USA: 1-800-4GIBSON
Europe: 00+8004GIBSON1
GibsonProductsNews-LifestyleStoreLessonsCommunity24/7 Support

More Thoughts on "Road Sanity!"

There’s no question that the road can drive anyone a little “batty”, but there are so many positives that can be taken from the experience, you must never lose sight of that! Like I said in my last blog, I always have tried to take away the best I could from road experiences, such as visiting museums, getting into the local color, visiting thrift shops, you name it. But the real thing is the people. I can truly say that the best impressions I’ve ever been left with from any given place are it’s people, and how I was able to connect with them.

Some of the most fulfilling experiences in this regard were the many clinics I have done, which I love to call being on the “campaign trail!” I call it this because that’s just how it feels. I’m there playing, talking, telling stories, and then afterwards there’s always the “meet and greet” aspect of it, where I get to really talk to and feel the presence of the folks I’ve been entertaining, and to get their feedback. One thing I truly love is to see how appreciative people can be when they know you are there with them, and that it took a lot to get you there! I don’t think there was ever a clinic I did in Australia where the first question from the audience didn’t begin with “first we want to thank you for coming this far!”

It’s very rewarding for sure, but the grind can really get to you. You have to be very careful about how you pace yourself on the road. I can remember thinking I was having just a fine, normal time out there on tour when I first did a really big one, but when I got back home I was agitated and snapping at everyone, and wasn’t really myself at all. I knew right away that the road had gotten to me in ways I didn’t even realize! When I did my Australian tour, it was great fun, but I can remember the man who brought me there telling me “we won’t let your feet touch the ground!’ Well, he was literally telling the truth, as every day began with an early morning flight to a new city, immediate non-stop radio interviews, then TV interviews, live TV and radio performances, magazine and newspaper interviews, one hour to eat dinner, one hour to get ready for my clinic, and then, the clinic itself! Not to mention all the socializing afterwards!! Then I’d have to be sure to get a good night’s sleep, because I’d have to be up and at ‘em again by 6AM for another flight! Good thing the tour was preceded by a week in Tahiti, and finished with a week on Dunk Island, in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia! At least the promoter of the tour knew and understood about keeping me “sane on the road!”


Posted: 9/28/2010 9:41:10 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Staying "Sane" on the Road!



I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories of what it’s really like to be out on the road, and the many crazy and wild antics that can accompany such a journey. The truth is that at least when I was out a lot touring, it was all I could do to keep it together, and stay sane out there! It’s no easy task, because so many of the people you have to work with and see on a daily basis are busy either being crazy them selves, or are trying to hold it together for themselves!

I’ve done all kinds of tours of course, and sleeping on the floor of a cold van was almost as familiar to me as being in a 5-star hotel, but it’s the kind of contact, or lack thereof that you are having with your fellow players that really makes all the difference. Of course, on a tour as big as the Simon and Garfunkel world tour, we all were afforded real luxury, our own rooms, catered dinners every night, you name it, but some of us players still had the time to develop friendships, or hatred for each other!! Most handled it like the real pros that they were, and were able to keep things on an even keel. I guess the craziest tours I’ve been on were of the mid-size variety, where we had the bus, the crew, just a couple of road manager types, and of course, a relatively small band. These kinds of tours can really get nuts because no matter what happens, we are all basically going through it together. This also means that whatever “mania” one of us may display, it’s going to have a rather profound effect on the entire group of people.

I always found it very important, as well as useful to see as much in any new area or town we were in as possible. And that didn’t mean only hanging out in bars, or going to see other bands play, which is good, but never really interested me that much. It’s more like seeing museums, ballgames, antique shops, cool restaurants and anything else that would really leave me with a true sense of the place I could take away with me. It used to amaze some of the folks I’d be with, and always won big points with the locals who may be with us, seeing that I wasn’t treating it like “just another town”. I can remember the liaison in Pittsburg being very impressed that I went out in a blizzard to see a painting at the Carnegie Museum that my Dad had always wanted to see, so I could report back to him about it! Or the time I was in Davenport, Iowa, and found myself buying an old “stadium” coat from the 1920’s in a Salvation Army thrift shop! These are the kinds of things that not only kept me “sane” on the road, but that truly stimulated me and left me with a striking impression of where I had just been.

