Tag Archives: instrumental

Snow Wonder – a new traditional Christmas carol

 

I was out in Penticton, BC once in early October. Had spent the day doing non-outdoorsy winestuff. It was pouring really hard. Went to a couple wineries, tried  and bought some wine, brought it home, chopped some wood, (I guess that counts as out-doorsy), started a fire, cooked dinner logsand sat down to drink some more wine.

 

 

 

As is my usual custom when I am sitting about not doing much of anything, I grabbed my guitar. The blustery weather put me in the mood to do something I had thought of doing before but hadn’t – write a Christmas song. It happened very quickly. I just started picking on a D chord and decided to try a descending bass line with an ascending melody would be d chordinteresting. The second chord was a rough one but necessary – a chordA/C# – with another high A at the top. Yes, I know you non-players don’t know what that means – let’s just say it is pretty rough making that transition from a D.

 

 

 

The whole song was written in about 45 minutes, at least, the main guitar part. There were still other parts.

My beautiful Larivee D-03
My beautiful Larivee D-03

 

Those mostly came in the studio when the layering of the various instruments was to take place. You see, it was meant to be a song evocative of the Christmas’s of my generations music studioyouth, (as can be seen in the video).

 

 

 

Now, my generation, who grew up in the ’60’s and ’70’s, was NOT the generation which used candles on trees and popcorn on a string as an ornament but we were damn close. We had shopping mall Santa and Charlie Brown Christmas and the Rudolph TV show in that strange animation, (it will air another 428 times this December in Calgary – maybe more in your town). We had eggnog, staying up later and getting up early and family get togethers, charlie brown xmasneighbourhood parties, caroling door to door and, most importantly as relating to the video, who could forget that we had “Go play outside!” from the adults. And we would. For hours. And hours. Even in this frigid city.rudolph

 

 

 

I think that instruments like the shakey bells that the Salvation Army people shake in the malls and the organ are considered by my generation to be traditional instruments, as are tubular bells, music box(main melody) and the music box, (accompanying the guitar as the background music).

 

tubular bells

 

I will grant you that the tertiary melody played with guitar harmonics make be a bit of a stretch when defining tradition but …

 

I think the song is really a nice guitar backdrop with a series of contrapuntal melodies weaving around on top. Yet, to my ear at least, it never gets dizzyingly complicated. In fact, because the tubular bells tend to dominate, you might miss the other guitar playing along-side them. The shakers definitely get subsumed by all the other instruments but they are there throughout, (the verse).geoffreycode_snowwonder

 

Regarding the video, it is vintage footage taken from the Prelinger Archives, mixed with some silly footage of me playing my guitar in various places around the beautiful city of Kimberley BC. Great snowstorm that day. Took some footage of me playing the keyboard too but it just doesn’t have the same edginess as walking around with a guitar in a snowstorm.

 

 

Snow Wonder – A Christmas Album

I will admit the landscape is not completely barren. All I Want For Christmas is a pretty catchy song. I still consider it a new entry into the canon of Christmas carols – and it came out in 1993! imagesmariah

 

Of course, some people consider that rather dreary version of Little Drummer Boy that David Bowie concocted with Bing Crosby to be a new entry.

I suppose new entries into this market are so rare, that even old entries are considered new.

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There are some Christmas carols that are good, (O Holy Night – Jon Anderson), some are corny, (Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney and Wings), some are uplifting and some are just plain bad, (Jingle Bell Rock anybody?) And we get to hear them for six weeks every year.

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Rather than complain about it, I did what any sensible musician would do – recorded my own Christmas album. Snow Wonder.

 

The album, (or, more properly, the EP) is six songs – four covers and two originals.

 

The covers are as follows:

Silent Night. Recorded with four guitars it retains its serenity and pastoral feel, (except maybe with that bent note near the end of the third verse. I considered re-doing that but left it in. It still buffaloes me.)

O Holy Night. A raucous affair featuring even more guitars layered up that Silent Night. The slides, which occur throughout the song, have always reminded me of the architecture of a Medieval Cathedral – purpose built to get you to gaze towards the heaven, so the soaring guitars are played to up-lift the listener.

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In The Bleak Midwinter – More of a Winter than a Christmas song but it certainly captures the mood of the title. Yet, the song is pretty enjoyable and brings out that certain melancholy one feels in the bleak mid-winter.

The Wassail Song – a nod toward the New Year after all the Christmas celebrating is done.

The two originals are called Snow Wonder and When the Flowers and the Dust Have Gone. I will post more about these two songs in the lead up toward Christmas. Oh, and, uh, Merry Christmas to all!

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Music Genres – aaaaaugh!

