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Hearing Other "Live" Music

I have found that it’s important, especially while developing as a player, to go out a catch other live music as much as you can. I have always been a restless sort at these kinds of events, as I’m always a bit frustrated that it’s not ME up there on the stage, and I’m always “chomping at the bit” to get up there!

That being said, it’s all actually a healthy part of what will eventually make you a better performer, as you start to hone your skills by watching as well as listening to others, and how they handle these situations. I would really recommend going out and seeing artists you truly admire, and these days, it’s getting increasingly easy to see some of these greats in very up-close and intimate settings.

Sometimes, it can be a major let-down, going to these live gigs, but going is the only way you’ll ever find out whether or not you like the music in the first place. For example, a couple of months ago, I went to see a bunch of semi-friends who are all-time studio greats playing together in NYC as a live band. Well, I had a feeling it was going to be like this, but what a boring show! These guys were up there, spending their whole time reading charts, and has so totally taken the “soul” out of the music that you’d be hard pressed to even enjoy a recording of this stuff!

One of the players really knew how to solo, and he was wailing, without ever leaning on the crutch of the music he would normally be reading, and I actually gained a greater respect for him than ever before. But, let’s keep in mind, that may only have been because I found the other players so “flat” and dull.

Another problem on top of this was that these guys really were so in love with themselves and their show, that you could tell they were supremely satisfied with it, even though the audience reaction was really quite cold…even from a group of people who really DID want to see and hear these guys!

Yes, but I recall those days of going to Chuck Berry concerts, and to the Fillmore East to see bands such as Procol Haram, who I held in such high regard, that I couldn’t help but have my mind blown by these great artists! Just like seeing a grat film, I’d always walk out of the place feeling refreshed, and I couldn’t wait to get home and get my hands back on my guitar again! This is how you should feel after seeing a good show…simply INSPIRED! More next time!

Posted: 5/15/2009 9:18:14 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More on Recording and Mixing

Last time, I was talking about how implicitly I feel I trust my recording engineer, and how important that is for all of us who are involved in any recording process. At the heart of it all of course, is the source…your music, and your performances. I have always felt that looking back, there are a lot of performances I have on my recordings that I should not have simply “settled” for. I guess that in those days, as now, I was so committed to my “first take” kind of approach, and the “live” sound I have always gone for as well. This all results in a kind of “do we dare change it?’ kind of attitude, and lately, even though I still go for spontaneity, I have become quite a bit more of a perfectionist when it comes to which takes to keep.

Of course, with the advent of digital recording these days, you needn’t worry about using too much tape, or too many tracks, as you can pretty much keep all the work you’ve done. This means you can now explore all the possibilities, and really work towards giving your best effort. I know I have now given myself a chance to try more takes, more sounds, tone, approaches you name it. In fact, on working on this new cd, I discovered that one of my performances, which is all solo acoustic guitar, just wasn’t up to the quality of the rest of the performances on the cd. So, I’ve decided to absolutely go for an entirely new recording of this one particular song, and to try for a much more compelling approach to the song. Only then will I be truly happy with my performances on this record.

Too many times in my past I have settled for less, and suffered the consequences of always having to listen (not very often!) to tracks that I know I wasn’t that happy with to begin with, and then they seem to get worse as the years go on! Nothing worse than being permanently dissatisfied with work you’ve committed to something as permanent as a recording. Just remember to keep a level head about it all…as we know, we can certainly also fall into the trap of getting too “picky” about our work, and we can lose sight of what is good and what is not. When that starts to happen, it’s better to take a break from it all, refresh your ears, and get back to your work when it feels right!

Posted: 5/13/2009 9:23:30 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Mixing in the Studio

As I sit here, in the studio mixing a new all Simon and Garfunkel acoustic guitar album I’ll soon be releasing, I am amazed at the feelings and ideas that come over me as I work on the music.

The first thing I am very impressed with is how, sometimes, we are much better off “taking a break” from the music, and re-visiting it later on. One can develop a sense of being so “inside” the music while initially creating it, that you can lose sight of how this stuff should really sound when it’s finally done!

