In years past, my Music page had a list of favorite artists with links to their web pages. In the age of Google, however, such a thing is really unnecessary any longer-- one can very easily find information on any musician (or anything else for that matter) with a few mouse clicks. So instead, I now just list my fave artists below with a short blurb on why I enjoy them.
Laurie Anderson A multimedia pioneer if ever there was one. My favorite album of hers is Strange Angels.
Adrian Belew An eclectic artist, amazing guitarist and whimsical songwriter. He's worked with Talking Heads (he's all over their Remain In Light album) and of course a pillar of King Crimson. But his solo work is great too, especially Mr. Music Head.
Camper Van Beethoven I think of them as R.E.M. on acid. Some truly weird but great music, with such memorable titles as "Take the Skinheads Bowling", "Where the Hell is Bill?", and "All Her Favourite Fruit." And, best of all, they are BACK! Their first album of new material in over a decade, New Roman Times, was released in early 2007. Spinoff band Cracker is also well worth a listen.
Bruce Cockburn Canadian singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist gets way too little attention in the US. His earlier work, charged with left-wing political commentary, has given way to more introspective musings that still pack a punch. I particularly like Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu and the recent Speechless, a collection of his guitar instrumentals.
Creedence Clearwater Revival One of the all-time great rock 'n' roll bands. If John Fogerty's passionate vocals can't make you feel something, you must be dead!
Devo It isn't easy being a Devo fan... but I dig their plastic wigs! Despite being a little less adventurous than some of their other work, Freedom of Choice remains my favorite Devo disc.
Bob Dylan "I just wanted it to rhyme, man."
Steve Earle The great Texas singer-songwriter proves that just because someone's voice has a twang does NOT mean they are a country artist! Few musicians are making more damning indictments of the wack jobs in charge of this country than Steve. Seminal albums include Transcendental Blues and The Revolution Starts Now.
Brian Eno A true Renaissance man, covering the range from the quirky but hook-laden pop of Here Come the Warm Jets to the ambient eeriness of Apollo: Atmospheres.
Euphoria A mostly instrumental group whose style has been labeled "guitaronica" for its combination of excellent acoustic guitar with rhythmic grooves. Like nothing you've heard before.
Peter Gabriel Amazingly insightful lyrics combined with music showing disparate influences and stellar musicianship. One of my musical heroes; I've got everything he's ever recorded. No way to pick a favorite...
John Hiatt Another of my absolute top musical heroes and one of the greatest American songwriters who ever lived. Songs of joy, love, loss, humor, pain, pleasure, sorrow, surrealism, all conveyed by a gravelly voice that evokes all those emotions and more. His run of records from Bring the Family through Crossing Muddy Waters is as good a canon as anyone ever.
Leo Kottke Simply the greatest acoustic guitarist ever, and my all time musical hero. I rip off his stuff shamelessly whenever I can figure out one of his tunes.
Little Feat One of the tightest, funkiest bands in creation. If you don't own Waiting for Columbus, go get it. Right now. I'll wait.
Los Lobos One of the greatest American bands ever, with their Latino background they combine both the musical traditions of Mexico and the East L.A. barrio that they came from. Very strong songs, many of which give a view into the way of life of this vibrant and essential part of American culture. Don't miss their outstanding 2006 release The Town and the Valley.
Lyle Lovett Although he started out Nashville-country, he quickly moved in other directions, including more pop- and jazz-tinged styles. Amazing vocalist and songwriter who always has the best studio musicians on hand. The Road to Ensenada remains probably his best work to date.
James McMurtry Another of my top-five or so heroes. Son of Academy Award winning screenwriter and novelist Larry, nobody can paint as full a picture in so few words. He's a sardonic, wry commentator on human nature whose songs shine a light on the details of life, from relationships to the progressive weakening of the small-town American heartland that are arresting and lasting.
Joni Mitchell One of the greatest women in the history of music. Astonishing range of vocal and musical talent and an awesome way with words.
Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde. She's so good it hurts.
Lou Reed You got a problem with that?
Talking Heads and the solo work of David Byrne. And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Lucinda Williams Another strong, impassioned woman songwriter, a towering talent. Another whose twangy voice does not mean she's just a country artist. Fabulous in concert too!
XTC Probably the best English band ever? Certainly the best to hit Swindon in a long time.
