant equipment. The ground lift disconnects the pin 1 to allow for input and output isolation. The speaker switch is a second -30dB pad that can be used in with the -15dB input pad to allow the JDI to be connected in parallel with a speaker. This function includes a speaker emulation filter circuit. And lets the sound guy can tap the post-distortion signal, and

Unseen by human eyes, inside the JDI is a Jensen JT-DBE transformer, which is used as its main driver. The Jensen has magnetic memory, thus eliminating phase distortion. It is quiet and perfectly isolated and with no added distortion you can count on your signal getting to the board just the way that you created it. You can use it to run straight into the board or into the snake with no fear of overloading the system.

In the real world, it does all of this exactly like it is supposed to. After you get it set up and plugged in you can forget it is there and get down to the business of making music. It is really nice to have a product that does exactly what the company says it will.

As this is a passive device (no battery or phantom power required), the JDI is perfect for hot devices such as active or self-powered instruments, including acoustic guitars and basses with built-in battery-powered preamps, and AC-powered equipment such as drum machines, DJ mixers, and keyboards. These types of devices can overload active boxes, making them sound thin and shrill. The JDI can handle any of these things without distorting.

All of this quality and performance do not come cheaply. The Radial Engineering JDI passive direct box has a list price of $220 and a street price of $199. It is worth every penny, and you should have one in your gig bag!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Great Garage / Studio Remodel of 2011


When I do a project, usually one thing leads to another, and then everything just gets completely out of hand. This is how my garage/studio ended up the way it is.

A few summers ago, my old wooden garage door broke and I decided that it was appropriate to get with the times and purchase a sectional steel garage door. This is how it all started.

The garage door salesman came out, took one look at the garage and told me I had to tear out the heavy-duty wooden shelves and loft that I built 15 years before, as there would be no place for the garage door tracks to go. After he left, I looked around my garage and it was a cluttered mess. It was dark, and my drum set, tool boxes, bicycles and motorcycles took up a lot of real estate. I figured it was time to get a fresh start and just fix the place up a little.

I moved everything out to a nearby vacant garage, and went about demolishing the shelves and loft, which was a huge deal because I wayyyy overbuilt them. Then I looked at the crummy plaster firewall and tore it out with the intention of replacing it with drywall, and that would be the end of things.

Then one of my friends came over, and when he saw the exposed studs and tarpaper all over the garage he advised that while I has everything cleared out, I should really do the job right. He has a beautiful 1,000 square foot garage, so I value his opinion. My wife concurred, and I plunged straight into the abyss.

First off, he had me order the insulated garage door, so it would be quieter and look nicer on the inside. This was a wise choice, and the guys from Mesa garage doors had it installed in just a few hours. I elected to not install a new garage door opener, as I rarely open it to the street.

Then, on his advice I ordered drywall for the entire garage, not just the firewall. This meant that I had to pull half a million nails out of the studs so it would lie flat. I guessed how many sheets I needed, then ordered it from Lowe’s and had the stack delivered to my driveway. The $75 delivery fee was the best money I ever spent.

My buddy actually showed up to help me hang the drywall, and amazingly enough there was none left over. Then he asked when I was going to tape it and paint it and I said that I had not planned to do that. He shamed me into calling his nephew’s pot head friends that do drywall, and they showed up one evening to give me an estimate. I think they were drunk when they arrived. When I told them what I was looking for they said they could do the job that evening, and they headed off to buy materials and beer. They knocked the job out in no time.

After I sanded and painted the walls, the electrician came out and ran conduit all over the garage (I love exposed conduit!) and installed new fluorescent fixtures and power outlets everywhere. It is amazing how much brighter it was after the walls were painted and the new lights were in.

Then came the shelving. This same friend has a contact that deals in surplus warehouse equipment, so I purchased pallet racks with wire grate shelves. They extend from floor to ceiling and cover three of the walls. These are the strongest shelves I could find, and they are rated for 10,000 pounds per shelf.

From then on it was just moving most of the stuff back in and doing the final finishing. I mounted a half dozen of the Hercules guitar wall hangers, put up my disco ball and spotlights, and it was good to go.

