Sundry Comments and Two Notes; Gratitude, Press Release, and Reviews; Coda and Acknowledgements to the Source of True Greatness; Six, Seven, and Silly or Sublime Thoughts; Great (and Good) Guitarists Trivia; Six Guitar Conceptions; Five Guitar Sacrifices: Six-String as Self-Consuming Artifact; Three Guitar Graphics; Prologue; Breau and So On; Transcendental Improvisation (TI); Nashville and New York.
London Fringe Festival, APK Live, 347 Clarence Street: Review1 & 2 & 3.Thu. 6/6, 7:30 pm; Fri. 6/7, 9:30; Sat. 6/8, 7:30 pm; Mon. 6/10, 9:30; Tue. 6/11, 7:30;Wed. 6/12, 9:30; Thu. 6/13, 7:30; Fri. 6/14, 9:30; Sat. 6/ 15, 8 pm.
James Reaney: Loved all the pieces we saw at the Fringe . . . Colin Godbout had the Django etc going magnificently in The Greatest Guitarist In The World & considered grad school thesis work on Canada’s mythopoeic poets like my father & Jay Macpherson (he talked about it with Jay).Greg: I just came back from watching Colin Godbout's show "The Greatest Guitarists [Guitarist] of [in, not of] the World". As I said to my friend, "This is the best $10 I've ever spent!". If there is a `virtual form` mark my friend and I down as giving Colin a score of a perfect 10 out of 10 or whatever scale you are using. I recommend this show to Londoners, who: a) love great guitar music; b) want to try to understand what was in the minds, if not the souls of those great guitarists, and c) wish to experience the sublime.IT IS SHOWS LIKE THIS THAT KEEP ME COMING BACK TO FRINGE! Submitted by Alexandra My friends and I loved the sound of this show and decided to give it a try. We are so glad that we did. Colin was just amazing and we enjoyed his interpretation of each one of the artists he was honouring. I would highly recommend and may even go a second time.REPLY Submitted by AlanWe were so very disappointed. We expected something electric and riveting. This was not. So much of the music seemed blended and unremarkable. When it came to the portion on Jimi Hendrix, I did recognize Purple Haze, with it's embellishments. I never heard Little Wing, which was supposed to be there, or any other music supposedly of Hendrix. The section did include The Impossible Dream and Lightfoot's Don Quixote, but I don't have a clue why.The last ten minutes were left for Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Jimmy Page had two samples. One was Stairway to Heaven, with plenty of extra notes and little drama.The biggest problems of the show for me are that this classical influence homogenized everything and the creativity of the rock contributors was numbed and generic.A STUNNING PERFORMANCE Submitted by Emma Allison Sometimes a performance pulls you completely in. The ambiance, the story, and the effects all lure you away before you even know you're somewhere different. That's what The Greatest Guitarist in the World manages to do. Godbout is amazing at weaving history, music theory and talent together to create a fuller depiction of the guitar revolution than I've ever previously experienced. It's an awe-inspiring piece that's absolutely worth seeing.WONDERFUL EVENING Submitted by CerisWe had a GREAT time at this show. A true Fringe Experiment and definitely a musical essay. Thank you for sharing your talent, insight and experience with us in your explorations of Great Guitarists. The show is witty, pleasant, and introspective and... wonderful.
Ottawa Fringe Festival, Venue 2 - Arts Court Library (Almost SOLD OUT a few shows) Review1 & 2 & 3 Thu, 6/20, 6:30 pm (2 for 1); Sat, 6/22, 4:30 pm; Sun, 6/23, 7:30 pm; Thur, 6/27, 5:00 pm; Sat, 6/29, 2:00 pm; Sun, 6/30, 4:30 pm.
Note 1: The new and improved 2013 version of Greatest Guitarist features snippets of speeches by Django, Chet, Breau, Hendrix, Clapton, and Page. My use of this technique of importing speeches into songs is influenced by rappers.
Note 2: A London reviewer wrote, "Colin Godbout might actually be The Greatest Guitarist in the World." Flattering though this may be, I don't believe that such a person exists. My intention in this show is to deconstruct this American concept and to reconstruct it as a metaphysical concept. A more sober Ottawa reviewer with a hint of hyperbole writes: "Colin Godbout may not be the actual greatest guitarist in the world, but he is fantastic at playing the music of those in consideration for that title."
Gratitude, Press Release, and Reviews
Gratitude: My 2012 summer tour of this show was a leap of faith and I'm grateful to many hosts, venue managers, and festival producers and staff for helping me land on my feet and make it a success. In my mind I was not the star of The Greatest Guitarist in the World summer tour, nor was any media reviewer. After the Maker, the greatest stars of my tour were those whom I have thanked above.
Step right up to three bouts of the hottest pickers on earth! Godbout portrays Rolling Stone Magazine’s prizefighters - Hendrix, Clapton, and Page - going neck and neck with country gentleman Chet Atkins, his gypsy hero Django Reinhardt, and his Canadian protégé Lenny Breau.
Follow these six-string visionaries on a quest to be the best. Django dreams of a royal castle in his gypsy caravan as Chet fingerpicks his way from Tennessee foothills to hillbilly heaven. Hendrix kisses electric ladies in the sky as Breau crowns his ebony queen. In the eyes of his Canadian father Clapton descends the crossroads into the arms of his holy mother as Page climbs a Stairway to Heaven backwards. Hear the hottest pickers’ riffs unfurled in The Greatest Guitarist in the World.
Will Django's regal dream of a black gypsy queen be shattered when Chet imports the boom chick rhythm of gypsy jazz into his white only vision of a hillbilly heaven? Will Lenny 'Lone Pine Junior' Breau outdraw the Voodoo Child? Will the Claptonean Crossroads clash with the Pagean Stairway? Find out as Godbout mimes the best six-stringers on the third stone from the sun in The Greatest Guitarist in the World.
The Greatest Guitarist in the World features six premieres: a guitar arrangement of the Overture to Django’s gypsy Mass; Lenny’s Radio; Lenny Had a Little Lamb, Three Blind Mice, and a Buffalo Soldier; a beatific revision of Breau’s version of McCoy Tyner’s Vision; a flamenco guitar arrangement of Hendrix's Machine Gun; a classical guitar arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused using a violin bow.
Why Hendrix, Clapton, and Page? Because in November 2011 they topped Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the hundred greatest guitarists of all time. Why Breau, Chet, and Django? Because Chet called Django the greatest guitarist in the world until Django's death in 1953, when Chet’s fans began to apply the title to him, before he passed it on to his protege, Breau.
The Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown is a fictionized biography of guitarist Emmet Ray. When Ray encounters his idol Django Reinhardt at the end of the film he introduces himself as “the greatest guitar player in the world.” Earlier his socialite wife Blanche had asked him: “What do you think of when you play? What goes through your mind?” I tackle her questions in my portrayal of six guitarists in The Greatest Guitarist in the World.
The Greatest Guitarist in the World - a musical portrayal of six guitar greats written and performed by Colin Godbout.
Victoria Fringe Festival, Aug. 27-Sept. 3, Wood Recital Hall."Judging by the totally sold-out house on his first show there’s absolutely a following for Godbout's charming guitar concert stylings." Culture Vulture Victoria
"Godbout is an excellent guitar player. It’s fascinating to hear how [six guitarists] blended different styles, evolved from one another, and contributed greatly to how the instrument is thought of and played today." Marble Theatre
Edmonton Fringe Festival, Aug. 16-26, Kasbar Lounge. review1 * "An insane range and flawless transitions mark this intense musical essay on the history and style of the greatest guitar players that have ever lived. Godbout's knowledge and musical prowess go uncontested. This is a must see for anyone with a passion for the music." Edmonton Vue Weekly
First comment on Sandra Sperounes' review: "Sorry Sandra, you missed the point of this great show! This musician does not need to be a play in order to win the audience. He did just fine, thanks very much. Next year, let someone else review the musicians. Show some hospitality -- we want this musician to come back here. Too bad you could not keep up. Be nicer next time -- people are watching ..."The patronizing tone recalls the comment to Sperounes' 2011 review of my The Last Gig of Lenny Breau: "Get over yourself Sandra. The show is about the music. The music is brilliant and beautifully performed." Sperounes concluded this 2011 review with the advice, "you might as well just read a biography of Breau while listening to one of his albums at home." This paraphrase of Canadian music critic Gene Lees' advice, on the back cover of the Breau biography, to "gather up a fair collection of Lenny's recordings, sit down with them and this most excellent biography," ignores the fact that my Breau show covers material not touched on in the biography.Second comment: "I really hope Sandra is not tone deaf. There is no mention of the musical creativity, appreciation of the talent, the unique style of guitar playing instead of just strumming Lady Gaga songs, and the unique telling of snippets of biographies... It's one of the meanest reviews I have read that unfortunately is contrary to what I experienced this evening. Maybe there was no free beer?"The first page of the 2012 Edmonton Fringe Festival program guide is a full page ad for a media sponsor's "star-studded cast...of 5-star writers" and "expert critics." This self-review contradicts the above comments. As Canadian Tire sells more than tires so Fringe theatre festivals offer more than plays. The program guide categorized my show under the genre "Music/Musical Theatre." Edmonton's Gig City is accurate in calling it "a fantasy tag team guitar battle," as is Vue Weekly in calling it an "intense musical essay." It is inexpert to review it as though it were a play. This straw man fallacy prompted a dance ensemble in the festival to title its show This is Still Not a Play, a follow-up to its 2010 show This is Not a Play.
Winnipeg Fringe Festival, July 18-29, Johnny G’s. review * review2 * review3 *
"Godbout is a six-string wizard and can coax any style out of his acoustic. It's fingerpickin' good." Winnipeg Free Press
Web comment: "What a lovely surprise this show was. I suggested it because music is important to my partner and thought it might be a nice first Fringe presentation to ease him into the festival. Arrived at the small but cozy and not too hot venue and took our seats. Mr. Godbout performed quietly on the side while waiting for time to start the show. After a bit of small talk and intro, he dove right in and took us all on a musical journey. I was unfamiliar with many of the pieces he played but was awestruck by his musicality, and taken on an amazing journey. We both left feeling we had experienced something wonderful. Thanks for such a memorable trip."
Note: In the Hendrix / Breau section of the show, discussed in the Jenny Revue review, I portray Breau performing at a 1978 gig hours before giving a speech to honor his father's induction into the Maine Country and Western Music Hall of Fame. Upright bassist Dan Hall recalls that at this gig Breau "got into his Hendrix mode, tied a bandana around his head and was doing this anguished stuff." I interpret Breau's seeming identification with Hendrix at this gig as a token of rebellion against his father's wish for him to follow in his footsteps as Lone Pine Junior by playing country music.
Breau's friend Stephen Anderson recalls his response to his father's death in 1977: "He'd break down and cry and talk about his dad and how he'd let him down, sometimes during gigs. He'd been expected to follow in Hal's footsteps and he felt that he'd disappointed his dad for not being his little sidekick, for not staying as little Lone Pine, Jr., for making that split." Shortly after his father's death Breau accompanied his friend Buddy Spicher to a church service. Spicher recalls Breau's conversation with the minister: "He asked Lenny about his relationship with God and I'll never forget it: Lenny said, 'music is my god.' But he went to church with me rather than hurt my feelings by saying no. Still, he didn't worry about hurtin' this fella's feelings when he said music was his God. It kinda broke my heart to tell you the truth. Still, Lenny was a beautiful soul."
The night before Breau's 1978 'Hendrix' gig he broke into a liquor store and drank stolen liquor. When his friends found him there Breau taunted them, saying, "You cats think you're gonna keep me straight? Well good luck! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha." During his speech after the gig Breau had to be physically supported by his girlfriend, and after the speech his friends found him "staggering around in the alley." I try to justify Breau's irrational behaviour in a second Breauian medley called Beatific Vision.
I wonder if Breau made a connection between the bandana that he wore and a Metis sash. "Smaller sashes can be worn as hand or head bands. Métis sashes are today worn with pride at social gatherings, celebrations, formal events, and any other time a Métis man, woman or child wishes to express pride of heritage. If an Indian person were to honour a non-Indian individual they would present that person with a headdress." "As a symbol, the sash represents connectedness."
Regina Fringe Festival, July 4-8, St. Mary’s Anglican Church.
Wakefield Fringe Festival, June 14-17, Le Hibou.
Fringe performer Brent Hirose's note concerning star ratings: "On the Fringe circuit, three star ratings are widely known as a kiss of death. You can still do decently, but they do nothing to sell your show no matter how glowing your review. 3 1/2 stars don't sell tickets, 4 does. And let's not even bring up the many cases of different media outlets having 1 star and 5 star reviews for the same performance of the same show."
All I got is a gut guitar, three chords and the truth;All I got is a box guitar, the rest is up to you:Referees in my ring, who's the fingerpicking king?Hendrix, Clapton, Page, or Breau? Chet Atkins or Django?All three judges heed my call, who's the greatest of them all?
Lest you be tempted to shout 'We have no king but Hendrix,' write 'Clapton is God' on the walls, or chant 'Zeppelin, Zeppelin,' I offer an epilogue. The physics of string theory posits a cosmos of vibrating strings. Perennial philosophy sees the cosmos as an instrument of a divine musician. Numerology associates six with the human microcosm and seven with sublime perfection. Mixing physics, philosophy, and numerology, I envision Django's gypsy Mass, Chet's hillbilly heaven, Hendrix's electric church, Breau's ebony queen, Page's stairway to self will, and Clapton's crossroads to Christ consciousness as six strings tuned by the greatest guitarist in, but not of, the world. The Lord of the strings be with you. Goodbye.
Acknowledgements to the Source of True Greatness
The visionary representation of the deity as a guitarist, in the Coda epilogue, above, is my contemporary variation of a perennial conception of a divine musician, often a harpist, tuning and / or playing the cosmos and human microcosms as instruments. This conception dates back to Greek philosopher Pythagoras and is evident in contemporary string theorists' idea of a "cosmic symphony" of vibrating strings. The authors cited below, who express this conception, range from second and third century Christian apologists, a Baroque music theorist, a Spanish Renaissance poet, British Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Victorian, and Modern poets, a twentieth century Afro-American poet, and a twentieth century Sufi philosopher.
"The eternal Musician." Johannes Lippius
"God, the great Musician" Joseph S. Cotter Jr. Rain Music
"I have become His ﬂute; and when He chooses, He plays His music. The people give me credit for this music, which in reality is not due to me but to the Musician who plays on his own instrument." Hazrat Inayat Khan, Preface to The Mysticism of Sound
"Divinity itself, coming down from heaven like a plectrum and using [prophets] as an instrument like the cithara or lyre, might reveal to us the knowledge of divine and heavenly things." Unknown second century Greek writer
"The Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments, and having tuned by the Holy Spirit the universe, and especially man,—who, composed of body and soul, is a universe in miniature,—makes melody to God on this instrument of many tones; and to this instrument—I mean man—he sings accordant: 'For thou art my harp.'" Athenagoras (or is it Clement?)
"[The Word/Song] also composed the universe into melodious order, and tuned the discord of the elements to harmonious arrangement, so that the whole world might become harmony." Clement of Alexandria
"Binding with great tendons this great all / God made a lute which had all parts given, / The rounded body was the azured heaven, / The rose, those lights which he did there install; / The basses were the earth and the ocean, / The treble shrill the air: the other strings / The unlike bodies were of mixed things." William Drummond of Hawthornden, Cosmic Lute
"I am a little world made cunningly / Of elements and an angelic sprite" John Donne, Holy Sonnets Donne addresses God when referring to Jesus as “a new string, semen mulieris, the seed of the woman, the Messias: And onely by sounding that string in your ears, become we musicum carmen, true musick, true harmony, true peace [=concordia] to you. [The world harmony, destroyed by original sin and the fall of the angels, was restored by Christ, the ‘new string,’ to the world lute.]” (Leo Spitzer, 136).
See Tolkein on music and creation.
Hamlet: "You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ."
Jocelyn Godwin mentions "the symbol of man as the lyre of God, which must renounce its self-will in order to become an instrument of the divine will." (Occult, 24).
From sixteenth century Spanish poet Luis de Leon's poem, On Francisco de Salinas’ Organ Playing: “The great Maestro, / Playing this immense lyre with skilful motions, / Produces the sacred sound / By which this eternal temple is sustained. / And as the latter is composed / Of concordant numbers, it sends out / A consonant response; and both in rivalry / Mingle with the sweetest harmony.” (A Francisco de Salinas, in La Poesia de Fray Luis da Leon, ed. Oreste Marci, Salamance, Anaya, 1970, pp. 225-6; from Music, 138).
Coleridge, from The Aeolian Harp: "What if all of animated nature be but organic harps diversely framed, that tremble into thought, as o'ér them sweeps plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze, at once the soul of each and God of all?"
Robert Herrick: "Music, thou queen of heaven, care-charming spell, / That strik'st a stillness into hell; / Thou that tam'st tigers, and fierce storms, that rise, / With thy soul-melting lullabies; / Fall down, down, down, from those thy chiming spheres / To charm our souls, as thou enchant'st our ears."
John Dryden, from Song for Saint Cecia's Day: "From harmony, from heavenly harmony, / This universal frame began: / From harmony to harmony / Through all the compass of the notes it ran, / The diapason closing full in Man. / As from the power of sacred lays / The spheres began to move, / And sung the great Creator's praise / To all the Blest above; / So when the last and dreadful hour / This crumbling pageant shall devour, / The trumpet shall be heard on high, / The dead shall live, the living die, / And Music shall untune the sky!"
George Herbert, from Denial: "My soul lay out of sight, / Untuned, unstrung: / My feeble spirit, unable to look right, / Like a nipped blossom, hung / Discontented. / O cheer / and tune my heartless breast."
Charles Swinburne, Music: an Ode: "Was it light that spoke from the darkness, or music that shone from the word, / When the night was enkindled with sound of the sun or the first-born bird? / Souls enthralled in bondage of seasons that fall and rise, / Bound with the fetters of flesh, and blinded with light that dies, / Lived not surely till music spake, and the spirit of life was heard."
Canadian literary theorist Northrop Frye wondered “whether music, which defines nothing and expresses everything, may not be the primary language of the spirit.” Decades later Frye wrote that “the language of the spirit is, Paul tells us, the language of love, and the language of love is the only language that we can be sure is spoken and understood by God.” I’m not sure if Frye recognized the implications of these two statements in relation to one another, for if they are placed together in the form of a syllogism, they indicate that, if the primary language of the spirit is music, and if the language of the spirit is the language of divine love, therefore the primary language of divine love is music, and God, the source of the spirit to which Frye refers, could logically be conceived of as a musician.  Northrop Frye, “The World as Music and Idea in Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’” (Carleton Germanic Papers. 12; 1984), 49.  Northrop Frye, The Double Vision (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 21. By 1934, Frye was contemplating a BD thesis: "I want to show...that music bears a peculiarly intimate relationship to Christian dogma, besides to the history of Christianity."
Six, Seven, and Silly or Sublime Thoughts
Six is the number of humanity, represented in Scripture as having been created on the sixth day of creation. Seven is the number of completeness and perfection, as man was to rest on the seventh day of creation, and there are traditionally seven notes in a musical scale, on which Isaac Newton based the seven colors of his spectrum. In the Biblical book of Revelation reference is made to seven stars, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven messages to seven churches.
Silly or sublime thoughts: Great guitarists challenge the Hendrixian conception of guitar as phallic symbol with a conception of guitar as crucifix, a contemporary variation on a traditional association of stringed instruments such as the harp, psaltery, and lyre with the cross. Great guitarists transpose guitar sex (Hendrix's Hawaiian Foxy Lady is a fine example) to guitar charity or piety, modulate guitar face (John Mayer may not match Robin Trower from 6:35 to the end of Daydream) to guitar beatification, and reharmonize guitargasm to guitar canonization. Mayer: "Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix. However far you stop on your climb to be like him, that's who you are." David Rosenthal and Saryn Chorney ask and answer: "Why do guys learn to play the guitar? In the hope that groupies will play with their penises." (The Penis Name Book, 2) Great guitarists transform audience's sign of the horns to lifted hands, and groupies into group prayer, chant, or meditation.
