The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
The Death Whisperer Series available at

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kelly Valleau & Monte Antico Toscana

The Great White North, aka Canada, seems to be a breeding ground for fantastic acoustic guitarists. Of course, when the temperature drops below zero Fahrenheit and the snow is measured in feet during the winters, I guess you have a lot of time to practice. So, tonight I’m featuring someone with a unique approach to classical guitar and one of my favorites, namely Kelly Valleau.  Kelly started playing electric guitar at the age of 15 and made his first Indie CD at the age of 21. He was playing professionally at the age of 22, but a few years back he did something very odd, at least for a rock guitarist. He hung up the electric, took up a classical nylon-stringed guitar, and entered the Canadian Fingerstyle Championships where, much to his surprise, he placed second.

While he excels on classical compositions, his uniqueness arises from his ability to translate rock classics onto the classical guitar. That probably stems from his early guitar influences that included David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Tommy Iommi, Randy Rhoads, James Hetfield, and Kirk Hammett. He fuses those sounds with his later influences that include Agustin Barrios, Beethoven,, J.K. Mertz, and Roland Dyens to create a unique style and sound, and one that I love. I think you’re gonna like him. Enjoy!

Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall:  
Metallica’s The Unforgiven:
Requiem: classical style; nice use of harmonics:  

Kelly Valleau calls for a classic wine, so I suggest a 2006 Monte Antico Toscana ($11.00). This wine was #61 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2009 and at $11.00 a bottle, it’s an icredible value. The wine is a blend of 75% Sanviovese, 15% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon derived from vines that are at least 25 years old.  Dark fruit aromas lead to a taste of plums, black raspberries, and nice acidity, all for eleven bucks! Grab a bottle, sit on the deck and imagine yourself on the hills of Tuscany listening to the music of a marvelous classical (?) guitarist. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Don Ross & Chateau Sainte Marguerite Cru-Classe Grand Reserve Rosé

Tonight, I’m featuring one of my favorite super-human acoustic guitarists. Donald Ross was born November 19, 1960 in Montreal, Quebec to Scottish and Mi'kmaq parents. He’s a Canadian virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist noted for the emotion and intensity of his playing as well as his use of extended techniques like taping, slapping, and all around murdering his guitar.

Ross's style, which he describes as “heavy wood,” borrows from blues, jazz, folk and classical music. Ross is the only person to twice win the Winfield U.S. National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship (1988 and 1996). Bruce Cockburn has said, "Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he's going to roll, but he never loses control."

Ross studied composition at the music department of York University in Toronto with David Mott, James Tenney and Phil Werren. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music in 1983, he studied philosophy at St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts while living at San Damiano Friary in Holyoke, Massachusetts, then started his novitiate for the Canadian custody of the Conventual Franciscans of Immaculate Conception Province at St. Francis Friary in Staten Island, NY. However, the call of music was too strong and he decided to leave that pursuit and become a musician.

In 2001 his wife Kelly died from breast cancer and Ross was left as a single Dad with his kids. But he met up with fellow musician, Brooke Miller, a singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island, touring with her and in 2005 married her. Ross performs most of his concerts solo, but has also regularly performed with Andy McKee, Brooke Miller, and bassist Jordan O'Connor. As of 2010 Ross is now a Dalhousie University professor teaching history of guitar and techniques, while still travelling extensively for music. All of his stuff is amazing, but in particular, don’t miss Kilmbim, Michael Michael, and Crazy. He’s one of my favorites and you’re gonna see why when you give a listen. Enjoy!


Tight Trite Night:

Three Hands:


From France to India:

It’s your favorite:

Thin Air:

Loaded, Leather, Moonroof:

Blue Bear:

Jesse Helms Night in Havana:

Robot Monster:

How to eat an avalanche:

With you in mind:

Michael, Michael, Michael:

