Ranger Up - A Sad Tale of Customer Service Failures

As a veteran, I love Ranger Up's products. Sometimes their products make me laugh, while at other times their products make me proud of my time in the service. In fact, I wear at least one of Ranger Up's t-shirts every week. But my love for that company was seriously damaged when they completely failed again and again to fulfill a very basic order. To better understand what I mean, here are the details:

I placed an order near the end of November for three products that I wanted to give as Christmas presents to my son-in-law, who is a fellow veteran. Two weeks later, I received only one of the products, even though Ranger Up's website and email notifications claimed that the order had been fulfilled. I understand that mistakes happen, especially around the holidays, and I wasn't concerned because there was still plenty of time to rectify the situation. To that end, I tried using the contact form on Ranger Up's website, then I tried using the web-based chat on their website, then I tried sending emails to their customer service address, and I left a couple voice mail messages at their customer service telephone number. I heard nothing from all of these attempts. Once again, I understand that the holiday season is busier than normal, but still - I heard not the slightest peep from Ranger Up.

After several days of hearing nothing, I followed a friend's suggestion and I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account. To my amazement, I heard back in a few hours, whereupon I was informed that I needed to allow 2-3 business days for follow ups from Ranger Up's staff due to the holiday volume. (I had already done that, of course.) But I was assured that someone named "Regina" would follow up with me that day to get everything squared away.

But I heard nothing more that day. Nor the next day.

As I mentioned before, the missing items were meant to be Christmas gifts, and by that time it was already a few days away from Christmas. With that in mind, I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account again, and I informed them that I had already waited longer than their requisite 2-3 business days, yet I still had not heard anything from them - despite assurances that I would hear from them on the same day that I had contacted them through Facebook. I pointed out that in order to receive the rest of my order in time for Christmas, Ranger Up would have have to ship my remaining items by 2-day mail. The following day I received an apology for my order "falling through the cracks," and I was assured that Ranger Up would ship the rest of my original order via FedEx, and Ranger Up would cover the additional shipping costs. (Just to be safe, I bought my son-in-law a couple extra gifts.)

A day passed, then two, then three... and eventually Christmas arrived - but still I had received nothing from Ranger Up. On the day after Christmas, I received an email that my order was finally on its way. By this point, I didn't hold my breath.

I'll spare you the additional details and cut to the chase - the remaining items from my order arrived today. FIVE. DAYS. AFTER. CHRISTMAS. More than a week after I was assured that my order would arrive in time for Christmas, more than two weeks after I first contacted Ranger Up to let them know that there was a problem, and more than a month after I placed the original order, which for any other company would have been plenty of time for the holidays.

At the end of the day, I'm a realist; I completely understand that things go wrong. And I'm patient; I do not call companies and scream at people who are trying to do their jobs. And in the grander scheme of life, missing a couple gifts for the holidays is a really small thing; I have my health, I have a wonderful wife, I have great kids, and I have cute grandkids.

But all that being said, Ranger Up failed. Big time. Again. And again. And again.

On Ranger Up's contact page, they proudly proclaim the following:

"From August 26th to 5 January 2016, Ranger Up used a third-party partner for customer service and fulfillment. During that period of time many orders did not get fulfilled and many customers were ignored. Those days are over. We will get back to you within 1-2 business days, and we will remedy all issues to your satisfaction. We learned the valuable lesson that no one cares about our customers as much as we do and we look forward to being us again in 2017."

From my perspective, it seems as if nothing has changed; my order was not fulfilled, I was clearly ignored, I did not hear from Ranger Up within 1-2 business days, and they certainly did not remedy any issues to my satisfaction.

Ranger Up's website also proudly proclaims the following: "Founded by veterans with an ethos forged by service." I'm not sure how things work in the military now, but in my day a soldier who demonstrated that level of failure again and again would have had his butt kicked over and over until he learned how to do his job.

Political and Civil Divisions

A little while ago, one of my friends posted the following meme to Facebook:

obama-divisions

I have to say, I disagree with that meme. To that end, let's look at the past four decades of US Presidents:

