The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
The Death Whisperer Series available at

Friday, January 30, 2009

Scallops, Preston Reed, and Pinot Noir

I’m back from San Jose. Gave a really good talk on my research (if I do say so myself), chaired a science session, and had some good food, although I was worried about sticking to this diet plan. There’s a place called Santana Row, which has several nice restaurants, I particularly like Tanglewoods. I had a very nice salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing to start. They have this class of appetizers they call sliders, so I tried an ahi tuna slider. It was a small sandwich with 3 oz of sesame encrusted ahi tuna accompanied by chips. Needless to say, I only ate the tuna (diet, remember?). For dinner I had grilled scallops (4 large ones), very tender, succulent, and sweet. No dessert, just decaf coffee. While it was a struggle to find the foods I need to eat right now, I must have done okay ‘cause I lost 4.5 pounds during the week. I’m now down 18 pounds in three weeks. Starting to feel good!

Tonight, I want to introduce you to Preston Reed. If you don’t know about him you’ll be amazed. Preston was the first guitarist I heard do the slapping, tapping, percussive thing (almost 12 years ago). A lot of the rhythms this style uses are derived from the Irish drums that accompany a lot of Celtic music. I first heard him play a song called Blasting Cap (link below) and promptly fell out of my chair. I bought his CD entitled “Metal” and have been a fan of his ever since. His style blends blues, funk, rock, and even jazz. He is incredibly versatile playing 6-string steel, 6-string nylon, and electric guitar. Check out the links below, but make sure you fasten your seat belt.

a)Ladies Night:

b)Blasting Cap:

c)Shinkansen: Wild ride on a bullet train;

d)Night Ride: sounds like a lonesome train ride after midnight; haunting melody;

e)False Spring: nylon guitar; moody late night walk in the rain through the streets of a darkened city; really pretty and a contrast to his slapping & tapping.

Got several wines in my backlog from before the diet so I thought I’d give you a realy, really good one. Paraiso Santa Maria Pinot Noir, Highlands, 2006. ~$15.00. Rich dark red color. This is a dense wine with lots of fruit character. Black cherry, black raspberry, plum, a bit of pepper and spice, long finish with a velvety texture. I don’t know how easy it is to get in your local wine shop, but it’s available on line. As soon as I reach my weight goals, I’m gonna buy me some of this.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Thomas Leeb, Bad Flights, and Discoveries

Tonight’s featured Guitarist is Thomas Leeb, Austrian born and a close friend of the late Eric Roche. Thomas style is a combination of percussive sounds achieved by slapping, tapping and scratching the guitar body and sometimes funky, always melodic picking/chording. Something about Thomas’ tone just rings in your ears. He is a definite tone monster. I have two of his CD’s and here are a couple of my favorites:

•Grooveyard: he has a scratchplate affixed to his guitar to help add variety to his rhythmic sound. It mimics the sound of brushes on drums. Some of his strumming techniques hurt my hands to watch. I loovve this number!

•Desert Pirate: percussive rhythm; almost sounds like a three piece band when he adds the drum like rhythm to the bass and guitar fills. This is one of my favorite numbers. Listen to it at

•Oachkatzlschwoaf: he uses the scratch pad to achieve a sound like a jazz drummer using brushes on a snare. The whole number makes me feel like I’m sitting is a darkened, moody bar in Chicago, listening to a jazz trio.

•Oft Geht Bled: contrasting pace; sweet sounding melody; very nice use of harmonics

•While my Guitar Gently Weeps: Sweet tone; he uses some beautiful harmonics to play the melody at two points. Listen at

•Perculator. This is an Eric Roche number and I guarantee Eric’s spirit smiles when he hears Thomas play it.

You can find more about him and also hear some of these tunes at his website: You can (and should!) order his CD’s there also.