So, if you ever decide to go on the road, and start to embark on that kind of life, please keep in mind that everywhere you go it should be interesting and fascinating to you. No two places are the same, and there is truly something “redeeming” about wherever you may find yourself. And anyway, in the long run, it just may help you “keep it together” on that long, difficult tour you may find yourself on! More on this subject in future blogs!
 


Posted: 9/21/2010 9:36:14 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When Egos Get in the Way!



As many of us know, a big ego can really get in the way of good working relationships within a band situation. This can go for a band member, being a sideman, or even the headliner frontman!

I have seen it all, for sure, and there were many times that what could have been a nice, long-term musical project ended up being cut short by an overblown ego getting in the way of real progress.

When I first moved to Woodstock in 1971, I was a young and impressionable kid of 18 who was eager to join a new band that was being put together. This bass player from there was putting it all together, and I was one of 5 band members, all of whom were coming there just for this sole purpose. We all had to find rental apartments or houses, and we all put the rest of our lives “on hold” for this new and exciting project. I can honestly say that “going in” we were all optimistic about the fact that we were all to be a part of the democratic process of this band, and that our music would all carry equal weight.

Well, sure enough, only a couple of weeks into this band’s creation, this guy who put it all together started to really show how he wanted to be not only the leader, but it was his music and only his music that he would even entertain us performing and / or recording. Well, I can tell you that this broke this band up faster than you could say “Jack Robinson”, and it amazed me! So, there I was, left with 10 months on my lease, not able to drive yet, not really knowing anyone in Woodstock, and all alone with a broken-up band. It wasn’t long before I started getting other decent sideman work, but what it really sent me into was a dark period where I had to return to the Bronx, and play for a couple of years with a real “nothing” cover band, which allowed me to play three of my original songs, mixed into the set. We played a lot of awful gigs, and the fact that I had a good taste of the “real” music business made this kind of gig even harder to stomach. But, still I did it, and was able to keep my own ego in check enough so I could at least get the most out of that experience!

The guy who broke up that first band ended up in many future bands and backup gigs along with me, ad he never learned….his ego and terrible way of looking at the business kept on dooming everything he was a part of, even though I kept giving him work. He got so bad, that for a long time now, he has been completely out of the business all together.

In the end, it seemed like he didn’t have the fortitude to withstand rejection, and therefore always tried to keep up this “tough” exterior to hide that fact. But whenever he did feel rejected within the business, he would drop out of it, and go into a kind of “hiding.” This was his protective mechanism, but in actuality, it had him always losing the momentum that is so important when it comes to developing a good career. Instead, he was viewed as volatile, angry and extremely unpredictable.

So, the best thing, especially while starting out, is to put that ego aside, and know what is best for you and the other players around you. In the long run, it will teach you so much, and your future career will thank you for it. Take it from me!

Posted: 9/16/2010 9:12:17 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing Solo Versus Playing with a Band

I have lately found doing solo acoustic gigs very rewarding in addition to my usual band-oriented gigs. It’s easily one of the most satisfying ways to perform and to connect with an audience, and if you can get over the initial “jitters” it can give you, that energy can really be transformed into a true artistic performer’s experience!

One thing I have really noticed right off the bat, is how much musical “space” you have to work with and work within when performing solo. I mean, you can get the place rocking, have the audience clapping along with you, and you can suddenly just STOP, and they fill that space for you by continuing the groove! Automatically, the people out there feel a deeper connection with you, and certainly must feel much more like they are a part of the show itself. Also, the “give and take” of it all becomes much more apparent as the show progresses, because of the wonderful energy that flows from the audience to performer and back again! It’s really amazing when it works, and you feel on top of the world!

Certainly, one of the key differences between the solo thing and the band gig, is how one tends to rely and “lean” on the other members of the band at certain times, while when you’re alone up there, you have to learn to “lean” on yourself, and dig a little bit deeper for what really matters. There are no ways out when you’re playing solo, and you may as well be naked up there, because as far as the audience is concerned, you are! They see, hear and feel everything you are conveying to them, and believe me, most of the time they’ll be able to tell if you’re uncomfortable, or if you’re not being straight with them!

I also have been doing “solo” type gigs where my daughter, Lexie joins me and sings songs. This allows me to take a little “side seat” to her, and enables me to feel less pressure, and also to show off my “backup” chops as a player, which has always been a big part of what I do anyway. Of course, I’m sympathetically feeling the added pressure that is now on her, but she can look to me for reassurance, both emotionally as well as musically.