1976-1980 President Carter narrowly won his election; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1980-1988 President Reagan won both of his elections in massive landslides; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1988-1992 President Bush Sr. won his election in a massive landslide; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1992-2000 President Clinton won both of his elections due to fact that the Conservative vote was split between the official Republican candidate and Ross Perot running as an independent Conservative; without Perot's interference and hubris, the official Republican candidate would have defeated Clinton in either election. Nevertheless, Clinton made a lot of mistakes in office, yet he and his wife spent their entire tenure in office claiming that: 1) they didn't remember making any mistakes (even when caught), or 2) everything was a "vast right-wing conspiracy" pitted against them. In short, the Clintons did not own up to their mistakes; they blamed everything on their opponents, which created the foundation of the division that we now see.
2000-2008 President Bush Jr. narrowly won both of his elections, although the first several months of his first term were wasted on the incessant whining of the DNC and Al Gore, which dragged the country through a never-ending stream of recounts and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, and furthered the climate of division that was created during the Clinton years. Nevertheless, despite years of being mocked by the press, Bush Jr. took ownership of his mistakes.
2008-2016 President Obama won both of his elections by a wide majority; he made mistakes in office, yet he largely followed President Clinton's example by blaming others for his mistakes - although never to the same degree as the Clintons. However, President Obama created a great deal of additional division by refusing to become involved in a myriad of press-manufactured riots that occurred during his tenure in office; there was never a President more situated to step in and request that everyone involved lay down their arms and cease fighting, yet he did nothing - thereby proving once and for all that his Nobel Peace Prize was a farce. That being said, the Obama presidency was also marred by the continuous promotion of Liberal agendas that Conservatives find anathema to common sense, scientific thought, and basic morality; this created additional division, to the point where some pundits now consider our country engaged in a "Cold Civil War."

It is unmistakable that the roots of political division within this country were planted firmly during the Clinton years; both preceding Presidents (Reagan and Bush Sr.) were elected to office in massive landslides and therefore had the support of most of the country behind them. When those Presidents made mistakes, they publicly took ownership of their mistakes. However, they were superseded by a serial liar/rapist who only won both of his elections because the Conservative ticket was split between two candidates running in parallel, and Clinton spent his entire tenure in office shifting the blame for all of his mistakes to someone else. The flames of division may have been fanned into a bonfire during the Obama years, but they were ignited during the Clinton years.


UPDATE: To be fair, I should add a note that the president from 2016-2020 was also a serial liar/philanderer, who also barely won his election, who also constantly shifted the blame for his mistakes to others, and who also created a great deal of additional division. If there was a bonfire of division during the Obama years, there was a raging inferno of division during the Trump years.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I tend to work late. A lot. Most of the time, in fact. I have done so my whole life - even during my years in the Army; despite being required to show up for formation around 6am every morning, (and therefore rolling out of bed at 5am), I still stayed up until 2am almost every night. It's simply the way that my brain is wired, I guess. To be honest - it often feels as though I'm living two lives at once, although I know of no other way to live.

That being said, it's not healthy. And I know that. I have written blogs about my experiences with Essential Tremors, and a lack of sleep makes my struggles with that disease so much worse. And yet, night after night I find myself back at my computer slogging through another list of issues that I feel I should have resolved a few days earlier. I just cannot seem to turn my brain on and off according to some other schedule - even if that schedule is being dictated by the rotation of the planet.

Out of frustration with my personal dilemma, I penned the following:

If you burn a candle at both ends
To slave throughout the night
It illuminates your toils
To your struggles brief respite

But its glow is a deception 
And does not dilute your plight
Its candescence will soon wither
As shadows reclaim their right

Two flames convey no solace 
For despite their pretty sight
Candles last for half as long
When they
burn with twice the light

burning-candle-both-ends


(H/T Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Paying Tribute to Freddie

Today marks the 28th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's untimely death in 1991 at the age of 45. I have been a fan of Freddie and Queen since the early 1970s, and to this day I wonder how much more Freddie would have accomplished had his excessive lifestyle not taken its toll. That being said, shortly before my wife and I visited Montreux, Switzerland, this past August, I learned that the city had placed a statute of Freddie Mercury along the shore of Lake Geneva as a memorial to the years that he had lived there. As it turns out, the hotel that we had already reserved was within perhaps a half-kilometer from the sculpture.

My wife and I arrived in Montreux in the early evening, and before dinner we walked along the boardwalk next to Lake Geneva, with the hopes that we would be able to find the memorial before it grew too dark. We found Freddie's statue just as the sun began to set, and my wife took the following two photos: the first image was of the sun setting beside Freddie, and the second was of me behaving like the tourist I was by imitating Freddie's famous pose in the quickly fading twilight.

freddie-at-sunset-with-me


Obviously my jacket was nowhere near as elaborate as Freddie's original, and my 360 camera on a monopod had to substitute for Freddie's microphone stand. Nevertheless, before his death, Freddie had said, "You can do what you want with my music, but don't make me boring." With that in mind, I would like to think that Freddie would be greatly amused by the number of tourists who fondly remember him as anything but boring.

Transcribing Lost in Germany by King's X

It's been a few months since I posted a guitar transcription, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been working on transcriptions - I just haven't been posting transcriptions. That being said, I decided that I was long overdue, so here's today's offering: "Lost in Germany" by King's X. (See https://youtu.be/hoyuCg-Exjs for the original song.)

