Interview: Wayne Wesley Johnson

Dan McAvinchey: Wayne, going back to your roots, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: My dad loved music and had it playing full blast, all the time in our home. He liked boogie woogie, the big bands, Lenny Dee, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, and many others. I was quite intrigued by the sounds of Les Paul in particular, and Tony Matolla, Al Caiola and all the guitar players. But, I wanted to be a drummer. I had this fascination first, for the drums. When I turned 9, on October 1, 1959, my Dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday? I told him I wanted to play the drums. He convinced me (sort of) that I should take some other instrument that could be used to play melody and chords, etc. Besides, he thought the drums would be too "nerve wracking". I always liked all instruments, and the guitar was my next choice. So, on October 3rd, 1959, I began studying guitar with jazz guitarist Sandy DeVito, at Caldwell Studio of Music in Caldwell, N.J.

I started out with a Stella rental unit that had action on it, like a steel guitar. It was hard to play and made my finger's bleed. After about 6 months with the rental guitar, my uncle loaned me his Gibson dreadnaught. Keep in mind I was only 9 1/2 and I wasn't very big, so I had all I could do to get my right arm over that huge body. Like every other young kid in the '60s I wanted to play rock and roll, R&B, and "electric" guitar. My Dad told me that if I stuck with the guitar, he'd buy me an electric. The day came when a Gibson ES-330 TN showed up at the store where I'd been studying with Sandy. I wanted that guitar and my Dad got it for me for my 10th birthday.

I studied with Sandy for about 8 years and he taught me to play jazz standards, bossa novas, sambas, etc. and the good part of it all was that I was a kid in my early teens playing the stuff the older guys were playing. I got a reputation around town for being pretty good for my age. How many kids at 12 or 14 could play the melody to "Tico Tico"? My Dad and Sandy used to get a kick out of it, too.

My first band was called "The Yellow Jackets" and it started with three members: Lou LaValle and I on guitars, and Mike Norgard on drums - and grew from there. Then we added Frank Galante on organ, George Hatton on bass, vocalist Carl Messina and later, Nick Riello on trumpet. Female vocalists Joan Spadafina, Chris Hodge and Lori Cosme joined us at different stages. That group played top 40 covers from around 1960-1968. We worked a lot at school "Fun Nights" , battles of the band competitions and throughout N.J. , Pennsylvania and New Hampshire at the ski resorts. Oddly enough, we made more money back then performing than we do today in some cases. For a bunch of young kids we did all right. My dad used to laugh. He'd spend his money to take us to NH to perform (we were all too young to drive). He'd feed us, and we'd get paid and he never made us pay him back. He loved the band and the fact that he knew where we were and what we were up too. He figured, he was keeping us out of trouble. My mom secured all of our bookings and he brought us to and from the gigs, sometimes photographing us, other times recording us on reel to reel tapes.

Early in 1961, Sandy convinced my dad I should have an archtop jazz guitar similar to his. He had an L-4C Gibson at the time and suggested I get an ES-175D electric. At age 11 I hardly knew the difference. I used that in the Yellow Jackets quite a bit, until I eyed up a '61 Gibson Les Paul SG Custom, all white with three gold pickups and hardware on it and a whammy bar, too. I used that quite a bit with the Yellow Jackets, and then added a Rickenbacher 360-12 string and a Fender Precision bass. The bass was too big for me, so we traded it in on a Gibson EB-3 and later added a Fender Bass VI. By the time I was 14, I had 14 guitars in my collection. I call myself the oldest guitar collector because I started collecting long before it was considered fashionable to do so.

By this time, I was heavily influenced by The Ventures (Nokie Edwards), The Chantays, Les Paul, Duane Eddy, Al Caiola, Tony Matolla, and my all time favorite guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

My dad told me that if I stuck with the guitar over the years that he'd buy me the best guitar made. For my high school graduation present, I designed two custom guitars based on Gibson models: a L5-CES and a Barney Kessel Custom. I sent a request for quotation to Gibson and they quoted me approximately $1200.00 each. I was having a hard time deciding which one I wanted. My dad had a relationship with Robbies Music City and arranged to surprise me by ordering both guitars. He got the two for the price of one. He was a great dad, and the guitars were awesome. I performed with them for many years after that.

During this time period, my sister tried accordion and later piano and organ. My brother tried marimba, and ultimately I convinced my dad to buy my brother a drum set, a Roger's Constellation set. Fortunately for me, my brother didn't take to the drums. He ended up playing piano. I finally had access to the drums I always wanted. Mike Norgard was the drummer in my band. I learned some things from him and since there were no guitars in the high school concert band, stage band or marching band, I accompanied him on percussion and on snare in the marching band. Yellow Jackets vocalist Carl Messina was also a drummer. On many of our gigs we'd set up three drum sets and trade off licks with each other to tunes like "Wipe Out" and other surf tunes. It was a crowd pleaser for sure. While I considered myself a guitarist first, I was always eager to improve my drumming skills, too. So, I went to legendary jazz drummer, Carl Wolf for drum lessons.

