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The Miracle Known as the Guitar!

Sometimes, particularly when I am playing or practicing a lot I suddenly am reminded of what a miracle I hold in my hands! The guitar has such expressive and sensual qualities sometimes it’s almost hard to comprehend! Also, what happens is when we get so “deep inside” our instrument, we sometimes forget to “step back” a bit, and really reflect on just how wonderful it is, and what it really does mean to us!

This is very important, because in the end I feel that it still helps us to become better players to look at our guitars as great companions, and as truly the miracle that they are. I find so many things about the guitar truly fascinating; for example, how is it that we all end up with our very own sound that moment we really start to play? I mean, sure, I can imitate B.B. King, Buddy Guy, or any number of other players, but I’d be hard pressed to actually sound like they really do! I have had to do this identity “game” by guessing who a guitarist may be, and I even surprise myself at how good I can be at identifying a certain player by his/her touch. Sometimes, it may be just a slight turn of the hand, a certain vibrato, or some natural pitch shift that triggers me being able to identify a certain player, but it certainly is a sign of a well-tuned ear to be able to do this!

Finding your own “voice” on the guitar is a real challenge, but at the same time, a very natural progression that evolves over time. In a way, it’s something that you needn’t even worry about. The guitar and you will continue to develop a closer and closer relationship to the point you may hopefully reach a day like I did, once when I was about 17 or 18, when I realized I was at “one” with my guitar! What a moment that was…imagine realizing that you’ve just reached that amazing feeling of being able to truly “speak” through your instrument. Definitely a revelation, for sure! These are the moments we, as guitarists, live for, and I find that these kinds of wonderful moments will continue to happen for you, as long as you really open yourself to the instrument, and all of its wonderful qualities.

So, the next time you pick up that guitar of yours, remember to appreciate its beauty, its voice, its expressiveness and most of all, simply appreciate it for all it can do and mean to you! These lovely sensual creatures allow us to be their “keepers” for a very special time while they “pass” through our hands…let’s treat them with that same “respect” they give us!


Posted: 12/15/2010 10:25:47 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Making Every Gig Count!

There is one thing for sure, we are always going to have good and bad gigs during our developing, and even advanced years! It just never seems to fail that the statement that “just when you thought you paid your dues, you get another bill!” always holds true for all of us! The main question is how we can always turn the negative into the positive, and most of all, make “every gig count.” This means that we must take away from each situation something that we have learned, or that has made us grow as players and people. In any case, I have certainly found that almost every gig I have ever done has helped me grow as a player….after all, many times we have to “dig deep” for the value of a particular gig to us, and what it means to our style and development as a player. For example, even though we may totally despise the music we may have to play at a certain gig, it may be just the thing we needed to make us think a little differently on the guitar, and to make us focus on another aspect of playing we may’ve never thought of.

Today I had to give a lesson that dealt largely with acoustic Bluegrass guitar, and I realized what an extreme discipline it can be. I was teaching my student a very specific version of Bury Me Beneath the Willow, a great traditional piece. This was a version by none other than Clarence White, one of my favorite guitarists, and it was lovely, but very hard to dissect properly. I realized I had to dig back into my early country roots to find out just where I had developed an ability to play this way, and I realized I had played many a Bluegrass festival in the early ‘70s, and had done a lot of research when I wrote my 3rd book, “Nashville Guitar.” This was what gave me a great foundation in those wonderful seminal tunes of early Bluegrass, and what Maybelle Carter had so pioneered.

I may have not had too many gigs back then that warranted me playing this style, but I nonetheless absorbed it for sure. So, in essence, the “gig” I did back then to get this stuff under my belt was to research and write my book. A tedious task for sure, but one that gave me a lot of mileage on the car without ever leaving the garage! Of course, back in those days, I was playing with folk/Bluegrass artists such as John Herald, Happy and Artie Traum, Bill Keith, Jim Rooney and others, which exposed me to a lot of that kind of sound. I guess being so young, I was absorbing it all like a sponge, and everything I ever heard or played somehow eventually came through my fingers!

