Calling Frank Vignola a virtuoso is something of an understatement. Recognized primarily as a world-class jazz guitarist, but well versed in every genre, his resume includes work with a range of artists from Ringo Starr to Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Emmanuel and the legendary Les Paul, with whom he performed regularly for a number of years.
Vignola has recorded numerous albums, performed on countless sessions, written 18 guitar instruction books and recorded six educational DVDs. He has held hundreds of clinics and master classes and tours the world. Accompanying him on the road is guitarist Vinny Raniolo; together, they perform between 150 and 200 shows per year and recently released the album Melody Magic. “I’m very happy and always feel good about playing for audiences,” he says. “We get them involved, we make them laugh a little bit, we dance around sometimes, and we play great melodies and songs, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Your father plays banjo. What style, and what did you learn from him?
He plays tenor banjo with a plectrum. Tenor banjo is a four-string banjo tuned in fifths, and that was the instrument used in big bands before the guitar came into being. It’s also associated with banjo sing-alongs, as opposed to five-string banjo, which is more traditional bluegrass style. He got me a ukulele and a book and I learned the chords, and he would show me the chords to songs. About a year later he got me a guitar. I would learn songs from records he would buy me and from playing with him and his buddies. By the time I was 12 or 13, they were all hiring me to play rhythm guitar for them. I studied later, in high school, but having that upbringing, being able to take your guitar out and play songs, was probably the best training that I could have gotten at that early age.
It’s interesting how the ukulele has met an upswing in popularity.
Five or six years ago, someone recorded Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele player from Hawaii, playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park next to Strawberry Fields. The guy posted the video and it went viral. All of a sudden, everyone thought it was a cool sound and more people got into that.
Do you ever play?
I have one, but I’m looking for a baritone ukulele, which is a little bit bigger. On occasion I pick it up, but nothing serious. My kids watch SpongeBob and it has a lot of ukulele. They also have the pedal steel guitar, and it’s kind of cool because it’s good music.
Have you tried pedal steel?
I have not tackled pedal steel. It’s very difficult for me to play with my fingers on the right hand because I’m so used to playing with a plectrum. It’s hard for me to make that switch. But pedal steel is cool.
Have you always played with a pick? How much of that is from your father teaching you to play?
I would say probably 100 percent. Everybody picks differently. I played with Les Paul, Tommy Emmanuel, George Benson, and have been very fortunate to have played with all the greats, and each of them holds the pick and picks differently from each other, so there’s no right or wrong way. But to answer your question, I would say 100 percent because he taught me how to hold the pick and strum. I never gave it a second thought. I’m glad he showed me a good way to pick, no bad habits.
Your great influence was Django Reinhardt. How did he most influence you?
Through the way he would approach playing a melody. He would use a lot of vibrato; he would really attack the notes. He had a great respect for the melody because he would listen to Louis Armstrong records over the radio, and these hit songs, and he would learn them from the radio or records. To me, Louis Armstrong is the definition of jazz. Django Reinhardt was Europe’s biggest contribution to America’s art forms of jazz and blues, there’s no doubt about it. Because he came from French music, playing guitar and banjo behind French accordion players and singers, you hear that influence, as opposed to American players whose influence is traditional American music. That had a lot to do with why I liked his style, the way he would use that French-style music and European sound in America’s songs.
“The way he would approach playing a melody.” Guitarists often go for speed, flash and everything they can do …
Boring! It’s important to have your shtick and to have some speed and stuff that can impress people, because that’s part of entertaining, but at the same time, I think one of the reasons why jazz has gotten a bad name — meaning you say to someone, “Let’s buy a ticket to hear some jazz,” and immediately they’re going to think, Is it Kenny G? Is it Dixieland music? Is it bebop? Is it this? Is it that? Then they think, The last time I heard jazz, it was boring; I couldn’t follow the melody. That has not been a good thing for jazz, because again, jazz, to me, is Louis Armstrong, the ultimate in entertainment and the ultimate in respect and being able to perform the great songs that have come from that era. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin — they’re great melodies. How would you not want to play the melody to “Always,” and why would you want to play a bunch of fast scales?
At our shows, we try to pick famous melodies that people will know and come up with new arrangements of them. It’s been a lot of fun to perform the music all over the world and also to have the common language of going to thirteen countries and having the audience singing the words to “Killing Me Softly” and everybody knows the song. It’s fun to play these songs that people know — Beethoven’s Fifth [Symphony], Simon and Garfunkel, classics like Hoagie Charmichael’s “Stardust.” Those songs never get old. What’s amazing, too, is as soon as we play the first four notes to Beethoven’s Fifth, everybody in the world, of all ages, knows what that song is going to be. To me, that’s a timeless melody.