Once again, my transcription is pretty faithful to the original, here are the main differences that I can think of:

  • The primary artistic license that I took was to remove some of the extraneous repeats from the outro, and I added an ending chord since the original recording fades out. That being said, I thought that the A (add 11/no 5) chord that I ended with matches the song quite well.
  • In measure 17, Ty Tabor changes up the guitar line for that single measure. However, I elected not to include that because I wanted to use the four repeats to simplify my transcription work. Yeah, that's kind of lazy on my part, but this is a free transcription so deal with it.
  • I think I do a pretty good job of nailing Jerry Gaskill's drum parts throughout the song. During the extra repeats in the outro he changes his fill at the end of each four-measure passage, and since I shortened my transcription you lose those.
  • I listened carefully to Doug Pinnick's bass parts, and I think my transcription of his parts are pretty close to what he's playing; I couldn't hear anything overly complex, though his groove/timing are really cool.

That's it for now. I have a few other transcriptions in the works that should be surprises, but I have no idea when I'll deliver on those, so don't hold your breath.

My List of 20 Most Influential Albums

I was recently challenged by two good friends (on the same day, no less) to post a list of the 20 albums that had the greatest impact on me. To be honest, I usually do not go in for that sort of thing. However, seeing as how I've already posted blogs for My Top Ten Favorite Rock Songs, A Few of My Favorite Guitar Solos, and My Thoughts About Rush's Studio Albums, I thought this was the kind of challenge that warranted a response - with one caveat: I'm too impatient to spread my list across 20 days. With that in mind, you get the whole list in one heaping serving of musical goodness.

Before I go any further, I want to establish a few particulars about the way I write my lists that I have used for the other lists that I have posted. First and foremost is that I only allow myself to have a single entry for each band/artist, otherwise I could easily fill an entire list with only two or three of my favorite bands. Second, you might find it interesting that some of the bands/artists who show up in my list of favorite rock songs or favorite guitar solos are not on my list of influential albums; for example: the Who. While "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" are two of my all-time favorite songs, I cannot point to any single album by the Who that I would consider as having had an influence on me. In addition, I would like to point out that several of the bands/artists listed here I haven't listened to in decades; these bands/artists were influential when I was starting out, but I abandoned them later as I progressed as a musician.

With all that being said, let's jump into the list - which is not necessarily in order. (Except #1 - which always belongs there.)

#1

Moving Pictures by Rush

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time that I am a huge fan of Rush, and I can name no other band that has had as enormous of an impact on my guitar playing. I spent more time trying to learn songs from Rush's albums than from any other band or artist in my lifetime, and my guitar skills improved dramatically as direct result of all that effort. Learning Alex Lifeson's complex chord phrasing and mastering the skills of shaping my sound by playing through dozens of guitar effects profoundly changed me as a guitarist. In addition, Alex's tone on songs like "Limelight" was next to perfect; I spent dozens of hours trying to dial in a sound that was close to his.

In fact, the most difficult part for me was choosing which album from Rush to show on this list, because several of their albums would easily foot the bill for having some of the greatest influence in my life. With that in mind, the following albums easily bubble to the top: 2112, Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures. That's not to say that I wasn't influenced or didn't love other albums by Rush; this list simply had the greatest impact. With that in mind, it was tough to choose which album to pick as having the greatest degree of influence on my life, with the two frontrunners being Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. I have played the song "Spirit of Radio" from Permanent Waves more than any other song in my lifetime, but in the end, listening to Moving Pictures and watching Rush perform it live on their subsequent tour had the greatest impact on me.

#2

Fragile by Yes

As with some of these bands/artists, I could name several albums from Yes that have had an impact on me, but Fragile is by far the most influential. When I first heard the opening notes of Roundabout in the early 1970s, I was amazed by both the clarity of the instruments and the adventurous complexity of the ensemble. Here was a band where every member was playing to their utmost ability, yet not competing with each other; instead, they blended into a wall of sound that was greater than the sum of their individual parts. I undoubtedly spent as much time trying to master Steve Howe's guitar parts as I did for Alex Lifeson or Eddie Van Halen. When I first started playing guitar, the music of Yes seemed untouchable; but as I improved as a musician, I eventually began to learn some of Yes' songs.

Howe eventually left Yes for a decade or so, during which time he was replaced by Trevor Rabin (who hates being referred to as "Steve Howe's Replacement"). Nevertheless, Trevor Rabin quickly emerged as one of my favorite members of Yes; there are times when I prefer Trevor Rabin playing some of Steve Howe's parts more than I like Steve Howe's personal interpretation. However, it should remain in everyone's mind that Steve Howe originally wrote all of those amazing parts, and Trevor Rabin just made a few improvements here and there. But at the end of the day, Steve Howe had a great deal of influence on my foundation as a musician, and Trevor Rabin came along many years later.

#3

Van Halen I by Van Halen

Like many guitarists in my day, Van Halen's eponymously-named first album blew me away. Eddie Van Halen's guitar work was unparalleled, and I spent more time than I would care to admit trying to learn how to do the amazing things that he was doing. It is by no stretch of the imagination that I can honestly say that something from Van Halen probably shows up every time I play the guitar, although this is more about how I phrase or arpeggiate chords than mad lead guitar skillz. That being said, I spent dozens of hours trying to learn the various sections of "Eruption" on the guitar; that's still a killer piece to play.

