1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … Unfortunately, like a lot of musicians from my generation, most of the first albums I bought would ultimately have negligible lasting or meaningful impact on my life/music. I remember buying a lot of ’80s hair-band rock early on, trying to find music that had energy to it, and where the guitar was featured prominently. Thankfully, I also had wise family members and others who exposed me to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream and, most importantly, Neil Young, whose music I became fanatical about as early as age 14 or 15. In fact, both of my uncles gave me Neil Young cassettes at that time, including “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and the “Decade” collection. As a beginner guitar player listening to Young, I had never before heard rock music where the rhythm-guitar playing was as complex as the lead-guitar playing, and where the guitar solos were rooted as much in melodic lines as in blues-based figures. (Previously, I had only been familiar with the Clapton/Page/Hendrix blues-based sound, which I also loved.) From “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” especially, I learned that a guitar solo can gurgle violently like a pot of boiling water one second, then splash like mist the next. Young’s sound is as mercurial as his ever-changing choice of genres.
2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … When I was young, my family took me to a number of great shows, including the Allman Brothers Band (my first real show), Jethro Tull (for their 25th anniversary tour), B.B. King and, of course, Neil Young. A lot of those first shows were at SPAC.
3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … A Yamaha 6-string acoustic. My mother said she would buy it for me ONLY if I took guitar lessons, though I didn’t want to take lessons at the time. Thankfully, she stood her ground – those lessons gave me the rudiments I definitely needed, and they exposed me to blues masters who I otherwise would never have known about, like Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B. King and Albert Collins. I still have that guitar. In fact I’ve never sold an instrument. There’s too much sentimental value. I don’t know how people are able to sell these things. Maybe some day I will find a reason to sell an instrument.
4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … It was for an open-mic coffee house night at SUNY Plattsburgh (I grew up in Plattsburgh). I performed instrumental versions of “White Room” (Cream) and “All Blues” (Miles Davis). Out of sheer terror, I had my back to the audience most of the time. Little did I know that Miles Davis did this, too, but for different reasons!
5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … I played guitar in a couple of bands during high school. The first was called Magnum Opus, followed by Alternate Spheres. Both were power trios.