The way Don plays, I’m surprised his guitar doesn’t catch fire, so let’s cool it off with a bottle of Chateau Sainte Marguerite Cru-Classe Grand Reserve Rosé (2009; $20.00). The castle of Sainte-Marguerite is located in an idyllic and beautiful region of Provence, France where, at least in this particular vineyard, the grapes are produced organically. In the U.S., people often associate Rosé with cheap, sweet wines from either a box or something akin to two-buck Chuck, an impression that couldn’t be farther from the taste of a true French Rosé. A true Rosé is actually quite dry and complex, the perfect wine for summer. Sainte Marguerite is a Cru class wine, French legalese for a vineyard historically identified as being of exceptional quality. The Chateau Sainte Marguerite Rosé is a salmon pink with a delicate nose of strawberries, currents, and wildflowers. In the mouth, the finesse and delicacy found in the nose is backed by flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and orange peel with good minerality and a long finish. An elegant wine that will keep you cool while you listen to Don Ross burning on the guitar. Enjoy!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Jeff Berlin & Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s Friday nite and time for one of my favorite electric bassists. Jeff Berlin is a legend. Simply put, I consider him to be the finest electric bass player in the world. While he’s noted for his fluid lyrical playing, he is also a pioneer of slap bass when he brought this percussive-style bass playing in 1979 to a new audience on the tune called 5G, which you can hear below. Jeff also pioneered two handed tapping when he performed the tune Motherlode from his 1985 release of his first solo album called “Champion” (hear it below).

 With his incisive playing, Jeff has been a major innovator through recordings and performances for the last thirty years. Jaco Pastorius regarded Jeff as a better soloist than he was. Geddy Lee referred to Jeff as the “greatest bass player on the planet”. Marcus Miller told people that he wanted to be the “Black Jeff Berlin”.

In 1998, when his son was diagnosed with cancer, he quit touring and founded The Players School of Music in Clearwater, Florida. Since then, Jeff has also been at the forefront of music education for almost 30 years. His columns in Guitar Player and Bass Player magazines were the most read columns due to their controversial content emphasizing music education over more popular learning concepts aimed at technique-type instruction.

His son has recovered and he’s now back touring and recording with his band that has features ex. Pat Metheny drummers Danny Gottlieb and Paul Wertico, steel drummer Othello Molineaux, trumpet player Randy Brecker and pianist/bassist Richard Drexler. He also toured with BX3, a bass conglomeration that includes the great bass players Stuart Hamm and Billy Sheehan.

Personally, I have never heard anyone play the bass guitar with Jeff’s melodic fluidity. He is simply the best. Enjoy!



Jammin at NAMM:

Tears in heaven:

With Frank Gambale:


Chachagua Festival:

Manos de Piedra:

Footprints with Mike Pachelli:

With Pat Martino:

With John McLaughlin & Trilok Gurtu:

Namm 2010:

Liebman on a jet plane:

20,000 Prayers:


It’s chilly in Nebraska tonight. That coupled with the heft of bass guitar music calls for a nice red, namely a Novelty Hill Cabernet ($20.00). The wine is a rich purple with dark berries and spice on the nose. The flavors are intense with blackberry, cherry, and red currants that persist in a long finish. Subtle hints of vanilla and silky tannins linger in the mouth. Excellent for curling up with a good book in front of a fire and listening to the innovative music of Jeff Berlin.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wes Montgomery & Domaine du Pas de l'Escalette

Hump day and tonight I’m featuring one of the greatest jazz guitarist ever. Wes Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1925 and took up the electric guitar at age nineteen. He taught himself how to play by memorizing Charlie Christian solos off records. Once he had his chops down pat, he got his first job playing in a local band where, by his own account, his job was to play the Charlie Christian solos.
By 1948 he got a job in the Lionel Hampton big band and went on the road with Hampton for two years. Montgomery left The Hampton band in 1950 and returned to Indiana where he worked with his brothers and other local bands, including his own trio. He recorded his first record as a leader in 1959 when he made “The Wes Montgomery Trio.” Between 1959 and 1963 a succession of his recordings appeared that to this day represent some of his best work. Among these recordings were “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery,” “The Wes Montgomery Trio” and “Full House.” During this same period he made a set of recordings with his brothers that remain jazz classics today.
After 1963, Montgomery began recording for Verve and A & M Records and the recordings took on a very different production quality aimed more at the mass music markets. Orchestration was added, more pop tunes were covered, and in 1965, he won a Grammy for his recording of “Going Out Of My Head.”
Wes Montgomery had a superb sense of melody and made common jazz standards sound fresh. His improvisational skills were second to none. His characteristic tone was achieved by using his thumb rather than a pick. Wes died suddenly of a heart attack in 1968, leaving behind a legacy that changed the guitar's place in popular culture. I love his style and you will too.

