07.12.17

China crunch

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 1:06 pm by George Smith

Seven years ago, in front of a real applauding audience in Pasadena.

Another evergreen theme. Seven years gone and again, something that could be a national creed.

Dig the guitar hero and listen for the made-in-China blues harp.

TURN IT UP!

07.11.17

Song for Warren Buffett to sing to his pals

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Decline and Fall, Made in China, Predator State, Psychopath & Sociopath, Rock 'n' Roll at 4:27 pm by George Smith

“Rich” + “tax” + “break”.

The national tune that never gets old.

Warren Buffett thinks the Republican health care bill has an alternative purpose: to help the already-wealthy make even more money.

The famed investor and world’s second-richest person had some choice words about the legislation currently being debated by the Senate, suggesting it could be called the “Relief for the Rich Act” during an interview with PBS NewsHour Tuesday.

My tunes, evergreen. Seriously. As good as Iggy & the Stooges, easy.

The unplugged version.

I gave up fighting. I’m with the tenor of the country. Take away my Medicaid. I am undeserving.

Remember, you can download the unplugged version for your gadget. Send it to a friend, even.

Now, please start a campaign to raise money for a Mitchell electric/acoustic guitar — 149 dollars at Guitar Center.


On a slightly more serious note: Can you believe this tuneage is fives years old and HAS ONLY BECOME MORE REAL? IT’S VIRTUALLY THE NATIONAL CREED.

A reader on guitar sales: You get old & die

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 12:00 pm by George Smith

In response to Electric guitars have the blues:

Fred’s Music in Reading, where I would hang out religiously, closed. Supposedly he “retired. But I think it’s more due to no sales anymore. Live bands don’t exist. Show me a club in Reading that has live rock and roll=none. It’s dead. Once our generation passes, and that will be soon, rock is dead. Or when the Stones cease to exist, that is the end of Rock.

Just like High end Audio, or stereo systems, are dead. All kids use now is the stupid phone and earbuds. Remember you could walk into Boscov’s, and find a stereo section that had Marantz, AR, Dual, Kenwood? Good stuff. Nowadays high end audio is solely sustained by boomers, like me. After we’re dead it’s gone.

07.10.17

On Iggy & the Stooges

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 12:44 pm by George Smith

From the book Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, by Joe Ambrose:

Use the hand-pointer in the window to scroll down to the end of the “Jeff Wald”-graf.

07.05.17

Electric guitars have the blues

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:48 pm by George Smith

A reader points out a recent story in the Washington Post: Why my guitar gently weeps: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care.

Written by Geoff Edgers, it’s a good piece that touches on some subjects and people I’ve written about over the years, with special focus on the loss of sales of the primary middle class instrument of my generation: the electric guitar.

Today the electric guitar faces challenge from all sides. The most influential being the US economy just isn’t what it used to be. After 2007, it collapsed for a great part of the US middle class. And the electric guitar was and is an iconic MIDDLE class luxury buy.

Today there are two forces, one noted at a musical instrument seller’s convention (NAMM) by the reporter, glut and, two, lack of demand. The US economy has been sputtering along since the “recovery” at a paltry 2 percent growth rate. Sales of goods beyond necessities (of which the guitar is an example) have been hurting for a long while. Fender and Gibson, the primary American producer of electric guitars, are businesses caught in the doldrums with signficant debt overhang:

In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt. And at Sweetwater.com, the online retailer, a brand-new, interest-free Fender can be had for as little as $8 a month.

I get a copy of the Sweetwater Pro Gear catalog. It’s a perfect example of glut, Sweetwater not being the only guitar rock business, businesses all selling the same thing to the same limited number of people at a time when there’s not a lot of cash to go around. The people hurting in middle America, in the heartland, those who voted for the President, are the potential buyers of electric guitars and times just aren’t what they used to be. There’s pain out there and it filters over into all manner of businesses, not just the sales of electric guitars. Middle age (or older) wasteland, call it. (Which is to say things would probably not be so grim if the economy was better for everyone, not just people in the right professions on the coasts).

At the music merchants’ convention in Anaheim, Edgers interviews George Gruhn. Ten years ago I touched on Gruhn as an American speculator in antiquities of sorts, in this case the electric guitar. It was in an article for the Los Angeles Times, one on conspicuous consumption just before the great economic crash. The items of interest were Gibson Les Paul electric guitars, ’59 vintage models, selling for a quarter of a million dollars and up:

Part of the Los Angeles Times’ new contemporary coverage of America is its glorification of conspicuous consumption. Weekly, features writers find the most annoying examples of Grotesquus Americanus. Then it proceeds to portray whatever herd of manipulators it has found as something swell. The point of it is to make you feel stupid or envious while marveling at the business acumen and immense good fortune of others.

