The Delta Snake Review

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Devil's Dictionary For Music: A Language Translator For The Layman-Part 1

Disclaimer: this guide is for entertainment purposes only. The fact that some of the definitions may have some truth in them is only coincidental.

I'm sure all of you have read the Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, but if you haven't, I definitely recommend it.

This is part one of a handy translator guide for music fans, who wish to decipher some of the more confusing terms in music, and thus armed with the truth, can navigate the vast assortment of music available on the Internet and possibly avoid the waste of cash that was earned working a real job.

It's presented in dictionary form, that is to say in alphabetical order. This is the start of a series that will be done on a casual schedule.

Devil's Dictionary For Music: Part 1

Common Terms:

Classic: this is the generic industry term for any album that's demonstrated the ability to generate sales over a long period of time. Generally at least one year.

It is generally safe for the consumer to assume that any album that's called a classic by at least two different media sources or in at least one book that isn't ghostwritten for the artist is probably a classic in modern terms.

Critic: everybody is a critic, but in industry terms, it's a person who has some sort of media outlet for their opinions on music, and are considered a lower priority for payola and special access to the artist than radio program directors and the few music DJs that have any choice on what they play on their show.

Critics are considered necessary by the media because music fans find reviews entertaining, and thus a service that needs to be provided.

The music industry likes critics because it has been scientifically proven that a review has absolutely no influence on what the average consumer thinks, and thus can't hurt sales, and the reviews often provide excellent quotes for press releases.

What causes some people to quote critics is a psychological disorder that still isn't understood, and research in the area has been sparse and underfunded.

Some researchers feel that musical opinion is similar to politics, where large numbers of people let others do the thinking for them.

The average listener can safely assume that if the critic says things about their favorite artist they agree with, it's a good review.

A bad review on a record is generally a signal to the industry by the media outlet that they haven't bought enough advertising.

Cult Artist: this is generally a label applied to any musician who has a small but dedicated following who feel that the artist creates works of genius (see genius), fits a niche taste, or is considered legendary (see Legendary), or is considered unjustly ignored by the general public by publicity firms.

For the average listener, it's safe to assume that if being a fan of a cult artist makes you feel cooler, hipper, beautiful, or more discerning than the general public, then it's a true cult artist.

Genius: this was generally a term used to describe an artist who created music that made all the other artists feel like they made stupid or inferior music, or created a desire to emulate that genius.

The word is undergone several changes and meaning over the decades, so in the modern era it's difficult to define the word.

In music industry terms it's applied to a very small percentage of artists, a maximum of 99%. The term is sort of treated like a medal, in this case, awarded if the artist has done something exceptional, like actually generating a profit for the label.

The average Music consumer can safely assume that any artist that's considered a genius is generally is a signed artist with a good publicity agent, though due to modern recording technology, it shouldn't be construed as a term for someone who can competently perform music.

Legendary: this is actually a complex term, but if read in a publication, it's it's word applied to only a very special percentage of artists, possibly no more than 95%.

In real-world terms, it's generally applied to an artist who's had perhaps at least two hits, shown career endurance of at least three years, or is a cult artist (see cult artist).

For the average music listener, it's generally safe to ignore the term when evaluating an artist.

Special Edition: in music industry terms, this generally means a release that's been augmented with demos, previously unavailable live performances, versions of the song that sucked for some reason, or half-assed B sides
of singles to create a more expensive version of the album that the label assumes will be bought by the most dedicated fans of a particular artist.

It is safe to assume that this is merely the replacement for the 70s-80s era double album which generally only contained a single album's worth of worthwhile music. It generally signaled the peak of a particular artist's earning power, and was simply a form of profit-taking while the iron was still hot.

Author's Note: in the next installment, I'll provide accurate translation for common musical phrases.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bootleg Recordings: Fan Love Or A Fart In The Elevator?

You don't see as many bootlegs around anymore, at least the type that you saw in the 60s. The things are certainly around, but getting ahold of one doesn't seem as easy as it used to be at least for the average consumer.

A lot of times while I'm cruising through YouTube, I recognize live recordings that were once famous bootlegs.

Bootleg records in the 60s was the musical equivalent of download piracy today, at least in the music industry's eyes, but what was different back then was that the villain was on the supply side.

People didn't prosecuted back then for owning a bootleg record, like some downloaders have been in this era.

For one thing you would've had to sue more than a few artists. Many of the Dylan covers that came out while he was semi-retired due to the now famous motorcycle accident, were learned by artists who bought the "Great White Wonder" bootleg.

Some histories date that as the first rock bootleg, and later on it was issued as a legitimate record as the "Basement Tapes." Or at least some parts of it, there were actually a few different versions that were going under that bootleg name.

Other famous bootlegs  included "Wooden Nickel," that forced Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to issue "Four Way Street," and the bootleg of the Stone's Oakland concert that some people feel was a better performance than the one that came out on the "Ya Ya's" album. 

Also the famous Woodstock Festival was pretty much in circulation in its entirety before even the first three record set came out.

Bootlegging wasn't some new development in the 60s, it had been common in jazz for decades.

There was a difference in the attitude about it in jazz. It was considered more of a hard-core collector hobby, and the tapes were traded back-and-forth between fans. It was considered bad form to sell them.

The early rock bootlegs actually started to become a large industry, and more than a few vinyl record pressing plants knew that some of the releases they were contracted to put out were bootlegs.

The bootlegs were marketed like most rarity items, without any quality control, and often were what they call audience tapes. A tape made by somebody sitting in the audience.

As a general rule, unless you were a fanatic fan of the artist, bootlegs were a rip-off. Extremely bad sound in most cases, and low quality vinyl that would sometimes last only a few plays.

In the early rock days, most of the artist were ambivalent about it at first. For one thing it was the label's problem, and it was probably at least a little flattering to know that people wanted everything that you recorded.

What the artists mostly complained about was the lousy sound. When you see some video on YouTube that was once a famous bootleg, it's probably higher-quality because it's a more direct copy of the original video or tape. Back then, combined with a bad vinyl pressing, the music would often be almost unrecognizable

Later on the money got serious, then artist began to become more hostile to the idea of bootlegs.

Which is perfectly understandable. Most sensible artists know that people probably lend each other recordings, or trade tapes, but it is mitigated a bit by the fact that somebody bought an actual product and copied it. In other words the artist did get a sale from it, and maybe more if the copy turned a listener into a fan.

