March 11, 2011
Jim remembers Max, Max remembers Wes
When I arrived in Japan with The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, I remember the first time we met with an interpreter. We sat down with some people from our record label Trattoria. They wanted to know how someone like me had made the record I had when I did. Flipper’s Guitar had made a very similar album several years earlier called “Three Cheers for Our Side!” I thought about it for a while and I said “Do you know that Jazz Butcher album ‘Distressed Gentlefolk,’ and that song ‘Who Loves You Now?’” There were nods all around the table. ”I wanted to make an album were every song was like that one.”
Last year Max Eider released his fourth solo album “Disaffection.” It was the musical event of the year for me. He’s one of those rare bands/artists, The Would Be Goods also spring to mind, that like fine wine, get better as they age. Backed by the million dollar backing vocals of June Miles Kingston and a talented chromatic harp player, Max is one of those rare people who can speak with their lyrics, and their axe. I find myself hanging on his every note. Do yourself a favor and check out his website http://www.maxeider.com and listen to track 10 on Disaffection “Can’t Touch Me Now”, hear Max’s guitar playing in full flight – have your mind blown – then buy the record!
I’m no expert on Wes Montgomery or jazz guitar. But I suppose what I like particularly about Wes Montgomery is the feel and the emotion rather than the technique, or rather, it’s the way he can make the technique serve the emotion. This is not of course an original insight. In fact, it’s one possible definition of good playing in any style and on any instrument. But when someone is THAT good technically, sometimes it subsumes everything else.
The first Wes Montgomery album I bought was ‘The Incredible Jazz Guitar of …’ and it just blew me away. There’s an absolutely gorgeous version of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’ which is a good illustration of his peerless musicality: it’s all about delicacy of feel, about tone and emotion. It reminded me, at a time when I probably needed reminding, that playing well slowly is much more difficult than burning up the fretboard. So perhaps that was the main influence. To be honest, when someone is that good, it’s a fine line between being inspired and wanting to chuck your guitar in the river and give up. Perhaps I did kind of give up, come to think of it: over time I began to lose interest in striving to be a better guitarist per se and started to concentrate more on writing and recording songs. This was probably partly because I knew that, even if I could sell my soul for a couple of extra lifetimes, I would never be as good as Wes Montgomery. So what was the point? On the other hand, no one could write Max Eider songs better than I. I was uniquely equipped to do the job.
Also, there is a truth that you don’t often hear voiced by musicians, but which every child starting music lessons knows: practising a musical instrument is boring. A lot of it is just frustrating, mindless, tedious, endless schooling of recalcitrant fingers and brain. At least that’s how it is for most of us. For Wes it was probably a breeze. Still, recently I’ve started playing the guitar more again for its own sake, so who knows? If someone discovers the secret of immortality, in a few thousand years I might be ready to release my version of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’.
PS I just dug out my old scratched vinyl copy of ‘The Incredible Jazz Guitar …’ and listened to ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’. It made me cry like a girl, and not just from envy. But how can I have forgotten this: it was from this song, and this version, that I stole the opening line of the melody for ‘Who Loves You Now?’