A Matter of Dues, Playing and Singing the blues on my Vega E30 D
March finds me pairing my "newest" guitar, a 1963 Vega E30D, with my recent woodworking project, a Fender Showman amp head, to take a stab at a song we recorded on the All the Fixin's Haywired album. With this performance I am aiming for a more R&B soul sound than the original. It proves a bit beyond my reach (please forgive my last vocal notes!), but I think the elements of the arrangement are good, and I think it would be fun to try this version with the band if another reunion comes along in the future.
About the guitar
The guitar is a very interesting late period Vega. It is a bit of a mutt, having pickups from New Jersey (Franz or Fransch copies of p-90) that were used on Guild guitars of that time, a body from Chicago made by Harmony, and a neck from Boston that was the only bit actually made by Vega. All that said, it is a very well made guitar, with a solid spruce top (I think) and a maple laminate body. I think you would agree, it is beautiful to look at with its funky reverse f holes, but trust me, it is also a joy to play (nice chunky wide neck), and has a very nice sound for jazz, soul, and funk. It is my poor man's Gibson ES175. Perhaps even a little like an L4, since, like that instrument, it appears to have a solid top. It has a fairly resonant acoustic sound, though nothing on a par with my 1938 Vega C-66. I was watching this guitar pretty obsessively during my nightly vigil cruisiing online purveyors of vintage strings, and I was resigned to not owning it (a bit pricy for me). As you can see in the photo, my very understanding and accommodating wife, Naomi, sensing my misery and longing over this instrument included a little early valentine note in one of my Christmas presents. I am so grateful that she allowed me this indulgence. This guitar is sweet and sounds great through the Fender amp I am restoring.
About the song
I'm a fan of R&B soul and this song was my first, and when I think about it, probably my only attempt at writing strictly within this genre. I am always daunted by the very elemental nature of the music. Structurally and melodically the challenge for me is how to do something different with something that is essentially very constrained. A lot of what makes this style of music compelling is wrapped up in very small details and the personality of the performer. Most of it eludes me, but it doesn't mean I don't love it, or that I won't keep embarassing myself trying to release a little of my inner James Brown or Otis Redding, or the many others whose names I don't know, but whose work always sounds so great to me, and is dying to come out of my fingers and mouth. When I was rehearsing this song, I tried swinging it, giving a sort of bebop feel (that only I would have associated with bop. My guitar solo in this more swinging thing was trying to emulate Clifford Brown's trumpet in Dalialah). But the most fun I had was when I settled into this cross between 80's new wave blue eyed soul, and the old school funk soul review two chord rave up that I try at the close of the song. Despite my performance here, I think with practice, this arrangement could really work for this song. And with a band behind me, I could stretch out the guitar solo and explore more rhythmic and sonic possibilities. Someday perhaps...I turn 55 this year, and I seem to remember that we all agreed that when we could eat off the seniors menu for the post show gathering at Perkins it would be time to have another Pate reunion.