Thursday, November 1, 2007

Guitar Spotlight: Randy Rhoads

I was originally going to spotlight Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I'll save him for later. Dressing up like Ozzy Osbourne for Halloween made me think hard about Rhoads, Ozzy's original guitar player for his solo group. Believe me, Ozzy was not alone in his act; Rhoads began playing with Ozzy at age 23 and immediately established himself as one of the rock world's premiere axemen. What made him an all-time great of the instrument is that his talent went beyond merely shredding and heavy metal. His life was tragically cut short at age 25 due to a freak plane accident near the Osbourne household, and for that reason he only put out two albums with Ozzy. If not for that crash, he might still be putting out great work with Ozzy and the gang. Even still, he is cited as a major influence for many of today's top guitar players, including Zakk Wylde and Marty Friedman, and he almost single-handedly popularized the Jackson brand of guitars, which still makes a Rhoads custom guitar to this day.

Rhoads is known for his heavy metal prowess and pioneering metal soloing styles, but much of that style was rooted in his deep interest in classical guitar. He constantly sought lessons from top classical players while playing with Ozzy, and his acquired skill in both classical and folk styles was evident in such tracks as "Dee", a brief instrumental piece written for his mother Delores on the Blizzard of Ozz album, and "Diary of a Madman," a complex mix of classical arrangements and hard rock styles, and the title track of Rhoad's final album.

I seriously doubt video of Rhoads playing "Diary of a Madman" even exists, but if someone does please send me a link! The best I can do for DOAMM is a Youtube "slideshow", with the original track playing while a picture slideshow plays. It's a commonly-used technique by people who have audio they want to get out to the public. This song is a metal masterpiece, because of its diverse mix of heavy metal and classical measures, complex arrangements and time signatures, and haunting solo, something the likes of which had rarely been heard before. It's a healthy mixture of minor scales, harmonic minor and blues in the key of A. The intro has been covered by many a guitarist, including Zakk Wylde, Ozzy's current guitar player and arguably the greatest guitar player alive right now.

The Randy Rhoads custom guitar by Jackson is perfect for playing his style and the style of many other heavy metal guitarists, and it's perfect for anyone who plays a lot of shows due to the Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, which keeps your guitar in tune for as long as you need it. The model in the picture to the right is the 25th anniversary edition, which goes for as much as $3299 these days.

I had to put this clip front and center, because it's one of the first true live shred sessions. This video came no later than 1979, because it's from his pre-Ozzy days playing with Quiet Riot. this video proves that Rhoads, along with Eddie Van Halen, is one of the first true pioneers of heavy metal shredding. He combined an extraordinary knowledge of music theory and styles with incredible "chops" (that is, how fluid he is while picking notes), which are seemingly flawless in this video. Check out at 2:26, where he channels Eddie Van Halen while tapping natural harmonics on the guitar to create a nice xylophone-like sound. Just like Eddie previously, I'd encourage everyone to check out as many Rhoads videos as you can. He's a true legend on guitar and deserves his spot among the all-time greats.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

World Series Parade Highlights!

I got out of class today at the perfect time to catch the World Championship parade for the Red Sox; I brought my camera along to capture whatever I could. I started at Fenway Park, where the parade began, but I had a pretty bad view of all the duck boats rolling along. Whoever decided to stay there was a sucker. I started running after the parade, literally. Whenever I found an opening to run, I exploded like Forrest Gump trying to catch back up to the front. I got plenty of great snaps of almost all the Red Sox, most notably Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. That's a really nice picture I got of Hideki Okajima (left) waving right at the camera. It was a nice surprise to see the Dropkick Murphys getting their own float on which to rock out with Red Sox Nation. Papelbon, Timlin and Okajima were on the float with them, and Papelbon seemed to have more fun than anyone. No Irish jig from Paps, but I certainly wasn't disappointed with how the parade turned out. No problems whatsoever, except dragging my tail all the way from Fenway Park to the Charles/MGH T-stop. I must've lost about 20 pounds doing that alone.

I'm so glad I got at least a snippet of the Dropkick Murphys playing during the parade. That float was certainly my favorite; it didn't hurt having my favorite Red Sox player (Papelbon) rocking along with them. I have three more of those videos on my username iMaiden929 at Youtube.

