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Parting with a Beloved Guitar!

This is a tough and sore subject for a guitar player to talk about, because I’m sure that all of us, at one time or another, have had to part with an instrument we really ended up regretting selling. Sometimes it’s just as simple as a nostalgic yearning we have for getting that guitar back, as well as the times we associate with that instrument, and how we may never have those times again, especially if the guitar is now out of the picture! Just like old cars, we always seem to want to get back the first car or guitar we ever had and loved, and of course, if you really take the “vintage” market into account, the way these guitars have almost all gone up in value also can certainly make one regret the selling of them!

One has to put it all in perspective, too. If for nothing else, to maintain your sanity! I can recall selling guitars for $1500 that would now be worth $50,000 but at the time, it was a great price to get for the guitar, and it helped me get something else I probably wanted even more. These days, because of the hard times, many great guitars are re-surfacing that I’m sure many owners never, ever though they’d have to part with. There are great deals to be had, even though it’s so hard to find the money to even take advantage of these “bargains” at all!

I would have to say I regret selling pretty much every guitar I ever did part with, and the combination of nostalgia, plus the rising values, really makes the memory of their loss even tougher to bear. New guitars these days are enjoying quite a renaissance for sure, and the quality sometimes is enough to make you miss some of the “oldies”, which is really quite something, but it’s hard to get over missing a vintage beauty!

Perhaps the hardest guitars of all for me to ever part with were the ones I persued for decades, only to finally have to sell them way too soon. I have regretted many of those sales….very strange indeed to have to part with something you wanted for 20 years, but could only hang onto for a year!

The lesson? Thing long and hard about what you are parting with……how much you love it, how much you need the money or the other guitar, etc., and most of all, and the hardest part to know…just how MUCH you will really miss it. I guarantee that this will be the hardest one to quantify, but the easiest to predict! Learn to turn around from that guitar when you sell it, and never look back!! Remember, these things just pass through our lives and our hands for a little while, and they really belong to everyone!

Posted: 2/8/2010 7:52:17 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Early Recording Date "Trauma"

I always ran into trouble in the early days of doing recording sessions by being a very raw and young talent, who also never read music. In those days, it was so funny how things would pan out, because folks would see me play live, totally improvising, with my own style, energy and abilities that were completely self-taught, and I would blow their minds! So, what would happen? They’d call me for work, getting me of course, very excited, and feeling like my career was really moving forward, professionally. But what would invariably happen is that they would book me into a recording date requiring absolutely none of that spontaneity and creative energy they so loved when they saw me play live!

I would usually be required not only to read music, but also to be just an “adequate” guitarist, who could follow orders, play repetitious parts, and basically do what any average guitar player would be expected to do in a very un-interesting way! It was a hard adjustment, especially since my raw, live energy was all that I really knew back then, and I also had a certain degree of pride in my own style, even at such a young age, and felt that I had basically already formulated my own attitude and approach to the guitar, and to music in general. It always seemed as if these “Producers” would only be able to describe what they wanted from me by pointing to other players, such as saying “could you play that more like Clapton?” or, after playing something incredible, right off the cuff, and asking me “can you do that again?” And of course, I’d be in shock that they were not recording me in the first place! I mean, believe me, when I am soloing, you better not miss my first take on anything! It’s always the take that has the most natural, and purely emotional “shooting from the hip” approach, and it’s real hard to replicate that natural approach ever again!

I do know that later on, of course, I was called upon to really “be myself” in many recording situations, but these initial “traumatic” recording dates are a great source of interesting stories, and I promise, there will be many interesting ones to come! So please be sure to stay tuned!

Posted: 2/2/2010 3:58:12 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

To Sound Like the Record or Not?

I always have found it totally ridiculous that there are bands, many quite successful and prominent, who have this incredible need to sound exactly like their records when they perform live. The only time I can really understand this, but still hate it, is when they are a very, very singles-oriented commercial band, such as the Eagles. This is a very meticulous band, and they take pride in their harmonies, and their songs have many classic parts, guitar solos included, that I guess, their fans want to hear verbatim! The problem is that the audience just doesn’t really know any better! If they got a chance to hear some of these players finally “stretch out,” and get spontaneous with their shows, they’d really leave the arena saying, now, THAT was a great show!”

