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Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth's Untold Secrets + Worthy Quotes

Guitar Player, March 1990

Matt Resnicoff

The enigmatic visionary enters the '90s with Secrets, a dizzying work that highlights advancements in his guitar and SynthAxe concepts and - in a most curious breakthrough - satisfies him. Includes a transcription and analysis of the "Joshua" solo.

On an average day, it may take a couple of slow, careful steps to wade safely through the foyer at the Holdsworth residence, which is generally crammed waist-high with pieces of ingoing or outgoing equipment. The day before an I.O.U. tour, allow an extra minute or two. But when Allan is immersed in a recording project, it's best to either pack a lunch or just use the patio door around, because that's the most direct route to the meister's nerve center, The Brewery - home of bottles, boxes, inventions-in-the-rough, and site of much of the sonic outrage captured on Secrets, his latest release.

Allan chose to section the undertaking in a number of crucial but practical subdivisions. For of the eight compositions were submitted by members of the band, two of those feature Allan's electric guitar work. Of the remaining four, written by Allan, two are SynthAxe-based, two feature extended improvisation and two are elegies. The eight pieces were partially tracked at a commercial recording studio; the improvised half of each was recorded here at The Brewery. Then Allan began mixing the album - at home - and spent half his time working on an album with pianist Gordon Beck, and half his time arduously fitting all the pieces together. He went almost a halfyear over schedule, and half his fans went crazy-eights.

Why?

"Because I'm a constant experimenter," explains Allan. "Over the last two albums, when I started using the SynthAxe, I began working with different ways of recording guitar, probably more than I should have. At points during Atavachron, I'd do things like run the amp into one speaker cabinet, mike it, feed that into another amp, and then mike up that cabinet. On The 4:15 Bradford Executive, from Sand, I used two of the little enclosed speaker cabinets I built and drove each with a different amplifier [Ed. note: These small, soundproof cabinets contain movable microphone riggings for placement in relation to the speakers]. Finding things like that can take forever. On this album, I just thought about all the things I learned from the past and tried to consolidate them. I'd say okay look, - this mike sounds good and I'm going to stop putzing with it." I did putz a lot with it in the beginning: I'd record a solo and then two days later erase it all. Jimmy Johnson would keep calling and say, "look, man, don't be erasing." I'd listen to copies of what I erased and think "Oh ,that wasn't so bad." When I start chasing the tone thing, sometimes I really go around in circles."

But Allan is far too judicious to squander time on one element in the picture he wanted to present with Secrets, which is why he chose to mix the tracks at home, away from the financial demands of a studio schedule and the distractions of travel and industry. But this kind of music lives for the bandstand, and he was called away from the console for short tours that waylaid the project even further. "We did a tour with Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy that was just wonderful," he reports, "and in the same tour played with [drummer] Chad and [bassist] Bob Wackerman, and that was wonderful. Then we did a trip to Japan with [drummer] Gary Husband and Jimmy, which was amazing. I'm so stoked to be playing with these guys. As far as I know, they're probably all saying, 'Give me the guitar.' In fact, I tell them that every time: I say, 'Man, the only thing wrong with this band is the guitar player. There's probably a lot of people who would agree with that, and I'm with 'em. They played so great on the alb um, and it makes me feel particularly good, knowing I gave them the kind of freedom I would enjoy."

He's right on the first and last accounts. This band - drummers Colaiuta, Husband, or Wackerman, Johnson, and keyboardist Steve Hunt - is one of the most vital rotating units in electric jazz, and their breathtaking performances stand tall in Allan's crystalline production. From the rich ambience of the drums and Johnson's 5-st'ring Alembic all the way down to the Spaten Franziskaner ale Allan pours as a spirited coda to "City Nights," Secrets is a rich, deep collection of adventurous music that features some of the guitarist's most dramatic electric work, and some of the most expressive guitar-synthesis to be encountered anywhere.

