Tag Archives: John Fahey

Interview : Sam Moss

SM on Building 1I first became aware of Sam Moss’ playing via Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Vol. 4.  Sam fit right into that album’s Takoma-leaning tracklist, and much of Sam’s music that I’ve heard since has had a pronounced American Primitive approach…  his double-thumb, spare melodies and pretty pattern picking not only invoke the music of John Fahey and Peter Lang, but also modern-day interpreters of the genre like Glenn Jones and the late Jack Rose.  I recently caught up with Sam to talk about his new release, Eight Constructions.

W&W : Talk about how you got started in music, some of your early influences.

Most of my early influences came from the music my family listened to. My early memories involve Marvin Gaye, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mozart and Benny Goodman. My parents are big music appreciators and my grandfather loved big bands. The joy he got from listening to Goodman, Count Basie or Artie Shaw was one of the main reasons that I wanted to play music. He was an artist and he used to have a cymbal in his studio so that he could keep time while blasting his records! I initially wanted to play the clarinet, but I ended up with a violin in my hands.

W&W : When did you first start playing acoustic guitar?

When I was something like thirteen. I favored electric for a long time, until I got into jazz a few years later. I started exploring the possibilities of solo acoustic playing, fingerstyle, etc, a few years ago.

W&W : Please describe your primary guitar, how you got it, how long you’ve had it, etc.

It’s a Tacoma DR12, made sometime around 2000, before the company was bought by Fender. I picked it up used a few years ago at a Guitar Center. Almost all the Tacoma’s made around that era have a finish flaw on the back and sides that causes little air bubbles to spread all over. Mine has it really bad and the finish is chipped all around the sides and is continually getting worse. Tacoma makes a pretty ugly guitar to begin with and the finish issue really puts it over the top. But it’s a great sounding dreadnought and the price was right… it has character. Continue reading

Review : TOMO “Butterfly Dream and Other Guitar Works” CD (Subvalent, 2010)

tomo-butterfly-dream-and-other-guitar-works-album-coverI was excited to receive Butterfly Dream and Other Guitar Works, the debut guitar album by Japanese multi-instrumentalist, TOMO.  This would be the first work by a Japanese player I’ve written about; I was curious to hear how TOMO’s technique and approach to composition might vary from his American and European counterparts.

That being said, TOMO is no stranger to American guitar traditions, having lived in Missouri during his teens, where he learned finger picking and absorbed a variety of pre-war musical styles.  He cites a long list of American guitarists and composers as influences, in addition to Medieval and Renaissance lutists, Hawaiian slack-key players, Middle Eastern and Indian instrumentalists, all of which are paid homage on Butterfly Dream. Continue reading

Review : M.Mucci “Time Lost” LP (The Tall House Recording Company, 2010)

by Raymond Morin

For avid fans of instrumental acoustic guitar music, there aren’t many real surprises anymore. These days, it’s hard to imagine a new player who could hit the scene and affect a seachange along the lines of, say, Davy Graham’s restless early experiments with Middle Eastern motifs, or John Fahey’s genre-spawning blues distillations. Even two of today’s most head-turning young instrumentalists, James Blackshaw and Kaki King, earned their reputations not by reinventing the wheel, but by designing their breakthrough recordings around the musical templates of Robbie Basho and Michael Hedges, respectively.

…and what’s wrong with that? After all, innovation isn’t everything. Indeed, when it comes to guitarists, it seems that those who decide to eschew tradition entirely tend to lean on gimmicks… more strings, more effects, atonality, more notes and played FASTER! All of those things can be great in small doses, but at the end of the day, when someone sits down behind a six (or twelve) string wooden box, I hope to hear something musical. It doesn’t have to be tricky, it doesn’t have to be fast, and it doesn’t have to be a revelation… give me a little soul, just the right amount of technique and some compositional flare, and you might very well have a fan for life! Continue reading

“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Sean Smith

By Raymond Morin

Well, here we are at the end of “Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Week.  I really hope you’ve enjoyed our interviews with all of the great guitarists involved in the project.  Today, we finish up with Sean Smith, producer and curator of both the original Berkeley Guitar collection, as well as Beyond Berkeley Guitar, which is out now on Tompkins Square. Sean has developed quite a reputation as a leading light in the new solo guitar movement, and we tend to agree… his full length album Eternal got a great review on this very website, and from talking to many of his Bay area contemporaries (as well as the man himself) I’ve come away with the image of an ambitious and talented, yet warm and friendly young guitarist, truly an asset to the Berkeley guitar scene, and for that matter, to the world of music in general.  Sean’s solo “Ourselves When We Are Real” is the centerpiece of Beyond Berkeley Guitar, and in it’s nearly 12 minutes, covers many moods and techniques. Continue reading

“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Rich Osborn

Rich Osborn is a Bay area acoustic guitarist working in the style of the late Robbie Basho. Rich is featured on the new Tompkins Square release Beyond Berkeley Guitar. We recently interviewed Rich about his track, his history with Basho, and his approach to playing the guitar.

W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.

