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The Art of Shooting the Video Lesson

Lord knows there has probably been no one who has recorded and directed as many video lessons as myself, and the experience has always been a fascinating one! I basically developed a method of being very natural and “off the cuff” in front of the camera, which goes along with my self-taught approach to the guitar. In many instances, when I had Hot Licks Video, I would direct many other artists on their videos, and if we had an hour or two left of studio time, I’d jump in and record yet another instructional tape in that remaining “bonus” time! It always made me certainly the most “economic” of all artists to film, and it always insured that we’d have me covering yet another topic I had not yet touched upon.

Keeping a decent stable of students has also always helped me with this process, and when my teaching “chops” are up, it’s always a great time to shoot an instructional video! I also always loved helping the other artists I signed, directing them, giving them pointers and basically “getting them through” this process which was often the first and only time they would do something so in-depth about their style and technique. I can remember Mick Taylor, formerly of The Rolling Stones, letting out a big sigh of relief after his video was done, and saying “that was the toughest gig of my life!” That sure surprised me, because here was a man who played with The Stones when he was just 22 years of age!! Talk about tough gigs! It also made me feel bad, as if I had suddenly put him through something so hard that it really made him feel awful…sure didn’t want to do that!

Many other artists were very difficult to get to finally sit down in that chair and give their lesson. James Burton, Eric Johnson and George Benson were notoriously afraid of the actual session itself, but once they had me to communicate with, and to help them get through it, it was always an instantaneous success with them, and helped them really relax into the process of exposing just what made them “tick.” This was an extremely rewarding thing for me, as many times, I was there directing a personal hero of mine, who was there telling me, “hey, you’re the boss, just tell me what to do!” Believe me, when you have a Buddy Guy, a Lonnie Mack or a James Burton telling you that, you must really be doing something right! More on this wonderful process in the future! Stay tuned….

Posted: 6/22/2010 3:09:12 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Get Yourself Heard!

I can recall the incredible moxie and belief in myself I had early on, in the days when I really needed to get out there and be heard. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in Woodstock, for example, and to jump onstage with the likes of Paul Butterfield, The Band, John Sebastian and other musical luminaries, and to proceed to blow the house down! Getting out there and really being heard in the right situations is key to success, I believe. Far too many great players have wasted their talent by sitting at home, and just wishing something would happen. The truth is…YOU have to make it happen, and it is only YOUR belief in yourself that can truly spur you on to greater things.

Certainly, you’ll never know where that “big break” may come from, but I know that for me it was being heard by as many people at the right time, and at an early age. It’s a great feeling when that phone starts to ring, and folks want you to record with them and to perform with them as well. It opens up new doors every time, and of course, one good thing always leads to another. I remember that first record date I got called on to do, when I had just torn my ankle horribly in a playground basketball game. There was just no way I was going to miss that session! Harvey Brooks was playing bass, and there were many other luminaries on the session who made it seem even that much more of an important gig. The producer, John Simon, whose name I knew from producing The Band’s first 2 albums, had heard me and played with me at the Joyous Lake restaurant in Woodstock, NY, on a night when many of us all were sitting in and playing together. Sure enough, I had made enough of an impression upon him that he decided to call me totally “out of the blue” for this recording session, and I was not going to disappoint, regardless of how much pain I was in. So what if the other players had to carry me from chair to chair, or to even have to help me get out of the bathroom! All of the embarrassment was certainly worth it in the end, and it was the kind of session that definitely led to more. It was also exciting for me to know that I was filling in for Cornell Dupree, the wonderful R&B guitarist who I knew from the King Curtis records I had, and who later became friends with me, and who did a video for me at Hot Licks.

So as you can see, it is all connected, and you must really make a point of getting “out there” and really being heard in the most advantageous situations possible. It’s really quality rather than quantity of gigs that makes the difference, and anyway, you know that “quantity” will come soon enough….often the kind of “quantity” we don’t necessarily want, but still must do to be a true working musician. You never know which gig will be the one, so of course, that means you really can’t afford to turn any gigs down, not yet anyway! Here’s to your success!

Posted: 6/15/2010 3:07:13 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Early Days of Forming a Band!

