My Yamaha APX7 was bought from Elgin Music in Notting Hill, London W11 about 25 years ago. The sound from the double piezo pick ups was always too bright and thin to my taste so I had a luthier remove the original double piezo’s and replaced them with an LR Baggs i-beam transducer. Unfortunately, it always sounded too ‘quacky’ or mid-range-y to me so I have very recently fitted a magnetic Seymour Duncan Tube pick up to the sound hole which is good but perhaps a little too thin sounding. I run both pick ups at the same time, although matching a passive and an active pick up is not ideal; both have separate volumes dials but the Seymour Duncan needs to be fully up and the active i-beam just up a notch – it’s workable but I’m not happy yet. To compensate I use a Boss EQ stomp box with a ‘smiley face’ setting, (-: that is, low frequencies up, mids down and highs slightly up. That gives me plenty of fullness and presence without the quack, and I use a reverb stomp box and slap back delay to give it some fatness. The guitar only really starts to come alive when there’s plenty of level in the floor monitors with spill into my vocal mic – the bigger the sound the better it feels. The top surface has a psychedelic image of Jimi Hendrix attached as a vinyl layer, it can be peeled off – the vinyl dulls the resonance of the guitar acoustically but when plugged up, it’s fine. The things I really like about this guitar is the firstly the calibration, the fret and neck are perfectly accurate, the action is great, it’s tunes up easily and holds well. Secondly, the neck is small, so switching to an electric guitar is an easy transition for the hand, and finally, the body is narrow so it feels like a comfortable small guitar. One day I’ll buy a Gibson J 100 jumbo but until then, Jimi is my BFF.
Over the years I have learned to play many cover songs and standards, some more successfully than others and I am always amazed how some performers can remember hours of material – all those lyrics and chords! I find it easier to remember a few carefully chosen covers and just put my own spin on them. It takes a bit of work to turn a full band song into a solo number but if the melody itself is strong and well known it generally has a life of it’s own anyway. Sometimes I think playing covers is cheating a bit – it’s like standing on the shoulders of giants and getting a free ride. For this journey I wanted to concentrate on seven cover songs that would have wide appeal – songs I hoped people everywhere would know. Seven songs is about 30 minutes of performing time. It came down to selecting from some of my favourite artists: Jimi, Led Zep, Lennon/McCartney, Prince and of course, the one artist that seems to communicate more than all the others, Bob Marley. The title of this blog, Songs Of Freedom, comes from Redemption Songs ‘. . and all I ever had, were these songs of freedom, redemption songs.’ Bob recorded it as a solo acoustic number on the Uprising album – not quite reggae, more a folk song really, but that opening riff is so recognisable – it had to be in.
There’s more to come on the cover songs I chose.