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Archive for October, 2014

Bo knows: Just Do It!

I have good friend who took up playing guitar two years ago, and has even started collecting (he just bought my Gretsch Electromatic off me). He has often shared his learning journey with me and his process, which has been – for lack of a better word – academic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because implied with an academic approach is a certain amount of discipline, and that’s extremely important in learning just about anything.

But in practically every conversation we’ve had where he’s described to me what he was learning, I’ve always interjected that in the end you just have to “Nike” and “just do it” within the specific context of making music; not composing by any means, but playing songs. After all, why does one learn to play a musical instrument? Certainly not for the mechanics. It’s to make music.

Life in general is like that. There’s a point where you have to apply what you’ve learned or what you’ve planned, or what you’ve envisioned. Several years ago, I heard the saying:

There’s a fine line between dreams and reality, and that’s willingness…

I was inspired by that saying when I first heard it, as I was attending a self-help seminar and the topic at the time was achieving your goals. This was back in the early 90’s when Tony Robbins “Personal Power” was all the rage. I remember it vividly. We spoke about the difference between decision and choice, dreams and reality, and especially the values we each espouse, and how we could apply the concepts to our daily lives to achieve our goals. It was an incredible experience that changed my life forever. And after that seminar, I actually used that saying several times over the years in working with teens and mentoring young professionals.

But a few years ago, I realized that the saying was slightly flawed because with “willingness” you’re still in your head. You’re still just thinking about it. You’re still in that phase of, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, I should do that…” But it’s not until you take action that you’ve physically committed yourself to turning a dream into reality, and experience has taught me that there’s a point where you have to get out of your head, move beyond thinking about doing something and well… DO IT. So I adjusted that saying to this:

The line between dreams and reality is execution…

The “winners” in the world don’t just think. They do.

Whether Type A or Type B, whether hard-charger and seat-of-your-pants or methodical and well-planned; no matter the approach, the people who achieve their goals in life execute. They don’t sit around thinking and talking about what they’re going to do, they do it.

So make like Bo and Just Do It!

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you’ve got to do it your way. -Bob Lefsetz in “The Lefsetz Letter”

Wow! What powerful words! I just read these on The Lefsetz Letter, Bob Lefsetz’ commentary on the entertainment business. I’m hooked on his blog. He comes off as a bit of a curmudgeon, but he tells it how he sees it with respect to the industry and making it in the industry, and you know what? Most of what he says is spot-on. Lots of industry folk read what he has to say because for some reason, he has the pulse on the entertainment industry; specifically, the music biz.

But circling back to the title of this article, that phrase struck me because it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a producer I’m working with on a new project, where I was saying that no matter what guitar I pick up, I sound like me. Different guitars may have different fundamental sounds, but when I manipulate a guitar (read: play), I always sound like – me. And the funny thing is that as the title says, I don’t know how I did it! After 44 years of playing guitar, probably way earlier than that, the way I attack the strings, the way fret and bend, the phrasing that I use; it’s distinctly me, but I couldn’t tell you how I got there. It just happened…

A friend of mine was listening to an instrumental compilation I put together while we were on a road trip (yes, I’m working on an instrumental album), and one observation that he made was that even though I wasn’t singing, he could immediately identify who was playing. That was really cool to me, because though I personally knew at an abstract level that I had a sound that was my own, it was great to get that validation from someone other than myself.

So what’s the point to all this? No, I’m not trying to hand myself some sort of back-handed compliment. I’m fully aware that my technical skill pales in comparison to my guitar gods. And I’m okay with that because with what skills I do possess, I’m making music and playing it my own way, which is the only way I know how to approach music. Yes, I study other players and study their techniques, but when it comes down to execution, but I know it’s me who has to execute, and as much as I’d like to sometimes do what one of my favorite guitarists does, frankly, they probably don’t know or put much thought into how they achieved what they did in the first place. Sure, anyone can go back and analyze what they did after the fact. But at the moment of creation, I’ll venture that they hadn’t a clue as to what they were doing or how they were creating it.

As for myself, with my instrumental project, one thing that I don’t want to do too much of is compose. For instance, when I wrote “The Struggle,”

while I had an idea of what I wanted the basic melody line to be after playing around a bit, when I finally got down to recording over the chord progression, I did it in one take and just let my fingers do the talking. My idea was that I wanted as much of the music to be as spontaneous as possible, while following a general guideline, and perhaps even have one or two unexpected “gotchas” because you never know what you might produce. For instance, around 2:02 of the song, I did this climbing phrase that seems like it fits naturally within the song, but to be completely honest, at that point, I was actually in a slight panic because I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so I just played and slid up the fretboard thinking I could fix it later if I made a mistake. But as it turns out, it fit perfectly. But I couldn’t tell you exactly how I did it. I just did it.

Stevie Ray Vaughn was notorious for this. He was said to have claimed – and I believe it – that he couldn’t duplicate his solos. He listened to the backing music and just… created…

For me, this is crux of being an artist. Don’t get me wrong, if you idolize a particular player and want to get a similar sound, I totally get it. But in the end, you’re the one who has to execute, you’re the one who has to make the sound. Besides, chances are that your idol didn’t know how they did what they did.

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