Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slade: My Oh My

Known for their raucous songs, Slade’s performance of a ballad was an unlikely proposition, but “My Oh My” was the band’s first bona fide American hit. Although the power ballad charted at #2 in the UK, it only scratched the Top 40 surface in the US. “My Oh My” peaked in the US at #37 and I remember playing this tune on my morning show at WOAY-FM in Oak Hill, WV during 1984.

The tune was composed by lead singer Noddy Holder and multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea. Lea’s piano provides the only instrumentation at the beginning of the cut. Although the single was more successful in the UK, the video recorded to support the tune was only originally released in the US.

Swing Version

By 1985, the band was getting requests from night club acts that wanted to record the song but in a different style. It is rumored that Frank Sinatra suggested that the tune be done swing style. While the band wasn’t keen on recording it themselves, they enlisted a friend Monty Babson and his band to record the demo that could be sent to these artists.

After hearing Babson’s treatment, Noddy Holder decided to record the tune with the backing of Babson’s jazz band. The song was released as a “B” side to the 12-inch single of “Keep Your Hands off my Power Supply.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Castles Made of Sand

I was trying to find a final song with tenor guitar to finish out this week’s special and I stumbled upon Reggie Witty’s interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand.” Not only does Witty sing and play rhythm tenor guitar, but he plays lead tenor and upright bass. The cut was recorded at Austin’s Sotogrande Sound Lab.

Witty plays a Martin O-18T tenor guitar for both the rhythm and the lead parts. I can’t tell what he has in his right hand while he is playing the lead, but it looks like an E-Bow. Unfortunately, I’m not sure, as I believe an E-Bow needs a magnetic pickup to add its violin bow effect to a guitar lead. Having never used one, I really couldn’t say for sure.

As for the tuning, it took me a while to figure it out and I nearly drove my oldest daughter crazy in my attempt. It appears that he has tuned his tenor a fifth lower than standard tuning as F-C-G-D and a step below Chicago tuning (G-D-A-E). I hadn’t heard this particular tuning before, but it really gives the guitar a different sound. Very nice.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Behind the House

It was during the Thanksgiving break of 2005 that I decided that I’d restring my tenor guitar and fool with it some. I hadn’t had it out of the case in years and it was time to get interested once again in this four-stringed marvel. I had been tuning the guitar like a tenor ukulele (G-C-E-A), as I thought this was not only the popular but proper tuning of the instrument.

During some of my free time that weekend, I started searching the web for information regarding the instrument and found as well as the tenor guitar list. I joined it that weekend and am still a member. I also learned that since the tenor guitar was originally devised for tenor banjoists, that the original tuning (but certainly not the only tuning) was C-G-D-A).

Since I played mandolin, also tuned in fifths, the transition to this tuning was easy; however, I tend to think that I am playing the mandolin chords by name rather than the actual chord names. For instance, when I played what I knew as a G chord it really was fifth lower as a C on the tenor guitar.

This still messes with my mind and I suppose I could tune it like an octave mandolin and be done with it – but I have a bouzouki and an octave mandolin – so I need something with a slightly different sound – and I really like how the C-G-D-A tuning rings.

During that weekend, I immersed myself in tenor guitar logic, lore, and the legends of the instrument. One of those modern day TG legends is Neko Case. Unfortunately, I had never heard her music before that fateful weekend, and I really missed an opportunity to fully experience this redheaded Siren.

Her hypnotic voice would lure the most experienced mariners to her island of song. Although influenced by many genres of music, Neko’s penchant for folk and country shines brightly like a searchlight across the dark murky waters of oblivion.

Today’s feature, “Behind the House,” has Case playing her 1960s folk-era vintage Gibson TG-0 – which was her first tenor. She was drawn to the instrument because she has small hands and the tenor was easier for her to play than a standard six string guitar – but she plays it as well. As for tuning preference, it appears from this recording that Neko tunes it like a baritone ukulele/guitar as D-G-B-E.

Besides the TG-0, she has a plethora of tenor guitars that include a Martin, a Gretsch, Nationals, and several Gibson electrics in a variety of configurations. Back in 2005, there was a photo online with her tenor and vintage amp collection at that time. I wish I could find it, so I could post it here. “Behind the House” was performed live in Austin, Texas in 2006.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Did it in a Minute

During the 70s and 80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates were hitting it big on the national charts with a plethora of hits. The early 80s were especially good for the “blue-eyed soul” duo. The 1981 album “Private Eyes” produced a number of hits including two number one singles: “Private Eyes” and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).”

