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

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.