A Question of Style (bear with me, this could be pretentious….)

I always think that theres a moment when you know you can play the guitar, and I mean play to a certain ability. I think, that moment is when you, or others are aware you have a certain style.

For guitarists, and probably any contemporary musician, whether it’s Rock, Folk, World or Jazz come to think of it, forming their own style is an incredibly important moment. Probably equal to that moment when a visual artist or a writer finds themselves. You could be painting with oils or playing blues in G. One day there comes a time when all of a sudden all the art you were exposed to/records you bought as a kid collide with your backgound playing music you didn’t like at the time, add a dash of life experience, both good and bad and………………BOOOM! there it is, your style. Your artistic footprint as it were.

As I write this I am currently listening to final unmastered mixes for my bands debut album. It is indeed a weird time, one of hope and fear if I’m brutally honest. Whats shocked me is that the 11 track album we’ve been working on will be a statement of my guitar playing, and how it stands in my……ahem…..thirties. It will also be something that other people will judge me by. The record will define others perceptions of both my and our (HoS) collective playing.

Due to the nature of Guitar playing, I think most (but not all) guitarists tend to form their voice on the instrument, more from their natrual limitations, rather than any god given ability.

I was listening to the classic and seminal ‘Holy Diver’ by Dio the other day. Now many Rock fans and guitarists will comment on the feiry nature of Vivian Campbell’s Riff’s and soloing, how he sounds almost out of control, as if he’s about to explode in some great outpouring of anger. I read an interview with Campbell some years ago, where he attests a large chunk of his guitar style of that time was due to the fact he could not alternate pick properly, and instead used downstrokes….adding a certain attack to both his tone and playing. He also went on to say how intimidated he was by his contemporaries at that time, such as George Lynch and Jake E Lee and how he felt inadequate compared to all the other ‘LA’ guitarists at that time.

I found this funny as since Campbell’s departure from Dio in 1986, pretty much every single guitarist who’s followed him has had to play like a boil in the bag version of him – Craig Goldy, Rowan Robertson, Tracy G, even the excellent and quite frankly amazing Doug Aldrich plays like a slightly updated, bluesy version of Viv. In the end the affable Irishman’s technical limitations have pretty much defined that bands sound, throughout their career. Weird huh?

There are other examples of this Bernard Butler’s tone remained the signature of Suede long after he’d been replaced by the rather geeky Richard Oakes. Hell Oakes used pretty much the same guitars and equipment as butler….at least until puberty anyway;)

The other types of player, the ones with no technical limitations are harder to define. Van Halen for sure, but he always wrote great riffs and had that lovely brown sound to boot. Steve Vai’s melodic twists and perversions have always stood him out especially in Zappa and PIL. Satriani? I kinda recognise him, but the more modern ‘Widdly’ players. You know the ones with bad hair learing out of Guitarist magazine, they always have a Cornford amps endorsement…..I don’t know, and in a way I find that more depressing. Jamie Humpries is bald and tall and looks like my sisters milkman and Rob Balducci has tinted shades……Hmmmmm. It’s like a game of Cluedo.

Back to my own style, well I always think that these things shift and move as you get older. 15 years ago, I think my soloing was much better than it is now. I was cleaner, faster and had some lovely melodic shifts. Having said that my rythym guitar was lazy,unimaginative, and the band I was playing in had trapped itself in some horrible 80′s cul de sac. I prefer the 2006 version of me. I might not be able to run around the neck as I once did, but I think I’m more interesting to listen to and I’m in a much better band. The best ever if I’m honest.

But that question of style came back to me recently. I was talking about my playing to my older brother. Also a guitarist, Thin Lizzy fan and sometime middle aged rocker. He started to go on about my soloing on a certain song by a previous group years ago and how he loved the way I played completely outside of any structure during one small section of this solo.

It dawned on me then that whatever my perceptions of my own abilities, some people will formulate and define you by things you’ve done in the past. Whats weird is the very few solo’s I play now are regimented and structured melodic peices to serve the song. Wheras the 22 year old Jez, often just ‘winged it’ and played by the seat of his pants. Often crashing horribly, If truth be told.

I think that if time travel were possible. I should go back to 1991/92 and check out the younger me. Just to see if I thnk he’s any good;) then stop off a Ladbrokes to do a spot of life transforming spread betting.

I wonder…

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