Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Amos Garrett

Better late than never. Garrett is regarded as Canadian but he was born in Detroit on 26 November 1941. More to the point, he is regarded as one of the greatest guitar players alive, at least in the country/roots area. He was a big influence on Richard Thompson, Mark Knopler, Robbie Robertson Jerry Donahue and many other later, more famous players, but while you may not recognise the name you have certainly heard him – he played the guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” which Stevie Wonder famously called “the second best instrumental solo in all rock and roll, period”. Musician magazine was a tad less generous, rating it only in the Top 25 Guitar Solos Of Rock’n’Roll. He also has a great baritone singing voice.

And about a decade ago he was playing in a tent on Waiheke. I bought him a whisky in the bar afterwards – he had a cold and was grumpy as hell, but it was a huge thrill to shake the hand that had played that solo.

Here he is in 2007 live in Japan – he’s big in Japan – playing his arrangement of the old Santo & Johnny hit “Sleepwalk”:

The song is a favourite with guitarists – YouTube has versions by Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, a whole bunch – maybe because its basic C-Am-Fm-G cycle is just twisted enough from the standard changes. Whatever, Garrett’s version is legendary. His double-stop and triple-stop bends are not impossible for mortals like the rest of us, but they are fiendishly difficult – and he not only invented them but can improvise with them. We can all copy; the real art is in making stuff up, adding something of our own to the original.

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