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Artist of the Month for January 2004: Gary Leek

Gary Leek

Age: Old enough to know better but not old enough to stop

Southern California

At what age did you start playing guitar?
I started playing when I was 10. I took lessons from Herman Roloff, a really great teacher from Rockford, Illinois. He taught a lot of young guitar and steel players in that area. There are probably some 13th Fret readers that took lessons from him. He taught all kinds of music, including Chet Atkins, which is where I first starting learning how to finger pick. I learned bluegrass flatpicking at folk festivals. It?s not an easy thing to learn.

First guitar:
My first guitar was a Gibson hollow body electric with a single pickup. After a couple of years I graduated to a Gibson Les Paul custom. My first acoustic was a Gibson J-45. Later I traded up for a Gibson J-200. I?ve had a variety of acoustics since then.

Early Influences:
I got a lot of my early musical influences from my guitar teacher, which included Chet, the Beatles and Stones, surf music like the Ventures and Beach Boys, and even some big band stuff. This is where I learned that most instrumental songs require a strong, straightforward melody in addition to good chops ? a concept I still try to follow today. One other big influence was learning how to finger pick the old Simon and Garfunkel stuff.

First gig:
The music store where I took lessons put together a "guitar army" band (guitars only- no drums) with several guitar students. Some of us from that group began playing by ourselves to do "real" gigs (and finally got a drummer). Our first gig was at an eighth grade dance. We couldn't find sheet music for all the new songs coming out so we had to learn songs by listening to the records.

Acoustic Guitars you own:
My Taylor 714-CE is my main guitar. This one still sounds great to me so I haven't felt the need to change yet. I also have a Taylor 12-string, a Martin and an old Takamine D-18 copy. I recently traded in my old Gibson L-50 archtop for a Dobro with a wooden body.

Favorite Guitar:
Most of my acoustic guitar music is played on my Taylor, but I don?t think there is a single guitar that covers all styles well. For example, guitars that have an intimate sound for finger picking don't usually sound good for flatpicking.

Your Style, and how you developed it:
I first started playing acoustic with a flat pick. Then I used thumb and finger picks for finger style. I played in country-rock and country bands for a while and began to play double stops and steel guitar licks using the second and third fingers of my right hand. That grew into my current technique of fingerpicking with a flat pick. I wouldn't recommend this approach for beginning players though! My main musical styles are bluegrass, country, celtic and jazz. Each has its own vocabulary of modes and licks, but in general they're not that far apart. I think the biggest influence on my style has been simplicity and the concept of space.

Practice Regimen:
I run through most of my "gigging" songs casually during the course of a week just keep my chops up. To practice for a gig, I'll make a songlist and work through the sets as if I was playing live. When I'm done, I go back and woodshed parts that didn't come off well. There is a big difference between playing in a band and playing solo acoustic guitar. In a band, the other instruments carry most of the parts of a song, but playing solo, you have to do it all. You really have to stay focused on articulation and know the songs well enough to play them comfortably in order to capture the audience. I am also very religious about playing along with music from other artists. I make a big pot of coffee and blast away with stuff like Ricky Skaggs, David Grisman, and Nickel Creek. For an extra treat, learn the mando parts on guitar! That will definitely keep your fingers fresh!

Favorite Artist(s):
It's very hard to give only a few favorite artists since I like a lot of different musical styles and instruments. For acoustic fingerstyle guitar players, I like Leo Kottke, Pat Kirtley, Michael Hedges, Al Petteway, and Laurence Juber to name a few.

Is there anything else you want people to know about you, your playing style or your views on today's music in general?
I love the comment made recently by Sting: "Music is its own reward". I think hundreds of thousands of musicians have already embraced the concept since recording technology is cheap enough now for anyone to record music. This makes a very fluid musical culture where creative new ideas are rapidly produced and distributed. Unfortunately, the music industry has gone through so much consolidation that it is becoming less diverse so there are almost no places to hear all of this new music. But that's a topic for another whole discussion!

One last comment: I'd like to express my appreciation to Dave Skowron for his hard work building and maintaining the 13th Fret site, and for giving artists like me an opportunity for exposure to a wider audience. Thanks, Dave!
Check out Gary's website
If you are a guitarist with a cd out and would like to be featured here please contact me.

AOTM Archives:

August 2008 - Danny Combs
March 2006 - Bryan Clark
Februry 2006 - Darin Leong
January 2006 - Andy McKee
December 2005 - Don Alder
November 2005 - Doug Young
October 2005 - Nancy Conescu
August - September 2005 - Warren Greig
July 2005 - Ian Melrose
June 2005 - Roger Lasley
May 2005 - Jim Tozier
April 2005 - Jessica Papkoff
March 2005 - Todd Habekost
February 2005 - Michael Hewett
January 2005 - Steve Barney
December 2004 - Tony McManus
November 2004 - Chris Newman
October 2004 - Kevin Kastning
September 2004 - Rick Duke
August 2004 - El McMeen
June-July 2004 - Charles David Alexander
May 2004 - Tony Capri
April 2004 - Shane Simpson
March 2004 - Bill Cooley
February 2004 - Greg Meckes
January 2004 - Gary Leek
December 2003 - Ernie Hawkins
November 2003 - Keith Knight
October 2003 - Jaquie Gipson
September 2003 - Chuck Durfor
August 2003 - Cathy Horner
July 2003 - Art Edelstein
June 2003 - Muriel Anderson
May 2003 - Clarelynn Rose
March-April 2003 - Steve Wildey
February 2003 - Rick Ruskin
January 2003 - Kerry Kling
December 2002 - Tim O'Brien
November 2002 - Howard Emerson
October 2002 - Dennis Roger Reed
September 2002 - Larry Pattis
August 2002 - Paul Asbell