Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 That was The Year That Was

Another year is closing out in a few days.2014 was another eventful year. I really is amazing how truth can be stranger than fiction. The Ebola outbreak unfolded almost on cue from a horror sci fi script, very much like Guillermo Del Toro's and Chuck Hogan's The Strain. The vanishing of the Malaysian Airlines MH370 could have been a Fringe, X-Files or Twilight Zone episode. Race relations deteriorated with the Ferguson incident triggering protests across the country and the law enforcement community responding with increasing levels of deadly force.




The Sony Hack also got front page news as it was a wake-up call for every business and organization that has valuable assets to protect behind their fire-walls. It really wasn't a matter of if the hack of this scale and magnitude would happen but just a matter of when. So we all know what went down, I am going to make some predictions for 2015.

1) Another tech bubble and associated collapse of recent start-up companies will happen in 2015 because all of the good ideas for start-up companies have been taken and founders are grasping at straws for innovative new start-up products and services.

2) The price of oil and interest rates will go up again in 2015.

3) The economy will improve slightly and job creation efforts across the board will be hampered by Congress, lobbyists and special interest groups.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Five minutes with my buddy Greg Kihn


An interview with Rock Star, SF Bay Area Rock Icon, published author and Renaissance Man Greg Kihn, on what he’s been up to:


One of the cool things about living in the San Francisco Bay area is that it is the home base for rock-and-roll star, SF Bay Area Hall of Fame DJ and published author: Greg Kihn. With a career as a musician with #1 hits such as “Jeopardy” and “Breakup Song”, as a SF Hall of Fame DJ, Greg is a bona fide rock and roll professor. He has freely shared his vast rock and roll knowledge with his fans over the years. Greg stays in close touch with his loyal fan base and is very active in the social media scene with his blog on www.gregkihn.com and on his social media accounts Facebook, Twitter and Saepta.


Let me begin by saying that  I am a huge fan of rock music that came out of the 80s, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and of course, The Greg Kihn Band which exploded on the SF Bay area music scene and put the iconic Berserkley Records on the map. I am fortunate to be good friends with Greg Kihn and we had a chance to chat and catch up on what he’s been up to.

So Greg, how are you and what have you been up to?

I’m doing good Wes. Having fun! Enjoying life! I’ve got a lot of projects going on that I enjoy working on. Plus, I’m spending time with the grand kids. And I’ve almost caught up on sleep after all of the years of getting up at 4am to be a morning drive-time radio DJ.

What are some of these “Projects” you’re talking about?

Well, I can’t say too much because some are Top Secret, but what I can talk about is: I’m working with a LA film company on a Greg Kihn documentary; my next novel “Painted Black” published by Open Road Media is to be released this Spring 2015 (follow up to “Rubber Soul”); And my one of my most recent projects has been my work as the Emissary for Saepta, a cool new social media voting and polling website (www.saepta.com) that’s here in the Silicon Valley.

You sound very busy. What’s this new novel “Painted Black” about?

“Painted Black” is my new novel about the murder of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. It’s a follow up to “Rubber Soul” and it again includes good old Dust Bin Bob.  I’ll be giving out details on “Painted Black” real soon so check back with me @ gregkihn.com

Sounds good, I liked “Rubber Soul”, I’m definitely going to get “Painted Black”!

Greg, you mentioned social media earlier. I see that you’re pretty active online. How do you keep the social media engagement level so high with your fans year after year?

Content is KING! The fans have to be compelled to return to your website on a regular basis. How do you do that? Again, posting good content will get them to come back. They really need to find your content and blog posts interesting enough to read & share with other fans. The posts need to be provocative, funny and a fair amount of wit. A good friend, Guy Kawasaki said, “Keep your fan enchanted”. It’s good advice! I always try to keep my fans interested and engaged so they will come back to my web site and stay a fan.

How can you tell if your content is what the fans want?