You can play the first chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” and millions of people know what that song is going to be, too!
Exactly! Great music never goes away. I’ve tried to compose. I’ve written a few songs here and there, but every time I go to write a song and I go through my songbook and see “Body and Soul,” or any of the millions of great songs, it’s like, “Whoa, maybe I should learn this one first.” I think that comes from growing up and learning new songs every week. My father and his band would have rehearsals and work on new songs, and I think that upbringing was great, considering what I do for a living.
Another key statement: learning new songs every week. Many people practice scales and fills. How important is it to learn a new song every week?
All theory that I teach, or fingerboard studies, I always apply it to songs. Anybody can learn a theory. Even someone who doesn’t play an instrument could learn a lot about music theory just by reading the books. But when you apply it on the instrument, especially when you apply it to songs, you can internalize it and hear what the sound is of these theories, which are just notes and rhythms and harmonies. Application. You learn a theory, now you have to apply it on your instrument, and then how does this fit into the song. This run I just learned: How can I fit this into the song I’m learning? I think improvisation in jazz is all in songs. If you learn a hundred songs, you’re going to be in really good shape, and everything you need to know about improvisation, to me, is in songs. Phrasing, the simplicity of a beautiful melody, most melodies are not scales and modes and patterns. Most melodies are just beautiful lyrical statements. My favorite improvisers of all time have always been so lyrical — Louis Armstrong, Django Rhinehardt, Charlie Parker was very lyrical; he kind of started a whole new direction, but he was a real innovator and very lyrical player. Miles Davis was very lyrical. He very rarely played something fast. I love his early period where he played melodies. Later on it got a little too out there for me, but a lot of people love that music too, and that’s why there’s so many different kinds of music.
Your list of influences goes from Les Paul to Frank Zappa to Eddie Van Halen. How were they unique and influential to you and how were their styles beyond the genres with which they were associated?
Eddie is a great guitar player, number one, and number two, whenever you hear Eddie Van Halen, you know within a second who that is. I think that defines great artists. You hear Les Paul, you know it’s him immediately. Growing up, obviously Les Paul was a big influence. I didn’t really hear rock and roll until I was 14 or 15 years old. I heard a Frank Zappa record and then I heard a Van Halen record and I thought, Wow, this is really cool! And, of course, the fact that Eddie Van Halen with one guitar put all the harmony on the Van Halen songs. There was no keyboard. It was just guitar. That was very impressive to me too. It’s like Andy Summers of the Police — you have one guitar player, and man, he just makes it sound so nice. Hearing Les, obviously being the innovator he was with the multi-track recording, he was also an unbelievable guitar player, an unbelievable producer, and he had so much to do with the recording industry growing to what it is today. I remember once he was talking about Pro Tools and its unlimited tracks — you can put one note in and Auto-Tune it; there’s nothing you can’t do in there except get a good performance. I remember he was saying, “That’s not what I had in mind when I started multi-track recording.” It was very interesting.
Excellent point: Everything except get a good performance.
In a lot of the younger musicians that I see, and a lot of the records that I hear now, it’s less and less about capturing a great performance of the song. It’s more about, “How perfect can we get this track?” It’s interesting to me, because seeing great performers and having been a part of great performances in the studio, there’s nothing like it. George Benson is another great example. He’s the best jazz guitar player possibly of all time, and he can sing and the whole nine yards. His record Breezin’, which has strings and the whole thing, they set up the orchestra, they put the George Benson quartet in the front, and “Breezin’” was one take. “This Masquerade” — two takes. To me, that’s the essence of a great performance, and obviously “This Masquerade” and “Breezin’” were huge hits and continue to be played all over the place. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” — do you think they Auto-Tuned him? Do you think they took two words from one track and put it into the track that they used? No. It was all about a great performance. That’s why seeing someone like Andrea Bocelli get out there and sing a song at that level is so cool to me, as opposed to everything on television now that’s lip-synched. There’s no performance anymore.
How do you keep your sound consistent?
