Lovely old Strat…

The Marshall MG15 practice amp wasn’t seeing much action since I got my Marshall Class 5, so I put it up for sale. Had a phone call about it, and told the gent to bring a guitar with him if he wanted to come and try it. So he did. This one…

As soon as he took it out of the case I recognised it as a 70s Strat. The large headstock, bullet trus rod, string trees, and three bolt neck. It was just like the one I bought from Rock Bottom in Croyden in the late 70s. I asked about it..

A 1974 Strat. Three way pickup selector switch. In fabulous condition for it’s age. Still had the original bridge cover in place. The owners friend had bought it new, then sold it to him one year later. He’d had it ever since. Sad part is that although he’d played it in lots of bands he doesn’t play anymore. Good part is that his rather lovely teenage daughter is taking up guitar and she gets to play it. She’s the one he’s buying the amp for, so she can practice at home. I hope she realises how lucky she is. With such a Strat and a Marshall you could go a long way.

Too much Rock, too little Roll….

Just recently i’ve been very busy with my band. We’ve been doing quite a few gigs. Playing late into the night, and into the early hours. Just about every gig we’ve played has included free drinks, and I’m a sucker for French lager. So lots of Rock, but not much roll (on the bike). I’ve still been riding 4 or 5 times a week, but not racing.

Decided it was time to get arse in gear. I don’t function properly if I don’t ride. Starting to feel like shit. Got up early and went and did the VTT Rando at Feytiat. It was great to see all my biking pals again, and it was even better to ride the superb circuit at speed, and enjoy the camaraderie on a beautiful morning. Carla came along as well. We both enjoyed the morning immensely. We’ve been a bit slack, but now we’re back on track. Had to have a nap in the afternoon. Very Rock’n’Roll eh?

Long Hard Rocky Road!

Yep, a Long Hard Rocky Road back to fitness!
A long hard rocky road
Dudes, I have been ill. No really. There’s not much keeps me off my bike, you know that, but it’s been more than three weeks with hardly a pedal turned! Mrs Stratobiker has been ill too. It started off with a sore throat, then got worse, a lot worse. Bad cough, fever, feeling awful. Gotta say there was one night in particular where I was truly scared of how bad it was gonna get. Lying in bed sweating up, chest on fire, breathing hard just lying still. Started to feel a little better after a couple of days, but everything was just such hard work. We didn’t leave the house for close on a week. We were living on the leftovers from our New Years Eve party. By the middle of the second week we managed to get out for a few easy walks, but they wiped us out. I tried a bike ride, just around the block, I felt like shit, it was no fun, and I was coughing up frogs. I gave up. By the third week we were feeling OK, still hacking stuff up, but getting out and about. At just over three weeks I tried the bike again. At last I felt OK, I was actually enjoying it, and felt like I had something in my legs. I didn’t push it though, just rolling along nice and easy.

A message to my French friends…..
Bonjour mes amis
J’ai été malade. Pas de vélo depuis trois semaines. Ca va mieux maintenant, et j’espère vous voir bientôt sur le vélo.

Yesterday I managed and hour and a half on my road bike. Nothing too hard, but a purposeful tempo, it felt great to be back. If the weather is OK tomorrow I’m gonna try and get out with the boys on the Wednesday afternoon bash. But, I’ll be taking it easy, and I’ll pull out after a couple of hours. I’ve been here once before, you try too hard too soon, and it just knocks you back.

In the recording studio

So while I’ve been felling a little better I’ve been busying myself on my guitar. I’ve been in the studio doing some recording for a singer-songwriter. I reckon it’s really great stuff, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with her. I can’t let you listen to anything at the moment because it’s not finished. But when it is I’ll let you know.

rehearsing with a band from Bellac

I’ve also been rehearsing with an ex-pat band from the Bellac area. The idea is to put a set together now to do some gigs through the summer. It’s hard work, but it’s fun, and I get to play my guitar proper loud!!! Rock on!!! 🙂

Samba Pa Ti – Full Version

As promised, my attempt to play Carlos Santana’s ‘Samba Pa Ti’……

What started out as something simple ( I wanted to show off my new guitar) turned into a three and a half month study. You see, I found a transcription of Samba Pa Ti in an old guitar mag. Perfect for my new guitar I thought, but when I tried the first few bars it didn’t seem quite right, and that’s where it all started. That’s where the journey to this youtube video began.

