Up until the time I moved here from Texas coming up on a year ago now, I almost exclusively listened to music via my personal device – first an Ipod, then a fancier player that could handle flac and other formats. I could have my entire collection with me all the time. But that meant I rarely heard things I didn’t own (even though I own a LOT). Just before moving, my player gave up the ghost.
On the road trip from Texas, I sprang for the paid version of Pandora so I could have ad-free tunes on the road, and set up a bunch of “channels” and configured it to go out and get other artists’ work that was similar. This exposed me to lots of artists I didn’t know, and it’s been great.
But it also brought in stuff I knew well from my youth but that I didn’t actually own anymore, that I never bothered to replace from the vinyl. And in listening to some of this, I had several epiphany moments, realizing how strongly certain players had influenced my own style, but whose influence I had completely forgotten about.
Some examples are Dickie Betts from the Allman Brothers Band, Tom Johnston from the Doobie Brothers… I can really hear them in my own playing, particularly on electric guitar.
Anything like this ever happen to you?? Do tell! (Any instrument will do, I just put it here in Guitars because I’m a guitarist.)
I have a similar story. Played guitar since I was 13, and taught myself Electric Guitar at 15. I love the oldies - Page, Beck, Clapton, The Beatles, but also the (at the time) newer bands like Rage Against the Machine, Guns n Roses and so on. I didn’t get to record guitars until well into the 2000’s, so I’d never really heard myself play on tape / computer. When I did, it sounded so rough and ready. Not bad, but not the pristine sound of the Prog Rock guys I’d now fallen in love with.
The story gets a little silly here, because I read an interview from Slash back in the day, who said he worshipped Joe Perry from Aerosmith who in turn idolised Jimmy Page. So there was this lineage of guitarists and you could hear the influences of each guitarist from this lineage. I rediscovered my catalogue of Guns n Roses CDs about a decade ago, and switched Use Your Illusion I. I came to a realisation that I had near enough just lifted the playing style of Slash and made it my own. The average Slash Rhythm and Lead part is “dirty”. Not bad, certainly not sloppy, but I love the sounds he makes moving from fret to fret and hitting his plectrum on the strings. It seems that the time I was learning my chops, I’d just internalised his way of playing and made it my own. To this day I smile when I hear my own playing because I essentially feel like a fraud, but on the other hand, I hear literally thousands of hours of practicing the solos from Sweet Child of Mine or Don’t Cry or November rain.
Great story! I’ve felt that same recognition. The Dickie Betts solo on Melissa is one particular example, as well as his duet with Duane on Blue Sky… TJ’s solos on China Grove, Listen to the Music, Jesus is Just Alright… also Mick Taylor’s solos on those classic Stones albums. Of course, I couldn’t touch those cats in a million years, but those melodic solos are what I’ve always emulated, not being any kind of fast player.
I was never much of solo guitarist, being as much a drummer/ percussionist as a guitarist. So when - I was about 21 - a friend taught me how to play some funk guitar on an electric I finally found something that quite a few guitarists find relatively difficult that came quite naturally for me. I could do Niles Rogers no problem ;). Of course I had to practice, but it gave focus to my my playing. I learnt to be a little less sloppy. This friend (Winfred Buma) by the way went on to to study jazz guitar and became quite well known as a jazz guitarist, awards and all. But playing electric was always second choice for me. Deep down I’m an acoustic guitar player, and i was looking for an acoustic version of funk guitar. I found it in the guitar playing of Joan Armetrading. And particularly in her early work (later songs became more … well soft rock or something I wasn’t too fond of) she could really be funky on her guitar. [oppportunity] I started to write funky tunes myself. The best one I will record one of these days.
I had another musical friend a year or so later - an Irish singer songwriter called Sonny Condell who had a Dutch girlfriend who lived in my town. He came to live with her for about a year and played the same pubs and cafe’s that I did. But he was actually pretty good. In Ireland at the time (late 70’s) he was quite well known, with a couple of albums to his name. He toured with Jethro Tull throughout Europe. Sonny had a very unique style of guitar playing. On the one hand very Irish, folk like, on the other hand weird and wonderful sixties stuff. Recently I found a you tube clip of one of my favorites of his Down in the city. Not a very good recording unfortunately but you get the idea. So for quite a while I was combining these quite different influences into something of my own. So to make a long story short: quite often it was the meeting and playing with other guitarists that had more influence on me than the well known big names.
