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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5
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Ask Charlie...

Playing in the Now

by Charlie LoachDecember 2023

Hello Troubadourians! Last month I began the column talking about a gig I had yet to play. Now I am happy to report that the gig, featuring the “Side Hustles” by my friend Sven-Erik Seaholm, was an excellent success. I was worried about recreating my parts on the two Wild Truth songs we played since, as I mentioned, I no longer have any of the same guitars or gear and my playing style has changed significantly since the last time I played those songs. In retrospect, I needn’t have worried because while the gear is different, the ears and hands are still mine.

My concern extended into that I wouldn’t be able to accurately recreate the distinctive tones and parts of the songs “Set Fire” and “Heal.” While in reality I doubt that anyone other than me would notice any difference, my ears wouldn’t let me settle for anything less than what was as close as humanly possible to the originals. When we were rehearsing, I was elated that with my current guitar I was able to get the funky, almost out-of-phase tone I had used on “Set Fire” as well as recreating the faux-pedal steel, slide solo, and ride-out solo tones from “Heal.”

With the tones conquered, the challenge became executing the songs for the show. “Set Fire” wasn’t really a concern, but the choreography involved in playing all of the individual parts for “Heal” turned out to be rather complex. I literally had to script my moves for each section of the song and send them to Sven and Paul (Denton, bass player) so that they could know where we were in the song and what I was going to be playing for each section just by looking at me. I sent the ‘instructions’ below in an email:

I’ve been working on “Heal” and I wanted to pass along the “moves” I’ve worked out for the different sections:

First Verse: Slide guitar: faux pedal steel
First Chorus: Slide guitar / no backing vocal (all sections)

Second Verse: Slide guitar: faux pedal steel
Second Chorus: Slide guitar / backing vocal (all sections)

Bridge: I’ll remove the slide and play the chord progression / backing vocals
Slide solo: Replace the slide… Slide guitar

Breakdown: remove slide / sketch chords

Third verse: Sketch chords
Third chorus: Power chords / backing vocals

Rideout solo: LOUD solo 😁

End: Guitar chaos 😁

This was after our one rehearsal… But I knew that if I was able to do what I was supposed to do, everyone else would be able to do the same. For all of my worrying, it all just worked. In fact, it seemed so relaxed it was like it was in slow motion, not rushed at all. Nailed it. Even the guitar chaos part at the end worked thanks to the extraordinary skills of John Edwards. John watches and listens better than any sound engineer I’ve ever worked with, and this gig was no exception. I was removed from the direct sound of my amp, so I was relying on the monitors to hear myself and the other musicians. When we get to the “chaos” part at the end, the guitar is supposed to sustain and feedback, so I leaned towards the monitor to hopefully make that happen. John picked up on what I was doing and boosted the guitar signal in the monitor, which allowed me to manipulate the feedback as I wanted. That worked so well, I was able to get the harmonics of the feedback to shift just like they did on the original recording. John Edwards is a true artist!

Since the gig, I’ve continued to practice the ride-out solo for “Heal” as part of my normal practice sessions with the intention of recapturing some of what I was doing when I initially recorded that song and solo. First, I’ve corrected two licks that I had substituted for the originals at the end of the solo. For the sake of playing smoothly at the show and, because my fingers were cooperating only so much with what I used to do, I had to play those licks a little differently. Now, without the time pressure of an approaching gig, I figured out what I actually played and assimilated those original licks back into the solo. It’s really fun to play it like it is supposed to be played. I’ve also re-entered the headspace I had at that time, not to go backward, but to inform my current playing with ideas that I had set aside and are obviously something I still want to play.

Part of that headspace, the informative part, was my remembering the concept that I developed of playing on the middle four strings. Because of the layout of the guitar strings, it is very easy to allow yourself to base everything you play around the outer E strings. It’s simple and familiar, and is ironic, also self-limiting. I’ve theorized that the majority of the pro-level stuff we can play as lead guitarists lies within the A, D, G, and B strings. That doesn’t mean we don’t play the E strings; rather, we use them to augment what we play on the middle four. I wrote about this theory in a column few years ago and it still works for me, but as I’ve continued to grow and expand my playing, I’ve come to include the E strings a bit more in my lead style, especially on acoustic guitar. This is primarily because I use a lot of double-stop and partial chord licks on acoustic guitar that, in particular, require the high E string. All of this still works on electric guitar, of course, but lends itself more to Americana than it does to rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. Since the Wild Truth was definitely a rock band, my middle four concept would have been in full effect at that time and definitely influenced what I played on the “Heal” solo, especially as it was almost completely improvised in the moment.

I’m very fortunate to have played such excellent and enduring music with such excellent musicians and I will continue to do so as often as I can. I’m always looking forward and working on getting better, but sometimes the next move forward is found by examining the past.

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

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