I have many Guitar Player magazines that date back to the early eighties. I read them a lot back then. Interestingly I don’t read as much now. I really should get back into it, there really is a lot of good stuff in that publication! I also learned a lot. Some of the contributing articles from so many of the guitar greats were my favorite reads! For example, I still use some of the warmup techniques that I read from an article by Paul Gilbert WAY back in the eighties! I’ll have to share that one some day soon! Also, Rik Emmett had a fantastic Back to Basics series where I still use many of his thoughts and ideas with many of my students today. But there was one article (1988) that had a big impact on me. Actually, it wasn’t really one of those monthly articles but rather an interview with Vernon Reid from the band, Living Colour.
Whenever I listen to recordings of me back at that time, especially in the early/mid eighties, I often times cringe! My playing in those days was all about playing fast and getting through as many notes as I possibly could, within the number of measures allotted, in the solo part of a song. It was kind of typical of the time though: the rising tide of the hair bands was entering the scene full force! I felt at that time that I needed to prove something (how many can relate?). I wanted to be the big star and impress everyone, not just the girls! So, I taught myself many of the scales (pentatonic, major, minor) by either reading music books or simply listening to a record over and over again to grab an impressive solo (how many remember going back and forth with the turntable needle trying to get that guitar part right?). And then I would sit in my room and practice them over and over and over… I was actually quite proficient at it. The problem was that it didn’t have a lot of soul to it. Hence, the reason I cringe when I listen to some of those old recordings now. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could find a flux capacitor and reach back into time to tell that 20-something kid to SLOW DOWN!
Middle of the Road on Speed
One of my “classics” was when I was in a band back in 1984 called Slipp Kidd (and no, we didn’t play any Who music. Yeah, real creative..). The song was Middle of the Road by the Pretenders. Take a listen if you never heard it. Check out the solos in particular. I can listen to it now and really appreciate the coolness of how he played it. Great sound and really fit the vibe of the song. But the “me” back in 1984 would have none of it! Oh no, it was lame and didn’t have any pizazz! So I was going to “improve” on it and really show ’em how it’s done! I proceeded to play the solo part with fast scales, dive bombs, guitar tricks, you name it. Now, if we were going to do a heavy metal remake of the song, that’s one thing. But we weren’t doing that. We were simply a cover band rocking the song out at a club called Haywires in the Chicago suburb of Burbank (long gone, I think it’s a grocery store now or something). Wanna hear it? Oh yeah, I have the recording! It was made from someone’s tape player in the back of the room. Give it some grace though, EVERYONE in this band did get much better over the years! My guitar solo was really, well, over played to say the least! Listen with care: Middle of the Road – Slipp Kidd.
Slowing Down in the Moment
A few years later I ended up doing a number of recordings with a friend who really could write great jingles. We would get together with a few other musicians and just create music that was catchy. There were a lot of overnight sessions where we would record all of this material on his 4 track. I’m not sure exactly where he ended up but it wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote some jingles you have heard. I can’t find the recordings now, but I can say what it did for me was to work within the song. I really got more into the melody and playing the guitar parts with feeling. I was creating music. It was a true eye opener. I loved listening to some of those songs we did. And, in bands that followed, I could hear a distinct change in how I played. One of my favorites was this original song from 1988 called Falling. It is definitely dated in it’s sound but I was real happy with how my playing got into the moment of the song (can you also hear my Alex Lifeson, Rush influence in the music?). (Gotta love the mullet in the video!)
Get Out in the Real World
Don’t get me wrong, I still was playing fast and continuing to discover some great guitar riffs. What I did learn (and still learning to this day) was to find the right place to play fast, if and when it is needed. So around that time in 1988 I came across that Vernon Reid interview in Guitar Player. I wish I could find the entire interview, it was such a great read. There was one part of that interview that always stuck with me. I think he was asked some technical question regarding practicing and scales, I’m not sure. His answer was interesting: There are so many players out there that feel it is necessary to sit in their rooms for hours on end learning and practicing scales and trying to figure out all the latest and greatest guitar tricks. Look, those things are important. But they are all just notes within a greater part of the story. In order to make music: stuff that people can relate to, can get emotionally involved with, can truly appreciate, and be a well rounded, true musician, you need to put that guitar down and get the heck out of the room! Get out in the world: hang out with friend, go for a hike or a walk, hike a mountain (ok, that’s my thing), play with your kids, SEE and EXPERIENCE the world you live in! It is from there where your true music will come from and will simply make you a better player. Otherwise you are no different than a robot, you’re just playing the notes with no meaning behind them.
Find Your Artist Within
It’s something I try to instill in my students and even fellow musicians. I am still sometimes guilty of overplaying and getting out of the feel of the music. But, at least I am aware of that shortcoming and continue to find ways to play better. Live and experience the world around you. The riffs will come. In fact, they will at times be better than you ever thought possible. Until the next time, rock on!
If you want to learn more or are in my neighborhood, you can book some lessons here or just contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org