Matt Askren, Eiteljorg visitor experience manager
| May 13, 2013
Throughout the run of Guitars!Roundups to Rockers, we’ll highlight the top five guitar picks from an Eiteljorg employee and find out whether there’s a Western connection! This week’s playlist comes from Matt Askren, visitor experience manager for the Eiteljorg Museum.
Matt playing guitar in Rooms live at the Melody Inn (with bassist Andrew Greenburg and drummer Ben Traub.)
Being a (hack of a) musician, I suspect I hear music a bit differently than the average listener. While a good vocal melody is important, it’s the music behind it which spurs my love for a song. In my favorite five picks, note that the drums are as integral to these selections as the guitars.
Message In A Bottle- The Police
Journeyman guitarist Andy Summers 10 years of playing soul, rock, and jazz fusion made for an interesting blend when punk hit and The Police formed. Summers’ joined the simpler punk style with a rich jazz-informed sense of harmony which helped him create the verse riff for Message. If you have any background in music, he’s playing a series of 9th chords. I’ve ripped that off the 9th chord plenty over the years- with distortion it sounds like a warm knife! Also, of note is drummer Stewart Copeland’s beats- fantastic hi-hat work!
Summers was my first guitar hero. Coincidentally, my main guitar is a Fender Telecaster with a humbucker in the neck position- same as Summers.
When I began playing guitar, bands blending punk and classic rock were all the rage. That movement had developed in the independent underground before it broke. Fugazi were the quintessential post-punk band.
One of Fugazi’s two singer/guitarists, Ian MacKaye, was the poster-boy of the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic . He was co-founder of D.C.’s independent Dischord Records, frontman for the straight-edge punk band Minor Threat and later was founder of Fugazi, a more experimental post-punk band. This song celebrates the individual creativity that goes with a DIY entrepreneurial spirit- specifically the work of independent film maker John Cassavettes. The first riff includes a guitar imitating a siren which mirrors the singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto’s alarm upon watching a Cassavettes film. When the verse arrives, the guitars crash in with the coolest noise junk-guitar riff of all-time. Clearly, this isn’t the status-quo method of playing guitar- and that’s the point! DIY means among other things, act. Don’t wait, create! Also of note is the call-and-response guitar work in the bridge riff at 1:47- very cool! Like many musicians with a background in indie and post-punk, I’ve ripped off plenty from Fugazi!
Still Ill – The Smiths All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
The punk-informed Smiths brought a more sophisticated pop-oriented sound to the scene than most punk influenced bands of the time. Singer Morrissey was a master of brash, often hilarious, hyperbole and melodrama. Is this song a commentary on the biology of sexual orientation, or a critique of the Thatcher administration? I don’t know. But what’s important here is how awesome the guitar is! Guitarist Johnny Marr is a master of coming up with colorful guitar parts and this syncopated verse riff doesn’t disappoint. However, his choice of burying it in the mix may be a challenge though as you’ll need to squint your ears to hear it.
Hendrix made Watchtower his own a mere six months after composer Bob Dylan released the original version. With its alarmingly immediate beginning punctuated by the click of wood blocks, perfectly percussive 12 string rhythm guitar, Dylan’s dark ambiguous lyrics and Hendrix’s brilliant fills and transcendental solos; it doesn’t get much better than this. Hendrix is the only player listed here that isn’t a personal influence. What would the point be? Nobody will ever be this good again.
Fragment of a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster
electric guitar formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix.
(Photo courtesy of EMP Museum, Seattle, WA)
You can check out Jimi Hendrix’s Gibson Les Paul custom guitar and the remains of his Sunburst Fender Stratocaster in our Guitars! Roundups to Rockers exhibit through August 4.
Pele- Long Fin Killie
Scotland’s little-known Long Fin Killie once again proved that innovation bubbles up from the underground as guitarist Phil Cameron exclusively used ringing-bell guitar harmonics for the atmospheric verses of Pele. Sadly, this 90’s band’s distinctive blend of percussive indie rock guitar, non-traditional use of world music instruments, drum-and-bass informed rhythms and singer Luke Sutherland’s uniquely poetic gay African-Scot perspective never got above the water table of the underground. Sutherland went on to form the band Bows and has since written 3 somewhat acclaimed novels. Numerous interweb searches have not revealed the what-abouts of guitarist Cameron.
And their Western connections?
Andy Summers played a California made Fender guitar. Hendrix is from Seattle. Fugazi influenced plenty of Western bands including Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam. Long Fin Killie were influenced by the soft-loud approach of Seattle’s Nirvana. Johnny Marr influenced, and later played in, Washington State’s Modest Mouse.
(Matthew Askren is the Eiteljorg’s Visitor Experience Manager. He also plays guitar and sings in the band Rooms.)
(Above) Fender Stratocaster, early 1990s, formerly owned by Kurt Cobain; Courtesy EMP Museum, Seattle, WA. See it at the Eiteljorg through Aug. 4.