For this piece, and almost all of the “free raga style” work that I do, I play a guitar made in 1915 by Vincenzo DeLuccia. I got it in 1976 at Jon Lundberg’s once famous mecca for vintage guitars on Dwight Way in Berkeley. Jon told me that the face had been caved in when he first got it, so it’s gone through a major restoration. The saddle is not the original, and has been extended out to meet the fan bracing underneath. I recently learned in a conversation with luthier Paul Hostetter that this large saddle design was a unique signature of a luthier named Mario Martello who worked for Lundberg. Continue reading

It’s “Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Week on W&W!

Back in 2006, Tompkins Square, one of the world’s leading acoustic guitar, jazz and archival folk labels, released a compilation called Berkeley Guitar. The LP showcased the playing of three up-and-coming young guitarists : Matt Baldwin, Adam Snider and Sean Smith, who also assembled and produced the collection. The disc made it clear that the American Primitive guitar tradition, first popularized (I know, relative term) by now-legends like John Fahey and Peter Lang in the 60’s, was still alive and well in Berkeley in the new century.

On June 8, 2010, Tompkins Square will release a second installment, aptly titled Beyond Berkeley Guitar. This new collection was once again curated by Smith, and as the name suggests, the parameters have been expanded… Beyond Berkeley Guitar features the work of seven guitarists from the greater Bay area, and the music of these players covers a wider range of sounds, styles, and techniques, both compositional and philosophical.

The players’ geographic proximity results in only a little overlap in their approaches to solo guitar music… from the Robbie Basho-inspired, free-raga meditations of Rich Osborn to the kinetic, bluesy electric runs of Ava Mendoza, from Smith’s multi-movement psychedelic journeys to the more tightly wound, succinct opening statement by Aaron Sheppard… there is a lot of variety on offer, and the twists and turns all add up to make Beyond Berkeley Guitar not only a wonderful snap-shot (polaroid?) of a vibrant guitar scene, but also a great record in its own right.

With the help of Smith and the label, I was fortunate enough to get interviews with everyone who appears on Beyond Berkeley Guitar. For me, these interviews were both exciting and fascinating. The players who appear on this collection are all fantastic guitar players, there’s no doubt about it… but I was delighted (though not surprised) to find that they are all thoughtful, warm and intelligent people, happy to share their thoughts on the instrument, composition, the rich tradition of instrumental guitar music and its welcome resurgence.

The interviews will be posted one per day, starting tomorrow with Aaron Sheppard. There is little or no editing, in most cases. One important note : though I would usually provide a sound sample with any given interview or record review, each player only has one track on Beyond Berkeley Guitar… and I wouldn’t want to give everything away, just like that! I want to strongly encourage fans of finger-picked guitar music to pick up this release, you won’t regret it! Please enjoy the interviews.

Interview : Yair Yona

Yair_Yona_Live

Israeli guitarist Yair Yona

Earlier this year, Anova Music released Remember, the solo instrumental debut by Israeli acoustic artist Yair Yona. The CD is an affectionate tribute to various American and British folk guitar styles, with Yona picking on 6 and 12-string guitars, a National-style resonator, and various other acoustic instruments.

The primary touchstone for Yona’s music is the Takoma school and the American Primitive revival movement, and it’s easy to hear the influence of John Fahey, Jack Rose, Leo Kottke and Glenn Jones. Jones is, in fact, a big fan of Yair and Remember, and had this to say :

Yair is fantastic… that album is one of my favorite guitar records of the year. Production-wise, it’s very ambitious, and quite smart, and in terms of both composition and technique, there are two or three tracks that I think are as good as anything ever done on the guitar. Obviously his album wouldn’t exist without his influences… but it rises above being merely derivative into something beautiful and, occasionally, even sublime.

As a nod to Yona’s drone and indie rock influences, there are also splashes of synth and assorted ambient effects on some of Remember’s tracks, though these are mostly relegated to background atmosphere… for the most part, Yona keeps his guitar playing as the focus of his compositions.


Yair Yona – “Remember”

I decided to get in touch with Yona and conducted the following interview. Worth noting : the entire Remember album is available as a free digital download on Yona’s Bandcamp page.

W&W : How old are you, and how long have you been playing the guitar?

Yair : I’m 28, been playing [music] for 13 years. Most of that time I played bass, until the winter of 2003, when I grabbed an acoustic guitar and started a whole new journey.

W&W : Take us through the evolution of your playing… when did you start working with acoustic instruments? Was it something you moved toward after the discovery of your European and American folk and guitar influences? Did you learn your fingerstyle techniques from emulating recordings, did you use TAB, etc?

Yair : Well, I was playing bass for couple of years, and was really into psychedelic rock and prog. In 2002, I moved to London and a couple of months afterward, I heard the first Bert Jansch album, which totally changed my life and made me realize that I’m much more into that now. His technique was so breathtaking, I almost lost the will to play. But at some point, I managed to learn one simple tune of his, which gave me the strength to move on and learn more tunes and practice. At first, I had to use TABs, as my hearing was rusty and I couldn’t figure out how the guy combined the two elements of bass string playing along with a melody and rhythm. The guy is a genius. No one plays like him, and I wish he’d be my neighbor. I’ll trade glasses of sugar and milk for 15 years, for one guitar lesson from him..

