I’m currently reviewing and studying the cello suite number 3 by J.S. Bach. I like to start by studying each movement’s rhythmic figures or motifs by physically tapping the rhythmic patterns on the back of my guitar. This gives me an insight of a uniform interpretation and understanding of what to convey to the listener.
Antonia Morales and My Introduction to Spanish Guitar
At nine-years-old, the second half of fourth grade, I was to meet Antonia Morales who my parents had found to teach me Spanish guitar. Antonia was to shape my life profoundly in ways that are too numerous to list. She was a flamenco dancer, personal assistant and dance coach to such stars as Rita Hayworth and Tyrone Powers who remained close friends of Antonia’s for the rest of their lives. Antonia toured for Columbia Artists’ Management as a Flamenco dancer as well as a flamenco guitarist. She had studied guitar in Spain and was close friends and probably an intimate of Andres Segovia, to whom she was later to introduce me and to arrange for me to study with.
Antonia was my mentor, my teacher, facilitator, and guardian. She taught me the foundations of technique and musicianship. Her knowledge and familiarity with Spanish culture and her intellect were profound. To this day I still find myself remembering and consequently applying insights and advice she gave me with such generosity and integrity that upon recalling these I have a sense of overwhelming gratefulness.
My father introduced me to Antonia; here is the story of how we met, in his words:
When Eric was nine-years-old, we moved to Laguna Beach. Eric had been showing some promise musically, having taken some lessons while in Claremont. His mother and I hoped we could find a guitar teacher in Laguna who would be interested in giving Eric lessons. In the meantime, my youngest son, Chris, joined the Cub Scouts and at one of his meetings, I noticed a guitar leaning in the corner. The hostess of the meeting was taking lessons from a teacher in Laguna named Antonia Morales, and she gave me Antonia’s phone number. I called her and asked if she would be interested in hearing my son play and in giving us some advice. Reluctantly, she agreed to see him that afternoon, informing me that she didn’t usually take students so young.
After knocking several times, Antonia opened her door. Eric, his guitar in hand, was hustled into the apartment, and as the door closed I hear Antonia say, “Come back in an hour.” I was back in an hour, hoping my son was still in one piece, knocking on the door again. I heard a loud voice say, “Come back in another hour.” This time I sat on the steps for the hour, still concerned over what this lady was doing to my son.
Finally, the door opened and out came Eric, followed by Antonia. Before I could speak, Antonia said, “Have him back here tomorrow at three o’clock, and he can’t learn anything on this awful thing,” pointing to his guitar. Ultimately she was to procure an excellent Spanish guitar for Eric, and so began the many years of a remarkable experience for my son and for the whole family.
At nine-years-old, I had become frustrated with the situation I found myself in, musically. The absence of other people to jam with and being so young that older skilled players would not consider me as a band member forced me to explore other types of music. When my mother played some records of Andres Segovia and Flamenco guitarist, Sabicas, I head the other possibilities and capabilities of what a single guitar could do. This period also coincided with the release and success of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”, and shortly after that the Doors’ song “Spanish Caravan;” both hits featuring Spanish guitar. The instrumental hit, “Classical Gas,” made the guitar sound important and grant with its orchestration and crafted arrangements; a kind of pop guitar concerto. “Spanish Caravan” brought my attention to the Spanish roots of the guitar with its thematic quote that I was later learn came from Isaac Albeniz’s “Asturias.” I doubt that my interest in classical guitar could have been so intensely inspired without those songs bridging the genres. Another thing that was taking placed at this time was the guitar solo, and the rise of rock guitar Gods like dick Dale, Eric Clapton and my own hero, Jimi Hendrix. Antonia Morales came into my life and gave me a focus I was in need of to pull all of these impressions together.
Antonia could walk through any door, and engage with credibility, anyone she had a mind to. Her vast number of friends and connections to the prominent artists of the day was astounding. She had exquisite taste and an enormous sense of propriety and discernment. She educated me in the arts, Spanish language, and literature, as well as in manners and etiquette.
