I know change is good, but really, why can’t things stay the same? I’m kind of half way serious about that question. As a fully functioning adult I know that while change can often be uncomfortable, it is often a good thing. It helps us grow, expand our experiences and become more than what we were. It is also inevitable. We all change or we…
How does this connect with guitars and music? Johnny Winter’s recent passing caused me to pause for a moment and consider the state of guitar playing today and what the future will look like. Certainly Johnny isn’t the first “legendary” guitarist to have left us. Unfortunately, those numbers are starting to add up as the legends responsible for so much of the rich music legacy we all enjoy today are aging and running into the health issues that we all eventually face. Like I said, it is inevitable.
Just in 2014 the guitar playing community has taken some pretty big hits. We’ve seen Johnny Winter, Paco de Lucia, Franny Beecher and Dick Wagner leave us. And the recent passing of Brian Farmer, guitar tech extraordinaire, sent shock waves throughout social media. Losing great people tends to generate a lot of emotion.
Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, and Dusty Hill have experienced health issues that forced the recent cancellation of tours. Eric Clapton is once again talking about leaving the road behind, as the Allman Brothers will do by the end of 2014 (not to worry too much – Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks will be very busy with their own projects). Things are definitely changing.
We all have heard that guitar players are a dime a dozen. But players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Dickie Betts, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and B.B. King have played seminal roles in the development of modern music from a guitar player’s perspective, and will leave a substantial void when they no longer play for us, live or on recordings. That doesn’t even count the players who left us too early like Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lowell George, Freddie King, Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton, Toy Caldwell, Albert King, Gary Moore, and on and on and on. Unfortunately, there are way too many I didn’t add to the list.
The question for me is really about lasting legacies. These men have cast very long shadows over those who have followed. But will their influence sustain, get watered down, or fade away? If you listen to the radio or look at the charts, guitar players look to be in short supply. Of course, we know that’s not the case. There are plenty of great players out there getting it done every day.
I have been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my life in Austin where I was exposed to so many great musicians, those born here and those who came to Austin to connect to this very unique city. Going down to the local guitar store for me might mean running into Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Johnson, David Grissom, Denny Freeman, Van Wilks, or even Billy Gibbons on occasion. You almost end up taking them for granted. But as I grow older I realize what a special time the last 50 years has been for guitarists and for the music we love. We may never see the likes of this era again.
So what about the next generation of “guitar heroes”? I wonder if the torch will be carried high? We have a lot of phenomenal players today like Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson, Mike Zito, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Gary Clark, Jr., Orianthi, Ana Popovic, Tab Benoit, and J.D. Simo, to name a very few, to keep that hope alive. They all have great musical foundations and seem to understand their roots. In fact, while in Nashville last month I had the opportunity to see Daniel Donato, the 19-year-old guitarist, who replaced J.D. Simo in the Don Kelley Band – a band that has served as a launching pad for great new talent over the years. Here is a link to a video I shot on my iPhone of Daniel in action. By the way, he already has his own Hal Leonard instruction book/DVD set titled Daniel Donato: The New Master of the Telecaster: Pathways to Dynamic Solos. His blazing fingers aside, he developed his talent and passion by watching videos on YouTube. A representation of where our new players most likely will be coming from.
So my gut tells me things are ok. Plenty of great guitarists are making their way through the world of music. And there are plenty of great guitars and amps still being built for us to dream about and someday own. I certainly have my old favorites I always have available via iTunes, and a few up and comers that are starting to speak to me. I feel good about the state of guitar playing. Now if we could just get some killer songwriting, too. Am I asking for too much?
What do you think?