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March 12, 2008

Bio

I figure a bio is long overdue, especially as I'm starting to 'put myself out there' using this page as a reference... so here goes...

To quote myself (with some minor grammatical adjustments) from a previous blog entry:

"I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into this world a few short days after the fires of Woodstock died down in August 1969. It was the same year that the Allman Brothers Band recorded their first studio album. Music and life have changed so much since those days, morphing from something real, grounded in the now, into a disposable commercial product, bought and paid for on credit."

I've always been out of step with the musical zeitgeist. As a teenager during the '80s I should have been a New Romantic, but instead I was listening to early Genesis. One day at school I mentioned to a teacher that I was into jazz... I was bullsh*tting at the time... and he put me onto 'Trane and Miles Davis. I checked every jazz album out of the local library and got into it for real.

One summer's afternoon I was sat in my mother's car, waiting for her to finish a tennis match. I fiddled with the radio until I hit upon a station which was broadcasting an early Allman Brothers Band concert. I found myself transfixed by their incredible other-worldly guitar driven blues rock. Since then I've been hooked on the blues and all things Southern.

After leaving school I got my first guitar, a Squier Strat. I had a couple of friends who had started to play and I thought it'd be cool to ride the wave. I never took any lessons and I never practiced. The guitar spent most of its life gathering dust under my bed.

University was where my interest in music and my record collection really started to grow. I would spend my afternoons scouring local second-hand stores for any records on labels I recognised, such as Capricorn. I'd keep an eye open for bands I'd not heard of but who seemed to be in the 'Southern' style. One mention of slide guitar and I was ready to put my money down. This was long before the internet was even thought of and tracing the history of long-gone bands was no easy task. Liner notes were the trail of breadcrumbs I had to follow.

At the end of my degree course I still hadn't learned to play more than a few open chords. I still fantasised about 'being a guitarist' but in truth I was too lazy to put in the hours.

The time had come to look for my first real job. I filled my spare time between interviews by building a guitar myself, from scratch. I'd always wanted a Gibson Les Paul but owning one was price-prohibitive. I set about making a hybrid. The guitar silhouette was that of a Les Paul but the contouring was 100% Stratocaster. Years later it would be christened 'the Fibson Gendercaster'. It featured a solid mahogany body, glued mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard, a brass nut and Seymour Duncan "Screamin' Demon" pickups. She weighed a ton. When you struck a chord it sounded like the world was coming to an end. In one of my 'giving up' moods, many years later, I threw her into the trash. My housemate at the time rescued the guitar and gave her to a friend of his. Allegedly she's still out there, being gigged on a regular basis.

As my career took off, my guitar playing stalled. My love of music and my desire to play an instrument did not, but my time was taken up by work and a succession of relationships.

Throughout the years I've owned a number of guitars, trading one for another down the line. I guess I used to think that somehow getting a 'new' guitar would jump start my playing. I was wrong. For a long time I held onto a lovely 40th Anniversary '54 Reissue Strat Plus which I eventually traded for an unfeasably shiny dobro. I had lost patience with 'amplification' and wanted to cut the cord. At the time I was dating an American, with whom I now share my life. Due to visa restrictions we were forced to temporarily relocate to the US, during which time I got to see the Allmans play live and developed a love of all things "New Orleans". In preparation for our return to London, 18 months later, the dobro was sold and I was left without a guitar. Frankly, I didn't care as I was ready to give up guitar for good. I'd owned axes for around 15 years yet I'd never improved further than being able to strum an open G chord.

For my 35th birthday in August 2004 I was surprised to receive a tastefully wrapped, guitar-shaped gift. My partner had recognised that while I totally sucked at playing, just having a guitar around the house somehow completed me. The axe he gave me was nothing special, just a cheap Les Paul knock-off made by Stellar. It didn't play well and stubbornly refused to stay in tune. Nevertheless, that was the day that I decided to play for real.

I immediately enrolled in an evening course at Morley College, a local adult education centre. After two terms I was making decent progress. I had a working knowledge of music theory and could play a number of scales and modes without thinking about what my fingers were doing. Most importantly, I was practicing in a structured manner for the first time in my life.

After 2 terms of the evening class the teacher was replaced by a guy I just didn't get on with. Not his fault, but the way he presented the material simply didn't make sense to me. My practice routine fell apart, my playing started to regress and I dropped out. The following year I enrolled in the course again, but I failed to gel with the teacher. It's possible, knowing what I know now, that I'd be better equipped next time round.

Whilst on a trip to the US to visit my in-laws I acquired my first acoustic, a black Ovation 1861 Balladeer, now christened "Blackie". Blackie is a beautiful guitar: fun to play, sounds great. Since she was actually playable, I abandoned playing electric for a while to concentrate on improving my skills on the acoustic.

Christmas came early last year and Blackie was joined by a younger, significantly louder brother, "Red Dog". Red is a genuine Gibson Les Paul Standard, the guitar I always wanted, and boy can you tell the difference between the real thing and a cheap imitation. Red is fabulous in every single way.

That brings us about up to date. I guess if I reset the clock back to my 35th birthday then at the inauguration of The Project I'd have been playing for 3 years 4 months. I'm coming to the end of an acoustic course run by WAES (Westminster Adult Education Service) after which I'm on my own again and it'll be time to 'sh*t or get off the pot'.

Watch this space...

3 comments:

Frank said...

So, uh, why not post pictures of all of your Guitars?

Regards,
Frank

Kenski said...

I wish I had pictures. I don't... It occured to me that I must have a picture of the Fibson SOMEWHERE... but if I do it's in a box tucked away somewhere...

Natalya said...

Great work.