Buzzy's Blog

Creating Space 


In our jams at the FREIGHT AND SALVAGE everyone gets a chance to solo, or not solo, if that’s what they want or don’t want to do. The other day, when we were playing solos around the room and I told the bass player it was his turn, he looked at me a bit dumbfounded. You see, bass players don’t often play solos and unless you were John Entwistle or Jaco Pastorious, that may not be your proclivity: taking solos. So, what I said to the group was, yeah, he doesn’t need to take a solo, per se, but it was an opportunity to let the bass shine. In other words, the rest of us should bring our sound down a bit or play some thing of the higher end/treble so that the bass players lines were featured. 

When I did this I could  hear better what the bass player was doing. His lines were pretty interesting. This idea could be a boon to your playing in a jam: if you focus your sound in a area of your instrument — treble, bass, single string or more chordal/harmonized — that is not being heard or represented you start to hear things you may not have heard before. 

Since guitar is my instrument I am acutely aware that guitarists often fall into rote rhythmic devices and lead/solo phrasing; e.g. playing the same two string spread rhythm, or strumming the same “cowboy” chords, playing the same pentatonic licks, etc.  

Trying something new can be a bit daunting, but keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The communal style playing of many West African tribes sound very complicated to the untrained ear. But isolate any individual’s part and you’ll find the ideas may actually be simple. It’s becomes more complicated as more parts are added. 

One of the things I have guitar players do in my blues classes is play different rhythms together. If one person is playing a two string shuffle, then another person will play a “Charleston-type” of rhythm — chordal accents on the first down beat and second upbeat of a four beat measure. Another might play a walking bass line; or possibly a repeating single string line. 

    Remember: simple is good; especially when there are many players and many voices to accommodate. 

Trading Twos 



Just finished round one of a six week session of Buzzy’s Juke Joint Jam at the Freight and Salvage. Instruments included guitar, violin, bass, harmonica and vocalists. We will begin a new six week session on May 14. Songs we played included Stormy Monday, Statesboro Blues, Move it on Over, My Babe, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, St. James Infirmary, I Hear You Knocking, Key to the Highway, Trouble in Mind, Deep River Blues and a bunch more. 

One idea that folks enjoyed and responded to was “trading twos,” in which we would pair up two players and each would solo for two bars, trading musical ideas back and forth. This was a wonderful exercise for several reasons: 1) It forces each player to come up with succinct musical phrases and 2) invites each player to “respond” to his/her partner. In jazz they call it “trading fours” — as each player takes a four bar solo and passes it on to the next player. For us novice blues jammers two bars seemed to work well and allowed each player to play three times in each 12 bar. 

In my Jamming the Blues classes I often talk about creating short musical phrases and think of soloing as a dialogue: between two people (From Jamming the Blues: A Guide to Soloing Over 12 bar Shuffles)

In this book we will learn the basic tools for soloing, which include scales and partial chords. We will play several 12 bar solos and analyze how they are built. Along the way you will learn all of the above techniques, but MOST importantly you will learn to create musical phrases. As the word suggests, a phrase is based on the language skills you already possess. If you think of your daily speech as a template for soloing you will bring life and vitality to your playing. 

    In our speech we have many different types of phrases: statements, questions(?), exclamations(!), pauses….These phrases will have content and inflection. For instance a whisper implies secrecy. It is barely audible and meant for only a few chosen ears. That soft inflection makes the listener perk up their ears, as if something important is being said. I am often telling many of my students to play louder, but what I’m really asking them to do is play with dynamics.  Play loud, then play soft; alter your attack and you will notice how much your audience is really listening…

Phases of Learning  


“Here are the five simple secrets to learning to play blues guitar.” Ever see that kind of ad? Sure you have. First off, I don’t think blues players are keeping any secrets; you can see and hear exactly what they are doing. Secondly, any time you see the phrase “learn the secret(s)” you know that somebody is trying to sell you something. As you might have guessed I don’t particularly likes these ads. I have spent many years (decades really) learning to play blues guitar and to have some one try to boil it down to playing “these five simple notes.” makes me crazy. Of course, if you purchase so and so’s “secrets” you might get something out of it, so, go ahead.