My Manager and friend Joel Turtle told me when I very first started that “I should never do an “Act” or be something I’m not just because people want it. Just be yourself your fans will love you for you.” I’ve taken that to heart. I just go out there. Be myself and hope that people like me and my music and what I have to say. Online I try to write blogs about the way I feel on anything and everything that comes to mind, music, sports, science, current issues, what’s happening in the Bay area and I hope that it coincides with my fan’s main interests. I can tell if I’ve connected with the fan’s online by the comments, number of likes & shares or by the votes on each of my SaeptaPolls.

Greg, you’ve mentioned Saepta a couple of times now. What is Saepta? What’s a SaeptaPoll?

Asking questions is in our DNA. Who’s the best guitar player ever? What’s your favorite Beatles' song? How do you buy your music?" I love asking questions and I also like reaching out to my fans to see what their opinions are. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Saepta. Saepta is a really cool way for anybody to create an online poll as well as a place to go vote on current issues. Initially I used the SaeptaPolls to spice up my social media sites. But, as time went by it became more and more a part of my blogs and my social media experience. I use it all the time and I want my fans, and my fans of fans, to love and use Saepta as much as I do. In fact, I am so passionate about Saepta that I have signed on as Emissary. So when the aliens come and they say “Take us to the Emissary of Saepta”, that's me! My first act as Emissary is to join forces with Saepta to bring you a chance to win a very cool Holiday giveaway! I'm giving away a Greg Kihn Band autographed Guitar!

(You can enter and get more details by clicking enter below.)

http://get.saepta.com/kihntest/

Saepta sounds like a good fan engagement tool. That’s pretty cool that you‘re giving away a signed Greg Kihn guitar. I’ll definitely be posting a SaeptaPoll once were done with this interview. 

So, what advice do you offer to an aspiring musician today?

Again content is king! The fans want new content all the time. Whether it’s a song, a video, a show, a blog, a picture, anything that engages your fans is content. Also, one of the most important things is that you’re true to yourself and that you believe in what you’re doing. If you’re just doing something to be cool or successful and rich, it probably won’t happen. But if you’re doing it because you really love what you’re doing and that you’re passionate about it than you will find true success.

In closing the music, the shows, the books and the web content you have produced consistently over the years are all appreciated by your fans. There are some really good lessons to be learned from your career and the content you’ve produced. I really admire the time you spend and the ways that you try to reach out and engage your fans, whether it’s through blog posts or these new SaeptaPolls, again it’s greatly appreciated by me and I’m sure by all Greg Kihn fans alike. 

Well thank you so much Wes and thanks to all my fans. I really appreciate the support. And as always it’s great talking to you.

And don’t forget to enter the Greg Kihn guitar Kihntest!

Kihntest Information here:
(Click on link)

http://get.saepta.com/kihntest/
 
Rock On!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hornit Bicycle Horn Review

Most bicycle riders put themselves at risk whenever they are biking on public roads. Most bicyclists wear helmets and use front-facing flashing headlights and rear red LED safety flashers so they can be easily seen by drivers. Unfortunately, being seen is not enough for distracted drivers. You know the ones I'm talking about. To them, pedestrians and cyclists are invisible. If you do not make eye contact with drivers when turning at a busy intersection or in a parking lot, then you are more likely to get hit from the rear or even head on. Being seen by flashers is not enough. You also have to be heard. Studies have shown the majority of bicycle accidents occur at a busy intersection, usually a car plowing into a bicyclist from the rear , side swiping them or when making a turn. The big problem is that manual conventional bike horns and buzzers simply are not loud enough to get the attention of a distracted car or truck driver. Now there is a really cost effective product simply called the Hornit. The tag line for this new bike horn is "Seriously Loud Cycle Horn" and this is no understatement. The Hornit emits an ear slitting warning chirp at 140 decibels which is really loud and will definitely alert a distracted driver or pedestrian from a fair distance away. Retailing for $49.99, the Hornit runs on 2 qty AAA Alkaline batteries and a fresh set of batteries will last approximately 6-12 months of normal use (6 x 1 second blasts on average per day) taken from the Hornit Instruction Data Sheet.

