Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Health-Care American Style

I have promised several people I will write a piece abut health-care. Full disclosure in advance: I do not like the democrat proposals I've heard and I do not like the republican proposals any better. I even thought John Mackey was too mellow.

That said, this is not such a piece. This brief blog is an excerpt from a recent conversation. The comment was:

"The only thing I kept hearing during all this was that a public option would be offered (which would supposedly be cheaper, which I was all for), and that it was gonna kill off old people and all that bullshit. I did not, until VERY recently, hear anything about you being REQUIRED to have health insurance, and I thought that was another ugly rumor.

They can require it all they want.......I didn't have the money for it before, and I don't have it now."

My response?

FOR a public option? Be careful what horse you back. Making health-care cheaper is not cheap. Making health-care free is not free. It's good to ask HOW one intends to make it cheaper...especially when government is involved.

Once it is required (they haven't hammered out differences between the house & senate bills), you'll have to add your insurance number on your tax returns. If you have no number, you will be fined. If you don't pay the fine, they will attach wages or bank account or property in your name. You will not escape paying (unless you have no job, no bank account, & no property)...they'll get it with or without your compliance.

As George Washington said, "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force, like fire it is a dangerous servant -- and a fearful master.".

It's always good to remember that there is a price for cheap and free...a price for supporting ANYTHING that gov says is good.

Skinny Devil's rule of thumb:

If it expands freedom, vote FOR it. If it diminishes freedom, vote AGAINST it.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


"He conquers who endures." (Persius)

Well, it's safe to say the ribs are back to near-100%, I'm happy to say. It sucked to cancel the gigs for October & most of November while I was recovering, but my workouts are back to "brutal" status and the ALIEN BLUE gig on November 28 firmly established that any remaining artifacts of the injury are small enough as to not effect anything measurably.

Now I'm back to goal-setting. For GUITAR my plan is to get my sweeped arpeggios up to speed with my scales and add some jazz standards to the repertoire; for LESSONS the plan is to get to work on Christmas & holiday songs for students of all levels; WEB: we're trying to re-build the web-site so that by the first of the year ALL the lessons & mp3s are back on-line; I have some commercial music projects that need to get finished within a couple of weeks; and DIET goes back to vegan with the exception of sashimi several times a week.

I also have some professional goals with regards to ALIEN BLUE and 2010 bookings, which is giving me a headache (hahaha!!!).

Sooooo.....what are YOUR personal goals for December?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Song of the Week # 9 - "Lady's Got the Blues"

Track #9 from "Virtual Light", the new CD from ALIEN BLUE, is "Lady's Got the Blues" (4:14).

The song is a classic minor key blues in Am (which we'll discuss below) using a "straight" rhythm, features a gorgeous vocal by Blue, smooth vocal harmonies, and a cool opening lick where I double the guitar with a unison "scat" vocal (shades of things to come...) as a nod to the incredible George Benson.

For those interested in the mechanics of composition, it should be noted that the minor blues is the bridge between the "blues model" and the "diatonic model", featuring elements of both. In "Lady's Got the Blues", we take the standard 12 bar structure and alter it (doubling bars 9 & 10), thus following the 14-bar structure:

i7 iv7 i7 i7
iv7 iv7 i7 i7

VImj7 v7 VI7 V7
i7 V7

Note that bar 10 is a minor 7 on the 5 chord, but then bar 12 and 14 use the dominant 7 (major triad with flat 7 on the 5 chord), which opens up myriad harmonic possibilities because it introduces the G# into the otherwise diatonic C (though I stick primarily to the harmonic minor and it's dim-7 arpeggio).

The guitar solo references immediately back to several other songs on "Virtual Light", most notably by referencing licks straight out of "Imagine We", but at times placing them in a new context (note the rapid descending line that runs a succession of 16th triplets to straight 16s to 8th note triplets to straight 8s, for example, and the sweeped arpeggios).

The end of the song metrically modulates to a slower tempo, using a shuffled groove right out of the classic burlesque tradition (can you see that twirling feather boa?). FUN STUFF!!!