    But here are some things I’ve learned over years in playing and teaching that I would like to share:


  1. Playing the guitar is an intellectual, emotional and physical activity. In some ways its like learning a language. Ever meet somebody who has studied French/iItalian/Greek/ or other language intensely but never actually spoken it? They can read the language fluently but if they try to speak to a native they are often not able to be understood. Well, that same thing goes for the guitar. You might understand theoretically how a major scale is built, or how chords are formed from that same scale; but that doesn’t mean you can play it; or express in terms of a musical passage. Just as you need to learn how to physically control your vocal chords to create sounds endemic to a language you need to learn how to manipulate the strings of the guitar to create expressive phrases. People with developed intellects but poor muscle coordination often have a difficult time with the guitar. I’m not saying they are helpless, but they need to understand that they may need more time to develop muscle coordination and strength than someone who has more experience with physically coordinated activities such as sports and tool manipulation.

          Much of blues playing is expressive and the expression is embedded in the slurs and         articulation of notes that are manipulated by our hands. And, yes, this requires certain amount of strength. 


    The progression of learning in my Jamming the Blues Classes goes something like this. Here are five patterns of A minor pentatonic scales. Learn them all and commit them to memory. This is an ongoing process that should continue beyond the framework of a six week class. Next, I show my students how to create musical phrases from portions of those scales patterns. As the word suggests, a phrase is based on the language skills you already possess. If you think of your daily speech as a template for soloing you will bring life and vitality to your playing.

    In our speech we have many different types of phrases: statements, questions(?), exclamations(!), pauses….These phrases will have content and inflection. For instance a whisper implies secrecy. It is barely audible and meant for only a few chosen ears. That soft inflection makes the listener perk up their ears, as if something important is being said. I am often telling many of my students to play louder, but what I’m really asking them to do is play with dynamics.  Play loud, then play soft; alter your attack and you will notice how much your audience is really listening. 

Nothing is worse than a guitarist who knows all their scales: forwards,  backwards, and very fast, but their solos sound like scales: every note has the same attack, voicing, and rhythmic duration. Have you ever listened to a speech or lecture by someone who has a mono-syllabic delivery? The words come out all sounding the same. It could be the most interesting subject in the world but you will strain to follow the speaker because their delivery is putting you to sleep! Public speaking is an art, and so is soloing. You don’t have to be the fastest or most knowledgeable guitarist on the planet to play interesting, listenable solos. It’s a well-worn cliché, but a few well chosen phrases will have more impact than a million notes played with little thought or emotion.



Season Greetings! 

Hey Folks,

 This will be my last correspondence until 2015 so I want to wish you all happy holidays and a grand New Year! I want to thank everyone who came to my solo and Buzzy Frets shows and helped support live music! You rock! Also want to thank my students who have taken classes and private instruction from me and who have helped me become a better teacher and musician. You rock, as well! I wanted to thank and show my appreciation for the musicians I have shared the stage with in 2014, these include Nelson Santos, James Medellin, Kelly Joe Phelps, Teja Gerken, Steve Baughman, Mark Goldenberg, Marc Silber, Alex DeGrassi, Peppino D'Agostino, Mel McMurrin, Lynn Barakos, Larry Forest, Kevin Beals, Leon Santos, Mark Kostrzewa, Agency El84, Frankie and the Pool Boys, the Gillbillies, Rue 66, The Hampton Wicks, The Coppertones, Drifting Sands, The Deadlies, DJ Sid Presley and a bunch more I'm probably forgetting. You rock:>>

 I have one more show this month/year at the KPFA crafts fair on Sunday, December 21 from 1-3pm at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond Come on down and check out some of the great crafts and music.

If you are still looking for a holiday gift for the guitarist in your family check out my book sale.
All titles are only $20 + FREE SHIPPING! -- except A GUIDE TO ACOUSTIC BLUES GUITAR 
Jamming the Blues: A Guide to Soloing over 12 bar blues Shuffles
Improvisation and Variations for Fingerstyle Blues Guitar
A Guide to Bottleneck Slide Guitar

I have a few spots available for private lessons. If you or somebody you know is looking for a guitar instructor, especially in the blues idiom, give me a holler! Here is a little information my private lessons. And, yes I do offer gift certificates for 1/2 hour and hour lessons.
Here is a list of the classes I will be teaching coming up in 2015

New Home and Inspiration 

We are now ensconced in our new home at Music Works in El Cerrito, Address: 11225 San Pablo ave, cross street Potrero. The nice folks at Music Works have agreed to let us play in a large room upstairs from their store. Some logistical information. For right now the jam will be held every other week: upcoming dates are February 15, March 1, 15 (I will be away on the 29th). The time is the same as before, 1-3pm. When you arrive you should go into the store and pay the person behind the counter: tell him/her you are there for the blues jam. The price is still $15. 


