Thursday, February 27, 2014

2012 Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo 4H Bass Guitar Review


It is hard to believe that Music Man Bongo basses have been out for more than ten years, and they are still one of the least well-known basses around. Though they are not common, these basses are used by gods of the bass community, including Tony Levin and Dave LaRue. Today we are looking at a lovely 2012 model that I picked up late last year.

The Bongo bass was a fresh design that was a collaborative project between Music Man and BMW. The first thing that you will notice is that the shape of the body and the headstock is distinctive. By going outside the usual P/J shapes they ended up with an instrument that is ergonomically comfortable to play. The bodies on these are made of basswood (bass wood!) because it provides good tone, and also because it is a bit lighter than other woods. This is helpful because the electronics package is pretty heavy.

The neck is a conventional 34-inch scale, with 24 high-profile wide frets. The neck on this one is rosewood, but fretless models get pau ferro and Stealth models get ebony. The fretboard is inlaid with cool little c’s, and the compensated nut is 1 5/8-inches wide. Of course the truss rod has the usual Music Man truss rod adjustment wheel at the heel for easy set-up changes. The five-bolt neck plate allow for an aggressive cut-out to access the higher frets. Who uses those frets, anyway?

The pre-amplifier and pickup packages are where the real magic happens on the Bongo basses, as they can be made to sound very aggressive. They have an 18-volt pre-amp, and the pickups use neodymium magnets. With the 3 or 4-band equalizer, almost any tone can be dialed in. There are plenty of pickup choices, including single humbucker, double humbucker and a humbucker/single coil combination. You can also throw in a piezo bridge as an option. This bass is equipped with a single humbucker with a 3-band EQ, which is my favorite option for these basses.

This particular bass is a very nice California-made 2012 Music Man Bongo 4 H. It is finished with a glossy black poly on the body and a satin black finish on the neck. The craftsmanship is exactly what I expect for an instrument that comes from the folks in San Luis Obispo. It is first-rate. As a big plus, this one weighs in at 7 pounds, 15 ounces, which is the lightest Music Man bass I have ever seen. This low weight was achieved by the lightweight tuners they started using a few years ago, which probably cut ¼ pound off of this thing.

As I said the single humbucker combination is my favorite Bongo configuration, and this is due to its simplicity and versatility. With judicious use of the EQ knobs (do not dime them out!) I have been able to achieve any kind of tone that I need with minimal effects usage.

It is a shame that these do not sell very well, because Bongos are some of the best basses around. I guess too many players are stuck in 1960, and cannot get past the whole Precision/Jazz Bass mindset.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On Stage LS7730 DJ Lighting Stand With Truss Review


As time goes on, most DJs (and some bands) start to add lighting elements to their stage set-up. My lighting has grown from a single Chauvet 4-Bar to two 4-Bars, some pin spots and other effects. When it was requested that I bring a disco ball to a recent school dance I decided it was time to step up to a lighting truss, and I went with the On Stage LS7730.

The LS7730 is just about as cheap as it comes for a truss system. This set includes two tripod base lighting stands with three section shafts and T-bars. The T-bars have mounts to hold four par cans each. There are also two five-foot truss sections that can also accept four par cans each. It can be set up tall, up to a touch over 10 feet and it is rated for 200 pounds (110 for each stand, and 80 for the truss). It should be noted that the manufacturer recommends that only static lights be mounted to this assembly.

When I got my new truss home and took it out of the box, I found that a few of the plastic set screw handles were broken. As there is no packing materials in the box and it came from China, I counted myself lucky and did not return it. God know how much stuff could have been broken or bent…

Looking over the components, it is obviously a budget set-up. It is made of black powder-coated aluminum, and the tubing is very thin. There is not a single weld anywhere on it, and the truss sections are screwed together with plastic connectors. But, when it is all put together it is surprisingly rigid. The American DJ O-clamps work great on this truss as they come with plastic spacers that fit this tubing perfectly.

I was able to figure out how to put it together without the instructions, and it took about 10 minutes to get it together. There is a bit of fiddling needed with the pins as it is tricky to get the holes lined up, but it was not an insurmountable hurdle. Mounting the lights took a bit longer, and it took two people to get it everything where it needed to be. If this thing had cranks it would have been a way easier job as the light could have been attached when it was closer to floor level, but that feature would have doubled the price.

