Interview: Michael Fath

Dan McAvinchey: Michael, you've just accomplished what can only be described as a mega-rerelease, making eight CDs from your catalog available simultaneously. Why did you decide to do this and what made now the ideal time?

Michael Fath: There were several reasons for reprinting my back eight CDs. One was due to the fact that two ("Profile" and "The Early Years") had never come out on CD, and I had numerous requests for them. Secondly, I'm in the process of doing four new records and the back catalog gives my manager in L.A. some extra leverage for my next record deal in that I now own the entire rights and publishing to all of them. Thirdly, I had many requests for the others and had very few left. Lastly, "now" is the best time for almost anything!

Dan McAvinchey: You've had your web page ( up for a while now. Did you find you were getting a number of requests by email for your early releases? Or was the demand greater from your live appearances?

Michael Fath: Both! Even though I have not yet set up the "search engine" routine, and am only cross-referenced through my music business affiliations (Hot Licks Videos, various corporate sponsors, etc), I've had many requests for my records. All of my record deals, in the past, were with independent labels (U.S. and Europe), and anyone that has had an "indy" deal, or for that matter even a major label deal, knows that distribution is always a problem. I was fortunate enough to get great reviews, from many very respected publications, for everything that I ever did, live or in the studio, and I guess that enough people read them and were curious! I have almost always gotten requests for CDs from live performances, for the same reasons. Plus, word of mouth from my professional peers always helps.

Dan McAvinchey: There are some excellent CDs in this reissue set, covering a really wide range of styles. You've got everything from metal/jazz, acoustic, country/rock, classical, hard rock and that's just for openers. How did you manage to learn and master such a wide range of styles?

Michael Fath: First of all I am very, very dedicated to my craft. Secondly, I have been playing for 33 years and feel like that I am just getting started. Thirdly, I have studied with some of the very best jazz, flamenco and classical teachers found in the mid-Atlantic region, and lastly; I've always been extremely open-minded to almost all styles of music. I live in an area that has produced some of the very best guitarists in the world, and they were always an inspiration to me. I mean with guitarists like the late Danny Gatton right next door, you'd better have your sh*t together!

Dan McAvinchey: If someone has never heard of Michael Fath before, which CD would you recommend they start with in order to give them the best initial impression?

Michael Fath: This one is too tough to answer. I've never done the same record twice, meaning that I'm constantly evolving. I cannot stand guitarists that never "grow" technically and, more importantly, harmonically. There are those out there that have been rehashing the same stuff for years and years. I do not have a favorite record and actually am quite proud of everything that I have ever recorded. I mean that each record represents a period of my life, both musically and otherwise. "Shake" was a "metal/fusion" record, plain and simple, and that's where my "head was' back in 1988. "Baptism By Desire" is an all solo/acoustic disc that gave me a chance to display my country, rockabilly, jazz, bluegrass, blues and classical roots, all rolled into one album, and because of its being acoustic, it works! "Country Squire" was my way of letting the music world know that I am a serious country/jazz player, and the timing was such that the fiddle player was available. My most popular record, however, was "Sonic Tapestries", but again, I do not have a favorite, and with every subsequent record that I do, I will probably think that it is better than the last! I would, though, recommend as a last choice, "The Early Years", because it is a "retrospective" from many years ago, and I did this for hard core fans only! I'm hoping that if someone gets any CD, that they'll be curious about the rest.

Dan McAvinchey: Which of the releases was the most fun to record?

Michael Fath: They were all fun to do, but all recording is somewhat a pain in the ass! I've been lucky so far in that the players that I've recorded with have all been extremely efficient in the studio. I have never taken more than a week or two to do any record, and a couple were done in less than a week. Anyone that has ever recorded an unaccompanied solo piece, though, knows that that truly is the hardest thing to do.

Dan McAvinchey: Several of your CDs feature some well known cover songs, such as Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" (off "Shake"), Frank Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" (off "Flick Of The Wrist"), Jan Akkerman's "Hocus Pocus" (off "Sonic Tapestries"), Deep Purple's "Highway Star" (off "Suspended
) and Bryant and Bryant's "Rocky Top" (off "Country Squire"), among others. We've heard other guitarists such Gary Hoey and Steve Fister talk about "Hoey-izing" a song or "Fister-izing" a track. How do you select the cover songs you do and what is your goal when recording them?

Michael Fath: I really do not know how I ultimately select songs to cover on a record. Usually it's from live performances and feedback from audiences; or I just plain get inspired for some reason. Unlike many guitarists that cover tunes, I feel that if you are going to re-do a tune, and not merely copy it, you have to give it a new twist, other than the obvious-soloing. For me, reharmonizing is always one of my primary concerns. For example in "Peaches And Regalia", I harmonized Zappa's main melody with 6ths, 7ths, and 9ths, to give it more of a jazz/fusion feel. Obviously my solos are uniquely my own, but more often than not, it's the harmony that will catch the ear! When I cut "Hocus Pocus", I went for a completely different approach than Gary Hoey later did. I used nylon and steel string acoustics for timbre differences (during the yodeling parts) and completely changed the solo approaches, for example the country picking break and the orchestrated "string section" solo. On "Frankentein" I used a technical approach (sweep-picking) to cover the keyboard solos, and thus gave it a new twist. When covering a vocal tune, you really need to use your imagination, and I think that I accomplished that on "We Gotta Get Outta This Place" and "Highway Star". I would never say, though, that I "Fath-ized" anything.

