guitarist - instrument designer
- composer - producer
1. Talk about your first significant musical
Around 1961 or '62, my father took me
to see and hear the Buffalo Symphony. I clearly remember he auditorium
in which the concert was to take place, and that we were near the center.
When the players came to the stage, I was so excited...until I saw the
sousaphone. For some reason, its shape was terrifying to me...like
a metal snake with a huge gaping mouth. Dad had to carry me, thrashing
and screaming, out of the place. Ironically, ten years later, I played
sousaphone (and trombone) in school band. As
a little guy, I was the very definition of 'hyperactive'. Mother
would contrive any means of keeping me entertained. I loved beating
on pots and pans while The Nutcraker Suite or The Firebird Suite
played on the record player. I have
a vague, though concrete, memory of marching around clacking hollow coconut
shells together and shouting, "HORSE HOOF! HORSE HOOF!".
2. Talk about the first guitar you took
a focused interest in.
The person who brought the guitar to my
attention in a way that made it seem enjoyable was my old friend, David
Chace. That was around 1974. He had taken lessons for a while
and knew how to fingerpick. I asked him to show me some, which he
did; and he told me that I appeared to have a bit of a knack for
the instrument. A while later, I showed him how to fingerpick Stephen
Stills' "Helplessly Hoping", which I figured out by listening to
the LP. He stopped telling me how to play, and we became The
1/2-Baked Band right then and there.
a. What were you doing with it?
Until 1977, I taught myself how to play
songs I liked...all styles. I was very interested in how Stephen
Stills, Neil Young, James Taylor, Leo Kottke, and David Crosby played.
I took advantage of one of those "10 LP's for 10 cents" deals and stocked-up
on vinyl. Then, I wrote my first few songs (the first one was called "Hello
Girl", and was morose and dark) and tried them out on friends at parties.
I received positive encouragement, and have been songwriting ever since.
Last count, I had over 400 under my belt. I keep them in a folder
called The Lyric-Psychology of a Man Approaching
b. How did people around you respond/react?
Bemusedly, with admirable tolerance.
I had the good fortune of many music enthusiasts for friends. What
I was doing, however, was not what they were primarily interested in.
c. Was it fun? - What made it fun?
Very fun. Helped me overcome stage-fright
a bit. It was fun because of the INclusivity of that group of people.
There was a period when it seemed like a big contest between us to see
who could find the strangest or most mind-bending records. My basement
had a small 7'x12' area in it which was 'mine'. We swapped crazy
music and made a lot of racket down there before I left for college in
'77. I began performing ariginal acoustic music in 1977, went
electric in 1981; but remained afraid of singing in public until 1996 (-w-
the band HipBone).
I became fond of creating feedback early-on.
3. Formal training? - Lessons? -
Significant "tutor"/"mentor" experience?
Piano lessons - 1966-'68
Brass lessons - 1970-'74
My significant tutors/mentors have been
those I admire on recordings, primarily. When
I first heard Harry Partch's work, I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven.
I was very motivated and intrigued by the music
of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. I spent a couple of years
composing pieces which emulated segments of that body of work. The
strange rhythms and polyphony really bent my ears. Living
amongst the people in Korea for four years really impacted on how I hear
and create melody; as well as opening my ears to non-Western rhythms.
Most recently, my children have revealed
things to me that I may never have discovered without them. Our 3
year-old daughter has 'invented' two great sound sources - what I call
"the Tube-Flute" ( a 2' long corrugated plastic tube which produces a tone,
when blown through, the pitch of which varies depending on how hard it's
blown through) , and "Biting the Slinky!" (try it...take a metal
Spinky, hold it by biting a few loops between your teeth, then DROP IT
ON THE FLOOR. Don't worry, unless you're 8' tall, it won't hurt your
teeth. The bone-conducted sound is quite like a 1950's sci-fi
raygun sound in your head). Our two older kids appeared on
a Residents tribute CD [F.E.S.T.E.R.,
available through MP3.com] covering
Simple Song with me, recording as El
all of my kids have found their way onto compositions I've recorded (snoring,
laughing, hitting a guitar with a stick, etc). Linzae's a fine young
alto and has made All County Chorus in her school; and Michael is developing
some talent fingerpicking, and made All County Chorus as well. My
kids are a large inspiration to me and I admire them.
