Instrumental music that honors the traditions of American roots and Western culture

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At the risk of not repeating myself

April 5, 2016

Early on in my musical life’s work and recording career, it became an important notion for me to not make the same album twice. I am driven to learn new approaches and stylings, and factor in new ideas and influences. The liability of this is that a portion of your familiar listenership will become detractors. Discontented and disappointed with your newest work and effort. (And they will let you know it, as if it is their responsibility to keep you on some sorta track.) Can’t really blame them I guess, since our memory plays a huge part in what we can appreciate. I have been guilty a few times myself with some of my favorite artists. In every case though those recordings at some point end up on the top of my play stack. So after taking this into consideration when told that Mississippi was a genre stretch, too much of a departure and might not fair well at radio, I was not too discouraged . That’s why in this regard I am even more pleased and thankful that Mississippi was #1 at radio last July, #2 in the Top 100 for 2015 and has been nominated for the ZMR “Album Of The Year” and for “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.” Thank you for continuing to let me explore and produce the music that comes through me.

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The New CD

April 16, 2015

Mississippi is the follow up CD to Southwest and Badlands. And like the previous recordings, Mississippi is my musical expression of how we are inspired by, and relate to, our American landscape. This is my take on the region that has come to be known as the Cradle of American Music - centered in the delta, and expanding to include the Americana Music Triangle.

This is not a treatise or a rehash on the music of Robert Johnson (who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for musical prowess) or Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith. It’s about the lure of the Mississippi “idea” and the passion it has created across multiple art forms. There is something about the bleakness there that lifts the muse.

Mississippi is also my singular “instrumental voice.” No featured players or soloists or special guests. Just a dynamite rhythm section made up of the usual suspects and my room full of guitars. This is the music I play when I am just hanging out - open G tuning, the mixolydian mode and some chicken pickin’. These are my roots and pretty much who I have always been.

Southwest and Badlands were about the dry creek beds. Mississippi is about the water: Swamp instead of cactus, bayous instead of kivas, muggy instead of parched.

Welcome to Mississippi.

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Mississippi - something must be in the water

April 16, 2015

The first time I came to Mississippi I was 15 years old and it was 1970. My nose was pressed to the window of a converted school bus on a family trip as I took in the landscape and the richness of the culture in the Deep South.

At that time, I didn’t so much hear the music as much as I felt it. Heartfelt and soulful, “it rang in my gut as much as in my ears.” And ever since then I have been unable to shake off  the lure and charm, yet sultry mood of Mississippi and the Gulf coast.

The quality of light in the South, the weather and the “tragic and triumphant history of the people” have conspired to create an art form that has shaped the entire world of popular music.

However this musical viewpoint of mine is not just confined to the state, or the river or the delta. It’s also about the greater concept of Americana roots music formed in the headwaters of Muhlenburg County in western Kentucky and flowing through Nashville, Rosedale and all the way to mouth of the river in Louisiana.

I am certainly not the first nor will I be the last creative to fall under the spell of Mississippi. I have been playing guitar for 50 years and I am still curious about where it all started and how I got to where I am and how I am a part of the lineage from the “Cradle of American Music.” Knowing full well, it’s just as much about Twain and Faulkner as it is Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, I believe there must be something in the water.

New Mississippi CD

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My Guitar History (Part 1)

July 9, 2012

My earliest musical memories were of my mother playing classics on the piano and of my father playing an eclectic mix on the hi-fi. Clare de Lune and Fur Elise were blended with the Kingston Trio, Earl Bostik, Ravi Shankar, Hawaiian Music, The Flower Drum Song and Edvard Grieg.

I became interested in the guitar around age 10. And since I always figured I could build what I needed, my first guitar was one that I made with fishing wire and a block of wood. Heavily influenced by the popularity of the Beatles and the attention paid to the older boys at church camp, I realized that the guitar was THE ultimate attention seeking device. For my birthday, I received my first guitar. It was a 4-string guitar with a broken neck that my dad had pulled out of the dumpster at Sears Roebuck and glued back together. Next came a $25 electric from Woolworth’s paid for by the paper route.

At 13, I won an all-city talent contest in Bellingham, Washington singing “San Francisco Bay Blues.” Soon thereafter, I had my first recording as a bass player for Phil Lucas. From then on I was always in a band. Starting set lists included “Secret Agent Man,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Gloria” and “Louie, Louie.” My first paid gig was in my sophomore year; my 5 piece band got $50.