Once it was together it looked really sharp, and as I said, it was sturdy. I mounted the pin spots for the mirror ball to one of the T-bars and to the stands, and it was a neat effect. Tear-down at the end of the event was simple, but I always had to keep in mind that this thing is fragile, and I was super careful when loading it back up into the van. On Stage sells a carry bag (LSB6500, list $85.99/street $45.99) for this system and I will look into it. There are a lot of parts, and it would make load-in quicker if everything was kept together in a single bundle (the total weight is around 40 pounds).

By the way, this would also be a great stand for hanging a projection screen, if you are into that sort of thing.

The On Stage LS7730 lighting stand with truss has a list price of $367.99, but of course you will not have to pay that much. The MAP on these is $199.99, but they sell all day long for $179.99. If you can handle that this product is just good enough for the job, it really is a pretty good value.


Monday, February 24, 2014

QSC K10 Powered PA Speakers Review


My favorite sports bar just re-did their sound system, and I notice that they went with QSC K series loudspeakers. I am a fan of these self-powered units, and currently am using two KSubs, two K10s and two K12s. We are going to look at my K10 speakers today, and they are the best-performing speakers in their price range.

QSC K10 speakers a miracle of modern engineering and technology, combining the speaker and amplifier into a tidy and lightweight package. The come in at an amazing 32 pounds each, including an integrated 1000-watt (2000 watt peak) power amp and an on-board variable-speed cooling fan that keeps the temperatures under control.

The amplifier is a class D (efficient, cheap and small) assembly, with 500 watts going to the 10-inch driver, and 500 watts to the 1 ¾-inch high frequency driver. It has a variable power supply from 100 to 240 volts, and both US and Euro spec connectors are included (there is an IEC spec socket on the back).

Though this is the middle-size speaker of the K-series, the enclosure is small: 21-inches tall by 13-inches wide by 12-inches deep. It is made of ABS plastic, and there is a heavy-duty steel speaker grill. Recessed aluminum handles are built into the top and the side, and the cabinet is shaped so it can be put on its side to be used as a stage monitor, like the K12 (the K8 is not shaped like this). QSC also provide threaded sockets all over these speakers so they can be used in permanent installations with truss clamps or cables. Or, for portable use there is a standard-size speaker stand socket in the bottom that tilts up to 7.5-degrees so you can adjust the speaker angle

There are plenty of input options, including combination XLR / 1/4” sockets, as well as RCA jack in case you would like to hook up an iPod or CD player without using a mixing board. There are also line and mix level XLR outputs if you wish to hook up more speakers or a subwoofer. There is a great subwoofer option, the Ksub, which I have written about before.

There are also quite a few controls on the back of these speakers. You get two gain controls, as well as two digital signal processing options for low frequency (Ext Sub/Norm/DEEP) and high frequency (Flat and Vocal Boost).

The specifications are impressive with a frequency range of 56 Hz to 20 kHz, and a deafening peak output of 129 dB. This all comes together in the real world as a package that really works. The bigger drivers fill in gaps that my old K8s could not, and they are still clear and punchy, and can be louder than any guitarist I have found. They are very even across the frequency range, and I have not found any hot spots.

I mostly use my K10s as floor monitors in conjunction with my K12s as house speakers. They replaced my Mackie Thumps, both of which crapped out within a year of purchase. The QSCs are rock-solid, and I cannot imagine wanting anything more than what they can provide.

Unlike the Thumps, these are quality-made speakers, and QSC stand behind the K Series with a 6-year transferable warranty, which is the best I have seen on any power speakers. Just make sure that you register them with QSC, or you are S.O.L. I never register any products, but I make an exception with QSC because their warranty is that good.

The list price for the QSC K10 powered loudspeakers is $899 each, with a street price of $749. On occasion they go on sale, or B-stock units become available, which gets the price about 100 bucks cheaper, so that is the time to buy. But, even at their normal price, with their sound, size, weight, power capability and warranty, they are worth every penny. Mahalo!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Murali Coryell Live CD and DVD Review


This review was originally published in the April 4, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Murali Coryell – Live

Shake-It-Sugar Records

Disc 1 (CD): 11 tracks / 1:12:40

Disc 2 (DVD): 10 tracks / 51:28

When I opened up Murali Coryells’ Live CD set last week, I did not know that I was in for a few surprises. For starters, I have not heard of anybody else with the Coryell surname, with the exception of the astounding fusion guitarist, Larry Coryell. Well, it turns out that Murali is his son. The second surprise was what that this two disc set includes both a CD with 72 minutes of music AND a live performance DVD from another show – what a bonus!