A bootleg is something different entirely. It's basically a recording of a performance taken without permission, and sold for profit. It doesn't matter if the artist is already a millionaire, it's not fair.

Criticizing an artist for being greedy for not liking bootlegs obscures the real issue, that somebody is profiting off another without their permission.

When CDs became common, bootlegging really took off because you didn't need a chain of vendors to create a bootleg anymore. A single person with a computer or CD duplicator could crank out thousands of a bootleg copy with very little overhead.

It also made it possible to bootleg videos of concerts, which is pretty evident on YouTube. That makes it possible to make a higher-quality bootleg when you have the video or film since that was probably the source of many bootlegs.

Other sources included tapes from the soundboard, and some even stolen from recording studios.

Ironically most of those bootlegs don't get censored on YouTube because of the lousy sound. It's the studio recordings that the artists often block, and sometimes they get around to the live recordings, but as a rule you're more likely to hear a song from some old TV show on YouTube, than from a copy of the studio recording.

When I first started record collecting, I start off buying the new stuff. I then discovered trading those in to the used record store would stretch the dollars spent, and from there discovered bootlegs.

I only ended up buying a few, there was the thrill of having something rare at first, but it didn't take long to get out the habit.

For one thing, those who know me well, know that I can't stand a recording where you can't hear the drums, which is a common fault of bootlegs. 

When I'm considering a new recording in a record store or download site, the first thing I check out is the drum track. If the mix is bad and the drums mixed down too low, no sale.

Another factor is bootleg pricing isn't standard. Some could cost over a hundred dollars back then, and like I said, unless you were a fanatic fan who had to have everything, in virtually all cases the bootleg was a huge letdown.

If you notice later on in the CD era just before digital took off, and up to the present, artist have started routinely including rare cuts and demo tracks. Most of those mainly appeal to collectors, but it's a smart move, and gives the artist a return on the earlier stuff that before would often end up on bootleg. 

It's also an irony, when you think that artists complained about the lack of quality, and now they're getting a premium price for adding their demos and cuts that in most cases are pretty dull stuff.

Some artists have actually taken to studying bootleg patterns, and regions where illegal downloading is heaviest, and use it as an indicator of where to market heavily, and have been quite successful at it.

That doesn't make bootlegging good, but it certainly shows that the difference between different artists isn't just talent, but also business acumen.

Eventually industry will figure out that the emergence of all these unauthorized recordings into public outlets like YouTube will work in their favor.

If someone who holds the rights to a particular concert season on YouTube, it becomes relatively easy to take control of that video, or block it. Many groups have done the smart thing and released official videos, which they did for MTV anyway.

So you have bootlegs that started from tapes, and I'm sure there's still websites out there where bootlegs are traded or sold, and have continued their life now on video on the web.

But the emergence of YouTube puts that sort of material into what I think is still unknown territory. Personally I think YouTube is the new radio, or at least one of its most important forms. It'll take a while, i'm sure, or the record industry to figure out how to monetize it, and what parts to leave free for promotion. 

That's important because radio play in the old days was very important, and it's better to study YouTube and civilize it slowly, rather than take a chance on killing the next era equivalent of radio.

I think the primary problem with the recording industry and bootlegs, is that the recording industry and more than a few artists simply don't get that if you charge too much for a product where most of it has a short shelf life (most don't become hits), it creates a temptation to take it for free when the opportunity arises. Most of the music industry business is spent putting out music that people listen to for a while and then move onto the latest.

Hits are great, but in industry terms, detrimental if they all become classic and get listened to over and over and people don't get interested in the new stuff.

I think streaming may not make a lot of artists entirely happy in terms of the lower royalty rate, but it's a new industry, and if they support it will probably drive most of the people who were illegally downloading into the fold of paying users.

I would think that's something the recording industry and artist would understand, since more than a few debut albums in retrospect didn't really provide top value, and tacitly assumed that the fans would stick with the artist as they grew and developed.

But that's a little off-topic. In terms of bootlegs we're talking about an unauthorized product that often can command a big price. It's created by somebody not authorized by the artist, and makes money off that artists name.

I think that the labels and artist will get a lot more of the fans support in this when they go back and start suing the supply side, instead of suing the potential customer.

Underlying all this drama about bootlegs, there is one central fact it's almost always ignored. That there isn't an artist on this planet who's a big star that didn't get there without the help of countless fans who paid money for his product. There is, or was, any other path of stardom. The idea that someone became famous because of some sort of genius or talent is a fairytale. In the real world, fans make you famous, nothing else.

As Napoleon once said, talent is nothing without opportunity.

Get the fans back on your side, stop giving all those inflated figures for downloading and suing fans, and I think bootlegging will simply go back to the small time trading between fanatic fans that it used to be. Most fans aren't inclined to buy a bootleg anyway in this day and age, and could be easily persuaded to buy the legal product for a bootleg.

(Keep in mind talking about music here, the problem of movie bootlegs I think is a more complex and different subject)

Then the entertainment industry can worry about the real problem, which is the mass counterfeiting of their products overseas, much of which ends up back here. Putting a lid on that will bring a real return.

Much more than trying to collect a hundred thousand dollars judgment against a single mother or college student...




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A music lover's confession: I love "bad" music

Friends who know me well, know that a significant part of my collection is made up of what music others would call bad, stupid, in bad taste, crass attempts by an artist to cash in on the latest trend, or a deliberate attempt to offend or shock.

I think a more accurate term would be "music you either love or hate."

For example, my latest acquisition, "Bombay Disco: Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985," is a bizarre mix of Indian percussion pounding out disco rhythms, high-pitched Indian singing, and a riot of sitars, cheap electric guitars, exotic string arrangements, and from what I could tell, any sound a person could identify as being from India.

Keep in mind, I don't buy these kinds of CDs indiscriminately. I did listen to the samples in the store first (yes I still go to record stores), and found it to my liking. As I purchased the disc, the young guy at the counter nodded and said, "oh yeah I got to check that one out too."

It's that empathetic understanding by two jaded music fans who heard it all and who have abandoned ordinary norms of taste and now wallow in the bins of the abandoned, discredited, or passé. To feel again the thrill of discovery.

The best way to describe it is that it was obviously an attempt by the Indian film industry to duplicate the success of Saturday Night Fever, a disco classic in it's R-rated version, and a sappy love story with a good soundtrack in it's cleaned up version.

Of course India being India, they chose the latter. Which is understandable considering that they equate an on screen kiss as tantamount to butt pounding jokes on South Park.

