Hard Words

Decades have passed as I realized very, very few wish to quote, preach or consider the following (admittedly, selected by me) verses attributed to Jesus Christ in the four Gospels. Now, “gospel” itself literally means “good news” and there is the dilemma, the bind, the pain factor, indeed the cross for those who -say- they either seek to or are following Jesus.

Reportedly all of the following but the last section of text are the words of Jesus:

Matthew 16.24 Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, they must deny self and take up their cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it. 26 What will it profit a person if they gain the whole world, yet forfeits their soul? Or what can a person give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will repay each one according to what they have done.
(Also Matthew 10.37-39; Mark 8.34-38; Luke 9.23-27)

Luke 14.25 Large crowds were now traveling with Jesus, and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. 28 Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has the resources to complete it? 29 Otherwise, if he lays the foundation and is unable to finish the work, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man could not finish what he started to build.’ 31 Or what king on his way to war with another king will not first sit down and consider whether he can engage with ten thousand men the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if he is unable, he will send a delegation while the other king is still far off, to ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.
(Also Matthew 8.18-22; Luke 9.57-62; John 6.60-65)

Matthew 22.34 And when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they themselves gathered together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with a question: 36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” 37 Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Also Deuteronomy 6.1-19; Mark 12.28-34)

Lastly please consider from the apostle John:

1 John 4.20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

My takeaway from these four texts alone:

Would-be followers or those of us who imperfectly, stumblingly walk with Jesus and seek to apply His teachings must ultimately face the real and often very present pains of surrendering OUR will, OUR desires and even our sense of security. We surrender them to Him in faith, trust and to the best of our understanding, obedience. If we conclude God “is not enough”, or merely cherry-pick from what Jesus Himself reportedly said and meant in The Bible we find ourselves in denial of Him.

The Church in our quest to attract, hold and and be acceptable to current and potential members has often denied the fulcrum of Jesus’ Own outlay of what a disciple of His must face. We avoid quoting and wrestling with some of the more difficult and even “WHATTTTT??!! THIS can’t BE TRUE!” portions of The Bible and finally re-write or discard any sort of cannon of scripture largely based on our enlightened views of what He really meant and what He actually commands. Promises, no problem… commands, uuggghhh!

That word “HATE” is largely and I believe truly, soundly translated from biblical Greek and a massive amount of scholars have rightly interpreted what Jesus -means- in those passages is that we must love God supremely, even over family, etc., etc., or we are at core idolaters. It is a matter of loving by comparison -because there is no other Lord nor Savior but Jesus and if we are not first concerned with Him, His Word and will we often put our dearest family and friends ahead and even over Him. Our “first love” (to quote Revelations) must truly be Jesus. There is just no escaping this but for creating our own (at least) partial though false “scripture”.

The term “ALL” indeed means all. How often we love God like we pay taxes. Where are the loopholes, the work-arounds, how can we keep as much for ourselves (rightly or wrongly) as possible? God throughout The Bible gives us that option (“Choose this day whom you will serve”, “Whosoever will” and so on) but these and so many words of Christ Himself are strong, challenging, difficult statements that size us up in our supposed Christian faith and practice or not, of how He defines discipleship. Frankly, individual Christians as well as churches do not always agree with Him- and He loves us though He does not even slightly change -though we must and can by His grace and power as we trust and surrender to Him.

Then we come to John in his first letter to the Church.

Regardless of agreement or disagreement on any number of issues there is this major-league, bottom-line thing about loving God supremely and neighbor as “just like it”. Hmmm? Jesus states it plainly and people walk away. John states it straight in another fashion here. Toward people there is no room for hate -regardless of anything. Zero. No quarter to say you love God while literally hating (which does not mean loving-less…) people though you may severely disagree with them on any number of issues.

Either (as Hebrews plainly states) Jesus “died once for all” or He did not. Either God calls all people everywhere to repent (Book of Acts, etc.) or He doesn’t. Either we recognize that careful contextual interpretation of The Bible sometimes speaks to His Own people while at other times speaks to/about those not yet following Him… or we look for loopholes to simply “write our own text”, that is “our own fictional cannon”.

If one continues down that road it becomes ever so easy (Adam and Eve narrative anyone?) to “write our own script”, to usurp God’s Own revelation as one of any options. In a word, self. Self vs. Christ, self vs. God is as old as… humankind.

