Come sit awhile and let me play you my story.
My journey to Progressive Rock "Guitar-dom" begins with a heritage in Country Music. Let me take it one step further and say the birth of Country music. My grandmother's maiden name (on my mom's side) was Harrell. She had a cousin by the name Kelly Harrell from Draper's Valley, VA who was a singer for RCA Victor from 1925 to 1929. As one of the first artists to record for RCA Victor he is considered to be somewhat of a legend.
My mother was born and raised in the Staunton, VA area and she and my aunt, her twin sister, were a singing duo back in the late '50s. They used to perform on television with the Statler Brothers when they were first starting out.
My own musical interests began when Johnny Cash and June Carter released their hit song "Jackson" which became my favorite song as a 4 year old. When Johnny Cash, The Carter Family and The Statler Bros. came to town, my family took me to the concert. Afterwards as my mom and aunt were hanging out talking with the Statler Brothers, Johnny walked over to say something to them, saw me staring up at him and gave me a pat on the head before going on his way. That left quite an impression that I will never forget and had me thinking "that's who I want to be like when I grow up". My love for his music continued to grow after that.
Although it was Johnny Cash who was my first inspiration to pursue music, it was Glen Campbell and Jerry Reed who inspired me to take up the guitar after attending the "Glen Campbell Goodtime Show" at the Roanoke Civic Center.
Rip It To Shreds
Two of my early Rock influences were The Eagles and Paul McCartney. To this day, The Eagle’s “On The Border” album is one that I still revere. Their take on the song “Midnight Flyer” really grabbed my attention for it’s Bluegrass Rock styling. It was actually a cover of an Osbourne Brothers song, but the Eagles’ version had this killer slide guitar solo on the ride out that just blew me away.
Southern Gothic Crossroads
The slide guitar work on this song pays homage to the late great Duane Allman and the baritone guitar tones give a nod to my childhood guitar hero Glen Campbell. Songs such as “Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman” still cut to my core to this day but are ever “Gentle On My Mind”. With Alzheimer’s taking its toll, Glen released the equally mesmerizing “Ghost On The Canvas” a few short years ago and a farewell tour followed. That album ranks as one of his all time best in my opinion. Thank you Duane and thank you Glen.
The Stuff Of Legends
The title “The Stuff Of Legends” originated from a guitar clinic I gave a few years ago by the same name. During the clinic I presented the names of some guitarists that are considered to be legends (Jeff Beck, B.B King, Jason Becker…) and posed the question “What did they have to go through to become legendary and what events transformed their lives?”
Once I told their stories it was apparent that the very obstacles that stood in their way was what attributed to their sound. For the teenaged Jeff Beck, guitars were hard by in post WWII England and swiping a pickup from a music store, built his own electric guitar that somewhat resembled a Fender Strat, but the neck was too long and the frets out of place resulting in the intonation being way off. He learned to bend the strings into tune to compensate and this is why his playing has a vocal like quality to this day.
For B.B. King, he would bang two nails into the walls of his house and string broom wire from one nail to the other as a makeshift instrument because “if us kids wanted to play music, we would find a way.”
Prodigy shred guitarist Jason Becker had reached the pinnacle of success in 1991 when he landed his dream gig of taking over for Steve Via in the David Lee Roth Band. Right about the same time he began experiencing numbness in his leg. The diagnosis wasn’t good… Jason had ALS. He barely finished the DLR album before losing his ability to play and the tour was called off. Jason is still alive and continues to make albums to this day. He and his dad developed a language using eye movements. Jason will stare at his guitar hanging on the wall and communicate to his dad what notes to put into the computer and the music that comes forth is astounding.
This kind of resilience is awe inspiring and what keeps me forging ahead and that’s “The Stuff Of Legends”.
The Electric Boardwalk
The Electric Boardwalk commemorates one particular night when I was 14. We were on a family vacation at Carolina Beach and on this one night I was hanging out on the boardwalk by a nightclub. Since I was too young to get in, I was just handing there by the entrance with the waves crashing behind me and while songs like “The Boys Are Back In Town” (Thin Lizzy), Long Time (Boston) and Cold As Ice (Foreigner) cut through the salty night air above the barroom chatter.
What a great time to be young and alive on “The Electric Boardwalk”!
