Jerry Byrd

byrdByrd’s Expedition

Richard Weize Archives

At 30 tracks, “Byrd’s Expedition” is the second-longest (after a five-disc Bill Monroe box) of 20 or so releases to date from the boutique startup launched last year by Richard Weize, founder of Germany’s highly regarded country/rock ‘n’ roll reissue label Bear Family.

Spotlighting the early recordings of perhaps the greatest lap steel player, the compilation draws on Jerry Byrd’s instrumentals for Mercury from 1949 through 1954, focusing mostly on country songs but also including recordings in the Hawaiian genre, which the guitarist later almost exclusively worked in. Byrd’s ax of choice during this period was a Rickenbacker Electro seven-string lap steel (except for a six-string model used on the first few numbers), made of a plasticlike material called Bakelite.

“Expedition” is curated by award-winning music historian/collector Dave Samuelson of Battle Ground, Ind., who also provided (with some assistance from Swedish collector Lars Lundgren) original discs that were used when master tapes and/or copies of masters could not be located or were unsuitable.

Christian Zwarg of True Sound Transfers, a shellac expert, remastered the archive material provided by Universal as well the 78s, 45s and LPs provided by collectors, most of which he also transferred.

These are Byrd’s first recordings as a soloist and virtually all are credited to Jerry Byrd and the String Dusters, with about half recorded in Cincinnati (1949-51) and half in Nashville (1952-54, often featuring Chet Atkins on lead guitar).

Many originated as singles that became part of compilations such as 1952’s “Guitar Magic” and 1958’s “Steel Guitar Favorites”;  others were recorded expressly for 10-inch LPs such as 1950’s “Nani Hawaii” and 1953’s “Byrd’s Expedition” (whose title song was written for Byrd by Jethro Burns).

Good New Music caught up with Zwarg and asked him about the source material:

“The majority of the material was provided to me in digital format, some tracks from Universal archives, others from collectors,” he said by email.

“… Some of the earlier (master tapes), however, turned out to be analog dubs from disc masters, probably made in the 1960s when these tracks were first issued on LP. I did not use all of those, because modern digital dubs from these discs in a few cases gave better sonics — many of the old tape dubs had been “improved” with an extra layer of reverb, and we avoided these. Other, slightly later recordings were indeed master tapes in the usual sense of the word, and yet other titles were only available as vintage 78- and/or 33⅓-rpm discs.

“… I did not use any digital noise reduction, just declicking/decrackling for the disc sources and careful EQ adjustment, to faithfully preserve the original sonic ambience of the tracks. You invariably lose some detail with any kind of single-end denoising. To not denoise, unless absolutely inevitable to achieve listenable quality on very poor sources, is standard practice both at my studio and for the RWA label.”

Producer Dave Samuelson offered some insight into the genesis of the project:

“I’ve been part of Bear Family’s stable of writers for nearly 30 years,” he told GNM in an email. “I pestered Richard Weize about compiling a comprehensive Jerry Byrd box for years, especially while the steel guitarist was alive and could provide valuable insight into the sessions and musicians.”

Asked which songs had to be transferred from discs, Samuelson answered:

“… When this project began, Richard Weize sent me a list of what Byrd Mercurys he had. … (He) did not have a copy of ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ — my own copy of that (1952) 10-inch LP was in VG- shape, hardly a decent source for a digital restoration. Released not long before 10-inch LPs were phased out of the marketplace, it’s not an easy album to find. It took me five years to find one. Fortunately, Weize obtained a copy in better shape from a Swedish collector. Weize’s source copies of ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ were drenched in echo that Mercury later added; I supplied 78s and 45s for both titles. The LP reissue of ‘Twilight Blues’ had mistracking problems about a minute into the tune, either a flaw on the master tape or due to a faulty lacquer. I supplied a 45-rpm pressing that yielded a better transfer.”

Speaking of the old 10-inch LP format, other songs on this compilation made their way onto two other 10-inch records: “Nani Hawaii” (1950, Jerry Byrd with Danny Kuaana and His Islanders) and “Guitar Magic” (1952). But “Byrd’s Expedition” was the only one recorded specifically for that format.

“Only the three 10-inch LPs were issued while Byrd was contracted to Mercury,” Samuelson shared. “However, Byrd later implied that the sessions for ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ were conceived as an album, and they probably were. However, the finished release included at least one master from an earlier session and some tracks were set aside for singles. All four of Byrd’s 12-inch Mercury LPs were compilations; I highly doubt Byrd had any input on content.”