As honestly as I can ponder God, His Word and the world, ancient and at present, and the world to come, these issues are non-negotiable but how we do our best to avoid them!

True grace does not eliminate the crosses Jesus calls His people to carry -it enables us to carry ours for His sake and the sake of His good news as we walk with Him.

Things to consider along the path?

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

Mid-November Tour, Etc. Update

Well it has been a cookin’ year! Right now I sit in our warm dining room about to collect dinner for family, but the weekends before had a SWEET time at the annual Chicago Cigarbox Guitar Festival. Just home late last night from a long and amazing weekend w. my bros and sis’s at Bangor and Machias, Maine Calvary Chapels, so many kind folks and new faces- and I admit suffering w. lobster from the local folk in Machias… wow!

Now upcoming- one or two solo Christmas shows, a fair number of Cook Co. Jail and -maybe- one more max security Illinois prison set before Christmas. And of course first Thanksgiving, and just prior to that a Cook Co. Jail chaplain’s team retreat.

The usual family time, laundry and family errands, 3 1/4 songs to finish my tracking on the next record -a protest album- and work on a book (a bit re. my family, upbringing experiences and how I came to believe).

So not much happening- HA!! It seems I did 70 appearances all over creation this year. So far, and truly so good, blessed to share and so very many kind friends both old and new… thanks to all who pray(ed) and have communicated in such gracious ways whether via the web or in person.

Yep, gettin’ ready for Thanksgiving I guess 🙂

But I am so very thankful right now. It’s cold outside, weather dropped like a rock this past week for many in the U.S., certainly here in Chicago!

Stay warm, better yet, see what you might do to help someone else get out of the cold, the bitter and the destructive. To the best of my ability and on several levels that’s how I roll.

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

Note/s To Self

Sometimes hastily scribbled, not always artfully done, some of what I have tacked around my work spaces because I need ’em -and those I encounter every-anywhere need ’em coming from me. And I’m actually having a great day… just thought this good to mention.

Thank You Jesus I never walk alone and sweet Spirit You never quit with me!

As always, thanks for stopping by 🙂 -Glenn


1 String Lever Bass

I had known about such an animal called a “1 string box bass” or sometimes known as a “whamola” which is plucked and pitch-changed with a lever. I had long wanted to give it a go!

My friend Shane Speal is a bit crazy which is likely why I relate to him well… and he put up the drawings at http://www.cigarboxnation.com this past weekend which inspired this build 🙂 You can find that and 3 drawings via a link I made: https://tinyurl.com/y3ay5kdy

Mine differs on several levels. It uses round weed wacker line for a “bass string”, an eye screw for a tailpiece, no bridge or nut is needed as per my design.

Further, a friend in Arizona sent me a load of empty wine boxes some time ago and they are both large and light yet sturdy, easy to cut and screw together to the extent I didn’t even use any glue, just a total of 5 screws. There is also a bolt, lock washer and nut as part of the lever assembly.

You can see the changes I made comparing my pics to the drawings here, so let me explain what happened and somewhat, why.

First, not having a length of wood for a neck I found two smaller pieces that had been thrown out and put 3 drywall screws in them to combine ’em. I’d decided to build it 36 inches tip-to-tip and that’s what I did. Now the upper “neck” portion is wider than the lower but as you can see from the pic it didn’t matter because your hand doesn’t move up and down the neck anyway, and it snugged perfectly to the box.

The lower section of the neck fit flush against the underside of the box and gave me more length outside the bottom. This ersatz “bass” can be played as a normal bass with the box in one’s lap, or balanced off a chair -or floor as an upright bass, or flat in one’s lap like a lapsteel guitar. Quite versatile!

The box is 12 1/2 inches long, 7 1/4 wide and 3 1/3 inches deep, so it has such a full sound there is no need to create a sound hole (or two) to get great and low resonation from the slightly porous wood.

The neck protrudes 8 1/4 inches from the bottom of the box while the top neck piece extends 15 1/4 inches above the box.

The lever is 7 3/4’s long with the bolt hole 2 1/2 inches from the tip which gives me a good 5 inches of leverage to place my hand on and find the notes I wish to play.

I simply beat the string with a stick, pluck it with finger or thumb or guitar pic toward the bottom of the box or even just below it over the neck and then have a cool little instrument!