As I said, Murali Coryell was born into a musical family, and he grew up in the Northeast surrounded by great musicians such as Carlos Santana and Miles Davis. He started on the drums, but switched to blues guitar after being exposed to B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, which should be in any blues fan’s collection. Mostly self-taught, he has played both as a sideman and with his own bands since the late 1980s. Over the years he has released at least seven of his own albums (by my count), as well as a neat collaboration with his father and his brother, Julian.

The first disc in his Live collection is the CD, Live at Club Helsinki, which was recorded on July 30, 2012 at the fabulous club in Hudson, New York. Murali takes care of the guitars and vocals, with Dorian Randolph on drums, Vince Leggiere on bass, Bill Foster on guitar, and Stacey Waterous on the sax. Cameron Melville (the owner of Club Helsinki) sits in on a few tracks on the B-3 organ, too. This disc is mostly original songs, with a couple neat covers, including Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

After a quick intro, the set kicks off with “In the Room with Jimi,” which is a neat way to find out what Murali is all about. He has a smoky voice that doesn’t sound the least bit like Connecticut, and his guitar skills are formidable. As he cut loose with powerful riffs over Randolph’s machine gun drums, it is apparent that he is not a carbon copy of his dad, but rather has become his own man.

Despite the Hendrix-inspired first track, Coryell is not a flashy player and there is a nice mixture of genres on this disc. The solidly-written original songs are firmly rooted in the traditions of the blues. For example, “I Can’t Give You Up” is an upbeat tune in the 70’s R&B tradition that borrows a refrain from Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” that turns into a sing-along with the audience. From there they segue into “I Could’ve Had You,” and this Smokey Robinson-style ballad manages to put into words the feelings that any man with a lost love has felt.

The sleeping giant of Live at Club Helsinki is Freddie King’s “Love Her with a Feeling” a 10-minute slow-grinding blues jam. The band is totally in the pocket on this one with Randolph and Leggiere holding down the bottom line under an onslaught of guitars, horns, distortion and 60-cycle hum. Listening to Waterous soar on the sax and Coryell howl on the guitar, I am reminded of why I got into music in the first place.

The music is great throughout, and I like the banter that Murali throws out to introduce songs, but find the way the CD was edited to be a bit off. The fade-ins and cutoffs of some of the tracks are very abrupt, and this is quite a distraction when trying to get into the live performance vibe. Despite this small criticism, it is a very good disc, and it is certainly worth making the time to listen to it.

The second disc is the DVD, Live at Roots & Blues, which was taped on August 14, 2010 at the festival in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. This one features a more bare bones set-up, with Coryell on vocals and guitar, Randolph on drums, Henry Oden on the bass and Dave Fleschner sitting in on the keys. All of the songs in this set are originals with the exception of his finale of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to me.”

This late afternoon / early evening set is captured by at least five cameras, and everybody gets some screen time. This performance has plenty of guitar and popping bass and maybe not quite enough drums for me, but overall it is still super listenable, and it is certainly enjoyable to watch. The band is tight, and it was a good move getting Fleishner to join in as he adds a whole new element to their sound.

The set list is a bit different than the Club Helsinki show, but the level of professionalism is the same. Their festival show starts out with “Sugar Lips,” which was a good choice as it is a really strong song and provides the viewer with the opportunity to compare it to the version on the other disc, and find out that Murali Coryell’s live show is consistently good. As I have already gassed on too long here I will not give a track-by-track account, but will simply say that this was a fun show and I would love to get the chance to see Murali perform in person some day.

After playing both discs I was struck with how unique Murali Coryell’s guitar tone and voice are. I can play any track and know just by the sound that it is him, which is a great compliment. Live is over two hours of great music for the money, and both the CD and DVD are worth the money. By becoming familiar with these discs, you will gain an appreciation of his formidable live performance skills, so you should give them a try!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

1960s Teisco Del Rey ET-220 Electric Guitar Review


I love funky old Japanese guitars, and when I had the opportunity to buy a new old stock Teisco Del Rey ET-220 electric I jumped at the chance. It was my first chance to play one that had not been beaten to death or modified beyond recognition.

