BillyRadd Music

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our New Drum Circle of Friends

Anita Gayle and djembe master, Billy Zanski

Billy Zanski, owner and manager of Skinny Beats Drum Shop and Gallery in downtown Asheville, is a man on a mission.

"Of course I want everyone to play drums," he says with all the authority of martial arts sensei.  "That's why I run this store and sell drums".  But, there's much more to it than that.  Billy has been playing and building drums for 12 years, hand-picks the West African djembes for sale in his shop with the eye (and ear) of a master, and is skilled at skinning djembes as well as identifying the great sounding ones.

Plus, Billy is a specialist in drum-side manner and the often neglected art of customer satisfaction by personally guiding beginning drummers through the maze of the various options of styles, colors, sounds, wood selection, goat skins, and rope so one may intelligently choose exactly the right djembe for their own personal tastes and abilities..

As they say on TV, but wait, there's more!

Billy teaches two beginning drum classes a week for beginners that will have even the most clumsy, tone-deaf drummer wannabe banging away on the skins in time with the music before they know what hit them.  I can attest to this fact personally since my wife and I attended last Sunday afternoon's hour-long class.  The class size was small, we could attend without bringing our own drums (Billy provides you with a djembe right off the shop's showroom floor while attending a class if you don't bring one with you), and the atmosphere was friendly, easy going and fun.

But, one more fact must not be overlooked which kinda completes this "drum circle" picture.  Billy stresses the spiritual and health benefits derived by the practice of drumming by emphasizing the healing ability within music as the goal of playing the djembe.  Since I have recently re-discovered the many benefits of incorporating the study of music into my daily life, I am very open to this idea.

As I like to say, you usually get a lot more back from something you invest your time into.  I'm feeling like practicing the drumming technique of playing a djembe with Billy Zanski is such a valuable investment.

If you're in the Asheville area, check him out.  If you are already studying some other instrument, like I am, learning to keep a steady beat is an invaluable skill to develop.  Besides, it's a lot of fun.

And so, the beat goes on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A New U-Bass Is Born

It doesn't take a genius to figure out when something just flat works.

I believe that's the case with the new solid body U-Bass from Kala Ukuleles.  It's the next step in the evolution of the diminutive little bass with the pudgy urethane strings and big sound, but with a price tag of $1,200 it might be a while before I get my hot little hands on one.

What a great new musical invention!

I've owned four electric bass guitars in my life; a Framus short scale when I was in high school, a beautiful Gibson Ripper that I bought in the middle '70s, a Fender active P bass I bought last summer, and my little Kala U-Bass which I bought a few months ago.  They all had different advantages, features and tonal qualities, but the little U-bass sounds the most like an upright or double bass AND is the easiest to play.  I'd love to play one of the new solid models of U-bass but I'm afraid I'll have to wait until they possibly become available at a local music store here in Asheville, which may take some time.

The other remote possibility would be that I could buy one at the $1,200 introductory price.  So, I'll just have to wait until they get cheaper (which doesn't usually happen with quality built musical instruments), or until they become known as a novelty, in which case the value may go up as well.

Anyway, in their current manifestation, the solid body U-Bass comes in four cool colors, freted or fretless, and in 4 or 5-string models.  I prefer the natural colored finish since it looks like what a Hobbit bass player might jam with on the vales and in the taverns of Middle Earth.  Rustic and small.

The new Kala solid body U-Bass is currently made and assembled in Petaluma, California, which may explain their premium price tag.  But, my hollow body spruce-top U-Bass, which I believe is manufactured in China like seemingly most everything else affordable, seems to be built very well so I have no complaints and only good things to say about my little baritone uke with the fat strings.

If you play bass at all, I'd check out both models.  They are a real hoot to play and everyone loves their low, broad tone.  And, they weigh about as much as your lunch box.

Check out Hutch Huchinson, an experienced session player and bassest for Bonnie Raitt.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mad About Mildred

It all went down last summer, but it seems like just yesterday.

