Monday, March 31, 2014

The Five Most Overrated Classic Rock Artists

At the risk of offense, the truth must finally be told: Some of the "classic" rock artists really aren't that great. In fact, these five are pretty lame.

Forgive me for my heresy, but it's about time the truth was finally told about some of Classic Rock's biggest icons. For decades we've all had to endure music from these artists and, to be truthful, their material is not all bad. But we must all come to terms with the fact that a lot of it just isn't that good; surely not good enough to receive the blind devotion paid by classic rockdom (if I can use such a term). Some of these artists have been master self-promoters; others have "benefited" from having passed away and therefore achieving classic rock immortality; some have done both. Some of these artists have benefited from fawning critics who wouldn't know good music from a hole in their notepad. Whatever the case, at the risk of being struck by lightning, here are the five most overrated classic rock artists of all time:

Neil Young

Hmmm. Take a guy who can't sing, can't really play guitar (though you have to admire his one-note guitar solo in "Cinnamon Girl" for its pure audacity) and add the stage presence/appearance of your redneck cousin Earl and you've got Neil Young. He was really the first grunge rocker - just 25 years ahead of his time. Neil isn't BAD - he's just not that good. And what does it say about our society when we refuse to do anything about those sideburns?

Bruce Springsteen

Okay, so I know I will never be able to visit New Jersey or my brother-in-law's home for saying this, but, Bruce Springsteen is really overrated. Somehow he was able to get some hipster music critics on his side when he broke onto the scene and has milked that ever since. He's one of these guys that's considered deep, a "man of the people", yada yada yada. But really, once you peel away the populist political musings, musically speaking, he's very bland, even schmaltzy. This guy is known for putting on three and four hour concerts! Is that a good thing? Seriously, my favorite Springsteen song is his version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" that I hear on the radio station in town that plays nothing but Christmas music from October through January.


Growing up in the 70s it was as if you were part of the Kiss Army by birthright. Kiss was everywhere! And even to this day the Kiss marketing machine has made the band one of the biggest music franchises in history. Gene Simmons is an excellent business/marketing man, how else can you explain their iconic status with such crappy music. Weak vocals, lame guitar playing, cheesy lyrics - but cool make-up and lots of explosions. Oh, and don't forget the fake blood, spiky boots and Simmon's long tongue. To be honest it must be said that a Kiss concert is a lot of fun - but not because they're first class musicians. Try this little experiment: Listen to a Kiss CD, then listen to a CD from one of their contemporaries like Cheap Trick, Boston, Montrose, ZZ Top - pretty much anybody else. You'll find that, musically, Kiss can't even come close to most of the other rock bands of their day.

John Lennon

Yes, I said it. And Yes, I know I'm treading on hallowed ground. The Beatles were probably the greatest musical act of all time. Their contribution and influence can really not be overstated. However, John Lennon, as a solo artist, was only mediocre. He was considered the "deep" one in the Lennon/McCartney partnership. However, Macca's solo material is infinitely more listenable than Lennon's. Apparently John was the "deep" one and Paul was the talented one. And don't tell me about "Imagine". As far as creepy odes to collectivism/communism go it's not a bad song - but one song does not a classic rock icon make. John Lennon is proof that The Beatles were truly greater than the sum of their parts.

The Doors

Where do you begin with the doors? Not sure what is more irritating, Jim Morrison's bad lounge singer delivery or Ray Manzarak's hyperactive, "ice pick in my ear" organ playing. In actuality it's probably a combination of the two. It's for this reason that I maintain a strict "No Doors" policy in my home, car, workplace, etc. If a Doors song comes on, the radio goes off - it's as simple as that. Not sure who decided Morrison and the Doors were cool but surely 10 million angst ridden, college radio dufus hipsters can't be wrong, right? Actually, they are wrong. The Doors really aren't cool and they really are pretty lame. My apologies to any college professors or pony tail guys out there.

Closing Argument

As previously mentioned, these classic rock artists are not all bad. Some have produced some good work. However, in the four-plus decade sweep of classic rock music history, these artists have not deserved much of the praise and reverence accorded them. It is okay and, I must admit, very liberating to cast away the facade and speak the truth: these particular artists may be viewed as icons but they're really just overrated.

Rock Guitar Basics - Major Scale Modes Part 6 - The Mixolydian Mode

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Power Trio: Tips for Playing in a Three Piece Rock Band

It may seem quite daunting, but there are benefits to playing in a three piece band. Here are a few tips and tricks for musicians up for the challenge.

The joy of overplaying

All that space means I get to overplay all night, right? Well, yes and no. True there is more space to be filled and that might mean each member of the band may need to fill in some empty spots. But one of the great things about many three pieces is their use of that space. Check out a group like the Black Keys(who will often play as a three-piece live). They are able to use a minimalist approach to their advantage. The key is knowing when less is more. You don't ALWAYS have to fill up the empty spaces.

Power trio math: A third is better than a fourth or fifth

If you're like most amateur/semi-professional musicians you're not really playing to get rich. However, nobody is going to complain if they were to make a little more money at each gig. The economic benefit of playing in a three-piece is pretty obvious: splitting the proceeds three ways is going to put more money in each musician's pocket than having to pay out to four or five people.

Song selection is the key to making a trio work

If you have the luxury of playing original music, you might not need to worry too much about making a three-piece work; you're likely writing your songs with the trio-format in mind. However, if like most working musicians or weekend warriors, you're playing primarily cover tunes, then song selection is perhaps the single biggest factor in making your trio work. A common question might go something like this: "How do we play this great (insert band name here) song as a three-piece?" Well the right answer is probably, "You Don't!" If the prospects of successfully pulling off a song are in doubt - don't play it! The audience will never know the songs you didn't play - only the songs you did play. This is such a simple concept yet I will regularly hear three-piece bands playing songs that sound pretty empty and would have best been left off the set list. The bottom line is, pick the right songs to begin with. You'll know them when you hear them. And don't worry, there are tons of great songs that a three-piece can pull off.

Focus on vocals

There's a condition that afflicts many musicians referred to as "musician-itus" - that is an uncontrollable obsession with playing to impress the musicians in the crowd (which is probably a fairly low percentage) instead of playing to impress the crowd. The reality is that to most casual listeners the single biggest thing they'll notice is the band's vocals. There's a local band that has mediocre musicians (at best) but a great vocal sound. The crowds typically rave about how great they are. Conversely, there are local bands with excellent musicians but only mediocre vocals. Which bands do you think book the most gigs? You guessed it - the bands with better vocals. If you're going to obsess about an element of your performance, obsess about vocals. And the optimal three piece scenario is one where all three members can sing well. Keep that in mind when you're auditioning that awesome drummer who can't sing a note. You might be better served with a good drummer with a great voice.

Three is company

Playing in a three-piece has it's own set of challenges, but it can also be very exciting and liberating. As mentioned the key is to pick the right set list to begin with and get your vocal sound as polished as possible. After that, get out there and play!

(originally posted at

Rock Guitar Basics - Major Scale Modes - The Secret Scales of Randy Rhoads, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai - Classic Guitar Rcok