When instrumentals speak louder than words

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

“Music and Lyrics by…” are the standard credits by which songwriters make a living. When both of these are good, they can make a good song into a great song. When they’re both great, then you have something memorable. But what happens when words just seem to get in the way? You end up with some of the greatest examples of musical expression: instrumentals.

Instrumentals have been around forever: in classical music, in jazz, in roots music, but once Rock and Roll musicians started…


Why live Rock albums are a lost art and should be treasured

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 1976, an unusual phenomenon occurred that would shine a light on Rock artists in a way that had previously been reserved for die-hard fans, and caused purists and critics alike to reconsider past opinions — a live album dominated the charts (reaching #1 and becoming the best selling album of 1976) and changed the musical conversation for decades to come. The double live album, Frampton Comes Alive!, was released to huge sales and quickly became the bible…


How Some Diminutive Musicians became Rock Giants

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

Irish Poet Francis Duggan wrote of Death being the “Great Equalizer.” Educational reformer Horace Mann felt that education was the great equalizer. There is also a broad chorus who feel that music is the true great equalizer. I’m gonna run with this last one.

If you’re simply a fan of good music, when you hear a song, your first thoughts are probably not concerned with what the sizes and shapes of the musicians are. You can’t hear tall or skinny or short and…


Is Billie Eilish reliving history or righting it?

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

At the 2020 GRAMMY awards in January, artist Billie Eilish won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Her brother, Finneas, also collected five GRAMMYs that night as well, some shared with his sister, some on his own. The last time anyone ran the board of major awards like that was in 1981. …


When Rory Gallagher made Irish guitarists matter

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Plaid shirt, ‘burst Strat, killer riffs

A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 1971, voters in the UK paper Melody Maker chose Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher as the International Guitar Player of the Year, ahead of such notable contemporaries as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Steve Howe. At the peak of British guitarists’ dominance over rock and their interpretation of American blues starting a resurgence of interest in blues guitar playing, an Irishman with no major record label backing or radio hits captured the attention of not only music fans, but his contemporaries and…


When actors act like musicians…and the world shrugs

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 2019, an album of original tracks, Rise, was released by a band that started out in 2015 covering Classic Rock songs, such as “School’s Out” and “Whole Lotta Love.” The band is led by three highly successful artists: Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, long-time rock veteran Alice Cooper, and…Johnny Depp

Wait…is this a musical group?

(Yes, hang on, let me finish.)

They call themselves, Hollywood Vampires, and Johnny Depp is their guitarist and occasional vocalist.

Captain Jack Sparrow is the leader of…


Were the Rolling Stones actually the best band of the British Invasion?

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Go ahead…bite the Big Apple

There has been a decades old dialogue about which band was better: the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Such discourse should seem ludicrous when you’re talking about something as creatively subjective as music, but once the Beatles showed up to insane crowds greeting them at airports, history-making appearances on Ed Sullivan, and a Shea Stadium concert that no one ever actually heard due to the screaming crowd, the whole “invasion” became more of a phenomenon. And, like any phenomenon, it warranted a curious eye for cultural, social and…


How Grace Slick unabashedly ushered in the age of the female rock star

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

“I’m getting ready to sing. Some guy in the audience shouts: ‘Hey Gracie! Take off your chastity belt!’ I look directly at him and say: ‘Hey, I don’t even wear underpants.’ I pull my skirt up for a beaver shot, and the audience explodes with laughter. I can hear the guys in the band behind me muttering: ‘Oh, Jesus.’” — Grace Slick recalling a Jefferson Airplane show in Chicago in 1973

Rock and Roll is about power…


The Eddie Van Halen/Thelonius Monk Correlation

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

Accompanying the current Play It Loud exhibit of original guitars and gear used throughout the history of modern rock at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are video testimonials by some of the artists on display: Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Eddie Van Halen, in particular. Each of these artists use their own words to explain their approach to playing, writing, finding the perfect tone, and generally creating music. The artists interviewed each represent very significant milestones across different eras and…


Why music might be Canada’s greatest export, not weird bacon

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In the early 60’s, the American music scene was subject to the loud, brash and all engrossing British Invasion. According to the Encylopaedia Britannica (that’s British/Latin for — “we know everything”): “These charming invaders had borrowed (often literally) American rock music and returned it — restyled and refreshed — to a generation largely ignorant of its historical and racial origins.” (So they were “charming” and we were “ignorant”? How about I return a restyled and refreshed middle finger back at…

Kenneth McKay

Strum and Bang — a conversation not just about guitars, drums, keyboards and vocals, but about any musical moment that still sends that chill up your spine.

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