Teisco is an acronym for “Tokyo Elecrric Instrument and Sound Company.” The company was started in 1946 and started to sell instruments under this brand name in 1964. In 1967 Kawai bought the company and discontinued the Teisco name overseas in 1969, and in 1977 for the Japan market. Teisco keyboards were sold until the 1980s. Since then they have attained a cult-like following, particularly with their Spectrum series instruments.

The guitar we are looking at here today is a ET-220 that was built in the late 1960s. It was sold to Faust Music in Wisconsin, and it was put away in the basement until the store went out of business last year. It is unmolested and unmodified with the exception of new strings and a fresh set-up.

This is a small guitar with a short-horned body that is closer to that of a Fender Musicmaster or Mustang than a Stratocaster. The body appears to be made of mahogany, and it is shot with a subdued tobacco burst finish. The silver aluminum pickguard does not go with this color combination very well, but it is original to the guitar. The neck pocket is huge, so much that there is only clear access to the first 14 frets.

The 24 ¾-inch scale neck also appears to be made of mahogany (three pieces) and it is capped with a rosewood fretboard. There are cool-looking fret markets on the edges of the fretboard, which are unlike any other guitar I have seen. There are 20 frets and the fret wire is pretty small. The headstock still has the often missing Teisco Del Rey badge, and it is equipped with cheap open-gear tuners. The nut and fretwork are still in good shape, and it appears that the craftsmen did a nice job 40+ years ago when they put it together.

The rest of the hardware consists of a crude top mount three-spring tremelo with a nifty folding cover and the longest arm I have ever seen. The adjustable bridge is separate from the tremolo, and is not exactly the beefiest thing I have ever seen. The chrome on these parts is pitted, so it must have been a bit damp in that basement.

One of the best parts of this guitar is the electronics package. There are two smallish humbuckers that have their own tone and volume knobs as well as ON/OFF toggle switches. This nice combination, and it is handy to be able to shutoff both of the pickups when putting it on a stand.

Set-up was a breeze. The strings install easily through the tremolo, and the bridge has only one saddle, and there is no provision for adjusting intonation. Also, the factory tuners are kind of crummy to use, though they seem to hold well enough. No wonder so many of these guitars have been modified! The truss rob is adjustable at the heel with a truss rod wheel – the earliest instance of this I have seen. Maybe Musicman was not the first to come up with this innovation…

This ET-220 is fun to play. It is compact and very light, and I have always enjoyed hacking around with shorter scales. The neck has a beefy V-profile and although the factory frets are not very tall I do not have any problems playing it in rhythm or lead roles. I do not generally use a whammy bar very much when I play, but when I do on this guitar it does not break strings, though it does drag it a bit out of tune.

Its tone is naturally warm and can get quite gritty if it is pushed hard. As expected, the neck pickup is warm sounding, and the bridge pickup is bright quite bright and aggressive. The tone knobs make all the difference in the world on this instrument, and it seems at its best when the treble is backed off. Output is not super-hot, but it would still be a good axe for blues, rock or punk. It is certainly not the best guitar I have ever played, overall it gets the job done and is fun to mess around with. Of course if I could only have one guitar this one would not make the list.

I think my friend Morrow put it best when he said Teisco guitars “…can be truly gawdawful or at best not bad.” This ET-220 is not bad, and I am happy that I got my hands on it. This being said, if you are thinking of getting one you had better play it first to make sure you are not getting a dud.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Genz Benz Contour CTR500-210T Bass Combo Amplifier Review


Over the past few months I reviewed two entry level bass combo amplifiers and found both of them lacking in a number of areas. You would think that with all of the new technology and research into sound equipment that this would be the heyday of amps and we would have a herd of fine products to choose from, but this does not seem to be the case. Fortunately, there is the Genz Benz Contour CTR500-210T, which is a pretty good package for not a lot of cash.

The Contour 500 combo not terribly huge, measuring 28” tall by 19” wide by 17” deep. It is covered in nubbly black vinyl with a metal grille, and it weighs in at around 52 pounds – which is pretty lightweight for a plywood combo amp. There is a single rubber carry handle on top and there are no casters, so it might be a struggle for smaller players to lug it around.

As you probably guessed from the name, this is a 500-watt amp at 4 Ohms (300-watts at 8 Ohms). This is a solid-state unit, with a FET preamp and a class D power amp (the usual B&O ICE module that everybody seems to use) with a fan to keep everything cooler. The power is output through two 10-inch speakers and a 3-level adjustable tweeter.

