Tag Archives: Fingerstyle

Stefan Grossman, The Work & Worry Interview – PART 3

Raymond_Stefan_LakeWell, what a ride it has been.  In PART 1 of this interview we mostly talked about guitars, and in PART 2 we covered the European folk scene in the ’60s and ’70s.  We wrap up our interview with some thoughts on his work in the here and now…

W&W – Do you feel like itʼs come back around at all? In part because of the work youʼve done, so many more players are playing acoustic blues guitar, innovating…

Stefan – Some of it is great. Guy Davis… Eric Bibb, great singer, great guitar arrangements. There are other younger black players, white players that are really terrific. Iʼve contributed a certain amount, but Iʼm sure Ericʼs [Clapton] Robert Johnson records and unplugged records contributed much, much more. When The Rolling Stones do “Prodigal Son” or “You Gotta Move”, that really turns people on. One thing is for sure, if Eric Clapton does a Skip James tune, or Barbecue Bob – he did a great version of “Motherless Child” a number of years back – that doesnʼt increase Barbecue Bob sales, maybe by a half of a percentage point, but the kids are relating to a white singer singing that, not some old guy from the ʻ20s.

But you can just go on YouTube! I discovered Tom Feldmann, weʼre doing a lot of work with Tom now, I discovered him on YouTube and heʼs a great player! I must talk to Tom via the internet twenty times a day…

W&W – Tom has an upcoming instructional DVD on Son House, right?

Stefan – Thatʼs not out yet, but yes, and heʼs done Blind Willie Johnson, the gospel music of John Hurt… heʼs mostly a slide player. So weʼve got a new one coming out, Masters of Bottleneck Blues Guitar, a Fred McDowell lesson, Son House, Bukka White have been recorded, weʼre just waiting to get the TAB back. Heʼs a great player, heʼs 33! He turns me on to guys on YouTube.

W&W – Before today, I had wondered if Stefan Grossmanʼs Guitar Workshop was maybe located in your house, or if had offices, a warehouse somewhere…

Stefan – Well, historically if you wanted to run a “business”, you had to get a building, offices, warehouse, all that stuff. As a result, you have a DVD that retails for one amount, youʼre wholesaling it for another…

Our idea was that we wanted it lean and mean. So we have distributors, Mel Bay, Rounder Records, City Hall Records, in England itʼs Music Sales. So weʼll sell to Mel Bay at a certain price and theyʼll warehouse the stuff, or weʼll pay a little extra to have things warehoused at our DVD manufacturer in New York.

Raymond_Stefan_ConversationW&W – And theyʼll do the fulfillment to places like Mel Bay…

Stefan – Exactly. So we try to keep it as simple as possible, and the only thing we run out of here is the mail order. Susan [Steel] takes care of that, completely. So as a result, we had to find a house that had a large basement! Weʼve got a lot of stuff in there. Every week, Susan will place an order from the DVD manufacturer, 10 of this, 20 of this, to make sure the shelves are full here… but most of the DVDs are warehoused at the manufacturer in New York.

W&W – Would you say that, at this point, youʼre out of the traditional record business? That is to say that if you discovered a young player that you were crazy about, who had original material, that you wouldnʼt feel compelled to put out their album?

Stefan – Well it used to be that you wanted to be signed to a company, because they could send out five thousand promo records to every radio station in the country. Nowadays, my advice to anyone is to do your own CD, and sell it at gigs yourself. You wonʼt be able to send out those five thousand copies, but if the CD is a vehicle to make money and spread your music, do it yourself. I canʼt do any better.

In the old days, a label like Windham Hill was successful because they were in the northwest and the radio stations would just play the hell out of the albums! It was at the right time. Nowadays that doesnʼt happen… people donʼt buy CDs, they expect everything for free! Our CDs, weʼre able to sell them because they have PDF files on them, this added value… but now everyone can make a CD. It used to be that if you had a vinyl record or a CD, it meant that you had arrived at a certain point in your professional life as a musician. But now, a kid at two years old can make a CD! The whole business has totally changed. Now you can fill up a hall because you have a hit on YouTube, like Andy McKee. He can fill up halls all over the place. It used to be the records, now itʼs the views.

W&W – Physical media is on the wane, and youʼve now got an on-demand service. Is it as successful as youʼd hoped it would be?

