Saturday, June 13, 2009

Musical Influences

I've been asked what were my musical influences. I used to be asked that mostly about songwriting, more recently about guitar playing. Usually it was after playing somewhere and it wasn't like we could sit down at the Huddle House and talk about it until 4:00 A.M. That was reserved for more weighty topics among the closest of friends. So, the answer usually had to be delivered in a minute or less. And the answer is complicated. So, let's uncomplicate it.

First, let's narrow the discussion for now. Let's talk influences toward playing an instrument. Guitar was not my first choice. Unlike about every guitarist interviewed in Guitar Player, I did NOT grow up listening to Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker (or T-Bone Walker or Albert King, etc.) There were no blues stations in northeast Alabama in the 1950s and '60s. Still aren't. I loved the blues when I first heard it, but I was in high school before that happened. I didn't even grow up listening to Elvis Presley. You see, that was rock-n-roll and that was not allowed in our house. Rock-n-roll was sort of like musical porn. So, I grew up listening to orchestral arrangements of pop tunes and movie scores. I loved movie themes. I still think some of the best compositions in the last 50 years have been film scores. From Exodus to Blade Runner, John Barry's James Bond themes to Ennio Morricone's Italian westerns, there's a lot of great music written for film. Anyway, it was in junior high that I first heard the Beatles, then the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkle. I knew guys starting bands. I wanted to play, too.

At first I wanted to play drums. I loved drums. I don't know why they grabbed me so. I ached to play a trap kit. I listened to Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Cozy Cole. Later it was Ron Bushy's neverending drum solo in "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" ( I learned to play it tapping my foot and hitting things in the room (whatever room) with drumsticks. Boom boom boom boom Da Da DA boom. The long version. And then it was Keith Moon, who still gives me chillbumps. But I gave up on drums. All the drummers I knew learned how to play in junior high and high school band and I never was in the band. By that time I was wanting to play organ.

My sisters Jennie and Irene took piano. I'm not sure I was offered the chance. Kind of a girl thing, I guess. So, I had no headstart on keyboards. I just wanted to make that steady swirly sound. Everybody in town who played an organ played a Farfisa; you know the sound: "Wooly Bully," "96 Tears." Dana Laconto ( of The Bleus) had the only Hammond in town, at least that I recall. I still have his old Leslie 145. I looked into learning organ, but everyone wanted to teach me Bach, and I wanted to rach.

So, by default I ended up with guitar, although after a few years I learned to play some piano when I took music theory in the mid-70s. My first guitar hero was Al Caiola (think Magnificent Seven theme: That was electric guitar. Clear ringing notes with tremolo. I would imitate his guitar solos vocally, but I never actually learned to play guitar at the time. Later, Jennie got an arch-top four-string "tenor" guitar. She learned to fingerpick folk songs on it. She was good. Her finger-picking was very precise and her voice was--and is--one of the most distinctive and beautiful voices I've ever heard. But I didn't want to play "Freight Train." I heard a song that affected me enough to make me stop dreaming and start playing. It was the Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun." It had everything I loved: organ, drums, bass, and that fabulous arpeggiated guitar part (

So, guitar it was. "House of the Rising Sun" was the first song I ever learned. My first public performance was singing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "Rising Sun" for my dad's Sunday school class. Next time, the Who, the White Album, the Allman Brothers, Derek and the Dominos, Neil Young, and a few others.


  1. i'm glad you have a blog and i have another cool person to follow. you will learn to love it.

  2. I hope so. Glad to have you reading.

  3. i think House of the Rising Sun was the first song i learned too! either that or Horse With No Name. they were both in this Learn How To Play Guitar book my dad had from 1981.