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Winter Time Practicing

I have found that the perfect antidote for the “wintertime blahs” is a good dose of lots of practicing! Of course, those who really know me know that I never like to call it “practicing”, but rather call it “playing”! This is because “playing” connotes that we are doing I for the love of it, while practicing makes it seem as if it’s a bore and a drag, and something we are “forced” to do! Of course, I should say, that if you are feeling a bit down, perhaps you will have to “force” yourself to play, and to put in the necessary time required, but whatever it is, and however you get yourself to do it, I cannot express just how important this playing time really is!

It’s also great for me when I want to learn something that I’ve wanted to play for a long time, but never had the time to really devote to it. I love to teach myself, so I need to make the time so I can really “hear” the parts I want to create, and to really understand the chords and changes that may have eluded me before. It’s a great joy to have this kind of playing and practicing time to yourself, as it’s going to only help build up your “chops’, and it’s also those great solitary moments that can bring out some of our best composition skills. This winter, to pass the time I’ve been working on “Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell as an instrumental, as well as a great solo acoustic version of “Stars and Stripes Forever”.

Whatever helps you to kick the “winter doldrums” is alright in my book, and the more of this precious time that you can put into your practicing, the better. It’ll always be worth it, and it’ll pay huge dividends in your future as a player! Happy New Year to all!

Posted: 1/5/2010 9:47:40 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Important "Backstage Time"

When playing any kind of performance, be it clubs, “holes in the wall,” or great concert arenas, the time spent backstage can be very critical to your show. Itt’s a place of relaxation, preparation, rehearsal, socialization, meditation you name it, and it’s all important. There are many times when the “socializing” part of it can get a little too much in the way, and some visitors who force their way in sometimes can be just too distracting as well as energy draining for you. After all, it’s about conserving your energy, and getting yourself into the right frame of mind for performing that is so important before you go on. It’s a great time to hang out with your band too, and to discuss some of the finer points of the show you are about to do, as well as go over set lists, instruments changes etc.

One of the more difficult and recent phenomenas of the “backstage” world these days is how you are so expected to immediately “bolt” out of your dressing room to do the “meet and greet” of all the folks who want to see you right after the show, and expect to buy cds, and gett autographs. That’s all fine and wonderful, but it takes away that precious moment of solitude I need to “come down” from the emotional and artistic “high” I was just on for over 2 hours during my performance! At the same time, you want to get the folks before they leave, and make sure to sell as many cds as possible! After all, this is the NEW biggest record store in the world...that “merchandise” table you stand at after your show. It’s a great place to sell cds, tee shirts, hats, you name it, and to shake the hands of your true fans! I still need to get better at making a little bit of time for myself for that all-important peaceful solitude I need after the show before seeing everyone, and having to “turn on the charm,” when my head is still so “in the clouds!”

Posted: 12/30/2009 9:59:17 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

How to Really "Win" the Gig!

There’s no doubt that when you get to a more professional level certain gigs become much more competitive to win over. The level of playing you must be at to even qualify speaks volumes for how far you’ve come, but the truth is first impressions, and just how well you handle the “audition” at hand are key elements as to whether or not you really make the grade!

I can recall certain auditions where it had come down so close to the wire between me and another guitarist that the group would actually consider hiring BOTH of us, simply because they couldn’t see themselves turning either of us down! There were also times where I had to choose between high-profile gigs, and I actually turned down Billy Joel so I could take the Art Garfunkel gig. At that time it was a wise choice. Garfunkel paid a lot better, the tour wasn’t nearly as stressful, and the guitarist was always way in the background with Joel, while with Artie I had more of a “front” kind of position in the band, and did many songs with him as a duet, Simon and Garfunkel-style. I can recall coming to his audition, with three guitars in the New York subway, on the day of a huge blizzard! He later told me that he knew I had the gig the “minute I walked in!” I’ll never quite know why he felt that, but it must’ve been some air of confidence or something that I projected that gave him a very strong “first impression” of me.