Two wood screws hold the box onto the neck and I can unclasp to open from the bottom if I should wish to eventually place a piezo pickup inside. Then again due to the neck it’d be simple to place a typical guitar or bass pickup on top of the box right below the top neck piece. Fun!

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

GK in Maine

Pic by Tony Taylor, Ascendent Instruments, Potomac, IL (named this one “Midnight”) !

SUN NOV 10 – Orrington, Maine @ 6PM
GK Solo Blues (and some electric jammin’ w. friends)
Calvary Chapel
154 River Road
Orrington ME 04474

Hope to see some of you there!

As always, thanks for stopping by 🙂  -Glenn

Thoughts on Stage Sound

As per my last post here re. tone and gear- we’re all at the mercy of our ability to hear and hear well.

Here are just a handful of considerations as of course many books and indeed many wiser, more experienced peeps than I can teach a lot more…

First a little background info. as to an element of how and why I’ve learned a bit about this.

So having shot multiple loud or high “cracking” firearms at ranges and hunting for years along with blasting music 24 x 7 via radio, vinyl re. sound systems, amplifiers, massive p.a. systems, close to 40 full length records and more singles, countless demos, many hundreds if not thousands of rehearsals and live shows, as a live music fan and performing musician myself -the high end (treble frequencies) in my ears, particularly right ear took a beating. Ya think?!!

My kind friends at Grrr Records did two things my wife, people at shows and anyone else who wants to communicate with me got blessed with. Ed came up with two solutions that have helped me MASSIVELY especially as I age (yep- I’m truly bald, fat and old :). Nearly deaf? Read on…

My prediction is many younger folks due to any/all of the above plus constant earbud music and phone listening will make the hearing aid business truly -boom- (pun there…) in the next 20 or so years!

So Grrr found Sensaphonics, a full service pro-audio-sound-for-musicians biz in Chicago who fit me with hearing aids that put frequencies back into my brain that had long gone south. I’ve now two diff. sets (digital) from them and it’s a night and day difference for basic hearing and a super help upon working with their pro audiologists who test hearing, help program, tweak and in their case cater to pro musicians. They offer amazing in-ear monitors and so much more as well.

Now I’m not even close to ashamed to let folks know how central this is to my basic communication and certainly music making both in studio and live sound.

There are also often options for many if you search, ask around and work to find government programs that can help re. your income. I’ve several veteran friends who have experienced severe hearing loss and hearing aids have changed their lives for the far better!

Ok, some thoughts on (mainly) live sound: I frankly strongly dislike drummers -ok, their kits… placed behind plexiglass, etc., in shows regardless of room but of course understand several good reasons for it. I have the very same view about running all instruments direct into the p.a. mixing desk- and again can argue the “why” it’s done -but ugh. Tone is the deal and if the musicians on stage aren’t inspired there’s a loss even if the crowd doesn’t know it.

Now the more control the sound tech has re. the room (church or otherwise) may be and in some ways is great and that -can- help the musicians maintain sane sound levels for themselves. Placement of p.a. speakers (the “mains”) and various kinds and placement of quality (?) monitors, small “hot spot” monitors, and setting stage volume of amps and all the the other adjustments are part of the equation as well. Yet as I just said… for most applications I think there is a better approach then super-quiet or all via d.i., sans speakers.

Even our GKB blues/rock trio sets my amp to my left facing me sideways as it’s always mic’ed through the p.a. anyway, this gives techs power and control they’d not have if typically set up with amps facing the audience. Of course that’s true. And some techs are more gifted and efficient than others same as we musicians… so that’s a big variable of course. Hats off to them all, without them it could/would be even greater mayhem!

More on what we do and what I like and why in a moment.

So electric bass players may well have their amp both (or only) run to house via a direct in, and often also with mic placed on speaker (live, my personal fave for bass tone is both).

Ok- what about in-ear monitors?

The truth is, like hearing aids, often the more expensive the better quality, more adjustments available, etc., but again Grrr Records has helped me hear better and likely saved hearing wear and tear by finding me some that have basic adjustments right at my vocal mic stand. So out come the “aids” and in go the earbuds, and in our case with a wire rather than wireless. Cheaper and they work fine for what we do.