Part of Holdsworth's recording process involves sussing out a feel for the tracks from monitoring the band's basics; because each guitar part was overdubbed, recording solos required a certain period of emotional reaquaintance with the tracks. "As you get more experienced, you get a little bit better at it," he says. "I was familiar with the backing tracks because I'd been in the studio to do them. Sometimes I might like a solo from a guitar point of view - 'Oh, I played pretty well over that section' - but then I'd listen back, and it just wouldn't sound like I was there. Sometimes I do that too much; I might be overly conscious of what's going on, and that's why I want to do the next album differently. I didn't do anything differently than I would have done at the studio, and it still sounded reasonably natural."

The same sensitivity allowed Holdsworth to slip easily between the roles of performer, producer, and engineer. Dissatisfied with the limited range of his equipment, he replaced his monitors with highly accurate Yamaha NS40s, rented an Otari MTR90 tape recorder, and turned in his console for a sweet-sounding Trident. He performed a series of meticulous experiments before settling into any irreversible mixes. "I think I made up for the lack of equipment and studio-level sonic quality by keeping everything balanced. I wanted to make the album sound fairly natural, so I didn't go overboard with any processing. I wanted to make it as clear as I could. I'd go in there and get it EQ'd, do a rough mix to a DAT tape, and then I'd make a cassette and play it everywhere. I'd actually spend the rest of the day playing it in someone else's car, my van, the back room where I have a blaster, and through the NS-40s. If there's any gnarl there, I want to hear it."

For his guitar tones, Allan worked with several pieces of MESA/Boogie equipment, running either a Mark III, Quad Preamp, or .50 Caliber through various combinations of custom enclosed speaker boxes, prototypes of what Rocktron now markets as the Allan Holdsworth Juice Extractor load box, and other assorted gear that best suited each situation. And although his mastery of the SynthAxe controller has taken considerable strides over three years of exploratory use, Allan's loss of contact with the company over unresolved design flaws has cast the instrument into a position of liability, especially for stage work. "It's really hard to push forward," he points out, "because I've got four consoles of which only two work properly, and even those screw up. The last time I went to Japan, it was dropping memory all the time. It's bad enough when you're a guitar player who's already got mission control there, but with all the synthesizers, when the stuff starts going wrong, boy, it starts going wrong. On that last Jap anese trip, I just wanted to throw it away and start playing guitar again.

"I've also always wanted to get a small neck made," Holdsworth continues, "because despite all the things SynthAxe did, which I thought were absolutely awesome - and still do - their mistake was in making the neck so big. We came up with one that was almost 25% smaller, but it was too expensive to get just one made. There are things that are a hell of a pain to play on it, even though I can do them very easily on guitar. I find myself having to think differently about how I'm going to play something, just because I know my hand isn't big enough to grab certain notes. And I know that if the neck was smaller, I'd be able to play stuff that I wouldn't be able to play on guitar That would really open it up for me."

Allan focused his attention on the SynthAxe for With A Heart In My Song, his second album of duos with Gordon Beck since meeting the pianist in London in the mid '70s. The Things You See, released in 1980, contained intimate, compelling duets between acoustic and electric guitar and piano - sort of a space-age take on a Jim Hall/Bill Evans dialog. Beck is one of the few bebop-based musicians Allan has worked with closely, and the guitarist has had to adjust his approach to suit the slightly unfamiliar territory. "I once worked in a band Gordon had for a while in France, which was kind of hard for me because I was like a fish out of water," he recalls. "But the more I played with him, the more I enjoyed it, because it was a way to check my own progress. At one time I probably wouldn't have been able to play on it at all, but because of things I've learned, I actually felt a lot more comfortable playing and soloing over his changes."

Ultimately, Allan's decided knack for steering clear of his obstacles came to fulfill the beauty of Secrets, the next careful step in his ongoing search for sounds. The vehicle, he hopes, will eventually become irrelevant. "People who have followed and liked my music over the years have been pretty forgiving when I wanted to do something different," he admits. "It got a little tough when I started using the SynthAxe. I knew I wanted to get into it, but it was difficult for me to get my own personality to come through, and now I've got it to where it's a lot better. I know the limitations of the instrument, I've come to understand synthesis a lot more, and I feel I've tried to get more of a voice, so that you can hear the musician through the instrument. I'm not saying it's there yet, but it's a lot closer now. It's all a learning experience.