Parking: in front of the store is one hour; side streets are indefinite. I am told we can also park in the the Del Norte Plaza parking lot for free.


Sources of Inspiration:

We all have our heroes. Some were spiritual leaders who spoke of the power of peaceful confrontation. Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. were men of vision and commitment, who showed us that noncombatants could have a voice in a fight for civil rights — proving themselves, by their peaceful actions and acts of kindness. Some are Captains of Industry, who showed by their innovation and creative thinking that they could produce technology only dreamed of in science fiction. Some, like the recently deceased Pete Seeger, showed that through their song and instruments, that a voice could be given to those underrepresented in the decision-making processes of government and corporate institutions.

Still others are inspired by the words of poets and writers, the canvases of artists, or the notes and phrasing of certain musicians.


We have all had that “ah, ha!” moment when a light bulb shines and a certain clarity of expression has found its way into our consciousness. 

It’s a very personal experience, and yet we our eager to meet others who have had the same feeling.

In reliving that experience with another we are reminded that we are not alone in our seemingly insignificant lives. Someone else has felt the same thing we have.

For me, I have felt most significantly, these types of experiences in two areas of my life: literature and music. In literature, the reading of certain passages in books have have put me in a place of personal transcendence, where the words of authors have echoed in my mind with thoughts that theretofore had not been articulated.

Music, the listening to and the performance of, has also transported me to a place of wonder: a place of possibilities, excitement and deliverance…


I have had many jobs, but my current vocation: guitar teacher puts me in the place of having to imbue my students with technical abilities and knowledge, as well as trying to inspire them and show them the possibilities…However, when I hear one of them play a particular musical passage with feeling and authority…or when they bring to my attention a song I have never heard before and I quite enjoy…or I hear them simply making progress and see the enjoyment on their faces…then I feel like it has all come full circle: they have re-inspired me!


Where to Jam? 

Hey Folks,

 This past Saturday me and the Jammers were discussing the future of Buzzy's Juke Joint Jam. None of us wants to see it end. A big part of the problem is parking (and Cal football). There was also the question of when the jam should be held (e.g. Wednesday nights? Sundays?). Personally, I would prefer to keep the jam on Saturdays. But I think a change of venue might be in order -- a venue where there is plenty of free street parking. One option is to use my teaching studio in Kensington. However, I could only accomodate 5-6 people maximum. I would also need to discuss this with my landlady. I am inviting other suggestions for venues. Also, let me know if you think a change in time would work: 3-5pm? 5-7pm?

The Two Petes: Part Two 

It was a normal day for Peter Christian Madsen. Little did he know that his doppelganger was laying in wait; looking for the chance to abscond with PCM’s rightful intellectual property. Perhaps I should back up a little and give you the facts. Yeah, just the facts. 

The Phone rang. It was Pete’s friend and sometimes bass player, Peter. “Hey, I heard your music on the television,” he said, excitedly. “Really!?” I inquired – as a well-trained rock musician, Peter had been known to spout hyperbole from time to time. “Yeah, ‘Desert Car Kings’ on the Discovery Channel. Check it out.” Click. I checked and heard nothing. Maybe Peter had heard something that sounded like my music.

         Months later I’m restringing a Stratocaster on the couch with the buzzing cacophony of the TV orchestrating my finely-honed snipping technique when I hear the unmistakable introductory bars of “Davey Jones Locker,” a little tune I had penned many years prior with my trio, Buzzy Frets. “Hey! What the &*$@!.” Peter was right.

         So I contact Human Factor, a company I had signed a licensing agreement with a few years earlier and asked them if they knew anything about it. They send me a list of cues to music that had been used in various tv shows; my music. None of the cues matched the show I had seen/heard and this was the first time I seen the list. Things were getting weird.

         The dame at Human Factor – I’ll call her “Paula” (actually her real name is Paula) – asked me to send her a clip, a recording of the show. I said, “sure” because I knew the show was going to be rebroadcast in a few days and I could easily record it. But then…the show disappeared.
         But then it came back again and I got the clip to Paula. Turns out the clip was legit. But where was my doe? My mula? My greenbacks, why wasn’t I being compensated for my efforts?

The company I had registered my music with, the ones who are responsible for dispensing royalties earned, BMI, had turned their back on me.
Then Paula hits me with it. “Wait a minute, there are two Peter Christian Madsens registered with BMI.” So that’s it. This other Peter Christian Madsen has the stuff, he’s gotten the credit, the notoriety, the tens of dollars owed to me, yes ME!!!
End of part two
Next week: part 3

Free Jam! 