I also took steel guitar, and clarinet lessons for a while. I didn't care much for the clarinet, but later took up tenor sax and trumpet so I could play some harmony parts with our trumpeter, Nick Riello, to the tunes "Vehicle" by Ides of March, and "I Feel Good" by James Brown.

After high school, many of the Yellow Jackets members went away to college, so I started a new band called "Sons & Lovers" We did covers of Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chase, Chicago, Three Dog Night, and Sly and the Family Stone, as well as Soul, R&B, pop and jazz standards, too. We did a great deal of private parties, college concerts and fraternity and sorority events at many N.J. colleges and throughout the N.E.

Upon the completion of my studies with Sandy, I briefly took some jazz guitar lessons from Gary Keller. I learned some interesting new arrangements to standard tunes from him. I went to Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ where I majored in business administration and minored in music and there, I studied with Eddie Berg.

After graduating college I went to work in the family business, got married and started raising a family. I didn't do that much gigging, and I was busy just trying to make a living. I expanded my guitar collection during the years and added instruments built by John D'Angelico, Elmer Stromberg, Bob Benedetto, Epiphone, Jimmy Triggs, Heritage, and lots of custom Gibsons and Les Pauls in particular. I even became an Authorized Gibson Dealer for several years. I began studying classical guitar and took some lessons with Carol Hammersma.

1979 was the pivotal year for me, musically. First, I got hired by Les Paul to be his drummer on several occasions. That's a story unto itself. Next, I purchased a Pat Martino album that blew me away. The guitar used in Pat's recording was on the cover and had a rather interesting sound, not to mention Pat's playing was outstanding. I had yet to meet Pat, personally. So, I contacted Guitar Player magazine and found out that the guitar was a Koontz Guitarorgan Synthesizer made by luthier Sam Koontz in Rahway, N.J. not far from where I lived.

I made a visit to Sam and ordered three of his guitars, one of which was a guitarogan/synthesizer which like Pat's was outfitted with MCI electronics, the second, was a "Studio 1" model which had a built in flanger/phaser onboard. Last but not least was my favorite guitar of all time -The Koontz "Oval-f Personal" model. It had one oval hole with a sliding trap door (to cut feedback) built in, and one "f-hole" on the bass side. After working with Les Paul, I eventually got to meet Pat Martino, and shared some of my enthusiasm for both his playing and Sam's guitars with him.

I got renewed enthusiasm for the jazz guitar at that point. Sandy DeVito had already left N.J. for Florida and later for California. I asked Sam if he could recommend some top jazz guitarists in N.J. that I might be able to study with. He mentioned Harry Leahey and Vic Cenicola. I knew of Harry. I had met him when he was playing with Phil Woods orchestra in Chicago, Ill. I also had a good guitarist friend named "Flip" Peters, that had been studying with him. I had planned to study with Harry, but he passed away shortly after we had spoken.

I began studying and eventually gigging with Vic Cenicola. I learned a great deal from him. We became good friends and I even played drums for him on occasion. Vic helped me develop my improvisational skills and chord substitutions, and shared some of his melody and chord arrangements with me. We used to play many of his original tunes as well as the standards. In fact, I have recorded one of Vic's tunes called "Segovia's Dream" It's on the "Canciones Del Alma" CD.

In 1994, I was contacted by Lane Zastrow, currently the marketing arm for Heritage guitars. We knew each other for years. He had been the Marketing and Sales Manager for Gibson when I opened my Gibson dealership, years earlier. I had a "Guitarist's Pro Shoppe" by appointment only business, where I'd customize or spec out high end guitars for professionals. At one point, Lane had even tried to get me to buy Gibson Guitar Co., when he was still with the firm and Norlin first put the company on the market to be sold. My dad told him I couldn't afford it, and I had a (his) business already, so I didn't need another one. Nontheless, Lane and I remained friends and stayed in touch over the years. Lane always knew that ever since I was a boy, I was into designing guitars and had a deep passion for the instrument. He also knew I was a businessman and guitarist. We had many discussions about guitar designs, marketing concepts, etc., and I eventually flew out to Heritage Guitar Co., for a visit. It was decided that I would design several instruments to present to the manufacturer for consideration as possible new models for their product line.

We weren't in a position to have the company re-tool for completely new designs. We had to work with existing patterns, templates, fixtures, jigs, etc. So, I drew up several different ideas and the company decided they would build one, to start the "Bluesette" model which was a powder blue thin line semi hollowbody model inspired by the Roy Clark Model, but with some unique features and with T.W. Doyle low impedance pickup systems.

The prototype was made and we brought it to the Nashville NAMM show to display it. It was a big hit and Nashville guitarists, Thom Bresh, Fred Newell, Tommy Flint, Eddie Pennington, Bob Saxton, and the late Marcel Dadi fell in love with my guitar. They all wanted one. The guitar never went into production beyond the prototype for a number of reasons, but I had established a whole new circle of friends for life.

