Vocal Exercises

January 10th, 2009 |

Here’s my first attempt at vlogging.


January 6th, 2009 |

I’ve been considering doing some video blogging but I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to go about it since I don’t really want to put them on YouTube and then embed them here.

I’ve found a solution that I think is going to work. I don’t have it all figured out just yet but here’s a short video of Riley on New Years Eve to show how this player will work.

Preparing the Pipes

December 22nd, 2008 |

I’ve been practicing my guitar incessantly lately in preparation to go into the studio and start on the album. All of the hours I’ve spent with the guitar got me thinking about the fact that I’ve been spending very little time working on getting my voice in shape. My routine for getting my voice in shape has always been something like downing a cup of scalding hot water and them humming for a couple of minutes. I figure I’d better come up with a little better approach than that.

I started looking around on the web for some simple vocal exercises and techniques for getting my voice up to speed. I’ve found a bunch of stuff and have begun to put these things into practice. One of the guys who seems to show up the most often in a web search for vocal training is Brett Manning. After seeing what this guy is capable of I can easily understand why he is so popular.

Check out this video. Fast forward to about 1:28 and check out this mind-boggling display of range and control.

Suvivorman and Pixar

December 19th, 2008 |

Tonight the Johnson family gathered around the television to witness one of the saddest events in television history: the final episode of Survivorman. Not just the final episode of the season, the final episode period. Why?!?

The only show that could even remotely attempt to fill this vacuous void in our lives is Man Vs. Wild. You know, the show where the guy drinks his own urine at the drop of a hat. The helicopter drops him off in the desert and not ten minutes later he’s drinking pee because it’s the only way he can possibly survive. Yeah, that show.

Speaking of drinking urine, I think the folks at Pixar are geniuses. We rented Wall-E the other night and there is one of their “shorts” on that DVD and it is absolutely hilarious. It’s called “Presto.”

Check it out, along with a couple more of my all-time favorite Pixar shorts.

The music in this next one is incredible.

John Mayer Made A Stinker

December 2nd, 2008 |

There is a part of me that bristles at the thought of publicly admitting to the fact that I love John Mayer. I think it’s the part of me that is the financially unsuccessful musician. It could be argued that that part is actually the whole. Whatever. I love John Mayer.

I love John Mayer though he is immeasurably arrogant. I love John Mayer though he is far more handsome than I am. I love John Mayer though his guitar playing buries mine. I love John Mayer though he is wittier that I am. Maybe I love John Mayer because of those things and not despite them. Whatever. I love John Mayer.

John Mayer’s album “Continuum” is one that should be in everyone’s collection. The song writing is (by and large) far above average, it sounds absolutely stunning from and engineering and mastering perspective, and the guitar tones sound incredibly expensive. But, with all that said, there is one song on that album that shouldn’t be.

A few weeks ago Angel and I were listening to “Continuum” and the song “In Repair” came on. I told Angel I was very surprised that song made the cut. Among a bunch of really good songs this one really stuck out as a stinker. It just sounded thrown together.

Last night I found out that it was indeed thrown together.

There is a two part documentary on this song on You Tube. I found it very interesting and entertaining but after watching it I can understand why this song doesn’t really work. It was written and recorded in one day.

Now, I’m not saying that great songs can’t be written in one day. I remember hearing Elton John say that “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” was written in less time than it takes to play the song. Great songs can certainly be written quickly but I would argue that this is the exception rather than the rule.

Check out this documentary and dig Mayer’s pride in all its glory. I love John Mayer.

Top 100 Greatest Guitar Tones of All Time

November 10th, 2008 |

Over at Digg there is some sort of top 10, or top 100, or top 3.14 greatest-whatevers-of-all-time list posted about every ten minutes. So I thought I’d do my own.

This is a list of the top 100 greatest guitar tones of all time – starting at number seven.

Weighing in at the bottom of the list is Eric Johnson’s tone on “Cliffs of Dover.” The reason Eric comes in at the bottom is because Eric bleeds phenomenal tone and when you display phenomenal tone on every single song you’ve ever played everyone starts to hate you for showing off.

Number six goes to The Edge for his tone on U2’s “One.” This was quite a departure from his normal Vox+delay thing and it was a great one for sure. The dark and muffled approach is not easy to fit into a radio Pop song.

At number five we have the world-renowned “Brown Sound” of Eddie Van Halen on the song Panama. The bridge of this sucker is where this tone sounds the best. It’s like cinnamon toast with a side of sand paper. Yum!

At number four is Stevie Ray Vaughn’s tone on his cover of “Little Wing.” This is the most compelling argument to date for the fact that God made fingers. Pretty much every guitar player on the planet has gone through a phase where they try to re-create this tone and no one has ever gotten even close.

At number three is the fuzzed-out spookiness of Daniel Lanois’ tone on “Orange Kay” from the “Sling Blade” soundtrack. This tone coupled with this style of playing is so incredibly attractive to me. It’s beauty cannot be overstated.

At number two is Joe Walsh’s tone on The James Gang’s “Funk #49.” This intro gives me chills every time I hear it. There are few things more wonderful than the sound of an amp on the verge of explosion.