"City Nights"

This is a strong guitar statement, the first to actually open an album since Metal Fatigue.

When the guys played it in the studio, I thought, "Boy, this would be a nice one to use as an opener." It was really hard for me to decide the order of the tracks, because although there's a lot of intensity on the tunes, there are a lot of ballads. It made it easier when I stopped thinking of them in terms of slow tunes versus fast tunes. I sequenced the album through the intensity of each track. Gary Husband, who wrote the tune, played keyboards. He played a ridiculous keyboard solo on his demo, and that inspired me: "Gee, I can't fall asleep on this tune, because I just heard what he did on it."

Your tone has a little more bite than it did the last couple of records.

A lot of that is because I started using Boogie stuff. One of the other things I'd been perfecting over time was my little load box, the Juice Extractor. When I combine that with certain miking methods, it worked great. On this track, I ran a Mark III Boogie with the Juice Extractor into the Boogie 295 [power amp], and recorded if with a Neumann TLM17D microphone with a James Demeter mike preamp. I used that mike setup for all the guitar solos.

Did finding desirable sounds through the SynthAxe allow the guitar to resume a hard-edged role in your music?

Well, not really. Sometimes you can get lost in experiments. I think the last couple of years I was disappearing a bit with the guitar, not because I was happy with what I was doing; I was trying different things because I was dissatisfied with just plugging into the amp and cranking up. I wanted to work with the regular, distorted guitar sound so I could mold and control it, instead of having it play me. When I tried one of the newer Boogies about a year ago, it sort of made me flash back. Using all the little tweaks I learned, I found I could actually control the tone I liked.

It sounds like you're sweep-picking the beginning of the solo.

No, I don't do that. I can't do that. It's just that normally I don't arpeggiate things in the way that's become fashionable. I remember when I first started playing, my dad had all these books for me to practice on: Everybody was familiar with Paganini's Caprices, and arpeggios were something you practiced but didn't play. It's always inspiring to hear somebody like Frank Gambale do it - I couldn't play arpeggios the way he does, but I can play them the way I do. I've practiced playing scales where you put the accent anywhere, whether on a note you pick or one you don't. You can say, "I'm going to play four notes and accent the second note, but I'm only picking the first note." So you make the first a really gentle touch, and then you have to whack the string with your finger on the second. For the third you can be a little slower when it hits the fret, and so on, so that eventually you can put the accent where you want it. Over the years I've learned that by using the legato technique, I can physically play anything that anyone else can play anyway, just by accenting unpicked notes and finding different fingerings. But it's easy for me to do that, because that's how I play.

One problem with legato technique is that it tends to make you play all the notes running in one direction, and that's something I tried to stop doing two or three years ago. I try not to play more than three or four notes going in one direction. You realize that it's too easy, that your fingers are doing the walking, as John Scofield says. When I read that, it made me start rethinking it.

The ale at the end of the tune was a Spaten Franziskaner poured into a weissbier glass. I had to waste a couple, actually, being a bit of a madman on the recording. I finished up not being able to drink them all, and I was getting out of control trying to record it. Luckily, I made it with the third bottle. Gary's been known to have a bit of fun after the gig, and it was his title for the tune:

If we play in a big city, as soon as the gig's over that's about the first sound we'll hear.

"Secrets"

I think of "Secrets" as a song, but primarily as a vehicle to improvise over. The harmonic structure of the piece was inspired by a thought I had about how no one can ever really figure out what anybody else is thinking. And Rowanne Mark is really fantastic at taking an idea and creating lyrics. Apart from that, she sings fantastically. Quite often with me, titles come as I'm writing something, but this time there was only a feeling. I also usually write the melody after the chords, but on this piece I played the melody as the top line of the chord voicings.

On almost the whole album I used an Oberheim Matrix 12 and an Xpander, a Kurzweil Expander, and some Yamaha TX synth modules. Most of it turns out to be the Oberheims and the Kurzweil. The solo sound on "Secrets" is a mixture of the Xpander and a TX7 module; I have the Steinberg Synthworks program to work with that synth. FM synthesis doesn't kill me, but having a couple of those units is useful. I was looking for something like a cello tone that I could get a bowed quality from. I wanted it to have more of a string feel than a blown feel. I'm not saying that's what I achieved, but that's what I was going for.

