ThE WIDTH OF A MYTH
by Bobby Steel
In a previous issue, Andy debunked some common misconceptions about the band: Andy doesn’t always write the lyrics. Bobby doesn’t always play the solos. Crop circles were not created by Martians. (If not, those farmers have access to some amazing lawnmowers).
There is yet another Elm Treason myth, legend, illusion, allegory…
(Well actually if this was an allegory, I’d be telling you where to turn to get LESS information. Once folks start talking – and they have been talking while riding the Q – the tales and hearsay travel far and wide. When there’s a rumor, who knows how far and wide it goes. Hence the question: What is the width of a myth? Where’s Euclid when you need him?)
Since most Treasonites know that I’ve been formally trained as a musician, they probably think I’ve been formally trained on all instruments.
Yes, I have had formal training in music theory and analysis (also music history), and I did study piano and trumpet with a teacher, BUT I’m completely self-taught on guitar.
Yes, that’s right: I never had a formal guitar lesson in my life. I’ve never studied mandolin, bass, drums, or any of the other instruments I happen to pick up and play on Elm Treason albums.
I used what I knew about theory and the piano to translate music to the guitar. I watched a number of guitarists play and studied their finger movements, chord shapes and right-hand picking styles in order to copy them. That ranged from my older brother , to camp counselors, local bands and internationally famous bands.
I remember being at summer camp when I was ten and being impressed by a band of counselors. They played a lot of cool rock songs like Pinball Wizard, Burning For You, My Best Friend’s Girl, and yes… Freebird. In fact one of the first things I remember copying was the rhythm guitar chords to that extended king-sized solo section of the Skynyrd classic. I watched my brother play Zeppelin and Rush songs and picked up stuff from him. I watched all my favorite guitarists in concert (Alex Lifeson, for example). One particular time I was in the second row for a Van Halen show and I was intently watching Eddie play. At one point, he had the nerve to turn his back on me! Learned it anyway, so HA!
Since I used the piano to learn guitar, I never thought of the guitar as a collection of box shapes or positions. I always approached the guitar in a linear fashion. (I will expand on this in a later article. It’s quite a fascinating thing).
So, even though I do have the formal training, most of what I do on guitar musically is rather intuitive. I have the ability to read and play by ear. I have the ability to study theory and use it when I need it… and to forget it when I need to. In fact, I can remember and forget things at will; just ask my wife. The folks at work call me the absent-minded professor. Makes sense. I do profess that I’m absent-minded , when I remember to be.
But at the end of the day, what’s most important to me is that I don’t allow my craft to get in the way of my art. I’ll say that again. My craft never gets in the way of my art, if I can help it.
Do I cheat and use theory on occasions? You bet I do. But I happen to be the most honest cheater there is. I cheat with integrity, always looking to preserve the honesty of the song. It’s all about the song. If the formal training serves the song or the creative process, I use it. If it doesn’t, I don’t.
So technically, it’s a half-myth. Yes, I’m formally trained, but I’m also self-taught. I read music, but I play by ear. I use analysis, but I also use intuition. I’m a mystery wrapped in an enigma. What can I say?
Oh, and there’s one more myth, perhaps the most egregious one of all… Somehow, it’s gotten around (I’m looking at you, Andy) that I’m the only one in the band that loves avocados. I don’t know how that ugly bit of gossip got out (do I, Andy?), but I’m here to tell you… Andy is a lover of avocados too.
But I still am the most lactose intolerant of the duo.
E PLURIBUS ULMUS