Picture this: Craig Young as the Minister of Bluegrass and Country Music, Duane Andrews as the Minister of Gypsy Jazz, Gordon Quinton as the Minister of Fingerstyle, and Sandy Morris as the Guitar Player without Portfolio. I personally can’t think of a better government (ahem, Mr. Ball!).
Unfortunately, the four won’t be running for office anytime soon (that I know of). However, this is how Morris perfectly sums up a new quartet of Newfoundland’s’ best guitarists. Fretboard Journey‘s debut (self-titled) album is being launched in St. John’s this Saturday Oct. 15 at the LSPU Hall and in Carbonear Oct. 28 at the Stone Jug. I chatted with the four before the show about all things guitar.
You’ve All Been Known as Masters of Your Craft for Many Years, and I’m Sure You’ve Gone Through a Few Guitars by Now, but What Was the First Guitar You’ve Ever Owned?
Sandy: A typical no name beater with crazy high action. My first decent guitar was a Gibson J-50 that was stolen from a room at MUN just after I bought my Martin.
Gordon: A Palm Beach, black and yellow with a painting of a palm tree on it. It cost $12.98
Craig: A Sears copy of a Gibson dove
Duane: The first guitar I owned was a Harmony electric ordered from the Sears catalogue when I was in grade 7. I remember years later taking it apart and removing every screw but never got around to putting it back together and all the parts slowly disappeared so I’m not sure where that guitar is now.
Everyone Seems to Have Different Advice on How Best to Learn Guitar. How Did You Learn to Play?
S: I always say I learned by needle drops. You drop the needle on your turntable at the part of the tune you were learning, then pick it up and try to get it back in the same spot. Remember there was no music school back when I started, and not that many guitar players to ask questions to. The best thing that happened was finding Guitar Player magazine in ’67. All of a sudden there was a wrath of knowledge every month.
G: When I was young, I watched my older brother Doug and his friend practice on their guitars and then I would try to do what they did. From there, I listened to other guitarists and records, consulted chord books, and then branched off on my own.
C: From a book called the pointer system, on my own.
D: My mother and sister we’re learning so I kind of picked up what they were into. My first formal setting was a guitar group in Elementary school where we were split into pickers and strummers groups, so I started strumming away in grade 5 mostly to Simani and Willie Nelson.
I’m Pretty Sure My First Song on Guitar Was a Badly Strummed Version of America’s ”Horse with No Name.” Mostly Because There are Only Two Chords. What Was the First Song You Learned to Play on Guitar?
S: ”Green Onions” by Booker T and the Mgs.
G: ”Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by The Virtues
C: ”Mansion on the Hill” by Hank Williams
D: It’s a bit foggy but I recall a lot of traditional Newfoundland songs and also country music in the very beginning. I recall being able to pick the ”Wildwood Flower” when I was pretty small and that became a showpiece when I was around grade 6.
You All Have Such Different Styles of Playing – Which Guitarist(s) Influence You the Most?
S: There are so many I wouldn’t know where to start. Lonnie Mack, Steve Cropper, Bob Dylan, Wes Montgomery, Segovia and locally Derm Ryan, Don Oakley, Neil Bishop, and Russ Clarke. In reality every guitar player I’ve ever heard is an influence.
G: Hank Snow, Duane Allman, Joni Mitchell, Red Shea, Lenny Breau, and Bruce Cockburn.
C: In order: My Dad, Smiley Bates, Reggie Young, Mark Knopfler, Albert Lee, Tony Rice , David Grier.
D: Django Reinhardt continues to be a profound influence. I’m still transcribing his music, though more recently I’ve been into Baro Ferret who was a contemporary of Django and made a few recordings which are quite insightful to the sound of that era. I’ve also been fascinated by flatpickers like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, and Clarence White and that has led me back to a picker named Don Reno who was more obscure but seems to be one of the players who laid the foundation for flatpicking.
Let’s Talk Gear. What Guitar(s) Will We See at a Fretboard Journey Show?
S: I use my ’67 Martin D-18, a Takamine 12 String from the ’70s, and a Superior acoustic Hawaiian lap steel.
G: Gibson J-45 and Martin DX1.
C: I rotate between an old Martin D28, and a Custom G Guitar built by Ryan Young.
D: I have a modern build of the type of guitar that Django used to play. It’s built by an Italian luthier named Mauro Fresci and is based on the petite bouche Selmer style guitar which Django played. It’s kind of like a mix between a nylon and steel string guitar.
Do you Have a Favorite/Go-to Guitar?
S: I’ve got a bunch but my two favs are the Martin and my ’75 Fender Strat. They’ve both been on so many iconic records and tv shows and have so much of my DNA on them that they feel like putting on an old coat.
G: A stock 1991 Gibson J-45, slope shoulder, solid mahogany body, spruce top.
C: Not really, I have a bunch and tend to play them all equally, changing it up all the time.
D: I’m not really a collector and I’ve only owned a handful of guitars. Around the house I have my Selmer style guitar and also a Martin D-16A which was my main guitar before I got a Selmer style instrument and I also have an Ibanez Artist 335 style electric. I like to keep them lying around the house in different rooms as it makes it easier to practice if there’s an instrument handy when inspiration strikes.
I Always Have One or Two Chords That are the First Ones I Play When I ”Test” a Guitar. What is Your Favorite Chord to Play on the Guitar and Why?
S: I love them all equally.
G: D major. I like its feel and warm tone. It was also the first chord I learned.
C: The G chord. Love the bluegrass openness of it.
D: Django Reinhardt played the guitar with a damaged left hand. He only had the full use of his index and middle fingers, though he could move his ring and pinky fingers, but he didn’t have any feeling in them and they were kind of fused together. With this limited range he developed an incredibly rich style of chording all based on the same type of shape. It’s kind of like if you naturally grab the neck with all of your fingers you get the basic shape that Django used but with little modifications you can access a wide variety of chord types. So I don’t really have a favourite chord but I’m really into that kind of shape. I guess we could call it the Django chord!
Most of Us Learn Guitar in Standard Tuning (EADGBE), But a lot of Alternate and Open Tunings Have Become Quite Popular. What Tuning Do You Prefer to Play In?
S: I mostly use standard but I use loads of alternate timings depending on the situation. With Fretboard I keep the lap steel in a low C tuning.
G: Dropped D; Open C; G 6th; Low C (CGDGAD).
D: I’m pretty much always in standard tuning. Alternate tunings like DADGAD and drop D are popular when backing jigs and reels and it’s cool how you can get low drones happening, but often with these types of tunes you move between the keys of E, A, D, G and B which are all open strings in standard tuning so there are actually more drone options there.
Follow Fretboard Journey on Facebook, and pick up the new self-titled album on iTunes or at Fred’s Records.