Under her tutelage, by the time I was 12-years-old, I was able to play some Bach preludes, as well as “Twenty Studies” by Fernando Sor, several Giuliani pieces, music by Villa Lobos, Francisco Tarrega, Aguado and some preludes by Ponce. She was strict and demanding but always with loving patience. I currently have a student who is 10-years-old and talented. He reminds me of myself at that age, as he is as stubborn as I was about conquering whatever difficulty presents itself in the music, approaching his task with a keen sense of melody and rhythm. The privilege of teaching a gifted student who trusts and follows suggestion is an enormous responsibility. As I look back to my time with Antonia I feel regret that at that age I didn’t have more capacity to cherish and appreciate the care and concern she had for me, for the same reasons. Age and experience have taught me to be more aware of the generosity and faithfulness of those who shaped and edified my life.
When I was twelve years old, Andres Segovia was going to give a recital in LA. This would be the third concert I saw him perform, and Antonia told me to write a short letter to him so that it would be sent backstage. In the letter I told the maestro my age and that I had played guitar for over 6 years and was a student of Antonia’s. Her teacher in Spain happened to be Aureo Herrero, who had studied for years, privately with Segovia as he had been taken under Segovia’s wing at a young age and went on to study Arco Bass and music theory at the conservatory in Madrid. (Classical guitar was at that time not considered a legitimate instrument and therefore not offered at the conservatory.) The fact that Segovia was so familiar with Aureo Herrero, but also had a decades-long friendship with Antonia herself, may have been the reason he was inclined to let me come backstage and meet him after the concert.
When the concert ended, Antonia and I went to the backstage entrance and were received graciously. I remember Segovia embracing Antonia and I was scooped up along with her to a more private room where the two of them talked briefly in Spanish. Then turning towards me, he asked me to play for him. I played Sor Estudio #12 and as soon as I finished he said to Antonia that if she could get me to Spain to Madrid, he would spend time with me and maybe teach me when he was not on tour.
Upon informing my mother and father of this extraordinary turn of events, my dad was overwhelmed with excitement and said: “We’ve got to go to Spain as soon as possible!”
The small town of Laguna Beach was a really supportive community for the arts. The Soroptimist Club, the Rotary Club and various successful business people of the town banded together with a humbling show of support and pride when they became aware of the possibility of my studying with Segovia in Madrid. There was no way my parents could afford to send me along with Antonia, who was willing to act as my legal guardian while I was in Spain. The plan that my parents and the town of Laguna Beach came up with was this: Once a year I would perform a recital for the purpose of raising funds and awareness of the financial assistance necessary to pay for my travel expenses (as well as Antonia’s for acting as my guardian), living expenses and costs of education and lessons for 9 to 10 months every year. The concert I provided was a way to show my progress and level of my performance abilities to the supporters and audience. It was a good way to be accountable. In addition, I was also asked to write regularly about my experiences and time spent with all of the people I studied under. The community of Laguna Beach was truly a wonderful extended family, in a sense.
My first trip to Madrid was in June of 1971. I was thirteen-years-old. My father went with me and stayed for the first three months. We flew on a World Airways plane that was the cheapest airfare possible. It went to Spain via London and we arrived in Madrid in the morning. Antonia had already left in May and was waiting for us to arrive. I remember the taxi ride from the airport, our arrival in the oldest section of the city where I was to live for the better part of the next four years. It was frightening to be entering into a massive, ancient cosmopolitan city with a past that spread over centuries. There were large, imposing brown buildings and bustling streets, a real culture shock coming from a small southern California beach town. I remember my dad turning to me in the taxi and saying, “Well, this is where you’re going to be for the next few months.” Those months became years.
Latin-grammy award-winning artist, William Sigismondi and I will be in concert for the first time together. I cannot begin to explain to you the synergies we have and the beautiful repertoire that comes out of our sessions.
It will be great to see you all at the concert on the 24th of March at Bridge Hall in Laguna Beach. You can buy tickets here.
Also, make sure to sign up to get the latest news and updates.
Fernando Sor was baptised on Valenine's Day. In this article, we celebrate his birthday and his contribution to the classical guitar.
