It's guitar night with your two favorite guitarists!
I was born in Potsdam, NY. Stringed instruments had me hooked from a very early age. My first memory of anything to do with the guitar was when I saw my brothers cigar-box banjos that they made for their Boy Scout merit badges. I remember being fascinated with the rubber band strings.
Like most of my generation, watching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964 was a pivotal moment in my life. I was very young, but I had a feeling that what I was watching was not some silly fad. I think it's safe to say I had that one right!
My grandmother bought me my first guitar. One day we went to the circus, and after we came out, I begged her to take me to the local five and dime. I don't remember how I persuaded her to buy it for me, but she did....I was very happy, and on my way.
We moved to Rochester, NY about 1965. I played on a series of toy guitars, and finally learned to tune properly when I was twelve. I remember my father buying me my first electric guitar. It was a "Zenon", and it cost $39.95, including a little amplifier. A little later I bought a Hagstrom for $50, then finally, in December of 1971, my first Gibson--a 1963 SG Special. It cost $200 at the House of Guitars. I had saved $100. I told Dad that if he gave me another hundred bucks as my combination 18th birthday, Christmas, and high school graduation presents, then I could get it. I did, and I still have it today.
While in High School in Penfield, NY, I got my first real taste of performing--in the high school stage band . I had the good fortune of having a very supportive music teacher named Ned Corman, and having a bona fide genius named Barry Kiener as a bandmate. Barry was an amazing pianist from a very young age. He turned me on to jazz. I can still remember going to see Count Basie and Oscar Peterson with Barry at a great Rochester club called the Top of the Plaza. The first jazz guitarist I heard was Herb Ellis, on the old Oscar Peterson Trio records. Then I heard Charlie Parker...he remains my favorite jazz musician to this day.
At the same time, another classmate turned me on to recordings by John Hartford, and Mississippi John Hurt. I soon grew to love American folk, blues and traditional country music every bit as much as Jazz. I can still remember learning how to fingerpick my first song--"My Creole Belle". Around 1971, I heard Leo Kottke, and then, John Fahey. For a period, I was obsessed with Fahey. His music had a profound influence on me--mostly in the way he changed my thinking of technique being far less important than emotion. In addition, Son House was living in Rochester, and I got to spend two unforgettable days in his presence.
Not long after graduating from high school in 1972, I moved back to Potsdam (better known to most in those parts as "the North Country"). In that area of upstate NY, there were four colleges, and lots of young musicians. I had no interest in going to college--I wanted to play guitar. I played in a series of rock, country and pop bands. About 1974 or so, I made the acquaintance of a great guitarist named Paul Meyers. Paul and I started playing in a rock band together, but it didn't take long before we both turned to jazz--playing some duets and as part of a quartet called the Birdlanders. This was a golden time in the North Country--all kinds of musicians, and places to play. Renee Fleming--the current opera diva numero uno--was a student there at the Crane Music School, and performed regularly at Alger's Pub. There was all kinds of good music--and I tried to take all of it in. I did take a few lessons from Richard Stephan, who instructed guitar at Crane, but most of my learning came from listening to my ever-growing record collection, and from playing with other musicians.
In 1979, I formed the Racquette River Rounders with John Kribs and Michael Hadfield. The Rounders were hard to pigeonhole. We did a little bit of everything--original songs, blues, old country stuff, new-grassy sounds, swing, celtic. I simply thought of us a new kind of string band--one that took in everything, and didn't worry about labels. We also played as an electric band with drummer Frank Carcaterra called the Rolling Clones. We did a fair amount of travelling, made two albums--and made a lot of very dear musical friendships. While on trip with the Rounders in 1980, I took 2nd place at the National Fingerpicking Championship in Winfield, Kansas.
In 1983, I began playing mandolin with a bluegrass band called Summit. We did some travelling as well, and our banjo player, Chris Leske, took 1st place at the 1984 National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. Craig Vance played guitar--one of the finest flatpickers I have ever known--and Steve Joseph, the bass. It was a great band, but we couldn't catch a break. We did one album, but we simply couldn't find enough work to get by. Around 1985, I bottomed out. I was totally disenchanted by the music business.
In 1986, I took a break. I started my BA in English at Saint Lawrence University. While going there, I recorded an album of traditional Christmas music with a wonderful folksinger and guitarist named Barbara Heller. I also hosted a weekly acoustic music radio show on the local NPR affiliate.
I finished my BA in 1989. In 1990, I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, to pursue an MA at the University of North Carolina. My Master's thesis was an audiodocumentary about the life of Mississippi John Hurt. Among others, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete Seeger as part of that project. While completing my MA, I went back to teaching guitar to augment the meager TA stipend provided for me by UNC. When I graduated in 1992, I was getting by on my teaching..so I simply continued on.
There is a peculiar arc to my professional life. When I began attempting to make a living as a musician, I found out in short order that performing wouldn't be enough, so I began to teach. After I took my detour through two college degrees, it flip-flopped: I made teachingmy primary focus, and performing the secondary one. Teaching guitar became my main income; it's a totally acceptable way to make a living. It also allows me the freedom to perform the kind of music I like when and where I choose to.
The practical part of me--the part that needs to pay the bills!--is the teacher. But the artist in me has made the record album my main artistic outlet. I attempt to make my albums as close to i can to a perfect performance. My goal is to make all of my albums as musical as possible, and as interesting as possible. I have put enormous amount of effort into my four solo albums: "Luzerne", "Old Friends","Guitarheel", and "Sundays" . I am very proud of all three. My plan is to hopefully make at least one new album every year.
For my performing side, I have various projects--in several styles--and do solo shows every now and then. My two favorite gigs are playing as sideman to either Tom Paxton or Peter Ostroushko. I don't do performances with these guys very often, but when I do, it's as good as it gets.