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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Two Jimmys

Lately, I've been working obessively on music. I eat it, play it, drink it. I mean, my ears have been filled with music. I've really bonded with my guitars, I've had music pour out of me in so many ways. I have played guitar since about 12 years old, my best all time job was working as a guitar tuner at a Hohner Warehouse (Hohner is famous not for their guitars, but for their harmonicas, they set the standard for the mouth harp).

In the guitar world, there are two primary schools, you are usually either a Fender player, or a Gibson player, all the other guitar manfacturers are either offshoots of these two standards or they are go off on some little tangent. In the rock world, I think there are two dudes who basically transcend all the other players out there, they were the orignators, they explored and defined the territory, they were founders of what we now think of as rock & roll guitar. All other players after them were either heavily influenced by one or both of them, or they were ignored, kind of like if you're a painter you either were influenced by Picasso, or you basically pretend that he never existed.

Anyway in my little dichotomy here (one of them was a Fender Stratocaster man, the other a Gibson Les Paul guy), I mean, this is just a thought experiment, I haven't really put a lot of brain cells into it, there's the Two Jimmys. First, there's Jimi and then there's Jimmy.

I truly believe these guys stand head and shoulders above just about anyone else, just because they did stuff no one ever did before, and some of what Hendrix did with his instrument no one even attempts. I mean, last night on public television I saw some clips of Hendrix at Woodstock and to watch him commune with his guitar is to watch something otherworldly. Kind of the same feeling you get when you watch John Coltrane play his saxophone. It's spirtual, it's alien, almost like watching a natural phenomenon, like a sunset or a cyclone.

I've also recently watched the Led Zeppelin dvd set spanning their live performance career. Jimmy Page's playing is flashy, intimidating, mind-blowing, and beautiful, lyrical too. These two guys are so different, Hendrix was never really in control of his life, or his career, he had managers and girlfriends who hounded and fed off of him. He was a poor kid who came from absolutely nothing, and he rose to fame and fortune in a flash, and then he was gone. It's kind of a cliche but it seems Hendrix was only free when he was onstage playing music.

Page on the other was a privileged kid, a very successful session player, always in control of his career and owner of his master tapes. Jimmy Page is the mastermind behind all those great Led Zeppelin records, every note you hear was worried and worked over by the fabulous Jimmy Page. Page has made a fortune and he has been able to see his legacy grow, and watch as his playing has influenced a generation of other guitarists looking to be r&r heroes.

These two guys also have inspired a lot of dreck, a generation of bombastic players who are treading the same ground to much less effect. Every truly great guitar player has always played in service to the music first, but there are some players just enamored with technique, which I think is actually a killer of creativity, the best players are those who can incorporate techinque and then forget it, and by doing so transcend it. But no matter, go back to the original recordings, and then check out these guys live on stage and marvel! By the way, I own and play Fender guitars...but I've always wanted to own a Gibson Les Paul too, I guess it must be my conflicted nature!

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