Tag Archives: Eric Johnson

Black Gives Way To Blues

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It must not be easy being a blues instrumentalist in India. But then Warren Mendonsa, the brains (and fingers) behind Blackstratblues (BSB), has not exactly trodden the beaten path. As a bright young spark on the Indian rock landscape, his band Zero (with Sidd Coutto, Bobby Talwar and Rajiv Talwar) released two albums and an EP between 1998 and 2005 and was a big part of the resurgence of the “scene” in that same period. A two-year hiatus to New Zealand followed during which time Warren put together some solo instrumental material that eventually got released as a free-to-download digital album Nights in Shining Karma (2007).

Black Gives Way To Blues

Named after the Mumbai-born guitarist’s favourite weapon of choice, Blackstratblues have released a couple of albums since then and continue to be a big part of the local live music scene. With Jai Row Kavi on drums, Adi Mistry on bass and Bevan Fonseca on keyboards, this instrumental-only band played at Pune’s High Spirits Café on a muggy Saturday in May to a packed house. The gig started on time and I walked in, surprised at how many people were already there to watch. The High Spirits is a small place, with high tables interspersed in an open-air verandah facing a smallish stage with a bar at the back, and it was nice to see hordes of young people of both genders enjoying themselves and the music. Pune has been experiencing some pre-monsoon showers and ‘Bombay Rain’, with a solid bassline complementing the sweet blues melody, felt really right to set the mood for me.

Black Gives Way To Blues

Clearly, Warren attracts a loyal fanbase, and with good reason. The eponymous black Stratocaster is wielded as an instrument of delicate subtlety rather than out-and-out-shredding, and the audience reacts rather well to this approach. Warren is the consummate bluesman, content to chop and lick his way melodically into the listener’s heart rather than adopt the arpeggios-at-the speed-of-light approach popularized by so many guitar virtuosos since the ‘90s. If you’re looking for a wannabe Vai or Malmsteen, sorry- you’ve come to the wrong gig. But if Eric Johnson or Dickey Betts is more of your style, then maybe you’ll enjoy Blackstratblues. I sure did.

Black Gives Way To Blues

The set was short, around 90 minutes end to end, and there wasn’t too much time-wasting or attempts at crowd-pleasing (often the same thing!)  in between. Original followed original in quick succession and, though the tempo of each song varied, I began to drift a bit and used the opportunity to focus on each of the individual performers. What struck me first was that the band seemed to be composed of thorough professionals who seem to enjoy playing together. I noted with surprise that the usually supremely-composed Jai Row Kavi (Indus Creed, Tough on Tobacco) seemed to struggle through a few songs, triggering a suspicion that perhaps blues is just not his genre…or maybe he was just having an off day. Warren and bassist Adi Mistry share an easy musical camaraderie that shows in their jamming but the levels on the bass were set up a little too high for my liking, giving it an overall boomy sound.

Black Gives Way To Blues

 

The keyboard player was used mostly for fills and intros, though he came into his own on one or two of the band’s originals where Warren was content to just play chords and riffs, a rare sight! Fun factoid: in a 2012 interview to Rolling Stone, Mendonsa revealed that the “black” Strat after whom the band is named was originally gold in colour: it was painted black in Auckland after a band member taunted him about it! In any case, the black guitar made way for a sunburst Strat later in the show, with a much fatter bluesy tone.  It struck me that Warren prefers this tone, more associated with a Gibson Les Paul/Marshall amp combination than the traditional ‘thin’ Strat tone. His pedal train may have something to do with that though, to be honest, I didn’t get a close look at it and the information on the official BSB webpage seems to be obsolete.