One evening following that NAMM show, Lane invited all of the artists I just mentioned to a party at his home. The guys played my guitar all the traditional Merle Travis / Chet Atkins / Jerry Reed / Marcel Dadi / Thom Bresh style. After about three hours of thumbpicking they handed me my guitar and said, "Your turn, play something for us." I felt like a fish out of water. I didn't know thumbpicking technique. I was a melody and chord jazz player from New Jersey. I was nervous and very uncomfortable. Bob Saxton, bless his sole, told me not to worry. He told me to go ahead and play and he would accompany me. All went well after that. They enjoyed my performance. Later, Marcel Dadi took me aside and shared the differences between Merle's, Chet's, Jerry's and his thumbpicking styles. We didn't see much of that style of guitar playing in N.J. Armed with that information and a few of Bresh's videos, I now had a new inspiration.

When I returned home, to N.J., I swore that would never happen again. I would not go back to Nashville if I didn't know how to perform in that style. I worked hard at learning the thumbpicking style and mastered some of Merle's and Thom Bresh's (Merle Travis' son) material. About six months later, I invited Thom Bresh to perform for my industry convention in Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand Hotel. Thom had me come up on stage and perform several tunes with him and the lovely Lane Brody. That was a thrill. The audience loved our performance. I was happy, I held my own. Bresh was great. He's probably the best overall guitarist/entertainer/impersonator to walk the planet. I was in the midst of going through a marital separation at the same time. The highs and lows that day, were extreme. Bresh was aware of my issues and he brought out the best of me in that performance. I am very grateful. Bresh and I have been friends now, since 1994.

Bresh, Tommy Flint and Ed Benson of JJG magazine encouraged me to attend the CAAS (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society) concerts in Nashville, shortly thereafter. I've been performing at CAAS every year since, as both a solo guitarist, guitarist with others, and as the resident drummer for Tommy Flint, Tom & Sandy Doyle, Nokie Edwards (The Ventures), John Nichols, and others each year. It was at CAAS where I met my good friend Greg Atkin, President of The Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists (AFG) based out of Santa Ana, CA. Greg later invited me to perform at AFG and made me an honorary member. I also met Pierpaolo Adda from Soave Guitar Festival, Soave, Italy at CAAS. He too, invited me to come to Soave to perform.

Later in 1995, I was visiting Santa Fe, NM on another business conference and I met puro flamenco/classical guitarist, Ruben Romero. He was performing at the Eldorado Hotel where I was staying. I watched him perform one evening and stopped by his record shop the next afternoon. I was intrigued with his nuevo flamenco / rumba flamenca techniques in particular. The strumming and rhythmic techniques are widely used by the Gipsy Kings, Strunz & Farah, Shahin and Sepher, Willie & Lobo, Lara & Reyes, Armik, Ottmar Liebert, Novamenco, Nocy, Govi, Jesse Cook and others. Ruben and I visited for a while and swapped licks and he invited me to come back to Santa Fe to record with him. Recognizing that our styles were quite different, we thought it would be interesting to combine them and I coined the phrase "Jazzamenco". Ruben's brother Miguel Romero, introduced me to the basic rumba flamenca chord strumming patterns. I later went two nights in a row to watch the Gipsy Kings perform and scrutinized their strumming techniques. I learned their strums an integrated some of my own ideas, as well. I kid the locals about being one of the few "anglos or gringos" that can execute a good rumba strum.

I returned to Santa Fe, some months later and Ruben and I recorded together. We released three CDs together as a result of those sessions. "Flamenco Festival" (Hallmark/Narada), "Flamenco Flavors" (IAGO/Talking Taco) and "Hypnotic Safari" (Wannadu). Wannadu is my own artist owned label. Since I was living back east at the time, and considered myself to be more of a jazz guitarist. It was very difficult for me to market and sell "flamenco" in my neck of the woods. Those folks that really truly loved puro flamenco would be disappointed because what we recorded on "Flamenco Flavors" and "Flamenco Festival" was not really puro flamenco. Others that didn't like flamenco music wouldn't buy the CDs just because the name Flamenco was in the title. I felt it was somewhat of a misrepresentation of my performance and recording, so I decided to release "Hypnotic Safari" which appeared to be less genre specific. It must have been a good call since ultimately we have sold tens of thousands of copies of our music, worldwide. I had written and recorded a tune called "Entre Dos Montanas" (between two mountains) which was my tribute to Paco de Lucia, who wrote the famous tune "Entre Dos Aguas". (As a side note, I just recently learned that the melody to Paco's "Entre Dos Aguas" was actually inspired from the tune "Fly Me To The Moon.") Ruben and his brother / dancer Vicente Romero had actually performed with Paco de Lucia on a number of occasions over the years. Anyway, I presented a copy of the "Hypnotic Safari" CD to Paco, back stage at one of his N.J. concerts. That was a wonderful experience. He is a most gracious man and one of the world's best flamenco guitarists. He was thrilled that I had written a song for him.

Some months later, I also got the opportunity to go backstage with the Gipsy Kings and present a copy of "Hypnotic Safari" to Tonino, another one of my favorite guitarists.

