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The "Winter Blues" and the Guitar

This has been a record-breaking winter here in the Northeast as well as across much of this country, and my closeness with my music and guitars while being so snowed in has really been a great savior during such times of “cabin fever” and “winter blues!” It makes me also aware that many of you must also be experiencing the same kinds of long days and nights, and that you are realizing that the guitar can be an uplifting and good familiar friend to have!

Music has always been a great healer during tough times, and even though I am doing many recording dates these days, they really only happen when the roads and my driveway are passable! Other than this, I make sure to put in a lot of playing, and to teach myself some new pieces, and to set some new musical goals for myself in the process. I have found that the kinds of emotions that one encounters in tough times such as these can really invoke some new sounds as well as some great new creative ideas.

I would recommend that during this winter, you try to spend a lot of quality time with your instrument, and that you be sure to make as much good out of this time as possible. Be sure to record your spontaneous ideas, save them, critique them and most of all try to improve from them. The time you spend with your guitar will truly pay off, and you’ll always remember the times that led to your creative output.

I know that right now, even during my lessons, I am coming up with a literal “flood” of great ideas, especially with the fact that I am doing a new solo album pushing me forward. So, whether or not you have such a project to look forward to or not, be sure to put all of this “indoor” time with your guitar to the best use possible. You can always make “lemonade out of lemons”, and this is a perfect opportunity for you to take advantage of it! Beat the “winter blues” right now! Good luck!

Posted: 21/02/2011 17:15:35 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Making a Cover Tune "Your Own"

This was a question that came up for discussion on my Gibson Chat yesterday, so I figured it would make a good topic. It’s related to my “Covers or Originals?” blog, but still different in its basic content. This is because this time, I’m really discussing what it takes to truly make a cover song your “own.”

For years, this has always been a love of mine; the art of taking a song I love and turning it into something fresh and new, and most of all, uniquely “mine.” I have found that rather than taking apart the original recording of a given song, and painstakingly working out a new version of it, I much more naturally “fall into” the right way for me to play it with very little effort at all. I suppose that this is because the song exists in a part of me where it is very well-preserved, and it is protected as a kind of “memory”, that comes out of me in its own musical way. This means that it’s almost like a “first take.”  A way of preserving my first impression of this song, yet a way in which it is “processed” through me. My way of playing these covers I’ve done, such as When a Man Loves a Woman, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ain’t No Sunshine, Unchained Melody and many others is really just a re-playing of how I actually hear and feel the original version. When I play these tunes, I often evoke the background parts, the orchestration, the original arrangements and basically all the parts that make up this musical “tapestry.”

Of course, there are times when one must truly “work out” a song and its new arrangement, so as to really and honestly make it “different”, but odds are, you’ll be able to still find your way simply through making that song and its memory come through you. One other thing to remember is that ALL songs are originals to begin with, and it’s very important to take a fresh look at whatever you play, regardless of whether or not it’s an “original” of yours. Don’t look at covers with disdain……these are the building blocks of truly getting to be a better overall musician, and I would think of it as a real prerequisite to becoming “complete” as a player.

So give everything you love musically a real, true and openly honest evaluation, so as to make it the most “honest” approach when you play, and therefore, honor that “cover” tune!

Posted: 21/02/2011 17:09:30 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Working in a Music Store!

Sometimes, in many small and large towns alike, it can be a real plus for an aspiring player to work in a music store. It seems that whenever I visit a shop, it’s definitely manned by some folks who are in local bands, and who of course, would rather be out playing or recording somewhere, but it’s a good job for them! It’s a good thing because this job keeps you in and around the music you love, and it can offer you opportunities, in terms of who you may meet, and what you may get to hear!

I have always found most music store workers to fall into two categories: Ones with a negative vibe and attitude, and some workers who are extremely helpful and who have a positive approach towards helping people who come in. We’ve all been frustrated by workers in any kind of establishment who don’t seem to really know about what they are selling, so it really pays for a music shop to have well-informed workers who know what they are truly talking about, and who know how to point you in the right direction. As you learn more and more on the job, it will only make you better as an employee, in addition to you really gaining a great deal of knowledge about your favorite subject; music, of course!