As a freshman in high school, I was in the jazz band playing the electric bass. I then moved on to the orchestra percussion section and upright bass. As a junior in high school, I took half the year off to audit composition, theory and sight singing classes at the University in Moscow, Idaho. After high school, the rock world was my oyster. Playing almost every high school sock hop and tolo in Washington state as a bassist and lead guitarist, I was part of one of the top regional bands in Seattle area in the late ’70s.

During that time I also expanded my classical studies in theory, composition and guitar. At Western Washington University in Bellingham, I studied the Segovian tradition with Frank Bliven and Tom Patterson. Studies included Fernando Sor Etudes, Tarrega, Albeniz, Lauro, Barrios and Bach. I had master classes with Michael Lorimer, Christopher Parkening and George Sakelario.

Over the years, I became enamored with a succession of rock idols; Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, John Fogarty. English art rock groups like Wishbone Ash, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant were also a major source of influence. Alongside this I was also into jazz fusion. Countless hours were spent listening to early Pat Methany, Chick Corea, and Oregon featuring Ralph Towner.

In 1980 I left the glitzy rock band world for classical gigs in restaurants and open mics at local coffee houses. In early 1981, I composed one of my first works for solo guitar in a classic style. In 1982, I released my first recording of original solo guitar music on my own record label. The album was called On the Links and it did quite well in the Pacific Northwest market. In 1984, I did my second work titled, Urban Guitar. At this point, I was well into the stylings of what was called Windham Hill music, which soon became more well known as New Age or New Acoustic Instrumental music.

In early 1985, I had the somewhat unique idea of doing an instrumental recording of holiday music. I asked woodwinds player Nancy Rumbel to join me on the project which resulted in The Gift and by early 1987 Tingstad and Rumbel were recording for the Narada record label.

At this point I had pretty muchhad my electric guitar in the closet for the last 5 or 6 years and was focusing entirely on writing and arranging for the classic guitar and small ensemble. Around 1988 I found a used Martin New Yorker in Portland, OR. Now the switch was on from nylon strings to a steel string fingerstyle approach. It was also necessary for me to have my fingernails reinforced with acrylic to handle the stress of harder strings.

Now that I was on contract with a major record label, I was pretty much required to record and deliver a new album about once a year or so. And that’s pretty much what I did. Between 1986 and 2004 I released 14 albums on Narada/Virgin/EMI. All of which were acoustic guitar based instrumental ensemble recordings.

In 2003 I won a GRAMMY for my recording Acoustic Garden as Artist, Engineer and Producer with Nancy Rumbel. This was our 13th recording together. A lucky number.

By 2004 my contracts with the majors were pretty much up and I did not renew. Choosing to be an early adopter of the new independent DIY music industry model, I found it much more rewarding to be in control of my musical direction and how I was being branded. I felt that being known only as an acoustic instrumentalist was limiting as my interests and newer recordings were much broader. And so I came outta the closet … again … with my electric guitar which I started to feature more prominently in my projects.

My listening interests from then until now have been in the traditional and new traditional country western and Americana genres. Old Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are blended with newer talent such as Lucinda Williams, LeeAnn Womack and Band of Heathens.

In 2006 I completed one of the recordings I am most proud of and took about 8 years to finish. Southwest is a culmination of my interests in Native American ambience, Western music, the pedal steel guitar and the geographic area of the four corners in the SW of the United States. Southwest garnered my second Grammy nomination and spawned the subgenre known as Ambient Americana.

Around 2009 I started to open up my studio to other artists who were interested in having me assist with the production of their recordings. In most cases I have been the primary guitarist and arranger as well, and the stylings have tended to run from solo piano, singer songwriter, smooth world, and guitar driven Americana. I have broadened my guitar palette bringing dobro, steel guitar, 12-string and pedal steel guitar into the mix.

In 2012 I released my tour de force recording titled Badlands. A much harder hitting collage of Ambient Americana instrumentals that feature some great performances by folks like Cindy Cashdollar, Byron Metcalf, Ben Smith and Andrew Joslyn. Badlands has me playing a crunchier and much more deliberate driving guitar sound that features my custom-built telecaster and Dr Z amp being effected by a raft of pedals and stomp boxes.

It’s been a long and wonderful journey since the trash can guitar with a broken neck and it’s far from being over.