Ruben Romero and I continued to perform together and with our solo careers. On occasion we would join forces with our good friend and guitarist, Edgar Cruz from Oklahoma city and perform in concerts as a trio or with Miguel "Mito" de Soto as a quartet. Ruben and I performed for Peter Max, Graham Nash, Nokie Edwards, Guitars for Life, and annualy at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in Nashville, Tn. Ruben and I continued to perform together at concerts, weddings, business functions until he became ill. Ruben passed away Feb. 13, 2007.

Prior to Ruben's passing, I had an itch to take my music in another direction. I called upon my good friend, Tom Doyle (Les Paul's sound engineer) and asked him to assist me in the production of my next CD, "Canciones Del Alma" (Songs from the Soul). Tom also wrote and performed on the tune "Fire Of The Gypsy." He's one of the finest guitarists that I know, and an awesome sound engineer. I appreciated his contributions to the project.

I had traveled extensively throughout my business career, to China, Europe, Israel, etc., and I had heard sounds and instruments and songs that I hadn't heard here in the states. I remember being in a taxi cab in Nanjing, China, humming a melody I had heard in the Chinese opera. It was from a tune called "Mama Song" about a child that got separated from his mother during the great floods. It was actually written in Taiwan. The taxi driver, who didn't speak a word of English, stopped the cab, got out, ran into a store and came back with a package which he handed to me. It was a recording of "Mama Song," which was basically a children's theme song much like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" was to us as kids. But the melody was catchy. I gave the driver a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and that made his day, too.

I was enamered by the sound of the Chinese guitar, lute, etc., which is called a PiPa. I often carried that tune in my head, and decided that some day I would record my own arrangement of that pentatonic melody. By the time I was ready to go into the studio and produce "Canciones Del Alma," I had mastered the rumba flamenca strumming techniques and could get the rhythmic sound and feel of the Gipsy Kings, by multi tracking the different strumming patterns through layering. My goal was to create the feeling that I was being accompanied by the Gipsy Kings, my favorite band next to Hiroshima. I was also experimenting with guitar synthesizer and attempted to duplicate the sounds of the PiPa. I was trying to create a sound that would be different than other guitar recordings. I also thought that it would be rather interesting to merge two different musical cultures that might never "find" each other under normal circumstances. For example "Hiroshima meets the Gipsy Kings" - the Far Eastern pentatonic melody and sound blended with the rumba flamenca rhythm. I kept thinking, "How different would that be?"

I was given a chance to find out. I recorded the tune and titled it "Rumba Oriental" (pronounced Orientalle). After the rough tracks had been recorded, I began research to establish who the songwriter(s) and/or publisher(s) were for the "Mama Song", so that proper credit could be given to the copyrite owners, and any license fees could be paid, prior to releasing the album.

I figured that since I had heard the tune performed on a PiPa when I visited in China, that the best place to start looking for what I needed, would be via a PiPa artist. So I surfed the web until I came across a lady named Gao Hong, one of China's top PiPa artists. Gao was and is still living in the U.S. in the upper midwest. I sent her an email with the information I needed and she called me on the phone one evening. We spoke and she sang the words to "Mama Song" to me over the phone. I said, "That's it, that's the tune, do you know it?" She said she did and then asked me what I was doing with it and how did I plan to get the sound of the Chinese instruments in my recording? I told her I was using a guitar synthesizer to get the PiPa sound. She asked me if I wanted her to come to Santa Fe to lay in real PiPa parts. I told her that I would pay her to do so and cover her travel arrangements. Gao is a virtuoso and performs at places like Carnegie Hall and with large symphonies. I was flattered by her offer and took her up on it. She flew into Santa Fe and we laid down her tracks. It worked so well I decided she should also play on some other recordings in the project. It was awesome. To me it felt like "Hiroshima (the band) meets the Gipsy Kings." How cool was that?

Although I had recorded some original tunes as well, I had another idea I wanted to explore. I got to thinking about the tune "Walk Don't Run", written of course by Johnny Smith and recorded by the Chantays and the Ventures. I had met Nokie Edwards at a NAMM show. Nokie was the lead guitarist for the Ventures. I had been thinking about making a rumba flamenca remake of the tune "Walk Don't Run" and shared my thoughts with Nokie. He smiled and a few months later, I received a phone call from his wife, Judy. Judy asked if I was planning to perform at the CAAS in Nashville in the coming months. I told her, I was. Then she asked if I was planning on sticking around for the NAMM show a week later. I told her, I hoped to, since I had been a NAMM member since '79. Then, she said, "There's a few days open between CAAS and NAMM and Nokie wants you to book some studio time and go into the studio with you to record your arrangement of 'Walk Don't Run'." I was blown away! I was so excited.

We recorded "Walk Don't Run" and Nokie was really enjoying the rhytmic rumba flamenca groove. Due to the Latin rhythm, I decided to nickname the tune "Camina No Corras." He asked me if there were any other tunes I wanted to record with him? I told him, "Venus" (the tune recorded by Frankie Avalon). And then he suggested we record "Pipeline" too. I'm glad he did, because that one really cooks. Nokie also joined both Tom Doyle and me on "Fire Of The Gipsy."