Oh and another influence: Joni Mitchell! I loved her music in particular the period when she started playing with jazz/ fusion musicians in the late seventies (afterwards she became more pop orientated, a lot of which was terrible) . She gave me the the confidence to write whatever I wanted about whatever I want to and not follow some one else. I tried to play her songs, but I just couldn’t work out the chords. Only many years later did I find out she used the weirdest tunings, and once you find out out how to tune your guitar, it’s quite do-able. But it never became a direct influence on my guitar playing. Her influence was more indirect.
Joni is a huge influence on me as well. I got into open tunings very early on, being a Leo Kottke fanatic, so when I heard her stuff I pretty much instantly recognized that they were in alt tunings. Trouble is, she used so many, and in many cases, a particular tuning for only one song! But she is a wizard (of many things).
When she had Jaco Pastorius in her tourning band, she made some amazing music… Jaco is my all time favorite bassist, the Hendrix of his instrument IMO. What a tragic life.
Sidebar: If you like Joni, check out Patty Larkin. Her work isn’t as jazzy but her guitar playing, replete with alt tunings in many songs, is just astounding.
My very first influence was AM radio in the early 70s (I got into music very early in life).
To give a little context, my parents were older. My dad was born in 1927 and my Mum in 1934, so their tastes in music were very much pre-rock’n’roll era. They listened to the AM radio station that played stuff like The Ray Conniff Singers and similar light pop/orchestral guff. I remember, even as a pre-schooler turning over to the AM rock station (4IP) and being entranced by the sounds of The Easybeats, Stevie Wright, Chain and other rock and blues based acts that were being played on Australian radio at the time.
At 7 years old, my first guitar teacher taught me a few Shadows songs like “Apache”, so that clean twangy tone made a big imprint on my mind. Keep in mind - at the time on pop music radio, the guitar was mixed pretty low in general, so to hear it loud an proud like that was very cool for a guitar mad kid.
From the age of 7 to around 15, I constantly accompanied my piano playing sister on acoustic guitar. We had a giant thick music volume called “100 Hits of the 70s”. It had everything from David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” through The Beatles “Long and Winding Road” all the way to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen”. What a way to learn chords! It was way before the advent of TAB, but all the chords were diagrammed, so I was about the only 10 year old I knew who could play in keys like Eb and Ab, and quickly grab diminished, augmented, sus4, sus2, add9 and 11 chords.
Because I had also received some classical lessons, I played completely fingerstyle, and due to my role accompanying my sister, I ended up developing (what I realise now was) a pretty unique way of combining chords, arpeggios and single note melodies.
Probably the first real rock guitar work that imprinted on my mind was Lindsay Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac - songs like “Go Your Own Way” and “Rhiannon” were more combined more aggression with that chimey clean tone I was accustomed to. And you could really hear them clearly on a tiny mono AM radio speaker.
However, a bomb really went off in my mind was when I heard Dire Straits first album around 1978. We had a substitute teacher who brought it in an played it for us pretty much all day, every day he was there. Amazing, crystal clear, melodic guitar lines played in a classic blues call-and-response fashion. Here was a guy who played electric guitar fingerstyle in a very similar manner to the way I had taught myself to play. The difference was, he was also a killer lead player!..
Mark Knopfler’s playing captured my imagination right through early high school into the mid 80’s. I could sing all the solos from “Dire Straits”, “Communique”, “Making Movies”, “Love Over Gold” and the double-live album “Alchemy” by heart. Playing the solos was still a baffling mystery to me at this stage, but having been a rhythm player with a very wide chordal vocabulary, I worked out all the chords and played the songs in my own fashion on my acoustic guitar, approximating his fingerstyle riffs and chordal fills pretty well.
Around this time (1985), I got my first proper electric guitar and got involved in a couple of bands.
It was also at this time I ran into the first proper “rock” guitar player I had known personally up until then. He played in a roaring blues-rock 70s style through a Marshall JCM800 at blistering volume. I was completely captivated!
I wanted to further my playing, so I went to guitar lessons. Fortuitously, I had one guitar lesson with a teacher who was quitting the same day I went. That single lesson turned the light on lead playing for me… I was off and running! I wore out the grooves in my Dire Straits first self titled LP learning songs like “Down to the Waterline” and “Sultans of Swing” note for note. MKs tone, touch and vibrato had a BIG impact on my playing.
But I had also been turned on to the whole world of heavier blues-rock. Cream, Led Zep, ZZ Top. I had heard all this stuff before, but never been captivated by the expressiveness of the guitar playing until I had witnessed my friend up close playing it through his cranked Marshall.