There were several other albums from Van Halen that also impacted my playing, but hands down it's the first album from them for the greatest influence. (See Rick Beato's great lecture called "The Van Halen Effect" for more about that. For that matter, you should simply watch any video from Rick Beato. They're all worth it.)

#4

The Wall by Pink Floyd

While I love several albums by Pink Floyd, there is only one album that had a great deal of influence on me, and that is easily Floyd's Magnum Opus The Wall. Trying to learn David Gilmour's guitar parts were difficult enough, but trying to match his sound was even more difficult. There was a point in my development as a guitarist where a great deal of what I was playing through echo units resembled David Gilmour.

There are songs off The Wall - like "Comfortably Numb" - which remain in multiple lists of my favorites.

#5

Back in Black by AC/DC

Yeah, I know... AC/DC... I've got to be kidding, right? Well, the truth is - when I first started out on the guitar, I was a big fan of AC/DC, and the first album that I owned from them was Back in Black. I spent a lot of time trying to learn the songs off that album, and in so doing I learned how to play barre chords, a lot of solos, integrate arpeggios in chord phrasings, etc. I learned a lot from that album, but then a few years later I sat down and learned everything that AC/DC had ever written in one weekend. Yup... Every. Single. Song. It was all too easy, and I realized that music had to be much harder. So I abandoned AC/DC for good, and I began to focus on Progressive Rock bands like Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd, etc. That being said, to this day I still credit AC/DC as having made me a better guitar player, if for nothing else than to teach me that music can be much, much better what AC/DC writes.

#6

1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) by Leo Kottke

In the early 1980s, the older brother of the keyboard player for one of the bands I was in introduced me to Leo Kottke's "Morning is the Long Way Home," which is the opening track off Leo's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album. I was completely blown away by what I heard; I had seen and heard amazing classical guitarists before, but I had never heard anything like the pyrotechnical fingerstyle prowess of Leo Kottke before.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 40 years trying to learn various pieces by Leo Kottke, and I should be ashamed that I can only count two songs of his in my repertoire. Nevertheless, Leo Kottke's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album had a profound impact on me, and made me want to seriously study fingerstyle guitar.

#7

Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy

Like many young guitarists in 1980, I was hooked on Randy Rhoads' guitar skills from the moment I first heard the song "Crazy Train." Randy was daring, imaginative, skilled, and an amazing song writer. I had the privilege of seeing Randy Rhoads twice in concert with Ozzy before his untimely death, and I have to say that each time was amazing; Randy seemed like he could do just about anything on the guitar. (He reminded me of Ritchie Blackmore in that respect, but I digress.) I learned a lot of techniques from seeing Randy in concert, and I learned a lot about the guitar while learning songs off this album.

To this day I wonder what would have happened to Randy Rhoads if he hadn't died so young. With that in mind, once Randy Rhoads was killed, I stopped listening to Ozzy completely - because the only reason I listened to him at all was because of Randy Rhoads.

#8

Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani

This was the first album which - for me - proved that a guitar could own an entire album. No vocals - just guitar. Joe Satriani's songwriting was amazing, but his technical prowess was off the charts. I spent a lot of time struggling to learn a lot of Joe's signature pieces off that album, with varying degrees of success. (Primarily "Satch Boogie" and "Always with Me, Always with You"). But in the end, the entire experience made me a better guitar player.

I love several other shredders like Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Tony MacApline, Gary Hoey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Neil Zaza, etc., but Joe Satriani's ground-breaking foray into guitar-oriented instrumentals is the album that had the most impact on me.

#9

Double Live Gonzo! by Ted Nugent

When I was first starting out on the guitar in the 1970s, Ted Nugent was at (or near) the height of his popularity. I played several songs by "Uncle Ted" in my first few rock bands, and it was a struggle for me to learn those parts at the time. This live album was a great compilation of all the Ted Nugent songs that I wanted to learn, so it's the only album of his that I purchased.

That being said, by the early 1980s I didn't really listen to Ted Nugent anymore. (He's far too crude... that was amusing when I was a teenage boy, but now it's just annoying.) That being said, every once in a while I might find myself playing a groove that owes its origin to "Uncle Ted."

#10

Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd

I learned a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs when I was starting out in the 1970s; for example: "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man," "Tuesday's Gone," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Call Me the Breeze," "Saturday Night Special," etc. However, there was one song that every guitarist at my high school had to know before they were taken seriously: "Free Bird." Not just the rhythm parts, you had to know how to play the lead parts, and often you would play those live with another guitarist with whom you were in competition; sort of a "last man standing/trial by fire" contest.

So if I have to pick just one Lynyrd Skynyrd album, I have to pick the album that introduced "Free Bird" to the world.

