Wednesday 17 June 2015

Lenny Breau's Five O'clock Bells from 1979 [acoustic guitar] [lossless]

My favourite record from him.  If anyone doesn't know this gentleman well-known in jazz circles, please listen to this.  There is no one, repeat, no one who has ever played the guitar like him either before or since (he passed away in the early 1980s).

Why do I say this?  Have a listen to the trademark harmonics plus chords style that makes one gape open-mouthed in disbelief.  Anyone who has ever attempted to master the picking of harmonics on the guitar especially can appreciate what he does with these in some of his scales made up entirely of these notes.

In his own words:

"I approach the guitar like a piano. I've reached a point where I transcend the instrument. A lot of the stuff I play on the 7-string guitar is supposed to be technically impossible, but I spent over twenty years figuring it out. I play the guitar like a piano, there's always two things going on at once. I'm thinking melody, but I'm also thinking of a background. I play the accompaniment on the low strings."

You think he's showing off a little?  Not at all-- have a listen to the opening to the first track, in which he's clearly indulging in a little gratuitous virtuosity:

Admittedly it's an idiotic old jazz standard again, but man, does he ever play it beautifully.

A very basic bio from discogs;

Accomplished guitarist who developed an unique playing style blending, country, classical, jazz and flamenco. Often in the same arrangements.  In the beginning, he found inspiration in musicians like Merle Travis on traditional fingerpicking style, and Bill Evans when it came to harmonics and approach.  He has been sited to be one of the most influential guitarist by many pro guitarists both while he was alive and posthumously, and gained recognition by the likes of Chet Atkins, who he became great friends with and collaborated with in the studio. Over time he sought to continue the development of his playing styles by using custom made 7-string guitars.  He had an long battle with drug use since the 60´s and was found drowned in his pool in Los Angeles. 

This bio glosses over his intense heroin addiction which led to his demise (an unsolved homicide), and really, was the most significant aspect of his adult life.  An excellent documentary was made on the subject by his daughter.  Like artists Chet Baker (not Atkins), Curt Kobain, my favourite singer Marvin Gaye (who was shot by his father!) his art surely became great due to the profound suffering he must have experienced.  These people (perhaps Radka Toneff was one of them), have such an excess amount of sensitivity and emotion that they inevitably become drawn to the cheap promises of drugs as a fix for their pain and tragedies, though in the interim, they are able to toss off the most astonishingly beautiful ideas to the rest of us in the audience who watch with jealousy when we really should be terrified of the horrors they have experienced...

Rest in peace now, Lenny (August 5, 1941 – August 12, 1984) ...

A recent release of an LA 1984 bootleg, produced by none other than Randy Bachman, was publicized quite a bit lately.  I haven't heard it myself, I've listened to all the original 70s albums and this one is-- by far-- the most beautiful, due mostly to the fact he composed almost all the music here, and the melancholy, gentle, and thoughtful sound of his playing is just heartbreaking when you read a bit about his life.  You can even hear him sing on the title track in his gruff, druggy baritone voice, clearly unpracticed, but gorgeous in its intense sincerity:

Here one of the oddities is the polyrhythm after the chorus in which the Bflat strummed chord and the e-c-d-g 'bell' melody are in different rhythms (4 over 3?)-- something one virtually never hears done on a guitar, unless there are two guitarists of course.  On a piano it's easy due to the separation of hands.  A classic old story about him tells of Atkins, before he met him, walking by a studio and saying, who are those two great guitarists playing? to which they answer, actually there's only one man in there.

As I've said before of other music, this song is so beautiful it's like magic.

At the end of the record is a track penned by McCoy Tyner called Visions, and it's the big masterpiece here.  Pulling out a nice slightly fuzzy electric guitar you will be shocked by the simultaneous two-guitar sound on this track in which melody or solo and bass comp are in different rhythms again (here simplified by the fact it's in E), and the brilliance of the soloing and the mystical sound.  Note towards the end when the modal E minor transforms as if in a period of enlightenment into E major: wow.  That's religion, for me.


  1. lenny breau lossless

  2. Thank you for this gem, and for your work.

    You have a place in history. You save marvellous music from oblivion.


  3. Hi bro, good to say hello again my friend,
    while enjoying the long golden evenings in these
    merry flowers of June...
    ...beginning that summer night magic!
    And what haunting magic this is, my goodness...
    that '5 o'clock Bells in the Morning' is truly beautiful,
    can't wait to hear the rest, Thank You heartily bro.
    ...All right, here we all are...
    ...let's see, how about my latest "cut-up"...
    --- MINUTES TO GO ---
    1.I Robot...Alan Parsons Project
    2.I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You...Alan Parsons Project
    3.There's No Justice In Life...Snakefinger
    4.Dog Eat Dog...Adam & The Ants
    5.It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)...R.E.M
    7.From The End Of The World...ELO
    8.Girl Gone Bad...Van Halen
    10.Badman's Song...Tears For Fears
    11.Beatnik Party...Snakefinger
    13.Overkill...Men At Work
    14.Fighting The Demon...Barnes & Barnes
    15.The Beast...Aphrodite's Child
    17.International...Cafe Jacques
    18.Hyper-Gamma-Spaces...Alan Parsons Project
    ...then there's the cousin cut-up, finished just before this last MayDay...
    --- BLOWBACK ---
    1.The Dig At Devil's End...Doctor Who
    2.The Eve Of The War...Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds
    3.Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)...Talking Heads
    4.Guns In The Sky...INXS
    5.Out Ta Get Me...Guns -N- Roses
    6.War (and hide)...Frankie Goes To Hollywood
    7.Eminence Front...The Who
    8.The Road To Hell (part II)...Chris Rea
    9.Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy)...Roger Hodgson
    10.Underground...Men At Work
    11.First We Take Manhattan...Leonard Cohen
    12.Civil War...Guns -N- Roses
    13.Silent Running...Mike & The Mechanics
    14.Red Sector A...Rush
    15.(I'll Love You) Till The End Of The World...Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
    16.It Takes Time...Patti Smith & Fred Smith
    ...Enjoy my friends!

  4. Happy Summer Julian and thanks for Lenny haven't heard this since a friend of mine bought it in 1979

  5. Before Breau, also Johnny Smith talked about approaching the guitar like a piano (supposed to be technically impossible, yes). I love Smith's work, should check more of Breau's. If anyone's interested in checking (more of) Smith's, I think my favorite albums are "Plays Jimmy Van Heusen", "Sound Of the Johnny Smith Guitar" and "Reminiscing". I could hear elements similar to Smith's technique on that first Breau clip. The harp-like things for instance... Sounded beautiful.