The front control panel is where all of the magic happens, and I will list go through the features from left to right. First up is an XLR direct out with a ground lift switch, and then comes the pre-amplifier section with a tuner out, a single instrument input with a mute switch, gain and volume. Right in the center is the contour control (to be explained later). To the right of this is the3-band EQ with sweepable parametric mids. And finally on the far end is the master volume, a ¼-inch headphone out, a ¼-inch input and the power switch. Thank god somebody still puts the power switch on the front of an amplifier.

There is not much going on with the back of the unit, just an IEC power cable socket and two parallel Neutrik Speak-On outputs for the speakers. One of these goes to the internal speakers, and the other is suitable for an extension cabinet.

That’s it, making this a very simple amplifier to use so it would certainly be good for players just getting into the instrument. Don’t take that the wrong way, this is a gig-able amp that a pro would probably not mind using.

I put the Contour 500 through its paces with a few different basses to see how it worked, including a passive Precision Bass, a Sadowsky vintage P, and a Musicman Bongo 4H. At normal levels the amp did not color the tone of the instruments, so I have no complaints. Cranking the gain and volume resulted in a nice furry tone, and it did not fart out even with the higher output instruments. Its overall sound is similar to my Genz Shuttle 9.0 thanks to its tube emulation circuit, even if it does lose some of the character since it does not have a real tube pre-amplifier. Also, you will find the same type of ICE modules in the Shuttle amps so you are not giving up anything in that department. Anyway, this would be an appropriate bass amp for most any genre of modern music.

This combo will not short change you in volume department either. When using just the internal speakers it is loud enough for practices and small gigs, and when adding an extension cabinet it would still work for bars and clubs. Anything bigger than this would probably be a situation where you would want to use the direct out and run the bass through the PA anyway.

The extras that Genz Benz threw in are pretty handy, though over the years these items have become standard features on most amps. I love having a mute switch and tuner out, and having the ability to plug an MP3 player into the auxiliary input and listen to the output through headphones is a boon for practice time.

I do miss the signal shaping switches of the Shuttle series, but the Contour knob makes up for most of this. This control changes the pre-amplifier’s inherent sound by decreasing the mids and boosting bass and treble as the knob is turned clockwise. The control is turned OFF (or is flat) when the knob is all turned all the way counter-clockwise. I like this feature and when combining this with the EQ I can dial in most any tone that I need.

By the way, if this is not quite your cup of tea there is also a Contour 500 in the CTR500-115T configuration, and with this you get a 15-inch speaker instead of the two 10-inch speakers. Also, there are matching 1x15 and 2x10 extension cabinets in case you want to get the full volume out of this unit. I highly recommend them.

To sum all of this up, the Genz Benz Contour CTR500-210T combo is plenty loud for small to medium gigs, especially if you pony up for one of their extension cabinets. Its tone is good and it will certainly get the job done for most musicians. These amps are a pretty good deal with a list price of $1129 and a street price of around $700 (plus if you check around there are some great clearance prices on these). Check one out if you get the chance!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

History of the Eagles Concert Review


I know that some of my friends sniff at The Eagles, but I have always enjoyed their California country sound, and it is astounding that I have never seen them perform live until now. Fortunately, last month I was able to catch their History of the Eagles tour at the grand re-opening of the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California.

The Eagles have been around since 1971 when the four original members met as members of Linda Ronstadt’s band, and over the years some of the most amazing performers around have been in their line-up. They have released seven studio albums that are chock full of slickly-crafted hits, all of which got major radio play when they came out, and still are well-represented on classic rock stations.

The History of the Eagles Tour is exactly that, a journey through their music from their first album up through today.

I am not sure what happened to the opening act. The show was supposed to start at 8:00 PM, and by the time I got into the arena at 8:15 they were already gone, and the stage was already set for the Eagles. At 8:30 they kicked off the show with “Saturday Night” from Desperado with only Glenn Frey and Don Henley on the stage, playing their acoustic guitars. Then they brought out founding member and original guitar player Bernie Leadon (who left the band in 1975) for the second song “Train Leaves Here This Morning” from their eponymous first album.

From there things built until Henley ended up behind the drum kit and there were 6 guys on guitar and bass out on the stage apron. Joe Walsh was the star of the show, taking the lead on a number of songs and tearing off a few other hits from his catalog including “Life’s Been Good,” “Funk #49” and “Rocky Mountain Way.”