I am glad I took my friend’s advice, as the garage is a lot nicer place to practice, not to mention just hanging out. Remember, if you are going to do it – do it right the first time because you might not get a second chance!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Muddy Sons Pushed On Down The Road Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the December 21, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The Muddy Sons – Pushed On Down The Road

What in Sam Hell Productions

10 tracks / 48:09

Sometimes you look at an album cover, band name or title and know exactly what you are in for when you listen to the music. When I got The Muddy Sons’ Pushed On Down The Road CD with a photo of smirking guitarist and drummer on the cover, I instantly had thoughts of raw blues and down and dirty rock and roll. Thank goodness that is exactly what I got!

The Muddy Sons are a duo from the Pacific Northwest, with Portland’s Madman Sam on vocals and guitars and Jeff “Drummerboy” Hayes of Seattle on the skins. Pushed On Down The Road is their debut album together, but that does not mean that these guys are new to the music business. Sam has put out four albums of his own, and Hayes has appeared on dozens of releases for various artists over the years. It turns out that they are a match made in heaven, or hell if you prefer your blues from the old school.

This album only took seven days to create and has ten original tracks that were written by Sam, and not a single Howlin’ Wolf cover in sight. Some of these songs that previously appeared on his solo acoustic albums include “I Can’t Take It Anymore,” “Two Cigarettes and a Half-Pint,” and “Like That’s Gonna Stop Me.” Sam produced the project as well as doing the editing, mastering, art layout and participating in the mixing. He is a busy guy, it seems. Sam and Hayes performed all of the music and there are no keyboard or bass parts; no other musicians are heard on this release.

“I’ll Be Satisfied” is the opening track of Pushed On Down The Road and is quite an eye-opening experience. This song is as raw as blues gets, with nasty and dirty guitar sounds, a howling voice and a slowly boiling drum line. Here you will hear the Muddy Sons’ expression of their love for Delta Blues, with a little of the Chicago sound mixed in. One way to describe their music is to say that it is what the old acoustic delta guys would have played if they had gnarly distorted electric guitars to mess around with.

Despite the lack of other instruments, there is not really anything missing from this recording, as all of the songs sound right just the way they are. After the seven-minute opener, the guys treat us to shorter high-tempo tune, “I Can’t Take it Anymore.” Hayes’ kick drum takes the place of a bass guitar in this one and Madman’s guitar is on fire, filling up every spare sonic moment. This song made the transition from its previous acoustic version with aplomb.

“Two Cigarettes and a Half Pint” also does well in its electrified version, with slide guitar galore and some seriously stomping drums. The lyrics of this energized southern rocker are not terribly deep, but from the title you probably already figured out that they would not be. The dynamic duo drops straight back into hard-core blues with “No Longer Qualified,” where Sam laments that now that he found a good woman he is no longer qualified to sing the blues. Of course this is not true, because he howls this one out with plenty of heart and soul, but it is a great play on words and his tale lets us hear what a great storyteller he is.

After a few more tracks with great titles such as “Stainless Steel Toilet,” and “Sorry As You Gonna Be,” the album finishes up with “She Talks Too Much.” I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I got the giggles when I heard the gloriously politically incorrect lyrics to this song. But there is more to this tune than its misogynistic leanings, as the Madman manages to cram more clever words and phrases into one song than should be allowed. Drummerboy keeps an arrow-straight beat throughout, and if you have ever been in a band you would be jealous that Sam managed to hook up with him.

The Muddy Sons are a hoot to listen to and they did a heck of a job putting together Pushed On Down The Road. Those that like nasty rock or blues will find plenty here to entertain them, and the fainthearted may want to take a test-listen before buying. By the way, I have heard that their live show is something to behold, so be sure to check them out if they are playing near you.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jazz Inn Lovely, Nagoya, Japan


I am not the world’s biggest jazz music fan, but I appreciate a good performance, and the Jazz Inn Lovely in Nagoya Japan always had top-notch performers on its stage.

The Jazz Inn Lovely is a small club located near Sakae that has been in town for over 30 years. They have a number of regular local artists, and they support them through the club’s own music label. Often times these performers and bands go on to become quite hege in Japan. But, they also draw in nationally popular artists, such as the equally lovely Keiko Lee.

It is a small club, so it is intimate, but it has a reasonably large stage (for a Japanese club). So there is an intimate vibe, but it does not feel cramped or crowded. Every time I have been there the sound has been perfect, not too loud and everything was as clear as a bell.

They have a full bar, and they serve good food with reasonable prices, and not much of anything over 1000 Yen. It is a foreigner-friendly place, and their service staff speaks good English.