W&W : Which Bert song was the first that you learned to play? When I first started playing fingerstyle, I taught myself “Runnin, Runnin From Home” from the album, but ended up with a completely convoluted fingering that made it way more difficult to play than it had to be! A friend later found a TAB online and set me straight!

Yair : We share the exact same story! I figured “Running…” was the more “easy” song on the album, so I started with it. I had no idea about alternate bass, so I made up some terrible chord positions to try and understand how to play that. Only later I found a TAB for it and realized how it should be played. When I managed to play “Angie” for the first time, it was the happiest day of my life! (More on the day I first heard Bert’s album can be found here) One of my favorite tunes of his is maybe his easiest – “Bright New Year”. But the all time favorite song for me is “Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning”…

W&W : Please describe the instruments you used on Remember.

Yair : Well, in terms of my guitars, there were only three. The 6-string is an EN guitar, which a friend of mine built me as a practice for the guitar workshop lessons that he took. The EN was built based on a Martin 000 model. The 12-string was a Fender, which I sold to buy a brilliant Larrivée. The Weissenborn was actually a simple Vineyard guitar, and right after I finished the recordings, I bought a Goldtone. Still have the Vineyard, such a wonderful guitar, especially for its price. The Royal resonator is a cheap resonator I bought to see how I’m doing with this type of guitar.

W&W : You replaced your 12-string with a Larrivée 12? What body style, model number?

Yair : The Larrivée is a new LR-03-12.

W&W : Does Israel have its own instrument manufacturers, any popular regional guitar makers? Are the popular US brands like Martin, Gibson, Taylor etc available / widely used?

Yair : There are no REALLY famous guitar builders, maybe there are manufacturers who build really few pieces a year. The American firms have some representation, but usually in the acoustic guitar rooms, you’ll find a few Martins and Taylors, usually way overpriced, and the variety of models doesn’t exist. You won’t be able to find a good 12-string second hand. It’s not a popular instrument in general, and it’s much less in a country of 6.5 million people.

W&W : Talk about your right hand… thumb pick? Fake nails? Acrylics? All natural?

Yair : Thumb pick, plastic Dunlop one. Other fingers are my natural nails.

W&W : What are the tunings you use on Remember?

Yair : Most of the tunings are open D (DADF#AD), where “Broken Rockin Chair” is in G minor (DGDGBbD), “Floodgate” is an open C (CGCGCE), and the most complicated one is on “Skinny Fists”, which is DGDF#G#C#. It’s a tuning I learned from Glenn Jones, who’s by far my favorite guitar player in this style.


Yair Yona – “Brave Walls”

W&W : Please describe the recording of Remember… did you record it yourself or were you assisted? Studio?

Yair : I was fortunate enough to become a label manager of Israeli alternative label Anova Music and we have our own studio, so I was recorded by a great engineer called Ronen Roth. We recorded the guitar tracks on a 2 inch tape, using U-87 and 67 [microphones].

W&W : Do you have plans to do any touring in 2010?

Yair : There’s a great will, just trying to figure out how to handle the road with 3 guitars, and how to avoid work for two weeks without having to be worried that something happened to my company!

W&W : What other projects are you currently involved in that you would like to talk about?

Yair : Well, I’m writing new material and I’m working on a new band that I’ll play bass in, of some experimental, noise and psych music. I want to have my own Faust. Or Califone, whatever comes first.

W&W : What albums are you listening to most at the moment?

Yair : At this very second, I’m listening to the brilliant Pockets by Karate. I’m checking my LastFm page to see what else I’ve listened to today (because I’m listening to a lot of music, with a variety of styles) – I listened to Mudhoney a lot because they are coming to Israel in couple of days, which makes me very VERY happy. The Churchills, psych rock from Israel 1969, The Veils new album and Arthur by The Kinks. The new Califone is brilliant, and the record of the month or maybe the year is the new Black Heart Procession. YEAH!!!

W&W : Could you talk a little about your blog and your mixtapes?

Yair : Sure. I run an alternative music blog called “Small Town Romance”. Now it’s only in Hebrew, but in a month and a half, I plan to have an English version of the blog, with a translation for each post. The idea behind it is to expose people to good music that sometimes is left behind, and slips under the radar. Once a week I post a mixtape of good music, an hour of great sounds of stuff I’ve listened that week. I love being an ambassador of music and exposing people to records that may change their lives. It’s somewhat naïve, I know, but when someone comes to you and says “The record you recommended me just made my week!” – it’s the best thing ever. That’s why I went to work in a record store a couple of years ago. I remember someone told me that me selling her No Other by Gene Clark got her out of a serious depression she was in. Who could ask for more?

Download “Remember” for free from Bandcamp
Buy “Remember” on CD from Anova Music
Yair Yona on Myspace