On another note, I’m in San Jose right now getting ready to give a talk on my research at the Biophotonics meeting. Sounds impressive, Huh? Trust me, it’s not. Anyway, had a terrible time getting here. The flight was six hours late, they lost my suitcase (got it today), and I arrived at the airport too late to get a rental car. Plus some woman brought a cat onto the plane and decided it needed to be out of its carrier, so she tried to let it run loose through the plane. Guess who’s really allergic to cats? The stupid animal ran under my seat and as she tried to pick it up, it sank its claws into my leg, whereupon I lamented, “So many cats, so few recipes.” Needless to say, it probably wasn’t the right thing to say. Fortunately, the flight attendant made her put the potential tennis racket away. I also realized I had a real problem with my new diet. I’m supposed to eat every four-five hours, but with the helter skelter flight schedule, I had visions of going eighteen hours without food. Thank God for little delays, because of which, I discovered a restaurant, Pour Le France Café, in all places, the Denver Airport! Only had time for an entrée but what an entrée it turned out to be. I had Halibut Bouillabaisse, A six ounce filet of perfectly cooked halibut in a spicy thick tomato sauce with peppers, a few onions, zucchini, and other assorted veggies. Outstanding! Would have gone great with a robust merlot, zinfandel, or syrah, but alas, time and diet didn’t permit. I think, however, I feel an accidental filling of a glass of ambrosia coming for tomorrow’s dinner. Hey, don’t shake your head at me, I’ve been good! Catch y’all later.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Eric Roche

Tonight, I want to talk about one of my all time favorite guitarists who, unfortunately, died tragically about three years ago from throat cancer. His name…Eric Roche. The biographical material I could gather indicates he was born in New York but moved with his parents to Tralee, County Kerry in Ireland. He enrolled in the London Musician’s Institute in 1992 to study classical guitar. When he finished his degree in 1996, he became head of the guitar department. In 2000, he took a position as the head of guitar at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, England. In 2006, shortly after his death, the Guitar School of the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford was re-named to "ACM Eric Roche Guitar School” in his honor. His wife Candy is now raising their two children, Stefan and Francesca.

In 2006 Roche's Tablature Collection #1 was published. It was jointly produced by Roche and his close friend Thomas Leeb, who dedicated his work to Roche and donated all of his income from the book to Roche’s children. In fact, Thomas Leeb will be the next Guitarist I review.

Eric had a unique style of playing. His main axe was a Lowden 010 with a cedar top and mahogany back and sides. He had a percussive style of playing because of which a clear plastic scratch plate was affixed to the top of his guitar just below the sound hole. His playing involved drumming on the top and body of the guitar to create a variety of percussion effects. He would also use the scratch pad to elicit sounds ranging from a jazz drummer using brushes on a snare to a DJ scratching his records.

Go to You Tube and watch/listen to the following three videos in this order to get a sense of his style: (If the links don’t work, cut and paste them into your browser).
• She Drives Me Crazy, originally by the Fine Young Cannibals. Watch and listen to the crazy tapping and scratching. It complements the song perfectly. I like his version better than the original and as a bassist, I felt da funk coming through.

• Jump (Van Halen): Incredible! Who needs a band? He plays bass, drums and guitar on one instrument.

• Nirvana’s theme for a generation: Smells like Teen Spirit: Amazing guitar work. You really have to see and listen to the You Tube video to appreciate what he does. I love his style. When he goes into the middle strumming part and uses his scratch pad it sounds almost like a wah wah effect.

Eric was one of the best that’s ever been. His death was hard on his family, both emotionally and monetarily. So, listen to the videos then go to his website at and buy one of his CD’s. The money will help support his wife and kids.

I know you’ll enjoy Eric’s music so what are you waiting for? Grab a bottle of wine and a glass, kick back, and enjoy one of the most innovative and talented guitarists that God ever placed on this earth. See ya’ll later.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Wine, Guitarist Antoine Dufour, and Diets?

Well, I haven’t blogged for awhile due to a major change I’ve made in my life…I decided it was time to lose some weight. I was 6 feet and about 245 pounds. But because of my travel schedule, something like Jenny Craig that required me to buy meals just wouldn’t work. Sooo, I enrolled myself in a group called Metabolic Research. Unfortunately, one of the things I have to cut out for the next six months is wine. Life is cruel sometimes, but I have lost 13 pounds in two weeks so it seems to be working. Only 47 more pounds to go. But fear not, I will still review restaurants and the occasional nip of the fruit of the vine that may accidentally pass my lips.

