Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mentoring the Masses

When I was first beginning to play guitar, there were a few standard instruction books that most people had, usually Mel Bay publications that had a collection of chord diagrams and sometimes a complete method with simple melodies like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and the like. Some of those books are classics, such as the "Orchestral" chord method. Written in 1947, it deals with the harmonic needs of the typical guitar player of the times - cutting through the horn section and staying out of the way of the piano. As tastes changed and horn sections and pianos were replaced by synthesizers or multiple distorted guitars, those voicings still work to make a guitar part fit into a dense mix. Guitar genius Richard Bennett recommended that I study that book when I asked him where he got his chord ideas from. Along with the George Van Eps Guitar Method, which covers harmonized triads in a very musical manner, you've got all you need to get the chordal thing happening.

Growing up in Mauston, Wisconsin, there were precious few guitar players, and no Rock players to take lessons from. Tim Hubert was the local Django fan, and he played great Pop guitar in the Les Paul/George Barnes manner. His wife played bass and taught guitar, but I wanted to rock. Thia Hubert, their daughter and a great singer, knew of a guy named Bob Nikrin who might be able to get me started. Bob lived in a small apartment and had a collection of Allman Brothers and Christopher Parkening records and some Cool Jazz. He showed me a few things and was very encouraging, but we never really had formal lessons. I had to find my own way by listening to records and getting a few tips from the "rock" themed Mel Bay books, which were pretty lame.

Today's instructional material is overwhelming. You can find a DVD of your favorite player showing all of his choice licks for $29.95. I've bought a few recently, as I am in another "learning" phase. This usually signals that I am bored with my playing and need an "outside agitator" to stir things up.

In a retro mood, I decided to get the Elliot Easton DVD, since his playing in The Cars was a big influence on me. We used to cover a few of their tunes in my high school band, but I never played the solos correctly at the time. Now I can watch Elliot break down each phrase at a slow tempo and finally get it right. What's the point of learning someone else's solos if you are not going to play their songs? Well, it's a great way to get an insight into how they think about soloing. Easton is always melodic, memorable, hummable and chose great tones for his parts. He definitely comes form the George Harrison school of finding a great part for the song - he is not a jammer. He can stretch out, and is shown playing a few extended bluesy pieces on the DVD, but his forte is concise, tasty leads...and that's my preference, too. I also found a used copy of "the cars live" from the MusikladenTV show that has the original band doing selections from the first two records...great stuff.

Another "parts player" who has been in the public ear lately is the understated Adam Levy from Norah Jones' Handsome Band. Levy is an obviously schooled player and he has great internal editing, only playing what's needed and finding interesting ways to do it. His DVD "Play The Right Stuff" is just that. Three hours of tutorial on chord voicings, harmonic patterns, grooves and getting the right vibe for the song. This is a rare and valuable lesson, not often taught in any generation. It's not flashy, it's not sexy. It's simply the information you need to accompany an artist on guitar, which is 90% of any guitar player's job. Long overdue and hopefully the first of many.

This blog was linked to by Instapundit and a few weeks ago due to a YouTube clip I posted of Redd Volkaert and Cindy Cashdollar taped at their weekly gig at the Continental Club in Austin, TX. I went to Redd's site and bought the combination DVD package of the entire gig, plus an instructional video entitled "Stolen Licks". Redd has spent years playing on bandstands with pedal steel players and fiddlers and he has incorporated those sounds into his own Tele playing. If you are an electric guitarist on a Country gig and are the only solo instrument, grab this DVD and learn what Redd has to offer. He describes all of the ideas as licks he has "stolen" from other sources, but what he does with them make them his own. Inspirational.

Another great - and free - learning tool is YouTube. Sure, you can watch various idiots have their jackassed moments digitally immortalized, or you can take a guitar lesson from Mike Campbell. Not sure how to play the intro/solo to 'Breakdown"? Watch this: Breakdown.

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to see The Midnight Special, or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, or Solid Gold or SNL just to catch a glimpse of what the guitar players were doing. Now I can watch it over and over and get the part exactly, no guessing on the fingering or phrasing.

That's what's on my "musical nutrtion" plate during these grey and cold January days. I've already got the solo to "My Best Friend's Girl" mastered, and have the "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" intro ingrained in my brain. Who knows where or when those two might collide and spawn a new idea...


Anonymous driver said...

I agree completely about Elliot Easton...wish I'd bought one of those flametop Deans back in the day. Speaking of instructional DVDs by cool players, Johnny A has one out now too...check out his site next time you want some outside agitation--

29/1/07 08:00  

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