Archive for March, 2011

Not Just Another Opening……

(no guitar-specific content)

New York! London! Lincoln!

Lincoln? Not exactly an iconic city in the theatre world, but this capitol of Nebraska has an excellent theatre company, TADA, that is currently presenting the regional premiere of our musical ‘It’s The Housewives!’ .

Developing a new musical is complicated  business, typically involving workshops, backers’ auditions and rewrites. It is often a ‘stop-start’ process, one that we experienced with our score to ‘Gilligan’s Island: The Musical’, which took 13 years from the initial workshop to the definitive version. Since then has had multiple regional productions, including a national tour.

Hope and I produced the first run of ‘Housewives’ in Los Angeles in 2009, where it had an extended run at The Whitefire, a small Equity-waiver theatre. The score is derived from the repertoire of Hope’s comedy/rock band ‘The Housewives’ which was active in clubs, radio and TV during the 80’s and early 90’s. Her initial inspiration came in 1978 and, since we started writing together shortly after we met in ’81, we accumulated quite a collection of funny, domestic-themed pop and rock songs that seemed natural for a stage musical. How to integrate them into a theatre piece was a dilemma.

Seeing ‘Jersey Boys’ was the catalyst for Hope to imagine it as a ‘juke-box’ musical, creating a ‘fake story of a real band’. Imagine ‘Dream Girls’ meets ‘Spinal Tap’!  She collaborated with her writing partner Ellen Guylas on the show’s play book, bringing their TV sit-com script-writing skills to the stage.

The TADA company has not only excelled at providing quality entertainment to the Lincoln community, they have also created a niche in presenting new theatre works. The husband and wife team of director Bob Rook and musical director Cris Rook embraced “It’s The Housewives” and it’s exciting to see their their interpretation of the show. To have such an opportunity hand over the ‘work’ (in the artistic sense) to another team and progress the development of a musical, is entertaining, instructive not to mention somewhat scary.

Unlike my guitar composing and arranging, where I perform my own inventions, with a stage musical, one has to sit back and watch the process unfold in the hands of talented people. My challenge was substantially in the music preparation realm – creating the vocal lead sheets (only a few typos…), backing tracks and transition cues.

In LA, I was musical director, as well as the ‘spreadsheet-wielding’ producer, but in Lincoln, Hope, Ellen and I became audience members.

Costumes, choreography, set and lighting design all contribute to bringing the narrative to multi-dimensional life. A skilled team can find fresh perspectives in the vision of the show’s creators: a clever dance sequence; an atmospheric tableau; an extra-smooth set change; an unexpected twist in the style of a song. TADA have done a splendid job and we are most appreciative of the opportunity that Bob and Cris afforded us.

Regarding a new show, it’s asked “Will it play in Peoria?”, but perhaps the question should be “Will it have legs in Lincoln?”. Judging by the audience reactions, it looks like ‘It’s The Housewives!’ has ‘Wings’…….

LJ

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Transcribing Beatles

How long does it take to ready a transcription folio for publication?

For my Beatle arrangements, at least a decade, if I include the time taken to cultivate a healthy relationship with the publishers….. A few tunes from my ‘LJ Plays The Beatles’ and ‘One Wing’ CDs made it into a Popular Songs fingerstyle folio I did a few years ago, which helped smooth the way for an all-Beatle book.

Ironically the ‘hit’ from that particular collection was not a Beatle tune, but my arrangement of the Lieber-Stoller-Ben E. King tune  ‘Stand By Me’, which was featured in a diamond commercial on TV.

A significant criteria in my tune selection for ‘LJ Plays The Beatles Vol. 2′, was that keeping the repertoire to Lennon-McCartney tunes would allow a folio to match the recording. Apparently, George’s tunes are governed by some different agreements and would complicate the issue.

The challenges of creating solo arrangements of these tunes are a subject for way more discussion than is appropriate to a brief blog post. Catch me at one of my clinics or extended workshops for some in-depth study – see my schedule.

I finished recording the CD in May of 2010. I had already prepared most of the arrangements in Sibelius, my preferred notation program. Then everything was revised to match the recordings, plus transcriptions were done of the more improvised tunes – with some help from Dr. Dave. The files were sent to my excellent editor Jeff at Hal Leonard Publishing, who did a total revision and emailed me pdfs of his pencil amendments to the print-outs. After I approved the changes, and added a few of my own, the music then went to the engraver to incorporate all the alterations into the original Sibelius files. That took us to into December.

Last week, appropriately enough while I was a guest on the ‘Beatles Tribute Cruise’, I received pdfs of the engraver’s proofs, with some pencil annotations. They were final enough for me to sit in my studio for 4 days and record brief lessons on all 15 tunes for the CD that accompanies the book. I made a few corrections as I read through the tunes, but my part of the process is essentially done. I’m expecting that the book will be out in May 2011.

So, in answer to my original question, essentially a year, excluding the arranging time prior to recording the album itself. That’s with the benefits of digital technology (and some well-sharpened red pencils). I can’t imagine doing it with woodblocks…….

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Heads, Hands and Feet

Heads, Hands and Feet was a cool band from the UK. They were active in the early 70’s and, for me, the band was most notable as my introduction to the guitar genius of Albert Lee. I first played with him at a 1979 Buddy Holly week concert in London with the Crickets, Don Everly and our Wings line-up. A short time later at an in-studio jam with Eric Clapton (two of my idols in one place!) Since then I’ve enjoyed playing guitar with him on many occasions and I’m looking forward to sharing the stage in late April at a festival in Soave in Italy.

However, my topic today is actually some of the occupational hazards of being a guitar player. Head-wise, or more specifically hair-wise, as a studio player one has to contend with the dread ‘headphone hair’.  Not mention the various 90’s-era bad-hair gigs due to high humidity and an overly-experimental barber (notice, no links here to youtube videos…..). But I can’t complain about having been blessed with a decent head of hair.

Also, I keep my ‘head’ straight on the road with a form of meditation. I learned TM in London in the mid-70’s and it is a terrific antidote to jet-lag.

My feet are well-covered by ‘Moc’-style Merrells – they are easy to slip in and out of at airport security – a major travel priority these days.

I’m amazed how little attention I paid to my hands and fingers until recently. I don’t use fingernails for my right hand picking, only flesh, so I’ve been spared the issues some fingerstyle guitar players have with acrylic nails. I do have problems with cracks in my calluses though, mostly a result of dryness. I’ve used various moisturing products and Superglue when all else fails, but there is always a residual weakness in the callus.

A recent bout with a nasty left hand index fingertip split led me to Randy Jacobs MD, the inventor of  Guitar Hands, a lipid-based moisturizer. He set me straight about maintaining a healthy layer of lipids and the dehydrating effect of Superglue (Stevie Ray Vaughn mythology notwithstanding) and he treated the fingertip with a mild topical cortisone ointment. Randy’s product really does make a difference, my hands are not suffering the low humidity of  the Southern California Winter, plus I feel like I’ve grown a brand new fingertip……. LJ

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