I’ve been involved in the business (and to some degree, the art) of music for over 30 of my 42 years. I’ve traveled it, studied it, played it, written it and in the process I hope have learned a little about it. I’ve traveled, studied and written other things as well; but underlying everything that I do and what I’ve become in the process is inseparably tied, at its roots, to music. All kinds of music.
I’ve read a lot about music over the years, too. Reviews, criticism, social commentary and theory that ties in psychology, anthropology, history and religion. My feeling is that sometimes you discover a thread, and sometimes its just a theory of knots. Super-strings, perhaps.
For me, regardless of the genre I play or am enamored of at the moment, I always end up playing my own kind of “seven degrees of separation” where the glue at the center is the music I grew up with and around. If you subtract the Beatles (even though you could in fact trace from them back to Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, the Cookies, Little Richard and Elvis, among others) and the Stones (with their direct line to Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, and so many more), the music I listened to growing up was American music: rock and roll, blues, folk, bluegrass, country, Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, dixieland, big band, soul, rhythm and blues — and all its combinations and permutations. I studied classical music, because when you learn an instrument formally, that’s usually the genre for most of the instruction. The rest was what people now call “roots music.”
My roots? Hell yes. My paternal great-grandfather on one side was an itinerant fiddler. On the other side, both greats, I understand, traveled the Mennonite church circuit demonstrating and teaching yodeling from their native Switzerland. My father and uncle played “Hawaiian” guitar and accordion, respectively. My brothers, sister and I each were responsible for learning three instruments – a woodwind or brass, an orchestral string, and piano. I added guitar (and eventually a number of other things) to my repertoire.
I’ve written at least one song in the style of every record that I’ve ever heard. From madrigal to musical comedy to mosh pit; from polka to pop to punk; from reel to rap to rave-up. From Bauhaus to Beethoven to Bill Monroe to Billy Bragg to Irving Berlin and back.
I’ve never really found a source of information that covers that range of Americana. That cares about all of Americana. My definition of Americana, that is. Music that describes the profundity, the complexity, the often confusing amalgamation of styles that encompass the soundtrack of these United States, through time and space.
Particularly from a musician’s point of view. But then again, it seems to me these days that musicians (and all artists for that matter) are becoming more and more like physicians. Gone are the days of the General Practitioner. Everyone’s a specialist. That’s where the money is, I suppose. Learn your specific narrow genre – what styles it takes, what it’s audience will tolerate – and never move beyond those confines.
That’s not for me. That’s someone else’s definition of a musician. As a bard (in both the Druidic religious sense, and the musical sense) I have both an innate need, and some might suggest a spiritual duty, to understand the entire cultural spectrum of my time, and its history as well.