Author: Compton, Cliff

A Thank You

Today's column from Cliff Compton
Friday, June 12, 2009

This column is for all those people who make us play better. As much as Iíd like to convince myself and others that I was born with a guitar in my hands, and the ability to play it, I wasnít. Some folks are born with a gift that makes it easier but we all know that it takes a lot of practicing and learning to get to where we want to go on these heavenly instruments that we play. Generally, that manifests itself in incremental steps, as our general knowledge grows, as the muscles in our fingers memorize the runs and as time makes automatic those things that used to demand all our attention. But, there ainít very many people who manage to become virtuosos without some help from somebody, and thatís what this column is about.

For me help has come from many sources. Sister Crystal White taught me how to oom chuck chuck waltz time. She showed me how to play the melody to ďfarther alongĒ and showed me that you didnít have to be great to have fun playing music. And there was this marine that rented our upstairs apartment that taught me several ways to play the boogie woogie that I still use to this day, when itís late at night and I feel like cutting loose.

And there was this teacher I took about four lessons from during my rock and roll days that taught me scales, and how to substitute chords, ands that was about it, but that was enough for the time.

And when I started playing bluegrass Craig Townsend taught me how to hold the plectrum (thatís a pick to all you folks who arenít Mel Bay) so that I could pick fast, and he taught me to stop using those thin little sissy picks that bent every time you hit the strings, and Iím still using runs he taught me though our time working together was short.

And Jim Nunnally, and Dix Bruce taught me to keep my fingers close to the neck and my pick close to the strings instead of flailing like an old time banjo picker, and they did this without even knowing they were doing it. I just watched them play and then set up late at night picking with their C.D,s dreaming about being able to play half as good as they do.

And then thereís Rick Sims. Now this guy is something special. I get a chance to sit down with him about twice a year, and every time I leave there, Iím better than I was. I donít know what it is about this guy, but heís got the gift. He taught me about hillbilly buttons, bell tones, and floaters and shadowing chords, how to use open strings when youíre playing down the neck, and how to play blackberry blossom by running partial chords down the neck. And me an Jim Johnson corner him every memorial day at Wayne and Betty Nolans and pick his brain and always walk away amazed.

And my guess is you all have your own stories here, about that picker who cared enough about you to help you get from one point on the mountain to the level above. And to all those teachers out there, who make us better, this column is just to help us recall and appreciate, all your effort. Because Itís a lot more fun to play better, than it is to play worse. And everybody that picks at the fathers day festival in grass valley, is gonna get to show off the results of some bodies schooliní.
Posted:  6/12/2009

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