Friday, April 6, 2012

The #35 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Lee Ranaldo

If you like a guitarist that pushes the boundaries of music through experimentation,#35 is for you:
#35:  Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth, solo
33 years as an active guitarist

Lee M. Ranaldo was born February 3, 1956 in Glen Cove, Long Island.  He is a co-founder, singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer and visual artist for the alternative rock group Sonic Youth.  
Ranaldo graduated from Binghamton University.  Ranaldo began his career in New York City in several groups and joined the electric guitar orchestra of Glenn Branca, which toured throughout the United States and Europe. 

Ranaldo became acquainted with Thurston Moore, who had moved to New York City in 1976.  Moore and Kim Gordon formed a band, using the names Male Bonding, Red Milk, the Arcadians, and finally Sonic Youth by 1981.  Sonic Youth might as well have been called We Can't Find a Drummer.  Sonic Youth performed at the Noise Fest in New York City, a festival that also included Branca's ensemble.  Moore thought Ranaldo was "the best guitarist he had ever seen in my life", and asked Lee if he would join the band.  Ranaldo accepted, and the band played three songs at the festival later in the week, with each band member taking turns playing the drums.

Eventually, the group met drummer Richard Edson and the lineup was complete.  Branca signed Sonic Youth as the first act on his record label Neutral Records.  The group recorded the Sonic Youth mini-LP of five songs and, while it received little airplay, did impress the critics.  Edson left soon after the project and was replaced by Bob Bert.

Bert didn't work out either and was replaced in 1983 by Jim Sclavunos.  Sonic Youth released the album Confusion Is Sex and toured Europe that summer.  Sclavunos left midway through the tour, as Bert was accepted back into the group.

While touring Europe the next year, the band's equipment malfunctioned during a show in London and Moore destroyed the equipment onstage in frustration.  This actually gave the band publicity they hadn't received to that point, and when they returned to New York City, Sonic Youth was able to finally perform on a semi-regular basis.  Sonic Youth released the album Bad Moon Rising that year.

Sonic Youth signed with Homestead Records in America and Blast First in the U.K.  Their recent album had sold 5,000 copies in six months in the U.K., a paltry figure.  Bert quit the group and was replaced by drummer Steve Shelley.  

The group signed with indie label SST Records and recorded the album EVOL, which featured more melodic material and new drummer Shelley.  SST was able to promote the group nationally and the music press began to take notice.  

Sonic Youth recorded the album Sister in 1987, an album that showed great experimentation.  Sister sold 60,000 copes for the group.  Once again, though, it seemed the members of the group were never satisfied, and they signed with Enigma Records, which was partly owned by EMI and distributed by Capitol Records. 

Sonic Youth released the double album Daydream Nation, which was a critical success and was chosen in 2006 by the Library of Congress as one of 50 recordings that year to be added to the National Recording Registry.  The lead single, "Teen Age Riot", was the first song from the group to achieve any significant success, receiving heavy airplay on modern rock stations.  But there were problems with distribution and once again the group was looking for a new label.

So the band next signed with Geffen after finally figuring out that there was a reason some labels were called "major" and others were called "indie".  In 1990, Sonic Youth released the album Goo, which included the single "Kool Thing" and followed that up with the release of the album Dirty.  In 1993, the group recording "Burning Spear" for the AIDS-Benefit album No Alternative.  
In 1994, Sonic Youth released Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, which peaked at #34 on the album chart.  They also recorded a cover of "Superstar" for the Carpenters tribute album If I Were a Carpenter.  By 1995, alternative rock had gained a lot of attention, and Sonic Youth headlined the Lollapalooza festival.

Gordon began playing guitar, giving the group three guitarists and a drummer, and this combination yielded the album A Thousand Leaves and Washing Machine.  This album represented a shift away from the group's punk roots and towards longer jam sessions.  The album features two Renaldo songs, "Hoarfrost" and "Karen Koltrane".  