The disc is full of everything I likeabout hard  charging  Hindi music. Exotic rhythms, punchy bass, great Indian style vocals and music, with atmosphere that hints at the sleaziness of a dive strip bar in San Francisco's North Beach area.

It's probably more like a merchant Marine sailor's view of India, since the general atmosphere of a Hindi film is more like an old Abba video on MTV.

Does the music have a cool trashy aura, or am I just putting it there?

I don't get hung up on such questions, it's good enough that my friends roll their eyes when the CD is played. But don't get me wrong, I didn't buy it purely for shock affect, it's very ultra cool music for anyone wants to hear something out of the mainstream.

These types of records aren't unusual. In the 60s when psychedelic music was at its peak in the Western world, it didn't operate in a vacuum. Musicians from countries as far away as Nigeria did psychedelic music, often adding it to the funk they already picked up from James Brown.

Even Brazil in the 60s had its own psychedelic pop movement, which was actually critically acclaimed, and thus out of the scope of this blog entry.

I wasn't always like that as a music collector. It was after I joined a punk band that changed my ear for music forever. Suddenly sounds that were harshly dissonant started to become sweet sounding, or more "real."

Before Punk, I totally didn't understand the free jazz movement of the 60s and thought John Coltrane had made a horrible mistake recording the infamous Ascension album. Now the music makes perfect sense and I see it as one of his greatest works.

Also my view of audience acceptance changed. Before our first gig the leader of our band informed us that the club owner had advised him that's since Punk was still very new,  and they didn't know what was good or bad, we would be booked again if we either got loud cheers or provoked extreme hatred and boos from the crowd.

In other words, don't be boring. I won't go into all the details of what we did in our 20 minute debut to be booked again, suffice to say I would never do any of it again at any polite dinner party.

For one thing, most of it was staged and assisted by shills in the audience, which shocked me at first, but I later learned it was common practice by the other bands at the club. I later became a pretty good shill myself for bands that we were friends with, and could put on a convincing show of wanting to assault the lead singer for his insults and shoving me off my chair before the bouncers dragged me out (and let me back in through the side door).

It was the entertainment business, and all in good fun.

But that pretty much ended my normal habit of buying the latest James Taylor record, or even the Stones or Led Zeppelin. In fact I became reluctant to buy any record that was critically acclaimed or popular.

Instead I began to seek it all out: avant-garde, electronic, punk, and especially ethnic music.

Like most such impulses, that settled down to a specific taste, bad music.

The actual technical term is "so bad that it's good," or "good-bad" music and there's always some sort of an element of humor, however dark or esoteric.

One of the pioneers of bad taste in music was Dr. Demento, whose radio show is probably most remembered for launching the career of Wierd Al Yankovic, but introduced the listener to a host of classic cuts like Fish Heads, Kinko The Clown, and other cuts that had a spark of genius and humor to the right set of ears.

There is such a thing as bad music, I mean really bad music. Probably the classic of that genre was the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton's version of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper movie sound track. It's probably the only movie I ever went to where people started booing.

Most of the "good-bad" music can't really be created by design. The singer or artist has to have the enthusiasm of someone attempting a piece of music that's either thoroughly out of their depth or coming from incredibly bad taste energized by the conviction that it's a true piece of art.

One of my favorites is the Butthole Surfers' "Lady Sniff, a nearly atonal mix of pre-grunge guitar, a bad attempt at sounding like a rough cowboy singer, and an assortment of realistic sounds like farts, vomiting, sounds and strange exclamations that have distant roots in redneck vocabulary.

It was put together as ingeniously as an old Spike Jones number, and it's become the best song that group ever did that very few people ever hear.

My other favorite sub genre of bad is what seems on paper as lousy cover numbers. Again, it just can't be a bad cover like a karaoke backing track. It has to have the passion of an artist or group who think they're doing a very cool version of the song, or are at least doing their best to shut the producer up by doing it as quickly as possible but just have too much talent to do it totally bad.

The jazz great Ella Fitzgerald probably did one of the stone classics of bad when she did a big band version of Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love. Her piano version was merely bad, just another typical attempt by many artists of the time to tap into the 60s youth market.

But the single version, that was something else. With a full band blasting out the guitar riff, Ella became transcendent.

Many people would bring up Frank Zappa in a discussion like this, but he's really in a different category. His music was pure genius and satire, disguised by obnoxious song titles.

One of the classics is Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music,"which to most ears was nearly an hour of what sounded like scraping metal. Most understand that he did that to get out of this RCA contract, and it was a record that turned off even many of his own fans.

Ironically only a few years later, copies of that record were fetching $50 apiece, which is the ultimate tribute that a record buyer can bestow on a piece of music that wasn't intended to be liked.

I'm only covered a few examples. Avant-garde classical would require a blog entry of its own, and most performance art tries to be bad and shocking, which violates the most important rule of good-bad music, which is it can't be your intent to be bad.

Good-Bad music is actually an aesthetic, a specific taste, and it must manifest a genius and humor that wasn't the intent of the piece.

It's like any other form of music. You combine the elements together, and what comes out of the mix is really unpredictable. It could turn into a hit song, bore people, or simply be misunderstood until the right people hear it.

Sometimes it takes time, but genius has a way of persisting until it's discovered.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

If music reviews are purely opinion, do people take reviews seriously?

 The answer to the question is yes...and no.

For a new artist who has a new release out, it can be a matter of life or death to have that release reviewed. Not because an aspiring star wants a good review, though they and the label prefer that, but that the release is mentioned at all.

People can't buy what they don't know is out there.

So simple as it seems, that's the primary purpose of a review. It lets the buying public know this particular release is available. It's part of the buzz.

Of course the record label knows that when the consumer sees that a new release is out, the first thing they think is is it worth my money?

Notice that I didn't say how good is it?

The fact is most people don't really care what a critic thinks, and the problem with a lot of critics is that's what they think their job is, to tell public how good the music is.

I'll use the blue genre as my primary example as to why the latter type of critic is useless.

The reason is, as the former editor and publisher of the Delta Snake Blues, is that when someone sent me a letter agreeing or disagreeing with my review, it was obvious they had already bought the record.

I started the newsletter for the same reason many people create music newsletters; I was an avid fan of the music, was a serious record collector, and I wanted free records. To get those I had to be a reviewer.

When I started the newsletter in the early 80s, there wasn't that many blues publications, so the blues labels gave me excellent support. They bought advertising and sent me plenty of records. In fact, so many that I eventually had to form a reviewing staff and farm them out.