We keep things very simple. That’s how we’re able to keep a consistent sound, through less is more. A lot of the theaters we play, millions of dollars were put into the design, so it carries sound. You don’t really need a lot when a venue is acoustically sound, especially theaters. We have two German-made AER amplifiers, which are fabulous and very consistent. We don’t use any monitoring system because we can hear each other, and that eliminates 90 percent of the potential sound problems that you can have, just eliminating the monitors and bringing the same consistent, high-quality gear that we bring. Number one, the guitars — these guitars are gorgeous. Obviously we play them every day, so they’re in peak condition most of the time. They travel well, so if we take a nine-hour plane ride to Italy and have to play a few hours later, the guitar holds up. We have our specific amps and we have our layout of the stage, which consists of basically us playing and the soundman listening. If they need a little volume, they bring up the volume, which they plug into the back of our amp, and it ends up being a very consistent sound night after night.
Which AER model are you using and how long have you used that particular amp?
The Compact 60. Probably three or four years now. Different amplifier companies used to supply me with amps for my name as an endorsement. They were always good, I was always happy with them, and then I plugged into an AER amp at a guitar show in Nashville that was dedicated to the memory of Chet Atkins, and it was like the bells went off. It sounded so much better than all the other amps I had used, so I bought one — 1200 bucks. I just bought it. I spent the money, and it’s rare for me to spend money because I never have any! That’s who I give my endorsement to. I have two of them now. I have one in Europe. I’m going to have to get one for England, but usually they provide one for me there because they have a distributor. They’re still a small company and they like to keep it that way. They put out such high-end gear and there’s such a demand for them that they’re doing real well and there’s a reason why.
You also have a signature Thorell guitar. How did you get together with them?
Ryan is a builder out of Utah. He is in his early 30s and I met him in his late 20s. I played Benedetto guitars for a long time. They decided not to have the artist models anymore, so they were dropping their endorsers, which was fine. I’m still friends with Bob; he’s a beautiful man. Guitar makers started to hear about this, so I used to get guitars in the mail, “Check this out. Would you be interested?” Three or four came through, I bought one and sent the rest back and said, “Not at this time.” Then Ryan called me. Turns out I gave him a lesson or two when he was in college. So he sent me a guitar that he thought I’d like. It was kind of a hybrid between a gypsy guitar and an American archtop guitar, and I fell in love with it as soon as I started playing it.
Because it sounded so good and it felt so good. The intonation is real good, meaning it plays in tune all over the neck. It was very well balanced, meaning the low notes were the same volume as the high notes. I fell in love with it. I started playing it and I said, “You can use my name as an endorser.” I have three instruments because I pay for the instruments. I want to make it clear that some companies have come to me and I probably could have made a decent amount of money, but I wasn’t crazy about the guitars, and it’s hard to put your name on something that you really, truly don’t believe in.
When did you begin using La Bella strings?
About twenty years ago. They’re great people and great strings. They make the strings for a lot of other companies too. They have a lot of specialty strings. They’re still wound correctly, they’re in tune, they last. Every once in a while you get a bad batch of strings from many companies, and I like to switch the brands occasionally. I like the John Pierce strings as well, so I’ll put a set of them on the guitar for a couple of weeks because I think in an odd way it helps the sound of the guitar to switch the strings you use.
It just has a different sound. Then you put on the old reliable LaBella strings and it seems to open up the guitar a little bit. It could completely be in my mind, too, but I think there is some difference. I use 12 – 52 with the wound G, nickel wound, nothing special. I tried all the strings that they claim have the coating on it so they last longer, but it doesn’t sound the same to me.
How often do you change your strings?
Sometimes every couple of weeks and sometimes months. Every time I think about changing the strings, I play the guitar and it sounds good, so sometimes a few months. I don’t know if that’s the batch of strings or what. Sometimes it’s every three or four days, if I feel that it’s not responding the way I like it to respond. It varies. Before recording I like to change the strings, but even sometimes not because it still sounds good. I travel with two guitars. One is for the car and one is the stage guitar. We were just talking about adding a few more guitars to the stage, but it’s a lot to carry around. It shouldn’t prevent us, but at the same time, when you do tough road trips it’s nice to have minimal luggage. When we toured with Tommy Emmanuel we had eleven guitars between us. It’s a lot to keep track of. I should say that Tommy is the best. He’s such a great person and obviously player and entertainer, but more importantly, what a good guy.
Let’s talk about sequencing the show. It’s a duo and it’s entirely up to you to keep the audience engaged.