I personally never worked in a music store, per se, but spent enough time in them for sure, and at one point even lived above one, and I always found my time in these wonderful places to be a positive learning experience. I also recommend visiting these shops as often as possible, and if you’re away from home and your guitar(s), it’s a grat way to keep your “chops” up by grabbing a guitar, and having a “play!” I have done this for years, and often can turn a music shop visit into an impromptu “concert” of sorts! I can recall one time where I picked up a guitar and started playing in Rudy’s Music Stop in NYC, and a kid who was watching me was able to literally quote, verbatim, the entire review of my second album from Guitar Player Magazine! That was incredible, and sure enough I was giving a nice little show there, and signing autographs!

Working in a shop can be a great way to showcase your playing ability, and certainly to meet new people who may be interested in helping you in your career. It is also a great place to give lessons, as many music shops offer this service to their local players, and you never know, a lot of them may end up becoming your personal private students in the long run, which of course, will pay a lot better than teaching in the store itself.

So, in the end, I certainly recommend that if you are looking for a job, and are into music, I’d have to say it’s a good idea to investigate your local music shops for work. It can be a truly rewarding and memorable time in your musical life!

Posted: 14/02/2011 19:38:53 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

If You've Got It, Flaunt It!

What I mean by this title is the fact that you should learn to “get out there” and really let yourself be heard if you are truly talented. The problem with many people in the music industry is that many times, their lack of talent has been over-compensated with over-blown egos, and the ability to “talk the talk” more than they can “walk the walk!” Unfortunately, these types are all over the place, and I’m sure you may know someone like this, regardless of the level of the music business you have achieved.

It’s really up to you in the long run, in terms of how you handle yourself, but after awhile, you’ll see that how you feel about your playing and abilities is really what should dictate how you present yourself to others. I have always believed in “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” as a way of looking at things, as sometimes, we may actually be the last ones to know how really good we are! It’s always a hard thing to know how others really perceive you, but the feedback you can get from really showing your “goods” can prove invaluable, and will make your presentation of yourself far more realistic and honest in the future.

If you’re good, and really know it, and can prove it, well then by all means, carry yourself with pride, and let your voice be heard at the right time. In the end, it will always be your playing that will speak for itself, but your belief in yourself is what will get you there in the first place! I was very young when I had already developed a strong sense of my own guitar identity, and even though I still had a long way to go in my “social” skills, I was still compelled to further my career and music by showing off my wares whenever I got the chance. It seemed to always pay off, and certainly had a far greater impact than if I had just continued to practice in my bedroom, wishing that something would happen. I had to make it happen, and as a result, I was recording and touring by the age of 17! The cumulative effect of me doing all this at such a young age made for a great degree of confidence, but also had the other impact of making me far more humble and aware of a whole new set of rules now that I was really thrust into the music industry so quickly. I really wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, and I certainly would encourage you to do this also, as much as you can.

Just remember that confidence, like your playing, can come in all shapes and sizes, and the level you are good at should match the level of your confidence. In the end, there will always be someone better and more experienced than you….but the question is, will they be able to match your level of confidence? This is where you can make up extra ground in a hurry for you, and will always pay off good dividends! Best of luck!

Posted: 09/02/2011 19:51:17 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing Out for the First Time!

I had the pleasure of seeing a friend’s band playing in public for what was rally their first ever true performance, ad it was quite an experience that brought back lots of amazing memories for me! It was nice to see how focused the band was, as opposed to being nervous. Certainly, if they were nervous, you really couldn’t tell, and they overall, did a great job. One good thing was that even though there were other older and more experienced bands there, the audience was totally receptive to these kids’ music and their presentation. It brought back memories for me of my early “battle of the bands” days with my group when I was around 11 to 14 years of age, and I recalled just how thrilling and also innocent those times were. It would scare us a little when there seemed to be much better bands than us at these events, but we always held our own, and were so remarkably good for our tender age that it seemed to make the audiences even pay more attention to us!

It’s a wise thing to always try to tape your band’s performances so you can critique them later on and learn from your mistakes. This particular show was good because the band, The Overshadowed, really concentrated on making a handful of songs really good for a set of about 30 minutes in length. It showed that they had been well-rehearsed, but not so over-rehearsed as to make the songs seem boring to them. Rather, the music still sounded fresh and spontaneous and the guitar sounds were really terrific!

