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diskant rewind: Honey Is Funny #5

Posted: August 1st, 2008, by Chris S

(Originally posted August 2002)

Honey Is Funny by Chris Summerlin

Anyone who knows me will agree. I am a guitar geek. Plain and simple. 3 of the columnists on Diskant tote axes that used to belong to me and I’ve lost count of the guitars I have owned in the past. The cool brown Telecaster I bought from a USAF pilot and then sold to Luke Younger to pay my rent? Don’t mention it unless you want to see a grown man cry. The weird all black Rickenbacker I traded some stuff for and sold to Ian Scanlon who then sold it to his own drummer? There’s a story. The white Stratocaster I split in 2 and glued together, filling the cracks with Tipp-Ex and then sold to a guitar shop? That was nice. My first guitar, loved and cared for then sold to some Scottish wannabe punk rock chick. Damn. The SG I bought last week for next to nothing. Love it.

I actually own a guitar built the week I was born and sold to me by a weird man in a house with no furniture near Newcastle. Less said the better I think. I also own a guitar worth more than my Dad’s car that was sold to me for fuck all by a lovely man purely because he realised I wanted it more than him and I’d never sell it. That lesson in karma restored my faith in humanity and got me a guitar for life, or at least until someone steals it. And I’m not even getting on to the tale of my friend Tony and the £10,000 guitar he found in a skip in Los Angeles or my housemate’s guitar he bought from Dave Pajo of Slint. Straight up. Anyway. I finally accepted my position in life and from now on I am officially a guitar dealer. That’s right. You name what you want and I will get it. Guaranteed. E-mail me. I have a few bargains as we speak (nice Fender Musicmaster bass from the 70s…mmmm…).

So! To celebrate, my column this month is all about the Gods Of Guitar. My axe heroes and heroines. Let’s not be bashful. Let’s reclaim the guitar from the cock rockers and celebrate it. Written in the format of a rock magazine review. Pete Townsend does NOT feature. The twat.

In no particular order:

Solo, Buckingham Nicks, Fleetwood Mac

Lindsey’s solo work remains untapped by myself and his early records with Stevie Nicks are a bastard to find so Lindsey makes it into my list purely for his work with Fleetwood Mac. Fuck Peter Green, Lindsey is the man. He’s never really thought of as a guitarist because the Mac don’t exactly qualify as a rock band but every song from the Buckingham/Nicks era is packed with tasty tasteful playing. Whether he’s being a model of subtlety (Rhiannon), rescuing another plodding Christine McVie 12 bar blues nightmare from the shitpile (As Long As You Follow) with some deft lickage or just turning up and going for it (The Chain) the guy is faultless. I can’t think of a shit thing the guy played with the Mac. That’s a 100% success rate. And I dig his silly little homemade guitar too.

Essential track – Never Going Back Again (Rumours). LB tells the band to go blow coke up their asses and triumphs with this fingerpicking solo country bomb.

Similar stuff – this is a tough one. Guitarists from other 70s pop/rock bands are pretty bollocks. I’m not putting Jimmy Page in, he could write express train riffs but he couldn’t play a guitar solo if his fucking life depended on it. I’d put LB in with people like Neil Young and Steven Van Zandt/Nils Lofgren’s stuff for Bruce Springsteen. Or even Robbie Robertson from The Band.


Sonny Sharrock is the motherfucker. I only own 2 of his records but I’m just a beginner. You’ll find him in the Jazz section but this is no George Benson noodling. Imagine if you will, the Jimi Hendrix Experience knocking off for a tea break and Jimi leaving his 4 million watt guitar rig set up and ready to go. Up steps a seriously righteous, angry, passionate black man and just tears shit up on the guitar at maximum screeching volume. That’s pretty much Sonny Sharrock. Add to this his wife Linda who wails over the top of the carnage. She’s been called the Yoko Ono of Free Jazz but she sings in a way that boils down gospel and soul into its raw elements which is wordless, glorious shrieking and wailing. Sonny’s drummer Milford Graves demolishes his kit for the duration of each song on Black Woman and the whole thing is so intense and spiritual you want to run naked in the streets. I bought another of his records and man, it’s hard work. I’m working hard though. After that I’m getting onto his playing as part of the Last Exit touring ensemble.

Essential cut – Portait of Linda in 3 Colours (all Black) (Black Woman). Just go buy this and play it loud.

Similar stuff – Tortoise whacked off a Sonny pastiche to open their Standards album and it’s not half bad either. Me and Kev from Reynolds tried our own attempt too and although at the end it felt like I’d been part of one huge positive uplifting group wank it further enforced the fact I couldn’t play like this guy if I practised for 50 years.

Sons Of Kyuss, Kyuss, Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stone Age, Mondo Generator, Masters Of Reality

The best rock guitarist out there. Go check out any band connected to stoner rock. Their guitar player will have wall to wall ampage and their style will be sluggish, behind the beat glue. Josh doesn’t fit in with that. His playing drives along the bands he has played in with constant chugga chugga downstrokes that owe more to the Ramones than Black Sabbath. And that’s before you even get to the guy’s sound. Don’t worry I’m not getting technical here, just go and see a QOTSA show and you’ll know what I mean. His guitar sounds so in your face it’s stupid, it sounds almost wrong. Like a guitar going through a bass amp (which it is). No one else uses that kind of sound apart from Josh and even if they did they’d sound terrible in comparison.