Listen: http://www.skinnydevil.com/Lady%27s%20Got%20the%20Blues.mp3

Friday, November 6, 2009

NOVEMBER Lifestyle Challege

"Remember tonight, for it is the beginning of always." (Dante)

Well, with the rib injury, I had to drastically alter not only my workouts, but my performance schedule, guitar practice schedule, and much more. This definitely had a negative impact on my October goals. I hope everyone else fared better, but I'm not complaining....and I am happy to report I hit the mark on some of my October guitar challenges (scales up 10-20 clicks, etc.). But mis-fortune is only pointless if we don't learn from it, so Live & Learn!

Sooooo.....what are YOUR personal goals for November?

I've re-vamped my workouts to accommodate my continuing shoulder recovery and now my rib recovery (it's been 3 weeks, though, and I'm doing much better), I'm experimenting a bit with my diet, but will likely go back to mostly raw fruits & veggies with occasional sashimi as my staple, I'm adding some additional musical (rather than just technical) elements to my guitar goals - including toying with Coltrane changes for the first time in years - and I have some VERY specific MUSIC BIZ goals.

Sooooo...care to share your successes and failures from October and your goals for November?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Song of the Week # 8 - "Skinny Devil Shuffle"

"Skinny Devil Shuffle" clocks in at 2:37, but this isn't a true representation of the song length. It's actually much shorter - just a little jam over a 12-bar blues shuffle. But this one was so much fun (you hear us laughing and such) that we left the mistakes and re-starts and after 2 false starts you get the real thing.

The shuffle (think triplettes, but drop the "2") groove is in E (a blues E, not a diatonic E) and I just play around with some fun blues cliches, running up & down the neck a bit having fun.

No words, nothing fancy - just a blues jam with a giant grin on my face and Blue humming along!

http://www.skinnydevil.com/Skinny Devil Shuffle.mp3


Monday, October 26, 2009

Song of the Week # 7 - "Imagine We"

"Imagine We" clocks in at 4:41 and is chock full of guitar mayhem hidden within it's mellow exterior.

Today, I mostly want to talk about compositional ideas....

Borrowing from a common melodic theme heard in dozens of songs sung over a simply Cmaj7 to Am7 change, followed by a 2nd section that replaces the C with an F add9 (the F doesn't properly replace the C until you add the maj 7 and the add9, then you get out of the box, which creates some interesting opportunities for the melody). The F add9 then expands to add the mj7 & #11 for extra spice.

Then comes the twist: a modulation to F#m (using the4 same 2 chord pattern, this time F#m add9 to E add9) that pivots off the A note in both Am7 & F#m. The F# expands using the same open E & B to an F#m11, with the E & B notes common to the Eadd9. This allows a pivot back to the original key using, again, the E & B that are also common to the Cmaj7.

Cute, huh?

Several more things then rear up: the same bridge that we saw in "That You're Gone" and "Ragamuffin Voodoo" re-appears (again, in a new context) and the stage is set using some mean guitar runs that occur later on the CD in other songs, for more self-referencing tie-ins on "Virtual Light".

I wonder how many more YOU can find? We haven't even mentioned the lyrics yet, or melodic themes.

Yes, "Virtual Light" is becoming quite the musical puzzle....

Listen here: http://www.skinnydevil.com/Imagine We.mp3


Monday, October 19, 2009

Song of the Week #6 - "Ragmuffin Voodoo"

"Ragamuffin Voodoo" (3:47) is song #6 from "Virtual Light", a quick, energetic, and a fun song to play!

The song kicks off with a vocal riff (me) followed immediately by a second vocal (Blue) singing a haunting opposing line. This second vocal, if it sounds familiar, is a direct reference to the title track, "Virtual Light". The guitar comes in and doubles vocal, then adds some cool percussive effects.

The verses feature some fun vocal harmonies and the chorus sneaks in some wicked & challenging guitar licks scattered about the main riff.

