Retired, But Just Getting Started 

So back in late September 1982, a few months removed from dropping out of college, I made the bold, youthful move of stuffing a few belongs in my Ford Econoline van, saying goodbye to my somewhat close-knit family, and headed west from upstate New York out to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune as a guitarist. In my sheltered, small town little life I always thought that if you can dream it, you can make it happen. So with the help of a friend of a friend, we drove for 2 days and 2 nights, stopping only for a quick truck repair in Indiana and a speeding ticket sometime around 3:00am in Kansas. Eventually, we somehow made it to So. Cal. no worse for wear. I dropped off the FOF at his brother's house in OC and then headed up to my new home in Monterey Park, sharing an apartment with my best friend at the time and his older brother. My bff had moved from NY to LA a few months earlier which I latched onto immediately as my only chance at getting out of small town America. The plan was for him to move in May, get an apartment with his brother who had been living in LA for quite some time. I would come out in September, at which time he and I would put together a band, start playing the Strip, and the rest would be history. Simple plan right? 

Well, I arrive to find that my bff and his brother are in fact sharing a 3 bedroom apartment, but also that the brother's rich girlfriend and some bottom feeder of a guy are also a part of my new west coast family. And what a motley crew they were. I quickly learned that the older brother had been strung out on heroin for years. My bff, an alcoholic and longtime stoner since the age of 15, couldn't help but get strung out himself in the 3 months he had been in So Cal. The brother's rich girlfriend, she wasn't into heroin so much. She loved smoking crack. And then my new friend, the sea urchin, he was a connoisseur of angel dust. UGH. So as you can probably tell, my music career got off to a somewhat inauspicious start. 

I felt compelled to share the above story because some 39 years later, filled with a life's ups and downs, I have finally given myself permission to go all in on making music full time. On August 26th I officially retired from the day to day grind of having a day job. A soul crushing, working for "the man", pointless, dead end, 40 hours per week, day job. I no longer need the security of the weekly paycheck to survive. My wife and I have scratched and clawed, saved and invested to the point we are "good" for the rest of our lives. So, it is time to go all in. I no longer have to struggle to schedule my practice time around an 8 hour work day, no longer have to feel sleep deprived after a late night recording session.  I no longer have to strive to clear my mind of the daily pressures and stresses that come with a day job in an attempt to create something meaningful and good. I can now wake up each morning and focus my day solely on the things I love and enjoy. What a concept. 

Over the years I often wondered how things would have turned out if I had stuck to the plan and went all in from the very beginning. Sure, there would have been plenty of hunger pains, financial constraints, crappy apartments, and car problems. But heck, people bet on themselves all the time with sometimes incredible results. 

So going forward, you can find me in my home studio instead of a cubicle or office space, with my arms around my guitar instead of a box of meaningless widgets, holding a mouse working in Pro Tools instead of Microsoft Office. I can happily say that I am most certainly retired but, in a lot of ways....I'm just getting started!  I'll keep you posted.

A Trip Down Guitar Memory Lane with an Old Friend! 

I just watched an old YouTube video of John McLaughlin live in concert from the 90’s. God I used to love his playing. The fierce technique, be it on an electric guitar or acoustic. This concert, he was playing with Dennis Chambers and Joey Defrancesco and boy were they tearing it up. I have long felt that McLaughlin was a different kind of creature from other guitarists. It always seemed like he was trying pummel fellow musicians into oblivion so there would be more space for him and his playing. None of that mamby pamby, “we’re all artists here, let’s make beautiful music together”. I think there was a competitive nature to his thought process. More like, “you better bring it otherwise I’m going to face-plant you with my virtuosity!” That’s what I loved about him. 

What I’ve also always enjoyed about his playing is that he would love to pull out bluesy rock licks and intersperse them at different points in his soloing. Especially loved to do it in pieces that were more straight forward jazz or Shakti type world music. In my opinion, it’s that back to basics approach that set him apart from the rest. I think it was him remembering his roots. Bravo!! 

I follow him on Instagram and occasionally he posts photos from the past. In one, he’s backstage with Al and Paco AND Steve Morse waiting to go on stage. It had to be around Steve’s early Dixie Dregs days. Awesome! And then another one from the 70’s/80’s with Narada Michael Walden, who was definitely another musical hero of mine growing up. Both with McLaughlin and Jeff Beck - Wired. Great, great music. 

And just when I thought the old boy was too old to still do it, to my pleasant surprise, he posted on his IG account that his new recording is about to be released. All 75+ years is still doing it, playing with top cats and tearing it up. Ok, so maybe not as well as he used to but still making musical magic. Awesome. Can’t wait to hear it. Thanks John!!

One Small Step, One Giant Leap!! 

So my battle continues in trying to find some semblance of an amp or modeler that will give me the guitar tone that has eluded me for the past 15 years or so. I had just about put the last nail in the coffin for the notion that a modeler could actually do the job. Then as I was well on my way to saving enough money to buy a 30w Soldano head, I had a weak moment one night after stumbling across a demo video showcasing the Kemper Profiler. It seemed like a fool-proof option, with its near endless number of profiles available on line, accessible with a click of a mouse. Surely there would be a couple of sounds available that I would fall in love with. 

Well I’m 3 weeks in and…..success!! I’ve actually been able to create a tone from an existing profile that I like, even almost love. The best part of my small victory is that I created the tone without having to plug 5 or 6 pedals in the front of the Kemper to make it sound less digital. The tone is standalone, just me and the Kemper. I’m now venturing down the unbeaten trail of trying to discover…wait for it…a second tone that I like/love.  I’ll keep you posted. Thank you Kemper!!

His Brilliance Will Live On forever! 

