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Master Guitar News 2015

December 10, 2015: Blog entry: John Elliott Material from the 1950's!?!?


November 10, 2015: New free lesson is now published: Can You Solo Through Changes Using Minor Pentatonic? Yes You Can!


October 6, 2015: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 9): Adding the Aeolian 6 to Minor Pentatonic/Dorian Patterns is now published. Click on the link and sign up to become a MasterGuitarSchool site member to access this free lesson.


August 13, 2015: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 8): Integrating the Dorian Mode and the Minor Pentatonic is now published. Click on the link and sign up to become a MasterGuitarSchool site member to access this free lesson.


May 13, 2015: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 7) is now published. I've started recording the audio into GarageBand and syncing it up to the video later. The audio quality of the videos I've been producing has been bugging me. I'm making headway on that issue.


May 12, 2015: Had lunch a couple of days ago with Stu Kimball. Probably doesn't ring a bell. How about Bob Dylan - does that ring a bell? Stu has been Dylan's guitar player for 11 years. Then I went to see Bob Dylan at the Music Hall downtown. The show was good. I've heard horror stories for years about how bad Dylan can be live. I didn't see any of that. It was a well-paced, good, solid show. The band was tight, Dylan was on task. Stu is a solid-as-a-rock rythmn guitar player. I didn't hear any clams. It was a fun day. Thanks to Steve Barrett for making it happen.


April 29, 2015: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 6): Adding the Dorian 6th to Pentatonic Patterns is now published.


March 22, 2015: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 5) is now published!


February 21, 2015: This "Concepts for Basic Improvising" lesson series just keeps going! Sign up as a site member of and access part 4 of the series right here.


January 23, 2015: New free lesson: Concepts for Basic Improvising (Part 3).


January 17: Posted a new free lesson: Technique Exercises. Yes, you must be a site member to access it. Just click on the link above and fill out the form and, voila! You're a site member!


January 4: One of the greatest jazz drummers ever to come from Kansas City, Tommy Ruskin, died on January 1. He was 72.


I met Tommy Ruskin in the middle 80's. I already knew who he was, of course. I had seen him play several times starting in the late 70's with Pat Metheny. I knew that whenever Pat was in town and playing with local musicians Tommy Ruskin was always his drummer of choice. It seemed to me at the time that Pat, Tommy and others (Bob Bowman and Gary Sivils come to mind) occupied a rarified and lofty musical place, a place that required monstrous chops, refined musicality and perfect time. A place I could only aspire to.


So I was playing this gig with my trio at the time. I can't remember the occasion or the place, but it was a hotel ballroom. Now this trio was good – it was the right 3 guys. We worked all the time for pretty decent money (what passes for “decent money” in the music biz, that is). We were very versatile; we could play just about anything, our jazz chops were good, and everybody in the band was a strong singer. However, I categorized what we did as “Variety Schmuck” - we had no pride when it came to playing requests and the popular hit of the moment. We were accomplished musical whores.


So we're playing this variety schmuck gig and in walks Tommy Ruskin. He was playing a gig in another room. He stands just inside the door for 10 or 15 minutes, arms crossed, just listening (I remember one of the songs we played was “Overkill” by Men at Work). We were not playing any jazz and I am certainly no Pat Metheny, but he just stood there listening for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time and then left to go back to his gig. I was intimidated and humiliated.


Later, as we were tearing down after the gig, he comes back in and introduces himself to me. He said, “Man, I really liked what you guys were playing. I would really like to play that kind of rock stuff sometime. Call me if you ever need a drummer.”


I'm sure my mouth was hanging all kinds of open. I briefly considered the possibility that he was mocking me, but I rejected the possibility almost immediately, his sincerity was obvious. Why someone like Tommy Ruskin would want to play the kind of music we were playing, and want to play it with me, was beyond fathomable to me at the time.


I have since come to understand things a little better. In my experience, I have noticed that really, really good players are generally not snobs (there are exceptions, but that's not the rule), they just LOVE to play music. It's all about the fun. They will compensate and cover for a player that's not quite at their level, and actually enjoy playing with him, and support him rather than cut and humiliate him. In general, the guys that are snobs, that cut other players if they sense a weakness, are compensating for their own insecurity, no matter how good they may be. I've played with several guys over the years who were monstrous musicians but were crippled by insecurity that was massively disproportionate to their abilities.


Tommy has admitted to some insecurity, but the kind of guy that would cut and humiliate another musician would NEVER admit ANY kind of insecurity – Tommy was not of that ilk, at all.


I had the opportunity and the sheer joy of playing with Tommy several times since then over the years (I am now bitterly regretting not doing more to ensure that I played with him more), both jazz and “rock stuff,” and he was always very supportive and encouraging. One of the absolute requirements needed to survive in the music business is that you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe you are good enough, that you have what it takes. Self-confidence. You have to have ego-strength. One of the ways that ego-strength, that faith in yourself and your abilities, is created is through affirmation that comes from a respected and admired father-figure, a teacher &/or a mentor. I have had several such respected and admired men in my life who have affirmed me and thereby helped to create, and enabled me to maintain, the ego-strength and self-confidence that is necessary to survive in this business. Tommy Ruskin is one of those.

I wish I'd known him better.

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