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Playin' with Les!

There’s no one alive like the great Les Paul, and he is one feisty, musical and wonderful man to be around! I once had the honor of playing at his birthday in New York about 12 years ago, but the real thrill was when he took the stage with me and Albert Lee and James Burton at the Danny Gatton tribute concerts back in 1996 at Tramps, a now-defunct club in NYC.
This tribute was to go on for three days, and it was fairly well-organized, but there was a lot of spontaneity with this show, as would be expected at a tribute for someone like Danny, with so many guitarist on hand! Well, as it turned out, one night I had hit the stage, and was really playing my heart out to the crowd, and I was joined by my great buddy, Albert Lee. We did a few numbers together, and I had heard earlier that night that there was a “rumor” that Les Paul was going to show up. But at that point that is all it remained, was a “rumor”.
Well, sure enough, as Albert and I were playing a blistering rendition of my tune “Rollin’ Home”, a song we did as a duet on my cd, “Toolin’ Around”, I started to notice that the audience was literally parting, as if to make way for the “King”. Well, sure enough, the King was there, Mr. Les Paul himself, and he said the playing onstage was so great, he couldn’t help himself, and had to make his way up there!
So, then after all the hot and fast Country twangin’ was done, Les sat down and started to rip into a very quiet and subtle slow Blues that just had everyone spellbound. James Burton joined us onstage, and it was truly magic! Les was a true gentleman, and you could see that he was really happy to be there doing this. He then said a few wonderful words to the audience about Danny, and then proceeded to compliment all the players as well. It truly was like being in the presence of royalty, and it was an amzing jam session and evening I will never forget!

Posted: 7/9/2009 3:26:44 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing with Levon!

This coming weekend, I get to play, with my band, at Levon Helm’s “Midnight Ramble” in Woodstock, NY. This past year, I released a new album, “Toolin’ Around Woodstock” that featured Levon on drums as well as some vocals, and it was such a thrill to play with this incredible man, who’s such an American musical treasure!
The sessions were truly exciting, as you never really knew what to expect next. There were some days we would come to his studio and barely knew what we were going to record. We would just start playing, and then the ideas would really start to flow. The cd also features Sonny Landreth and Bill Kirchen as guests, and Bill also sang with me. Sonny and I did two slide duet instrumentals, and the last thing I ever expected was for Levon to actually sing LEAD on two songs on MY record!
But once again, we went into the studio, not really knowing what we were going to do, and the next thing you knew, Levon was itching and ready to sing “Crying Time” and “Sweet Little 16”! We cut the rhythm tracks first of course, and then Levon, Bill and myself did our vocal overdubs, which was a tremendous amount of fun. It was thrilling to watch Levon, and how he approached his lead vocals, and just how dedicated he is as a musician in the studio. Another great and rather historic moment was when we did an instrumental version of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. This was the first time in a very long while that Levon Helm was actually playing on a Dylan tune at all! He, of course, as a member of The Band, and as a member of Bob Dylan’s band, made lots of incredible Dylan-related music history from the Sixties to the Seventies and beyond.
So, I am certainly looking forward to being reunited with my good old Buddy, Levon this coming weekend, and as it’s always been with us, “you never know what will happen”, musically and otherwise!

Posted: 7/6/2009 8:14:05 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Great Days with Duane Eddy!

Duane is the kind of guitar player that whether you know it or not, has had an influence on you! Anyone who’s ever tried to play a little “twang” on their lower strings, or who tried to play a great and haunting melody on a guitar instrumental really owes a debt of gratitude to the “twang of that Guitar Man!” His instrumental hits of the late ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties had a great effect on the sound of instrumental guitar, and his influence is still felt, even today.
Back in 1982 or ’83, Guitar Player Magazine had published an article about me, and featured a soundpage in that issue that had me playing many styles, especially my “pedal-steel” style bending, as well as some slide guitar. One day, soon after that, I get a call from none other than Mr. Eddy himself, who just couldn’t believe what he was hearing! He said he had never heard string bending like that, especially just done with the fingers, and he wanted to get together and do some playing! Well, I was certainly “over the moon” about this…I mean, I get a call from a guitar super-hero, who changed music itself, wanting to know how I do what I do, and wanting to get together!
Well one thing led to another, and before you know it, we were not only friends, but he had me join him on his tour opening up for Huey Lewis and the News in America. It was a great thrill, as well, because the other half of the tour, my spot was held down by the great Albert Lee, a personal friend of mine, and another guitarist I greatly admire. The tour was fabulous, (except for me falling 15 feet off the ramp when I went into the darkness at the end of the last “jam” of the tour”), and it was a chance to also play with many incredible players in the band, such as Larry Knechtal (Bread), and the great sax player, Steve Douglas.
About seven years after that, I was coming to Nashville to finish my first “Toolin’ Around” album, and I suggested that Duane do one of the duets on it with me. The others were Brian Setzer, Jerry Douglas, Duke Robillard, Sam Bush, Albert Lee and Danny Gatton! Of course, Duane obliged, and I wrote a very specific tune for him called “Black Water”, that was my vision of a late-night Nashville “twangy” blues that I thought would fit his style and mine perfectly! And it sure did…and we had a blast doing it, too! A little section of it can be seen on YouTube, and I’m hoping to be able to re-release this cd later this year!