I’ve never been one for “stomp boxes” and effects that just “take over” the sound of the guitar, especially too much distortion, but this bands sound that night was dominated by distortion, and truthfully, I could’ve even heard it louder! Dynamics are also very crucial in today’s rock music, and unfortunately, a lot of these big bands these days use that “very quiet to extremely loud” equation that was first introduced during the “Grunge” phase. It’s not a bad approach, and it’s very audience-oriented, but it would be nice to hear many levels of more subtle “dynamics” in this kind of music in general.

I know a lot of you out there who are reading these blogs and taking my lessons on Gibson are at this particular phase of your musicianship, and are in a big “learning” stage right now. It’s a great time to really explore lots of creativity within your band, as well as within your own personal playing. You’ll find that both will feed off of each other, and that making it all come together at live performances is certainly the most gratifying and productive way to really improve yourself, as well as your performances. This show brought back many moments that were like that for me when I was growing up, and I felt like I was watching these kids musically grow right in front of my eyes! So get out and play as much as you can, and be sure to check out the competition in a healthy, positive way…it’ll all pay off for sure, later on!

Posted: 03/02/2011 17:20:12 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Essential Vintage Listening for the New Year!

There is so much great music out there for you to “dive into” that it’s almost impossible to know what to recommend to you, but I will try, and also will give you some thoughts on music listening in general.

First and foremost, I think it’s very important to try to get to the “root” of whatever particular bag of music you’re into listening to. It didn’t take me long when I first fell in love with blues during the
blues boom” of the mid-sixties to start to immediately go back ion time with the blues, and try to seek out all that I could find back in those days. If I was into Mike Bloomfield, before you knew it I was listening to B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, and then sure enough, I went back and back to Son House and Robert Johnson. Instantaneously, it all came together, and my passion for the blues was fueled even more deeply. The same was true about country guitar for me too, as I may have loved the contemporary players at that time such as Clarence White and Zal Yanovsky, but I was then looking into Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Jimmie Rodgers and more who also took me all the way back to country guitar’s beginnings.

I would have to strongly recommend this to you, that you find and seek out some of the earlier, “seminal” recording by the masters who came before the great players you are hearing these days. These great players of today had to have gotten into their predecessors as they were learning and falling in love with their styles, and it really behooves you to follow in those footsteps too, if you really want to know what makes your favorite artists really “tick.”

I really feel like there’s nothing like listening to the “old” stuff, and can anything beat listening to vintage blues, country, jazz and rock n’ roll?! I mean, if you wanted to listen to “swing” for example, even though so many players are into that these days, you’d have to listen to original swing music to truly capture the spirit of exactly what it was all about way back in the Big Band era. It’s a good general rule to try to always listen to the “real thing” when it comes to true roots-oriented music, as opposed to the “watered-down” approaches we hear these days, where the music is already 3rd or 4th generation!

There was a time when all this music was fresh and groundbreaking, and those are the periods of time we want to really listen to. No doubt there are great players who carry on the tradition, and there are also players who continue to “carry it on” in the improvisational spirit that was intended to begin with. Taking all this in would really give you a much stronger foundation to work with in terms of your own music, and even without knowing it, you’d be acquiring better taste and knowledge that would certainly be applied to your playing.

I basically feel that I am stylistically a combination of just about any music I’ve ever heard, and that it has all come together to create one unique style. After all, when you are truly self-taught, all of that information must come together in some way so you can decipher and also recycle just what all this music has done for you.

So now with the coming of the New Year, it’s good to reflect on just what would really help your playing, and what would help to further inspire you onto new heights. Listen to all those who came before you, and you will certainly be able to reap the rewards!

Posted: 25/01/2011 23:16:59 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Really Training Your Ear

By far, no matter what you end up learning, or acquiring knowledge about, the most important thing in music is training your ear. And I don’t mean just a little, I mean that complete ear recognition and knowledge is the single most important thing you’ll ever do! What I had early on, was perfect relative pitch. This means that if I hear an A, I can tell you any other note you may play for me, or I can actually sing the notes off the top of my head, all relative to that original home-base tone. But to take it much, much farther, I can safely say with confidence that I hear every pitch in life, and everything as music! This means that say I’m teaching a lesson to someone, and we’re playing in C. Well, then a plane flies overhead, making a sound. Well, I immediately identify that sound as a pitch, or even a “riff” if it consists of more notes, in relation to that key of C we are playing in!

