Category Archives: Live Music

Gear Review: Empress Tremolo2

I’ve spent the past year or so trying out various tremolo pedals, in search of “the one” that can both suit my gigging needs and give me that little ‘something extra’ to spark the creation of new songs, sounds, riffs and licks. Tall order, I know. From high-priced, high-tech and boutique offerings to plain-jane no-names, quite a few contenders have spent quality time on my pedalboard. I’m not going to rank them (because ‘different strokes for different folks’), but these effects are all worthy of mention as gig-worthy Tremolos that spent considerable gigging and playing/writing time on my board:

  • VHT Melo-Verb
  • Black Cat Mini-Trem
  • CMATmods Tremoglo
  • Catalinbread Valcoder
  • SolidGoldFX Stutterbox (V.1)

IMG_1493_2Note: I acquired almost all but one of these pedals second or third-hand via Reverb; I’ve also turned around and sold many of them via Reverb, once I’d decided to move on. I’ve found that this is a better and, in the end, more affordable way to “audition” pedals than using a Netflix-style effect rental service because 1) I can usually find the pedal I want when I want it, and 2) if I’m patient I can make $5-$20 per sale, beyond the initial cost of the pedal — or at least break even.

Now, I can finally declare a winner in the ‘Tournament of Tremolos’ — it’s the Empress Tremolo2. I’ve had it for about a month, now and have used it on two 3-hour gigs and for lots of at-home fiddling around. The T2 is both gig-worthy and musically inspiring, my main criteria, but it also shines in some very specific ways.

Ease of Use? — What a Concept!

The T2 has a digital heart hiding beneath its analog trappings. The Empress site describes the pedal as having an all-analog signal path with the tremolo effect “controlled digitally via opto technology.” Whatever digi-log voodoo mojo they performed works for me, because my ears don’t detect even a hint of artificiality in the tones the pedal produces.IMG_1492

However, the combination of technologies does explain how the T2 is able to save multiple presets (I used 4 — with some additional fiddling around, you can set up to 8!) that allow you to tweak and save all of the manual settings you make for each sound/speed/rhythm you need. I liked the four presets that came with the pedal (I have no idea if they were the factory settings or had been set by the previous owner), but ended up tweaking them to my liking and to the needs of the songs I’d be playing. After adjusting a mellow Blackface Fender-tone in preset 1, and a faster, deeper version of that in preset 2, I made preset 3 a hard, choppy Valco-style trem for a couple of more garage-y songs, and gave preset 4 a less choppy, but rhythmically unusual, flavor of the same.
IMG_1491_2
Changing between presets is a breeze, even for a stone-cold idiot like me. Set the switch to “Presets” then click the bypass button — you are in preset 1 (blue LED). To switch presets, hold the tap tempo button down until the LED changes color, and there you are!

On top of all that, you can tweak each preset on the fly with the knobs on the pedal’s face. Has the drummer counted off that ballad too quickly? Then adjust your preset with the speed knob. These tweaks aren’t saved, unless you go to the trouble of saving them, but making adjustments like this quickly, without having to go through screens or menus on a digital pedal, can be a song-saver.

Go Deep — Seriously, Even Deeper!

Some boutique pedals are difficult to use right out of the box — you probably know which ones I’m talking about — because they offer so many options from the get-go that you have to read the full manual before you can even summon a tone as basic as Link Wray’s “Rumble” tremolo.
IMG_1494
The T2 is not only is good-to-go right out of the box (note: the manual is available online and is written to get you started playing ASAP), there are features a-plenty under the hood. Yes, the T2 is gig-ready, but there are enough unique features (e.g. three wave forms, eight rhythm patters) and control options (external tap, expression, control voltage, MIDI.) to inspire you to continue deepening your knowledge of the pedal’s creative possibilities.

What Now?

If you are interested in some audible samples of what the T2 can do, check out the Empress site; they have numerous sound clips showing off many of the features I’ve mentioned, and much much more.

If you are looking to purchase a T2, new or used, check out Reverb.

If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts on Tremolo pedals (or guitar effects in general), post a comment below.

Stomp Box Fever #1

So, lately I’ve been on kind of a pedal kick. Since I’ve decided to go back to using a smaller amp — a fond farewell to my Vox AC15 and a big hello to my new purple Vox AC4 (and also to a black 2005 Bad Cat Mini Cat, which I’m still thinking of selling — I just feel so decadent owning three guitar amps … I’m counting the little Fender G-DEC I have, too) — I appear to be making up the difference by acquiring pedals as well as adding old pedals back to my effects chain. Not only am I buying and selling stomp boxes via Reverb and eBay — I’ve bought three, sold three — but I just joined and received my first pedal from Pedal Genie, which is like a Netflix (or Neckflix) for guitar pedals. I got a Caroline Kilobyte, which is supposed to create all sorts of crazy-cool lo-fi sounds. I’m hoping to hook it up early tomorrow morning and wake up the sleepyheads upstairs!