Now, one of my favorite ways to relax is to have a glass of wine (no, no, no! High protein drinks!), pick up a good book or work on one of my own, and listen to music, specifically guitar music of the acoustic variety. If you’ve read my profile, you’ll recall that I used to be a professional bass guitarist. I started playing the acoustic guitar because playing the bass by yourself is not terribly fulfilling. Now as a former bass player, I like to feel da funk in the music I listen to and that includes acoustic guitar. I’m not talking lackadaisical strumming while you sing Kum By Yah by the campfire. I’m talking foot stomping, finger ripping, tapping, slapping, harmonically percussive heavy wood.

I am amazed at the plethora of young, talented guitarists out there today. Not only are these guys technically in the stratosphere, but their originality, sense of melody, and yes, funk, is downright amazing. I’m a struggling writer of thrillers, although my day job is in the more mundane field of science. It’s a struggle to get people to buy and read your books when you’re an unknown. So as I was listening to some of these young guitarists, I realized that although some of their YouTube videos may have been viewed thousands of times, how many of the viewers were NOT guitarists? How do they get exposure to people who may not be musicians, but just appreciate good music.

So I says to myself, “Self, since we can’t do the wine thing right now, how about we spread the word about some of these young guns and blog about ‘em?” I thought it was a good idea, so for the next few months I’ll be mixing guitarists in with my restaurant and accidental wine tips. I will review guitarists who are probably only known to other guitarists but who ya gotta see and hear to believe. And…I’ll only give good reviews. I don’t believe in bashing the work of someone else. Okay? Here we go.

Canada seems to be producing some incredible talent. My first guitarist, Antoine Dufour, is one of my favorites. He’s got three CD’s out on CandyRat Records. One of the most prestigious guitar contests is the yearly Winfield festival. Antoine took third place a few years back and considering the fact that these are the best players in the world and the judging is somewhat subjective (all music is a matter of taste), that says a lot about his ability. He’s also won several guitar contests in Canada. He has a style that includes slapping and tapping the body of the guitar in percussive rhythms while tapping, slapping, and picking the guitar. He uses harmonics beautifully. Some of his music is almost danceable. One of the things that I love about Antoine’s playing is, while he is technically amazing, it’s his sense of melody and harmonics that grab me. When I can listen to a tune and spend an hour or two afterward humming the melody, that’s a good thing. Try listening to his YouTube video of a song called “Trilogy.” Very pretty. But my favorites are the ones where I feel da funk. Check out his videos of “30 minutes in London,” “Scratch,” or “Spiritual Groove.” Of course, when you’re finished and duly impressed, go to and pick up one of his CD’s. In fact, CandyRat handles several of the guitarists I will be reviewing, so if you want to get a head start, be my guest.

That’s it for tonight. Until next time, enjoy some music, a book (preferably my latest, Rise of the Fallen), and have a glass of wine in remembrance of a poor old guy who’s drinking only high protein cocktails in his tulip shaped wine glass…Pathetic!


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel

2006 Ridge Vineyards "Three Valleys" Sonoma Zinfandel, $22.00

Ridge vineyards are famous for their Zinfandels. In fact, I would say that they are some of the best I’ve tasted. This particular wine is a blend of fruit taken from 10 different sites combined with old-vine carignan and petite syrah. The result is a wine with a deep red color and an aroma alive with blueberry and cherry pie, plum, and a bit of pepper. Big fruit flavors accented by peppery spice, lively tannins, and balanced acidity. Really, really nice wine. Wine & Spirits magazine gave this wine a 93 and placed it in its list of “100 Best Buys of 2008.” If you see it in a store—BUY IT!