Over the next few years, Sonic Youth released eight highly experimental records on their own record label, SYR.  Bassist Jim O'Rourke joined the band as a fifth member, and albums contained mostly instrumental, improvised music.
In 1999, Sonic Youth recorded NYC Ghosts &Flowers and then opened for Pearl Jam during the east coast leg of their tour in 2000.  They performed at the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival in Los Angeles in 2002 and released the album Murray Street.  The group followed in 2004 with the album Sonic Nurse.  The latter enjoyed decent sales due to appearances on several television talk shows.

O'Rourke departed in 2006, replaced by Mark Ibold on bass. The group released the album Rather Ripped, a switch to shorter, more structured songs, and appeared at the Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza festivals.  In 2008, Sonic Youth released two more editions to the SYR Series, SYR7:  J'Accuse Ted Hughes and SYR8:  Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth.  In June, the group was featured in Goodbye 20th Century:  A Biography of Sonic Youth
Lee Ranaldo Guitarist Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth attends the "Fender Jazzmaster 50th Anniversary Concert" at the Knitting Factory on September 12, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Fender) *** Local Caption *** Lee Ranaldo 

The group, however, was never happy, and unbelievably, was upset with the way Geffen "handled their last four or five albums".  In December of 2008, Sonic Youth collaborated with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones on a project that became the soundtrack for a Merce Cunningham Dance Company. 

In early 2009, Sonic Youth released the album The Eternal and scored and composed the soundtrack to the French thriller Simon Werner a Disparu, which premiered in May, 2010 at the Cannes International Film Festival.  The soundtrack was released in 2011 as SYR9:  Simon Werner a Disparu.

Ranaldo announced on November 28, 2011 that Sonic Youth were "ending for a while".

Sonic Youth used a variety of alternative guitar tunings more radical than nearly anything in the Rock Era.  Ranaldo and Moore developed the tunings in an effort to introduce new sounds, with guitars tuned for use in specific songs. 

Ranaldo released the solo albums Dirty Windows, Amarillo Ramp and Scriptures of the Golden Eternity.  Ranaldo has also formed the group Glacial with guitarist David Watson and drummer Tony Buck and the duo called Drift with his wife Leah Singer.

Text of Life was a group founded in 2001 by Ranaldo that plays improvised music along with films by Stan Brakhage.  Since then, Ranaldo has released the solo albums Outside My Window The City Is Never Silent - A Bestiary in 2002, Music for Stage and Screen in 2004, Ambient Loop For Vancouver in 2006, Maelstrom From Drift in 2008 and Between the Times and Tides in 2012.

Ranaldo has worked with jazz drummer William Hooker and has also produced many albums for others including Babes in Toyland.  

Ranaldo plays Fender Jazzmaster and Telecaster Deluxe guitars and occasionally Gibson Les Pauls.  One of his Jazzmasters has a single coil pickup that is installed between the bridge and tailpiece to accentuate the resonating chiming sounds on that area of string.  In 2007, Yuri Landman built the Moonlander for Ranaldo, a bi-headed electric guitar with 18 strings.  In 2009, Fender introduced a Lee Ranaldo signature edition of a transparent blue guitar.

Ranaldo uses a Fender Super Reverb head with a Fender 4 x10" cabinet, a Fender Vibro-King, a Furman power source and a Toneworks DTR-1 Digital Tuner.  He has used heads from Bassman and Custom HiWatt and a Mesa Boogie 4 x 12 cab.

Ranaldo has used the same effects since 2007.  They are the Moogerfooger Ring Modulator, an Ernie Ball Expressional pedal, an Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer, an MXR Blue Box, and BJF Honey Bee, an Ibanez AD-80 Analog Delay, a Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor, a Klon Centaur and a Digitech PDS 1002 two-second Digital Delay and a Voodoo Lab Pedal power.

Showing amazing creativity, Ranaldo has introduced new ways of using the guitar and different sounds that the instrument can make.  Lee Ranaldo ranks #35 for the Rock Era*...

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