But no matter what the gig may be, don’t ever be discouraged. I have done some of the truly craziest gigs in history, like sitting in front of a church in Manhattan wearing a Hawaiian outfit, playing lap steel guitar, with nobody caring to listen…but you know what? I learned the night before, along with my girlfriend, who played rhythm with me, and entire catalog’s worth of wonderful Hawaiian pieces! So yes, the gig was horrible, but the learning curve for it was something I’ll always be thankful for! Take this attitude with you wherever you go in music, and you’ll be so much better for it!


Posted: 12/9/2010 5:06:41 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Finding Folks to Form a Band with

It’s always a pretty difficult search to find proper band mates for yourself for many reasons: It’s important to be sure to have players of just the right level of proficiency for you to match up with, and of course, with the proper attitude towards you and each other. This doesn’t mean that you should be afraid to have players who are better than you, but they must be the kind who are patient, and understand that this is also to help make you better, as well. If you are a medium-ability player who’s playing in a band of better musicians than you, it’s important that your role be understood and well-defined. In the same way, the reverse must also be true…you must be patient with other in the band who may still need to learn more. They need to feel that they are a part of the process, and that they are “included” in as much as possible, as opposed to just being told what to do!

If you look at many of the most successful bands of the past who have really made it big, there was always a happy balance between the band having it’s all-important leader setting tone for the music, and the contributions of the other players. This is very true in groups such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, with their obvious leader, John Fogerty, The Lovin’ Spoonful, with John Sebastian, and the Byrds with Jim (Roger) McGuinn. Other big groups that had more of a democratic approach were such bands as The Band, The Beatles and maybe even The Rolling Stones. There’s something to learn from all these diverse groups, but there’s no question that even after incredible success, there were always feuds and real inter-personal problems that got in the way. What you want to do is be a peace-keeper, and try to head off as many as these problems as you can, before they escalate.

There are also times when it seems that all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit right away, and band members just seem to “click” together, both musically and personally. This is a rare occurrence, but not uncommon, when young player “fall together” into a musical situation, usually after enthusiastically talking about the possibility of having a band, and starting to play together. This is always an exciting time, and a great moment in the development of young players in general.

So make a diligent effort to find the right players to be with, and don’t settle for bad when you can have better….also, be sure to never underestimate what a young musician who really wants to play with you can contribute, regardless of their level of ability. Everyone deserves a chance to be heard, including you!


Posted: 12/7/2010 3:13:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Changing Face of the Music Industry!

You’d have to be living in a cave somewhere to have missed the fact of how much the music industry, among many other creative fields have changed these days. The older concepts of getting a record deal with a “major label” have certainly shifted, and the idea of going in a much more independent direction with your music has really take hold of most of us! It’s not to say there aren’t any major “deals” to be had out there, but the record labels, or what’s left of them, must be much more selective about who they sign and put money behind, since the buying public has also so radically changed from what it was before.

In the end, it still all really boils down to talent, and if you’ve got it, just how you are prepared to proceed with “making it” in your career. In the days when I was starting out, it was hard for me to chart a clear course for my actions, so I would rather take the more natural approach of “let’s see what happens” as I kept on weaving in and out of being a sideman “hired gun”, a studio player and a solo artist. Add to that, being a columnist, an author of 12 books and an entrepreneur who started Hot Licks, and you’ve a recipe for having a very scattered career and schedule! I always did believe though, in “spreading” myself around, so that the perception of the public was that I was a truly well-rounded artist who was not putting all his “eggs in one basket!” In this manner, I recorded solo albums for 5 different labels, wrote books for around 6 different publishers, wrote for 3 or 4 different magazines, ad of course played for countless different artists.

These days, I find myself with my own independent record label, booking tours and gigs on my own, producing my daughter Lexie’s second album, and just generally doing all kinds of things soloistically. It has really become an accepted thing for the younger generation, but for us older players who went through the decades on the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the “big deal” was what we still shot for, the new reality of 2010 is something totally new and different to embrace.