Neil Young A genius of rock and roll, vastly influential and important.
I love music. I always have. At one time, I aspired to be a classical guitarist for my career. Eventually I decided, in junior college, to pursue Geology instead, and I'm very glad I did. I'm very lucky to get paid to do something I love, and let's face it, the life of a musician is a tough one. It's not about how good you are-- way too many other factors play a huge role. Now, whenever I pick up a guitar, it's not "...time to go to work..."
In this section, I give some information on my guitars, and provide some examples of recordings of my playing, both self-produced and with the help of the amazing Bob DiChiro, my beloved brother-in-law, who is a professional musician and producer. On the left, I list some of my favorite musical artists for your amusement. From here, you can jump to a selection of my recordings available as downloadable mp3 files.
Up until July 2004, I owned three guitars: A Hernandis classical, a Taylor 412ce steel-stringed acoustic, and a Yamaha 12-string. That month, our home was burglarized, and among the stolen items, to my heartbreak, were both the Hernandis and the Taylor (the 12-string was in a closet and out of sight of the thieves). Losing the Hernandis was particularly devastating, as it was the guitar my late father bought for me in 1974 to encourage my studies of classical guitar, and which I have played at many family gatherings in the years since. The memories of those good times are worth almost more to me than the guitar itself.
During late 2004 and early 2005, I had two new guitars custom-made to my specifications by Pimentel and Sons Guitarmakers in Albuquerque, a family business that has been producing fine guitars for over fifty years. This section shows a photo of each of my stolen guitars and photos of the new ones, with in-progess shots taken while they were under construction. I am very grateful to the Pimentel family for allowing me to make multiple visits to their workshop to take these photos while they did their work!!
This photo shows me playing my Hernandis classical guitar, which I named Rosebud, with my brother-in-law Bob DiChiro at my niece Kristy DeMarco's 2003 wedding.
This photo shows me holding my Taylor 412ce steel-string guitar at the wedding of a friend in 2000. The girl beside me is my good friend Dawn, who sang at the wedding.
This is my Yamaha 12-string, model FG-441S. It's not a top-of-the-line instrument, being factory made and listing for just a few hundred dollars. But it plays well and has a very nice tone. I don't play it as often as I did the other two by a long way.
Construction of my new classical guitar got underway in September 2004. It is a "soft cutaway" made with a European spruce top, East Indian rosewood back and sides, and Honduras mahogany neck 1 & 15/16" wide and 7/8" thick (slightly narrower and thinner than a standard classical), with an African ebony fingerboard. The head angle is slightly sharper than usual so that when I tune down to open tunings there will still be good tension on the strings. I am fortunate that my new classical guitar was made by Señor Lorenzo Pimentel himself.
Señor Lorenzo working on the spruce top of the classical guitar.
Closeup of the spruce top. Later in the process, it will be stained "flamenco amber" instead of the yellowish natural spruce color-- that's the shade I wanted.
This photo shows the bracing structure on the underside of the spruce top.
Closeup of the classical's rosette.
This is the East Indian rosewood from which the back and sides will soon be made. Note the gorgeous grain pattern and beautiful color of the wood.
The mahogany neck and rosewood sides have now been attached to the spruce top, which now displays the soft-cutaway shape. These images show the newly installed sides from a couple of angles.
The mahogany neck has also been attached to the the body. These shots show the neck, which remains to be stained and the headstock carved. The front of the headstock will have an inlaid moon-and-stars design similar to, and a bit larger than, the inlay in the spruce top of the steel string instrument, as depicted below.
Here, Señor Lorenzo affixes the rosewood back to the classical's sides. Now it really looks like a guitar!
The guitar is now really taking shape. Here we see the front of the instrument, with the fingerboard in place and the grooves for the frets cut. Next steps for the front are the installation of the bridge, and finally routing the openings in the headstock where the machine heads will be installed.
The back is now complete, and the beauty of the wood's grain and color are now even more striking than before. On the bottom of the guitar, the last remaining job is the bit of inlay between the two curved sides right at the bottom of the instrument.
Señor Lorenzo holds the guitar... he says it should be done by Christmas!
Well, it wasn't done by Christmas, but it's done! The visual beauty of this instrument is exceeded only by its incredible sound and amazing feel in playing. It's deep and rich and bright all at the same time, and each note on the neck is completely true. The action, neck width and thickness, and all the rest make for a very very easy guitar to play. These photos show the guitar from a couple feet away.