Let’s face it, when you perform, the feeling you want to leave with is that of having just done something you never did before. You want to break new ground, and you want to stretch yourself in ways you never did before. As guitarists, we must try to “break new ground” every opportunity we have, and this is how I learned…literally in front of audiences, all over the world. You must, like me, be fearless in live situations, and not simply “rely” on playing the same, old comfortable thing night after night. If you do this repetition, you’ll just never really “grow” as a player, and you’ll get bored out of your mind.

So, even when going to see live bands, you should expect more from them, more ideas and spontaneity. Remember how so many of us hate having to always play in what are called “cover” bands? How we can’t stand club owners who only want us to sound like OTHER people’s records, and not play our own “original” material? Well, no matter the professional level we are at, or the level we are listening to, we should really expect more from ourselves, and from the musicians we supposedly so revere! Go for it!

Posted: 2/2/2010 3:42:50 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Musical Gift ... Heredity or Encouragement?

I know many people like to say that a “gift’ of music or being able to create art of some kind is a hereditary, “passed on” trait. It’s a hard thing to really quantify, since I come from a long line of “tone
deaf” visual artists! So, where did this musical gift come from? I feel that it was my ability to “channel” my artistic bent into the musical side of things, as opposed to the visual arts my Dad and my brother and all of my uncles have and had. Still, it took my Dad’s encouragement to get me to understand that the guitar was meant to be my life. He obviously was starting to hear and see the affinity I had for the guitar, and he was extremely observant of this as a father, even though he loved music too, but just didn’t play it. His incredible, unique creativity probably would’ve resulted in his being a great guitarist also, if he had similarly “channeled” his talent into music at a young age, the way he encouraged me to do.

I suppose this beautiful handling of how he treated my early years as a guitarist has spilled over to me and my treatment of not only my children, but also how I handle my young and gifted students when it comes to their playing. But still the question lingers….is it hereditary or encouraged and learned? Well, after so much personal experience and observation in this regard, I really believe it’s all of the above. We must “have it” when it comes to having an ear, but, after all, can’t that be learned, also? Obviously, there are many players these days, who put way too much emphasis on technique, and really lack the ear, or the soul to be great players.  And, they know it! They are always coming to me to get those “intangibles” that in a way, can’t really be taught….but they CAN be encouraged, and most of all, inspired! So the jury is still out, but without the encouragement to really move forward in a positive manner as a player, even the best and most gifted people can end up being a “tree falling in the woods!”

Posted: 1/27/2010 10:59:56 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Some Funny Onstage Stuff

I have a veritable cornucopia of crazy and wacky stories of things that have happened on and off-stage, and some of it is really beyond belief. One of the most hysterical is the time I was playing with Art Garfunkel, and after about 38 straight cities of playing everything the same, he took me into his dressing room, and said “Arlen, my voice is a bit scratchy tonight, can we play 'Scarborough Fair' in Ebm, instead of the usual Em?” Of course, I said, it was no problem, and that I would tell all the other musicians about the change, which meant that two of them actually bothered to re-write their charts!

My big problem came when I forgot to mention this to my guitar roadie, Kevin, who went ahead and just as he did night after night before, slapped that capo on the 7th fret of my acoustic guitar, getting it ready good old Em in the Am position!

Another big problem was that the way we played the song was with Art and myself starting it off for almost 2 verses alone, BEFORE all the other instruments were about to enter. Well, there I am, playing it happily in E minor, while I notice out of the corner of my eye, John Jarvis, the piano player, who did not play on this song, jumping wildly, yelling “it’s still in E, it’s still in E!”…at this point I realize there’s no way I could ever shift the capo down one fret in the middle of the song, and I’m starting to literally laugh so hard there are tears rolling down my cheeks. Also, to add insult to injury, Art turns to me, and says “much better, this is much better”, thinking it was now Eb!! Well, all laughing and tears aside, when the band entered, which started with “Hammerin’ Harold Alexander” playing 4 notes on the glockenspiel, it was one of the all-time “train wrecks” perhaps ever played live in front of an audience!! Eventually, the band re-adjusted, but the funniest footnote was that after the show, Artie started scolding all of them, saying “but Arlen sounded perfect!!” Well, then Arlen proceeded to explain to Art what went wrong, and that it was Arlen who played the world’s longest “clam”! Everyone was let off the hook, and no one really ended up getting blamed for anything….but what a wild occurance!!! Just shows, you never know what’s in store for you when you’re asked to change keys!!

Posted: 1/25/2010 3:18:03 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting to that "Higher Plane" when Playing

It’s a tough subject to really nail down, this concept of playing on a “higher plane,” because quite frankly, it’s what I almost always need to achieve, especially when playing live. There are times I can achieve it when practicing also, and that is always helpful, because, since I am totally self-taught, I do need to get to a higher sense of playing to be able to take new steps forward. The “academic” approach only goes so far with me, as I really need to get on a more emotionally “felt” level with whatever I am learning, so it really sinks in and has a more profound impact on my style and technique.

It’s for this reason that when playing live, I can reach such heights that I will certainly play something that I most definitely NEVER, ever played before, and I can really blow my mind when I listen back to some tapes and say, “where’d THAT come from?” No question about it, reaching that higher sense of consciousness is imperative if you really ever expect to take some serious steps forward in your playing. It’s really as if one needs to be hit on an emotional level in order for the full impact of a learning experience to sink in as real, and permanent knowledge. I guess the only other semi-odd thing about this is that even though we have now learned something new, it may take some of us a while to get back to that “higher level” to even be able to play those passages again! These kinds of licks and ideas can, at times, be quite elusive, and even though they can be understood in an academic way, they’ll never sound the way we first created them, on that “higher plane”.

Odds are, that also when you reach this plane again, you’ll probably open up to something totally new and different yet again, which will have you moving forward in even more new directions than you’ve ever dreamed of! So, on with your playing, and more happy discoveries!

Posted: 1/22/2010 10:32:23 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

"The" Defining Moment for a Guitarist

As we go along in our life as a guitarist, there are unquestionably certain moments, just as in life itself, where we hit certain plateaus that become some truly defining moments that we never really forget. I can remember such a moment of “revelation”, where the clarity was so brilliant, and that it was really true that I had become “one” with the guitar! This was still when I was very young, and was sitting in my apartment and playing up a storm, and also when I was doing a real lot of live gigs and recording. It just suddenly hit me that anything I was wanting to say on the guitar, was really coming out just as I felt and heard it. Of course, I still had a lot to learn on the instrument, don’t we always?! But this particular moment told me that I was really “speaking” through the guitar, and that there were no longer and “boundaries” that existed between me and this wonderful instrument!

I would imagine that there are many of you who have had similar experiences, and I would love to hear from you if you did! But if you haven’t yet, I really hope that one day, this magical feeling “hits” you, because once it happens, there’s no turning back….you ARE a guitarist from that point forward! Many folks come up to me and tell me that they are a guitarist, but I don’t feel that you’ve really “earned your stripes” until you reach that point where you can play what you feel and hear inside without hesitation or having to “overthink” the process. It has to flow naturally…and remember, if you are doing this as you are reading music, that written music is simultaneously a blueprint, but also a barrier for real playing. Don’t forget, mankind made music long before anyone decided it had to be “written down” as an effort to record and remember what was being played. Music must always first “come from the heart”, even if you’re reading it, and that is when this enlightening kind of revelation I am talking about can take place. Hope to hear from you about your experiences!

Posted: 1/19/2010 5:26:18 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Ups and Downs of Touring

Tours can be almost anything, and my extensive experience in this world can certainly help impart some important knowledge to you. I have definitely run the full gamut in terms of the various levels of touring goes…from sleeping on the floor of the van and playing “holes in the wall,” to 14 custom tour buses and playing in front of 70,000 people a night in a ballpark! The important thing is to pace yourself. Too many young players, and some increasingly older ones, tend to go a little too crazy when on the road, and the actual time spent onstage, as brief as it already is, becomes a distant second to the extracurricular activities that one can get involved with when you’re “out there”. I know from personal experience how important it is to try to take care of yourself as much as possible when touring, and to be sure to not get overbooked. I can recall one tour I did of Australia, where they promised “my feet would never touch the ground,” and boy, were they right! Each day consisted first of flying to a new city, just making it to several morning TV shows, doing radio all day, newspaper and magazine interviews, an hour for rest in a hotel, dinner, and then the gig! This went on for literally 6 weeks straight, and it was like a blur to me!

When I did that tour, which was mostly to promote my Hot Licks tapes over there, I can remember saying, “man, this is like having a number 1 record!” Those words turned out to be quite true, as I had enormous sales of my cd, “Toolin’ Around” there in Australia, which was released 4 years after my tour there. The audiences never forgot, and they remained my fans, and were primed for the release of the album. I had basically toured to promote not only what I had released then, but also for what I was to release in the future! Great to know that touring can have such a powerful and lasting effect. I mean, I had up to 2000 people at some of my guitar “clinics,” and the reactions were wonderful.

When you’re touring with a band, and possibly more folks, such as roadies, managers, etc., it’s so important that you forge good friendships and relationships along the way, as it’s a lousy feeling to feel “alone” on the road, or isolated from the rest when you’re feeling homesick at the same time!

 So, stay tuned, as I’ll be having more about the ups and downs of touring in future installments of my blog. Till then, happy gigging and happy touring!

Posted: 1/18/2010 3:37:52 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Acoustic Guitar Choices

This is a real “renaissance” time for guitar building all over the world, and there are many great artisans who are truly bringing the craft to new heights of creativity and design in sound production. It is also a time of great re-discovery and renewal for many of the larger companies, who are really getting back to the quality work they did back in the old days, and in many cases, even improving on the old days, especially in terms of consistency. One problem that can really stand in the way is that the woods that were once plentiful have sadly been quite depleted, and are so hard to come by that there are many other strange and exotic woods finding their way into the building of many of today’s guitars.

Another problem arises from the fact that the demand is so huge compared to the “old days” that makers can no longer age their woods the way they used to when they really took their time to make these guitars in a slow and deliberate process that matched the much lower demand for guitars back in the day. It’s great to have the incredible array of choices we have today, though, and he fact that so many private individuals are raising the bar of the guitar-making art form to give us these intriguing choices.

There also is no shortage of new ideas, and the fact that some makers are inspiring other makers to push the envelope, as far as breaking new ground. There are so many to choose from these days, and as we all know, consistency aside, an acoustic guitar truly must stand on its own, and stand YOUR personal test as to its playability as well as its sound and overall quality. It’s the marriage of YOU and that guitar that truly will speak or not speak! Sometimes it definitely requires some seasoning on your part to be able to really be discerning , and to know what guitar is really right for you…….this is why you may want another opinion to help you decide. I know that I always love to take an active role in the process of helping a student choose the proper guitar. This is crucial, because 9 out of 10 beginners basically go for the guitar that looks “coolest”, but totally ignore, or don’t yet know the various criteria an acoustic guitar must meet to really be the right one! But remember, the search can sure be, and should be, lots of fun!

Posted: 1/13/2010 4:07:12 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing with Friends

These days, one of the best ways folks have of continuing what they did in their guitar-playing youth, or in their CURRENT youth, is to play with friends. It’s always been critical to find good folks to play with, and who can challenge you on to greater heights. I know this was always a big thing for me in my “formative” years, and it helped me develop that ‘band in my head” that enabled me to continue my jamming and creativity even when there were no friends to play with.

It can get a little disconcerting if you are forced to do a lot of playing with folks who just aren’t up to your level, but who may still insist on controlling the musical situation….not much you can do but chalk it up to experience. On the other hand, it’s really good to play with people who actually may be more experienced, and just better than you, because it’s only then when you can really try to “reach” for a higher level for yourself. It also is a good way for you to sort of “check in” on the status of your playing, and see how it is faring against the real “backdrop” of other players.

It’s just a really good idea to do it, and to do it as frequently as possible. It’ll only serve to make you a better, more well-rounded player, and you’ll be getting a tremendous amount of experience that will help you in similar, if not even more “professional” situations in your future. You’ll be amazed at the times you’ll be playing years from now, and the sudden “flashbacks” you’ll be having from your early jamming days with your friends!

Posted: 1/11/2010 7:36:18 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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