The act of actually first recording the music leaves you with many lasting impressions that can stay with you so long that you end up  having certain memories that almost never really go away! What happens is this unnecessarily prejudices many of your final decisions.

Taking a break from the music and coming back at a later date allows you to “freshen” your ears, and to look at it all from a new perspective, hopefully with as little prejudice as possible. Yes, the memory of certain licks and passages, and most of all how you felt about your performances will help you in creating the end product, but still you must remain open to new ideas and sounds.

This is also great when you have another person you are working with who has a set of ears you can trust. This gives you someone to bounce ideas off of, and then you become someone he or she can bounce ideas off of as well. This is, and should often be, your engineer, who you must implicitly trust to begin with! And I certainly trust mine! It’s also important to note how consistent your sounds must be.

This particular album was recorded with basically the same instruments at the same time, same place, so the consistencies are to a large degree, built in already…..but still you must remember to treat each one as a separate performance, and a separate recording!

I can now see why in the past, Producers I worked with insisted on getting solid performances out of me…less work for them on the “back end” of the project, and of course, more consistency of sound, tone and most of all, performance! Now, I’m looking to get the same out of myself!! And you should be the same in the studio, and demand nothing than the best from yourself and those around you!

Posted: 5/11/2009 8:16:00 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More on Performing Abroad

There’s one thing for sure, and I think this holds true for all touring…you just have no idea how stressful it all really is, and how much energy you put out when you are on the road. I feel that that becomes even more intensified when you are actually playing outside your own country, as it is certainly a more intense experience!
It also certainly depends on just where you are actually touring, as each country varies so much in terms of its habits, its customs, its tastes and so on. In Japan, for example, you could hear a pin drop while putting on an intense show, and you may even really think you might be “bombing”, and that the audience hates you, but sure enough, when you’re done, they totally erupt with applause and cheering! It’s purely a cultural thing, as they want to be respectful while you are playing, and not distract you, or be disrespectful, especially in the eyes of their peers, who are also in the audience.
So, that normally expected “whoo!” and “awwright!” we’ve come to so expect when we play in America, will simply never happen at a concert in Japan, that’s for sure! In England, on the other hand, you get a lot of verbal interplay between the audience and the performer, so much so that I actually got loud questions such as “whaddya think of the beer in this part of the country?!” while giving a clinic/concert in Birmingham! Of course, I said “great!”, and then the audience erupted as if beer was the only thing on their minds! Even in different parts of England, the audience attitude would seem vastly different as well, but there always seemed to be a consistently friendly and warm attitude towards me, the performer. Maybe part of this was due to the fact that I was also up there onstage, sharing my deepest feelings, telling stories, and at the same time, playing my heart out for them. I guess they felt that they could really “read into” me, and that the experience was a very personal and connected one between artist and audience.
I guess that’s also why I always loved given clinics as well as concerts, because the clinics always felt more like “being on the campaign trail”, where I could actually shake the hands and look into the eyes and get the real feedback from my fans out there. I loved that connection that was made, and I always will in the future!

Posted: 5/8/2009 11:05:20 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More On Choosing the Right Guitar (Pickups!)

This installment, I’d like to discuss pickup choice with you, as I know this has become a very hot topic over the last two decades. Many people now feel free to change out their pickups in favor of new, or hotter, or different sounding ones made by many great pickup makers out there. The truth is, you must keep in mind that most of what is being made these days by “boutique” pickup makers is either a play on something that already has existed, or some kind of improvement on an existing type of pickup.

As far as Gibsons go, there have always been the “big three”: The P-90, the humbucker, and the mini-humbucker. I have found lately that I tend to gravitate towards the mini-humbucker, as I like the slightly clearer, more crystalline tone compared to the regular humbucker. Still, there is an amazing kind of true vintage tone that can be gotten from the P-90 pickup, and it has also really found favor in recent times, after being so overshadowed by the humbucker for so many years! Still-of course, when I play through a guitar that has a great set of traditional humbuckers, I am always amazed at the true range one can get from these “tried and true” classics!