It is open from 6PM to 2 AM, and the live music starts at 8:00 each evening. There is usually a cover charge, from 2000 Yen up to around 6000 Yen, depending on who is playing. If you show up late (close to midnight) there is no cover charge.

The Jazz Inn Lovely is located at 1-10-15 Higashi-sakura, Higashi-ku, Nagoya Aichi Prefecture 461-0005, and the phone number is +81 (0)52 951 6085. It is easy to get to, just a two-minute walk from Exit #5B of the Hisaya-odori Station on the Sakuradori Line.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Graceland Mansion Tour Review, Memphis, Tennessee


I recently had the opportunity to tour Elvis Presley’s Memphis, Tennessee home, Graceland. Even if you are not a fan of The King, this is a must-see item that should be in everybody’s bucket list.

Graceland was built in 1939 by Ruth and Dr. Thomas Moore. Elvis gave his folks a $100,000 budget to find him a house outside of town, and they chose this 14-acre estate. He proceeded to expand and modify it to his tastes, including additions to the main house and the building of other structures on the property. He died there in 1977, and was buried in the back yard, and you will find him there next to his folks and his grandma. Graceland was opened to the public as a museum in 1982, and these days about 600,000 people a year make the pilgrimage to Elvis’ estate.

I have long been a fan of Elvis Presley, and have never been able to work in a trip to see his home during my business travels. So, I decided that I had to make a special trip with Graceland as the primary destination. I am glad I did!

I bought the tickets online to save the hassles of waiting in line when I got there. They charge a $5 premium per ticket for this service, by the way. I went for the Entourage VIP tour, which includes all of the tours (airplanes, cars, etc.) and most importantly meant that we would not have to wait in the hour-long line to catch the mandatory shuttle up to the house. It turned out to be a hot day, and those people looked miserable. Good choice…

They started out by snapping a photo of us in front of a green screen, which I had no intention of buying, but it turned out really nicely, so I just had to buy it. Then it was on to board the shuttle for the short trip across the street to the mansion. They included a self-guided audio tour, which included little audio players that we could punch in codes to have the different displays and rooms described to us.

The tour starts through the front door, and fortunately I read up on the estate before I went so I knew that The Man had dies right above the front door! Then we got to tour half of the first floor, including his living room, dining room and kitchen. Nothing has been re-decorated, so it still has that mid-1970s charm. Then down to the basement to see the TV room and pool room, which were my favorites. The decorations and furniture are truly breathtaking.

Then, back up another staircase (encased in green shag carpet) to the Jungle Room. My god. Elvis had truly incredible taste! After this, you exit the house. No second floor tour – rumor has it that only Lisa Maria and Priscilla can go into his room, which is just as he left it.

You go out into the back yard, pass the car port and Lisa Marie’s old swing set, and take a walk thorough Vernon’s office. Going out through the smokehouse/shooting gallery, there is a path past the horses and stable to his trophy room. You have never seen so many Grammys and gold records in one place. There are also costumes from some of his movies in there.

Across from there is his racquetball building, which has been converted into another trophy room. Lots more gold records and jumpsuits in here, folks. And last on the regular mansion tour agenda is the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his kinfolk are interred (and there is a memorial stone for his twin brother that dies during birth – who knew?). If you go for the VIP tour, there is another room you get to see with Lisa Marie’s memories of her dad. I thought it was pretty neat.

There are also a half-dozen other displays, and my favorites were his two airplanes and the car museum. The planes are definitely a little time worn, but are worth a looksie, if only to see the gold hardware in the bathrooms and Elvis’ mile-high club member exam area. The cars are fantastic, and include some motor bikes, and golf carts too.

There are a few downsides to the place. Parking is $10, and as you exit all of the sub-tours you have to pass through yet another gift shop. Also, Memphis is kind of a great big ghetto, and I never felt truly safe anywhere I went outside of Graceland. The town is not a great tourist destination, I guess.

Anyway, I thought that Graceland was cool. Others poo-poo it as small, lurid and gaudy, but I look at it as getting to glimpse Elvis Presley’s life, and I think it is a great opportunity for fans to get to know him, and for others who are not as familiar with his work to realize what an incredibly huge deal he still is.