Be sure of yourself, and don’t be afraid to speak your mind, and to contribute creatively to the music at hand. Not unnecessarily, of course, but when it really feels right, and justified, be sure to let your creative juices flow. This is also important, as the artist or band you are auditioning for must also appreciate anad know how you “think” on your feet, and whether or not they can trust your musical decisions. In the end it is always about chemistry, and even if you are the world’s greatest technical player, you simply may not “fit the bill” on that particular gig, and on that particular day. Have no fear…someday, the truly right “fit” will come, and you’ll know it when it happens!

Posted: 12/29/2009 8:32:58 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Learning from Non-interesting Musical Situations

Many of us, myself included, have had to deal with certain musical situations we have found ourselves in that are, shall we say, less that interesting. This occurred for many years, and many times in my life, especially in my formative years, when I really had to often take whatever gig came around! Being from New York, which was never a great guitar town, and having grown up listening to a lot of music that was created in other places than New York, I was often an isolated Country and Blues guitarist who was busy forging my own way, and developing my own sound, regardless of the kind of music that was around me. Don’t get me wrong…I mean, I “heard” everything, and it all came together to make me who I am as a guitarist, but the music I was often forced to play for a living was not exactly what I had in mind! Still, it was my personal approach to this music that helped me become even more of an individual, since I had to make it interesting to ME, first and foremost, basically just to stay sane!

Sometimes it’s just the situation, and the musical personalities that play into the equation, too. I can recall a concert I did as lead guitarist with John Prine at Lincoln Center, normally a very “big deal” gig, where the reviewer from the NY Times said “Roth looked bored” up onstage, and he was right! I was, at that point of the tour, overdosed on the music, but especially sick and tired of playing with the awful band that had been assembled by Prine’s people for this tour, where nobody in the group really wanted to play his kind of Folk/Country except ME! So that was an example of me hating the music I was playing, even though it was SUPPOSED to be the kind of gig I should have really embraced! By that time, nearly the end of the long, arduous tour, I had really “had it” with the mishandling of Prine’s music, and also with the awful players involved.

There was this one very dark period in between my early Woodstock days and my hardcore touring/recording days, in the early ‘70s, where I ironically learned an awful lot from playing mediocre music with mediocre musicians. This is not what we should all be looking for, but let’s just say it’s the ultimate “making lemonade out of lemons” scenario. In the end, this is what we all must do, and we must be sure to take away some good, some growth, some new ideas from all these different situations, because after all, that’s really all that music is; a journey from one new artistic situation to the next, in a forward flow. It all adds up in the end to making you just who you are, which should also be a constant evolving musical entity!

Posted: 12/23/2009 6:50:44 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hanging Out with Scotty Moore!

The great Rockabilly legend, Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s first guitarist, was quite a pleasure to meet! I got together with him when in Nashville on a recent trip, and he was playing on a great album, “Rock n’ Roll Time Capsule”, by my friend, “Sweet Mikey C” (Mike Campbell), on which I also got to play on many tracks, along with the late, great Danny Gatton and also Johnny Hiland, a wonderful “up and comer!” Scotty couldn’t have been more of a gentleman, and he was so warm and welcoming as we came to his home. We talked about many of the good old days back when Rock n’ Roll was born, and he showed me his recording studio in his home, which so resembled the original Sun studios in Memphis I couldn’t believe it!

I had brought along an old ES 295 Gibson that was Danny Gatton’s, and that had also been reputed to be Scotty’s as well, and Scotty showed me his latest Gibson model that he was going to play on the album we were doing together. We got to play a few licks together, and Scotty also showed me an old, original amp he had used on some of the early recording dates with Elvis, which had a built-in “slap back” echo effect!