It’s very important. The show needs to move on and always keep the people’s interest. Obviously with great songs that’s a step in the right direction that people know. The other is interjecting a little humor here and there in spots where people wouldn’t expect, sing-alongs on certain songs, we go from “Stardust” into the Godfather theme to “Stairway to Heaven” to Swan Lake to Beethoven’s Fifth. You come out of left field but it makes sense while it’s going on. It’s keeping them engaged and not thinking too much about how fast can I play, and look at this, and look at me again, and before you know it, it’s boring. Sometimes we alter the show in the middle, depending on the audience. If they’re really getting off on the Gershwin songs, we’ll do more Gershwin. If they yell out for more Frank Zappa, we do more Zappa, so although we have a set show, we alter it to the audience. In Switzerland recently they were real jazz fans. They loved the old jazz songs and they wanted to hear more improvisation, so we gave it to them and it was wonderful. That’s what keeps it fresh for us as well. Between the two of us, we’ve got from Metallica to Mozart.
How long have you worked with Vinny and how did you find him?
He’s an amazing musician. Vinny is 28 years old and we’ve been working together seven or eight years. Here’s a case of someone who was born to be a musician. He practices all the time. The first time I hired him, he had about three weeks to learn thirty-five songs and arrangements and he came in and nailed it. I actually auditioned him on the electric bass for a more contemporary project I was recording. A drummer friend of mine recommended him. I met him, he played decent electric bass, I asked him if he played guitar, he took out the guitar and played and I said, “You’re a guitar player. We should think about doing some things together.” One thing led to another, we were in different ensembles, and the better he got and the better we got as a duo, we would drop more and more pieces. It started as a six-piece band and ended up as a duo. We found that less is more and we go over better as a duo than we do as a five-piece band.
I think because you see the personalities more. We don’t get nervous in front of an audience, we really enjoy it, we work on repertoire a lot more and we know that we have to mix up the show, so we’re continually working on new ways to do that. The guitar is such a beautiful instrument that if you add a bass you’re kind of cutting out the low register of the guitar. If you add a mandolin or a violin you’re cutting out from the high register, and now the guitar is in a different role than if you’re playing with just two guitars. I always liked groups like the Everly Brothers and the Smothers Brothers. There’s something special about two guys on the stage and let’s have some fun for the next couple of hours.
You are doing, as you said, everything from Metallica to Mozart. People know the songs and you draw a diverse audience. Does the industry underestimate audience tastes?
I don’t think so. There’s more available now than there was when I was growing up. I would buy a record and keep it for a month or two before getting another one. My kids get 10,000 songs on an iPod in five minutes. But I do think that the industry creates these pop stars now. It’s not about discovering a cool band, like when the Police first came out, or Carole King. I think that is missing from the industry, as opposed to fabricating a career. Justin Bieber, for example — he’s a good singer, nothing against his ability to sing, but they made this kid into the next pop star. It wasn’t about someone hearing him and saying, “This kid’s unbelievable,” and then making a record, getting it out there and publicizing it on radio stations. It has changed so much because of the Internet and because of television. Don’t forget, too, that a couple of big companies own everything. They own the television stations, the radio stations, the media, so it’s very easy for a big company like Universal or Nickelodeon or Disney to say, “You’re the next one,” and boom, they create a star in no time at all. It’s “Where did this guy come from?” but it’s actually a well-formulated plan that’s been in the process for probably years. I still enjoy listening to the radio. When I’m driving, I turn on the radio, but there aren’t as many stations. I don’t have satellite radio; I did for a while, but I felt like the stations that I liked were just playing the same things over and over again. I didn’t feel like I was discovering anything new, which is what I loved about the radio before.
Within the studio environment, what are some of the techniques that you’ve found to be tried and true in terms of getting your sound?
First of all, you need a good engineer who understands your music. Next, you have to really concentrate on your mic placement. If you’re sitting down, you have a microphone on a guitar, it’s always four inches away from the bridge and that’s where you’re getting a great sound, you have to remember that. Instead of next time your microphone is six inches away, or it’s in a different spot, and the engineer is turning up the volume or changing something as opposed to getting that really clear sound where the microphone should be. Good engineers will remember to do that. It’s really the engineer and remembering where you are on the microphone in the studio. Also, get all your rehearsing done outside the studio. The last thing you want to do is spend three hours rehearsing a song at $200 an hour. It’s better off really being prepared. Younger musicians need to know how to read really well. That’s another thing that’s being compromised. Because of Pro Tools and the fact that you can go into the studio and record one note at a time if you need to, or if you make a mistake you know you can fix it very simply, it’s taking away the importance of knowing how to read and sight read with younger musicians. In the heyday of recording, musicians would do four or five sessions a day, seven days a week, because it was all live music. If they couldn’t read, they wouldn’t work. On the other hand, the younger musicians are so diverse because of all of the Internet stuff that’s available. YouTube is such a brilliant thing; even I learn songs from there now. You get twenty different versions of it, lessons on it and it’s amazing. But I think reading music is still so important.
