#BlackLivesMatter As you know, I'm an Americana guitarist playing a mix of folk, blues, and country. I wouldn't be the guitarist I am today without the contribution of African American musicians. Below, I list black musicians who have been most influential on my musical journey:
Growing up attending a Chinese Church in Texas throughout middle and high school in the 90s and early 2000s, I mainly socialized within that clique during my teenage years. It was social norm within that clique in that time period that if you were an Asian guitarist, you should either play worship music, or whatever was popular on Top 40 radio. Playing rock and metal electric guitar was taboo, which was what I was into as a teenager. Playing blues, folk, and country was probably just as taboo, although I didn’t get into those music styles until college. When I was in my metal shredding guitar phase, I discovered the guitarwork of Tony MacAlpine, an excellent African American neo-classical guitar shredder. Although African Americans invented rock ‘n’ roll, you didn’t see many African American guitarists playing neoclassical shred metal. As Tony MacAlpine showed me it was alright to break societal norms and be a black neoclassical guitar shredder, I felt more comfortable being an Asian American guitar shredder in high school, and later a folk/blues/country guitarist, even though it was considered taboo within my clique during that time.
Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy
What can I say about Hendrix? I shouldn’t have to explain why Hendrix is an influence on me. He’s probably the most influential electric guitarist ever. Love the rock n roll wildman attitude he puts into his playing, and how he paints sonic landscapes with fuzz distortion and feedback. Of course, I also like when he plays gently like Wind Cries Mary, Castles Made of Sand, and Little Wing. Although I primarily play acoustic guitar these days, whenever I pickup an electric and jam with friends, I love to play Voodoo Child, Foxy Lady, Red House, Hey Joe (I know he didn’t write that song), Wind Cries Mary, and Little Wing.
And there wouldn’t be a Jimi Hendrix without Buddy Guy, who paved the way for Hendrix with his wildman flair, fast guitar playing, wild string bending, use of double stops when soloing, and distortion (he actually discovered distortion early on before rock ‘n’ roll, but Chess Records wouldn’t allow him to record with distortion on their records since they thought it was too noisy). Buddy is one of the few pioneers of electric blues guitar still kicking it.
B.B. King perhaps taught everyone to play efficiently and with economy, employing the “less is more” philosophy of playing. This is a lesson I always try to learn from B.B. King.
Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton, and Junior Wells
I love the raw sound of wailing blues harmonica. Sonny Boy Williamson’s album “King Biscuit Time,” was my first introduction to blues harmonica playing, followed by James Cotton “Live at Antones” then a live album with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Although I play primarily guitar, I dabble with blues harmonica in my songs “Jukebox Shuffle” and “Smokestack Shuffle.”
Freight Train is one of my favorite songs to play. Although she wasn’t discovered till the folk revival of the 60s, she wrote Freight Train somewhere between 1906-1912, which features very sophisticated and intricate guitar fingerpicking, even by today’s standards. There’s videos of Elizabeth Cotton playing Freight Train live proficiently in her 80s. I hope to still be playing guitar proficiently when I reach 80.
Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder
Unless you’re proficient in jazz guitar, most guitarist have a limited chordal vocabulary. Listening to pianists such as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder introduced me to rich chord voicings. Sometimes I enjoy playing chord-melody arrangements of “Isn’t She Lovely” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in my repertoire.
Texas Johnny Brown and Wes Montgomery
Growing up playing rock guitar as my first style of music, then blues, I was used to playing the guitar with a biting attack, bitchin attitude, and crunchy distorted tones. It wasn’t until hearing the guitarwork of Texas Johnny Brown and Wes Montgomery that I was introduced to playing the guitar gracefully with a gentle touch while caressing each note. Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery are the Yin and Yang of the guitar world. Some of my favorite songs to listen to are Texas Johnny Brown’s rendition of “Ain’t No Way” and Wes Montgomery’s arrangement of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
Not known worldwide, Birdlegg currently resides in Austin TX and plays local shows weekly. Whenever I visit Austin, I try to catch a Birdlegg show. Birdlegg is a master of showmanship, and often incorporates humor in his act, as well as audience interaction and wandering into the crowd the majority of the show. Watching Birdlegg taught me that I don’t always have to have a serious guitarslinger attitude when playing live, that I can disarm the audience with humor and that’s it’s not always about whether you play your music flawlessly, but also whether the audience was entertained. Birdlegg isn’t just a performance clown though, he plays a mean harp and his band is tight and always in the pocket.