With a classic like Wes, I’d like to introduce you to another classic, yet little known wine,  the 2009 Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette from the fledgling estate owned by Julien Zernotte in the Terrasses du Larzac in the Rhone valley of France. The wine is featured in Pierre Gagnaire’s 3-star Michelin restaurant and is on the wine list of arguably the greatest restaurant in the world, Chez Bras. The wine is deep ruby colored with aromas of black cherry, spice, and pepper. It’s silky and concentrated with flavors of dark berries, cherry cream, and a smooth texture. The long finish makes your mouth water for more, and at $14.00 a bottle, it should be illegal. All in all, an excellent wine and the perfect accompaniment to one of the greatest jazz guitarist of all time, Mr. Wes Montgomery. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Peter White & Le Bouc Sauvignon Blanc

It’s a beautiful late spring evening here in Nebraska so how about we slide into the week with the smooth guitar sounds of Peter White. He grew up in the sleepy little English town of Letchworth Garden City in the 1960s, and first got interested in music while listening to the Beatles on the radio. His parents bought him an acoustic guitar when he was eight and he taught himself to play. One day in 1967 he heard the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze” and since he’d never heard sounds like that coming out of my acoustic guitar, he switched to electric. He studied the works of Hendrix, Clapton and Page, but his rock star dreams were put on hold when his was burned in a fire. With few alternatives, he returned to playing acoustic guitar and developed a love for the instrument, a feeling that continues to this day. He found inspiration in the music of Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell who were all playing acoustic guitar based music.

In 1975, at the age of 20, he was recommended to Al Stewart who asked him to join his band on tour. That summer he spent considerable time at Abbey Road studio in London, working with Al on the “Year of the Cat” album, which became a million seller. It was the beginning of a musical collaboration that was to last 20 years, during which time they wrote and recorded many songs together, including Al’s 1978 Top Ten hit “Time Passages”.

As well as recording his own music, Peter has performed on recordings by many jazz greats including Dave Koz, Gato Barbieri, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Craig Chaquico, Jeff Golub, Lee Ritenour, Third Force, The Rippingtons, Kirk Whalum, Boney James and Marc Antoine. I find his music a balm for the soul and so will you.

The weather and music calls for a light summer wine, so tonight I’m drinking a 2009 Domaine Vincent Ricard "Le Bouc" ($14.00). This is a French Sauvignon Blanc, color, with citrus, peach and green apples on the nose. Lively on entry with a beautiful mouth feel full of green apples and citrus. Nice minerality leads to a mouthwatering finish with excellent persistence. Very crisp and refreshing. A great wine for relaxing on the deck with a sky full of stars and the sounds of Peter White drifting on the cool spring breeze. Enjoy!


Friday, May 20, 2011

Rocco Prestia &Ojai Vineyards Syrah

It’s Friday night and time to loosen up for the weekend with (in my opinion) the  King of Funk bass and a master of the 16th note, Rocco Prestia. I first heard him with his band, Tower of Power, and almost fell out of my chair. He didn’t take a solo, rather he soloed through every song with his intricate picking, driving the band throughout the concert. I went home, bought a Tower of Power record, and spent hours trying to pick out his bass lines. It’s great way to develop carpal tunnel syndrome as the fingers of his right hand are constantly moving. If you listen to the late great Jaco Pastorius, you’ll hear a lot of Rocco’s funk style. Prestia had a liver transplant several years ago, an event that galvanized the musical community into raising funds for his very expensive operation and medical care. It was worth every penny to keep one of the bass greats of the world thumpin and bumpin. Enjoy!

To accompany one of my favorite funk bands, I‘m drinking a 2006 Ojai Vineyards Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard ($24.00). This is an explosive wine, full of blackberry and cassis that fills your mouth with thick, juicy flavors then hits you with an intoxicating, long finish.  Deep purple legs coat the glass infusing the nose with a bouquet of dark berries and spicecake. Really nice wine and perfect for getting down with Rocco and Tower of Power. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jake Shimabukuro & Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne

Tonight I want to introduce a fabulous musician, Jake Shimabukuro, who I compare to jazz and rock guitar greats like Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, and even a little Jimi Hendrix. But he doesn’t play the guitar…he plays the Ukulele. He started playing the instrument at the age of 4, as every Hawaiian plays it, at least according to his mother. He immediately fell in love with it and enrolled in a prominent ukulele studio.  But rather than play traditional Hawaiian music, he was entranced by the sounds of rock. He’d play along with pop and rock songs, arranging them to make the melody recognizable, not an easy task when you only have four strings

For guitar inspiration and technique, he studied musicians like Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Yo-Yo Ma and Pat Metheny, but Bruce Lee and Bill Cosby get the credit for his philosophy of music and performing. He says, “Bruce Lee’s philosophy on martial arts was that it’s a form of human expression, and he didn’t believe in having one ‘style.’ He studied all forms and was open to everything. That really stuck in my mind as far as music goes. And Bill Cosby – here’s a performer who can just sit in a chair with a mic, tell stories and entrance millions of people. I wanted to tap into that energy, of just performing alone and connecting with an audience.”

His career skyrocketed after a TV appearance in New York, where the producers of a local TV show called “Ukulele Disco” asked him to play a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park. It was posted on YouTube where it went viral with over 6 million views.  Since then, Jake has performed with Jimmy Buffett, Bela Fleck, Bette Midler, Yo-Yo Ma, Cyndi Lauper, Tommy Emmanuel, and Ziggy Marley. When you here him play, I think you’ll agree, he’s living and playing his philosophy very successfully. Enjoy!

While my guitar gently weeps with Tommy Emmanuel:

How about champagne to go with Jake’s music? Specifically a bottle of Duval Leroy Brut Champagne made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes by a century-and-a-half old, family-owned Champagne firm. This champagne comes from twenty vineyards around the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs areas in France and it’s one of the more modestly priced champagne entries from Duval-Leroy. It’s a tad over my usual $25.00 limit (it was $27.00), but it’s worth the couple of extra bucks.

In the glass, Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne shows a light honey color, with streams of fine bubbles. On the nose, there is vanilla, peach, toast and a bit of yeastiness.

The palate shows a clean middle, evenly balanced of weight and acids. Flavors are of light pineapple, peaches, toast, and slight cream. Very clean finish. Wine Spectator was wild about the Duval-Leroy Brut, giving 93 points, and saying, " "Big, full-bodied bubbly featuring graphite, toast, lemon and nut aromas and flavors. It's balanced, with an assertive finish.” I would agree and although it’s a bit unconventional to be drinking champagne mid-week, it pairs perfectly with the unconventional style of Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele music. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carlos Santana & Four Bears Pinot Noir

Carlos Santana has long been a force on the guitar. No one packs more emotion into their playing than Santana. I first heard him when I saw the premier of the movie Woodstock back in the early 70’s and I’ve included a cut of Soul Sacrifice from that set. Santana’s Woodstock debut was the group’s coming out and plunged him into the spotlight.

Carlos was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. His father was a mariachi violinist and at the age of five, Carlos too, was playing the violin. However at the age of eight, he switched to the guitar and never looked back. Javier Bátiz, a famous guitarist from Tijuana, is said to have been Carlos's guitar teacher and taught him to play a different style of guitar soloing, which he made his own as he developed his unique style.

In the late 60’s, he moved to San Francisco working as a dishwasher and getting exposure to a variety of musical styles. After several years of dishwashing and busking for spare change, Santana decided to become a full-time musician. In 1966, he gained prominence by a series of accidental events all happening on the same day. Santana was a frequent spectator at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. During a Sunday matinee show, Paul Butterfield was slated to perform but was too drunk to do so. Graham assembled an impromptu band of musicians, with Carlos Santana as the guitarist. Santana's guitar playing and soloing gained the notice of both the audience and Graham. Later that year, Carlos formed Santana with fellow street musicians, David Brown and Greg Rolie, and with their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa, and African rhythms, the band gained an immediate following on the San Francisco club scene. In 1969, the band snared a gig at Woodstock and the rest is history. 

Carlos remains one of the premier guitarists alive today. My favorite of all the pieces he’s ever written or performed is Smooth, a song that will start you movin and groovin. So get up and dance your way into the week. Enjoy!