Some musicians believe that reading is key, while some believe that it creates too many rules in place of creativity.
Yes, but look at all the resources that you can’t access because you can’t read music. That’s my argument to that. If you can read music, you can go to the Lincoln Center Library and get any kind of music that you want. You want to learn some Vivaldi? You go read it. You want to learn some Mozart, any song, it’s so easy to get the music and read it and then be creative with it once you internalize it. I’m a big believer in musicianship because that’s what I do for a living, and when I hear someone who can really play their instrument, whether they can read or not, there’s nothing better. You have your geniuses like Django and Les Paul and Tommy Emmanuel, who are not such good readers on the guitar, but a guy like Tommy hears something once in any genre and he can play it, so that’s the genius. But for the rest of us, we need to learn how to read music!
As you mentioned earlier, you started out as a rhythm player in jazz bands in New York. Is the importance of playing rhythm often overlooked when players first pick up the guitar?
Absolutely. That’s the first thing my father taught me: you learn to play rhythm guitar, you’ll never have a problem working. I never thought about it until I started playing professionally in my early 20s and I started trying to get work under the name Frank Vignola. Otherwise, I was working all the time, sometimes ten or eleven gigs a week, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and nights, then a school concert or a nursing home show during the day and a café in New York City at night. There was always tons of work. That’s the other thing young musicians need to learn how to do: go out and get work. You can spend $200,000 on an education in a music school, but when you leave, you still have to go out and get a gig, whether it’s with an orchestra or at a coffeehouse in the middle of Missouri. You’ve got to learn how to get work, and I’ve found that it comes down to a real simple thing: you’re either born a musician or not. What I mean by that is people who were born musicians just have a knack for getting work. They put together a plan, they get excited about meeting new people, playing new music, getting calls and calling back, and before they know it, they’re out there working. A lot of people play music for a hobby and for enjoyment, which I think is extremely important, but I have noticed that the people who are out there doing it wouldn’t even consider doing anything else. Then it’s a matter of endurance and continuing to put on a good show night after night, whether there’s eight people in the audience or 800. That’s very important. Especially these days with social media, you better make sure you’re doing your best at all times, because everything is being recorded.
You’ve written 18 instructional books and recorded instructional DVDs. You also hold clinics and master classes.
I wrote a bunch of stuff for Mel Bay. We’ve all learned from Mel Bay Book 1. His son Bill, who runs the company now, called me. When his father wrote that book, he drove around the United States to every music store he could find to try to sell it to them. That reminded me a lot of what musicians do. Les Paul, when he had a record that came out, would drive to every radio station he could find and go say hello in person. Pretty cool. Now I do a lot of stuff for the True Fire company, TrueFire.com. They’re kind of the leader in guitar education via the Internet and downloading and video lessons. Their catalog is huge. Everything they put together is so well produced and its very, very good material. I’ve been doing a bunch of courses for them. I also give online lessons through video messaging. I have twelve or thirteen students from three or four different countries, that’s all I can handle at this time, and that’s been fun. I do that because I like to keep busy. Writing a little educational material every day for ten or fifteen minutes, when I look at it six months down the line, I have enough for another book. With the Internet, it’s so easy to release material, so my new project is taking songs in the public domain and making MP3 and PDF play-alongs. If someone wants to learn “Sweet Georgia Brown,” they can download the lead sheet and a tutorial of how I approach the song and examples of chords. I like to do that because it takes the pressure off of having to travel and perform for my income all the time. And I enjoy it.
We’ve come a long way since the days of no tab, vinyl only, moving the needle over and over to learn a song. Now it’s online and downloads. Is that better or not?