#11

Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin

Like I mentioned about Lynyrd Skynyrd, I learned a lot of Led Zeppelin's tracks when I was first learning to play the guitar back in the 1970s. And much like Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "Free Bird," the famous/infamous "Stairway to Heaven" was a song that every guitarist at my high school had to know how to play before they could be taken seriously as an up and coming axe slinger. That being said, that album also produced other memorable pieces that I learned back the day: "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Going to California," and "When the Levee Breaks."

While I owned several other albums by Led Zeppelin, this album stands out above the rest. That being said, I stopped listening to Led Zeppelin in the mid-1980s, and now I would go so far as to say that I have developed a serious dislike for the band. (For lots of reasons, although their unabashed plagiarism of other people's music is the primary reason.)

#12

October by U2

This may seem a bit out of place for die-hard U2 fans who flock to albums like The Joshua Tree, but U2's second album - October - is when I first learned about the band, and their post-punk, melodic rawness was kind of cool. That being said, like many of my fellow guitarists - I was particularly enamored by the Edge's sound.

"Gloria" was the song that got me hooked at first, and other songs like "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" followed thereafter, but I have to say, if it hadn't been for "Gloria" off the October album, I'm not sure when (or if) I would have decided to like U2. (OK, yeah, sure - I would have loved "Where the Streets Have No Name" when it came out. And who doesn't love that song?)

#13

Boston by Boston

Boston's first two albums - the eponymously-named Boston and Don't Look Back - were both enormous hits. But still, it was their first album that put Boston on the map, spawning such hits as "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind," "Foreplay/Long Time," "Rock & Roll Band," "Smokin'," and "Hitch a Ride." For a young guitarist as I was at the time of its release, Tom Scholz's guitar sound was amazing. His distortion, tone, echo, etc., everything was spot-on perfect. I used to have a setting on the Electro-Harmonix graphic EQ that I used when playing live that would work in combination with my Rat distortion unit to recreate Tom Scholz's guitar sound from that first Boston album.

#14

Leftoverture by Kansas

In my early days as a Prog Rocker, one of the bands that I was in for a few months had a few songs by Kansas in their setlist. I already liked Kansas, and I had seen them in concert a few years earlier, but apart from learning the song "Dust in the Wind" as a fingerpicking exercise, I had never taken the time to learn anything else from them. The songs that I had to learn were: "Portrait," "Point of Know Return," and "Carry On Wayward Son." All three of those songs were a difficult challenge to master; Kerry Livgren's guitar parts were so unlike anything else that I was currently playing. Two of the songs that I learned were from Point of Know Return, with the remaining song from Leftoverture. However, "Dust in the Wind" is the only song that I still play to this day, and that one song had a greater impact on my finger-picking than almost any other song. With that in mind, Leftoverture beats out Point of Know Return for having a greater influence on me.

#15

Abacab by Genesis

I have to admit, Genesis probably wouldn't have made this list if it had not been for an audition that I had in the mid-1980s. Here's the story: there was a band in town that featured a couple of really talented musicians that I knew from another group that had recently disbanded, and they were looking for a new guitarist. Through one way or another, I was given the chance to audition, and the bulk of the songs that they gave me were from the Abacab album by Genesis. I had listened to Genesis before, and I even might have had one or two of their albums, but I hadn't taken the time to learn anything from them, and as such - I had zero appreciation for them. But as I struggled my way through the parts that I had to learn, and by the time that I passed my audition, I had a newfound appreciation for the band, but I also was stretched in a different direction from the other Progressive Rock bands that I had been focusing on.

#16

Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson

I have a confession to make: I first heard "Cliffs of Dover" from Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom album on the military's AFN radio network when I was driving through Germany in 1990. I was headed into the mountains, where I knew that I was going to lose radio reception, so I pulled my car off the road so I wouldn't miss any of that piece. Like my initial reaction to hearing "Eruption" by Van Halen and "Satch Boogie" by Joe Satriani, I was blown away by Eric Johnson's musicianship. Even more than that, when I began to learn "Cliffs of Dover," I was amazed at how deceptively difficult it was to play. To this day, however, there are a few tricks here and there from Eric Johnson's style that show up in my playing.

#17

Progressions of Power by Triumph

I was a big fan of the Canadian power trio Triumph in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the first album that I bought by them was 1980's Progressions of Power. There were a few things that stand out as having impacted my playing:

  • First of all, Rik Emmett's "Fingertalking" solo was an amazing flamenco/fingerstyle piece that I had mastered at one time or other, but it was quite a struggle for me to do so. In learning that one piece, I perfected my rasgueado picking style, (only to learn a few years that I was doing it backwards when I studied classical guitar).
  • The second piece off this album that got my attention was "I Live For The Weekend," which was a straight-ahead rock piece. That song had little to speak for it - it was actually rather simple, but it was important in my development as a guitarist, because I learned the minor pentatonic scale from all of Rik Emmett's solos on that piece.