I searched youtube trying to find videos of Carlos Santana playing. However, when he plays live he varies his performance, and never plays it the same twice. There’s loads of cover versions, some are very good too, but then again, they’re all different. I wanted to stay close to the recorded version on the Abraxus album, use that as my benchmark. I listened to it morning noon and night. I began working my way through it phrase by phrase.

While I was doing this I carried on making regular searches on youtube for more versions. I’d also check every couple of days for newer versions. I found some really great ones. My favourites include the version by Al Mora, the accoustic version played by Mark Galloway, Mark Thompson’s version, and the inspirational version by Grandma Mary.

I had a bit of a breakthrough when I found a video of the man himself talking about Samba Pa Ti, how it came about, how to play it, including some excellent tips on how to get a suitable tone.

Samba Pa Ti started out as a poem…
“Through every step of life you find freedom from within”… Carlos Santana.

Samba Pa Ti appeared on Santana’s second album Abraxus, which is still regarded by many as his finest work. As a study piece it is one of the most rewarding I have ever tried. Not only is it a great study in guitar playing, but also a great study into the unique and totally fabulous playing of Carlos Santana.

Carlos style relies on a mystical feeling ‘Duende‘ found in flamenco music, a sensation described as ‘musical shockwaves in the soul’. He has a very fluid sense of timing, and will often play repeated musical phrases with sublty different phrasing. He rarely uses vibrato at the top of bends. Unison bends are another characteristic.

Like I said at the top, three and a half months. That’s three and a half months and still learning, because each time I hear the original I’ll hear some little thing that I’ve missed, some little inflection that I hadn’t noticed before. Sometimes I think I’m close, then other times I think I’m miles off. I asked one of my favourite players how long it had taken him to get his version as good as it was. He told me 38 years and still trying!!! So I’ve got a long way to go. However, I hope my version does the song justice. Yeah, I know it’s just a bloke playing to a backing track. I’d love to play this with a live band.

Many many thanks to all who gave me encouragement with this, especially Mrs Stratobiker who can now spot a fake Santana from the first phrase!!!!

Musicalement,
SB

Technical Shiz – I used my Gibson Explorer, through a Digitech RP6 for the overdrive, into an old Roland 1680 hard disk recorder. I got the backing track from the internet.

My camera can only cope with 2:40 mins recording, so I had to use two takes and stitch them together. I set the camera running, then set the recorder running. I used Windows Movie Maker to do the stitching and tidying. Once I had the video sorted I imported the sound track from the Roland, and ditched the sound from the camera. I took the liberty of overdubbing a second guitar for the unison bends at 1:42 as per the original, and also adding extra reverb for the lick at 1:09, again, like the original.

Update 18th Feb 2010 – I got such great compliments for my tone I thought I’d post some wise words on tone from the great man himself…..

“Just about any guitar will give you that tone as long as you’re not playing it really load………as long as you play it somewhere in the middle…..some guitars if you play them at very very low volume they get very thin, it’s like a baloon that is not inflated…..and if you play it too loud it sounds like you’re talking with you mouth full of food…..somewhere in the middle is where you get that pretty pristine tone.” …… Carlos Santana

I found these words on the video here

Then, a couple of days ago I got a message from my VanderBilly friend Wolf. He’d found a really interesting article on the Gibson website titled, “How Carlos Santana Refined and Defined his Sound with Abraxas”. It’s a great read, and it goes into some detail about the equipment that Carlos used, and the way in which he used it. Specifically talking about Samba Pa Ti it says….

“Although the cornerstones of Santana’s sound on Abraxas are his Gibson SGs, volume and the pureness and control of his touch, there are spots where he audibly used a wah-wah pedal to attenuate his tone. On “Samba Pa Ti” he left the pedal cocked to an open position throughout the song, achieving a sweet, warm distortion that produced the album’s most subtle guitar tone.”

You’ll find the full article here.

Thanks Wolf, a great find, and a damn good read.

It was a cold dark moonlit night…

It was a cold dark moonlit night, three men in a boat on the open sea, Captain, First Mate, and Cabin Boy. The Captain shouts, “Mate, tell us a story”. This is the story he told…..

It was a cold dark moonlit night, three men in a boat on the open sea, Captain, First Mate, and Cabin Boy. The Captain shouts, “Mate, tell us a story”. This is the story he told…..

Actually, it was a cold dark moonlit night back in April. I was trawling a few pages on ebay when I spotted a Gibson Explorer that I liked the look of. It had very little interest. I put in a half-hearted bid and thought no more of it. A few days later I got an email to tell me it was mine! Great, just the slight problem of how to get hold of it.