I loved those days. Now it’s better because it’s more instantaneous. With the click of a button you can detail something and get instruction from a real professional who hopefully knows what they’re talking about. The bad thing is you don’t have that experience of moving the needle back and forth and really listening, taking a cassette tape and slowing it down. I used to put records on 16 instead of 33 1/3, half speed, and try to figure things out. To me, the enjoyment of the learning experience is compromised a little bit. At the same time, growing up, if I could have had a video exchange with Joe Pass, that would have been great. On the other hand, I would never have sought him out for a lesson, and I had a few lessons with him at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. I don’t know if the Internet could have produced that kind of whole experience.
What do students want to know? What do they need to know?
What they want to know usually is how to improvise and how to take a song and do their thing with it. What they need to know is that sometimes you have to take a step back and learn the fingerboard. It’s not just about me saying, “Do this,” and then they can go out. There’s no secret here. It’s about studying the guitar every day. You don’t need to spend hours a day. Spend 20 or 30 minutes a day with a developed practice plan to learn more about the fingerboard, developing your ear, connecting your ear to your fingers, and at the same time applying that to learning your favorite songs. I’ve seen people come pretty far, and I’ve seen others who end up dropping out because they realize it’s a little more work than they thought. I always try to meet up with the students once a year, depending on where I travel, because I think that face-to-face time and playing together is so important. That’s what I miss about teaching over the Internet. The student won’t get the experience of going to the guy’s house, sitting down and having a lesson. At the same time, the people who have been hanging in there for a couple of years have gotten some great instruction because they can say, “On this part of the song, what’s a couple of different ideas or substitutions?” I can record a lesson on that so they can loop something. It’s almost like a record, but with video.
Let’s talk about the importance of guitarists working with other guitarists and how that pushes you creatively.
I think it is extremely important. A lot of guitarists are very competitive, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the guys who really enjoy playing with other guitar players experience something so unique because there’s nothing better, in my opinion, than the sound of a couple of guitars together. How it pushes you is if you’re working with someone steadily, obviously it’s fun to make up new arrangements, so therefore you have to practice and think creatively to come up with new things. The thing I love about working with Vinny is he’s a great guitar player and learns so fast that we can come up with ideas on the spot and perform it that night. It’s pretty cool. He inspires me because he’s really good and it forces me to keep my chops up. It forces and inspires me to practice. You can always learn something from other guitar players. It’s always fun for me because I enjoy playing rhythm, so whenever I get the chance to play with guitar greats, I’m happy sitting there backing them up. That opens up a nice feeling that it’s not about who can play faster, because that happens a lot between guitar players. They get up there and they want to show what they can do. The greatest guitarists I play with want to get up there, have fun and play great music together. It’s not about who plays better than who. There’s always a little bit of competitiveness because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You have to be able to keep up. But that’s healthy competition.
I have to bring this up: You played with Ringo!
Yes, and I also hung out with Paul McCartney a couple of times when I played with Les Paul, because they were friends. Paul would come down to the Iridium, where we played every Monday, and hang out. He sang “The Sheik of Araby” for me and I backed him up. I’m still on cloud nine from that one! It’s a Beatle, are you kidding me? Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, these were the biggest names in the business and they had the greatest, most creative band, the freshness of the material, and every record was just brilliant. How do you do that? They were born to do it. It goes back to they were born to be musicians. Luckily, they were discovered. One of the first gigs they did together as The Beatles, they got the gig because they played Les Paul songs, “How High The Moon,” “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise,” and then they got to do a couple of their original songs. My work with Ringo was on a Leon Redbone record. They did a couple of tracks together. I was Leon’s guitar player for a couple of years, so that’s where that happened. What amazed me, too, about these guys is they’re Beatles and they were the most normal out of any of the big stars I ever met. In my mind I’d say, “Is this really happening? I’m just hanging out, talking to Ringo Starr!” They were just such normal people. I remember after that night with Paul McCartney, I couldn’t sleep for a week. I couldn’t believe what had happened. And again, he was such a normal, friendly man. It was so cool. These are the great memories, and you can’t put a monetary value on stuff like that.
What is the difference between playing guitar and being a guitarist?
I think it’s dedicating your whole being to the art form, as opposed to playing in your spare time. I think it’s so cool that so many people have guitars and practice them, because I think it’s good for the mind and the soul and it’s good to get your mind off your everyday worries with the guitar. The difference is Les Paul and the guy who plays around his house and has another job. It encompasses your whole being in a professional way, and you always strive to get better. Anybody at any level, that’s the goal, but a guitarist makes it happen because of the desire to perform your music for people. You dedicate your whole being to it. It’s on your mind all the time.