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Dr. Feelgood

Guest Blogger: Peter Aaron, author of If You Like the Ramones… Enjoy Aaron’s post about another band who, like the Ramones, were on the front lines of the punk rock movement. 

In Chapter 3 of If You Like the Ramones there’s a sidebar about pub rock, the street-level, old-school-R&B-based movement that thrived in the sweaty barrooms of early 1970’s England and provided the launch pad for punk’s explosion across the pond. And naturally a sizeable chunk of the entry is devoted to Dr. Feelgood, the Canvey Island-bred quartet whose tough sound informed the music of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam, Gang of Four, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and legions more. While I was working on the book I learned that Dr. Feelgood guitarist and co-founder Wilko Johnson had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The news hit me hard.

Although I never got to see Dr. Feelgood or Wilko play live—being a twelve-year-old suburban American boy during the Feelgoods’ prime 1975-1976 period, I was blissfully unaware of much that happened beyond the walls of my model kit-building garret—my eventual discovery of their LPs via used-record bins was revelatory. Besides being blown away by the band’s hard energy and overall coolness, Wilko became one of my all-time favorite guitarists. Strike that—I’m inclined to say he is my favorite.

Looking like a simmering, bug-eyed thug behind his trademark Telecaster, that’s exactly how Wilko plays on Dr. Feelgood’s defining early albums—1975’s Down by the Jetty and Malpractice, 1976’s Stupidity, 1977’s Sneakin’ Suspicion—and his similarly fine later solo releases and those with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Skittering, scraping, and bursting percussively out of the speakers like rabbit punches to the chest, Wilko’s lead-eschewing attack is a method of musicianship you wish more six-stringers would embrace, rather than chasing the soulless noodlings of Joe Satriani and similar masturbators. No wonder the Ramones were tapped to open for Dr. Feelgood’s appearance at New York’s Bottom Line in May 1976. Director Julien Temple’s riveting, award-winning Feelgoods doc Oil City Confidential (2010) is mandatory viewing for all music lovers.

But despite his grim, it’s-just-a-matter-of-time prognosis, Wilko has continued to be a divine inspiration in other, far bigger ways. He’s opted to go out swinging—one might say swinging his axe, in the face of his own mortality. Refusing chemotherapy, after the diagnosis he promptly booked tour dates and has vowed to keep performing as long as he is physically able. And from all reports the shows have been excellent. Something to think about the next morning you’re lingering in bed, dreading that limp to the shower and that mind-numbing commute.

So, as a musician, a music lover, and a human being who strives daily in small ways to better himself, thank you, Wilko Johnson, from the bottom of this battered heart. You and your vibrant art have made the universe a better place. Irreversibly so.

If You Like the Ramones…

With that quick count-off, four hoppin’ cretins from Queens who called themselves the Ramones launched the 1970s musical revolution known as punk rock. And ever since, popular music hasn’t been the same. Perhaps the most imitated band of all time, the Ramones stripped rock ‘n’ roll down to its bare bones and beating heart and handed it back to the people, making it fun again and reminding everyone that, hey, they could do this, too.

But “da brudders” didn’t just influence their key comrades in the original punk explosion. Their raw, tough sound and divine gift of enduring, melodic songcraft has power-drilled its way into musical styles as divergent as college rock, power pop, hardcore punk, thrash metal, grunge, and the avant-garde, and continues to be felt in newer waves of young acts. And what about the music that influenced the Ramones themselves – early rock ‘n’ roll, surf rock, British Invasion sounds, garage rock, girl groups, hard rock, bubblegum, proto-punk, and glam rock? Or the nonmusical stuff that also warped the skulls beneath those trademark bowl haircuts – weird movies, cartoons, trashy TV shows, comic books, and other cultural jetsam? It’s all here, just waiting for you to discover and dig. Hey Ho, Let’s Go!

R&B Singing, Competitions, and TV Shows

Guest Blogger: Terri Brinegar, author of Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer.

