The other night I was playing guitar, and I got to wishing that my hands could do more. That my mind could do more. That my ears could do more. There’s so much I wish I could do on the guitar and with my voice, but – despite what I was always told – all men are not created equal. Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m pretty damn good at some stuff, but there is so much more that I wish I could do. I got to thinking about how most of my friends play in bands, and then I noticed how pretty much every one of them has some amazing skill that I wish I had. So I started writing this list. It’s like ‘Best Of’ list (with some biographical information about myself mixed in), highlighting a few of my friends and just how insanely jealous I am of them.
Kevin Aldridge – Songwriting
I can’t remember the exact time or date, but I’m guessing that I first met Kevin sometime around 2003/4. He was putting together a new band, Chatterton. At the time, I had no clue as to what I was doing as a musician or as a songwriter. Kevin, on the other hand, seemed to have a lifetime of experiences and knowledge under his belt as a musician, and I could tell that he knew what he was doing. Other than that, I didn’t really know anything about Kevin. But I learned a lot about him in the tracks that Chatterton released on their self-titled EP in 2006. While there are a lot of songwriters who can write a good song, Kevin is a songwriter who makes me believe every word. There is an underlying, accessible emotion in the background (and foreground) of every song. I can hear it in their 2010 EP, The Cold Open, and I can definitely hear it in his recent, full-length solo album, The Viper Sessions. There’s an old Waylon Jennings album that I like called ‘Singer of Sad Songs’. Every time that album comes up on my playlist, the album title makes me think of Kevin. However, I think Kevin takes it one step further. He’s not only a singer of sad songs, he’s also a songwriter. And I think he’s the best one around.
Ray Liberio – HE’ SO FUCKING METAL!
I don’t even know where to start. Ray has to be one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He’s also superduper talented. At first, I thought he just played bass. Then I found out he was a singer. And a frontman. And that he played in one of the bitchin’-est bands in all of DFW. And then he did the album art for my band’s EP. And he makes fliers for shows. And he did the artwork for my solo CD. He’s also a cancer survivor. Every time I hang with Ray, it makes me feel good about the world. The dude is just so upbeat…even when he’s wizarded. In most of our conversations, I get a history lesson about DFW music – and music in general. But what I really love about Ray is that he’s just so fucking metal. The beard. The tattoos. The bands. The fulltime job. The homeowner. The artist. The minister. The cats. It’s so awesome. He’s DIY all the way. I look at Ray and see a guy lives a life that he wants to live. I don’t think everyone does that. If you ask me, that’s fucking metal.
Steffin Ratliff – Guitar
It’s no secret that Steffin is my guitar hero. After watching him play guitar for the past 10+ years in Pablo & The Hemphill 7, my admiration and jealousy continue to grow. I’m a guy who loves reggae and ska more than anyone I know, and I can tell you this: Steffin plays it like it should be played. Some may say that reggae and ska are super easy to play. Sure, just learn some barre chords and you’re off! There is some truth to that. But on the other hand, it takes a truly great player to make any style sound easy. You’ve gotta have style to make it look easy, and you’ve gotta have a certain touch to make it sound good. Steffin has both, and I wish I could do the things that he does with his guitar. It only gets worse when I think about the fact that I have had gear crush on his Strat/Silvertone setup for nearly as long. Damn, it sounds so good! To make my jealousy skyrocket, all I have to do is go see him play with The Apache 5. That band plays a completely different genre and style, and he kicks ass at that, too! It’s not fair. BTW Joshua Loewen also plays guitar in that band. Talk about unfair! Gah!
Joe Vano – Frontman
Since I’m being completely transparent here, I might as well admit that I think I was an awful frontman. I just didn’t do anything right. Engage the crowd? Nope. Hang out and talk with people before shows? Nope. After shows? Nope. Look like I’m really having the time of my life on stage? Nope. In fact, I pretty much stood in one place and never really moved from that spot. Now that I think about it more – I was pretty damn boring. When we played with Pablo & The Hemphill 7, not only did I get to stand in awe of my favorite Fort Worth guitarist, I got to see a master frontman in action. And let me tell you – school was in session. Joe Vano seems to be at home on stage. Like it is a big party and he is the host. Man, I wish I could be like that. He is electric on that stage. If you’ve ever played after band that you know was better than you, you’ll know what I’m talking about. When we played with Pablo, I got my ass kicked on guitar, and I also couldn’t help but realize that I was a distant second as a frontman those nights. But I’m glad we got to play those shows. I think it made me better by getting private lessons from the best in town. Well, public lessons.
