Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jazzberry Jam™

Yesterday I was listening to a band called Niacin while I toiled away on the computer (yeah, riiiiight). The band's main claim to fame is bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan, whose most notable stints have been with ex-Van Halen loud mouth David Lee Roth and bluesy rockers Mr. Big. He's also toured with heavyweight guitar players like Steve Vai—one concert at which I (and others) strummed my (their) fingers over his bass strings when he held the instrument face out over the pressing crowd. He's a true original in the way he flies up and down the fret board and across the strings, laying down much more than low-end hooks. He's more like an exceptional lead guitarist who happens to play bass.

Sheehan has the biggest name in Niacin, but it's a wholly democratic trio—jazz drummer Dennis Chambers, and John Novello on, of all things, the Hammond B3 organ, complete the line-up. (vitamin B3, a.k.a. niacin, get it?) It's really a spectacular conglomeration of instrumental genius.

While I listened to Niacin's Deep album, I was poking around the iTunes store, looking for what else the band has to offer. I also checked out the choices in the "customers who bought this also bought..." section, and came across another heady act called Ohm:. The band is similarly fronted by a relatively better known member—in this case, one-time Megadeth guitar slinger Chris Poland—joined by some really talented compatriots.

One thing led to another, and I downloaded a couple of Ohm:'s albums. While doing so, I noticed a common thread that ran through so many instrumental bands, and a trend that I've long noticed with bands of an instrumental nature—they clearly have fun coming up with kooky names for their songs. Case in point: the first track of one Ohm: album, "Peanut Buddha."

And why not? We're not talking "Yesterday" or, ahem, "We Will Rock You." These are lyric-less gems that, for all I know, might've sprung up after the name was floated.

Musicians have been doing this sort of thing forever, I suppose. I became aware of the practice in the '70s, during my formative explorations into more diverse, fusion-oriented music. Before Irish guitarist Gary Moore became famous for more common guitar-bass-drums-vocals albums, his 1979 Back on the Streets album contained such fiery instrumentals as "What Would You Rather Bee or a Wasp" and "Flight of the Snow Moose." Similarly, instrumental guitar giants like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have enlightened our senses with "Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing" and "Bad Horsie," respectively. Steve Stevens gets into the act on his amazing Memory Crash CD with "Small Arms Fire" and "Cherry Vanilla." Without even hearing the song, can anyone imagine a song called "Small Arms Fire" by a guitarist of Stevens' caliber isn't an absolute rat-a-tat-tat barn-burner? I think not.

Perhaps the most prolific practitioners of the art of whacked out song names are jazz fusion bands. I offer drummer Dave Weckl's "Swamp Thing" and "Group Therapy," Vital Information's "Fit to be Tied" and "Looks Good, Feels Bad," Tribal Tech's "Elvis at the Hop," "Uh. . .Yeah OK," and "Astro Chimp," and even über-group The (Dixie) Dregs' "I'm Freaking Out," "Pompous Circumstances," "Sleeveless in Seattle" and "Bloodsucking Leeches" as prime examples of the genre. Heck, even some of my friends add their mark! My good buddy Roby Deaton paints a picture with "Summer Meadow" and "Starry Night" without having to play a note—although, I must say, his music completes the task beautifully. Another buddy, guitarist Stan Rose, didn't just use song titles to display his knack for skewed names. His musical project is called Alien Guitar Abduction. How cool is that?!

Lest I forget, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, perhaps the most amazing keyboard wizard since Keith Emerson, and a member of prog rock kings Dream Theater for the last several years, serves up a healthy selection of his own. "Dreaming in Titanium," "Bar Hopping with Mr. Picky" and "Screaming Head" join the list with creative aplomb.

What of Niacin, the reason this post sprung up in the first place? Try this: "Panic Button"; "Magnetic Mood"; "Klunkified"; "Swing Swang Swung." Yeah, I'd say they belong on this list.

As I alluded to earlier in this post, I can really see an artist having a quirky name pop into his head, attaching a first-impressions type of groove to it, and voilà!, a song is born!

It would be great fun coming up with this stuff. Sort of like coming up with interesting and descriptive names for Crayola crayons. I mean, who needs off-yellow when you can have macaroni and cheese? What's more fun, dark gray or Outer Space? Forget reddish-brown, give me Fuzzy Wuzzy! Jazzberry Jam, anyone?

Whacky song names, funny crayon colors. . . it's almost as much fun as naming blog posts!


Anonymous said...

Love this; who are you, anyway???

Larry the Texan said...

Dude, I've been looking for some great word-less music. Love this (these). Ever since I first heard Jeff Beck I've had a great appreciation for instrumental rock.

Anonymous said...

Funny many don't know that you were a "rock dog photographer" in an earlier encarnation. Damn good one too!
My wife and I were watching the Rush bio "All the World's a Stage" last night and thought of you being the uber Rush fan back in the day. Check it out sometime.
Love the photos as usual.