Today’s example were men who hoard late-Fifties/early Sixties Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars painted in sunburst finishes.

An example of the ridiculous prices the instrument fetches is here at Gruhn Guitars, run by reseller/guitar collector/speculator …

Business in fantastically priced Les Pauls was apparently great. There was even a link, now dead, to Gruhn’s website whereupon you could see a picture of a Les Paul selling for 275,000 USD. And while this small part of the antiquities business may still be solid, the rest of the world of electric guitar has gone upside down. Paradoxically, it will not surprise readers that the expansion of sales of “cheaper guitars” has meant the offshoring to China and other Asian rim countries. Again, the mirroring of the US economy as a whole.

For the Post, Gruhn says the current business is “unsustainable.” This is obvious. There’s no actual market to allow the survival of hundreds of luthiers or electronic tinkerers making an endless supply of custom fuzztones in the United States.

Gruhn thinks its because there’s a lack of guitar heroes, as contrasted with days of yore.

Guitar heroes. They arrived with the first wave of rock-and-roll. Chuck Berry duckwalking across the big screen. Scotty Moore’s reverb-soaked Gibson on Elvis’s Sun records. Link Wray, with his biker cool, blasting through “Rumble” in 1958.

This is only maybe half right.

Gibson dies by their premium prices, in direct competition with luthiers and another maker in exactly the same space, Paul Reed Smith. This is at a time when demand hollowed out the middle. There’s the low end and a high end, and the high end is the smaller of the two.

The other side is boring old classic rock radio, now oldies stations although they’re not called that.

Jimmy Page / The Rolling Stones/ Clapton / Slash / Jeff Beck /Pete Townshend / Heart / Journey / Van Halen still have their radio exposure. Keep in mind none of the glory days musicians can make records anyone will pay money for. Digital cratered everything but their back catalogs. No one wants a new Ted Nugent record but he can still summer tour and Cat Scratch Fever still gets played on radio. Stubbornly, though, that radio territory is strictly out of reach of any new artists playing rock and roll.

Country music is one exception. Lots of classic rock and roll went to country and it’s not an accident a lot of guitar manufacturing, like Gibson, is in Nashville. Country music still features guitar heroes. One of them is a woman — Taylor Swift.

On the other hand, Link Wray never got played. He died an expat in Denmark, I think. In Europe he had an audience.

I play “Rumble”. People know that but it wasn’t on the radio during Zep or the Who’s heyday. Polydor even tied a release of “The Link Wray Rumble” to a blurb by Pete Townshend. The recommendations didn’t help. The record didn’t rise in the charts. “Rumble” wasn’t on the radio in 1974.

Even more tiresomely, the internet and freetardism has atomized the market, again — glut — has become a problem with everything making it impossible to record and make money in the the old way of development.

Couple it with the rupture of demand. The cash just isn’t there.

And sitting in front of a smartphone or laptop isn’t fun when playing guitar. It’s work. Not the same as playing along to an old record player.

Again — the Washington Post piece.


1. Rumble. A tribute. Note famous fight scene from They Live, wherein the thuds and cries are timed to the riffage.

05.08.17

David Bowie’s Sound + Vision deluxe set (Ryko), 28 years on

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 11:34 am by George Smith

Over a weekend I pulled out my copy of David Bowie’s Sound + Vision CD box set on Rykodisc, from 1989. While at the Morning Call newspaper, I’d received it for a big feature the paper published on it. Ryko was probably very happy; the art covered almost the entire front page of the section. It signifies a time when people went for these types of physical extravaganza music packages enthusiastically. They even paid good money for them. I still easily feel the appeal; looking at the art etched on the giant box and photos while listening imparted something you just can’t get from today’s “procedure.” This was there in the room with me, not off in the cloud, streamed like a subscription or glued sketchily together with unavoidable advertisting courtesy of a Google subsidiary. The nerds of tech do no one favors.

Ground control to major Bowie fanatics! On Monday, “Sound + Vision,” a lavishly packaged, three-compact-disc collection containing some of David Bowie’s back catalog, will appear in area record stores.

“Sound + Vision,” which lists for about $60, kicks off Rykodisc’s ambitious program calling for the re-marketing of the Thin White Duke’s work from 1969’s “Space Oddity” to “Scary Monsters” in 1980 on RCA. Although it certainly isn’t difficult to locate Bowie’s music on vinyl and tape in record stores, this will mark the first time that the artist’s vintage material will be available in superlative form, on CD. Most listeners have already forgotten RCA’s subpar CD re-issues from a few years back; those copies which can be found on cassette and vinyl are the last of RCA’s claim on the artist.

