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The Progression from Acoustic to Electric and Vice Versa

Moving from acoustic to electric guitar or vice versa is sometimes what a player must do in the course of his/her career. Even in my case, though I started as a classical player, and then stayed with electric for a good 12 years or so, it took all that time before I once again took acoustic guitar seriously, and made it a big part of my playing arsenal. What that ended up doing for me was creating a style that truly was a “hybrid” between the electric and acoustic approach. All those years of bending and strong vibrato on the electric made me have a style, once adapted to the acoustic, that was more of a blend of the two. It seemed to make me more of a kind of player who got the most out of the acoustic, and since it was the beginning of the “acoustic pickup” era, I was also going through an amp, and using reverb, which further enhanced my “electric/acoustic” approach.

This is something for many of you to keep in mind, as I’m sure a lot of you are electric players first, and acoustic players second. But I like this kind of progression, in which you “add” acoustic to your existing electric approach. The harder one, especially after what I have experienced in my lifetime, is the switch from acoustic over to electric. This is because most acoustic players mostly “strum” a lot, and the use of an electric guitar has a whole different bag of tricks when it comes to learning to control an amplified instrument. The blocking and dampening becomes even more necessary, and many acoustic strummers and pickers, though familiar with blocking and dampening, have not had to do it to the extent an electric guitar demands!

The most obvious stuff I’ve witnessed with this is watching many of the acoustic “folk” artists I have played with over the years with electric guitars in their hands. When that happens, look out! Prepare to be blasted by right-hand heavy playing that simply pounds away at the guitar, with very little subtlety! These are players that have been trying for years to wrench everything out of their acoustics forever, and now, they must deal with a very loud, amplified guitar they must somehow manage to “control.” This is a very big step for many, and it requires a reassessment of the instrument in your hands, and just what you want it to do for you. In the end, if you really can make the transition smoothly, you should ideally have a great acoustic approach as well as an electric, and even though they are obviously going to have similarities to each other, you should still arrive at distinct styles and approaches for both! So good luck in your electric/acoustic endeavors, and I hope you really develop your own style altogether on both!

Posted: 05/04/2012 14:05:44 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Blessing of Truly Gifted Students

These days, as I’ve also been continuing to teach privately in addition to my online lessons at, I have found a great and wonderfully diverse group of very gifted students! It seems that right now, I have more than usual, and they certainly give me a great challenge! One thing is for sure, they seem to be making them younger and younger these days, and it’s not uncommon for me to see incredibly gifted players even at the age of 8 to 14, for example!

The challenge for me is to find that special moment when the student must shift gears with me, and go from just learning things by rote, to a point where they start to become artists at what they do. This is a very individual thing, and some players are seemingly creative right from the start, which is really how I was, and always remained. I guess it’s part of someone’s nature to be that way, and of course for me it was also how I was raised….to be creative at every juncture. Sure, I wanted to sound like my heroes here and there, but rather than trying to be them musically, I was able to take their styles and techniques in “snapshots” where I was able to apply it to my own style. In this way, I was always able to satisfy and “feed” my creative drive. I try to instill this in my students as much as possible, and whenever I get the chance, I try to move them in the direction of self-teaching and self-realization about their own abilities. There has to come a point where the security of the teacher becomes something that a student must break away from. For some this must be a “clean break” such as what I did, or for many of whom I have taught, it’s more of a gradual break.

Again, it depends on the individual student, but it’s important to feed that independent “streak” in them, so they eventually feel much more comfortable with themselves as players, and therefore as people, too. I know I have many gifted students the world over, and I wish I could hear and meet them all, but I certainly know it’s an incredible blessing to see it right in front of me, when a student is truly gifted, and has fallen in love with the guitar….and also that the guitar loves them!

So here’s to all you gifted players and students out there….I’m glad to be a continued part of your musical lives and development, and I hope someday in my travels I get to hear you, and that you get to really impress me, too!

Posted: 02/04/2012 15:27:47 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

In Honor and Memory of My Father!