The piano keyboard divides white and black keys as diatonic and pentatonic scales; all the notes of the guitar are found on an ebony fretboard, with mother of pearl dots to illuminate the way. Is Chet Atkins' notion of the greatest guitarist in the world, in the latter half of the twentieth century, analogous to the demand of white America in the early twentieth centruy for a great white hope who would defeat Afro-American boxer Jack Johnson? Jervis Anderson: “According to John Lardner, ‘The fundamental tenet of a good many anti-Johnsonites was that  rule of the heavyweights by any Negro was a threat to civilization. The idea was developed mostly in saloon and street-corner talk, but it had sporadic support in newspapers, too – in large Northern cities as well as in the South.’ Since a man like Johnson could not be permitted to keep the championship, it became necessary to unearth some pearl of a white challenger to take it away from him. The search for such a redeemer went on from 1909 to 1915, and it was during these years that the term “white hope” entered the American language.” (Black Heavies; from Speech and Power, 180-81) Paul Carter Harrison: “In The Great White Hope, the fearsome phallus of black-phobic white men is projected onto the character of Jack Johnson – Jack Jefferson – and is erected with all the dark forces attributed to niggahs that James Earl Jones could conjure.” (The Drama of Nommo, 131)
Is Atkins' conception of a Certified Guitar Player analogous to Jesus' conception of his apostles (Atkins: "I kind of was the evangelist for fingerstyle [guitar.]") or to Wagner's conception of a Meistersinger? Is Tommy Emmanuel the only CGP who likes to play blue notes? According to Wikipedia there are only five CGPs: Tommy Emmanuel, Chet Atkins, Steve Wariner, John Knowles, and Jerry Reed; CGP is described as "a lighthearted title given out by Atkins to his friends." From a Gretsch blog: "to mark the opening of the new Chet Atkins exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum in Nashville, Chet’s daughter Merle Atkins Russell asked Steve Wariner to help her continue her father’s tradition and read a proclamation that officially conferred the final C.G.P. title on Paul Yandell." Tom Cruise - the last samurai; Paul Yandell - the last CGP! Yandell: "Lenny was the greatest - after Chet of course."
Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette: “Realistic greatness in adult life, as opposed to inflation and grandiosity, involves recognizing our proper relationship to...mature masculine energies. That proper relationship is like that of a planet to the star it is orbiting. The planet is not the center of the star system; the star is. The planet’s job is to keep the proper orbital distance from the life-giving, but also potentially death-dealing, star so as to enhance its own life and well-being. The planet derives its life from the star, so it has a transpersonal object in the star for ‘adoration.’ Or, to use another image, the Ego of the mature man needs to think of itself – no matter what status or power it has temporarily achieved – as the servant of a transpersonal Will, or Cause.” (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, 70)
Baltasar Gracian (Schopenhauer's favorite writer [both were pessimists]): “Greatness cannot be founded on sin, which is nothing; only on God, who is everything . . . To be a hero in the world is little or nothing; to be one in heaven is much. To whose great monarch be the praise, the power, and the glory.” (A Pocket Mirror for Heroes, 55) Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "Man must bow down before the infinitely great."
Bout #1: Chet's Changes Challenge Django’s Dream
Two transitions: from a Guitarist in a Gypsy Caravan to an Organist in a Royal Castle and from a Poor Boy in Tennessee to a Country Gentleman in Hillbilly Heaven.
Django’s Dream: Caravan, Dark Eyes, Minor Swing, Tears, Overture to Django's Mass, Manoir de Mes Reves, 2 to Django
Chet’s Changes: Hillbilly Heaven, There'll Be Some Changes Made, The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World, Yankee Doodle Dixie, Nashville Cats, Yakety Axe, Swedish Rhapsody
Bout #2: Hendrix’s Chord Confronts Breau’s BellsTwo Guitars and Two Muses: the Black Phallus Loves White Ladies and the White Brush Paints the Ebony Queen. The Hendrixian quest to rise from the bottom of the sea and kiss white ladies in the sky parallels the Breauian quest to raise his ebony queen as Orpheus sought to raise Eurydice.
Lenny vs. Jimi (Voodoo Child, Machine Gun), Lenny Had a Little Lamb, Three Blind Mice, and a Buffalo Soldier; Lenny’s Radio (Five O’Clock Bells, Purple Haze, Bach Bourree in E minor, Little Wing, There is no Greater Love, Emily, Freight Train, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Sevillanas, The Impossible Dream, Don Quixote, Sevillanas); Beatific Vision (Tunji, Jingo, Vision, Ebony Queen, Welcome)
Bout #3: Clapton's Crossroads Encounter Page’s StairwayTwo Ways and Two Houses: Do What Page Wilt whilst dazed and confused in Aleister Crowley's Boleskine House and Thy Will Be Done in the presence of Clapton's Lord at Hurtwood Edge.
Crossroad Blues, Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Let it Grow, Change the World, Tears in Heaven, My Father’s Eyes, Holy Mother, Presence of the Lord, All Along the Watchtower
Django wants to lead gypsies from around the world to the shrine of their mythic black saint; Chet wants white fingerpickers to take over the world; Breau wants to redeem his ebony queen, who's everthing on earth to he; Hendrix wants to penetrate all the electric ladies in the sky with the electric love of his burnt Fender Strat; Page wants to do what he will; Clapton wants to live in the presence of the Lord and in the arms of His holy mother.
Great (and Good) Guitarists Trivia
- Chet Atkins believed that Django Reinhardt was the most influential guitarist of the twentieth century.- On first hearing a recording of Django, Lenny Breau was moved to comment, "That guy sure plays funny."- Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies was inspired by Django.- Jeff Beck: "By far the most astonishing guitar player ever has got to be Django Reinhardt." "You know he's the greatest." - Chet Atkins: "Lenny is the greatest guitar player in the world today. I think he knows more guitar than any guy that's ever walked the face of the earth."- Breau in 1979: "Really making it scares me a little. People say weird things about you. You go into a strange town and some guy says, 'hey man, I hear you're the greatest guitarist.' It's weird man...like being a gunslinger or something."- Tap dancer Joey Hollingsworth in 1962: "'I said "Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the finest guitarists in the world today, and I'm speaking of none other than Lenny Breau." And he sits on  the stool and he looks at the people and he sings "I'm Back in the Saddle Again" like Gene Autry!'" (Forbes-Roberts, 78-79)- Buddy Emmons, pedal steel player, onstage in Nashville in 1980: “'Ladies and Gentleman. I'd like to direct your attention to the back of the room where the greatest guitar player in the world has just walked in. Mr. Lenny Breau.' Everybody gasps and gets up and gives him a standing ovation. Lenny panics and....says, 'Gotta find a drink, man. Gotta find a drink.'"- Tommy Immanuel: “Chet said, ‘You’ve got to come upstairs. There is someone you’ve got to meet! This is the greatest guitarist in the world!’ As I walked up the stairs….there is Lenny Breau….To this day, I have never heard anybody play with that depth. It was super-human!”- Actor Lauren Holly on Breau: “Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was taking another Winnipeg guitarist under his wing, which worked out pretty well for young Randy Bachman. The BTO / Guess Who guitarist used the jazz chords he learned from Breau to help write hits like Undun [and Looking Out for #1], and that is something you might not know about Canada.”- Ron Forbes-Roberts stated that he did not mention Bachman's apocryphal apprenticeship with Breau in his book because he "was writing a biography and not a mythography." - A YouTube viewer commented: "I lived in Winnipeg when Randy was the guitar god there with Guess Who. I idolized him. In 1969 I moved to toronto and took lessons from Lenny. Lenny liked to talk a lot about Winnipeg. One day I asked if he'd ever played with Randy B. He didn't know the name. I said he was the guitarist for the Guess Who who were huge then, Lenny said that he thought he'd met him on a CBC show but didn't know anything about him. I think Randy is inventing the story. (Good guitar player though.)"- Compare with Bachman: "Thanks to Lenny, my life in music has been absolutely Cinderella. I feel like Cinderella thanks to this wonderful teacher to whom I never paid a penny. I never got a recording. I never got a picture. I never thought to go and record him. I got these lessons with him for two years. These are the greatest two years of my life. I was in this kindergarten with this guy who was my own age and my really, really good friend....Every once in a while I'd go running up to him in Toronto, and now he's playing with Anne Murray and her band, and he's on CBC I'd say 'Lenny, Lenny, I'm in a band called The Guess Who and we've got a No. 1 record with American Woman!' And he'd say, 'Yeah, man, but like, are you playing any jazz? Ya gotta play jazz, man, it's freedom. Ya gotta do a jazz thing. Ya gotta do a jazz thing.' I'd go up to him, it's like five years later. 'Lenny, I'm No. 1 again, in a band called BTO' and same thing, 'Are you playing any jazz? Ya gotta do a jazz thing, man. Ya gotta get free.'"- Bachman: "When I was learning guitar, a great guy named Lenny Breau said to me, 'You're a good guitar player, but you'll never be great. The great ones always burn out, and there will always be a younger, faster player, but here's the trick: Write good songs.'"- Compare with Breau's friend and student Raj Rathor: "Lenny looked right at me and he said, 'So you have to take music as a religion. You have to say, music, I’m your student for life.' And that's where he'd always been musically."- The Gospel According to Randy: "It’s always good news when Lenny plays the blues down at Breau’s place." "This person is a gift from God to us to make us all feel better."- B.B. King performing before Clapton and George Harrison: "I've got to say that, I'm sorry, Peter Green is the best."- In 1974 Eric Clapton asked Jimmy Page if he could borrow the introduction to Stairway to Heaven for a song, and Page permitted him on condition that it was "a good song." Clapton called the song Let it Grow.- Jimmy Page: "People shouldn't...expect to see the epitome of what they consider to be the best rock guitar...There's nobody who's the best - nobody's the best."- Clapton said that Tommy Immanuel "is the best guitarist I have ever heard.”- Clapton was reputably asked, "How does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world?" and he replied, "I don't know. Ask Bruce Cockburn."- Here's another variation: "When Stevie Ray Vaughn died, Eddie Van Halen got this question from a Rolling Stone interviewer. Interviewer: “How does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world?” Eddie Van Halen: “I don’t know, why don’t you ask Bruce Cockburn.”- Christopher Parkening asked his army sergeant, "Have you heard of Andres Segovia? He is the greatest guitarist in the world!" The sergeant responsed, "No he ain't! Chet Atkins is the greatest picker in the world."- In 1974 Atkins suggested that "Christopher Parkening may be the best classical guitar player in the world."- Atkins: "Once when I was on a cruise ship I was practicing on deck and drew a little crowd. When I was done, one lady told me: 'You're good, but you're no Chet Atkins.'" Atkins satirizes this incident at 3:52 of There'll Be Some Changes Made when saying, "Pretty good, but you're no Mark Knopfler."- Aldous Huxley: "The artists who the world has always recognized as the greatest are those with the widest sympathy. The greatness of the great artist depends precisely on the width and the intensity of his sympathy."
Six Guitar Conceptions
One way to approach The Greatest Guitarist in the World is to explore how guitar greats conceptualize their instruments, and to determine how well they realized their conceptions in musical practice. Were their conceptions of the guitar compatible with their musical visions?
Breau as Painter, Guitar as Brush, Portrait as Ebony Queen
Breau doubtless derived his conception of a musical painter from George Russell's jazz treatise. Introduction: "The artist needs paints to express himself, while the jazz musician uses tonal resources. The Lydian Chromatic Concept is an organization of tonal resources from which the jazz musician may draw to create his improvised lines. It is like an artist's palette: the paints and colors, in the form of scales and/or intervalic motives, waiting to be blended by the improviser. Like the artist, the jazz musician must learn the techniques of blending this material.
The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is a chromatic concept providing the musician with an awareness of the full spectrum of tonal colors available in the equal temperament tuning. There are no rules, no 'do's' or 'don'ts.' It is, therefore, not a system, but rather a view or philosophy of tonality in which the student, it is hoped, will find his own identity. The student is made aware of the whole chromatic situation surrounding the chord (vertical) or a tonal center (horizontal). It is believed that this knowledge will liberate the student's melodic inhibitions and help him to intelligently penetrate and understand the entire chromatic universe." (1)
Breau wrote his signature song, Five O'Clock Bells, in the fall of 1966 in the presence of Judi Singh, an eighteen year old Afro/Indo-Canadian jazz singer (see Lenny & Judi) with whom he shared an apartment in St. Boniface, Winnipeg. During this period the couple frequented Winnipeg art galleries and Breau began wearing a beret and cultivating an interest in French Impressionist painting. Singh recalls: "He liked that very soft, watery Impressionist painting very, very much and he was very visual in his playing. It was about playing different feelings as opposed to the music itself: the instrument becomes a paint brush." Singh recalls one morning just before dawn when she awoke to the sounds of Breau composing a gentle bossa nova song: "He told me he couldn't sleep and was woken by the bells of St. Boniface Cathedral and was trying to write a song using the sound of the bells."
Breau in 1981: "It's like a painter who goes through five years or so of confusion. He’s just trying to feel a specific thing, or maybe develop a certain technique. And possibly those years will go by and he hasn’t really done anything he’s proud of. It’s something like that I went through." "But I never quit playing. During that period, I learned about pain, which became evident in my music. I also became inspired by impressionist painters such as Renoir, and wanted to do the same sort of thing with music - portray whatever mood strikes me the way Keith Jarret does on piano.”
Breau's friend Bob Thompson stated: "He often talked about the color of chords." In 1981 Breau acknowledged: "I like to do something pretty more than I like to play message music." Breau stated: "I think of myself as a colorist, adding different colors and shades by using different techniques and touching the guitar in certain ways. I think if you close your eyes, maybe you can see those things, you can see visions." When asked about the relation between making music and money Breau stated: "It's just like painting. You've got to paint what you want to paint, whether it's selling or not, and if you want to make money then you paint what's going to sell...When you realize how short life is, anyway, what good is money? You can get all that money, but still you aren't going to live that long to spend it. For me it's more enjoyable to play what you want to play regardless of the situation. The self-satisfaction, that's what I've always felt."
"There's a certain direction I'm going in; one of my goals...wouldn't be classified as just jazz guitar. When I'm alone and all the conditions are right, I try to be like an Impressionist. Instead of just playing, it's almost like I'm painting tonal colors. I guess I've always done it. I just haven't been as aware of it before. I read about people like Renoir who were trying to capture a fleeting moment in time when the sun was just right, but to capture that thing you saw and have it come out later with really good technique - that's what I'm trying to do. Be as spontaneous as you can, yet have it come out like it was planned. It's sort of like what Keith Jarrett is doing on piano; I'd like to be able to do that on guitar - just walk out and completely improvise a 30-minute peice...or just articulate something I've got in my mind at the time, like my impression of a stream. I'd just think about the stream, and try to say it in music...I think in terms of the colors and the inversions of the chords. When I play chords, I think of the inversions because every inversion has its own color. If one color is blue another may also be blue, but a different shade. Everytime you play a different inversion that shade will change. That's why I think of painting with the guitar, because when you mix colors you get different shades." 1981
"On Sunday, August 5 , Lenny celebrated his forty-third birthday with Rathor and his grandmother who gave Lenny a book on Impressionist art." Rathor stated: "He just took right to that book and talked to us about the meaning he saw in those paintings. That's the way he played: painting pictures with his chords."
Breau's conception of the guitar as paintbrush lies between Hendrix's black power and Clapton's cross, perhaps. Paint it black or power in the blood. Breau's seeming obsession with the songs No Greater Love, Ebony Queen, and Vision seem to relate to Hendrix's musical religion. Both Hendrix and Breau make reference to the notion of sacrifice, suggesting a loftier vision.
Breau portrays his ebony queen with polychords and polyrhythms. He mixes ethereal passages in major tonality with the minor key songs Ebony Queen and Vision. He ends at least one version of the major key jazz standard Emily with a minor chord. The leitmotif of Five O'Clock Bells is a reharmonization of a melodic fragment of the Westminster chimes outlining a major chord using a flat five substitution (replacing the root note of a chord with its flatted fifth). The strict meter of the chimes is played against the Afro-Cuban clave, creating a polyrhythm. Breau's song for his white girlfriend, Cinde Schubert, is ethereal and in a major key. Atkins stated: "Cindy [sic] has been a stable influence on Lenny."
Excerpt from The Greatest Guitarist in the World:
Danko Jones: "Hendrix was the ultimate showman, smashing his guitars and lighting them on fire, like he did at the Monterey Pop Festival. His onstage performance was only rivaled by his guitar skill. He really pioneered this extreme form of performance that is commonplace today in rock and roll. Humping his amps and flicking his tongue out to various audience members, Hendrix turned the guitar into the ultimate phallic symbol. For a black man to be doing this in America in the late sixties is completely mind-blowing when you think about it today, and very inspirational." Molly Johnson: "Jimi Hendrix revolutionized music. He was part of the infamous twenty-seven group - artists that died on their twenty-seventh year. Artists like...the great blues musician Robert Johnson." Is there a forty-three group, or is Breau the only one?
Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave: "Hendrix raised the hackles of society partly because he was black, and press reaction to him revealed the underlying racism that was apparent in some of the anti-rock sentiment. In 1966 British papers called him 'The Wild Man from Borneo' and a 'Mau-Mau.' He was most detested for his aggressively sexual performance, where he moved 'the guitar across his body, standing straight up from his haunches panning the instrument before him like a machine gun cock emitting staccatobursts: humping his ax as it rumbles into low-pitched feedback, and then letting it all out as he falls back to his knees, and then over backward, feedback splitting white-hot noise all over him.'" (Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock 'n' Roll, 126) "Hendrix all but fucked his guitar. This was how one writer described his performace, 'He had lapped and nuzzled his guitar with his lips and tongue, caressed it with his inner thighs, jabbed at it with a series of powerful pelvic thrusts. Even the little girls who'd come to see the Monkees understood what this was all about.'" (135)
Suzanne Boyd, Editor in Chief, Zoomer Magazine, on Hendrix: “As the sixties progressed and he created the Jimi Hendrix sound he started to dress a little more creatively, and with this sartorial fearlessness that we’ve come to associate with him. When you see a lot of people, when they try to do the rock star thing, you know they’re doing the rock star thing. He was just doing who he was.”
Joni Mitchell on meeting Hendrix in Ottawa in 1968: “Jimi was tired, at that point, of playing the guitar with his teeth. He was tired of being phallic Jimi, you know. It embarrassed him. He was shy by nature. He had a very sweet side, and he wanted to do big band arrangements and stand still - just stand and play and cut the theatrics, but every time he tried to do it, they would boo him and say, ‘Jimi’s not himself.’”
Steve Waksman: "Hendrix…ultimately came to feel somewhat trapped in his own definition of blackness. He came to realize, gradually, that it was in many ways a role already defined for him. Toward the latter part of his brief career, he began to deemphasize the bodily dimension of his style and portray himself as a musician first, not a performer: ‘As long as people come to listen rather than to see us, then everything will be all right. It’s when they come to expect to see you doing certain things on stage that you can get hung up.’ [Melody Maker, March, 1969] ‘The main thing that used to bug me was that people wanted too many visual things from me. I never wanted it to be so much of a visual thing. When I didn’t do it, people thought I was being moody, but I can only freak when I really feel like doing so. I can’t do it just for the sake of it. I wanted the music to get across, so that people could just sit back and close their eyes, and know exactly what was going on, without caring a damn what we were doing while we were on stage.’ [Melody Maker, September, 1970] For Hendrix, as for Fanon, the sight of blackness in the eyes of others had become oppressive, and so he expresses a desire to [be] heard, not seen, listened to, not watched.” (Instruments of Desire, 205)
Waksman states that "For Hendrix, the electric guitar was crucial to the creation of a demonstrative sexual persona. Like the white guitarists who were his peers, he manipulated his instrument onstage to accentuate his physical presence. Unlike them, however, he was not seen to be aspiring toward some ideal of authentic musical performance rooted in race and sexuality, but was believed to personify that ideal by many of the whites in his audience. Among black onlookers he was more often criticized for his willingness to play to white expectations of how a black man should act.” (5)
Hendrix's Church of the Electric Lady and Santana's Church of the Holy Choice
Tom Morello: "The most beautiful song of the Jimi Hendrix canon is "Little Wing." It's just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don't appear in any music book. His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil....The good news is his legacy is assured as the greatest guitar player of all time."
