Look to the Gods

November 7, 2007
What is music? According to dictionary.com, music is, “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.” Does modern music and modern musicians create music? So many people play the guitar, bass, or drums, but very few actually PLAY them. With enough practice, anyone can sit there and play a song, but it takes real talent, discipline, and know how to get creative and put your instrument to good use. Too many aspiring musicians are looking up to the wrong people. When I have discussions with my fellow guitar players, many of them obsess over the band who has the fastest picking or coolest distortion. Speed doesn’t matter. And distortion, when used incorrectly, just hides the fact that the person really can’t play all that well. None of these so called musicians have done anything great or unique. The best place to look for inspiration would have to be the guitar geniuses who lived between the 50’s and very early 90’s.
In the 1940’s, a guitar player who should be looked up to by all musicians was born. Jimi Hendrix. He has become one of the most creative and influential guitar players in rock music, influencing legendary figures such as George Clinton, Steve Vai, and Miles Davis. He invented his own style, using “fuzz” guitar and feedback. He was tremendously blues influenced, and it shows in all of his music. He had a unique style of singing and playing guitar and also had great showmanship, which is extremely important for a musician. Born in 1942, he was originally named Johnny Allen Hendrix, but after his father returned home from the war he changed Johnny’s name to James Marshall Hendrix. In 1961, Hendrix left home to enlist in the U.S. army, serving as a paratrooper. After being discharged due to an injury, he went on to focus on guitar. He was discovered by the Animals’ former bass player Chas Chandler while playing a gig at the popular club, Café Wah?. Chandler wanted to start a career in music management and saw Hendrix as the perfect artist to sign on first. After getting a band, with Mitch Mitchells on drums and Noel Redding on bass, they decided on the name the Jimi Hendrix Experience and they quickly put out their Hey Joe single. Shortly after, the Jimi Hendrix Experience went on tour. At one of their bigger concerts, Chas thought that Hendrix should try to make a really good impression on the crowd. Hendrix’s band was already on stage while Hendrix was waiting backstage with his guitar. The man onstage would introduce him, and in between each line Hendrix would let out a sick riff. After a few minutes of this, he walks out with his hand in the air, still playing, and everyone realizes that all of these great riffs were being played one handed. It didn’t take long at all for Hendrix to make a name for himself, changing music forever. Not long after Jimi Hendrix, came a guitar God whose name would be worshiped by rock guitarists everywhere, Jimmy Page.
Jimmy Page, born in 1944, is one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. He is the founder of the legendary band Led Zeppelin, and has also played in the Yardbirds. Jimmy is an exceptional songwriter who wrote pieces such as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Heartbreaker.” He is also known for mixing several styles into his music, including folk, blues, and funk. Another great, but unappreciated, guitar player who would combine unexpected styles into his music is Robbie Krieger.
Robbie Krieger, born in 1946, was the guitarist for the Doors. He is trained in flamenco style guitar playing. He is an extremely talented songwriter who wrote the popular Doors song, “Light My Fire.” He is an essential to the Doors, and he helped give them their special individual sound. He is not one of those “in your face” guitar players, cranking up their amps and shredding the whole time. What he plays is extremely important, but it blends so well with the rest of it. He plays as if all of the music is one, not different parts put together. Guitar players were not the only people fusing different genres of music together. A bass player who goes by the name of Flea helped create an amazing fusion of funk and rock.
Michael “Flea” Balzary, born in 1962, is the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is heavily influenced by funk and jazz style music, and this shows in the Chili Pepper’s music. With his fast, complex slap pop bass lines, it is obvious that this is no ordinary rock bassist. Flea, along with Anthony Kiedis (the singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), are the heart and soul of the Chili Peppers. Together they have successfully fused funk, rock and rap. Flea was also first chair trumpet player in his high school, and you can hear his trumpet in the Chili Peppers earlier works such as “Yertle the Turtle”, and “Hollywood.” Metal is often looked down upon. Most modern metal is junk…period. Repeatedly playing one over distorted chord and screaming; last time I checked that’s not music. But metal wasn’t always like this, it was actually good at the beginning. And we can thank one man for all good metal guitar, Tony Iommi.
Tony Iommi, born in 1948, was the guitar player for the infamous metal band Black Sabbath. He is given credit for being the father of metal guitar. When he was a teenager, he cut off the tips of his middle and ring finger on his left hand while working (ironically) in a metal shop. But he refused to let this keep him from playing guitar. He crafted make shift fingertips using bottles and leather. Iommi was the first true metal guitarist, and fortunately guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen would follow.
Eddie Van Halen, born in 1955, is a living legend. His inventive playing and numerous props (Eddie has played with unusual things such as sandpaper) have made him a true legend. He is one of the most respected and loved metal guitar players of all time. Self taught, Eddie has mastered hammerons and pulloffs. Many people believe that he gets all of his great sounds through distortion, when in fact when you listen, it’s not distorted at all. Eddie would use an amplifier that had a significantly higher wattage than the speaker had. This gave it that powerful, screeching sound that Van Halen is known for. For all of you out there that still think that the only reason Eddie’s guitar playing sounds so good is because of his effects and amps, he shows off his skill in an acoustic solo named “Spanish Fly.” He rips it up on a classical guitar, doing hammerons and picking at a mind blowing speed. I am not saying that only old musicians are the great ones, it just seems to be the pattern. The newer the music is, the worse it seems to get. But there are some modern music heroes, and John Mayer is one of them.

John Mayer, born in 1977, is greatly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughn. He shows that not all modern musicians have lost their taste. Vaughn was heavily influenced by Hendrix (many people claim he copied Hendrix), and this shows in much of John Mayer’s later work. In his new live album Try, it is obvious that he is a blues artist at heart. He is passionate about what he plays, and passion is something needed no matter what you’re doing, but this need is even greater in music. He is also a brilliant lyricist. He’s not just rambling on about some worthless topic, his lyrics mean something to him, and he thinks of them as much apart of the music as the actual guitar and drums. He is also a very unique singer. You listen to bands whose singer sounds like every other singer (ex. Nirvana, Nickelback, and Hinder). John Mayer is in no way like this. He has developed his own style and is true to it.

All of these musicians have developed unique styles and true musicianship, unlike many who copy what is popular and acquire fame and fortune from it. So my advice is this, lose the distortion and effects and learn to play your instrument, let’s try to keep music (real music) alive.

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songofheaven said...
Jul. 4, 2010 at 11:05 pm
"Look to the Gods" is correct. I myself am a Jimmy Page and Robbie Krieger fan. Not to mention, I'm a girl. (Man, it's possible, believe me.) I think that rock and pop musicians should look up to the great artists from the 1960's, 70's, and 80's. There is a wealth of musical knowledge to be obtained from the classis rock era. But wait, where was their inspiration? Those musicians listened to a lot of blues and good, old fashioned 50's rock n' roll, you'll find. So m... (more »)
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