I eventually purchased several of Triumph's albums and learned a bunch of their music, but I would have to say that Progressions of Power had the most-lasting impact.

#18

A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band by Rich Mullins

Most people have probably never heard of this album, but it was where I first heard Rich Mullins play the Hammered Dulcimer on the song "Creed." I instantly fell in love with the instrument, which led to my wife buying a dulcimer for me for Christmas, which led to meeting with a whole host of absolutely wonderful dulcimer people throughout the Mid-American and Eastern regions of the United States at various dulcimer festivals. (See HammerOn for some of those folks.) I eventually realized one of my musical bucket list items by playing Rich Mullins's "Creed" live with an orchestra several years ago.

So, yeah - in terms of a single album having a profound effect, I think Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band has got to be on my list, because it literally changed the course of my life.

#19

Empire by Queensrÿche

I wasn't quite sure if I would leave this album on my list; I would add it to my list, then bump it off when I added something else. Nevertheless, it managed to survive the cut. I was introduced to Queensrÿche by the same two friends who challenged me to create this list, and Queensrÿche was my initial foray into the heavier world of Progressive Metal. (Which I would also consider King's X a member, but more about them later.)

I would have to say that at one time or other I learned to play nearly all the songs off this album on the guitar, and giving credit where it's due, this album helped shape some of my songwriting for a season. That being said, I haven't really listened to Queensrÿche in decades.

#20

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

This was the album where I was first introduced to Jimi Hendrix, whom everyone I knew hailed as the greatest guitar player who ever lived when I was first learning to play the guitar. Depending on whether you had the US or the UK version of this album, you received different songs, but I managed to learn "Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," Foxy Lady," and "Are You Experienced?" from this album, and I spent a lot of time trying to perfect Jimi's tone and his dizzying array of odd guitar sounds. Nevertheless, as I purchased more albums from Hendrix, my interest in his style waned, and I eventually gave away all my albums of his.

To be honest, I almost entered the Woodstock Soundtrack for Jimi Hendrix, although the only reason why I bought the Woodstock Soundtrack was because I wanted to own Jimi Hendrix's amazing performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze" from that album. That being said, almost all of the rest of the Woodstock Soundtrack album is crap. Seriously. While I realize that a lot of the musicians were probably drunk or stoned, that doesn't mean that I have to forgive them for some really, really bad performances. (And of course, you can read about what I think of hippies.)

Conspicuously missing from this list are a few bands/artists whom I should honorably mention:

  • King's X - I love most of their albums prior to Tape Head, (which was a bit of clunker in my opinion). Ty Tabor's guitar parts are amazing, and while I have taken the time to learn a few of their songs, I cannot honestly say that any of their albums had any serious impact on me.
  • Queen - I loved Queen, Brian May's guitar work is amazing, and I certainly learned how to play several of their songs. But once again, I cannot point to any of their albums and say that it had any impact on my playing.
  • Aerosmith - I learned several songs of theirs over the years, although I was never a full-fledged fan of theirs. Joe Perry was an amazing guitarist, and I picked up a few things from him, but I can't point to any single album as being influential in my life.
  • Stavesacre - I believe that I have seen Stavesacre more times in concert than any other band. (Well, maybe a couple times less than Rush.) And even though I have learned how to play several of their songs on the guitar, I can't say that they helped me develop as a musician. (Stavesacre came along after I'd already been playing for decades.)
  • The Who - As I mentioned in my introduction, I love the Who; I've seen them in concert, and I've learned a lot of their songs over the years. But still, I cannot say that any single album from them had a profound impact on me. (Although their album Who's Next almost makes the cut.)
  • Gary Moore - As both a solo artist and as a member of bands like Thin Lizzy, I learned several pieces from Gary Moore, and a few of his guitar pyrotechnics used to show up in my live guitar solos. (Just the flashy bits.)
  • And last but not least - Styx, Journey, Zebra, and 38 Special also had small degrees of impact on me as a guitarist.

That wraps it up for this post.


UPDATES

As time goes on, I'll add any glaring omissions from my list of honorable mentions as I think of them.