Stefan – Yes! For us, it hasnʼt decreased the amount of hard-copy DVDs that we sell, but it has increased the outreach of the material. Itʻs really convenient for people overseas, you donʼt have to pay postage, duties. That has really been great. And with the on-demand, weʼve been able to do what we havenʼt been able to do with physical: people have been asking for single lessons, and now you can get single tunes, on- demand. So that has been going very well. Itʼs increasing the possibilities.

W&W – Teaching-wise, do you feel that anything is being lost with the video being the primary method these days? Not everyone can have a great teacher to study with…

Stefan – The people that do instructional videos for us do teach, the DVDs arenʼt just glorified performances. We do those on Vestapol, our Guitar Artistry DVDs. But I believe that on the instructional videos, the person really needs to be able to instruct. Initially, in the early days of DVDs, we werenʼt able to put PDFs on them. So I thought that the one thing the audio lessons had was that if I was going to teach “Stagger Lee” by Mississippi John Hurt, I could actually put a track on there of John Hurt playing it. But now the DVDs have it all. They have the lessons, the audio tracks and bonus video performances. We try to pack as much as we can into it.

W&W – Is there a lot of renumeration involved with the work youʼre producing now, the families of the old blues players?

Stefan – All of it! If Iʼm going to do a DVD on Freddie King, I contact Wanda King, we have an agreement with her… if Iʼm doing The Guitar of Freddie King, itʼs different, I would contact the publishers. But morally, I feel like you have to do that. Unfortunately, in most cases the artists are gone, so weʼre contacting the estates. The only one that was weird was Son House, after he passed away his wife just wouldnʼt open the envelopes… she thought it was devilʼs music!

W&W – My last question… in the last year, youʼve released serious instructional DVDs on Lonnie Johnson, youʼve got Ernie Hawkins doing Big Bill Broonzy, Lightninʻ Hopkins, etc… so itʼs going on 100 year that a lot of this music has been around, and thereʼs still so much to uncover. Are there particular blues players that you feel will represent the next wave of discovery?

Stefan – Well, with the blues guys, there was a fixed amount of players who were truly great, who would interest guitar players. You have blues players, like John Lee Hooker, whoʼs a great player and musician, but I wouldnʼt make an instructional DVD of his style, necessarily. It is a finite amount. The hard part is to find the teacher who has gotten it completely. Like Ernie Hawkins is great for Gary Davis, Ari Eisinger is incredible for Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller…

With someone like Reverend Gary Davis, a normal company would release one or two DVDs and thatʼs it… because they donʼt want the DVDs competing with each other. But I donʼt care! We put out a four volume set, three double-DVD sets, and Ernie probably has enough to even go into the key of F… well, that ainʼt commercial! Thatʼs not how a business should operate!

W&W – But thereʼs a historical imperative!

Stefan – Sales-wise, I just donʼt care… itʼs important. Itʼs history being made, trying to put this music onto guitar. Ari, he works very slow, but thereʼs different projects I want for him.. Tom Feldmann, we have a whole list of projects for him to do.

What Iʼm trying to do is document those styles. The music is timeless, and learning to play in these styles, with these techniques, that should live on forever.

An immense thank you to Stefan and his family for their hospitality during our visit. Please go to http://www.guitarvideos.com to see all of the wonderful offerings from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop.

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Review: Davy Graham “Anthology: 1961-2007 Lost Tapes” CD (Les Cousins, 2012)

davygrahamlostWell, I’ve had myself a very busy year thus far… lots of travelling, playing, recording etc and it has resulted in a shortage of new material here on Work & Worry.  I’ve amassed quite a backlog of very worthy discs for review consideration, and now that I’m determined to get back on that journalistic horse, one release in particular looms larger than most: a triple-disc set of previously unheard recordings from one of the most important fingerstyle guitarists of all time, Davy Graham.  Many consider Graham to be “ground zero” for the guitar-centric British folk and blues revival of the early sixties, and indeed it is hard to imagine that landscape without his influence.  Legendary guitarists like Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Wizz Jones, and a host of others have expressed a debt of gratitude to the man who is widely considered to be the first known practitioner of DADGAD tuning, an innovation that has had a massive affect on not only solo acoustic guitar playing, but also the continuing evolution of traditional Irish and Scottish music… but Graham’s reputation is based on so much more, like his introduction of Baroque-inspired counterpoint on the folk guitar (“Anji” to this day is still considered a total game changer) and his expansive use of musical motifs from every possible source, from traditional British Isles tunes to American folk, blues and jazz, to mysterious modal compositions from the orient and beyond. Continue reading