One of the first things I noticed is everybody reviews records differently.

I tended to follow the early Rolling Stone model. That is to say, there was a formula. First you wrote a paragraph or two about the group, then you described briefly their earlier recordings if they had any, then went on to describe the record being reviewed and how it differed from the others or if it was similar.

There was a section where you described if you liked the record or not, but you always tried to make sure that the record was described in the context of the group's history or discography.

There's good reasons for this type of review. The most important being that the consumer would be able to tell that you weren't an industry shill who simply reworded the press release.

The practice of using press releases and pre-written reviews was pretty common in early teen magazines and it's made a huge comeback on the Internet.

If you Google a product, and read the various statements to come up, you'll find that a lot of the reviews are fairly similar and in many cases some don't even bothers to change the wording of the company's press release. This is particularly true of guitar reviews.

Many of the records and CDs I got were accompanied by nice press photos, and almost always a sheet of review excerpts, such as "his finest work in many years" or "songs that will become classic in the coming years," and so on.

If your review had some sort of a phrase that was really nice, the label would ask you if they could use it also. Some of my blues reviews are still up on the Internet, because they were positive, which is perfectly fine practice, but more often than not you got critics who would write reviews with the intent of being quotable and worthy of inclusion in the press release.

The reason was simple, critics like being famous too, just like everybody else. They want their opinion to be respected, and America is one of those countries that has a public that's absolutely addicted to and respects "expert" opinion.

When I began farming out the reviews, like I said, I found people reviewed releases differently. Some people flat-out told me they didn't want to write a negative review, so in their mind they would only "emphasize the positive." Which can ignore certain faults that would almost certainly your take a consumer like a bad stereo mix, out of tune instruments, or singer that's tone deaf.

Others would want to make a mark so they often would go heavily negative, while others simply read the liner notes on the back of the LP cover, and sort of wrote their own version of it.

There was a dozen other variations of that but suffice to say, when I read some of the reviews as an editor, it became obvious that most of the reviews were not very useful for the consumer.

For one thing the reviewer always has to be aware of they're writing for a market. If you're writing a review about a blues record, it's not really your job to evangelize and get people like the blues. The review is mostly going to be read by somebody who is into that music.

What the blues listener really wants to know is, is it worth spending my money on, and what does it "sound" like. In other words, is it Chicago style blues, folk blues, rock influenced blues, and so on.

After 16 years of writing blues reviews, I still can't say I  really ever got a real handle on what a perfect review was. The closest is still the 60s Rolling Stone model.

The reason is most the people who buy music will be fans, either of the group or the genre. What I found is they don't want to know whether it's good or not, but what does it "sound like" and is the group competent? Does sound like the groups last record, or have they changed direction?

Details like audio quality weren't as important in the blues, as many of us blues fans still love the reissues of the old 78s and are used to scratch noises and lousy sound. Though whether that sound quality is truly bad would easily be the subject of a full blog on its own.

When I say the consumer's interested in what the record sounds like, what it also means is that the blues fan wants to make sure it's a blues record and not music done by a rock band that decided to do blues, or if the group was simply calling it a blues record. The latter happened a lot in the 80s.

In other words the kind a review I found that the consumer appreciated most was similar to a QA inspection report.

Is the record what it says it is?

Which makes sense. For example, as a teen I was a fanatic Hot Tuna fan. I was aware that a lot of people didn't like the group, didn't understand that it was a form of country blues mixed with psychedelic, and if the reviewer thought the upcoming album was lousy, I'd have bought it anyway. I might find myself agreeing with the reviewer later on if I was disappointed in that particular record but it wasn't going to stop me from buying it.

There's actually two very insightful observations about reviews that were made by two very different rock artists.

Todd Rundgren once said that new rock records should be reviewed by young reviewers, not by older critics that had heard it all before. The reason being that rock 'n roll really is a basic sensibility that is the same but it's expressed a little differently with each generation. The new generation hears it as an exciting new sound and energy, but the older critic has heard it before and tends to be cynical and critical about it.

That was one thing I always had to guard against when reviewing a blues record. I was familiar with blues records all way back to the 20s, so some group in the 80s who was doing probably the three thousandth version of Dust My Broom could easily come off as boring, even they did succeed in making it sound a little different or infused with fresh energy. You had to try to listen to it with a set of "new ears" so to speak.

Frank Zappa had the other incisive comment, which is also basically true, especially for genre music. He said that people often picked music as part of a range of choices that made up a lifestyle.

So if someone was really into the idea of being out of the mainstream, they made sure that their fashion sense was very different, and the music that they liked fit the lifestyle. It didn't matter if the music was good or not.

For example being a hard-core punk. That meant ratty ripped up clothes, and being into the correct type of superfast and dissonant music.

That whole concept wasn't just Frank Zappa being cynical. I was in a punk band for a couple years, and what Frank said was right on target.

Same with the blues. Particularly in the 70s and early 80s, the younger bands worked very hard to be good at the genre as opposed to changing revolutionizing it. That's nothing to criticize actually, it was just how you wanted to play the blues.

Though I will say that during that period. the predominant sound among the younger bands was West Coast style blues, which had swing elements. That was often a turn off to those who liked the harder core Chicago blues, and so it was important in my review that I identied the type of blues being played.

So the most important point in my review wasn't whether it was good, but making sure that the consumer know what style of blues it was.

So as far as reviewing music, one has the be aware that you're writing to a market, but that the audience has a wide variety of motives for wanting to hear the music or buy it. That's why every review draws both praise and criticism. Because many fans see it either as a validation or criticism of their taste. Whether or not it's a bad record unfortunately tends come out after purchase.

So in the reviews of that I wrote, at least the ones that I had the time to really do a good job on, I went for the early Rolling Stone type.

The reason it was a great formula, was that for the fan of the group it gave them an idea of where the group was heading or was a warning that the group had changed the sound that they liked.

For the buyer who would never heard of the band, it would give them a clear idea of where the music was coming from, what it sounded like, and if there was a historical context to it.

Making sure that the review included a lot of context made the review informative, so at a minimum it was entertaining to read.

The last point was my bottom line. The reviews were only part of the main business at hand, which was getting more readers and advertising (to be honest). If the reader enjoyed the review and found it informative, I figured that's as far as I could take it, and even if I did say it was good or bad, I knew that in the vast majority of people's minds, that was something they were going to decide, not me.

