Sunday, August 24, 2003

Music musings

VH1 is on in the background and they just played something by a band I hadn't heard of before - Robert Randolph and the Family Band. It's the first time I've ever seen a black dude play a pedal steel guitar. And he's doing a pretty good job of it too.

It's funny how some instruments get pigeonholed with certain kinds of music. A pedal steel offers all kinds of possibilities, but doesn't seem to appear outside country music. You might think a banjo was only good for bluegrass and country until you hear Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Mandolins seem stuck in Italian and country music. Besides Kansas and John Mellencamp you don't hear much violin outside classical or country music, or maybe easy listening stuff. Accordions often are portrayed as geeky, but they kick butt in zydeco music and tangos. Sitars have shown up on stuff like the Stones' "Paint It, Black" and BJ Thomas' version of "Hooked on a Feeling", but that's about it.

Instruments do come and go in popular music. A century ago guitars were just rhythm instruments, and not particularly respectable ones at that, but the advent of pickups, amplifiers and players like Charlie Christian changed that. And maybe I don't listen to the right stuff, but it seems like brass and woodwinds are disappearing from pop.

But nothing ever quite goes away. It'll just wind up at the National Music Museum in South Dakota. Take a virtual tour here.

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