February is long gone, but I thought I would jot down a few thoughts about the February video/song/guitar before moving forward with April’s project, which I will post soon (don’t ask about March!). You have probably viewed the February video by now, but if not, you should check out my latest throwback rock-n-roll/Americana tune and enjoy the sound of yet another Vega guitar, this time a small body flat top that the label shows is a model FT-85.
About the song
Maybe nearly, almost always, all the time is a simple 1-4-5 blues pop progression with some finger pickin’ and some swingin' strumming reminiscent of early rock-n-roll, a melding of country and R&B that permeated the radio airwaves in the late 50’s. Not just the 50’s, of course. I’m pretty sure this stuff was played a lot during my childhood in the 60’s and 70’s. It certainly was the basis of most of the early Beatles songs, all of which inevitably influence all of us who try to write melodic guitar-based pop rock, whether we want them to or not. Whether you grew up on the original source material, or the Beatles version, there is no denying that this type of poppy, country, folky blues is almost always the chassis on which we build guitar pop.
I like to think that this song would sound nice with a harmony vocal, and that you would then immediately understand my claim in the video that this song grows out of a love of the Everly Brothers. I love Dream. I love Cathy’s Clown. I love Wake up Little Susie. None of which specifically sound like this song. In a similar vein, I also love Buddy Holly. I love Oh Boy, Every Day, That’ll be the day, etc. In fact this genre, and it includes a lot of other stuff that I don’t intellectualize, including early, skinny Elvis, is just part of my auditory DNA, and it comes out of my pores every once and a while. I can’t help it. This is one of those occasions.
The song began with the finger picking bit. I have been playing that picking pattern and those chords as an exercise for several years now. I’m pretty sure this is a recycled progression, although I can’t specifically tell you the song or songs I am channeling here. I associate it with the 50’s era stuff I mentioned above, but I really do suspect that there is a specific song I am subliminally copying, and I wish I knew, because I like to give shout outs to the source of these types of highly derivative songs. But this is such a derivative song, that I can’t really pin in it on any one example from the rock-n-roll canon. I can say that I really wanted to put words to this. I love that it is instantly recognizable and singable, so I wanted words, so that folks could sing along. But words are perpetually slow to come to me. A familiar theme of this blog. And, as often happens, seeing and purchasing a new guitar helped me to get beyond my writer’s block.
About the guitar
I cruise a variety of web sites keeping an eye out for Vega guitars for sale. If I am honest with myself, I am permanently in the market for yet another guitar. And I love watching for something new. Several months back I saw a Vega Flat top that I had never seen before, on e-bay. It was a 50’s era FT-85 for sale from a pawn shop in Maine. I had never seen one of these before. It looked pretty-darn cool. Like a blond Gibson 00. But ladder braced, like my Regal parlor. Ladder bracing is simple to construct, so it is considered “cheap”, and it fell out of favor for acoustic flat tops, but it is the type of bracing used in a lot of the old catalog guitars favored by blues musicians. Vega was somewhat unique in using this type of bracing in what is arguably a little bit more upscale guitar than the Stellas played by the old blues guys. What you get with the Vegas is a kind of bluesy Martin. Snappy, but resonant with good note separation. In this case, you should think of it as another inexpensive alternative to the type of guitars that Collins is selling now as their Kalamazoo brand.
I freely admit that I am watching way too many web sites, every evening, looking for Vega guitars that are for sale. Spotting a Vega that I have never seen before is exciting, and my interest was certainly peaked by this guitar. But it was clear it would need some work. The seller detailed that the top had some significant grain cracks. The cracks, and a $450 price tag, made me reluctant to buy it. That’s a good price, but I figured it might need $1000 of luthier attention. And though I have seen a few Vega flat tops listed at over $2000, I have rarely witnessed any of them sell for more than about a thousand. I continued to watch this guitar for several weeks, and when it disappeared, I assumed that it was sold. Good I thought. But it popped back up in January, which I took as a sign. I decided it was just to cool and affordable to pass up, so out came my credit card and within a couple of days it was delivered to my doorstep in the usual big card board box, packed in peanuts.
A quick inspection revealed that it was in fact cracked on top and would need the attention of a luthier before I could play it. I had coincidentally met luthier Marty Fair at a party a few years ago, and it had been in the back of my mind to have him work on one of my Vega rescue projects for some time. Here was the perfect opportunity! I called him up, he was very helpful, and I highly recommend him. He even pushed me up in his cue when I explained that I hoped to use the guitar in my monthly video, which I thought was nice way above and beyond anything I expected and brings me to how this guitar helped me finish the song.
When I decided to buy the FT-85, I knew it would be the perfect match for my little finger picking Americana rocker. Small body guitars are a thing right now, and for good reason. They are perfect for a wide variety of songs. Great finger pickers. Great strummers. Quiet enough to play in the house without bothering roommates/spouses. Raucous enough to accompany a singer songwriter wanting to belt it out. And they were also a thing in the 50’s, when the songs that inspired this song were written and performed by the first rock-n-rollers. Once I committed to having the “right” guitar, I committed to finishing the song. Interestingly, the song is so easy to sing that I was able to work on it without having the guitar, since Marty needed to have it while he worked his magic! Instead, I worked the lyrics out singing acapella on my drive to work in the morning. The usual transition from cave man lyrics to real lyrics was uncorked when the phrase Maybe nearly, almost always, all the time sprung from my mouth one early morning. Hallelujah! The rest was straight forward. Although, I did make up the “one part you, one part me, we’ll mix it up like chemistry” that day while recording the video. In fact, just in that take. On the last time through that bridge. I think I’ll keep it that way!