Samuelson also was able to tell GNM exactly what percentage of songs here have been previously issued on CD:

” ‘Steelin’ the Blues’ appeared on a CD anthology marking 50 years of country music on Mercury Records,” he said. “Two other tracks appeared on a Japanese CD reissue of ‘On the Shores of Waikiki,’ Mercury’s first 12-inch release of Byrd’s Hawaiian material. Twelve others appeared on a Cattle CD bootleg. If you discount the latter album, 90 percent of this material has not appeared on CD. If you include it, the answer is 50 percent.”

The collection eases into the country instrumentals, starting off first with the lone vocal number (“Steelin’ the Blues,” a rousing Byrd original featuring Rex Allen singing his own after-the-fact lyrics), then a sublime Hawaiian cut (“Maui Chimes”) before taking on a country-proper instrumental (the lively “Byrd’s Boogie”). Things really get underway with “Wabash Blues,” featuring call-and-response guitars between Byrd and an overdubbed Byrd, who answers himself with some amazing wah-wah pedal.

Moving on to 1950, “Steel Guitar Rag” is a fine update on Leon McAuliffe’s 1936 showcase with Bob Wills, itself based on a 1923 Sylvester Weaver guitar instrumental. Byrd likewise covered the 1920s jazz standard “South” by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, which had become a jukebox favorite in 1944, nine years after the pianist died. “South” benefited mightily from twin leads by Byrd and String Duster electric guitarist Zeke Turner, plus short-but-sweet solos by an unknown pianist and Turner.

From 1951, Byrd again dabbles in Les Paul-style overdubbing to great effect on “South Sea Moon,” a number he learned off a syndicated broadcast disc by one of his main influences, Hawaiian guitarist Dick McIntire. Also from the same session (Turner’s last with Byrd) come kicking-the-can Byrd original “Blues Boogie” and a smooth interpretation of Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians’ “Cocoanut Grove,” both featuring Owen Bradley on organ.

The balance of the collection, comprising the “uncredited Chet Atkins” era, includes songs where Byrd and/or Atkins employ overdubs, such as Byrd original “Gold Coast Blues” and ‘Fats’ Wallers’ “Jitterbug Waltz.” Byrd’s “This ‘n That” boasts Nashville fiddlers Tommy Jackson and Dale Potter. “Hula Blues” is a cover of a 1920 standard written by Johnny Noble (who took a Hawaiian-ragtime subgenre and developed it further into a Hawaiian-jazz sound). And the twangy “Georgia Steel Guitar” is a Georgia Peach Pickers cover.

Samuelson’s liner notes in the accompanying 52-page booklet contain a wealth of historical information. But GNM reached out to Joe Goldmark — a San Francisco-based pedal steel guitarist and principal in retailer Amoeba Records who’s an avid record collector (see vinylbeat.com) and author of the “International Steel Guitar Discography” — for an artist testimonial.

“Jerry was a musician’s musician,” Goldmark replied by email. “He was called the ‘master of touch and tone’ because he always played the right part, and played it beautifully.

“He didn’t feel the need to transition to pedals in the late ’50s like most steel players did, because he was a master at slanting the bar to create sliding double stops, much like a fiddler would do, and what the pedals do on modern steels.

‘It’s fun to listen to Hank Williams recordings and hear the difference between the gorgeous ‘Byrd’ recordings and the stark ‘Don Helms’ recordings. They’re both perfect in their own right, but you can really hear the imagination and beauty that Jerry Byrd brought to a recording.

‘A lot of his work dried up in the 1960s in Nashville, as producers wanted a more modern sound. He was still featured on albums when a country artist recorded a Hawaiian album (Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, etc.), but he wasn’t earning a good living. So in the early 1970s, he followed his dream and retired to Hawaii where he continued to play casuals and play in hotel bands until his death in 2005.

“I can tell you from personal experience that Jerry was also a wonderful and humble guy who always had a kind word for beginners and fellow musicians. I met him and also corresponded with him, and got some long letters with good musical advice in response to some of my albums that I sent him.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Steelin’ The Blues (Rex Allen, vocal)
2. Maui Chimes
3. Byrd’s Boogie
4. Wabash Blues
5. Steelin’ The Chimes
6. Steel Guitar Rag
7. Hilo March
8. Panhandle Rag
9. St Louis Blues
10. Three-String Swing
11. South
12. Twilight Blues
13. South Sea Moon
14. Blues Boogie
15. Cocoanut Grove
16. Kewalo Chimes
17. Limehouse Blues
18. Gold Coast Blues
19. This ‘n’ That
20. Kohalo March
21. Jitterbug Waltz
22. Byrd’s Expedition
23. Paradise Isle
24. Wang Wang Blues
25. Hula Blues
26. Georgia Steel Guitar
27. Honolulu March
28. Turner’s Turnpike
29. Hawaiian Sunset
30. Texas Playboy Rag

Total time: 1:16:48

External links
artist fan site
amazon.com
Bear Family

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Circles Around the Sun

Interludes for the Dead

Rhino

CirclesAroundTheSun_Cover.inddLooks like Jazz Is Dead finally has some competition in the subgenre of “instrumental interpretations of Grateful Dead songs” — sort of.