So no typical speaker-monitor is needed for me when GKB plays live or rehearses because I get a specific mix from the main mixing console via the sound tech person.

I hear a little “bleed” from my amp but mostly get exactly what I want/need via the in-ears and thus can keep the overall volume quite a bit lower than if we did not use ’em. This also means my stage volume (my amp) is about tone rather than sheer volume, and the tech has huge control over my amp volume to the house, meaning at least a better chance of great tone as well as sane volume level of the band overall.

My approach live for SOLO shows: I can tell during sound check if I even need a monitor speaker and if so normally only use one. I typically have a bit of my vocal and either zero or just a little of my mic’ed amp (yes, even when I do acoustic sets for the most part) in a floor monitor. In some venues I don’t need monitoring as I hear so much from the mains and my stage amp I just don’t need any.

For some years now I’ve either brought a quality amp to shows or require one from the local or tour promoter. What I bring or use are amps small enough to place up on a chair or angled amp stand, and have the tech mic it unless it’s a super tiny venue which is rare. So again, the tech has control except that I literally plug cigarbox and even acoustic guitars (sometimes just use a d.i. to the house on six string acoustics) in and out of the amp through the set. Eventually I’ll use a simple 4 channel mixer w. an individual cable for ea. instrument, then it’s a matter of small adjustments as I use different gits throughout a set. The tech and I go over all this in sound check so they already have a sense of what’s up w. each guitar and/or harmonica.

I normally don’t blow harp though a mic and amp but sometimes want that growl, so that changes depending on the gig, the crowd and my mood.

So, my amp is up and only about 4 feet from me on my left side (the better of my ears) on a slight angle towards me. Often I stand the entire show, sometimes I sit, all depends on the vibe. Yes, you lose low end when an amp isn’t on the floor but I adjust tone for that to compensate.

This way I have control over volume levels, tones, and on occasion use a stomp box (guitar effect box) to adjust git tones and volume throughout in solo sets.

Doing what I/we’ve learned to do may not work for you, but for me these considerations have proven productive and workable in varied circumstances.

We continue to grow as we continue to learn. Hopefully some of this is worth your consideration.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

Tone, My Gear Thoughts

From time to time people ask me about music gear, like what is my personal fave guitar, amp, acoustic, dobro or cigarbox guitar, effects pedals and etc.. I often also get asked about what I used in studio on a particular song.

Be warned, I have far too many instruments, amps and pedals to take the time to offer a complete list here, and want to mainly focus on how I approach tonality. But I’ll list a bit of my gear further down in context of tone.

Frankly, after so many years of recording a ton of full projects and a zillion songs I rarely remember exactly what I used on a given tune. Sometimes I recall a particular guitar I used a fair bit on a specific record for a number of the tracks, but that’s about it.

As for live shows, it’s “all over the map”, but this post is about something a bit more general to playing electric or acoustic blues in live shows.

My personal opinion is: if the sound you want isn’t in your heart and head and ears… if you don’t have a sort of “ballpark” idea of what you want before you begin you don’t have much to shoot for.

Tone and feeling for a sound in my view, relates most to that.

Certainly we’ve all just doodled around with gear and almost by accident stumbled upon a sound we really like for what ever application, but I’d say that’s a sloooow way to get where you’re going. So how do we decide where we want to land?

First, what are you wanting sound-wise. Next- what does the SONG or those songS call for?

Of course, what gear is already available to you, also what you honestly are able to afford without breaking the bank is part of the answer. Gotta play the hand you’re dealt.

Next consideration on my list is re. live shows- depending how you travel, what gear you can fly or fit in the car or train or whatever, and how excess baggage fees will be covered (or not) all affects what you’ll take. When and where I tour overseas or on a longer, mostly flight or train all of this comes into play.

In terms of solo shows if the folks inviting me (promoter, tour manager or individual cities/events) have good gear available I often only carry a couple harmonicas and perhaps two or three cigarbox guitars (which all fit in one soft carry bag) and go. I bring those because they won’t have them, they cost me nothing to bring along, are light and hopefully make the set/s interesting, even inviting to the audience.

Touring Europe I’ve done it all sorts of ways but unless flying my own Trimmed and Burnin’ “59er” Bassman-type amp head (the tour or local shows provide speaker cabs) I typically prefer Vox AC 30 or Orange combo amps of some sort finding for electric blues or blues/rock, they rarely disappoint right out of the box.

