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. Teaching guitar became my main income; it's practical and a wonderful 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. This brings me full circle--and to the end of this bio. The rest of this site will be to tell you more aboutpeople who made me who I am, as well as telling you where I am now--and where I am going...." Read more on Last.fm.
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