How does it work out in the field? In the real world. I took it for a spin recently and man, this horn is loud. It saved my bacon on the first ride in a parking lot where someone was backing up with out looking. One short blast and the car stopped immediately after hearing the Hornit. Out on a public bike path, it gave plenty of warning 50 yards before approaching a woman with a baby carriage, dog and tricycle, They heard the chirp and moved to the right to let me pass, Measuring 4 inches long by 1 3/4" wide, the Hornit comes with a push button wired remote that is water resistant and comes with a nice handlebar adjustable mount. If you ride in an urban or even suburban area where distracted drivers are a big problem, the Hornit will save you and prevent collisions by making your presence known in a big way. Highly recommended  as mandatory riding gear, right up there with a Bicycle Helmet and a high power flashing rear light.

If you are into self-preservation (who isn't?) and want to alert the zombie distracted drivers and pedestrians with earphones on yacking on their smartphones, this is just what the doctor ordered. I give the Hornit  5 stars out of 5. Two Thumbs up. Kudos to the engineers and inventors who are also bicycle riders as the design is well thought out and custom designed for daily bicycle usage. It's a real life-saver in the most literal sense of the word!!!!

You can purchase the Hornit from your local bike store/retailer or directly from the good folks at Hornit on their corporate web-site here: www.thehornit.com There are a number of Youtube videos that demo the Hornit and you can hear it in action on the city streets.





Sound
Road Mode 140 decibels
Park Mode 130 decibels
Dimensions and Weights
Main Unit 97mm(l) x 48mm(w) x 36mm(h)
Trigger 94mm(l) x 18mm(w) x 7mm(h)
Batteries
Type 2 x AAA batteries
Durability Batteries will typically last 6-12 months with normal use
Weight 96g
Ingress Protection Rating
IP Rating IP44 - Protection from splashed water and solid objects greater than 1mm in diameter

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Deconstructing Steely Dan's Black Cow from the Album Aja

1977 saw the release of Steely Dan's Aja which was one of the first albums worthy of audiophile release on the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs catalog and brought Mssrs Becker and Fagen front and center in the Jazz community as the content came closest to pure Jazz than any other album they had produced to date. Sonic perfection was clearly the goal in the production for this album and most critics and fans agree that they pretty much achieved it. Black Cow is a disco-funk composition that has a veneer and polish that was missing from their previous albums. They had the good sense and financial means to hand-pick the studio jazz musicians who were at the top of their game when recording Aja. Having a killer rhythm section with a rock solid bass line and superb drumming was the order of the day and the opening of Black Cow with Chuck Rainey and Paul Humphrey establishing the beat and groove sparks the opening of Black Cow. Victor Feldman was a well respected Jazz musician specializing in the vibraphone and piano and contributes a tasty piano solo. The background vocalists with the "So Outrageous" chorus is also a nice touch giving the song a sardonic, admonishing feel and a hipster vibe all at the same time. Before the last verse kicks in you can hear the key change from major to minor, a subtle but very effective flourish that signals that the song is headed into the closing chorus and saxophone vamps from the superb tenor saxophone master Tom Scott. Tom literally wails on the outro tenor sax solos and in my opinion is one of the most effective horn closing/sax solos in a Steely Dan song.


The song works musically on so many levels and the production and execution of the song is really flawless. It is one of my favorite songs on Aja and for me is really the essence of the type of jazz music Becker and Fagen wanted to create. I really want the sax solos to last longer and it still stands up really well over time. Again a master lesson on how to create yet another iteration of jazz while adding fresh new elements all around. Every time I play it I can hear something different.


