talks about guitars, artistry and the musical computer age with
Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
While Reid certainly shows himself a master of fingerstyle guitar on Guitar Voyages, he is also a talented singer/songwriter, harpist, and banjo player. Indeed, his eclectic talent and busy touring schedule have led to Reid being labeled a modern day minstrel. "It's an ancient role [the minstrel], and maybe more valuable than ever. So much of what people see and hear has been formed by a corporation, and is not just the opinion or creation of a single person." The modern day minstrel then, offers an audience a genuine experience, unsullied by commercial considerations. "Once you have experienced the passion and the art pour out of a real artist, you won't be amused or entertained as much by Madonna or one of the actors-and-publicists-posing-as-musicians."
When Reid's unique artistry failed to gain the ear of commercial recording labels, he started Woodpecker Records in 1982. "The best thing about having your own label is that you don't have to live with the negative energy of blaming your record company for everything." He admits that "it's hard work, and there is a lot of paperwork, but you really can't play guitar all day anyway." Twelve of his albums are currently in print at Woodpecker, and while all are offered for sale through his label's website, the greatest number of copies are sold at concerts. It doesn't seem to bother Reid that his records are hard to find. "I cherish some recordings I have that I know are hard to get. If they are at Wal-Mart it cheapens the joy of owning them somehow."
When Reid became interested in guitar in 1970, he listened to John Fahey, Leo Kotkke, and Norman Blake among many others. He says "the records that I listened to the most were probably (in no order) Doc Watson On Stage, Christopher Parkening Plays Bach (though I was pissed off later to find out he overdubbed some things on it) and Norman Blake's Fields of November." He also learned from bluesmen like Robert Johnson and John Hurt, as well as classical players like Segovia and Julian Bream. It is perhaps the connection between classical and folk that inspires Reid's longer pieces. "Classical music and folk music seem so far apart now," he admits, "but there have always been bridges between them, and they seem to have evolved with constant cross-pollination between them."
Reid can be critical of contemporary guitar players who rely on trickery instead of skills gained by hard work. "The fact that so many guitarists overdub and add effects and other things to what is supposedly solo guitar music, the average listener's concept of solo guitar music has been diluted and skewed also." Trickery involves many things, like adding an extra bass string to achieve a fuller sound, or using an echo unit. "The only 'trick' I used was the partial capo. I don't even use altered tuning very much." Other guitarists also get hung up about how fast they can play, as opposed to the tone of their guitar. "There is such a macho thing going on now in acoustic guitar playing to see how fast people can play. It has caused people to use lighter gauge strings, and you never really get to hear the wood ring the way I like to hear it."
Whether listening to one of Harvey Reid's albums or reading an article he has penned for a magazine, one gains the impression of a musician who takes his artistry seriously. "We can only hope that people will recognize the difference between quality and its opposite," Reid states, "or at least that with alternative media like the internet, those who know what they want and who want excellence will have a chance of finding it, and those who produce it can earn a living." Reid doesn't really care about being in the mainstream. He doesn't care if the big labels never call, and he can live without being on MTV or top-40 radio. He's just happy to be able to follow his muse and play to full auditoriums. "I just hope I can stay healthy and productive, and I am interested in what I will be able to crank out while my clock is still ticking."
For those who are new to Reid and not sure where to start, the live "In Person" serves as a two disc overview of his guitar playing, singing, and songwriting. A guitar player couldn't go wrong with the recent Guitar Voyages or Solo Guitar Sketches. Both Steel Drivin' Man and Chestnuts cover traditional music, while Artistry of the 6-String Banjo offer classical and ragtime banjo music. For the more introspective listener, Circles would be a good place to sample Reid's singer/songwriter skills. - Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
More information about Harvey Reid and Woodpecker Records can be found at www.woodpecker.com. This is also your best source for his CDs.
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