Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 Wrap Up: BOTB Results, Update, Music, and More

Today is my last post of the last month of what will soon be 'last year,' and there are a few things I would like to wrap up before taking a break for the Christmas holiday:

Deja Vu Blogathon
First off, let me offer a sincere "Thank you!" to all who visited and commented on my Deja Vu blog post. I really appreciate all the kind words.

It was also great getting to visit all the posts of the many bloggers who participated.  I tried to visit every single blog in DL's Linky-List, and I commented on most of them.  The only ones I didn't comment on were the ones who hadn't put up Deja Vu posts at the time of my visit. So if you did so late in the day and I missed it -- I apologize.  But I DID actually visit your blog at one point looking for it.

I just didn't keep a record of which blogs didn't have a post up so I could go back later, and I confess I'm too lazy to go back through 75 blogs again looking for the ones that posted late.  :)

Fianlly (and especially!): "THANK YOU" to my writing buddy Don 'DL' Hammons for hosting the blogathon -- It was a lot of fun to do between my last Battle of the Bands (BOTB) entry and its results post.

Battle of the Bands Results

...And speaking of Battle of the Bands:

The results from my December 15th Battle of the Band (BOTB) post did not end up anywhere as close as I thought it might be.  I took a lot of time going through tons of videos of "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" on You Tube before deciding on the two that I ultimately chose, and I thought I had two worthy contenders.  Truthfully, I did expect the Phil Keaggy and Kim Hill version to win, simply because it was much closer to a traditional interpretation of the song, but I thought the Pillar version might get a few more votes and make it competitive.

Personally, I really like both versions, but for different reasons.  I like the energy, moody ambiance, and guitar of the Pillar version. There are some excellent dynamics in this take, from quiet and spacy to high-energy, although the growl/scream at the apex of the build-up is a bit much.

But I also find it interesting that although Pillar is nowhere near the "traditional" version of this song, it is one of the few versions I found on YouTube where they do more of the "traditional" verses, including the second verse with the often misunderstood line, "The which his mother, Mary, did nothing take in scorn." Most versions skip this verse, as the Kim Hill and Phil Keaggy cover does.

However, I do love the guitar, bass, and flute and haunting vibe of the Keagy / Hill version. There is still a cool mix of old and rocking-new in this version, but with a much more 'traditional' vibe. And of course the guitar playing is wonderful.  So in the end, I find myself in much the same position as several other voters -- I like the Pillar version, but I'm voting for Keaggy and Hill.

So my vote adds to their landslide victory, with the final tally:

-- Pillar: 2
-- Keaggy / Hill: 11

I guess Christmas brings out the traditionalist in me, too.

Battle of the Bands Update

...And while we're on the topic of the BOTB:

I'd mentioned before in my results post from my December 1st BOTB that I have some upcoming changes planned for my blog.  But I have to confess that I've also been all over the map as to how these changes will impact my participation in the BOTB going forward.  Honestly, I've waffled between deciding to quit and deciding to stay many, many times over the last month.

But, in the end -- despite my assurance to Stephen McCarthy in the comments of that BOTB results post -- I've finally decided to step aside from the BOTB  -- or at least for a while.

It was not an easy decision -- I have really enjoyed taking part, and I will definitely continue to vote on the other BOTB blogs on the 1st and 15th of each month.  But I will not be making any BOTB posts myself in 2015 (or at least that's the plan as of now).

My blog is titled, "The Creative Outlet of StratPlayer," but in the BOTB posts, I'm really offering nothing creative of my own -- I'm just sharing videos of other people covering songs and asking you to pick which one you like best.  It's fun -- I do enjoy getting to comment on the music and give background on the songs, and even trying to interject some creative stuff into my BOTB Results posts.

But, truthfully, the Battle of the Bands posts are not quite in line which what my blogging intent really is.  And that creative intent is what I want to refocus on for 2015.

So, with regret, I am announcing that I will not be hosting BOTB posts in 2015...

Create 52

...But speaking of my creative intent for this blog:

In 2015, I will be trying something new on my blog -- a thing that I'll be calling "Create 52."