So you didn't use the breath controller.

I did. That's what I use to control the dynamics. I use the breath controller to do things I would have done with a bow, like pulling harder, laying off and being more gentle, and then doing staccato notes where you bounce the bow.

When you play loud, staccato notes, do you blow intermittently or just blow hard and use left-hand articulation to determine the notes' shape?

Most of the time I use it with normal guitar technique, and I'll be blowing constantly hard with the envelope open all the way. I use the air to control velocity alone. If I were playing a bunch of sixteenth-notes and wanted them really hard, I'd be blowing really hard, so all of the notes I was playing would come from what I was doing with my right and left hands, not the breath controller. I'm not using it to dictate the way the note is played; it's only shaping it after it's been played. It's not part of the function of getting the note out, like it would be on a true wind instrument.

"54 Duncan Terrace"

My late friend Pat Smythe was a very inspirational character, a wonderful piano player, and a very musical, mellow guy. He played the nicest chords, and his technique was very delicate. He had this old Bluthner piano and got a great sound. His original tunes were always so pretty. I got the first four chords of this and said, "Man, that sounds like Pat." Originally, the long solo section in the beginning was going to be for myself, and then I thought it would be really great to get Alan Pasqua to put some acoustic piano on it. He's just incredible; he played a beautiful solo.

The distortion splashes near the beginning and end were the SynthAxe through a Rockman. For the rhythm guitar I ran the Boogie Quad Preamp straight onto the tape machine, without a microphone. I'd never done that before. At home, I have a couple of good mike preamps and line amplifiers, so I don't have to run anything through the console. That way, I'm only monitoring on the console, and I can bypass all the electronics. I try a couple of different mike preamps or line amps to see which one best reproduces that particular sound. That gives you more coloration flexibility when you're mixing, because I don't think the best results come from mixing and recording on the same console. It's quite often preferable to record on one thing and play back on another.

I was considering an acoustic solo on this one. I tried recording it in my room, and it was just too noisy. If a car drove by, you'd hear it, because I'd have to have the mike really cranked. I guess I don't really have any technique on the acoustic anymore; I was getting all these noises with my hands, so I just bailed on it and went for something unusually percussive with the SynthAxe: a sampled mixture of steel-string guitar, harp, and synthesized guitar. Jimmy Johnson plays a great, really beautiful solo after Pasqua's solo, and then I do the short solo at the end. It was kind of a strange feeling, playing with that sound.

Is it any more difficult to play a legato line when a synth patch isn't predisposed to smooth transmission?

It makes it sound different. I played a couple of legato lines, but they just came out like somebody trilling a hammer on a xylophone; they don't have the natural sustain.

"Joshua"

How do you get the guitar to scream like that, but within control?

This might sound like bull, but I've got the most control I ever had over any guitar

sound since I started using the plastic Steinberger, the GM2T. I just love that guitar, man. Boogie sent me this little .50 Caliber that uses EL84 output tubes, my favorite tubes. They have an aggressive yet soft, spongy tone, and it just went. That guitar and amp worked perfectly for that track. It wouldn't have been so good on "City Nights," where the notes sputter out more, but on this the notes were longer-toned, so it was great. The way you strike the string with the pick and then move your finger, you can get it to change vowel sounds, like an oo to an ee, and I really love that. On a bad amplifier it always goes the other way, from an ee to an oo. That's the way I test amps: If you can have a note go to ee and stay like that, then it's great. I ran the .50 Caliber into the Extractor, into the [???], and recorded it with the TLM17O, straight to the tape machine.

This is a textbook example of how you de-emphasize the pick sound.

You have to make your finger hit the fret just a fraction of a second apart from when the pick strikes the string, and then it won't have the front on the note. A lot of other times I'll use the little finger itself to start the note, just to zap the string on the head right at that fret for the first note, and that'll be it. I do that pretty often. Like I said, I've practiced a lot to emphasize different notes, because I hated it when I used to listen to what I'd done, and I'd say, "There's the pick; here's the hammer; there's the pick." I thought, "Screw that; I want to make it so you can't tell which one's which."