  • The Police - I wasn't crazy about Sting's voice when I first heard The Police; I couldn't figure out why a former British punk rocker had such a weird accent. But as a guitar player, I was amazed at Andy Summers' tone and chord structures; I still get arthritis just thinking about playing some of Andy Summers' rhythm guitar parts from songs like "Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," etc.
  • Stephen Bennett - I saw Stephen Bennett in concert at one of the Hammered Dulcimer festivals that I attended, and I was amazed at his fingertyle skill; he played Scott Joplin rags on the guitar, he played harp guitar, he played an amazing/ancient steel guitar, etc. As I attended other festivals, I was able to take workshops with Stephen, and I picked up some great techniques. Some years later I arrived early to one of Stephen's concerts; he recognized me, and stopped by to say "Hi." We began talking about guitar, of course, and as we were discussing some of the Scott Joplin pieces that I was working on, Stephen took me backstage where the two of us had an impromptu 1:1 guitar lesson. (Stephen was the teacher, of course.) Stephen had a lasting impact on my playing, but on top of that - he's a class act.
  • Mark Hanson - I made an amazing discovery one day: a lot of fingerstyle guitar transcriptions that I had been learning from over the years, as well as several of the books about playing fingerstyle guitar that I had working through, were all written by the same guy - Mark Hanson. Then I made another amazing discovery: Mark lived in Portland while I lived in Seattle, and Mark would frequently travel up to Seattle to teach workshops at the Dusty Strings store in Fremont. I was able to attend several workshops with Mark, and I will freely admit - his 1:1 instruction has helped my fingerstyle playing improve dramatically. (And I play several of his arrangements to this day.)
  • Steven Saulls - I cannot possibly overstate the following admission: Steven Saulls impacted my guitar playing more than any other guitarist in my lifetime. Period. Steven was my classical guitar tutor in the early 1980s, but most-importantly - Steven showed me everything that I was doing wrong on the guitar. Until I met Steven I was predominantly self-taught, and as a result - I had formed a lot of bad habits. Steven gave me a whole list of extremely tedious exercises to work with, and challenged me to completely relearn how to play my instrument. I felt like a high school student going back to kindergarten, but I followed Steven's suggestions to the letter, and ultimately I became a much better musician because of it.

The Beauty of Arizona Deserts

Someone I know was making light of the fact that Californians paint their lawns to compensate for their brown seasons of year, and she wondered if those of us who live in the perpetual state of Arizona's desert browns should emulate our western neighbors' behavior and paint our trees the fall colors of orange and yellow and red.

I countered her suggestion with my observation that every night God paints the entire Arizona landscape with beautiful hues of oranges and yellows and reds, as well as pinks and purples and blues... but during the day we have green-skinned Palo Verde trees with yellow blossoms, and towering Saguaros crowned by delicate white flowers, and Prickly Pears and Chollas decorated with red, yellow, purple, orange, and green cactus blooms. Every day we are greeted by every color of the rainbow waiting just outside our doors, so there's no need to envy those who breathe the foul stench of brown skies and cower in over-priced houses with green-painted lawns - we already have it so much better.

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Remembering the Fall of the Wall

Today is November 9, 2019, which is exactly 30 years since the opening of the East German border; that event has since become known as "The Fall of the Wall." I was stationed along the East German border when it was opened, and I still have vivid memories of what the world was like at that time.

Tensions in East Germany had been building for some time, and thousands of East Germans had already fled through neighboring Warsaw Pact nations like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. When the border was opened unexpectedly on November 9, 1989, hundreds of thousands of East Germans poured into West Germany, where they were met with open arms by crowds of joyous West German citizens and US military personnel.

Within a few short years, the two Germanys were reunited, and the Soviet Union collapsed - which was the greatest manifestation of Communism's many, many failures. However, as a reminder of what the border was like before it opened, you might want to watch the following video.

Just two short months ago, a small group of my fellow 511th MI Company veterans and I met for a reunion at the former inner-German border. It was great for us to stand in erstwhile enemy territory next to the abandoned guard towers that had once kept the nation of East Germany prisoner. It was somewhat poetic that these relics of a bygone era are reduced to mere tourist attractions. (And by that I meant the guard towers, not us.)

2019-Reunion-Mosaic

Posing by the former border towers.

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but this is a chunk of the East German border fence that I have had in my office for the past three decades. I personally cut that section off the fence after the border was opened, and it's a nice little reminder that the plans of evil men everywhere will eventually fail.

Border-Fence-Plaque

The text is a little blurry, but it quotes Psalm 146:7 "The Lord sets the prisoners free,"
with the dates of 13 August, 1961 to 9 November, 1989.

Sometimes It's Better Not to Chase Your Dreams

A friend of mine recently posted the following quotation from G. K. Chesterton, which caused me to step back for a moment and reflect on some recent discussions about how my life turned out...

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Just a brief bit of honesty - I played guitar for several bands in my younger days, and I was particularly obsessed with "making it" as far as that industry was concerned. I focused on performance, songwriting, technical skill, etc., and I had a STRICT no drugs/alcohol policy; those things ruined musicianship and relationships, and unless you could be totally sold out for music, then you didn't belong. In short, anyone who wasn't as 110% passionate about being a success got booted from my band. I abandoned that form of obsessive pursuit when I became a Christian, and I briefly played in couple Christian bands before I eventually gave it all up and joined the Army.

A lot of time has passed since then, and my wife was recently commenting that it's too bad that I didn't have "my chance" when I was younger, for I am admittedly far too old to be packing up a guitar and headed out on career-starting tour. I countered her condolences with the following self-observation...

