Vol. 1 no. 1
AW: How did you get interested in guitar?
LL: Total fluke. I had a good friend whose parents bought him a guitar for 16 dollars at a pawn shop. This was about 29 years ago! It was just a piece of garbage, a baseball bat with strings.The strings were so high off the neck it's a wonder my fingers didn't bleed. I took some real legit stuff, classical lessons. Number one, I didn't have any nails to speak of, and number two, I didn't have a classical guitar, and my teacher was only five years older than me, but she seemed like a real pro. I was eleven, and somebody who was 16 seemed much older. So I went to these lessons, and I would really never prepare (for) them until the morning of the lesson, and I thought at the time there was a lot of pressure to play these mundane exercises, which are great exercises. I did that for about a year and a half. That was back when a guitar lesson cost 50 cents for a half hour!
For my bar mitzvah my parents bought me a classical guitar, and then I sort of let my nephew pass it down. The worst thing you can do is force anybody into music. You get turned off if your parents force you, you naturally rebel against it. You get a bad taste in your mouth when you get an authority figure saying "You have to practice." My parents, fortunately, never said that to me.
I pursued that for a little while, and then in two years my parents bought me an electric guitar...
AW: Were you listening to a lot of guitar music at this time?
LL: You know what I was listening to? The Beatles, The Monkees, Dave Clark Five, Bobby Vinton, Del Shannon. I still love the Beatles. I don't know if they wrote all those tunes, I think George Martin had a lot to do with that. They might have written the basic shell, and then George Martin would step in and say, " No, no, it's got to go to this chord. You don't really mean A minor sixth." We'll never know. I used to regret being born when I was, in terms of the time period and the music happening at the time, but now I don't because I think that anybody born in that era, if you play jazz you sort of borrow from that period. There's a certain sensibility that comes from listening to Cream and Funk music like James Brown; you get a certain edge to your playing that you might not have if you came from the BeBop Era. When I play a blues I can take some things from B.B.King and Eric Clapton and mix it with Bird and Bud Powell. That's why I think it's important to check out different styles of music. I'm not saying you have to go back and listen to the Monkees and the Dave Clark Five; you take what's happening around you and let some of that stay as part of your musical personality.
I got the electric guitar and at first I wasn't very serious about it, like any young student. I had a real tin ear; I remember it taking my friend and I about an hour and a half to work out the intro to "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds. That was a real hurdle. I felt so good after getting that! Then I heard Eric Clapton on "Sunshine of Your Love." To me it sounded suave, so exciting, so new. Meanwhile, three quarters of his stuff he stole from all the black blues players. He turned up the amp, and got a fuzzier sound. Back then he was really playing. I can still listen to "Crossroads" and think that was some of the best guitar playing in that style of all time.
I had a fairly good ear for mimicry, and I'd get together with friends to play, and I wanted to be Eric Clapton, like every other guitar player. I lifted a lot of his solos, played in basement jams, and eventually put a garage band together. We tried to get some local jobs. It was fun; one day you'd discover the fuzz pedal, you'd leave it on for ballads, for everything! Everything was fuzz-tone, then I discovered phase shifters, then playing deafeningly loud. There wasn't much music happening, so we made up for it with volume.
So we played sock hops and dances. I was in high school by now and some friends of mine, bass player Shelly Berger, and drummer Allan Roth, dropped out of school and started taking lessons and trying to play jazz. Allan went to Jim Blackley and Shelley studied with Ted Moses and Dave McMurdo, around 1973 or 74. I remember we were in Shelley's basement playing these tunes. I had this idea that we should just jump right in and play jazz; I had the album "Light As A Feather," so we tried to play "Spain," and the tunes on "Kind of Blue." I had no idea what they were doing on that record, but I knew I liked it.
Then I found out about the AABA business. I couldn't feel eight bars. I could feel twelve bars because of the blues, but eight bars was strange. We played "Milestones," which really screwed me up because it's AABBA, and there would be a train wreck in the middle of the tune, like two locomotives crashing in the night. We'd stop and ask each other, "Where were you?" Trial and error, we persisted.
At the same time this was happening, I was taking some guitar lessons with a guy named Tony Braden, who was at the time a very well respected teacher. I asked Ed Bickert years ago, in a very shy way, because I didn't know him at all, with my hand stuck out like it was in a cast, "Hi, my name's Lorne. Uh, do you teach?" I didn't know what else to say to him. He said, "No, I don't teach, but you should call Tony Braden." So I studied with him for about a year and a half; I still have the notes he gave me. But it wasn't music; it was how to shift from one string to another with a C scale, when to do this and when to do that, all technical stuff, triads and inversions, nothing to do with making music. I got what I thought I needed at the time.
This whole time I was playing my guitar all the time, and listening all the time. At that time I was going through this funny phase where I'd turned my back totally on my rock 'n' roll roots, and I became a jazz snob, because I thought that's what you had to do. Everybody does that when they dive into something. It was the year before I went to University that I joined a rock band just to make some money and get some experience. We played in this town called Listowell in the northern part, and in Brampton which is southwest, in Atherlou which is close to Aurelia, and played in a couple of dumps in Toronto. I think the most money I ever made was a hundred dollars for the week out of which I had to eat.
After doing that I thought, screw that, I gotta get into jazz, and so I went to York University. The reason I went there was because I had a friend who played guitar who was in the classical program. I heard him play some of this classical stuff at his house one day, and it just blew me away. Probably now it wouldn't have the same effect, but at the time it sounded like John Williams sounds to me now.
I went there; I lasted a year. I took four courses and at the time, it was over my head. John Giddings was teaching there and he's a genius. When you hear him play piano, you don't know that he can wear the other hat and talk about things the way he does. He also teaches Social Sciences and is a warm, loving man. I can't say enough good things about him. I played in a couple of ensembles and took a theory course, which at the time was way over my head. It was there that I first got the idea of how important it was to play with a strong time feel. I went out and bought a metronome, and I'd sit there in the house I lived in with Shelley and Allan, and put the metronome on 40 and play the high-hat on two and four for an hour. That's what I got from York.
Eventually I realized that it was better to make it feel good than to be metronomic, and I started to see the difference between it feeling good and being perfect. It takes awhile to find the difference, to let time breathe. The metronome should be used as a reference point, a guide or pivot. You can backphrase or play ahead, depending on what else is happening in the group.