Although I never could relate to all the American shred stuff that was happening by then, (I somewhat snobbilly dismissed it at the time as being gimmicky - I have more of an appreciation for EVH, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai nowadays) one American player who seemed to combine virtuosity, melody, a cornucopia of styles and a concise pop sensibility into a streamlined and highly individual style was Elliot Easton of The Cars. He definitely influences how I think about constructing recorded solos down to this day. I don’t think there is a more perfect guitar solo than the one on “Touch and Go”
… maybe "Tonight She Comes:
Back here in Australia, we have our own guitar heros. Mine is Ian Moss of Cold Chisel. For me, his playing bridges the gap between the clean, melodic Strat tones of Mark Knopfler and the raging Marshall-fuelled blues roar of Cream Era Clapton, along with the jazzy sophistication of Jeff Beck and Larry Carlton. Here is an example of his tour-de-force. A live version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Georgia”:
That is one hell of a “totally in the moment” live solo - just beautiful Strat/Marshall/Roland Space Echo tone! He is a damn fine singer too!
All the while, I’m absorbing the solos from the songs on Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits. Jazz never really captured me because the dull muted tone most traditional jazz guitar players use just doesn’t inspire me. But that album is like a time-capsule for 10 years of some of the finest recorded jazz-rock solos and tones you will hear. A beautiful melding of rock tone and jazz sophistication.
Around 1990 I first heard the most incredibly fierce, brutally beautiful and melodic tones of Gary Moore’s “Still Got the Blues”. He was the first high-gain guitar player who appealed to me. I LOVED that album. I wore out my tape of it learning the solos (luckily I also had it on CD). To this day I marvel at Gary’s guitar playing. Such a compelling and rare combination of brutal aural assault, pinpoint accuracy, terrifying speed, pitch perfect bends and gorgeous, singing vibrato. To see Gary play is like watching someone surf a Tsunami with complete confidence and control. I’ll never be able to play like him, but his take-no-prisoners attitude is what I learned from him. Check out this for the whole GM experience:
I’d heard about Stevie Ray Vaughan in the early 80s, but the radio hits did not tell but a sliver of the story. It wasn’t until I saw the video “Live at the El Mocombo” in the early 90s that I became a complete SRV fanatic.
Much like Gary Moore, SRV’s complete command of the instrument and his ability to channel pure expression through it were just astounding… But Stevie did it with a relatively clean tone and low gain (albeit reputedly MONSTER volume).
Not many guitar players have that much of an impact on me since then, apart from maybe Derek Trucks and a more recent discovery (for me at least) Ian Thornley of Big Wreck:
Ultimately I think Ian Thornley encapsulates what I aspire to as a musician: Total master of the guitar from the grungiest of dirty to the cleanest of clean; beautiful tone, amazing touch, virtuosic & melodic, great songwriter; absolutely incredible singer… as I said: aspire to - I can dream, can’t I?
… I know a lot of the things mentioned aren’t probably immediately apparent in my playing, but they are definitely there in some form. Coming back full circle to my formative influence on electric: One Mr Knopfler… A few years ago, I started to write a little piece of music as a tribute to the early sound of MK. I never finished it, but I might one day. In any case, I think this probably illustrates how much of an influence he has had on my playing:
Such a great account, Andrew! We have much in common on parts of our path-- my folks were born in 1919 and 1922, and so had all those same musical influences as yours did (I count as one my most important accomplishments getting my Dad to give up all that muzak and start listening to real stuff-- Little Feat, Dire Straits, Clapton unplugged, Chet Atkins & Knopfler’s duet album, etc, when he was in his late 50s). I also lived for AM rock radio in the 1970-75 timeframe, and in LA the king of stations was KHJ, one of the first to introduce the “boss jock” format. First thing I ever won was a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine album, I was the lucky “fourth caller” or whatever…
I too was totally galvanized when Dire Straits came out. That release, with other great artists coming out around the same time (Cars, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello) was the signal that the disco stranglehold was finally being broken. I was overjoyed!
Haha, I didn’t have much luck with Dad. Not long before he died (2013) He asked me to download an album full of the Piano delights of Floyd Cramer, who he thought was wonderful!
We didn’t get commercial FM radio here in Brisbane until 1980. We’d had an FM station since 1975 (4ZZZ), but it was aligned with the University of Queensland and run by a bunch of fairly radical left-wing students. By the time I was even aware of FM radio, it had moved on from 70s prog rock student staples like Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull to much a much more “challenging” playlist.