 This all means that everything must become music to you, if you really expect to develop your ear to a high level. Just as an artist sees, and a photographer sees, you must hear! I know it’s easier said than done for sure, but the one thing I have noticed is that this particular ability of mine actually continues to improve with age and experience, and it seems to unfold in a very natural way.

One way for you to begin this ear training is to play your chord triads, all in groups of three strings at a time, going up and down and around the entire neck. Then I want you to start to identify and most importantly, recognize these tones for what they are. For any of these to be true chords, they must contain a Root, a Fifth and a Third (minor or major). As you move these up the neck, I want you to identify them individually….for example the top three strings of the open E are G#, B and E. This means you say and hear them as “3rd, 5th, root. “ The next group up, which is based on the “D” form of E, is now “5th, root, 3rd.” The following grouping will also jump around and become “Root, 3rd, 5th.” So as you can see, these notes literally keep playing “musical chairs” with each other, and must start to become recognizable tones to you. This is why for example, I can hear a new cluster of notes called a chord I may not even know, and still be able identify precisely what the intervals and inner-relationships are of all those notes relative to each other.

After you have done this, I want you to use other 3-string groupings and do the same kind of ear recognition with the notes, and speak and sound out the actually values of the notes you are hearing. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the note recognition will start to take hold for you! More on this subject next time, so for now, enjoy this “ear training” extravaganza!

Posted: 21/01/2011 22:45:54 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Working with Agents

The fact is, sooner or later, if you’re a solo artist or going to work in a band, the idea of having an agent is going to really come into play. The questions will be many when it comes to making this decision, and of course one of them is whether or not you really need one in the first place! Booking yourself can turn into a monumentally big and full-time job, and even though you may find it not too hard in the beginning, the job can really become a “bear!” I think it’s good for a band or an artist to get some of that good “foundational” experience before moving on to an agent, even if just to better understand the process. After all, once you do have an agent who’s booking you, it’s a good idea to know just what that person’s job entails, so you don’t get screwed by them, and so that you can better understand just what a good, or bad job they might be doing representing you.

The act of trying to book oneself can be a bit demoralizing, as the artist must be the first in line to hear rejections, or to have to explain one’s own abilities. I can recall sitting and waiting in the front entrance of The Lone Star CafĂ© in NYC, holding 4 albums, a press kit and many other items, just in hopes that the “booking” person there would finally give me a gig. I did eventually get that gig, but not without being told a lot of stupid things such as, “you finally got us”, making it feel like they were doing me such a big favor by booking me there! By the end of the night I played there, obnoxious bouncer they had there was actually challenging me to a fight as to whether I’d get the money or not! Let’s face it, these are the kinds of things you, as an artist, do NOT want to encounter. On the other hand, you need someone who really believes in you and your music, and who would do all they could to not only book you, but represent you properly, with class, and also with a strong side that can handle adverse situations. And believe me, the adversity is always there, even when you think you’ve long since passed that period of your career! As they say, “just when you think you’ve paid your dues, you get another bill!”

The best managers and agents I’ve ever known are the ones who start out doing it for the love and respect they have for that particular artist…it’s like a friend making sure their favorite player/buddy is well taken care of in a totally unselfish way. There’s no real school for this kind of thing; only real-life experiences can add up to one becoming a true agent or manager, and it’s those hard-learned lessons that make the difference.

When you really get a big career “machine” going, you can have an entire network of people behind you such as a manager, booking agent, publicity agent, radio promo person and more. When it all clicks, it’s a wonderful thing, and of course, a good career with good representation can really start to “snowball”, giving you years of positive returns! Good luck in the search, but remember, try to do as much as you can in the beginning….you just may have to do it again, maybe in the end!

Posted: 18/01/2011 22:47:43 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Staying "Contemporary"

The concept that artists must change and evolve in order to stay “contemporary”, or “current”, is really only partly true, but still should be addressed. The reason I say “only part true” is because I have always been a believer in sticking to my guns musically, and not letting trends always “sway” me and my music one way or another. Still, if you expect to be impactful as an artist, and even more so as a sideman, you must, to a certain degree, be able to shift and bend a bit with the times.