Under this name, I'll be making a new post on Monday of each week with at least one new creative piece I've created -- music or writing, mostly, but who knows what all may end up here? 

As I mentioned above, my intent is to refocus my blogging energy to highlight the thing I create, and also renew my efforts to actually creating on a regular basis.  So as part of the "Create 52" push, I will be increasing my writing efforts as well as generating music on a regular basis.

I'll explain more of what I'm going for with my first "Create 52" post on Monday, January 5th, but for now I will say that I'm definitely looking forward to this refocused effort on creating and blogging.

I hope you will enjoy what you see here in 2015!

Music: For the Fun of It

...And speaking of creating:
Let me close out 2014 with one more musical offering -- it's not a Christmas song, but you can consider it a small Christmas gift.

This is another wikiloops jam, but it's one where all the pieces were already in place and I just added a single track of lead guitar. The user 'scrawfrd02' had laid down an acoustic guitar track and then added another track of piano, bass, and other keys, including a catchy little line of pseudo-horns in the background. Then the wikilooper, 'Jaymny,' added some drums (and the intro count-off) to the piece. I found their jam fun and compelling and wanted to take part.
So I added a single guitar track on top of it -- a lead where I tried to not overpower all the tracks that were already there. I used that little 'horn' line as the starting point the lead I added.  I recorded it in stereo with differing delays for the left and right channel, went for a smooth but edgy distorted sound, and tried to put it far enough into the mix so that it blended in without dominating the other parts.

I think it turned out OK for a quick, "off-the-cuff jam" kind of thing. 

Click on the image of the StratoRaptor to the left, the image of Wikiloops track above, or here on THIS LINK to check it out.  Feel free to comment on what you think of it -- I 'm always interested to hear feedback on what worked, what didn't, and on ways to improve.

Thanks for listening!

Merry Christmas!

...And finally, and perhaps most importantly:

I want to be sure to wish you and your family a very, very merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year!!!

I hope your holiday season is filled with love and joy, and that 2015 will be a year of blessings and  great things for you and your loved ones!

See you January 5th!!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deju Vu: Day of the Do-Over

Today is the Deja Vu Blogfest!

Organized by my good friend, DL Hammons, with Nicole Zoltack helping out this year, the purpose is simple -- to allow bloggers to revive a favorite post from the past year and give it a do-over. To offer one of their neglected, overlooked, and under-appreciated posts a new chance to shine. As DL says:

"On December 19th, anyone who decides to participate will re-post their favorite blog offering from earlier in the year, or one that you believe failed to receive the exposure it deserved." 

I considered several older posts for my Deja Vu do-over, but finally decided on this one, where I offer my first piece of music with the "Forgotten Voices" theme -- "Streak of Moonlight."  Even after two later entries ("My Name is Romance" and "The Bell Song"), I still consider this to be the 'best' one, and it remains one of my most favorite musical creations.

I hope you enjoy this (slightly edited for presentation) post from 4/8/2014:


Streak of Moonlight

(image from wikimedia commons)

What do you know? It's been less than a month between my posts!  :)

Today I want to share with you my most recent solo, non-wikiloops, musical piece.  I call it "Streak of Moonlight".  I've uploaded it to my SoundCloud page and you can also listen to it HERE, or right from this blog by clicking on the embedded player below.  I hope you like it -- you can read more about it below...

I hope you enjoyed it!

This piece is all me -- I put together the drum tracks from editing and combining some MIDI drum loops that I found, then I added some simple keyboards, bass, rhythm guitar, more keys, lead guitars, a smattering of ambient background guitars.

But there's something else about this piece that was a new experiment for me -- hear the voices?

I've realized that the human voice can add a tremendous amount of emotion and focus to a piece. But I don't sing -- trust me on this.  So what to do?  Well, I don't want to sample vocals from another musician, and I don't want to deal with copyright infringement, and I'm not going to spend money on what's basically a hobby, and I'm still  a little too insecure about my own pieces to try and get any singers I might know to record something for me, so my choices are pretty slim...