Overseas, if I don’t fly one or two of my own guitars (perhaps Warmouth Strat and Gibson lap steel guitars) I ask for good quality Fender Strats and/or Gibson Les Pauls, and either Taylor, Martin or Takamine acoustic guitars with onboard pickups.

Recently for a Bike Rally I flew one Hohner Special 20 harmonica (key of G) and two Shane Speal cigarbox guitars with onboard pickups. The main cbg is a 3 stringer Shane built for me (killer!) and the second is another 2 stringer he gifted me with that I’ve converted to a diddley bow (1 stringer) and modified some with a cool woodburned wooden top someone gave me. The venue provided me with a couple sweet Strat/Les Paul options (I chose the Strat) and a Vox AC30 amp. ALL sweet for those particular shows.

I decided to blow the harp straight into the vocal mic rather than bringing a Shure Green Bullet. Everything worked out fine.

It’s been said many times- and is absolutely true… that THE TONE/S are IN YOUR FINGERS, your own heart and head. That’s the truth!

You of course use whatever gear gets you close if not spot-on. This is the ongoing quest for all musicians, certainly recording and touring-wise.

Lastly, for my solo blues sets or jamming sets with other musicians in blues mode (not GKB) I try to use very sparse or zero outboard “stomp boxes” (affects pedals) though I have several and use several with GKB. I prefer great gits and amps that get the tone, volume and “crunch” (distortion/sustain/just a bit of break-up tone) without any pedals if I can get it.

I love not having to use outboard pedals when doing solo or jam sets because I can then concentrate on the songs and performance not worrying about “that ellusive TONE”, focusing on the playing of those I’m jamming with when doing those sort of blues sets.

Now get this as it’s really important: there are those who like extreme treble or bass or midrange tones in their guitars. I don’t, so when the gear allows, I like a full low-end but also good midrange and just enough brightness to cut through the rest of the band. Sometimes with piezo pickups or even some single-coil pickups (whether store-bought Fenders, Gibsons or whatever) or in my cigarbox guitars one must really tweak the amp or use a pedal to modify and try to move away from BIG extremes.

Regardless, you may love, hate or just feel so-so about my sound (or yours or another artist) in live show settings or on recordings because after all I’ve said, the p.a., mic and mic placement on your amp/s, choice of speakers… on and on it goes including each sound tech person dials in your tones at least in some measure re. what they like to hear, what they think works best in a given show.

Reality: in live shows, you being on stage never truly hear what you sound like in the room or outdoors, whatever, because you aren’t out there and never are when you’re playing! 🙂

Remember too, the acoustics of the venue (inside or out) is another major sound-modifier of your tone and volume.

So there you go, a bit of overview of my personal thoughts and approach to tone, gear and live gig, blues in particular.

Now there are some out there who have asked why, after so many years of using Les Paul Customs in REZ Band am I often seen on stage with a Strat? Or my fave Epihone or some other guitar?

In RB I did only the occasional blues solo while Stu (magnificent lead player) preferred Jacksons or Strats, and in that I held down mostly rhythm guitar/power chord stuff in REZ it finally became clear Les Pauls were the best for that full sound as a band overall.

I often use the very same guitars with GKB but the fact is I much prefer my Epiphone Shereton with any electric blues- but do not prefer to fly it. It’s too precious to me to risk the airlines hurting it.

I also (in GKB) often use an old and sweet Gibson lapsteel and that puppy is AMAZING. But again, even re. GKB, thicker tones work.

Jamming with others (non-GKB) I choose what I like best, and I love both the sound, feel, and flexibility as well as sing-songy clarity of most Strats I’ve borrowed for live shows. My own Warmouth Strat goes overseas a lot. It has 2 Fender Tex-Mex single coil pickups in neck and middle positions and Seymour Duncan JB (Jeff Beck) Jr. stacked humbucker in the bridge position w. a 5-way toggle switch. I’ve always liked my Strats to have tone controls disconnected, then move the volume control to the bottom position so I don’t run into it when soloing!

If I added all details of all my other electric and then acoustic and finally huge stable of cigarbox and found-object guitars I’d never finish this post so I’ll stop now 🙂

So there you go, some of my thoughts and preferences re. tone and gear.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn