Good question. But, I think the question needs a two part answer centered on Influences and values. Let's talk about influences first.
Good old authentic guitar driven power pop has its roots in the blues. We should probably blame Elvis Presley for moving from Country and Blues into Rock'n'Roll and making it very popular with a predominately white audience. It's probably better to say Elivs was so influential because he embodied both black and white music in the 1950's. But no one person invented it. No one person started rock 'n' roll. It was a black and white alloy of Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Ike Turner, Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly - and Elvis Presley. Presley himself never claimed to have invented rock 'n' roll. But he was no doubt the king. Elvis loved music, but could not read sheet music because he learned to play by ear at an early age in the projects.
In 1955, after Buddy Holly heard Elivs, he switched from country to Rock'n'Roll the next day. Buddy's influence as a guitar driven power pop artist really started in 1956, after he released "That'll Be The Day". You can hear Elvis's influence in Buddy's vocal approach. Even though Buddy tragically died in 1959 at the age of 22, his music didn't die, as proclaimed by Don McLain's, "American Pie." Actually, Buddy's music grew. I heard Buddy's "Peggy Sue" when I was a child on my mom's portable phonograph. And I couldn't tell you what Lubbock, Texas was. (We'll talk about Elvis's influence on ZZTop and how they broke out of the blues scene some other time.)
Today though, let's just suggest guitar was the staple instrument of Rock'n'Roll, with some piano thrown in. I say that because guitars and especially electric guitars were more portable than pianos. And with amplification coming out in the 1930's, guitar caught on quickly in the roughly twenty years that electric amplifiers where invented. And that, more or less, is where my journey to add a body of work to the art form began.
My mom had a Danelectro guitar and a Fender Concert Silverface amp. She used to plug in and sing when I was a boy in our little farm house in New Jersey. Green, Green Grass of Home, a song Elvis used to cover originally recorded by Porter Wagoner, was one of her favorites. My dad would plug in once in a while and play some Ventures. One of my favorites he'd play was "Walk Don't Run". I wouldn't say my family was exceptionally musical, but my family loved and supported music. There were many weekends when my mom or dad would fire up the stereo and drop album after album on the record player stack. I still have the guitar, pictured to the right.
And over time, the amp got sold and the guitar fell into disrepair in the annex connected to hour house by a breezeway. Eventually, we sold the house and moved pretty far away from the old neighborhood. My brother and I changed to a new school, and we found new friends. I fell in love with Surf Rock drums. I begged my mom to get me lessons and a drum kit. She did. Even though it was a pain to get to the music store and take lessons, my mom and dad supported me.
My drum instructor Don Conn, was a Jazz musician and sort of looked down on Rock 'n' Roll. He was a student of the great Paul Patterson, who taught at Music City in Philadelphia. Paul was one of Buddy Rich's students. Music City was visited regularly by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and many more accomplished jazz players. But I wasn't really interested in jazz, or the more or less stuck up way they looked at music. I loved Rock'n'Roll and that was that. It was here that I began realizing my teachers (in school, and in music) didn't so much care so much about me, or what I wanted to do. What they cared about was what they wanted teach me. I started losing interest in lessons. Eventually, I stopped taking them.
As our family grew and changed, my musical tastes expanded beyond those early influences. While I still loved listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys and the like, Boston, KISS and Led Zeppelin came along. Again, guitars where the main instruments. And my interest in drums began falling away. I might be able to keep time and make accents to music, but I wasn't actually creating melody or progression in music.
It was here that I began to take interest in music recording and production. And more importantly, I was teaching myself how to play chords on the guitar using my mom's cheat books and my brother's Vox guitar. I've only had two formal guitar lessons in my life. And I hated them. They were based on Mel Bay's guitar method and I had no time for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", or learning how to read sheet music. Not that I hated education, I just hated how education took the fun out of it.
I learned more from my stepbrother, Jamie, than any of my teachers. Jamie, always had a guitar on him and was playing gigs before I graduated from high school. You see, his education was based on doing. He never did anything in theory. He either did it, or didn't do it. That said, we'd have debates on which approach was better: all feel and no theory, or theory and no feel. In truth, both creative and analytics are needed to make music truly great. That approach is how Randy Rhoads approached it. And that's how I still approach it today. Rhoads threw in classical guitar with a touch of blues (neoclassical heavy metal). Theory + Feel. Randy's solo's are still hold up, and nearly everyone in California mimicked him at one time or another.
I would never, ever compare myself to Rhoads. What I'm saying is I take into account the theory so as to make my compositions sound as elevated as I can. For example, a few of my songs favor Lydian, Mixolydian, and Dorian modes. These become layers I wouldn't otherwise get by "feeling" my way through a song.
Now that we have influences covered, let's cover values.
Go back and listen to led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" and "Black Bird" from the Beatles. Listen carefully. You'll hear something in those recordings you don't hear in today's records: Great timing, simplicity, and serious talent with great production. Both songs start with guitar and a human metronome. When you listen to them side by side, you can see how similar each approach was. Ramble On came out in 1969, Blackbird came out in 1968. That's right! I suspect Led Zep listened to the White Album, just as the Beach Boys did, took a similar approach and exploded that approach as only Zep could do. But there's no denying the two approaches are EXACTLY the same before the chorus.
So now then, why do I admire this approach to music? Well, back then nobody wanted to waste tape. The artists actually PRACTICED over and over until they got their parts down. And this is what separates me from a great many pop artists today. Every other group out there goes into ProTools and finds a guitar loop. Or they play guitar parts recorded separately and loop them.
I don't do this. I don't take short cuts, put music up on a grid, autotune tune my vocals. I don't use clicks, snaps, or a ton of "texture". I let the guitars do the talking. This is what I mean by "authentic guitar driven power pop". I do use the computer to help me figure out my chops, and practice them until I get them right. But I don't build a song with loops on a grid, like so many others do.
How do I know this?
Just this month I took a class in music production. There were 20 students learning how to write and produce songs better taught by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. I was 1/20 songwriters who didn't use "the grid" because I'd rather have human sounding music. Confucius said it best. It's better to have a diamond with a flaw, than a stone without one. Perfect is the enemy of good.
That said, you can always get your free downloads or buy a CD from me if you want to support me. Even though I'm still learning what it means to be a music recording artist I hope I conveyed my influences and values because that's kinda what's in it for you.
So, why I do this? I like authenticity. I want you to hear my influences, while I add a body of work to the pile of great artists who I passionately value. And both of those things seem so far away these days.
Hopefully, you're like me and don't mind going back to 1955 to listen to some seriously talented folks with minimal technology making incredible recordings. One day, I hope to be one of them for real. So, you see? My stepbrother, Jamie, was right. Sometimes, you just have to jump in and stop thinking about it.
I often think, "If I had all the time and money in the world, music would be all I'd ever do." But we all know music is a tough business. Many people just expect music to be free. They may not realize the artist is always to last to get paid, and even then, it's not very much for the amount of time they commit.
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