From the standpoint of a collector, “Sound + Vision” isn’t quite the proverbial gold mine, but it does feature a number of selections previously unavailable, although not unfamiliar, to Bowie aficionados.

Among the “must-have’s”:

– 1969’s original demo of “Space Oddity.”

– A cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” nipped from the 1975 “Station To Station” sessions.

– A 72-page booklet containing unreleased photos and liner notes by former Rolling Stone magazine editor and MTV’s “Week In Rock” correspondent Kurt Loder.

– A bonus video disc, available only in the box CD format, featuring live work from a Spiders From Mars date in Boston in 1972 and a video of “Ashes To Ashes.” All are playable on standard CD machines regardless of their video capability.

Although fervid Bowie collectors will probably have to purchase the set in two or three of the configurations, Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke says, “To a collector, it’s not a bounty. But for those with the disposable income that this is aimed at, the fact remains that up to now there has been no classic Bowie on CD. If you want ‘Ziggy,’ if you want some ‘Station To Station’ on CD – this is your chance.”

Those with that “disposable income” which Fricke alludes to may find this a package difficult to turn down. Ryko is banking on just that; with a list price of close to $60, the company is hoping that the extravagant title will be just the thing music-conscious yuppies are going to crave through the fall and into the Christmas season. A schedule for the re-release in CD format of the back catalog covered by the breadth of “Sound + Vision” has not yet been established. But the company anticipates the appearance of “Space Oddity,” “The Man Who Sold The World” and “Hunky Dory” early in 1990, depending upon the success of the initial title.

None of this has come easy. Bowie’s RCA catalog has long been recognized as one of the most coveted in rock. Last year, “Changes-OneBowie” and “The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust” were voted the two most wanted CD titles in a Billboard magazine article authored by former Creem editor Dave DiMartino. An artist of Bowie’s stature conceivably could have gone with any label. His choice of the independent Rykodisc confirms that the company has established a reputation for attention to quality, detail and content not rivaled by the majors. Those in possession of such Rykodisc releases as The Mothers of Invention’s “Absolutely Free” (among many other Frank Zappa titles) and Jimi Hendrix’s “Live At Winterland” and “Radio One” already know this.

Billboard’s Los Angeles bureau chief DiMartino unequivocally says, “It’s a victory for the label. A lot of love and effort went into the project; everything has sounded A-1.

“It’s a fact that Ryko didn’t offer Bowie the most money. It was a case, in this instance, of having the best interests of the artist at heart. Also, from a sales standpoint, it shouldn’t impinge upon the success of the later releases. In fact, it kind of makes you want to go back to those original albums and listen to them once again.”

If you’ve bought the hype or if you’re an inveterate Bowie addict, what are you getting, exactly, in “Sound + Vision”? What you’ll find are three discs which chronicle the period 1969-1980 and not surprisingly, decrease in interest, just as Bowie’s career did as it neared “Lodger.”

The first disc encompasses Bowie’s entry into the marketplace and much of his tenure with The Spiders From Mars. The demo version of “Space Oddity” is refreshing in its own hippie naivete; “Black Country Rock” again reveals Bowie’s fascination with the work of fellow glam-rock traveller Marc Bolan. The inclusion of The Spiders’ rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round,” which originally appeared in 1973 as the B-side to “Drive In Saturday” (also included), is the highpoint of the set in that it reveals just how good a hard-rock band The Spiders From Mars (led by guitarist Mick Ronson) really were. Ronson’s guitar work exemplifies the best of the Ziggy period band: The tone is like no one else’s, blaring and excessive in terms of context but not in terms of actual notes played.

The disc also features “John, I’m Only Dancing,” which was inadvertently released as a single at the time of “Aladdin Sane” (how a single is “inadvertently” released by a record company is anyone’s guess), plus live versions of “Ziggy Stardust,” The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/ White Heat,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” all collected from “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.” The latter selections are curious and somewhat schlocky considering that the band’s best live work occurred in 1972 (the critical pillorying of “The Motion Picture” reflected that fact).

Fricke confirms this when he says, “A bootleg from Santa Monica in 1972 is one of the best examples of Bowie and The Spiders onstage. I’d pay for that on a wax cylinder if I had to.

“However, the live Ziggy from Boston in ’72 (included on the video CD with “Changes,” “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Supermen”) was that prime band.”