I like having an arsenal of various guitars to highlight different sounds with different pickups, and single-coil verses double-coil is really the “great divide” when it comes to pickup choice on a large scale of opinion.

Single-coil has always been the “voice” of the edgy, bright sounding Fender-type instruments, and though they create more buzz and hum as the result of not having double-coils like humbuckers, they also possess a very distinct tone that’s hard to mistake for anything else.

In the long run, it’s really all about how well YOU handle these varying pickup sounds, as it will literally determine your touch, tone, and even the musical choices you may make in the course of playing. So, be sure to try a whole lot of these, and even check out guitars that have had some of the popular, and not-so popular replacement pickups installed in them, and start to educate your ears to all of their differences. You’ll be amazed at the subtle and not-so subtle variations between them!

Posted: 5/4/2009 11:08:26 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting the Right Guitar for the Sound You Want

This is a truly “wide open” subject, as the choice one must make for a guitar is such a personal one. The most important thing, however, is, similar to buying a car, try to choose with your head and not your heart. Well, at least not ALL heart! After all, the guitar is always directly connected to your heart in one way or another!

Another thing I have found over the years is that most of the tone and expression that comes out of your guitar is really more the doing of your hands, your touch and your signature sound. This means that you want certainly, a guitar that helps bring that out, but it’s really not all about the instrument. It’s about you, and then secondly, the instrument, and its relationship to you, the player.

I used to make a habit of coming onstage with like 7 guitars at my disposal for different sounds. This was all well and good, but I quickly realized in was not only a pain in the neck, but it constantly broke up the flow of my show, and it was a real case of “overkill” when it came to trying to “say too much” in the course of one set of music! (maybe a little too much “showing off” too!)

When I did big backup gigs, such as playing with Simon and Garfunkel, that was a different story, as I had great roadies who kept the guitars flying back and forth all the time, depending on the song. During the applause, I just kept handing them back, and they’d hand me another, all tuned up and ready to go, because I needed many different guitars and other instruments for their songs, and a show of that magnitude certainly needs to run smoothly and without a hitch!

But for your purposes, even though I know most of you will end up owning at least 4 guitars relatively quickly, the main one should really do most of what you want it to do. Though we associate certain instruments with certain sounds, it’s really the players that made that happen. The guitar in general, is a pretty forgiving beast, and will prove to be quite maluable in your hands, regardless of which one you choose. Just make sure you never get a guitar that “fights” you, and that is something you can imagine playing in many different situations. For example, when I first got my ’52 Les Paul back in ’67, yes, I had a love for the blues and rock n’ roll, but I was also enjoying playing country and rockabilly styles on it, never saying to myself, “gee, if only I had another guitar”. I then, of course, progressed through many other guitars, all of which could’ve handle the “complete” picture, but I then started to see the subtle differences between them, and their applications.

These days, I generally hit the stage with only about 2 or 3 guitars at the most, but when it comes to the studio, especially for my own music, 7 or 8 different instruments would not be uncommon.

As players and collectors, let’s face it, we’ll always be able to make excuses for buying more guitars, but try to make your first choices really fit your needs, and don’t settle for less!

Posted: 5/4/2009 7:12:04 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Those Wild and Wacky First "Paying" Gigs

The early days of my playing and performing life were very innocent, and the first few times I actually got paid for making music were really a shock to me! I mean, after all, I was so used to thinking I was playing just for the pure need of it, and the joy…..making money was just weird! The first time I ever got paid at all for a gig was when I was only 11 years old, and was asked along with my band at the time, The Mad Hatters, to play at a children’s mental ward in a hospital in the Bronx!

I know it sounds like a weird gig, and it sure was, but I was asked by one of my school teachers to do this, so I figured even thought this was certainly an auspicious beginning to a musical career, it was for a good cause, and gave my band a chance to play “somewhere”! I can still remember walking in, and setting up (at that time the entire band went through one amp, even the microphone for our lead singer!), and one of the ladies there said “whatever you do, don’t play the Batman theme” because there’s a little boy here who is obsessed with Batman, and he may do something wild! Batman was a very popular show at the time, and it contained an easily-copied guitar part, similar to “Secret Agent”.

