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Trying Other Instruments

I always like to think of myself as more of a multi-instrumentalist than being just a guitar player. Even though, when you play stringed instruments, such as the guitar, in my opinion it opens up the other string instrument possibilities much more for you!

Personally, I started on the violin when I was only 8 years old, but the guitar held a deeper attraction for me, my father saw this, and then encouraged me to play the guitar more than the violin. I was certainly getting good at the fiddle, but the strictness of the regimen of playing classical music was just too much for me, when I was already teaching myself so much on the guitar. Not to mention that especially to a young kid like me, the guitar seemed much more “contemporary” and was of course, far more “visible” in life in general as an instrument, especially with the advent of the Folk movement and early “60s rock beginning.

As time went on, I realized that just about anything with strings felt extremely comfortable in my hands. I got a cheap mandolin when I was about 14, a Dobro when I was 16, started pedal steel at the age of 16 and was also playing Hawaiian lap steel. Of course, most of them are “slide” oriented, which I’ve always had an appreciation of, and I consider even regular “slide” guitar to actually be another instrument than just being another form of guitar. The rules of the techniques involved with slide are just so different as to render it as another instrument in my opinion.

I am still in the midst of making my new album, and once again, I am employing pretty much all the string instruments I know how to play, which is a great feeling. Nothing like getting an idea that for example, a mandolin would sound good on a certain part of a song, and just reaching over and picking it up and seeing how it fits! I love Dobro as well, and quite frankly, I gave up the pedal steel, because I felt like it was a much more unique feat to make the guitar sound like a pedal steel, as opposed to dragging along that 100-lb. instrument! Still, if I were to sit down at the pedal steel, I’d remember what to do completely! In fact I may get one, and I also intend to get back into the fiddle as well!

If the temptation of playing other instruments intrigues you, I really suggest that you give in to it….it’s wonderful to know other tools you can have, and it’s so great to have all those “real” sounds and textures at your disposal! Have lots of fun with it!

Posted: 11/04/2011 9:41:08 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Courage to go out on Your Own

The music business can be a place fraught with danger and problems at every turn. Not to mention the sheer belief in one’s self and courage it takes to put yourself out there, into the mix of things, and into that dangerous environment! With that said, there always comes a point for most guitar players to finally make that decision that will take them into the real world of music. And this is something you’ll have to do sooner or later! I have seen far too many brilliant players fall by the wayside from a lack of confidence, which holds them back from really taking the chances one must take if they expect to succeed.

I was very young, only 18, when I actually moved to Woodstock to begin my musical career in earnest. And this came after playing the guitar for 8 years already, and also having gigged in and around the Woodstock, NY, Philadelphia and New York City areas for 3 solid years. I certainly wasn’t lacking for confidence, and already felt that I had something “new” and different to bring to the table in regards to the world of music, and more specifically, the guitar. So, before I knew it, I was jumping onstage to play with many famous musicians in and around Woodstock, such as Paul Butterfield, Happy and Artie Traum, Eric Andersen, John Sebastian and the like. It wasn’t all roses of course. It was a trying time for me, also. I was there, with a tiny apartment, didn’t drive yet, had to hitch-hike everywhere or catch rides with friends, and the band that I supposedly moved up there to be in, quickly disbanded, as we couldn’t deal with the ego of the guy who really just wanted to make our group his own “back-up” band!

So, with not much else really happening for me, I ended up moving back home to the Bronx, and after having tasted “real” professional music and players, had to settle back into being part of a pretty bad “cover” band that was just doing whatever gig we could find….and some of them downright unbelievable!

Still, in retrospect, I even look back on that rather dark period as a learning experience, and even though I was playing a lot of music I thought was pretty lousy, it helped teach me about just that; being able to play well and to be creative even within music that was less than appealing for me! It also has so much to do with the players you are working with, and how you get along. Several band members knew I had much more talent than them, but mostly they seemed to be glad I was there, since I elevated the entire band with my abilities, and helped them all to play better! There was probably an underlying envy as well, but they were smart enough to know that if they had started to give me a hard time, I would’ve just left.

