Posted January, 2012
In my feeble mind, there are three kinds of professional guitarists. There are the straight, by-the-numbers rock and rollers who play some memorable rock and roll (or its various and sundry cousins). Then there’s the kind that are “all hat and no cattle” as they say here in Texas. They’re the kind who, while infinitely more proficient than I’d ever hope to be on the guitar, they’re primarily flash and show without a lot of real expertise involved with their craft.
The third category of professional guitar slingers is where those who are so proficient and so knowledgeable at and of their craft as to be almost otherworldly. Well known players who I believe fall into this category are guitar blazers like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons, Tommy Emmanuel and Steve Lukather esily come to mind. These are the kind of players who, when heard by other players, provoke feelings of giving up and selling their gear because these guys are in another universe all together as far as their guitar playing abilities are concerned.
While the names I just rattled off are by no means all-inclusive, there is one name that I wish to add to that list: Rob Balducci.
I feel like a musical dunce in that I’ve only recently discovered Balducci’s work. Rob is on Steve Vai’s label, Favored Nations Entertainment, which is no small accomplishment. Vai does not suffer “musical fools” and only invites to his label those who command his respect musically. Listen to Balducci’s last album, Violet Horizon, and you’ll see why Mr. Vai has him on his label.
I recently spoke with Rob about his work, where he’s been and where he’s going. I have to be honest (as I usually am): I kind of expected a solemn, brooding, hard-to-talk-to musician. What I experienced was the polar opposite. Balducci is a warm, friendly and engaging conversationalist with whom I quite enjoyed chatting with.
When Rob called me from his New York digs, I hated to, but I started off by asking the very basic question of who his musical influences were and are.
“It depends on when and where. So, if you’re talking about when I first started out, it goes back to having three older sisters who were into all types of music. That’s what really turned me on to music. So, right away at an early age I was turned on to the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards. Sympathy For The Devil was one of the first solos that I learned - and, of course, Jimmy Page. It was really that first record, you know what I mean? Good Times Bad Times, I love the solo in that song! And Communication Breakdown – there’s so many things to like! Oh, and Angus Young! I remember borrowing my sisters Powerage album. All the songs on that record – he’s amazing, know what I mean?
“Then it changed to some other stuff that I liked. As a kid, even before I started playing guitar, I was into Chuck Berry. I remember seeing Chuck Berry doing that duck walk and playing Johnny B. Goode while watching TV with my mother. I remember the first album that I bought – I think I was ten years old – was one of those TV records that you buy. I still have it. It’s like a double record of all these hits. My mother ordered it for me. So that’s really what turned me on to music and the guitar. Other players, of course, at that time – KISS was kind of big so I was into Ace Frehley. So, that’s that era. Then you start changing and you start listening to other stuff. I was turned on to Jeff Beck by my sisters. The Wired record was one of my favorite records.
“I started taking lessons and my instructor turned me on to the Thunder and Lightning record by Thin Lizzy. I heard John Sykes and I started listening to other guitar players in the band like Gary Moore. So that was my early foundation. Of course, Eddie Van Halen was in there and stuff like that.
“Then, as you move and your ears grow, you start to gravitate towards other stuff. I think that’s the same way now. After all of that, you have the Steve Vai’s and the Joe Satriani’s. I was always into him but recently in the last couple of years I had some opportunities to do some shows with a guitar player by the name of Richie Kotzen. He started influencing me more around the last couple of years. So, it all depends.”
From a listener’s perspective, when I listen to instrumental music, my feeble mind tends to create it’s own mental/video accompaniment to the music – almost as if it’s part of a movie soundtrack, TV show or commercial. I asked Rob what he envisioned in his mind as he writes his music.
“What I try and do with my music as far as writing songs – this is how I see it: I see it as my music being a little bit more – even though there’s guitar playing and instrumentals and there might be some crazy stuff, if you’ll notice that the song structures are somewhat like how a vocalist would be singing so it is very melodic. There’s a melody and there’s another section and there’s a solo break. So, when I’m writing I tend to think more in the sense that the guitar is the vocal. It’s singing but it’s playing the melody.
“What I do is – I really don’t think in the musical context of saying, ‘I’m going to write a song and I want it to be this way or I want it to be in this key signature or I want it to be a crazy, odd time meter” or stuff like that. I tend to throw away all of my musical knowledge as far as – I don’t use musical knowledge to write. I think writing should come from within – from your heart and from some sort of emotion or feeling. That’s really what I go with. I’ll come up with an inspiration first of what I want the song to be about and I’ll try to come up with a title first. This way it gives me some sort of picture of what the song would be about. And, then, I come up with a melody and a lot of times I’m not even using a guitar. It would be just trying to come up with what it’s sounding like in my brain and humming it and then putting it onto the instrument. So, that’s sort of the process. In the beginning it took awhile. But as you keep doing that kind of thing, it sort of became my process.”
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