Rolling Stone Magazine’s #1 guitarist, Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), said: “Music is my religion." In a 1969 interview with Life Magazine Hendrix stated: "I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive - like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get people at their weakest point you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say. That's why the name 'electric church' flashes in and out." (Instruments of Desire, 170)
Despite Hendrix’s "positive" intention, his girlfriend Fayne Pridgon recalled: “He used to always talk about some devil or something was in him, you know, and he didn't have any control over it. He didn’t know what made him act the way he acted and what made him say the things he said, and the songs and different things like that ... just came out of him. It seems to me he was so tormented and just torn apart and like he really was obsessed, you know, with something really evil... He said, ‘You're from Georgia ... you should know how people drive demons out’…and I used to talk about my grandmother and all her weird stuff, you know, and he used to talk about us going down there and having some root lady or somebody see if she could drive this demon out of him.” (sound track from film Jimi Hendrix, interview with Fayne Pridgon, side 4, cited by Heartbeat of the Dragon, p. 50).
In a 1967 radio interview Hendrix spoke about a girl in Seattle who performed voodoo rituals on him: "There’s this girl up there trying to work roots on me. Work this voodoo stuff. Keep me there, you know. I had to go to the hospital and all that stuff, you know…..she tried workin’ roots. That’s a scene where you think that sort of thing is rubbish 'till it happens to you, then it's scary. There's different things they can do. They can put something in your food, or put some little hair in your shoe. Voodoo stuff. She tried stuff like that, but she must have tried only halfheartedly because I was only sick in the hospital for a couple of days.….around the southern United States they have a lot of scenes like that goin’ on. But if I see it happen or if I feel it happen then I believe it, not necessarily if I just hear it being talked about." (‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, 228-29)
Producer Alan Douglas represents Hendrix's spiritual state as a significant and constant concern: “One of the biggest things about Jimi was what he believed in. He believed that he was possessed by some spirit and I got to believe it myself and that is what we had to deal with all the time. And he was very humble about discussing it with people because he didn’t want people to feel he was being pretentious and so on, but he really believed it and he was wrestling with it constantly.” Douglas in 1975: "he always felt that he was possessed by another spirit - he didn't call it God, didn't know what it was, but he had that feeling. He really thought of himself as a "voodoo chile" - he couldn't quite figure it out." (Guitar Player magazine)
Like Hendrix, psychiatrist Scott Peck came to believe in evil spirits on account of sensory experience. Near the beginning of Glimpses of the Devil Peck states, “I did not believe in the devil….it occurred to me that if I could see but one case of genuine demonic possession, it might change my mind.” (2) Towards the end of this book Peck states that he had “succeeded…in answering…major questions. Those answers are:
1. Yes, the devil or a demonic world does exist.2. The phenomenon of demonic possessions of human individuals also does exist, and offers prima facie evidence for number 1.” (247)
The above descriptions of Hendrix by Pridgon and Douglas correspond with Peck's reference to “one of the most important things the public needs to know about possession. Possessed people are not evil;” “The demonic is evil.” (Glimpses, 100) While performing an exorcism Peck “came to the conclusion that demons were powerless without human bodies – that they could speak evil only through human tongues. Were they to be cast out, they would be…utter[ly] impoten[t].” (181) According to Peck, “In becoming possessed the victim must, at least in some way, cooperate with or sell out to the devil.” (247) However, Peck states that possessed people who are in a “state of internal conflict” (98) and who consider their “possession to be ego-alien” are “waging a heroic war against evil.” (99) Peck believes that “[T]he full reality of the demonic Presence is….hidden behind the Pretense,” making it uncertain whether it is the possessed person “or the demonic speaking.” (112)
Similarly, with a possessed musician it may be uncertain whether it is the musician or the demonic performing. For example, months before the completion of Electric Lady Studios, where engineer Eddie Kramer refused to allow any drug use during session work, Santana recalls seeing Hendrix record Room Full of Mirrors in a studio in April of 1970 after passing "a buffet of shit laid out on a table - I mean hashish, grass, cocaine. Really - it was a buffet. Jimi was ahead of me, running his hands through it, sampling stuff." (The Universal Tone, 260) Santana continues: “Jimi was facing away from the window to the control room. Eddie told one of his guys to check on him, and I swear the guy had to physically pull him away from the guitar and the amplifier. He got Jimi up, and when he turned around – I’m not kidding – Jimi looked like a possessed demon. It almost looked like he was having an epileptic attack – foaming at the mouth, his eyes red like rubies. I remember that the whole experience drained me – and that a feeling of questioning came over me: ‘Is this how it’s got to be done? There’s got to be a better way.'
[Simon Leng gives an account of the same incident: "Santana was taken to watch Hendrix recording and what he saw frightened him, ‘The first time I was really with him was in the studio. He was overdubbing 'Roomful of Mirrors' and it was a real shocker to me. He started recording and it was incredible. But within fifteen or twenty seconds he just went out. All of a sudden he was freaking out like he was having a gigantic battle in the sky with somebody. The roadies look at each other and the producer looked at him and they said, 'Go get him'. They separated him from the amplifier and the guitar and it was like he was having an epileptic fit’” (Soul Sacrifice: The Santana Story, p. 51).
Jesuit theologian Malachi Martin uses a mirror as a metaphor for the state of possession: “Metaphorically speaking, in possession a mirror is held up in which the self of the possessed sees only itself in itself in itself in itself and so on in an infinitely receding number of self-containing, self-mirroring images, with no end in sight. And this awareness is, by definition, complete and unending solitude.” (Hostage to the Devil, 218) Compare with lines from Milo Ray Phelps' poem Miss Elizabeth Bates: "Elizabeth Bates has 'done' the globe / From Panama back to the States, / But all she saw on the way around / Was Miss Elizabeth Bates." (from Karl Menninger, Man Against Himself, 437)]
The last time I met Jimi was a few weeks later in California, when he played the Berkeley Community Theatre….We caught the concert and went back to hang with Jimi at his hotel. Something told me that Jimi needed help, so I decided I should bring the gold medallion I wore around my neck, which my mother had given me when I was a baby – the kind that all Mexican mothers give their children for protection: Jesus is on one side, and the Virgin of Guadalupe is on the other. I was thinking I’d just grab Jimi’s hand, put the medallion in it, and say, ‘This is for you – wear it, because I think you can use it.’ When we got there, Jimi opened the door and I could see that he was wearing six or seven of these medals already, so I kept mine in my pocket. 
A few months after that, Santana was playing in Salt Lake City when we heard that Jimi had died. That night you could hear all the toilets on our floor of the hotel flushing – people dumping all their shit, so angry because we heard he had O D’d.” (261-62) According to John Dawson, "It is easy to identify the motivational gift of unsaved individuals and to see what their ministry would be if they were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit....Jimi Hendrix could have become an excellent worship leader." (Taking Our Cities For God, 21)
Santana: “There’s an invisible radio that Jimi Hendrix tuned into, and when you're there, you start channeling other music. You meditate and you got the candles, you got the incense and you’ve been chanting, and all of a sudden you hear this voice: ‘Write this down.’” Santana: "My favourite part that I miss about Jimi is when he would open up certain channels and let certain demons and angels dance together, you know what I mean [see Spirits Dancing in the Flesh (note portrait of Jesus on Santana's amplifier)] - that it was beyond 'B' flat or 'C' flat. That's when it's music to me. Anybody can play music just like anybody can think. Very few people are conscious and very few people can do something beyond the note. So thank God that Jimi had that kind of spirit that...the foundation was the blues but he also was a very cosmic person [laughs]." Compare with John Mayer: "I prefer to think about his human side. He was a man...not an alien....when I listen to Hendrix, I just hear a man, and that's when it's most beautiful — when you remember that another human being was capable of what he achieved."
Santana: “I'm trying now, very graciously, to balance and validate angels and devils with the same reverence;" "the energy of devils and angels is the same energy." Similarly, the poet Rilke stated: “If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well.” (Letter 74) Santana recalls his youth in Tijuana: “’On Sunday afternoons, I would play the violin in the park while the priest held Mass and then, at night, I would play in the strip joints. To me, it was all one.’” (Back on Top, 31) Santana does not suffer from a Madonna-whore complex.
Santana: “it’s gonna make you feel ten times more sexy. That’s what music’s supposed to do. Make you feel divine and sensual without guilt.” Compare with soul/gospel singer Al Green: “’The love between a man and his wife continues along a spectrum to a love for a higher power. It’s an extension of the same kind of strength….[Starts singing] “Spending my day, thinkin ‘bout you girl, hmmm” [laughs] That’s a good prayer.’” (from Inside the Music, 175) Dimitri Ehrlich comments: “While some Christian fundamentalists might argue that a song that describes thinking about a girl, rather than Jesus, is decidedly not a prayer, Green contends that you can sing about God in many ways and that scriptural literalists may be losing sight of the big picture. For Green, the  decision to substitute girl for Jesus represents a conscious decision to balance the principles of the gospel with commercial interests.” (175-76)
Santana recalls Ghana in 1971: “we saw a witch doctor kind of guy – he was wearing animal skins and shaking a big gourd….Willie [Bobo] decided he would show off – he had an amulet that he wore, and he started saying that his voodoo was more powerful, that he had his own thing going on. Back then I figured we all had our own way of dealing with the invisible realm. I just wasn’t flaunting mine. But that holy man fascinated us and scared us at the same time. I could tell right away that he was a sorcerer and had a way of dealing with the invisible realm – he could reach the spirits. And that wouldn’t be the last time we saw him.”
“We ran into that holy man again walking near our hotel in Ghana, and a chicken crossed his path. He stopped and looked at it in a weird way, and pow! The chicken suddenly fell over dead, even though it had just been looking fine and healthy. Everyone backed up and gave the guy room.”
“The last day before the concert in Ghana….Willie didn’t come with us…because he wasn’t feeling right. When we got back to the hotel he was really sick – sweating with a fever and vomiting….I couldn’t help thinking about that holy man and all the things Willie had been saying and wondering – well, we all felt that way, suspicious and not sure what to believe. Just then somebody knocked on the door…and sure enough, there he was – the holy man, stopping by to look at Willie….I got up and blocked his way. Our eyes were locked on each other, and we had an inner conversation – I spoke to him inwardly.
‘Man, I know you got the power, and I know you did this to him.’ Then I pointed to my T-shirt, which had a picture of Jesus on it. I kept talking to the holy man in my mind. ‘I respect and honor the beliefs that people have all over the world, as I do yours – but can you get through Jesus? You may be able to go through me, but you also got to go through him, because I am not only with him but I also belong to him.’”
Santana on Hendrix: “’He mentioned to [percussionist] Michael Carabello that he was thinking of joining our band….I said, “Great! I guess I’ll have to become a roadie.” But he  did mention the possibility of going with us.’” (Back on Top, 98-99) Santana: "'When I saw him last in Berkeley, California, he was talking about joining the band ! He loved the percussion. He was serious. What the hell was I gonna play?'" (Soul Sacrifice, 51) Santana “compiled live recordings by Jimi Hendrix” for an album called Sacred Sources: Live Forever. (Tone, 447) Santana calls his home studio “the Electric Church, which  was a term I got from Jimi Hendrix.” (474-75) Santana describes how in 2001 he “would get home late and go straight to the Electric Church.” (479) To mark 45 years since Hendrix's set at the Isle of Wight Festival at Afton Down, witnessed by a young John Giddings, he has renamed the main stage at this year's event The Electric Church.
Santana relates his last experience shooting heroin: “I was in a bathroom with a cat who couldn’t find my vein. By the grace of God, just as he found a place to inject me, the door to the medicine cabinet opened by itself, and the mirror swung right into my face. Suddenly  all I could see was myself up close, and I looked like the Wolfman in one of those movies on late-night TV….Something in the way the mirror opened up and the way my face looked in it told me once and for all that heroin wasn’t for me and that I would never touch it again.” (267-68)
Santana: “By enlightenment I mean lightening up – having fun with your life….I’ll relax and lighten up. I’ll be brushing my teeth or combing my hair, and all of [a] sudden I’ll yell out, ‘Damn!...I’ll keep looking in the mirror and say, ‘Man, that’s one handsome Mexican.’” (514) Santana: “I’m happy to say that my eyes and ears don’t need any help, and everything else that needs to function – as a musician and as a man – is working just fine, thank you very much.” (514) These last phrases evoke Santana's recollection of an anecdote from the encore of a Muddy Waters show: “’’Thank you so much. It’s so wonderful to play for y’all. Right now I want to introduce you to a very special person – please give my granddaughter a nice hand!’ He would bring out a lady who was in her twenties. Big applause. ‘Okay, now I want you to give a hand to my daughter.’ Of course, everyone was expecting a woman in her fifties, but out came this little six-year-old girl. Everybody would suddenly get it, and with perfect timing Muddy would go, ‘Now you see I still got my mojo working…one, two, three, hit it!’ And he’d go into his last number. You can't make this stuff up. I have so much love for the mentality and spirit of that dude.” (371)
Santana continues on the theme of enlightenment: “If my abilities leave me I think I might just start a tiny little church in Hawaii. I’ll call it the Church of the Holy Choice, because that’s what everyone has – a choice. It’ll be different from most churches, because….You have to be like a dog shaking off water, shaking off all that stuff that you shouldn’t be carrying around….it will have vibrant, vital music, the primary part of which will be the rhythm. It can be local music, but it will have to have congas to put away the false notion that drums and percussion are the instruments of the devil. I will speak, and there will be chanting [“To this day my chant is the same – ‘I am that I am. I am the light.'” (336)]….I have never, ever prayed or asked anything from Satan, Lucifer, devils, or any other dark force. [Santana recalls “another special moment from 1975” (the first was the Muddy Waters anecdote, above) when the Rolling Stones invited him “to come on and play on ‘Sympathy for the Devil.' [5:55] Mick sang his part, then turned to me, and I put my finger on the string and…wham!” (371, 372)] I believe in angels, archangels….Some people might think that once you start discovering godly things and go down the path to enlightenment you have to lose your appetite for the world, and that’s just not true, That’s not how I’ve lived my life, and that’s not going to change.
I believe there is a supreme being, a supreme creator, and whether it’s Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, or Allah, it’s as John Coltrane said: ‘All paths lead to God.’ Divinity has many names but only one destination. God is all harmony – not just one chord or one note. To say that one of them is the only one, and that everyone who worships another is wrong and going to hell, is mummified and petrified thinking. [515; in 1972 Santana recalled his “family and friends from the Mission” district in San Francisco respond to his spirituality, saying, “‘there is nothing happening but Jesus Christ, and that’s it. Anything else is the devil.’” (340)]
Santana: "I don’t want to go to heaven if it’s selective. And there’s another thing I pray for - I only want to go to heaven if they have congas up there….Sometimes interviewers want to know what music or other things I’d take with me to a deserted place. I usually tell them Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, my guitar, and a copy of A Course in Miracles….The part of my life that’s exhausting is the dichotomy between having all this energy and feeling that I really do need to find out how to relax and slow down the touring and the planning so that I can catch up with myself and get a better look at what’s up ahead….I have consciously made a commitment to get off the road and stop doing the Santana thing from time to time, to get away from the craziness. Now, as ever, I’m all about the holy instant, the state of grace that I always try to attain and maintain, ready everywhere and in every way to receive the Universal Tone.” (515-16) From the website of Leon Patillo: "Leon was the lead vocalist for the Santana Band but left the group and went from Santana to Hosanna!"
Santana’s desire to place his medallion on his musical heroes may signify his desire to imagine them as being Christ-like. Santana: “A hippie was a rainbow warrior, a reincarnated American Indian. You know who was the original hippie? Jesus – the ultimate multidimensional, multicolor, nothing-but-love hippie.” (137) Santana: “Since I was a little boy I aspired to Jesus, I always dug him.’” (Soul Sacrifice, 76) While meditating in his room before a concert in 1981 Santana “could feel his [Miles Davis’] eyes, like two lasers, focusing on the medallion I was wearing….He was looking at the medallion like he was going to pierce it with his gaze, so I said, ‘Miles, do you want it?’ He said, ‘Only if you put it on me.’ I took it off, put it on him, and he said, ‘I pray, too, you know.’ ’You pray, Miles?’  ‘Of course. When I want to score some cocaine I’ll say, “God, please make that mother fucker be home.”’” (392-93) When asked whether he believed in God and Jesus, Davis replied: "'I believe in myself. I believe every man is Jesus and God. If there was a Jesus, and he came down here, he'd get put in jail - drinking wine, beer, smoking shit. White folks fill you up with all that shit about Jesus.'" (Miles on Miles, 152-53) "People know me by my sound, like they know Frank Sinatra's sound. Got to keep my sound. I practice seventh chords. Practicing is like praying. You don't just pray once a week....I pray in my way.'" (314) Davis: “I'm gonna call myself on the phone one day and tell myself to shut up.” (liner notes to Sketches of Spain) Santana: “When I hear (Miles Davis') `Sketches Of Spain,' it's about sex….I'm trying to spread a spiritual virus. Awareness of your divinity.” Nat Hentoff concludes the liner notes musing: “There is a line from the Spanish writer, Ferran, that characterizes both the music on this record and the unsparing voice of Miles Davis: ‘Alas for me! The more I seek my solitude, the less of it I find. Whenever I look for it, my shadow looks with me.’"
Santana recalls when Frank Zappa “made ‘Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression,’ and in one listen I knew it was not a compliment….I loved the title Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, so I got the album, and there it was.
