guitarist - instrument designer - composer - producer
1. Talk about your first significant musical experience.
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 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 50.
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] covering Simple Song with me, recording as El Freezepops; and 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 MakingThere, 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 memories?
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?
a.  Presently.
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/ a nightmare Hammond.  I use an E-Bow and a glass slide quite a bit when playing guitar with Automatic Music.
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" someday.
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, and of-that-time; 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 (by others).
The Letter   Harry Partch
A Career in Real Estate  Fred Frith
You Can Close Your Eyes  James Taylor
Death Letter  Son House
I A'int Superstitious  Willie Dixon
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 drumsolo
4. [the "lunar note"]  Big-Eyed Beans From Venus    by Bill Harkleroad (w/ Magic Band)
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 Bailey recording
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 improvisation?
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 involved?
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 Automatic Music's 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)?
Free MP3's at:
b.  Postal Address? 609 Morehead Street, Eden, NC 27288 USA
- my so-called 'evolution' -
"Early 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.
Having 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.
During 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
guitarists, 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.
From reading essays and biographies of these men, I was sent back to obscure ethnic music; in
particular, 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.
Simultaneously, 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.
I 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
Eddy/Link 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.
“Who 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.
I 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
self-released 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.
I’ve 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
performance 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.
Bret Hart