Essential album – QOTSA – Rated R. OK, I think Kyuss were a better band but they didn’t make an album this complete or good and the playing is way more weird and varied than the simple straight-to-the-jaffas style he had in Kyuss.

Similar Stuff – Gotta be Matt Pike from High On Fire and Sleep. He has his own sound down and his playing is super super heavy. Each note ripples the air as it comes out and creates a thick wall of constantly moving sound. Wooooo!!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band Of Gypsies, hundreds of session guitar jobs.

OK. This one is kind of obvious. I think any guitarist poll of the last 25 years has included Hendrix. When I was a lot younger I used to listen to Hendrix religiously and then when I started getting into punk rock I dropped him like a hot shit. I was a twat. I am sorry. Because of the previously mentioned guitarist polls you automatically put Jimi in with his contemporaries of the time: Clapton, Townshend, Beck, Page etc. Horseshit! And don’t even think about some of the shit we have Jimi to thank for: the continuing fake spiritual bullshit of Carlos Fucking Santana and the utter horror of Lenny Kravitz being two things that spring to mind. And the constant deification of the guy in thousands of documentaries just pisses me off. Each one featuring Mitch Mitchell telling the camera the deep love he still feels for Jimi even though people at the time remember Mitch being a total racist bastard to him and treating the drumstool for the Experience as just another job. And the cunt sold the guitar Jimi gave him at auction. Anyway. I couldn’t care less for the later stuff Hendrix did with Band Of Gypsies. I think I’m right in saying Noel Redding didn’t play all the bass parts on the stuff when he was in the band but his departure seemed to signal a downturn in quality. OK, the Star Spangled Banner is utterly amazing but the endless blues jams from that era? No thanks.

But go back and check out the albums and singles he made with the Experience. Jesus. Not only could the guy play guitar like no-one else he wrote amazing tunes too. And on the early stuff you could sing all the guitar solos too.

Apparently before he died he was going to work with Miles Davis on some mad jazz shit. That would have killed. Fortunately Sonny Sharrock did it anyway.

Essential cut – All Along The Watchtower. There’s about 50 guitar parts on it, every one totally complimentary to the rest and every one so inventive and wonderful you just take it for granted. And the crazy sweeping slide note that goes from speaker to speaker is the dictionary definition of lush.

Simlilar stuff – hmmmm…not Clapton that’s for sure.

Aka Blind Joe Death. Solo performer and collaborator.

Going to write a lot here, sorry. Fahey is much like Sonny Sharrock for me in that I got into him through other people namechecking him, thought I might like it and was totally blown away. I tried to play guitar with my fingers (as opposed to a plectrum) years ago and sucked. I still do. But it’s a close second to the “wild thing” in my list of favourite pastimes and a lot easier to negotiate. Fahey didn’t suck. In fact, technically he was amazing. He was also an arch prankster who thought nothing of ripping the piss out of blues enthusiasts (like himself) by inventing a long lost bluesman (Blind Joe Death) and cutting a limited edition “vintage” recording to fool them all. Despite a reputation as a cantankerous loony, Fahey’s music (and mainly his early solo guitar albums like Requia and The Yellow Princess) is that of a hopeless romantic. If you’ve never heard him, think of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack to the movie The Straight Story or Fahey collaborator Jim O Rourke’s Bad Timing, which is a self confessed tribute. He was also using found sounds and musique concrete techniques before most of the people reading this were born. Not to mention running his own independent label. He was about 50 times more punk rock than anyone I know supposedly operating in the field.

His reputation for eccentricity is furthered by the stories of the later part of his life where he lived in a motel room, making daily trips to thrift stores to buy used records to sell to dealers for profit. He long since pawned his guitar and the rare shows he played he would just borrow what he could. A sufferer of diabetes, he would nonetheless eat bucket after bucket of popcorn in his room and generally lived like a tramp. He discovered the records associated with the modern resurgence of improvised music and it kick-started his own music again leading to collaborations with O Rourke, Thurston Moore, Derek Bailey and a new style of playing based in accident and clatter (skronk as you might call it).

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching the World Cup with Damo Sukuki formerly of Can and his wonderful band of musicians. Thoroughly polite as they were they probed us all at the house about the type of music we play. Fahey’s name was mentioned a couple of times and to get to the point, Damo’s bassist and drummer play in Cul-De-Sac from Boston and the drummer Jon played on the band’s collaboration with Fahey from recent times. Jon practically winced at Fahey’s name and recounted hilarious tales of the band shacked up in a freezing studio (Fahey has a hotel room of course) and their material being dismissed as “retro lounge act shit” by the grumpy Fahey. It was great to hear about it.