The whammy bar must be effective in helping to do that, too.

Oh, it is, because once the string's in motion and you use it really delicately, when you hit that next note with the string and then just tweeze on the bar a little bit, it emphasizes the effect. The bar's good for keeping strings going.

Are you noticing a refinement in your general bar technique?

I don't use the whammy bar as much as I used to, because it's become just like a fashion. When I first started using it and heard other guys using it, it was something that you didn't hear that often, so it was okay. But after a while I realized that once everybody starts doing it - and they inevitably will - it doesn't have any meaning anymore; it's become something normal, and therefore something to be avoided. For me.

"Spokes"

Because I long to be a wind player - I always wanted to play saxophone - when I go to a synthesizer to create a sound, that's usually where I start. I'm not trying to replicate anything specific; I just say, "Well, let's try and get a wind-instrument-from-Mars tone." So long as it's a wind instrument, that's all that matters. I quite liked the sound on "Spokes," which is just a lone Oberheim Xpander. In the middle, I had a second Xpander detuned a tone away from the first, and faded that in during the middle section where Jimmy and Vinnie are just completely reaming. I wanted to leave it kind of open there for the bass and drums to do a bit of savaging.

I'm a big cycling fan, and I started hearing that bass thing when I was out on my bike, just reaming out there in the hills. The line started out as a regular toy riff, a lot stiffer than the one Jimmy finished up just taking to the cleaners. And his tone is so pure; he can plug into a sideboard and sound awesome. He's the only guy I've ever met like that: Straight into the studio board, it just sounds like the largest, longest amplifier. I wish I was the same.

"Maid Marion"

Steve Hunt, who wrote this and "Joshua," has really got his own sound, and I often try to use a patch to complement him. When we've done this track live, I kind of ripped off one of his patches because I didn't have anything else that sounded any better. I might flounder a bit, but most of the time, I stay away from anything that sounds like a keyboard. I won't use any piano-type patches, and Steve almost always has a little piano-type patch somewhere in there. They may be less distinguishable on that track than on others, but it didn't bother me, because the solo sections were really open. We just had that one pedal C, and when he was playing the intro chords, I was playing the melody.

How important is that space in making a tune work dynamically?

Well, because of the peaceful vibe Steve wanted for it, I didn't know if it would work, especially live. Sometimes it'll be really inspired, and other times you can't get anything. But that's because of the fixed tonality. We might play "Devil Take The Hindmost" [Metal Fatigue], the only other tune in the set with no chords in it, and think, "Oh, yeah, we can have fun now," but often the chords help you think of things to play.

Again, I used the Oberheim Xpander. To record, I take the output of the synthesizer and then I run it through a mike or line preamplifier, straight off to the tape machine. I normally use both oscillators and have all six voices in rotation, but on this I used three different sounds mixed together, so there were three voices rotating instead of six. The rotation thing doesn't make a big difference, but if you get less than three, it starts to sound funny, because quite often one note will still be sounding when another one comes off. Plus, if you make a mistake or get a glitch, that eats up that other voice, and then it sounds really funny. All of a sudden, the notes turn off because you flicked a string.

"Peril Premonition"

This is a great piece by Chad Wackerman, so different from anything I would write. He recorded it on his sequencer at his mum's house, using real drums. It had this really perilous vibe; it always sounded like something was going to happen, as opposed to nothing keeping happening, which is what normally happens when I try to play. The solo began immediately - from the first second, beginning to end, it's completely improvised. Whichever one I used of the 20,000 takes I did, that's how it was from the outset.

We did it really differently. When Chad came down to the garage, we sequenced all the parts on the multi-track, and I soloed over that before they put on the bass and drums. That track has a really, really live feel, and it made me think about that for the future. Although I had done a couple of things with sequencers in the past, I had always waited to do the solo last. When I play with a backing track, I'm concentrating on what the other guys are playing, saying, "Oh I can't play this, because he did that. This time I just did what I wanted. Then I called Chad and his brother Bob, and they went down to Front Page Studio and played the drums and bass live, and that was it. I would have never thought it would work, but it did.

