A guest article written by my friend, Ray Bonhomme.
I started playing guitar in 1980 or 1981. Great guitar intense music, guitar rock in particular, was just starting to enter into another renaissance period after Disco and Electronic music were the focus for some years. Of course there was Punk Rock, but it was not as guitar intense compared to what was yet to come. It seemed like during this period, most my immediate peer group wanted to pick up the guitar, and emulate the guitar virtuosity of players like Eddie Van Halen. Guitar greats such as he were suddenly making the guitar front and centre, and culturally, it became really cool and exciting again! I liken players like Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and Angus Young to Tony Hawk in that he made kids pick up skateboards the same way that this new breed of guitar hero made us want to pick up these six-stringed instruments. I also remember that during this period, Eric Clapton came out with the live version of “Cocaine”, which really made an impact on me. I was playing air guitar to that before I even picked up a real guitar. It was just a really exciting time in pop culture, and more specifically, in guitar culture. It seemed like a lot of my peer group picked up the guitar, garage bands were formed, and kids all over the small town where I grew up gravitated towards that instrument for the same reasons.
As I mentioned, one of my earliest guitar influences was hearing Clapton on that single – It just moved me at that time. Then of course listening to AC/DC, and like many kids at that time, hearing Van Halen’s debut album for the very first time, were also big influences on me. Hearing that album gave me the impression that aliens had landed. It was released just a few years earlier, so it was still fresh. What really moved me though, was when I heard a new guitar player who just recently joined Ozzy Osbourne. His name was Randy Rhoads. I remember distinctly that it was first listening to “Over the Mountain,” which sounded like some evil violin in the solos, that I first really took notice of his guitar playing brilliance. Although, it wasn’t until I heard Randy Rhoads’ guitar work in Mr. Crowley that I was totally blown away! I then listened to his entire catalogue and he became my first guitar hero. My introduction to Led Zeppelin 4, around the same time, also made a big impact on me. More specifically, the song “Black Dog”, which to my then 15 year-old brain, felt like that’s what Rock music should sound like! It epitomized it!
Another influence on me at that time was this local guy named Claude, that my older sister was friends with. She brought him over to our house one night. That night was pivotal. He sat himself down on a kitchen chair in the middle of our living room, and with a cheap Vantage guitar and cheap amp, he proceeded to dazzle me and my small group of my friends with perfect renditions of songs from the first two Van Halen albums as well as some Randy Rhoades era Ozzy, all of which were current at the time. He also played excellent covers of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. All of our jaws just dropped. What was even more impressive, was that he executed these songs perfectly, without any accompaniment. That night left a mark on me to this day. I’m still impressed when guitar players stay true to the original song, especially when I see a cover band perform. I went on to hang out at Claude’s place many times just to pick his brain or sit quietly and watch him play.
There were two young players in my immediate peer group, named Rick and Butch, that were also early influences. Both started playing guitar a litter earlier than I did but both just had that extra something about their playing. At that time, Rick bought two Star Licks cassettes, and proceeded to master the Eddie Van Halen tapping technique. I remember thinking “Ahhh, that’s that sound I hear on those Van Halen records.” Rick really progressed fast due to his intense practice regimen. It was exciting just to watch him play and pick up a few techniques at the same time.
Butch just had a great rock rhythm groove and he also showed me some early rock licks. He and I actually went on to play together for many years afterward. We tried to get a band going once, but we mostly just had lots of great times jamming. Both of them went on to become really good players and still are to this day.
My first guitar was a cheap no name acoustic guitar. My first electric guitar was a Les Paul knock-off, which ran on batteries and had built-in Phase shifting and distortion effects.
I never took lessons. I am self-taught. In those days we really just learned from each other, or by moving the needle back on a record player or rewinding cassettes to repeat passages. The advent of tablature was like a godsend. Nowadays, there is so much instruction via video lessons on YouTube, as well as online guitar instruction. I encourage everyone to take advantage of those modern era advances. Also, music software, such as Transcribe, is really handy to loop difficult passages and slow them down. We live in a good time because of these advantages.
I am right-handed but oddly, I play guitar left-handed. It’s the way I picked it up. We had an old acoustic kicking around the house and out of sheer naivety, I picked it up left-handed because I thought that the high string was supposed to be on top. That, plus it felt more comfortable and natural playing left handed. Nobody told me any different. I learned ‘Wipe-Out” and I was maybe a month in before I found out that I was playing it the wrong way. At that point, I just reversed the strings regardless of the intonation implications. A few years later, I bought a proper left handed guitar: a Lado.
When I first started playing, my practice regimen consisted of myself and my peer group – more specifically, Rick and especially Butch – just getting together and playing riffs. We would play off each other’s riffs, using whatever limited lead guitar knowledge we had at that time. It was mostly just the main riffs of popular songs repeated over and over. Later on, I went through a period of intense wood shedding, where I would practice scales and sequences up and down for up to 6 hours daily. It certainly helped my dexterity but I paid the price in my rhythm and timing, even to this day.
My first experience playing live was in a high school music class as a project for my younger cousin, who brought me and my bandmates in as a showcase. Approximately five years later, I wound up in back to back bands, both of which went on to eventually play the local bar scene. The second band actually was fairly popular on the local scene at that time. This would have been throughout the early to late 90’s. Nothing since though.
These days, I’m just working on completing online guitar courses and making collaboration videos with friends. Basically, we all agree on a song to learn and perform collectively. From a distance, we perform and video record our parts. Through procedure and video editing, I mix and sync the audio of our collective videos, which I then stitch together to make one main video. From there, I give copy to my fellow collaborators and post a copy to various social media platforms. If there is a silver lining during this pandemic, it would be learning video editing. So far, people seem to enjoy collaborating and looking at the final result of all of us virtually playing together. Once this Covid thing is over with, I would love to try to get a hobby band going
I have tried to learn other styles of music on the guitar and even went through a period of trying to learn to play classical guitar. I just learned a few classical standards, along with Dee by Randy Rhoads but didn’t get very far. I did however put some effort into it. I still remember some of those songs but I would need to refresh memory to be able to play most of them. I also delved into finger style ragtime for a while. Currently, I’m learning some funk guitar via online lessons. I find it interesting and helpful for my playing overall.
My advice to younger players just starting out is to play what inspires you, no matter what style. The guitar is such a beautiful and versatile instrument, so you should keep an open mind to other styles. Don’t look down on other forms of music. Whether its punk rock or skiffle music that you feel, do what inspires you. It’s all valid. Secondly, big expensive gear doesn’t really matter! Tone is in the fingers, as the old adage goes. Next, play with other people and learn to play in a group setting, especially with a drummer. Strive to play with musicians that are more advanced than you are. They will make you better!
I would encourage anyone forming a group to play with another guitar player because there is so much more you can do with a twin guitar format. It helps you to play off of another guitar player and share guitar playing duties, as well as fill out the sound by playing different chord inversions, harmonies, etc.. It will make you a more well-rounded player, able to share soloing time during informal jam sessions. Finally, hopefully the reason you picked up the guitar is because you liked its sound and its musicality, and not because it’s a means to end to get you fame and glory because you will be sorely disappointed. If you do eventually get to a level to form a band, congratulations you are on the right track because there is nothing better than making music with like-minded musicians.
Just remember though, you are there to serve the song and not your guitar ego. Learning and playing the guitar is a life time journey. Just enjoy every moment that it brings to you. Whether you are playing and touring in a band or playing for yourself at home, it’s all valid. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Rheal G. Bonhomme
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