Recently, I was asked about my favorite guitar solo. There are a few recordings that changed my life. One was Bobby Darin’s 'Dream Lover', another was The Beatles 'Love Me Do', and 'Apache' by The Shadows. 'Dream Lover' was the first 45 rpm record that my brother and I owned and loved, and we would play it over and over again (somehow) on our grandfather's old wind up gramophone. The moment I heard 'Love Me Do' I knew that life was going to be different now that The Beatles were in it - and I was right. Soon after that I was in London, with Marty and Joyce Wilde on a magical, musical journey and The Beatles were in London and they were the leaders of the 'scene' there. We can often remember the moment we first heard a song or a record. That was the case with me and 'Apache'. The mystery and depth of it, and the minor key darkness and major key relief absolutely captured me. It was the summer of 1960. I was working ( at 13 years old ) with a theatre company in Lyme Regis and one of the company had a radio that we would tune in without fail to the 'pop' shows on the BBC Light Programme. We knew when they would be coming on - there were so few pop shows on the government controlled airwaves. I heard 'Apache' for the first time on that radio in that little theatre. It was such a huge record that year I was in heaven and I have adored the record ever since. It still never fails to work it's magic on me every single time I hear it. Apache is one long beautiful guitar solo. Today, one of my close friends is Bruce Welch and we love playing the old songs together for fun and for our songwriter pals. I have also had the honour of playing on stage with him and Hank, the late Jet Harris and Liquorice Locking with Marty singing, all together at The London Palladium. I could hardly believe it was happening - sharing a stage with my heroes was one of the most wonderful times I have ever known. However - the question was my favourite guitar solo of all time - well of course - it's James Burton's solo on Ricky Nelson's 'Hello Mary Lou'.
If you are reading this you know that the world of music is constantly changing and moving. Regarding the 'music business': right now there is a push by influential and powerful artists to take more control of their recordings. I do hope it succeeds, as many of the things that the generation of musicians before mine fought for have been eroded.As far as the music itself, that will always move on, change shape, and be vibrant. I hear new things every day that I think are great, and there will always be brilliant and inspiring music being made. Most of the big changes belong to the young generation, and rightly so, they are always at the forefront. The most valuable commodity in music is youth. I'm sure young people know that the chances of success are rare and often fleeting. I do feel for many of the TV talent show performers because they must know that the judges are the stars, rarely the singers. But one time in a hundred it can bring fame. It's just that your 15 minutes of fame, and the manner of it, will be remembered for ever. Mostly, I admire the groups, singers and artists that can play live and create magic. That's where happiness lies, and that's where they will find a lasting career. The technology of music is moving quickly too. Everyone can 'sing in tune' on any recording because of fabulous auto-tune software, and samples of great sounds are heard on every recording. That's as it should be. The echo chambers of the old Decca studios were as much part of the Moody Blues early sounds as the group ourselves. Often it's worth finding, and following the producers and writers nowadays, maybe more so than following the pop artists, as the boys and girls that put the music and recordings together are developing huge followings, and artists will flock to them. Many of those great music makers started in their bedroom with a computer - and can still make wonderful recordings there! New software and processes are introduced everyday. But I think the huge change in music recording was in the 1980's with the introduction of the Lynn Drum as well as gorgeous sounding keyboards and samplers. 'Time' in music is so important and the Lynn drum took it from being ragged to 'in the pocket'. It was so exciting to be in London, and working with Tony Visconti, and having hit singles during those years. London was a fabulous place to be with beautiful people and music. If I could only listen to the music from one decade it would (probably) be the 1980's. Right now there is so much music fighting to be heard, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have found my way through the music jungle in the 1960's. The day Mike Pinder called me in Swindon, after I had moved on from under Marty's wing, was a great day. Things are like that in music and the music business - you never know where the fortunate breaks are going to be, or come from, but I am optimistic and secure in the knowledge that music is in good hands as we go ahead into more musical adventures - in my own life, for all music makers, and for music lovers, like you and I.
Perseverance is the best advice for anyone wanting to play the guitar. It will be painful on your hands and fingers for a while, but try and push through that - it will soon pass. I'm not a believer in talent, I believe in desire - you must want to play more than anything. But you must get a good quality guitar, and preferably one that you choose yourself. If you have a clear connection to that particular guitar from the beginning it will mean more to you. A guitar is a friend and you should want to be with it.
I think it's best to start learning with chords on the top (high) four strings. The chords are then easier to form and understand and when you have learned a few good shapes on four strings the whole chord will come easier later.
If you really like certain songs learn to play the chords, however slowly. Then make sure the right hand (if you are right handed) keeps a good rhythm. I always think the right hand can make people tap their feet to a good groove - so keep that groove - and when you play always go to the end of the song. Try not to stop in the middle - just go past your mistakes and move on along the song. Stopping in the middle never works.
And finally, I know it seems obvious but maybe most important of all, make sure your guitar is perfectly in tune when you play. Buy a tuner, and keep your guitar well tuned, otherwise, no matter how good you get, it will never sound great.