Other guest artists on the project included, K.C. Morris, Matt Vaughn, Mario Reynolds, Josef Martinez, Ben Lucero, Consuelo Luz.

One of the tunes included in the album, "Baile De La Paloma" (Dance of the Dove) actually took 5th place out of 14,000 entries in the John Lennon Songwriters Contest. I also experimented with some alternate tunings too. DADGAD, and dropped D in particular.

Today, I continue to perform solo and with my friend Miguel "Mito" de Soto as the "Wes & Mito" duet.

Not long ago, I arranged to have several of my favorite guitarists come to Santa Fe to work on my next project titled "Summertime in Santa Fe." The title tune is "Summertime" from Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess". Included on the project are my good friends, Thom Bresh, Tom Doyle, Lou Pallo, Anthony Guitar St Smith, Tim Farrell and Edgar Cruz. On bass we have Jon Gagan and on drums, K.C. Morris.

What makes the project unique is that we used vintage acoustic archtop guitars built by Stromberg, D'Angelico, Epiphone, Benedetto, Triggs, Heritage, Gibson, and others played solo and/or simultaneously by each of the guest artists. We also videotaped the recording sessions.

Other tunes on the CD will be "Blue Skies, " "Begin The Beguine" and other original tunes written by the participants or myself.

Hopefully, this musical project will be completed and released in the near future.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think drove you to develop your skill from an average guitarist level to world class ability?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: I'm competitive by nature, but not in the sense that I want to compete on stage for the limelight with other guitarists. I don't believe in that. I believe in playing the best I can so that I may hopefully inspire my stagemates to do the same with the intention of creating the best musical performance, possible.

I'm also easily inspired when I see a great musician perform what looks to be the impossible. I enjoy technology, craftsmanship, and I'm a sound and tone freak. If I see a "technical" guitarist perform and he's got chops but bad tone, I'm not impressed. I like "tone" above all...that to me, supercedes technique. Of course if you have both, that's the ideal. That's what I strive for. In business the Japanese call it "Kaizem" or "continuous improvement." If you're going to get the most out of life and your music, you must strive for continuous improvement. That's what motivates me. I want to play something next week that I couldn't play last week.

One minute I'm working on melody and chord jazz arrangements, the next on rumba flamenca strums, or maybe Travis thumbpicking. My current focus is on learning puro flamenco styles, e.g. alegrias, soleares, and buleria's. Then, I'll probably look at "chickin' picken" techniques, next. I think you must be well rounded and understand different musical and performance styles in order to further your knowledge of the instrument. "Tunnel Vision" is not so good. I like to explore different styles and see how they may work together.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically, particularly on your last CD?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: As I alluded to earlier, I like to mix musical styles that work well together. In my last CD, "Canciones Del Alma" I integrated some rumba flamenca rhythm styling with jazz chord changes and improvisation, and I call that "Jazzamenco". I also wanted to merge musical cultures that otherwise might never be possible. For example, the merger of the Taiwanese pentatonic melody in "Mama Song" (Rumba Oriental) with the Spanish/French Gypsy Rumba flamenca strums and rhythms. I also integrated some Travis-like thumbpicking techniques in some of my earlier works like the chorus on "Otono" (Autumn Wind) on the "Hypnotic Safarai" CD which I co-produced with Ruben Romero.

The more I've learned, the more I want to learn. I've got a real eclectic level of interest in all guitar styles. I don't like being pigeon holed into just being a specific type of guitarist. Everyone always asks."What type of guitar do you play?" or, "What style of guitar do you play." Bresh once told me that a fellow asked Merle Travis that question one time and Merle's response was, "One with six strings on it." I play jazz, Latin, country thumbpicking, flatpick, fingerstyle, R&B, nuevo flamenco, some classical, but, I'm never satisfied and want to learn or perfect other styles I also find interesting. I'm planning on improving my country picking skills which would include "chicken pickin' and some Jerry Reed techniques, and I plan to work harder on studying more puro flamenco techniques, going forward. I've already begun my study in that arena. I think that's the most difficult musical style to learn on the guitar, particularly a quick and clean picado technique. I'm inspired a great deal by Gerardo Nunez, Chuscales, Mito, Tomatito, Tonino of the Gipsy Kings and of course Paco de Lucia. My real love however, is in the Latin and smooth jazz arena. I'd like to get more involved with performing at smooth jazz concerts, and also work on learning and performing some Cuban, Central and South American music, Son, Cumbia, and of course more of my favorites, Bossa Novas and Sambas. As regards smooth jazz, I'd like to someday be able to share the stage with Peter White, Nick Collionne, David Coz, Jessy J Sax, Marc Antoine, Nathan East, & Eric Darius, as well as some nuevo flamenco artists like Nocy, Armik, Strunz & Farah, Govi, Novamenco, Willie & Lobo, Shahin and Sephre, Lara & Reyes, and others. All in all, I like to integrate different styles and techniques into my playing when the fit with the musical timing, makes musical sense and compliments the music, appropriately. I like to know I have the technical ability to execute a musical idea, when I think it would be appropriate and musical to do so.

