This was a pivotal moment for me in finding my voice as a solo guitarist. I recorded all these tunes in my home in under an hour in the first take in early February 2016. It was cold outside, and it was just before bedtime. A number of the songs I had not ever heard before. Thanks to the charts in an old worn copy of Happy Traum’s “Flat-Pick Country Guitar” book, I had some visual cues to coax me through the forms and fragments of melody to return to.
I had no plan to go in this direction musically. My practice for the six months prior to the moment of this recording involved pulsing repetitions on open strings, intensely focused listening to dynamics and the peculiarities of timbre as I turned my fingers ever so subtly this way and that. I was working on no specific music, but rather just dialing my focus in to the sound of actual contact with the instrument, caressing it, listening to each note’s decay. It was a very meditative period of practice--effortless and kinesthetic.
Nearly 25 years into playing guitar, and I had always been a dabbler in many styles and approaches. I had always enjoyed improvising and writing original music. I never really became a “jazz guitarist” or a “classical guitarist” or any other kind of specific guitarist, though I had often played professional gigs in these and various other idioms. Nor could I fully commit myself entirely to free improvisation and non-idiomatic playing. I had always been so taken by song and narrative, and the communication of emotion that the blues and its musical offspring offer. I am so interested in the history of the instrument in its very many contexts that I could never plant my flag in one camp.
In retrospect, much of my attempts at music prior to this session felt forced. There was a sense of trying that made the music feel rigid and unnatural. What happened with this recording was I simply stopped trying, I had no plan, and I just let go. And things finally felt natural. It didn’t seem like I was genre-hopping. All my influences combined into something whole. I wasn't trying to impress anyone with my chops. I just got out of the way and let what happened happen. The music became organic and fluid.
This recording became the de facto “demo tape” that I sent to friends and record labels. I am grateful to John Zorn for hearing where I was coming from and signing me to produce the album “Undertaker Please Drive Slow” for Tzadik Records. That album is a much grander production than this one, thanks to a proper budget and the recording talents of David Allen, and the mastering wizardry of Scott Hull at Masterdisk. I also spent months planning for that record, as opposed to this recording, which came like a revelation in a flash of inspiration into my little digital zoom recorder at the foot of the bed.
So, here it is. Another message in a bottle. Traditional music filtered through one guitarist’s non-traditional subjectivity.
Peace and love,
September 1, 2017