Questions Most Musicians (especially guitarists) Ask

I was listening to a great YouTube discussion between John Meyer and Paul Reed Smith. At one point during this very interesting and far-ranging discussion, John asked Paul, if he could go back in time and play through any rig, what would it be? (go to 20:00 for the question) Paul went with either Hendrix at Woodstock when he played Star Spangled Banner, OR David Gilmour’s rig during the Comfortably Numb solo. John went with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rig at the 1983 El Mocambo in Toronto gig, just to (as he put it) “feel the air move.”  

What would I do? Like Paul, I think it would be tough to choose just one. Maybe it would be in the studio with Eric Clapton when he did the Mayall and the Bluesbreakers “Beano” session, OR at the Cream show later when he played the famous version of Crossroads that appeared on Wheels of Fire. There are questions and controversy with both. If I had to choose one, it probably would have been the “Beano” Album session. I would love to feel what a note coming out of that small Marshall amp Clapton used in that studio, especially from THAT guitar, was like. My other option would be Rory Gallagher’s rig the night he met a young Brian May. May, by his own account, was blown away and heard the future from that Vox AC30 amp of Rory’s. Was there a Dallas Rangemaster involved? What was that magic Brian heard?

Eric Clapton Recording with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

We all have questions like that. What first moved you to pick up a guitar and get motivated to figure out how to play it—and more than that dive into rock–or like me, the blues world? I missed the first Beatles extravaganza on the Ed Sullivan show—at least the first time around. I do know that 75 million Americans were glued to their TVs that night and that, by their own accounts, MANY famous American guitar heroes found their calling that night. For me it was the return of the “Fab Four” to the Sullivan show in 1970 with a movie (maybe the first music video) of them doing Hey Jude. I was in early middle school, had dabbled some with guitar but found most folk songs boring. BUT I wanted to do THAT. I felt chills. I wanted to sing like that too. The next big kick was hearing Cream’s version of Crossroads. At that point I was already digesting and trying to learn as many rock guitar songs as I could. I would sit listening to a local alternative station and try to play along (unsuccessfully) with everything. Hearing that song though, done that way, set me on a path. That next summer, attending a music clinic as a violin player, I stumbled into an evening lounge jam session where some older guys were jamming on a funky fusion song. The next day I wandered into my first guitar class taught by a local rock legend who helped me find some substance. I was hooked. To my mom’s dismay, I moved immediately from classical violin to rock and blues guitar. Shortly after that, Jeff Beck became my idol after I heard Blow by Blow. Then I heard BB King at Cook County Jail. I never looked back.

What were some of the big music moments that inspired you?

What artist would you like to spend one day with?

What questions would you ask?

Is there an instrument you didn’t learn in the past, that you would like to become proficient on now?

What other skills would you like to learn that may help you improve your work, grow your brand or improve your sound? Instrument set-up? Amp and pedal repair, modifying and maintenance? Video editing? Live sound? Livestreaming?

There are certainly others. We live in a golden age of learning today. Online courses with pros are easily accessible, even booking private lessons is possible. The pandemic may have really opened those doors as every artist was looking for creative ways to pay the bills. What I hope is that the personal connections that were so instrumental in my development and progress isn’t lost. There is no substitute for sitting in a room—whether in a jam session or in a private lesson or coaching session—and watching things happen in real time, being able to ask questions, get feedback and encouragement, etc. I learned how to set up gear, plug in and fire up a PA system.

 I have been privileged to have experienced all of that, be inspired by people I knew and met, and later, meet world class players and wander back stages or hang out in green rooms as I got to know them. I have actually been able to spend days with some of my heroes and, in reality, I didn’t ask any of the questions I had always envisioned I would—and that was alright. There is something to be said for just being, talking, sharing, laughing and being able to see that they are like you, struggle with some of the same things, aspiring always to more, and that they came from where you are now—and not that long ago. For me, that brought what I often saw in my youth as insurmountable heights, down to a real and attainable level. Someone has to make it. That someone could be you.

For in-person or virtual lessons, coaching and mentoring with Mark, contact him at: imwiththebandmz@gmail.com and visit his website at: www.im-with-the-band.org

Mark Zanoni

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