Enter the wonder of recordings of old, forgotten radio programs -- I'll stay away from any of the well-known classics.  So hopefully in the case of the things I use, the artists involved are long gone and if there were copyrights, they've likely either expired or been shuffled through so many hands that they've essentially been lost.  Plus, at this point, what I'm doing is not a commercial endeavor -- I'm not making any money off of this.  I'm giving it away for free.  So if there were still a valid and tracked copyright that I've unintentionally infringed on by using short samples of radio broadcasts from 70 or more years ago, there are certainly little if any damages, and I will gladly give full and proper attribution or comply with any 'cease and desist' orders should they ever come my way.

So, there you go.

This piece is called "Streak of Moonlight" because the vocal samples come from a episode of a 1936 radio romance which was entitled -- you guessed it -- "Streak of Moonlight."  The snippet of strings is also from that recording.

I took my time putting together this piece.  Each layer assembled was done slowly, and I like how this turned out.  There's still some of that 'jam' feel to it (especially in the double guitars during the third lead break), but it has some nice structure to it, too, I think.  It also has a bit of a "chill" feel with some ambient, delay-heavy guitars in the background and my simplistic keyboard drones mixed in.

I really hope you enjoy this, and I'd love to know what you think.  Feel free to comment and let me know...

Thanks for listening!


Thank you so much for stopping by during this blog-fest and re-visiting my blast from the past!

I also encourage you to visit the other bloggers taking part in today's Deja Vu blofest. There is a Linky-List at DL's blog listing all of the participants -- check it out HERE, and take a tour of all the do-overs going on around the blogosphere!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"

Merry Christmas!

Yes, it's December 15th already.  We're halfway through the month of December and Christmas is fast approaching! Are you ready?

Today is also the date for the final Battle of the Bands (BOTB) of 2014.  As with my last BOTB post, this one is going to have a Christmas theme!

So let's get right to it...

One of my favorite traditional Christmas carols is "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen."  This song has been around for a very, very long time, although no-one knows exactly how long.  It was officially published in 1833, but existedt long before that. The earliest recorded reference to the song is from 1780. Several sources say it even goes all the way back to the 15th century. 

Besides the uncertainty about its origins, there is also often confusion over some of its lyrics. The first line has been frequently misunderstood and the topic of much discussion. Other lyrics have been, too ("Why exactly does the song call Mother Mary a 'witch'???").

But even with confusion over its origins and some of the lyrics, one thing that is very easy to understand about this song is that it is clearly a Christian Christmas carol -- there are no flying reindeer, talking snowmen, or wintery vehicular homicides here.

This is a song expressing joy at the birth of Jesus and finding comfort in the salvation that He has brought.

In addition to the joyful message of the song, I also love the haunting, timeless melody and the way it plays off the chords.  I find "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" to be a song that offers a tremendous amount of potential for musical expression and interpretation. All you have to do to see this is explore a bit on You Tube.  There is an amazing range of versions of this song available: old standard, swing-meets-rap, big-production-orchestra-and-choir, Dio/Iommi metal, obligatory-Mannheim Steamroller, Celtic harp, pop-diva, Charlie Daniels-bluegrass, smooth-jazz-saxophone, TV-show-acapella-and teen-pop, country-shuffle-jazz, Annie Lennox-electronic-meets-Renaissance, Irish jig, throbbing-metal-guitar, Jethro Tull-jazz-meets-prog-rock, modern-reggae, epic-synth-production, and low-budget-rap.

Yes, there are a gazillion covers of this song in almost every style imaginable.  If you can't find a version of this song you like, you just haven't looked hard enough.

So which versions did I choose for this Battle of the Bands?

Well, I seriously considered several of the ones I mentioned above, but then I finally decided to go in a different direction:  After all, this is a Christmas song with a blatantly Christian message -- so why not feature two versions by Christian artists?

OK -- but even within that genre restriction, this song encompasses a wide range of styles and I still had several possibilities. But I narrowed the list until I had two contenders.

Below are the covers that I chose -- I really like both and enjoy their decidedly different approaches to the song.

Let the Battle Begin!