These photos show some closeups of some of the details. The headstock's moon & stars inlay came out very nicely, and if you look closely at the photo showing the rosette and label inside, you can see Señor Lorenzo's signature above "Pimentel".
Six months after the guitar was finished, I brought it back to the shop so that Señor Lorenzo and Rick could inspect it for continued structural integrity (no problems at all) and so they could hear how the sound has "opened up" since its completion. It was great to hear them play it.
I have only a few photos of the steel-string being made, for one reason or another. Construction of the steel-string got underway during October 2004. It is also a "soft cutaway" model in the "mini-jumbo" body size, with a Sitka spruce top, Indonesian rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck, and African ebony fingerboard. All Pimentel steel-strings are made by Señor Lorenzo's son Rick Pimentel, who also does all the custom inlay on every Pimentel guitar and is president of the company. It will have a rosette of inlaid turquoise, with a moon-and-stars inlay that Rick designed from my description, virtually identical to the one on the head of the classical guitar.
Sitka spruce top of the steel-string. Grooves around sound hole show where rosette will be inlaid.
I provided some simple design ideas to to Rick Pimentel, who came up with a very nice moon-and-stars design to be placed next to the rosette. The moon will be made of pale yellow, variegated mother-of-pearl, and the stars will be made of abalone. The tracing paper in this photo shows the approximate location of that design on the steel string's top. (At first, I asked to have the same design on the classical's top, in the same position, but Rick and Señor Lorenzo advised me to move it to the headstock. They convinced me that it just wouldn't look right on a classical top, and I am quite happy that I took their advice on the matter.)
The turquiose rosette inlay and the moon-and-stars design are now complete on the spruce top. Once the top has its finish, these colors will be even more vibrant. (The close-up shot is slightly out of focus-- it's not your eyes!)
Rick Pimentel works with the bracing on the underside of the spruce top.
As I was warned, it took a while longer for the steel string to be constructed. Here it is in its final stages of completion. The finish has just been applied, and the head and bridge remain to be fitted with hardware.
The completed steel string is just as beautiful as the classical. And it plays as good as it looks... effortless action, smooth feel, and a huge tone that fills up any room.
The detail on these guitars is fabulous... and they are both simply a joy to play!
In early 2010, I put together a simple home recording studio, described below. At first I used my two Pimentel guitars, but after a few months ran into barriers to what I wanted to do musically from not having an electric. I had not touched one since about 1980, and had to start from scratch in researching what to get on my budget. I've always preferred the Les Paul sound to the Stratocaster sound for rock guitar, and in fact the only electric I'd owned was the cheap Les Paul copy that I had back in my high school garage band days. So after looking into a bunch of options, I settled on several models, and the one I ended up liking best was the Dean Soltero Standard.
It features body and neck of mahogany, with a rosewood fingerboard, with Grover tuners (very smooth!) and a pair of beautiful-sounding humbucking pickups. The dual volume and tone controls and three-way switch combine to produce a mind-boggling range of tone out of the instrument. It's been a real pleasure learning my way around the Soltero, and it is a lot of fun to play.
In this section I offer mp3 files of my playing. The first two collections were recorded in 1994 and 1999, respectively, and a collection of tunes from my "home studio", mentioned above, follows. I put it together in early 2010 and it's exceedingly basic. It consists of a computer, digital audio workstation (DAW) software called Mixcraft, and some basic microphones and an audio interface, housed in an upstairs bedroom that I have converted into my "Mancave", which is a nice quiet place to play and record. Both my Pimentel steel string and Soltero (of course) and are equipped with pickups, and I play the classical into a microphone. I've been using this setup to record some tracks, and having a lot of fun doing it. I've always wanted to be able to do multitrack recording, and now the technology has reached the point where it's pretty easy to do, all things considered.
To play any of the files here, you should be able to simply click and let your browser play the file (if it can). To download the files to your machine, right-click (Mac: click and hold) on the active links and select "Save link as..." or similar.