People like to hear from another human being what they think about something. The important thing to remember is that it's like any other advice you offer a friend or stranger.

In the digital age it's almost unnecessary to have critics. On iTunes you can hear a minute of a song, which is about as much time as an record company A&R guy spends listening to a cut on a new demo, and there's no better critic then you as far as what you want to spend your money on.

Even if there's been cases when the critics have been right, that's a true statement. The consumer is still the best critic.

One of the the most famous examples is when the Stones released Exile On Main Street. It was widely panned and hated by critics.

The public disagreed of course and several of the cuts became hits (or at least FM hits). These days the general consensus is that it's probably the Stone's finest work but the record simply was what it was, it's just that the critics didn't like it at first, and now they do.

So that example tells you what a record review can or cannot be in a nutshell.

If you read a review on my blog, i'm going to assume that you're your own best critic, and concentrate on telling you the other details and what I personally think of the record. Especially since you're almost certainly going to have the ability to go to the music sites and hear the record samples yourself.

In the digital age there's really no point anymore in telling a consumer if the song is good or bad. The digital age has brought back the old listening boothes where a person could listen to a single before buying it.

But then, you might hear the cut, and sort of want a second opinion. 

In which case this critic stands ready to help.




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guitar Review: DiPinto Galaxie 4 (aka Los Straitjackets surf guitar)



The DiPinto Galaxie 4 surf guitar is more in the mold of modern or retro surf, as exemplified by the much missed Japanese band, the Surf Coasters, or the harder, trashier tones of old Link Wray.

The classic tone of traditional surf is the sound of Fenders like the Jaguar or Jazzmasters (or strats of course) or Mosrites, and in general the heavily reverbed "clean" tones (though not in the sense you would think in jazz or country).

Sometime around 80s, a sub-genre of surf developed. Groups like Agent Orange and a host of young bands took traditional surf and added a punk rock sensibility even if their sound was more retro than the punk hard-core bands.

This sub genre didn't come out of nowhere. You can pretty much trace it right back to the Ramones who rocked out a lot of surf songs in their repertoire.

Add to that the early 80s cult legends, the Barracudas (ironically an English band), and surf music became harder, louder and faster.

There still is a surf music scene. It was there before the Beach Boys made it into a pop form, and there still is one now as exemplified by bands like the Mermen.

The current surf scene is really too detailed to discuss here, but one of the bands that have emerged is Los Straightjackets.

Los Straitjackets are a band whose lineage probably comes from the Ramones and Barracudas side of things, and not only have a distinctive sound, but one of the coolest looks on the planet.

A surf band that wears Mexican wrestler masks, plays a lot of loud, trashy surf, but with enough authentic tone and technique to make it very clear that this is a very good surf band.

The DiPinto Galaxie 4 is a distinctive retro style guitar they've endorsed. It's a very cool cross between the old cheap Japanese guitars of the 60s with their multitude of pick ups and buttons, and the classic body lines of the classic fenders.

Think of a Fender Strat or Jaguar, but with sharper pointed horns, and with four thin single coil style pick ups with an on-off switch above each in the old 60s Japanese-style, but also with standard knobs and Fender style five way switch.

That's twice as many pick ups as a Jaguar or Jazzmaster, and one more than a Strat. More in line stylistically with an old 60s Japanese Teisco-Kawai.

Although the DePinto's are generally listed in the 650.00 category on the Internet, this guitar is relatively easy to find priced as low as 500.00 on the street, if you can find one of course.

Once again you can get the detailed specs on the Internet, it's not hard-to-find, but the heart of the guitar is the mahogany body with four single coil square pickups (instead of Fender alder wood), maple neck that has an angled headstock (so you don't have to use the fender style string tree) for better string tension at the nut, a Fender Jaguar style tremolo bar, and bright cool colors with sparkles.

One of its primary selling points, besides it sound (which I'll discuss soon) is that it's at a price point well below what Fender charges for any of the top line versions of the guitars mentioned above, and only a fraction of the price of the vintage models.

Fender does make Jazzmasters and Jaguar versions in the same price range of the DiPinto, but those are modernized and geared towards the rock and alternative market. Certainly good enough for surf, but harder to get those classic tones, particularly in the case of the Jaguars which often have humbuckers instead of the traditional single coils.

The best Fenders that compare are more expensive, and the best value in terms of an authentic recreation is their lower line Squire vintage modified series Jaguar and Jazzmasters at around 300.00.

The Galaxie 4 isn't really a guitar for the person who wants to play traditional surf like the old Ventures, etc, but perhaps closer to the more modern sound of the Mermen (who use strats) or Dick Dale (as he plays surf now).

The real purpose of this guitar is to play surf the Los Straitjackets way, a combination of the traditional sound but a beefier, flat out trash guitar tone with a punk edge.

So on one hand I do say it's related to the Fenders, but the intent's a little different. If you buy a DePinto, you probably do love surf, but probably want to play it louder and harder.

The Galaxie is a nice guitar to hold and play. It's a bit lighter than the Fenders, and the pick ups are hotter and more versatile than the ones on the old 60s Japanese guitars. The five way switch also combines the pick ups in ways the old Teiscos didn't, which include a setting to make the middle pickups combine into a humbucker.

I think most guitars have a particular sound that that defines it. In the case of the Galaxie, it's the far back pick up. It has a sharp, full tone that's clear, rounded, and unlike any i've heard. When you turn up the gain and volume, it has the trebly attack of an old single coil Gibson SG, but sharper, with a little bit of that cool cheap pickup sound. It have a severe case of GAS when I heard it.

Playing around with the four switches is fun, turning the various ones on and off produce a wide range of tones useful for surf, surf punk and trash rock. Crank it up even louder, and it'll do fine as a alternative music guitar in most cases.

Combine that with retro styling, and you've got one of the best mid range price and style alternatives to Fender on the market.

That said, like all guitars you should try it alongside other brands and types in the same price range. If you want to play hard rock, it's not entirely suitable for a sound that might need a little bit of metal in it. If you play a Gibson SG Junior alongside it, I would tend to take the P90 Gibson sound over the Dipinto, but that just shows my age more than anything else.

If you want to play more a hard-core Surf sound, it's worth trying out the vintage modified Squires. Those are extremely good values for the money also, with the Duncan-designed pick ups doing a more than adequate job of reproducing that vintage tone, and cheap enough that you can add stock Fender pick ups (and still be in the mid-price zone).

