Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 22 07:23:39 PDT 2004

List mates:

I think the Rocker's stole the artistic grimace from us jazzers. And we
stole it from the classical artists. In any event, if you are playing
jazz, you should either have that "grimace", or a spaced out blank face
stare. How many of us remember the Pee Wee Russell grimace? I copied it
for a while and then added Lionel Hampton's "Eh" grunt with every breath
plus a slight pelvic move. Very effective with the ladies when I was
under 30.

Then Jimmy Hendrix and Elvis stole it from me, garnering fame, fortune,
fans and all my women. ;-) VBG

Say, how about a National "banjo-face" contest and/or "washboard face"
contest. Winner to be announced at Sacramento Jubilee in 2005? First
prize, an off season trip to Pismo Beach and all the clams you can dig.
;-) VBG

Steve Barbone

PS. Personally, I always thought Sir Thomas Crapper was responsible for
the artistic grimace. (all you ex-fighter pilots out there know what I'm
talking about, having been taught to use it to avert G-force blackout)

July 22, 2004 By RANDY KENNEDY - NY Times

He Can Play Guitar, but Can He Grimace?

In England they call it, rather elegantly, "throwing shapes." One
American practitioner says he thinks of it as "selling a move." But to
most people who have seen it up close as a rock concert, it is simply
that nutty face that the guitar player makes: a contorted grimace,
sometimes involving liberal amounts of tongue, that suggests either
ecstasy or accidental electrocution.

"My sister always asked me: why do you make those faces when you play?"
said Gary Lucas, who played for Captain Beefheart and was interviewed
recently while touring England with the Magic Band. Mr. Lucas could
never exactly explain it to his sister, except to say that the "strings
have always seemed like an extension of the nervous system."

And somehow, too, making the face was sexy. Mr. Lucas remembers that
when he was young, he even noticed the familiar look of pained pleasure
on the face of the second or third cellist in the New York Philharmonic.
"He had a certain female section of the audience absolutely swooning,"
he said.

Now both men and women — professionals, nonprofessionals and air
guitarists alike — are being given a chance to put their best
swoon-inducing faces on display. As a way to promote a video-on-demand
guitar instruction show on cable television called "Guitar Xpress," the
company that owns the service, Rainbow Media Holdings, recently came up
with the idea of holding a national "guitar face" contest.

Pretenders to the throne of, say, Angus Young of AC/DC (among the widely
acknowledged kings of extreme-pain guitar face) or Stevie Ray Vaughn
(who patented a kind of uncontrolled hideous laughing look) or Eddie Van
Halen (of the prolonged wide-open-mouth school) can take a picture of
their own look and send it via e-mail to guitarface at magrack.com or mail
it to the company, which has lined up a panel of celebrity guitarist
judges including Dick Dale, Roger McGuinn and J. J. French of Twisted
Sister. When the contest ends in October, the winner will end up with an
Epiphone guitar, 15 or maybe even 20 seconds of fame and possibly calls
from reality-show casting directors offering more.

Sal Cataldi, a public relations executive and part-time guitar player
who came up with the idea for the contest, said that when he started
trying to recruit judges "they all immediately knew what I was talking

"And they all had these great stories about the guys they thought had
the world-class guitar faces," he said, adding that B. B. King's was
mentioned often as a classic, an intensely painful look, as if he were
playing with broken fingers or had intestinal spasms.

The faces break down into a few general categories: the pout, the
pucker, the catfish (open mouth), the heavy squint and the full-face
wince. There are combinations, such as the catfish crossed with the
heavy squint, which one Web site describes as the Mr. Magoo, after the
seeing-impaired cartoon character. And there are also regional variants,
like the angry, disdainful no-expression look of the New York guitar
player, a face used frequently by Mr. French, the Twisted Sister
guitarist, who admits that he adapted his techniques from early
performances by Mick Ronson, David Bowie's guitarist.

"This is the J. J. really cool New York look," Mr. French said the other
day in an interview at the Sam Ash guitar store on West 48th Street in
Manhattan, demonstrating his special almost-no-expression snarl with
sunglasses. But then Mr. French, who owns a management company and still
tours in full makeup with Twisted Sister ("We always looked like a bunch
of middle-aged hookers, but now we really do") showed how his look can
change into a tortured but blissful squint when playing high notes at
the top of the guitar neck and then relax into a kind of pouty,
elongated gape with the lower notes.

Once during a big stadium show in the 1980's, he recalled, he achieved
his all-time most successful guitar face after jumping from a drum stand
and sliding across the stage, smashing his knee badly against an
amplifier. "At which point," he said, "the pain and the expression on my
face probably out-Hendrixed Hendrix. And when I was in all that pain, I
remember saying to myself, `Go with it, J. J. Milk it. The crowd is
eating this up.' "

Which of course brings up the ongoing debate regarding guitar face: how
much of it is an expression of genuine, unfiltered musical passion and
how much is calculated, the well-honed moves of a seasoned performer?

Mr. French says that he was aware of the need to perform boldly onstage,
especially for huge audiences, and that the facial expressions helped.He
said they helped "sell the move" he was about to make by windmilling his
strumming arm or kicking up one of his waxed legs. But he swears that he
never put that much forethought into the look on his face and thinks few
professional rock guitarists do.

"I don't think it's like professional wrestling where guys sit around
and figure out how they're going to con the audience," he said. "Forgive
me for not being that cynical. I like to think we really feel it."

They may, but Mark Weiss, a veteran rock photographer who is a judge for
the contest, says that in his 30 years of watching guitarists, he has
seen quite a few who were not only very aware of their stage expressions
but worked on them.

"That's probably how they got into playing in the first place — it's
that they figured out how cool they looked doing it," said Mr. Weiss,
who has spent many hours focusing his camera on the faces of Ted Nugent,
Mr. Van Halen and the guitarists for extreme-guitar-face hair bands like
Poison and Mötley Crüe.

While he will not say which guitarists, he described how some in photo
shoots for album covers or magazines "insisted that I have a mirror
behind me while I was shooting so they could see their own poses. They
were thinking about the look a lot," he said.

Mr. Lucas, for one, admits that he did. When he was young, he says, he
decided to give up playing the French horn for reasons other than not
being so good at it. "Basically," he said, "I couldn't put on a good
rock face while I was playing it."

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