These interludes were created by Neal Casal and friends to accompany the visuals shown during intermission and sometimes pre-concert at the Dead’s five “Fare Thee Well” shows last summer. But unlike JID’s work, these are original compositions written on the fly by four like-minded musicians (guitarist Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy) during two days of jam sessions in Ventura. And Circles Around the Sun don’t sound like the Dead so much as embody the spirit of the band.

The music unofficially circulated online after tech-savvy fans extracted it from live webcasts. By popular demand, Rhino is giving it a proper vinyl/CD/digital release.

Some of the tunes sound vaguely like Jerry Garcia’s side projects with keyboardists Howard Wales and Merl Saunders. Others just sound like, as noted on one Internet forum, “elevator music” — to which someone unabashedly replied that he could use a little Grateful Dead elevator music in his life.

Song titles often indicate a song’s source of inspiration: “Space Wheel” is a spaced-out “The Wheel,” while “Scarlotta’s Magnolias” derives from “Scarlet Begonias” and “Sugar Magnolia.”

Other songs have to be heard before a catalyst can be divined: “Hat and Cane,” for instance, is clearly modeled after “China Cat Sunflower.” More tricky is “Ginger Says,” the title of which comes from a verse included in early performances of “West L.A. Fadeaway” that subsequently vanished.

For those wanting more, three discs of interludes are included in the 12-disc “Fare Thee Well” box set, which Rhino says comprises all the set-break music heard during the three nights in Chicago. Exclusive to the two-disc “Interludes,” however, is “Kasey’s Bones,” which a Rhino publicist says was played at one of the two Santa Clara shows.gnm_end_bug

Tracks

Disc One
1. Hallucinate A Solution
2. Gilbert’s Groove
3. Kasey’s Bones
4. Space Wheel

Disc Two
1. Ginger Says
2. Farewell Franklins
3. Saturday’s Children
4. Scarlotta’s Magnolias
5. Hat And Cane
6. Mountains Of The Moon

Total time: 2:25:07

External links
Neal Casal’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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The Aristocrats

Tres Caballeros

Boing

aristocratsInstrumental rock/fusion trio The Aristocrats take flight on their third studio album, eschewing their modus operandi of “live-in-the-studio with no overdubs” in favor of expansive sonics via texturing and layering, and recording at storied Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood after road-testing their new material.

Sidemen and solo artists all, guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann became a trio by chance in 2011. The latter two had a trio slot scheduled at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif., and their guitarist was a late dropout. Govan was a last-minute replacement whom they met for the first time in rehearsal the night before the show.

Far from a typical “all shred, all the time” outfit, the three like to blend genres — as in opening track “Stupid 7,” which mixes metal with a hint of twang. And the song titles aren’t their only outlet for humor, as every number has a certain degree of tongue in cheek, whether in the form of unexpected time changes or the way a player chooses to discreetly (or not so discreetly) accentuate a tune’s underlying vibe.

The second track, “Jack’s Back,” takes the concept of hodgepodge to the nth degree: At times atonal, dissonant or both, it structures sections boasting such characteristics in an orderly manner, with Govan interweaving staccato picking à la the “Twilight Zone Theme” with some mandolinlike tremolo. The whole thing is given a tremendous backbeat courtesy Beller’s fluid fretless playing and Minnemann’s impressive Bill Brufordisms.

And on and on it goes: the pastiche of SRV-style runs on “Texas Crazypants” that culminates in sound effects painting a visual of a dragster running afoul of the law — immediately preceded by a random reference to the percussion break from the James Gang’s “Funk #49”; the “Eric Johnson meets Allan Holdsworth” feel of “Pig’s Day Off”; the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Mexico” motif of “Smuggler’s Corridor.” In fact, the album title and cover art foreshadow a Southwestern thread throughout the album, albeit one that is sometimes subtle, other times not.

Speaking of subtle, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the song title “Kentucky Meat Shower” is just a random combination of words. But an Internet search for the phrase quickly proves otherwise!gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Stupid 7
2. Jack’s Back
3. Texas Crazypants
4. ZZ Top
5. Pig’s Day Off
6. Smuggler’s Corridor
7. Pressure Relief
8. The Kentucky Meat Shower
9. Through The Flower

Total time: 58:02

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Arlen Roth

Slide Guitar Summit

Aquinnah

arlenThroughout the past half-century of recorded music, the idea of “more is better” has been explored. A few examples:

• San Francisco’s Grateful Dead had two drummers.