Never has there been a musician quite like the late, great Allan Holdsworth. Throughout the history of mankind, has there ever been another person who took a hugely popular, widely-played instrument like the electric guitar, and reinvented it like the great maestro did. He created a brand new sound and technique for the instrument, setting a benchmark that many have tried to copy and attain. Somehow though, you can always tell when it's Holdsworth playing or someone trying to play Holdsworth. 

I was introduced to the Allan Holdsworth sound in the late 70's by my best friend at the time. He had "borrowed" a Bill Bruford album from his older brother and one night while we were just hanging out, he started playing it from beginning to end over and over. What jumped out at me wasn't Bill Bruford's drumming, nor Jeff Berlin's bass playing, both of which were spine-tingling awesome. No, it was the most inspiring guitar sound I would ever hear in my lifetime. Coupled with that was the technique. Oh my God, the technique!! Legato, fat, fast, warm, slightly atonal at times, yet beautifully melodic and utterly unique. 

The subsequent years following his stint with Bruford, Holdsworth released one brilliant solo album after another with music unlike any music that came before. Free flowing, highly improvisational, jazz, jazz fusion, he became loved world-wide as a major influence to anyone who ever picked up a guitar and tried to solo. His playing and music were seemingly 100% non-derivative, completely original. That can't be said for anyone else in the history of music, not even Mozart, or Beethoven. His playing style can possibly be compared to that of a saxophone player, in the way that it is smooth sounding and legato, with nothing getting in the way of each note. But even the best sax players fall in line in following a certain set of rules per the music style they are playing. Holdsworth had no rules it seemed and he was unapologetic about it. He know what he liked and wasn't going to compromise one inch. 

When he passed away suddenly in 2017, it was truly a sad day for lovers of music. Luckily, he left behind an extensive catalog of brilliance that, due to the fact he was so far ahead of his time, will never grow old!!

Bravo Maestro Al!! 

I have recently come to once again appreciate Al DiMeola and his masterful guitar playing. I hadn't taken the time to listen to him for several years, actually a few decades, since initially discovering him when I was a teenager. Growing up in a small, podunk, one stop light town in upstate New York, how was a young guitar enthusiast supposed to find anything musically inspiring to listen to. In the 70's all we had was the radio, and TV shows The Midnight Special on Friday nights and Don Kirshner Rock Concert on Saturday night for our musical entertainment. None of the three ever featured any of the best musicians. Instead of Zeppelin, Hendrix, or Cream, we got a heavy dose of, Peaches and Herb, Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Olivia Newton John, who I might add, was extremely inspirational to me, just not in musical/guitar player way. But that's a story for another day. My life though changed the summer of my 15th birthday. 

My mother, aunt, cousin and I took a short vacation in Montreal. The big city!! A diverse, beautiful, artistic, city where some of the residents even spoke a foreign language. Oh my God I had heard places like this existed but they were scary and far away. I was in Heaven. So one afternoon we were walking around checking out the town when we came upon a local record store. My mother knew how much I loved music, so she offered to buy me a couple of albums as souvenirs of our trip. It was a small, hip store with an ultra cool guy working the counter. He was about 30ish with long hair, wire rim glasses and he seemed to have a great knowledge of music and albums and musicians. In my excitement I quickly picked out a couple of albums that I remember didn't quite match the excitement and energy I was feeling being in such a cool store. But I walked up to the counter to buy them anyway and as the cool guy was about to ring them up, I noticed this incredible sounding music playing throughout the store. To start it was a great song, kinda jazzy, improvisational, progressive but it sounded like rock music but it was instrumental. The musicianship was off the charts, and then there was the guitar playing. Loud and super fast, with intricate lines but still there were pseudo power chords from time to time. I quickly stopped the clerk from ringing up my poor choices and asked, what was the band playing throughout the store. He proudly pointed at the album jacket being displayed on the counter: Return to Forever, Romantic Warrior. Chick, Stanley, Lenny, and of course Al DiMeola. I grabbed the albums I had picked out and asked if I could buy that album instead. Not only did my new musical compatriot get me that album but he also brought me a new recording that just came out from one of the band members. Of course it was Al DiMeola and his debut solo release Elegant Gypsy. 

As soon as I got home from the short vacation, my two souvenirs become my world. i alternated listening to them day after day, for months on end, inspiring me to immerse myself into my guitar playing, with Al being at the center of my inspiration. To this day, I've never been a big fan of Les Pauls but I loved the way Al played his, shredding up and down the neck. The biggest eye-opening revelation though was his acoustic guitar playing. Never before had anyone played an acoustic steel string guitar like that. Speed, dexterity, and rapid fire picking technique, it all gave me something to emulate and shoot for. 

A few years later I was lucky enough to see Al in concert with McLaughlin and Paco at a small theatre in Buffalo New York, It was magical! And then, once again in So Cal when RTF briefly reunited. Soon after though my musical taste changed as I tried to make a mark in the music industry thoughtlessly playing the flavor of the month music. It was at this time that I lost track of Al. 

Now that I'm much older, I recently checked in on Youtube to listen to musicians who might give me a fresh perspective on my playing. Loh and behold, there was my old friend AL Dimeola. This time though he was different. Gone were the steel string Ovation, the blazing fast scales, the alternate picking, and the bad hair. Now there was well-crafted solo and ensemble compositions, a nylon string spanish guitar, not so bad hair, arpeggios, chord comping, and string skipping. Somewhere along the line he must have decided to alter his playing style and technique. All for the better. His writing and playing sparkle, showing off a "quiet virtuosity" while he still maintains that spicey spanish feel that we all love. 

Almost like being reunited with a long lost friend, I find great comfort in knowing Al DiMeola can still do it at a high level which in turn gives me the impetus to put in the time and effort in regard to my own playing, in my quest to become the best guitarist I can be. Bravo Maestro!!