We’re finally back with another episode of Messin’ With The Music. It’s been quite a while since we were able to get together to start working on tunes again due to the pandemic. It feels great to be recording again and Mule Skinner Blues was a song we’ve been looking forward to finishing. The song has a long history. It was written and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in 1930. His version was a pretty straight forward blues tune. He originally titled it ‘Blue Yodel #8’ but it became commonly known as Mule Skinner Blues (or some variation of that) as time went by. Many artists have covered this classic song. The next well known version was by Bill Monroe in 1940. He picked up the tempo a bit and turned it in to a classic bluegrass style tune. The version we used as a template is Dolly Parton’s amazing 1970 version. We pretty much followed her lyrical take and song structure.
Instrumentally we have two different acoustic guitar parts, one hand played and the other picked. To add some flavor we added an electric guitar with some effects and a bass part that has a few effects too. There is a mandolin backing these parts and a banjo riffing throughout the song. There’s also a snare drum and floor tom holding down a beat in the deep background. All of the instruments are a platform for the vocals which are really the heart of the song. As always with Messin songs we recorded ‘straight through’ tracks for a live, loose feel using the same mic and sound path for all the instruments. We want to get the feel of everyone standing around a single mic playing the song.
Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs playing ‘Mule Skinner Blues’:
Well, we made it through November. Sort of. Some things are better, some things are worse. Didn’t expect 2020 to cut us a break, did you? One more month and the 2020 year from hell is over. Light some candles for 2021. One can only hope that that next year will bring us some relief. On to the Grapevine. There’s an intentional theme this month. We’ll be taking a look at some stripped down music. These songs could fall in to several categories: punk blues, hillbilly stomp, garage rock, call it what you will. The music has different ‘styles’ to it, but the feeling the songs give to me is the same: simple, raw, emotional – what I’d like to find in a dive bar, backyard gathering or crowded garage. Usually I’ll keep to newer releases, but these songs span more years. Enjoy your walk through the spooky woods.
First Up: Hillstomp – ‘Graverobber’s Blues’ ‘Don’t Come Down’
A great example of what you can do with simple instrumentation. Guitar (or banjo) drums, vocals. They’re part of the revival of simple blues that has been around forever but has regained prominence in the last decade (you know how much we love Rev Peyton). These songs always hit me deeper than huge production songs. They just feel more personal. Sitting in dim light with your friends; pass the bottle or the burnables. The party in ‘Don’t Come Down’ is where I’d like to be. I also like the sound of more homemade drums sets: drums, buckets, metal objects, lots of duct tape. Here’s two songs, one more guitar, the other more banjo.
Next Up: The Scientists – ‘Swampland’
The Scientists applied a more ‘garage’ sound to the music. Still a lo-fi blues feel to it, but more of a rock sound than country or bluegrass based. This song came out during the 1980s post punk era. In today’s world you can find a lot of ‘smaller audience’ and less known bands on the internet. Back then you had to search them out. It took a bit more work to come across the hidden gems. Fanzines, small clubs and word of mouth were the main methods of transmission. The components are all here – high end trebly guitars, basic drum and bass patterns, lots of reverb and vocals mixed deeper in to the music. This song would be perfectly placed being played in a garage with a small crowd jammed in and banging around.
Finally: Left Lane Cruiser – ‘Claw Machine Wizard’
Left Lane Cruiser is another two person band. Another band that produces a whole lot of sound just using guitar and drums. On this song, the music is tilted more toward the ‘rock’ part of ‘rock/blues’. But it continues the raw, lo-fi feel we’ve been exploring. Many of these two person band’s guitar feel is made by playing riffs instead of straight ahead chords with lead guitar thrown in at different parts. Having guitar riffs bounce off of and compete with the vocals makes the music/band sound larger than just two people. The guitar player carries the bottom end with single notes on the low strings while playing the riffs higher up. That is typical of a lot of older delta blues players, many very full sounding arrangements made by themselves on acoustic guitar.
Retro – Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Ghost On The Highway’
Thought I’d include one of our own takes on this genre. One of my favorite bands, The Gun Club, first pulled me in to the punk blues style. I may have played their 1981 album, Fire Of Love, more than any other album I have. Perfect balance of garage, blues and punk. One of the first punk bands that took up this style and to me, still the best. This is our version of Ghost On The Highway’ from Fire Of Love.
After sending out the October Grapevine last week, I was listening to other music showing up in my internet feed. I came across this video of Tommy Emmanuel. I had heard of him before – he’s pretty well known as a virtuoso guitar player. He’s mostly known as an acoustic guitar finger picker. This video is of him playing Classical Gas, a song that was big when I was younger. My guitar teacher had me learn the basics of it. I watched this video, probably with my mouth open in awe the whole time. Our series Messin’ With The Music was based on trying to redo songs acoustically and pretty much ‘live’ by recording the tracks straight through, showing the sounds you can create using just that format. Tommy Emmanuel takes the acoustic guitar and pushes it to the limit. The speed, accuracy and timing is other worldly. This video shows how much sound and style you can produce with one acoustic instrument. There’s even a guitar bend he does that sounds like a whammy bar on an electric guitar. And the timing in and out of it is perfect. Enjoy.
