Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - The Mythical Boomer Guitar Solo Aficionado

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Mythical Boomer Guitar Solo Aficionado


 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

Somewhere in the late 80's, at the height of the hair-metal boom, something awful happened.  It's sort of related to the evils of "Playing Guitar with a Jock Attitude", but from the observer's point of view.

 As guitar playing in solos became more and more "heroic" in the late 80's, something changed for the worse in the way the listener "evaluated" what they were hearing.  It's overhung into everything today, in that it would seem it's now the defacto nature of how a person listen's to music live today:

 Perfect execution over spontaneous creativity.  

 I had always sort of suspected this as a contrast.  It wasn't until I played in a Beatles tribute band that I became cognizant of it as a reality.

 In the Beatles band I did not take liberties with anything, and tried to execute things as flawlessly as possible given circumstances.  Except in one ironic instance: the outro of the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".  With this song the solo at the end, for various reasons, became something of a showcase spot, and effectively I improvised the end solo - and another 2 minutes or more afterwards.

 The funny thing is, this became a Big Deal Showstopper.  Ironically, because it was the only part of the show that wasn't 100% Beatles content.  So I can take pride in that, given the context, but more importantly it was comments after the shows that was enlightening.

 These shows were mostly filled with Boomer age audiences, which was a novelty in my experience.  A very, very different thing compared to Gen-X and younger audiences.  But the comments afterwards were the most different thing: very specific observations of what I did during the lengthy While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo.

Comments like:

 "I like that Hendrix thing you did in the middle", "the soft part when you started doing the bending stuff, I don't play guitar but that was cool", "that fancy thing you did on the part that goes (tries to emulate the phrase verbally)".  Etc.  

Very specific compliments.  These people were actually listening!

 What a strange thing.  Not  "dude, you shred!!!" or "man, you can play mutha f****** guitar!" - not that I mind that, I love that, it's always great to get compliments, and enthusiastic ones.  Basically the only thing that fuels the Peasant Income Musician.

 But these Boomer age people really paid attention, and appreciated the notion that they understood I was improvising.  

 I never knew what I was going to do for that 2 minute long solo.  That was the whole point, for me it was a nice valve versus the rigid "stentorian rendition of the Beatles oeuvre".  It wasn't perfect, and that wasn't the point.

 I grew up listening to guitar players that from my vantage point were based on that.  In fact, when I finally did see Queen (post Freddy Mercury) it was both shocking and reaffirming how much Brian May improvised.  Maybe a half, or more of what he played was not based on the recordings!  On the live records (Queen _Live Killers_) he pretty much stuck to the recorded versions, but what I saw was someone stretching out on all of the solos.

Which was great!  That's what I wanted, I was hearing Sir Brian May, professor of infra red astronomy, coming up with stuff on the spot, in my presence, that maybe had not been heard before.  Maybe even by him, or even possibly by Any Human In History!

 The most interesting I've heard Steve Vai play is on a bootleg of him around the time of his first solo record, playing in what sounds like a small club - and he's winging solos, embellishing stuff left and right.  Very interesting to listen to.  I'm not knocking Steve, but these days he does nice, extremely perfect renditions of what is for the most part the Expected Recording Solo that has passed Rigorous Introspection and Production Gauntlet Checking.

 Which seems to please his more rabid fans, and makes tremendous sense: 99.9% of his audience, or mostly any guitar player's audience, is probably only going to see you play live just one time.  In which case, presenting the absolutely best rendition of a piece of music is logical.

 Right?  It's very professional.  It's what is expected by every touring act today, and it's also pretty much what is expected by audiences.

 It's also very boring and role in my opinion, and is one of the big reasons I've lost most motivation to go see a "live" band today.  I'm Gen-X, but I'm listening like a Baby Boomer listens I think.  The generation that grew up on pride in their "hi-fi" stereos, their record collection, their knowledge of their favorites artists. Nobody wanted to hear Hendrix or Clapton play the solo from the record - they wanted their experience of that solo section.  This was true for most rock guitarists through the 60's and 70's I think; there was a structure for the solo, but it was a solo - you were expected to take a chance.  You might mess up, but the point was to take a chance.

 Those days are gone.

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music.

Nobody plays music anymore.


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