I also took a really different recording approach: I ran the output of a Boogie Quad Preamp into the power amp of the .50 Caliber, and put that into the Extractor. Everybody knows now that 75% or more of the tone of a great tube amplifier comes from the power amp. If you plug a preamp straight into a recording console, it's the worst sound ever. You have to use power tubes, and since the Quad is a preamp, I needed to feed it into a power amp before I could Extract it. I didn't want to use a big power amp, because I would have had to make the Juice Extractor glow red.

This track also marks your first vocal performance [in] quite some time.

We kept thinking about all these times, particularly in Paris, where you leave a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, and no matter how big that thing is, man, the maid'll be there breaking your door down at sunrise. We had some really funny experiences with Gary Husband when we first took the band to Paris and somebody was pounding on the door. He got up out of bed, and the maid had actually come into the room, got hold of the sheets, pulled them back over but didn't change them, didn't change his towels, and then left. Not only that, but there's usually someone down the street with a pneumatic drill that's starting at 7:00 in the morning, and there's some guy in the next room fixing the plumbing. Those sounds and voices at the beginning are just a bit of humor; Claire, my wife, is saying in French, "Open the door, I've got to clean up the room."

"Endomorph"

Like a lot of kids, when I was growing up I was kind of stubborn, and although I obviously loved my parents, I didn't always show it - kids can be like that. I think they knew I loved them and cared about them, but I was just not very good at telling them. After my dad passed away, I started feeling unusually sad, particularly so because I was always left wondering if he ever did know how much I loved him.

I tried writing some lyrics for this piece, but I couldn't express them. I called Rowanne, played it for her and explained the feeling, and that I wanted the title to be "Endomorph," something that's trapped inside something else, just the way I felt. She wrote it, and like she usually does, she just put a big frog in my throat. She did the same thing with "All Our Yesterdays," from Atavachron: I was just in tears, man. It was incredible. She'd written words that said more than I would have imagined I ever could have. The problem was that I'd written it for me, and it was just outside her range. She could sing it up an octave, but I wanted the melody to be inside the register of the chords. We tried transposing it, and it started not sounding dark or somber enough. I remember my dad used to say, "This tune sounds great in this key." Then he'd play it in a lot of different keys and say, "But listen - it doesn't sound right in this one." Sometimes you can get away with a half-step in either direction, but even then it often doesn't work. I tried it again myself, and I couldn't do it, man. I might have been able to 10, 15 years ago, but I was just croaking and sounding terrible. A few people tried, and then Craig Copeland, whom I met through Chad - who introduced me to Rowanne, as well - came in, and he really sang it great.

Under the second verse there's a weird, ominous undercurrent.

It was actually a resampled voice. It was taken way out of key, completely off, then we took other samples at different notes, mixed them together, and made another sample as the combination of all of them in that one note. Sonically, it wasn't as nice as I would have liked, but it did the job inasmuch as it had the spooky vibe about it - there's a lot of air in the sound. I'd also been working with the Steinberg Tx7 programmer, to get something to simulate the unique sound of a PPG synthesizer. I did two PPGish sounds and blended those with the voice sound That was the bulk of the piece.

Did the piece come off with the kind of emotional breadth you'd intended?

I don't know. By the time I finish an album, I'm numb. I don't even know whether any of it's good. You think, "Oh, Jesus, what did I just play? Was that the biggest load or what?" There's no way to know. You just say, "I think it was alright," and try again the next day. But sometimes you just have to get away from it. You have to remember what it was feeling like to you when you first did it. I usually come up with the idea really quick, so if the feeling is strong enough in the beginning, when I strike on something I think is okay, it will usually return later. Quite often I work to a point where I just can't tell. I won't listen to it for a while, and then I'll hear it later and go, "Yeah. It was alright."