 On October 12 we will have a free jam. That's right absolutely free. By "free" I mean it won't cost anything, not avant garde jazz. On that day the Freight will be having an open house and they have asked if we could set up in the lobby. I said, "yes." So bring your self, your friends and your instrument and lets have a blast!

Note: The Cal football team is playing on the road this week so we will not have to pay the heavy parking fee in the lot next to the Freight . Go Bears!

Goin' South 

 Yeah, I went Northern Californian standards, anyway. Took a quick road trip with my friend Teja Gerken, former gear editor with Acoustic Guitar magazine, down to visit National Guitars and LR Baggs pickups. Teja is on the skds. He lost his job at AG and is now slumming it by hanging out with the likes of me. Actually, I think T's layoff wiil be a bit of a boom for his independent writing career. Hard to imagine him being fact, the purpose of our trip was the writing of an article for a German magazine for whom Teja is working. Apparently, the German magazines pay fairly well...

Both Baggs and National are located in and around San Luis Obispo, CA. SLO is pretty much a college town with quick access to Pismo Beach and surrounding environments. It has a touristy downtown and a very pretty campus where you would feel entirely at home wondering with abandon. Safe, secure...Curiously, we stayed at a dump of a motel. If you ever find yourself in SLO  avoid the Homstead Motel, which is located directly next to Hwy 101/1. Upon entry into suite 114 my nostrils were inundated by the smell of what I thought was cat piss. Teja assured me it was a cleaning product. Really!? I vow to never clean my house with whatever product that was....Luckily, we spent very little time at the hotel. Our first stop was Baggs. They were very cordial and took us out to lunch. For those of you who don't know, L.R. Baggs production line revolves around amplifying acoustic guitars. They manufacture many diiferent styles of pickups for acoustic guitars. Unfortunately, amplifying acoustic guitars, in my mind, is a no-win situation: you can never truly capture the sound of a great acoustic in a pickup. Unlike electric guitars, which depend on an ampliflier to "color" that sound; an acoustic guitar sounds best "unplugged."

I have tried many different pickups and amplifiers over the years, but my acoustic guitar sounds best when it is played acoustically and then, when necessary, miked and fed through a good PA system. Long and short of it.

Which provides a nice seguay to our trip to National Guitars. The original National Guitar company started producing guitars in 1927-28 with the desire to produce an instrument that could compete in volume with horn players and banjoes. These first guitars were made of steel or brass and had incredible volume -- remember electric guitars were still 10-15 years away. They also had a characteristic sound that we have come to associate with blues slide guitar and Hawaiian-style guitar playing. The original design and manufacturing of these guitars is an interesting story in and of itself, but I don't think I could do justice to it in a short blog piece. Suffice to say that in the late 1980's Don Young decided to restart manufacturing the  guitars based on the original designs, and when possible, using equipment from the era. The result is a company that is thoroughly dedicated to producing quality instruments using the best possible parts. I was also impressed by the fact that the company does not have a sales or marketing department -- the same folks who design and build the instruments and prototypes are the same guys who take the orders and build the website; everyone at National is "hands-on."

Below is a picture of Eric, Teja and Don from National

The Two Petes 

 As some of you know I split my time between two musical projects: there is the solo acoustic Pete, who performs acoustic blues, ragtime and slide guitar and then there is the mysterious "Buzzy Frets," my alter ego, who plays instrumental surf and rockabilly. This week I have been giving equal time to both personas: Buzzy Frets, who plays in the band by the same title, played a marvelous set in beautiful SF with the Mystery Men at the Knockout on Wednesday. It was reverb-drenched and slap-back-echoed mayhem at a fun dive in the MIssion.
      Pete Madsen, on the other hand, is playing at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival this weekend, where intricacy is highly valued. It's almost a Jekyll and Hyde existence. Buzzy is demonstrative, outgoing and somewhat loud. Pete is a bit more reserved and articulate. But they both have one thing in common: they value groove above all!
I love this dual persona! It gives me the perfect outlet to be both boisterous and subtle -- although some would argue that Pete is anything but subtle! We both, also, value dynamics -- do I sound schziophrenic? Both acts like to bring the volume and urgency "up" and then soothe it out, before slamming it home with a blast! This is the key to a successful set.
It's also the key to a successful solo. So, in your next solo, I highly recommend, that you start slow, build up, bring it down, and then slam it home with a zinger! 
nuff said.
No Jam on Saturday, August 17. I will be out of town.