4. Have you taught?
I gave guitar lessons, briefly, at several
points on the continuum. Hated it. Everyone
I taught wanted to become a clone of their hero. I tried to shape
their self-esteem into a place where they would value their own gifts and
subtleties...not too successfully, I might add. MTV ruined everything.
In 1999, I taught a community college course -
Do-It-Yourself Music Making.
There, I showed participants how to document,
present, and promulgate their own music. At
the middle school where I teach, I organize a The
Holmes Middle School Do-It-Yourself Music Ensemble
when my semesters permit. Little groups of sixth-through-eighth grade
kids get together and do musical and percussive things they didn't know
they could do. Then we perform at the annual talent show. Great
fun! All documented. One semester,
I had a group of three 8th grade boys (The
Holmes Middle School Do-It-Yourself Composers Group )
who composed and recorded original pieces of music which they composed
using graphic scores. Sort of
a JohnCage-thing... indeterminate in some ways, controlled in others.
They did original drawings, then overlayed a transparency
with graphing on it and noted all blocks through which a line from their
drawing passed. Into those blocks, using a pre-determined numeric
quantity sequence, they inserted symbols representing individual notes.
For the recording session, I let them use a metronome-beat
as a guide. Each beat represented a block on their graph-score.
When a beat landed on a block with a symbol in it, they played that note.
Empty blocks = rests/silences. They played the first half of their
scores to tape, reading it from top left-right, then down. Then,
they turned the score 90 degrees and did performed it again to tape from
that perspective. These two tracks were mixed-down - the result being
their composition on a CD to take home and ponder.
5. Initial recording-experience
In grade school, we used a little Radio
Shack recorder to make 'spy tapes', which were just for laughs and potential
embarrassment of friends. In 1983, Sam "Crash" Osteen, a Marine
corporal, introduced me to multi-track recording. We improvised-to-tape
(in a Navy barracks in Monterey, CA) a lo-fi collection of instrumentals
called Mild Amputation.
In Monterey, I met Jerry (not the president)
Ford. Wild home-studio -w- garage sale drumkit, keyboards, broken
guitars, a real banquet of weird. We recorded two volumes of
graphically-scored instrumental compositions - "494
Possible Triangles" and "494 Possible Circles"
- in his studio...we dragged mic's across
carpet as percussion tracks, things like that. Fun! In 1984,
I bought an early Fostex 4-track, and wore it out during three years of
relentless use. Taught myself how to do all sorts of cassette media
tricks - backwards recording. Wrote poems, recorded them, flipped
the tape and listened to them backwards, transcribed the things backwards,
then re-recorded the poems using those phonetics; this tape, when
played backwards, sounded like the computer/alien voices in old cheesy
sci-fi movies. My friend Steve Blake's
Massachusetts studio - Toad Hall
- is where I picked up a lot of useful information about recording groups
of people, as well as about microphones and mixing, between 1994-1998.
6. What gear/stuff do you play in
a performing context?
With our avant-Bluegrass unit, The
Cat's Pants, I play a Fender Montara
acoustic-electric, or a Dobro, through chorus + reverb into any amp.
With the Greensboro improvisational collective
- Automatic Music
- I percuss, use homemade instruments, guitars and bass, and tend to employ
a lot of signal-processing. I pull out some strange things for that
band, as it is already rather guitar-heavy and I feel I have more to offer
using other sound sources. I have a homemade 'keyboard' made of a
collection of those little devices inside musical giftcards. I trigger
snippets of familiar songs into an
SM57 + compression/distortion...like a nightmare Hammond.
I use an E-Bow and a glass slide quite a bit when playing guitar with Automatic
b. In the Past.
