So this is my first post. This’ll be a little longer to give some explanation of the blog.
I’ve been playing guitar on and off since elementary school in the 1970s. Despite taking some lessons in middle school (and maybe early high school), I never learned to read music. When I wanted to learn a song, I had to figure that out on my own, just by ear and experimentation–often with friends who learned from other friends, etc.
I have loved R.E.M. since I discovered them when Fables came out. I remember that excited feeling of putting that record on in my room and hearing many of those songs for the first time. The only thing that was just as exhilarating was learning to play those songs on guitar (and performing them in my garage band in high school). And learning songs on guitar written by Peter Buck was not always as easy as it seemed. Often, the way I or others played the songs were not exactly how Peter Buck played them (I did not learn that until many years later, in most cases).
Now I am in the process of playing R.E.M. songs with a group of friends, and I want to play them the way Peter Buck did. I think the process of figuring out how and what he did is fascinating, and my idea was to start a blog to not only document this process, but to try to engage in a sort of dialog with others that might have the same interest–because even when you think you have been playing something correctly for 30 years, you find out that it was actually played a different way. And it is helpful to exchange information with others to that end. So this is a blog and a topic that is for a very limited audience!
So let’s get started with 9-9*. I want to keep each topic to one song, so there will be a catalog of songs. 9-9 is not the first song I have worked on–I have over 25 of them pretty much figured out (or in the books) at the moment. But 9-9 is the one i am working on currently.
In the 80s, you could buy a book of Tablature (Tabs) down at the music store or even order them in the mail. People passed them around, but just to remind the younger readers: there was no internet in those days!! The tablature for R.E.M. was never very good. R.E.M. was not conventional. Peter Buck’s guitar was very original.
There is much to find on the internet, and tablature can be very helpful. It is a good starting point, even if it is mostly incorrect. I had never played 9-9 before–I always thought it too hard to figure out. That is evident through the available tablature (apparently, neither could anyone else).
A great source for R.E.M. tabs I found has been this site which appears to be some type of archive from an earlier blog or collection. It contains a treasure-trove of tablature and chords/lyrics for R.E.M. songs. Looking up 9-9 on that site yielded very little–nothing different from what I found on the on-line tablature sites (which are completely hopeless).
In the 80s, we had to go see a band live (or watch them on MTV if they were shown playing instruments) to see how they played a song (and maybe later when VHS was more prevalent, we could rent or buy a video tape the artist put out). In this age of the internet, one obvious advantage is all the video footage that is available.
The only video of Peter Buck playing 9-9 I could find was this incredible concert from 1984 (a year before I first saw them live in Richmond on the Fables tour, December 5,1985, at the Mosque). This concert is posted in a series of videos on YouTube by a great R.E.M. fan, REMchout, who even plays a little R.E.M. on the guitar [muchos gracias, REMchout!]. I call these videos the “Passaic videos” (I learned through further reading that the concert was apparently filmed for [M]TV at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, 6/9/84–so you see it referred to as the “Passaic show” or the “Capitol Theatre show”). Much credit to Analog Loyalist’s blog, The Power of Independent Trucking. What great R.E.M. reading!!
Prior to sitting down and looking at videos, I had pretty much figured out the verse–strumming the strings or harmonics (just making noise) and hitting that “E” Bar chord with the sus 4. I had even figured out a bit of the chorus (or what sounded right to me). It was the intro that was giving me the most trouble.
In the video, the camera only shows Peter Buck playing that intro at 1:50 or so when he plays it in the middle of the song (the camera sure likes Michael!!). I could see where his hands were. As much as I zoomed in, I could not get any more detail than that. So I fooled around with the guitar and different notes, but I was never very satisfied.
I found this little gem thanks to Chartstonge on SoundCloud. It’s from April of 1981 and Michael Stipe introduced 9-9 as a new song. What a different sound!! And just a few months later in November it is sounding more like the version we hear on Murmur. Although it is much faster, it is actually easier for me to hear the sounds. I can almost replicate that. But still, I do not have something right.
I really needed a clearer video, and I started to look for somewhere to purchase the Passaic Show. The breakthrough came with all the reading I had done looking for the video. This is after about two evenings of trying to figure the song out–so I’d spent more than a few hours on this (and I was not going to give up!). I don’t remember where I read it–in the comments to something somewhere in the infinite blog posts I was pouring over. But I found that the Passaic Show was released by Music Vault on Youtube and was on their website. This version was much more clear than the video REMchout had posted (it also includes Windout which they jump right into with Bill Berry never stopping):
Now I could see pretty much exactly where Peter Buck’s fingers were. I could also see that the way I was playing the chorus was incorrect as far as finger position. The notes were right, though. Alternate tuning.
I knew what that meant, though I am new to alternate tuning. I learned about alternate tuning from this video (thanks, AnotherBadSpeech) [Gardening at Night is the topic of another blog post here, but it was thanks to this video that I play it correctly after having played it incorrectly for 30 years)!! ]
Before I even tried playing 9-9 with the alternate tuning (the high “e” string is tuned down to a “D” for Gardening at Night), I looked at the Passaic set list. Gardening at Night was the song right before 9-9 and Peter Buck did not change guitars or appear to re-tune. I had my answer. And this tuning sounded correct when I played it! [Incidentally, go back to that 1981 song line up I posted earlier. Pretty weird, huh? They appear to have played Gardening at Night, 9-9, and Windout in that order or together frequently, including in their first known video from a show in February of 1981. Playing these songs together was due to the guitar tuning–either a separate guitar that is pre-tuned is used or Peter Buck tunes it down ].
Remember on these chords, the E is tuned down to a D.
Verses: [harmonics, other things], E, Eadd9, E
Bridge: Play this chord and move/pick it up and down the neck:
1st and 3rd times through (live, the first and second time through, Peter Buck seems to play just a few of these chords–then all of these the second and 4th times. I show this in my video):
7th fret, then 4th, 9th, 12th, 9th, 7th , 9th
2nd & 4th times through: 7th, 4th, 9th, 7th —-> 9th, 7th —-> 9th
The thrill of figuring these things out has certainly not worn off.
Finally, here it is live:
*Pronounced “Nine to Nine”. Murmur 33 1/3, by J. Niimi, Pg. 44 (Bloomsbury, 2005).