September 5, 2003

“Wipe Out” – Why It Didn’t Make the List.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 8:30 pm

Cousin Jack, who has a good musical ear and an even better musical memory, in a comment to yesterday’s post, noted the absence of “Wipe Out” (by the Surfaris) from the list of guitar instrumentals. The fact is, I had not forgotten about that song when I assembled the list. Rather, I made a conscious decision not to include it. Here’s why.

“Wipe Out’s” not making the list had nothing to do with the guitar playing in the tune (although I never really cared much for it), but rather it had to do with the dumb drum part in the song. For decades as a drummer, I have had to deal with people who want to hear that song, because, sadly, and stupidly, they believe that being able to play the dumb drum part in “Wipe Out” is the ultimate test of whether one is a good drummer.

“Yo, you’re really good, but can you play ‘Wipe Out’?”

For years, particularly during the time the song was popular and even for five to ten years after that, when asked that question, I would politely smile and nod at the requestor, and the band would play the song, and I would dutifully play the stupid-ass drum part. Even though in recent years I have not gotten that request nearly as often, I still am dogged by that God-awful song.

As recently as last summer, some guy positioned himself near the band I was working with and intently watched me play for most of the night. I could not help but notice the guy, because during the songs he fixated on me to the exclusion of the other three guys, and after each tune he would vigorously applaud. (What’s not to like about that? If you perform, you’re an applause junkie.)

So, we were taking our final break of the evening, and this fellow walked up to me and told me how well he thought I played and how much he enjoyed watching me play. (What’s not to like about that? If you perform, you’re compliment junkie.) I sincerely thanked him for saying nice things about my playing.

By that time of the night, I was tired and sweaty, but I was still basking in the glow of the compliment I had just received from this person. In fact, I had even managed to convince myself that this obviously sophisticated listener might even be musician himself, something that would make the compliment very special.

However, without warning, this fellow lobbed a turd into my punchbowl and snapped me back to reality when he asked, “Hey, can you play ‘Wipe Out’?”

As in the past when asked this question, I smiled, but this time I said, as graciously as humanly possible, “Yes, I can play that song, but I am afraid that we will not have time to get to it tonight, as we have a number of prior requests that we simply had to get to.” He was noticeably disappointed, presumably because he would never be able to truly satisfy himself that I could pass the ultimate drumming test.

The desire to avoid being rude to this person prevented me from saying what I was thinking, and that was this:

“Jesus Farookin’ Christ, Asswipe. You stared at me for more than three hours, during which time I played my ass off and did boatloads of stuff that require a helluva lot more skill than being able to play the piece-of-shit drum part in “Wipe Out.” And after watching that, how could you think for one goddamned minute that I might not be able to play that shit? Did you ask the piano player whether he can play ‘Chopsticks’?

So, to answer your question, you dopey bastard, yes I can play ‘Wipe Out,’ but don’t even think about asking me if I will play “Wipe Out,” unless you want these drumsticks shoved way, way up your sorry ass.”

And that’s why “Wipe Out” was not on the list.

Guitar Instrumentals.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 12:07 am

The other day on the radio, I head “Walk Don’t Run,” a guitar instrumental from the early sixties by the Ventures. It got me to thinking about other guitar instrumentals from back then. They were all relatively simple songs, but they rocked, nonetheless. In addition, these guys provided a basic foundation on which the George Harrisons of the world could, and did, build.

I remember, as soon as one of these tunes was released, guitar players would rush to lock themselves in a room to learn the licks note for note. Hell, I also can remember playing in a high school band, where 75% of the tunes were guitar instrumentals. Singing was less important, and, besides, no one was really equipped to do it very well. Singing was generally accomplished by crowding three guys in front of one $20.00 piece of crap microphone, which was plugged directly into a Fender amp. It was pretty awful.

Back then, the guitar was king.

Here are some of the artists and tunes that come to mind, and, yes, I am certain there are many that I cannot think of at the moment:

The Ventures – (Walk Don’t Run, Ramrod, Perfidia, Moon Dawg) These songs are all pretty special to me, as, not only did I play them on the guitar, I polished my drumming skills (and drove my parents a bit nuts) with Ventures’ tunes.

Duane Eddy and the Rebels – (Rebel Rouser, Movin’ ‘n Groovin’, Forty Miles of Bad Road) The first time I heard “Rebel Rouser,” it gave me goose bumps. I confess that it still does.

Link Wray and the Wray Men – (Rumble) Compared to the music of today, “Rumble” is a musical no-brainer. However, the distorted sound of the guitar crashing out the “D” “D,” and “E” chords (the hook in the song, at the very beginning) grabbed my somewhere below my diaphragm and would not let go. It was also a great song to “dance slow” to in the days when our hormones were erupting with volcanic force.

The Virtues – (Guitar Boogie Shuffle) Another of the basic twelve bar blues (eight to the bar) tunes, that essentially consisted of a guitar playing the kind of lick that bass players play all the time.

Lonnie Mack – (Memphis, Wham) Of all the guitarists listed here, Lonnie Mack might well be technically the best player.

Bill Doggett – (Honky Tonk) While this classic was not strictly a guitar song (and Doggett played piano), there wasn’t a guitar player alive that did not learn how to play the opening licks in Honky Tonk.

The Fireballs – (Torquay, Bulldog) Rather than being rockers, these tunes were a bit closer to cha-chas. They were, however, a staple in a high school band’s repertoire.

Santo and Johnny – (Sleepwalk) One of the truly great instrumentals. To this day, when I hear Sleepwalk, I am transported back to the high school gym at a Saturday night dance. Unlike the other groups, Santo and Johnny featured a steel guitar in the lead. In addition, the song “Sleepwalk” itself broke a bit of new ground (The guitar players and other musicians will understand this), in that the “four” chord was a MINOR. So, instead of playing C, Am, F, and G, one played C, Am, Fm, and G. It changed the whole sound. Over the years, I have heard people screw the song up by not playing the four chord as a minor, and it always drives me nuts. “Sleepwalk” has also stood the test of time, in that Brian Setzer plays it on a CD that is currently in my CD player in the car.

The Chantays – (Pipeline) “Pipeline” was always considered a “surfer” song, but the lick that consists of peddling on the “E” string, while sliding your finger down the neck of the guitar is unforgettable.

The Duels – (Stick Shift) A terrific sixties “car song” (It even began with the sound of a motor), “Stick Shift” was a great rocker.

I’m sure I’ll think of more after I post this, and I suspect some of you can think of ones that I have forgotten.

As I said before, by today’s standards, these are simple tunes. But, remember, this was “pre-Beatles,” when rock and roll was simple, and one could manage to play guitar. even in a band, without knowing how to play anything other than basic chords.

In fact, I have always found it somewhat strange that people often talk about the Beatles having precipitated a dramatic increase in guitar sales. My experience was the opposite. I know plenty of guys who put their guitars down forever when they realized that to play many of the Beatles tunes, they actually had to know how to play things like ninths, major and minor sevenths, diminished and even (gasp!) augmented chords.

It sure was fun.

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