The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right. Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman. Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best--ripping a mean riff!
Robben Ford has played with jazz great Miles Davis, calling it a moment that was like "passing through Knighthood." If you don't think that's cool enough then ponder this: Robben also played with The Beatles rocker George Harrison on George's personal tour when he was just 22 years old!
If that's not enough, Robben has also played with Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and many, many others.
But that's not what makes Robben so cool. Chalk it up to his peseverance as a young guitar player (his dad taught him a few chords but he mostly learned to play guitar by himself) and his current reputation as one of the premiere electric guitarists today...and you're onto something!
We had the privilege of interviewing this incredible guitarist for Jemsite. Let's see what he has to say about his skill.
How did you start playing guitar?
My father played and showed me my first few chords. I learned quickly and was given my first electric the following Christmas and started a band with my thirteen year old friends.
How did you move from electric to blues and everything in between? Describe similarities and differences between blues, jazz, and other genres.
I bought a record in my local shop because I liked the cover. It turned out to be the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield on guitar who became my instant hero. R+B was all over pop radio so soul music was not unusual to hear but this music had incredible
guitar and blues harp playing all over it. Very exciting. Then came Clapton, Hendrix, BB King and many others.
Name some of the diverse artists you've played with and describe some of your experiences with them.
Miles Davis was huge as an influence and to play with him was like passing thru Knighthood. What an honor. We had a very good relationship as well though you never new what to expect. Joni Mitchell was profound in that working with her and her band opened me up to music beyond jazz and blues. Such an incredible artist. Jimmy Witherspoon taught me a lot about swing and humor. He's still my favorite blues singer.
It's pretty amazing that you taught yourself guitar. How did you make that happen?
As I mentioned, my father taught me my first few chords and I had a good ear for music. I eventually bought a book and learned a lot of chords which are what I use today. Being around great musicians you learn by osmosis which is invaluable training. Ultimately, you need to "think" musically, as if you are constantly composing. Thats what makes the difference between a well schooled musician and one who has something to communicate.
What was it like being on tour with George Harrison?
George was a bit nervous about that tour and, I think, was never comfortable as a band leader. I was very young (22) and out of my depth socially. He was always friendly and even gave me a guitar for Christmas that year, even came to my wedding. I'm sorry he's gone and wish I could see him again. I made quite a few friends on that tour: Willie Weeks, Jim Keltnor, Billy Preston and others.
What's the best thing about guitar playing as a career?
Nothing special. It's rare that conditions are right for what I do and how I play, but when they are I'm in heaven.
What words of wisdom would you give to someone just starting out with guitar? What genre would you tell them to try?
Join a group and play with people as soon as you can,don't wait until you think you are "ready". That day may be a long time coming. I know professionals who think there playing is not so great. Pick a style of music you like and stick with it awhile before branching out. No one can play every style, believe me. Learn chords and different ways to play them. Scales to if you have the discipline. Play as much as possible.