Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sorry for the temorary outage

Oops - working on getting the old posts back up - sorry for the temporary outage!

During a recent interview I was was asked to come up with a list of ten guitarists who formed my initial inspiration as a budding guitarist. Here's the list, but be aware that this list doesn't necessarily reflect my favorite guitarists or later inspirations, only those who were fundamental to my formative years (some of these may suprise you):

My Personal Top Ten List of Influential Guitarists
(Specific to my formative years)

In alphabetical order:

Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck was someone I heard early on and I was (and still am) stunned to find out how many different sounds a person could make with an electric guitar, an amplifier, ten fingers and a deep imagination. Beck’s work continues to inspire me (from the feral, Link Wray-meets-Les Paul early Yardbirds to his current “postmodern jazz club from Saturn” work), and his has always been a lesson in putting substance behind the flash.

Ace Frehley. During a recent interview I remembered that when I was a kid the (very small) local library had about 20 cassette tapes* and about 50 records. One of the cassettes was Kiss Destroyer and it was dark and it scared me in a good way (thanks in part to Bob Erzin’s production). Frehley’s melodicism (coupled with an approach that drew equally from British blues, San Francisco acid rock and New York glam rock) still moves me. Thus also begins my love affair with Les Paul guitars.

George Harrison. RIP. George Harrison was always about guitar in the service of the song – probably one of the most important lessons lots of people never learn. George always came up with the best riffs and was able to funnel his influences into a unique and personal voice. "Tasteful elegance" doesn't begin to convey the beauty of Harrison's genius and his slide work is perhaps his greatest signature contribution to the instrument. Harrison's study and incorporation of the music of India establishes him as one of the earliest practitioners and advocates of “world music”.

Michael Hedges. RIP. Michael Hedges was the first guitarist I encountered where the composition was more important than the instrument. Hedges developed signature “extended” techniques (on acoustic guitar) to fully reveal the intensely beautiful and enigmatic pieces of music he sculpted from his restless imagination. Michael's use of alternate tunings and his percussive tapping on the body of the guitar has influenced my solo guitar playing immensely.

Jimi Hendrix. RIP. Another one of the cassette tapes* in my childhood local library was Jimi’s Smash Hits. I think that was the actual start of my awareness of the guitar as a tool for great personal and artistic expression on a deep level. Of course it was Hendrix’ unique & personal incendiary genius that ranks him among the greatest artists of the 20th century, and in that regard I consider Hendrix to be on the same level as Albert Ayler, Jackson Pollock or Igor Stravinsky.

Steve Howe. Steve Howe was the first guitarist I heard who loved, studied and incorporated many different guitar styles into his own. Howe was adept at various blues, rock, jazz, country, classical and flamenco styles (with a vast guitar collection to accommodate these various sounds) and always tastefully drew from this large pallet in service of the hurtling, cinematic music of Yes.

Leo Kottke. Leo Kottke showed me that a single acoustic guitar was capable of standing alone as a solo instrument capable of telling complete stories filled with melancholy, bitterness, love and humor. It was also through Kottke (specifically his 6 and 12 String Guitar album) that I first encountered alternate tunings and slide techniques.

John McLaughlin. John McLaughlin was the first “jazz” guitarist I ever heard (his Extrapolation was one of the records at the library* when I was a kid), and his intense technical virtuosity coupled with his visionary compositions and improvisational fearlessness was special. Like George Harrison, McLaughlin developed an understanding and love for Indian classical music that continues to inform his artistry. McLaughlin is one of the few guitarists who developed a signature tone on both acoustic and electric guitars, mastering the subtleties and nuances of each.

Matt Wallack. My brother Matt and I discovered those tapes (see *above) at the library together and we spent many hours listening to cassettes and FM radio while drawing pictures of guitars and goofing around, making “radio broadcasts” with our little tape recorders. Later on we managed to get ahold of a ramshackle drum set, a guitar and set up in the garage (where else?) and did little more than have good, noisy fun. I owe all of my love of playing the guitar to Matt. Peace & love brother.

Frank Zappa. RIP. Zappa’s music and guitar playing was something that immediately sounded “right” to me when I first heard it. His guitar playing in particular (influenced by blues guys like Johnny “Guitar” Watson and – oddly enough – human speech patterns) was enigmatic and visceral, and his guitar solos always told richly detailed (sometimes humorous, other times scathing) stories. Again, the lesson with Zappa was “be yourself.” Word.


Blogger myshkin2 said...

Interesting list/geneology. I'm especially curious about the "formative years" apect.
How signficant these guys still are. And how those others-those I might have expected to find (John Fahey, Robbi Basho, Larry Coryell, Doc Watson, Ravi Shankar, etc.) aren't there. I say this because those formative influences on me (poetry of course & not music) were Dylan, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Charles Olson, etc. And these guys (yes all guys!) seemed important as door-openers & greeters and all-around cool-guys that I wanted to hang around with and emulate. In the case of Charles Olson, it was clearly as case of masculine poetry (projective verse, history, science, breath, etc.) that made it possible for me to overcome the over-feminized associations I had with poetry sustained by years & years of female English teachers. Just curious about what cultural/social factors factor in. And to what extent this list is nostalgic and grateful and to what extent it's current.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Yeah, I was talking about this with my brother - the difference bewteen "formative influences" and "later influences", and even the difference between an "influence" and a "favorite". This list left off those guys (and a few others) because I either didn't get to them until later or they didn't hit me hard enough at that time to make me want to play. In the case of Basho and Fahey I didn't "get" them early on - a bit too esoteric I guess so it was Leo Kottke's accesebility that was there for me first and that later opened up the door to Fahey and Basho. Ravi Shankar was there too but it was because of Harrison and McLaughlin that I got to him. Coryell too, that was through McLaughlin. I guess my list is comprised of "doormen" - folks who opened up doors for me. Half of the people on the list occupy nostalgia for me now but the other half still inform my musical activities fairly significantly (as well as those people who I added to my list as I grew in maturity). The social aspects are there too - it can be pretty embarassing to fess up the early Ace Frehley influence to a seasoned core of New York avant-gardists (but maybe that IS avant garde!) The other thing my brother and I found out was that ten is a tough, limiting number - gimmie 60.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

One thing in particular that came to me after looking at the list again is that each guitarist on the list (regardless of anything else) developed a unique signature sound unlike any of their own influences. Each one of those people can be recognized after two notes, and I think that still stands as the most important lesson to me - one that I take to heart, and is the most lasting "influence" that all of them have left upon me.

Friday, December 02, 2005  

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