Q&A February 2011, Part I
3/19/2011 (updated 3/23/2011)

Many electric guitarists have a linear, conversational style to their improvisation, drawing on melody and evoking language, sentences, paragraphs, chronological expositions, etc.  While your work can't be excluded entirely from that group's, much of your improvisation has a rather unique architectural style that draws on rhythm and pattern, evoking three-dimensional forms, structures, and stackable frameworks. Of course that's only my humble perception, and we all know what those are like (hint: everybody's got one). So it's only fitting, and would be most interesting, to hear about your real-time visual conceptualization of your electric guitar solo - what it looks like to you while you're playing it. Visually, in what kind of world do you find yourself, say, six and a half minutes into "Can't Win", for example? Or if you're inclined to draw a picture instead, that's totally cool. Thanks for sharing! Best regards, Ann Barish - Arlington, VA

What charming ways you have of describing the musical process! I certainly think my approach is basically conversational, but sometimes the conversation is between the Marquis de Sade and a small furry animal. Stackable - well I think I get that, in the sense of stacking thirds, fourths, fifths on top of each other, stacking triads on top of each other, not out of keeping with jazz improv and classical composition. No one has successfully described the creative process, and I'm not about to try. The closest I can get is to say that some of the time I seem to be out of my body, but there is also a 'structure monitor' telling me about the chord changes and the number of bars. The whole of music is for me a visual process, and I'm usually running a movie about the song.

Are you a fan of Kate Bush? Cheers, Jamie

I love Kate Bush. One of the most important artists of the last 30 years in my book. I just wish she had felt more comfortable touring - I loved her show in London back in the late 70s.

Hello, thank you for the many years of joy I have found through your writing and playing. It is a true gift to me. As a budding guitar player (going on 2 years now, and I am only 61) I wonder how your body is dealing with the demands from playing the guitar. I noticed you shaking your hands after each song you played on NPR Tiny Desk concert. At this point of physically wearing, could you say you can still play as you always have, or is it changing?

Do you think the older body is much of an issue if you are just starting out playing the guitar? I am finding that I play 2 - 4 hours most days and just love that time.  I also think it must be harder to develop the finger~head thing now than it would have in my teens, but... such is life. I still love it and love your work, thanks for the inspiration. I look forward to you return visits to Asheville or wherever is close. Thank you, Rick Thompson

With a name like Rick Thompson, you won't get far as a musician, but if you must persist, I would say it doesn't matter when you start, providing you have some strength in your fingers from other uses. After playing for a lifetime, I do pretty well, but get some stiffness and tendonitis, and worst of all, cramp, in my hands and arms. If I'm stretching or shaking things out between songs, I'm usually dealing with cramp from repetitive fingering. The finger/head thing is to some extent natural ability, but to a larger extent just practice. So off you go!

It was great to hear House of Cards on Robert Plant's Band of Joy album. I thought it was an unusual choice because it isn't one of your more popular songs (alas, First Light is out of print!) I was wondering if you have any inside info as to how that song made the recording.  Also, any chance it will make the set list? Thanks for the great music. David Zipkowitz

I know Robert a bit, but not enough to throw songs at him. I am unaware of the reasons that song was chosen, unless it had something to do with that nice Buddy Miller... I do like Robert's version (much more than my own) and if the fans are screaming for it, I may have to put it into rotation.

It was with great pleasure yesterday evening  that I watched you and your great band round off the Dream Attic tour in Tivoli, Utrecht. As I was close to the stage I could see the emotions on your face while looking at fretboard and strings. Your playing makes it undeniably clear  that the guitar gives you the possibility of expressing quite a lot of your feelings, sometimes perhaps even feelings one could otherwise come into trouble with while expressing them the way most people do… The audience on the other hand can connect and live through that same feelings and both listener and artist can leave the concert lightheartedly and relieved. I had one of those more grievous moments during 'A Brother Slips Away' and I thank you for that. Therapy and religion are not far away while attending one of your concerts...

Watching you play this question came up: at the end of the fretboard it sometimes looks like there's nothing left to do than to set the thing on fire or smash it to pieces. Did you ever get that far in wanting to express even more emotion. Yesterday during 'You Can't Win' was the first time I could relate to artists like Hendrix setting his guitar on fire. It's just... the fretboard ends and one wants to go further... Hope to see you in Europe with the electric trio, they were really great. Best wishes, Peter Dees

I know what you mean, but most of us have to content ourselves with conserving the instruments that we have, in order to fight another day. Once the instrument smashing has been done a few times, it becomes a cliche, and we must find another way of going 'beyond'.