Updated: Feb 25, 2020
When was the first time you heard magic in music? When did you experience the real root of your love for music? Mine was hearing 'Black Dog' by Led Zeppelin being played on my dad's turntable at home. Something about those sounds drew me into it. I was very young; still too young to know who Led Zeppelin was, or what a guitar was for that matter. But that sound had something special in it. I still remember the way the needle hit the vinyl, and the pops and hisses emanating through the speakers from years of listening. When I got older, I discovered that it was a guitar making those sounds. This was the start of my musical journey - I had to pull back the curtain and discover how that magic was created.
As the years went on, my listening tastes widened, but it all centered around the guitar. Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix at first. The usual suspects. Then Alex Lifeson, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai. In my teenage years my teacher Steve Kostyk introduced me to jazz. I learned a Barney Kessel solo, then went on to discover Herb Ellis and Joe Pass. After that, my spectrum widened to include John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. From that initial spark of hearing Zeppelin I had discovered so many artists - and each new discovery was another magic moment. Another curtain to pull back. But each one took me a little bit further away from the sounds that started it all. With each new musical revelation, a little bit of that original magic disappeared.
After a while, my playing developed into something seemingly unrelated to that first moment. I could play well, but I wasn't comfortable in my musical skin (also my real skin, but that's another matter). I was pretending to be someone I was not. And it showed. My playing had no real emotional weight to it. I was a 'good' player, but not inspiring. I couldn't figure out why. Then, I heard John Scofield for the first time. Aha! That's it! This guy played jazz like a rock musician. Distorted tones, bends, effects. In my world, he was the first guitarist to say, 'Hey, it's OK to show your roots'. So I dug back into the magic that started it all. I became re-obsessed with classic rock guitar music. I became a Led Zeppelin bootleg aficionado (sorry Jimmy). And I made the choice to not be ashamed of where I came from. I love loud, distorted guitars. I also love Bill Evans. I learned there was room for both, and many other influences, in my musical expression. My voice started to mature, to become more distinct as I continued to blend these sounds. Which led to more confidence, and, under the right circumstances, the feeling that I could do anything on the guitar. Of course I can't, but that perception is important. It was the beginning of realizing my own voice. As Mick Goodrick said (in his amazing book The Advancing Guitarist - the single best book on guitar playing I've ever owned): "The most difficult thing about finding 'your own path' is that you're already on it (whether you like it or not)! More than likely (whether you know it or not), you've never left it! That's why finding it is so difficult."