My father, the great Al Roth, or Al Ross, as was his pen name, has passed away at the age of 100. This was a mountain of a man, who was born before the 1st World War in Rumania, and who later moved to Vienna, Austria before coming to America in 1922. His life was long and healthy, and full of love. He gave me all I could ever want and then some, and was always there for me as a child, and as an adult. He was the man who told me to “play the guitar,” as he said he could “just picture it,” as opposed to continuing the violin, and it was his constant listening to guitar music, particularly Flamenco, in our apartment in the Bronx, NY that helped fuel the fires for me wanting to pick up the guitar.

He was one of the “Classic Era” cartoonists from the New Yorker Magazine, who published him starting in 1937. He was known all over the world for his incredible work as a cartoonist, as well as his incredible paintings, drawings and collages. The amount of artwork he has left behind is simply staggering! It would take most folks a hundred lifetimes to create what he created, and he left behind an incredible legacy of work, as well as a legacy in the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all of whom adored him. His “extended” family reached into the many hundreds.

His love of children and all people in general is what set the example for me to be the kind of father I am, and he, like myself and my mother, never ever got over the loss of my daughter, Gillian and my wife, Deborah in a car accident in 1998. He was still strong, and his attitude towards life was truly his biggest asset. He had a very strong acceptance of “how things are”, and understood that the constant struggle between good and evil will never end. He knew that in his heart of hearts, the world was no Utopia, but at the same time, he spread nothing but love and appreciation to everyone he ever met. There wasn’t a bad, or mad bone in his body, and his kindness was something of legend. He chose not to be religious, but he worshipped the art, the music, the literature, the primitive cultures of this world, and all the good things that life brought without needing to pay a single red cent for them. All the love he had he gave to me, and now it makes me so sad that I can no longer call and tell him, as I had since I was a child, about the great gig I just had, or about the 3 doubles I may have hit in a baseball game! Love you, my Daddy, you were, and always will be the “King” of our family, and one of the greatest men who ever lived! Here’s to the celebration of the life and times of Al Roth (Ross)!

Posted: 28/03/2012 15:06:43 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Trust Your Players!

I have always held the belief, very strongly, that you must trust the players you surround yourself with. This of course means that as a band leader, you need to have the kinds of players who need a minimum of “explanation” of what to do when you need them to come up with parts, solos or whatever, and also the kinds of folks who only need an occasional “gentle push” in the right direction, should you need them to know you want them to do something other than what they are doing within a song.

I am currently on the lookout for a new second guitarist in my band; a very important person for sure! Most of my songs are conceived as at least “two-guitar” pieces, and the layers of guitars I create on my recordings though often hard to reproduce “live”, still need to be as full as possible when we do play out. Again, it actually is more of a pleasure for me to have someone that I can “trust” implicitly with my music, and who can be create on their own, yet who can still stay within the correct parameters I need.

The first “well” I go to when I need a good 2nd guitarist is to go back over the great students I’ve had over the years. This helps me because not only do I know they may be good enough, but that they also know and respect my kind of playing, and can complement my style! At the same time, a guitarist’s ego can often be very fragile, and I must have someone whom I can lightly criticize and direct without having their feeling hurt. A very big difference from what I’ve had to endure from some of the “big” artists I’ve worked with, who seem to feel that they have to “take you apart” and tear you down before they even give you a chance to so much as breathe on the guitar!

I don’t work that way. I like it to always feel like a true “partnership” when it comes to having my other players around me, and that especially applies to the 2nd guitarist. And the one thing I have never done was to ever belittle another player, or make them feel like crawling off into the corner out of embarrassment or otherwise! Let’s face it, all those years of being a sideman myself really educated me as to how a player wants to be treated, and anyway, let’s face it, I’m a nice guy!!

Anyway, wish me luck in my search for a 2nd guitarist in my band, and as always, be kind and respectful to each other, as players and as people! Best of luck!

Posted: 26/03/2012 15:42:12 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Replacing Band Members!

