As a child, I studied both guitar and piano,
but at the time, it didn't take, although I did learn to read music.
Later, when I got to Jr. High School, I also studied the string bass
which I attempted to play in the school orchestra, but I had no real
interest in the instrument and didn't pursue it.
My real musical education began with the folk
music boom of the late 50s and early 60s. I listened to such commercial
folk artists as the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte. Then after
I started learning to play the guitar I became interested in the music
of Pete Seegar and The Weavers. That very quickly led me to discover
some of the more traditional forms of folk music, specifically old
timey country and blues.I had the incredibly good fortune to drift
into the folk music scene at the
Ash Grove in Los Angeles, where the family moved in 1961. Unlike
a lot of other venues that presented commercial folk acts, the Ash
Grove had a policy of booking more traditional singers.Some of the
blues singers I saw included Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Fred
McDowell, Jesse Fuller, Robert Pete Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Reverent
Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt. On the country side, I saw
Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill
Monroe, Mother Maybelle Carter, etc. the list is endless. I also got
to see such contemporary (at the time) performers as Buffy Saint Marie,
Arlo Guthrie, Jack Elliot, a young and just starting out Jose Feliciano,
as well as many local performers who faded into obscurity.
The Ash Grove was not just my home away from
home, it was my school away from school. I learned more there than
I possibly could have under any othercircumstances. Not just about
guitar playing, but about the roots of American folk music. It was
the best possible education I could have had, and whatever I have
accomplished since then, I was able to do so because I have such a
solid foundation. Even at the time I knew I was privileged to be part
of something very rare and special. In retrospect, I'm astounded that
the club even existed, and eternally grateful that I was able to be
there to see it all.
As I got older, my interest in folk music,
particularly in blues, fell right into place with the burgeoning rock
scene of the late 60s and I got an electric guitar and played in several
local blues bands. One of these metamorphosed into Canned Heat, but
that was long after I had left the group. None of the other bands
I worked with went anywhere. In 1969, when I got married, I gave up
my dreams of becoming a rock star and settled down to work as a guitar
My life and took an unexpected turn in 1975.
I had to meet somebody in a music store, and I got there a little
early, and to pass the time, I picked up a mandolin and started fooling
around with it. (I had been playing the mandolin for about 2 or 3
years at the time). A woman in the store told me she knew of a band
that was looking for somebody who could double of guitar and mandolin.
The band, called Southwest Wind, was a fusion of folk, country, and
bluegrass, with a little bit of rock and blues.
They were the house band at a local restaurant/
bar called the Sagebrush Cantina. This happened on a Thursday. I called
the bandleader that night, and went to his house to pick with him.
He suggested I come to the Cantina the next day and sit in with the
band. I was hired immediately and began
that night. For the next 9 months I played with the band 3 nights
a week. This was my first real professional experience. It was also
my introduction to contemporary country music.
After the band split up, I started playing
guitar at the local country bars. Gigs were plentiful, and after a
while I got a reputation as a player who could get the job done, and
got a lot of calls. it was during this time that I became exposed
to the pedal steel guitar and it was only a matter of time before
I tried to play one. Once I did I was hooked. I came to the conclusion
that I was put on Earth for the specific purpose of playing the pedal
steel guitar. Everything I had done previously had prepared me for
this. I bought a steel and started bringing it to gigs. At first I
mostly played guitar and played only a few tunes on the steel. Slowly
I shifted the balance till I eventually played steel full time for
a number of years.
Eventually the club scene died. The auto plants
closed, and the blue collar audience that frequented the country music
bars moved away. Many of the bars either changed to a Latin music
format to cater to the changing local population, or stopped having
live music altogether. Others went out of business. At the same time
I got tired of the late hours and smoke filled rooms, and developed
an interest in other kinds of music. I continued my love affair with
the pedal steel guitar, but wanted to take the instrument into other
genres besides country.
I had always loved Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.
It was one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. I was also
quite fond of Debussy's music, and so I decided to transcribe these
works for the pedal steel. When I did Afternoon
of a Faun, I deliberately confined the instrumentation to steel,
guitar, and bass. When I recorded the suite, I took the opposite approach,
and used every instrument and sound at my disposal to re-orchestrate
the piece, using Stravinsky's orchestration as a rough guide.
In addition to working on the CD, I also became
a staff writer for the now defunct Steel Guitar World magazine. I
mostly wrote articles about subjects pertaining to the instrument
and reviews of recordings by other players. I wrote an 8 part series
about elementary music theory and how it pertained to the pedal steel.
Several people suggested that I expand these and put them into a book
which I did. Subsequently I deleted all references to the pedal steel,
added some more material and submitted the manuscript to Mel
Bay publications, who picked it up. The book, entitled "Music
Theory In The Real World, A Practical Guide For Today's Musicians"
It doesn't contain any new material not
found in a lot of other books, but it puts the material in terms a
chord strumming guitar player who does not know how to read music
can easily understand.
My second CD is my interpretation of the soundtrack to West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece has become a staple of the relatively new genre of the classical guitar ensemble. I was inspired to record it after hearing the excellent interpretation of it by the Falla Guitar Trio. (I admit it- I’m a fan.)
My latest CD is a program of music from or about Spain. I have always thought Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” was the happiest, most joyful music I have ever heard. I continued the theme of Spanish music from there. This CD, while still basically a showcase for the pedal steel guitar, also contains a great deal of Spanish guitar playing, as is only appropriate given the importance of the guitar in that country’s music and culture.
Iím happy to announce that Iíve recently signed with Laurel records, who will be releasing all three CDs on their label. Recently I have been performing in an experimental chamber music ensemble, the experiment, the experiment being the integration of the pedal steel guitar with traditional orchestral instruments. I am currently working on a set of arrangements for myself and symphony orchestra.