These two chart topping singles were followed by “Did it in a Minute” at #9 and finally “Your Imagination” which peaked at #33. While “Did it in a Minute” wasn’t the biggest song from the album, this 1982 Top 10 hit utilized our feature instrument – the tenor guitar.

From listening to the studio version, you might not realize that a tenor guitar is present on the recording, but if you saw the video or saw Hall & Oates live, you would have seen Daryl Hall playing a Gibson ES-345T (I believe) tenor guitar. From a distance it is difficult to determine the model, as the ES-335 and ES-345 guitars have much in common. While I know Gibson had a 345 tenor in production, I am not sure about a 335; but, it could have been a custom model. I haven’t seen any documentation on this particular guitar.

Daryl Hall, John Oates, & Ray Harrah
the author & Will Shumate

As you can tell from the video, the guitar is a thin line semi-acoustic electric with two Humbucking pickups and a cherry red finish. If I remember correctly, Hall (or maybe Oates or both) had a Les Paul TV Special tenor from the 1950s as well. When I met the band in 1982, I asked Hall about his tenor guitars; however, after 32 years it escapes me what he said about these elusive instruments.

As far as tuning is concerned, I would venture to say that he is using standard guitar tuning on the four strings as (D-G-B-E). I have no way of confirming this. Hall uses a six-string on this number these days.

Although it charted at the same position as Rick Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou,” I would consider that “Did it in a Minute” is the second most popular tune to utilize a tenor guitar. I surmise this because “Hello Mary Lou” was backed with a number one song – making the single more accessible to a wider audience. In Hall & Oates defense, they did it in a minute; how marvelous is that?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Delivery Man

Day Four of our look at the tenor guitar features a song by Elvis Costello: the title cut of his “Delivery Man” album from 2004. The song is about three women: Vivian, Geraldine, and Ivy and their encounter with a certain delivery man named Abel.

To get the full effect of Costello’s electric tenor guitar, I have decided to use a live version that was recorded in 2004 in Memphis. I guess Elvis made it to the home of Elvis singing about a man who in a certain light looks a lot like Elvis.

The guitar that Costello is using is an orange Gretsch Chet Atkins tenor guitar. On the several live versions available on YouTube, his guitar with the MegaTron pickups really screams. I cannot be certain, but I think the tenor is tuned like a guitar/baritone ukulele (D-G-B-E).

Studio Version

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Blacksmith's Prayer

When Seth Lakeman began performing his song “Blacksmith’s Prayer,” he used a small bodied Martin tenor guitar that appears to be a model 5-15T. It is the same guitar that appears on the cover of his 2011 album “Tales from the Barrel House.” It’s not my favorite tenor guitar, as it looks like a baritone ukulele; but be that as it may, it still sounds great – like many Martin guitars do and always have.

I am not sure if he used the Martin on the studio track, as later live performances of “Blacksmith’s Prayer” and the song’s video show Seth playing an Irish bouzouki. In fact, whether he is playing the tenor or the Irish bouzouki, Seth tunes both instruments to the modal bouzouki tuning of G-D-A-D.

However, you will notice that it appears higher in pitch than either instrument’s typical open string range. Sounding slightly lower than a mandolin, this was accomplished by Seth using a capo on both instruments at the ninth fret. In essence, the “Blacksmith Prayer’s” tuning became E-B-F#-E.

This particular cut was captured live at St. Pancras International Railway Station in London in 2011 and is part of The Station Sessions series of recordings. It gives the full effect of Seth and his Martin tenor guitar as well as his great stage presence.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tenor Guitar: For You Blue

For our second installment regarding the tenor guitar we turn to George Harrison’s son Dhani and his rendition of his father’s composition from The Beatles’ “Let it Be” album. The Gap utilized this 12-bar blues for one of its 2013 commercials.

Dhani plays a Gibson EST-150 electric archtop tenor guitar on this cut. From the pickup and the headstock decal, it appears that this particular guitar was manufactured in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Dhani uses an open “D” tuning (D-F#-A-D) on this cut and it lends itself quite well to the feeling on this song.

Additionally, there is a slide guitar on this tune playing similar to the lap guitar that John Lennon played on the original. Aaron Embry, who also plays tenor guitar and piano, plays on this cut but I am not sure which instrument(s) he is playing. I would venture that he is emulating Paul McCartney’s piano track. McCartney put paper in the strings to get the honky-tonk sound.

Dhani doesn’t typically play his father’s tunes because of the automatic comparison. The unmistakable resemblance in looks and sound to his dad makes you wonder if he inherited any DNA from his mother.

Gap Commercial