Too many guitars to remember. Quite
a few keyboards. EVERYTHING is a percussion instrument, and I've
created some fun juxtapositions of all sorts of things-that-go-bang
when needs dictated. In the 90's power-trio,
HipBone, I generally
had more pedals on the floor in front of me than necessary. We were
capable of some very orchestral stretches of free-playing, and I wanted
a broad pallette of available sound-sculpture tools.
c. Future aims and objectives?
See my three children grow-up and survive.
Keep voting. Live less desperately and long
enough to be "that crazy 90 year-old guitar-dude in the wheelchair"
7. How, if at all, does the performance
paradigm differ from the zeitgeist during the documentation/recording
process? Which do you prefer, and why?
Music, performed well, feels wonderful.
You have that opportunity to do it 'right'.
Music, performed sloppily/drunkenly/without enjoyment,
is a waste of life-time. Music, recorded
well, sounds wonderful. You have a
lifetime to tweak things into submission. Fortunately
for my family, I am more interested in capturing something pure, autobiographical,
which can be done much more quickly. This
paradigm allows me to keep real-bills paid via a full-time job, interact
with my wife and kids a bunch, have friends, and perform often.
I prefer both, in reasonable quantities.
8. Five favorite recorded songs/compositions
The Letter Harry Partch
A Career in Real Estate Fred
You Can Close Your Eyes James
Death Letter Son House
I A'int Superstitious Willie
9. If you could edit your ten favorite
recorded/experienced sonic moments* together into a seamless loop,
what would they be?
1. [intro to] Foxy Lady
by Jimi Hendrix
2. [feedback solo in] Corridor
by Fred Frith (w/ Massacre)
3. any 10 second segment of any Gene Krupa
4. [the "lunar note"] Big-Eyed
Beans From Venus by Bill Harkleroad (w/
5. [2nd solo break in Elvis'] Hound
Dog by Scotty Moore
6. [solo break in] In the Evening
by Jimmy Page
7. any 10 second segment from any Derek
8. [segue between pts 2-3 in] 3
Wheels by Art Bears
9. the sung "EEEEEEE-lectricity"
by Captain Beefheart
10. "WATCH IT NOW! WATCH IT NOW!"
by Sam the Sham
10. What are your feelings about
Music was not often consistently enjoyable
until I began improvising. It has become
the cornerstone of everything I make - musical and non-musical.
I have found parenting to be the most satisfying
arena for improvisation. My very best
friends are improvisors. Improvisation
is a return to the wonder of childhood, but with the wisdom and restraint
of one's years. Very fun. The
best stuff always happens during improv (but, is tape rolling?).
11. What strategies have proven effective
to you in terms of successful group interactivity?
Having money as a dominant concern always
erodes things somewhat. My experience
is that friendship, respect, trust, faith in one anothers' gifts (and take
on what is sonically evolving) are good mortar. When
it's happening smoothly, it is quite like when your spouse finishes a sentence
you've started; and you say "Yeah", instead of "Hush".
12. On what project(s) are you currently
I draw, I paint, I play something everyday.
My recent hobby is making windchimes out of uncommon objects.
My little InstrumenTales
label is a bit of work. Getting soundfiles uploaded to the Internet
takes a lot of patience, and keeping costs affordable requires focus.
It's my fourth label over the years and has been chugging along admirably
since hitting 'the Net' last September. I'm
working with a number of interesting players on a variety of projects:
there are two new Camera Obtusa
soundscape projects with Mark McGee in the works; I just finished producing
eighth CD "F.Y.I."; I'm working on a new solo CD of songs
("Horsefly") that I've got the basic voice/guitars/
percussion finished with; and am producing another song project of my wife
- Christine's - work.