In late 1994, my brother-in-law, Smokin' Bob DiChiro (aka The Fabulous Bobby D), an experienced professional musician and producer and now bassist for the Karen Lovely Band, had me visit a home recording studio he helped build for Tim Philen, in Tim's Calabasas (California) home. We recorded a set of instrumental tunes there, with Bob expertly manning the sound board and later adding many layers of additional instrumentation onto basic tracks that I played, mostly on a nylon-string classical guitar. Bob made my playing sound like a million bucks, and his expertise made everything come together very well. And he did it all in only a few weeks! Amazing. We ended up titling ourselves "Chin Yee" and the set "An Axe to Grind" for a lot of inside-joke reasons with which I will not bore you.
Old English yule song. This version based on a Peter, Paul, and Mary arrangement. 1.7 Mb
The old John Denver song. Bob and I performed this at the wedding of one of my best friends, Mark Reed.4.1 Mb
Composed by my friend Patrick Plemons and myself (but mostly Pat). 2.0 Mb
By Leo Kottke, my guitar idol. 3.5 Mb
Traditional, Bob's arrangement. 3.0 Mb
The Jerry Jeff Walker tune. 3.5 Mb
Traditional Spanish guitar piece. I don't play this one anymore. 2.1 Mb
...or what is usually known as Pachelbel's Canon. 2.1 Mb
The Beatles song. 4.0 Mb
Bruce Cockburn's polemic. 3.3 Mb
The traditional Christmas carol. 1.6 Mb
Added January 2011! In late 1999, Bob and I recorded a second set of tunes with a mobile DAT recording unit at the home of my eldest sister in Santa Barbara, CA, while the family was convening for Thanksgiving or Christmas (I don't recall which). For a variety of reasons, the recordings lay idle until late 2010, when Bob dug them out and converted them into mp3 files. Recorded on simpler gear than was An Axe To Grind, the tracks below have been "remastered" with just a bit of re-equalization to improve the overall sound. On these, I play nylon-string guitar (Rosebud, my later-stolen Hernandis, in the only recordings of any quality that exist of that guitar), and Bob plays everything else. Several of these tracks really capture the joy I have in getting the chance to jam with Smokin' Bob. It is such a treat for me to have these now after all these years!
There are ten tracks in this set; I have more work to do on three of them, as I plan on using them as the basis for expanded versions, adding new guitar playing to the old. Those will be posted later when they are finished.
Traditional Spanish classical guitar piece. 3.4 Mb
By John Hiatt. 7.4 Mb
By Leo Kottke. 6.6 Mb
By Smokin' Bob DiChiro. 3.6 Mb
By Bob Dylan. 10.9 Mb
By Leo Kottke. As he has said in introducing this song live, "I'm going to use one of my favorite techniques on this next song. I'm going to take a lovely, simple melody, and drive it into the ground." 5.1 Mb
By Jay Ungar. Used as the main theme song to the Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War. 6.4 Mb
My first collection of tunes from my home studio. Using Mixcraft and my rudimentary hardware, along with loops and samples from a variety of commercial, royalty-free sources such as Betamonkey/Drumwerks and Bass On Demand. Those songs not credited are my own constructions.
The Beatles song. 3.1 Mb
Simon and Garfunkel. 4.0 Mb
Paul Simon solo guitar piece from the Simon & Garfunkel album of the same name. 2.2 Mb
A traditional Mexican folk song. 5.8 Mb
Jimmy Page & Robert Plant. 10.7 Mb
A big hit for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1966. 4.9 Mb
Page & Plant. 10.4 Mb
by John Hiatt. 6.0 Mb
by Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden. 8.3 Mb
My second collection. More of the same, but I've added a MIDI keyboard controller to help create keyboard and bass tracks, and have begun to experiment with vocals. Be afraid... be very afraid! As above, uncredited numbers are original compositions. There will be another half-dozen in this set when all is said and done.
Written by Dave Alvin, but my version is more akin to the one by James McMurtry. Warning! Vocals inside. 7.3 Mb
The old Tokens hit. 4.6 Mb
Warning! More vocals. 6.9 Mb
Page & Plant. My lovely wife Cynthia on guest harmony vocals! 8.4 Mb
Lennon & McCartney. For my father in law, Bob Lohn. 3.8 Mb
Nick Lowe tune made famous by Elvis Costello. This arrangement emulates the one from Stephen Colbert's Christmas special in 2008. Warning! More vocals. 7.4 Mb
I'm one of those who believes this would be a better national anthem than is The Star Spangled Banner. Heck of a lot easier to sing...! 3.8 Mb