My early memories of creating bands with various players and friends are certainly fond ones. And, as is often the case, when one has more time and space from a long ago memory, it tends to get even fonder over time. This is certainly true of your current days, if in fact, they include the forming of some new musical partnerships on behalf of you and your playing buddies. These early days are also critical in terms of establishing how you may handle similar situations in the future, when it gets down to an even more “nitty-gritty” professional musical endeavor.

I do know that every band needs to feel like it has a “leader”, or someone who provides the moral as well as musical direction for the band. This is true, even with bands that are by necessity, true “democracies” as far as how each member feels about their contributions. In the end, there is still always a true “leader.” I mean, try to imagine Creedence Clearwater Revival without John Fogerty, or The Lovin’ Spoonful without John Sebastian, or the Byrds without Roger McGuinn…totally impossible! Yet, these were “bands” in the truest sense of the word, during a time when having a band was a rarer thing than it is today.

I know that all the early bands I formed were always centered around my approach and my music, and that any dissention back in those days seemed more like an “exercise in democracy” by those band members than anything else! In other words, sure, there were problems, but in the end, it was my musical decisions that stood. Also in the end, you could see that everyone was really glad at least that someone’s decision stood, as we were all then able to move on, and worry about the music that was what really mattered! Just remember that the music is paramount, and that spending too much time on the extra-curricular problems can only end up standing in the way. These days I see it happen way too often in bands I teach and guitar students I have, which is really a shame, because it’s too easy to get hung up on these kinds of things and destroy what may have become an incredible musical experience.

I think it’s a good idea to always do fun band things together too, as a good way of further bonding with each other and feeling like there is an actual consensus between all of you. Sitting around and trying to come up with band names is always a fun, and sometimes hysterically funny thing to do. I don’t think there has ever been a band-naming session that didn’t turn into a comic marathon of insanely funny stuff! And who knows, even sometimes this way, you’ll really come up with the real band name!

In any event, just remember that those early days of forming a band can be some of the most rewarding and memorable times, and are full of humor, camaraderie and most of all, great music! Enjoy the good times!

Posted: 6/10/2010 9:48:45 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Just Rock Out and Have Fun!

Remember that the whole reason we all got started in this wild, wacky thing called guitar playing is called “fun”. It’s kind of like when kids are learning to play baseball, and get involved in competition right away…they’re always reminded that they must first and foremost “have fun”, and remember why they love to play baseball in the first place. It’s definitely the same with guitar, and it’s sometimes the best just to get together with your friends and simply “rock out”. I can remember one time, when I was invited to go up to my friend, John Sebastian’s house in Woodstock. He’s one of the great American songwriters, and I never cease to be in awe of him and what he did with The Lovin’ Spoonful. But when I got to his house, all he wanted to do was crank up the amps in his big living room, get someone on drums, and just “rock out” with me for like three hours straight!

That in and of itself was a learning experience, and I could see that it was almost like “therapy” for him! He just wanted to blast some rock n’ roll and then feel better….and believe me, it made me feel better, too! No doubt, my ears were ringing, but my soul was satisfied! Then, we were able to have a regular fun weekend together, and do whatever else we wanted to do, which was mostly music-oriented anyway!

I really recommend that you get together with your musician buddies, and as often as you can, simply play for the fun of it. And believe it or not, that also is truly rehearsing, as you are getting better all the time at simply playing together, and learning to jam. Jamming is critical in the learning process of a musician, as you must learn to “think on your feet” and to listen to others. This will always make you a better guitarist, and will definitely make you a better band. I can remember in my early days with my group, Steel, we would take almost all of our songs and turn them into extended jams, with long instrumental passages that were truly exploratory in every way. It was also fun to record these sessions and then to listen back to them, learning the whole time, and listening to what new ideas may have emerged as a result of all this experimentation!

So, give it a try, and most of all, take every opportunity you can to get together with your friends and “Rock out, and have fun!”

Posted: 6/9/2010 3:31:27 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Sometimes You Have to do it All!