My friend Ross is a huge Fahey fan too. In fact we were playing improvised finger guitar as Th Plgrm Fthrz before we knew about Fahey. We collect and trade his records now but the first one we both bought was Requia. The sleeve is John on a stool with this cool old Bacon & Day guitar. He apparently smashed the guitar over the head of a drunken assailant and sold it to a store. The irony is it got repaired and was bought by a UK Fahey enthusiast in…Manea. Manea is the next village to where me and Ross grew up. There we were searching for Fahey records and the man’s guitar was 2 miles down the road. Yes, I am trying to have a go on it.

Fahey sadly died last year. Have a look at www.johnfahey.com.

Essential album – they’re all pretty storming. Requia is a good place to start or The New Possibility (his album of Xmas carols played on guitar) is charming and easy work. Later stuff is harder work but even the Cul-De-Sac pairing The Epiphany Of Glen Jones is superb despite what both parties think.

Similar stuff – Jim O Rourke’s acoustic stuff for sure and the aforementioned Straight Story soundtrack. David Pajo’s stuff with Papa M/M/Aerial M owes Fahey a debt too. Derek Bailey represents the outer limits of the improvised style to the point of unlistenability. So seek out!

The Slits

I got into the Slits from the Rock Family Trees program on BBC2 about PiL and The Banshees. In amongst a whole load of crap was Viv trying desperately to articulate the thinking behind The Slits. She said something like “we wanted the music to be about the way we felt and the rhythms in us. Which were all over the place”.

Sounds brilliant because it is. I think Viv would be the first person to say she is hardly the most technically gifted guitar player around but her style is pure and without the standard rock/blues influences most guitar players succumb to, especially those in the late 70s punk scene. Her playing is definitely reggae influenced in terms of rhythms but is a lot more wiry and excitable. I reckon the best thing someone playing music can hope to achieve is to create their own understandable language on their instrument of choice. Which makes Viv the best I guess.

Essential album – it’s got to be Cut. Just because the introduction of the amazing Budgie on drums for The Slits brings the whole sound of the band together.

Similar stuff – most of her punk contemporaries’ guitar playing was fucking awful. I’d go for stuff like Keith Levene of PiL though in an “unschooled but wonderful” kind of way. Same goes for Dot Wiggins from The Shaggs who plays like no-one else.

The Magic Band

“Hit that long lunar note and float”

Bill took the name Zoot Horn Rollo for his time playing guitar for the mighty Captain Beefheart. He played on all the good stuff. Trout Mask, Lick My Decals Off, Clear Spot to name three. His playing is fucking insane. In fact if I was naming my favourite drummers then Drumbo would be in it and if I was naming my favourite bassists then Rockette Morton would be near the top. And if I was naming my first-born son I might call him Don. The Magic Band, like the Elvin Jones era John Coltrane band, is a rare example of what happens when every component of a band is utterly fantastic.

If you’ve seen any of the Beefheart documentaries you might know about the writing techniques he used which was basically to compose entirely on piano with Drumbo transcribing the parts and assigning them to each band member. The way they all took those parts and played them is just something else. Especially Bill who played wiry, seemingly unrelated flurries of notes that are still really baffling and at times hilarious 30 odd years on. Even when the Captain lightened up for stuff like Clear Spot, Bill’s style is so cool, bluesy but boogie based and always right on the mark. Now a guitar teacher in California I believe there’s been something of a resurgence of interest in him leading him to publish a book about his time in the Magic Band. I used to email him a lot being a sad bastard but he’s too busy now, teaching and playing. What a guy.

Essential tracks – my favourite has got to be Circumstances off Clear Spot as his playing is filthy on it. In fact that whole album is smoking, guitar-wise. The ultra rare Lick My Decals Off Baby has some head frying finger picked mediaeval sounding instrumentals and of course the mighty Trout Mask Replica has guitar bits that sound like the strap has come off Bill’s Telecaster and he’s catching hold of the strings before it hits the ground. Compliment by the way!

Worth a mention too!

Lee Ranaldo/Thurston Moore, Steve Albini, Polly Harvey, Ian MacKaye/Guy Picciotto, Ross McGivern, Joseph Redmond/Alex Dunhill, Neil Johnson/Chay Lawrence/Ralph Hamilton, Kerry King, Kurt Cobain, Billy from Bikini Kill, Ira Kaplan, James Burton, Paul McCartney (you think he just played bass? DOH! Check the solo on Taxman), Alan Sparhawk, John Martyn, Tim Green/Steve Kroner, Mick Mars (fuck yes), Rowland S Howard, Mark Hollis/Tim Friese Greene, David Grubbs, Bob Broszmann, Tom Verlaine/Richard Lloyd, Clay Tarver/Matt Sweeney, Colin Kearney/Chris Mack, Hiro Mine. Ummm…forgot someone….

Chris S

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.


2 Responses to diskant rewind: Honey Is Funny #5

  1. Dave S

    “I also own a guitar worth more than my Dad’s car that was sold to me for fuck all by a lovely man purely because he realised I wanted it more than him and I’d never sell it. That lesson in karma restored my faith in humanity and got me a guitar for life, or at least until someone steals it.”…

    ah, the poignancy of hindsight.

  2. Jesusvader

    Please, say me who is the featuring guitar of the soundtrack “The Straight Story”.