It’s a very difficult thing to deal with when a longtime band member leaves, and there never seems to be a convenient or proper time for this to happen. (That is provided you want them to stay!) It is especially hard when you have to deal with someone who played many different parts in the course of a show, and who you rely heavily upon for support. It’s not an impossibility to find a replacement, but I suppose the most important thing is to be open to new people, who play differently. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to exactly fill the shoes of the person who’s leaving, which of course, we know is impossible. So instead, it’s far better to keep open ears to new people, and to what they can bring to the table musically!

I can remember in my early days of auditioning, how sometimes a group would already have a certain player in mind, or who they already accepted, and then I’d walk in, blow them totally away, and then they’d have to deal with the new circumstances! I can recall this happening with BILLY JOEL when he was first ready to come out with “The Stranger”, the album that really broke everything wide open for him. I played, and they were all incredibly impressed, and I remember him taking the whole band aside and whispering “what are we gonna do now, this guy’s really good!?” Well, as it turned out, they offered me the gig anyway, passed over their first choice, but then were turned down by me since I realized there were no guitar solos in the show, the guitar player was always the “odd man out” socially in that band, and most of all, I had a better offer from Art Garfunkel! Still it was a very nice compliment how they felt about me, and that Billy was willing to shift and change their plans simply based on the fact that they never expected someone like me to walk through that rehearsal studio door!

That taught me a great lesson, and even though I love to mentor players into my band, and have guitarists who can really do “what it say”, I still want players who I can trust, and who can really deliver their own “goods” and input into the sound of the band!

So if you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, be sure to keep an open mind to new players. Let each one who tries out for your musical venture really try to put their own best foot forward before you make any hasty judgments, or before you try too quickly to make them fit into the mold of what you think they should be or play like!

Posted: 14/03/2012 16:20:47 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Proper Recording Techniques

The art of recording and recording the right way for you, is a constantly changing and evolving thing. In fact, it’s really so subjective, and most folks don’t seem to really know where to start. I know that for me, it took a long time before I felt as if my ear and my decisions were really in synch with each other when it came to my own recordings, and how I really wanted them to be handled.

The first thing is to truly and wholly trust your engineer. Most of them have their own personal style and approach to recording, so it’s best to listen to some of their previous work to try and get a sense of just what they are capable of, and in what sonic direction they tend to lean. Of course, a truly great engineer, like a truly great player, should be able to bend and adapt to each and every situation they find themselves in. For example, they should be equally comfortable and proficient at recording symphonic and orchestral instruments as they might be recording a Heavy Metal band, for instance! It doesn’t mean they have no sound or touch of their own, but you want to make sure there is no challenge too big or diverse for them to tackle, and that they embrace any new ideas or challenges set before them.

Of course, many engineers these days originally started in the “harder” days of recording to actual tape, and then made the change and the “bridge” over to the digital era. Still, regardless of the actual medium of recording they are working in, certain skills will always be constants. This includes the all-important skill of mic placement and choice for the application at hand, use of EQ, how to handle the particular space you are recording in, and countless other things that all “factor in” to the final product’s creation. Even the speakers you listen back on are critical. Most really good studios and engineers will have as many as 3 or 4 sets of speakers to listen back on, so you can judge your music as it would be played in many situations. There are lots of times for example, after we have a song mixed, we are sure to listen back on tiny speakers that actually mimic an old AM car radio…perhaps the worst way to listen to music, but also perhaps the most oft-listened to way in history. Back in the earlier days, this was so critical, as most folks did their listening to Pop music in the car, and it was only on the thinner-sounding AM as opposed to FM.

This process is important from beginning to end with any recording situation, and you must remember that almost all music sounds good and exciting on the BIG speakers, and when they’re loud, but the true test will be on the more humble level of listening experiences. Experiment with them all, and remember that the whole process, though tedious, is also incredibly fun to take part in!

Posted: 05/03/2012 14:45:34 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting Ready for a Big Gig!