To accompany Carlos and get your week off right, I suggest a 2007 Four Bears Pinot Noir ($14.00) by Sean Minor. It compares favorable with Pinot’s priced considerably higher. Cherries and spice on the nose with more cherries, strawberries, spice, and vanilla on the palate. This wine is a steal at this price. Wine Enthusiast rated it 91 and made it an editor’s choice. Trust me, you’ll like it. It’s smooth, just like the song.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Jean Luc Ponty & Chateau de Nages

It’s Friday and time to let it out a bit. Jean Luc Ponty in an innovator and a master of the jazz/rock violin. I first heard him play in 1974 in Indianapolis when he was the violinist for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Ponty was born in a family of classical musicians on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France. His father taught violin, his mother taught piano. At sixteen, he entered the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, graduating two years later with the institution's highest award, Premier Prix. He was immediately hired by a major French symphony orchestra where he played for three years. He played with the orchestra by day, but spent his nights playing jazz in the Paris nightclubs.

In 1967, John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet invited Ponty to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival where he was a smashing success and his performance led to a U.S. recording contract. His mounting critical praise and popularity across Europe attracted the attention of numerous recording artists. In 1969, Frank Zappa composed the music for Jean-Luc's solo album King Kong (Blue Note). In 1972, Elton John invited Ponty to contribute to his Honky Chateau album. A year later, Ponty emigrated with his wife and two young daughters to America, made his home in Los Angeles, and joined Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, touring across the United States. Later, he joined with John McLaughlin playing on several Mahavishnu Orchestra albums and touring with the group.  He continues to tour and record innovative jazz music and one thing I love about his groups is that the members are always virtuosos on their respective instruments. Hope you enjoy his music.

With a French violinist, I suggest a French Rhone. Chateau de Nages, a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, is a dense purple color The nose is full of raspberries with hints of chocolate. On the palate, blackberry and black cherry dominate. This is a powerhouse wine and perfect for a similarly powerful musician. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Guy Davis & La Cana Albarino

Guy Davis is a musician, composer, actor, director, and writer.  But most importantly, Guy Davis is a bluesman.  The blues permeates every note of Davis' creativity. 

Davis' creative roots run deep. Though raised in the in a middle class family in New York City area, he grew up hearing accounts of life in the rural south from his parents and especially his grandparents, and they made their way into his own stories and songs.  Davis taught himself the guitar (never having the patience to take formal lessons) and learned by listening to and watching other musicians. 

Throughout his career, he has dedicated himself to reviving the traditions of acoustic blues and bringing them to as many ears as possible through the material of the great blues masters. His influences are varied including such great blues musicians as Blind Willie McTell (and his way of story telling), Skip James, Manse Lipscomb, Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotton, and Buddy Guy, among others.  If you like the blues, you’re going to love Guy Davis. Enjoy!

The kind of blues that Guy Davis plays conjures up visions of old bluesmen sitting on a porch on a hot Mississippi summer evening making incredible music with cheap guitars and bottleneck slides, so I think we need a refreshing summer wine like a 2009 La Cana Albarino. Light gold colored with an aroma of lemon and flowers, it has a silky palate filled with pineapple, lemon, and green apples that carries through to a brilliant long finish full of citrus and just the right amount of minerality. It’s an absolutely delicious wine and great for tapping your toe on a warm summer evening listening to the blues. Enjoy!


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Richie Blackmore & Atalaya Almansa

Artist’s styles often evolve over time, but in my opinion, no one epitomizes the evolutionary process better than Ritchie Blackmore. From the dark metal rock of Black Sabbath to the heavy metal of Deep Purple to his current English music, Blackmore has evolved from a shredding guitarist to a true complete artist.  Check out his evolution from Iron Man to smoke on the Water to Spanish Nights and you’ll see how a musician grows through the ages.

Smoke on the water with Steve Morse & Ritchie:
Man on the Silver Mountain:

Richie Blackmore’s music has always had dark overtones, so I suggest a fabulous dark wine when you listen to his work. The Spanish 2008 Atalaya Almansa ($15.00) is primarily a blend of Monastrell, Garnacha, and Tintorera aged for 8 months in French oak, which all adds up to a wonderful wine. Deep purple crimson hue with a complex aroma of blackberry, spice, cedar, and hints of chocolate & coffee. The palate is filled with dark plums, black cherry, and other dark fruits. This is a very complex, earthy wine and a tremendous value at the price. It’s rich, dark color and flavors compliment the music of Blackmore perfectly. Enjoy!