What DePinto did right was not trying to slavishly reproduce any of the above sounds. It's stylistic sensibility does stem from the 60s, but they went for a sound that's identifiably surf, but with a juiced up sound where even the clean tones have a nice punch (and doesn't distort into a pure alternative or metal tone).

It's got excellent 60s mojo, distinctive style, a sound of it's own that's still surfy (as we know it today), and at an excellent price point. Getting a used copy would be an excellent bargain for the money.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a first-line surf guitar, or the only one you should have. It may not fit the type of surf music you want to do.

But any search for a surf guitar in this price range should include this one as one of the choices. If for no other reason that if you get a Fender or Mosrite repro, you could find yourself sounding like everybody else.

The DePinto Galaxie 4 will make you sound at least a little different. Any true musician would check out a guitar if there was a chance it could do that.

If they would've included a Mexican wrestling mask, I did given it an extra star for a guitar this already pretty cool.









Monday, June 9, 2014

Will Streaming Destroy The Music Industry & The Fairy Godmother Fantasy

One of the biggest current trends in digital music is streaming, and it's made a noticeable enough dent in digital download sales that even Apple has bought a streaming service to incorporate into iTunes.

I've already read a few editorials about it being "free" music, a few semi-famous musicians complaining about the low royalty rate, and statements that it will destroy digital sales (which destroyed CDs which destroyed vinyl LPs which destroyed 45s which destroyed 78s, etc).

Personally, I doubt it will destroy the music industry, which always makes apocalyptic claims about any change in music trends that it can't control.

Streaming is obviously a new form of radio, but one where listeners can choose songs, and probably just like old time radio, will never make any particular musician wealthy by airplay alone.

I've read statements by musicians that were very critical of streaming, but the statements are similar to the kinds made anytime a musical era is beginning to change.

Which is the thing we have to keep in mind about streaming. It's not big business yet, the royalty rate isn't very high, and one big streaming service doesn't bother with royalties. It's an industry needs to grow up.

Like I said in earlier blogs, we're probably back to the age of singles, where airplay simply publicized a song, and musicians made most of their living from live performance.

Some artists always become rich in every era, and whether they're conscious of it or not, that's still the fantasy of quite a few musicians in this present age.

It's basically the fairly godmother fantasy, but in industry terms, "being discovered."

In it you play your music, some A&R guy finds you, the record company signs you and gives you a huge amount of money, promotes you, then comes stardom, and then all the drugs, women, mansions, and the means to hire bodyguards to keep the public that made you a star away from you.

Not to mention the full power of a wealthy record company behind you, dishing out payola to make sure your song becomes a hit, money for publicists, and legal protection from your mistakes.

And if the record company was particularly honest, you got regular royalties from your sales and airplay. In some ways it's a unique system. No guitar company takes a piece of your action once you buy their product. The music industry has been like the newer software industry as it restricts the use by the buyer, and in the case of music, wants a fee for any public use every single time it's product is played, even by kids in a school musical.

Kind of like a laundromat, to use the washer and dryer you have to keep popping in the quarters, but in this case, you own the appliances.

That was the success fantasy, and to a large degree it was true for a lucky few.

The reality was that the record labels were in fact choke points. Thousands of artists spent their own money making demos, sent them to A&R departments that would listen to maybe the first three cuts, pick a few from that group for development and sign them to contracts.

Most would receive a large sum of money, but virtually all of it was really an advance against future royalties, and the group was expected to cover the expenses of making the record from that money also.

If the record became a hit, and it made the advance back, the artist would get more money. If the record flopped, the artist still owed that advance and it became a big debt instead.

At that point, if you were lucky, the record company would simply write the debt off and of course own your music. If it was a less wealthy label, you could find yourself playing disco or whatever was popular at the time so the record company could try to recoup its investment.

The philosophy behind this was that even if there were hundreds of failures, there would be a few that would become massive hits, and that subsidized the losses.

I don't think there's any solid evidence that this was a superior system of getting new music to the public. 

Plus if an artist disappointed the company, and that could even mean getting only a gold record instead of platinum, a music catalog could quickly sink into obscurity from the label's apathy (and stay the property of the record company). The music would simply keep it in the vaults because it wasn't profitable to release it.

Some of the 60s artists, like Tom Rush, figured it out early and began releasing independently. Without all the overhead, they found they could make a comfortable living releasing their music even without the benefit of massive sales.

The web and digital age changed that to a large extent. An artist could bypass the demo stage, which could cost the artist a lot of money, and still leave them in obscurity, and take their music directly to the public.

The trade-off was that you were on your own. There isn't a company investing a huge sum of money to promote you.

What really transformed the digital age wasn't the sites that sold MP3s. It was the change in distribution. No matter how big the record company, it was always at the mercy of the distributors who always held the real power in the industry. 

Walmart for example, accounts for a huge percentage of national record sales, and could dictate to the record company how it released a CD, and could even make them change the lyrical content.

Once distribution companies formed that could take an indie artist's music and get it on the digital sites for small fee, that's when the old industry model began to break down.

It was a viable model, most of those distributors didn't take a huge cut of an MP3 sale like a record company would. If an indie artist sold a .99 song, most of that money came back to them.

Streaming is different, it works like radio. The artist gets paid a very small royalty every time song is played, and only if it's played. If you have a publishing deal, that royalty rate can be increased.

The thing is, there's no record company dishing out payola, perks, and in some cases even women to make sure the DJ played your song. For one thing there aren't that many DJs left in the radio industry, and most are talk show hosts.

So it goes without saying that you're not going to get rich through streaming. If streaming gets as pervasive as radio, then the amount of money an artist will get will go up.

The whole thing is still very new. I'm sure at some point, popular artists or record labels will probably get the streaming industry to put in a different model, perhaps an on-demand system for certain songs.

The traditional record industry didn't benefit most musicians, so any changes in the streaming industry will probably not be much help to the indie artist either.

One thing that does seem certain is that we won't see as many rich stars, and it'll be harder for the average musician or artist to make a living off recordings alone, even if the odds of their music being heard improve (if they promote themselves).

The troubles of the music industry are going through aren't happening in a vacuum. That affects the payout too.

In the last couple of decades, entire categories of jobs have disappeared or have gone overseas. People are making less money everywhere, and the money that sustained a rockstar's lifestyle comes from that pool of people.

When times are tough, everybody makes less, and musicians who forget that their income depends on spending by average people can think they're being ripped off by some new industry like streaming.