So, even if you’re doing a lot of band-oriented playing and gigs, the solo, or even duet route is a great one to take, especially if you want to really get more in touch with the “feel” of your music, and if you want to gain in performing experience in leaps and bounds. Hey, it’s basically how I learned; right in front of audiences everywhere, with pure survival in mind!


Posted: 9/14/2010 5:14:59 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hearing It, Feeling It, Playing It!

The art of really being able to play what you are hearing and feeling inside is a truly well-honed skill. It’s something that I have always done throughout my guitar-playing life, and is of course, something that can only continue to get better. Basically, one’s skills keep improving as one goes on in life, as does your ear, so it would make sense that whatever effort and time you put in over the years, it will certainly pay more and more increasing dividends. I can certainly recall that special “moment” when I realized that I was truly at “one” with the guitar, and it occurred long before I felt any true mastery of the instrument itself ... but there was just something about that time and place that made me feel like it had all really “come together.”

My first take, when recording in the studio, is one that must always be recorded. You never want to miss that first golden opportunity to see and hear how your first real impression of a song turns out….after all there will never be another “first take” again, period! You should also strive for this kind of first take ability in your own playing. I know one thing that truly helped me was during my years as a sideman with many folk acts, rehearsal was hardly and rarely an option. Also, I believe they got spoiled by the fact that they knew I could always take the stage, hear a little bit of the song, and be able to fall right into playing it not only well, but with feeling! Little did I know, but this very active period in my career made me learn in leaps and bounds ... it’s what I like to describe to others as “learning in front of audiences”, when I talk about my self-taught abilities.

You have to remember, that no matter what you learn along the way, whether it’s from me or someone else, in the end, we all really teach ourselves, and it’s what we do with our acquired knowledge that really makes or breaks us! To me, an initial performance of a song is just as impactful as that first take in a recording studio and as you start to further take the piece of music apart, it becomes more and more yours.

I have done this over the years with certain songs in my repertoire, for example, my big instrumental hit off my second album was “When a Man Loves a Woman.” We thought it was so outrageous when I decided to take a real strong attack with it in the studio, we figure, “let’s just leave it alone, it’ll never have that magic again.” And, therefore we put it out like that. Yes, it was a hit, and got all kinds of accolades in the press, but when Rounder Records inexplicably neglected to include it on my compilation CD, I decided that since I had performed it live better every time since that recording, I would do it again on my Toolin’ Around album! That turned out to be a much more satisfying recording, and I believe it captured the real essence of how I had honed the art form of interpreting that song in front of audiences for 12 years.

So keep in mind that regardless of what the outcome may be, you must always strive for, and aim to, “hear it, feel it, and play it!”


Posted: 9/2/2010 5:33:37 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Great Guitars, Lost and Found!

Many of us who have collected guitars over the years certainly have an endless array of stories of the great ones captured and “the big ones that got away” for sure, but I think that some of mine really take the cake! One thing is for sure, that the expression “they’re still out there” certainly still holds true, even in today’s Ebay and “Antiques Road Show”-driven world! I have still come across some gems, even recently, at country auctions and even in junk shops, so you just never know what you’ll find. Certainly, a lot is driven by the fact that in tough times such as these, people are willing to part with more things, and at cheaper prices.

Back in the days of my great “Pawn Shop finds”, and other conquests, it was even hard then to get up the money if I saw something for $100 that I knew I had to have. There used to be this wonderful music store that I would pass on the way home from High School on the city bus every day that I would get off the bus for almost every day! There were literally walls and walls of incredible guitars there, and it seemed that I would leave a ten dollar deposit on something new there each day in the hope that my Dad would be able to come through with the rest of the money for me. I recall that the last guitar I left a deposit for was a beautiful Gibson ES-355, in mono, that must have been around a 1959 model. Being a huge B.B. nut at that time, I was so sold on wanting a guitar just like his famous “Lucille!” Of course, I never got that guitar, and I still somehow feel there’s a void in my collection to this day that could only be filled if I can get one of those cool 355s!

