Jimi Hendrix on Band of Gypsys made me realize how magical improvised music can be, and made me decide to pick up guitar in about '91. Soon after, the classic Black Sabbath albums gave me a new feeling and a reason to live. I wanted to figure out and surpass that sound in the pursuit of my own voice, so I packed four humbuckers into a totally stripped, old Epiphone Les Paul Goldtop that came into my hands. I couldn't afford to buy tuning pegs so I fashioned my own that fit just behind the nut and were adjusted with an allen-wrench. A vibrato bridge was given to me with the guitar so I cut a bridge cavity into the body and made that work. The tone ended up sounding really thick and whole--actually one of my very favorite guitar tones ever.
Another Les Paul Goldtop happened into my hands, with more conventional hardware and in much better condition than the first. I moved the pickups over and trashed the first one, but the tone was never really quite as cool. It must've either been the softer rosewood fingerboard on the first one, and/or the fact that the pickups and bridge were mounted on the same piece of sheet metal. The first one was never photographed, but here's the second:
A Highly-Customized Les Paul
Anyway, I got an Associate of Arts degree in Music Composition and Theory to try and understand what made Black Sabbath's riffs so powerful. The conventional levels of analysis don't quite apply, but by the time I knew that for sure, I had been set on fire by classic Yes, and also John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. They changed me, but I didn't have anyone around to play with me enough to get something like that going myself, and didn't feel ready to bother strangers, so I got into self-accompaniment. I happened to meet Stanley Jordan, switched to touch-style (which applies both hands to the fretboard and facilitates playing more parts), developed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis in both wrists, switched back to the conventional playing style and healed over the course of a few years (with chiropractic help). I prefer the tone and dynamics of the conventional, one-handed playing style, anyway. I still didn't have a band or orchestra handy, so...well...I wanted at least another string for self-accompaniment:
The Spring-Tethered Flat-Pick
My invention intended to facilitate the best of all
right-hand techniques at once.
Lenny Breau (8/5/1941 - 8/12/1984)
He was the best that ever lived, bar none.
"World's Greatest Unknown Guitarist"
Lenny is the greatest guitar player in the world today. I think he knows more guitar than any guy that's ever walked the face of the earth....
"Mister Guitar", called the most influential guitarist ever
Frets, October 1979
He...was doing things that I never dreamed of. It was one of the greatest days of my life, the first day I heard Lenny.
"The Immortal Lenny Breau", by Brawner Smoot
Guitar World Magazine, September 1986
It must be remembered that Coltrane's Jazz in 1962 was better known for experimentation.... This type of eccentric and unorthodox playing, which most musicians and guitarists could not comprehend, nor play, appealed to Lenny.
When Lenny sat in...when Lenny's turn came to play, the effect was electrifying. Coltrane leaned over with eyes wide-open, looked at Lenny's hands, and smiled.
GEORGE B. SUKORNYK
Lenny's former manager
"Fond memories of Lenny Breau"
"The Hallmark Sessions" Liner Notes
When I initially recorded, I didn't feel ready--I wanted to practice for another ten years first. And then the records didn't sell, because R.C.A. didn't get behind them. I got depressed, and after a while had a drug problem, which added to everything....
I never quit playing.... During that period, I learned about pain, which became evident in my music. I also became inspired by impressionist painters such as Renoir, and wanted to do the same sort of thing with music: portray whatever mood strikes me....
Guitar Player Magazine, November 1984
When I play music, that's when I feel close to God, because I feel it's a gift from God....
The Genius of Lenny Breau (video)
You can find a decent amount online about this great impressionist and poet of the guitar, but I'll add here a little bit of what has been shared with me by someone who was very close to him: Lenny was a very sensitive and spiritual person, and considered music to be his religion. For part of his life he carried Hazrat Inayat Khan's book "The Mysticism of Sound & Music" around with him in a satchel. His family believes he was murdered by his wife, who then profited from his work.
Jimi Hendrix (11/27/1942 - 9/18/1970)
The story of life
is the blink of an eye.
The story of love
is hello and goodbye
until we meet again.
Last lines of a poem to his fiance,
composed & given to her the night he died
According to Jimi's fiance, Monika Dannemann, in her incredible book "The Inner World of Jimi Hendrix", Jimi considered himself close to the Buddha and believed that music would become the true religion of all humankind. Jimi quit illegal drugs and even smoking before he died, was enrolled to attend the Juilliard School, and had an appointment to record with his friend, jazz legend Miles Davis.