I recommend seeing it soon, as there are plans to tear down the visitor centers and a lot of the area around Graceland to build a huge convention center and theme park. This would allow a few million people per year to visit. I cannot image trying to cram more people through the home unless they open up 24 hours a day.

Check it out for yourself!


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Rick Randlett Change Coming On CD Review


This CD review was originally published in the December 13, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Rick Randlett – Change Coming On

Self-released through Fox Run Studio Records

13 tracks / 46:13

Rick Randlett has been a staple of the North Central Florida music scene since the 1980s, and many weekends each month you can find him playing out around the Gainesville area. He has a distinctively growly voice, and smooth acoustic, slide and electric guitar skills that express the inspiration of his diverse influences which include the Yardbirds, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams. Over his career he has recorded three albums, the latest of which breaks down blues and country music down to their more basic levels.

Change Coming On is a bare bones release that is promoted as an acoustic album, and it is mostly unplugged with just a few electric guitar parts thrown in to mix things up. Rick performed the vocals and all of the guitars parts, which are all that can be heard on the CD, as there are no drums, bass or keyboards. He also wrote all of the tracks, recorded it at his own studio, and coproduced it with Donny Weatherford of Gainesville’s 1st Street Music & Sound Company. So, if you find anything wrong with it, the buck stops on Randlett’s desk.

But there is not much of anything to complain about, and you will get a good idea of what the album will be like from the title track, which comes up first. From the start it is apparent that Rick is not aiming to show that he is a great singer or a fabulous guitar player (but he is very good), but rather wants to tell stories and entertain through his songwriting. “Change Coming On” is a short blues song (only around three minutes), so it only starts to tell the story of a life gone wrong that still has a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Through the magic of studio tracks, Randlett’s acoustic guitar holds down the beat while his slide guitar sets the atmosphere in the background.

The mood lifts and the tempo picks up on “Goodbye to You” as he dreams about living the good life that can be found anywhere but where he is right now. There is some nifty acoustic guitar picking and at least three or four layers of guitars on this one. With a healthy dose of pedal steel, the theme goes more country with “Promise of Freedom” as he examines the feelings of moving on no matter how much life brings you down.

From here, Rick continues to explore the blues and country genres, including some nice 12 bar blues on “All Mixed Up.” He keeps things from growing stale by adding in new elements here and there, including nice vocal harmonies on “Fool for You” and jaunty finger popping on “Big Spender,” which also has some gloriously fat acoustic tones on it. Changes of pace help to keep the album from falling into a rut, as the tempo varies considerably from track to track.

“Seeing Nothing” is the final track on the CD, and it is also the one that breaks the mold that he cast for the rest of the songs. The lyrics of this acoustic rock ballad are gloomy and Bob Seger-esque, and the picked acoustic guitar has a harpsichord feeling and sound. Over these components there is tasty and ethereal electric guitar work that fits in perfectly. I think this was a good choice to end the album, and to remind his listeners that he is not a one-trick pony.

Overall, Change Coming On is a collection of thirteen relatively short tracks that do a good job of conveying the feel and message of classic blues and country music. None of them are flashy or complicated compositions but they work well when considered as a single entity, and it is apparent that Rick Randlett’s hard work has paid off. There was a ten year gap between’s second and third albums, and I hope he does not take as long to come out with his fourth!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

TC Electronic RS212 Bass Speaker Cabinet Review


In the good old days, there was no way a bass player would show up for a gig with only a 2 x 10-inch speaker cabinet. Everybody had 1 x 15’s, 2 x 15’s, and 4 x 10’s, and they all weighed a ton. But these days I plenty of guys doing small gigs with a 1 x 12 or 2 x 10 or 2 x 12 cabinet. And they usually sound really good!

We are looking at just such an animal today, the TC Electronic RS212. I recently had the change to try out a pair of these (singly and together) with the very nice TC Electronic RH750 bass amplifier.

The RS212 are compact cabinets, measuring 14 by 26 by 19 inches and weighing in at a spritely 52 pounds. This might seem a bit heavy for what it is, but these speakers come by it honestly through liberal use of high-density 18mm birch plywood. They are designed so that they can be stacked any which way, a philosophy that TC Electronic believes in. They like the idea of stacking the cabinets on end so they are tall and the performers can hear them better. Seems reasonable to me.