Though it was certainly not the most energetic show I have ever seen, these guys delivered the goods and gave the audience a three hour show with an intermission and three encores, including “Hotel California.” Seeing Henley, Frey, Walsh, Schmidt and added bonus Leadon in a live setting is a definite bucket list item, and I am glad I finally got to cross it off the list. By the way, Randy Meisner was invited to participate in the tour but could not due to health issues, and Don Felder was not invited as he has been suing the band for various things since he quit.

I have to give major props to the Forum for the job they did on their remodel. The facility looks better that I have ever seen it in the last 30+ years, and the sound was incredible! As an added bonus the volume was not so loud that my ears were ringing for days after the show. This is once again truly a great place to see your favorite acts!

If you are a fan of The Eagles, or even if you just like some of their music, you should really make it a point to see their show. You will be hard-pressed to find a better bunch of musicians of a more solid catalog to choose from. Take my word for it…


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dirty Red and the SoulShakers – SoulShakin Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the March 28, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Dirty Red & The SoulShakers – SoulShakin

Self Release

9 tracks / 36:32

Recently I have been hearing a lot more blues music coming out of the lower midwest, and I finally got a CD from a band out of Oklahoma City, Dirty Red & the SoulShakers. They have recently self-released their first album, SoulShakin, and it is a real peach!

This group includes most of the band that blues legend Miss Blues has been using since 2007. Last year these guys decided to give the IBC Blues Challenge a go, so they started doing their own thing too. Their leader is Eric “Dirty Red” McDaniel on vocals and harmonica, with Michael Bell on drums, Reece Floyd on bass, Robb Hibbard on guitar, and Joe Intrieri on keys. The SoulShakers have played countless gigs, both with each other and for other projects, so they are super-tight and have no problem finding a groove and sticking with it.

SoulShakin includes nine tracks, all of them originals written by McDaniel, with Mr. Hibbard having co-writing credit on two of them. This album brings on the blues, both lyrically and musically, and is colored with influences of soul, R&B, funk and honky-tonk. It is a clean sounding project that is well-mixed, so credit should go to producers McDaniel and Hibbard as they picked a good team to record, mix and master this work. This is apparent from the very first track, “Cornbread,” which is a funky blues rock song with a neat organ part that provides a cool background. By the way, with the amount of sexual innuendo worked into the lyrics, it is apparent why they call him “Dirty Red” Mc Daniel.

Besides his pen, McDaniel also knows how to use the harp and I find his voice to be pleasantly worn and raspy – broken in, I guess you could say. He puts all of his skills to use on the hard-driving “Shotgun,” which could be yet another euphemism (“My shotgun makes me a man…”). Besides his harmonica solo, Hibbard and Intrieri are also worked into the spotlight; I came away impressed because these guys certainly have some chops. After the frenzied pace of this tune, the slow-boiling “Queen of New Orleans” comes as a welcome break. Bell breaks out the brushes, and his drums and Floyd’s smooth bass sync to create a cool Crescent City vibe as Dirty Red sings the lowdown blues.

The highlight of the SoulShakin for me was the guest appearance by Miss Blues on “Goin Back to Texas.” This walking tempo song is classic guitar-driven blues with heavy doses of organ and harmonica. Hibbard uses an electric guitar tone that is to die for and when Intrieri starts into the organ and McDaniel hits his harp this trio has great interplay. Miss Blues nails her part and her voice certainly nominates her for the queen of the Oklahoma blues; as a former Okie she gets my vote, although it is a shame she is singing about the Lone Star State.

“Hammer” breaks away from the more classical blues sounds and ventures out into the realm of Southern rock. This feeling is helped along by the heavy drums and harder-edged guitar. This is a smooth ride and there is quite a contrast as it segues into “Demons Swallowed Her Soul,” which is all about the voice and the harmonica. With the rest of the instrumentation kept to a minimum, Mc Daniel is able to show off a little, and his voice and harmonica skills are certainly up to the task. At barely two minutes, this is the shortest track on the album.

