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John Denner Uses Guitar Clinics to Inspire Elementary School Kids
A few years ago, guitarist John Denner, who was born without a right hand, garnered national media attention with his spot-on covers of Van Halen's "Eruption" (which he learned on his own by ear) and other rock guitar classics. But recently, while wondering what his next step might be, he remembered an offer he'd received to speak to a group of elementary school children in Connecticut (see video below). Seeing the positive impact he could have in doing it, he took up the offer, and it went over so well, he's decided to do more. We caught up with the guitarist to learn more about them.
How did you come up with the idea to do these clinics for elementary school kids?
Late last year, I took a long hard look at what I wanted to achieve through my guitar playing and the best avenue to do so. Sure I could upload a new guitar cover on YouTube every day, but for what reason? To show I can do it with only one hand? Then I remembered an offer I had received to speak to some children at a grammar school in Connecticut, and it went over so well that I decided to make it a regular thing!
What's the main goal of the clinic?
I want to reach out to young minds and share a story about following a dream, and for me there is no better way of doing that than making a direct connection with people and relating it to something in their lives. And in return they share stories with me about some challenges they are facing.
The physical challenge for you learning to play guitar is obvious. But you focus largely on the mental and emotional challenges you've faced. What were the biggest ones and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me is one we all share—fear. I gave up a dream to play the guitar for almost 30 years because of fear of what someone else might see or think of me. Sadly, we all have things in our lives we didn't try because of that same fear. I love playing my guitar and wish I had picked it up years ago. That's the message I share in these guitar clinics, and doing it in the school system gives me the chance to relate it to young minds in hope that they will overcome it even sooner.
You've achieved a lot and overcome some big barriers in a very short time time. What advice do you have for aspiring guitarists?
Today there are so many incredible guitarists on Youtube, Facebook, etc., and everyone has amazing technique, and they're all out there waiting and wanting to be the next big thing. I got caught up in that and I started to forget why I picked up the guitar in the first place. So I think the most important thing is that you make sure you are doing it because it's what you love to do. I'm not interested in trying to be the next Eddie Van Halen. But maybe the next EVH is out there right now waiting for someone like me to come along and shine a little light on their passion for music!
Sunshine of Your Love Born on This Day 1967
This day (1/31) in 1967, Cream bassist Jack Bruce, inspired by Jimi Hendrix's performance the night before at London's Saville Theater, wrote the main riff to "Sunshine of Your Love." Today the blues scale-based gem is one of the most widely recognized guitar riffs in the world.
"Sunshine of Your Love" guitar tab, bass tab, and jam track
Win a Trip to Meet Eric Clapton in London
From now until April 30, 2011, each time you buy a package of Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings at Guitar Center, you'll find a special code inside that you then enter at ernieball.com/clapton. From those codes, 15 lucky winners will be randomly selected to win the Eric Clapton Experience, which includes a private meet-and-greet in London, access to a private rehearsal, and a ticket to see Clapton at Royal Albert Hall. Additionally, select packs of Slinkys will contain a special Eric Clapton pick (kinda like the Willy Wonka golden ticket, no?) that is redeemable for prizes ranging from Guitar Center gift cards to Ernie Ball instruments to a trip to NAMM 2012.
Top 10 Debut Albums of All Time
Rolling Stone recently asked its Facebook fans to vote on their top 10 debut albums of all time. Thought I typically cringe at Rolling Stone top lists, the fans seem to have nailed this one pretty tight (except for the Strokes ... quite possibly the most overrated band of the past 40 years). So, without further ado, here they are (click on the artist name for guitar tab)!
10. Is This It? The Strokes
9. The Clash The Clash
8. The Velvet Underground and Nico The Velvet Underground
7. Van Halen Van Halen
6. Boston Boston
5. Are You Experienced? Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. The Doors The Doors
3. Ten Pearl Jam
2. Led Zeppelin I Led Zeppelin
1. Appetite For Destruction Guns N' Roses
Ground Your Phrases in Chord Tones and Watch Your Solos Soar
Guitar ruts ... They're disheartening, frustrating, and not a whole lot of fun. But if dealt with effectively, they can end up being your best friend. About a year ago, I decided it was time to seriously start working on my craft again, and one of the problem points I identified was that I relied entirely too much on scale-based lines and licks. And even though I knew the solution, it just didn't take root until a series of encounters with players I respect enormously.
The first was when my good friend and former colleague Troy Nelson (Guitar One, Guitar Edge) visited last summer. He picked up one of my guitars and started playing a string of mighty tasty phrases, to which I said, "You've been practicing!" Then he told me that he'd been focusing on building his lines around chord tones and arpeggio shapes, rather than scales. "Of course," I thought. I knew that, but old habits die hard. (By the way, Troy's great book Guitar Aerobics offers one heck of a fretboard workout!)
Then, less than two months later, Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti told me how he was working on some Robben Ford solos and licks, and the examples he played were just loaded with chord tones supplemented with slick, chromatic leading tones and passing tones. "A-ha!"
And finally, while perusing YouTube videos recommended by friends and colleagues, the coolest lines were almost always arpeggio-based.
So, even though progress has been slower than I'd like (due to things like this full-time gig, kids, chores, etc.), this shift in strategy to focusing on chord tones and arpeggio shapes has opened enormous doors for my improvisation. And if you've been finding yourself in a similar rut, I'm quite certain it will have the same effect for you.
Or check out Barrett Tagliarino's excellent book, Chord-Tone Soloing (MI Press).
Van Halen Hits the Studio
Happy 56th birthday, Eddie Van Halen! To celebrate, why not give us some new VH music? Oh, what's that? You've already begun?
According to a report at NME.com, Eddie and singer David Lee Roth have started their first Van Halen album together since the band's landmark 1984 disc, 27 years ago. Further, it looks like producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Michelle Branch), who recently tweeted "Here we go kids...VH" and posted a picture of Eddie Van Halen's guitar amp, will be at the controls.
Looks like we might be runnin' with the devil once again by mid-to-late 2011!
It's Official - Big 4 Announce One and Only US Show
Last year, thrash metal pioneers Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax grabbed headlines when the "Big 4" played on the same stage for the first time in history, at the Sonisphere Festival in Warsaw, Poland. (Their Sofia, Bulgaria, performance is available on a 2-DVD set here.) After seven successful European dates last year, American fans began lobbying for U.S. dates, and on April 23, at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, those wishes will come true.
Tickets for the day-long concert event go on sale this Friday, January 28, at 10:00 am PST, at Ticketmaster. Prices are $99 for general admission and $199 for VIP. For more details, visit www.thebig4festival.com and www.facebook.com/TheBig4.