No other band has been more influential to me as an artist than Pink Floyd and David Gilmour is no doubt one of the most captivating guitarists to strap on a Fender Strat. Even though I had seen pictures of them in various music magazines and Rock Pictorial books I had checked out from the library, my first real impression of the Floyd was when a bandmate showed up for band practice with a copy of the newly released “Animals” album with the pig flying above this ominous structure called the Battersea Power Station on the cover. I like to jokingly say that the music that unfolded that night re-arranged my brain chemistry and the opening chord progression to the song “Dogs” is still my favorite all time progression. “Battersea” is my tribute to the mighty Pink Floyd.
This One Candle
At a point in time circa 1980, I was at Oasis Records engaging in one of my favorite pastimes of shopping for vinyl records. There was no streaming back then and often times if it was a band you unfamiliar with, you would base your purchase on how cool the album cover was. On this particular day I stumbled on a solo album by Kerry Livgren, the principle guitarist / keyboardist / songwriter for the band Kansas. The album was entitled “Seeds Of Change”. As I was reading the track listing on the back cover, each song gave credit to the other performers who played on each track (an all star cast to say the least), one name jumped out at me on two of the songs… Ronnie James Dio.
At the time, Rainbow was my favorite band and Dio was my favorite singer, but I had recently been disappointed when the new Rainbow album had come out and Dio was no longer in the band. This was also prior to the announcement that he had indeed joined Black Sabbath.
So I immediately purchased the album and I noticed right away that all of the songs were from a Christian perspective and indeed learned that Kerry had become a Christian. The two songs that Ronnie sang on
In 1986 I moved to the Washington DC area and joined a faith based Metal band named Taker. We recorded and released a 4 song demo that gained a lot of traction globally due to some glowing reviews. I still have some fanzines from overseas with reviews in German, French, Swedish and Italian that I still don't what was said. I just know our P.O box used to be flooded with fan mail and I was constantly dubbing demos and going to the post office on my lunch break. After my 4 year stint with Taker, I joined up with some other friends who had a band called Armageddon and toured in support of their 1989 album relwase called "The Money Mask". One of my proudest memories was my Mom telling me how she walked into Oasis Records at the mall and found a copy and held it up saying "This is my son's band".
After that I settled down into a guitar teaching career and to raise a family. I was logging in as many as 80 lessons a week. Performing soon took a back seat to teaching, but in it's place I put together my home studio (after taking Recording Arts at the local community college) and began producing my own albums. This became my new musical passion and this very album is my latest endeavor.
Oh yeah, Armageddon has since reformed and we finally released the the long awaited follow to "The Money Mask", the award winning "Up In Flames" which was released in 2015 and a third album is in the planning stages as of this writing.
Carolina Blue Moon
In 2003 I relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. I continue to teach guitar here at Charlotte Academy Of Music and am back to performing live with Chicago Reloaded, a Chicago Tribute band as well as some other artists. When I thought of this song title, I googled it to see what would come up and the only other reference was a cottage named "Carolina Blue Moon" on the Outer Banks. I love the Outer Banks and this song coincidentally captures that Outer Banks feeling. If you've been there you know what I mean. If not, this song is your invitation.
I am now at that stage in life where my musical heroes are passing on. The year 2016 will go down as a year where many legends took their final bow. On a personal level, several musical brothers, friends and family members have also passed. Memorial Garden is a contemplation of the brevity of life and a musical tribute to those who live on in our memories.
Watching For The New Jerusalem Post (To Show Up At My Door)
This song has a "The Great Gig In The Sky" vibe. We live in an age of unparalleled unrest and everyday the news brings more heartbreak. We are told to let not our heart be troubled and to watch and pray. So I'm "Watching For The New Jerusalem Post To Show Up My Door". SHRED ALERT: I'm taking ya'll to church on this one. This is the song I want played when I'm laid to rest.
Virginia Native (Reprise)
My late grandfather, Russell Bussey, was a railroad engineer for Norfolk and Western Railroad. To me, he was a true hero and a legend. He used to engineer the infamous Class J and Class A Locomotives and there's a photo of him in the O. Winston Link Pictorial book "Steam, Steel and Stars. He once had a passenger by the name of Elvis Presley
He also owned several properties around Roanoke including the property I grew up on and the 125 acres that my parents live on now. I, having lived all around the state of VA and now in Charlotte, NC, can tell you there's nothing quite like that property at the foot of the Blue Ridge.
Just up the road apiece from Charlotte, in the town of Spencer, NC they recently restored the last remaining Class J number 611 and put it back into excursion service. We took a family ride on it back in the '80s and I also had the privilege of going up into the cab with my grandfather and have him describe to me how it works.
Sometimes I dream about heading up to Spencer on a day that the 611 is there, hopping on board, pretending my grandfather is at the throttle and going home. Perhaps someday I will.