Back in my teenage days, I read a great quote by Robin Trower in Guitar Player Magazine. He was discussing how most guitarists don't go back and explore who came before them. He said, "Don't listen to me and cop my stuff. Go back and listen to BB King. Learn who influenced him and check that out."
That was probably some of the best advice I'd ever gotten, and from that point on, I made it my business to go back and see where everything came from. How about you? Do you know the lineage of your favorite players? We guitar players are especially notorious for feeding on ourselves. Sometimes, it seems like the furthest back we are willing to go is Eddie Van Halen.
Why don't we follow a few players back in time and see if we can't discover some new cats to listen to. How about Van Halen? Who was he into when he was coming up? Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Page, Blackmore. Who did THEY listen to? Muddy Waters, The Kings (BB, Freddie and Albert), Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Cliff Gallup. Who did THEY listen to? T-Bone Walker and Guitar Slim.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers fused funk with punk and came up with their own brand of groove music. Guitarist John Frusciante is obviously into Hendrix, but have you investigated the funk players who influenced him? Check out George Clinton's baby, Parliament/Funkadelic. There are tons of albums to listen to by this collective. Eddie Hazel's playing on "Maggot Brain" is especially noteworthy. How about the inventor of funk, James Brown? Jimmy Nolen, the guitarist on many of the hits, is the bible when it comes to funky guitar playing. Dig in and discover where it all came from.
Don't just listen to the guitarists either. You can learn a lifetime's worth of licks from JB's horn players, Maceo Parker, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis and trombonist, Fred Wesley. Horn players use a completely different phrasing approach than guitar players. Why not learn some horn solos and apply them to guitar?
One of my all-time favorite players is Pat Metheny. He was influenced by trumpet players as well as guitarists. You can't play jazz guitar without going through Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino, Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Kenny Burrell. On the trumpet, Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.
No discussion of jazz would be complete without paying homage to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderly, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Art Blakey, Max Roach and Bill Evans. These great musicians have appeared on thousands of albums. All you need to do is discover them.
Another hero of mine is Jon Lord, of Deep Purple. In my opinion, he is the greatest rock organ player to ever live. I learned that he was into Jimmy Smith, so I searched out records by Smith and was blown away! That led me to jazz organists Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Larry Young and Big John Patton. The organ group sound remains one of my favorites to this day.
If you are into R&B, you should head straight to the Motown records. The small group of musicians who played on all of those records, including the mother of all bassists, James Jamerson, defined the very essence of that music. Don't forget to check out the Memphis Stax/Volt guys too. Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T. Jones and Al Jackson were responsible for some of the coolest tunes by Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. Throw in the New Orleans funk of The Meters and you have the history of R&B right there in front of you.
Metal guitarists absolutely must go back and learn every tune Black Sabbath ever did. That dark, grinding sound didn't exist before Tony Iommi cranked up the SG. Not only is he responsible for some of the greatest riffs ever, but check out the down-tuned guitars on "Volume 4". That's right; Korn, Limp Bizkit and Soundgarden wouldn't exist if it weren't for Iommi and Sabbath.
No matter what style of music you're into, you should try to become a musical detective. Find out who your heroes were into and listen to everything you can by them. Go back as far as you possibly can, so you can see the thread that runs through the music. You will become a better-informed, more well rounded musician and better opportunities will follow. Good luck!
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© 2003 Dan Palladino
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