They forget that being a musician isn't a service sector or regular hourly wage job. In the real world it's a sales job. Music is created, and the artist has to convince the consumer to buy it.

The last few decades were sort of a golden age for music, it made a lot of people rich, but it just might be that we're not in an age anymore where a rockstar can make several times more than a doctor (with a lot less work and liability).

Technology moves very fast, which means in an industry like music, which is very technology driven, there will be periods of upheaval. It won't be clear what streaming means to the music scene for a year or two, or if it's simply a transition to another more sustainable model.

The MP3 download era eventually stabilized into the iTunes model, for example.

The streaming era has really only just now begun in earnest. Judging it on what's happening now is shortsighted. The royalty rate is low because the industry is new and only starting to get established, what it pays out if it becomes the dominant form of music distribution remains to be seen.

The smart indie artists have always been the ones who studied the trend and adapted to it. That's a model that's never changed.

To look at it more positively, the opportunity to get your music heard is never been better in decades. Big changes bring big opportunities, and it's smarter to go looking for those than to sit around waiting for the fairy godmother.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Do animal lovers really like animals more than people? Some thoughts on the subject...

The fact is there are some animal lovers who like nature's citizens more than human beings, or at least some human beings.

I know this for a fact because I tend to be one of latter group. 

However, like most nature or animal loving philosophies, it's often a mixture of fact and fiction.

There is this stereotype that nature is full of animal species who are benevolent, and possess souls more pure than humans.

Any sane human being would recognize that this is not necessarily true. Even the dolphins, who enjoy great PR as gentle, intelligent lifeforms are not vegans and not only eat fish, but don't bother to give their prey a humane death before eating them like we do when we club cows to death (satirical point).

And if you jump into a swarm of hungry sharks in the water, your odds of survival are better if you walk into the Kill zone of a firefight in Afghanistan.

The thing to keep in mind is that the idea that an animal's motive for doing anything is pure or evil is purely a man-made construction.

Animals are part of a very complex ecosystem, and their role is clearly defined, and part of it is that it's a food chain. Most of the activity on that food chain isn't a pretty sight (to humans).

I know you've all heard about the Bambi syndrome, all the philosophical statements about judging man by how they treat animals, and how animals are treated as pets in some countries and pests in others.

It's all true of course, and it's a subject full of gray zones.

Let's take a look at the idea that some people like animals more than people.

That's probably true, though the psychology of it has become a stereotype, that those particular animal lovers are people who can't relate to human beings or don't like them 

That's true on one level, but the number of animal lovers who don't like human beings is dwarfed by the number of people (who aren't necessarily animal lovers) who could care less about other  human beings.

A small sampling of human haters would include heads of corporations that put out products they know are harmful, defective but cheaper to pay out lawsuits then to do a recall, people on Wall Street who don't mind ripping off the country and ruining the future of millions, countries engaged in tribal or genocidal warfare that include an incredible amount of atrocities, and all the way down the scale to people who cut in line while others have stood there for hours.

Most of the above activities actually enjoy large groups of admirers and toadies who worship wealth and power, or some who just think it's very bad for a moment, then go back to watching the football game or whatever. Some of the more involved ones might buy a T-shirt or something to help the cause.

I think one of the reasons that people love animals and nature, and at times see it as better than human behavior goes back to the old concept that animals are actually innocents.

That is to say, what they're doing is not "evil,"which is a tag humans have placed on them, but that they are simply part of the process of nature which simply "is,"
and isn't some sort of force that humans can control or manipulate, or make judgments about.

An animal doesn't judge you, or go about behaving in a judgmental manner about you (unless you give it a reason to). Being in a safe environment like that is probably a relief from the kind of life humans have created for each other.

Even in the case of dogfighting, those fighting dogs are shaped by the cruel actions of humans. The battles that are fought, and the dog's attack behavior is simply an extension of the human trainer's moral compass.

People are guilty of projecting personalities on animals. Chimps aren't as nice as they are in the movies, neither are deer, and wolves and hyenas are much better animals than the reputations suggest.

Even plants and trees are life forms that are more active than even some vegans would give them credit for. If you read a book about the rain forests, it's obvious that even plants and trees react to each other and compete for access to sunlight, etc, and have passive and active defenses against predators.

That doesn't make animals and plants sentient the same way humans are. We do have intellects and capabilities that make us capable of much more than even the most intelligent animal.

We're also are intelligent enough to understand the concept of choice, which is really about how we handle power.

The original Quakers didn't view animal life as trivial. Animals were considered life, and had the "spark of God" in them. 

That's a good way to describe animal life.

How we treat animals can be a moral barometer. It's clear that animals can feel pain and fear, and other than those humans who do it for recreational purposes, it's considered a sign of cruelty to inflict pain.

That's a judgment that humans have made. The idea that it's an immoral act isn't really about thinking that animals are better than humans, or the same, it's about understanding our power and trying to be on a higher ethical plane.

Once again it's choice. There are certain acts that society has decided should not be a matter of choice, which is why we have laws.

That's why there's laws against cruelty to animals. But the fact is we are cruel to animals, particularly in the food industry, and most of us as consumers are complicit in that. 

The thing is, whether vegans can agree with it or not, we do need some animals for food. But animal-rights people have a good point in insisting that it be done humanely. 

The concept isn't that we do so to be really nice people, it's to show a simple respect for the life that we take for survival.

I think most of us get our concepts about animal life from pets. For example, even in the worst scenario with the breakdown of society, I simply can't imagine eating my pet dog, Ivy.

Also my dog has shown me enough behavior in the last few years to convince me that her loyalty is not just simply about her survival. 

There are cynics that say that an animal will be nice to you only because you're their source of food.

That's sort of true, but that isn't anything that humans don't do either. No sane person is going to walk into his boss's office and act like a jerk.

People kiss ass all the time, and for things that aren't necessary for pure survival.

If my dog is being cute and affectionate because she wants food, she's not doing anything different than a lot of human beings do to get what they want.

As far as the subject of liking animals more than humans, that's a gray zone for me. I don't think I would prefer the company of a white shark to a human, or even think it has a greater right to life.

But I do know I prefer the company of my dog more than a few human beings that I can think of. I don't think it's a barometer of my moral level, I think it's more a matter of social preference.

But a debate over whether animals or humans are superior to each other, or are better than each other in a moral sense, is really just a parlor game.

The reason is that the question already has been answered. The universe operates by it's own rules, we may think we're superior to animals, but in reality we're just part of nature's ecosystem, and more than that, at it's mercy.