I've been experimenting with some different string tunings and setups, too. I've always liked melody, harmony and rhythm played simultaneously on the guitar...obviously for solo guitar work. I like a strong bass line. I had been trying out some different gauge strings and looking into the 7 string jazz guitars which many of my guitar buddies were beginning to incorporate into their performances. Jazz guitarists typically tune the guitar AEADGBE...hence, there's a redundant A on the 7th string, only an octave lower than the standard 5th string. The guitarist then has to rethink his chording and what he used to play on the 5th string he would now move to the 7th string. That seemed too challenging for me, and besides why have a string you're not going to use, for solo performances. If the goal was to get a low A on the bottom string then I figured I'd just eliminate the 5th string A entirely and instead, put a high A on the 1st string and tune the entire guitar ADGCEA (like a barred 5th fret). But, then I decided to drop the low A and D an octave below normal while leaving the top 4 strings higher than normal tuning. So, I had to use some heavier gauge strings on the 6th and 5th strings and hope that I could select gauges that would still provide me with reasonable intonation on a 25 1/2" scale length guitar. I settled on .076, .056, .026, .017, .013, .007 but sometimes even use an .080 for the low A. This whole concept increases the tonal range of the instrument and gives me somewhat of a stride piano effect when performing. It's like having a bass guitar and tenor guitar all in one and provides me with more dynamic and pitch range in my solo performances.

I had GHS make me up some special strings and since .007 gauge strings aren't readily available I did some research and discovered a firm called that provides me with the strings I need that work extremely well. I first tried this on my Samick LaSalle archtop, and then too, on a Fender Telecaster and got amazing results. Then, I decided that since a lot of my solo guitar performances in Santa Fe are done on nylon string flamenco guitars that I needed to also try to accomplish the same with nylon strings. I was able to successfully use requinto strings for the top 4 (although the scale length on a flamenco is greater than that on a requinto.) I needed heavier gauge strings for the 5th and 6th strings. I recently secured just the strings I needed from GCS Custom Labs, they work extremely well. Since I'm using this combination primarily for solo work, and not when I have artists accompanying me, I really don't have to think about transposing keys. I just play whatever I would in normal tuning with the new string setup, and it sounds great. I don't even have to think about changes in fingering or anything like that. I just play and it sounds great, like two guitars at once. Ironically, a lot of my arrangements happened to work out that the melodies were always on the top 4 strings and didn't run down, into the 5th and 6th strings. Sometimes, I think I just got lucky and sometimes I think it was just meant to be that way. In any event, it works. I'll probably do some solo guitar recordings with this string setup, soon.

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to release records independently?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: I like independence and non exclusivities. I don't like the idea of putting all of my eggs in one basket. As a businessman I learned that I didn't want any more than 33% of my business coming from just one customer, that's dangerous. If the customer got a cold and stopped buying from you, you got pneumonia and might no longer have a business. Everyone knows the horror stories about what could happen with major labels and the concept of recoupables. I'm a good marketer and although I wouldn't have the level of contacts that the major labels would have, nor the "mainstream" distribution they have, I also don't have to give up any ownership rights on my publishing. I may not sell a million records by not having major label distribution, but I can make and keep more of the profits on the music I do sell with a heck of a lot less volume. I teach a course called "The Business of Music" at the Santa Fe Community College and these are some of the issues that we discuss in the course.

Back when I was growing up, if you didn't get signed with a major label, you didn't get to record. The major's owned the high priced recording studios. That was half the problem. Then, the tough part was distribution. If you did get to record, and not with major label distribution behind you, the next step was to seek alternate distribution, boutiques, etc.

With the advent of and, and other forms of online and digital distribution, and with the reduction in start up and gear costs which lowered the barriers to entry, a whole new world has opened up to independent musicians and labels alike.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: The advantages are independence and creative control over your work and performances. You can pick and choose who you want to work with, the music you want to select and essentially you're your own boss, to a degree. As an independent, you have a lot of new resources available that we never used to have years ago. I'm happy to see this. There are far more opportunities for indy artists. I also think that the music produced by indy artists is, in many or most cases, far superior in content and creativity and even quality than much of what has been aired on the radio stations in recent years. Radio has far less impact on an artists future success than it once had. Telling you this is like "preaching to the choir," I'm sure.