Not realizing the gravity of what she said, we got into our set, which went well enough. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and being a wise-guy, I suddenly launched into the “Batman” lick, literally ignited this kid, who came out of nowhere, wearing a batman cape, who then tried to FLY out of the window of the hospital!!! So, that lady was certainly serious about not playing the Batman theme, but I wish she had told me what the actual outcome of playing that song might be! That was certainly one incident that always stayed with me……also the fact that I actually was paid ten dollars for my troubles!

Another of our early paying gigs was much more of a “legit” gig, where my band played for my cousin’s Sweet 16 at a restaurant, I believe somewhere in the wilds of Long Island. It went over great, and we were loving all our new guitars and amps which we had upgraded, and were debuting at this gig. But when it came time to leave, and we all helped each other with our equipment, I remember lifting my rhythm guitarist’s amp, which was the same as mine, and almost breaking my back! I also heard many thing rattling and shaking in the back of his amp, and lo and behold, there was almost all the SILVERWARE from the party, which he was attempting to steal!! Man, was this a shock to me, and he came off so stupid. Even worse was his explanation for what he did, saying his “family asked him to do that”! Needless to say, all the silverware was put back, but we had to deal with the incredible embarrassment of what just took place!

In those early days, you just never knew what would happen, and does that ever really change? The truth is, I don’t think so, and the countless crazy occurrences that have happened throughout my career and life just continue to boggle the mind! Lots more on this ongoing tale coming up in future blogs!

Posted: 4/27/2009 9:41:58 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More NAMM Exploits

Last time I started talking about those crazy, exhaustive gatherings known as NAMM shows that happen twice a year in America. I always loved the playing aspect of these shows, and the fact that you always get to see a lot of the same folks each year, and get a chance to “catch up” with them. Certainly that’s a great thing to look forward to, but that very same thing can be so exhausting……I mean, it really started to get like “Groundhog Day”, when you see and hear the same stuff all the time from the same people that keep passing by your booth year after year. It’s like watching your life pass by right in front of your eyes sometimes!

Even though I definitely tended to wear “too many hats” under the NAMM roof, it was truly fun to see the differences, and more importantly, the connections between being involved with the publishing industry as well as the playing and performing industry. In a way, I had achieved the perfect balance between these two ends of the spectrum with my Hot Licks Video business. It was also great to always check out the new gear, and to see “what new free stuff would get thrown at me this year!”

In between all the heavy responsibilities I had at these shows, I always would allow myself (and needed badly) some walk-around “free” time, that enabled me to take it all in as a regular “civilian”! This was often when some of the most interesting and fruitful encounters would take place with other folks, and when I would get to really try out and fall in love with certain guitars, accessories and other wondrous things. It was always a blast performing at the booth too, and we always had nice crowds watching and listening. One thing is for sure…everyone is there under that rood, sharing one thing…a deep love and appreciation of music!

I can recall one time when we had Tuck Andress, the brilliant fingerstyle guitarist who had just done a video for me, performing at the booth. He sat high up on a stool, so the throngs could catch a glimpse of him, and there must’ve been 500 people there, clogging up the aisle! All of a sudden, his guitar dies, the sound goes off, and we have no idea why! Well, as it turned out, some guy from about 20 booths down who made harps of all things, went behind the curtain, and simply yanked the amps plug right out of its socket! I couldn’t believe it………..guess I better think twice again before I god forbid, put a dent in the booming harp makers industry! A confrontation between he and I soon followed that was not very pleasant, but to this day, I’ll never understand why he was really THAT ticked off….it certainly wasn’t volume…Tuck was playing gentle harmonics at the time! See you next installment!

Posted: 4/27/2009 4:18:35 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Oh, Those NAMM Shows!

The NAMM conventions (National Association of Musical Merchants) are a large slice of insanity that occurs twice a year in the U.S, with the added bonuses of more, even crazier “world” type conventions such as the Music Messe in Frankfurt, Germany! I could never bring myself to ever go to that one, because knowing my reaction to the NAMM shows, I always thought I’d literally never even live through The Music Messe!!