Posted: 7/2/2009 3:19:49 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

For the Love of My Old J-185!

This is a guitar that has really made the travels with me, and has certainly "been through the wars"! Many years ago, in the 1970s, I got this guitar for my girlfriend at the time, Janey Street, who has now become a Nashville songwriter. But back in those days, we lived in New York, and there was a folk-blues artist named Roy Bookbinder, who seemed to love to play nothing but J-185s, and who owned quite a few of them.

This was a rare feat, as Gibson made very few of these "down-sized" J-200s over about a 6-year period, and there have been very few survivors, for sure. Janey had always promised me that she'd sell it back to me if she ever needed the money, and around 1985 I got my wish. The guitar was in serious need of major repair, every brace was loose, the back was separating, the binding was falling off, and that was just the beginning! It almost seemed as if it was beyond repair, and I myself, had never even seen the back of a guitar actually develop an opening of about ¼ of an inch! Eventually, I got up the courage (and the money) to pay for such an extensive repair, and after many months, got it back in one piece again, and played it off and on for many years. There were still certain things about it that bothered me, such as how Janey had wacked that thing so hard from her strumming that the wood around one half of the soundhole was completely gone, and that she had put a major 15" scrape across the lower bout of the face!

In 2001, I decided to make a very personal all-acoustic album entitled "Drive it Home", in which I largely used this guitar for many of the pieces. In fact, I am holding it on the cover, sitting on the runningboard of my '36 Buick. This guitar, especially after making this album, seemed to take on an even deeper personal meaning to me, and unfortunately, started heading down that destructive path of falling apart, yet again! This time, while I was actually looking for another one to possibly "trade up" to, this one dealer, who proved to be incredibly selfless and thoughtful, said to me "it's such a great and rare guitar, why don't I refer you to MY repairman to help you get it fixed!" This was great, because he easily just could've taken me for a ride, and ended up selling 2 J-185s, but he just wanted to see me happy!

So, long story short, it is finally done, even the "missing wood" has been replace around the soundhole, every brace had to be re-glued, and lo and behold, the repair guy found out that there were actually THREE different size frets on the guitar…….so needless to say, it now has a fresh set of uniform ones!

I can't wait to get my hands on it once again, and to explore new territory with my old Gibson acoustic friend!

Posted: 6/30/2009 4:44:42 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting Hot!

I can definitely say that there never was such a thrill as my early days as a player who was getting “hot”. This means that my playing was truly starting to be “in demand”, and I was getting many calls for recording sessions as well as tours. It may sound like a lot of luck was involved, and sometimes it was, but I believe that you make your own luck, and the fact that I was so aggressive and so believing in my own abilities also had a great and positive effect on my career at the time.

You HAVE to believe in what you do, and in your ability to adjust to many different musical as well as personal situations, because it all plays into the equation. I can literally remember certain times where special things I may have said, regardless of how corny they may have sounded eventually had a great effect on my career at the time.

I can recall being in an elevator, going up to my audition with John Prine for his 1975 tour, and talking to his manager, Al Bunetta, who is still a great friend of mine today. He turned and asked me, “do you play slide guitar?” Well, I turned to him and I said, “I wrote THE BOOK on slide guitar!!” It certainly was true, and I was very proud that at the age of 22, I had already published a book on Slide Guitar for Oak Publications, that is still a classic even today, and that had broken all of their initial book sales records for first time releases!

Of course, that statement could’ve gotten me in trouble for sheer cockiness, but it struck the right chord in Al Bunetta, who to this day, still quotes me from that particular conversation! He also, to this day, never stops commenting on my cockiness, and on how much I believe in myself and my guitar abilities. This inner drive was what made me teach myself, move to Woodstock at 18, start Hot Licks video, tour for years, record many sessions and albums, and is still what pushes me on even today.

So, listen to that inner voice you have that tells you that you can do it, because that personal drive is what will pay off one day, and one day, you too, will “get hot!”

