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Old 03-17-2015, 12:15 PM
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Default John Denver Made it Easy

Hi Folks,

I watched the 1982 performance of John Denver at the Apollo Theater in London last night. For those not familiar, it was a tour where we was alone on stage with two guitars: a six string (Yamaha LL Custom) and 12 string (Guild F612) guitar. I'm pretty sure about the guitars. He played about 22 songs.

The thing that impressed me, beyond his typical easy stage presence and great voice, was how confidently he played the guitar. Now, his playing style varies from strumming to finger picking and in between. Some would call it simple playing and easy arrangements. And, by the standards set today by guitarists, it probably is. However, I found myself not caring one bit. He played with such presence and confidence that even the simple accompaniment was powerful.

There are plenty of other artists who would fit into this category, too. And, it got me thinking. Why am I making this so difficult? I played guitar and backed up myself and other singers, played in groups, bands, worship groups, and never once concerned myself with guitar "technique." When did strumming and simple guitar become so pas se?

Frankly, I'd be happy to produce music at the level of John Denver.
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Old 03-17-2015, 12:57 PM
epluribus36 epluribus36 is offline
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Hear, hear! I completely agree, if I understand you correctly. I've always loved fingerpicking, but I don't necessarily follow the Travis conventions or any others I've seen others do.

Our worship leader sometimes suggests I do something different than what I'm doing, and I'm happy to comply as best I can. But when I'm playing solo, hey, it's my prerogative, I'd say.

But I'm always open to suggestions.
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Old 03-17-2015, 01:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by epluribus36 View Post
Hear, hear! I completely agree, if I understand you correctly. I've always loved fingerpicking, but I don't necessarily follow the Travis conventions or any others I've seen others do.

Our worship leader sometimes suggests I do something different than what I'm doing, and I'm happy to comply as best I can. But when I'm playing solo, hey, it's my prerogative, I'd say.

But I'm always open to suggestions.
To that end, what is interesting is how his playing can make simple strumming, some Travis style, and arpeggios so powerful. Plus his changes and progressions are simple. I've always thought he was very smart to alternate the 6 and 12 string to bring some variety to the sound.

When I think about it, James Taylor, though more ornate in his playing, also uses the same simple progressions, much in first position, with a great deal more embellishment.

Eplurbus: maybe you should join the 12 string club for your worship services. I love the variety of playing mine.
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Old 03-17-2015, 01:08 PM
epluribus36 epluribus36 is offline
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Yeah, I use my Martin 12-string for my Saturday night Celebrate Recovery worship leading sometimes. I haven't used it for the Sunday morning worship, though. I always use my Emerald x20 or my banjo.

Our worship leader says he's going to let me cut loose on a harmonica solo some Sunday, I'm looking forward to that. It's hard not to smile when you hear a harmonica, in my opinion.
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Old 03-17-2015, 01:44 PM
cu4life7 cu4life7 is offline
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I think certain performers and performances elevate above the guitar playing and sometimes above the vocal.

For instance, I saw Sarah Jarosz perform at Wintergrass solo. And her performace (the total performance) was one of the most mesmerizing I have ever seen. This is not a knock on her guitar/octave mandolin/banjo playing because she is really good at all three. But, it wasn't about her playing. It wasn't about her technical proficiency. I can play all three of those instruments so I of all people would be hyperfocused on her technical playing, but it wasn't about that. She wasn't there to show off, to blow people away with her picking (which I know she could have).

At the end of the day, it was about the song. And her songs, her covers, her playing was perfect. Her playing was always complimentary of the song, the melody, and the vocal. That is what I aspire to. I have only seen a few performers pull it off.
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Old 03-17-2015, 02:19 PM
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I agree with your point about John Denver's playing.
I also think Jackson Browne accomplishes this well on his Live Solo Acoustic albums.
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Old 03-17-2015, 02:22 PM
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Don McLean used to play most of his shows solo, and may still do that. He'd alternate between a guitar and a banjo, and even sing a few songs a capella. Back in the 70s he did an annual benefit for the sloop Clearwater at Poughkeepsie High School, and those shows were terrific. He's one of those performers who is really better live than on studio recordings.

