10 – Music from Beyond Personality
As a child I loved to draw and write stories; when I was about fifteen, another artistic passion entered my life. My brother had been taking guitar lessons at school and one day he brought the guitar home. I watched him strumming away to a songbook and asked what the shapes he was making with his fingers were. He told me they were called chords.
After he left I was curious to have a go. Following a chord diagram, I stretched my fingers over the frets, pressed down and then… STRUM. I’d played my first ever D chord. After a bit of struggle I managed to play the three chords that accompanied a song in the tuition book. This was encouraging, but what really fired my interest was playing an E minor and recognising its sound from a David Bowie song. Now I wasn’t just playing random chords, these were chords that allowed me to play songs that really meant something to me. My brother soon became bored with the guitar and took up drums, but I was hooked – and forty-five years later, I still am.
I've been through many learning phases with the guitar through the years, but it was only after a road trip to the Grand Canyon in the 1990s that my guitar playing really stepped up to a new level. My friend played their favourite cassette as we drove, an album called Texas Flood by the Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. By the end of the first track I was smitten! It touched something deep inside me, and made me want to learn how he was creating those sounds.
When I arrived back home I found out that you could buy books in which every note, bend and drone of Stevie Ray Vaughn's coruscating solos were translated into symbols. Once you understood the code, you could play the music. By practicing hard, I learned this new language of musical sounds and skills; the album Texas Flood was my gateway into the world of the Blues. I studied this music, which led me back to the early masters like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
Throughout my years of guitar playing I was occasionally inspired to compose my own music. Arranging chords together and coming up with melody lines came naturally to me, but for some reason putting words to them didn’t. Although I wrote children’s books for a living (which involves putting words with pictures), for some reason I had a block about adding words to my music.
Around the time of The Shift, that aspect of my creativity unlocked. It started with phrase ‘Don’t push the river’ entering my head. I don’t remember if I came up with it or I read it somewhere, but it struck me as a good refrain to have in a lyric. My previous self-consciousness evaporated, the words filled in around that phrase and before long I written my very first song.
I enjoy listening to, and playing, many forms of music but Blues will always have a special place in my heart because it has a primal, unpretentious quality: it doesn’t shy away from painful feelings. The Blues was born out of the Suffering of slaves; it’s about feeling and expressing Suffering, and ultimately the healing that can come from that. This is its energetic source.
Being inspired to write a song is a wonderful feeling; each one takes me on a journey from the initial spark of inspiration to the final coming together of chords, melody, and lyrics. Every time it happens I’m filled with both gratitude and a sense of wonder. Where do they come from? That’s the Great Mystery.
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