Review : Pino Forastiere “From 1 to 8” CD/MP3 (CandyRat, 2011)

forastieri_PinoPino Forastiere’s new album, From 1 to 8, presents seven studies for solo acoustic guitar with one overdubbed trio piece. Being issued on Candyrat Records ensures that the listener will be treated to a fair amount of technical prowess, a few tricks, possibly tapping, and a heightened compositional approach. This record does not disappoint. If anything, it raises certain expectations for other artists. Forastiere’s compositions are full of gnarled progressions that venture away from the theme, double back unexpectedly, and take the listener on a welcomed journey. Set in a modern guitar style, a classical background hides behind all of these compositions. The playing is exquisitely clean and the recording is reasonably true – not too crisp and not too much reverb. While technique abounds, there is a strong human feel to the playing. Continue reading

Interview : Mike Tamburo

Mike-prayer-poseI sat down over tea with composer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Tamburo, near his home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  We talked at length about the arc of his musical career from the middle half of last decade to present.  Mike will be on tour starting in July, supporting his latest recording as Brother Ong, Mysteries of the Shahi Baaja Volumes 1 & 2.

W&W: It seems like whenever I’m out performing there will inevitably be someone who, after finding out I’m from Pittsburgh, asks: “How’s Mike Tamburo?  Make sure you tell him that I said hello.”

(Laughs)

W&W: The community that’s loosely formed around guitar music tends to be a small world.  You’ve obviously made your way around it and left a positive impression.  Can you reminisce for a bit about the years when you were touring extensively: where all did you go and who were some of your touring companions?

First of all, tell them all that I’m fine. (laughs again)  In 2005, I decided that I wanted to permanently stay on tour.  I’d just been through a traumatic shift in my life… honestly, at that time music was the only thing that I had.  I didn’t really know where to start.   A lot of people were connecting for the first time through the internet.  So I started reaching out to people that way, booking shows during the three week period before I left.  Nick Schillace found me and suggested we go out on tour together.  I listened to his music, which was incredible, and said “let’s give it a try.”  Other than talking to him on the phone I didn’t know anything about him or his life…

W&W: It’s a quick way to get to know someone!

(laughs) … definitely, and we were headed through a part of the country that’s a little bit harder to tour in, making our way from Detroit to Seattle.  I remember South Dakota was very difficult.   We ended up playing at a Christian Bookstore and I accidentally offended the promoter.  It’s one of the memories that is sure to keep Nick and I close (laughs again)… we endured the “red” states together, and parts of the country that neither of us had any experience with.  We had beautiful shows in Iowa City, Nebraska, Minneapolis (where I met Paul Metzger) and Seattle.  By the end of it, Nick had become one of my closest friends.  His older songs feel like the soundtrack to my life during that time. Continue reading

Review : Yair Yona “World Behind Curtains” LP/CD (Strange Attractors Audio House, 2012)

Yair_WorldWorld Behind Curtains is the second album by Israeli guitarist and composer Yair Yona. His debut effort, Remember, was a charming nod to the work of American pickers like Glenn Jones and the late Jack Rose, with Yona building on those guitarists’ post-Takoma palette with a few indie rock touches and some ensemble playing to fill out the sound. Well if Remember sounded full, World Behind Curtains is bursting at the seams! Throughout the disc, Yona’s fiery acoustic fingerpicking is augmented by lush orchestration and carefully arranged instrumental interplay, ranging from the tender, to the sinister, to the ambitiously cinematic.

The tender: First single “It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humidity” finds Yona in Bert Jansch mode, and the guitarist says that the track was inspired by Jansch’s 1979 masterpiece Avocet. It’s not hard to make that comparison, especially at the beginning of the track where Yona dances around the chord roots, sprinkling in some modal ornamentation and basically nailing Bert’s thumb-picked sound. When Yona is accompanied by Shira Shaked on piano, though, the piece really begins to soar… and when the two players are joined by a chorus of strings, “It’s Not The Heat…” sounds like nothing less than a full-on, big-budget Joe Boyd production. It’s a striking step forward for Yona.

