There’s an old saying, “No man is an island,” well, no one person is an island, no matter how much they might try to isolate themselves from people or the trappings of society. No matter what, our lives are touched and shaped by the interactions we have with other people and the environments in which we live. Even those who’ve chosen to live solitary lives have done so as a result of their experiences – albeit negative.
And in music, this adage holds especially true. Every musician is influenced by the people and things around them, past and present. For those who claim they have no outside influences, they’re lying to themselves, plain and simple.
What compelled me to write this article was I spent an afternoon back in July (I actually wrote this article that day) sitting on the front porch of my sister’s house in Lone Tree, CO with my Aunt Kathy, who’s an incredible professional artist and an owner of the Allegri Wine Shop in Gresham, OR with her husband, my Uncle Bill (that’s one of her incredible watercolors to the left). In any case, we were mutually inspiring each other. She was painting these incredible “sketches,” while I played and sang.
Occasionally we’d stop and chat, and at one point I said, “You know, we really are a family of artists.” She enthusiastically agreed. Art was something that has always been a part of our family lifestyle for as long as I can remember. Everyone sang, and most played some sort of musical instrument. My dad was trained as a concert pianist, most of my aunts and uncles played something.
So it was not surprise that music came naturally to me. As I said to my Auntie in one of our conversations, “People ask me a lot how much training I’ve had. My answer to them is I’ve had very little training in my lifetime, but I grew up in a very musical and artistic family, so music has always been part of my life, and part of the makeup of who I am.
Sure, I have musical influences galore. But the root of my musicianship comes from sitting in a busy room at a family get-together, breaking out the instruments, and playing tunes. I had an uncle who was an incredible slack-key guitarist, but he could play jazz like a MoFo! I got a lot of my melodic phrasing from watching and playing with him. Another uncle taught me how to read guitar chord charts when I was eight years old. Once I learned how to do that, I took out all my dad’s pop music books (this was 1970), and proceeded to learn Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Lovin’ Spoonful tunes, and whole mess of others.
It was family that stirred and continues to stir the musical fire that burns inside me. When I sing a love song, I think about singing to my lovely wife. When I’m singing fun tunes, I think about playing with my kids. When I’m singing sad songs, I think about long-lost loved ones.
I know it’s not the same for everyone, but we all have our influences. I believe if we recognize the people and things that influence us as musicians, it allows us to tap into the emotions associated with those influences and make us much more expressive in what we play.