If you take into account all the years I had Hot Licks Video, and my first NAMM being in 1982, I had literally done 35 straight NAMM shows from 1982 to 1998. I did finally go back to the Nashville one this past year, the first one I could actually “face” since I tragically lost my wife Deborah and my 14 year-old daughter, Gillian in a car accident in 1998. It just always seemed like way too much to have to face again…all those people, all those faces, all those stories I’d have to tell and re-tell……NAMM is crazy.

There was a time when I actually did “relatively” enjoy them, when we’d have the Hot Licks booth,and I’d get to play there amongst many other of our artists who’d show up and play, such as Tuck Andress, Brian Setzer, Stu Hamm and many others. This was always my favorite part of NAMM…when I could hang out with my cronies and pick and tell stories. And of course, you’d never know what new legends you’d meet there, either…I mean I got to hang out with the great “Thumbs” Carlisle, and so many others. The LA show was always fun because you’d meet a lot of the old time surf bands and players, people I barely knew existed, as a kid growing up on the east coast!

My main problem was always having to wear too many hats under that one NAMM roof! One moment I’d be appearing at the Guitar Player booth signing autographs, then I’d have a performance scheduled at another guitar maker’s booth, then I’d run into James Burton and he’d want to hang out, and then I’d have people throwing all kinds of endorsement things at me, and then I’d be chasing down some artist so I could sign him for a Hot Licks video……you get the idea…it was crazy, and not to mention there were then the endless nighttime jams, many of which I played at or at least felt obligated to attend!!!

I’m sure you get the picture, but believe it or not, they were also great, and I feel that now, at an older age, I can pace myself better for these kinds of events, and maybe not even lose my voice at tehm from talking over all the loud music!! More on NAMM next time!

Posted: 4/22/2009 9:12:25 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Search for Your Own Style

The search for your own style,  guitar-wise is what we’re all really looking for, and truthfully, it’s just around the corner, if you keep on playing.

I found that in my beginnings as a player, I always fell in love with certain artists whose sound really turned me on…people I wanted to play like, and literally be like. All of that would quickly wane though, because my true passion and need was to “plug in” what these heroes of mine had, and make it into my own distinctive sound. Maybe some of that was simply meant to happen anyway, and was my pre-destined journey, but a lot of it just comes from the true artistic desire I have always had and a “need” to play.

I know a lot of you are into your guitar “heroes” and want to sound and be like them. Well, just remember, they all had and have heroes too, and if you listen carefully, you just may be able to see where their inspiration came from. In my early days of falling in love with players like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry and Clarence White for example, I would immediately try to deepen my knowledge by going to THEIR sources, listening to people like Son House, Robert Johnson, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, you name it. Anything that would bring me closer to the “roots” of what I loved, was what would further my own development, and open my ears to many more unique and new sounds.

Still, even after all that, it was always MY sound I was going fo … and I stayed true to that approach, and to my own way of learning by ear. To this day, I am still learning, and every once in awhile I hear a little phrase or some idea from a new player that turns my head around, and makes me want to understand just what he or she did.

Even in the old days, I liken my learning from my heroes as “snapshots” I would grab of their styles. Sort of like just grabbing enough of a glimpse into their playing to capture the essence of it, while not having to obsess about it, and especially not getting involving in “note by note” learning or copying of solos, etc. I can see where you may feel a need to “get inside” of someone’s playing so much that you need to copy them note-for-note, but after awhile, I think all you’ll really need is to grab that “snapshot” of them I was mentioning earlier, and then move on, with that new sound digested and assimilated into your own unique approach.

I hope this helps you. I know it’s very individual for each of us, but sooner or later, you must remain true to your own style and sound, which by the way, is something that you can’t HELP but end up having, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and keep playing! Take it from one who really knows, and who has been down that road many times….stick with it and be true to yourself, your own sound and style shall prevail!

Posted: 4/20/2009 10:50:58 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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