John Elliott Approves Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar
In 2001 I began discussing a review of my book, Vertical Truth - Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar with Mike Metheny, who was at that time the editor of Jazz Ambassadors Magazine.
When Mike found out I had access to John he said, "Man, I've been trying to get an interview with that guy for years. He just refuses to cooperate. Maybe you could put in a word for me. Or maybe you could do an interview with him."
I told Mike, "I'm a guitar player, not a reporter, but I'll talk to him and see if I can change his mind about talking to you." I knew John wouldn't change his mind and I proceeded to write Mike a rather lengthy and detailed email on the nature of my relationship with John, and why he was such an enigma. At least my theories as to why he was the way he was. Much of that communication would not be appropriate for a public forum such as this. For one thing it's highly speculative. However, part of that letter told how I managed to get John's blessing and approval of the book. I reprint it here with some minor editing.
Through a series of circumstances I won't go into here, I wound up with this book that I had originally intended to sell ONLY to my own students begin to be used by other teachers completely unsolicited on my part. When the first instance of this happened, I realized that I was looking at something that could potentially take off if I worked it right. I do have some issues with other teachers using it but that was already happening anyway. So I decided to work it and see what happened. Over the space of the next few months I aggressively solicited every guitar player/teacher I knew by giving them a copy of the book. That's how Danny [Embrey] wound up with a copy. I had a problem however. I knew that sooner or later it would get back to John. My debt to John is enormous. Units 4 and 5 I basically got from Danny. He got it from John. By the time I started with John, I had figured out all the 9th chord inversions on my own, based on the implications that I deduced from the material Danny gave me. So counting the stuff that I got from Danny, which was John's, plus the 9th chord stuff I figured out on my own based on what I got from Danny, I'd say most of units 4 through 10 is John's material - verbatim. All the guitaristic stuff is mine, of course. The chord graphics, things like that. I changed a thing here and there to make it more guitar friendly and in a couple of places where I thought I had a better way to think about a certain thing added a page that I would call my own, or altered John's material slightly. The first 3 units are all mine, but I designed it to dovetail with John's material if the student makes it that far.
So - John was going to see the book, sooner or later. I needed to be the one to show it to him. Personally, I needed resolution. Either he would get mad and yell at me about how I was ripping him off by selling the stuff I got from him, or he would give me his approval and blessing. In May of this year I called him up. I admit I threw him a curve, you'll understand what I mean in a minute. I knew that IF he agreed to look at the book, he would ask that I send him a copy, but I wanted to see his face when he looked at it. I needed to know for sure what he thought. (He was not good at hiding his feelings! Now that I think about it, maybe he's VERY good at it!?) My youngest child (I have 5 children) is 9 years old. I named him after John. (Nathan Elliott). John and his wife, as far as I know, are childless. Nathan had been wanting to meet John.
So, I told John (over the phone) that I've got this series of books I'm selling. The latter half is the material that I got from him. (I was very blunt) If he had a problem with that I'd be more than happy to cut him a check every quarter based on book sales. His response was: "Kids today just want to learn that rock stuff. You won't get rich selling my material." I told him he was right, 98% of my students are in units one and two and very few of them get far enough into the method to even begin his material, but that I was still willing to pay him every quarter. He said he wasn't interested in any money. I then asked him if he would look at it. "Yeah, sure," he said, "drop a copy in the mail, I'll take a look at it." I played my trump card. "If you don't mind" I said, "I'd like to bring a copy to you. The reason for that is that I have a son that's named after you and he's been wanting to meet you. His brothers are named after their grand fathers but he's never met the man he's named after." It was real quiet for a few seconds. "Sure, bring him over, I'd love to meet him."
You must realize that when I was studying with John one day I asked him, "Why don't you publish this stuff? It's the best system of applied theory for the guitar I've ever seen." He actually got angry. "Books!" he said. "You know what happens when you buy a book?" "No", I said. He's practically shouting at me now. "You look at the last page first, that's what happens!!!" At least it FELT like he was shouting at me.
So it was with some trepidation that I took my book, and Nathan, over to John's house last May. I really didn't know how he would react. Of course I wanted his approval. I was very conscious of that. But more than that, I just wanted some kind of resolution. I didn't want to procrastinate and never make the attempt to show John the book, and know for sure whether or not he would approve. That would have been a significant loose end to me, professionally as well as emotionally, and I certainly didn't want him to find out about the book before I had shown it to him.
John answered the door. "You look good." I said. He actually did. He had cancer 3 or 4 years ago. He had surgery and according to the doctors they got it all. I was expecting him to not look so good. "The hell I do." He replied. That's the John I remember! He shook hands with Nathan, introduced me to his wife, (I'd never met her) sat down at the kitchen table and for the next hour and a half looked at every page! I couldn't believe it. I was not expecting that. He was very talkative and was giving advice now and then. "Make sure they do this in 3 positions. Are you making sure they do this across the neck and not along one set of strings?" etc. He found 2 typos. I was amazed. He asked questions about how I did this myself. Was I a computer geek (I'm not!) or was this stuff typical of what you could do with a computer? How did I make the notation? How did I make the guitar neck pictures? I explained about music notation software and about hard disk recording and editing and the internet (I'm supposedly getting FM radio airplay in Russia - Wooo-hooo!) and how I was selling CD's and mp3's from a web site and things like that. He was very sharp and interested. We talked for quite awhile. He said he could tell I'd worked very hard on the book and he said he was glad that someone had "codified this material for the guitar." I thanked him and told him that his approval was very important to me. As Nathan and I were leaving, his wife, who had been in the room the whole time, said, "You're (meaning his students in general) important to John too, even if he doesn't say so." As John was walking us to the car he said, "Give me a call every once in a while and let me know what's going on."
John looking through my book
John Elliott with my son, Nathan Elliott EuDaly - April 2001