Here is a run down on the stories behind the songs on Kandahar Guitar Society.
On March 22nd, 2005 I arrived
in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During my travels to Afghanistan, I decided that I would like to
play some music -- loud guitar music. My wife sent my TASCAM 244 USB
computer recording interface, and my friend Ken Huddleston of KK’s Music in
Manchester, Tennessee sent a Peavey electric guitar and bass with amps. I bought
a few extra pieces of music gear online, and my recording rig was complete.
I started writing and recording this album in early April 2005. I played
all of the guitar and bass parts on the album, as well as doing all of the
The purpose of the album was to document some music and thoughts during my time in Afghanistan. I do not know this to be a fact, but I would be willing to bet this is the only album written and recorded at Kandahar Airbase in its 50+ year history. While I started out just to record a few songs because I was pretty busy with my job, I decided early on to complete an entire album. I really wanted to have something to look forward to during non-working hours, so I started recording -- with no songs and not many ideas! Because of my busy schedule and travel away from Kandahar, the songs on this album were recorded in numerous 30-45 minute blasts over a five month period. I tried to avoid a lot of creative editing with the software and what you hear is, in most cases a complete take played straight through from start to finish.
Here are the songs in the order in which they appear on the album.
Below are descriptions and a little background on each:
GuitarAttack. When I received my guitar and bass in Afghanistan, I was absolutely ecstatic. It was clear -- you have to have something to pass the time while you are in the “box”. As I’ve said before, entertainment is a personal problem when you are deployed. The ability to write and record in Afghanistan made a real difference, and this song reflects my drive to continue with my playing and writing, even during a deployment. The title of the song reflects my website, www.guitarattack.com. I’ve had GuitarAttack on line since 1998, and it has provided a great deal of enjoyment, particularly when I’m able to provide information to aspiring guitar builders. I’ve gotten back way more than I’ve put into the site, and intend to keep it going as long as there is interest. I’ve been able to update the site several times while in Afghanistan, and I feel extremely fortunate to have bought the URL back before the “Dot Com” boom/bust of the 90's.
Last in Line. I have really enjoyed my time in my current job, but, like with any job, I’ve felt like I've gotten the short end of the stick several times. No...no bitterness here, and I believe it has more to do with my last name beginning with the letter "W" than anyone being "out to get me". I went to Afghanistan freely and I felt sorry for myself when I first got the word, but I got over it and was proud to serve.
Kandahar. On March 22, 2005, I arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I flew direct from Ramstein Airbase, Germany on a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane. We took off from Germany about sundown, and it was incredibly dark below as we flew toward Afghanistan. It literally was a big, black wall with no ground lights. As we landed in Kandahar, the sun was just coming up, and it was just a really weird feeling. We loaded our weapons and headed out of the plane, and it seemed like a different world. There was something so surreal about standing there, watching the Airmen go about their jobs and Soldiers walking around like they were back in the United States at what used to be Kandahar International Airport.
Nothing to Say. I went through Germany on my way to Afghanistan, and I watched a lot of CNN and FoxNews on TV while I was there waiting on a flight. There were plenty of "I would've done this" or "He should have done that" from these experts, and they reminded me of Ron Burgundy on Anchorman...they probably would have read anything appearing on that teleprompter. I thought about this on my flight, and it really kind of got me fired up. This song is about celebrities who have nothing better to do than shoot their mouths off about politics. They have no other qualifications other than being American and famous that allows them to say all kinds of wild things – and, of course, the media will help them get their story out. I believe most, if not all, have Nothing to Say, and this is what I’m talking about here.
A Walk in the Desert. When you finally get to where you are going, it can kind of be depressing. I was in one of those dark moods when I wrote this melody. This song is an instrumental that reflects how desolate, peaceful, and interesting the desert can be, particularly at sunset. However, you have to watch out for mine fields, scorpions, and the occasional AK-47 wielding “bad guy”. If you walk in the desert, make sure it is in Arizona or Nevada…on a golf course….close to a city.
Run From Me. I used to fly Longbow Apache attack helicopters, and this is a message to anyone who wants to take us on. It reminds me of a locally-made patch I saw when I was flying Cobras in Korea as a much younger man. It had a AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter embroidered on it and It said, “Don’t bother running – you’ll just die tired.” Well, I want them to run, and I’d prefer not to have to engage them at all. Hey fellas…just give up.
NOISE. Every Army unit has a “dude” that plays guitar. The dude is normally into metal, and he likes to play loud. One night I went down to the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) tent to jam with some guys I had met on Kandahar. When I got there, I found that the guys I knew had been joined by a dude from one of the airborne battalions. He had the Ibanez guitar…he had the tattoos…he had the attitude. Unfortunately, he really didn’t know what we were talking about when we referred to a song being in the key of “A”. We found out quickly that the dude didn’t let the fact that he didn’t know what key the song was in impact his willingness to play as loud and fast as possible. It really set me off, and I didn't go back. I suppose I should have been more nurturing to the young shredder wannabe, but my patience got kind of thin in Afghanistan.
Rockets. When you start a close attack in a Longbow Apache, you will normally lead with rockets because they are a longer-range weapon. Once you are out of rockets, you switch to cannon and continue the attack, hence the line “Out of rockets, switch to gun”. This is an old adage that is left over from when we flew AH-1 Cobras. Actually, the cannon (i.e. gun) mounted under the nose of the Longbow Apache is extremely accurate, and this entire song may be a reflection of my old-school roots. Hey Apache guys...there is no such thing as an "area weapon".