First up is a version by the Christian rock band Pillar, doing a modern, edgy take on the song. This is from a 2012 Christmas single that has not appeared on any of their albums, I don't believe. See what you think:

Next is a version featuring two Christian artists -- the renown guitarist Phil Keaggy and singer Kim Hill, doing a somewhat more traditional rendition from the 1990 Christmas compilation album, Our Christmas:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add input: Which version do you like better?  Pillar's modern, rocking version, or the one by Keaggy & Hill with its take on a more traditional approach?

I invite you to listen to both of these and give them each an honest chance. And remember that this is a contest about the music -- not the images in the videos, Please use your ears to judge, not your eyes.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote, announce the winner, and then talk some more about upcoming changes to my blog in 2015.

But before that, you can also visit on the 19th for my post in the  "Deja Vu" do-over blogfest.

In the meantime, I hope you get to enjoy the Christmas season! Remember to rest ye merry!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Introspection, Music, and BOTB Results

(Rodin's 'The Thinker' -- Image from wikimedia Commons


I've been doing some thinking lately.

Nothing Earth-shattering; just some ideas about how best to focus and apply my creative impulses and ways to use my limited free time.  I'm not sure if thinking about creativity can be considered creative thinking, but I'm at least trying to be creative as I think of creating new ways to highlight the things I've created.

Got that?

Anyway --  I've made some decisions and set some goals that I want to accomplish in the upcoming new year.   And since my I consider this blog to be geared toward "the creative outlet" of your humble author, all these decisions and goals will eventually impact what you see here. Again -- nothing major, but looking ahead, I want to give you a heads-up that I have some new things planned for my blog.

I'll give you more details on the results of my introspection as we get closer to 2015.


And speaking of introspection: recently took a (post-joyful-and-gluttonous-family-feast) free moment on Thanksgiving two weeks ago to download another very cool jam from wikiloops and to lay down a simple rhythm guitar track over it. Then, the next day, I quickly added two more guitars and came up with this piece, I call, "Thanksgiving and Introspection." 

I loved the mix of drums, flute, and keys that "MrAdamOnDrums" had set up in the jam, and found it a very fun thing to play over. I think the result end up being a little spacey and...  um, introspective?

Feel free to click on the link in the title or on the StratoRaptor icon to the left in order to check it out. I'm very thankful for you taking the time today to listen!

BOTB Results 

And speaking of today:

This is December 9th! 

Did you know that 49 years ago, on this day in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas made its TV debut on CBS???

I've twice used music from this wonderful Christmas special in previous Battle of the Bands (BOTB) posts -- last year for my first BOTB post, and in my most recent one from last week. There, I pitted two live guitar renditions of "Linus and Lucy" against each other.  Gary Hoey played one and Danny Gatton the other.

I'm glad that both versions received some votes, but I'm also not surprised that Danny Gatton got more.  To my ears, it's easily the better version.

Yes, I gladly admit that Gary Hoey has talent -- he has chops galore and does a rocking, somewhat interesting version -- framing the piece with the Hendrix-esque opening and closing riffs, adding room for the bass and drums to add fills, and offering plenty of wah-wah shredding.  But somehow, it just doesn't quite grab me. It feels too pre-canned, too generic, too artificial. From saying the song is, "by Charlie Brown" (I think you mean "Vince Guaraldi," Gary -- Charlie's a cartoon character) to blandly pointing at the drummer during every break (okay -- yes, that's a video criticism, not an audio one, but it matches the effect I get from the lackluster interpretation), it just seems put-on to me. It's like Gary's not really feeling it -- it's flashy, but he's just going through the motions. No, I can't fault his technical ability and respect him for it, but the delivery still seems blase.

(Danny Gatton -- from
On the other hand, Danny Gatton seems to be riding a wave at a break-neck pace, teetering on the edge of disaster, careening around those frets with heartfelt abandon. It feels like even HE doesn't know what note's coming next.  I picture him smiling with a, "Whoa! Did I just play that?!?!" expression on his face. Maybe that's not the case -- he might have played that ending medley a gazillion times exactly the same way -- but it SOUNDS like it's new and exciting.  It feels to me like he's serving it up with his heart and soul in every measure of the tune. And the playing is exemplary as well, even more-so than Gary Hoey -- Danny's is fast, expressive, and full of nuance, even at blinding speed. Gatton's not just regurgitating the riffs he's drilled into his subconscious through rote repetition -- he's fully in-the-moment, expressing a range of emotion, and having fun with the audience.

