Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Is Flatpicking?

What Is Flatpicking?

Just like you, I live in the internet age; and so I do a lot of my socializing online. I imagine that most people are pretty choosy about who they talk to online - and I am too, but in a very different way. I always wind up talking most often to people that I've never seen - and truly those people are my best friends other than the few that I've known in my personal life, and for a very long time.

I've got a friend over in Italy that is a very good jazz guitarist. If you understand how Facebook conversations go, then you can see how I could be talking to a German guitarist about flatpicking, and then our mutual friend, the Italian jazz guitarist comes into the conversation, or "thread" as they like to call them now, and asks me,

"What is this flatpicking you are talking about? My pick is flat! Am I flatpicking?"
Please note! The question above is the only question asked by Frank, the Jazz guitarist - the rest of the "interview" or conversation is my fabrication, and the make believe character in no way resembles Frank, the jazz guitarist, or his personality at all.

Truly, this modern world has some amazing, and wonderful things to offer to us - but we are being compensated for what has been lost.

Traditional Flatpicking and Flatpickers.

Wesman Todd Shaw - an amateur flatpicker.

Doc Watson, One Of The Original American Flatpickers.

Clarence White - One of The GREATEST Flatpickers to have ever lived.

Django Reinhardt - the French Gypsy Jazz Master Flatpicker.

David Bromberg Has Been A Flatpicking Master for a very long time.

What Flatpicking Is.

Of course my Italian jazz guitarist friend had a legitimate question, and only the most bizarre plectrums are not flat, so naturally, flatpicking is playing a stringed instrument with a plectrum, or "pick." But the truth of the matter is that when someone is talking about flatpicking, they aren't talking about playing jazz on a guitar with a plectrum at least not in the traditional sense of the word, and neither are they talking about Jimi Hendrix, or Eric Clapton playing Fender Stratocaster electric guitars plugged into Marshal amplifiers either - even though flat picks or plectrums are used for this.

"So, what is flatpicking?"

Flatpicking is simply the playing of traditional music, or new music with traditional roots, on a steel string acoustic guitar - that, my friends, is an over simplified answer, but it's a legitimate answer. I'm not always so pleased with Wikipedia, but I think that the Wikipedia article about flatpicking is really pretty good, very clear, and surprisingly informative. That being said, I've been interested in flatpicking for twenty five years out of my thirty seven, so I think that I can tell you quite a bit more about it.

"What do you presume to mean by your term, not mine - 'traditional music?' traditional for who?"

That's really a very good question. I'm sorry that I was vague - it was unintentional. When I say that flatpicking is playing "traditional music" on a steel string acoustic guitar, and playing that music with a "pick" or plectrum, what I mean is that it's playing the music that was and is traditional for the original European immigrants to America. When I say that, I do not mean to say that this does not include the music of the Irish immigrants that came later. Celtic music is a huge part of, and influence on what I am saying is the traditional music of the original European immigrants to America.

"So it sounds to me like what you are saying is that this flatpicking thing is all about white people, white culture - and all of those things that we know are bad!"

That's truly something that a mentally challenged person would say. It's very shameful that American media promotes only music that celebrates materialism, sexual promiscuity, and "gangster culture." Flatpicking certainly isn't promoted in mainstream American mass media, and we'd not have it any other way. Flatpicking is an honest person's art form. It takes brains and talent, honesty and integrity to succeed in traditional music from any culture. Nothing glamorized in American mass media is of much value. I'd personally hate to see flatpicking destroyed by any association with mass media.

"It still sounds to me like this flatpicking thing is all about 'white people,' and just isn't very cross cultural - it's like hillbilly crap, or something"

That's a completely ignorant statement that can only be based in a social prejudice that I find to be disgusting. One of the things that the Wikipedia article did not mention is that most of the truly great flatpickers in the world recognize Django Reinhard, an early 20th century French jazz musician of Roma, or "Gypsy" decent as one of the founders of not only flatpicking, but of any style of music that has a guitarist playing leads or melodies with a pick or plectrum. Truly, the "Gypsy Jazz" music of Django, and his fiddle playing sidekick, Stephan Grappeli, is timeless music without which modern music would not be so interesting. Other prominent flatpickers are persons like David Bromberg, Steve Kaufman, and Russ Barenberg - and if you don't know, then these are Jewish names. Flatpicking is an art form that anyone can take up, and try to master. We flatpickers, and flatpicking fans welcome all who are interested in our music.