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What's it like to win a GRAMMY? Part 2: Eric Takes Out Bonnie Raitt

June 6, 2012

So coming off the stage after having just been given my first Grammy Award, I have a tug of war with Vanna White over the trophy … and she wins. Somehow she managed to wrestle away from me the statue which I did not understand was not the one I get to keep. But before I could mount another offensive, I was grabbed by the hand and told “come this way.”

Now I’m being led by someone who must be Vanna’s sister down a very narrow winding corridor with people scurrying in both directions. As we round the 2nd or 3rd corner I can see the vast expanse of the back staging area of Madison Square Gardens. It was a pretty amazing sight, because on these huge pallets being moved around by tractors was all the individual stacks of gear used by the performing bands. And on these mountains of gear were large plaques with the names of No Doubt, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Eminem, Faith Hill etc. I was totally mesmerized and not watching where I was going or going where I was watching. And then it happened…

Bam!

It all went down so fast and I am not sure if I actually knocked her to the ground or what, but I’d just done a full on header with Bonnie Raitt. And she was not happy. Ya know that Seinfeld episode where Kramer had punched Micky Mantle – his all time hero? That’s what I felt like. And that look she gave me. Complete bewilderment and disdain as to why I was not paying attention. I was in big trouble and I deserved it. Bonnie is not a very big girl and I am sure it musta hurt. But in that moment, as petite as she is, she coulda kicked my ass. I knew it and she knew it. Except as quickly as it happened she was whisked away to hand out an award and I was moved on to the first of a series of press conferences.

I am really sorry Miss Raitt. I hope there was no permanent injury.

Bonnie Raitt’s new CD Slipstream is fantastic!

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Catching the Wave

May 15, 2012

Surfing makes a great analogy for the music business and for participating and making a career out of it. They both have the elements of intent, timing, passivity, endurance, uncontrollable forces and even sharks.

Let’s start with intent

You’ll notice that on the beach there are a variety of folk for a variety of reasons. Some are there just to enjoy the water and sunshine, some to casually watch the surfers, and then there are those fans of surfing who are ready to help a surfer with a run to the cabana for a cool one, or Ron Jon’s for more lotion … the super fans.

You’ll also notice a group of folk who by all intents and purposes look ready to hit the waves. They got the board, the body type, the vibe and yet … they never go in the water. These are the people who primarily keep the surfboard manufacturers in business. Then of course you have the myriad surfers who are either catching a wave (or not). But they are out in the water giving it their best.

Similarly with the music business you have the casual observer with no intent and you have the ardent helper. Not really making a clear decision to be in the game, but they love to hang out at the table and be a part of the energy. Then of course comes the musician who thinks for any number of reasons it would be nice to have a career in music and so they think they are having one. They have got all the gear and the attitude, but never seem to jump in and figure out what it takes to participate. These are the kind of folk who keep the musical instrument manufacturers in business. These are the wannabes who think it is about being discovered. But that’s analogous to thinking that someone is going to ride the wave for you or carefully pick you up and place your surfboard on top of the wave. Some folks just wanna be famous without putting in the work and worse yet, not enjoying the process of what it takes to get the ride.

Importance of timing

Timing is everything to catching the big wave in surfing. You have to watch the cycle and know when to paddle out. If you get out too early, (or too late) you are going to miss getting the optimum spot on the crest of the wave. Early or late, you can still catch a part of the action, but not the big energy. You have to get on the wave before it crests. You can’t just all of a sudden be on the top of all the action. And getting there either too early or too late has its different consequences.

In the business of music there are waves as well… big and small. Think of the Beatles and the first British invasion. Their timing could not have been better with all the social trends, baby boomers at the perfect age needing something, and growing recording technology. There were of course dozens of bands that were on this wave. Some a little early, some a little later. Also, consider Kurt Cobain and his timing with Nirvana. Again many bands were there a little early and many came too late to take full advantage of the trends and advantages of Grunge. The Beatles incidentally rode a few waves. Along with the pop phase, they had the psychedelia and introspective fads.

Endurance and being prepared

So what happens if you catch a huge wave while surfing and you don’t have the talent, physical stamina or mental endurance to deal with the overwhelming force of the water? You crash and burn. And what happens if you don’t have the talent, physical stamina or mental endurance to deal with the overwhelming force of stardom? You crash and burn. Ya gotta be in shape for both these sports. Anything less can meet up with disastrous results. You have to get clear on your strength and comfort level. Do you just wanna body surf, or be one of the Endless Summer guys? Where do you really see yourself? If you are not up for the event you will just continue to sabotage yourself and your efforts to stay in your comfort zone.