This holds true in many ways, and even came to mind recently, when I was playing on a song of daughter Lexie’s that is slated to be in a new film. Even though she and I have played together for years and made all kinds of music, this particular album she is making was deliberately shifted more away from my kind of thing to a more contemporary, and even more hard-hitting kind of sound. So naturally, it called for some different kind of guitar playing than I normally do, which for myself, was extremely refreshing! I had to put a different guitar “thinking cap” on, and had to put aside technical skill and complexity for a sound that was much more about simplicity and playing a supportive part just for the song! Not so unusual, since I always play “for the song”, but this was just even further into the world of minimalist parts than I normally would venture. Sure enough, it was really just right, and I love listening to it all the time…because it works!

So, the sideman in me or you must be able to shift and adapt so we can always get the sounds a given artist or producer may want, but it’s even harder on the artist themselves, because they’d have to be hip and cool and contemporary right from the “get go” just to even begin to make it, and then they must fight to stay contemporary and relevant long into their careers. I saw this with many of the artists I played with such as Phoebe Snow, Paul Simon and others, who seemed to have a real obsession with remaining relevant and current with their styles. Of course, an artist can wait sometimes for years to come out with a new album, and that album can totally shift their music into a whole new direction that will either let down their fans, or even create more new fans without alienating the old! Regardless of how that all turns out, one should never base all their musical moves on what they think their fans or critics may or may not like….if you do that, you’ll always stay one step behind the very music and scene that you are struggling to stay a part of in the first place!

Stay true to your music and your tastes, and believe me, if you’re really “that good” one day, maybe, just maybe, the music scene will shift to adapt itself to you!

Posted: 12/01/2011 15:48:55 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting Some "Roots" into Your Playing

Almost all western and particularly American music is deeply rooted in either Blues, or Blues-related forms, such as Country and Western and early Jazz. My appreciation for where the music I loved came from started at a very young and curious age for sure, and this of course, left and indelible mark on me and my playing. It has also left a permanent mark on how I feel about the guitar and American music in general, and I how I love to pass it on.

About 90% of students who come to me seem to want to have a deeper understanding of the blues and basically all forms of original “rootsy” American music. It seems that even though they may be fairly good general players already, they still feel a need to get “deeper” into where it all really comes from. I t was a funny thing how after the crash of interest in the ‘80s “hair” bands happened, and interest in heavy metal had mostly waned, that the guys who waned to survive were suddenly calling themselves “blues players”, or at least were trying to profess their deep allegiance to blues roots. The problem was that 99% of these musicians thought of their blues roots only as far back as Led Zeppelin or Cream. I hate to break it to them, but this sure ain’t the “roots!”

You must always try to go back as far to the sources of the music you like as possible. The tracing of this path can really be quite easy. For example, when I fell in love with The Beatles and then The Stones in the early to mid-‘sixties, I quickly discovered that players such as Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins were their forerunners. Then I suddenly realized that folks like T-Bone Walker, B.B King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and others took it back even further. That not being nearly enough, I was quickly introduced to the earliest Blues and Country players such as Son House, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Blind Blake, Jimmie Rodgers and Maybelle Carter. The fascination just grew and grew, and it’s amazing how addicting this early music can become, especially when you realize just how broad the selection is, and how many variations and twists and turns there can be within even one genre! It is so inspiring, that to this day, I still find myself discovering yet more details about the past, and more artists and new songs to uncover! I find that I get all excited again like when I was 15 and 16 years old, when I was first developing this deep love for the “roots.”

So, no matter what style you’re into, there are the real forerunners you should pay attention to. These people in their own way were so fresh with their ideas and approaches that hearing them is really a glimpse into the origins of certain music forms themselves! So it you’re into electric Jazz guitar, don’t miss Charlie Christian, if you’re into Blues, you must study Robert Johnson and Son House, and if you’re into Country picking, you’d really do yourself a disservice to overlook Merle Travis or Mother Maybelle Carter. Without these founders, there’d be nothing to listen to or play today! Have fun in your quest!

Posted: 05/01/2011 15:37:13 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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