Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Another Grand Cru du Mazet

November 19, 2011

Every time I go to the new open mic at the Mazet Pub on rue St. André des Arts on Thursday night in the Paris Latin Quarter, I like it more and more – and I already liked it to start with. Okay, there is one problem: This is one of the loudest, most talkative audiences I know of! But they are also an appreciative audience that seems to enjoy both talking AND listening to the music, as they applaud and are generous in their compliments, their little dancing moves when the music moves, and a general sense of well-being.

Last night I was also really pleased that I resisted the temptation to NOT take my new Gibson J-200 with me. I had been thinking that since I had been having so much trouble with the amazing, yet complicated, Fishman pick up and all its controls, that I was better off taking my Seagull, which just plugs in and sings. But I fell to the temptation to bring the Gibson just because I love playing it. I am pleased I did because, in fact, it took no work at all – except turning on the anti-feedback switch – to get it sounding great. I only really knew it sounded great, however, when I gave it to Justin Purtill to use during his songs. Then I was able to stand at the bar and listen and appreciate his great fingerpicking playing as I heard the Gibson from the room PA and not from the stage monitor amp.

Justin and I later went up for a second set during which he played bass along to my songs, although he had never heard them before. He learned as we went along. Actually, not quite true: He did know “Crazy Love,” by Van Morrison, and that was cool just to slip into doing that perfectly.

Justin then played with a Frenchman whom he did not know and whose songs he did not know either. There were some cool things to come out of that too. In all, I’ll be returning as often as possible to the Mazet….

High Times, Low Times in Live Times

November 3, 2011

I have said this before, and I will probably say it again: The beauty of live performance is that sometimes it just goes bad. And that makes the great stuff that much greater. If it was not that alive, it would not be live. Last night I returned to the Highlander and used my new Gibson J200 for the first time, and I had planned to do three songs I rarely do there, as I do not like to only do what “works,” as I do so often the same songs. Well, guess what? It did not “work.” At least, that’s how I felt personally. The J200 gave feedback throughout, sounded like crap – only because I have not mastered the complicated controls of the Fishman pick-up – and I was continually trying to feel comfortable, between the guitar and the monitor and the songs I do not usually sing. In the end, though, at least one other performer told me it was “good anyway.” So I slept okay.

Of course, it did not help that there were some fabulous performers there after me! The one that stood out the most while I was there was Joe, who I have recorded before from his stint at the Cavern Club vocal jam open mic a month or so ago. This time Joe played his guitar and sang, and boy did he ever. It was great – especially his first and last songs, the last being Bob Marley….

So I decided to go off to the Cavern and maybe do something there in the vocal jam to save my sense of the evening. But there were a lot of performers and a lot of them were superb, and the tone was sort of soul-like, sort of nightclub ballroom Las Vegas like, as it often is, sort of professional and polished. So I sort of left after a single set – but loved most of what I heard.

Better luck tonight at the Mazet. And in the next few days I know there is something absolutely super cool and great coming up, which I will speak about when the right moment comes – probably after the show!!!

Oh, and to conclude: After a night when you feel like things went crap during a live performance, you HAVE to say, “Thanks so much! That gives more value to when it works! And that is precisely what makes ‘live music’ so special.”

Busy Saturday: Buying and Playing My Gibson J-200

October 23, 2011

Gibson J-200 Standard

Gibson J-200 Standard

As regular readers of this blog know, I love – and many other people love – my Seagull S6. But the Seagull has become very war-weary and battered in my round-the-world travels, and the latest incident – smashed on a flight to Singapore – made me decide finally to splurge my life’s non-savings on a new guitar that will remain with me in Paris, while the Seagull goes off to battle around the world, but carrying less weight as my main axe. So yesterday, after more than a year of zeroing in on Gibsons, I finally bought a J-200 Standard.

The thing that really, finally clinched it for me was that earlier in the week I had gone to the store in Paris and tried three or four of the J-200s and others, and I had found one that I kept saying I liked the best. Yesterday, I returned to the Pigalle area and visited all the music stores that sold the J-200s and I tried them all out. I even tried some 1965 Gibsons, although mine is a new one. I then returned to the same shop where I found the one I liked, and where I had noted down the serial number two days before. Playing the guitars, I almost immediately found the one that I was sure was the same one: I checked my noted serial number for the guitar in my iPhone, and yes, it was the same one. So I bought it.

It was not THAT easy. This is a natural wood – as opposed to Sunburst – Gibson J-200, and it cost a fortune. But it matched my playing and my needs and was sufficiently different to the sound of my Seagull, that I had to have it. But the other thing that decided me on buying this particular one at this moment was that I felt very much at ease in the store where I bought it, as opposed to several of the other places. It is a shop called “Acoustic Guitar,” at 18 rue de Douai, and the service is fabulous. They recently refurbished the store, and all the people I have dealt with there are very agreeable, honest, and provide all the explanations and information that you’re looking for. I had been showing up occasionally for more than a year and there would be plenty of reason for them to think I was not going to buy a guitar, but they let me play for an hour or more early in the week, and then again a few days later. A young woman named Aurélie also dropped by and wanted to play a Gibson and they let her, and she asked if she could sing while playing – since that was the best way to know if she liked the guitar – and they allowed that too. I filmed her. (I had also sung the previous day.)

Another example of the great work they do is two different salesmen said to me that every Gibson J-200 sounded different and you really had to play them and compare and find one you liked. At another shop on the same street, the salesperson told me they all sounded alike, so there was no point in her going to get the natural colored one if I liked the Sunburst…. Sure. Okay.

Having bought the guitar – and having fallen in love with it – I immediately rushed home to play it, but then saw on Facebook that there was an open mic last night on Rue St. Maur, near the Metro Colonel Fabien in a bar called O’kubi Caffé, at 219 rue St Maur, that does not usually host an open mic. So I ate quickly and decided I had to baptize the J-200 immediately. I went to the open mic, was immediately welcomed by some musicians and the woman who ran it – Ajahlove – and then played, and played and played and let others play my new Gibson too, as there was no other real acoustic guitar set up. I was a little nervous about that, since I have decided this will not be a guitar for everyone and anyone the way the Seagull was – and is – but it was a pleasure to see it played. And most of all, it was a pleasure to play it. The open mic turned out to be more of a jam session, but with the J-200 I dived right into it and had the time of my life.

I bought this guitar for the deep bass and beautiful high strings as well. They describe the sound as being in something of a form of a V, with great bass, great highs, and in between, space for the singing voice. It is also a great guitar for strumming, which is what I do most of. Needless to say, I have been watching videos of great moments on the J-200, like Elvis Presley during his comeback in the late 60s (he used it before that too), like Pete Townsend of The Who, like the Everly Brothers, like Neil Young on “Hey, Hey, My My,” like so many of the Oasis songs, and like others too numerous to mention. I am not let down. And while I have grown so used to my grunge look and feel with the Seagull, I got so much into the playing of the J-200 last night behind the mic in public, that I felt totally at one with the guitar and didn’t care how it looked – which was probably pretty cool, when you think of it.

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