14. How can interested readers
learn more about your work?
a. URL(s)? http://pages.about.com/oddmusic/oDDmUSIC.html
Free MP3's at:
b. Postal Address? 609
Morehead Street, Eden, NC 27288 USA
- my so-called
on, as a fledgling guitarist in my teens & twenties, I enjoyed Jimi
Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Terry Kath, Steve Hillage, Steve Tibbetts, Daevid
Allen, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, Clarence White, Brian Jones, J.J. Cale,
Neil Young, Adrian Belew, David Torn, Allen Holdsworth, Larry Coryell,
Robert Fripp, Richard Lloyd, Jeff Beck, Robbie Robertson, Phil Manzanera,
Robert Quine, Jody Harris, Lou Reed, Steve Howe, Glenn Phillips, and other
players who stretched the boundaries of Rock-and-Roll as I knew it.
grown up on 60’s Pop and 70’s Rock (Beatles/ Kinks/Stones/ Who/The Mothers
of Invention/Grateful Dead/Them/Boxtops/Procul Harem/Yardbirds/etc), I
was first attracted to players who stood out, in some way, from the fray.
Unique tone, *passion*, and attack probably snagged me initially. The whole
idea of a ‘guitar solo’ was an awakening and a challenge.
the 80's and 90’s, I became increasingly familiar with and fond of the
work of Derek Bailey, Loren Mazzacane, Fred Frith, Hans Reichel, Eugene
Chadbourne, Nick Didkovsky, John Fahey, Glenn Branca/Sonic Youth/Rhys Chatham,
Richard Thompson, Dot & Betty Wiggin, Ennio Morricone’s guitarists,
Robbie Basho, “Snakefinger” Lithman, the many Magic Band
Davey Williams, Rene Lussier, Greg Ginn, Chip Handy, Arto Lindsay, Col.
Bruce Hampton, Henry Kaiser, Mark Ribot, and other noise/fusion players
who stretched the boundaries of what music could be. Through discovering
these players, I found myself seeking out their mentors and influences.
Here, I discovered the work of such composers as Ives, Cowell, Nancarrow,
Partch, and Mingus.
reading essays and biographies of these men, I was sent back to obscure
ethnic music; in
those of the Asia and Indonesia. . Interestingly, the deep roots often
pointed directly back at *groundbreaking* contemporary music. Living in
South Korea for four years deeply impacted on my scalar sensibilities,
how I hear melody, and what can constitute a coherent rhythm within a composition.
I was delving deeply into Delta and Country Blues and grasping what I could
about the origins of guitar-style from their available recordings. Sleepy
John Estes, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Robert Johnson,
Leadbelly, Big Joe Williams, Petey Wheatstraw, Howling Wolf & Hubert
Sumlin, and many others found their way into the growing pantheon of players
who fit into the huge scheme of guitar-music as I knew it.
began to create and trace *lineages* – making mental notes of what was
copped from whom, and who may have influenced who. It is an enjoyable game
I continue to play. For example, I find a *musical genealogy* connecting
Rock guitar progenitors such as Scotty Moore/James Burton/Duane
Wray with contemporary players, such as Robert Quine/Mark Ribot (who incorporate
many brilliantly deconstructed classic riffs into their unique stylings)
fairly easy to defend.
the heck are you, anyway?”, is a reasonable question which may form on
your lips. After all, Bret Hart hasn’t ever been featured in Rolling Stone
or The Wire. Nor will you find a lot of advertising in popular music media
documenting and promulgating the existence of my music and I. I’ve never
been signed to a major label, and those brave labels who have taken stewardship
of some of my recordings have been small, homespun operations with little
more capital than I myself have.
have, been a published writer/reviewer for twenty-four years (The Racquette,
Stella, Op, Option, Sound Choice, OINK!, Gajoob, The Neely Chronicle,Improvijazzation
Nation, Eden’s Own, etc.), have listened to and written about hundreds
of independently produced music releases, and have
146 cassette albums on my three pre-CD labels (Kamsa Tapes, O-Right Records,
and HipWorks Productions). I now run a small CD label (InstrumenTales Records)
which offers a wide range of what I consider to be interesting music from
both New England and North Carolina. Our DUETS series features collaborations
with talented improvisors from all points.
been performing and recording original music consistently since 1976 and
have formed/been a member of all manner of strange sonic-groupings, improvisational
collectives, artist’s co-ops, and
organizations wherever I have resided. My paintings, sculpture, and books
have been shown in group and one-man shows; such as the New England Open,
the Heywood Gallery, The Abattoir, and The Music Connection.