No, it's a great thing that I didn't chase my "dream." The entertainment industry ruins people, as Hunter S. Thompson once observed, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

I have no misconceptions that I would have failed miserably as a human being the closer I got to "success" in worldly terms. Sure, I may have continued to avoid drugs and alcohol, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have succumbed to other vices - perhaps something seemingly acceptable as materialism. (e.g. I still own 20+ guitars.)

But the pursuit of success - at least in the way that my brain was wired to pursue it - was a form of idolatry, and I have no misconceptions about that. Even in the Christian music business, most people get destroyed by the industry. So I have no illusions about missing "my chance" when I was younger. I became a husband, and a dad, and more importantly a decent human being; those are far better legacies in my estimation. Don't get me wrong, there are a handful of people who can balance "success" and basic human decency, but tens of thousands of people cannot do so, and I'm one of them.

Noble Causes Do Not Justify Exploitation

In the wake of Greta Thunberg's recent passionate speech about climate change before the United Nations, someone I know shared the following quote from Lawrence Reed:

"The people who have terrified this child with apocalyptic visions of planetary annihilation should be ashamed. You can see the fear, the hate, and the contemptuousness in her voice and her expressions. She reminds me of the teenage Maoists during China's Cultural Revolution; they too were absolutely certain they were right and were happy to torture you if you thought they weren't. Tragic. Any movement that uses children like this, that expects the rest of us to regard her as some sort of expert, deserves only our everlasting scorn." (Lawrence Reed, 09/23/2019)

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Reed's comments understandably launched a flurry of differing opinions from both sides of the climate debate; most of their arguments were equally as impassioned as Thunberg's. However, what bothered me the most was that most people completely ignored Reed's main point; the issue is not whether you agree with Thunberg, or whether you believe that climate change is real. The slippery precipice upon which many people who promoted and applauded Thunberg's speech now find themselves is that they are exploiting a child to sell their agenda - and that is a terrible thing to do.

I weighed in on one of the ensuing debates, and I would like to paraphrase some of my thoughts for posterity.

We should all take climate change very seriously. And even if that wasn't an issue, the amount of toxic waste that humanity collectively dumps all over this planet should be taken even more seriously. Nevertheless, regardless of Greta Thunberg's motivations, the statement from Lawrence Reed should also be taken with the utmost of seriousness; any cause that exploits children to garner support for its message is immoral. It does not matter whether Thunberg is well-read and passionate about the subjects that she is discussing; at the end of the day, she is not a scientific expert on these matters, (though I am certain that she will be in the future). But for now, those who stand behind Thunberg are using her passion to promote their agenda, and when any segment of society uses children in that fashion, their message is degraded. Regardless of the morality of the underlying cause, exploiting children to endorse your message is immoral.

In Thunberg's speech, she accused politicians of ignoring long-term climate issues in order to profit from short-term financial gains, and I would agree with that assertion. And lest there be any mistake, greedy politicians aren't just an American problem; they are a global problem. That being said, I think anyone who thinks that climate change isn't real is not paying attention, and anyone who thinks that humanity isn't impacting the environment is burying their head in the sand.

However, science has shown us that our planet is pretty resilient; the climate has swung much further in both the warming and cooling directions over the course of its history; regardless of what happens to the climate now, the planet's ecosystems will recover from our climate stupidity in future centuries. My greater concern is that we're polluting the planet so badly that even if the climate recovers, the planet will be too toxic for anything to live on it. In that respect, climate change is only part of the problem - not the entire problem. (See Arnold Schwarzenegger's epic rant about climate change for more.)

While climate change is very real, I often see the "97% of climate scientists agree" comment thrown about during debates. Unfortunately, that is a made up statistic that everyone keeps quoting, and I really wish people would stop using it. Like many urban legends, the 97% figure is a self-perpetuating fabrication that refuses to die. You can read articles like 97% Of Climate Scientists Agree Is 100% Wrong for just one example on how some people erroneously invented and promoted that mythical number, and there are many more papers that have similarly refuted it. Here's the thing - if we want people to believe that climate change is real, we need to stop repeating garbage statistics, because all that does is reinforce the opposition's mistaken impression that everything else we say about climate change is equally bogus.

Circling back to Lawrence Reed's original point, I do not believe that Thunberg is being "forced" to do anything, but she's being "used." Many of the heinously awful movements throughout history have used children as their spokespersons, because putting a face to your message that can foster sympathy for your cause is a good marketing tactic. But it's still wrong. Thunberg is too young and naive to realize that she is little more than a political human shield in this debate; a sacrificial pawn that allows kings and queens to operate in relative obscurity while she takes the fall if something goes wrong. Climate change is worthy of championing, but not in this fashion; we need not stoop to methods employed by propagandists to promote what is right.

With that in mind, while I do not wish to appear as though I am reinforcing Godwin's Law, I believe the following image accurately portrays how I feel about the opportunistic cowards who are hiding behind Greta Thunberg's passion:

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