The disadvantages of being independent is that you have to rely more on your own network of friends and associaties than on others that already have huge networks established. My dad always used to say, "It's not what you know but who you know." It takes longer to get established as an indy, but you pay your dues and eventually you'll reap the rewards. A friend recently told me that "luck" is a big factor. When asked what the definition of luck is, he said "10,000 hours = luck." In other words, you must invest 10,000 hours of blood, sweat and tears in order to succeed in many cases. It doesn't come easy, but as an indy, it may come on your terms as opposed to other's.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: I love this question. I'll be candid and trust I won't offend anyone. But this is how I feel about it. I've always been fond of instrumental music over vocals. When listening to recordings, I analyze the tones and sounds of the different instruments used in the performances. My reason for feeling this way is that I believe that instruments by their nature if played well, sound beautiful. I don't feel the same way about most singing voices. I think that in many cases "poor sounding voices" spoil or ruin recordings. They don't sound pretty or beautiful to my ear, but rather irritating and annoying. I don't particularly listen to the words much either, as I am more interested in the musical message than that of the lyrics. If I was interested in the lyrical message, I'd read poetry or a book. I like my guitars to do the singing in my recordings and performances. Besides, I can't sing vocals very well anymore. My Frankie Valle, falsetto singing days are long gone. Now, having said this I would also like to say that if I had Barbara Streisand, Josh Grogan, Boccelli, Pavoratti, Barry White, Olivia Newton John, Lane Brody, Luther Vandross, or Celine Dion singing for me, that would be a whole different story. I could probably count on my two hands which vocalists I'd like to work with, but most don't impress me that much.

However, I should also add that very rarely if ever, do you see an instrumental guitarist that doesn't sing, become rich and famous. The singers seem to dominated in that arena. Guitar fans love George Benson's guitar work, but all of his fans love his vocals, too.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: I have not really heard, nor have I seen, a lot of inspiring new guitarists that have caught my attention in recent years, other than Zoe McCulloch. She's young and dedicated and on the fast track. She is a good friend and a guitarist to keep an eye on. Mason Williams took her under his wing and they did a remake of "Classical Gas", I think they named it "Electrical Gas", or something like that, and she's got the right attitude, network and skills.

As regards others, keep in mind, I'm a melodic player. I like melodies. I'm less impressed with "chops" or technical ability than I am with a guitarist that can play melody, well and has great tone. I always tell my students how improvising and technical expertise is impressive, but there are a lot of technically capable guitarists that can not play a simple melody, without making a mistake. It's a lot harder than you think, sometimes.

I keep wondering, who'll be the next Guitar God? A lot of what's being done today, has already been done by others. Many of the masters that created today's techniques and tones are no longer with us. Charlie Christian, Segovia, Sabicas, Django, Oscar Aleman, Tony Matolla, Chuck Wayne, Barney Kessell, Speedy West, Joe Maphis, Jimmy Bryant, Hank Garland, Al Caiola, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Joe Pass, Merle Travis, Tal Farlow, Lenny Breau, Wes Montgomery, Stevie Ray Vaughan, these are among my heroes. Les Paul, Tom Doyle, Lou Pallo, Thom Bresh, Anthony Smith, Ed Supple, Tim Farrell, Edgar Cruz, Phil Upchurch, Earl Klugh, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Jim Nichols, Vic Juris, Mason Williams, Duane Eddy, BB King, Jimmy Bruno, Nick Pisano, Robert Conti, Larry Carlton, Larry Coryell, Alan Holdsworth, Herb Ellis, Mitch Holder, Lee Ritenour, Tommy Emmanuel, Pepe D'Agostino, Preston Reed, Valerie Duchateau, Fareed Haque, Ranger Doug Green (Riders in the Sky) and Nokie Edwards are also all time favorites of mine. I'm sure if there are some budding young musicians that are perhaps inspired by some of these artists, that they'll indeed get my attention, too.

I keep wondering what hot new guitarist will bring back the demand for the archtop jazz guitar?

I like Robert Randolph's steel guitar work. He's got an interesting approach. I still like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa, styling in the rock arena. I think Stevie Ray Vaughan was great at what he did, Al DiMeola is another guitarist that I admire. In the flamenco world, I like Tonino, Paco de lucia, Chuscales, Mito, Tomatito, Gerardo Nunez. In the jazz world, I'm still big on George Benson, and Wes Montgomery...I have been listening a great deal to Nick Collionne lately and really enjoying his work.

Dan McAvinchey: If you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the
world, who would it be?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: Probably the other Wayne Johnson (Manhattan Transfer/John Tesh). We could call it "Johnson & Johnson" or WJ & WWJ. After all, we're continuously being asked to sign each other's CDs, might as well be both of ours, don't you think? My hat's off to Wayne. He recently earned a Grammy. I think that's wonderful. We know each other, and hopefully we'll get an opportunity to perform or record together some day. I would like that.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment? What is not working?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: Over the years and on several occasions, I have performed with Les Paul, Thom Bresh (Merle Travis' son), Nokie Edwards (The Ventures), Ruben Romero, and Mason Williams (Classical Gas). They are also very good friends of mine. I have recorded with Lou Pallo, Tom Doyle, Thom Bresh, Nokie Edwards, Gao Hong, Tim Farrell, Anthony "Guitar St" Smith, & Edgar Cruz, My assocaitions with these guitar masters has certainly helped further my musical career and credibility. Having been made an Honorary Member of the Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists (AFG) and an annual performer at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) has also enhanced my appeal and visibility, nationally, and other performances at "Guitars for Life", "The Nokie Festival" and the "Soave, Italy Guitar Festival" have helped get me more exposure, globally.

