Today is the birthday of Adrian Belew who, for years, has managed to make complex music (Zappa, King Crimson, his own) seem easy and fun. Here are some great sounding, relatively recent, beautifully shot videos of his latest band. The man keeps growing and evolving, while magically making digital guitar sounds that are warm and human.
If anyone were to be into pedals it would be the modern guitarist. Granted there are a few who play only acoustic, and even fewer who exclusively play plugged straight into the amplifier, but the majority of modern guitarists are to some extent looking to find new sounds in the electric realm and pedals help them go there. The firmament of modern guitar heaven is filled with gods who use a plethora of stompboxes in their quest for sonic freshness. Adrian Belew, Nels Cline, Eivind Aarset, Stian Westerhus, David Torn, Nick Reinhardt, and others employ effect pedals as an essential part of their artistry.
For them, and guitarists of all stripes, this year has seen the release of, not one, but two books (actually three) devoted to these playable, collectable, fetish-encouraging devices.
In my video intro I say I first saw Gerry Leonard with Jonatha Brooke in in San Francisco. I might be wrong about that, but once I moved back to New York I saw him often in his guise as Spooky Ghost, both solo and with an amazing band, performing feats of looping magic while singing haunting, Gaelic-tinged, original songs. One of those nights, in a tiny Tribeca club, I found myself sitting practically on top of David Bowie as he checked Leonard out for his band. The rest is history as Gerry went on to be musical director for David Bowie’s Reality Tour and have his guitar featured on Bowie records, “Heathen,” “Reality,” and “The Next Day.” We discuss that fateful night and much more.
Magnatone amps included vibrato in their amps as far back as 1957, but went out of business circa 1969. The effect was lost until Boss issued their VB-2 Vibrato pedal in 1982 to resounding crickets. But in the last couple of years the effect’s surge of popularity has caused Boss to reissued the VB-2 in Waza form, while Earthquaker Devices, T.C. Electronic, and others have also launched vibrato pedals. Even Magnatone is back in business. Nels Cline recently told me that he is afraid he uses his VB-2 too much. So, it is not surprising to see Electro-Harmonix enter the field. But first let’s clear up exactly what vibrato is, and is not.
I have often extolled Downtown Music Gallery in New York as a great place to order records by many of the artists I cover. I have also found it to be a terrific resource for discovering new modern guitarists.
Their periodic email blast often lists records featuring players that have escaped my attention and sends me scurrying to YouTube to check them out. Patrick Higgins is one such guitarist. He is also a composer of note on the modern classical scene. How he has remained unknown to me over a decade of touring and recording, I have no idea, but I hopefully have rectified that for you here.
Patrick was on his iPhone and on the move when we did the interview, so if you suffer from motion sickness, you might want to just listen. Either way, you will find our conversation rewarding.