Trying to really “make it” in the music business can truly be a daunting task, and there are many of us, yours truly included, who sometimes feel like we must do it all! By “it all”, I mean the writing, producing, playing, copywriting, booking, budgeting, “hustling” and so much more! Some are better at it than others, and over time it can become quite exhausting and frustrating. Yet, it still is something we all must do, and for many reasons. Certainly, as you’re starting out, you must really learn all the necessary steps that are required in whatever you are pursuing, so one day, even when you pass some of the responsibility onto others, you can accurately monitor what it is they’re doing. This is critical, so number one, you don’t get ripped off, and number two, you can understand all the tasks that are at hand.

I can remember when my soon to be wife, Deborah and I started Hot Licks way back in 1979, we seemed to have to learn every step of the way. Even when we first started having to mail out tons of packages, I’d have to go every day to the post office that was one block from the World Trade Center, with my little red wagon loaded up with Hot Licks packages, and watch as the mail guy would weigh each and every one. I didn’t know at that time, for example, that one could actually get a “postage machine” and a scale that would turn a small corner of our loft apartment into a mini-post office, or “shipping department!” One thing would keep leading to another, and before you knew it, we had 5 employees, all of whom could perform nearly every office-oriented requirement as an employee of Hot Licks!

As an artist, I can remember sitting in places like The Lonestar Café in NY, hoping to finally see someone who could book me a gig there. There I was, with armfuls of cds, books, articles and whatever else I could “arm” myself with so I could make a good impression, and sometimes it seemed that it was my pure drive and perseverance that would actually win me the gig rather than the amount of impressive material I was able to show up with!

The bottom line is that at some point, it’s important that at least you understand all the steps involved in sometimes having to “do it all”, but to at least hope that one day you’ll have real productive help in several departments. In this way, you can really put #1 at the top of your list, which is your guitar playing, and your music! More on this subject in future blogs! Stay tuned…..

Posted: 6/1/2010 7:30:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Being a Good Guitar Teacher

Even though you are still in the learning process, (when are we ever done learning?!), you may want to supplement your income and improve your own skills by teaching some guitar. I have always enjoyed teaching right from the moment that it seemed like I even knew anything to pass along, and I have always found it to be an enriching and rewarding experience. In a funny way, I have always found that being a self-taught musician somehow always made me better at imparting this knowledge on to others, as I was always able to “read” the student better, and understand their own unique approach to the guitar, as well as their special requirements and needs.

This is really the key to being a good teacher, as you must be able to “tune in” to what will be the most important elements that will help your student improve his or her skills to the maximum benefit. In terms of what you must “tune” in to, there are several things to keep in mind: First, what is the student’s attention span like? It can be very frustrating for a teacher to work with someone who thinks

They ought to be there in the chair opposite you, learning, but yet, who can’t sit still or focus on what you have to say. Make sure you maintain your patience and your cool, and wait until you really feel you have their attention before you proceed. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have to constantly “motivate” your student! Secondly, you should take note of their weaknesses and strengths. For example, you may have a fairly advanced player there with you, but it may turn out that they do a bad job of muting strings, and that this may be a big factor that is holding them back. Or they may have no idea how to get the right vibrato…I can recall a student I had many, many years ago, who insisted that he not continue learning anything else until he was able to really nail the same kind of expressive vibrato I had. That was a real eye-opener, as I had witnessed a student who was so absolutely sure of what he wanted, it didn’t matter how many expensive lessons he had to pay for….he simply would not go any further until he had that “sound” he really wanted out of that vibrato!

One must always be able to adapt to their student’s particular needs. I always like to tell my students that their lessons are truly “customized’ for them, which is very true. I never stick to some pre-planned outline in how to work with them; instead, I listen and watch carefully to see what information takes hold and what falls through the cracks. Also, simply knowing and tuning in to a student’s particular tastes is also critical, and sometimes it’s really nice to open up new doors of appreciation for them in terms of what they may like. Believe me, I’ve turned many a metal “shredder” into a lover of Country string-bending! So, just remember, teaching is also learning, and you will always benefit just as much from your giving lessons, as your student will from taking them!

Posted: 5/27/2010 3:11:55 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hittin' the Radio!

