Q&A January 2012, Part I
2/4/2012 (updated 2/4/2012)

Hi. I'm an amateur/hobbyist guitar player, and am planning on attending a guitar workshop this summer, but have not yet decided where to go. I am very interested in the Frets and Refrains Camp in July; but I'm concerned about the amount of orientation towards folks who are not advanced guitarists. I haven't been playing/practicing seriously for that long -- I'd describe myself as an advanced beginner. I'm competent with the dozen or so most common basic open position chords, some common right-hand rhythms, can strum and sing on simple tunes, can do a few finger patterns, and know some basic scales (major, major and minor pentatonic). But my barre chords aren't very good yet, my knowledge of the fretboard still has a long way to go, my ability to find the right string at tempo when flatpicking isn't great, etc. I'm wondering how much stuff there's going to be that's oriented for someone like me. The idea of learning from folks like Richard and Teddy Thompson and Martin Simpson is incredibly exciting; but I worry that I won't have the background needed for a workshop like this. The webpage does say "all levels will be catered for"; but I'm just wondering if someone can give a little more detail about what that means. Thanks so much. -c

The Frets And Refrains camp hopes to provide teaching for all levels and abilities. We are expecting a full complement of 120 this year, so it will be impossible for me to personally have one-on-one time with everybody - however, we will have an instructor specializing in beginner and intermediate levels. No one will be left out! When we have a clearer idea of the profiles of the attendees, we will tailor the classes to fit the needs of the students. Hoping you'll be able to attend.

What was it like spending the Christmas holiday in warm LA rather than the cold UK? - Tina

Gosh, Tina, you know everything about me! How on earth - I must have mentioned it somewhere, or else you are very expensively following me around. Well, it was warmer - less cold - a different selection of friends and family to visit and entertain - I enjoyed it, missed the snow, but it didn't snow this year anyway, and I'll catch up with the rest of family next month.

I read Keith Richards autobiography over Christmas & was wondering if you have read it yourself. I mean, your lifestyles were so similar, he said, tongue firmly in cheek!! Where do you think Keef ranks in the pantheon of rock guitarists? As a complete non-musician I've always considered him well below the likes of yourself, Jeff Beck & other heavyweights but the man was responsible for some of rock's most memorable riffs. (I always liked Mick Taylor's playing with the Stones.) One thing I'm wondering if you could shed some light on for a non-musician like me. Keith seems to have gained some reputation for what is referred to as "open-tuning". If you haven't read the book, he discusses it at length starting on page 241 - if you happen to peruse a copy while killing time in your local bookstore. If I understand it, he used only 5 strings on the guitar on some tunes. Anyway, if you're aware of the concept & can put it into layman's language as to what it means… Thanks, Brian Hayes, Ottawa ON

I read it, and enjoyed it a lot - far more thoughtful and eloquent than I would have suspected from the more blurred and slurred exterior. I especially enjoyed the early days in Dartford, the marathon drug-fuelled recording sessions, and the not-so-subtle put-downs of Sir Michael. I don't think Keith is a great soloist, but his strength is surely as a rhythm player, and inventor of memorable riffs. In the same way, I don't think Charlie is a great drummer, but together they hit some of the great grooves of rock history. Great story (which I'd heard before) about Keith and Charlie recording onto a cassette player in a hotel room - acoustic guitar and practice drum kit - then taking that into the studio, all hissy and wobbly but with wonderful compression - and using it as the rhythm track for Street Fighting Man. As they say, rock and roll is all about attitude. Mick Taylor is a beautiful slide player, and I do mean beautiful. As for the 5-string thing and the open tuning thing, a lot of that comes from Ry Cooder, who wisely or not, sat down with Keith to jam and exchange musical ideas, which basically ended up as Honky Tonk Woman. I heard Ry was not happy about that. In layman's terms, to open-tune a guitar is to tune it to one chord that requires no left hand fretting, giving it a big, ringing sound. They were doing this on Everlys records back in the 50s. I don't know which string he'd take off - bottom string?

Re: Rocking and Reeling
I've always loved your version of Rockin in Rythm on Strict Tempo. It sent me looking for the original (Duke Ellington's pretty good too!) Why have you never done anything else like that? I know your usual answer (as when you are asked why you don't produce an album of trad folk songs) is that others can do it better, but this is really distinctive and maybe no-one else could do it better on the guitar! Great set at Cambridge last year. Andrew Wrigley

I suppose I could do an album of early jazz classics 'string band' style? If you like that, a tune I did for the 'Dreams With Sharp Teeth' documentary called 'Harlan's Bounce' is a free download on this very website.

Re: Christine Collister
Watching the "Live at the BBC" video clips recently had me interested in Christine Collister. I am going back and exploring her solo work. Have you seen or played with her in recent years?

We worked together at Meltdown Festival in June 2010. I see Christine quite often - her and her chap Bob spend a bit of time in Santa Monica these days.