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Don’t Come Around Here No More

Hello Troubadourians! We’ve lost a lot of our musical heroes lately, Tom Petty being the latest. While every loss hurt, this one had a particular sting that, to me at least, was unexpected. Petty had success with pretty much everything he tried, from hits with the Heartbreakers to solo work and duos with Stevie Nicks. Yet some people only know of him through his recordings and tours with the Travelling Wilburys, a Super Group of sorts, consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne in addition to Petty himself. While my early musical influences were more affected by the Eagles and the southern California country rock sound as well as by guitar players like Joe Walsh, Chet Atkins, Robben Ford, and Doc Watson, Tom Petty’s influence on me was at once subtler and deeper. It was through Petty’s long partnership with Mike Campbell that helped me focus on what I was the best at as a player and what I needed to do to perform my best work.

As I said above, I was heavily influenced by the Eagles. They were a band where everyone wrote songs, sang lead, and played their instruments. That really appealed to me mostly because I liked the sound but also because the “work” was divided among everyone in the band so everyone shared in the success. How naïve was I? As a result, most of my early musical endeavors were an attempt to copy the Eagles almost exclusively. This wasn’t a recipe for success at the amateur level where I was toiling. Despite the fact that the vocals were beyond reach, it was impossible to replicate the three-guitar sound that they had, first with Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, and Don Felder, and later with Glenn Frey, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh. The closest I came was a one-off band that backed up two female singers for a talent show at SDSU. We played the Karla Bonoff classic “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” (we won). That band played two more gigs before imploding under its own weight. Soon, my ears were opened to other music and other artists, and my taste began to change. Hearing “Breakdown,” with its simple and brutally powerful guitar lick, was a turning point for me. The Petty/Campbell combination made me realize exactly what I wanted to do with my guitar playing.

So taken was I with the vocal and guitar interplay between Petty and Campbell—an awesome call and response “conversation”—that I started looking for other singer-songwriter/lead guitar duos that I could get into. It wasn’t a difficult search. First there was Jon BonJovi and Richie Sambora. Then there was Don Henley and Danny Kortchmar on Henley’s solo stuff. Heck, even U2 had Bono and the Edge! I could name at least a dozen more but the die had been cast and my path was now clear; I wanted to be the lead guitarist for a singer-songwriter. Enter Sven-Erik Seaholm and the Wild Truth.

Working with Sven wasn’t quite the duo I was looking for, well, at least not at first. We were definitely a tight band but I didn’t feel like I was as essential to Sven’s music as Mike Campbell was to Tom Petty’s music. We were on and off for a few years but when Sven was recording his CD Upload I played on one of the tracks. One thing led to another and the Wild Truth 2.0 started to gel. We recorded This Golden Era and our working relationship during that time—and now beyond—really evolved into the Petty/Campbell model. After a six-year run, Sven wanted to follow a muse different from the Wild Truth, much as Tom Petty would occasionally do solo work outside of the Heartbreakers. I followed a different muse right into Folding Mr. Lincoln and the beautiful songwriting of Harry Mestyanek. Working with Harry was different than working with Sven. Sven’s music always laid naturally under my fingers. His songs often mirrored what I had been working on during my practice sessions and pushed me in more advanced directions. Harry’s music is simpler, more truly Americana, but his chord progressions were anything but standard. I’ve been playing bluegrass since I started playing but this wasn’t bluegrass at all as I knew it. I’ll admit that I struggled with knowing what to play for quite a while. I tried to keep the Wild Truth flame alive in Harry’s music—I had followed David Ybarra, our bassist in TWT over to FML—but I knew it wasn’t working. To Harry’s credit, he was more than patient with me as I struggled to find my voice in his music, as often playing parts that were glaringly inappropriate, because I was playing parts that complemented his sublime lyrics and heartfelt melodies. Eventually, I asked him if he would mind if I retired the electric guitar in favor of playing acoustic exclusively. It was my hope that in reducing the options and focusing on the music I would find myself in his music. He agreed, and I spent the next few months reinventing my guitar playing. The goal was to create what I came to call “unlimited acoustic guitar,” which meant that I was seeking to use a traditional bluegrass guitar sound but place no limits on what I would play. I had to learn how to play electric lines on acoustic guitar without sounding clanky or dorky. Somehow, I was able to make it happen and I spent six fulfilling years in FML and recorded two CDs in the process.

Now I’m back with Sven in a different guise; Sven-Erik Seaholm and His Sexy Outfit. The music lays under my fingers just like it used to but now I have a much richer palette to draw from after my time in FML. Were it not for my recognizing the power of the singer-songwriter/lead guitar structure as the best direction for my guitar playing and my efforts to seek that out for myself, my music would not have grown like it has. I owe it all to Tom Petty for pushing me in that direction. Thanks, Brother Tom. You remain an inspiration to me and millions of others. Your music will live forever and will continue to inspire us. Maybe I can follow in your giant footsteps and maybe my playing on Sven’s and Harry’s songs will inspire a new generation of guitar players to find their voices. Like no other, Don’t come around here no more…

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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