Sunday, February 4, 2007

Guitar Love

Bill Frisell, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Sean Watkins, Martin Taylor, there's no shortage of great guitarists. Good thing. Can't have enough fine guitar pickin, ever. There's something about six wire strings and fine, old, resonant wood. Or a well-made electric hardbody with Humbuckers.

Maybe it's because the guitar can weep, scream, moan and cajole with such a fluid flexibility that it is an ideal instrument for so many styles. Maybe its because carrying and playing a guitar is relatively easy - at some level; or maybe its because our ancestors started stretching things over wood to make music so long ago that the look, feel and sound is so hard-wired in our subconscious that it evokes a common, shared reaction. Probably all of the above.

My first experience with out-of-the-box guitar playing involved English masters John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. John Fahey and Leo Kotte soon followed, then Doc Watson. About that same time, I was listening to Mayall's Blues Breakers and I discovered Eric Clapton. Later the likes of Toby Page, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Mark Knopfler and Peter Green became my standard guitar fare. Followed by Duane Allman, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana and SRV. Seeing Peter Frampton recently on PBS made me remember some of his early contributions as well. In short order, I had my own "sunburst" Les Paul (1974), and a fine acoustic Guild with a cut-away. Sold the Les a few years back (really shouldn't have done that in retrospect), but I still have and occasionally play the Guild.

I had an opportunity this summer to catch Larry Carlton and Robben Ford playing together at southern Oregon's fine Britt Music Festival. That show was a guitar player's dream. Ford remains my favorite contemporary bluesman, though there are lots of good ones that come in a very close second. I recently discovered the music of Joe Bonamassa, which really rocks. Johnny Lang and Shannon Curfman represent the "youth" movement in traditional hard rock. Both are accomplished guitarists. Curfman totally rocks, and she's just so cute. Punkers don't count in my estimations, as their guitars are utilized primarily as percussion instruments.

Today, Bluegrass guitarists like Sean Watkins and Tony Furtado (when he's not playing his banjo) are adding new directions to the traditional American Folk lexicon. Kelly-Jo Phelps is shaking up the slide guitar world and stylist, Bill Frisell, is fusing all sorts of unusual sounds together in an entirely new guitar tapestry. Knopfler is back, with his wonderfully minimalist style, paired with Country Diva Emmy Lou Harris in a great collaboration. And Los Lonely Boys front man, Henry Garza is a younger version of Carlos. Lots of talent there.

On the Jazz front, the traditions of French Gypsy great Django Reinhardt are being very well maintained by Martin Taylor and Romane. In fact, Django's style and technical ornamentation can be found in a variety of modern, ensemble groups like 8 1/2 Souvenirs and Pink Martini's Dan Faehnle (who joins the band on tour).

Iberian guitar styles, including Flamenco and Portuguese, will be showcased in a future post.

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