One really fun tid-bit is the guitar referencing the vocal:

"Draw your line in the sand
Strange design, stranger hand
Drop the 5 and raise the 4...

After which the guitar plays a standard blues lick that features the tri-tone - the lick slides up 1/2 step from the 4th scale degree to the sharp 4 (or flat 5). "Diabolus in Musica" is Latin for "the devil in music" or simply "devil music", which I thought was a witty tie-in to both our general blues style (blues used to be known as devil music) and to the song title "Ragamuffin Voodoo".

The bridge is a common theme in many of the songs on "Virtual Light", starting with last week's entry, "That You're Gone", only this time the context is completely different. The context in "Gone" is the relative minor to the songs key of E major, while in "Voodoo" it comes as a clear modulation away from the Em (G) context, but the final B chord is the dom5, leading back to Em (as the dom7 chord allows a return to either a major or minor tonality).

Here it is: http://www.skinnydevil.com/Ragamuffin Voodoo.mp3

Monday, October 12, 2009

Song of the Week # 5 - "That You're Gone"

We're back this week with song #5 from "Virtual Light" (the new CD from my duo Alien Blue): "That You're Gone" (5:07).

This song came about while I was jamming. Just goofing off by myself using that classic Hendrix R&B chord-melody style that Jimi developed by expanding on the ideas put forth by Ike Turner, Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper, and others. After Hendrix used this in songs like "Castles Made of Sand" and "Little Wing" the idea was picked up by others (you've heard it in songs by RHCP, Pearl Jam, Steve Vai, & more).

So anyway, I'm toying with a 6/8 groove in E (E F# G# A B C# D#) using a I IV V and then started spicing it up (I get bored easily!), so I added the chromaticism by dropping in the D for the mixo-feel, then took the 4 chord from major to minor. The underlying progression then became:

E B D_A Am
Am E E

Yes, yielding an 11 bar cycle with a descending line from bar 5 of E-D#-D-C#-C-B.

The bridge also features some chromaticism, due solely because I love to listen to Blue harmonize with more complex harmonic options. I can never guess what she'll do, but I'm very selfish in that I want to enjoy the unique lines she draws in the sand. So I took a theme that is in many of the song bridges on "Virtual Light" (more on this later): C#m to B to A, which became C#m B Bm A cycled several times (w/ sus2 embellishments) and ended with the return to the A to Am that resolves back to E. Note the chromatic line is identical to the first section.

Then we get to the 3rd and final section of the song where I employ open string chords and both Blue and I really open up vocally with a choir-esque sing-along sort of thing. From live performances we started extending several notes until it became sort of a contest to see who could hold the longest note (she usually wins), but she opted to take a more support role during this section, so I opened up with a long-held note that turned out to be 37 seconds on the recording. Probably the longest single note I've ever held, though not as long as notes I've heard Blue hold!

Too bad this isn't a hit song or we'd hold a world record for longest note - a mark currently held by Morten Hacket of a-ha in their song "Summer Moved On" at 20.2 seconds.

The lyrics deal with the grieving cycle and how we step not just from loss to acceptance, but from grief to celebration, exemplified by the last 3 lines of each section:

"I see your face, and all I can say..."
"I see your face, and hold back the tears..."
"I see your face, and now I can smile."

The final section is meant for you to sing along. No words, just a simple melody, so put it on, turn it up, listen....and sing!

That You're Gone MP3

Monday, October 5, 2009

Song of the Week # 4 - "harmonica interlude"

We've talked about (& listened to!) the first 3 songs from the new Alien Blue CD "Virtual Light": "Welcome to the Show", "Virtual Light", and "Cool Cat". Now it's time for song #4 - "harmonica interlude" (1:04).

Less a song and more just me jamming on harmonica using a classic blues theme (G mixolydian blues using the draw 2 position of a garden variety C harp) for about a minute - hence the term "interlude".

This one is simple & pure improv: I start playing, add a bit of Blue's impromptu vocals in the background, and an egg shaker playing along. Pure unadulterated fun!