Worthy quotes

By MR

Although he makes use of guitars and amps for much of his music, Allan Holdsworth isn't even close to being a conventional guitarist - never wanted to be, in fact. Drawing his concepts from saxophonists such as Oliver Nelson and John Coltrane, he's forged a virtually unbounded linear approach and a remarkable chordal flair that have stretched ears and fingers for nearly 20 years of recording. His mastery of the cumbersome SynthAxe was critically validated by three consecutive sweeps in the Guitar Synthesist category of Guitar Player's Reader's Poll.

Regardless of whether he likes it, Holdsworth's ceaseless innovations and unswerving standards have secured his place on the evolutionary timelines of both jazz and rock guitar. His unique perspective on these achievements cast as much light on the man as does his music. Here, then, are some particularly pithy Allan Holdsworth solos.

Fusion Blues

I was really looking forward to a European tour that was supposed to follow the release of my latest album with [pianist] Gordon Beck, With A Heart In My Song. We were going to go out as a duo and play material from the album, and I was really excited because it was going to be the only tour I'd ever done where I'd only play SynthAxe - I wasn't going to take a guitar. It was going to be acoustic piano and some synthesizer stuff, with some rhythmic things that were sequenced. The guy from the record company called and told us that when they learned of my involvement, everybody over there said, "Oh, no; that guy's a rock player." It just put them off. I feel really frustrated by that, because I don't really see the music I play as rock at all. I mean, I can see its roots, but I think they must just hear the tone; a somewhat distorted guitar sound, and automatically the music goes right by; all they can think is "Oh, this is rock." It's a weird world.

Another Kind Of Passion

When the new kid on the block plays more notes, then everybody says, "Oh, it's not happening." But then, five years later, when they figure out that guy wasn't playing very many notes at all, because the new guy's playing twice as many notes, they accept the other guy, and they say of the new guy, "Oh, but he doesn't play with any feeling." I don't really pay any attention to it. I don't think music has anything whatsoever to do with how many notes anybody plays. I've tried in the past to make something have some sort of passion to it with less notes, but at times I like it

fiery - that's passionate in another way, But I do think that some guys don't play with any feeling at all. Another thing that's so funny about some of the really hairy metal monsters I hear, is that it's as though they just took, a [ProCo] Rat distortion and D.I.'d it into a console, but because they're playing lot of notes, you don't hear the sound , and then when they sit on a note for a minute [you] go, "Oh, yuk!" It's terrible! It's just the gnarliest thing I ever heard.

The Precious Past

As time goes on, things move forward in some directions, but backward in others. It's like the quality of an automobile; they can make a car go faster, but it's not made like it used to be. People say that .all the time. There are some really deep, really incredible high-quality things you can get [from] the past. For example, a saxophone player [who's starting up right now] might not have heard anything {further] back than Michael Brecker, who's absolutely incredible. But when you go back and hear some of the older guys, then you realize - well, I did - that all these guys who came up afterwards and tried to sound like them never really did sound like them at all. There was something missing. When I go back and listen to a Charlie Parker recording, he sounds unbelievable; it's so fresh. You have to wade through the poor sound quality of the recordings, but boy, it was happening! Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane, man, those guys were unbelievable. Some of those Miles Davis albums both of them were on - wow, that was something. As things move forward, something else moves back. It's inevitable, because that's the nature of things. It's really great for people to go back and have a look, because otherwise they're really going to miss something. Things get lost that should never have gotten lost.

Winds Of Change

I find that people - and particularly guitar players - tend to create barriers. It's kind of like the stories you hear about somebody like Adolf Sax [who invented the saxophone in 1846] - man, I almost cried when I read the story about that guy. I mean, he invented a musical instrument and was punished for it; he and his family were given a hard time, just for his invention. Like the electric guitar, the saxophone for a long time wasn't even considered a musical instrument by classical people, or people with closed minds who weren't willing to accept that something can come along and do something different. And there he was, a persecuted guy who invented a really great instrument; there's nothing that sounds like a saxophone - nothing. It indicates the amount of time it takes for people to accept something.

Of Pain...