Posted: 6/29/2009 3:59:42 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More Reflections on the "Road"

The years I spent on the road, doing various tours, were some of the most amazing times anyone can ever imagine. Of course, I did some of the biggest, and most comfortable tours, and some of the roughest, most Uncomfortable tours as well! I used to have special little things I loved to do on the road, such as getting love letters from my wife that would be sweetly waiting for me at my next hotel destination, or frequenting the museums or other special sights of any given town while I was briefly there. I always felt that it was important to absorb as much as possible from each location, and to this day, I feel like I have a very strong “imprint” in my mind of wherever I have been.

I recall going to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh when I was playing there with Phoebe Snow, even in a blizzard, because there was a particular painting by the artist Roualt called “The Old King” that my father loved, and that back in 1960, when we had passed through Pittsburgh on the way to Chicago, was away on loan to a museum in Seattle. I can still recall my dad then asking, “which Turnpike do we take?”! So, I felt I owed it to him to see the painting and to report back to him about it! (I remember the promoter of the show couldn’t believe I was doing this!)

More often than not, especially back in those days, the other musicians never seemed too interested in those higher pursuits while of course, they were interested in “other” higher pursuits! That kind of stuff never turned me on, and since I was always really missing my wife or girlfriend at the time, the women on the road also did not present a major pursuit of mine……although the “groupies” were certainly there!

The roadies and all the other “road” guys we had as part of our team always seemed to be the ones more interested in going “wild” on the road, while us musicians were often the ones who went to bed early, and kept the partying to a minimum.

The happiest moment I think that I can ever recall was when we were on the big Simon and Garfunkel stadium tour, and we had been on the road for what seemed to be forever. Well, the intinirary finally called for coming home, but not until we played in front of 70,000 fans at Giants Stadium, and got to see our wives, expentent wives, and our children, all backstage!! Home at last!! What a feeling…..

Posted: 6/25/2009 7:43:17 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing Solo vs. Band Live!

For many years, I always was and still am used to the concept of playing with a band. It is a freeing feeling, and of course, when it comes to having a certain kind of “space” for lead playing, you can’t beat it! I have though, many times lately, been doing many more solo acoustic performances, and it’s amazing how easily I adapted to it, and how easy it is to get an audience to really “tune in” to what you’re doing.

One thing I was able to right away determine was that I needn’t always have to keep the bass or rhythm part going, to still keep the “sense” of rhythm going! This was a great and freeing revelation, because I realized that during certain passages, I could even leave the rhythm completely behind, while literally playing lead over the audience clapping in time. This all takes me back, almost in a primeval way, to my origins as a guitar player. This is because when I was developing player, there were many times when it was very hard to find other musicians to play with, so I had to create that “band” complete with all the chord changes in my head! Well, once I was finally put in front of hundreds of people, and had to “speak” with the one instrument, sure, I missed the band I was used to, but the “new” band that was inside my head and in the ears and heads of the audience members, took over! Before I knew it, it was total audience participation, and it only drove me onward to create and use creatively, that new “space” that had been created.

I can’t recommend this enough in terms of also what it can do for your confidence as a player, because in the end, we really are playing alone, and the experience is so connected to our actual solo ways of learning.

There are many performers out there today who are used to band-oriented playing who are phenomenal as solo artists, and must bee seen to be believed. Be sure to check out some of these artists who have had this same band vs. solo revelation, such as Tommy Emmanuel, Phil Keagey, Scotty Anderson and many others, all of whom have made that step, and all who can totally captivate any number of people with their guitar magic! Hope you can do the same someday!

Posted: 6/23/2009 5:04:50 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When You Play Together, Listen to Each Other!

This blog installment is basically an addendum and continuation of the last installment whyere I was talking about getting together with other musicians to play. It’s imperative that when you are finally playing with other musicians, that you learn to musically listen to each other and listen to each other as people, too.


It’s so important that you make everyone feel “included”, even if someone may not be at the very top of the pecking order of the band. I can say from personal experience that the worst feeling is when you feel like what you have to say doesn’t matter. This happens on large scales too, for example, like when I used to play with Paul Simon, he was always open to new suggestions, and in fact most of all the song arrangements we had were largely a group decision of all the collective players. Paul of course, had the final say, he is the “boss” after all, but many of us felt like at least our suggestions were heard!


Then, when we listened to or played the final creation, we at least felt that the music was reached as a “general consensus” amongst the musicians concerned, and there was something in each song we could all feel proud of. No charts were used, no notes to read…none of that. But when we all felt ready to play, and had reached the final decisions, we decided to roll tape!


When you have your bands or jam buddies together, please make sure that nobody feels left out. Even if it takes time to finally decide why a given idea must be rejected, if it takes enough time and discussion, you’ll see that even the one who had the idea to begin with, will be much more likely to understand, and to go along with the final decision, minus a bruised ego! Give it a try…it’ll make the whole experience far more rewarding, and much more fun!