"Dude, it's clear that you hate the media - but has this flatpicking thing of which you speak ever been a part of popular culture in America?"

Of Course it has! Doc Watson, one of the persons I like to consider as one of "The Godfathers" of flatpicking - became well known during the hippie folk revival of the 1960s. Doc Watson is still alive, but he's very old. I believe that Doc still performs live sometimes - it would be a treasure for anyone to get to see him. I'm very unfortunate in that I've never seen Doc play live. I've met some of the great flatpickers - but I've never seen Doc Watson.

Another of the founders and greats of this style of music is the late, great Clarence White. Clarence White became a professional musician at a very young age, and I have compact discs with Clarence White playing bluegrass music with Doc Watson. Later on, Clarence White became the lead guitarist, and occasional singer for The Byrds. If you don't know who The Byrds are - then I can't help you.

James Patrick Page, or Jimmy Page, as he is most often called - was a fan of both Clarence White, and Doc Watson. When Jimmy's group, maybe you've heard of it, Led Zeppelin, created their third album, Led Zeppelin III, Jimmy Page brought a Martin D 28 into the studio, and recorded some songs with definite flatpicking influences, and out right Doc Watson "licks" in them. Also, Jimmy Page became one of the first persons to copy some of Clarence White's electrical guitar ideas, and soon he had himself a Fender Telecaster with a Parsons/White "B Bender" installed on it, and he used that pretty extensively with Led Zeppelin as well.

Also, . . .

"STOP! Why don't you just show me some flatpicking in modern music, not that old time stuff you keep talking about!"

You interrupted me, and that's pretty rude. I don't much care for that - but I am eager to hear some great flatpicking. The first video that I'm going to show you is by a country rock band called Pure Prairie League, and their song, Aimee, has one of the finest flatpicking guitar solos in it that I've ever heard in popular music. Once at the Walnut Valley Festival, in Winfield, Kansas - I saw a kid who couldn't have been older than twelve, and he played that solo perfectly. further further ado, lets hear some flatpicking!

Continuing Interview Concerning Flatpicking.

"Okay, yeah - I'd heard that 'Aime" song before. It's got some nice lead guitar in it - I'll grant you that, but that 'Aime" song is older than I am!"

Well, chill out, bro! This Hubpages article is my show - and it's Mother's Day today, and I'm going to make my yearly appearance in church. Let me find you something a bit more modern, and in a different genre, okay? The thing is this though, Flatpicking will always be mostly a country, old time, Celtic, Folk, and Bluegrass music thing - it's mostly about ancient fiddle tunes being played on a Martin "flat top" guitar. But here you go, if you listen to this tune by Days Of The New, there's some flatpicking in the guitar solo.
"NICE! I really enjoyed that! You know, everyone knows that rock and roll music was based upon the blues for the most part. So maybe this flatpicking thing is cross cultural!"

I'm glad to see you are catching on. I've got to get ready for church, and I don't often go, or get up this early in the day - Especially considering that I stayed up late talking to you, correcting your ignorance, and talking to some wonderful, and some not so wonderful friends on Facebook last night.

Flatpicking is mostly a bluegrass entity these days, and I do love bluegrass. Bill Monroe is thought to be the "Father of Bluegrass," and Bill Monroe, were he still living, would tell you that he was a huge fan of the blues as well. Now, I can't honestly think of any African American flatpickers - but African American country blues players were a huge influence on everyone in rock and roll, bluegrass, folk, and even some of today's rap music. Jimmy Page and Doc Watson both will tell you all about Players like Huddie Ledbetter, Robert Johnson, and many, many more - those guys most often played with their fingers, and with slides, but sometimes they played with picks too.

 Sooner or later - you know it will happen, some young African American kid will take up flatpicking in earnest, and set the world on fire. That's just the way things happen. It's sort of like how Jeff Beck said that after hearing Jimi Hendrix play for the first time - he didn't touch a guitar for six months. Luckily for us all though, Jeff Beck decided to not give up - but to take up the guitar as if he hadn't played it before, and then he created some of the greatest jazz fusion ever recorded.


I hope you've enjoyed this oddball bit about flatpicking. I have to give credit for my weirdness, and credit is due to this very brilliant fellow for a large part of this thing's strange style.
I think everyone should read DRBJ, and his amazing interview Hub style. I only interview the idiots that get in my head, DRBJ interviews the dead - big difference!


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