As of right now, my pedal board is rocking a Boss TU-2 chromatic tuner (thanks to Jared Bentley), a Modtone Funk Filter Enveloper (basically an auto-wah), a Visual Sound Garage Tone Drivetrain (an overdrive modeled on my old fave, the Reverend Drivetrain II pedal, used mainly for chunky rhythm), an Electro-Harmonix Soul Food overdrive (mainly for leads),  Visual Sound H2O stereo chorus/delay, and a Mooer Micro-DI with a built-in 4 x 12 cabinet simulator. I’m using the H2O as a delay and signal splitter so that one effects send goes to the amp, while the other goes to the DI and then into the PA board. The little 4-watt Vox then acts as my stage monitor, which I can adjust without affecting the signal that’s going to the board, as the sound man will be working with the signal coming through the pedals and then the DI/cab simulator.

I bought a Caline Pedal Power 5 to eliminate the need for multiple wall-warts or batteries, but it’s much noisier than I expected. I’m going to try a few different configurations and see if that helps, but I still have a one-spot with a multi-plug that I could use. The Caline was supposed to be quieter as it supposedly has isolated circuits for each power output … but it sure doesn’t sound like it.

I’d like to get a good Tremolo and a good Reverb pedal. The only real downside of the Vox AC4 is that it doesn’t have the AC15’s awesome built-in tremolo and reverb. I tend to use tremolo quite a bit, so I’m definitely going to need that … and where would guitarists be with reeve? In any case, I’m torn right now between getting one pedal that is both, like a Strymon Flint or a VHT Melo-Verb — or two separate ones, like an E-H Holy Grail  (reverb) nd a Z-Vex Sonar (tremolo).

Other than getting the humming power supply problem out of the way and the order/configuration of the pedals set, I’m hoping that I can eventually try out a Wampler Thirty Something between the H2O and the DI to see if I can improve my tone through the PA. This pedal, designed by Wampler with the help of Queen’s Brian May, is supposed to be pretty close to a Vox AC30. They are pricey, though, so I’m hoping I can try one out through Pedal Genie before I shell out the big bucks for it.

Well, that’s enough of my nerdy guitar blathering. If you are a guitarist or musical experimenter or any sort, check out some the links above.

Check Out the JV Squad & Symphony Rags!

If you haven’t already, please listen to and follow some of my favorite people (and musicians) in two great regional bands: the JV Squad and Symphony Rags.

If you know me, you know that Vanessa Bentley from JV Squad and Brandon Story from Symphony Rags and I go way back — back to the 90’s with the Rent Boys and the Bystanders.  In addition RRSL used to gig frequently with Jared Bentley’s (JV) bands and Megan Gregory (Symphony) plays fiddle and sings on the first RRSL record, I Think We’re Gonna Be Alright.

Some great music and video from both bands are below:

“Falling Leaves” from Symphony Rags

JV Squad live on WETS-FM

Symphony Rags will be at the Down Home in Johnson City on Thursday, October 10th (8 pm show).

Simmons, Russell, Lee & Lee – The Down Home, Sat. July 28th

On Saturday, July 28th, Johnson City’s legendary Down Home listening room will play host to a sampling of songwriters from across Tennessee. Stephen Simmons, based in Nashville, Rob Russell, based in Johnson City, and Knoxville-based Tim & Susan Lee will take the stage to perform original tunes that demonstrate each writer’s unique perspective on life, love, and the South.

Stephen Simmons is touring in support of The Big Show, his sixth record. His previous works (Last Call, Drink Ring Jesus, Something In Between, The Blame’s On U.S. and Girls) have found him compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams, John Prine and Tom Petty. The Big Show also owes a debt to that songwriting pantheon, but also includes influences as diverse as Van Morrison, Tom Waits and the acclaimed HBO series Carnivàle. Above all, The Big Show is an event––a showcase for a seasoned singer-songwriter who’s got stories, insights and melodies that are unique yet available to all. Step right up.