There are blessings in this new order of things however…such as the fact that we can much more easily track record sales, downloads and more thanks to everything going digital…it’s easier to mix and record now than ever before, and one can promote themselves on entities such as Facebook, Myspace and of course, our own websites. This gives bands and solo artists far more control than before, and allows us the chance to really stay on the “pulse” of the music scene, and how we fit into it. I love for example, that I can use the internet to actually track radio airplay of my records, something that was only a mystery just a few years back!

So try to stay on top of the “changing face” of the industry, but above all, and through all the changes, stay true to your talent, and try to avoid the syndrome that so many fall into…that of feeling like they must keep following trends, only to end up always one step behind!


Posted: 12/1/2010 3:16:28 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Changing Face of the Music Industry!

You’d have to be living in a cave somewhere to have missed the fact of how much the music industry, among many other creative fields have changed these days. The older concepts of getting a record deal with a “major label” have certainly shifted, and the idea of going in a much more independent direction with your music has really take hold of most of us! It’s not to say there aren’t any major “deals” to be had out there, but the record labels, or what’s left of them, must be much more selective about who they sign and put money behind, since the buying public has also so radically changed from what it was before.

In the end, it still all really boils down to talent, and if you’ve got it, just how you are prepared to proceed with “making it” in your career. In the days when I was starting out, it was hard for me to chart a clear course for my actions, so I would rather take the more natural approach of “let’s see what happens” as I kept on weaving in and out of being a sideman “hired gun”, a studio player and a solo artist. Add to that, being a columnist, an author of 12 books and an entrepreneur who started Hot Licks, and you’ve a recipe for having a very scattered career and schedule! I always did believe though, in “spreading” myself around, so that the perception of the public was that I was a truly well-rounded artist who was not putting all his “eggs in one basket!” In this manner, I recorded solo albums for 5 different labels, wrote books for around 6 different publishers, wrote for 3 or 4 different magazines, ad of course played for countless different artists.

These days, I find myself with my own independent record label, booking tours and gigs on my own, producing my daughter Lexie’s second album, and just generally doing all kinds of things soloistically. It has really become an accepted thing for the younger generation, but for us older players who went through the decades on the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the “big deal” was what we still shot for, the new reality of 2010 is something totally new and different to embrace.

There are blessings in this new order of things however…such as the fact that we can much more easily track record sales, downloads and more thanks to everything going digital…it’s easier to mix and record now than ever before, and one can promote themselves on entities such as Facebook, Myspace and of course, our own websites. This gives bands and solo artists far more control than before, and allows us the chance to really stay on the “pulse” of the music scene, and how we fit into it. I love for example, that I can use the internet to actually track radio airplay of my records, something that was only a mystery just a few years back!

So try to stay on top of the “changing face” of the industry, but above all, and through all the changes, stay true to your talent, and try to avoid the syndrome that so many fall into…that of feeling like they must keep following trends, only to end up always one step behind!


Posted: 12/1/2010 3:16:28 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Joys of Writing about Music!

One of the truly most exciting things that ever happened to me in the world of music was when I also started my writing career. It all happened in a rather un-assuming way, when in or around 1970 Happy Traum asked me to write a section in his book “Flatpick Country Guitar” about my unique “pedal-steel” style string bending positions. I was so excited to actually be published and seen in a book, and of course, at the young age of only 19, it was really quite a thrill.

Around that time, I had also started to teach privately and at Eddie Simon’s (Paul’s brother) Guitar Study Center in New York City. I received a call from Happy and also Oak publications that they wanted me to do a section about slide guitar, another area of my expertise, in a three-part book that was to be about Pedal Steel, Dobro and Slide Guitar. Well, I certainly was excited about this proposition, and the first thing I was anxious to tell the editor in our initial meeting was that number one, these should all be separate books! They were unnecessarily grouping these three instruments and styles into one very expensive book, and I felt they all really deserved their own full-length books. Not only that, but the players out there would not need to get all three at once anyway!

