Q: Should we encourage more young people to engage in the arts, specifically music?
Young people will love to engage in all the arts – if given a chance. Maybe every adult should try to make a musical instrument (of any kind) available to a young person in their family. Guitars are probably the most popular in the ‘wanted’ category, but so many children are put off in the end through struggling with the trials of tuning up and painful fingers etc. A guitar needs to be carefully chosen, and a good quality instrument is really quite expensive.
I have found that the best musical gifts nowadays are the portable keyboards – the ones with built in stereo speakers. They are brilliant, and the preset sounds on them are really nice. I don’t know how they manage to make them this good for the price, but for me they are the perfect instrument to get young people interested in music. When I was a boy most households had a piano. We always had one in our ‘front room’ – and I had hours of fun playing it (well, not exactly playing, but enjoying myself anyway), but I would have loved one of the electronic keyboards you can find in any music shop today for under a hundred quid!
Q: What makes a guitar model truly great?
The most desirable guitars still seem to be from the 1950 to 1968 era. That was the period when superb craftsmanship coincided with the unrestricted availability of the very best quality woods. It was truly the golden era of guitar making. After 1968 the best brands were sold or ‘cashed in’ and the production methods changed. There is no doubt that the two most beautiful guitars I am lucky enough to play are my 1955 Martin D28 and my 1963 ES335 Gibson. (I met some of the guys who actually made my 335 in Kalamazoo just after the Gibson factory with a lot of the original machines had been taken over by Heritage Guitars – what a lovely day!).
But – guitar making has reached new heights in the last few years, particularly in North America, starting (for me) with James Olson, then Collings from Austin Texas and lately McPherson in Wisconsin. These, along with Taylor, have become the greatest guitars you can play in my opinion. Wood has magical properties, and superb, caring craftsmen are now making inspired, and inspiring instruments. Some, like Collings, handle ‘the road’ better, but I consider myself so lucky to be able to play ‘live’ in concert, to record, and to just have fun with such beautiful works of art.
So, it’s about craftsmanship, wood, and guitar makers who have a kind of sixth sense about the resonant qualities of musical instruments. It always has been.
Q: Which musical icon(s) of history would you have most loved to have played with?
This is a question that I’m often asked – and I’m not sure why. So many singers and musicians have become huge presences in my life ever since I was a small boy, probably starting with Johnny Ray, the man with a cry in his voice. That voice captured my attention and fascinated me when I was only about 4 or 5 years old. But, the thought of ‘playing’ with any of my early hero’s would have scared me. I just like doing my own thing.
On the other hand, one of the greatest nights of my life was playing on stage at the London Palladium with Marty Wilde and his lovely family, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris, Liquorice Locking, Brian Bennett and Marty’s musicians. They are the icons I would have most loved to have played with when I was young, and in 2007 I got to do it. I’ll leave all the others icons to just turn me on – they don’t need me!