Mar 13

Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes – Thomas Scott McKenzie


 { Note: I’ve been a bit lazy about getting my recent book reviews written. I read this book in early March. }

Since I’ve been taking guitar lessons recently, my reading interests have also turned in this direction. I came across this book while searching the Seattle Public Library online for interesting sheet music, so I thought I’d check it out and give it a read.

Power Chord is McKenzie’s account of his tracking down and interviewing the metal guitar heroes of his youth (and beyond). This turns out to be a motley set of characters, including:

  • Steve Vai
  • Oz Fox (Stryper)
  • Ace Frehley (KISS)
  • Bruce Kulick (KISS)
  • Warren DeMartini (Ratt)
  • Kip Winger (um, Winger)
  • Stacey Blades (L.A. Guns)
  • Phil Collen (Def Leppard)
  • Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest)
  • Rudy Sarzo (bass player for Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Dio)

The actual stories of the guitarists and their bands are pretty interesting, especially since many of them are past their heyday but continue to perform on smaller tours at venues like casinos and county fairs. However, I found myself disliking the author and the ongoing backstory / context of his project. For one thing, he’s constantly coming across as a Republican, frat boy,  guitar nerd which put me off (apologies to any of my readers who fit this description).  Right from the beginning of the book, he talks about his lifelong obsession with KISS and similar groups and describes his lovingly-maintained collection of eleven expensive guitars. However – HE DOESN’T ACTUALLY PLAY THE GUITAR!?! He has this weird fascination with the idea of his ‘guitar heroes’ and constantly obsesses about it, but he seems somehow disconnected from the reality of what being a guitar player is really like. To his credit, he does go into some of this with his interviews and he even decides to start taking lessons during the course of his project.

If you’re at all interested in the stories of iconic guitar players from the late 70’s through early 90’s, there’s probably something in this book for you. Hopefully you can put up with the author better than I could.

Feb 13

Road Trip == Classic Rock

For the record, let me state here that I’m a radio snob. I avoid listening to commercial radio whenever possible, generally dividing my time between my NPR station (KUOW) and the University of Washington’s KEXP. Occasionally (i.e. during pledge drives) I’ll check out some of the other local stations, but between the repetition, commercials and inane DJ chatter, I’d almost prefer to drive in silence.

Even for commercial stations that nominally play music I might like, such as KNDD, the repetition kills me. For example, I got in the habit of saying that every time I tune in, they’re playing a Red Hot Chili Peppers or Foo Fighters song. Eventually, in a moment of self-reflection, I decided to test my hypothesis against reality.

Most radio stations these days have a website that also shows playlist information. Being a software developer, I figured I could programmatically access this data gain some insights. As it turns out, both KNDD and KISW use the same back-end service for for their playlist data. By observing the browser conversation with their websites, I was able to directly leverage the underlying REST API to generate the following data. Note that I ran this experiment in November 2011. It’s a little stale, but telling nonetheless.


Here are the top 20 bands (and number of plays) offered by KNDD over a one-week period. I also found it interesting that they played 84 different bands over the course of a day, but only 170 unique bands over the course of a week. I was happy to see that the predominance of Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters confirmed my gut feeling 🙂



Here is a week’s worth of KISW band data. They were even worse than KNDD, with only 136 unique bands played over the course of a week.



Finally, here’s the KEXP data. Unlike the above stations, this data is for a single, 24-hour period, not a week! How many unique bands were played over this time? 252.

kexpAlso, KEXP didn’t expose a data source for their playlist info. At one point, I even mailed them asking about it, suggesting I could simply parse their website’s HTML as a worst case option. Here’s the response I got.

Hi Jeff,

We intentionally do not offer a rest service for our 
metadata (aka the playlist information) as we license 
that data and are not allowed to publish it to third 
parties. You could parse our playlist data, but you 
would then also be violating the terms of our site. :(
(see here: http://kexp.org/about/privacy.asp#SITE TERMS)

We do however, work with a number of developers who 
donate their time to help us build new features, etc. 
(our android and iphone apps were built this way)

Happy to discuss further if you have questions!

Aaron Starkey
KEXP Online Support

 Road Trips and Classic Rock

Anyway, let’s get back to the original point of this post. While I don’t like commercial radio, I do find myself indulging in a guilty pleasure whenever I take a road trip: I listen to a classic rock station. There’s just something about mindless driving coupled with mindless “rockin’ out” that works for me. For our recent 4.5 hour drive to the Rolling Huts, the station of choice was 102.1 The Quake, Central Washington’s Rock Station. Amazingly, we were able to listen to it all the way from Snoqualmie Pass to the Methow Valley.

Now Donna isn’t a big fan of classic rock. However, she agrees to listen to it on our road trips, so I suspect she secretly LOVES it. In any case, she freely offers her critical opinions on the genre. She’s even started to develop a ranking system for bands, which so far goes something like this: Pink Floyd is the worst (they have nothing to say and take forever to say it), followed by Led Zeppelin and then Steely Dan. This is about all we could work out on our recent trip, since her natural inclination is to simply lump them all together as “bad”.

Also, a fun game you can play with classic rock is called “Analyze the Lyrics”. While many songs can be pretty straight-forward, we enjoyed taking a stab at Phil Collin’s In the Air Tonight (note: what qualifies as “classic rock” seems pretty loose). It’s actually a pretty creepy song that seems to be about secrets and revenge. My takeaway was that I probably don’t want to get on Phil’s bad side. Also, as it turns out, we’re not the only people to speculate about the lyrical content of this song. There’s even a Snopes article about it!