Well, needless to say, I had a great meeting with Jean Hammons, the editor at that time, and walked out with not only a deal to write “Slide Guitar”, but I had convinced them to sign me for 2 other books, “Nashville Guitar” and “Blues Guitar!” Keep in mind now, I was only all of 20 years old, and was just on a cloud when I walked out of that meeting! It was a chance to already document, at a very young age, a lot of the unique techniques and knowledge I had garnered in a really very short time! Of course, this lead to other things, like writing a ten-year successful column for Guitar Player Magazine called “Hot Guitar”, articles and much more!

I guess what I getting at here is that writing about one’s abilities is a great thing because it’ll only make you more aware of what you are really all about and what makes music “tick” in general. I know I loved how when I was first doing research for my Slide Guitar book, I loved looking up and finding all the great recordings by early slide players I hadn’t really know about yet, and learning about their incredible styles! I was quickly acquiring knowledge about greats such as Charlie Patton, Bukka White and Tampa Red, all powerful and important musicians whom I had yet to hear of! Oh yes, and when I went to write the music for the book, all I knew was where the “G” note was, I figured out the rest on my own! It also gave me an early glimpse into what made me tick, because somehow, by the age of 20, I had already gotten to master several techniques that were totally unique to me, that I had to take apart to really understand! This all helped enormously with my own teaching, and as we all know, the more you give, the more you get! So, if you want to, maybe you’ll be inspired now to go on and do a little writing of your own. Lord knows there are a lot more outlets for you these days!


Posted: 11/18/2010 8:27:31 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More Thoughts on Shopping for a New Guitar!

The one thing to keep in mind while shopping for a guitar is that it must be fun! Far too many people are put off by the shopping experience in music stores, especially stores where the salesman has an “attitude” problem. It’s up to you, and whomever you may be shopping with to overcome this problem, and take charge of the situation. I used to enjoy walking into a music store where they had the attitude like “who’s this kid?” and literally turn it into a performance, where I would hold the entire store spellbound with guitar sounds they had never heard before! This is a great way to “humble” anyone who’s giving you a difficult time, but of course, we can’t all do this!

Still, the attitude you need to assume is one where “they have to come to me”, showing you literally, how much they need to sell you a guitar. A good and perceptive salesman is certainly very important in this process, which I learned the first time I bought a truly great guitar, my 1952 Les Paul, from Eddie Bell’s guitar shop in NYC! First of all, the guitar I had on special order from Manny’s, around the corner, busted the nut as soon as I bend a string! I went around the corner, and was not too impressed with what Eddie Bell’s had, but just as I was leaving, the salesman, thanks to “divine intervention”, said, oh, have you seen our 1952 Les Paul? Well, I had not seen it, as it was hanging in a glass cabinet that I missed, but boy, was he right to show me that guitar! I suddenly knew what a really fine guitar felt and sounded like, not to mention that it was $250 cheaper than the guitar I rejected at Manny’s!

I can remember the feeling of real triumph as me and my Dad left that store with this wonderful ’52 gold top. I went home, happily played that guitar all night, maybe even slept with it, and was never the same since. This is the kind of rewarding experience you should feel when you get that first, or subsequent guitar for sure. The Les Paul was not my first, but there was something about that experience that set it apart from the others that made it far more memorable to me.

So when you go to that store, know what you’re looking for, and also, leave yourself open to whatever in that store may captivate and charm you…..you never know just how rewarding that little shopping spree may turn out to be! Happy guitar hunting!


Posted: 11/10/2010 9:09:02 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Don't Beat Yourself Up!

This particular blog is a little bit different than many of my others, since it deals with the actual psychology of being not only a guitarist, but an artist as well! As artists, and that is what you should be aspiring to become, we tend to have a lot of times when we set goals for ourselves that are almost too high. The end result of this striving for excellence can sometimes result in some real artist “misery” on our parts, and can often simply be the result of just trying too hard, or caring too much.