The second disc’s stellar cuts are the unreleased “1984/Dodo,” which proved to be Bowie’s last recording with The Spiders; the original single version of “Rebel Rebel,” with the artist himself playing all instruments, including the lacerating guitar signature; and covers of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” (with Aynsley Dunbar’s best Keith Moon imitation) and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” from “Pin Ups.” The remainder of the disc reprises material from the lackluster “David Live,” “Young Americans” and “Station To Station,” including the 1975 Springsteen cover, which qualifies only as a momentary curiosity.

The third disc focuses on Bowie’s collaboration with Brian Eno and although described as “compelling” by Loder in the liner notes, it is anything but. DiMartino sums up by saying, “The work with Eno, which at the time sounded novel, isn’t really so earth-shaking. Bowie has always been a chameleon and with Eno in tow, ‘The Lodger’ sounded too much like The Talking Heads.”

Leery of getting caught in the same binds that plagued the Bruce Springsteen boxed set, Ryko has no plans to overship “Sound Vision,” with initial estimates hovering around 135,000 units split roughly 60, 30, and 10 percent between CDs, cassettes and LPs. The LP box will list at approximately $10 more than the CD version. But it will include clear pressings, direct metal mastering, and rice-paper sleeves. — September 22, 1989, George Smith, the Allentown Morning Call


Imagine: CDs, cassettes, LPs, metal mastering, rice paper sleeves! The CD box is etched with a famous photograph of Bowie with a guitar. For the CD version, the four separate CDs came with booklet art made to mirror and accent the box’s etch through the clear plastic cover when the entire package was assembled.

You just shake your head at what was lost.

01.22.17

The Boss — turkey frank of “the resistance” is in Australia

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 4:54 pm by George Smith

Here’s Bruce Springsteen in September of this year:

“I believe that there’s a price being paid for not addressing the real cost of the deindustrialization and globalization that has occurred in the United States for the past 35, 40 years and how it’s deeply affected people’s lives and deeply hurt people to where they want someone who says they have a solution. And Trump’s thing is simple answers to very complex problems …The whole thing is tragic.”


Most of Bruce Springsteen’s audience voted for the man.

But poor Bruce, he wound up playing for Hillary Clinton in Philly before the roof fell in. And Obama a day or so ago.[1] Such pointless rearguard actions.

But today, reading from the Guardian:

On Sunday night, in Perth for the first leg of his third Australian tour in four years, Springsteen laid his cards on the table early. “Our hearts and minds are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday who rallied against hate, and division, and in support of tolerance [and] inclusion,” he said. “On E Street, we stand with you. We are the new American resistance.”

At this juncture Bruce and the E Streeters asserting they’re part of some American resistance is about as inspirational as coming home from the supermarket and finding you’ve mistakenly bought turkey franks instead of the all beef ones as you unpack.


[1]. “Springsteen played a private gig for President Obama’s staff last week. Did those in attendance and those in the elite circles of the Democratic party leadership think that the world the Boss created on The River and Nebraska came out of nothing? That the scars of those brutal years had gone away? Did they really think that those fat GDP figures and Obama’s job creation record meant all boats had been lifted on a rising tide? Why is it that a nationalist demagogue has to be the one to say: ‘The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country.’ ”

12.30.16

2016’s favorite tune from Old White Coot

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks, Rock 'n' Roll at 1:35 pm by George Smith

Real quote: “Our team got a kick out of the Ricin Mama song,” Assistant US Atty.

12.28.16

Bogner La Grange: “A how-how-how” in a box

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Phlogiston, Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 3:46 pm by George Smith

Small pleasures.

Yeah, and I do do ZZ Top. Binders Full of Women is a humorous rip of something off early LP ZZ.

11.21.16

Tariff terrors?

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:31 pm by George Smith

From the Dept. of Just Sayin’: In the dollar store, almost everything is from China. I shop at the dollar store for almost everything! Like tens of million in the rigged US economy.

If President Trump slaps a 47 percent tariff on everything from China, the dollar store becomes the buck and a half store. Ten crappy plastic disposable razors for 99 cents becomes five or six crappy plastic disposable razors for the same.

I’m talking about the fact that multiplying a very small amount by a percentage equals still a small amount. (100 pennies x 50 percent = 50 pennies. 100 pennies plus another 50 equals $1.50)

Now, if you buy at Target, where it’s all from China but more high-button, your pair of Chinese-made plastic fake leather, call them pleather, shoes for 30 bucks is now about 45. If they last only two weeks before cracking this may give you pause.

Expensive luxury items made in China, think Apple, become more exclusive and the company takes a hit. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Apple, the corporate tax dodger, is innovative. It will attempt to shift manufacturing to another serf labor country. Also, consider that America’s shoeshiners, the detail workers for the plutocracy, like the brand. They can afford to be soaked for another two or three hundred dollars.