Hey folks, after many years of wanting to do this, I have finally decided to launch my own radio show! I’m doing it with my buddy and longtime sidekick, Roger D., and we intend to do a funny as well as informative show that will consist mostly of guitar music, and great anecdotes from my life, as well as many special guests! It will be on WPKN, which is a local listener-supported station in Connecticut, but everyone can always listen on on their computers. The first show is Monday, June 14, from 4-7PM, EST, and should be a lot of fun!

As I said, I have always dreamed of being on the radio, and lord knows I’ve been on hundreds of shows, but this is the first time I’ll be hosting my own show. I surely have always felt that radio itself is a fantastic and enduring medium, one that has certainly stood the test of time, and one that still carries a great deal of mystique with it. I want to be able to bring the best guitar music possible to listeners, and to always tell great stories, anecdotes, and offer words to the wise as well. All in all, it’s simply meant to be a fun experience, and my friend Roger D., who will be on the show too, has a wealth of musical knowledge that covers all genres. I do too, but I must admit, being rather picky, I’ve always focused mostly on the players and the music that really most directly inspired me over the years. Roger will be able to “fill in” a lot of the cracks as far as real factual info is concerned, whereas I will be more involved with the “overall” show and its content. I also will be talking about my Gibson lessons, my Gibson blogs and my live chat as well, as well as “all things guitar.”

Hopefully, this will turn into a fairly regular thing, but for now, the show is simply going to be a “special” which we will test out and see how it goes. If it “takes hold” and people like it, I suppose it can become a fairly regular occurrence on the radio, though lord knows my schedule is already way too busy! Still, it’s a pursuit of a longtime dream of mine, and I always wanted to see what it would be like to have my own radio show. I certainly enjoy the prospect of bringing eclectic and informative guitar music to the public, and to cross all boundaries. You’ll be just as likely to hear Merle Travis as Wes Montgomery on my show, and it really is an exciting prospect to me. Hope you can tune in!

Posted: 5/25/2010 3:14:58 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Experiencing Live Music

It’s always good to get inspired by recordings and what you may hear on the radio, but nothing can compare to the “live” music experience! This applies to your own performing, as well as going to see other folks playing live. Over the years, I always liked to see live performances, but I find that as time goes by, I only really want to go if I am seeing someone whose work I deeply appreciate, or if it’s a friend/performer who may want to call me up onstage to join them.

As an aid to your development as a player, and to broaden your horizons, I certainly do recommend your going out as often as possible to see other performers and particularly guitarists. The experience simply can’t help but be a good thing, and you’ll always be inspired in one way or another by what you’ll see/hear.

I know that when I was younger and just getting started, I always seemed to absorb what I saw other performers do like a “sponge.” I loved to go and see folks like Chuck Berry, The Who, Procol Harum, The Band, Johnny Winter and many others whom I respected, and was doing this while I was developing my own performing skills. It was always truly inspiring, and I can never forget the deeply imbedded impressions these performers left me with.

One sticky aspect of this kind of situation is when and if you are seeing a performer who may be a “competitor” of yours. This usually tends to happen in rural areas, where there is a chance that there are only a couple of you vying for the work or bragging rights in your town, but as many of us discover, even in big towns, and in such a big business, it can still be a small world when it comes to your competition! I can remember a time in the ‘70s when it always seemed that no matter what gig I was going for, me and this other guitarist were always passing each other through the door that led to the audition or recording session! And that was in New York City, and things were still largely boiled down to almost exclusively he and I when it came to the kinds of music we were wanted for! It’s funny, because it was only once we actually ended up touring together, and had to stand side by side night after night onstage that we really felt the “competition” between us. Funny, because back in the days before that, we were friendly, and always had a laugh about how we always seemed to be running into each other at those auditions!

But regardless of any discomfort that some of these situations can cause you, the benefits still far outweigh the detriments when it comes to seeing live performers and other guitarists. So go out and see and hear as much as you possibly can, and you’ll be further honing your skills without even playing a note of your own. Hope it all inspires and encourages you!