I have been fortunate that through Taxi, and several music libraries, I've been able to get my music onto several TV programs including, "Malcolm in the Middle", MTV's "Made", "Roswell", "The Weather Channel," "Discovery Channel," and Outward Bound.. Through Radio promoters, I've also been able to get rotation and airing on over 800 radio stations, worldwide.

Guitar 9's Top 50 Most Popular Smooth Jazz ratings have also been very helpful in my establishing credibility with the Smooth Jazz crowd as well as other music enthusiasts. . Both "Hypnotic Safari" and "Canciones Del Alma" (Songs from the Soul have made it to #1 on a few occasions. Online digital distribution has also been good.

I have found that by recording and adding a few "cover tunes" to my CDs as well as my originals, has helped get folks online to discover me. First, they find me through specific song searches. After they've listened to my arrangements of their familiar pop tunes, they may decided to check out my original music, too. It all adds up to selling more CDs and more digital downloads.

My web and internet presence has been very strong. My web site, Gigmasters, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have broadened my network and exposure. I've developed many new musical and business opportunities as a result of my online network.

The State of New Mexico has recognized me as "Musician of the Month" and has featured me in a video created to promote tourism in New Mexico.

What hasn't worked too well lately, is my visits to the local hotels and restaurants, looking for "gigs." The economy has been poor, and the gigs, either subject to budget cuts, or completely eliminated. Finding quality venues to perform in, that are willing to pay reasonable fees for professionals, is getting more and more difficult every day. Live performances are way down this year. Even some major annual jazz festivals have been canceled, I understand. Hopefully, when the eonomy recovers many of us will come back bigger and better than ever. It's a good time to capitalize on the involuntary free time, and practice and learn more, so that when we do return to the stage in full force, we'll have an entirely new arsenal of music and entertainment to offer and present to our audience.

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Dan McAvinchey: How do you find the live music scene at the moment, given the current economic climate?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: Times are tough for everyone and particularly for musicians. In Santa Fe, the availability of gigs is down, and so is the price that venues and clients are willing to pay for entertainment. A lot of local artists rely on out of state gigs at present. Since I am an instructor at the Santa Fe Community College, that helps me get gigs, as does my strong internet presence. I've positioned myself as "New Mexico's Premier Wedding Guitarist," since I perform at a lot of weddings, and they tend to be amongst the higher paying gigs. This year, several were canceled or postponed because either the bride or groom lost their jobs due to the recession.

I'm hoping for some new opportunities to tour, do more concerts, in particular in the smooth jazz arena.

Santa Fe is about to launch it's "400th Anniversary" in 2010. I believe Santa Fe is the second oldest town in the U.S.A. Hopefully, tourism will improve in the coming year, and as a result the hotels will benefit with higher occupancy, hire more staff and musicians to serve and entertain the tourists.

Dan McAvinchey: What`s up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Wayne Wesley Johnson: I certainly run out of money before running out of opportunities, that's for sure. As I mentioned earlier, I would like to do more concert work, tours, particularly in the USA and European smooth jazz festivals. I also enjoy performing at corporate and private events. I'd like to perform in Soave, Italy once again. That was a great "gig". I hope to perform in more "Guitars for Life" benefits concerts, and for H.A.V.E. concerts in the coming year.

I plan to do a lot more recording. Once "Summertime In Santa Fe" is released, I plan to do a solo acoustic guitar CD, a duo recording with Miguel "Mito" de Soto, and eventually a holiday CD.

Like my grandfather and my dad before me, I like to invent and experiment. So, I also want to work my "Tap Guitar" invention into more of my performances. That's the flamenco guitar I designed and created with the MIDI synthesizer triggers installed in the top and rims that give me the opportunity to "drum and strum" at the same time. Even the Gipsy Kings can't do that, yet. I use it as a novelty on a few tunes. It's a real crowd pleaser and works great for stage performances. My audiences just love it.

I'd also like to do some recordings with others that I admire. Though I've not been given an invite, I'd like to record with several other artists that I admire, such as Nick Collionne, Eric Darius, Howard Cloud. I don't know if that will ever happen, but it would be nice. I love their work. I'd also like to do another recording with saxophonist Rusty Crutcher. It's too late to dream about recording with Wes Montgomery, and I certainly wouldn't turn down an opportunity to record or perform with George Benson, Earl Klugh, or Carlos Santana, if they asked me to.

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Residing just outside of Santa Fe, guitarist Wayne Wesley Johnson is is one of the City Different's most important musical talents whose unique sound has become woven into the fabric of its rich musical tapestry. His long and varied musical career has produced some of the most innovative world-class guitar compositions ever recorded.

Dan McAvinchey probed Johnson about his ascendancy from beginning guitarist to gigging musician, as well as gathered his thoughts on promotion and publicity as it relates to independent guitar players.