As it was, Woodstock and the “bigger” music business still beckoned, and I ended up doing so much work that was based in Woodstock after that that it didn’t matter that I didn’t live there again; folks strongly associated me with that scene since I was recording and touring with so many Woodstock-based artists!

So, if you’ve got the talent, and especially the will, you’ll see that if you’re willing to get “out there” and really show your stuff it’ll eventually pay off, and the waters of your true career will eventually be able to seek their correct, and deserved level!

Posted: 11/04/2011 9:36:25 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Reuniting with Musicians from Way Back!

One of the most fun things I’m going to get to do on this new album I’m cutting this weekend is that I’m reuniting with one of my most beloved old friends and players from many years ago. I realized that the drummer I had used on 5 of my first 4 albums, and who I played with on many other artist’s tours, was just a plane flight away, and was more than willing to make it from the west coast to do the sessions! This totally put me at ease, because my normal drummer will be on the road till mid-July, and the only reason I use him is because he actually reminds of THIS guy, who I played with 20+ years ago!

It’s amazing how fast time flies, especially when you get a “reality check” like he and I are getting…we’ve been talking about how we both were once the “hot new kids” on our instruments, and now we’re suddenly the “grand old masters!” One thing is for sure; we are both better now than we were back then, yet when it comes to playing together, we already know it’ll be just like riding a bike for us! Mike Braun has always been an ideal “guitarist’s drummer”, and I have always loved how he can really “lock in” with me on my rhythmic approach to my lead licks and rhythm parts, sometimes seemingly as if we are reading each other’s minds! This kind of connection is so incredibly valuable, and given the chance again, I’m so happy to tap into that wonderful artistic well once again!

Another interesting part of putting together sessions like this is also bringing forth players who are “new” to my musical sphere, and blending them with my longtime, veteran players for a really nice and spontaneous kind of musical “summit”! I have always been a fan of assembling players I can trust, and I so look forward to the experience of putting these players, and all their collective years of playing, in one room, and making real music happen!

There is no feeling like reuniting with great players you know from your past, and it’s a wonderful thing to do for the soul, too. The music you will make will be that much better and richer for it, and the experience is always enriching, and is truly one of the great things about being in music, in the first place! Just go to a session where old friends reunite for some new music, and you’ll be the witness to some truly funny, touching and emotional moments for sure! Here to the good old days, making good new music!

Posted: 11/04/2011 9:31:36 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

What it's Like to Play with the Greats!

There comes a time in many of our careers when we do at least get a little chance to play with a true guitar great, or at least someone who’s playing we’ve admired for a long time! I can recall that in my early career, I was sometimes just so impressed when I met anyone who even actually made a record! The fact that they did this seemed to elevate them to a supernatural state in my inexperienced eyes, and I was always literally star-struck by almost anyone!

Obviously, over time, that changed, but I must admit, that to this day, there are still some “greats” I am truly in awe of when I play with them, or of course some, who I’ve yet to play with! Some of the most exciting times like this that happened for me, really occurred by default, since I was documenting so many of these “greats,” many who were my heroes, on my company Hot Licks Video! So, before I knew it, I was there with folks like Buddy Guy, Tal Farlow, George Benson, Joe Pass, Brian Setzer and countless others who I really admired and under most circumstances, would never had met, let alone played with!

Of course, the most happy time is when you can see that they have a similar appreciation for me, and my playing; an extra “perk” that one cannot really expect when you’re playing with someone you’ve admired and looked up to for years! To have one of my heroes, Buddy Guy, sit there and tell me; “hey, you’re the boss, just tell me what I should do!” is pretty wild when I am literally in the presence of a man who changed the way I played the guitar forever!

The ultimate next step was being able to play with many of these artists on my albums, such as Toolin’ Around and Toolin’ Around Woodstock. Then, it became a beautiful thing to actually see what it would be like to really interact musically with my fellow players, and what that would sound and feel like! The exciting thing is that no matter who is there with you, each experience is unique unto itself, and the outcome is always a pleasant surprise!

So I hope that you have some of these kinds of encounters in your collective futures, and you also get that special thrill you can only get when playing with the greats!!

Posted: 29/03/2011 21:17:55 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing with the Les Paul Trio!