More in Depth Insights & Techniques for Practicing the Classical Guitar
Before I go on to talk about some other things concerning practicing classical guitar, I would like to first comment about the importance of continually going through a piece of music, repeatedly from beginning to end using the method I covered in my previous blog (e.g. repeating things three times). There are many cases where, after the first two or three times of going through a piece or study that is new and very difficult, there is a struggle to play it successfully at tempo and smoothly. I have learned that you just have to have faith that the work pays off and gradually you will master what you set out to do. But don’t get discouraged and above all don’t try to put all your focus on one piece or study to perfect it the first time through it. This will eat up too much time and you won’t be able to get to other pieces during each practice.
What I find to be the single most important rule for learning and conquering a new piece of classical guitar music is that from the beginning you practice and play it in the most perfect rhythm that is possible. I have learned that no matter how slowly you have to play it so that it is a continuous, unbroken rhythm, this is key to improving. On the other hand, I can promise you that if you were to practice something and constantly vary the rhythm at your convenience whenever a difficult passage or hurdle comes up, you could spend a hundred years and never really improve. Keeping the integrity of the rhythm and its context are the most important things about practicing classical guitar successfully. I cannot stress this enough.
Let’s talk about demystifying playing with real speed and accuracy. After too many years of stress and enormous pressure to perform in concert without mistakes, I learned the beauty of keeping things simple and tangible by grouping. There are only groups of three or groups of four notes with divisions (e.g. two) or multiples (e.g. six and eight) of these.
Let’s take a scale going up two octaves. We’ll say the C major scale or Ionian mode. If you were to play all the notes from middle C to high C (e.g. two octaves) without dividing it into groups, you would be struggling to play it consistently and perfectly at top speed from end to end repeatedly. But take the same scale and divide it into groups of four. Do this by counting out loud, slowly, 1-2-3-4, which is C-D-E-F, then 1-2-3-4, which is G-A-B-C, 1-2-3-4, which is D-E-F-G, and 1-2-3-4 which is A-B-C-B, the last note B being the beginning of the descending part of the scale. The way I keep things clean and consistent to really mark my groups of four is to accent the 1 of the 1-2-3-4. If it is a very difficult passage, I would even go so far as to hang slightly on the 4th note of each group and then accent on the 1. What this does is to give me a feeling of space between each group of four. This works, of course, for groups of three and six, as well.
Not only does this work well for scales, it works extremely well for arpeggios. Take for instance the classical guitar piece ‘Etude No 1’ by Villa Lobos. If you accent the 1 to mark 1-2-3-4 and then the next 1 to mark the next 1-2-3-4, etc., you get a sense of ease and tirelessness to the hand because what you are doing is telling your hand that there are only four notes to keep track of instead of a daunting, unending sequence of notes. Most people, obviously, can play three notes in a row perfectly, or four notes in a row perfectly, but I find it much more difficult mentally and technically to play 16 notes on the guitar accurately in succession, without dividing things into groups.
Let’s take tremolo as another case in point. It is so much easier to play tremolo smoothly and consistently, again without tiring your hand, by practicing at first slowly and counting out loud like this: P-A-M-I, P being 1, A being 2, M being 3, I being 4. Remember to accent the 1 or the thumb; accent it by saying “one”, or “P” forcefully and louder than the other numbers. This marks mentally and physically the groups of four.
Let me give you another example. Let’s take the classical guitar piece ‘La Catedral’ by Augustin Barios Mangore, the final movement, ‘Allegro Solemne’. If you slowly practice this piece and divide it continually into groups of six, again making sure to accent the 1 of 1-2-3-4-5-6, you will see how much easier it is to play the entire piece without a mistake from beginning to end.
There is something that I have just recently discovered. For years I have questioned and pondered the great classical guitarist John Williams’ impeccable technique and perfection. Obviously, I can’t claim to know if he is consciously employing this approach that I am about to talk about, or if it just comes naturally to him and in incredibly effective and efficient. What I have discovered is that if you listen closely, his group of notes when he is playing something fast is very, very subtly slowed down almost imperceptibly from the 1 to the 4 and very subtly held between the 4 and then the 1 on the net group of 4.