The SoulShakers put together another ballad for this album, and “Hard Liquor” is a winner. The lyrics are not the expected George Thorogood glorification of alcohol abuse, but are rather clever and touch on the root cause of the drinking. The background music, in particular the organ tone, is just lovely and when combined with the words this becomes a standout track. After this the mood quickly changes for the finale, “Sweet Potato Pie,” which is as hard as it gets. This is the bare bones with no drums as Mc Daniel howls the lyrics and blows a terrific harmonica while Hibbard tears loose on his guitar. What a sweet way to finish up.

Dirty Red & the SoulShakers have done the Lord’s work in putting together their debut album. SoulShakin captures the spirit of the Oklahoma blues scene, and not surprisingly the band is already working on a sophomore effort that should be released later this year. They are out gigging around the state and are still playing with Miss Blue, so be sure to check them out if you are in the neighborhood!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Fabulous Forum of Inglewood, California


The Forum is the venue that I have seen the most concerts in over the years, starting back in 1984 when I caught Yes there for the 90125 tour. Since then I have seen bands from all genres including Rush, Tool, and Muse, and many others that have faded away in my mushy brain. Plus, I was a King Hockey season ticket holder back in the early 1990s, so I am pretty familiar with this arena. And I have to say, last month I saw the Eagles at the newly renovated Forum Presented by Chase, and I was blown away.

The Forum is located just east of Los Angeles International Airport in Inglewood, California. It was built in 1967 by Jack Cooke, the owner of the Lakers at the time, to house his new NHL team -- the Kings. It cost $16 million to build and was styled after the Roman Coliseum. Sort of.

Every type of event that you can imagine took place at the forum over the next 40 years. The Lakers won multiple championships, the Kings almost won a championship, and boxing and wrestling matches were common. But there were also concerts galore, and every big name band played on its stage, from Elvis to Led Zeppelin to Michael Jackson. There were also a lot of live albums recorded there, including the Eagles Live and Kiss Alive.

As times and demand changed, it turned out that the design of the arena did not allow for extensive concessions or revenue-generating skyboxes, and eventually the Kings and Lakers departed for Staples Center in the late 1990s. A church purchased the Forum in 2000, and would hold services for its 12,000 members there and continued to rent the facility out for concerts, and its condition deteriorated as maintenance was deferred. By the time I saw Muse there a few years ago, the Forum was a dump and pretty gross.

After a dozen years of benign neglect, Madison Square Garden purchased The Forum for $23.5 in June of 2012, renamed it The Forum Presented by Chase (title sponsor, you know),and promised to dump $50 back into the facility. It was money well spent! They painted it red again, like it should be, and spent the cash in the right places.

For starters, they have turned the building into a dedicated concert arena, and there is no pressure to turn it into a basketball arena or hockey rink multiple times per month. This allowed them to fix the acoustics and install permanent PA features to provide the best sound possible. The scoreboard has been gone for years, which is was a huge improvement all by itself.

The lobbies, Forum club and concession areas are all completely re-vamped, and it has a lot classier feel. All of the seats have been replaced, the old ceramic floor tiles have been swapped out with carpet, and the signage no longer has the 1970s vibe. Most impressively, they re-did the restrooms and the “trough of glory” has been removed from the men’s rooms and been replaced by urinals! Very exciting! Also, they have installed modern food choices beyond the former hot dogs, nachos and beer. Of course the food and drinks are not exactly cheap, but are they ever when you go out to see a show?

Keep in mind that this is a 46-year old facility design and there was only so much they could do. There are still no skyboxes, you still have to go down a million stairs to the basement to find a restroom, and there is not really any good placed to sit around and enjoy a drink or two, except for your seat. By the way, the capacity of the building is now 17,500.

This all came together for me last month when I attended the History of the Eagles concert on the grand opening night for the new facility. I have never heard an indoor concert that sounded as good and they were able to accomplish this at a reasonable volume level that did not make my ears ring afterwards. The staff was fantastic and most everything went very smoothly

My only criticism for the evening was the way that the City of Inglewood handled traffic, and the terrible parking situation at the Forum. Back when I had Kings season seats they had all of that figured out and getting in and out of the parking lot was not too bad. Apparently the powers that be have forgotten everything they learned years ago, and it was a fight through nasty gridlock to get into a parking spot located half a mile away in a dimly lit park of the Hollywood Park lot. I barely made it to my seat in time for the start of the show. I’m sure they will figured that out pretty quickly. At least the parking lot staff was as nice as everybody else that worked there!

So, if you are interested in any of the shows coming up at the Fabulous Forum, it is a real player again and you really ought to consider checking it out for yourself. I would not hesitate to go back again!


