Guitar Hero, or Something Like It.


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.

 Prince playing guitar  (© AP Images)

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.

Albums That Helped Shape My Life

Music is wonderful.  I consider myself a scholar in the area.  You have your one hit wonders, as well as the genuises that laste and laste.  I won’t get into the artist as much.  That would take too long.  But some albums are everlating in my heart.  Meaning they will always have significance.  Here are my top ten… subject to change upon memory of albums that have helped shape and make a big difference in my life. (In no particular order)

1. What’s Goin OnMarvin Gaye * Music and lyrics just as relevant today as they have ever been!  An album too honest for the times and still underappreciated fully for the substance it contains. 

What's Going on

2. Thats The Way of the WorldEarth Wind & Fire * A mixture of grooves such as Shining Star and Happy Feelings.  The title track along with Reasons are timeless classics.  This album is music that covers our afro traditional roots along with complicated relational and interpersonal issues.

That's the Way of the World 

3. The Isley BrothersThe Heat Is On * I mean forget Fight The Power – I don’t have to even go there.  But it has the Big Three on side 2: For The Love of You, Sensuality, & Make Me Say It Again Girl!  I used to listen to these over and over again even as a little kid.  Lots of black folk were conceived on that side of the album.

The Heat Is On

4.  JourneyEscape * The first Rock and Roll album I bought.  Journey introduced me to other groups like REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Rush, Genesis, Teg Nuggent, Led Zepplin etc.  Don’t Stop Believing is still being played in bars all over the country.  It may be sappy, but after a couple pops, your singing along too! “Strangers – waiting – Up and down the boulevard – their shadows searching in the niiiiight!”


5.  Earl KlughHeart String *The first jazz album I bought.  I credit Jeff M. an old friend I used to bus tables with for hipping me to this wonderful guitarist.  We used to smoke the hippie lettuce while sitting in his car jamming this.  I have this CD in my car right now as a matter of fact. 

Heart String

6. Michael Jackson – Off The Wall * I know for a lot of people it’s all about Thriller.  Thats a great album and the sales records prove it.  But without Off The Wall and it’s success at the hands of Quincy Jones, there would be no Thriller.  The record exeutives didn’t think a jazz man could produce a pop album.  Michael said he wouldn’t do the record unless “Q” was the man to produce it.  Well when Mike spoke it was like EF Hutton.  The rest is history!

Michael Jackson Off the Wall

7. Prince1999 * During the height of the competition of who was the King – be it Michael or Prince.  Prince changed the game with this one.  A double album with crazy stuff like D.M.S.R. and Lady Cab Driver.  The bass line on Lady Cab Driver is one of the funkiest of all time.


 8. Stevie WonderSongs In The Key of Life * Still his best and most complete work in my opinion.  Cut for cut this is a musical kaleidescope of rhythms and lyrics.  A must have for any music fan. 

Songs in the Key of Life

9. Teena MarieIt Must Be Magie * Actually my second Teena Marie album.  Irons In The Fire was the first.  But with jams like Yes Indeed, (brilliant piano by Patrice Rushen) 365, Square Biz and Portugese Love… it was a wrap!  A great album from a great artist.  Go ahead Lady T!

It Must Be Magic

10. Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ – The Inner Court * At first I didn’t get the excitement others felt for this former member of the gospel group Commissioned.  His voice sort of irritated me.  But the more I listened, the more I understood this brilliant artist who literally worships God through his music.  Listening to this album is much more of an experience than anything related to normal entertainment.  And when I sing along I find myself worshipping as well.

The Inner Court

 What are your favorites?