Joining Stephen on The Big Show is his longtime producer and ringmaster Eric Fritsch (Sheryl Crow, Scott Miller), who also plays guitar and Hammond organ on some tracks. Other cast members include bassists Dave Jacques (John Prine, Shelby Lynne) and Tim Marks (Taylor Swift, Will Hoge), drummers Matt Crouse (Sheryl Crow, Michelle Wright) and Paul Griffith (k.d. lang, Todd Snider), keyboardist Jen Gunderman (The Jayhawks), steel guitar player Alex McCollough (The Wrights) and guitarist Dave Coleman (The Coal Men). Stephen and Eric matched this crew with songs best suited to each individual’s playing style. Other tracks feature Stephen alone, accompanied only by a beat-up Guild acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Put them all together and it’s The Big Show, a high-flying sonic marvel designed to thrill, wonder, delight and astonish. For more information, check out http://www.stephensimmonsmusic.com.

As two-thirds of Knoxville, Tennessee, band the Tim Lee 3, Tim and Susan Lee sing, write songs and play rock n’ roll with drummer Chris Bratta. Maryville Daily Times music editor referred to the band’s sound as, “like Crazy Horse and X in a drunken jam.” As a duo, the Lees take those same songs (many from their previous TL3 releases) and rearrange them to create a different mood, emphasizing the lyrics and vocal interplay over volume and intensity (they’ve been known to add a cellist and a mandolin player to their acoustic guitar/vocals duo).

“With the band, it’s all about the sound,” Susan Lee said. “But with the duo, it’s more about the songs.”

Added Tim: “We’re playing the same songs, but we’re sort of showing their flexibility and letting them stand more on their own.” At present, the Tim Lee 3 is working on a new release for early 2013 at studios in Knoxville, Austin and Tucson. For more information, visit www.timleethree.com.

Johnson City-based singer/songwriter Rob Russell has kept a bit of a low profile since putting Rob Russell & the Sore Losers on hiatus in September, 2011, but the time has freed him up to write a batch of new songs and begin thinking about a new recording project. “Around the same time that the band was slowing down, I found myself writing songs that fit a more acoustic approach,” Russell said. “I was playing with my little ‘side band’ The Bleeding Heart Show, doing mostly covers, and I was definitely influenced by that line up – acoustic bass, guitar, mandolin, and close harmonies.” It’s been over a year since Russell has brought his music to Knoxville, and he looks forward to seeing old friends and winning over new converts to his own style of ‘Appalachian Rock and Roll.’ For more information, visit www.robrussellmusic.com.

This show will also be shown live on Concert Window. Wherever you are in the world, you can tune in! You can purchase online tickets for $3 any time the day of the show at www.concertwindow.com/downhome. The show will not be taped, but you can watch it live in High Definition. Payment can be made using PayPal or a credit/debit card.

The Down Home is located at 300 W. Main St. in Johnson City. Cover charge is $12, and the music begins at 9 p.m. For additional information, contact The Down Home at 423-929-9822 or visit their website, www.downhome.com.

Simmons, Russell, Lee & Lee @ The Well – July 25th

On Wednesday, July 25th, The Well, the newest venue in Knoxville’s vibrant music scene, will play host to a sampling of songwriters from across Tennessee. Stephen Simmons, based in Nashville, Rob Russell, based in Johnson City, and Knoxville-based Tim & Susan Lee will take the stage to perform original tunes that demonstrate each writer’s unique perspective on life, love, and the South.

 

Stephen Simmons is touring in support of The Big Show, his sixth record. His previous works (Last Call, Drink Ring Jesus, Something In Between, The Blame’s On U.S. and Girls) have found him compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams, John Prine and Tom Petty. The Big Show also owes a debt to that songwriting pantheon, but also includes influences as diverse as Van Morrison, Tom Waits and the acclaimed HBO series Carnivàle. Above all, The Big Show is an event––a showcase for a seasoned singer-songwriter who’s got stories, insights and melodies that are unique yet available to all. Step right up.

 

Joining Stephen on The Big Show is his longtime producer and ringmaster Eric Fritsch (Sheryl Crow, Scott Miller), who also plays guitar and Hammond organ on some tracks. Other cast members include bassists Dave Jacques (John Prine, Shelby Lynne) and Tim Marks (Taylor Swift, Will Hoge), drummers Matt Crouse (Sheryl Crow, Michelle Wright) and Paul Griffith (k.d. lang, Todd Snider), keyboardist Jen Gunderman (The Jayhawks), steel guitar player Alex McCollough (The Wrights) and guitarist Dave Coleman (The Coal Men). Stephen and Eric matched this crew with songs best suited to each individual’s playing style. Other tracks feature Stephen alone, accompanied only by a beat-up Guild acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Put them all together and it’s The Big Show, a high-flying sonic marvel designed to thrill, wonder, delight and astonish. For more information, check out www.stephensimmonsmusic.com.

