Monday, May 9, 2011



Beginning and ending today, I am going to institute a new series on this blog called “MUSIC MONDAYS”. The point of this exercise is to just write some stuffs on the fly about my love of music and how I became mo’ better musically educated. This installment has to do with artistic originality and electric guitarists.

In 1978, I was on the set of a Lee's Sportswear commercial which featured the renowned Jazz guitarist LEE RITENOUR. I happened to be standing nearby when he spoke to another musician about this new inventive guitarist named Eddie Van Halen who had just arrived on the scene. In demonstrating Eddie's "Tapping" technique, Lee Ritenour whipped off a perfect Van Halenesque solo. My jaw dropped! Had I not seen with my own eyes Ritenour play that brief guitar solo I would have been willing to swear in a court of law that what I'd just heard could have emanated from the fingers of no one but Eddie Van Halen. I was an 18-year-old "Rock 'N' Roll addict" at the time and I was heavily into Hard Rock music back then.

I later struck up a conversation with Ritenour and asked him what he thought of several other Rock guitarists who were popular at the time. I was surprised to hear him say, "They're all good."

The proverbial "light bulb" above my head lit up that day. It occurred to me that usually very little difference in technical facility separates the artists of any medium at the highest levels of professionalism. The greatest artists achieve legendary status and eternal fame not so much on their outstanding technical ability (which all of the A-List artists possess) but based on their innovations and/or the originality of their stylistic approach.

It's not that VAN GOGH was the greatest painter of his time that his works now sell for millions of dollars. He had a style all his own: landscapes composed of brilliant colors applied to the canvas as if in an emotional rage! Nearly every EDWARD HOPPER painting conveys a sense of lonely isolation. That was his style. In describing his acting style, JAMES DEAN said that in one hand he had Marlon Brando saying "F**k you!" and in the other hand he had Montgomery Clift saying "Help me!" This approach in combination with a fertile imagination made him an eternal silver screen legend. For a long time, Big Band leader GLENN MILLER sought to capture the unique "sound" he heard in his mind. In putting together arrangements, he eventually stumbled upon it. By using a clarinet or alto sax in tandem with four other saxes, doubling an octave above the lead, he created “The Glenn Miller Sound” that made his music instantly recognizable thereafter.

When I was young, my goal was to become “the greatest actor of all time”. But I learned from Lee Ritenour on that day in 1978, that there is no such thing as “the greatest” when it comes to any form of art. The very best artists are ALL equally capable when it comes to technical prowess: a great Jazz guitarist like Lee Ritenour can casually whip off an Eddie Van Halen-like solo as if it’s nothing. What made Van Halen a household name, is that he is the one who really popularized that “Tapping” concept. It’s not the technique and the dexterity that matters so much as it is the innovation and the “style” that elevates some of the great artists to “Legendary” status.

Now, having just explained why no one can realistically say that “this person” or “that person” is the best actor, or painter, or singer, or writer (because it's really a matter of whose style you prefer) . . . I’m prepared to say that Danny Gatton was the greatest guitarist ever.

Well, not really, of course, but in all seriousness, any list of the all-time greatest guitarists MUST include Gatton somewhere near the top. From a technical standpoint, I doubt anyone was ever better. If there’s any knock on Danny at all, perhaps one could say that he never quite developed his own totally unique sound. The guy could perfectly play just about anything – you name it: Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country, Rockabilly. He was a master of it all. Danny Gatton was so freakin’ good that he was nicknamed “The Humbler”, meaning that he could humble even the best of guitarists. And yet, I’m not so sure he ever completely developed his own unique “sound”, as I hear “Les Paul” reverberating through so much of his astonishing playing.

Sadly, the guy eventually committed suicide, and one of the reasons most often mentioned is that, despite his prodigious musical gifts, he seemed unable to get his professional career off the ground.

I was introduced to the music of Danny Gatton by my old friend Larry Rosen (aka “F-in’ Lelly”), Larry himself being a very accomplished guitarist. In 1994, Lelly recorded a cassette for me which he titled, "LITTLE GUITAR DITTIES: LELLY'S FAVORITES." It contained 3 Danny Gatton tracks including the '93 version of “Harlem Nocturne”, which knocked me out! Gatton's playing was first-class. He may have sacrificed a musical composition to hotdogging once in awhile (“Orange Blossom Medley” comes to mind), but hey, even that was enjoyable!

Here are some things that others have said about Danny Gatton:

“Jesus's guitar teacher”.

“Never seen a Telecaster get molested like that”.

“Hi, I’m from planet Earth. Where are you from, Mr. Gatton?”

And here’s something that Danny Gatton once said:

I hope you all get the idea that you really don’t have to go to music school to learn how to play. Wes Montgomery didn’t read. I mean, it’s nice if you can, if you know music theory, but it seems like the best players – my heroes – most of them didn’t read. They played from the heart, and that’s what it really takes.
~ Danny Gatton

I now want to perform the same favor for you that Larry Rosen performed for me in ’94, by introducing you to unquestionably one of the best guitarists who ever lived, and a bloke that likely few of youz has ever experienced before. After listening to the following videos, please scroll down to learn how you can encourage my frend Larry Rosen in his quest to become the next “King Of The Blues” guitarists:

[I love the expressions Danny Gatton makes after Bill Holloman blows the roof down with his saxophone in “Funky Mama”. Obviously, Gatton enjoyed sharing the stage and the limelight with other A-List talented musicians]:

Ya know, for all the Flash ‘N’ Speed that Gatton displays, when ya get right down to it, it’s really this stuffs below that truly sears my soul:

But perhaps it’s “shimmering satin six-strings” yer lookin’ for. If so, then try this:

Great stuffs, eh?