In an earlier Blog, I had mentioned those times when I am humbled by meeting certain giant figures in entertainment, and this was certainly one of those times, but Scotty Moore proved to be as warm and welcoming a gentleman as there ever could be, and what a great guitar player! If you really want to hear some amazing playing, give a listen to this great album project that got to feature me, Scotty, Danny Gatton and Johnny Hiland. It was a true honor to be recording with such greats, and Scotty’s work put the final touch on a true guitaristic masterpiece!

Posted: 12/21/2009 7:27:35 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When Folks Ask You to Play or "Sit In"

This is something I go through an awful lot, and it can sometimes be a very uncomfortable feeling, and other times an exhilarating one! I’m bringing this up because I was asked to perform at a restaurant the other night in a totally spontaneous way. It turned out alright, but was not without its problems. I did notice that I had no nervousness at all, which used to not be the case, and since it was really for a bunch of friends and just a smattering of customers, it really seemed fine. I ended up playing three songs…the bass player followed me really well, and it was all-acoustic.

It’s not always an easy thing to deal with though. There are times when the other musicians don’t want to relinquish anything to you; either their instruments, their “glory”, or the attention they are so craving! This is when egos can get in the way of having a good time, and if they don’t let you play, they are really missing out on an opportunity. It’s happened to me, where they may not know who I am, or they don’t like having their set disrupted, but more often than not, it can really end up being a fantastic time had by all that makes their gig a truly memorable experience.

Last year, I had the most amazing experience of this kind, where I was asked to jump onstage and play with an incredible group that simply seemed to every song in the book! I had never met them, though the guitarist recognized me, and the next thing I know, I was performing “Higher and Higher” (the Jackie Wilson hit), “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Treat Her Right”! All of this was with a crisp horn section that even knew the SOLO to ‘Higher and Higher”, and three incredible back-up girl singers who sounded just amazing! It was as if they had rehearsed for this moment, but what it was, was just pure professionalism on all of our parts that made it all come together!

So, if you are ever asked to play, solo or with a band…be sure to size up the situation first. I know that when I walked in and saw this band waiting for me, I could see that the potential was absolutely unlimited, and before I knew it, it became the “Arlen Roth Revue” for one exciting, and priceless moment! Something that me and the band certainly will never forget anytime soon!

Posted: 12/18/2009 9:16:21 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Being on the "Campaign Trail"

I have always truly loved doing live clinics and concerts on the road, which really bring me “out there” in the real world to the public. I have always used these as not only “clinics” or “teach-ins”, but also as full-fledged concerts that are combined with my story telling, jokes and words to the wise. One of the things I always enjoyed doing was to play to rhythm tracks from my albums, essentially “overdubbing” right there in front of the audience, while at the same time, playing many un-accompanied, spur of the moment kinds of pieces for the crowds. People love this, because they get a glimpse into my own personal approach towards playing and teaching, and a very personal relationship starts to happen between the crowd and myself!

This is surely for me, the most rewarding part of it all….where I can really be out there, shaking those hands and feeling the true appreciation and response of the public. That’s why I always think of it as “being on the campaign trail”. I talk about all kinds of things from my own personal experiences, such as the making of the movie “Crossroads”, and my performing experience with folks such as Simon and Garfunkel and many others. It can make for some really funny stuff sometimes, but I never lose focus of what I am really there for, which is to teach, enlighten and most of all, inspire!

So, maybe I’ll be hitting the road soon, and be seeing some of you out there on that wonderful “campaign trail” I love so much!

Posted: 12/17/2009 3:46:12 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Coming Up with New Songs and Ideas

I’ve realized lately that giving all the lessons I give, it still doesn’t give me enough of an “idea” workout when it comes to really developing new pieces. Sure, I’ve come up with certain new compositions while teaching a lesson that really “stretches” me and my ideas, and it can be a very creative environment when you are doing this with someone. But I still find that those wee hours at night, when all is truly quiet, is when I can rally start to “work things out” on the guitar with a fresh, less-cluttered mind.