The Making of Aja Video interview with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker on Black Cow

In the corner
Of my eye
I saw you in Rudys'
You were very high
You were high
It was a cryin' disgrace
They saw your face

On the counter
By your keys
Was a book of numbers
And your remedies
One one of these
Surely will screen out the sorrow
But where are you tomorrow
[Chorus:]
I can't cry anymore
While you run around
Break away
Just when it
Seems so clear
That it's
Over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here
Down to Greene Street
There you go
Lookin' so outrageous
And they tell you so
You should know
How all the pros play the game
You change your name

Like a gangster
On the run
You will stagger homeward
To your precious one
I'm the one
Who must make everything right
Talk it out till daylight
I don't care anymore
Why you run around
Break away
Just when it seems so clear
That it's
Over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here.
[chorus]
So outrageous, So outrageous
Drums: Paul Humphrey
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
Clavinet: Joe Sample
Guitar: Larry Carlton
Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
Tenor Sax: Tom Scott
Backup Vocals: Clydie King, Venetta Fileds,
Sherlie Matthews, Rebecca Louis

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Deconstructing Steely Dan's Your Gold Teeth II from Katy Lied


Steely Dan (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) composed and recorded Your Gold Teeth II almost thirty-six years ago on their Katy Lied Album (MCA Records) and the track sounds as if it were recorded today, fresh, tight, and with a be-bop groove that is unforgettable and will always be burned into my musical psyche as one of their very best jazz compositions and studio performances.

Deconstructing this song is fun because it fuses together so many classic jazz elements in a song that has weird lyrics to say the least. The arrangement is deceivingly simple and elegant with the piano, bass and drum parts that blend seamlessly throughout the track. The guitar solo and the underlying drum part are the highlights and placed front and center from the middle to the end fade-out for the song. The showpiece of this song hands down is Denny Dias' masterful guitar solo that pays tribute to Django Reinhardt. The guitar notes ring out and are clearly picked with a precision and jazz feel that any professional guitarist would appreciate. Denny plays this solo with passion and goes up and down the major and minor scales without bending a single note. One has to admire the dexterity, timing and precision of his playing as the solo is just nailed as soon as you hear the first few notes.

On this particular track, drummer Jeff Porcaro had a lot of trouble laying down the drum part. Instead bringing in another drummer, Donald loaned Jeff a Charles Mingus album with Dannie Richmond drumming to help him achieve the be-bop drumming groove he was looking for. (Dannie Richmond drummed for Charlie Mingus and was one of the best Be-Bop/Post Bop drummers in recent American Jazz history.)

As you can see from Jeff Porcaro Instructional Video, his dexterity and coordination is showcased as he casually performs what appears to be one of the most intricate drumming techniques. Jeff was truly a master of the drums and it's easy to see why he was in so much demand as a studio session drummer. He played on hit albums by the following artists: Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones, America, Miles Davis, Lee Ritenour, Michael McDonald, Tom Scott, BeeGees, Jackson Browne, Peter Frampton, to name a few.

Jeff was quoted in an interview by Modern Drummer Magazine: "'Your Gold Teeth II' is a song with lots of bars of 3/8. 6/8. amd 9/8. And it's bebop! I could swing the cymbal beat and fake it, but that always bothered me. After recording it, Fagen gave me a Charles Mingus record with Dannie Richmond on drums. It had a tune that was full of 6/8 and 9/8 bars. I listened to that for a couple of days, and we tried it again and it worked. What a cool thing! The ride cymbal on that, and on the whole record, is an old K Zildjian my dad gave me. Unfortunately, all the cymbals are clipped and phased on the album because the DBX didn't work. That was real heart-breaking for those guys"