The sinister: There is a foreboding quality to opener “Expatriates”, one that seems to echo the tension that is ever-building in Yona’s part of the world. As the track goes on, the twelve-string acoustic is swallowed up by caterwauling electric guitar noise, and this howling, haunted atmosphere reminds me of Japanese psych-rock heroes Ghost. Later in the disc, “Mad About You” comes out of the gate with tightly wound, energetic strumming before retreating to it’s moody main body, which gradually builds in intensity, picking up speed and eventually unfurling into an insane courting dance. The orchestral players are the stars in this song, and though Yona’s guitar ties the whole thing together, it’s their instrumental filigree that propels the track. Erek Kariel contributed the ambitious arrangements on this tune. Continue reading

Interview : Burton LeGeyt

Legeyt_GuitarDuring my most recent solo tour, I had the pleasure of staying with Boston-based luthier Burton LeGeyt and touring his workshop. In addition to being a swell guy, Burton makes gorgeous, distinctive steel string guitars that look and play like a dream. Burton’s guitars seem to walk the line between modern and classical design traditions; when I initially saw his instruments online, the first thing I noticed was the cutaway design: a very organic, bowl-esque shape that offers a unique solution to reaching the uppermost frets. I was also quickly smitten by his logo design and the shape of his headpiece.

As inspiring as Burton’s guitars were his independent spirit, attention to minute details, and his cozy but well designed workshop. I was able to get a few questions together and Burton was kind enough to answer them below.  Shop photos by Chuck Johnson and myself, guitar glamour shots courtesy of http://www.legetyguitars.com.

W&W : Please describe your history with guitars before you started building. When did you start playing? What kind of music?

Well, it is kind of funny now that I make acoustic instruments but my introduction to the guitar was through hardcore music. I started taking lessons in junior high and by high school a few friends and I had a band and were either playing or attending shows every weekend. We were a part of a very vibrant scene in Connecticut and my life was all about music and it was a great time for me. I had a Les Paul copy and a nice loud amp and I was really into this deep saturated aggresive sound. Later when I learned more about music and started to appreciate a bit more nuance I was able to look back and laugh a bit but I still like that music and am proud of the work we did. Since then I have played in everything from jam bands to a very brief but fun stint in a speakeasy band. Lately on my own I like to noodle around with more jazz styles but I wouldn’t consider myself seriously playing anything too well anymore.

W&W : Explain what got you started with building acoustics. How and where did you begin? Who were your early inspirations and what did you hope to contribute to the craft?

I had been pursuing painting, I had finished art school and was involved in a great art scene in Boston when I first moved here in 2003. After a year or so the large studio space we were renting and sharing became a real headache to keep together. I was working in a woodshop building picture frames and had always been intrigued by the idea of building instruments so I gave up my art studio for a while and shifted my attention over to instruments. I found that I really loved it and have spent the last 6 years very dedicated to pursuing that craft. My early projects were building strange things with features I had always wanted to try but had never seen. I built a small fretless teardrop instrument with classical strings that I loved playing. I had a sitar that I liked messing around with and built a few gourd instruments as well. Eventually I got around to building a copy of my Dreadnaught and since that first one I have focused pretty exclusively on steel string guitars. I became involved with the New England Luthiers Guild soon after finishing my first few guitars and the members in that group have been a very direct influence on my work, I feel lucky to have met them and been a part of that group. Continue reading

Interview : Sean Smith

It was our good fortune to catch up with Sean Smith in order to discuss his latest record, Huge Fluid Freedom, out now on Strange Attractors Audio House. The title of the album and its opening composition come from a piece by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi:

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish dont hold the sacred liquid in cups.
They swim the huge fluid freedom.

 

***
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way.”

W&W: Electric guitar figures prominently on Huge Fluid Freedom, which is a shift from the previous three albums of acoustic guitar solos, or in the case of Eternal, ensemble recordings that revolved around your acoustic guitar parts. I appreciate that you don’t treat the two instruments interchangeably. Your electric guitar playing on the new album has a distinct character… not merely electrified fingerpicking, as one might predict, but ecstatic, celebratory. Can you elaborate a bit on your approach to the electric guitar and how it’s been affecting your solo music?

I appreciate your ability to hear the difference and, as a champion of acoustic fingerstyle, not be turned off by the fact that I’m working with a broader palette. Also, your description of my playing being “ecstatic and celebratory” is a very apt and welcome view. That’s exactly what I’m going for, or rather, what I can’t help but do. Continue reading