My son Lil-C has taken up the guitar. I love it when he is excited about some new project and I applaud his efforts as he tries out the different arts. Whenever he gets into something I try to encourage him to learn the history of his craft. For instance when he started acting in school I showed him Denzel in Malcolm X. I told him to pay close attention to Malcom’s transformation from street hustler, to broken prisonor, to willing disciple of Islam, to the confident leader of The Nation. In an amazing performance each of these characters were totally believable. I also got him hip to Sidney Portier, and we would talk about other actors and their techniques, the research that goes into creating a character etc. The point was and is always to be the best. I never wanted him to think he could just show up and pull off something great cause it doesn’t happen like that. It takes years of dedication and commitment to maximize a skill.
Now he’s into the music thing and since he chose the guitar, of course we had to talk about the great guitarist. Of course the usual suspects come to mind. Jimi Hendrix, was the first name he spit out. I was like, “Yea man that’s cool. Did you know Jimi started out playing with The Isley Brothers way back in the day? Which means you have to talk about Ernie Isley. In my eyes this guy is legendary and I have listened to his complicated licks all of my life. Ernie often sounds like two guys are playing. And he makes it look easy. I’ve seen him once and since he lives in St. Louis it’s not unusual to see him sit in on someone’s jam session.
Also one of my favorites, Neal Schon from Journey. In rock and roll, the names that people spit are generally cats like Slash or Eddie Van Halen back in my day. These dudes were dope no doubt. But what I like about Neal is his ability to make melody with the instrument as if it were speaking it’s own language. If you listen to most Journey songs, he is always featured in a small or large solo one way or another. And his style in my opinion was a perfect compliment to Steve Perry’s Sam Cook like falsetto. No way Journey would be the successful band they were without Neal. No way!
Can’t talk about guitars without mentioning Carlos Santana. I mean you don’t even have to say his first name… just Santana says it all. Santana is not just a name, but a brand. And when he plays something you know it’s his without having to ask. What I appreciate about him most, like Isley is that when you see him play, you can tell that he just loves it.
There are many jazz guitarist I enjoy too. The first one I ever got hip to was Earl Klugh. “Heart String” was the first jazz album I purchased and is still a timeless classic. My 14 year old son Alex begged me for a copy of “Life Stories” when he heard me playing it last summer. There was a time when I just bought Klugh’s stuff when it was released. I enjoyed the fact the he would have a funky album, then do a mellow one, then do a classical one. He was never afraid to do something different and explore a variety of genres. I can’t figure the brother out now though. I haven’t liked any of his newer stuff in years.
But my favorite – top guitarist of all time…. none other than the Purple One – PRINCE!
That’s right I said it! Bring them all on past and present. And none of them can make that thang sing like he can. This self taught phenom made me LOVE the guitar. The first time he blew me away was when he played, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad.” This was back in 1979! Again, Prince tells stories with the guitar and it has its own language. Hearing him play I can hear his passion, his joy, his pain, his excitement. I never saw anyone who loves to play and perform more than Prince. He came to St. Louis one Tuesday and gave us a “B” concert… it wasn’t even his best effort and I could tell from other performances – but it was still damn good. So good that I wasn’t even mad. Anytime he wants to show up – I’m down for the cause.
So again my message to my son – is play on playa! Love the instrument, learn the instrument, respect the instrument, work on your craft and most of all enjoy the gift of music and the creativity that comes from your soul. I’ll be sending you some of my favorite guitar performances… so look for that in the mail soon.