And finally at number one we have Paul McCartney’s tone on his song “Jenny Wren.” My jaw has never hit the floor faster than when I first heard this song on my studio monitors. Producer Nigel Godrich should win a Grammy every year for the next 100 years just for capturing this song in such unbelievable detail. So, yes, an acoustic guitar beat all the electric guitars in this list. Maybe that makes me a sissy. Or even worse, a Dave Matthews fan. But this is the essence of guitar tone.

So there you have it. My top 100 list. Yeah, so, maybe I missed one or two. Maybe! But I’m hungry and I really don’t want to spend the entire night on this mess. So back up off me.

Lou the Lyricist

November 8th, 2008 |

Yesterday I got and email from our drummer Lou. Near the end of the email was this:

On another note I have some lyrics I would like to run by you guys.  We could put these to any of the tunes that don’t have lyrics or maybe a new tune all together.  I was pretty excited about these so thought I would let you guys critique them.  Here goes:


I’m a pretty, pretty princess
It’s a full time gig
everybody wants to be my friend
and it kind of makes me sick

when I’m not in my canopy bed,
I fill my diary with stickers,
when my mom yells “get down here Louie”
I just say “whatever”


Cuz I’m riding with the rainbow Unicorns
don’t you wish you were me,
yes I’m riding with the rainbow Unicorns
and I want everyone to see
Hey look at me.

So what do you guys think?

This email put me in a serious quandary. How was I going to get out of this one? Was this a joke? The rest of the email gave me no indication that Lou was in a joking mood. It had to be a joke. What if it’s not? What would be the nicest way to say “You are never allowed to speak in my presence ever again. Ever! Without exception.”

So I said to Angel “listen to this” and read her the lyrics. She laughed and said “That’s awesome.” Then she opened up her browser and played me this.

Oh yeah, it’s funny now.

Happy Birthday Lilly

October 14th, 2008 |

Lilly turned one year old today. For her birthday I gave her a piece of my broccoli from dinner and let her lick my feet.

A few nights ago after Riley went to bed Angel and I decided to give Lilly an early birthday party by tormenting her with socks.


Tonight while I was downstairs working on a new tune (you can hear it in the background if you listen closely) Angel shot some video of Lilly fighting with herself and eating her foot. We’re so proud to have such a smart dog.

Riley got a new haircut this past weekend. Over the past few months he had developed an insanely persistent habit of twirling his hair. I mean all the time. Both hands on top of his head all day long, every day. We’ve tried various methods to get him to stop but the one that he finally agreed to was to get a haircut like his buddy Nicolas. Of course it’s the same haircut that I have but looking like dear old dad just didn’t seem to appeal to him quite like looking like Nicolas.

Derek Webb

October 9th, 2008 |

I recently had an email conversation with a friend of mine who was claiming that the majority of Christian music is basically garbage. In my very best attempt to rebut his outlandish statement I said “You’re absolutely right.”

I’ve said this before but I think it bears repeating, the vast majority of all music is basically garbage. So in fairness to the Contemporary Christian Music scene I really wouldn’t expect them to be much different. I would, in fact, expect them to be very much different. But they’re not.

However, there are some Christian artists that truly rise above the fluff. Derek Webb is one of them.

My cousin Bryan turned me on to him a while back and the guy is the real deal for sure.

Here is one of my favorite songs by him. Someday I’ll learn to write songs with only five notes in the melody and make them compelling like this.

The video is kind of silly so close your eyes and just listen to the tune.

The Purdie Shuffle

August 27th, 2008 |

There a certain songs where the chord changes, or the drum beat, or the guitar part become more famous than the song itself. These parts often go on to spawn many songs of their own.

One example of this would be the twelve-bar blues. I’m sure we covered the origin of this set of chord changes in college but I was probably asleep that day.

Another ubiquitous set of chord changes would be the “rhythm changes.” These are the chord changes to “I Got Rhythm.” There are countless Jazz tunes written over these chords and it is quite a milestone in a young Jazz musician’s life when they learn to tackle rhythm changes. One of the tunes I did in my junior recital in college was written over rhythm changes and I distinctly remember getting lost early in my solo and attempted to fake it by playing modal over the thing which never, ever works.

Another set of famous changes are the changes to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. Learning to solo over this tune is considered by many to be the holy grail of improvisational accomplishment. Check out this video I found of the album version of “Giant Steps.” This is way cool and shows the brilliance of Trane. Make sure you watch it at least until he starts the solo.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I just recorded a demo of a new tune and I think it should have the “Purdie Shuffle” (or something like it) as its beat.

Bernard Purdie was one of Steely Dan’s drummers and the wicked beat he played on the tune “Home At Last” has become more famous than the tune itself.

There are a bunch of videos on You Tube with guys demonstrating this beat in its various forms and I think it is totally fascinating.

Here’s Purdie playing a kind of 6/8 version of this shuffle.

Here is a guy playing it in probably the closest way to the way I want to use it. This is a little fast but close.

Here is Jeff Porcaro showing how he used the “Purdie Suffle” as the basis for his drum part in Toto’s “Rosanna.”

At lastly, here’s a ten year old kid playing this beat. This is just plain impressive. This beat is a lot harder to play than it looks.