My Music
My Musical Journey
Refinding My Musical Mojo

It was thanks to my brother’s natural affinity with rhythm that I picked up the guitar. When Graham gave up the guitar lessons he had started at school in favour of the drums, I kind of adopted his abandoned Spanish guitar. Although I immediately felt an affinity to the instrument, I soon realised that strumming Home On The Range was not exactly getting my creative mojo working. When Dr Feelgood came into my life Wilko Johnson, their guitarist, showed me that there was a much more exciting world of guitar playing to be explored; but how did you play like that? While other fans at Feelgood gigs were transfixed by Wilko’s manic showmanship, I was staring intently at his fingers, trying to work out just how he made those powerful sounds while making it look so effortless. Although I worked out a little of what he was doing, I just didn’t have enough musical knowledge to really master the Wilko Johnson style.

After a period of studying other musical genres (including the intricacies of jazz chords which lie at the very opposite end of the musical spectrum to what Wilko was doing) I drifted into a creative plateau. I think most people learning an instrument are familiar with this place, where you almost fall out of love with the instrument because you don’t know how to get better at it and you’re bored with just reproducing what you already know. The dusty guitar sitting in the corner of the room became a painful reminder of a love affair which never quite reached its potential.

For many years I was in this ‘musical wasteland’ in which I became someone who ‘used to play guitar’, but that all changed in 1994 whilst visiting a school in Arizona. On a day off from working, a teacher called Carol kindly offered to drive me up to the north of the state to show me the Grand Canyon. As we drove through the Sonoran desert surrounded by huge cacti and ancient rocky vistas Carol pushed a cassette into the car player and asked ‘Do you like Stevie Ray Vaughn?’

My heart sank; I had not heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn and it sounded like I was going to be trapped on a long journey with some dreadful Country and Western singer. But Stevie Ray Vaughn, as you may know, was not some country and Western singer from Tennessee, he was a Blues singer from Texas. More importantly, he was a blues guitar player who played like no one else I had ever heard.

Stevie Ray VaughnAs we listened to a track called Texas Flood I was entranced by a scorching guitar tone effortlessly voicing riffs and runs so full of intensity and feeling that I found it impossible not to be moved. It is a measure of the power of his music that although this was the day I saw the most incredible geological formation that is the Grand Canyon, what I most remember is hearing that cassette of Texas Flood. I recall thinking, ‘I have no idea how he does that, but I am going to find out because I want to be able to express myself in that way too.’

When I got back home I ditched my cheap electric guitar, which I’d owned since schooldays and which had come to represent my musical wilderness years, and bought myself a black Fender Telecaster (a nod to the great Wilko Johnson). My new guitar came with its own case which I noticed had a very unusual and not unpleasant smell inside it. I found out this was emanating from a sachet of a dessicant which helps keep the instrument dry. I keep that sachet in my case to this very day so that every time I open it the smell takes me back to the thrill of the day I bought the black telecaster.

I pursued my goal of playing like SRV relentlessly. I started my education by buying transcriptions of his music which showed in a code of numbers and symbols what strings SRV played at what fret to get those amazing sounds. Of course learning this doesn’t mean you can play like SRV (just because you know how to apply paint to a canvass doesn’t mean you can knock off a Mona Lisa) but it certainly teaches a lot about the mechanics of what he was doing. I also studied with longhaired guitar geeks in video tutorials called ‘How to play like SRV’ and even bought a device which could slow down the solos so I could really get inside what he was playing. Of course the long-term goal was not just to play like SRV; we learn by copying but in the end the idea is that what we learn can feed into us finding our own style. When I was at Art College two of my favourite illustrators were Ralph Steadman and HM Bateman and my drawings of the time clearly showed their influence on me but if you look at my books now I think it would be difficult to find any trace of those influences on me.

Gradually, with a lot of determination and trial and error, I was building my musical knowledge and I started to unlock some of the secrets of playing blues guitar. You can’t really study one blues guitarist without encountering the whole world of the blues, because everyone is influenced by someone else. So Stevie Ray Vaughn was just the starting point for a journey back through the rich history of this musical genre. My CD collection swelled with the work of many great blues artists and along the way I began to realise that I had found the source of my first musical heroes. Dr Feelgood originated on Canvey Island in the Thames Estuary but the spiritual source of their music was in the blues of the Mississippi Delta. When I’d discovered Dr Feelgood I’d had never heard of the blues but now it all made sense; their music was born out of their love of artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Didley and Howling Wolf. I’d found my way back to my first love and now, with all the studying I’d done, had finally amassed enough musical knowledge to work out how Wilko had played those riffs; I had come full circle.