For today’s post we’re Messin with another song for you. This time we’re taking on ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears. The song first came out in 1984 on Tears For Fears second album, Songs From The Big Chair. It became one of the most popular and recognizable songs of that era of music. One of the best fist in the air, sing along choruses you’ll find. As I’ve said before we always pick songs we like to cover. I don’t think you can do an interesting cover unless you have some type of love for the song you’re working with. But you also have to be able to do something different and interesting with the tune. For ERP I don’t see the point of trying to do a note for note copy of a song. Who wants to do a ‘not as good’ exact copy of a song you love.
For ‘Shout’ it was easy to do something different. The song has a pretty ‘electronic’ sound to it, along with the drive from a full drum kit. So turning it acoustic gave it us a lot of choices. The basic foundation of the song was built on twelve string acoustic guitar. We did two tracks of that and panned them to opposite stereo channels. The other thing that gives these guitars some push and pull is that they are not completely identical throughout the song. If you’re wondering about how song arrangements are created, this technique is something to keep in mind. Before there were large multi track studios, you had to really think about how to place tracks in the song. If you listen to some Hendrix songs you’ll hear drums in one channel only and guitar or bass only in the opposite channel.
So for ‘Shout’ we used the two takes of twelve string guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass. There’s also some acoustic slide guitar and a second mandolin in the instrumental parts. For rhythm we used tambourine, washboard, wood block (the wood version of ‘More Cowbell’), egg shaker and a rattler that sounds a bit rain stick. We did four tracks of vocals, two for the verse and two for the chorus. The point is to highlight the vocals and lyrics. This was a one mic recording. We used the new ribbon mic for everything (see In The Studio – Microphone Basics). I’m pretty happy with the results.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears:
Our love of doing covers of our favorite songs isn’t new. We were messin’ with songs long before we started the current ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series. I thought I’d dust off one of my favorites for people who may not have seen it when we first put it out. Joy Division was a band that always had special meaning for me from the first time I heard them in the ‘punk’ era. Everything about them was different, from playing style, song structure, vocals and the way the instruments were used. Lyrics that had more depth and feeling than most. We went with ‘Isolation’ because of it’s great rhythm and bass line. Joy Division’s version used synths. We decided to do ours with guitar. The instrumental break sounds like a keyboard but is actually a fretless bass played through a bunch of guitar pedals. The mix and mastering worked out the way we wanted. We also were really happy with how the video turned out. I’m still happy every time I watch it.
So, from the vaults, Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’:
Welcome to another entry in our Messin With The Music series. The recording of this song comes with an interesting history. ‘How Many More Times’ is a Led Zeppelin classic from their first album. It is also the first song we actually recorded for the series. Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs, like most bands, has gone through a number of band member changes. We had spent a lot of years always trying to have a full band together that was capable of playing live. Each time someone would leave or a new musician came in it’s practically like starting over. We had electronically released our ‘Celebrity Prostitution’ EP, staying with a garage rock, punk blues sound. This time we decided to just work on our own and concentrate on recording. The question became – what style of music should we do? On many sites or internet radio when you post a song you’re asked to pick a style of music it represents – usually from a drop down list. It’s difficult to categorize yourself. I’d much rather let someone else make that call. We’ve never stuck to a very specific style, although I guess you could put it generically under ‘rock’. So, just for fun, we decided to create a category and try to fit some music in to it. Thus was born Dark Americana Shoegaze. We wanted to work on figuring out instrumentation, arrangements and recording. We thought the best way to do this was to start by covering songs (although we do have a number of originals in various stages of completion). That way we could concentrate on aspects other than writing the song – and we’d get to play songs we already really liked.
We didn’t have any pre-conceived recording methods yet, other than keeping a ‘live’ feel – no autotune, no quantizing of drums or other instruments, no cut and paste of parts. With that in mind we got to work on ‘How Many More Times’. There was a lot of structural change to do. We certainly couldn’t copy Led Zeppelin’s eight minute and twenty eight second version. So we cut it down to a number of shortened verses, did a short piece to represent the long instrumental in the middle and another section for ‘The Hunter’. To keep the Dark Americana Shoegaze idea some verses are electric guitar based, some acoustic instrument based and some a combination. The vocal tracks tie all the different parts together. To get a big, full sound most of the instruments and vocals were multi tracked with multiple mics. If you listen you can hear a number of different electric guitar sounds, two bass lines and multiple banjo and mandolin tracks at different parts of the song. We stacked a lot of vocal tracks. When we finished recording we were looking at forty eight tracks. This was going to take a while to mix and master. We decided we wanted to get a song out quickly so we picked another song – ‘It’s Gonna Be A Long Night’ by Ween and moved to what became our more standard method to put it out quicker – one mic, one track for most instruments. That went well so we picked another song, then another, then another. ‘How Many More Times’ went on the back burner. When the pandemic put our recording on pause it seemed like a good time to finally put this song together. I will say that this is probably the ‘strangest’ cover we’ll ever put out, so it may be a ‘love/hate’ experience for listeners. Might do another Led Zeppelin tune in a bit more straight forward fashion in the future. It was certainly an interesting experience mixing it. So here it is. Hope you enjoy it. As always we encourage comments, feedback and suggestions.