Denny Dias Interview from the Making of Aja Classic Albums DVD
The next day in the studio, Jeff nailed the drum part in one take. His drumming was the perfect foil for Denny's spectacular guitar solo. If you are just getting into jazz for the first time, this song is a must hear if you want to hear what be-bop is all about. Although I described Denny's guitar solo as spectacular, most if not all of  his guitar solos are some of the most understated guitar solos in the business. Never showy or flashy, they get the job done as he has carved out a unique lead guitar style and tone that is instantly recognizable. Another example of this is Denny's lead guitar parts in Aja. Usually a record is produced and the finished product is good enough. For Donald and Walter, this was never the case. The finished product had to be as close to sonic perfection as humanly possible. The caliber of professional musicians they have used over the years reads like a who's who of the Jazz Musician's Hall of Fame. Their recording engineer Roger Nichols used state of the art recording gear and monitoring equipment. Forget Dolby, they were experimenting with DBX compression way before it became mainstream and were into exotic stereo equipment and speakers for the sole purpose of hearing the most accurate reproductions of their work. Walter was a big fan a Dahlquist Electrostatic Speakers. They also spend a lot of money (much to the the ABC Record Executives and Accountant's dismay) acquiring high end esoteric stereo gear so that they could monitor the tracks in the studio. Roger Nichols who was their chief engineer on all of the SD albums, was also a stereo fanatic and  ran a company on the side building studios and sound rooms for commercial accounts and private individuals. They were so into the cutting edge of electronic stereo gear and even ahead of the curve by choosing to use DBX compression equipment to record Katy Lied, that they got themselves into serious trouble when recording the master tapes with the DBX gear. It almost destroyed the Katy Lied recordings due to some electronic gremlins that to this day were never resolved by the DBX Factory headquartered in New England.

As they became more proficient in mixing traditional jazz with rock and deliberately cryptic lyrics, the challenge of finding even more talented jazz musicians for their new material and albums became harder but they were always looking for talented jazz musicians in the most unconventional ways. They "found" Pete Christlieb by watching and listening to the Doc Severinson Band on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show on network television. Walter and Donald called the Tonight show producers and auditioned the first two saxophone players from the Tonight Show band before Pete showed up as they could not ascertain who this fantastic Sax player was when watching the three of them play on the Tonight show. Pete ended up being the third and final sax player to audition and as soon as he started playing, Donald and Walter hired him on the spot.

Check out this track. It is one of many tracks that Steely Dan has produced that provides so much technique and finesse and is one of the more contemporary jazz pieces with a be-bop backbone that has won over many jazz traditionalists and rock fans over the years. I believe it is a quintessential Steely Dan song that pushed them into Jazz territory and showcased their arranging and compositional talents outside of the Pop song structure and progressive rock genre.

Your Gold Teeth II Studio Recording Youtube Video
Steely Dan over the years has hired some of the most talented guitarists of this generation to play extraordinary electric guitar solos that sound fresh and still stand as classics that are instantly recognizable to any one who has tuned into FM radio in the the last forty years. Here's a Youtube video of Hank Easton playing a medley of the most famous Steely Dan guitar solos. Hank is a San Diego based jazz guitarist who plays lead guitar in a Steely Dan tribute band, Steely Damned and the Hank Easton Band:

Steely Dan Guitar Solo Medley Hank Easton Band

Donald Fagen


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Deconstructing Steely Dan's Chain Lightning (From Katy Lied)

Chain Lightning from Katy Lied ABC Records
Donald Fagen - Walter Becker
Personnel
Lead Guitar - Rick Derringer
Drums - Jeff Porcaro
Fender Rhodes &; Lead Vocals - Donald Fagen
Bass - Walter Becker

Chain Lightning is a simple 12 bar blues tune that has a swampy twang to it. This blues-ey track has an almost burlesque feel to it and if you close your eyes while listening to it, you can imagine that you are inside of a nineteen fifties vintage strip club with the requisite drummer performing while the strippers are doing their thing.


Leave it to Donald and Walter to lay down this most interesting composition that compels many listen-ings to absorb the pure simplicity of the song construction while admiring the complex lead guitar track contributed by Rick Derringer. Rick is one of the most underrated guitar players of our generation and wrote the chart busting tune "Hang On Sloopy" when he was the lead guitarist and founding member of the McCoys in nineteen sixty five when Rick was only 17 years old. His guitar and production work with the Edgar Winter Group is legendary and had a huge hit in the seventies and eighties with "Free Ride" and "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo."


Here's a Youtube Video with Rick Derringer demonstrating
 some of his blues chops. This was filmed at a 2006 guitar trade show.
Incredible! Just incredible.