What I mean is this; try playing something such as the groups of 6 notes in the final movement of ‘La Catedral’ by accenting the 1 and counting the notes in groups of six and very very subtly slowing down very slightly between 1 and 6. 1.2..3…4….5…..6. Practice this method with subtlety and see how smooth and controlled your playing becomes. You eliminate any sense of rushing and your sense of control and perception of grouping becomes incredible. Again, I can’t say if John Williams does this on purpose or whether it is just an incredibly efficient natural approach that he employs. But you can do it on purpose and make it work for you.
I hope you enjoyed this insight and technique for practicing classical guitar. In the near future, I will be offering live streams on my YouTube channel and master classes coming to StageIt, and to a city near you.
Latin-grammy award-winning artist, William Sigismondi and I will be in concert for the first time together. I cannot begin to explain to you the synergies we have and the beautiful repertoire that comes out of our sessions.
It will be great to see you all at the concert on the 24th of March. You can buy tickets here.
Make sure to sign up to get the latest news and updates.
Using your time efficiently
As a teacher of classical guitar, I had an opportunity to observe a young student of mine, 12-years-old, I’ll call him Nick. Nick is a student of immense talent; he seemed from the beginning to possess a sense of phrasing and an ability to play with a beautiful and powerful tone. He had grown up from early childhood listening to his father’s recordings of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia, which I believe imprinted him with an acute sense of tone and sound. If you are accustomed to hearing only the best beautiful, round tone then you tend to want to imitate that standard in your own playing.
Unfortunately, Nick does not practice. His classical guitar lessons average once a week, and during his lessons, I’ve had to ‘practice’ him and do the work that I hoped he would do on his own. Normally I would not put up with a student who doesn’t practice, but Nick has shown me so many things about how a young person learns and retains material that I feel he provides valuable information that I can pass on to others. He inspires me continually to think outside of the box in conquering my own set of challenges.
I would like to share some insight into a technique of practice that I have found to be very efficient as a result of having to ‘practice’ Nick during his lessons. Let’s start with how to best use your time to learn a piece of music that is brand new to you. Let’s use Estudio No. 9 by Fernando Sor as an example; for reference, this is the one in chords that I recorded on my CD called ‘Homage’. During our guitar lesson, starting from the beginning of the piece, I would take Nick through a phrase, very slowly and deliberately. In the case of the Sor piece, it would be about three measures. My original approach to practicing a section like this would be to play it 9 times. Obviously, I could not employ this technique with Nick because we had too much material to cover in our hour-and-a-half lesson.
To use the time most efficiently, we would start with the first three measures and only do three repetitions before continuing on to the next three bars, always being careful to back up a couple of chords so that we were not starting from a completely unfamiliar place. For example, if the phrase that we had just practiced ended in the final chord of the third measure I would have him back up two chords or even start at the beginning of the third measure and do three measures from there. In a fifteen to twenty minute period, we would typically do 2 1/2 to 3 staves of music and then go on to another piece and take the same approach. In about an hour and a half, we would have been able to ‘practice’ through parts of 3 to 4 pieces. Bear in mind that I say an hour and a half but it is really 4 to 6 sets of fifteen to twenty minutes with short breaks between.
I would see Nick again a week later and ask him “Did you practice?” and he would answer sheepishly, “No.” In spite of this fact he would then proceed to play surprisingly well through the material that we had ‘practiced’ the previous lesson. There were an obvious familiarity and muscle memory that had been established during the previous lesson. This happened time after time, which made me re-think the necessity for repeating things nine times.
I thought about it, reflecting on the fact that Nick is 12-years-old, very quick at learning things because of his youth and having no fear. How could I begin to capture his ability to be so efficient? These are the conclusions that I have been able to prove thus far:
When I sit down with my guitar and practice something with multiple repetitions, it is like telling myself that I don’t have to concentrate so hard to make each repetition count, because I could continue to repeat it until I conquered the passage.
When I put a limit on the amount of repetition and time I spend on each passage, my subconscious grabs on to every detail with a sense of urgency.
If I tell myself that I can learn something very fast; demanding that I learn quickly challenges any sense of fear that I don’t learn as rapidly as I did when I was younger.