Well, my buddy Larry Rosen, who turned me on to Danny Gatton way back in '94 is now, for the second year in a row, engaged in a nationwide Blues guitar contest sponsored by “Guitar Center” who is offering fifty thousand dollars in prizes.

[Larry Rosen, darn good guitarist!]

It’s kind of like 5 Rounds of “Blues Guitar Karaoke” in which contestants are scored by a panel of 3 independent and credible judges on the criteria of authenticity, orginality, skills/technque, stage presence, and overall performance.

Last year, there were about 7 thousand contestants across the country, and Larry made it to Round 4, where he ultimately lost to the bloke who eventually won the entire contest. Well, that bloke is not eligible to compete again this year. On May 5th - his birthday – my friend Larry did battle in Round 1 and he emerged victorious. Four more Rounds to win and he will be the “King Of The Blues Guitarists”.

So, please consider stopping by his blog – ALL THINGS 6 STRINGS – to wish him good luck.

You might also consider pre-ordering the compact disc that the band 'Slavin’ David And Loose Gravel' are currently working on. My friend Larry is one of the band’s guitarists and he wrote 4 of the songs that will appear on the next album. Please check it out via the link below:


Slavin’ David And Loose Gravel

Guitar Center’s “King Of The Blues” Website

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


DiscConnected said...


According to my dashboard, this posted yesterday, so you may want to change the title to "Tunes Tuesday."

I can echo your appreciation of the Slavin David CD-readers who like blues with a dash of rock and some tasty guitar licks should find this worth their while.

Interesting contest-I may try to check out the Phoenix competition.

Since I don't know any guitarists in the pack, I'll be pulling for Larry, since you do (know him).


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

LC ~
>>>....According to my dashboard, this posted yesterday, so you may want to change the title to "Tunes Tuesday."

Ha! Well, the alliteration is there, anyway.

Nappy and I had been watching something on TV and afterwards, he went to bed. I was really tired and didn’t feel like writing anything, but I did want to get this piece posted on Monday, in keeping with my “Monday Music” theme.

So, as tired as I was, I pounded this thing out as fast as I could, racing like mad to beat the clock get it posted before midnight. I made it just under the wire.

I don’t know why it’s showing up on your Dashboard as a Tuesday posting since the date at the top shows Monday and the time at the bottom shows 11:52 PM and since you and I are even living (if you can call this “living”) in the same time zone.

Anyway, the date on the blog bit is good enuf 4 me.

>>>….Interesting contest-I may try to check out the Phoenix competition.

Tomorrow night at the Guitar Center on Peoria at the I-17, 7:00 PM.

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Sheboyganboy 6 said...

Gatton is awesome. I had not known of him before, but I am one of those guys who knows a little about a lot, but not a lot about anything. It is GOOD to be aware of this guy. And is really too bad he is gone now.

Your theory about the top strata of musicians is right, and we've discussed it before, in terms of both drummers and guitarists. Many, many drummers these days can drum faster and even do more than Keith Moon, but he remains one of my favorite rock drummers. Likewise, Terry Bozzio, of The Mothers of Invention and a famous player of "The Black Page", leaves me cold.

I have a possible exception to your theory, though, and you won't like it: classical violinists.

The very top strata of THOSE guys are truly elite. Sure, some talented kid can play the same notes and to the untrained ear it would sound the same, but there is a certain tone and feel for the music that almost no one can reach but them.

I can hear you mentally constructing arguments against this as being different... but I believe it is.


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Unlike my Dashboard, it would seem that yours has not been calibrated for drunken drivers.

Thanks for stopping by! Haven't heard from ya in dog years.

>> . . . classical violinists - The very top strata of THOSE guys are truly elite.

Well, I'm not sure you're disagreeing with me, even when it comes to classical violinists. I mean, Eddie Van Halen and Lee Ritenour would both be considered top strata guitarists, that's why it's probably a wash when it comes to technical prowess. Thus for each individual listener it becomes a question of whose style they prefer.

In your example, it's a question of nuance and tone, not technical prowess. But I would classify nuance and tone in the "style" category. So, I'm not convinced there's any disagreement here.

Once the technical aspect of the playing field has been leveled, there ain't much left to go on but style preferences.

As far as speed goes (e.g., your Keith Moon drumming example), for me, it no longer even enters into the equation at all.

When I was a teenager, I thought the speediest guitarist was the bestest guitarist. Now, I care only about feeling - or emotional expression, tone, innovation, interesting improvisational creativity - in a word, "style".

And that's true whether I'm listening to guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, or you name it.

At a certain point, speed obliterates all emotional content, and I'm listening to be moved, not be numbed by note flurries.

Thanks for the good comment, Brother. It gave me an opportunity to do some word riffing (yeah, pun intended).

~ Stephen