Listen here: http://www.skinnydevil.com/harmonica%20interlude.mp3


note: The photo is from February 2009 back-stage at the KY Theater when I was supporting Lori Lieberman.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October Challenge!!!

"Long is the road, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to the light." (Milton)

I have both personal challenges AND professional challenges for the month of October. Care to join me for the ride? Set your own challenges, keep us up-dated, and even jump on board as part of the team!

October ain't just Halloween, friends! It's time for the new Lifestyle Challenge!

My personal challenge is to continue to the path of shoulder recovery & recover my former fitness level; my professional challenge as a teacher is to get ALL the instructional materials re-worked and on-line for the instructors in our network (including the new student CD); and my professional challenge as a creative artist is to get the ball rolling on the new ALIEN BLUE goals (see below).

To kick it off, I did 1000 sit-ups today. BOOM!!!

What is YOUR lifestyle challenge for October???


Alien Blue:

I publicly revealed in late 2008 that I was going to shift my focus to include more live performance and then get a new Alien Blue CD written & released. 2009, so far, has seen the release of "Virtual Light" and has seen Alien Blue on a 7-state summer tour. In addition, I've played Woodsongs 9 times (7 times backing host Michael Johnathon, once backing Almira Fawn, and once backing Lori Lieberman) and Alien Blue opened for Muriel Anderson.

2010 goals include higher profile gigs for Alien Blue, doing workshops & clinics again (I haven't done those in a few years), and - with a little luck - at least one jaunt that takes us out of the country.

Stay tuned for details as they come...AND let me know if you want to be part of the Skinny Devil Team and make these goals a reality!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Song of the Week # 3 - "Cool Cat"

"Cool Cat" - that's the third song from Alien Blue's new CD "Virtual Light" and one we've been playing for a while now.

Basically, this song is all vocal with just a backing bass line and some finger snaps. Blue wrote all the lyrics and does an amazing vocal performance. We slapped a bit of echo in the mix and then left it alone.

The song features the same approach as "Desperation" from the debut Alien Blue disc "An Alien Blue". Namely, the acoustic guitar mimics the sound of an up-right bass playing a cool blues line is classic old jazz style (1930s minimalist style, which often featured just bass, small drum kit, and piano) by using the pinky to mute at the bridge and thumping the string with the index finger. I often add a bit of sliding my fingers across the sound board to mimic the brushes across a snare, but not on the recording, though the thump approach allows for my finger to lightly smack the body of the guitar to help the beat along.

Most folks are familiar with the style we mimic here thru songs like "My Funny Valentine" (cool descending chromatic line), "Summertime" (many people have heard Janis Joplins' late 1960s rendition), and a host of "cool jazz" approaches to standard torch songs....especially the song "Do Right" heard in the 1988 classic film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?".

Compositionally, I decided to expand on a "2 against 3" idea only moderately employed on "Desperation". This is the "aural magic trick" I refer to in the live shows. The bass line seems to veer off time, but then lands safely back on the one. What you hear is 3 pulses of the bass line for every 2 beats, yielding a somewhat hypnotic effect that I much enjoy.

I hope YOU enjoy it, too!

"He was the coolest cat that I've ever seen..."


Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the Week # 2 - "Virtual Light"

The second song from the new CD is the title track, "Virtual Light" (4:52).

This one started out as a blues riff I was playing with that I decided to shift into the Phrygian mode (3rd mode of the major scale: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7) to see what that particular meat grinder would do to it. Turned out I liked it. I also add (due to the blues angle) the b5, so the scale often alludes to Locrian.

So I'm jamming away on it and I think of my buddy Greg Francis. Greg, for those who don't know him, was the center of the project "Pharoah" which then morphed into "Akhanon". Most know him from his later work as bassist/vocalist for Beholder. Greg's solo music often featured phrygian flavors (he went the Egyptian rather than Spanish route).

Anyway, that led me to think of his lyrical work as well as literary work. Greg used various themes, but he often used the "past, present, future" - hence the symmetry of reference from verse to verse (v-1 past, v-2 present, v-3 future) in "Virtual Light" (lyrics below).