I have also found that it helps to follow this regime for the three repetitions: Play very slowly, exaggerating the left-hand pressure so that you are conscientiously memorizing the movements of the fingers on the first repetition. After that silently read through the section you have just played – without playing it – and imagine that your fingers are going through each movement. Play it again, a tiny bit faster but still exaggerating the left-hand pressure as well as playing it loudly with a lot of power. Stop and read the passage again, only imagining that you are playing it. Then play the passage for the third and final time.
It is important to remember when starting the next section of a piece to back up a few notes or chords so that you are not starting a completely new section. I call this ‘overlapping’.
I find it is best to limit the time that I practice on each piece of music. I don’t leave it open-ended. This again makes me use my time with maximum efficiency.
I usually study five or six pieces at a time, averaging around 5 staves in each piece a day, unless the piece is very easy or repetitious in which case I try to cover more material.
I write down my practice plan before I begin practicing, listing the pieces and how much time I plan to spend on each piece. I have found it incredibly important not to play repeatedly at the same tempo because the same tempo tends to diminish the intensity of concentration.
I try to avoid being automatic. Between each repetition I remove my left hand from the guitar, give what I have played a few seconds to sink in and then start again. Just like when you are watering a plant it takes time for the water to soak into the soil, the information you garner from practicing needs to soak into your memory.
Even if I can only get through a small section of a piece because it is difficult and I can barely play it, I still limit myself to three repetitions. I’ve discovered that your subconscious mind learns and automatically memorizes much more than we can imagine.
I try to reinforce my ability to learn quickly and to memorize quickly by acting (or ‘pretending’ for lack of a better term) as if I do learn quickly when I doubt my own abilities.
This is a very successful method of practice that resulted from observing how young students learn and conquer classical guitar. It is not ideal to have a student who does not practice, but once again, I am reminded how important it is to stay aware and observant of other players, students as well as pros.
I have many things on the horizon, but in the meantime, check out my store, and make sure to subscribe to get the latest in news and updates. If you wish to contact me for a booking or for any other reason, you can contact me here.
I had the honor to study under one of the world's greatest classical guitarists, Maestro Andres Segovia. In this series, I will be sharing with you how to practice classical guitar, giving you practical instruction that will improve your classical guitar playing.
How to Practice Classical Guitar
This is how I deal with practicing. First of all, I would like to relate the words of the late Andres Segovia, the greatest classical guitarist ever, who if anyone would be the authority on the best method of practice. This is what he taught me and told me was his method.
Practice in sets of fifteen minutes, divided into two sets of seven to eight minutes with a short break between. At the end of each fifteen minutes, take a 3 minute break, stand up, get a glass of water, stretch, etc. but be sure to take a moment to focus your eyes on something far away to relax your eyes from the close work of the page and the fretboard and to clear your mind. Start again and do three fifteen minute sets, totaling 45 minutes of intense practice. This time at the end of the third set taking a real break of about fifteen minutes. Repeat this 3-set practice routine for a total of five times. At that point, you will have spent around five and a half hours.
That is the morning session, in the afternoon you will do this entire routine again after you have had some lunch and a chance to rest. In the years I was living in Madrid, between 1971 and 1975, the traditional schedule for the day was to start between 8 and 9 am, and have your main meal of the day around 2 pm; everything would then shut down for this meal and a siesta that followed. At anywhere between 5 and 7 pm, everything would open back up and the evening meal would not be until 9 or even 10 pm. I would eat the midday meal, take a siesta and then practice from 5 to 10 pm, before eating dinner, the lighter meal of the day.
This is what Segovia would do and what I was expected to do as his student. Recently I heard somebody claim that he witnessed Segovia excusing himself after dinner, saying that he had to practice. This was not the case in my experiences with him; he practiced in the mornings and in the late afternoons and early evenings.
The exact method as far as the content of my practice will be dealt with in a subsequent writing in the next article in this series. In the meantime, check out my store, and make sure to subscribe to get the latest in news and updates. If you wish to contact me for a booking or for any other reason, you can contact me here.