Mind-boggling. One wouldn’t think so but trying to pigeonhole your music into the proper genre is maddening. There are too many.

 

I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Queen, Slade – all the greats, which I considered ‘rock’led-zeppelin bands and, in my ’20’s, after music school,  then went through a huge ‘folk’ phase, listening to mostly Donovan but throwingDonovan at the Hollywood Bowl some Nick Drake, Don McLean, Dave Van Ronk, although he may be considered to be a part of the phase of my life in my ’30’s when I went through a ‘blues’ phase, including such notables as Sonny and Brownie, Sonny Rhodes, (whom I met at the King Eddy in Calgary one night),  and, of course, many others.

 

All along the way, Led Zeppelin was really the soundtrack of my life, (thank God for bootlegs – 9 studio albums gets old pretty quick!), but I always listened to the Raspberries, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, the old, middle and new formations, (the middle one, with Bob Welch is the one I consider the best – check out the link to their great songs Come A Little Bit Closer and Future Games).  Always listening to rock, folk and blues. I have always thought genres are pretty easy to figure out.

 

So, when it comes time to releasing an album, you must slot yourself into, first, a main and then a secondary, genre. For my second album, Snow Wonder, it was pretty easy – Christmas – done. For my first album, the easy choice was “Instrumental”, however, that doesn’t tell you too much. It could just as easily be instrumental of the 500 violins, (aaaah Summer Place by Percy Faith and his Orchestra – great tune) or of the The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side of the Moon.fleet

 

The logo from my first album!
 

I broke down the 12 songs from Slideways into the genres I believe they fall into, excluding the instrumental category:

Downtown – Outta Town – pop, country

Drake/In Flight – adult comtemporary, avant garde, new age

New Horizon – easy listening, blues

Thinking Twice – pop, epic pop, sophisti-pop

Too Bad – blues

Collaboration – pop, adult contemporary

Urban Hop – folk, contemporary

Wyatt Café – blues, ’50’s electric blues

Dey Ha’ T’ Go – blues, blues-rock

Blues Riff in E – blues

Fire – psychedelic rock, stoner

Waterfall – pop, easy listening, folk

 

If this is accurate, I guess the album would be classified as a blues album since that is the majority category. You would have a hard time convincing any bluesman worth his chops, however, that Urban Hop is a blues song.

Starting+Over

Being a spatial, as opposed to a linear, thinker, I find these labels exasperating at best and vexing at worst but I do see the need for them. Some system of organizational flow chart is needed. But, c’mon, how many bloody genres do we need. Check out this link about genres from Wikipedia.

 

 

I counted close to 300 and that only includes folk, rock, pop, blues, easy listening headings, It excludes ska, country, electronic, hip hop, jazz, and R and B. Wow.

 

As I continue to record music, I find myself having an internal debate about what the best way to release the series of songs I am working on. At the moment there are 22 songs in various stages of completion. Some of them are quite clearly blues songs, whether long or short or multi-versioned. Others are nice little pop songs. Some are brooding ballads, (I’ll have a blog about this coming up soon!), while others are more difficult to classify.

 

I suppose I could fit them all onto one album but that solution creates many issues, the least of which is that if a pop song is released onto a blues album, the listener expecting to hear blues will be miffed because there is a non-blues song on the album, and the pop listener will have a shallower life for not having heard the pop song lost on a blues album.

 

The solution? A series of singles? Nah. That would involve too much time spent on marketing.

 

A series of EP’s? This is the direction toward which I am leaning.

 

That way, I can release three to six songs on a blues EP and they all fit the description, just as all the pop songs will fit on the Pop EP.

 

Once the songs are complete, you can spend a little time working on all the various components of marketing and playing the songs and then follow it up with another album in short order.

 

And it is slowly dawning on me that the day of the album is doomed. People will buy songs, usually the hits, and move on so they can create a play-list, the current embodiment of the ’80’s mixed tape. And iTunes even has a “genius’ that will mix it for you so you don’t have to spend too much time bothering with your music. Let a machine do it. Bah!

 

In the spring of 2012, as I watched the hockey play-offs, there was a Lexus commercial thatSMALLL-Watson-K-T-c813398f24v2 had this great song as the background music. I did a little research and found out the song was by a North Carolina singer named Kristina Train. I checked out her website, listened to a bunch of her music and ended up buying the whole damn album. She has a great voice.

 

If this is out of step with modern sensibility, then to Hell with modern sensibility. I bought the whole album of someone who, half an hour previously, I had never heard of and I loved it. And this is what I usually do. I would rather listen to great but obscure music. I suppose that is what I record too. Too bad most people never hear it.

