Archive for June, 2011

Chet (June 20, 1924 – June 30, 2001)

Posted by Brian on 30th June 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Guitarists

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Chet Atkins’ death.

Chet Atkins was one of the most influential guitar players of all time. A member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, he was a pioneer of the so-called “Nashville Sound”, a smoother, more fluid style of country music. Strongly influenced by Merle Travis (the father of “Travis picking”), Atkins further developed his right-hand picking technique to become a guitar virtuoso.

In addition to recording over eighty studio record albums, he was a prolific producer of recordings for many other artists including the likes of Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers.

Here is what Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel had to say about Chet Atkins in a recent interview with Acoustic Guitar magazine:

“I was eleven years old… I wrote a letter to Chet. I remember telling him my name, and what I did, and that I was a fan. On the envelope, I addressed it to ‘Chet Atkins, Nashville, America.’ It got to him, and he answered it! I’ll never forget, I came home from school and my mother said, ‘Put your bag down and go into your room, there’s something on your bed for you.’ There’s this big brown envelope, I open it, and inside was a black and white photo of Chet with his Gretsch, and he’s wearing a Perry Como-style cardigan, his hair looking perfect. He signed it ‘Best Wishes to Tommy, from Chet.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

“It made me think that if a boy from nowhere could write to the greatest instrumentalist of all time, and get a reply, then anything is possible.”

“… Years later, I was around my friend’s place and he recorded me playing some things by Chet and by Jerry Reed, and he sent the tape to Chet – without telling me! So I get this handwritten letter on Chet’s office stationary: ‘I received your tape and I played it for Lenny Breau. We were impressed,” and ‘Here’s my office number, look me up when you are in the States,’ which was all I needed to light a fire under me.”

I was hoping to find video of Wendell Ferguson playing “Fret No More”, his excellent tribute to Chet. I didn’t find that, but I did find Wendell playing a medley of Chet Atkins’ tunes at Hugh’s Room in Toronto:

You can read more about Chet Atkins life and accomplishments on Wikipedia.

If Only I Had a Better Guitar…

This is an old blog entry from Tuck Andress of “Tuck & Patti” fame. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should look him up, but all you need to know for now is that Tuck is a guitarist of the first order… and he has found three bits of wisdom that some of us never find…

Tuck & Patti: It’s the Guitar’s Fault

Rant: The Most Dangerous Instrument…

Posted by Brian on 17th June 2011 in General Music, Jamming, Mildly Off-Topic, Playing well with others, Rant

Today I’m going to let off a little steam. I’m going to talk about what a friend calls “the most dangerous musical instrument ever devised”. And no, I’m not referring to Woody Guthrie labeling his guitar with “This Machine Kills Fascists”. I’m talking about the dreaded tambourine.

It’s a simple instrument, so it must be simple to play, right?

It seems that at every open jam, song circle, or folk festival, someone brings one along thinking that “it will be fun”. And it may well be – for the one playing it. But, for everyone else within earshot, it can be a song killer. The tambourine, by its very nature is a powerful rhythm instrument – and in the right hands can really fill out a song, but sadly it is rarely found in the right hands. It is a rare player that can maintain a steady tempo with a tambourine, and it is a rare musician who can ignore it when it is being played off the beat. At best, it is played a fraction of a second behind the beat, slowly turning every tune into a dirge. At worst, it is rhythmically “all-over-the-map” leaving everyone wondering where the next downbeat will fall.

I should clarify, tambourines don’t kill songs, people with tambourines kill songs. In fact, one of my greatest “festival moments” involved a tambourine solo. We were at The Lunenburg Folk Festival at a percussion workshop given by a professor of percussion from Acadia University. He came out on stage and sat down, pulling out a tiny tambourine with one lonely jingle on it. I’ll admit it, I rather sarcastically thought, “Here we go… forty-five minutes of this???” He then proceeded to bring down the house with an amazing tambourine solo and went on to enthrall us for the rest of the workshop.

So, in the hands of a trained percussionist the tambourine can be a wonderful instrument, but for the rest of us, we need to do everyone a favour and leave it in the store. And if it’s too late for that (as it is for me), then at least leave it at home.

Video of the Month:

Posted by Brian on 15th June 2011 in Making a Living, Music Theory, Performing, Practice, Video of the Month

Yes, I know. This is the second video-of-the-month this month. It seems that I’ve got a bit of a backlog of great guitar-related videos to share, so for the next couple of months, I’m going to do two videos each month. This will also help to fill in the void of “real” posts that I assume will form with the onset of summer weather.

This video is a very entertaining look at Steve Vai’s audition to play in Frank Zappa’s band, “The Mother’s of Invention”. But it also drives home the fact that the more you know about music theory and musical styles, the more options you have if you want to make music for a living. Or, as a former employer used to say, “Learn more, earn more.”


And, for the record, I see no shame in being Linda Ronstadt’s guitarist…

This is Cool: Rhythm and the Brain

Posted by Brian on 8th June 2011 in Book Review, General Music, Music Theory

As the result of a recommendation from an internet acquaintance, I’ve been reading and enjoying “Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy – How Music Captures Our Imaginations” by Robert Jourdain. It has been a wonderful read so far. (It’s out of print, but I was able to get it through AbeBooks.com)

I’ve just finished reading the chapter on rhythm and it discusses how our sense of rhythm is predominantly seated in the left half of our brains and provides a neat experiment that you can try: With your left hand, tap out a continuous 1-2-3-4 beat. Now with your right hand tap out a more complex beat. It doesn’t have to be wildly more complex, a relatively simple 1-2&3-4 will do just fine. Most people can do this with very little difficulty. Now, switch hands. Tap out the steady beat with the right hand and the complex rhythm with the left. Much harder, isn’t it? Now, I knew from experience that this would be the case, but I had always assumed that this was because I am right-handed (i.e. left-brain dominant), but apparently, this is the case whether your are left- or right-handed. (Assuming that you have typical brain lateralization – left-brain dominance resulting in right-handedness and vice-versa – which, apparently, not everyone does.) This would explain why so many left-handed people play guitar right handed, the right hand (picking hand) being naturally better at producing complex rhythms.

Try it out and let me know the results – especially you southpaws out there! (And if you’re a left-handed guitarist, let me know if you play right- or left-handed, too!)

Video of the Month: Joe Robinson

Posted by Brian on 1st June 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Guitarists, Video of the Month

This month we have yet another young fingerstyle virtuoso.

Joe Robinson is a young man from Australia who, in 2008, at age 16, won Australia’s Got Talent as an instrumentalist. He has also won the World Championships of Performing Arts in 2009, beating out 75,000 other performers.

Joe grew up in rural Australia and learned much of his skill from watching videos on YouTube. He was especially influenced by fellow Australian guitar guru Tommy Emmanuel. He released his first CD Birdseed in 2005 at the age of fourteen, and few years later released Time Jumping. His songwriting and performance skills continue to improve and a new CD is expected shortly.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area you can see Joe perform at Deer Park Church (1570 Yonge St.) on Saturday, June 4th at 8 pm. You can get tickets at www.FingerStyleGuitar.ca. (Once again, I have no financial interest in this event.)

Joe’s website: www.JoeRobinson.com

Joe’s YouTube channel: www.YouTube.com/user/7680joe