I never have had any problems coming up with new stuff. I literally start “writing” from the moment I pick up the guitar, but I find that if I really want to learn a new piece and work it out thoroughly, I need the private and quiet time.

It’s really amazing how much concentration is sometimes needed to be able to feel your way through a new tune, especially if like me, you are totally doing it from ear, as well as from your “melodic memory.” It’s interesting when I have to work these solo pieces out how I notice that not only am I developing my melodic vocabulary, but also I am getting better at noticing and identifying certain phrases and “archetypes” that occur within music, such as “cycles of fourths” and other recognizable harmonic and physical “moves!” Most of all, the best fun is once you feel like you have the given piece down, you can start expanding it with some new ideas of your own. This can get really “far out”, and I certainly encourage you to take it to that place. Only then will you really be testing your harmonic limits, as well as expanding your musical horizons!

Posted: 12/17/2009 3:39:57 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More "Vintage Versus New"

There’s no question that vintage guitars are like nothing else. They develop a patina, a feel, and even just a general “mojo” that is really impossible to replicate. And unfortunately, even THAT has turned into a major business with people “relic-ing” guitars, and trying to give them a vintage look long before their time! I really hate this process, because to me, it’s just making fake antiques, and creating instruments of very little value. Not to mention that it floods the marketplace with stuff that can really be considered “fakes”!

In my opinion, the best thing to do is simply make new guitars as good as you can, made with a sensibility and craftsmanship that made vintage guitars desirable in the first place, and then let them age and develop their own patina, etc. from the act of playing them for years! There’s nothing like that kind of quality. And of course, we know there is also a kind of excitement and satisfaction when you open up that case and see a new instrument gleaming back at you! And when you pick it up, and it plays and sounds great too, you are in business! I certainly know that when I did my first group of Gibson online lessons, I was floored by the quality and consistency of quality of all the guitars I used! Firebirds, SGs, Les Pauls of all types, ES 335s, you name it…they were all guitars I would happily have in my collection, and all guitars that I would love to help age the real way...with playing and experience! I feel that there is currently a renaissance of guitar quality in general going on these days, in terms of the major manufacturers getting back to what made them great in the first place, as well as the large amount of great independent makers and builders who create small quantities of wonderful hand-built instruments. It’s a worldwide phenomenom, so check out a music shop, and see what wonders await you!

Photo Credit: Tom Gage

Posted: 12/11/2009 7:42:50 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Mentoring Players in the Band

I have always loved taking new and promising guitarists under my wing, so to speak, and helping either launch their careers, or mentor them into a playing spot in my band. I have always done this with players who are first, talented, but also who learned from me in such a way that while retaining their individuality, still understood the kind of playing I do, the way I think on the guitar, and what I hope to get out of them when the time comes.

Most of the guitar parts on my recordings are all played by me, so when we play live, I certainly expect to have a second guitarist who can bring that to the table, as well as new ideas of their own. I believe deeply in playing with other musicians who I can trust with my music, and who also can stand toe to toe with me when it comes to jamming, and “answering” my guitar licks during solos. I also expect them to be able to “think on their feet” when it comes to impromptu harmonies being created, and when it comes to their improvisational prowress. When it comes to effects pedals, I also have to approve of their usage, and I am very specific about what to use, and where. I am open to new ideas of course, but since it’s my music, and totally guitar-oriented, I find it very important to have a good degree of control over the situation.

I guess the best way to put it is that I like a good combination of replication of the essence of the original recording, as well as a fine ability to handle the “live” aspect of performing, which as we all know, is always full of many more surprises, and the need for spontaneity. This, after all, is the same duty for me as a performer, because when I am up there onstage, I am full of ideas that are based on a combination of how the music may exist on record (mine or others), and of course the freedoms and creative chances I am about to take with it in front of a crowd. Makes for some real exciting stuff, that’s for sure!

Posted: 12/11/2009 7:35:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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