There has been an abundance of singing competitions on TV ever since the advent of “American Idol” over a decade ago.  And I think it’s just great!  Singing is a source of joy–even non-singers love to sing in the shower, sing in church and with family.  No wonder those TV shows are so popular.  And who doesn’t love to hear a great singer sing a heart-felt song?

I guess that takes us to the question of “What is a great singer?”  I suppose this is a question similar to “What is beautiful”?  There of course are very many differences of opinion.  Consider this:  In the Middle Ages, a great singer certainly wouldn’t be what you or I consider to be great today.  Times change and opinions change.  And some people never change–our parents think great singers are the singers from their generation, and might just think that your favorite singers can’t sing worth a hoot!  Right?

Well, just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” great singing can be in the ear of the listener–ha!

But I have to say it’s more than just an opinion.  There are some qualities that can be defined as “great” especially as we define it today (not like the monks would define it in the Middle Ages, or your parents for that matter).  Here are a few things that we can put on the list:

Technique–that is, studying with a teacher, learning the in’s and out’s of the voice and how it works, learning to use your instrument (and yes, the voice is an instrument) to the best of its capabilities, practicing to strengthen your voice, striving to reach new heights (and lows) vocally, stretching your abilities.  If you can’t study with a professional vocal coach, learn from books and CDs – there are plenty of books and CDs on vocal instruction (such as mine), and although it may not be quite as beneficial as one-on-one private instruction, there is much you can learn from reading and listening and applying technique offered in books and CDs.

Emotional Expression–putting your heart and soul into your singing.  No one wants to hear a bland, emotionless singer – boring!!  I’ve sometimes wondered why certain singers have made it big, when they weren’t great singers to begin with.  Take Janice Joplin for instance–she’s not a technically great singer, but she just oozed emotional expression.  She put her heart into her singing 100% – in every single note!  She held nothing back, which really is like exposing one’s inner self.  To be emotional in your singing, you must truly be connected to the song and FEEL it. If you can’t feel it, then pick a different song!  If you’re bored, then the audience will be too…

Listening–yes, your ears are just as important as your voice (there I said it!)  If a singer gets on stage and over-sings (or as I like to call her – a “melismaniac”), then it seems that she is just singing for her own benefit, to hear herself sing, which is really very selfish!  Remember, it is your job as the singer to help people to connect to the music, to feel what you’re feeling, to get drawn in to the power of the song.  It’s really not about YOU…Keeping that in mind, if you use your ears, you learn to listen, to learn to give-and-take, to work with the band, to let others shine, to allow SILENCE in a song.  Do you realize that silence can be the greatest emotional expression in a song?  Listen to Aretha Franklin sing “Dr. Feelgood.” She allows a TON of space, which creates emotional tension and release.  It’s not all just in your face.  We all like the suspense of “what is she going to do now?”  Singers who over-sing and use too many riffs and fill every hole in the music get boring, there’s no suspense because we as listeners know exactly what’s coming: more notes!  Learn to be a giver to the song, nurture the song–it wants to be coddled and treated with love and affection–not trampled on by a thousand notes!

These are just a few of the basics of what makes a singer “great.”  But of course, tomorrow there could be a whole new set of things–it constantly changes!

I guess the most important thing is to sing from your heart, love it, and put your passion into it.

Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer

In Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer Brinegar shares with her extensive stage experience, her success as a bandleader to some of the greatest musicians in the world, her skills as a musician and songwriter, her training in classical voice, and her years as a vocal coach. Brinegar believes a strong foundation of vocal technique is necessity to success in any style of singing. She is probably one of the few teachers with both a classical background and years of stage experience singing blues and R&B. While there are many books on technique, few, if any, have been written with Brinegar’s broad and comprehensive take on the contemporary music industry.

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Terri Brinegar, author of Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer sits down and chats with Nashville singer-songwriter Joanna Cotten.

>>>LISTEN HERE<<<