John Denver began his career in folk groups in the Sixties and had chart success as a songwriter, but it was the sweet sounds of his Seventies solo records that made him a household name. Hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High” helped bring folk, pop and country to the commercial forefront that decade. Though he was often dismissed for his wholesome, clean-cut image, Denver was undeniably a stellar tunesmith and a fantastic fingerpicker.
Fifty years ago, during the short interlude between Elvis and the Beatles, there was a brief sighting of that rarest of species: the “instrumental hit record.” Riding on the coattails of surf music came a spate of non-vocal bestsellers in styles ranging from cool R&B (Booker T. & the MGs’ “Green Onions”) to funky piano jazz (Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”) to shuffle blues (Freddie King’s “Hide Away”).
Vibrato technique is an essential aspect of guitar playing, and one that, unfortunately, many players often overlook or give insufficient attention to. Every great guitar player you can think of—Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Yngwie Malmsteen, to name but a few—has an array of powerful vibrato techniques that makes his playing spring to life with vitality, energy and emotion.
This month, I’d like to address the sometimes tricky process of songwriting. Most of my songs start as a germ of an idea that comes to me during an improvisation. I’ll have a cool little nugget of “stuff” that catches my interest enough that I am inspired to investigate it further and perhaps forge a composition from it.
A signature element in the songwriting techniques I use with my band Animals as Leaders is the incorporation of unusual time signatures, also known as odd meters. In the quest for fresh-sounding new music, we will often superimpose different meters and/or syncopations on top of one another, a technique explored to great extent by many of today’s progressive rock and metal bands, such as Periphery, Dillinger Escape Plan and, of course, Meshuggah.