The SynthAxe

Listening to "Atavachron" by Allan Holdsworth today, I was reminded of the unique design and capabilities of the SynthAxe, a system (much more than an instrument) that for a while in the late 1980's threatened to rewrite the landscape of guitar playing and guitar-based composition.
Sadly, today, the SynthAxe is approaching the status of a museum piece. Like the Synclavier, the cost and complexity of the instrumental package limited it to a small number of leading artists and musicians with money to spend. Fewer than 100 complete SynthAxe systems were produced, the company that made them went out of business a long time ago, and, like the Synclavier, the remaining operational and usable examples are being kept going by hobbyist ingenuity, and are truly labours of love. Holdsworth himself, a key SynthAxe endorsee in the early days, and the owner of 2 systems, only uses his sparingly in the studio, and will no longer use it live because of its fragility. Fortunately, you can hear the enormous potential of the instrument all over Holdsworth's recorded output over the last 25 or so years.
Here is an overview of the SynthAxe with promotional materials, maintained by an engineer who worked on it when it was being designed and built.

Once Upon A Time in My Past...and the present

The first LP I ever bought was "The Captain And Me" by The Doobie Brothers.
This was the first of a number of LP purchase decisions that put me out in left field as far as most of my peers were concerned. At the time, hardly anybody in the UK had even heard of the band. However, Piccadilly Radio in Manchester had DJs who played a lot of American music. I heard the first Eagles LP, Steely Dan and Little Feat on that station a long time before anybody else in the UK picked up on those bands too. In short order all three of those bands appeared in my record collection. Then I shifted gears and went towards folk and jazz, picking up on Roy Harper, John Martyn, Weather Report and Ornetee Coltrane among others. That finally convinced some of the guys in my college hall that I was totally weird...
One of the things I liked about the Doobies was that in the beginning they had a pair of very different but complementary guitarists and singers. Tom Johnston wrote and sang the chug-a-lug pop/rock tunes like "Long Train Runnin" and "Listen To The Music", and had a melodic approach on lead guitar that I really liked. Patrick Simmons, a very different player, interleaved finger-style guitar around Johnston's more straight-ahead rhythmic guitar chords. Simmons wrote less prolifically, but wrote many of the more interesting and elaborate tunes like "Toulouse Street", "South City Midnight Lady", "You Just Can't Stop It", "Chinatown" and "Black Water". He also created interesting finger-style guitar instrumentals like "Slat Key Soquel Rag" and "Larry The Logger Two Step".
The main irritating aspect to the early LPs was that the rhythm section just Did Not Swing, partly because Johnston's guitar parts tended to overlap with the percussion, rendering complex top-end cymbal and drum work superfluous. As the band matured, and they stopped borrowing Jeff Baxter from Steely Dan and brought him in as a full-time member, the two drummers model began to work a lot better, both live and in the studio, and made the band swing.
The Doobies rose, then soared to fame after co-opting Michael McDonald as another songwriter. McDonald changed their sound to more of a blue-eyed soul/pop sound, then the band dissolved at the beginning of the 1980s due to personality clashes and road fatigue. They would re-incarnate in the late 80's as a more classically guitar-driven band, and today The Doobie Brothers still tour.
This is a very interesting interview with Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons about their entry to guitar playing and being in the Doobies, and their current guitar collections and preferences. Along the way both men confirm that the band's name was adopted when they needed a new name for a gig and couldn't think of anything else...

Albums that are bookended

I am currently working on re-mastering an LP by Mason Williams. Williams is one of the prototypical one-hit wonders, his tune "Classical Gas" made it into the charts in 1968, after which time, as far as most of the general public was concerned he, like other one-hit wonders of the time such as Fred Neil, disappeared from view. However, as the Wikipedia profile shows, Williams, a native of Texas, is something of a renaissance man, active as a musician, songwriter, comedian, comedy writer, and more recently as a musical archivist. The LP re-mastering will be a labor of love, because this is one rather scratched LP in its original form.
The interesting thing about the LP (and the sort-of-subject of this posting) is the use of the bookend concept in LPs. It is not often used, but I like it. On this LP, the opening of the LP itself is the sound of a door opening, and the very end of the LP is the sound of the same door closing again. Simple and very effective. The only other time I can remember a door closing being used on a tune is the door-closing effect at the end of Toto's song "Run Manuela Run" from their epynonymous first LP in 1978.
Another example of a bookend in my collection is the opening and ending of the Santana LP "Borboletta", an LP that is heavy with Brazilian influences due to the presence on the LP of husband-and-wife team Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. The opening tune of that LP is the Airto Moreira solo percussion track "Spring Manifestations", which I have actually cut out, edited, and used as an intro to my Brasil music playlist. The last track on the LP is "Borboletta", again a solo percussion excursion by Airto.
Yet another example is the Eagles LP "Desperado", which opens with the ballad "Doolin' Dalton" and ends with "Doolin' Dalton - Reprise". (Of course, I could have predicted that this would be my favorite Eagles LP and also their lowest-selling...)
I am going to search for other examples of bookends in my music collection now...

R.I.P: Hal David

Inching towards a new milestone...

Currently I have 16905 tunes loaded to my Ipod. With work currently under way to digitize a batch of LPs, plus more interesting live soundboard and FM concerts obtained from my sources, I will pass 17000 this week or next week...