It also led me to place each verse in a different octave. The song is in F#m phrygian (the b5 notwithstanding), which allows for some demanding low notes. I opted to use my natural voice rather than the "fry" or "burn" range for the first verse; natural voice for the second (as it falls easily there); then rejected the falsetto option and stayed again with my natural range for the final verse, making this a VERY demanding piece to sing.

I took this to Blue, who added some incredibly flowing but sophisticated harmonies & some cool percussion that, in my opinion, really pull the song together - especially her execution of the repeated vocal theme before each verse (tipping the hat to Plant) and the ghost vocals in the bridge - taking it from a conceptually interesting but not altogether listenable song to one of our funnest songs to play in the live set.

Performance note: Coming out of the bridge I hold a vocal note that last for about 15 seconds, which is impressive only until you realize that Blue begins a breath at the opening of the bridge, through all her melodies, and lasts until the end: 23 seconds!!!

"Desert silence in this labyrinth of sand
as we carve our personal history in stone.
Starlight, stone cuts skin, and design reveals the hand
that seals a promise to never be alone.

...in the virtual light...

Urban silence in this labyrinth of steel
as we spray our history upon the wall.
Electric light, ink cuts skin, a design of perfect will
seals our promise that we'll never be alone.

...in the virtual light...

Digital silence in this labyrinth of mind
as we carve our history in silicone.
Virtual light cuts skin, and the hand reveals design
and we realize that we can never be alone.

...in the virtual light..."

Listen to it HERE!

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Virtual Light: Song of the Week" #1

Due to questions regarding the inspiration for the new Alien Blue CD "Virtual Light", we decided to do a "Song of the Week" feature, where we'll make some of the inspirations, concepts, & lyrics of each song available. So, without further ado...

CD title and song # 1:

The title of the new CD is "Virtual Light". The term was coined by Stephen Beck and is also the title of William Gibson's 4th novel (Gibson, by the by, is the man who invented the term "Cyberspace" and kicked off the entire Cyber-punk movement). More on this later, but you might wanna read it!

"Welcome to the Show" (2:45) is the first song on the new CD. It opens with an open Asus2 chord and then, as the percussion comes in, weaves thru a couple of "middle eastern" scales: The primary theme is based on 2 scales playing simultaneously, depending on whether the vertical structure is based on an interval of a major 3 or a perfect 5. They are 1 b2 3 4 5 6 b7 and 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7. It is not properly bi-tonal in the traditional sense, but it does provide an exotic mood.

It is also a tip of the hat to Trent Reznor (9 Inch Nails) quoting his riff in the song "Wish" from their 2nd album.

The rhythm is a straight 4 and this is because we open with the song live, bringing the audience in to help with percussion from the get-go, hopefully destroying (to varying degrees) the 4th wall inherent in any stage performance.

The "4th wall" is the line between audience and performer.

We explicitly mention this wall in the lyrics:

"Hello - welcome to the show
(come join us) we've got miles to go
No 4th wall, we want you to play
come join our parade"

The ghosty harmony vocals only mildly reference the debut Alien Blue CD "An Alien Blue" and take the listener into an entirely new direction that is featured throughout the CD.....

Give it a listen: Welcome to the Show

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dear Diary: Learning Curve...

I'm figuring this thing out, and step two is to link it to the web-site - www.skinnydevile.com - as well as our other sites (FaceBook, Plaxo, MySpace, Tribe, etc.). Gott see if comments here will show up automatically at the other locations, or vice versa, or if all will necessarily act independently.

Here's a photo from the road: Alien Blue with Tony T (as Elvis) and Danny O (owner of the Sand Bar) - Tybee Island, GA.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DEAR DIARY: The new blog

Kicking off the new blog....

This will be the same info I post on the skinnydevil.com site as well as the pages at MySpace, facebook, tribe, etc., but now I only have to write it once (hahaha!!!).

More coming soon!