My answer to anyone who’s so invested in that kind of criticizing or hating or toxic feelings has never changed over the years. My phone would ring, and it would be Miles or Otis Rush. Today the phone still rings, and it’s Wayne Shorter or Buddy Guy. Do I care what you think about me?" (374)
Santana noticed "that all the heavy metal guys - at least those who play very fast, like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani - remind me of Zappa's kind of fearlessness, which leans toward a Paganini vibe as opposed to a B.B. King or Eric Clapton vibe. A blues connection might not be there anymore, but that's not good or bad." (373) However, Santana demotes Clapton to “our archangel of the century” from a status of “the gods, such as Clapton and Hendrix….When I saw Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton play, they didn’t make me want to quit….if Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley were alive and they came to see my band on a good night, they’d be like, ‘Damn!’” (201) It seems that Santana replaced Hendrix as the guitar god in his personal and hierarchical religion of celestial musicians with "a blues connection." Santana: “[Columbia recording producer] Mr. Clive Davis….connected me with my sister, Lauryn Hill. She connected me with Eric Clapton. It's almost like the Bible -- this begat that, which begat that.” Brian Ward describes Davis as "the man most closely associated with the corporation's black music initiatives." (Just My Soul Responding, 420)
Paganini is European and the blue notes have a West African origin (according to Robert Plant, McCoy Tyner, and others) so Santana seems to be following an African, rather than a European, aesthetic. Crystal Kirgiss: "Paganini was con-vinced that he wrote his violin concertos with help from the devil." (Classical Music, 16-18) Perhaps Santana bought into the black nationalist belief that the white man is the devil. Babatunde Olatunji replaced St. Peter as the heavenly gate-keeper in Santana's cosmology, and Ingrid Monson notes: "Olatunji had a long-standing interest in black nationalism and the Nation of Islam.” (Freedom Sounds, 303)
Santana indicates the nature of a blues connection when recounting the aftermath of getting a gig at a strip club in Tijuana in 1962: “I did something I never expected I’d do on my own – I went to church. I went straight to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the big cathedral downtown. I walked in at seven at night, went all the way to the front of the altar, kneeled down [“before this big picture” (107)], and said ….’I want you to…help me get a job tonight.’…I did not go the priest or anyone else. I went straight to the Virgin – that’s something I believe in to this day, that the relationship with one’s highest power should be a direct one.” (106-07) He recalls an incident a few months later: “I was drinking a lot, and it started catching up to me quickly. Once, I found myself waking up in the street in the morning, still drunk and seeing some lady taking her child to church. She pointed at me and told her kid, ‘See? If you don’t listen to me you’re going to wind up like him.’ I could hear my mom’s voice telling me that I was definitely not on the same page as she was – that I needed to come home or I would be lost. In my mind I wasn’t just playing the blues – I was living the blues. Even then I had the same notion: the blues is not a hobby, and it’s not a profession. The best way to say it is: the blues is a deep commitment to a way of life.” (111)
These mothers and sons recall Santana's medallion of Jesus and Mary: the good son and the Virgin, and the lost son and the stripper and/or Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen. Etheridge Knight: “Along any main avenue of a black community one can find, crammed in against the poolrooms, pawnshops, and storefront churches, a shop specializing in lucky numbers, herbs, holy water, and ‘dream books’ (Gypsy Queen, Aunt Mandy, Black Sal, etc.).” (The Poor Pay More, Even for Their Dreams; from Speech and Power, 149)
A similar event inspired Santana to write Samba Pa Ti in 1970: “The song came to me in New York City, after our first tour in Europe that spring, when I was jet-lagged to death. I couldn’t sleep; the walls were moving like I had just fallen off a merry-go-round. Then just about when I was falling  asleep I heard some guy trying to get a sound out of a saxophone in an alley outside. I opened my window, and I saw the guy staggering around, not balancing so well. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind what to put in his mouth, the saxophone or a bottle of booze. He took a deep breath and was just about to blow, then he stopped and hit the bottle again. I heard a voice inside me saying, ‘Man, that could be you, lost like that.’” (238-39)
Santana deconstructs the title of his book, "The Universal Tone," with the subtitle, “Bringing My Story to Light,” undermining his conscious statements negating a clash of human and divine wills. He claims that his book is “about angels who came into my life at the point where I needed them the most.” (16) Santana on Miles Davis and Bill Graham: “They were both angels, but they also had feet of clay. They were divine rascals.” (252) Santana negates the value and validity of his claim and his book when stating: “People can change the way they see things by the way they think. I think we are at our best when we get out of our own way. People get stuck in their stories. My advice is to end your story and begin your life.” (16) This advice accords with James Baldwin's observation: “’whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self.’” (The Creative Process; from Democracy Matters, 80)
Robert Moore's conception of prayer, unlike those of Santana and Davis, makes no reference to congas or cocaine: “Prayer is any spiritual discipline that enables you to be connected with the basic energies of life and keeps you from an unconscious fantasy that you yourself are God or the God king or queen. Prayer is anything that enables you to disidentify with the God king or queen and yet remain connected to their life-giving energies.” (Facing the Dragon [“of grandiosity”], 192) Moore: “Certain forms of meditation….that make you think you are ‘the great one’ can be very dangerous for some people. If you start depersonalizing and start merging into ‘the great one,’ you may become psychotic….You have to look carefully to see whether any particular practice actually helps the ego deal with grandiosity.” (193) Moore: “The relative grandiosity of any spiritual tribe or organization can be discerned by the degree to which it sets aside its claims of exclusive superiority and steps instead into bold, cooperative, and compassionate action with other tribes to meet the needs of the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the oppressed.” (216)
Tommy Immanuel exemplified such action when donating some of his guitars to provide relief to impoverished Haitians. Peter Green committed similar charitable acts, as drummer Mick Fleetwood recounts: "Although Fleetwood Mac entered 1970 as one of the biggest groups in the world, outselling both the Beatles and the Stones in Europe the year before, we were forced to confront Peter Green's disaffection and increasing disgust with the world. I remember how upset he was by the news of starving orphans who were victims of the Nigerian civil war in Biafra. He used to cry in front of the TV news. At one point he sent more than twelve thousand pounds to various charities like Save the Children. Then Pete became fixated on the idea that Fleetwood Mac should become a charity band. The whole group used to sit around all night in American motels and talk about it until dawn. 'Come on,' Pete would say. 'We can keep working, keep enough to pay expenses and live simply, and give the rest to starving people. We could still be a band, but our lives would be dedicated to something....I don't need it. I'd just feel much better about playing this music if we could give what we make to the poor. There's so much poverty. Maybe we could make a bit of difference'...Pete leaned in close and yelled into my ear, 'Let's give it ALL away!' Then Pete began to get a little crazed. He appeared onstage in white robes and caftans, wearing his hair and beard very long. A big crucifix hung from his neck. He did long interviews about his search for God." (Fleetwood, 79)
Green’s self-image of guitarist as Christ-figure may have inspired Santana and John Lennon: "The Beatles loved 'Albatross' and recorded 'Here Comes the Sun King' as a tribute to Pete." (Fleetwood, 75) Albatross is often mistaken for Santana’s Samba Pa Ti. Both songs have been used as the soundtrack for M&S food commercials. Black Magic Woman, Santana’s “most requested song” (Tone, 236), was written by Green.
Uzodinma Iweala: “Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof, and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission.
This is the West’s new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child  Alive/’I am African’ ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted ‘tribal markings’ on their faces above ‘I AM AFRICAN’ in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, ‘help us stop the dying.’
Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, ‘tribal’ conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines such as ‘Can Bono Save Africa?’
The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ, and ‘civilization.’” (Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa; from Best African American Essays: 2009, 217-18)
Hendrix: "The blues are easy to play but not to feel. The background to our music is a spiritual-blues thing. Blues is a part of America. We're making our music into electric church music — a new kind of Bible, not like in a hotel, but a Bible you carry in your hearts, one that will give you a physical feeling. We try to make our music so loose and hard-hitting so that it hits your soul hard enough to make it open. It's like shock therapy or a can opener. Rock is technically blues-based...We want them to realize that our music is just as spiritual as going to church."
Hendrix introduces his Live in Copenhagen 1/10/69 version of I Don’t Live Today: “We’d like to do an electric storm first, like to make a few sounds: electric church music part one.” Part Two: Because He Lives? Hendrix introduces his Live at Santa Clara '69 version preaching: “The idea is get your own self together so you can be ready for the next world…it’s called I don’t live today, maybe tomorrow, I can’t say.” John Stott: “The thirteenth-century Spanish courtier Raymond Lull (a missionary to Muslims in North Africa) wrote that ‘he who loves not, lives not.”” (The Radical Disciple, 26) Paul Tillich: “An agape in which there is no eros has no warmth. Eros without agape lacks discrimination. They belong together and cannot be severed.” (The Importance of New Being; Man and Transformation: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, 174)
"At the end of shows I can remember saying, 'Man, you were great. God, when you did this in that song and when you did I Don't LIve Today and when you did that. Oh man.' And Jimi's response was, 'Yeah, but how many black folks did you see there? Did you see any Puerto Ricans?' So the concept for him was always to draw in as many people as possible to join the people who were already attending the shows and turned on and into the music."
Hendrix cut slits in his forehead and soaked his bandana in LSD, inducing a altered vision. "I'd like to get something together - like a Handel, Bach, Muddy Waters, flamenco type of thing. If I could get that sound, I'd be happy." The implication that he wasn't happy is suggested in the lines: "Purple Haze all around, don't know if I'm coming up or down. Am I happy or in misery? Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me." “The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.”
Hendrix's guitar-as-phallus rises from the bottom of the sea to slay the mountainous white businessman and penetrate the female sky. Hendrix's vision is an Oedipal complex and is disoriented, as he lowers the lofty and raises the lowly. His references to Handel, Bach, and sacrifice suggest a Baroque vision transcending his Electric Church and bringing him happiness.
Are You Experienced: If you can just get your mind together Then come on across to me We'll hold hands and then we'll watch the sunrise From the bottom of the sea But first, are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.
If 6 Was 9: If the sun refused to shine I don't mind If six turned out to be nine I don't mind, Fall mountains, just don't fall on me Go ahead on mister business man, you can't dress like me. (mountain=business man?)
Voodoo Child: I stand up next to a mountain And I chop it down with the edge of my hand I pick up all the pieces and make an island Might even raise a little sand 'cause I'm a voodoo child Lord knows I'm a voodoo child
Castles Made of Sand fall in the sea eventually
Electric Ladyland: Electric woman waits for you and me So it's time we take a ride, we can cast all of your hang-ups over the seaside While we fly right over the love filled sea...The angels will spread their wings...Good and evil lay side by side while electric love penetrates the sky.
Hendrix portrays himself with a blues scale and a Hendrix chord, in Purple Haze, Voodoo Child, Stone Free, and other songs. He portrays his lady with ethereal major key songs, such as Little Wing, The Wind Cries Mary, May This Be Love, songs written for his white girlfriends, perhaps. James Baldwin refers to American signs during the Second World War "that say 'White Ladies' and 'Colored Women'." (The Fire Next Time, 69) However, in 1982 John Gordon wrote of white feminists: “’ladies,’ they used to insist you call them, as they now insist you don’t.” (The Myth of the Monstrous Male, 163) May This Be Love was written for Hendrix's mother, and is ethereal and in a major key, yet the lyrics state: "I can see my rainbow calling me through the misty breeze of my waterfall." Water signifies the world he wants to ascend from and rainbow signifies a multitude of colors.
Foxy Lady is an exception, with its Hendrix chord; in Maui he dedicates it to a black woman named Pat Hartley. "A young filmmaker named Jennifer Poe is making a biography of Pat and model Donyale Luna as they were the only two black women who were part of the Andy Warhol group of females. (Ironically though, Donyale Luna downplayed her black heritage all her life, and Pat has a mixed background – with a black mother and white Jewish father). Pat also starred in an Andy Warhol art film ‘Ciao Manhattan’ with Andy’s girlfriend Edie and I found it on Youtube."
The song "Little Wing" is about his mother Lucille, according to Leon, although in interviews he gave an alternate interpretation, most likely so he would not have to recount painful memories (it is widely known that Jimi didn't like to recollect on his past to the public). Jimi himself said the song was about the Monterey Pop Festival personified as a girl.
Joachim-Ernst Berendt on mixing major and minor thirds: “In the blues a conventionally tonic or dominant chord frequently appears under a blue note, so that the major third may be played in the bass, and the minor third in the treble. This creates frictional sounds, which certainly can be interpreted as arising from a friction between two different harmonic systems: the chord structure, which corresponds to  the European tradition, and the melodic line, with its blue notes originating in African music.” (Jazz Book, 208-09) The friction described by Berendt accounts for the origin of the Hendrix chord. It is evident in Joe Zawinul’s Birdland, when the first note of the bass riff, a major third, coincides with the first note of the melody, a minor third. It is implied in the bass riff of Miles Davis’ It’s About That Time, from In a Silent Way, where the lowest note is a major third and the highest note is a minor third. In contrast, Richard Strauss composes a strife of major and minor chords in the opening of Thus Spake Zarathustra; the ending on the major chord accords with music theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau's description of the major chord: "That first burst of nature is so powerful, so brilliant, so virile - if I may call it thus - that it surpasses minor and shows itself to be the master of harmony."
In an essay, Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, George McKay cites Andrew Blake’s extrapolation of “a tradition of British racism in the reception of American popular music: ‘Resistance [to American music] in general often took the form of specifically racialised discourses: hot jazz in the 1920s, swing in the 1930s, and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s were all resisted from within and without the British musical establishment on the grounds that these were black or black-derived forms and that black music was dangerous; that it would infect the white ‘race’ with its open eroticism and its association with illegal narcotic drugs … the common fear of ‘miscegenation’ around which many forms of racism have been organised.’” (1997, 85; see Pack of Lies, 15:10-16:40)
Deena Weinstein describes similar American views. “Rock and roll was maligned [during the 1950s] for the danger it posed of inflaming the sexual passions of the nation’s youth. This surface criticism masked widespread racism and fear of miscegenation. Rock and roll was believed to be infecting white youth with the supposed moral laxity of blacks….The reaction to rock and roll by cultural conservatives was to a large extent a replication of the conservative response to jazz after World War 1….Jazz and its descendent at several removes, rock and roll, were denounced for their sound, which caused a relaxation of sexual control and a descent to the sexual primitivism attributed to blacks.” (Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology, 245)
Sander Gilman: “The fear of miscegenation is a fear (and a word) from the late nineteenth-century vocabulary of sexuality. It is a fear not only of interracial sexuality but of its results, the decline of the population.” (Sexuality: An Illustrated History, 306) In 1998 A. Robert Lee observed: “Terms like miscegenation…along with the dire sub-lexicon of ‘mongrel’ or ‘halfbreed’, look not merely dated but defunct….’mixed’ relationships (and ‘mixed’ offspring) no longer automatically arouse opprobrium, curiosity or spectatorship.” (Designs of Blackness, 194)
Ralph Ellison describes an instance of musical miscegenation: “with our own cultural expressions we have been quite generous. It’s like the story they tell about Louis Armstrong teaching Bix Beiderbecke certain things about jazz. It was a joyful exchange and that was the way in which Negro jazzmen acted when I was a kid. They were delighted when anyone liked their music – especially white Americans – and their response was, ‘You like this? Well, this is a celebration of something we feel about life and art. You feel it too? Well, all right, we’re all here together; let the good times roll!’” (Who Speaks for the Negro, 346) Armstrong: “’When Bix would finish up at the Chicago Theater at night, he would haul it out to the Sunset where I was playing and stay right there until the show was over and the customers would go home. Then we would lock the doors. Now you talking about jam sessions…huh…those were the things…with everyone feeling each other’s notes or chords, et cetera and blend with each other instead of trying to cut each other….We tried to see how good we could make music sound, which was an inspiration within itself.’” (from Blue, 34)
Eric Nisenson refers to Louis and Bix as “the ‘John the Baptists’ of the swing era, prophets of the new music.” (80) Compare with Stanley Crouch: "Martin Williams, the late, great jazz critic and himself a white Southerner, told me once that there used to be a group of white jazz musicians who would say, when there were only white guys around, 'Louis Armstrong and those people had a nice little primitive thing going, but we really didn’t have what we now call jazz until Jack Teagarden, Bix, Trumbauer and their gang gave it some sophistication. Bix is the one who introduced introspection to jazz. Without him you would have no Lester Young and no Miles Davis.'” (The Negro Aesthetic of Jazz)
The term Jam Session, referring to musicians congregating to play improvised music, came from the late night sessions in the 1920’s, when black and white musicians would get together, after their regular paying gigs. Bing Crosby, a member of “The Rhythm Boys”, who performed with Paul Whiteman, would join Bix Biederbeck and others at these sessions. They got a kick out of Bing, who had a problem clapping on the 2 and the 4, and would end up “jamming” the beat. A seminal moment in jazz, when whites and blacks weren’t allowed to play together in public, these became known as jam sessions. This is the origin of the phrase, documented in Mezz Mezzrow’s “Really The Blues”.
Jon Michael Spenser, in his book Sacred Music of the Secular City, writes: "rock music critic Jim Curtis....perceives rock as...emphasizing personal rather than communal standards and secular hedonism rather than sacred ascetisicm. He says, 'Thus the covenant reappeared in sixties rock 'n' roll as a secularized version of the Puritan obligation to self-examination: a hip covenant. Now, of course, the obligation involved sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and doing your own thing, not soul-searching.' It is from this critical preview that Curtis interprets Jimi Hendrix's dissonant guitar rendition of the 'Star Spangled Banner,' performed at the 1969 Woodstock festival: 'The raw, strained, metallic sound expresses better than anything I know the American sense that the covenant with God is broken.'" (Rock Introduction, 230) Curtis continues: “Its dissonance does not let us rest, and it’s certainly not something you can dance to. But the very decision to play the national anthem at Woodstock is an affirmation that we are Americans in the process of defining what it means to be an American, or re-defining our relationship to the past.” (Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984, 128) “Jimi Hendrix was the flower generation’s nigger dandy – its king stud and golden calf, its maker of mighty dope music, its most outrageous visible force. – Critic John Morthland on Jimi Hendrix” (Bane, White Boy Singin' the Blues, 197)
Hendrix wanted to play the French national anthem while on tour in France, but was banned from doing so. He played the American national anthem at the Los Angeles Forum in
1969. The parodic nature of his interpretation of the melody in this version is in keeping with his spoken introduction: "Here's a song we were all brainwashed with. Remember this oldies but goodies?" After playing two phrases of melody Hendrix interjects the word 'bullshit.' Hendrix was quoted in Hall and Clark in 1970 as saying, "It's time for a new national anthem. America is divided into two definite divisions….The easy thing to cop out with is saying black and white….But now to get down to the nitty-gritty, it's getting' to be old and young; not
the age, but the way of thinking." (Steve Waksman; Black sound, black body: Jimi Hendrix, the electric guitar, and the meanings of blackness, 170)
The contrast between these ways of thinking is evident in Hendrix’s interview with Dick Cavett. Cavett : “When you mention the national anthem and talk about playing it in any unorthodox way you immediately get a guaranteed percentage of hate mail.” Hendrix: “That's not unorthodox, that's not unorthodox." Cavett: “It
isn't unorthodox?" Hendrix: "No, No. I thought it was beautiful, but there you go."
Both the L.A. Forum and Woodstock versions of Star Spangled Banner precede the opening riff, a tritone of Eb and A, of Purple Haze. The tritone is aurally disorienting as one doesn't know which is the keynote and which is the flatted fifth apart from a larger harmonic context. For example, in Sonny Rollins's Blue Seven the theme and solo center around D & Ab, the 3rd & 7th of a Bb7 chord (the home chord/key for that tune), as well as an E-natural, which is the true flatted fifth of Bb. Gunther Schuller's analysis shrewdly pointed out that Doug Watkins's bass intro was somewhat ambiguous tonally, and that until the piano entered, you couldn't be absolutely certain if the D & Ab were the 3rd & 7th of a Bb7 chord, or the 7th & 3rd of an E7 chord (Ab is the enharmonic - i.e. different name for the same note - of G#). In Purple Haze the introductory tritone riff functions as a harmonic herald of the lyrics, "Don't know if I'm coming up or down...Don't know if it's day or night". The Woodstock version of Star Spangled Banner follows Voodoo Chile.
The melody of the American national anthem outlines a major triad (1, 3, 5; in Hendrix's key of Eb: Eb, G, Bb) in the opening notes - 5, 3, 1, 3. 5, and 8; in a vocal version these notes are sung over the words 'O say can you see?'. In the Woodstock version Hendrix plays a tritone of A and Eb (it looks like he's playing Bb and E, but he tuned his guitar down a half step to make it easier to bend strings) at 1:46, possibly to simulate an air raid siren. These are the same two notes used to introduce Purple Haze. Hendrix's use of triadic tonality and the tritone may be related to the different ways of thinking mentioned by him, above. Hendrix plays a tritone of D and Ab from 1:10-1:15 of EXP.
At a press conference three weeks after the Cavett interview Hendrix described his motivation for playing the American national anthem. "Oh because we're all Americans. It was like ‘Go America!’.….When it was written then it was written in a very, very beautiful, what they
call beautiful state, you know. It is nice and inspiring. Your heart throbs and you say, 'great I'm American!'
But now days when we play it we don't play it to take away all the greatness that America's supposed to have. We
play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static." (Elles, 5) “’The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word “free” to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me.’ Belize in Tony Kushner, Angels in America" (Josh Kun, Against Easy Listening: Or, How to Hear America Sing, Audiotopia, 29)
From The Day Hendrix Killed 'God' - Chas Chandler: “He [Hendrix] actually said to me, ‘If I go to England with you can you introduce me [to] Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton?’…That was the only question he asked.”