Tonight I definitely have what you would categorize as a “big gig”, as I’m playing at the Iridium in NYC (the famous “Les Paul” club) with my own band. I have normally played there with Lou Pallo and the Les Paul Trio, which has more of a vibe of “sitting in”, as opposed to this night, in which the whole show is mine. Sometimes one can get pretty uptight before a gig such as this, and I know that many folks are coming, some from very far distances, even Canada, to see me play! It’s very exciting to realize that certain members of some audiences can be such dedicated followers. The club itself will even be making cds of tonight’s show and selling them at the end of the night, so it is even considered a recording “event”!

One can definitely “over-prepare” for a show like this, but when you think about it, you just can’t be prepared enough. The only problem is obsessing so much over the details and worrying too much to the point of it over-stressing you, and making the performance become actually secondary to you! This is something you never want to happen…the music always comes first, and you’d much rather have THAT over-prepared than anything else. I only needed one “refresher” rehearsal with the band for this gig, but I still feel the need to discuss backstage some of the details of the music, and to “talk through” the songs so we at least know we’re “on the same page” once we hit the stage. Keep in mind of course, that I am working with a group of truly seasoned and experienced professional players who will always “be there” should there be a bit of a musical “train wreck” during one of the songs! Heck, my drummer, the great Shannon Ford, told me at the rehearsal that if I suddenly wanted to change my groove and tempo in the middle of one of my songs, that “he’d be right there for me” if I suddenly wanted to spontaneously make that kind of change! That is truly reassuring to me, as I want to feel total freedom, and have no worries while I’m up there performing!

You’ll see in your own career, that there is nothing quite like having the backup of, or band mates like this, where the combination of their professionalism and past experience blends with the mutual experiences you have enjoyed together. This “joint effort” of all the players really makes playing live, as well as recording, such a rewarding experience, and that’s also why I love to record with the same band I play live with, whenever possible.

So through all your experiences and all your development I hope you can eventually achieve this kind of wonderful communication and “balance” among yourself and your fellow players. It truly is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of being a true musician!

Posted: 29/02/2012 15:01:45 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Doing it All on the Guitar!

As guitarists, we all know that one of the most amazing things about our instrument of choice is how much can be accomplished with it in the hands of just one person. Yes, it’s always wonderful to play with a band, and to be an “ensemble” player, and yes it’s great to be able to take the occasional “leads, solos and fills” in those situations, but there’s nothing like being able to make complete music by yourself!

Tonight I have such a gig myself, where I am going to be counted on to be the entire entertainment with just me and my guitar to do the work. There is a certain kind of relaxed feeling I get when I think of doing a gig like this, because the variables are so much less than when you involve an entire band, and the things that can go wrong are also much fewer. Not only this, but also when it comes to “mistakes” and things of that nature, the only one you can blame is you, and playing alone enables you so much more freedom when it comes to working your way out of situations that may be musically hazardous!

The “space” one can work with when playing solo guitar is also an amazing revelation, because there are times you can literally stop in the middle of playing, or you can just play lead and not worry about rhythm or bass parts, and the audience will essentially “fill in the blanks” in terms of acting like they are accompanying you. This has happened to me many times, and it’s so exciting when you can get this kind of interactive reaction and participation from an audience. It’s like the old expression where they’re “eating right out of your hands,” because it’s so good when you know they are literally hanging on every note! Now I certainly “hope” this happens for me tonight, but I think it’s going to be more of a semi “background music” kind of thing, in a loud bar, where folks may be more interested in talking to each other than hearing who’s playing, but you never know………..

Usually in situations like this where you feel as if you are really just another form of “background” music, there can be at least one song or one moment at least in your show where you can really catch people’s attention, and make them quiet down and really listen! I have used many techniques to make this kind of thing happen, even in big arenas, as it can be terribly frustrating for the artist to not be paid attention to, regardless of the size of the gig or venue.

So wish me luck tonight, and hope that folks will actually listen to the music I’ll be playing, and I’ll be pulling for you, whenever you have to deal with the kinds of gigs where you must “do it all” on the guitar! Happy gigging!