One of my wonderful daughters sent me a BluRay DVD of a concert given in Madison Square Garden with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. And, what a rockin' show it turned out to be.  During one wonderful tune, Steve picked up a jet black Telecaster and, of course, showed us all how to play the thing while singing in his soulful voice.  Another great performance by one of my favs.  

But, what really caught my eye (and ear) was his Black Telecaster.

That's when the latest obsession took over my mind like a gnawing desire.  I had to have that guitar.

I immediately went to the Fender web site and found that Steve's Black Tele was most likely a one-of-a-kind custom guitar, possibly even commissioned personally by or for him.  The foolish idea even flashed across my mind to try contacting him directly.  But, alas, Steve had quit corresponding with me a few years ago (sarcasm) and any Telecaster he owned would probably be out of my price range by a factor of 10 (truth).

But, undaunted, I found one that was a pretty close match on the Fender site and within my price range, a Classic Series 72 Telecaster with Rosewood fretboard, one Super-Coil Telecaster bridge pick, one Fender Wide Range humbucking neck pickup, and vintage-style bridge and tuners.

I went to my favorite online supplier, Musicians Friend, and found a great deal on a used one in mint condition. With a few clicks of my mouse, my credit card info and address, it was on its way to my hot little hands.

When my friend, the local UPS delivery driver padded up my driveway holding a large conspicuous box labeled Fender over his head, I tried to hide my anticipation.  It felt like Christmas and I was 5 years old waiting for Santa again.

"Hey, Boss (he calls me Boss). You gotta stop ordering this heavy stuff, " he joked.

"Er, no," I replied happily as I took the box from him.

"Didn't think so," he quipped over his shoulder as he hussled back to his big brown box on wheels.

I quickly opened the box, withdrew the Tele already nestled in its "free" gig bag and admired its classic lines.  She is one heavy black beauty, but she rings like a bell, this Telecaster.

Later that same day I was talking on the phone to my "brutha from the same mutha" who lives in California and shares my love for good old rock 'n roll.

"You should give it a name, like BB King's guitar, " he said, which, by the way, is a custom-built black Gibson ES-335 made just for BB.

"What does he call his guitar?  Is it Mildred?", he asked innocently.

I couldn't stop laughing for a few minutes, but the name stuck.

Lucille is already taken.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Keepin' the Sideburns

Tryin' to stay alive and keep my sideburns, too.

Those of us who were living in what we then called the "civilized world" during the early 1970s might remember a song performed by the Great Leon Russell (co-written with Marc Benno) about the trials of stepping lightly through life while maintaining a personal sense of purpose - Tryin' To Stay Alive, Copyright 1971 Skyhill Publishing Company, Inc.  You can hear this song by finding a copy of the old CD entitled Asylum Choir, or if you download it from Amazon, iTunes, or get thee to this YouTube link and scan into this "video" to about 2:27 where Leon begins his honkytonk intro to this happy little ditty.

I have thought of the opening lyric many times over the years and it continues to be a personal mantra as I grow as white-haired as Leon himself always was, as far as I know.

Tryin' to stay alive and keep my sideburns, too. 

Can I get an Amen?

So, here I find myself and my good wife Anita living in a beautiful place called Asheville, with its wonderful, diverse population, working on Anita's TV cooking show, sitting on our balcony overlooking a hardwood forest, birds singing in every direction, writing a bass riff as an assignment for my bass teacher, Kevin.  I'm staying alive AND keeping my sideburns, too, although it is getting a bit hard to see them as they are so light and white.

But, Mates, that ain't no Margarita sitting on the table before me and Mela Kani, me trusty Ubass. It's Gatorade, now simply known as G, if you hadn't heard.  Somewhere, I've picked up a good dose of a nasty stomach virus.  I can't eat, or sleep much, or go anywhere for fear of spreading this plague.

But, I'm staying alive and keeping my sideburns, too.

What could be better?  (Except maybe a nice steak, baked potato and green salad with blue cheese dressing).  

But, I've got enough of everything else, don't I? 

I sure look happy.  Cool hat, too, eh?

Photo Credit: Anita Gayle