Jack Bruce on Cream: “We were very competitive, you know at that age you’re like gunslingers or something, you know. I wanted to be the best, most frightening bass player in the world, and I think I was. I think I succeeded in that – certainly the loudest. We would take the language of the blues and apply it to modern music. In other words, be very arrogant about it and nick it, but not nick actual songs, but just nick the feeling and the language of the blues and use that, which is very much what we ended up doing. We were very much the pioneers of that kind of music. We built that audience from nothing. The bands that followed us reaped the benefits of the work that we had done.
...a very brave person who would do that. As far as I remember he [Hendrix] plugged into my bass amp and did a version of Killing Floor and blew us all away, of course. He just played his ass off basically, you know. The first time I saw Eric I thought, ah, there’s a master guitar player. But Eric was a guitar player, Jimi was some sort of force of nature. It was like wow, that kind of a thing. I know it had a tremendous effect on Eric.”
Chandler: “Eric’s hands were…on the guitar, and they just dropped, and he just stood there looking at Jimi. And he walked off the stage….Eric was standing trying to light a cigarette and his hands were shaking. He just says, ‘Is he really that good?’”
Clapton on Hendrix: "I don't think he's a great guitarist. I don't like to watch him too much 'cause I prefer to listen to him. When he first came to England, you know English people have a very big thing towards a spade. They really love that magic thing, the sexual thing. They all fall for that sort of thing. Everybody and his brother in England still sort of think that spades have big dicks. And Jimi came over and exploited that to the limit. Everybody fell for it. I fell for it. After a while I began to suspect it. Having gotten to know him, I found out that's not where he's at.
That stuff he does onstage, when he does that he's testing the audience. He'll do a lot of things, like fool around with his tongue and play his guitar behind his back and rub it up and down his crotch. And he'll look at the audience, and if they're digging it, he won't like the audience. He'll keep on doing it, putting them on. Play less music. If they don't dig it, then he'll play straight 'cause he knows he has to. It's funny. I heard that here he came on and put on all that in his first set and people were just dead towards it. And in his second set he just played, which is great.
He had the whole combination in England. It was just what the market wanted, a psychedelic pop star who looked freaky, and they're also still hung up about spades and the blues thing was there. So Jimi walked in, put on all the gear, and made it straight away. It was a perfect formula. Underneath it all, he's got an incredible musical talent. He is really one of the finest musicians around on the Western scene."
Clapton as Pilgrim, Guitar as Cross, Lady as Pieta
Gaspar Sanz was a 17th century Spanish priest and guitarist who published a eulogy in praise of Pope Innocent XI and wrote the most important book of instruction for the guitar of his era. He seems to have contentedly compartmentalized his patriarchal priesthood and his guitar, which he likens to a woman, and follows a well established tradition associating it with sensuality, particularly the senses of touch, sound, and smell.
"The guitar is like a lady but one to whom the saying 'look at me but don't touch' does not apply; for its rose [the ornate decoration in the sound hole] is quite different from a real rose, since it will not wither however much it is touched with the hands, and moreover, if it is plucked by the hands of a skilled master, it will produce in them ever new bouquets which delight the ear with their sonorous fragrances."
Sanz's phrase, "plucked by the hands of a skilled master," suggests the refined music of the court. However, when the guitar first appeared in the Iberian peninsula towards the end of the 16th century it was regarded with suspicion by the church, as the coarse strumming of rasgueados was accompanied by singing and dancing to popular songs in taverns. As strumming gave way to refined plucking, punteado, the guitar gained acceptance in courts. Plucking the strings emphasizes the form of music, whereas strumming brings out the energy. Form and energy are both necessary to music. The music of Gaspar Sanz fuses these two approaches. As priest and guitarist Sanz embodies the fusion of spirituality and sensuality.
Santana: “The guitar is shaped like a woman, with a neck you hold and a body you hug against yourself. You can touch your fingers up and down the strings.” (Tone, 114) Such intimacy is absent during an interview with Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel about his 'virginal' guitar. “Don’t touch it." “I wasn’t going to touch it, I was just pointing at it.” "Well, don’t point even. It can’t be played, never.” “Can I look at it.” “No.” The tradition of conceiving the guitar as a woman is transformed by Clapton in the final verse of his song, Holy Mother, where he suggests a vision of his guitar as cross and Madonna as Pieta. "When my hands no longer play, My voice is still, I fade away. Holy mother, then I'll be Lying in, safe within your arms."
In the song, Change the World, Clapton envisions himself as king of the world. Compare with Django. "Up until my late thirties I never asked anyone for help in my entire life. Having said that I needed help, it felt like someone had taken off this massive burden. From that day on I started to experience emotions that I hadn't felt. Being able to cry, being able to feel happy, feel sad - all of this stuff was suddenly available to me, whereas in all that time that I had just been holding on to this the only thing I had was anger and sadness. I had started looking in the darkest corners and I found there was really nothing there to be afraid of. I started to actually evolve into who I am."
Clapton portrays himself with blues structures, and portrays his spiritual family with major key structures, for examples, Holy Mother, Presence of the Lord; My Father's Eyes is ambiguous, moving from major to minor. Founder and former president of Atlantic records, "Ahmet Ertegun[,] has claimed that among the working class youth in England in the early sixties ‘there was a constant attempt to find out how to play like a black person. But no matter how they tried, it came out English, but it came out like the real thing too. I think the key group was Cream – Eric Clapton was the center of it.'” (Dionysus Rising, 160) Clapton: "An English kid playing the blues, I mean it's just wrong; it doesn't fit." Sonny Boy Williamson related his trip to England, where he recorded with Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds and met The Rolling Stones: “’They want to play the blues so bad, and they play it so bad. They buy me everything, they treat me like God, but they can’t play worth a shit.’” (from American Axe, 72) Clapton: "Muddy [Waters] was speaking to me in earnest [in 1979] about carrying on the legacy of the blues," said Clapton, "calling me his adopted son, and I assured him that I would do my best to honor this responsibility." (Crossroads: How the Blues Shaped Rock 'n' Roll)
Page as Hermit, Guitar as Staff, Consort as Groupie or Jesus
In the song, Dazed and Confused (3:00), from the film, The Song Remains the Same, Jimmy Page's fantasy role involved climbing up the face of a snow capped mountain near Boleskine House, Loch Ness during the nights of a full moon on December 10 and 11, 1973. The act was meant to show Page on a quest of self enlightenment, and deep understanding, by seeking out the Hermit, a character featured in many Tarot packs. The mythological Hermit is seen on the summit of the mountain; Staff of Wisdom in one hand, and in the other, the Lantern of Knowledge held out abreast over the world below. Being a Threshold Guardian, he represents an obstacle the seeker must overcome to achieve true enlightenment. At the culmination of Page's quest, he reaches out to touch The Hermit, only to discover paradoxically that the Hermit is himself. The Hermit features on the artwork of the untitled fourth album. The thematic music is "Dazed and Confused." True enlightenment is attained by union with Christ, the subject of the painting which the tarot card of the Hermit was based on. Patrick Arnold: “Anyone who would summon the Magician in himself must take the highest precautions to detach himself from the archetype, or he will surely begin to see himself as the source of Deep Magic, rather than its instrument.” (Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings, 109)
Boleskine House was the estate of author and occultist Aleister Crowley from 1899 to 1913. It is located on the South-Eastern shore of Loch Ness in Scotland. Crowley purchased the home in order to perform the operation found in The Book of the Sacred Magick of Abra-Melin the Mage. Sabazius X (1998) notes: Thus, the location of Boleskine House is to be the Omphalos or Center of Power for Thelema, and is to continue as such for the duration of the Aeon of Horus, regardless of the physical presence of the Stèle or of the house itself.
From 1971 until 1991 Boleskine House was owned by famed Led Zeppelin guitarist and Aleister Crowley enthusiast, Jimmy Page, who once called Crowley "a misunderstood genius of the 20th Century". Page's fantasy sequence in the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same was filmed at night on the mountainside directly behind Boleskine House. Page claimed that the house was haunted by a decapitated head.
Page portrays his quest with descending riffs, such as the chromatic descent of the introduction to Stairway to Heaven, the whole tone descent of the chord progression in the final section of this song, and the chromatic descent of the riff of Dazed and Confused. An exception is the ascending chromatic riff of Kashmir, although a later riff descends. Page was like the Hermit in that he kept his baby groupie under lock and key. Songs about his relation to Christ are heavy blues-rock songs, like Nobody's Fault But Mine and In My Time of Dying. Like Icarus, Page couldn't fly on his own power; he needed the wings referred to in In My Time of Dying; otherwise he would fall like a lead zeppelin.
Chet as Country Gentleman, Guitar as Gun, Vision as Promised Land
Maybe Chet's obsession with the title, the greatest guitarist in the world, for over half a century is a manifestation of the 'ugly American' spirit, perhaps a product of a Calvinist mindset which seeks status symbols as evidence of divine election. Atkins stated that it made him "uncomfortable...when my fans insist that I'm the greatest guitar player of them all. I know I'm not. I'm perhaps the best known guitarist, and I'm proud of that because I've worked hard to achieve it, but I know there are many players who have surpassed me. Guitar playing has evolved, and that's the way it should be. When I was young and at my peak, I was doing things that were considered amazing at the time. Other generations have come along since then, absorbed what I did, and have expanded upon it...That's the wonderful thing about the guitar. Each generation has its innovators who carry the legacy further, and our combined knowledge grows and gets passed on as the guitar's secrets are revealed, one by one. I am not the greatest guitarist, but I am very proud of the part I've played in its history. And I know, as the torch is passed, our beloved instrument is in good hands with players like Jerry Reed, Tommy Immanuel, Richard Smith, Jim Nichols, Doyle Dykes, and many others who will carry on the tradition which started long before me and which will hopefully continue long after we are all forgotten...That's the way it's supposed to be. The players come and go but the music lives on, and eternity will take care of the rest."
All of the guitarists listed above by Atkins are white Anglo-American/Australian Protestants. In 1974 he recalled: "I played the Newport Jazz Festival a few years ago and the music was fantastic. There were people like Ray Charles, who is one of my favorite musicians, and it was great." The music was fantastic and the festival was great, but Atkins can't bring himself to honor Charles with either of these adjectives. Atkins did, however, describe black jazz guitarist Lonnie Johnson as "one of the great guitar improvisers of his time;" his time was the 1940's.
In the late 1970's Breau stated: "Chet Atkins goes around saying that I’m the best guitarist in the world." "It's weird...like being a gunslinger." Compare with Hendrix's song, Machine Gun, where the guitar becomes an imperialist weapon. Atkins branded Breau as “the greatest guitar player in the world today” in a 1979 edition of Frets Magazine (compare Benson). In an interview one month later Breau likened Atkins' title to "being a gunslinger", and joked: "You know if I had been born a hundred years ago, I think I could have really gotten into it...the fastest gun in the West."
In 1980 Breau responded to his mantle more seriously: "Chet Atkins goes around saying that I'm the best goddamn guitarist in the world and here I am playing for fifty dollars a night!...Sometimes it just makes me want to quit and go do something else." After pedal steel player Buddy Emmons introduced him as "the greatest guitar player in the world" in 1980 Breau confided to a friend: “You don’t know the pressure involved with everybody saying you’re the best that there is. I get up there to play and sometimes I feel like I just can’t do it. You play a couple of bad notes and people say you’re less than you’re supposed to be. That’s such a hard thing.”
To alleviate Breau's woes Atkins introduced him to an attractive gospel singer, who became his second wife in 1980. Atkins came to regret his introduction. In the summer of 1983 she asked Breau's friend Pat Smith: "If Chet says he's the greatest guitar player in the world, why are we so broke?" Smith suggested it was because Breau did not show up for his gigs and explained 'no-show' Breau's lack of motivation: "He felt it was too much pressure always having to be the best, being what people expected of him." It seems that Atkins was the source of both the cause - greatest guitarist in the world - and potential cure - attractive gospel singer - of Breau's woes.
Judi Singh indicates that he didn't buy into the 'heavyweight' title Atkins imposed on him: "Lenny had the guts to play what he wanted to play. He always played from the heart and he never pretended anything when he was playing, never tried to impress. He didn't buy into the [hype]. There was just total honesty all the time. Didn't matter who was around, he was continually himself. He didn't know how to be anything else."
In the aftermath of Breau's murder in 1984 Atkins stated: "That damn 'world's greatest guitar player' is a misnomer...there are so many damned people now who play the style I play...but I kind of was the evangelist for that style." In 1997 Atkins stated: "Tommy [Emmanuel] is about the only guitarist I've heard who can come close to what Lenny Breau did...I think he's probably the greatest finger-picker in the world today." One of the last songs Atkins wrote was The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World (mp3; note the black hair below the sliced building). This title invites irony into Atkins' prediction that Breau's "legend will continue to inspire future generations", for both guitarists explored ethnic music, yet Atkins sounds like a tourist compared to Breau, who embraced a palette of global tones. Breau left a legacy of musical compassion, not conquest, for, in contrast to Atkins' fundamentalist Nashville picking, he plucked ecumenical notes towards a definition of global guitar. A passage from the book Breau kept in his guitar case doubtless inspired his catholic tastes: "All races, nations, classes and people are like a strain of music based upon one chord, where the key-note, the common interest, holds so many personalities in a single bond of harmony." WWPW?
Atkins portrays his hillbilly heaven with a cadence from a blues chord to a major chord. At the end of a live version of There'll Be Some Changes Made he ironically portrays black music with a blues scale.
Django as Gypsy King, Guitar as Cathedral, Queen as Saint Sara
Django said that his Selmer gypsy jazz guitar spoke to him like a cathedral. With his music Django is conducting his fellow gypsies from their harsh lives to a state of union with their mythic patron saint Sara the Black.
In 1942: "Django's symphony was entitled Manoir de mes reves - Castle of My Dreams. The image and musical theme came to him in a reverie. Sleeping soundly one night, he dreamed he was in a grand chateau lost in the midst of a never-ending forest; it was midnight and he was playing on a large pipe organ the music that became Manoir de mes reves." (177)
A: Certainly you know, Mr Reinhardt, that in the world and particularily in France, it is said that you are the king of the gypsies. Is that accurate?
DR: No, no, no, don't think that. But it might come to pass, perhaps one day. I am very loved by them, and I thank them by offering to them this mass. (Organ continues to play)
"From his symphony Django next turned to creating a Mass. He wished to write a religious work for his fellow Romanies as early as 1936, a piece to be played during the pilgrimage to Les Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer. The pilgrimage continued as normal in May 1941 and 1942, but was suppressed by Vichy in 1943. This may have played a part in Django's determination to focus on his Mass during 1943 and into 1944. As he described his inspiration, 'My people are savagely independent, private, and proud of our traditions; so we need a Mass of our own, written in our language by one of our own. I hope that my Mass will be adopted by my people throughout the world and that it will be consecrated at our annual gathering at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.'" (Dregni, 178) In fact, after Django's death in 1953, many of his fans, as well as his second wife, Sophie, joined a French gypsy evangelical church, which is now an international movement, and has set many of its hymns to Django's melodies.
Django was a devotee of classical music. His favourite composer was the futuristic Claude Debussy and he often quotes subtle references to his music in his playing. He claimed Debussy's ideals as a musician and composer were the closest to his own. His favorite classic compositions were Ravel's eight "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" and Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor".
Django imported the flat five from bebop. It seems to me significant that the first three chords of the Overture to Django's Mass modulate from the major sub-dominant chord, A, to the flat five diminished chord, Bbo, to the fundamental, E; the same three-chord progression concludes my favorite version of Manoir de Mes Reves, which melody resolves the minor to the major third in the final three notes.
Django ended his life hearing the grand musique in nature, in the waters of the Seine River. His vision was racial and religious. This inspired Chet's racial, religious, and political, vision. Hendrix's vision began with him rising to white ladies in Electric Ladyland, and ended with an all-black band, Band of Gypsies, inspired by Django. Breau saw the world in his Ebony Queen and sought to raise her status. Breau and Hendrix - sixties. Clapton and Page - seventies; a personal, individual quest for ascension.
Five Guitar Sacrifices: Six-String as Self-Consuming Artifact
Jimi Hendrix: "It's getting to be more spiritual than anything now. Pretty soon I believe that they're going to have to rely on music to get some peace of mind or satisfaction - direction, actually, more so than politics, because politics is really an ego scene." After a highly sexualized performance of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” Hendrix set fire to his Fender Stratocaster. “The time I burned my guitar, it was like a sacrifice,” Hendrix later explained. “You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar. I’d just finished painting it that day and was really into it.”
Eric Clapton: "When my hands no longer play, my voice is still, I fade away. Holy Mother, then I'll be lying in, safe within your arms."
Led Zeppelin: "All the wrong I've done, you can deliver me, Lord. I only wanted to have some fun....Jesus, gonna make you my dyin' bed."
Lenny Breau: "I don’t have to go to church and kneel down and say, ‘praise the Lord,’ because this is my way of praising....I feel I was put on this earth to play this guitar and I’m going to go down playing it. I don’t care if I become a millionaire or not, but I’ll probably die with this mother in my hands. That’s the way it has to be, because I love it so much."
Django's second wife, Sophie, said in his last years he was a new man, a poet awakened by the beauty of nature. From dusk to dawn he’d sit by the Seine, seeing the dance of the flowers and hearing the song of the river, where he saw the true music. ‘Voila la grande musique!’, he would say. Django too had lived up to his name, awake to ‘la grande musique’, expressed in his last composition, Anouman.
Michael Dregni: "The mourners sprinkled holy water with a spring of rosemary on the coffin and pronounced the Manouche benediction to the dead, Akana mukav tut le Devlesa - I now leave you to God. Then, Nin-Nin [Django's brother Joseph] placed a symbolic guitar atop the coffin to be buried with Django....Following the Manouche mourning tradition of zelimos...[Django's wife, Sophie] piled Django's possessions in a pyre, struck a match, and burned them. Django's guitar went up in flames." (Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend, 268)
Hazrat Inayat Khan: "To serve God one must sacriﬁce what is dearest to one; and so I sacriﬁced my music. I had composed songs; I sang and played the vina; and practicing this music I arrived at a stage where I touched the Music of the Spheres. Then every soul became for me a musical note, and all life became music. Inspired by it I spoke to the people, and those who were attracted by my words listened to them, instead of listening to my songs. Now, if I do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments; to harmonize people instead of notes. If there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony: that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others. I have found in every word a certain musical value, a melody in every thought, harmony in every feeling; and I have tried to interpret the same thing, with clear and simple words, to those who used to listen to my music. I played the vina until my heart turned into this very instrument; then I offered this instrument to the divine Musician, the only musician existing. Since then I have become His ﬂute; and when He chooses, He plays His music. The people give me credit for this music, which in reality is not due to me but to the Musician who plays on his own instrument." (from the preface to The Mysticism of Sound, which Breau kept at hand during the last ten years of his life.)
Three Guitar Graphics
Literary theorist Northrop Frye noted that changes in metaphor accompany transformations of consciousness. The graphic for The Greatest Guitarist in the World has undergone two revisions. First the graphic featured six guitars, each associated with a great guitarist; the idea was that the guitarists were fighting to see who was the greatest. Next the graphic featured two guitars, one acoustic and one electric; the idea was that three acoustic guitarists were fighting three electric guitarists in a moral battle. Finally the graphic features a guitar headstock with the six guitarists each associated with a string.
This final graphic transforms the notion of greatness from fighting others to seeking integration and / or reconciliation with others. I became conscious of this transformation several days after I got the vision for the graphic. I feel like this show is writing me, rather than vice-versa. The greatest is one who reconciles various elements as music harmonizes tones and rhythms, rather than one who seeks to dominate or subject elements, as in a wrestling match or a hockey game - redemption rather than condemnation. Bout # 2 represents Breau seeking to redeem his world; bout #3 represents Clapton seeking personal redemption.