I asked my buddy JW at Pearce Cycles if he would collect it for me from the seller in Cheltenham. JW knows a bit about guitars so he’d know if it was OK or not. I bribed JW by telling him that he’d have to look after it for me until I could collect it, and naturally it would need playing. JW agreed. JW duly collected the guitar, and reported back to me that it was a little grubby, but apart from that was solid, and played well.

So, I’m running through all the scenarios of how I could get it to France, some of them involving it being sent part of the way, and ending up missing or broken. Plus trying to factor in the cost of fetching it. Weeks turned into months. Then I got an email from an old friend. He was driving down through France on his way to the Picos de Europa in Spain for a cycling holiday. He asked if I needed anything from Pearce Cycles as he would be calling in there a couple of weeks before leaving the UK, then driving down right past our doorstep.

Last weekend Duncan and Trish arrived with my guitar. Not only that, but they thought we might be missing a few things from the UK so they’d brought us some Marmite, some Heinz Baked Beans, some proper tea bags, Marmalade, and Famous Grouse whiskey. Flippin super heroes or what? They stayed for a couple of days, so I dragged them all over the trails of the Monts de Blond by way of a thank you.

Back to the guitar. Just like JW said, she was a little grubby, but she played well. I gave her a birthday clean up and a new set of strings. She plays just great. Now in case you don’t know, white Gibson Explorers are different, they have an ebony fingerboard, assuming that they’re not a refinished guitar, which this one isn’t. Explorers are great, I love them, your just 10 times cooler as soon as you strap one on, and they’re so much more than just a ‘Metal’ guitar. Though if you do a search on youtube that’s what most ‘players’ tend to do with them. So to redress the balance slightly I’ve posted a few bars of Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti” to show her gentle side. Here she is…

Trish, Duncan, if you’re reading this I hope you had a great holiday, and many thanks again for bringing my guitar.

A new axe to grind!

It had been raining for days. I’d played my guitar until my fingers were raw. Cabin fever was upon me!

I’ve been thinking about buying a new acoustic guitar for years! My old Jap built Epiphone FT135, that I bought in the late 70s is great for bashing out chords, but she’s hard work when it comes to finger picking. Actually, I’ve tried to buy a new acoustic before, tried 100s, can’t find one I like.

Après avoir accompagné des jazzmen célèbres (Bill Coleman, Stéphane Grappelli, Don Bayas, Albert Nicholas…), écumé les salles et usé ses cordes de gala en gala, Georges Suchod décide de raccrocher sa guitare pour créer le premier vrai magasin de musique limougeaud. savoir plus…

Anyway, with dreams of a new acoustic I set of in search of Suchod Musique in Limoges. Never been there before, but surely they’d have something. Little did I know what was in store…

As soon as I walked through the door I just knew it was gonna take some time. Just hundreds of gorgeous guitars, like an aladin’s cave. Electrics and acoustics, Yamahas, Takamines, Taylors Godins…..”Oh look Carla, that Fender Tele, lovely”… Strats, Teles, Arch top Jazz guitars from Ibanez and Gretch, birds eye maple, cool. Beautiful flame top Les Pauls……. and then, there she was, waiting for me…a Gibson Explorer!!!

I asked if I could try it. I’d dressed to try guitars, no zips, studs, or watch, only soft clothing, I pointed this out to the sales assistant. He goes off to get Monsieur Suchod, I dunno why. So, this old fella hands me this gorgeous guitar, and ushers me to a stool next to an amp. By the way, it’s a nice Fender tube amp, not some nasty transistor thing. As the amp warms up, the old fella is telling me what a great guitar it is, and how they’re so versatile and much more than just a rock machine. Yea, I know that.

My 68 Cherry Explorer - a peach of a guitar

It’s a great guitar that’s well set up. I’ve owned Explorers before, this is a good one. Monsieur Suchod is still extolling it’s virtues. I ask him if he plays, “a little”, he tells me. I get up and offer him the guitar, he declines, but I insist. He plays a few stiff notes. What happens next is amazing…

As we chat, Monsieur Suchod starts to play some fabulous jazz stuff. Super lines, and some chord inversions I’ve never seen before. I try to clock them for future reference but they’re gone in a flash. He stops for a second, asks if we mind him smoking, lights a cigarette and continues to play. He’s away now, playing with the casual style and confidence that only comes from years of playing. I wish I’d had my camera with me at that moment because the sight of this old jazzer, ciggy hanging from the corner of his mouth while he rattled out a few tunes on an Explorer was quite surreal. Yes, they really are a versatile guitar, and Monsieur Suchod sure can make it sing.