They are covered in a non-skid coating (sprayed on, maybe?), and I am glad to see that fuzzy carpet speaker coverings are no longer in vogue. The carpet looks just terrible after a few years, no matter how well you take care of it. The carry handles and front grill are made of steel and are recessed into the chassis so they should not suffer too much in transit.

Each cabinet is loaded with two 12-inch custom Eminence speakers coupled with a Eminence 33mm titanium co-axial tweeter. The RS212 is rated at 400 watts at 8 ohms. There are two parallel ¼-inch/Speakon connectors on the back panel, along with a tweeter control knob (turning it all the way counterclockwise turns it OFF).

I hooked these cabinets up to the RH750, and went to town with a few different active and passive basses. They performed nicely with all of them. TC Electronic did a great job of matching these cabinets up with their amplifiers.

With my passive Precision Bass with Deep Talkin’ Labella flats these, speakers are really smooth and well-balanced. I found that the low-end was a little thin when using one cabinet, but when I hooked both of them up thy really came to life. When moving to the upper volume extremes these cabinets can really move some air, and they are well-ported in the back to help out with this.

With some active basses, a Sadowsky P and a Marcus Miller Jazz, these cabinets can achieve a very sharp and high-fi sound. They could get a hard punching sound that made me smile like a little kid. I fiddled with the tweeter a bit and ended up backing it off about half way to get the tone that I liked.

When hooked together, the RS 212 cabinets could take everything that the 750 watt class D RH750 head could put out, and the amount of volume would be sufficient for most normal club or party gigs. I liked having the two cabs stacked on end and not only could I hear myself better, it seems like the overall bass tone was more focused. And I think that a single cab would be fine for smaller gigs, and it is certainly nice to practice with.

Overall, I really like the TC Electronic RS212 cabinets, and if I was looking for a new set-up, I would be actively looking to pick up a pair of these and an RH750. This company has a good handle on what gigging bassists need, and they are filling this niche nicely. The RS 212 cabinets have a list price of $909 and a street price of $599. Check them out if you get a chance!


Monday, June 3, 2013

TC Electronic RH750 Bass Amplifier Review


I have long been a fan of TC Electronic effect pedals, and I think their tuners are pretty top-notch too. But I have never had the chance to play one of their bass amplifiers until recently, and I have to say that I was impressed by their RH750 bass head.

In case you are not familiar with the company, T C Electronic has been around since 1976, and I have had great experience with their amplifiers and effect pedals. Their products are solid and reliable, and are a definitely a good value. The RH750 is no exception.

The RH750 is the beefier 750-watt version of their very good 450-watt RH450. And, when designing this unit they did not go with the currently chic hybrid tube/solid state architecture that many manufacturers are using, instead is class D power amplifier coupled with a solid-state preamplifier.

If you are familiar with the appearance of the RH750 will not surprise you, and its size is comparable with the offerings from other manufacturers. It measures a mere 12 x 11 x 3 inches, and it comes in around 8 ½ pounds (a bit heavier than its competitors). It carries over the visual and structural themes too, with an anodized aluminum front plate and a black steel chassis with a built-in carry handle. They thoughtfully built it with feet on the bottom and on one side so that it can be mounted horizontally or vertically.

For a modern-day amplifier, the RH750 is not terribly complicated to use, so after getting it out of the box it should only take a few minutes of set-up and then you are good to go. On the back is a single Speakon / ¼-inch speaker output (4 ohm minimum), and a socket for the IEC power cord. The power switch is also back there (boo), as well as the 5-pin DIN remote socket, stereo RCA AUX in jacks, a 1/8-inch headphone jack, a balanced XLR out, and effects loop and a pre-post pre-amplifier switch. There is also a digital out for running the signal straight into a recording workstation.

On the front there is a single active/passive instrument input, 3 user preset switches, a four-band EQ, gain and master volume controls, a mute switch, and a shift switch. There are also two knobs for Spectracomp and Tubetone. Oh yes, and a tuner display and a gazillion red LEDs.

This is all really neat stuff. It is handy to have the three different memory settings if you are planning on taking a few different basses to your gig. The memory positions will save all setting except for mute and master volume. The memory settings can be controlled and the built-in chromatic tuner can be viewed with the optional RC4 footswitch.

The Spectracomp is a variable compression feature and the Tubetone provides a synthetic tube emulator of both pre-amp and power tube sections.