Others in the same category include Loudon Wainwright III, Roy Zimmerman, and the late Steve Goodman. There are more, but I can't bring them to mind just yet.
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Old 03-17-2015, 03:50 PM
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Great input everyone.
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Old 03-17-2015, 04:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cu4life7 View Post
I think certain performers and performances elevate above the guitar playing and sometimes above the vocal.

For instance, I saw Sarah Jarosz perform at Wintergrass solo. And her performace (the total performance) was one of the most mesmerizing I have ever seen. This is not a knock on her guitar/octave mandolin/banjo playing because she is really good at all three. But, it wasn't about her playing. It wasn't about her technical proficiency. I can play all three of those instruments so I of all people would be hyperfocused on her technical playing, but it wasn't about that. She wasn't there to show off, to blow people away with her picking (which I know she could have).

At the end of the day, it was about the song. And her songs, her covers, her playing was perfect. Her playing was always complimentary of the song, the melody, and the vocal. That is what I aspire to. I have only seen a few performers pull it off.
Exactly. What makes a great performer and a great performance is not necessarily perfect or intricate technique nor even a magnificent (by conventional standards) voice. It’s a combination of material (whether original or interpreted), attitude, confidence and rapport with the audience. Some singers are famous for their voices, some for what they can do with the not-so-perfect instrument they were dealt (Sinead O’Connor), some for what they can do in general despite very limited technical vocal quality (Dylan, Van Ronk). And some performers are triple threats (Goodman--who also was a great entertainer) while others are renowned for their instrumental technique alone. Viva variety!
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Last edited by Chicago Sandy; 03-17-2015 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 03-17-2015, 04:57 PM
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Reading what CPMusic and Chicago Sandy wrote brought to mind performances by fingerstylists Loren Barrigar & Mark Mazengarb when Iíve heard them play together. Something then happens.

Incidentally, a couple of times now Iíve seen Tommy Emmanuel accompany another finger style guitarist (Stephen Bennett or Pat Kirtley) at C.A.A.S. by merely playing straight, simple rhythm guitar and it has sounded so much better than one would think it should. I donít know why. Maybe itís because the rhythm guitar normally gets lost in the mix and it is nice to hear it so clearly for a change. Maybe itís because, even though the the style was an easy strum, Tommy does it with a level of precision that one doesnít normally hear from the typical rhythm guitarist. Somehow, I donít think that explains it though.
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Old 03-17-2015, 05:46 PM
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Sometimes rhythm guitar is more interesting than lead. Always preferred Adrian Belew to Robert Fripp in King Crimson, and Gabriela’s right hand technique fascinates me far more than Rodrigo’s lead lines. And where would the Stones be without Keef’s iconic riffs?
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Old 03-17-2015, 06:10 PM
Silly Moustache Silly Moustache is online now
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Surely there are a combination of abilities necessary to hold an audience?

IF you are a singer / guitarist you need to be able to sing, play guitar and communicate/entertain.

You don't have to be equally great at all of these. e.g. Bob Dylan.

It was seeing Tom Rush performing that inspired me to start. Guy Clark is a hero of mine.

I used to walk with another performer who was a very mediocre guitarist but has a great voice.

He told me once that I was a guitarist who sang whereas he considered himself a singer who played guitar.

That was some years ago. My guitar playing has improved but my singing and my entertainment skills have improved more.

I am no Tommy E nor do I seek to, nevertheless some think I'm pretty good. I don't platyTravis or Watson style, but I'm not bad at my style.

I consider myself a singer who plays guitar.

John D was a perfectly good player, with a great voice and a compelling personality, and a very good handle on song writing.
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Old 03-17-2015, 06:35 PM
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JD was great for sure.

And, he was the #1 Best Selling artist of the 70's decade. Hard to argue with his quality of performance!
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Old 03-17-2015, 07:19 PM
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John Denver’s manager, Jerry Weintraub: "I knew the critics would never go for John. I had to get him to the people."

I’m not aware of Denver ever receiving critical acclaim while he was alive and I heard many unknown musicians and musician wannabes disparage him. I recall some people expressing surprise at the groundswell reaction to his death. I don’t know why they were surprised.
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Old 03-17-2015, 08:39 PM
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Great example of simple playing and just great songs and vocals is Jessie Winchester. Just watching him sing "Sham-a lam-Ding Dong" on stage and bringing the audience to tears is just amazing.
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