This new consciousness leads to the question, can the various guitar conceptions outlined below be reconciled? Breau's paintbrush, Hendrix's phallus, Clapton's cross, Page's staff, Django's gypsy cathedral, and Chet's six-gun. Chet's six-gun and Hendrix's phallus seem to be out to destroy one another, much as a major chord and a blues chord in a cadence. Clapton's cross and Page's staff seem like opposing ways to ascension, much as divine and human wills in the soul.
At a guitar clinic at the University of Southern California in 1983 Breau described his seven-string Kirk Sands guitar in terms of a lute: "For fifteen years [since 1969] I've been wanting a seven-string guitar, and I could never find one anywhere...but I finally got one that works good and it's got a high A string on it; it's tuned kind of like a lute, if you were going to play lute music you might have a high A string on top...I use a number eight E string on top and it's tuned to high A. How I tune it that high is a shorter scale neck. At first I had one built and the neck was too long and the string kept breaking so I had to tune the whole guitar down a tone, so I tuned it to D and it had a high G note on top, but then when I played with a bass player I was always in a different key than he was. That was kind of a hassle. I had to transpose and then I started to put a capo on the second fret, but then all the dots were in the wrong place. I was going crazy. So I finally got this one and I really feel good about it. I'll play something uptempo. This is a McCoy Tyner tune called Visions."
Six is the number of humanity, suggesting deficiency. Seven is the number of completeness. In my graphic the title, The Greatest, is a seventh entity with the six guitarists' names. In a sense the graphic epitomizes the concept of the show, although I wasn't conscious of this initially. It's a visionary gift meant to be given. The font of The Greatest is smaller than that of the guitarists' names: "The greatest among you should be like the youngest." (Lk. 22:26) The guitarists' names are close to tuning pegs, indicating their need for attunement. The first line of the last song in The Last Gig of Lenny Breau is "I was a blue note slightly out of tune." Breau's vision was out of tune and The Greatest Guitarist in the World seeks to attune it to the key of the cosmos. In Breau's last lesson to Raj Rathor he mentioned the music of the spheres. Breau kept a copy of a book by Hazrat Inayat Khan, who wrote: “Now, if I do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments, to harmonize people instead of notes. If there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony: that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others.”
Last summer a show called 6 Guitars toured the Fringe circuit. It starts off with Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blues, features a heavy metal type into devilish lyrics, and ends with Lennon's Imagine. The graphic features a headstock, but there is no indication for the need of tempering or attunement for the world to live as one. This is a perceived deficiency that I endeavor to surmount in my show.
If this show is writing me it implies that I'm neither a great person or a great guitarist and I must grow into these titles or not attain them at all. If I were writing the show it would imply that I am larger than the concept, but the consciousness that the show is writing me is a testimony that the greatest is far greater than I. I have been given this show as a gift to direct others to the giver, the greatest. I am a mediator inviting others to discover greatness within themselves and to become conscious of a greatness that transcends each of us.
Initially I placed the image below, on the left, on my home page as I conceived of the show as a combat; Breau should have knocked out Hendrix, Clapton should conquer Page, Chet's ironic changes clash with Django's idyllic dream. This concept is in the destructive spirit of Atkins' record cover, The Day Fingerpickers Took Over the World, center below.
The image to the right of Atkins' record cover does not ask who is greatest, but asserts what greatness is. It asserts that greatness does not compete or destroy, but seeks to reconcile and harmonize. The brand name, The Greatest, transcends the either / or dichotomy of the names below. Six is the number of humanity, of deficiency, as it falls short of the perfection of seven. Breau's quest involved a seven string guitar, but I think he missed the point. We are imperfect, as are our visions, and it takes the transcendent greatest, the great Spirit, to complete our humanity. When asked why he sought a seven string Breau replied: "now I can get all seven notes of a scale in one chord." I interpret Breau's seven string guitar to signify his desire to complete his musical vision autonomously, without directly seeking divine inspiration; an expression of a God-complex, perhaps. The top of the headstock above the title, The Greatest, resembles an opened book. From a poem by George Herbert: "The cross taught all wood to resound His name. His stretched sinews taught all strings what key is best....Since all music is but three parts [a major chord]...let thy blessed Spirit play a part and make up our defects with his sweet art."
Appendix: Breau as Saint and Guitar as Cross
In my opinion there is, behind Breau's self-conception as a fingerpicking painter and his guitar as paint brush, Afro-American saxophonist John Coltrane's conception of a musical saint and a European mystical conception of the guitar as Christian cross. "Images of angels performing on cross-shaped psalteries appear frequently in French illuminated manuscripts. The harp took on this symbol of the Crucifixion as well." (Robert Quist, The Theme of Music in Northern Renaissance Banquet Scenes, 31) Eva Hellenius-Oberg: "The harp stands as a symbol for Christ's sacrifice on the cross, because as Christ's body was stretched on the cross, so stretch the strings on the harp." (31) "The double-edged symbolic nature of the harp - i.e. sinful lust and spiritual enlightenment - also extends to other musical instruments." (34) “Christ’s cross was mystically exhibited in the wood and stretched strings of [David's] harp,and thereby it was the very Passion that was hymned and that overcame the spirit of [Saul]." Niceta of Remesiana “About the mystical meaning of the harp, gut is stretched on a harp. On this instrument the flesh is crucified.” Augustine of Hippo "The cross taught all wood to resound His name. His stretched sinews taught all strings what key is best....Since all music is but three parts [a major chord]...let thy blessed Spirit play a part and make up our defects with his sweet art." GeorgeHerbert
George Herbert's Anglo-Norman heredity (?) coupled with Quist's reference to French manuscripts associating the cross with stringed instruments lead me to conclude that this association is a characteristic of French musical mystics. This conclusion is strengthened by my view that mystical French Canadian guitar legend Lenny Breau associated his guitar with the cross, as do I, also a French Canadian musical mystic. I believe that Breau modelled his conception of the guitar, in part, on the Medieval and Renaissance European notion of the harp and lute as analogies of the cross.
Breau conceived his guitar in terms of the harp and lute. Breau played a 1905 Gibson harp guitar in 1961. Singer Don Francks states: "He'd play a little, simple country thing on his harp guitar, 'We Shall Gather at the River' or something, which the audience loved." (85-86) In 1969 Breau stated that his twelve string guitar "can sound like a sitar, it can sound like a guitar. It can also sound like a harp." "In the summer of 1974 Breau had added...autoharps, and even tubular bells to his palette of sounds when performing." Breau: "the longer the string, the longer it rings, based on the sitar....Now I'm thinking of going to a seven string." (6:45)
In 1981 Breau stated that his seven string guitar with a high A string "goes more towards a lute sound, because lutes had high A strings." Breau began a guitar clinic at the University of Southern California in 1983 by playing Stella by Starlight and Vision. During the workshop he describes his seven-string Kirk Sands guitar in terms of a lute: "For fifteen years [since 1969] I've been wanting a seven-string guitar...It's got a high A string on it; it's tuned kind of like a lute, if you were going to play lute music you might have a high A string on top...This is a McCoy Tyner tune called Visions."
At a guitar clinic in 1981 Breau stated: "The music has to own you to the point where it's got you by the balls. And you say, ‘man I have to play; I have to play, because it’s got me. I have to play. It’s like John Coltrane used to play so much that when he'd come off the bandstand sometimes his lips were bleeding and he'd go into the dressing room and still practice. Practice, practice, practice. He'd come down [and] there'd be blood running down. Now that's serious. That cat is devoted, you know, to playing music. Right? So, like, there ain't a whole lot of people like that, but I’m saying if you’ve got very high ideals and you want to play like really heavy stuff, and you’ve got music you want to play in twenty years from now, you’re going to have to put in the time, and you may have to go through hard times doing it."
Tsujimoto to Coltrane: "In 1963 Japanese tenor saxophonist Hideko Mastsumoto was invited to the Newport Jazz Festival. We had a recent interview with him and he told us that whenever you have time you always exercise and exercise and exercise [practice, practice, practice]." (Tokyo, 1966, C on C, 276) Breau also repeats the word practice three times; he probably was alluding to this interview. In the same interview Coltrane states: “I would like to be a saint. [John laughs, then Alice laughs.]” (1966, Tokyo, C on C, 270) Coltrane's cousin Mary Alexander: "'I just want people to know that John was a normal person, he was a man, you know, and not God like some people might think.’” (Kahn, 223) "'John was a normal child, fun and a practical joker.'" (Kahn, 224) Coltrane was not God, but I think Breau modeled Coltrane's idea of musician as saint in his own way.
Breau was in music as a religion. It owned him to the point that it had him by the balls and made him feel close to God. "I’m going to go down playing it. I don’t care if I become a millionaire or not, but I’ll probably die with this mother in my hands. That’s the way it has to be, because I love it so much." To his mother: "I've got music to write. I have a feeling that ___ is going to kill me or have me killed. They say geniuses die young, but I'd like to have enough time to write what I have in my head." "Stop listening to that rock 'n' roll. It's no good for you." Breau to Judy St. Germain, 1962 "Mama, is it sinful?" "It's not good for you." "Oh Mama, how can a thing so good be bad?" Breau and his mother "Don't you ever play that kind of music behind me again. [And he slapped him.]" Hal, Lone Pine, Breau to Lenny Breau, 1959 "Chet Atkins says that I’m the best goddamn guitarist in the world." "It's weird...like being a gunslinger." Breau, 1980 Breau's castration anxiety concerning his dream / vision. Law of parents and God about sex; laws of music concerning dissonance regulation. Lenny's attraction to colored people and tonal discord.
Breau's example of a serious musician is Coltrane with bleeding lips as a Christ figure, who aspires to be a saint. Breau mentions balls, which indicates that he is transferring the bleeding lips to the circumcised phallus. As Coltrane played the saxophone until his 'unclean lips' bled, so Breau played his guitar until he was symbolically circumcised. He was a musical painter, so he is painting with blood. Coltrane was purifying his unclean lips, as Breau was purifying his vision from sexual to spiritual. Breau's conception of a serious guitarist seems to be that of a musical saint whose music paints listeners as Christ redeems the world with his shed blood. Coltrane was obsessed with purity as Breau was obsessed with cleanliness as a young man and dirt later on. Maybe.
Betty Cody on Breau's first song on the accordion in 1945: "'I had a vanity with a full-length mirror and Lenny would practice in front of it,' Betty says. 'He'd look at himself in the mirror and make believe he was putting on a show. He had a key that stuck and when he'd hit that note he'd say, [stage whisper] "Jessusssss!" I'd say, "Lennnnyyy!" Then he'd start all over again." (10) Forbes-Roberts' omission of Breau's "Jessusssss!" in his version of this story betrays a tendency to set aside the spiritual focus of Breau's vision. Forbes-Robert is, however, accurate in seeing in this story a harbinger or synecdoche of Breau's musical quest.
The missing note was the world and Lenny's quest was that of Jesus, to redeem it. Lenny saw black and white keys on the accordion, which contrasted with the reflection of his pale face and white teeth in his mother's vanity. The music he heard in his head was the French jig combined with colored music, major scale melodies with the flat-five. Purple Haze begins with a flat-five. It occurred to me that if Breau's starlit Stella represented the world to him, then the greatest guitarist in the world could represent his (greatest guitarist) sexual relation with her (the world) or the indwelling of the Spirit (greatest guitarist) in her (the world) aided by his musical mediation. A sexual vision of the former representation could be analogous to Orpheus looking back to Eurydice.
Wood of cross is analogous to wood of paint brush and wood of guitar; sinews of Christ are analogous to bristles of paint brush and nylon strings of classical guitar. Blood of Christ is analogous to paint and sanctified hands and/or circumcised phallus of guitarist. Sander Gilman refers to “the image of the sexual as that force out of human control….The hand, the emblem of touch and an icon of the senses – as well as the instrument of servitude, the sign of the slave – is also the mark of insubordination and inferiority.” (Sexuality: An Illustrated History, 31)
ln the last lesson of Breau he "explained a number of ways to improvise through 2-5-1 chord progressions, but then told Rathor that there was more to music than simply learning its rules." In a telephone conversation Rathor told me that Breau also said that one has to go outside of the rules. He also mentioned the music of the spheres in connection with Khan's book. He was therefore conscious of the notion of the tuning of the soul, no doubt. Rathor then turned the cassette tape over to continue recording Breau's lesson: "He said that someone had once asked McCoy Tyner how he played the way he did. McCoy said, 'well, that kind of music only happens when you do it on faith.' Then Lenny looked right at me and he said, 'So you have to take music as a religion. You have to say: "music, I'm your student for life."' And that's where he'd always been musically.'" McCoy Tyner was a Muslim. It seems to me that in Breau's mind the many ways to move through 2-5-1 progressions is analogous to a multiplicity of faiths offering various ways to the one God. The 1 chord is analogous to God. His second wife had a different view. She was a Sunday school teacher who taught that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
What's in a Name?
Django is a gypsy name meaning I awake; he was king of his dream and his second wife, Sophie, meaning wisdom, awoke him from his dream. Atkins was Mister Guitar and the country gentleman. Breau was everybody's bro' as his vision was indiscriminate; his second wife, an evangelical Christian, had a more discriminating vision. Hendrix was the voodoo child. Breau accepted Jimi's purple haze into his vision, though his second wife threw Hendrix's record "on the ground saying 'this is evil!'", as St. George crushed the serpent under his feet.
This performance is gradually taking shape in a creative process that is not a product of my conscious will. The assumption is that the major chord is analogous to light and the minor chord is analogous to darknesss. My intention is to demonstrate how the greatest guitarists use these harmonic representations of light and darkness in their musical visions. I regard the greatest guitarists as musical painters and analyze their sonic visions, which turn out to be musical representations of divinity.
Django's musical vision associates the real world of gypsies with minor keys and Django's dream world with major keys and stately rhythms. I don't know how Django's black mass fits into his musical vision yet. Atkins's musical vision associates Afro-Americans with blue notes and the blues chord and Anglo-Americans with major chords and scales. Breau's musical vision mixes opposites. Breau mixes the Hendrix chord with the major chord outlined in the sound of church bells. Clapton asked Page if he could borrow the introduction to Stairway to Heaven and Page siad that he could as long he used it in a good song. Clapton called song Let it Grow and it is good as it moves from the minor key of Page's introduction to the major key, representing the growth of divine love in the songwriter.
Django's Dream and Chet's Changes
It seems to me that Django's music is polarized between a dark, earthy world and a dream world. The former is exemplified by songs such as Dark Eyes, Minor Swing, mostly in a minor key, with an insistent gypsy jazz rhythm. The latter is exemplified by songs such as Castle of my Dreams, Nuages, in major keys; ethereal and influenced by the Impressionist music of Debussy. These songs offer the imaginative keys to Django's musical vision. Dregni describes Django's Mass as "a new dream." Django's Manoir de mes Reves was based on a dream in which Django was in a castle in the royal forest of Fountainbleu, outside of Paris, playing on a pipe organ. It may be that the idea of Django's music was to translate his gypsy culture to the heavenly heights, and his mass may epitomize this musical vision. One of the hallmarks of gypsy jazz is the prominence of the major sixth in a minor chord and a diminished scale played over it. Minor keys and diminished scales, and earthy, pulsating rhythms express the harsh world of the gypsy in the society of the balamos; major keys and whole tone scales void of tension such as used by Debussy, and stately rhythms express the gypsy soul at home in the celestial realms, the world of Django's dreams. Django was a painter as well as a musician.
Django's last composition was a song called Anouman. Does the title refer to the Hindu divinity Hanuman, evoking the East Indian origins of the gypsies, or was the title Django's way of phonetically spelling A New Man, as he had changed in his final years? The saxophone melody sounds world weary and yet the guitar solo in the middle seeks a way out of the prevailing mood of secular cynicism through a sequence of key changes culminating in an ascending whole tone scale; 1:58-2:03. The ending has Django fretting an augmented chord, which shares with the whole tone scale a feeling of resolution from tension.
Django's Dream, Manoir de mes Reves, epitomizes his vision, as the final three notes of the melody move from the pain of the minor third, to the perfection of the major third, to the domestic security of the keynote; the gypsy soul has found its home in concord.
Breau's Impressionist Chord
He invented what he called "an impressionist chord...I play a chord and then I put a harmonic on the bottom [note] of the chord...[that] raises it up an octave and it gives you a cluster." When I'm playing [this F7 #11 blues (b7) bebop (#11) impressionist chord] it makes me feel close to God. I don’t have to go to church and kneel down and say, ‘praise the Lord,’ because this is my way of praising.
Clapton's Crossroads Encounter Page's Stairway
Led Zeppelin (From the song Houses of the Holy): "Let the music be your master. Won't you heed the master's call? Oh Satan."
Eric Clapton's song, Presence of the Lord was the first song that he wrote all the lyrics to, and could therefore be considered a signature song of sorts for him. It was written after Cream disbanded, partly because Clapton had grown tired of being coerced into playing commercially driven blues. On Cream's first American tour in 1966 Clapton recalls an acid trip during a concert when "it was in my head that I could turn the audience into angels or devils according to which note I played. (92)" The Bach-like chordal structure and melody of the verses in a major key, which he may have associated with his Anglican upbringing, contrast with the rock-like chorus, "everybody knows the secret, everybody knows the score", and the blues-rock guitar solo interlude in the relative minor key.
In his autobiography, Clapton, whose father incidentally was Canadian, wrote that he "grew up with a strong curiosity about spiritual matters, but my searching took me away from church and community worship to the internal journey." His 'me and God' journey is reflected in the pronouns of his song; the classical sounding verses begin with I and the rock sounding chorus begins with everybody. This personal element is also reflected in the favorite hymn of his youth: "Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light, / Like a little candle burning in the night; / In this world of darkness, we must shine, / You in your small corner, and I in mine." The I of Clapton's song is "like a little candle burning in the night", the place to live of Clapton's song is like the "small corner" of his hymn, and the everybody of his song is "this world of darkness." It seems a pessimistic view of the world; Clapton was content to let his little light shine in a small corner of the fallen world.
It is curious that the guitar solo is in the same key and feel of the rock sounding chorus and is introduced with the lyric "in the color of the Lord." The blues rock solo and use of wah-wah pedal seems out of context in a religious song and recalls previous Clapton solos, such as that played in Tales of Brave Ulysses, which lyric also makes reference to color:
"The colors of the sea blind your eyes with trembling mermaids, and you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses: how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing, For the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips. And you see a girl's brown body dancing through the turquoise, and her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea. And when your fingers find her, she drowns you in her body, carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of your mind. The tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers, and you want to take her with you to the hard land of the winter. Her name is Aphrodite and she rides a crimson shell, and you know you cannot leave her for you touched the distant sand, with tales of brave Ulysses; how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing."
This may be a musical contradiction of the lyric, for, in reading his autobiography, Clapton lived a sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle in his house, becoming addicted to heroin. Actually, I think the rock guitar solo is Clapton's statement that he was not really capable of acknowledging the Lord and living in his presence at the time. The song is a wish-fulfillment, and it seems to be fulfilled in Clapton's life now, as he freely turns to his Lord. The rock solo is a musical counterpart, perhaps, to the Shakespearean character who can't bring himself to his knees to pray.
Clapton describes his prayer position: "I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that." By kneeling Clapton acknowledges God as his key note.
A song that matches the structure of Presence of the Lord is Clapton's Let it Grow:
"Standing at the crossroads, trying to read the signs to tell me which way I should go to find the answer, and all the time I know, plant your love and let it grow. Let it grow, let it grow, let it blossom, let it flow. In the sun, the rain, the snow, love is lovely, let it grow. Looking for a reason to check out of my mind, trying hard to get a friend that I can count on, but there's nothing left to show, plant your love and let it grow. Time is getting shorter and there's much for you to do, only ask and you will get what you are needing, the rest is up to you, plant your love and let it grow." The opening phrase, standing at the crossroads, recalls Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blues, which has been intrepreted by some as a song about selling one's soul to the devil. The key structure is the opposite of that of Prescence of the Lord, as the verses are in the relative minor key, and the chorus is in the major key. The first two verses are in the first person and the chorus and final verse are implicitly spoken by someone, perhaps God, or a spiritual counselor, giving advice.