Black Gives Way To Blues

A gig composed entirely of blues instrumentals can get a bit heavy for the audience and it was nice that the band interspersed a couple of covers to liven up the mix. The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Mood’, played in a very original manner replete with fat chops, was refreshing. ‘Jessica’, an Allman Brothers Band staple, and more popularly known as the Top Gear theme, was played faithful to the original pretty much. As a purist, I appreciated that! I thought the gig ended early but later learned that a couple of songs had to be cut from the original setlist, so am assuming they were forced to vacate the stage by 11 p.m. as is customary- oh when will this country wise up?

Black Gives Way To Blues

All in all an evening well-spent. The crowd composed of diehard fans who seemed familiar with the music- it would be a stretch to say they “sang along” since there wasn’t much singing to do- which is always a nice feeling for an Indian band. There didn’t seem to be any sound glitches or co-ordination issues. Maybe the setlist could also incorporate some acoustic stuff going forward.  As someone who is not intimately familiar with the band’s work, I still came away impressed. 10/10 will watch again!

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Stratisfaction

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In the day and age of death metal, we often find ourselves staring at tattooed guitarists wielding Super-strats loaded with a combination of Emg pickups and the Floyd Rose Bridge, but what in heaven’s name has happened to the good old Strat? If you walk into a guitar store you will notice people toying with a plethora of guitars: The Ibanez’s, The Schechter’s, The Esps seem to be favored by guitarists these days. If you talk about a good old Strat, people frown. Have we forgotten the value of a Stratocaster? From Guitar-God Hendrix to Clapton to Gilmour, everyone has used the Strat. In Clapton’s case he switched from a Les Paul to a Strat!

The Fender Stratocaster has been the single most copied guitar in history. All the Japanese manufacturers came to the spotlight in the 70s because of their ability to make high quality knock-offs while the CBS owned Fender itself was struggling with quality issues. Why do we call a guitar with a double cut away and a dual humbucker combination a ‘Superstrat’? The answer is: its design was stolen from the Strat. These guitars combined the comfort of the Stratocaster with the power of the dual humbucker combination. At that time, people were looking for more power but the single coils were either too weak or too noisy so they pumped it up with humbuckers.

Some of the notable inventions of Leo Fenders magnum opus were the tremolo system, which according to me is still way better than the Floyd Rose locking trems. In my honest opinion, the Floyd Rose is only good at sucking the sweet tone from your guitar! All our modern guitar heroes like Slash, Tom Morello, Kirk Hammett come from a generation of guitar heroes wielding a Strat. The reason people don’t buy Strats these days is probably because they feel it is “not cool”. They don’t have a logical, sonic justification for not using one. Heck, the guys from Iron Maiden use Strats! With modern pickup technology, one can have the power in a single coil package along with the pureness of a clear single coil tone. Doubters must check out the Eric Clapton signature model. With the in build mid- boost circuitry it pumps out a level of gain which eclipses the EMGs of this world by a mile! People think if they own a Jackson RR3 its cool.

For me, the Fender Stratocaster isn’t the single most important instrument in rock history, it is also the coolest one. From the violin-like tone of Eric Johnson’s Strat to the Dreamy echo of Gilmour’s Strat to the Fuzz laden mayhem of Hendrix’s Strat , no other guitar has influenced the destiny of Rock music. From insanely vintage Strats of the 50s to the modern Shred machines such as Yniwe Malmseem’s, the Stratocaster rules the field; not even the great Les Paul manages to match the legend of the Stratocaster.

One often overlooks the curvaceous craftsmanship of a 50s Strat which is still continued in the modern American models. There is no cooler guitar than a completely worn out Strat; remember the little guy from Ireland whom Jimi Hendrix rated as the greatest guitar player on the planet? I’m talking about Rory Gallagher. Coming to modern players, the sight of John Mayer playing his worn out Strat is just iconic and people say wielding a Flying V is cool.

Sahil Mohan Gupta

Sahil, the byline may read, but they call him ‘Bones’ because of his undying love for Star Trek. Sahil is a crazy tech journalist at BGR.in, who also happens to be a blues guitarist and a sound engineer based out of Delhi. Oh, and he also has 14 dogs!

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