Kenny Wayne Hollingsworth – Tone
Back in 2000, I bought a Roland JC-120 at Mars Music over off of South Cooper in Arlington. #Memories. I pretty much only bought it because 1) I needed a bigger amp and 2) I saw Slightly Stoopid use one back in 1999 at Fitzgerald’s in Houston. And I had read about reggae guitarists using those amps a lot in the 70’s. But I didn’t know wtf I was doing. Then in July 2004, Jorts spent a day with me…GuitarCenter-hopping around DFW, helping me find a new amp. I ended up buying a Fender Tone-master (made in 2000). It’s an awesome amp for sure. But again, I had no idea what I was doing with guitars and pedals, much less amps and tone. Somewhere along the way, I started to get into surf music. In surf music, tone is king, and I’ve learned a lot more about how important it is to get the right tone for a song. In 2008, I found a vintage 1966 blackface Fender Showman for $600 on Craigslist, and I bought it. I was in tone heaven! And I started listening for tone more and more. That’s when I noticed Kenny Wayne’s tone at an Orbans show. Holy crap. It’s like everything and everyone faded away into darkness. A light came down from the heavens (or the ceiling above the stage) and all I could see was Kenny’s amp. It’s like it was talking to me. Is it possible to fall in love with an amp? Fast-forward to a few months ago. I was at Blue Smoke Studios with Kenny. He had a couple of his Mockingbird Amps with him…because, you know…he started BUILDING HIS OWN AMPS! We were trying to find the perfect tone for some song I was working on. Kenny was hopping all over the room, turning a knob on a pedal here and a switch on an amp there. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed, watching a tone master (zing!) dialing in a tone. When I’m at home, turning a knob on my amp, I’m pretty sure I look like Homer Simpson trying to build a grill. Le grille?! What the hell is that?! Next time you are at an Orbans show, be sure park yourself in front of Kenny’s amp for a couple of songs. Thank me later.
Sam Anderson – Voice
Even though I play guitar, I’ve always thought of myself as a singer. In fact, singing is my favorite aspect of music. Guitar is a distant second. I don’t have some crazy story about how I started singing when I was 2-years-old or anything like that, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like to sing. I’m pretty sure that it has something to do with how much my mom sang to me when I was little. I sang in choirs at the first chance I could (in 3rd grade) all the way up to when I was 22yo in the TCU Concert Chorale. It’s funny to think about how I was in musicals in high school, and that I played guitar at church during college. Those days seem so long ago.
After quitting my band in 2009 so that I could start a family, it didn’t really bother me that I was no longer performing….until about 5-6 months ago, at which point I decided to come out of hiding and play an acoustic show. It had been over 2 years since I played anywhere. I didn’t even know where I could play. But I remembered that Sam had a weekly gig at the Magnolia Motor Lounge, and lucky for me, he was all about letting me open up for him on a random Tuesday night. So I played a 45-minute set one night back in October, and then I sat and listened to Sam’s set. That guy is one hell of a singer, guitarist and overall performer. As I sat there and listened to Sam sing, I was simply in awe of the soul in his voice. It’s polished. Not necessarily in the sound, but in the way that he knows how to vocally craft a song and maneuver through his voice. Sam knows his strengths as a singer and he plays to them. He’s a confident singer, and I can only imagine that much of that confidence has come from the fact that he is constantly playing shows and playing for new audiences. He’s also gotta be one of the hardest-working musicians in DFW. That night, I really came to appreciate the fact that Sam knows who he is as a musician. When I look at myself, I feel like I have no idea who I am as a musician. I don’t think I’ve really found my voice or my style, and, honestly, it’s very frustrating. So when I see a guy several years younger than me put on a flawless set, full of songs that showcase an amazing level of finesse – in both voice and guitar – I get jealous. Then I think about the fact that he does that night after night, pretty much all year long. Wow. I admire that. Someday I hope I find my voice like Sam has found his.
Well, that’s my list. What did you think? Pretty big love fest, right? I have more people to talk about: Big Mike, Eric Dodson, Peter Black, Jordan Richardson, Cliff Wright, Jordan Roberts, Jeremy Hull, Steve Steward, Joshua Loewen, Daniel Hardaway, Justin Pate, Joe Rose – as I’m jealous of all them, too. Maybe I’ll write about them in a ‘Part 2’ post or something.
Welp, see ya later!