What we can’t control

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the random timing in chaos and how it can potentially affect your level of success in any certain field. What year you were born and even what time of the year you were born has an affect on the outcome. All elements that are out of our personal control. The Beatles could not control when they were born, nor the chances that they might all meet and create a band. How random was the fact that the Hamburg venues they played and prepared in, happen to go through an agent who booked exclusively bands from Liverpool. Likewise, in surfing, who can control the vagaries of a wave, where no two are exactly alike? To a certain extent it is like winning the lottery. Only once you win you have to have had a financial game plan already in place or you’ll end up like most people who win the lottery – eventually without much money again or worse yet, further in debt.

Moral of the Story

So what can we learn and take away from this? Well first you have to get to the beach… ya gotta get into the game. Where are you in that process? Be real clear about your intent and be honest with yourself about where you are on the beach. Are you even at the beach?

Be honest with yourself about your endurance and comfort level. Is massive stardom (the BIG scary wave) something you are up to handling?

Be honest with yourself about your talent level. Get some real and honest evaluation. Do you even know HOW to surf?

And most of all, give yourself a break if you are in the water and keep missing the wave you want. Don’t go beating yourself up. At least you are in the pool trying to catch the wave. So when you start to run and listen to your personal mindful tape loop of discouragement, stop and think about the wave. Because with tenacity, some smarts and perseverance, you will eventually catch one. Maybe just a little one, but it will still give you a good ride. Just remember to smile and wave.

PS … The caveat, addendum, exception to the rule is that every once in a while an apparent novice paddles out and some how miraculously gets the timing, breaks and balance on the wave and rides it like a pro, amazing everyone on the beach. Likewise, every once in a while an apparent newbie in the music industry comes along and gets the perfect breaks, timing and hits the big time. Amazing all the industry onlookers who think this is the norm and how it’s done. This is like winning the lottery or getting struck by lightening. So don’t count on it.

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My Martin New Yorker

May 14, 2012

My main acoustic guitar is a 1961 Martin New Yorker 00-21NY. I tell people that it was my great grampa’s and that he gave it to my grampa who gave it to my dad and then my dad sold it to me. That’s not true. I bought it in 1987 from Steve Einhorn at Artichoke Music in Portland, Oregon. It was in mint condition at that time. It has Brazilian rosewood back and sides … still.

The guitar got its name because of, and in homage to, the folk revival in the late ’50s and early ’60s that centered around clubs in Manhattan like the Cafe Wha? and the Gaslight where there were air shafts up to the apartments and the windows would open into the air shafts, so when people would applaud, the neighbors would get disturbed and call the police. So then the audience couldn’t applaud; they had to snap their fingers instead.

Many people mistake it from a distance for a classic guitar with nylon strings because of the slotted head stock. Actually it was designed to be both a steel or nylon string guitar, but I have never seen one strung up with nylon. I think I will try it someday. But since I hate to change strings, that might be a while.

My recordings and performances in the ’80s were done either with my Ramirez or Traphegan classic guitars which both had wide necks. Fingerpicking a standard width neck was almost impossible for me. So when was I told about the Martin New Yorker steel string guitar with a classic width neck I was thrilled. This was the beginning of my chronic Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.

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Music Class in Junior High

April 30, 2012

When I was in Junior High at Whatcom Middle School in Bellingham, WA, it was required that you took the music class. We had this class twice a week with a Mr. Bartruff as I recall. Imagine that, in these times of “music is not necessary in public education.” Not band or choir, but a class where we studied and learned about music and it’s history.

We listened to a lot of music. And not only that, we were allowed to bring in our own music to listen to. Well, I brought some in to listen to. I sorta created my own show-and-tell cuz I don’t recall anybody else bringing in tunes. Pretty sure I brought in Nashville Cats and Do you believe in Magic by the Lovin’ Spoonful and My Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers.

I think the other kids thought I was kinda strange for doing this. I guess I was hoping that maybe I would be able to impress a girl. And that maybe I would be one of the most chased-after boys in school. I was chased all right, but mostly by other guys who wanted to kick my pansy ass. But, I know now that it was all about sharing music and the joy I get from doing that and not some form of an attention seeking device. Sometimes, I think I would rather listen to music than play it.

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