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Book Theft with Schoenberg

Right before I graduated from college, I helped myself to a copy of Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony from the library.

Napping with Schoenberg

A big part of my napping ritual is choosing the right music by which to fall asleep. This is an absurd endeavor because I inevitably take about five minutes painstakingly choosing the right piece, and then generally fall asleep within thirty seconds.

Some ideas for interesting comping with Lap Steel

 One of the greatest things about the lap steel guitar is how difficult it is to play.

Videos with Grant Gordy

Another Video from Retrofret

I had a video-heavy couple of weeks right before the holidays.  Stay tuned for a music video, live show recording and live video from the Brain Cloud, New York's finest Western Swing band.  And here's a little promo video that we shot at Retrofret, NY's best guitar store (in my humble opinion...and that of many others who know way more than I do).




Live in Central Park

Recently I had the opportunity to play in Central Park at the beautiful Naumburg Bandshell with my trio; myself on lap steel, Jim Whitney on bass, and Larry Eagle on drums. It felt great to play for such a huge open space on such a lovely fall evening.  I've posted a few of the tracks here and I may put up a few more as they get ready.  Feel free to download and share with your friends! 

Video at Retrofret Guitars

Had a fantastic time the other day playing at Retrofret Guitars, that place is incredible!  Hopefully they'll let me come in and do this again soon:


Gig Alert!

It was nice to be the gig alert on WNYC this morning:


Trumpet transcriptions for lap steel

Originally Published on Mike Neer's "Lap Steelin'" Blog:


Playing the Part: transcribing music from other instruments on the steel

Certain things lie perfectly on the steel; mostly the songs written by steel guitarists that are intended to be played on the steel guitar. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to inject some new ideas into your playing and expand your repertoire, try transcribing music from other instruments and putting them on the steel. Doing this really pushes you to develop other aspects of your technique that you might otherwise not have had a reason to. Music written for piano, for example, is going to require you to do some things that might be quite simple on the keyboard but that require you to be extremely creative in terms of how you play them on the steel. Then you can take the techniques you learned from your transcriptions and apply them to your own improvisations, compositions, and interpretations of melodies.

To that end, here are two transcriptions of trumpet solos: first, Louis Armstrong’s melody chorus on his 1926 recording of “Big Butter and Egg Man,” a traditional jazz staple, and second, Bix Beiderbecke’s solo chorus on “Singin’ the Blues,” from 1927, another important recording in jazz history. Both are moderately difficult, and there are a few riffs in the Beiderbecke that are quite challenging. The Louis Armstrong is definitely the simpler of the two so I would recommend starting with that.


You might be thinking, “I never have any intention of playing either of these two songs, so why is this useful to me?” Well first of all, both performers transcribed here are acknowledged as two of the greatest instrumentalists of all time, so even if you don’t enjoy or intend to play the music, there are numerous lessons to be learned by listening to and performing these pieces, both in terms of lap steel technique and general musicianship. Second, you can play these pieces using my tablature and when you get to spots you find technically challenging, focus on those. You can even develop exercises that are based off of specific phrases in the music. For instance, measure 20 in the Bix is scalar motion using two strings only. Why not take that idea and see if you can effectively play a major scale on only two strings? Or, take that idea and write a sequence of it through the Eb major scale, using only two strings, then take that sequence and play it in all keys, still on two strings. Doing this type of thing gives you more possibilities when you improvise, compose, or make embellishments to melodies and makes it less likely that you will be stuck playing the same thing over and over. (E.G: Well, I’m in Eb, guess I’ll play on the 15th fret for a while).

Also, even if you don’t play these, there is still a lot to learn just by looking at the transcriptions. In Bix’s solo, for example, he cleverly develops an idea over a few bars, never repeating it exactly but always making reference to the original idea. Notice also that he frequently uses the upper extensions of the triads–such as bars 10-11 he plays a B-7b5 arpeggio over the G7 and then lands on the D natural, the 9th of the C7 chord. So maybe you want to practice playing the chords that start from the 3rd or 5th of the chord you are on instead of the root. (So, in this case: G7=G B D F, and Bix is using B D F A, which is just extending the pattern of the chord one tone further) Or notice the broken Eb-7 arpeggio in bar 32 of Armstrong’s that ends on an A natural over a Gb major chord, adding a sense of drama and tension that pulls you into the next chorus. Maybe this will lead you to practice arpeggios in different inversions and arrangements. And with both players, listen closely and try to emulate the bends, swoops, and various articulations that they use to approach notes, particularly in bar 10 of the Bix and beat four of bar 24 of the Armstrong. Both solos are filled with musical moments that should help you generate ideas when you are in similar playing circumstances.

Lastly, a note on feel–being that this is jazz music, many of the written rhythms do not correspond exactly to the way you will hear them played in the recordings. This is not to say it is inaccurately written; it just means there are subtleties for which written music cannot account. Listen closely to the performances and make an exercise out of trying to capture their swing and their rhythmic placement. Sometimes they will be behind or ahead of the beat; try and hear where they are and do your best to replicate it.

Thanks very much, hope you find this helpful! Please feel free to contact me via my website with any questions!

–Raphael McGregor

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five: Big Butter and Egg Man

Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke: Singin the Blues

New Videos of the New tunes

Well, in my last post I promised new tunes.  Truth to tell, I hadn't really started them yet, but writing that post and also telling everyone I could that I was writing new tunes made me actually sit and write new tunes.  Whatever it takes.  Anyway, I don't have a whole album's worth yet, but I have a good solid start.  See below for some vides of new and old tunes being played at Barbes last week, Aug. 12, with Ian Riggs and Harvey Wirht.  

What's Next

I just felt compelled to write as I looked at my calendar page and thought, "Hmm, I don't seem busy this summer...." Well, I'm not!  Not particularly, anyway; some wedding and party gigs, a few public shows, but mostly I intend to spend this summer hanging out with my wife and new baby (Leila Violet) and working on material for a new album which I plan on recording in the fall.  It's going to focus less on improvisation than my current one, Fretless, and more on composition and arranging.  And while I will use a core rhythm section for most tracks, I will incorporate other instruments as well, which I didn't do on my first disc.  I've already gotten some really good ideas down and I have been listening to a ton of all different kinds of music--Cuban son, Trad Jazz, Modern Jazz, Alt. Rock, Late Romantic/Early Modern Classical, and even Mexican Narcocorridos (full disclosure--my wife and I started watching Breaking Bad so that is actually what I'll probably spend most of my summer doing.  But even that is inspiring to me--the way the episodes are structured, the way the plot unfolds from season to season in this drawn-out but gripping way is very much like the way some of my favorite albums are created, where each song has a unique character but also a relationship to the album as a whole). 


So in summation, if you want to see me this summer, come to Barbes every Monday, come to Bar 4 on August 15th, or come to my house ad watch my write songs/change diapers/knock out episodes of Breaking Bad!  And stay tuned for updates on my new project!

Lap Steel Technique

For any curious steel players out there, here's how you can do one of the more impressive lap steel techniques...






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