Some forty five years ago I got caught up in the ragtime music revival of the early 70s. A combination of the success of Joshua Rifkin’s Nonesuch recordings of Scott Joplin’s works, the soundtrack of the movie The Sting – which turned The Entertainer in a major hit record, and probably the fact that Joplin’s music was moving into the Public Domain making it cheap to publish, all came together to contribute to resurrect the popularity of this musical style.
This revival generated a lot interest amongst fingerstyle guitarists in arranging the piano rags for guitar – or as Stefan Grossman liked to say, “playing them on the six string piano”.
As a young guitarist I jumped whole heartedly on this bandwagon and transcribed copious numbers of the piano rags for the guitar. Maple Leaf Rag was amongst these. I originally arranged the first two of the piece’s four themes back around 1973.
It took some forty years for me to get around to finally arranging the last two themes and then another four years to get around to recording it. Well, you know what they say about a fine wine.
The Slippery Slope is an original composition that celebrates a slippin’ and a slidin’ on the strings. It first appeared on the album The Voice in the Grain and has since been featured in Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine, as one of the selections in the Fingerstyle Repertoire Requirement for the Wilson Centre Guitar Competition (2017), and on the Mel Bay DVD Masters of Fingerstyle Guitar (now out of print).
A transcription/video lesson bundle is now available through the Acoustic Tonic Music Store.
This is one of my favourite songs for the Christmas season. The title says it all, although the original lyrics were a bit more ambiguous.
Have Yourself Merry Little Christmas was written for the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. Garland balked at singing the original lyrics because she felt they were too sad for the scene the song appears in. Hugh Martin, the lyricist, reluctantly rewrote some of the lines to make it more hopeful sounding. In subsequent years a couple of more tweeks were made as the song evolved into the version we’re familiar with today.
Here’s an interesting article that traces the evolution of the lyrics. Its interesting to see in recent years a number of artists rediscovering and recording the original lyrics. Perhaps this a sign of today’s pervading cynicism.
Regardless of the version of the lyrics you prefer, the melody always wraps me in a warm, cozy blanket of nostalgia when I hear it. So I chose to arrange it beginning with a slow, meditative tone. The change up to a jazz waltz feel at the bridge felt like a nice contrast and leads into a upbeat final verse before finally returning to a reflective mood for the ending.
If you find my arrangement a bit too laid back and need more of a kick in your eggnog, you might want to check out Twisted Sister’s version.
For the guitarists, a half hour video lesson and transcription of this arrangement is available.
I am teaming up with classical guitarist Brad Mahon to present an evening of music and stories for and about the guitar. We’re calling it Nylon and Steel – Exploring the Acoustic Guitar and will be doing two shows in Regina on June 13 and 14.
Performing on two similar, yet distinct, forms of the guitar (nylon string and steel string guitars), Brad and I will blend our contrasting musical backgrounds to explore the diverse range of music associated with this instrument.
Brad Mahon is a formally trained classical guitarist and the current Head of the Conservatory of Performing Arts at the University of Regina. He has been described as “an outstanding classical guitarist” (20th Century Guitar magazine, New York). I can vouch for that and add, “and a heck of a nice guy, to boot” (Bob Evans, Regina). Brad will be drawing material for the evening from a varied classical guitar repertoire.
I am … well, you know who I am … and as you may suspect, I’ll be coming at the evening from a somewhat more informal school of folk, country and blues music.
Bach to Beatles, Klassical to Kentucky, Around the World and a whole lot more. Musical chocolate and peanut butter. Come on out and have a taste.
This will all take place at two shows in Regina at Sawchyn Guitars on June 13 and 14. If you’ve been there before, you will know Sawchyn Guitars provides an intimate venue perfect for this sort of concert. If you didn’t know that, this is the perfect chance to come and find out for yourself!
But intimate also means seating is limited, so get your tickets early to avoid being afflicted with the dreaded Disappointment.
June 13 and 14
Sawchyn Guitars (2132 Dewdney Ave., Regina)
7:30 pm (doors open at 7)
Tickets: $20 – available at Sawchyn Guitars (306-522-6348)
lackbird is one of Paul McCartney’s many little masterpieces. Sparse and efficient, like Yesterday, it is one of those “just right” moments The Beatles managed to hit so many times.
Over the past fifty years Blackbird’s guitar accompaniment has become one of a relatively small handful of influential guitar pieces – like Classical Gas, Stairway to Heaven, Windy and Warm and their ilk – that “everyone” seems to either be able to identify or has actually taken a stab at while learning to play guitar.
Interestingly, the inspiration for Blackbird’s guitar part was found in yet another well-known guitar piece, J.S. Bach’s Bouree in E minor. More recently, Sir Paul has explained how he and George used to play a bastardized version of Bouree as a party piece to impress people with how musically worldly they were.
As you can hear, and as Sir Paul acknowledges, they got it wrong – real wrong. But part of The Beatles’ genius was being able to take little seeds like that and turn them into brilliant music of their own. McCartney did just that in this case, using some of the fingering from their twisted version of Bouree as the seed for what became the guitar part for Blackbird.
With my penchant for arranging Beatles tunes this is one song I couldn’t ignore. Usually when arranging The Beatles for solo guitar it is an issue of compressing the full sound of a band down onto six strings. Given Blackbird features just a single guitar and voice, one might assume that made it much easier to arrange for solo guitar. Paradoxically, not so. But that is a story for another time.