"I hope people never forget about the Blues as the 'root' of it all, and I hope people continue to 'grow' within the Blues, and use it for their own creativity, not just to copy…."
Arlen Roth: Eclectic Tele(master)
Acclaimed guitar master Arlen Roth has teamed up with a host of fellow Telecaster greats released his new album, “Tele Masters” (2019, Aquinnah Records). Joining Roth are Joe Bonamassa, Steve Cropper, Jerry Donahue, Vince Gill, Johnny Hiland, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Brad Paisley, Jack Pearson, Will Ray, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner. Recorded mostly in Nashville, Tele Masters was produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy), who also played drums on the sessions. The all-star line-up of notable players who also appeared on the sessions included Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel guitar, and acoustic guitar wizards Billy Panda and Bryan Sutton, plus Hambridge’s long-time bassist, Tommy MacDonald. Although predominantly instrumental, the album also includes vocal contributions from Steve Cropper, Jack Pearson, Sweet Mikey C. and Arlen’s daughter, Lexie Roth. Arlen’s last CD was the critically-acclaimed Slide Guitar Summit (2015) which featured Roth and an incredible lineup of fellow slide guitar greats – Johnny Winter, Sonny Landreth, David Lindley, Rick Vito, Jimmy Vivino, Jack Pearson, Lee Roy Parnell, Cindy Cashdollar and Greg Martin (Kentucky Headhunters). Arlen Roth / Photo by Alan Mayes
Guitar legend Arlen Roth is considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and during the course of his 45+year career has toured the world and recorded with an amazing list of artists, including Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Phoebe Snow, Levon Helm, Ry Cooder, Eric Andersen, Dusty Springfield, Janis Ian, Don McLean and The Bee Gees, among others. His teaching and creation of Hot Licks Video pioneered music and guitar education all over the world, with his videos having sold in excess of 2.5 million copies. His current online lessons and blogs for Gibson.com have over 1 million followers. Arlen was also the man behind the legendary blues film, Crossroads, creating the guitar parts, directing the guitar scenes and working alongside fellow guitarist Ry Cooder and actor Ralph Macchio during the film’s production. He was voted in the “Top 50 Acoustic Guitarists of All-Time” by Gibson.com and in the “Top 100 Most Influential Guitarists of All-Time” by Vintage Guitar Magazine. He has eight best-selling books to his credit, and his book, Hot Guitar, is a compilation of 10 years of his wildly popular column for Guitar Player Magazine.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
I learned to express myself very deeply at a very young age with the Blues, but also with ALL guitar playing! The Blues means the foundation of almost all American music, and the foundation any player should have.
How do you describe Arlen Roth sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
Arlen Roth sound is totally eclectic, yet rooted in traditional Blues, Country, R&B and everything else I’ve ever heard! My philosophy is simple: no matter what anyone shows you, you are always teaching yourself….in other words, we are all self-taught in the end!
How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Well, I’ve always played that way, and played by ear, so I certainly can tell when it’s “real” and when it’s not. it has certainly been a great catalyst in bringing me together with other players in other countries, all who appreciate the blues and American music.
"I learned to express myself very deeply at a very young age with the Blues, but also with ALL guitar playing! The Blues means the foundation of almost all American music, and the foundation any player should have." (Photo: Arlen Roth and his Tele)
Why did you think that the sound of Tele continues to generate such a devoted following? What are the secrets of?
I think with the Tele, “they got it right the first time!” it’s a true “form as function” work of art, and in hands of the right guitarist, it can say anything!
Are there any memories from "Tele Masters" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Yes, very funny when Steve Cropper was interviewed and he said “I guess he was busy while I was busy, because I don’t have any Arlen Roth stories!” but I jumped in and said, “but I have lots of Steve Cropper stories!” (from the year, 1975, when I was touring w/John Prine, and Cropper was producing him).
Loved how Jack Pearson, as always was singing and playing at the same time, and always did everything in one take! It was such an honor to finally record with Jerry Donahue, after years of knowing him, and he was so excited to go to New York to visit his new grand-daughter. I told Vince Gill, I wanted to do something slow and soulful with him, instead of all the other tunes with a million notes, and he said “Arlen, if you’re looking for soulful, I’m your man!”
