Lewistown, PA (in central PA)
At what age did you start playing guitar? 17
What made you decide to start?
I can’t quite remember. I had sung, and played clarinet and piano seriously. I do recall that I liked the guitar playing of my roommate in secondary school, although I did become weary of “Sloop John B”.
An all-mahogany Gibson
Folksingers Phil Ochs, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Rush, Bob Dylan
Tell us about your early playing days. What motivated you? Did you have friends that played?
I find that one of the best ways to learn is to jam with people that are way better than you. Did you do a lot of jamming when you first started?
During college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1960’s, there was a great folk scene, but at that stage I was playing 3 hours a day, in the solitary of my dorm room (and sometimes the stairwell), trying to improve my skills as a singer and player. I was much too reticent to involve myself in group things. I started to get some reinforcement for my singing and playing, when I did some informal performing outside in the Harvard Yard, and, amazingly enough, people actually gathered to hear me, rather than fleeing in every direction. Maybe the price was right.
It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that I thought about performing primarily instrumentals on guitar. At that time Stefan Grossman evinced an interest in my playing, and I subsequently did 8 one-hour audiocassette lessons, and three video lessons, for his workshop. I’ve also done 10 CD’s.
My then singing partner and I won the Shade Gap, PA (best known as the site of a kidnapping later on of a young lady by the “Shade Gap Mountain Man”, later apprehended by the FBI) talent contest in 1968, and came in second in the central PA talent contest later that year. Neither was exactly Carnegie Hall…
My serious touring as a guitarist started at age 51. I’d recommend that people start earlier:)
Acoustic Guitars you own:
Two Martin OM-28V models, EI and Sitka; a 1984 Franklin Braz. and Engelmann Jumbo and a 2004 Franklin OM, Engelmann and Madagascar Rosewood; and a Baranik CX, Italian Spruce and Madagascar, Sunburst.
My current ones.
Your Style, and how you developed it:
I think my style, in the left hand, is reminiscent of the approach of a violinist (working the strings, creating texture and vibrato), and in the right hand, akin to the arpeggiated style of a harper. This style arose from my interest in the CGDGAD tuning, brought to my attention by the playing of the English guitarist Dave Evans, and my interest in Celtic harp music and songs. I recently completed a large book for Mel Bay called The Art of Dropped D Guitar. (I discovered, somewhat by accident, that my arrangements can translate well, and in sometimes interesting fashion, to dropped D tuning.) My book of Christmas transcriptions is done in CGDGAD and Dropped D tunings.
2-3 hours a day, starting right after breakfast. During tours, I’m rehearsing my sets all the time, and not usually learning new material. When I’m not touring, I’m more relaxed, and open to inspiration by way of new music. When I find a new piece to work on, I beat it like a drum until I get it down. This approach has led to my two CD’s in 2004—Dancing the Strings and my Christmas CD, called The Soul of Christmas Guitar (to be released in October 2004).
Fiddlers Mark O’Connor, Liz Carroll, and Natalie Mac Master; harpers Kim Robertson and the late Derek Bell; too many guitarists to mention, but including Messrs. Bensusan, Renbourn, McManus, Simpson, Baughman and Pattis.
What general suggestions would you give to someone who wants to learn to play guitar?
As my friend Stefan Grossman says…play LOUD and play slowly.
Check out El's website.