I know what I'm trying to do, what I've done, what I haven't done, and what I can't do. It's too big to think that anything was worth anything. I can get on with it and just hope that one day I could elevate my playing to such a high level that it was undeniable that something was happening, but at the same time, no one knew what it really was. Then I guess I'd either be in heaven or in hell. That'll never happen, but you just keep chasing that dream. That's all you can do really. It gets harder as you get older, because after a while you realize that every being has its own end, and when someone else is coming up at a different time, they're going to hear things completely different. I don't expect to get anything really happening.

On this tour we just did in London, there were a couple of nights that I felt that I played so bad I couldn't believe it. I mean, some of it I might have psyched myself into, and got depressed because being back in England reminded me of all the years I spent struggling there. That nothing-keep-happening-syndrome. But there was one night in Manchester, I was so disgusted with my playing after the gig, I just left. I couldn't talk to anybody. I've been getting better. I've tried to hide it. I used to come offstage and say, "Oh, that was the worst. I played so bad." Then I thought, well, these people are trying to say that they liked it, and telling them it was horrible is kind of making a mockery of them, and I didn't want to do that, so I keep my mouth shut, even if I felt that way. But this gig was so bad that I just split. I couldn't stay there, man, I could not have talked to anybody, and I got a letter from a guy saying that he was really pissed off that I left, that I didn't talk to him and be a nice guy like the others in the band. He said he understood the feeling, but he couldn't have, because if he had, he'd have left, as well. That was the worst one for a few years. I mean, I haven't actually felt that bad for along time, so if that guy reads this, I'm sorry; that's the way it is, and if it happened again, I'd do the same thing.

...And Pleasure

The joy in music is in the music. I do actually get great joy from it, and great joy from playing. I love music with such a big passion, it's overriding. I can't say how big it is, but it's big. I love trying to play, I love learning about music, and it always seems that every year, I learn more in that year than I did in the previous 20, so I'm happy in that respect. Sometimes I play something to myself in the garage or to myself and feel pretty good about it. Everybody does, and then when they get out onstage, it all falls apart. But I enjoy it before I go on. I look forward to it. So I want to go out and do it, but I always fail. Like that night in Manchester - I'll walk away from it, and the next day I I'll go, "I want to be better so much because of that"; because that was so bad, I have to struggle with myself and go. I can't let that feeling take hold on me. I've got to beat it. I've got to figure out why this happens to me and just keep pushing.

"Man, you're the greatest"

It's embarrassing. What do you say? I'm just trying to do what I do, and it's marvelous that somebody else likes it. It's really, really flattering, but I feel like I want to run away. It makes me cringe. I don't know what to do, other than just stand there and say "Thank you very much". But at the same time I'm saying "Thank you very much", I almost hear me as agreeing with them, and I hate that. I don't want to agree with them. In one way it's great that somebody likes what you're trying to do, and that's really a wonderful thing, that the music touches people - that's what music's for; it touches me, and it's the greatest thing, but I'm still embarrassed when people say things like that to me.

Does it happen a lot?

[Pause.] A little bit.

What it is

It's okay that there are a lot of guitar players in my audience, I expect that if I played bass, I'd want to go see Jimmy, or if I played drums, I'd want to see Gary. That's healthy. But I'd just love it if there were more people at our gigs who weren't involved with music. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen, because the music doesn't get to them. It's only the people who are involved in it that find out about it, because they're in a different kind of circle. And that's one of the things that really disappoints me, especially as I've gotten older, because now I realize that I'm never going to reach anybody. We're never really going to find out who would have liked it or who would have hated it, because they're never gonna hear it to know. But what can you do? We live at a time when this is happening, and it's not just happening to me; it's happening to millions of struggling musicians. We're getting more and more into this monopolies kind of thing; this record company buys out that record compa ny, and then you realize that if Sony had bought CBS before, for example, they could have killed vinyl immediately, because they owned all the technology for the DAT machine, and then the DAT machine and the CD would have been out. It's all money. That's what it is. It's the same in everything: the little guy is struggling to make it without the big bucks to even make people aware of the fact that there's something out there they might be interested in. Now unfortunately, the music business is ahead of the music. Everything's ass-about-face. But it's cool. The little guys have to fight it, and that's what we're doing. We just have to keep going.

Transcribed by Per Stornes
Updated: February 1, 2001
Scheduled update: None

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