What touched (emotionally) you from Albert Collins, Danny Gatton, Mike Bloomfield, and Roy Buchanan's music?
Collins was his stinging tone, and great attack and phrasing, plus he did two audio tapes for my old company, hot licks. Gatton was my best friend, and we cared much more about family and cars then guitar, but he showed me new ideas when he would “Layer” 2 or 3 chords at once in his improvisation, especially when we recorded “Tequila” on my toolin’ around album! With Bloomfield, I had never heard a guitar player with such “fire” as he played with Butterfield, and then with Dylan, I loved his phrasing and it still influences me to this day! with Buchanan, I loved his 2-dimensional, hard-edged approach, and his bend phrasing, which was already like mine.
Why did you think that the great slide players continues to generate such a devoted following?
Because to many guitarists, slide is a mystery, so therefore they gravitate to the greats!
"I miss that “1st Generation” kind of spontaneity and “reality.” But that goes for ALL music for me! I hope people never forget about the Blues as the “root” of it all, and I hope people continue to “grow” within the Blues, and use it for their own creativity, not just to copy…." (Photo: Arlen Roth)
Do you know why the sound of slide guitar is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of slide?
Slide has a distinctly “vocal” sound that really accentuates the “crying” aspect of the blues, and the mournful tones. The secrets lie within the right hand!!! (And much more, too, of course!)
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?
Best advice was when my father said “YOU play the guitar! I can just picture it!” Meeting: When I asked James Taylor backstage at a gig, why he didn’t do a certain song ever, and he then played and sang the entire song just for me! Meeting Pres. Clinton and Hillary when I performed for them…so exciting, and they were so nice to me!
How started the thought of the International Guitar Hall of Fame and Museum and what is the mission?
I always felt the guitar needed a real “home”. It has been my dream for over 20 years, since even having Hot Licks. The mission is true and real education about the guitar. The kind of place we’d never want to leave! I want the kind of Museum where a dad and his child may go in looking for Eric Clapton, but will end up just as excited about players like Blind Willie McTell or Hank Garland!
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss that “1st Generation” kind of spontaneity and “reality.” But that goes for ALL music for me! I hope people never forget about the Blues as the “root” of it all, and I hope people continue to “grow” within the Blues, and use it for their own creativity, not just to copy….
"I think it’s a very specific “Americana” form of music from basically 5 full decades in the 20th century, which turned “into” a kind of movement, thanks to others trying to emulate it. it’s a “foundation” too, of much other music, such as jazz." (Photo: Arlen Roth and his guitars)
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I’d pretty much eliminate “auto-tuning”!
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?
Working with the Slide Summit friends I have has made me laugh so much, and the Roy Buchanan tributes I played really touched me emotionally, especially letting myself “go” with Hey Joe! Also recording Vaya Con Dios with my daughter Lexie Roth on the Les Paul Tribute album…that was VERY emotional!
Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
I think it’s a very specific “Americana” form of music from basically 5 full decades in the 20th century, which turned “into” a kind of movement, thanks to others trying to emulate it. it’s a “foundation” too, of much other music, such as jazz.
What is the impact of Roots music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
I certainly hope it brings people together, racially, politically and in other ways. it’s a very powerful force in the world!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music industry?
That music and guitar are my best communication skills, and that it’s a tough road that never ends. also, if you’re recording me, “never miss my first take!”
What would you like to ask the Devil at the crossroads? What would you like to say to Leo Fender? (Photo: Arlen Roth & Ralph Macchio at "Crossroads", 1985)
I’d like to thank Leo Fender for doing it so right that it’s hard to imagine the world without a Tele or a Strat! I’d also like to know how long it took him to develop his first final guitar ideas, and what if anything, he took from Paul Bigsby??
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I’d like to be in Brooklyn, NY the day in 1955 when The Brooklyn Dodgers beat the NY Yankees in the World Series!
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