One thing has always been true for me, especially being a totally self-taught player, and that is just how I end up writing songs.
In a way, I really don’t see that much difference between writing a song, or interpreting someone else’s, because I still have to “make it mine” in the end. One thing I have always done both consciously and unconsciously is to pick up the guitar and immediately start creating something new. This was a habit I started long ago when I was first developing as a player….I would be eating, thinking and dreaming guitar! Sometimes, as I can recall, I’d be on a school bus heading home, just dreaming of the licks, or song that I couldn’t get out of my head, and that I couldn’t wait to try when I got home!
On days like this, it was not uncommon for my parents to come home and find me asleep in a chair, with guitar still in hand, as I no doubt played my weary self to sleep with my new found experimentation! To this day, I still love to write in this way, and if I am not quick to write down my idea, no matter how abstract it might be, it can vanish or fade away just like a dream right after you wake up!
The spark usually comes from a particular guitar riff, or great set of chord changes that challenges me from a melodic perspective, and even from a playing perspective, too. After all, I need the challenges, and it’s not all about trying to write something catchy or hooky. It’s true that the hook, in a way, has to first work on YOU, the creator of it, but I think that the inspiration for it, and the creation of it comes in a much more spontaneous, purely “felt” realm. I find also, that one of the hardest things to remember after you’ve come up with the idea, is to remember the actual “groove”, or “feel” of the song. This part of it can become very elusive, and I sometimes write down the funniest clues to myself to remember the groove…such as: “slower than Proud Mary, with an upbeat into the 3rd measure”! Or, “same changes as ‘Green Onions”, with blues fill in chord form over IV chord”. These are not actual references I’ve used, but they sure reflect just how my mind has to work sometimes to preserve an idea, no matter how elusive or thin it may be! More on writing in the future…remember, we ALL have a song in us!
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