Even if Danny Gatton was less proficient on the guitar than Gary Hoey (and I submit Danny is clearly much MORE proficient), I'd still vote for feeling over flash.

So -- just in case you couldn't tell, I'm adding my vote to the Gatton group to seal the win:

Danny Gatton -- 8;  Gary Hoey -- 4.

Thanks for visiting! 

I invite you to come back on the 15th for another Christmas-themed, special Battle of the Bands.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Linus and Lucy" Live!

Happy December!

Today is the first of the month which means it's time for another installment of The Battle of the Bands (BOTB). This blogging event was originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs on the 1st and the 15th of every month, and I think it's a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

With it being December, it's also a great time for a battle of Christmas music, or at least in this case, some music which has a tie-in to Christmas (for my BOTB post on December 15th, I'll feature a much more traditional Christmas song).

One of my favorite Christmas things is the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. First broadcast in 1965, this animated special of 'The Peanuts' gang drawn by Charles M. Schulz  is something I love to see every year.  Part of it is tradition -- it's one of the earliest TV specials I recall seeing, and it's been on every year since I was 5 years old.  But besides nostalgia, I also love the gentle, warm way it touches on the importance of friends, redemption, acceptance, and it's timeless message about the over-commercialization of the holiday and what the true meaning of Christmas really is.

And also, there's another reason to love A Charlie Brown Christmas -- the fabulous music!!!

Composed and performed by The Vince Guaraldi Trio, the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas is filled with wonderful, timeless songs.  In fact, I even featured "Christmas Time is Here" from this soundtrack last year for my very first BOTB post, and so I thought I'd visit it again this year. 

In this battle, I'm using one of the most iconic tracks from the album -- the Linus and Lucy theme.  It's probably the least "Christmas-y" song since it features no words and seems to have little to do with the holiday other than it's association with this TV special.  But it's also probably one of the most well-known tunes from this album -- it went on to become the theme for the Peanuts and virtually every other Charlie Brown special.

I'm not going to use the original in this battle since I think it might win over any contender, but for your reference (and listening pleasure), here is that original jazzy version by the Vince Guaraldi Trio:

Great song, isn't it?  I love the vibe, the changes, and the soulful playing -- even if someone doesn't like jazz, they often like this. It transcends genre.

There are a LOT of covers of this song that I could use for a battle, but being a guitarist, I'm going with two very different interpretations of it, both of which are done live.

Let the Battle Begin!

First up is guitarist Gary Hoey, with a live performance of the song.  Gary's done a lot of Christmas covers, with several "Ho Ho Hoey" CDs available along with Christmas shows. This might not be a song you would expect to hear Hendrix references, but Gary pulls it off. Here's a live video from 2009:

Another guitarist who covered this song was the phenomenal Tele-master Danny Gatton. During the late 1980s and early 1990's, he typically incorporated it into a medley that ended his concerts -- he'd work in snippets of "The Orange Blossom Special," and many other bits into a blazing song that covered 8 to 10 minutes. Here's a video from You Tube which showcases mainly just the "Linus and Lucy" beginning, done live in Washington DC in 1989. While it doesn't have all the amazing playing that would typically come after, it does focus on the song-at-hand, which prevents clouding the waters of this battle.  See what you think:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add your input: Which cover do you like better?  Gary Hoey's hard-rocking version with the great playing, or Danny Gatton's telecaster-shredding rendition from the beginning of his show-ending medley?

I invite you to listen to both of these and give them each an honest chance. And remember that this is a contest about the music -- not the images in the videos, Please use your ears to judge, not your eyes.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the Christmas season: Its great music, its wonderful traditions, the joy of family, and -- of course -- The True Meaning of Christmas.