I like the way all of this stuff works – I tried it out with two different TC Electronic cabinets: the RS 210 and the RS 212, as well as a 12-inch Genz Benz Shuttle cabin and my 410 Ampeg. I use the different set-ups with my passive P Bass, my Active Stingray and my 60 Jazz Bass re-issue to get as many different sounds as possible.

For starters (and probably most importantly), the RH750 is very loud. It is easily on par with the Genz Benz 900-watt amplifiers, and it seems louder than the Tonehammer. And it sounds really good, too. It has a great clean tone that really cuts through the mix if you need it to. I was able to twiddle with the EQ to get the tones I needed, and have no complaints with its range. This thing has great mids and a powerful bottom end if you use enough speaker.

The tuner is intuitive (heck, it is always ON), and the menu structure is not confusing if you take a minute to look at the manual. The memory presets are fabulous, and I like that they included the LEDs so you can see what the levels of each knob are. By the way, the LEDs are powerful enough that they show up well in more conditions that just dark stages.

The Spectracomp does a nice job of calming things down when popping. The Tubetone does an ok job of replicating the tube sound, but it was not close enough o the real thing for me, so I would probably not use it in the long run. You can get some overdrive with it, though…

This unit works nicely as a headphone practice amp. I hooked up my iPod through the RCA jacks, and it sounded great through a pair of quality headphones. By the way, it was nice that they included a note on the back of the unit that says it is ok to use this head without a speaker load.

This head feels like a solid unit, and the handle works well. TC Electronic backs this made in Thailand unit with a 2-year warranty, should troubles arrive. That is a nice piece of mind.

I did notice a few quirks, though. I think that having only one speaker output is kind of a big drawback, and I don’t know why it is necessary to mute the speaker out when plugging into the RCA jacks.

But, all-in-all, the TC Electronic RH750 is a great amp, and their engineers did a good job of putting together a compact amplifier that will work well for bassists that need something durable and good for their gigs. It does not have enough power to fill huge halls, but in those cases you will probably be going though the PA anyway. The only real reason to stay away would be if you just have to have real tube sound. With a list price of $1604 and a street price of $999, this thing is a real contender.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

2001 Gibson Les Paul Electric Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a real peach of a guitar that most any rock guitarist would love to have in the arsenal: a fine-playing 2001 Gibson Les Paul Standard.

I will be the first one to say that Gibson guitars of the past few years have slipped markedly in quality, and finding one that plays well right out of the box is not an easy task. This is especially galling when you consider how much they cost. I had a hard time finding out I liked, so I ended up getting a used one that played great and sounded just as good as it looks.

This one is finished in a tasteful black with cream binding and plastic bits and chrome hardware. I always liked the simpler looks of the Standard models when compared to the Custom models. It has a solid (not chambered) mahogany with a carved maple top, and it is a heavy beast, coming in at over 11 pounds (the limit of my digital postal scale).

The mahogany neck has the 1950s rounded profile, and it is capped with a rosewood fretboard with mother of pearl inlays. Did you know that Gibson is not using rosewood on these anymore? You get some sort of dyed maple substitute. Bah!

Twelve years later the frets are level and are still in great shape. I know they say that new Les Pauls are all Plek’d, but my god their necks are lumpy and the frets still need to be leveled when the box comes out of the box. The neck is capped off with the classic Gibson Logo and Les Paul script on the headstock.

The hardware is just what you would expect with Grover sealed-back tuners and a Tune-o-matic bridge with a stopbar tailpiece. The electronics include 490R and 498T pickups that are wired through normal potentiometers. No printed circuit boards or goofy push-pull pots on this one.

Over the years the hardware has tarnished and the finish has gotten a little cloudy and received some light dings and scratches, but most of this would buff out easily enough. I would certainly not trade the broken-in neck for anything, and polishing it out would be a huge mistake. This neck is easiest-playing of any Les Paul I have ever owned (I have it set up with 0.010 Slinkies, BTW).

The tone is marvelous, too. Over time the finish has hardened and the original pickups have aged to become ultra thick and juicy. It can be warm and mellow, or gloriously beefy and overdriven. The sustain, harmonics and dynamics of this guitar are second to none.

The only downside is its weight: this thing weighs in at over 12 pounds (the limit of my postal scale). Ouch.

But otherwise, this is the ultimate Les Paul, and I would be hard-pressed to find another as good. I hope your search will be as fruitful!