Well, Monday night was quite an exciting night for me and my daughter, Lexie Roth, as we had the chance to do a wonderful evening of “sitting in” with the Les Paul Trio at the famed Iridium Club in New York City. There’s nothing like true musical excellence to really make for a special get-together, and this was wonderful. Of course, it was the natural outgrowth of both of us having played and sung on the new Les Paul Tribute album we are doing with the great Lou Pallo, who played alongside his buddy Les Paul for some 26 years! On the album, Lexie gets to sing the great Les Paul and Mary Ford hit, “Via Con Dios”, which I also play on, and I also got to record an instrumental of “Mr. Sandman.” We performed these two tunes Monday night, as well as playing about 6 or 7 more tunes with the trio.

What was interesting, and in the long run, creatively stimulating, was the fact that there was no drummer! I hadn’t planned on this, and so the approach I had to take, as well as Lexie, was totally new. After some minor adjusting and quick rehearsing, we were able to throw the material together, and take a much quieter approach to these songs, with a much more intimate feel. After all, this is also how that club felt, and boy, we sure could feel the presence of Les Paul himself caressing our every move!

It’s the first time in man, many years I’ve done two sets, and the first as usual, was marked by a full house of cheering fans, while the second was a very intimate gathering to say the least, even with the arch-typical one or two drunks who just couldn’t stay quiet! Still it was an incredible experience, and once again shows how good musicians must learn to be adaptive to whatever situation might get thrown at them, and how in the end, a new approach can be formulated that will be a learning experience for sure! It feels so wonderful that I can give this to my daughter, because these kinds of truly professional experiences are what help you to learn and grow in leaps and bounds, musically. It’s really how I learned, and just how I love to see her learn too. There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to learning your musical approach out there in the “real world,” and this was a perfect example of that!

It’s going to become more of a steady thing for me to play at this club, which really makes me happy, because it’s always fun tohave a place to play that can feel like a “home base” where you can count on being seen, and folks can count on seeing you! Here’s to more great nights like the one we had on Monday, and to you also having the ability and freedom to learn to adapt through the many kinds of wonderful gigs that might come your way!

Posted: 17/03/2011 15:20:42 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

What to Bring to a Recording Session

I know that for me, if I am working on my own project, I always almost “over-bring” guitars to the session, just so I don’t get caught not having a certain sound I may want, but also really just to be on the safe side. Truth is, it’s more important to be “over-prepared” for someone else’s session, because that’s a situation where the “time’s money, money’s time” adage can really come down on you if you are not prepared for what they may throw at you! I usually try to feel out the musical situation before I come to any conclusions about what to bring to the studio for sure, but there’s no doubt you almost have to bring more than you’ll need to these kinds of recording dates. Of course, these days, every true blue session player has the omnipresent pedal board on hand, full of “stomp boxes” to get almost any sound you’d need, albeit artificially. I mean, there are certain sound that have simply become part of the music vocabulary, such as wah-wah, chorus, overdrive, delay and more, and I can certainly see the need to have these things if you expect to do sessions of a certain type.

I myself, prefer the purer sounds of having the correct instruments for the job, and enjoy making my choices, and then filling up my car with them. Every time I’ve brought too little and thought it was enough, I was always wrong! You have to first think about which guitar or guitars will be you true “go to” instruments, and then plan outward form there. If it’s an electric session, be sure to bring an acoustic. If it’s only lead they want, be sure to also be prepared to play a little slide guitar, if you can. These days, I also like to always include a baritone guitar as well as a 12-string in my studio arsenal, so as to cover as much of the tonal spectrum as possible. It would be hard for anyone to find fault with you for being so prepared, even if there was some crazy sound required that you couldn’t come up with! Also remember that most studios have the rack-mounted “outboard” equipment that can certainly give you any additional effects you may not have at your disposal, but may need.

So all in all, it’s very critical to have as many bases covered as you can when doing sessions, but I personally prefer going as much of the “purist’s” route as possible when it comes to what instruments to bring. I think if you can reach a nice balance between the “purist” approach and the “stomp box” approach, you could just end up being the perfect studio musician, and someone whose phone will continue to ring for more and more work! Good luck in the studio!