My first memory of noticing and being fascinated with the guitar was in 1962 when I was four years old. At the end of each ‘Ozzie and Harriet Show’, Ricky Nelson would perform and his guitar, with these paisley-looking marks on the front, fascinated me. Anything that remotely looked like a guitar or reminded me of a guitar I held and carried around with me. My first toy that I adored was a full-sized plastic guitar; black on the back and sides and white on the face. I loved to play that guitar but ended up destroying it bit by bit until there was nothing left but pieces of broken plastic. I’m not positive about the significance of this psychologically but I have my suspicions.
Another strong memory is the belief that I could be like Superman and fly. I loved the Superman series with Jim Reeves. Whenever my parents heard me singing that theme song from the original black and white Superman show they knew that I was jumping off something dangerously high with a makeshift cape tied around my neck. I was in and out of the hospital so often that my parents started being suspected of child abuse. God bless my dad. He was gifted with his hands, but foolishly built our wooden swing set with a ladder that allowed me to climb up to the top and balance myself walking on the beam that ran across the top of the frame. My mom would hear me singing “dadada daaa dadadada!” and she would come running out in time to see me, cape and all, diving off of the top of the swing set. How I didn’t kill myself or crack my skull or even break any bones is a miracle.
At that time we were living in Arcadia, CA. This is the earliest and as far back as I can remember things in detail. One more thing I had that I treasured was a green cast-iron John Deere tractor with pedals on the side. I would see somebody walking on the sidewalk towards our house and I would maniacally pedal that toy tractor – which had to weigh 80 pounds -- directly at them and whenever possible crash right into them. To this day that memory is embarrassingly disturbing.
We then moved to Claremont, CA a small college town at the base of the foothills of Mt. Baldy. Right in back of our house were enormous orange groves where we would play. We built forts, had orange fights and would spend our weekends walking through the groves that went on for miles. I remember this wonderful hike my older brother, Tony, and his friends took me on from our backyard to the foothills of the mountains. It was magical. Then within about a year and a half, they cut all the orange groves down to start preparing lots for development. During this same period, I saw something that gave me great pain and a feeling of loss. My mother, father, my brothers and I went on the same hike that Tony had taken me on only a short time before but this time everything, starting with the orange groves, was cut down, leveled and graded. Where there had been beautiful green rolling hills with pine trees and olive trees and a narrow path that led to this lovely stream coming out of the mountains there were now graded lots and all of the green and mystery was gone. I was experiencing for the first time the sight of evil and the loss of the magic that is nature’s gift to an innocent boy. I had lost the greatest playground of my life. That day was a day of such confusion and grief and loss that to this day I still ache with the memory of it.
Then came 1964; I was six years old and something was to happen that changed everything. Ed Sullivan hosted the Beatles. All I saw when I looked at them were their guitars. One, which was Paul McCartney’s bass, was held in the opposite direction of the other two. ‘I Wanna Hold your Hand’ was the first song I really remember grabbing my guts. From then on I was going to play guitar. Of course like many kids I dreamed of being a Beatle. I would stand on top of the fireplace hearth pretending it was a stage, singing into the top of the handle of my mother’s Hoover vacuum cleaner pretending it was a microphone, wearing a Beatle wig and my Dad’s oversized black shoes as ‘Beatle boots’. I even donned a phony English accent and told all of my friends in first grade that I was from England. My mom had studied piano and was then learning to play the guitar. Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ and other folk music songs such as ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ were really popular at the time, and this music used the acoustic guitar which was probably what attracted my mother to want to learn to play the guitar. She lent me her full-size acoustic nylon string guitar and I carried it everywhere. The guitar was inseparable from me and I couldn’t stop touching it. The feel of the strings on my fingers seemed to scratch a delicious itch and I could feel the vibration of the strings resonating through the wood to my chest and into my heart. As I describe this, even now, the joy of these sensations has never diminished.
