Outside the Norm (Influences, Part I)

My buddy Joel wrote a post today about his musical influences, and challenged others to do the same.  He listed five, of which I would have easily guessed three,  that he would have put on such a list, and none of  the five surprised me.   I can say that because I have played with Joel quite often, and have played through setlists that he's put together.  (By the way, Joel and I will be playing together again shortly, as we're doing a  coffehouse next month, and he's leading worship at my church.   You're all invited.)

Anyway, it got me thinking.  My influences are many and varied, so I want to take another approach.   I work at a post-secondary vocational school.  Next week, we are  having a summer event for the students - a cookout, games, contests, etc...   In addition, we have  put together a "faculty band" of sorts.  Seems there are a few musicians on staff, including some who play regularly in "bar bands," and a couple like myself, who play on worship teams.  We've assembled a five-piece (three guitars, bass, drums) and vocalist group, and have been working on some "classic" rock songs for the event.  We have a seven-song set that we will play twice.  After three jam sessions rehearsals, these musicians are starting to sound pretty good.

Many of the songs or bands in the set have influenced me in some way musically  so I thought I'd touch on that a bit, and how the experience of learning to play these songs has influenced me, instead of just listing some artists. Here's the set:

Long Train Runnin' (Doobie Brothers)
Ramble On (Led Zepplin)
Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)
Enter Sandman (Metallica)
Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love (Van Halen)
Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns 'n' Roses)

"Long Train..." has never been one of my favorite Doobie Brothers songs.  That honor would go to "China Grove" (another Tim Johnson tune with a similar groove) or "Black Water." But I love the Doobie Brothers for their storytelling in song, their cultural awareness.

I pretty much am the last guy to be  a "British Invasion" fan.  I can't say I was really a fan of Led Zepp, the Stones or even the Beatles.  But "Ramble  On" is a great song for a guitar player....  there's so much going on there.  It really exemplifies the genius of Zepplin as much as any song can.  Paige is so sloppy he's brilliant.

"Sultans of Swing" is one of my favorite songs, ever.  E.V.E.R.  I love the groove, I love the  lyrics, I love the lead.  Learning to play the  rhythm part has been challenging, because the song is all about the pocket. Learning to play under such an amazing lead line, and not screw it up, has been work, but has been rewarding as well.

I also wasn't much of a Metallica fan, even though they were huge in my teen years.  But the "Black Album" came out after I had outgrown the headbanging thing.  Still, the  record was genius.  And playing "Sandman" has really brought out the usefulness of power chords to me - something that the lone guitar player in a worship band doesn't do a lot of.

"Simple Man."  What an amazing song.  I want to do it next Mother's Day.  For a high-school  student in the 80's, Skynyrd was like  baseball, Mom and Apple Pie all rolled into an eight-minute song.  (though, of course, it was "Freebird!!" we were all shouting at concerts.)

I lived and breathed Van Halen for a lot of years.  Saw them every tour, wore out every album.  Eddie's phrasing and technical prowess still stuns me.  I'm probably one of three people who think Balance was their best album of the Hagar years, but Fair Warning was the one that slayed me as a kid.  It's so complex, yet simple. I can can understand how music can speak to both the mind and the heart because of that record.

Finally, G'n'R, who could have been the next Aerosmith had they not self-destructed.  There was a depth and complexity to their music.  "Sweet Child..." for me epitomizes that period in my youth, that vital time of growth, pain, joy and learning.  And now, learning to play the rhythm perfectly under that lead line, like "Sultans," has been a great, fun challenge.

Not the typical  list of influences for a worship musician, I know.  But some of these songs, especially "Sultans" and "Sweet Child," really informed the core of what I thought music should be as a youth.  I didn't start playing until after I got saved, so everything I've learned from has been P&W music, for the most part.  Diving into brilliant songs like these has grown my chops and expanded my musical horizons.


  1. awesome list bro... brilliant...
    I'd say many on the blues side influenced me to like zepplin, doors, yardbirds...

    but you are right.. its what has created your sound that is really interesting to look at.

  2. always good to be stretched

  3. Some great songs there. It's kind of ironic that most of us spend more time learning solos note for note than learning rhythm parts - given that we play so much more rhythm - especially in worship music.

    Also, hits that that two of the guitarists on your list that I spent time "studying," knopfler and van halen, had very piano-influnced approaches to rhythm and chord voicing.

  4. Fern... that first part... right on the money. It was a challenge for me, as I'm used to being the only guitar player in the band, to STOP TRYING TO PLAY EVERYTHING and stick to the simple rhythm parts, especially when the leads are so ingrained in my head. Being one of three is so much more challenging than just being one.

    EVH... yeah. He really tends to stay away from the power chords and go with the triads, a lot more than others in his genre. AND play the melodies on top of it, all by his lonesome. And if anything he's more incredible live.

  5. Curious about Sultans - maybe it's just me, but the rhythm part on that is simple, transparent and nearly effortless to play.

    Or I've just completely missed it.

    Now the lead part is another bucket of frogs, but he uses that fingerstyle of his, so all us pick players don't sound like him. But that's the only song from your list I've ever attempted to play.

  6. You're absolutely right. Two things, though, were working against me. One was time. We had a very short time to get this song down, and this song is all about the groove, all about the pocket. For a bunch of guys who've never played together, that was a challenge given the time we had.

    Second, and more personally, I'm used to being the one guitar player in the band, and playing a whole song. Stripping it way down to, essentially, a third of a song was a challenge. Plus, when you are the only player, you have more flexibility with voicings. And the rhythm part is only transparent when it's played perfectly. Otherwise it's quite obvious. :)

    BTW, we did the gig today as a matter of fact, and it went off very well.


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