Yesterday I had a guitar lesson with Brent Mason. I need to say that again, out loud, because it doesn't feel real. I had a private, one on one, guitar lesson from Brent Mason.
As you may have guessed, o regular reader of thine blog, there is a story attached to this (don't all my posts?), so I will abridge it as much as possible... I've been playing the guitar for as long as I can remember, literally. My brother (who is 3 years older than me) had a cheap nylon string and I always messed around on it, watching him and our friend Rob work stuff out, and then once they left the room instantly copy what they did. I've always learned by stealing others licks! When I hit my teens, I got my first guitar, this was the mid 80's so it was all Iron Maiden for a couple of years and then Satriani happened, then Vai.. and that was that. I was a shredder. I shredded morning, noon and night, a true bedroom rockstar complete with Brian May style hair and an Ibanez Jem. After years of working that stuff out and playing in pub bands I got bored. Completely, so, I effectively gave up. My social life still revolved around the music scene so I was always at jam nights and it was at one of those nights my life was forever changed.
I have complete lucid recall of what happened. It was a Monday night, early(ish) 1998. In pubs I usually shun company and peel off to be on my own, it's harder to offend people that way, and all of a sudden I noticed this beautiful guitar tone coming from the P.A. It was before the jam started, the background music was on, and I just listened. As it came to an end I realised I was captivated and looked around for the guy who put the music on. And then another piece started, stopped me in my tracks again. I listened for a while, it was beautiful - the phrasing... the tone... the musicality. I was in love. I went and found the guy who put it on, Rick (who I am now in a band with) and I asked him who it was - he said the unforgettable line of "A session player from Nashville, Brent Mason, he's on everything - this is his solo album. The next track will blow you away!". Just as he said that, the next track came on and I was blown away. Anyone who knows the album Hot Wired will know that those three tracks were "Caymon Moon", "Mellow Midnight" and "Blowin' Smoke". If by some insane reason you are not familiar with this album, I (you'll see why I say that later) stream it on brentmason.com, here. This moment restored my passion for guitar, for exploring the guitar and guitar music in general. Don't get me wrong, I still love the shredders and to shred, but a part of me will always be in gratitude to Brent, and of course Rick, for opening my eyes to another style of playing. The thing you have to remember is that country music just isn't popular over here, so the radio never played the songs he was on, I just never heard him, or of him, before.
Now we fast forward, I went off to University that year, played the album to death, worked out as much as I could, and tried to play like him. I finished Uni, got married, had kids, and sold most of my gear to buy nappies and shoes. Such is the life of modern parenting. In 2008 Facebook started the whole "like page" thing (as it was called then) and I wanted to do one for Brent, as there wasn't one. So, I contacted him through MySpace (lolololz, yeah, it's that long ago) asking for him permission for basically something I was going to do anyway, but I'm English, so I try to be polite when I can - he answered within about an hour, saying he was cool with it and to contact his wife, Julie, for content. So, nervously I contacted them both, got loads of pictures from them and away we went. As I started to sort through the materials to put on the page, avidly googling him, I kept coming across this pedal called the Hot Wired by some bloke called Brian Wampler. So, me being me, I messaged him asking for details etc... he answered back and well... you can see how that went. Safe to say Brian and I got on, and we have a long running joke about who is his biggest Brent stalker... Anyway, after a while Julie asked that if I could use the content I had collected for the page to put in a new website for Brent, just needed something static, nothing mega, just a communication portal, so I did it. There was I, a no one from Devon, making a website for one of the greatest session players, and musicians in general, alive today. This lead Brian to ask if I wanted to do the Wampler site... and that's where that started. So, I got my job at Wampler via Brent Mason.
Over the years I've got to know Brent and Julie quite well, we are long distance friends, we keep in touch - I maintain the website still and try to sell as many Hot Wired's as possible, around my 40th birthday and to say thank you for all I have done, Brent gave one of his new PRS Brent Mason signature guitars saying "Do with it as you want, you can keep it or sell it, it's yours". This was a really nice touch, they knew we have no money to spare so he was giving me the option of making a fast few quid... obviously, I didn't, it's my pride and joy and I cannot imagine gigging without it.
All this brings us to 2017. Julie has said to me that Brent was considering giving private Skype lessons and could I give advice, so I offered my thoughts on quality of sound, how to get it, and what I would expect if I was paying for it... and then a few weeks later I find myself sitting in front of my screen, waiting patiently when the magic call arrived on my Skype!
Obviously, over the years, I've stopped seeing Brent from the fanboy perspective (mostly) and just 'Brent', but I must admit, seeing him on my screen with the '68 and hearing him talking to me kinda blew me away. We initially caught up briefly (we've met before, at NAMM etc - that prompted the now infamous "Let's look like we are about to start a fight picture" and have spoken on Skype quite a few times), asked about family (he quickly said hi to my wife and kids who were floating around), and he asked about the PRS, and then what I wanted to learn from him. I imagine that many people in that situation will say "Show me how to play 'I don't even know your name'." (or as Brent brilliantly calls it 'the waitress song') but I didn't want that, I can play most of it but the thing that has always floored me about Brent is his note choice and his phrasing. So, I asked him about where all that comes from, which can't be an easy thing to answer, because he just does it. It is his style and I'm asking him to explain a thought process. Not easy, but I'm delighted in the fact he instantly understood exactly what I wanted to know and really opened up about everything. Now, I know some harmony so I can say about the Mixo mode, the dominant 7th and how the chords roll into each other, but what I didn't know was the way he constructed his playing around that and so many other things. He explained fully what he saw in terms of the neck when constructing his lines, how he uses open strings to make them sound interesting, the influences that are behind his playing (I have homework!) and how it falls into place around the rhythmic patterns that exist in his head when playing, what he uses to balance it all, the lead notes, the blue notes, the outside notes, the chromatics, everything that makes him, 'him'. We went over the hour mark, it was closer to 1:20, because once we got going it was hard to stop - the man was beyond generous with his knowledge and imparted it perfectly. I'm not going to tell you what he said, you'll have to have your own lesson with him for that, but I've come away with a completely different thought process about constructing my own voice in guitar, that's twice he's done that to me now. All I say is this, when being Brent Mason, you don't think like any other guitar player I can think off, you think differently, and that through process is available to you. He will tell you what he does and how he does it, now, if you are a Brent fan, isn't that the greatest thing that can happen to you musically?
If you want to have your musical world turned upside down and your imagination fired, or just want him to show you how to play Hot Wired, than you simply HAVE to do this. He tells you exactly what you need to hear, not necessarily what you expect, but what you need. I get the feeling my playing is going to change radically over the next few weeks, as I have a completely different approach to country guitar playing now... My head has been melted. Imagine what it would have been like if you asked him about his approach to Western Swing or Jazz (which, let's face it, is what he's best at)... I expect my head would be melted completely away...