Posted: 22/02/2012 15:42:03 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

New Recording Dates!

There’s nothing like the feeling of when the phone rings, and you know you’re booked on another recording date. For me, it’s nice these days, because I get called for “my sound” which means I can really put my best foot forward as far as the music goes, and that my initial, first-take response to the music is always captured. It’s very important to never miss someone’s “first take” on a song, and today I did that for a recording date where I was working on 3 songs for a new “Indie” artist. It felt great and a lot like the “old days” when I seemed to have 5 or 6 sessions like that every week, especially during the big ‘70s “singer/songwriter” era. That was a time of great “open canvases” to work with, and the singers I was accompanying were very open to having me truly improvise and make their songs even better!

I find that a new, and very exciting generation of song writers and players are on the rise these days, and it feels like a kind of “renewal” for me, in terms of the way I used to conduct my musical business. It’s a very creative time, and many of these singer/songwriters, as well as players, are the offspring of musicians who like me, have been doing it for a very long time, and who have passed on not only talent to our children, but also our experiences. It’s still important for the young players today to make their way on their own, and they certainly do, but it’s always a good thing to have some expertise passed on from their forefathers as well! This is what I love doing with my daughter Lexie, and of course, what I did with my late daughter, Gillian, who had become a truly gifted player at such a young age.

It’s also one thing to be involved recording your own music in the studio, and then to work on other people’s projects. Yes, I carried into the studio today the “chops” that have been well-built up from working on my new album, but I also had to come in with “fresh ears” to be open to the new music. This was a fun thing to do, as I always love to see how that initial reaction for me will be, and even more importantly, how the artist and the producer react, which was great! It makes you feel so valued, and also like you still “have it!” After all, there was a time when I was definitely the guy to call, now I’m the guy with the great reputation, but who people think they can’t call since I’m so “famous.” Truth is, now I need the work more than ever, as many players my age really need, and it feels better than ever to actually be wanted, needed and loved! But seriously, there’s nothing like recording again, and when someone calls you for “your sound”, it’s really the icing on the cake! May you, too, one day be called for “your own sound”, and I hope you enjoy all the recording you ever take part in!

Posted: 13/02/2012 14:36:03 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Going to Live Shows and Sitting In!

It’s a very important thing to go and support live music these, and all days. I also feel it’s one of the best ways to really see how others have honed their skills (or not!), and how you yourself can improve your own performing abilities.

There are basically two kinds of “going out” to see live music for me. One is where I am genuinely curious about seeing an entertainer whom I really love, and need to see, and the other is where I am reluctantly “dragged” to the gig, while also hoping to be called up onstage to join in and perform together with the given artist. “Sitting in” like this is a great way to reach new audiences, and to give the crowd an unexpected “treat” that they really hadn’t counted on when they first arrived! If I am just “hoping” to be called up onstage, I can get really restless sometimes, and feel a bit like a “caged lion” until the tension is finally released, and I get called up. At that point I am ready to channel that “nervous” energy into something positive in my playing, but it’s tough; it’s kind of like being a pinch-hitter in baseball who has to come off the bench, and be fresh and ready and full of energy, just as if he’d been in the ballgame the whole time! Well, it’s sure the same when it comes to sitting in at a live show, because sometimes it feels like I have to go from zero to sixty in 2 seconds flat!

Still, it is a skill worth working on, which will always help you in the future when it comes to your own performances. You can imagine what it was like in the old days for players such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Hank Garland for example, when all they wanted to do was to jump onstage while watching one of their local heroes performing. It’s really a kind of “rite of passage”, or an “initiation” of sorts when it comes to “earning your wings” and becoming a true professional.

So I would certainly recommend doing this as often as you can, making sure to see good live music, especially the kind that inspires you, and that makes you want to better yourself as both a player and as a performer. There are opportunities galore out there for you, and I certainly hope you can make the best of them, just as I did, and even today still continue to do for myself, and for audiences everywhere!
Happy watching and “sitting in!”

Posted: 09/02/2012 16:21:20 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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