Arlen Roth on Being a Specialist Guitarist
I know that calling you a “specialist” on the guitar almost sounds like you’re being too pigeon holed and to many, that’s exactly what it can be, but whether we like it or not, it’s actually a good thing to be recognized as a kind of specialist when it comes to playing. It certainly help with recording, since it makes folks think of you when a certain need arises in the guitar playing department, and it certainly can help open doors that lead you to being wanted for a wider variety of things to play!
For example, when I was first starting out, and kicking around the NY studio scene, nobody there really cared about, nor really played country guitar, slide, pedal steel, Dobro or lap Steel. So even though I wanted to be known just as a guitar player, the tendency was for people to call me for the odd country gigs and recording that specialized in these areas. Since I was in New York, this at times made for some very funny situations, like having to sit outside on Park Avenue, wearing several leis, and playing Hawaiian guitar as people filed in to see a presentation of “South Pacific!” Most of them barely knew I was there, but there I sat, and there I played, for like an hour, along with my poor girlfriend at the time who had to learn all these Hawaiian tunes on acoustic rhythm guitar so she could back me up!
Or how about the time I was playing a rough Italian bar/club in the north Bronx, and the owner came up to me and asked me if I could play that “doo-doodle-e-doo” on the organ! When I informed him it was not an organ, but a pedal steel guitar, his response was “you like workin’ this club, you wanna keep workin’ this club? It’s an ORGAN…don’t get FRESH with me!” It was something I always came up against, but it certainly set me apart from others, since I actually played certain instruments and style that just weren’t really known in New York. I ran into the same problems in Philly when I was going to college there, too! I can recall stopping into a cool record shop, asking if they had any Country records, and actually being laughed out of the store!
But the truth is, if you get called for a gig or a session for a specific reason and a specific role, you can always then impress them with your further prowess on the instrument, and before you know it you’ll be doing all kinds of gigs for them, as well as for others! Reputation is rarely enough to get by on….people really want to “hear and see” you in action, and then the respect will be firmly cemented! Best of luck with this pursuit!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.