Posted: 5/20/2010 11:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More "Good Old Days" in the Clubs

Even though I still play as much as I can in the clubs and in concert halls, the “good old days” of me playing in the local clubs of NYC were especially formative, and kind of wild, too! There was a good assortment of places to play, such as The Lonestar Café, the Other End, Mikell’s, Kenny’s Castaways, The Bottom Line, Home, The Metro Club, Max’s Kansas City and many more! Seemed like one could actually do a small “tour-lette” of the city just by hopping around from one of these haunts to another, back in those days!

There were many strange, though memorable incidences as well, such as the time I played at the Lonestar, and must’ve been shocked 12 times in one show onstage….it drove me so insane, I recall throwing my guitar and storming off the stage in anger. Especially when I noticed that not only was the sound man doing nothing about it, but he seemed to actually be causing it to happen deliberately!! Nice guy! There was also a legendary R&B and Jazz club uptown called Mikell’s where I had played many a set with the great bassist, Jerry Jemmott, some nights going well into the wee hours of the morning! When I had played there with my own band, we weren’t too warmly received, since I think we played a little too much of a “Country-ish” set for the regulars there.

It just seemed like I never had a really smooth night, unless I was at my “home base” club, Kenny’s Castaways, on Bleeker street. Otherwise, it was disaster after disaster, with many confrontations with club owners, soundmen, you name it! Never really ever found out why, unless they thought I was some young “upstart” who they were going to give the “rookie’s” treatment too. Of course, these people didn’t realize that even though I seemed like a kid, I already a decade’s worth of touring and recording experience under my belt already!

Still, all in all, it was a time of experiences I certainly wouldn’t trade for anything, and the memories of these times have all “mellowed” for me over the years. Even such “wonderful” nights as when the Lonestar café kept shocking me, and the 6’5” “bouncer” at the club with his 10-gallon hat told me I’d have to “fight him for the money” to get paid for that gig! I had many a night of fantasy after that gig of me driving my car right through the front plate glass window of that place! But don’t worry, I “took care” of them in other ways, and they apologized profusely to me within 2 days after that show! You just never k now what’s going to actually happen when you book a gig!

Posted: 5/18/2010 11:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Reading Vs. Not Reading

There’s the old joke about “how do you get a guitarist to stop playing? Put some sheet music in front of him!” Well, there’s definitely some truth to that one, and it also applies to my case! Now, being a self-taught player, I have no problem understanding what to play, and when to play it, and I can obviously pick things up just by hearing it. But there’s no doubt about the fact that being able to read will always help you in your career.

Most of the time, when a guitar player is on a recording date, and there is some reading to have to be done, it’s often mostly just a chord chart, with an occasional actual lick that must be played thrown in. So, 90% of the time, “true” reading is not a “must” for a guitar player, but lord knows there are times when is certainly is, and I suggest you be prepared. I have witnessed some amazing studio players who not only read perfectly right from the first downbeat of the song, but it even gets done with immediately the right feeling! This is truly a marvel to watch, especially for someone like me, who goes about it the total opposite way, where I feel it, hear it, and simply play it!

I suggest that you begin to read while also understanding tablature for guitar. This is because the tab is a good way to better understand the actual positioning on the neck of what you are playing, and therefore, as you work your way through the music you’ll be concentrating on remembering the various shapes and positions as well. I’ve had to read at sessions where the chords themselves are not even named, they are simply huge stacks of notes, piled on top of each other! Add that to the general stress of the recording date as well, and you’re really talking about major headaches! But I’m sure that for the true reader, after awhile, all the stacks of notes, and rhythmic notations become like second nature. Ideally, it should become like reading words on a page for you, and it’s a very rewarding thing to be able to do.

I also think that for many folks, the hardest part of reading music is understanding the rhythmic phrasing of the actual notes….this is also something that comes with experience, and if you have a good sense of rhythm to begin with, it becomes that much easier to adapt to.

In the end, it’s very important to cultivate both sides of your playing experience; reading is great, and you should work on it, a little bit each day, while at the same time, playing strictly from the heart, and by ear. If you really develop these skills simultaneously, the experience of living and working as a guitarist will be as complete an experience as possible. Good luck with it all!

Posted: 5/6/2010 5:14:36 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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