Hazards Of Playing A Wide Variety And Mix Of Genres

I'd like to tell you about some of the hazards I've run into being a musician playing a wide variety and mix of genres, all under the same act name. My name is Kevin Ferguson, and under my name I have performed with various other musicians playing any mix of classical, Middle and Near Eastern, Hindustani Classical, rock, jazz, techno, Qawwali, Salsa, Balkan, Piobaireachd and other tunes from around the world and throughout history. And, by the way, I also write original material influenced by all of these as well.

CD Reviews and Genre Expectations

My first CD, released in 1995, was "Strad To Strat," with full length violin concerto music by virtuoso masters such as Paganini, Sarasate, Vivaldi, Bach and more, all transcribed to and performed on electric guitar with full synth orchestra.

And though this description is the only text on the back cover other than the track list, when I sent out over 100 copies for review, the vast majority of reviews said it was either "improvised neoclassical shred" or my own tunes with "some classical quotes" and compared me to other guitarists who had done "neoclassical rock" types of work. Needless to say, this mislead most of the reading audience, as to a classical music fan, there's quite a big difference between improvised neoclassical noodles and the compositions of the some of the greatest composers of all time.

Many of the neoclassical rock fans also like the CD, but the worst reviews came from those expecting heavy, wobbly vibrato on every note on every track, complaining bitterly when these expectations were not met. Classical reviews actually have been consistently better because generally the reviewers are hip to what the composers were looking for, and things like the fact that Baroque music does not traditionally have heavey vibrato, while the Romantic period may, etc.

Besides the reviewer misunderstandings, there's been the problem of how such a CD be classified. On CD Baby, it's been put under both classical and metal:guitar virtuoso, but other places require a separate bar code to list under these two genres. So I put the bar code on a sticker that is put on the outside of the CD: one for classical and the other for whatever genre that's consistent with the use of an electric guitar.

Finding Experienced Musicians

My next CD, "Exotic Extremes" was music of the former Ottoman Empire, again performed on electric guitar, but this time with some more traditional accompaniment. One of the hazards in this was finding musicians that could pull off the wide variety of odd and complex meters, rhythms in exotic scales. Most of the music is dance music, and the rhythm section has to be just so for dancers to dance to it.

The first percussionist I found who could remotely pull of some of the 11/16 and other wierd meters was a jazz drummer. He kept the beat very well, but kept throwing in jazz variations that no dancer could follow, so this was a bit of a problem. Then, I hooked up with a Middle Eastern percussionist who was familiar with many of the odd meters, just at a much slower tempo, so he was always struggling to keep up. Eventually I worked with so many musicians who've kept at it that I have a pool of musicians to draw from. I've written articles about how to play unusual genres and unusual and complex rhythms, too. Since then, many of the musicians I play with have branched off and now there's a small community of bands all doing this kind of thing here in Portland, Oregon.

Expectations At Gigs

My electric trio was booked for a prominent gig during a benefit concert covering over a city block in the middle of downtown Portland, Oregon. The guy who booked us was very enthusiastic and the gig started very well.

In the middle of the gig, an elderly lady with the organization came up to me from the side of the stage and said with an angry voice, "You should play some "children's" music, it's for an organization for "children"." We immediately played the next tune in our playlist, an electric version of "Romanijada" which roughly translates as "Gypsy Aires" and during the improvisation section I inserted children's tunes rendered in the same exotic scale the song is meant to be played in. I went through an exotic "Old MacDonald," "Mary Had A Little Lamb," etc., complete with the heavy ornamentation and fiery flare consistent with "Romanijada". I don't know if the lady was any happier, but the crowd seemed to like it a bunch; we sold CDs on the spot and we were asked back the next year.

The point here is that often there are mixed expectations and while you can adapt to some, ultimately you're better off being yourself.

Retail Genre Slots

My third album is a mix of the music of the first two CDs as well as electric Hindustani classical, originals in jazz, techno, rock and mixes of Baroque Canon and Fugue and Balkan 7/16 time "Rachenitsa" dance music, along with other fun experiments. OK, how do I classify this one? Well, I'm still working on this. Meanwhile I have just put out three more albums in the same mix of genres in the past few months. When I can, I rotate genre listing from among world, classical, metal, jazz, gypsie jazz and others. If you have any good ideas about this, please come visit me at guitar9.com or debone.com and drop me a line!

Kevin Ferguson is a guitarist working out of Portland, Oregon who specializes in taking music foreign to the electric guitar and adapting it to the instrument.

His latest instrumental CD is entitled "Strad To Strat II".

Kevin Ferguson