Dec 18, 2008

Guitar Hero #1 - Pepper Keenan

I'm going to be a little self indulgent and talk about the guitarists, and/or musicians that have influenced me personally. This is why I am entitling this series as being guitar heroes, or my guitar heroes.

I learned to play from all of the guitarists that I am about to talk about over the course of this series, and I did so by absorbing the albums that they recorded. No tabs, no cheating - just my ears.

There is no better place for to start than with my first true guitar inspiration, the original bad ass who hails from New Orleans, Louisiana - Pepper Keenan. I'll try and cover the whole history in as few words as possible ;)

Pepper Keenan got his start in the underground scene of New Orleans, much like a lot of now popular heavy metal musicians. During this time he met a lot of now very famous performers, most notably, Phil Anselmo, the former lead singer from Pantera.

While Pepper jumped between bands and started numerous bands at a very young age, another act was already getting some attention in Raleigh, North Carolina. This band was Corrosion of Conformity, started by an awesome guitarist by the name of Woody "Woodroe" Weatherman. Weatherman was heavily inspired and influenced by the punk band Black Flag, and so the first two albums that C.O.C. recorded had this very aggressive punk sound.

Pepper Keenan on the other hand was heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, and with the sounds of the south naturally embedded into his body, the man simply had an awesome take on metal music.

Now, its here that I'm not so sure about. I have no idea how the original members of C.O.C. and Pepper Keenan met, but the point is that they did. Pepper brought something new to the table - that being mostly the sounds of Sabbath, and it was this new kind of fusion that helped shape the
sound of the newer Corrosion of Conformity, a sound that still rings in all of our ears.

The first album that they released together was an excellent masterpiece of late 80's/early 90's metal sounds. A lot of people didn't care for the original singer, but I thought his voice fit. Anyways, they didn't like him either, and he was kicked out of the band. A new singer was
needed, and so Keenan stepped up to the plate.

I definitely studied the guitar work on the C.O.C. albums religiously, but what most shaped my perception of music was Keenan's lyrics. In my opinion, especially when it comes to metal, lyrics that don't contain a deeper meaning or layer, are lyrics wasted.

Keenan's lyrics were extremely philosophical, asking questions of the listener. A lot of metal heads missed this, but that's ok, because some of us pondered over the meanings of his words for many years.

I also respect and appreciate Pepper Keenan's choice of not using any foul language. He broke the rule very few times, because the insertion of a curse word is wasted space. Instead, he took the time to really haunt you with his lyrics.

My introduction to writing music, was to take corrosion songs and put my own lyrics to them. It was great practice, and though the C.O.C. songs were simple, they still contained excellent phrasing and modulation, much like any Beatles piece.

I really don't know what happened to Corrosion of Conformity. They released two really crappy albums after Blind, Deliverance, and Wiseblood. I don't really care what happened, partly because I am no longer interested, but mainly because Pepper is now part of a band called Down, which originally started as a side project way back in 94, when C.O.C. had released Deliverance.

Down contains members from other New Orleans bands, and their music is top notch, with a newly reinvented Phil Anselmo at the mic.

Something that's noteworthy is Pepper's studious mind. The man has simply studied every great blues guitarist in the book, and at one time had the entire collection of Robert Johnson's
recordings in his possession. These recordings are very rare, as they were the originals and are absolutely priceless.

As metal as they are, both C.O.C. and Down have many other sub classifications. Stoner rock, Southern rock, Hardcore punk, Sludge metal, etc. On the second Down album, A bustle in your
hedgerow, their is an excellent song called Lies, I Don't Know What They Say, which has a very jazz like quality to it.

I have another story relating to a C.O.C. concert that I once went to, but this is getting lengthy so I'll have to save that for another time.

The point is, if you are in the mood to indulge the sense on a non-emo-like philosophical level, then any album by both Down and C.O.C. is a good one for a long car ride home.

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