Turns out that the 79 year old Georges Suchod has been playing guitar all his life. He’s played with all the big names of the jazz world. There’s a picture of him backing Bill Coleman on his office wall. He opened his first music shop in 1968 the year that Carla was born! Oh yes Georges knows his way around a guitar alright.

A young Georges Suchod (on the left) backing Bill Coleman

I bought the Explorer. How could I not buy it. She was there waiting for me, the only one in the shop, a proper cherry one, and a peach of a guitar. It was meant to be, and sold to me by Georges Suchod. You can’t change destiny. I’ve been in hundreds of guitar shops and bought nothing. Tried hundreds of guitars and walked away. But this one, she’s mine, it was meant to be.

Georges Suchod and me.

If you are ever in Limoges, I reckon a visit to Suchod Musique is a must. Even if you’re not a player, go in and meet Georges, ask him to play. He’s a great bloke, a superb player, and you’d be in for a real treat. If you are a player, they’ve got everything you could possibly need. I recommend them highly.

You’ll find Suchod Musique at 6 rue du General Cerez, Limoges.

Gibson Explorer headstock

Our gig at the Lawrence d’Arabie…

First Friday of every month, down at the Lawrence d’Arabie in Chalus, there’s a musicians night. Thought it might be fun to go and do a few numbers. So Peter (Beta Biker), and me worked up a blinding set of 5 songs…

  • Drift Away – Dobie Gray
  • Can’t get Enough – Bad Company
  • Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
  • Try Me – Ry Cooder
  • Swing Low – Claptonesque version

I put some backing tracks together with bass and drums on my trusty old Roland VS1680, and stuck ’em on a mini-disc. We also recruited a second guitartist from the Correze to help with the twin lead bits in Can’t get Enough (thanks Carl). We were ready to Rock!!!

We invited just about everybody we could think of along, and by 9pm the tiny bar was packed. Here’s a picture of us rocking!!! 😉

Rockin at the Lawrence d'Arabie

We went down a storm(ish). It was a great night. We were first on. After us there were a string of musos performing acoustic and electric. Towards the end of the night, none other than Wreckless Eric along with Amy Rigby got up and stole the show. When we left, at around one in the morning, the place was still heaving.

It’s not all bikes y’know….

When I’m not biking, or boozing, I like nothing better than playin’ me geetah! Been playing a long time now. In fact, I first started playing after a motorbike crash put me out of action! What a suprise. 😉

Anyway, before I moved to France I stoopidly sold most of my small collection of guitars. The only electric I have left is the one that nobody wanted, a Fender Big Apple Stratocaster. Here she is…

My Big Apple Stratocaster - Blue on Black

A beauty eh? In the right hands such a guitar could make a grown man weep, and make a young woman go weak at the knees.

So, with a gig coming up i’m getting some practice in, wringing every last emotion out of her when my B string snapped. It’s nearly always the B that goes first. Ever tried buying guitar strings in rural France? Not easy, especially when I’m fussy about what I play. So instead of treking into Limoges and supporting the local guitar shop, which I know I should do, I went online at Strings Direct and ordered some of my all time favourites – Fender Super Bullets. Thanks to Rick at Strings Direct for the rapid service – they arrived within 48hrs.

GHS fast fretWhile I was on, I ordered some new Fast Fret. It’s a String and neck lubricant. That…

lets fingers slide freely, keeps strings clean and is good for wood. Glides on wipes off, specially formulated for stringed instruments.Fast fret cleans strings, lets you play faster, brightens sound, prolongs fingerboard life, long lasting, won’t damage your frets…

Last time I bought Fast Fret it came in a tin! If you’re into guitars you’ll know how long ago that was. 😉

an axe to grind!

an axe to grindSix weeks now since I crashed my bike, and….

Great news! I can play my guitar! OK, so I’m struggling with the Nile Rogers funky stuff, but widdly bluff is no problem. For those who don’t know, I started playing guitar when I was recovering from a bike (motorbike) crash when I was seventeen. Hmmmmm, there’s a theme here, I’m sure.

Yesterday I rode my bike again for the first time. It wasn’t easy, and I feel very sore, but it was great, up and down the road twice, about 200m of cycling bliss.

Also yesterday I was lucky enough to be taken out for the afternoon by my good friends Lyndsey and Dave Pearce. We went to see the 2004 bikes from Specialized. There was some incredible stuff on show, and I found myself earmarking thousands of imaginary pounds for my 2004 bike stable. Modern bikes, we were told, have a brain, with intelligence! Yeah, but they’re still ridden by cyclists, right?