During the election, Trump attacked Apple. Of course, who knows what his position will be tomorrow? You could always ditch your iPhone for a 10 buck LG smart burnphone and a pay-as-go card at the supermarket.

Across the pond at the Guardian, a curious article on Brexit and the rise in price of American-made goods like Gibson and Fender guitars due to devaluation of the English pound:

British guitar buyers could soon be playing the Brexit blues as price rises caused by the slump in the value of the pound feed through to music stores.

Prices are increasing by double digits as top US brands such as Gibson and Fender increase list prices to make up for the weaker purchasing power of sterling.

Anthony Macari, co-owner of Macari’s on London’s Denmark Street, said: “We are seeing increases of 10-15%, not just on American guitars but on guitars coming in from Europe and China. Everyone is catching up.”

Who in the working class in England could afford to buy new Gibsons, though? They’re largely high end pieces. Zero or bad credit? Forget it.

It’s part of the reason the guitar rock industry is flat. Think that wonderful term from teh Great Recession, delinquent or non-performing assets.

Well, there are always “Chibsons,” Chinese counterfeits sold through Alibaba. (Furthermore, are counterfeits subject to tariff?) Or Epiphones and Squiers, still cheap from China.

Here, if Trump actually implements a 47 percent tariff on them the rock bottom models only rise from 80-110 dollars to 160. It’s the Mexican-made Fenders where such a tariff would really begin to bite into Fender’s business since they’re the mid-level price instruments. A tariff shoves their prices up into the lower range of an American-made Fender, rendering the Mexican manufacturng facility uncompetitive.

But the American-made guitar industry has been in the doldrums for a long time. Classic rock is no longer hip with young people; neither is playing the electric guitar. Rising prices due to trade war just might not mean that much for the industry domestically.

A newspaper piece, fresh today:

“The industry’s challenge — or opportunity — is getting people to commit for life,” said Andy Mooney, Fender’s chief executive officer. “A pretty big milestone for someone adopting any form of instrument is getting them through the first song.”

The $6 billion U.S. retail market for musical instruments has been stagnant for five years, according to data compiled by research firm IBISWorld, and would-be guitar buyers have more to distract them than ever. So how do you convince someone to put down the iPhone …

“Fender says it hauls in about a half-billion dollars a year in revenue and is on track to grow in the high single digits this year,” continues the piece. “That’s still down from its $700 million in revenue in 2011 …”

What do do? What to do?

There’s not a lot that can be done. The electric guitar, the basic models, anyway, are as near perfect in design as possible. Adding software and chips to them has been sngularly meh. Largely, no one cares, who already plays.

Fender thinks development of tuning apps may be one answer. I’m not sold but I’m the old white coot.

What’s left is to curry and maintain the high-end snob market, embracing the American-based artisanal business model for the few left with any money, now that the middle class is largely gone. “[The] most devoted … evolving into collectors, their walls hung with high-end instruments,” is how the newspaper puts it.

The paradox, or tragedy, which I’ve mentioned before, is that Leo Fender made his instruments and amplifiers for that middle class. And it is in the hands of that class, here and in England (where the musicians were working class) that the instruments rode to into the history books.


“But what about Wal-Mart?” someone from the old hoosegow screamed on my Facebook timeline. “Who is going to pay for all of this? WE ARE …”

I don’t entirely agree and am not actually opposed to potential trade wars with China or Mexico.

Hard as it is to currently believe, classical economics, as explained by a guy like Dean Baker used to call for rich nations like the US to perhaps run a trade surplus and export capital, while the emerging nations use the money to make things bought by their own people.

From Baker, last week:

In the economic textbooks, rich countries like the United States are supposed to be exporting capital to the developing world. This provides them the means to build up their capital stock and infrastructure, while maintaining the living standards of their populations. This is the standard economic story where the problem is scarcity.

But to justify trade policies that have harmed tens of millions of U.S. workers, either by costing them jobs or depressing their wages, the Post discards standard economics and tells us the problem facing people in the developing world is that there is too much stuff. If we didn’t buy the goods produced in the developing world then there would just be a massive glut of unsold products.

In the standard theory the people in the developing world buy their own stuff, with rich countries like the U.S. providing the financing. It actually did work this way in the 1990s …

Startlingly, I didn’t know this until I read his book, Rigged. Here in America, the received wisdoms have been just the opposite.

As a personal example, I can use five plastic crap razors from the dollar store instead of ten, twice as long. Now I won’t look so good on many days when they dull out but who cares?

What does happen if Wal Mart takes a hit?


From the archives — Fender.

Guitars made in China — the counterfeits.

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