Tears in Heaven follows the harmonic structure of Let it Grow:
Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven? Will it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on 'cause I know I don't belong here in heaven. Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven? Would you help me stand if I saw you in heaven? I'll find my way through night and day 'cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven. Time can bring you down time can bend your knee. Time can break your heart, have you begging please. Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure, and I know there'll be no more tears in heaven.
Clapton only wrote the first verse and had a collaborator write the remaining lyrics, which refer to night and day. The first sections of the verses are in the major key and use the pronoun you in reference to the singer's deceased son, Conor. The second sections of the verses are in the minor key and use the pronoun I, in reference to the singer. The major mode, then, represents heaven where the son is, and day, and the minor mode represents a nocturnal state of exile from heaven, which is the state of the singer. The use of pronoun and mode is the opposite of Presence of the Lord, in which I is in a major mode and you is in the relative minor. This implies that Clapton no longer saw himself as being in divine presence.
In 2003 Clapton reflected on the composition of Tears in Heaven: "I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked . . . I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music."
"Whatever your standing in life, the most important thing is behaving in ways that help other people. It's the same with music. I am a servant of the music ... and if I get caught up in ego, I'll lose everything .. it'll burn and that's a guarantee." In 1987 Clapton presented a session to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on "handing your will over to the care of God." Breau seemed to have tried to live this way as well. Delaney Bramlett challenged Clapton to start singing: "God has given you this gift, and if you don't use it he will take it away." Similary, Breau's mother states that he "would always say that God had given him a gift that he had. And I used to tell him, 'Lenny, you know, if you abuse that gift you might lose it.'"
The aspiration to be the greatest guitarist in the world is a trap. It breeds bad fruit. It is fueled by racial pride, or drugs, or in some cases a distortion of the pentecostal spirit. Some of its casualties may have been Hank Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, maybe even Tommy Immanuel. Music at its best is a form of prayer, an act of submission to the divine will. Breau's Vision, Coltrane's Dear Lord, Reinhardt's Nuages, Metheny's Alfie. Joni Mitchell's virtues of heart, humor, and humility. Eric Clapton understands the function of music: "I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked . . . I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music." "Whatever your standing in life, the most important thing is behaving in ways that help other people. It's the same with music. I am a servant of the music ... and if I get caught up in ego, I'll lose everything." Al Einstein: "The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule." "The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive."
Breau stated: "When I play I’m playing for the people, but I’m really playing for God, because he gave me this gift." In the Biblical Book of Proverbs Wisdom is represented as a child playing before God: "I was beside God, I was his delight day by day, playing before him every moment." This is how I see Breau, ideally, and how I see myself. I don't have to play as well as Breau did, and I certainly won't adopt his drug habit, but I naturally model his child-like approach to playing music in the presence of the Creator. The article linked above concludes with these words: "As Wisdom’s growth begins in joy, may the wide-eyed delight of children never be lost on the wise. For in Wisdom’s eyes there really are no grownups. And in Jesus’ eyes we enter God’s kingdom as children (Matthew 18:3-4). How does one measure wonder? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the wonder-filled quest for wisdom never ends. May progress on the path always be marked with dance steps."
God is the supreme musician and we human musicians are ideally playing in his presence to his delight. In the eyes of God the greatest guitarists in the world are doubtless those in a state of grace. Rolling Stone Magazine undoubtledly has a different criteria. I think the following section gets what I am after with my global quest.
Wisdom’s play is everywhere and at every time in creation. She is no passive spectator: every step of God’s creating is graced by Wisdom’s playful presence, and her play serves double duty. Her activity engages both God and the world in the mutuality of play, holding creator and creation together through the common bond of delight. As God’s partner in play, she is “beside” the creator of all as much as she is beside herself in joy. As a child, Wisdom is “delight” of the world, the delight that enlightens the world.
What kind of educational setting does Wisdom require for her play? From this ancient text it seems that Wisdom requires the world, no less, as her classroom, a world made safe and secure, and yet a world that is richly manifold and engaging: a world secured for the purpose of play. In other words, God creates a world that is both “childproof” and child-friendly, safe and enriching. Wisdom recounts God at work in carving, anchoring, stabilizing, establishing, circumscribing, securing, and setting boundaries. The mountains serve as weight-bearing pillars that hold up the heavens to prevent cosmic collapse. As divine architect, God sets the cosmic infrastructures and boundaries firmly in place, all to maintain the world’s stability. The universe is a cosmic construction zone. It is a world carefully designed for habitation. But God is not just the creator of the cosmos; the deity of design is also a doting (not to mention single) parent. As far as Wisdom is concerned, God is both parent and architect, and the world is her playhouse.
Breau and So On
“Every good lyrical poet has a certain structure of imagery as typical of him as his handwriting, held together by certain recurring metaphors, and sooner or later he will produce one or more poems that seem to be at the core of that structure. These poems are in the formal sense his mythical poems, and they are for the critic the imaginative keys to his work. The poet himself often recognizes such a poem by making it the title poem of a collection…in a Canadian poet they display those distinctive themes we have been looking for which reveal his reaction to his natural and social environment…” (Bush Garden, 179) The same could be said for a musician.
Breau's live record, The Velvet Touch of LennyBreau - Live!, caught the ear of the best American jazz guitarists. Pat Metheny comments: "There was a record of his that came out sometime in the mid sixties that was live that, I think for guitar players everywhere, it was just sort of one of those rare events where you heard somebody doing something that seemed impossible. You know, where somebody sort of ups the ante of what the instrument can be, word travels really fast." Mike Stern states: "When I heard the record I was amazed, like right away, just really amazed. He was kind of sounding like a piano player. The technique was incredible and the conception was incredible, but the thing I think got me the most was the soul behind all the playing, really, the sensitivity that he had." Metheny was equally amazed at Breau's technique and conception: "He came up with a way of addressing the instrument technically that nobody has done before or since."
George Benson placed Breau among the top jazz guitarists: "When guitar players talk, we talk about the great ones; we always start at the top of the scale, basically. 'Have you heard what Montgomery is doing? Oh, was that a fabulous recording? And how about Tal Farlow? Isn't his technique incredible, and those gigantic hands? And what about that thing Charlie Christian played? That's still my favorite solo." It is curious that Benson omits Django Reinhardt, who basically invented the role of lead guitar. Benson goes on to paraphrase Montgomery's words to him in the aftermath of Breau's live recording. "Have you heard about this guitar player in Canada? His name is Lenny Breau? I said, 'No, I haven't heard about him.' Yeah, well man, wait 'till you hear him play." Montgomery's praise provoked Benson's curiousity. "I said, 'how does he play, what kind of things does he play.' [Montgomery] 'I can't describe it. But he's got great technique and he plays a lot of fingerstyle things, you know. And you'll be amazed at what he can do. He's one of the greatest guitar players I've ever heard.'" What Montgomery seems to be telling Benson is that he regards Breau as his successor to lead jazz guitar in a new direction. In light of Montgomery's praise of Breau the following statements of Benson take on a tragic tone: "He [Breau] dazzled me with his extraordinary guitar playing. I wish the world had the opportunity to experience his artistry." Metheny sees "a literal connection" between Montgomery and Benson "that has a resonance and truth." Benson has a distinctive style, but borrows liberally from the arrangements of others. His hit arrangement of Breezin' was borrowed from Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, also a major influence of Carlos Santana, who recorded Szabo's Gypsy Queen.
Montgomery apparantly repeated his high estimation of Breau's abilities to guitarist Phil Upchurch, who recalled: "I talked with Wes [Montgomery]. He said, 'Forget what I'm playing, wait 'til you hear Lenny Breau. There's this guy up in Canada named Lenny Breau. Wait 'til you hear that." Upchurch indicates that he regards Breau as Montgomery's legitimate heir in the following statements. "Lenny Breau was the most innovative guitarist since Wes Montgomery." "Like Wes Montgomery, he was a gentle giant. He was a gentle man. It reflects in the beauty of his music."
When Tal Farlow was invited to make a documentary of his career he was given the opportunity to work with any musician of his choice. The fact that he chose Breau suggests that Farlow followed Upchurch in regarding Breau as the post-Montgomery innovator of jazz guitar. Like Breau, Farlow disappeared from public srutiny at the peak of his powers, claiming, "It didn't suit my temperament, I guess." New York City was the epicentre of jazz and its clubs in Greenwich Village and West Village, particularly The Village Vanguard, were covered by the inner circle of jazz critics. Farlow preferred to perform for himself and his fellow musicians in New Jersey rather than for the New York jazz press.
Ted Greene: "Believe it or not, these older men that he [Breau] learned from [Chet Atkins and Tal Farlow], they knew they were in the presence of a man that had taken things farther, and so they deferred to him. He just was himself; they changed." Greene then contrasts Atkins' 'deferral' to Breau with his rigidity to B.B. King: "B.B. King with Chet...B.B just said, 'This is what I play, and Chet knows it, and he's asked me to play with him', and Chet's sitting back there going [Greene plays country style guitar], and B.B. is [Greene plays blues guitar]. I'm not kiddding." (Greene 14:42-15:30).
Nashille and New York
In the history of North American guitarists one can perceive two distinct lines, one based in Nashville and another based in New York. Nashville prides itself on being guitar town, and Chet Atkins was called Mister Guitar. The Nashville line seems to favor white guitarists who are relatively uninfluenced by colored guitarists and the New York line seems to regard black guitarists as the coolest. Daniel Patrick Moynihan describes "New York, which is the center of the nation's entertainment industry and thereby the center of most of the popular arts.(260]...Most of the popular comedians are Jewish. The best of the musicians are Negro." (Beyond the Melting Pot, 260-61)
The Nashville line seeks a great white hope of the guitar and the New York Line is convinced that black is more beautiful than white. The Nashville line takes Django Reinhardt as its starting point, and moves to Chet Atkins, Lenny Breau, and Tommy Emmanuel. Hank Garland was a candidate for the Nashville line in the 1950's, but his involvement with black jazz musicians and his particular interest in the work of Wes Montgomery led to his incapacitation, and consequent disqualification. Atkins seems to have tried to steer Breau along a straight and narrow-minded path, but Breau wasn't disqualified so much as confused. The Nashville line is unique in regarding its candidate as the greatest guitarist in the world, an imaginative construct of Atkins, and perhaps the product of an American imperialist mindset. The title was used by The Bluegrass Journal in reference to Tommy Immanuel as recently as March 2011. Here's Tommy Emmanuel playing Django's Nuages with Breau's harmonics thrown in. Here's Roland Dyens' Nuages. No one goes around calling Dyens the greatest guitarist in the world, though they'd have some cause to.
The New York line is ambiguous about starting with Django Reinhardt, for musicians, such as Joe Pass, recognize Django's legitimacy, yet critcs, chiefly Leonard Feather, were reluctant to accept him, as his rhythmic phrasing lacked American swing. Charlie Christian is next in this line, and his successors are Tal Farlow and Wes Montgomery, both of whom seem to have recognized Breau as their successor. As Chet Atkins also regarded Breau as his successor in the Nashville line, Breau was the guitar man in both lines.
Breau's retreat, however, left the field somewhat open for George Benson and Pat Metheny to claim their place in the New York line. Benson may have endorsed Stanley Jordan as his heir, though Jordan's unconventional technique has proved to be something of an anomaly. If Kurt Rosenwinkel can be regarded as Metheny's heir (they both worked in vibraphonist Gary Burton's group), he seems to be placed somewhat more centrally.
Transcendental Improvisation (TI)
T.S. Eliot related words and music: "Words move, music moves / Only in time; but that which is only living / Can only die. Words, after speech, reach / Into the silence. / Only by the form, the pattern, / Can words or music reach / The stillness." Eliot wrote: "Our concern was speech, and speech impelled us / To purify the dialect of the tribe / And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight." For French poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) the poet's task was to purify language, to "Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu" ("To give a purer sense to the words of the tribe"). This purified and difficult language would try to express the inexpressible, the absent, the symbol, and not the thing. The poet's task would culminate in an impossible and paradoxical project, the Book: "in the final analysis, all earthly existence must ultimately be contained in a book." (The Evolution of Literature; from Selected Prose Poems, Essays, and Letters, 24)
Earlier in this essay Mallarmé related poetry and music: “We are now witnessing a spectacle which is truly extraordinary, unique in the history of poetry: every poet is going off by himself with his own flute, and playing the songs he pleases. For the first time since the beginning of poetry, poets have stopped singing bass. Hitherto, as you know, if they wished to be accompanied, they had to be content with the great organ of official meter. Well, it was simply overplayed and they got tired of it!  ...But the essential and undeniable point is this: that in a society without stability, without unity, there can be no stable or definitive art. From that incompletely organized society – which also explains the restlessness of certain minds – the unexplained need for individuality was born. The literary manifestations of today are a direct reflection of that need….I said a minute ago that today’s poetry is, in the main, the result of the poets’ boredom with official verse. Even the partisans of official verse share this boredom. Isn’t it rather abnormal that, when we open a book of poetry, we should be sure of finding uniform and conventional rhythms throughout? And yet, all the while, the writer hopes to arouse our interest in the essential variety of human feelings! Where is the inspiration in all this! Where is the unforeseen! How tiresome it all is! Official verse must be used only in the crisis moments of the soul. Modern poets have understood this. With a fine sense of the delicate and the sparing, they hover around the official alexandrine, approach  it with unusual timidity, almost with fear; and rather than use it as their principle or as a point of departure, they suddenly conjure it up, and with it they crown their poem or period!
Moreover, the same transformation has taken place in music. Instead of the very clearly delineated melodies of the past, we have an infinity of broken melodies which enrich the poetic texture, and we no longer have the impression of strong cadence.” (18-20)
Rob Kapilow discusses cadential tonality and Romantic music: “A dominant-seventh chord is the virtual opposite of a final chord. It is a chord that is defined by its need for resolution. It is ‘The’ of ‘The End,’ and ending a song on it is like ending a movie with The.” (All You Have To Do Is Listen, 213) Kapilow finds an example “in the exquisite opening song of [Schumann’s] Dechterliebe, ‘Im wunderschonen Monat Mai’ (example 90) ….Schumann in this subtle song is demanding that we completely rethink the most basic elements of our musical vocabulary. That we hear tonal music’s most fundamental dissonance, its most unstable chord, as stable. The pianist must linger on that chord until we no longer hear it wanting to resolve, but instead, miraculously, hear it as resolved. We must reconfigure our listening in such a way that we can hear the incomplete as  complete.” (210, 213-14)
Kapilow mentions “this radical new entity – a dominant-seventh chord without need for resolution” before citing “The poet Novalis[‘ statement] that the essence of Romanticism was ‘to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.’” (214) Compare with Frye in The Great Code about Romantic heroes and Cain and Lucifer. Kapilow: “Their music says, in essence, ‘Though this might not sound or feel complete to you, I declare it complete.’ A new vocabulary of hearing is asserted by a compositional act of will.” (220) Kapilow: “a diminished-seventh chord is a close relative of the dominant-seventh chord that ended the Schumann song, and it is, if possible, even more fundamentally dissonant and unstable. (A series of diminished-seventh chords rising up the scale is the film composer’s formula for creating ‘movie-music suspense.’)” (218)
Kapilow was influenced by Charles Rosen: “The first song of Schumann’s Dichterliebe begins in the middle, and ends as it began – an emblem of unsatisfied desire, of longing eternally renewed. The introduction returns not only before the second stanza but at the end as well. It starts as if continuing a process already in motion, and ends unresolved on a dissonance….Not until Schumann’s generation was it possible to end with a dissonance….The last chord of Schumann’s song is the dominant seventh of F sharp minor: more than any other chord in the classical vocabulary, a dominant seventh demands an unequivocal resolution, and the proper resolving chord is the most fundamental one, the tonic….  Schumann has elaborated a form in which the tonic is itself unstable….and the most unstable chord, the dominant seventh, becomes the stable pivot around which everything turns.
Without for a moment challenging the system of tonality, Schumann here stands basic tonal structure on its head. The standard tonal procedure (with the exception of forms like toccatas and fantasies, which are intended to act  as free improvisation) is to define a point of rest, a central triad, move away from it, and return to it one or more times. Schumann’s song, however, starts with a traditionally unstable chord, moves to a point of rest, a stable cadence, and returns to the unstable chord as its goal.” (The Romantic Generation, 47-8)
Rosen: “The relation of tonic to dominant is the foundation of Western triadic tonality. The attempt of the early nineteenth century to substitute third or median relationships for the classical dominant amounted to a frontal attack on the principles of tonality, and it eventually contributed to the ruin of triadic tonality….A new chromaticism, largely arrived at through the use of median relations, blurs the clarity of the tonal system: one is no longer so certain which harmonies are most distant from the central tonic, a doubt which never arises with the music of Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven.” (Romantic Generation, 237)
An early poem of Mallarmé's called "Les fenêtres" (The Windows") depicts a patient in a hospital who longs for escape out the window, into the blue sky.
I look and see myself angelic! I die and love —Let the window be art, mysticism,— To be reborn, wearing my dream as a crown, In that previous sky where Beauty flowered!
But alas, here below is master: its spell Nauseates me even unto this safe haven, And the impure vomiting of Stupidity Forces me to hold my nose before the blue.
Similarly, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) in his prose-poem, "Anywhere Out of this World," wrote, "life is a hospital where each patient is possessed by the desire to switch beds. One would like to suffer in front of the stove, while another thinks he would get better by the window." If the world is a hospital, then there's only one escape from suffering; Baudelaire concludes this prose-poem by declaring that it doesn't matter where one lives, as long as it "is out of this world."
Mallarmé: “it is not description which can unveil the efficacy and beauty of monuments, or the human face in all their maturity and native state, but rather evocation, allusion, suggestion….what is the magic charm of art, if not this: that, beyond the confines of a fistful of dust or of all other reality, beyond the book itself, beyond the very text, it delivers up that volatile scattering which we call the Spirit, Who cares for nothing save universal musicality.
Speech is no more than a commercial approach to reality. In literature, allusion is sufficient: essences are distilled and then embodied in Idea.
Song, when it becomes impalpable joy, will rise to heaven. This is the ideal I would call Transposition. Structure is something else.
If the poem is to be pure, the poet’s voice must be stilled and the initiative taken by the words themselves, which will be set in motion as they meet unequally in collision. And in an exchange of gleams they will flame out like some glittering swath of fire sweeping over precious stones, and thus replace the audible breathing in lyric poetry of old – replace the poet’s own personal and passionate control of verse.” (Crisis in Poetry; from Selected Prose Poems, Essays, and Letters, 40)
Mallarmé envisions how “the perfect symmetry of verses, within the poem, of poems within the volume, will extend even beyond the volume itself; and this will be the creation of many poets who will inscribe, on spiritual space, the expanded signature of genius – as anonymous and perfect as a work of art….The difference between individual works is simply the difference between individual interpretations of  one true and established text, which are proposed in a mighty gathering of those ages we call civilized or literary.” (41-42) Something similar could be stated concerning sonic portraits.
Mallarmé: “our present task…is to find a way of transposing the symphony to the Book: in short, to regain our rightful due. For, undeniably, the true source of Music must not be the elemental sound of brasses, strings, or wood winds, but the intellectual and written word in all its glory – Music of perfect fullness and clarity, the totality of universal relationships.
One of the undeniable ideals of our time is to divide words into two different categories first, for vulgar or immediate, second for essential purposes.
The first is for narrative, instruction, or description (even though an adequate exchange of human thoughts might well be achieved through the silent exchange of money). The elementary use of language involves that universal journalistic style which characterizes all kinds of contemporary writing, with the exception of literature.” (Crisis in Poetry, 42) Frye’s little book The Educated Imagination takes off from here.
