Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Robben Ford Masterclass

Robben Ford in masterclass action

The QUT lecture theatre was half filled with about 150 blokes, mostly baby boomers, waiting to see and hear blues and jazz guitar legend Robben Ford. Some were carrying guitars, maybe unaware of the format of the master class or hoping to jam with their hero.

With his much larger than life image projected on the wall behind, Robben Ford proved to be a friendly, interesting and interested focal point who invited everyone to ask questions any time throughout the 2.5 hours of music and conversation. The questions were a bit slow coming at first, perhaps as befits a lecture theatre.

The evening began with a few of Robben’s recollections of famous musicians he has played with, including several funny anecdotes regarding Miles Davis, whose manner of “pep talk” included “play that James Brown shit ... dee dee dee dee dee”. That experience apparently gave Robben, and possibly some of the audience, a different perspective on thinking about and playing guitar.

He was constantly putting down and picking up an Epiphone semi acoustic guitar, using it to demonstrate a musical concept, to embellish a story or to play a scale or two. There were a couple of short instruction pieces, initially with Robben playing solo, something which he said still freaks him out to this day.

The audience slowly grew braver and started asking questions, which brought recommendations to learn guitar chords, Mickey Baker’s chord book taught Robben all he knows; to consider different ways of thinking about the guitar and song writing, such as presented in books like “Zen Guitar” by Philip Toshio Sudo and “Tunesmith” by the famous composer Jimmy Webb.

But it was when jamming with other musicians that Robben, and most of the audience, seemed to have the most fun, initially featuring local jazz guitar hero Jim Kelly, with the two guitarists taking turns trading blues licks. Throughout the night we would be treated to a selection of Ford originals and some interpretations of other artists’ songs.

There were more questions and short conversations about song writing, favourite albums, bootleg copies of live shows, inspiration, perspiration and what the most important things are to learn to become a better guitar player. Two things emphasised were to “learn the chords” and to play with nerve and courage.

The evening ended with Robben once again joined on guitar by Jim Kelly and event presenter, Craig “Guitar Brother” Claxton, jamming on a couple more blues numbers before the requisite autograph signing session.

This article was previously published in the October 12th edition of Rave Magazine.