A tribute to the 2007 world champions

Jon Lester, the hero of World Series Game 4 and of all baseball this season The photo to the left is courtesy of the Boston Globe's Barry Chin, and it is of game 4 Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who beat lymphoma just nine months ago, then beat the Rockies to deliver Boston its second World Championship in 4 seasons. My beloved Red Sox finally ended the extraordinarily painful 86-year period of suffering at the hands of the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, and this year they are beginning to look like not just the best team in baseball right now, but the best team for years to come. The long-term plans of Theo Epstein and the trio of owners finally came to fruition this year with the emergence of young stars and the perfect mix of youth and experience, and the Sox look like postseason giants for years to come. Never has the pumping of hundreds of millions of dollars into a farm system looked to pay off like it has and will for the Red Sox. I can't give Theo more credit for making all the right moves, holding onto the right prospects and letting go of stars at the right time (Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, and Nomar Garciaparra are clearly on the downside of their careers, and the Sox have replaced them with Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis). This post is meant as a tribute to their remarkable season, in which they held the best record in baseball for almost the entire year. And to tie music into it, I've selected a few songs and posted Youtube clips of them, as well as a brief explanation of their significance to the Red Sox' season.

Queen - "We are the Champions"
I've paid my dues
Time after time
I've done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I've made a few
I've had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I've come through

This is the most obvious choice on the list. To this day, there remains no song more emotional and heartfelt for a championship winner than this song. Freddy Mercury is arguably the greatest rock singer that has ever lived, and his life was tragically taken from us by a disease about which we still do not know nearly enough. I've included a live Youtube clip of this song performed at Wembley Stadium in England, so you can see why he was not only a great singer but a great showman as well. The Sox have had a ton more than just their "share" of sand kicked in their face over the last 100 years... It was more like an avalanche. But they came through in 2004, and 2007 now looks like only the beginning of a great run. Simply put, the Red Sox are the Champions!

Pantera - "Domination"

Agony is the price
That you'll pay in the end
Domination consumes you
Then calls you a friend

You can see where my taste in music is taking me in this post! Unfortunately I've spotlighted a band featuring another great musician who got taken from us way too soon. Darrell Abbott, the guitar player for Pantera in this video, was shot to death in stage in October 2004, just before the Red Sox staged their magical comeback and World Series victory that same month. He was an immense talent who, tragically, wasn't noticed by many guitar fans until after its death. It's true that we don't really know what we have until it's gone. The reason I picked this song is because the Red Sox thoroughly dominated the Rockies in the World Series, and this one never looked like a real matchup. Even when the Rockies cut the Red Sox leads close in games 3 and 4, the games never seemed that close. The Rockies were a severely overmatched team this year, but they have a great young team and could be back in the World Series very soon. But for this year, they got consumed by the dominant team. The lyric I block-quoted above is very fitting, because even after destroying their competition, the Sox still gave the Rockies all the credit in the world for playing them tough. They consumed the Rockies and called them friends soon after. I guess we were all watching a different series...

The Who - "The Kids Are Alright"

Sometimes, I know I gotta get away
Bells chime, I know I gotta get away
And I know if I don't, I'll go out of my mind
Better leave her behind where the kids are alright...
The kids are alright....

This is more of a tribute to the old guns of the Red Sox, like Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin than the kids. But those three do look poised to either leave this team or leave baseball altogether after this season; it would be fitting for their careers for them to go out on top. They could all end up staying, of course, but what's best for "her" (the team and the city of Boston) is to leave it up to the kids. And the kids are alright, for sure. Ace starting pitcher and postseason monster Josh Beckett is only 27, Daisuke Matsuzaka is 26, superstar closer and destroyer of souls Jonathan Papelbon is 27, and emerging starters Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are only 23. Let's not forget 24-year olds Jacoby Ellsbury and potential rookie of the year Dustin Pedroia, and 26-year old Kevin Youkilis, who are looking like offensive catalysts and franchise mainstays already. The Sox have plenty of great veterans with a wealth of big-game experience, but what made them a champion is the mix of that with the youthful flair these young stars have injected into this franchise. Many people have said this is the beginning of a dynasty. I would certainly hope so.

This week's guitar spotlight will be on Stevie Ray Vaughan, and hopefully I'll have some jam news for you later today, if not tomorrow!