What Am I Hearing? The G Chord

I must have played a ‘G’ chord on my guitar thousands of times. It is my preferred key on the guitar because, as a soloist, it is very versatile. On my current set list, shown below, no fewer than 11 of the guitar songs are in G.

I was in a duet about 10 years ago called the Dirty Ol’ Buskers. I played guitar, harmonica and the kazoo, (specifically for a cover of the Ringo version of ‘You’re Sixteen’) and my partner, Rob White, played a set of drums one might find a busker playing. A real simple set and he stood while playing. It was a great set-up. We both sang.
The Dirty Ol' Buskers logo
The Dirty Ol' Buskers

I will take a minute to explain what a G chord is to you non guitar players as it is relevant to what I will explain later. A guitar has six strings, (duh?!?) and to form a G chord, at least the way I do it, is to press down the 6th string at the 3rd fret, (bass) with your second finger, mute the 5th string, press down the 3rd fret of the first string with your 3rd finger and strum. The key is that strings 4, 3 and 2 are left open and ring out once you strum until you stop them. Great chord!

Two of the songs we did were Squeezebox by the Who and Rave On by Buddy Holly. We played both songs in G and the reasoning was thus: Both songs involve a simple boogie pattern over a shuffle beat and it sounds good with the full G chord but the real magic is that, when it came time to do some sort of guitar solo, I would get my two fingers in the position described above and start flying around the fret board, hitting chords at frets 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, 20. The beauty of this is that you are actually playing a solo, whether you are focusing your strum on the high notes or the low notes, and those three open strings I mentioned just continue to ring out, basically acting like a rhythm guitarist.

So, we had two singers singing in harmony, one set o’ drums and one guitar acting like two guitars, essentially a five piece group. It was an effective way of filling out the sound.The Dirty Ol' Buskers - photo shoot

I have G on my mind because I was sitting down to do a little work on the guitar the other day and, after tuning up, struck a G chord. It was another of those strange aural phenomena I wrote about earlier, (see Barely Audible Music). When I struck the G chord, this one note really stood out. So, rather than doing what I had set out to do, I decided to spend a few minutes chasing this sound that just came out of my guitar. What resulted was a finger picking song that, with a little more development, is now being worked up with the working title ‘Quirky Riff in G’. (I dunno if I will stick with that title?)

And this song just emerged from a chord that I had played thousands of times.

It is a wondrous instrument.IMG_4366

This is my current set list, (songs in bold are piano, italics are in G.)

I Threw it All Away – Dylan
Victory – Code
Sail Away – Neil Young
Deliver Your Children – McCartney
One Too Many Mornings – Dylan
All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
The Way – Fastball
Shooting Star – Dylan
River of Tears – Ian Hunter
Yesterday’s Love – Code
The Crystal Ship – Doors
Flowers and Dust – Code
High Flying Bird – E John

Don’t Think Twice – Dylan
The Weight – The Band

Always on My Mind – Elvis
Richard Cory – McCartney
New Orleans – Arlo Guthrie
Most of the Time – Dylan
You’re So Square – Elvis/Queen
I’m Wandering – Kristina Train
Louisiana – Randy Newman
Let It Be – Beatles
Desperado – Eagles
Skyline Pigeon – E John

Downtown Train – Rod Stewart
Sweet Painted Lady – E John
Make You Feel My Love – Dylan
You Stepped into My Dreams – Ian Hunter
The Man You Wanted – Code
Walk a Thin Line – Fleetwood Mac
Love Minus Zero/No Limit – Dylan
Out on the Weekend – Neil Young
Who’ll Stop the Rain – CCR
Standing on a Rock – Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Catch The Wind – Donovan
Say it Ain’t So, Joe – Murray Head
I Shall Be Released – Dylan
Here, There and Everywhere – Beatles

Come a Little Bit Closer – Fleetwood Mac
I’ve Just Seen a Face – Beatles
There’s a Kind of Hush – Herman’s Hermits

Various photos

close up sunglasses sideview

Cabin cafe guitar, singing

Available now on iTunes
Available now on iTunes

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SweetE2

Jennifer Kapp - she sang the vocal on 'When the Flowers and the Dust Have Gone' from the Snow Wonder album.
Jennifer Kapp – she sang the vocal on ‘When the Flowers and the Dust Have Gone’ from the Snow Wonder album.
Gracie, my Beagle. "You're crackin' me up!"
Gracie, my Beagle.
“You’re crackin’ me up!”
Gracie - my Beagle "I am not amused!"
Gracie – my Beagle
“I am not amused!”

 

 

 

 

Case for my Takamine. It's been around since '82
Case for my Takamine. It’s been around since ’82

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