Oh, and as far as the idea of some people liking animals more than humans, so what? Some people like money more than humans.

As far as respect for animals being a moral, ethical, or a human retention or ego trip, that's a question that'll be answered soon enough by nature.

Until then, i've got enough problems convincing my own dog that I'm the superior species.











Monday, June 2, 2014

Is Rap The Descendent Of The Blues?

I know that most people would consider the notion that rap music as the true modern blues as an outlandish statement.

The main reason is because the audience for what we generally consider to be the blues is different from what it was in the early 50s. By the late 50s the blues, as then played by Muddy Waters and others have become a traditional form transformed and revived by electrical instruments and was mainly played and clubs.

But the fact that Muddy and others had started playing on electric instruments was to have a revolutionary effect, because it eventually became early rock 'n roll, which back then had primarily black audience.

By the early 60s, white artists had started performing it, and singers like a then young Pat Boone (believe it or not) began to put it into the mainstream, albeit with different lyrics.

The 60s folk revival also played a role in that they brought many of the old 20s and 30s folk blues artist out of retirement, and again mainly to white audiences.

What really changed blues was it's rediscovery in England, which became the seed from which the "English invasion" occurred. That's another story and a very involved one.

If you take a look at the old 20s Delta blues, it's not that much different from today's rap music in approach and attitude, or at least the rap music that's not being used in commercials and versions that haven't been softened up for mass consumption.

Both early blues and rap songs were constructed the same way. A rhythmic music was produced, very much like what we would call a "vamp" today, and the singer would simply tell a story or improvise lyrics over it.

If you listen the 20s music in any detail, you find that the subject matter was actually pretty much the same as rap, just less vulgar, but the subject matter still have lots of references to party substances, sex, and had pretty much the same attitude towards women.

That's probably why so many female blue singers sang a lot about lowdown men, and a large percentage were lesbian or bisexual.

Let's take the narrative back to the 20s, and keep in mind that for space limitations, I do sometimes have to oversimplify the narrative.

The 20s is considered the beginning of the blues, but it's important to realize that black music had existed easily for over a century prior.

The primary forms of black music in the very early days was banjo music, string band music with the fiddle as the lead instrument, spirituals. ragtime, and black performers often sang the popular tunes the day also.

The reason the 20s is important is because that's when it began to be recorded. What we called early blues now was known by a variety of names including juke music, stink, and other colorful terms.

You could say it was an early form of rock 'n roll. The mainstream black church back then didn't like it, and often referred to it as the devil's music.

The "blues" back then was most commonly used as a jazz term. Basically it was a song, any song, that used the blues scale, in which two of the eight notes of the scale were flatted. That's why a lot of "blues" by jazz bands were often up-tempo dance numbers.

The 20s blues was part of a much larger music scene that the mainstream black audiences listened to. Which is the important point.

We can pretty much just fast forward to the 50s when the blues started to become a little more passé because of the rising popularity of Doo-Wop and R&B. There were a lot of gray areas of course, but I'm talking about general trends.

By the 60s the black audience pretty much moved on, except in rural areas and in the cities where a small percentage of the black audience still preferred the rawer sounds of Muddy Waters and others. In that respect it was similar to other scenes like punk, where the size of the audience wasn't very big, but the impact of the artists was huge.

Electric blues moved from a club form to a major form in England and Europe, it's audience had become predominantly white, and the music rock influenced.

There were some exceptions. For example New Orleans blues has never really changed much, and is a classic example of a regional genre that's become ingrained in the culture there.

But in the 60s, the blues transformed into blues rock with groups like Cream interpreting the blues through more modern guitars and larger amps.

At this point the black audience had moved on to soul music, which in many ways was essentially updated gospel with modern lyrics. Labels like STAX tended to stay with the blues feel, while others like Motown strived to create a more sophisticated sound.

At this stage you could say the blues had become two different animals. It had become rock and rock 'n roll on one hand, and had evolved to a different, more sophisticated form on the other.

One of the gray areas of soul music that came out of Memphis. STAX recorded a series of artists, including blues artists, and had a very definite blues feel in much of their catalog. Others like Hi-Tone which had Al Green as it's biggest star, had an early sound that was definitely blues influenced. In fact Al Green's version of "Driving Wheel,"is still one of the most popular arrangements of that standard performed by blues bands even today.

By the 70s the music industry was very big, and it was hard to keep track of all the genres.

One genre that did emerge was rap. When it first started out it was actually quite musically oriented, from the streets but like Doo-Wop, a definite new genre of music, and had hits with groups like the Sugar Hill Gang that had typical but improvised lyrics.

Rap was a street music, and its predecessor was probably groups like the Last Poets who combined jazz and poetry.

The main thing was you set up a beat, and improvised your lyrics over it, and most of it to the same melody or chant.

Now the old Delta bluesmen didn't have beat machines, so they used guitars and sometimes rhythm instruments like washboards and small drumsets if available. They would just start playing a guitar line, often on slide, and in most cases just simply begin singing.

Sometimes they would start off with one of the more popular blues numbers that were around, but frequently changed the words and as the song developed even the subject matter.

The technology was different, but the attitude, and basic theory music was pretty much the same as rap. It was a story over rhythmic music.

Even when rap moved into the gangsta style, it stayed fairly similar to the same sensibilities of Delta blues. Gangsta rappers may have sung about killing people, but plenty of Delta blues did so also, not to mention killing women who were cheated on them, and so on. 

Like the early blues, it thoroughly succeeded in pissing off and offending a large segment of the mainstream population.

There were also plenty of drug and reefer songs back then in the 20s, even songs about homosexuality, songs about bad women, being a soul going to hell, and of course, all the lively and cheerful subjects that make up most of the modern blues reissues.

The raw early blues did experience a revival among the younger crowd when people like Jack White's White Stripes  and the Black Keys played old blues songs on cheap guitars played through big amps at extremely loud volume. It didn't cause a revival of that style of blues, but certainly sounded good and was a lot of fun.

So is rap music a case of coming full circle from the early blues?

From a pure musicologist standpoint, and I should add I'm not a trained musicologist, the answer would have to be yes.

But the other question is, is it blues?

The answer to that is probably no, what we called the blues is now a number of sub genres from artists who play it straight to those who mix other elements into it.

In other words the blues is a lot of things now, but if you take both the white and black audiences into account, Muddy Waters statement now should be paraphrased into the blues had two babies (not just one), and they called it rock 'n roll, and rap.