• In the South, the Allman Brothers Band had two lead guitarists as well as dual drummers; Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws both began with twin lead guitars and later expanded to three.

• In 1970, a country album with the self-explanatory title of “Twin Steel Guitars of Kayton Roberts & Little Roy Wiggins” was released.

• 2002 saw the self-titled debut by blues-rockers Delta Moon, whose lineup features two slide guitars.

• And now, “guitarist’s guitarist” Arlen Roth proves you can’t have too much of a good thing with “Slide Guitar Summit.” Aided by drummer/producer extraordinaire Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, George Thorogood), Roth and nine guest sliders duet on 14 tracks,  six of them instrumental. Twelve songs are covers.

The fan-funded project began in 2013, when the late Johnny Winter lent his talents to a cover of 1951’s “Rocket 88” (one of two songs sung by Roth; the other is “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” featuring Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters).

There’s no Ry Cooder, Derek Trucks or Luther Dickinson, but David Lindley obliges with “Her Mind Is Gone” — a 1950 gem by Professor Longhair, and the album’s sole live performance.

Sonny Landreth appears on his namesake “Sonny Skies,” an instrumental composed by Roth. Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” gets a workout with help from Lee Roy Parnell, who previously used the song in an instructional video called “The Art of Slide Guitar.”

“Stranger on the Shore,” a transcontinental No. 1 instrumental for clarinetist Acker Bilk in the early ’60s, is given the twin-lap-steel treatment via Asleep at the Wheel veteran Cindy Cashdollar.

Jimmy Vivino (Al Kooper, Max Weinberg) guests on two cuts comprising the album’s “just two unplugged guitars” portion: Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” and the traditional “Poor Boy Blues.”

Rounding out the roster are session great Rick Vito on two instrumentals — the Roth original “Paradise Blues” and a commanding interpretation of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” — and Jack Pearson (ABB/Gregg Allman),  who contributes his own “Do What’s Right.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Do What’s Right (w/Jack Pearson)
2. Dust My Broom (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
3. Stranger on the Shore (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
4. Sonny Skies (w/Sonny Landreth)
5. Rocket 88 (w/Johnny Winter)
6. Dixie Chicken (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
7. Poor Boy Blues (w/Jimmy Vivino)
8. And When I Die (w/Jimmy Vivino)
9. Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia (w/Greg Martin)
10. Paradise Blues (w/Rick Vito)
11. Steel Guitar Rag (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
12. You Really Got A Hold on Me (w/Rick Vito)
13. Her Mind Is Gone (w/David Lindley)
14. Amazing Grace (w/Greg Martin)

Total time: 1:03:41

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age!

OKeh

frisellIn a modernization of the electric-guitar/steel-guitar format pioneered by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant in the ’50s, Bill Frisell — aided by Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel and slide guitar — puts a laidback spin on an instrumental collection of early ’60s guitar music that inspired him as a kid.

It’s always been hard to tell whether guitar hero Frisell’s pigeonhole is Americana with a hint of avant-garde or vice versa. But since this set is space-age music, the debate is rendered pointless. Leisz’s as-always ethereal slide is invaluable in setting the scene, exemplified best on the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You,” in which the two break away at midpoint to simulate Jerry Garcia accompanying himself on pedal steel, then morph briefly into Neil Young hanging ten with Crazy Horse before floating away on a stream of subconsciousness.

Speaking of surf, there are two types represented here: instrumental surf rock (the Chantays’ “Pipeline”) and vocal surf pop (the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”), in surreal and dreamy versions, respectively. Also present is “Baja,” a reverb-soaked, whammy bar workout on the minor hit for the Astronauts. As well, there are a handful of not-quite-surf tracks, specifically Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and the Tornados’ “Telstar,” the last of which is set up by one of two original Frisell compositions, “Lift Off.”

For country and folk aficionados, there’s a Charlie Christian-style take on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and a Telecaster-Jazzmaster takeover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Of course, no electric-guitar/steel-guitar instrumental album would be worth its salt without tributes to the afore-mentioned West and Bryant. Hence, the spaciness of “Reflections From the Moon” (from West’s 1962 LP “Guitar Spectacular”) and loopiness of “Bryant’s Boogie” (his first feature side, from a 1950 78 with Cliffie Stone’s Band) become even more so here in the hands of the Nostalgia Bros.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Pipeline
2. Turn, Turn, Turn
3. Messin’ with the Kid
4. Surfer Girl
5. Rumble
6. Shortest Day
7. Rebel Rouser
8. Baja
9. Cannonball Rag
10. Tired of Waiting for You
11. Reflections From the Moon
12. Bryant’s Boogie
13. Lift Off
14. Telstar

Total time: 55:08

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes store

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