The first guitar that was given to me for my own was a Christmas present. It was procured by an infamous character, ‘Fat Bobby’ Andrist, who would in a few years become one of the most powerful and influential drug smugglers and dealers of the Laguna Beach group called ’The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.’ They were responsible for most of the pot and hash and LSD in the southern half of California, at the very least. Bobby had gotten the guitar in Mexico and gave it to my Dad, who was his college English professor, to give to me. Shortly after that, I was taking guitar lessons with a guitarist from Tennessee who played Chet Atkins’ finger-style guitar. He literally taught me every chord he knew. Even though I was only six, I could with ease play bar chords or any other chords he showed me – and this was on a full-sized guitar as smaller guitars for kids had not yet been produced. My lessons with this teacher were to be the first time that I was praised to the point of being thrilled at having a teacher say that I had a great gift for the guitar. I overheard him say to my parents, “This kid has something special and rare.” This was to become a double-edged sword, the genesis of devotion to practicing with intense fervor while at the same time feeling that my whole identity was the guitar and my sense of self-worth was based on the level to which I could perform to impress family and friends.
The 1964-65 school year was the first time that I really became aware of all of the bands that were practicing and playing in garages up and down the street and all over the community. To this day I believe the level of playing and quality of the musicians was incredible. Remember that there were no more orange groves or wild foothills to play in. Instead of hiking and playing kids were forming bands and playing music everywhere. On the radio, I could hear the Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys, the Animals, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Yardbirds and Johnny Cash. In those days you could hear on the same AM station rock, blues, country western, surf music, folk music – you name it. I probably learned half of the songs sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car listening to the radio on the way back and forth to Laguna Beach, where my family would spend every weekend and vacation we could. I was gifted with a very good ear and could imitate almost anything I heard. By the time I was eight I was playing lead guitar in a high school band and hanging out with people over twice my age. This was also the beginning of a not-so-positive influence of hanging out with older people and trying to fit in. I was introduced to smoking cigarettes before third grade was over and pot soon followed. I remember sitting in the drummer’s garage with the rest of the band and he was passing around those cheesy black and white porno magazines with pictures of girls with very large breasts and nipples that, to me, looked the size of the Empire State Building. I had never seen anything like that, and when one of the guys would say how ‘stacked’ a girl was, I misunderstood and thought that it was a put down about something looking ugly instead of something sexy.
When I was in the first grade at Condit Elementary School in Claremont, CA, I brought my guitar to school. That would be the first and last time my teacher let me come to school with my guitar. I couldn’t keep my hands off of it all that day. Whenever I could get away with it, even during class I was playing. I never understood why the teacher never took it out of my hands or made me put it away. I had a little group of these girls during recess that was following me around as if I were the Pied Piper. Maybe they were imitating some scene out of the Beatles ‘Hard Day’s Night,’ which had just come out. In my mind, I had imagined that I was one of the Beatles anyway. Since I was a very precocious boy who noticed and loved girls as far back as I can remember, this experience solidly encouraged my idea that playing guitar meant being popular with girls. What a motivation!
Concerning the guitar, the last event I remember just before my family moved to Laguna Beach was the end of the third grade. The high school band I played lead guitar for was in this talent show contest for their high school. We played “As Tears Go By’ which was a song made popular by the Rolling Stones at the time, and a song by the Monkees called ‘Valerie”. I liked the guitar on ‘Valerie‘ so I learned every note of the solo as well as I could. My older brother Tony was a lead singer and tambourine player in a rival band with this hot-shot lead guitarist that went to the same school and was determined to show me up. They sang ‘Pushing too Hard.’ and ‘Paint it Black’. In my band, I was supposedly the lead singer as well as the lead guitarist. At 8-years-old I must have sounded like a tone-deaf castrato. By the way, I never bothered or had any interest in learning the lyrics to anything that I sang, so I just made them up as I went along. It must have been horrible; I can’t imagine how bad this must have sounded. For some reason, we still won the talent show. This very cute high school girl that I couldn’t help but notice – she was a knockout -- came up to me after the show and said that she thought I was cute. I felt that I was on top of the world. I think that comment did more to make me to stick to the guitar - no matter what -- than any single event that I can remember as a boy. That was to be the last band that I was part of until I was in my thirties and was signed to JVC records. But I will tell you about that later.
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The evolutionary path of the classical guitar parallel's that of humanity. Join me on a journey through history and learn how this wondrous instrument came to be. It has inspired many throughout the ages and will continue to do so. I have dedicated my entire life to perfecting my craft with the hope of invoking emotional states that are just as inspirational.