Friday, January 9, 2009

Kendall Jackson Syrah

2005 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Syrah, $11.00

My wife loves Kendall Jackson wines and with good reason. They are excellent value and very, very good. Syrah’s are big, rich reds and this one definitely meets that expectations. Intense black cherry, earth, and flowery bouquet. Explodes in the mouth with blackberry, currents, vanilla, roasted pecans, and caramel. Long, lingering finish. The texture is soft and smooth. They had a manager’s special at our grocery store and she veritably flew to the siplay and grabbed two bottles. Guess what we’re drinking this Saturday night? How about you join us?


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rodney Strong Merlot

Rodney Strong Merlot Sonoma 2005 $15.00
Well, to quote my wife, “Wow, oh wow!” We love Rodney Strong wines. I daresay I’ve never been disappointed and they are excellent buys. This is a fabulous Merlot with bright fruit character of blueberries, cassis, and coffee in the nose. The taste follows the nose with added notes of vanilla and toasty oak. Very balanced wine with a long finish. Personally, I think this is one of the best value Merlot’s on the market. Merlot took an unfair beating in the movie, “Sideways.” Miles, the protagonist, distained Merlot in favor of Pinot Noir. Now, I love Pinot’s, but Merlots are very drinkable, and one of the world’s finest wines, Chateau Petrus, is a merlot. So “boo ya,” Miles! Gotta try this one. I think you’ll like it.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shoo Fly Buzz Cut white

Shoo Fly Buzz Cut 2007: $10.00
Saturday, December 27th, it got up to 60 degrees in Chicago. Felt like spring, so what better time to try a new white. I’d been meaning to try some of the Shoo Fly wines from Australian winemaker Ben Riggs, and since I like crisp clean whites in the summer, I bought a bottle of his Buzz Cut 2007. It’s a blend of Verdelho (a Portuguese grape), Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling…interesting mix. The wine is a pale golden color with a complex bouquet of grapefruit, apricots, and something tropical that I just couldn’t put my finger (or nose) on. Very appealing. The first taste hinted of a bitter orange marmalade that progressed rapidly to citrus and tropical fruit with good acidity. Very clean finish. There is no oak in this wine, so if you don’t like oak (think chardonnay), then this wine is a good choice. I liked it alone, but it would probably stand up to quite a diverse range of foods. It’s not a wimpy white. Try it.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ravenswood Zinfandel

Gradually going through my Christmas vacation wine experiences. Here’s another strong candidate for your drinking pleasure:

Ravenswood 2005 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel; $12.00. Ravenswood Vintners make some excellent Zin’s and this is certainly one of them. The wine is composed of 95% Zinfandel, 4% Carignane, 1% mixed blacks. It’s another powerful red with a bouquet that exudes blackberries, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon. Dark red in color with the taste of berries, cocoa, cassis, and black cherry. Medium acidity. Very nice wine for the price.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Spanish and Australian Reds

Well, my two week vacation has come to an end. Tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone. Read a lot of books, wrote a lot for my third book, and tried some really nice wines. Here are two incredible bargains that I will definitely putting in my cellar.

Panarroz Jumilla 2006: $9.00. This is a blend of mourvdre, grenache, and syrah and hails from Spain. Very powerful wine. It’s a thick, dark red wine with a bouquet that combines fruitiness with spice. The flavor is a complex blend of plum, black cherry, blueberry, a touch of chocolate, and a little bit of pepper. Nice tannins, too. Very drinkable and for nine bucks, it’s an amazing bargin.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet $8.00: Penfolds winery is one of Australia’s oldest and best known vineyards. They produce a range of wines that range from the bargain wines from Koonunga Hill to the high end Grange wines. Their Shiraz Cabernet is one of those really good bargains. The label said its 78% Shiraz and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a deep red, almost purple wine. Shiraz’s are known for their powerful fruity aroma and this one doesn’t disappoint. Like the Panarroz, it’s a hefty, powerful wine with black cherry dominating the taste along with blackberries and good tannins. Robert Parker has rated this wine consistently in the 90’s and he certainly got that right.

Both of these wines are excellent for winter sipping or for complementing a thick slab of fillet mignon topped with a mushroom cap. They’ll even stand up to A1 steak sauce if you prefer it on your beef.

Even thought the holidays are over, you can still enjoy some wine.