Started: Age 13 in 1983
Instruments: Guitar, bass
Styles: rock, fingerstyle, rock fusion
Recordings: Nashville Sessions (2004) Bloomington Demo (2002) Ordinary Miracle (1999) Sons and Daughters � Sons and Daughters (1992)
Gear: Martin acoustic guitar ESP custom electric guitar Peavey Classic 30 amp ProCo Rat distortion pedal Boss TU-2 chromatic tuner Spectraflex cables
When did you start playing? I started playing guitar at age thirteen. When my family moved from Long Island to California, my brother and I used our garage sale money to buy guitars. I bought a purple flying-V for $75. When did you start to notice that your playing was different from everyone else's? We bought a few song books and I started out by learning songs by Def Leppard, Billy Squier and others. We also bought a book that showed us how to play the pentatonic minor ("Blues") scales in the five positions and some common blues licks ("cliches"). Each day, I'd play everything I knew plus anything new I learned or made up. I've always liked making things up. I've never tried to be different, but I do strive to be original. I began by imitating, but was much more interested in creating new things. The first time I noticed my playing was different was when I first played live. We played Rush, The Police, Jefferson Starship, Billy Joel and Bryan Adams alongside their Death Metal. We all got along just fine though. Do you have a regular practice routine? I don't have a practice regimen. I always just played because I felt it. Like I said above, when I was starting out, I just played everything I knew and then added anything new to the mix. These days, I like running through scales, improvising, developing runs and rhythms, and writing chord progressions. Practice usually leads to songwriting. Since I have so many interests, I sometimes go for days or longer without thinking about guitar. That can be good and bad. Good because I gain perspective, and bad because my technique suffers. Moving to Nashville in 2004 was a shock. At first, being around great pickers like Chris Thile (Nickel Creek), Dan Tyminski (Alison Krauss + Union Station), Al Anderson (NRBQ), Pat Bergeson (Chet Atkins, Lyle Lovett), Robert Lee Castleman and Bela Fleck made me want to jump ship. Then, I realized I don't need to play like them. I just need to play like me, and that'll be fine. That's made me want to paddle faster than before. It's been a good learning experience. Is there a piece of gear you just can't live without? I'm not attached to gear. I've played on cheap equipment my whole life. Given the choice, I'll take my Martin acoustic and some vintage gear. How do you keep your playing fresh? I take breaks. I develop an idea until I can't stand it anymore, and then I walk away from it. If it comes back, I look into it. What do you do when you get stuck? That does happen. I just keep going until I come out the other side of it. What do you still find hard to do? I still find it hard to play as fast as I'd like to. Does your playing change when you switch instruments? I haven't noticed. Are there one or two core ideas that are central to your teaching that you make sure every student learns? I always remind students to relax. We also work on the chromatic scale beginning with the open strings, using alternate picking. This covers some of the more important aspects of playing including accuracy, coordination, and finger-strength. We also concentrate on technique (e.g. how to hold your wrists, holding the pick, and placing your thumb and fingers properly). These are development skills they can use for any style of playing. How often are you surprised by your playing, or what you're listening to, or music in general? Lately, it takes more to surprise me. I'm always pleasantly surprised to hear something soulful. How often, when you're playing, do you find those moments when it's just you and the music? Very often. Most of the time, in fact. Playing is a creative outlet for me. I have very few judgments on what I play. I do wish my fingers would move as fast as my imagination. That's something I'm working on. Do you find yourself returning to listen to the artists who inspired you when you first started to play? I love a great song with soul. Add a great solo, and I'm in Heaven. I still connect with some of the music I heard growing up. I remember listening to Carole King on the AM radio in my car and thinking she was a black singer. Great songs and a great voice. Billy Joel had that combination too. But looking back, a lot of what I heard on the radio was fluff. The music that really inspired me (and still does) is the music that my mother and brother showed me. Big Band, the American Songbook, Classic Rock. My favorite band is definitely Queen. They were versatile, unpredictable, raw and proficient. Brian May and Freddie Mercury are at the top of the list, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney close behind. Some other guitar players I enjoy are Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Albert Collins, B.B. King, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Emily Saliers and Amy Ray (Indigo Girls). What are you listening to these days? I still listen to a lot of older music. At the moment, I'm studying The Beatles. I've started looking for other stuff too. I like Bjork, Eminem, Keane and some others. What interesting music would you suggest for students? Queen, of course. Also, check out Rebecca Martin's "People Behave Like Ballads" (www.rebeccamartin.com) and Chris Thile's "Deceiver" (http://www.nickelcreek.com/music.htm). Do you have a musical wish list - other instruments to learn, people to play with, artists or styles to explore? I'd like to learn to play jazz piano. What make a great teacher? You have to believe in the greatness of your student, be an excellent listener, be curious, and have good instincts, experience, and a real desire to teach. How do you learn best? By ear! And, by trial and error.
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