 

As two-thirds of Knoxville, Tennessee, band the Tim Lee 3, Tim and Susan Lee sing, write songs and play rock n’ roll with drummer Chris Bratta. Maryville Daily Times music editor referred to the band’s sound as, “like Crazy Horse and X in a drunken jam.” As a duo, the Lees take those same songs (many from their previous TL3 releases) and rearrange them to create a different mood, emphasizing the lyrics and vocal interplay over volume and intensity (they’ve been known to add a cellist and a mandolin player to their acoustic guitar/vocals duo).

“With the band, it’s all about the sound,” Susan Lee said. “But with the duo, it’s more about the songs.”

 

Added Tim: “We’re playing the same songs, but we’re sort of showing their flexibility and letting them stand more on their own.” At present, the Tim Lee 3 is working on a new release for early 2013 at studios in Knoxville, Austin and Tucson. For more information, visit www.timleethree.com.

 

Johnson City-based singer/songwriter Rob Russell has kept a bit of a low profile since putting Rob Russell & the Sore Losers on hiatus in September, 2011, but the time has freed him up to write a batch of new songs and begin thinking about a new recording project. “Around the same time that the band was slowing down, I found myself writing songs that fit a more acoustic approach,” Russell said. “I was playing with my little ‘side band’ The Bleeding Heart Show, doing mostly covers, and I was definitely influenced by that line up – acoustic bass, guitar, mandolin, and close harmonies.” It’s been over a year since Russell has brought his music to Knoxville, and he looks forward to seeing old friends and winning over new converts to his own style of ‘Appalachian Rock and Roll.’ For more information, visit www.robrussellmusic.com.

 

The Well is located at 4620 Kingston Pike, Suite 2, between Lenny’s and Spex in Bearden. There is no cover charge, and the music begins at 9 p.m. For additional information, contact The Well at 865-851-7459 or visit their website, http://thewellknoxville.com.

Dec. 27 and NYE

I’ll be promoting my NYE sets at 620 State in Bristol on WCYB‘s noon show today (Tuesday, Dec. 27th). Listen up and listen in!

Live on Studio One – 2011

We’ve just made our appearance on WETS-FM’s Studio One program, recorded on Saturday, Sept. 3, available as a free download at bandcamp.com. The set list for the show includes 6 RRSL tunes and a cover of Stephen Simmons’ “Rock and Roll Band,” as well as interviews with all the band members by host Dave Carter. Here’s the set list:

  1. What Do You Know?
  2. Believer
  3. Cured (Josh on lead vocal)
  4. Rock and Roll Band (Dave on lead vocal)
  5. Success
  6. Out of My Blood
  7. Elvis & Jesus & Me

Andy Russell’s Old School RRSL Posters

I found a bunch of old photos and poster files on an old thumb drive, including these great posters that Andy Russell — our drummer and graphic artist — made:

Brevity, thy name is.

SXSW bands in two words

Teaching to the Text Message

Brian & the Nightmares … the beat goes on

Some of you may have read the remembrance of Brian and the Nightmares I wrote for their reunion get-together (originally in the local entertainment paper and more recently posted to this blog) in 2002. Very recently, another Nightmares fan posted video –originally shot for a local cable show — of that gig to YouTube. As a public service, I’ve assemble it below.

If you remember the Nightmares, this is a great reminder of their unique energy and musicianship. If you weren’t around or didn’t get the chance to see them during their late 80’s heyday, do yourself a favor and catch a sampling below.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been in a band, post-1988, that I didn’t in some way compare, unfavorably, to the focus and energy of the ‘Mares: it’s a goal that I’ve always shot for, and whenever someone has said to me, “man, your band is tight,” I’ve always wanted to say, “then you never saw Brian & the Nightmares!”

“Bored Games”

“Easy Way Out”

“Desperate Highway”

“Lizard Song”

“Primitive Rose”

“Keep on Walkin'”

“She’s So Tall”

“Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” (Standells cover)

“I Am A Rock” (Simon & Garfunkel cover)

“Can’t Touch an Angel”

“Little Bit of You”

“Route 66”

“All You Want to Do Is Sin”

And from way back in 1989 … Brian, Kurt, John and Mark doing “Warm California Sun” (Rivieras/Ramones/Dictators) and “New Kind of Kick” (The Cramps)