Hello Troubadourians! If you play long enough and have been fortunate enough to have played and recorded with enough people, it is likely there will come a time when you will be asked to play with some of those people again. That often means recreating songs and parts that you haven’t played in years. By the time you are reading this column, I’ll have played a show with my good friend Sven-Erik Seaholm, recreating some songs that we recorded with the Wild Truth. We recorded those songs for our This Golden Era CD in 2006. The band went on hiatus in about 2009 and I haven’t really played any of those songs with anyone since then. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t played with Sven. On the contrary, I haven’t ever really stopped playing and recording with Sven, just not Wild Truth songs. My tenure with The Wild Truth was for me a time of rapid growth as a guitarist and the catalyst for defining how I wanted to play, particularly in a rock music format.
In the intervening years since the Wild Truth became inactive, I’ve played with other bands and other people, both live and on their recordings. I made a conscious effort to continue to grow as a guitarist and to play in genres that were new to me. My playing style naturally evolved as a result and I was able to adapt to those differing genres and sound authentic, while maintaining my own stylistic identity. Another significant change in my playing was the decision to play acoustic guitar almost exclusively for five years. The acoustic guitar was the instrument that fit the music of Folding Mister Lincoln, but I wanted to be able to play in a way that wasn’t hindered by the limitations that usually are imposed by the acoustic guitar. To accomplish this, I had to deconstruct and rebuild my playing and my approach the guitar. When I ultimately returned to the electric guitar, I found that I really couldn’t play the way I used to and even the guitars themselves felt foreign. This time, I had to rebuild my playing once again but for electric guitar—and, with the intent to maintain what I had developed for the acoustic instrument. That in and of itself was challenging, but it ultimately required that I exchange the instruments that I had played for years, with others that were more adapted to how I wanted—and needed—to play. I gave up some excellent and unique guitars, replacing them with others that were also excellent and unique but entirely different. Essentially, this was now a complete break with my past playing style.
As I wrote the above, Sven asked me to play a show that revisited our time with the Wild Truth. The songs that he chose for us to perform feature my playing from that era and many of the parts that I’d need to recreate were highly idiosyncratic of my style as it was then. I have always been very gear savvy and I remember almost every setting on the guitars, amps, and effects that I used on every part of the sessions for This Golden Era. The problem was, as I describe above, my entire rig is different. Different amp, different effects, different everything… And, most important, I no longer own the guitars I used on the recording. Some of the tones I used were very specific to what those guitars were capable of delivering. I figured I could get close, at least close enough for live work, but for me a lot of what I played then, and now, is a reaction to the vibe and tone from the guitar in real time. I worried that it would be too different… Sven said, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s play it like we do now.” And he’s right. That’s what we had to do, but still, my ear wants to hear something at least close to what we originally recorded.
When I started to refresh my memory of the material, it felt weird to have to study and relearn my own parts and playing style. Almost like learning cover songs. Some of what I had played had continued to manifest in my current style, at least similarly enough to be believable in the context of the songs. Other parts were far more difficult to recreate. For “Set Fire,” my current style retains a lot of what I did back then, just more refined, and still as bluesy. However, the guitar tone on that song is unique and specific to one particular pickup selection on the PRS that I played on the recording, so I wasn’t able to duplicate that tone exactly. I got as close as I can…
The song “Heal” presented different issues to overcome. My slide playing is better and more accurate that it was then, yet the raw emotion of the slide solo on “Heal” is very moving. I had to nail that one. But it’s the ride-out solo on that song that was the real challenge. That solo was improvised in a single take, and I was playing very “outside” and somewhat over my head when we recorded it. My intent at the time was to capture the emotional conflict in the lyrics of the final verse and still play something interesting on the guitar. I wanted to make a statement.
The only planned part was the first slide down and pull-off to the open low E string. After that, it was instinct. The final recording is what I was intending to say—which is why we kept that take—but even back then I had to go back and re-learn the solo for when we would play “Heal” live. I’m not sure I ever recreated it then, and I wasn’t sure I could do it now. I spent eight hours over four evenings working on relearning that solo. I got close early on, but I wasn’t happy with the flow. More listening to the recording led me to fix some of the notes where the phrases would land. Those notes were usually “tart” and outside of what would normally lie under my fingers. I finally figured out that I was making some of the fingering too complicated—which is how I remember originally playing it—and that my current technique could facilitate the same notes, in a different position, with much smoother execution. I remember how chaotic that solo felt every time I played it, which I suppose worked to convey the message of the lyrics but knew I could update the “how” without sacrificing the “why.” Ultimately, what I worked out is the same solo without the chaos in the fingers while retaining the chaos in the notes. It’s how I play now, with the spirit of how I played then. I hope everyone liked it…
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See Charlie and Sven in concert, playing one set from the Wild Truth album, This Golden Era, at an Adobe Falls house concert in the Del Cerro neighborhood. This is part of a retrospective, featuring Sven playing with members of the bands he’s played with over the last 10 years or so. Sunday, November 5, 5pm (doors 4pm). RSVP: Ben McGrath, 619-840-6384.