The biggest one that got away though has to be the original ’58 Flying V that walked into the store I lived over one day in lower Manhattan. It was already around 1981 or so, and the value and scarcity of guitars such as these had been firmly established. Yet, the folks in this little music store hadn’t a clue about this, and really blew it big time! Apparently, according to what they told me, earlier that day, a police officer walked in with an original, unplayed 1958 Korina Flying V. I said “so did you buy it?” and they said, “oh no, Arlen, the guy wanted $800 for it!” As my anxiety continued to grow, I said “well surely you got his phone number!” And they said no ... At this, I went crazy ... I tried to call every police precinct in the tri-state area to somehow find this “needle in a haystack”, but obviously, to no avail. Later that year, about 8 months later, to be exact, a collector friend happened to say to me, “hey, did you hear about the cop with the 1958 Flying V who is at $9000 and rising?” I then proceeded to tell this sickening story for one of the hundreds of times I’ve had to tell it since! The last time this guitar changed hands, I think it was for around $200,000!

It still makes me physically ill to think of what was let go that day, and how foolish the guys were in that music store. There’s one guy I still know from those days, and I always give him a hard time about this disaster whenever I get a chance! Don’t let this happen to you ... and always keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground for those great finds. They are still out there!


Posted: 8/31/2010 9:21:31 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hangin' with Jeff Beck

Recently, when I thought (briefly) about selling my ’38 Buick street rod, I came across some interesting photos of when Jeff Beck and Jennifer Batten came to visit my home in New York. It was a deeply solemn time, as he was coming to pay his respects after the accident that took the lives of my wife Deborah and my 14 year old daughter, Gillian. Jeff and I and his management had been just talking days prior to the tragedy about his doing a video for me at Hot Licks. Jeff and I had always been big supporters of each other, and he had always professed his love and respect for my playing, which made me very proud. He was apparently getting ready for his latest tour as well, and he was traveling with Jennifer for that purpose. So it was a kind of sudden surprise that he called me and said he was coming into an airport nearby me, and that he wanted to visit and pay his respects, and express his sympathies.

I remember it being a wonderful meeting, where I struggled to stay focused, since I was still in deep shock and trauma, and Jeff couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. We sat at the kitchen table, sipped some tea, and talked music, and his doing an instructional/documentary-like video for my company, Hot Licks. We also discussed more far-reaching plans such as touring together, (something I still wish would happen!) and recording together as well. He couldn’t have been more gracious and enthusiastic, as he proclaimed, “I only will do the video here at your house Arlen, and it has to be the best!” Then when we eventually got over to the garage so I could show him some cars, he saw my street rod, and said, “that’s it, no advance for the video, just pay me with the Hot Rod!” He was joking of course, but it was a warm and friendly visit, where such banter flowed freely and with a bittersweet kind of humor. The air, after all, was still heavy with the grief and shock I felt, and this was the kind of visit I really needed from a friend and an admirer.

This was in March of 1998, and the video shoot at my home had been scheduled for May. All the details had been worked out, but for some reason, at the last minute, Jeff had to cancel out. This left me with several days of recording already booked, and I had to make something happen with the time and crew I had already paid for. So, I decided to make “lemonade out of lemons” and picked up my guitar for the first time in 3 months, and went on to record a 6-tape boxed set called “Acoustic Guitar A-Z”, as well as “Country String-Bending”. The great Jimmy Bruno was also gracious and came up and did a wonderful 2-tape boxed set for me called “No Nonsense Jazz Guitar.”

So, even though it all ended rather abruptly, I still cherish these memories, and look forward to hopefully working with Jeff in the future, and to continuing our “mutual admiration society!” At least we can go hot rodding together one of these days!


Posted: 8/26/2010 3:27:05 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

New Projects, the Good Old Days and More!

These days, I am very involved in creating new albums for myself and my daughter, Lexie, as well as my continued work for Gibson, bringing you the best in instruction……The live performing I have been able to continue to do, plus the teaching has really stirred up the creative pot for me, and has me thinking of all kinds of album projects. My most recent have been two “cover” albums where I did solo acoustic versions of Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel tunes. Each one of these 2 cds represents one type of direction I am going in, and where I hope to do more with the same idea in mind. I am also working on a duet guitar album with Nashville songwriter, Mike Garvin, and am beginning to record some ideas for a new all-electric band album, which would be a follow-up to the latest cd I did with Levon Helm, “Toolin’ Around Woodstock.”

I guess the reason this all makes me harken to the “good old days” is that it brings up a time of innocence when all that ever mattered was the music. Times are so much more complex right now, and it feels like such a far cry from the times when all I had to worry about was where my next gig was going to come from, and how I was going to further my career, and be a better guitar player. One thing always led to another, and the phone always rang with new and exciting gigs, and I even had my “lucky” phone booth, where all these gigs would always seem to come in!

