Ol' Tom: The Long Road to Simple FolkMusic Guitar

Here's another stream of folk consciousness from my veteran folk singer dad, Ol' Tom. It's brought up a lot of my own thoughts of what it means to make good ol' simple music that I'll post another time. Enjoy!

as I sat on the porch playing "PRETTYBOY FLOYD", "THE COO COO", "NO MORE CANE ON THE BRAZOS" and "SOUTHCOAST" I thought about how much I enjoyed acoustic guitar, most of all when played simply.  I thought back many years ago.  a bud played a disc called HOOTENANNY WITH THE HIGHWAYMEN.  I laughed at the thought 'cause a guy named Gil Robbins was in the group, and I've enjoyed watching his son in various movies through the years.  we'd just listened to a Buddy Holly record.  I loved Buddy and his sincere and beautiful lyrics.  then, I heard that "folkmusic" album.  I loved it.  I told my bud, we oughta do that kinda music.  we'd been doin' barbershop quartet things for several years, but couldn't find two other singers.  I said, I just wanta learn simple guitar playing.  yipes! that year I turned 15, and now, I'm 68!  and I'm still workin' on playin' "simple" guitar.  the road has been long.  it's very hard for people who love guitar to stop "stealin' licks", watchin' other people play and diggin' new sounds.  and, the early '60's through the early '70's was INFLAMED with guitars.  folkmusic, british rock, folk rock, acid rock, singer-songwriters, southern rock and early "heavy metal" flashed on the scene.  "folk" people often ran across blues, and picked up some of dat, and the rock sounds of the Beatles, and Dylan moving away to a more electric sound and the wonderous technique of guitar gods like Clapton was highly influential.  in the case of acoustic types, some exceptional players were drawn toward bluegrass (HEAVY METAL HICK) or verrry advanced fingerpicking styles.  if you just wanted to "strum along", you were quickly passed by.  I confess my many sins.  I played in several bluegrass bands, and I played in several rock bands.  one,the last, was called THE FOUR TARDIES, it was a faculty band featuring A, B, C and yours trooly, none of the above.  it was composed of aged rocking highschool teachers!  I confess to doin' some songwriter stuff too.  but, I still valued those old joan baez, judy collins, josh white, tom rush, dylan and eric darling discs.  they were, and are still, very good and moving music. if you liked early dylan, you would do well to listen to Woody Guthrie.  if ma, pa or the grandfolks didn't play guitar, you are most probably a city-bred picker.  that makes you special!  you embraced folk music.  you didn't get it by default.  and, you get to bring all sorts of insights to the music.  those insights keep the tradition alive!  rave on troubadour.  lack of electricity, fame or money don't keep you from helpin' keep arcane knowledge, traditions and human feelings alive.  sooo, what about simple guitar?  aha, mysimple guitar has gained texture and soul (that once counted for much!) along my road.  hidden within are "double hammer-ons", "bass runs", "pull-offs", glissing and upstrokes, and....open tunings. I think the most important key to simple guitar is empty spaces, between notes, sometimes between chords.  'member 'bout how you chose folk music?  if you gained in yer musical travel, you kin choose how and where you place that chord position.  you can change words!  steal tunes! maybe even, careful here, take a melody or counterpoint guitar break.  I remember on a johnny cash tribute collection, a player changed the verse "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die!"  the verse was changed to "they say I shot a man in Reno, but that was just a lie."  some people were outraged!  johnny would have liked that.  he was a free man and a free musician, and more of a folksinger than many would acknowledge.  and, like woodie and others, he was not interested in guitar technique, rather, guitar to help him say who he was and what needed to be said about people, problems and hopes.   sooo, plunk that D chord, reach over for that greasy G, and just how will I play the A? regular first position? "long country" A  (you know, little finger down on the first string at the 5th), or, a bar chord A!  (hey, maybe leave off the first string in thebar.)  see, simple can take many forms.  now, about chords, I know fred neil got annointed by some heavenly messenger.  where did he get those cascades of lush "cowboy" chords?  and, I know that buddy holly doin' "raining in my heart" is mystical.  as mystical as a well tuned old beat-up guitar played simply, with nobody there, but you.     daddy


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