I've had my Guild 12 String since the mid 1980's and it has been a wonderful road guitar for me. It's never failed to deliver on stage. I chose it very carefully to finally give me the opportunity to play Question on stage the way it was recorded, instead of trying to compete with the drums with an electric guitar. Guild was one of the first guitar makers to perfect an acoustic pick up that could give volume and clarity. The guitar was immaculate for the first couple of years that I had it, then one day we had to fly to NY in the middle of a tour to do a TV show and the 12 string was in the hold of the aircraft. But in the television studio, when I opened the case, I was astounded to see that the finish on the top of the guitar had cracked into hundreds of little pieces and looked like some bizarre kind of varnish crazy paving. I can only assume that the sudden change of temperature on the aircraft was too much for the integrity of the finish on the top of the guitar. However - it sounded exactly the same to me and the brightness and sparkle of the sound was thankfully undiminished. I love this guitar, and so do all the other guitar players I know. It gets better with age and has matured beautifully and although the finish is flawed, the guitar is fantastic.
There's no doubt that the best sounding, and best playing guitars that I have, were made in the 1950's and early 1960's. I think that was the best era for guitar making - when real craftsmen were able to choose the best woods, with no restrictions, and the art of guitar making was treated with respect and carried out with real integrity. In the mid 1960's we moved into the cheap and mass produced era, and it wasn't until the late 70's and early 1980's that the honour of guitar making was born again, with Taylor leading the way. In the last 15 years the art of the select, discriminating guitar luthier has flourished, mostly in the USA. I have two Collings guitars, made in Austin Texas, both of which I purchased 'on the road' at Gruhns in Nashville - one lives at home in my music room and is featured on recordings, the other lives on the road, and copes well with the tough life of a road guitar. They are both true classics. I would also give great credit to James (Jim) Olsen as being one of the greatest guitar makers ever. The guitar that I bought from Jim in 1990 (89?) is one of the most beautiful and trustworthy guitars I have ever seen, let alone owned. It delivers every single night - it's a true friend - right up there with my 1963 Gibson 335 and my 1955 Martin D28. I came across another one recently and it was so beautiful, in sound and looks, that I had to tear myself way from it - it was destined for another player. That is a curious thing about guitars - sometimes I'm convinced that a certain guitar has a destiny with someone else, and in fact, in the early 1980's I sold a whole attic full of wonderful guitars because I believed they could find a home elsewhere, with someone who would cherish (and OK - love) them. They were too good to be resting in my attic and needed to be played every day to keep them alive. I feel that the wood needs to resonate regularly to keep it beautiful, in feel and sound. Instruments can seem to be dying if they are not played. The most hard worked guitars are the most desirable. Guitars that play in a smoky club for years are often the best. Guitars love to be played. The only guitar I regret selling was a 1964 Strat that played on the Octave, LDV, and on all my 1980's solo albums. It was as smooth as silk, it played like a dream and sounded sublime. But, I still felt at the time that someone else could use it more - so it moved on. I'm sure whoever has it now must treasure it - as well as being comforted by the knowledge that it's now worth at least $25.000 to $30,000, even if you could actually find another one - which is not easy! I recently discovered McPherson guitars. Wow! what a find. I now have a McPherson 12 string - (the acoustic 12 string may be the hardest guitar for a maker to get true and clear, with exact intonation), and I have fallen head over heels for it. McPhersons are truly special and a quick look at the McPherson website will tell you why. It's going to have to work for it's living though as it's on the road with me, but I have to say, I have never owned a 12 string before that's in it's class. Yes, in my opinion, American made guitars, and American guitar makers, lead the world. I dreamed of owning an American guitar when I was a boy - that hasn't changed. !n 1985 I was invited to visit the Kalamazoo factory in Michigan that was the original home of Gibson guitars just after three great craftsmen, former Gibson employees, were starting up Heritage Guitars. I met the man who knew my 335 (Gibsons are easy to identify through their serial numbers) and had seen it being made and even had a hand in it. He told me that the very next guitar on the line, made with exactly the same men and machines, with exactly the same wood and parts, just wasn't the same and didn't have the same feel or vibe. That's the way it goes - like life. It's ultimately a mystery - which 'mass producing' guitar manufacturers will tell you has been solved - it hasn't, thank goodness.
My first guitar was from Headquarter and General Supplies, a hire purchase company. I don’t think it had a brand name, but all the guitars I had until my first 335 in 1963 were unsatisfactory and I had to modify them. My first real guitar amp was an Elpico 9 watt.
It's impossible to just name one in isolation, but the players that have really 'turned me on' over the years have been Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, Mark Knopfler, James Burton, Roy Buchanan and Derek Trucks. But, after saying that, my idol was always Buddy Holly, and the way he played was truly the greatest influence on me. It's the music that you love when you are young that is the most enduring, and the way Buddy played had everything I aspired to as a guitarist. I have met Maria Elena Holly a couple of times over the years. What an honour to be in her presence.