When I can see it through my daughter’s eyes, I can certainly see more of the simple innocence that I can recall when I was her age, but even for her, this is a far more complex world than it was for me back in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. There is so much more to worry about financially, and it’s so much harder to really “break in” to the business, regardless of how much talent you may have. When I was really starting out, there wasn’t a great guitarist on every block like there are these days, and you could still really stand out from the crowd as a player. Nowadays, there are many avenues, but the one that has the most impact, the live gig, seems to be getting harder and harder to find.

Regardless of this all, I am still very thankful for having enough of my foothold in the “good old days”, and to be able to experience this new world in music these days for myself, as well as my daughter and her musical aspirations!


Posted: 8/24/2010 1:24:20 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Old Guitars Versus New!

I have always had a fascination with vintage guitars, and of course, a lot of the guitars I was loving way back when they were new, are now vintage as well! There is no question that guitars were made in a different way in the old days, especially when folks didn’t need guitars at such an incredible pace like they do now! It’s all basically been since the Beatles boom, and there’s been no looking back since! I love the old patina, vibe and “mojo” that old instruments have, but there is no question that technology has brought the quality of manufacture up to incredible standards these days.

When I was shooting my first batch of Gibson.com lessons, I was really amazed and so happy to see what quality these new Gibsons have. Not only that, but the sheer consistency with which they are built is astonishing! Every Les Paul I played, each 335, every SG was completely consistent. When you think about this, it’s a truly incredible accomplishment, since we are still dealing with woods that naturally vary and shift, and the fact that they are still basically built by hand. I think that Gibson and many other makers these days have finally listened to what players and collectors out there were saying about “the old ones being made better”. Now, there is a wonderful quality built in to each guitar, and with these “limited edition” guitars always coming out, the collectability factor is always there as well.

Of course, with some of the old models, there are still guitars that have not been “reissued” yet, so therefore, you can only get them as vintage pieces, but we can only hope that eventually Gibson will get around to making some of these other classics “new” models once again. Like anything else, if you are shopping for a new Gibson or a vintage one, I certainly recommend that you play as many as possible before making your purchase decision, but I can say that the “new” ones will present much less variation in quality and playability! They are a joy to play, and the tone, balance and feel is every bit as good as the legendary “old” ones…..I’d love to get my hands on a few I can name right now! They are fantastic instruments, and in my opinion, represent a “renaissance” in present-day guitar making!


Posted: 8/17/2010 3:27:34 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When Those Old Students Haunt You!

Yesterday, someone was sending me musical “stumpers” that she likes to challenge my knowledge with. You know, like “who’s playing”, or “name this band and the guitarist”, things like that. Usually I do pretty well, and get about 70% of the trivia questions and stumpers correct, but this time there was a contemporary player who stumped me! The one thing I did notice was that he sounded an awful lot like me, and had similar ideas that were almost “too close” for comfort!

Well, sure enough, it turned out to be someone I had seen as a student for 2 of the last 3 years, who was already a fairly accomplished guitarist, but whose eyes I had really opened in terms of my bending, and my phrasing. This was immediately apparent as I started to listen to him, and o course, once I knew that he was my student it made perfect sense! I do admit that I hear my licks everywhere; on records, at gigs, you name it, but I have never really been afraid of creating any Arlen “clones” out there. But this did “jar” me a bit, since it was so close to home, and my friend was happily listening to him without knowing I had any influence on this player. I guess it’s bound to happen, since I’ve been “passing it on” for years now in a totally unselfish manner. And hey, one has to make a living, right?

I always simply hope that those of you who do get certain ideas and licks from me, at least acknowledge where these things came from, and who inspired you, too. We must always pay tribute to those who came before us, and who led the way artistically. This knowledge of your own art form’s unique history is so critically important, and it will only serve to make you a better player if you do delve into the past that has led up to the very notes you hold in your hand today! I have many students out there, past present and future, and I know that they will in turn, pass on some of this unique information, that most guitar players in the past held closely to the vest, and never divulged! I mean, a lot of what I teach are things that I only do, yet I have no hesitancy to pass it on to you and to others. I guess in the end, I was really glad to hear what my student had done with what I had given him, and I was surely glad to see that he had taken my playing and my lessons so “to heart!”


Posted: 8/12/2010 7:24:52 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
Displaying 111-120 of 311
 << First  < Previous  8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17  Next >  Last >>