Jimi's manager toward the end controlled his money, image and product. Jimi asked his attorney to get him out of his contracts with this manager the night before he died. Monika believed that Jimi was murdered by his manager for this reason. She related that when the manager was summoned to England for trials intended to locate Jimi's money, the manager allegedly died in a plane crash over the Atlantic. After court cases over Monika's book, she was found dead in an apparent suicide. Her best friend believes she would never have killed herself and considers it a murder. Her amazing book is now out of print.
Steve Howe (4/8/1947 - )
There are evolved people on this planet. I don't doubt that there is a universal people out there living on different kinds of levels. I've been lucky enough to appreciate nature and to understand there is a devic world. There is a fairy kingdom. That's what I know and what I believe in. That's my life.
Yes' vocalist & lyricist
As the amazing guitarist of the greatest art-rock band ever, Yes, Steve consciously tried to never sound like another guitarist, and with Yes he seems to have succeeded. Very complex and progressive but still communicating and complementing the band's very vivid emotional and spiritual message, he's one of the very few original voices on guitar.
Pat Martino (8/25/1944 - )
Recordings are reminders of what was. I'm more interested in now.
"To Renew a Life in Jazz"
Interview by Victor L. Schermer
Pat was raised Roman Catholic in Philadelphia. As a teenager he went to Harlem and performed jazz. He found at an early age that going out of his way to make the moment magical and experience the power of love transcended, for him, any kind of financial attainment, career achievement, magazine reviews or record deals, and even supplanted the religion and ritual with which he'd been raised.
Recordings of Pat go back to 1960, but in '68 he began what may be considered a remarkably original streak with "Baiyina (The Clear Evidence): A psychedelic excursion through the magical mysteries of the Koran". It may have pioneered the fusion-ward revolution of jazz usually attributed to Miles Davis' '69 album "Bitches Brew" (which was, at the time, the best-selling jazz album ever, and featured John McLaughlin). Through the '70s, Martino found a way to weave a clearly traditional jazz-guitar-stylist thread through a wide range of feelings: from being as driving as rock to as austere and melancholy as impressionistic "classical" music. In the mid-'70s he began suffering from seizures. Physicians and psychologists misdiagnosed it as manic depression, putting him in locked wards and even using electric shock treatments. A CAT scan finally diagnosed it as a brain aneurysm. He underwent brain surgery that caused near-total amnesia. By the early '90s, his memories were slowly returning, but rage over his situation found him in a locked ward at Einstein Mt. Sinai.
In '99 Pat suffered from pneumonia, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and his weight went down to 86 pounds. Doctors put him on oxygen and intensive care and wanted to transplant both his lungs, but reportedly his wife and a yogi got his weight up to 165 pounds in six weeks using diet and yogic postures.
Pat has rejected fulfilling the expectations of others' memories of who he was, yet he is again an amazing guitarist and guitar educator. He applies the Bible, the Koran, the I Ching,
Kabbalah, Theosophy etc. toward finding spirituality in life: transcending the senses and, playfully, even the mental constructs of
past and future.
John McLaughlin (1/4/1942 - )
Well, I'm a fan of...fusion: John McLaughlin, yeah, but everyone else, no.
He was easily the best guitarist in England.
Led Zeppelin's guitarist & student of John McLaughlin
After 30 seconds of his first solo, I turned...and said "this is the best guitar player I've ever heard in my life".
PAGES OF FIRE
Highlights from "Awards John has won"
John came up in England playing blues-rock with people like Ginger Baker, Graham Bond and Jack Bruce. Graham Bond, who may have thought himself to be a son of Aleister Crowley, turned John on to occult philosophy and later reportedly died in an incident involving an exorcism. John gave guitar lessons to Jimmy Page
(another musician with a relationship to Aleister Crowley), who said "He was easily the best guitarist in England". John soon developed his own jazz sound and was invited to New York by jazz legend Miles Davis. He played in Tony Williams' band "Tony Williams' Lifetime" with Larry Young and (eventually) Jack Bruce. In New York he met Larry Coryell,
who introduced John to the guru Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose, who would name him "Mahavishnu", and whose disciples would later include "Turiya" Alice Coltrane (John Coltrane's widow), "Devadip" Carlos Santana and "Narada" Michael Walden. Besides practicing guitar eight hours a day, John also began practicing yoga postures twice a day. His playing was transformed, and he proceeded to lead the greatest fusion band ever, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. After that he made pioneering steps for the world music movement in his profound acoustic group, Shakti, with India's greatest violinist and percussionists: Lakshminarayana Shankar, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Sri Thetakudi Harihara "Vikku" Vinayakram.