Monday, February 3, 2014

D’Addario Pro Arte EJ45 Classical Guitar String Review

Hi there!

I do not play my classical guitar very much, and over the years I have tried a few different brands of strings, but so far I have always gone back to my favorites, the D’Addario Pro Arte EJ45 normal tension classical set that can be found on the old Japanese Ariana that my dad bought back on the 1960s.

The normal tension set includes the following gauges: 0.0280, 0.0322, 0.0403, 0.029, 0.035 and 0.043. The wound strings are silver-plated copper over a multi-filament nylon core, and the treble strings are clear nylon. I have never broken one of the wound strings in any of these sets, but of course a few of the nylons ones have popped over the years. It must be all of the chemicals in the Los Angeles air…

By the way, the EJ45 normal tension set is the lightest set of strings in this series. The EJ46 are a bit beefier, and the EJ47 are the heaviest. If you want more volume, you will have to step up to one of these sets, but it seems that they have all of the bases covered.

D’Addario is probably the biggest guitar string manufacturer in the world, and if you look through their literature you will see that they make a big deal about how the Pro Arte strings have “Laser-selected treble strings and computer wound bass strings for perfect consistency and quality.” Well, I do not know how to prove that claim, but these strings are consistent and they are comfortable and hold up well.

After installing a set of Pro Arte strings it takes a while for them to settle in, but they do not seems to stretch any more or less than other classical strings I have tried. They first few hours they have an amazingly bright tone, but calm down to a normal level pretty quickly. Their normal level ends up being a predictably even and sweet tone across all of the strings that works well for both recording and live performances. As a bonus they also have good intonation and project very nicely…

As I said, my classical guitar does not get as much play time as its steel stringed cousins, so I usually only change strings a few times a year, and even then the strings are still in pretty good shape when I swap them out. It probably helps that they use corrosion-resistant packaging, as these things can sit on the shelf for a while in my studio before I install them. Oh yes. And these strings are made in the United States, in case that affects your purchase decision.

Though the D’Addario Pro Arte EJ45 classical guitar string set has a list price of $15.70, you will find that the street price is about $6 or $7 per pack, which is quite a bargain when compared to a lot of the other strings out there. They sound great and hold up well, so if you do not currently use them you should give them a try.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Memory Lane: 1950s Silvertone N2 Acoustic Guitar Review


From 1915 to 1972, Sears Roebuck & Company sold a line of musical equipment under its own Silvertone brand, making the musical arts accessible and affordable for the unwashed masses. Some of their guitars were surprisingly good, and they were made by many different manufacturers, including Danelectro, National, Harmony, Kay and Teisco. Many great musicians got their start on these instruments, and some kept using them even after they became famous. These days they have developed a cult following, with musicians such as Beck and Jack White still carrying the flag for them.

I recently had the chance to try out a 1950’s Silvertone N2 archtop acoustic guitar, and did not come away terribly impressed. I believe this guitar was made by Kay in Chicago, and there is no headstock logo remaining, and the only markings are “N2” and the serial number (L4XXX) which are both stamped inside.

The N2 is an archtop with F-holes and no pickup, so you cannot expect to get much volume out of it. It has birch plywood back, sides and top, and it has white binding and a tasteful tobacco burst finish. This is not a huge guitar, measuring about 16 inches across the lower bout.

The 26-inch scale neck is an imposing chunk of wood (maple, maybe?) with a rosewood fretboard and 19 frets that look like they are made of brass or bronze. There is no truss rod adjustment, though I am told that these are steel-reinforced. Either way, the neck is still straight, probably because it is so darned thick.

All of the original hardware is present and accounted for, and this includes a hinged trapeze tailpiece and adjustable floating rosewood bridge, and the cheapest tuners known to man. The white pickguard matches the binding, and also appears to be original.

Despite a reasonably low action and little wear to the original frets, this Silvertone N2 is pure misery to play. The neck is comically huge and it is very hard to navigate. It has a tinny sound, with little volume and no presence. There is nothing this guitar does well besides looking good, and that is probably why there is so little wear to the frets.

So, no matter how cool these guitars are, if you are looking for a serious instrument for not a lot of money, there are plenty of better guitars to choose from. If you do insist on buying a Silvertone, I suggest that you try it out before you buy it, and avoid online sales unless there is a great return policy.