If it starts to get into your head that something’s wrong, and you’re not living up to your own expectations, you can set up a scenario that will feel like something you may never overcome. I believe it’s healthy to have big goals in music and personally, and it can certainly lead to great things, but you must never really “beat yourself up” over things that you must go through in your growing process. For example, if you have a bad night playing, which is something we’ve all had, don’t linger on it; try to put it behind you, and look forward to learning from it, and growing as the result. One of the most “toxic’ things I have ever felt is when I get into a “funk” about my own playing, or when a personal problem may take itself onstage with me. This can even be something as seemingly un-related as a fight or problem with a girlfriend backstage, just prior to stepping in front of the public. I have walked onstage literally trembling from what may have been going on backstage moments before. This is something thousands of performers have gone through for years, and there is a kind of art to being able to put this stuff behind you, even if it’s temporary!

So the bottom line is to not let things get to you too much. The process of making music and baring your soul onstage is really enough of a burden to have to carry for yourself, and for your listening audience without letting other stuff get the best of you! Be true to your feelings, especially as an artist, and always be sure to separate the professional from the personal, and you’ll be okay! It’s only music, and it’s only art, and it’s only life!


Posted: 11/5/2010 9:05:26 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Always be Good to Your Teacher!

Now, the title here doesn’t mean how I’d like you to treat me, although that certainly couldn’t hurt! But what I am talking about is showing a good deal of respect and deference to your teacher, especially if he or she is someone of great experience, who is a true veteran of teaching. The road of music is a long, often hard one, and the seat that teacher occupies can sometimes be a hard-earned one. One that is full of a lifetime of trials and errors, tribulations, successes and failures, and the situation of you two sitting together can be a volatile one for the teacher as much as for you.

Obviously, a lot of these kinds of thoughts come from my own experiences, and yes, there have been times, albeit rare, when I have felt not enough or basically no respect from my student! This can be very disheartening, and can take the wind out of my sails real quickly. And what does this all lead to? Simply the fact that then no learning will take place, at least none of any consequence, for sure. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who is broken-hearted and not respected, and a student who pays no attention, nor any respect.

The best situation is a healthy “give and take” that occurs between student and teacher, resulting in a good rapport that is always a healthy exchange of ideas and concepts. The kind of situation that keeps the teacher on his toes just as much as the student is on his toes! After all, there has to be an “edge” to what is going on during a guitar lesson, and there must be a good set of challenges for the teacher and the student. I know that I love teaching all levels of players, but my favorites are the lessons where I have a real challenging student, who pushes the limits of what I know. This invariably always stimulates my ideas, my playing and my thinking, and I love to keep having to come up with more and more creative things to teach!

So, of course, be good to your teacher, be kind, be respectful but most of all, be a stimulating person to teach. After all, you AND the teacher should always be wanting to come back for more!


Posted: 10/29/2010 4:04:16 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Please the Crowd, Please Yourself!

Sooner or later, as a guitar player, you’re going to really have to hone your skills as a performer. I know that from the beginning, I was always aware that the “performing” aspect of what I was doing was just as important as the guitar skills I was learning themselves. The truth is, the more we learn to play, the more we should want to “show our wares” to the public, and to be able to be relaxed in a public situation with our guitar playing.

If we are having a good time onstage, there is no question that the audience can sense it, and they just follow right along with you. Just look at bands like the Beatles….their infectious good feelings and relating to one another onstage immediately translates to the crowd, who could just never get enough of them, period! They had great performing skills, and even some “old school” moves and charms, but mainly, they exuded confidence with a capital “C”! If you can do that, you will always walk away from a gig feeling more complete, and much more satisfied. You certainly don’t want to leave any “doubt” up there, and you want the audience as well as yourself to be totally satisfied.

I experienced this the other night with a solo show I played up in Cooperstown, NY, where I had a great rapport with the crowd from the opening note. It just seemed that they were as “with” me when I talked, as much as when I played. This connection between the crowd and myself really helped spur me on to doing an even better show for them than I ever anticipated! In the long run, this is the kind of feeling you should be striving for whenever and wherever you play, and I certainly hope it’s a feeling you get to experience fully.

I always try to tell students that the audience can literally “sense” everything that is going on with you when you are up there. In fact, they can pick up on things and emotions that you won’t even realize you are projecting. With time and experience you’ll be able to predict these kinds of situations, and to use them to your advantage. And let’s face it, when you are happy up there, everybody’s a winner


Posted: 10/27/2010 3:39:23 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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