Dan McAvinchey: You've probably heard a lot of independently released, debut albums by
guitarists exploring instrumental music for the first time. Do you have any general tips for new guitarist/composers when writing and recording their first instrumental CD, or planning their second release?

Michael Fath: My biggest problem with any guitarist is growth. I cannot stand it when players make the same records over and over. I strongly believe that composition should be any instrumentalist's primary concern, and am not amused by technique alone. There has got to be a "song" in there, and this is coming from one who has never been accused of lacking in technique!

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel the music press, including the well known guitar magazines, are currently dealing with guitar-oriented music, especially from instrumental artists and bands?

Michael Fath: They are obviously ignoring us, because we do not fall within the demographic boundaries and schemes of the magazines' marketing powers that be!

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Dan McAvinchey: There was a time in the late 1980's and early 1990's I thought perhaps instrumental rock guitar music might become a permanent 'sub-genre' or even a stand-alone 'genre' like jazz, blues or rap. There seemed to be a number of instrumental releases coming out every year, and new record labels sprung up dedicated to instrumental rock. Since then, instrumental labels such as Legato, Guitar Recordings and the No Speak imprint of I.R.S. have gone out of business, and instrumental
rock has 'gone underground', so to speak. Do you have any thoughts as to how you viewed the instrumental scene back then, and what might have been done differently to help it gain a more permanent foothold in the music market?

Michael Fath: I believe that back in the 80's it was a very novel thing to be an instrumental rock guitarist. I mean we've had rock instrumental songs since rock began, but the technical advances made by many of us were very charming and, for a while, in vogue. These are the very same qualities that almost killed the genre. While there was so much emphasis on technical proficiency, there was a huge disregard by some instrumental labels and players for composition. Again, it's the songs, period. Many of the notable "shredders" (I hate that f**kin' word) were young and very inexperienced musically. They had chops, but that is a very ambiguous term. Many of them had not even played a live date with a band, and on record it really showed. Harmonically speaking, many of these players were just beginners. That is precisely one of the reasons why Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, and Eric Johnson are so successful, they write tunes! I think that Steve Morse is an exceptional writer and killer player and I hope that I'm perceived in much the same manner.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you think a company can survive in the new millennium as an all-instrumental label, such as was attempted over ten years ago by Guitar Magazine, Mark Varney (Legato) and Miles Copeland (No Speak Records)?

Michael Fath: Yes, if the mistakes of the past are not repeated and the hard lessons learned. This is like jazz in some ways, I mean that there have been a multitude of jazz labels that have come and gone, but the ones that ultimately survived, usually signed the composers, not the pretenders. Just because you can play an arpeggio, doesn't mean that you can play a tune. Moreover, I do think that the labels of today have to be very careful in whom they sign. I think that there are a lot of mediocre records and talent floating around, and this has a tendency to "water down" the good stuff, or "dilute the gene pool", if you will. Geez, do I sound like Yngwie? Actually, I think that Yngwie is still the best neo-classicist going.

Dan McAvinchey: You still teach a number of students privately. How does it help your
own progress and growth as a musician to pass along the knowledge you've acquired?

Michael Fath: When teaching, you are always required to think, and that is a good thing.

Dan McAvinchey: Are there any musicians you've never performed or recorded with that
you would love to work with, given the chance?

Michael Fath: They are far too numerous to even mention. I love to collaborate, and if someone is really good, irregardless of genre and style, I'm there.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your priorities for the year 2000?

Michael Fath: Maintaining a great environment for and watching my two daughters grow up. A new record deal as I'm doing at least four new records with my various projects. Getting my first novel published.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you plan on continuing to make music and/or perform in 20 years

Michael Fath: Why not? I'm in the best shape of my life!

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Legendary Washington DC area guitarist Michael Fath has just reissued and/or released eight full-length CDs covering well over sixteen of his twenty-plus year career as a professional musician. Fath has played on dozens of recordings, has toured extensively throughout the United States, is a former columnist for Guitar World Magazine and currently writes a guitar technique column for Seven of the eight CDs are instrumental recordings and include "Flick of the Wrist", "Shake", "Sonic Tapestries", "Profile", "Suspended Animation", "Country Squire", "Baptism By Desire" and the vocal compilation "The Early Years".

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Fath in order to discuss the sudden availablity of the guitarist's back catalog and his thoughts on instrumental guitar music.