The Beats Go On

For any professionally driven and/or neurotically habitual
visitor to the NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center each
January, the meaning of the term “too long at the fair” is bound to
strike. It might be two days or two hours into the sprawling music
merchants and instrument expo (NAMM = National Association of Music
Merchants). You reach a point where the sheer muchness of the
experience wears on your mental receptors.

Suddenly, you feel like a bumpkin on a first encounter with the
big city, initially dazzled but soon enervated by the multiplicity
of perspectives and values of right and wrong. Is it wrong, for
instance, to ogle the scantily-clad cheesecake gals propped up at
certain booths, in cornball conventioneer fashion? The jury is
out.

On the other hand, there may be no other more democratic forum
in the music world than NAMM, where all manner of music-related
businessfolk gather, from staid Midwestern music retailers, to the
expanding domain of software nerds seeking newer versions, and
sneering rock ’n’ rollers. Music becomes an evermore fragmented
cultural realm, broken up into different demographics, radio
formats, and lifestyle flavors. Here is a rare place where the
gamut meets. No wonder the experience gets dizzying. From the
local-ish contingent, familiar music businesses put out their
shingles. From San Luis Obispo, kitschy-fun Ernie Ball had a
Caddyshack-themed little piece of convention floor real estate,
while SLO’s National Reso-phonic Guitars (i.e., Dobros) and Triplet
Harps held forth with humbler, more unplugged wares in the
downstairs zone.

The German-made Warwick basses, as well as Framus guitars, are
funneled through a Santa Barbara distributor. And, reassuringly,
there is always Seymour Duncan, the world-famous custom guitar
pickup — and then some — manufacturer, based in our own good land
burg of Goleta. Many of your favorite pop stars and other concerned
guitarists have Duncan pickups tucked into their instruments. This
year’s Seymour Duncan product line included new guitar effects
pedals, aiming at a warm retro sound — adding polish to the days
and memories of old.

Nostalgia is alive and well in the electric guitar world. Just
ask the throng of folks in the Fender booth gawking at Jeff Beck’s
well-battered old Telecaster. If anyone knows how to soulfully
abuse a guitar, it’s Beck, and this object glowed with a
funky-assed mythic aura.

Sensory-overloaded NAMMsters can always find respite from the
racket, in genuine musical form. Over lunch, the old-timey Tora
Bora Boys displayed their bluegrassy grit ’n’ glow and sang
honeycomb harmony on “Mother Ain’t Dead, She’s Only Sleeping.” The
womb-like Taylor guitar booth hosted new artist Susie Suh (who
played SOhO with Glen Phillips a year ago, before her fine Epic
album came out), dishing out her nicely moody originals and a fresh
take on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

On a sadder note, this was the first year in many that Bob
Moog — who died last year — didn’t show up at his NAMM booth,
extolling the virtues of the Moogerfooger or talking shop and high
musical ideals with any and all.

NAMM 2006 reminded us that the marketplace and the tools of the
trade change only incrementally from year to year, despite the
built-in capitalist urge to make things seem newer, better, bolder,
and hipper. Musical tools change shape, color, and programming, but
the song — and the desperate need for it — remains largely the
same.

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