Updated: Apr 8, 2020
I am often asked “Do you have any advice for someone who is starting to play guitar?”
My usual snarky, less-than-half-joking reply is “Don’t give up your day job.”
Which falls into the “Do as I say, not as I do” category. Being a full-time artist of any type is HARD work. Don’t fool yourself or let anyone tell you differently. Every path in life, every choice you make, has a cost. So you – and you alone - must decide how high a price you’re willing to pay to chase that dream.
(I could probably do a “drug” side effect warning for choosing the artist’s path…might be a future post!)
But the real advice I can offer to anyone picking up the guitar…is encapsulated in this quote by the writer Stephen King. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, the man is a great writer and knows how to write best-sellers.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
I would second that insight when it comes to playing an instrument.
If want to be a musician, you must do two things above all others:
LISTEN A LOT and PLAY A LOT.
When you’re not playing, you need to be listening. When you’re not listening you should be playing. You can eat sometime in between and sleep only when necessary to avoid hallucinating and all that other weird stuff that comes with sleep deprivation.
This list of recordings is not intended to be a “greatest of all-time” list although I’d probably include them in my personal Top Ten – but this is a different list in my mind. It is my belief that what can be learned from listening to them with intent – meaning, focused, analytical listening sessions – what in music school was called “critical listening.” – will reveal valuable lessons for any musician.
These recordings will teach you the importance of LISTENING WHILE PLAYING!
This takes dedication to your craft, concentration and repeated listening to the same pieces. To get inside what’s happening…what is the guitar player doing? The bass player? The drummer? How are they interacting with each other? How do the other players support, react to and propel the soloist? What and how do they contribute to the SONG?
The real quest is to understand how the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. While certain player’s performance might stand out and be front and center, the importance of what the band is doing to help create and support those performances is key to becoming a great ensemble player and not just a wanker trying to show off constantly.
It is also my firm belief that if these albums were the only ones on your desert island…or if you locked yourself in a room and listened to nothing else for a few months, you could learn pretty much everything you need to learn about rock n roll guitar playing.
I’m not kidding at all about this. I consider these to be the Rosetta Stone of Rock n Roll! And while you won’t see some obvious seminal rock n rollers included, their influence is indelibly imbedded in these recordings. For example, listening to Keith Richards will teach you about Chuck Berry, Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf with his added grease on top. This is not to say you shouldn’t go back and listen to those artists…it is absolutely imperative to do so. But again, this list has the additional lessons of how players like Keith, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend took from their influences and created a new lexicon of rock guitar playing that defined the genre, one degree of separation from the root source.
Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal.
When you “borrow” something, anything, it is not yours. When you “steal” something, you have taken it as your own. This is the process by which you absorb your influences and rather than just imitating them, turn them into something of your own. Your own “voice” and identity beyond being a clone. All great players go through this metamorphosis. Stevie Ray Vaughan being another example.
So here ya go! In no particular order.
Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones
Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix
Rubber Soul & Revolver – The Beatles
Layla & Other Love Songs – Derek & the Dominoes
Live at the Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band
Blow by Blow - Jeff Beck
Live at Leeds – The Who
In Step - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Crosby, Stills & Nash/Déjà Vu – Crosby, Sills Nash & Young
I hope you enjoy and find these recordings as educational and inspiring in the same way I have in first discovering then returning again and again for countless listenings throughout the years.