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March 31, 2010

Guitar Players Vs Musicians

Last night I braved the unseasonably crap weather to check out the blues jam at a local pub. It's one I've been to before and the standard of musicianship is usually pretty high. Tonight was no exception... mostly.

Halfway through the evening a young man made his way to the front, joining the motley crew of musos already inhabiting the space. He looked nervous. Perhaps it was his first time.

Plugging in his hollowbody electric, he stepped up to the mic and launched into the intro to The Stones' "Honkey Tonk Woman". I say The Stones as it was their version, accurately mimicked, chord for chord, note for note.

The audience were bemused, as were the other guys onstage who stood there, mute. The MC of the evening pulled him up short, whispering something in his ear. A minute later, when everyone was ready, he started in again. The drums fell in, then bass, then the second guitar.

Within ten seconds, the band were a shambles. Bum notes were strewn over the backing track supplied by the oblivious singer/guitarist at the mic. It was a shambles. Nails down a chalkboard.

The song finally ground to a halt. Sighs of relief were breathed. And then he started into Peter Green's "Need Your Love So Bad". Once again, the song started off as a solo affair with the other guys trying to follow the changes. Just as they fell in it seemed time to climax and fade. They did. The frontman didn't. He stood there at the mic, playing and singing for at least another minute. At times the drummer offered a hit. At others the guitarist played alone.

At the end of the second song there was a hearty round of applause. The impression I got was that it was out of sympathy for the poor guys who were forced to stand up there, dying more with each passing bar.

It really drove home to me two things. First off, unless it's a I-IV-V, don't turn up to a jam with songs that your co-musos aren't likely to know inside out and secondly, that it's one thing to be a decent guitar player, able to accurately replicate a piece of music, exactly as played on a record, but it's something else entirely to be a musician and play with a band.


Colin Gillman said...

What is better Ken?

Kenski said...

For me? Musician all the way. I do think it's a trap guitarists (in particular) fall into (myself included). Learning solos etc by rote is valuable in that it's like eating food. If you eat, chew, swallow and digest then you benefit. Converserly, if all you do is vomit it back up again... well, that's not really worthwhile.

Ok, so, even if you vomit everything back up you eventually get some nutrition, but...

...I'm quitting this analogy. It's making me ill!

Furtheron said...

Well Col... there's only one way to find out?.... :-)

Good point though Ken - in this case the guy who only knew three chords at one position of the min pentatonic scale would probably have impressed more.