Rick at the time was hired by Becker and Fagen to flesh out the tasty guitar solo they wanted for Chain Lightning. Ably demonstrating his blues and jazz chops, Derringer provided everything they were looking for and even more. He contributes one of the most interesting lead guitar solos on the album and is counterbalanced nicely with Jeff Porcaro's tasteful drumming. Aoother musical prodigy, Jeff learned drumming from his father, Joe Porcaro, a veteran LA session musician and started to learn when he was only 9 years old. He ended up becoming the TV band house drummer for the Sonny and Cher show on CBS when he was 19 years old. Jeff recommended back-up singer Michael McDonald who was good friends with Jeff at the time when Donald and Walter were looking for a good back-up singer for their albums.




Jeff Porcaro: A Special Salute

This is another master lesson on taking a familiar song structure and building it out into something fresh and interesting that begs repeated listenings and also makes you feel that the song is way too short as you want the lead guitar to continue way past the fadeout of the studio cut. I think this song performed live is one of their (Donald and Walter's) favored songs for extended musical jams when Steely Dan is on the road performing live concerts.

This is yet another Steely Dan track that is timeless and you have another song recorded in the studio that seems to be pretty damn close to perfection from a performance perspective. In my opinion, a lot of these songs are like fine wine. They do sound and taste way better over extended periods of time.







Chain Lightning Video from Youtube
Walter Becker
Donald Fagen







2014 Mercedes Benz E250E Bluetec One Step Forward, 3 Steps Back

Kudos to Mercedes for carrying the torch of Diesel innovation in the global and US automotive markets. Their newest luxury turbodiesel sedan entrant is the 2014 Mercedes Benz E250 Bluetec which started to ship late last year and is selling fairly well given the extremely high EPA mileage ratings for the 4 wheel drive and the rear wheel driver models. The RWD model is rated at a stellar 45 MPG which is quite an achievement given the fact that it tips the scales at a porcine 4,200 pounds. I believe the DEF Diesel Exhaust Fluid reservoir system is the main culprit adding more weight to an already heavy chassis along with other new electronic accessories and motors added to the mix. What is amazing is that the older Mercedes-Benz 6 Cylinder turbocharged Diesels are just as efficient and because of their lighter weight, are significantly faster than the new 4 cylinder sequential turbocharged 2014 E250 Bluetec.

As I am a current owner of a 2008 Mercedes Benz E320 Bluetec, I felt that a comparison between the 2008 E320 Bluetec and the 2014 E250 Bluetec would be a very interesting exercise. To wit:

2008 MB E320 Bluetec
3.2 Liter V6 Twin Turbo  Diesel Engine
201 HP
387 Foot Pounds of Torque
7 Speed Automatic Transmission
Zero to 60 Time in Seconds 6.5
Weight Unladen 3,860 Pounds
EPA Mileage Rating 37 Highway 28 City

2014 MB E250 Bluetec
2.1 Liter 4 Cylinder Twin Turbo Diesel Engine
195 HP
369 Foot Pounds of Torque
7 Speed Automatic Transmission
Zero to 60 Time in Seconds 8.2
Weight Unladen 4,200 Pounds RWD Model
4400 Pounds for All Wheel Drive Model
EPA Mileage Rating  45 Highway 28 City

The main takeaway here is that the 2014 Mercedes Benz E250E Bluetec is almost 2 seconds slower to 60 MPH than the 2008 E320 Bluetec, is about 330 pounds heavier than the 2008 E320 Bluetec
But is rated up to 8 Miles per gallon higher per the EPA highway rating. This can be attributed to the auto start-stop system and higher gears in the 7 speed automatic transmission in the 2014 E250 Bluetec.

I personally would not give up the performance for the higher mileage seen on the highway rating. A V6 Turbodiesel is really a beast of an engine and having almost 400 foot pounds of torque on tap makes it a real sleeper when passing cars on the highway. I also like the fact that the 2008 Bluetec is 330 Pounds lighter than the 2014 Bluetec.