Carl Verheyen’s Studio Diary.

August 17, 2011

imgTHIS COLUMN IS ACTUALLY ABOUT a session I didn’t do. Let me explain…

Most guitarists have their own area of musical expertise. No matter how versatile we become as musicians, there is always a certain style for us that is real. I know a few great country players who dabble in jazz and rock, but it’s the twang of the Telecaster and that perfectly bent pedalsteel lick that is real for them. Some fine blues players can sound very convincing at jazz-fusion, but their heart and soul is in the blues. A lot of jazz guys think they can rock, but it’s “rock-lite” that comes out if rockin’ is not real for them.

This is not to say that a guitarist can’t be very proficient at many different styles of music—in fact, it’s desirable. The Pat Martino licks I hear in a bluegrass player’s repertoire expands the music and takes that style a bit further. The hybrid picking I learned from growing my fingernails— in an attempt to learn some classical guitar—later influenced my ability to play wider intervals in my lines. Everything you learn on the guitar is good for you, and all influences are welcome deposits into your musical bank account.

But somewhere along the way, your style becomes defined. As the sum total of all your musical influences grows, you begin to sound like you, and the music you make is different from anyone else on the planet. This doesn’t happen right away— Joe Diorio once said, “Forget the first 20 years”—but as your style blossoms, you begin to make some unconscious decisions about your musical direction. Ultimately, an artist emerges from the former craftsman.

Anyway, I recently got a call to play on American Idol. It sounded like a gig I would take—until they told me it was on banjo. I actually own three banjos: a 4-string, a 5-string, and a horrible 6-string beast called the Bantar. But, to be honest, all of them suck. I’m well known for having the lamest banjos in town!

So I turned down the American Idol session. Somewhere down the line, I realized that banjo playing is just not real for me. I can do it in a pinch—I was once called to play the 5-string-banjo perennial, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” on Scrubs, and with about an hour of pre-session practice, I nailed it—but there are too many guys I know who really play that instrument. They know the difference between clawhammer style and frailing, and they use those gnarly metal fingerpicks. In a moment of compassion (and possibly weakness) I recommended a real banjo player for the session—a guy who deserves the job, and has a great sounding banjo. Banjo is real for him.

A member of Supertramp since 1985, Carl Verheyen has also logged a dazzling 25-year career as one of L.A.’s premier studio guitarists. His most recent Carl Verheyen Band release is the DVD, The Road Divides.

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