My guitar playing has been influenced by many of the rock guitarists from the 1960's and 70's - Santana, Clapton, Steve Howe(Yes), Hendrix, Allman Bros., Andy Powell(Wishbone Ash), Jeff Beck and numerous others, as well as players from the jazz and blues genres. However, I don't attempt to imitate anybody. I consider myself to be a musician first and songwriter second, the songs I write partly to challenge myself as a musician. The Jazz-Rock song "Opportunity" is the one on the CD that I consider the most challenging because of its multiple key changes. I try to find musical ideas that have not, (or at least have not often) been explored, within the rock genre.
Musicianship, Rock Music and the "Alternative"
A musician, by my definition is
someone who has an intellectual curiosity about the fundamentals of music, and their
application in performance and/or composition. By this standard there are a lot of players
and songwriters who are essentially non-musicians, even amongst the most successful bands.
This may sound paradoxical, but many players learn to play music by rote without
understanding the nuts and bolts of its underlying structure. As a musician who has been
playing in bands for more than twenty years now I am constantly dismayed by the musical
illiteracy of most players. By "musical illiteracy" I'm not referring to the
ability to read and write music notation, it's possible to have an advanced, deep
understanding of music without knowing how to read music notation.
Why, when so much information is easily available, is a competent musician such a rare thing? Of course it's not an all or nothing situation, but a continuum - the road to musical knowledge, but many musicians and songwriters seem to become stalled, very early on in the journey. Firstly, because playing and composing most genres of music can be done by rote, or with a relatively low level of musicianship, and secondly, there is a common mistaken attitude - that music theory knowledge stifles creativity - sorry, but this is wrong, wrong, Wrong! Music theory and a awareness of it's practical application gives a musician/songwriter/composer a deep understanding of the basic building blocks of music, with that comes the possibility of putting them together in new, original ways. The painter Picasso could not have painted the way he did without first learning how to create pictures in a relatively conventional style; rules in painting and in music are made to be broken, but to do it in an artistically valid way you have to understand what the rules are first. For those searching for a significant degree of originality, this is most likely where it will be found - stand on the shoulders of giants if you want to see further. This is not everyone's goal however, many songwriters and players have aspirations to do music that fits comfortably within their chosen genre and no more - nothing wrong with that, there's a market for it. So, for the average musician, music theory know-how enables one to play competently in almost any genre and to add varying degrees of improvisation (spontaneous creativity) to their playing i.e.: A bass player without knowledge of scales, harmony and arpeggio's is limited to playing by rote, and/or playing only the root notes of chords, a musician with the proper music knowledge can create more complex, interesting lines. In my opinion music played by non-musicians is often boring and one-dimensional.
I do realize,at the same time that there's more to music than just clever playing and composition. Complex music is not inherently superior to simple stuff. This is one area where the much abused saying "everything is relative" holds true. The pleasure derived from listening to music is on a visceral level that has no direct connection to the musicianship of its players. Also, a genre is usually defined by its limitations, otherwise there would be no genres - just music, then again, why let a genre limit you? This is pretty much my approach, I follow wherever my musical curiosity takes me, regardless of any genre, though my background and primary focus is Rock.
Much of current popular rock music originates from the post-punk "alternative" style in which musicianship is not required or respected - many of the players seem to have a skill level that could be obtained in about a year of casual practice. Improvisation in rock music seems to have almost become extinct, to do it well requires a number of years practice and playing experience. The alternative anti-musician bias seems to be prevalent with many music critics/writers as well. I don't want this to be taken as a putdown of "alternative" rock per se, but more directed at the attitudes, pretensions and narrow mindedness of many of it's purveyors and hangers-on.
It's unfortunate that to get the attention of radio program directors, record companies, music critics/writers as well as music fans it's necessary to conform to one of the accepted genres. To get airplay on most college radio stations, rock music must fit into the "alternative" or maybe "roots rock" styles. College radio has become something of a proving ground for the popular rock music of the future, many of the popular groups of today got their start on college radio. "Alternative" rock, with its emphasis on attitude and style over substance fails to live up to its self-assumed reputation for Originality. In my opinion the narrow taste's of the DJ's and program directors on college radio, and similar biases of many music critics are largely responsible for the mediocre, predictable, stagnant state of rock music as it exists today. The alternative has become mainstream, a bush league, and handmaid to the majors in the music industry, focusing a limited product upon a demographic of consumers. Also, something of a dead end musically because of the "bite the hand that feeds you" attitude towards musicianship. Because of the conformist attitudes and elitism that are engendered in the various sub-genres of rock music, it's difficult, particularly for the younger music audience to hear, much less appreciate music that exists outside that which is directed at their particular demographic group. What is badly needed is an alternative to "alternative" music. Rock music in general has lost it's reputation for innovation and exploration that it had from the mid 60's to mid 70's partly because the anti-musician bias of the post-punk alternative era has driven away the best young musicians. Most of the players and songwriters that achieve success in the genre lack the skills to do anything but repeat themselves.