Fortunately , the commercial station (4MMM) took up the mantle of American-style “Album Rock” in 1980, but with a strong focus on local Australian acts as well. The station head was actually an American guy, so I imagine he promoted a similar approach to the one you describe, where the DJs actually had a lot of leeway to play the music that excited them. Unfortunately that only lasted a scant 8 years until the big corporate media barons bought all the local commercial stations out.
Me too - I really HATED disco!
Sorry about the sprawling text! I did get rather carried away with that, didn’t I?
Haha true! You’re right - I was Guitar George! I could “play all the chords”, but it took me a LOT longer to learn “how to make it cry and make it sing”… still learning now!
My mother Marie LaValley was a profound influence on my love of music. Her mom got TB and had to foster out my mom for a year. There she learned how to play cards and taught herself piano. I honor her today and her gift of music to me. Cowboy sweetheart forever etched in my brain. I am also playing cribbage today thinking of those moments together. (and a new song in Dmin)
What a lovely post Paul. My mom was a huge musical influence too. Here she is giving me my first access to a musical instrument (I’m about 6 months old), a combo organ we had in the house for many years:
This is from the eulogy I delivered at her funeral:
Mom loved music. For me personally, this was something we shared together on a very intimate level. From the time I was very young and just starting to get deeply into music, she would take the time to sit with me and listen to songs and sometimes whole albums of music that I found compelling. Never mind that it was as far from her regular tastes as possible, she would give it a full and attentive listen, because she could see that the music, and her listening to it, meant a lot to me. Later, after I’d developed my ability to play guitar and our “guitar sessions” got going when family got together – first with just Bob and eventually with Amy, Clayton, and Gabe, and Scott on those times he visited – her deep enjoyment of our playing and singing was yet another strong reinforcement of the profound bond she shared with me.
There is one day I’ll always remember of us listening to music together. It was early 1976, and I was almost sixteen. I was very taken with the new album by the band Queen called A Night at the Opera, which contained the now-classic Bohemian Rhapsody. “Mom,” I said, “you’ve GOT to listen to this song.” I put on the vinyl album, cranked it up loud, and we sat and listened. “Mama, just killed a man… put my gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun, but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away. Mama, didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters…” I looked over at her, and there were tears rolling down her face. This was the one time in all my life I saw her cry, not when Dad died, not when her aunts Chris or Rose died, but listening with me to Bohemian Rhapsody.
I had a guitar epiphany just last night on YouTube. Listening to 12 minutes of Jimi playing Machine Gun (loud, into headphones) really refreshed my outlook into why electric guitar exists. He just basically does a stream of consciousness of gunfire, bombs, screaming, confusion, and pain that really couldn’t be played on anything but an electric guitar. I’m sure some of it was planned, but when you try to fathom the depth of connection between his brain and his hands it is truly unworldly. There is no musical theory or tabulature to describe what he does.
Being that free and expressive, where your mind transcends the instrument, is a lofty goal reserved for very few. When you put it into perspective of what others were playing at the time, you see why lots of guitar hero’s were in awe of this guy.
It is hard to be influenced by something you know you can’t achieve.
I hear ya bud. Might get hung for this, but I think midi and a lot of the tools available to make a song shine, takes away a lot. I look at song patterns that look like a shaved hedge and think mine don’t and never will.
I just had a very strange memory as well, which changed the way I played guitar. Back in the early 90’s, I was struggling getting my guitar to sound anything other than bland. I was getting technically better, and my Van Halen covers were starting to sound a little more exciting, but as soon as I tried playing the David Gilmour solo, it would just sound… flat and boring. Around that time, Whitney Houston released her version of “I will always love you”. I hated this song, and it was number 1 in the UK for 10 whole weeks… I avoided listening to this on radio. One day it started playing as I was sitting practicing with my guitar and I heard her singing the main line to the song. At that moment all I could hear was her voice going from straight, to vibrato - with Houston changing the tone and colour of the voice by opening and closing her mouth. I’m not sure what that’s called technically, but I have never had that experience before or since. It was like her voice was telling me directly how to think about playing notes on the guitar. To this day, when I hold a note on a guitar I apply the Whitney Houston treatment to it. I let it ring, I vibrate it some, then relax, then a little more. I change where I pick the string to change the colour of the note - and to think that my most life changing guitar lesson come from a song I utterly hated!
Love that story! I first heard that song on Linda Ronstadt’s Prisoner In Disguise album, which was another totally formative influence on me musically (although not so much on just guitar playing). I also had a massive crush on her, like many adolescent boys I knew Her version will always be the definitive one for me. And she does something similar with that modulation too.