Sands of Time. When you are in the “box”, days start running together and it starts taking on the feeling of Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog Day”. In the movie, Bill Murray lives the same day over and over for what seems like forever. That is kind of what it is like in Afghanistan. After a while you start to reflect on impact of time slipping away rather than the great significance of the mission. It is a normal human reaction, and this is what leads to a “short timer’s” attitude. It takes a lot of work to keep a good attitude!
Still the Same. A lot of guys forget who they are when they rise through the ranks in the a big organization. They tend to emulate their bosses in an attempt to be popular and fit the organizational norms and culture. While I appreciate this approach, I have always played guitar -- even though none of my bosses did -- and I have done so unashamedly. I have always encouraged those who have worked for me to do the same; that is, get a hobby or interest and pursue it passionately primarily because we all retire someday, and they need to establish who they are. The solos in this song are a nod to Rick Derringer and Danny Johnson's playing on the live Derringer album. They really were great together and I still love the album. OK….I’m still into metal and playing guitars. ROCK ON!
Wrecking Crew. Flying Apaches is a great thing, and you feel like you are part of this “posse” who are pretty cocky and posses the ability to wreak havoc and tear up all kinds of “stuff”. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of this exclusive club, and I really enjoyed my contact with the Apache Warriors while I was in Afghanistan.
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Black Death ’77 (Special Bonus Track). This instrumental is a pretty interesting song, and is personally special. In 1977, I played my first live show as a 16-year old with a brand new Gibson Les Paul ’55, a Traynor GuitarMate Reverb, and an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Eric Pegram played drums, Steve Lafever played guitar, Marty Perkins played bass, and I played guitar – and the louder, the better. The band was called JEMS for John, Eric, Marty, and Steve. We were all classmates, and we played at the high school Talent Show in December 1977. This song was our first of two we played – the second was “Cat Scratch Fever” by Mr. Ted Nugent. We set off an enormous flash pot during the first part of this song, and it was killer. We built this song off of a Richard Pryor routine in his short-lived TV show in which he was a “rocker” who wound up destroying his audience. We didn’t have VCRs back then, so we made up a song that was kind of like the one we heard on TV. I was writing a history of my band days for my son, and I started thinking about JEMS. The saddest part of the story is that no original recordings of JEMS exist. This really made me sad, so this was the first song I recorded in Afghanistan. I didn’t want to forget how it went, and it was also a great practice song. I always liked the guitar/drum break in the middle, and I liked the way Eric sped up the ending. The band didn’t last, but the song is still great, and I wanted to record it so it wouldn’t be lost again. Too bad I didn't play this well when I was 16.
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Why so many guitar solos? Because it is my album and I wanted to do some guitar solos. I believe guitar solos are cool, and some of the great 70’s soloists influenced my guitar style. I still like to listen to Ace Frehley from KISS, Rick Derringer, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser from Blue Öyster Cult, and Michael Schenker from UFO and Scorpions. Al DiMeola was one of my early late 70’s shred heroes (before we called it shred). I also like the 80’s shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine, and Warren DiMartini from RATT (even though you might think his band was a "hair band"). The 80’s guys really got me interested in working on my technique, and I still like to listen to all of them. Yngwie has become the Elder Statesman of Shred, and he is still relevant today -- pick up any issue of GuitarWorld magazine. I do like Yngwie, and I have an Yngwie Strat that is, out of the hundreds of Strats I’ve played, the best sounding I’ve ever picked up. Hear that, Vintage Nerds?
I really like the sound of an electric guitar played through a Marshall stack. I would have liked to use some of my old guitars and amps on this project, but the geography prevented that!
One thing about digital recording. This is the first project I've recorded without using any tape. Everything up to this point had either been strictly tape (mostly 4- and 8-track PortaStudios) or hybrid "bouncing tracks around" between a tape machine and computer. Even the early recordings, while semi-digital, used Digital Audio Tape, or DAT. The one thing I really like about full-digital on the computer is that the old-school cycle of recording then mixing has been broken. I found myself mixing while recording and actually building songs as I recorded. The final mixing process was more like mastering in that the songs were complete and I was tweaking levels to make it sound like an album.
Do you want to be a rock star? A lot of my friends and colleagues asked me why I recorded the album, and several joked that I wanted to be a 40-something rock star. I detected some jealousy and curiosity, but I always reply that this kind of music is suitable to be classified as art – that, and I prefer working on a project like this much more than watching the same movies on DVD over and over, playing the same PS2 game day in and day out, and feeling sorry for myself. I personally like the process of writing and recording music, and, like GuitarAttack.com, I created it not to make money or to be famous, but rather as an artistic outlet. It is my hope that there are some of you out there that may like this recording, and if you do, I really appreciate it. There will also be some of you who will not like it. That is OK, too. I only ask that you don't get on the GuitarAttack Forum and start personally attacking me. If you do, I will delete the post.
A note about the recording and the final mix. We mixed the album to sound like a vinyl album. It is not hyper-compressed and super-maximized for volume. It has plenty of bass, and will kick those iPod ear buds. We believe the reason vinyl sounds killer is the way it was mixed and mastered, not necessarily because it was on vinyl. But hey...it is just our opinion.
A word of warning. The album doesn’t sound like Creed. It doesn’t sound like P.Diddy (Diddy?) or Destiny’s Child. It is not hip hop. It probably is a little too much like old Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Yngwie for some of you. Actually you can call it whatever you like, from "cut and paste freak-core" to "old-school crap". Well, it is what it is, and I am proud of it. The only reason I am making it available on my website is to share the songs, and hopefully inspire some of you to try home recording out for yourself and, ultimately, get as much enjoyment out of the guitar as I have over these many years. I don’t expect a Sony A&R rep to come by and take me out to dinner. But, if he does, I prefer Tex-Mex, and, if he insists on a steak, make it medium.