Wallace Fowlie on linguistic purity: “By his concentration on language, by his skill with ellipsis and synecdoche, he purified language. Only the most efficacious words remained in the finished line to designate the object and the way in which it was seen. This purification of language was such that the object revealed was elevated to a metaphysical value – the swan, the punished clown, the helmet of the girl empress (Victorieusement fui le suicide beau) reach meanings far beyond the usual….whatever the object – a lascivious faun, an hieratic princess, a garden of irises, an empty bibelot – the theme of the poem is always the same: the poetic act….Metaphors are in reality metamorphoses and transmutations, and thus the poet, creator of metaphors, is a kind of alchemist and magician. The attempt to recreate the world by means of the poetic word is a quasi-divine ambition.
Mallarmé is fully conscious of the immemorial prestige of words; the meanings they have today in their human context, and the more esoteric meanings that still cling to them from their uses in a remote past.” (French Literature, 196) Fowlie describes Mallarmé’s poetry as “an experience cast in the form of a drama – a drama of the mind in its search for the absolute….By writing a poetry in which the concrete is always vanishing, he created a counter-creation. The flower he holds up in his verse is not a flower – it is the one absent from all bouquets, l’ absente do tous bouquets.” (197)
Compare with Jacques Maritain: “prodigal Art aspired to become the ultimate end of man, his Bread and his Wine, the consubstantial mirror of beatific Beauty. And the poet hungry for beatitude who asked of art the mystical fullness that God alone can give, has been able to open out only onto Sige l’abime. Rimbaud’s silence marks perhaps the end of a secular apostasy. In any case it clearly signifies that it is folly to seek in art the words of eternal life and the repose of the human heart; and that the artist, if he is not to shatter his art or his soul, must simply be, as artist, what art wants him to be – a good workman.
And now the modern world, which had promised the artist everything, soon will scarcely leave him even the bare means of subsistence.” (Art and Scholasticism, 36) And yet Maritain approves of Fra Angelico's dictum: “Art requires much calm, and to paint the things of Christ one must live with Christ.”
Wallace Fowlie: "In 1940, in an article on Yeats, Eliot wrote, 'The kind of poetry that I needed, to teach me the use of my own voice, did not exist in English at all; it was only to be found in French.'" (Poem and Symbol, 90) Similarly, Leonard Cohen found his voice in Spanish music and literature. Applying Eliot's / Mallarmé's poetic and linguistic concern to the discipline of music, the aftersight of North American guitar music may perceive the two lines defined above. The foresight perceives Breau as the figure who healed the breach between the black and white aesthetics of the contrasting lines. The agent of purification is the Holy Spirit, the common source of creativity in the sublime expressions of both lines. As Metheny put it, Breau 'upped the ante' of what a guitarist could achieve. In a 2010 interview Metheny described music as "this bank"; "music exists with a currency that is so robust." He seems to favor monetary metaphors when describing music. To adapt Eliot's spiritually charged word, Breau purified the tonal language of the tribe of North American guitarists.
Eliot: "Prayer is more / Than an order of words, the conscious occupation / Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. / And what the dead had no speech for, when living, / They can tell you, being dead: the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."
"They vanish, / The faces and places, with the self...All touched by a common genius, / United in the strife which divided them...We cannot revive old factions / We cannot restore old policies / Or follow an antique drum. / These men, and those who opposed them / And those whom they opposed / Accept the constitution of silence / And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate / We have taken from the defeated / What they had to leave us—a symbol: / A symbol perfected in death. / And all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well / By the purification of the motive / In the ground of our beseeching."
George Benson became a Jehovah's Witness in 1979 and may have been disfellowshiped in 2005. Tommy Emmanuel is an evangelical and Kurt Rosenwinkel seems a mystical sort. Tal Farlow was a sign painter and all around nice guy. Like Breau, Farlow did not fit in either line and retreated to a pastoral space of personal integrity.
Of course Django was a French gypsy, and he has spawned a European lineage, from Bireli Lagrene, Marcel Dadi, Philip Catheriene, Sylvain Luc, and perhaps Roland Dyens fits here as well. Dyens was born in Carthage, Tunisia, along with St. Augustine, but unlike the Saint he is an atheist. Dadi makes a connection to the Nashville line: "Chet Atkins is my biggest influence (along with Merle Travis), and even if I have not been directly submitted to Django's music, Chet has taught me everything about the Gypsy. If you find this strange, just listen again to Chet's earliest recordings." In 1988, Eric Clapton, his longtime family friend, visited Dadi in Israel. En route from NYC to Paris (with TWA), in order to continue to Munich (with Lufthansa), Dadi died, along with Wayne Shorter's wife, when N93119, the Boeing 747 on TWA Flight 800, exploded off the coast of Long Island. He was returning from the United States to France after being honored at Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame.
The prerequisites for inclusion in these geographical lines of guitarists are: technique, improvisational ability, sensitivity, innovation, as well as a personality to match the musicality; the beauty of the music must be manifest in a kindly and beautiful soul. This last prerequisite is often accompanied by a spiritual conviction of some sort.
The wives of great guitarists were indirectly responsible for their unorthodox technique. Reinhardt lost the use of two left hand fingers when accidently setting his first wife's cellophane flowers on fire late one night after a gig. Montgomery: "Instead of using a guitar pick, Montgomery plucked the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb, using downstrokes for single notes and a combination of upstrokes and downstrokes for chords and octaves. Montgomery developed this technique not for technical reasons but for his wife. He worked long hours as a machinist before his career began and practiced late at night while his wife was sleeping. He played with his thumb so that his playing would be softer and not wake her. This technique enabled him to get a mellow, expressive tone from his guitar. George Benson, in the liner notes of theUltimate Wes Montgomery album, wrote, "Wes had a corn on his thumb, which gave his sound that point. He would get one sound for the soft parts, and then that point by using the corn. That's why no one will ever match Wes. And his thumb was double-jointed. He could bend it all the way back to touch his wrist, which he would do to shock people." According to Atkins, Breau's first wife left him because he would sit and practice for ten to twelve hours a day.
One of my purposes in writing this prospective book about Breau (although it's expanding beyond his scope; I was going to call it The Musical Vision of Lenny Breau but now want to call it The Greatest Guitarists in the World (According to Chet Atkins) and it will focus on the spiritual vision of the music of Django, Chet, and Lenny) is to locate my own lineage as a guitarist. A gyspy, a hillbilly, and a druggie. Django's music raised the gypsy spirit to the heights, Chet's music was segregationalist, and Lenny's music blended cultures in a mystical union. Of course I'm nowhere near the stature of these other guitarists, but I am a guitarist and something of a philosopher, which gives me a unique perspective on the art and recent history of the six string. Upon reflection, I trace my roots in what I've called the Nashville line, as Reinhardt, Atkins, and Breau were major influences in forming my musical sensibilities. I understand the aesthetics of Atkins and Breau, yet do not wholly identify with either, as they both have their weaknesses. It's not really a Nashville line as it starts with Reinhardt, a European gypsy. I see Breau as having transcended the white Nashville elements that Atkins introduced to the line, and broadened it to a global consciousness, giving it a universality that is consistent with the essential nature of music. Therefore, I'm not identifying with the current crop of Anglo-American guitarists based in Nashville whom Atkins endorsed; they seem to be an evangelical group, particularly Doyle Dykes. I'm writing this prospective book in part, then, to clarify my goals and vision as a guitarist in the twenty first century.
For me the New York line lacks depth. I do not find the music of Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Jim Hall, George Benson, or Pat Metheny very deep or profound. It offers a cool way to pass time but does not speak to me about the meaning of life. Django's Nuages was an anthem for the French resistance and he wrote a mass for his fellow gypsies. Like Breau, his words were not terribly articulate but his music was. Atkins' music seems to come from a spiritual vision of America as a city on a hill, a new promised land. It doesn't strike me as a very broad vision, but it's more than merely a cool sonic canvas, which is all the New York line conveys to me. As for Breau, read on.
Partly what drives me to try to figure out the enigma that is Lenny Breau is that I struggle with identifying with either the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant sensibilities of Atkins or the the ecumenical French Catholic sensibilities of Breau. I have greater sympathies for the latter. The former seems a moral and stoic sensibility that serves God from a sense of duty; it is self conscious - life as school. The latter is aesthetic and compassionate and results in a passionate abandonment of the self; it is mystical - life as art. Really Breau transcends a French Catholic ethos. It seems to me that he did not wish to identify with any particular race or creed, and viewed himself as a mystic seeking attunement to Spirit. His drugs may have helped him to break down these boundaries. When one is spiritually reborn one takes on a new identity that transcends race, and perhaps even creed. This seems to be the way Breau saw himself and his music.
One should not identify exclusively with one's heroes, and it's probably right that I view Breau somewhat dispassionately. I think that my project is interesting as Atkins and Breau take on a universality in that they help us understand ourselves a bit better by examining them. In this sense they are proper subjects of study for the humanities, as they aid in our comprehension of what it means to be human. Breau's favorite book was Don Quixote; Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins are not exactly Don Quixote and Pancho Sanchez, but an exploration of either pair of pals can broaden our perspective of life.
Was Breau the greatest guitarist in the world, or was it Mahavishnu? Green or Vaughan? Rosenwinkel or Malmsteen? Dyens or Williams? To answer this question one must first accept the assumptions that it is based on, which are the product of competitive, racially conscious, white American men. Superlatives were not part of Breau's vocabulary, excepting references to God, for his music was a form of prayer. Would he therefore have deemed Buchanan's Thank You greater than his Bluz? WWJS? In his guitar case Breau kept a book by musical mystic Inayat Khan, who wrote: “Now, if I do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments, to harmonize people instead of notes. If there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony: that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others.” Metheny seems to have grasped this distinction and transcended its duality. From Khan's state of consciousness the question arises: who was the greatest person in the world? Christ or Caesar? Weil or Stalin? Maritain or Russell? WWJS?
Though neither of his marriages could be characterized as harmonious, several women in Breau's life viewed him as a good person as well as a great musician. In 1969 bassist Carol Kaye claimed: "He conquered Hollywood because we all loved him as a player and we loved him as a person." A similar sentiment was expressed in 1970 by singer-songwriter Beverly Glenn-Copeland: "Here was this little guy with this ready smile who had so much respect for other people and their music and was so encouraging about whatever you were doing. Completely selfless in that way. Then he picked up his guitar and it was like someone from another planet playing - effortless genius. Every note that came out of his guitar would be like it was dictated from the music muses of the universe." Judi Singh indicates that he didn't buy into the 'heavyweight' title Atkins imposed on him: "Lenny had the guts to play what he wanted to play. He always played from the heart and he never pretended anything when he was playing, never tried to impress. He didn't buy into the [hype]. There was just total honesty all the time. Didn't matter who was around, he was continually himself. He didn't know how to be anything else. That's one of the reasons I loved him so much: he was always, always true."
The notion of a greatest guitarist in the world may have originated with Chet Atkins. The notion consumed the country gentleman throughout the second half of the last century. In 1948 Atkins remarked that fellow Nashville guitarist Hank Garland played "the greatest guitar chorus I'd ever heard." In the following decade Garland stated: "I started listening to Django after Chet told me he was the greatest guitarist in the world. Django died in 1952 and so I dreamed of being the best." Garland was incapacitated by the Nashville Mafia for performing with black musicians. In 1968 Atkins had the following comment published on the liner notes of Lenny Breau's first RCA recording: "I predict that Lenny's going to be the Number One guitar player." Breau became heavily addicted to drugs in the early 1970's and in 1972 Atkins stated in a Guitar Player interview, "The finest technique around has got to be Sabicas, the Flamenco player." In 1974 Atkins published an autobiography with the following quote: "Christopher Parkening may be the best classical guitar player in the world." One element of being the best guitarist in Atkins' mind seems to have been the ability to improvise, and so when Breau cleaned up his act in the late 1970's he stated: "Chet Atkins goes around saying that I’m the best guitarist in the world." "It's weird...like being a gunslinger." In 1997 Atkins stated: "Tommy [Emmanuel] is about the only guitarist I've heard who can come close to what Lenny Breau did...I think he's probably the greatest finger-picker in the world today."
Atkins stated that he it made him "uncomfortable...when my fans insist that I'm the greatest guitar player of them all. I know I'm not. I'm perhaps the best known guitarist, and I'm proud of that because I've worked hard to achieve it, but I know there are many players who have surpassed me. Guitar playing has evolved, and that's the way it should be. When I was young and at my peak, I was doing things that were considered amazing at the time. Other generations have come along since then, absorbed what I did, and have expanded upon it...That's the wonderful thing about the guitar. Each generation has its innovators who carry the legacy further, and our combined knowledge grows and gets passed on as the guitar's secrets are revealed, one by one. I am not the greatest guitarist, but I am very proud of the part I've played in its history. And I know, as the torch is passed, our beloved instrument is in good hands with players like Jerry Reed, Tommy Immanuel, Richard Smith, Jim Nichols, Doyle Dykes, and many others who will carry on the tradition which started long before me and which will hopefully continue long after we are all forgotten...That's the way it's supposed to be. The players come and go but the music lives on, and eternity will take care of the rest."
All the guitarists listed above by Atkins are white Anglo-American Protestants. In 1974 he recalled: "I played the Newport Jazz Festival a few years ago and the music was fantastic. There were people like Ray Charles, who is one of my favorite musicians, and it was great." The music was fantastic and the festival was great, but Atkins can't bring himself to honor Charles with either of these adjectives. Atkins did, however, describe black jazz guitarist Lonnie Johnson as "one of the great guitar improvisers of his time;" his time was the 1940's.
Atkins eulogized Breau by stating: "He was such a great musician you overlook everything [his drug habit?] and just see how great he was and what he could be." "He was a great fingerstylist with fathomless knowledge. His legend will continue to inspire future generations." Breau's legend has inspired many musicians, as well as the writing of a play, a biography, a documentary, and my musical portrait. It may also have inspired Atkins to change his tune from the late 1970's, when he collaborated with black jazz musicians George Benson and Earl Klugh, to the early 1980's, when he left RCA to record a jazz album for Columbia. In the aftermath of Breau's murder in 1984 Atkins stated: "That damn 'world's greatest guitar player' is a misnomer...there are so many damned people now who play the style I play...but I kind of was the evangelist for that style." The polarized terms may reflect the anxieties of a country gentleman from the Old South in the wake of the civil rights movement. This egalitarian milieu left no rationale for a 'great white hope' of the guitar. With his beloved protégé slain and the notion of guitarist as gunslinger outdrawn Atkins retreated to his Nashville muse. In 1974 Atkins stated: "I love jazz - the way it was in the fifties...Now jazz is so far out that hardly anyone can understand it." Atkins' rejection of modern jazz and pop parallels the poet Goethe's disdain for the Romantic music of Beethoven: "Contemporary music may be a good joke but it doesn’t interest me. If I had a prodigal son I would rather he wandered into brothels or pigsties than lose himself in this generation, which knows no salvation."
For Romantic composer Robert Schumann music was "the language which permits one to converse with the Beyond." Similarly, Beethoven sought "to disseminate the divine rays among mankind." Music and metaphysics mirror one another, and the greater complexity of Romantic music over its Classical predecessor is a manifestation of the greater complexity of the relation of Romantic artists to their Maker. Beethoven's strife with his Maker is mirrored in the strife of his music, which is true to the nature of tonal sound, as Beethoven is true to the nature of humanity.
Contemporary jazz musicians such as Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny, and Kurt Rosenwinkel seem to be reclaiming a vaguely Romantic ethos. Metheny describes his recording, THE WAY UP: "It's a protest record for us. It represents our desire to reconcile complexity in the face of a culture that rejects complexity, and to honor the impulse that we have to understand things through nuance and detail in the face of a culture that is more and more, year by year rejecting nuance and detail. To me the meaning of the title, THE WAY UP is our way of saying that simplification and ignorance and lack of awareness is not going to lead in the right direction and particularly in the context of American culture, that kind of lowest common denominator-type of cultural gravity is beginning to carry with it a weight that is the weight of the majority and we are resisting that with every ounce of our being." Mehldau strikes a similar tone in the liner notes to his recordings.
"Colin Godbout’s mission is to introduce new generations to guitarist Lenny Breau" (Edmonton Journal). Northrop Frye's mission was to introduce new generations to poet William Blake. Frye described the literary theory of his time as a mystery religion without a gospel, and accused his contemporaries of cultural senility, telling them: "Read Blake or go to hell." Metheny's title, THE WAY UP, may constitute a musical variation of Frye's polemical provocation.
Plato noted that changes in musical forms led to changes in social and political forms. The social changes of the sixties accompanied cultural changes, including changes in musical forms, which were more complex than those of the previous generation.
Behind Atkins' career and the Nashville music industry in general lurks a missionary zeal for an American religion that resulted in the musical martyrdom of, not only Lenny Breau, but also Hank Garland (see Crazy). One of the last songs Atkins wrote was The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World (mp3; note the black hair below the sliced building). This title invites irony into Atkins' prediction that Breau's "legend will continue to inspire future generations", for both guitarists explored ethnic music, yet Atkins sounds like a tourist compared to Breau, who embraced a palette of global tones. Breau left a legacy of musical compassion, not conquest, for, in contrast to Atkins' fundamentalist Nashville picking, he plucked ecumenical notes towards a definition of global guitar. A passage from the book Breau kept in his guitar case doubtless inspired his catholic tastes: "All races, nations, classes and people are like a strain of music based upon one chord, where the key-note, the common interest, holds so many personalities in a single bond of harmony." WWPW? Breau is a misunderstood artist who deserves to be recognized as a Canadian cultural hero. Not content to let Breau remain an unsung guitar hero, I penned the finale chorus of Last Gig: "When I die your life you'll live my death, / When I expire you'll draw my breath; / Then don't ask for whom the bell does toll, / Because it tolls the dawning of my soul."
Hendrix and Keaggy
There seems a deep need among some for the greatest guitarist in the world to be an American Protestant. This need would account for the apocryphal story concerning Hendrix and Christian fingerstylist Phil Keaggy. A story would circulate widely and persistently concerning Keaggy and Hendrix. It has been said that during an episode of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson asked Hendrix, "Who is the best guitarist in the world?" Hendrix is said to have answered, "Phil Keaggy." Another version of the story has Hendrix being asked, "Jimi, how does it feel to be the world's greatest guitar player?" To which Hendrix supposedly replied, "I don't know, you'll have to ask Phil Keaggy!" This account is sometimes attributed to a magazine interview in either Rolling Stone or Guitar Player.
Occasionally the story has the setting for the question being the Dick Cavett Show. Other versions have the question being posed to Eric Clapton. A more recent variant has Eddie Van Halen being asked the question by either David Letterman or Barbara Walters. Keaggy has long insisted that such stories are completely unfounded, noting that "it was impossible that Jimi Hendrix could ever have heard me...We...recorded our first album at Electric Lady Studios two weeks after his unfortunate death, so I just can’t imagine how he could’ve heard me. I think it’s just a rumor that someone’s kept alive, and it must be titillating enough to keep an interest there...So I don’t think it was said…and that’s it for that!"
At the time Keaggy recorded his first album at Hendrix's studio in 1970, Keaggy was nineteen years old. One song of Keaggy's in particular, "Can You See Me," reflected his newfound Christian faith, with its reference to Jesus' death. Keaggy recalls, "It was recorded in New York City in about a week. Even though I had bronchitis and had to sing one verse at a time, it worked out. And I was even able to get in a witness for the Lord Jesus in "Can You See Me" and "Look in the Sky." Peter Thompson raises the possibility that "the whole thing is a genuine CCM Urban Legend. It could be interesting to go into the reasons WHY Christians would want to believe this, but I don't have time, ability, or inclination."
I think the American religious conscience, which views conscience as linked to a morality inherent in all humans and to divinity, requires that the greatest be connected to divine energy, to the Holy Spirit.