Posted: 6/22/2009 4:49:32 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Finding Other Folks to Play With

With the summer rapidly approaching, I find that many players and parents of young students I have keep asking me about who they can find for their children to play music with. This can be a very sensitive time and issue for anyone, especially the young player, and it is charged with emotion and can have long-ranging effects on an aspiring player.

It all depends on the emotional maturity of a given player, as well as his or her level of confidence. With that confidence can often come some “cockiness”, which is not a totally unwelcome thing, but one must be careful not to overdo that part of it, because all the players need to feel like they are on an even playing field, and that they all can contribute to a band. I do not believe, however, that the best bands are the ones that are a complete democracy! After all, we all need creative leaders, who have that special leadership “force” that can be used in a positive manner. Try to imagine Creedence Clearwater for example, not being led by John Fogerty, or The Dead without Jerry Garcia, or The Byrds without Jim McGuinn. These bands, I’m sure all consisted of very opinionated players, but there must be the one key figure who truly provides the guidance and creative force behind the music.

So, when young players get together, they must really be sensitive to what is right and/or wrong about having a “leader”. When these kids get together, unfortunately, there are times when the “leader” really just thinks he’s the coolest guy in the band, and he gets helped to that lofty position by everyone else in the band (and maybe some fans) who also think he’s extremely cool!

Still, the coolest thing of all is the act of making music together, and making the most of the situation. Great players are hard to come by, and if you are fortunate enough, it’s nice, just as in certain sports, to find players who are better and more experienced than you, so you can learn by “playing up” to them! This certainly was the case for me when I was cocky 18 year-old kid moving up to Woodstock, NY, and who was feeling quite free to jump up on stage with many of my heroes, some of whom were easily twice, or even three times my age! Don’t be afraid, but at the same time, remain humble….you’ll really make the most of the situation! Have a great summer filled with wonderful music!

Posted: 6/17/2009 3:12:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Guitar and Baseball!

It’s the heart of baseball season here in NY and in all other parts of this great baseball-loving nation, and in certain areas, due to inter-league play and intense rivalries, such as Mets-Phillies, and Mets-Yankees, not to mention Red Sox-Yankees are really heating up.

There was a critical first game in the “Subway Series” here in New York, where the injury-battered Mets had an incredible and hard-fought game with the Yankees in which they made an all-out and successful effort to go ahead and lead the game. The game unfortunately ended in an unbelievable finish, where Luis Castillo, the Mets’ second baseman, dropped a routine pop-up that was hit by Alex Rodriguez, who was so disgusted at his game-ending pop-up he slammed his bat down in disgust, not even realizing that Castillo had dropped the ball. Afterwards, the incredibly overpaid, over-spoiled and steroid-laden “A-Rod” and the rest of the Yankees celebrated as if they had literally won the World Series, even though they were one second away from a crushing defeat.

Later on, as crushing as the blow was for the Mets and Castillo, the entire team was rallying around him with support, and a great “leave it all behind” and “we’ll get ‘em tomorrow” kind of spirit. And I must admit, it is this spirit that really held on and became even the short term legacy of this event. It was one of those moments where the over-blown salaries, the attitudes, and most of all, the “spoiled” factor so common with ball players these days seemed to dissolve into a little league kind of humble reality.

Fast forward to how many kids these days feel “entitled” to enormous amounts of equipment, super-stardom, and all the rock star “trappings” of wealth and fame. Many of these kinds of kids unfortunately look up to overpaid athletes such as “A Rod”, and these ball players have really become nothing but overpaid “rock stars” in their own right. The hunger for media attention, controversy and a high profile seem to outweigh the simple art of being good at what you do, and most of all, what you feel you, as an artist “must do”. I know that to this day, I only make music because my soul has the incredible and undeniable urge and need to make these sounds. I hear everything in life as music, and it comes out through my fingers. When I step out on the ball field, because I still love to play softball, I still feel that same excitement and innocence that would come over me when I was a member of the Pelham Parkway Little League, and used to pitch no-hitters!

It’s a long topic to engage in, but it’s so important to understand the roots of what these artful things we care so much about really started as. Never lose that innocent spirit, and never lose the fact that we are always learning and developing as players and people. A multi-millionaire ball player can still drop a pop-up, and a millionaire guitar player can still take a lousy solo! The playing field doesn’t need to be leveled, it always HAS been leveled, and forever will stay that way! Be true to yourself and your artform, and win or lose, you’ll always have the right outlook about it!

Posted: 6/17/2009 2:57:29 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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