Posted: 04/03/2011 22:39:55 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Amazing Onstage "Train Wrecks"

Well, I guess we’ve all had them; those moments when things seem to just inexplicably “fall apart” while we’re onstage, for whatever reason, but even though it’s rare, there sometimes seem to be external forces at work that somehow manage to defy the logics of the Universe!

There was one time that was so pronounced and amazing that to this day, none of us who were involved will ever be able to explain it logically, nor will we ever forget it, that’s for sure!

It was the one and only tour I ever did with John Prine, and in fact, the first and last time he ever toured with a bona fide band. We were in the middle of what must’ve been our 30th show of quite a long and arduous tour, and although the band was not nearly to my liking, most everything we did came off without a hitch. We were in the middle of the show, and we were playing one of our usual songs (the show rarely changed at all!) and we were just cruising along….all of a sudden, not one of us fell apart and didn’t know what we were doing, but ALL of us, at exactly the same moment, completely, and I mean, completely fell apart! It was as if some outside force had taken over, and wanted to sabotage that song! The breakdown was so severe, that we actually had to stop playing entirely, and once we were truly in a state of shock, I yelled out “top of the bridge, 1, 2, 3, 4!”, and then we were on the right track again!

It was so funny that we forever named and referred to the incident as the “train wreck”, and it was one of those mysterious moments that truly NOBODY had any explanation for! Looking back on it now, some 35 years later, I still hold that it was a weak moment in the song that we all collectively didn’t know that well, and therefore, we each had the belief that at that precise moment, we each expected “the other guy” to pick up for our lack of knowledge at that instance! Well, it was so crazy to hear five musicians fall apart all at once at the same time, that it’s something not only that I’ll never forget, but it’s something I bring up many times when teaching or telling stories as just an amazing example of just plain crazy and wacky musical circumstances! It wasn’t even as if one of us continued doing the right thing; it was a total and collective “meltdown!”

Hard to really know what the true lesson and point of all this is, besides being a funny story and recollection I can tell you, but all I can say is I hope a “collapse” like that will never happen for you onstage! I guess the one saving grace of it was it wasn’t any one person who messed up, it was everybody at the same time, so we all shared the blame!! Truly incredible, and I don’t think I’ll ever see that one again! (and I hope you never do in the first place!)

Posted: 02/03/2011 15:53:07 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink


I have always enjoyed the role of being a mentor to others as they find their way in the world as guitarists and as musicians in general. After all, life is really tough enough, and lord knows you need all the breaks you can get when it comes to music for sure! So much of what we learn on the fretboard as well as out in the world is by “trial and error” that one must really be careful, and have the guidance hopefully, of others with more experience.

I have taken many a student from lessons to writing songs, to even then going into the studio, as well as some students who have entire bands as well. It’s always a great feeling to help to push them, or shall I say nudge them in the right direction, because you never want to become a “dictator” who simply lays down the law in a heavy-handed manner. That only serves to create confusion as well as disdain for the process, and in the end, the very folks you are trying to help eventually want to rebel against you! And not that even rebellion is such a bad thing, for it can also spawn new, creative ideas musically, ad may be just what the doctor ordered for certain kinds of players!

I have always enjoyed mentoring new players into my band, making it a great way for them to eventually gain enough experience so they feel like they can move forward onto their own paths out into the mine-laden world of professional music.

But regardless of where you may be at in your career, your experience, no matter how brief, can’t help but aid others in need of some mentoring. Mentors are needed in all professions and in all walks of life, and you never know where the best advice and encouragement may come from!

I suppose that besides the folks I know I’ve helped over the years by teaching and having them play in my band, I must’ve helped so many others “out there” through my lessons, books, videos, recordings and even these blogs on! Whatever it might be, I’m sure there was a lick here and there or a word of advice that I truly hope had helped someone along the way!

In the end, it’s really the mentor themselves who truly benefits the most, since the giving is such an important part of learning what you are really all about, and what truly satisfies you as a player and more importantly, as a person! So, help wherever you can, an certainly whoever you can; it will all come back to give you nothing but good things in the future, and what a blessing it is to see your mentoring really pay off for others!

