A History of Inspiration from One Busy Guy

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Steve's Influences Page



Nearly everyone is curious about what influences and inspires an artist. People ask about it every day! What kinds of artists do I listen to and how has it affected me? It's as though they expect hard rockers would listen only to Metallica, or folk guitarists should listen only to James Taylor etc. In truth I prefer music without lyrics of any kind such as instrumental jazz and classical baroque.



Many listeners request songs performed by those I 'sound like'. It's almost as if there is some private victory to be had if they can 'guess' what I know based on how I sound. Though I have often aspired to sound as good as those whom I admire, I really have made no attempt to sound like anyone in particular. 


Kids start out in pursuit of those things to which they are exposed. My small hometown had only one AM radio station. In fact our family had only one radio as well! I sang in the church choir along with my brother. I took clarinet lessons and did my best in talent shows. You didn't do much singing with a clarinet in your face and I was soon off to find some way to accompany myself. Dad had a chance to bring home a banjo and I felt it was his way of discouraging me from the pursuit of pop music. Eventually I mowed enough lawns to buy a decent guitar and set about trying to unravel the great mystery.



I suppose as any artist I've passed through certain phases of influence and admiration. The very first song I ever tried to play on the guitar was the Beatle's 'Day Tripper'... of course I had to play the entire lick on one string but it was performed with feeling! Obviously the Beatles were big with everyone during those years; so were Cream, the Monkees, Jimmy Hendrix, and the Raiders as well. Now when listening  to some of those admired and professional recordings I am frequently shocked to hear the relatively shaky level of performances. Technology has improved to such an extent that I can get a better quality sound from my own modest studio.





Eventually I hooked up with other musicians of the day and we set about duplicating the best of that time including Simon and Garfunkel as well as a variety of folk entertainers. The times were post Woodstock and CSNY were big. I had gotten into a 7 piece high school band with two female singers. We sang at folk services and performed songs like 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother', and 'Leaving On A Jet Plane'. We did a lot of practicing without discernable improvement!



When solo singer guitarists appeared on the scene I was right there in the groove. I paced around Mom's kitchen 'til the wee hours trying to master the changes of 'You've got a Friend'. This is roughly about when I struck out on my own leaving behind the band members and female singers. Very soon John Denver came along and I had to do my best to master those tunes as well as many from Jim Croce, Neil Young and Cat Stevens.  Elton John was also huge at this time and although I wanted to absorb this energy it was rather clumsy since Elton performed on the piano. (Songs written and arranged for piano are notoriously awkward for the guitar.) Soon enough a fabulously talented Billy Joel made the charts and it was a welcome presence. He was one performer who could hold his own against Disco. 



The Disco sound had become tremendously popular. I was performing in a Duo at the Host Airport Hotel in Tampa, Florida. John Denver, Joni Mitchell and 'Feelings' were all still very popular. None the less not a day went by that someone didn't request 'Fly Robin Fly' or 'Do the Hustle'. Disco basically heralded the demise of solo guitar players everywhere. It was shortly into the eighties that they became something akin to pariahs and avoided as 'karmically unhip'.





All of a sudden wonderfully talented players were unable to secure gainful employment and gave up on the 'music business' altogether. What's up with once professional musicians turning to real estate... and law? Fortunately someone invented drum machines around this time and they were pretty well received.  This was a somewhat tedious time for solo guitarists since most of your peers preferred hearing your acoustic delivery, while the best available income was from venues requiring the much fuller sound associated with a drum machine. So what? Were you going to 'sell out' or 'tough it out'? 



I did both. The drum machine became one part of my act and the acoustic guitar became yet another. I was performing some Billy Joel songs with the electric drummer and continuing to explore the new acoustic music. I discovered a fondness for instrumental counterpoint and have made several recordings just so. A number of one hit wonders had appeared including 'I'm Easy' and 'Please Come to Boston'. Dan Fogelburg had made several noteworthy recordings as did Christopher Cross. Kenny Rankin and Al Jarreau had become rather mainstream and of great interest to me. Both had recorded a style of singing known as 'scat'. I did my best to maintain the roots of this musical interest while trying to make progress in the relatively new field of 'MIDI' programming. 'MIDI' is an anagram for Music Industry Digital Interface.





Utilizing this technology is both complicated and costly. Once you get it mastered you can indeed become the only guy in the band! The user is required to play one instrument at a time into a multi-track digital recorder. It begins as blank digital memory that you basically fill with a program of your own machinations. It can sometimes take weeks to record one sequence even though the playing time of the tune may be only 3 minutes.  Needless to say a lot of people decided not to opt for this effort and rather went into a more acoustic pursuit. This was actually quite a schism in popular music for the guitar. Acoustic guitar entertainment had become somewhat pejorative and rather anti-climactic. The best of popular acoustic music had been abducted by country artists while all that remained had become more basic and 'folksy' than ever.



With my new found skills at programming I discovered a whole new panorama of music that was appealing. Bobby Darrin and Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond as well as tunes from Maxi Priest and Basia all made for smooth sequencing.



Today I enjoy a fabulous variety of music each time I take the stage. I often tell my crowds that even if I won the lottery I'd still be doing this work! Over the years I've managed to achieve a balance between the acoustic and sequencing portions of every live appearance. Below is a listing of talented performers to whom I am indebted for their capacity to inspire me... some are actually famous!



Michael Johnson     Kenny Rankin    Al Jarreau    Neil Young    Cat Stevens    John Denver    Jim Croce    Billy Joel    Basia    Christopher Cross    Bobby Dorgan    Steve Howe    JS Bach    Bob Marley    Neil Diamond    Don McClean    Frank Scavone    James Kidwell    James Taylor   The Beatles    John Batchelor    Dan Fogelburg     Harry Chapin    Joe Dragone    Leo Kottke    Bobby McFarrin    Jose Feliciano



I would not be at all surprised if I have failed to note many an invaluable person in these credits. I'll just keep updating 'til I get it right...



                                         Thanks for sharing your spark!



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