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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10


Guitar Workshop Plus

by Bart MendozaJune 2023

This month we talk with Brian Murray about Guitar Workshop Plus, taking place on June 25-30 at the Sheraton / Mission Valley and share a batch of new Strange Stage Stories from Derrick Anderson, Sidney Merritt (Swive), Sly Beats, Jefferson Jay, Kamaka Mullen (Slack Key Ohana), Nathan Raney (The Farmers), Catherine Barnes, and more!

Guitar Workshop Plus!

Canada-based Guitar Workshop Plus returns to San Diego for a week at the Sheraton Hotel in Mission Valley, from June 25–June 30. Founded by Brian Murray, Guitar Workshop Plus is now in its 20th year of events in North America, with the first San Diego edition taking place in 2015. For anyone wanting to work on their guitar playing skills, at any level, there is no greater opportunity to hone their craft, with top local and national performers as the instructors at this weeklong music camp.

The 2023 edition will include legendary bassist Nathan East, whose discography includes work with everyone from Eric Clapton to Madonna; guitarist Alex Skolnick, perhaps best known for performances with a string of top groups including Testament, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Savatage, and acclaimed guitarist Wayne Riker, recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement SDMA. Additional instructors will be announced via the Guitar Workshop Plus website.

Guitar Workshop Plus classroom.

What was the inspiration for Guitar Workshop Plus originally? “As a pro guitarist, I was making a good living performing, recording, and teaching, etc,” Murray said.  “I was hired to teach at various colleges and workshops and, while teaching there, I thought things could be done so much better from a musical standpoint. Being a musician, I was able to put myself in the attendees’ shoes and say “what changes would make the overall experience better for the attendee.” So, I started my own program 20 years ago or so and it was a success right out of the gate.” He notes the one-on-one aspect of the instruction. “Our program is designed to cater to the individual needs and musical tastes of the attendees while, at the same time, provide plenty of group clinics and performance opportunities,” Murray remarked. “We started in my hometown of Toronto with a week-long workshop that sold out the first year. Then we started adding more week-long sessions in various locations including Toronto, Vancouver, Nashville, San Diego, and Seattle; our latest is a winter session in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve been ranked the number one program of our kind in North America by a few different publications over the years.”

Guitar Workshop Plus graduating class.

In addition to lessons, students will have a chance to perform in both an open mic type setting as well as in faculty-coached ensembles. Is this event for all levels of playing? Is it multi genre? “Yes, absolutely. We have classes, seminars, and clinics for all ages, levels, and styles. We literally have attendees ranging in age from 13 up to 95! We have rock, blues, jazz, acoustic, and country, and we also have guitar, bass, drums, keys, vocals, and songwriting.”

How are instructors selected? “We pride ourselves on hiring top-ranked musicians.” Murray said. “Obviously, we want to feature as much local talent as possible at each of our locations as well. Sometimes we’ll bring some other top people in from our other locations,” he noted. “Basically, all of our faculty have to meet three important criteria: They have to be great players, they have to be great teachers, and, perhaps most of all, they have to be great people. We don’t want somebody who has a lot of playing and/or teaching chops that has an ego or that students don’t feel comfortable approaching. The environment we create is a very non-competitive, and a supportive one in which to learn, so you have to have people in place that are team players and understand what the experience is all about. We all become one big, happy musical family during the session, so it’s very important that our faculty possess those three qualities,” Murray said.

Guitar Workshop Plus is open for enrollment for the June session.

Strange Stage Stories

No matter how much one prepares for a show, not everything always goes according to plan!

Derrick Anderson (Bangles etc): Midway through a show with the Bangles at the House of Blues in Chicago, my bass amp blew up. It was 15 seconds of “What’s that smell?” followed by “Where’s my bass??”!

Catherine Barnes: I was playing with an all-female rock band once at a street fair in Carlsbad and a guy showed up with a golf cart to help us move our equipment. He said, “Are those YOUR instruments?” As women, we get that question a lot, so I set him straight and let him know such comments weren’t welcome. During our set, he would yell out apologies and beg my forgiveness every time we stopped playing. I wasn’t paid enough that day to teach him people skills, so I focused on the music and did my best to ignore him.

Evan Caleb (Son of Kane): I got flashed / blessed by four hot chicks at my last Son of Kane Roxy show, then it happened again at my next gig across town, must be doing something right! Lol.

John Hernandez (Revelation 69):  My girlfriend and my side squeeze ended up at the show and stood right next to each other right in front of me. Needless to say, I’ve never given so much eye contact love to the people in the back of the room.

Jefferson Jay: One time I was about to play at Winston’s, and our bass player accidentally spilled his beer all over. Smoke started coming out of his amp and he started freaking out; it was really funny. All the other folks in the band had to pretend it wasn’t, out of sensitivity to that bass player.

Brian Witkin (left) and Kamaka Mullen of Slack Key O’Hana.

Jerry and Nathan Raney of the Farmers.

Sidney Merrit (Swive): When I used to play at the X-Ray Café in Portland every Tuesday night, they allowed money or barter at the door. I used to get a lot of cigarettes, candy, and the occasional love letter or poem.Kamaka Mullen (Slack Key Ohana): It rained when I played viola in my High School Advanced Symphony Orchestra when in Disneyland. The rosin on my bow came off on the first stroke. Then my finger board came straight off my viola, and I had to air guitar my viola during my solo. It was super embarrassing.

Nathan Raney (The Farmers): Strangest thing that’s ever happen to me on stage was at the Kraken. I was playing and out of nowhere my lead pickup stopped working, and my amp started acting funny. So, I adjusted and kept playing; then a lady in the crowd jumped on stage, threw her hands around my head and put all her weight backward and pulled me off the stage and landed on top of her. When I got up my guitar started working.

Sly Beats: One time Riston Diggs was performing at Last Call on El Cajon Blvd., now called City Pub. He got his start at this venue, since we didn’t know any promoters back in 2015. The venue’s mixer was in terrible shape. And we had to work miracles because “the show must go on!” And when Riston started his set, he put his lips to the microphone and got painfully electrocuted. We were able to complete the show that night even though the speakers were badly blown. We learned a valuable lesson that night. You must be prepared for bad venues.

Rick Walker (Sometimes Julie): Watching my partner, Monica Sorenson, fall off the front of a stage, taking my prized Taylor 810 with her. Despite landing flat on her tummy, Monica kept singing without missing a beat—a true professional! Fortunately for my Taylor, the damage (a broken tuner) was easily repaired.

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