Arlen Roth

Posted: 28/02/2011 22:50:09 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Starting the Les Paul Tribute Sessions!

What an incredible experience this was! I was slated to play “Mr. Sandman” for the Les Paul tribute album we are working on with the great Lou Pallo, who was Les’ right hand guitar man for many, many years. The greatest added bonus for me was the fact that they wanted my daughter, Lexie Roth, to sing the all-time great hit that Les had with his wife, Mary Ford, “Vaya Con Dios.” They loved Lexie’s voice, and it was perfectly suited to the song, and she was able to create beautiful three-part harmony parts for it, (also in the great Les and Mary tradition!)

The band was all ready to go when I walked in, and it was literally almost as simple as counting “1, 2, 3, 4”, and we all were off and running. The bass and drums were stellar, and Lou Pallo was such a wonderful rhythm player to join in with. It felt like one of those truly professional sessions where you know that everyone assembled was there because they are simply the best at what they do! Needless to say, Lexie was simply “over the moon” about what she was able to accomplish, and with how much they all loved her singing. It was a perfect evening for father and daughter for sure, and we will forever remember what a wonderful experience this was! It reminded me so much of the days when I first learned about doing session and being a sideman, where one gig or one session would seem like 100 gigs in terms of the intensive learning lesson it would be for me. So, I told Lexie that this was how one really learns in leaps and bounds, and how this session seemed to help her grow and develop even further as a singer. Nothing like REAL “on the job training!”

It sounded great, and I believe as another tribute to the man Les Paul, we all recorded direct to tape, with no digital tricks involved, such as auto-tuning, Pro Tools, or any of the other trappings of today’s recording techniques. It was very refreshing to record this way, and lord knows, we sure appreciated that “warm” sound of analog tape!

The project is still very much ongoing, and I look forward to more great and inspiring session with many other terrific players coming on board! Stay tuned for further developments!

Posted: 21/02/2011 17:22:43 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Recording Session Experiences, Past and Present!

Since I am about to embark on yet more high-powered recording sessions starting tomorrow, it brings to mind many things that have happened to me over the years in such situations. And I can tell you that many of these happenings were very uplifting, which is as it should be, while unfortunately, many were rather rough and disappointing as well!

The main thing to keep in mind with these “heavy” sessions is to remain calm and cool and to not let things bother you too much. Decisions can fly around all over the place, and can change as quickly as the wind! I can recall when I was recording with Paul Simon on his Capeman album about 12 years ago, he had me playing on everything, and was absolutely loving all my ideas. This was a great recording and creative environment to work in, since he gave the players such freedom to come up with the right parts. That’s always a [plus for me, because not being a reader, I always relished the kinds of session that allowed me this creative freedom. After all, why have me there, if not for MY sound and MY ideas. Otherwise, you just might as well hire just any old adequate guitar player who can simply read the parts, and do what he/she is told! Meanwhile, on this one song, “Trailways Bus”, Paul had me take a lovely and long acoustic “Tex Mex” kind of solo, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He also loved it too, and it was basically a one take solo. But sure enough, out of the blue, he decided to take my second half of the solo and wipe it out with a trumpet solo that came right out of my section. I didn’t realize how much this kind of hurt me, but I apparently started walking around the studio like I had lost my mind, and Paul said “now Arlen’s gonna get all upset about me taking away half of his beautiful solo!” Well, he was certainly right, but his apologies afterwards certainly eased the pain, and after all, it’s a Paul Simon record, and I’m still getting to play and solo on it, which is definitely a feather in any guitar player’s cap!

So you must learn to take the good with the bad when it comes to recording dates. I mean sometimes, I felt like I was treated like I was “just any ole guitarist” who was just there to be told what to do, which of course for me, was torture, because whatever I did, it was never right anyway! Also, there were other times where they felt so honored to have me there that it almost didn’t matter what I played, they would simply love it all! Most sessions fall somewhere in the middle however, and it is during the act of the recording itself, where you really get to shine, and to show just why you should be the one who has been chosen for this particular music. Show your versatility, your restraint, you good taste, and above all, always play for the song, and you should make out just fine!

Posted: 14/02/2011 19:48:27 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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