My desire to pick up the guitar at the age of 13 started when I discovered the Beatles. Fourteen years later I still find them just as inspiring. George Harrison’s playing was always so tasteful and complimentary to the song, melodic and easy to digest. Shortly after receiving my first guitar, a tragic trampoline accident left me with a broken ankle. This kept me off the basketball court and away from my beloved summer league basketball team. Summer meant no school, and lack of mobility meant the fostering of an intense relationship with my guitar for the next three months. This was before Guitar Hero was around and I was less interested in becoming a “shredder” and more realistic about my immediate goals of mastering the first positions chords and scales with the help of my weekly guitar lessons from my instructor, Mr. Bixler. When I thought I’d mastered that week’s assigned pieces, I worked on Beatles songs. When my fingers became too sore to play that day, I researched. The Beatles were inspired by Chuck Berry, who was inspired by T-Bone Walker, who was inspired by….and so on. It became one of my favorite activities: backtracking where my favorite musicians came from. Who inspired them? Where can I find more of this? What was the root of it? There were two tracks: guitarists and songwriters. I was led to many of each kind. I found Robert Johnson that way. Same for Woody Guthrie, who still gives me butterflies. The part where I struggled was the guitarists. I really had to dig to find female guitarists that possess/ed and/or exercised the technical ability I aspired and aspire to exhibit. Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and it took me a chance encounter with a documentary to unearth Ani DiFranco. Maybelle Carter and Sister Rosetta Tharpe came to me later. As a music major and a student of classical and jazz guitar techniques, I found Sharon Isbin. Learning about the history of the guitar, I found that it started out as an instrument geared towards women. It has a female shape of the body, but can easily be adopted as a phallic symbol….so to me, that means it’s made for everyone. Once again, fourteen years later, I am still madly in love with the Beatles, but I still don’t see the female guitarists being recognized as they should. The recent issue of Rolling Stone lists the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” It’s a list they seem to compile every few years, and every few years I am disappointed by the lack of female guitarists included. This issue included two (Joni and Bonnie). Out of the dozens of contributors to the list, four were female. I understand without the widespread acknowledgement of talent that many female guitarists would not come to mind for such a list. My point is this, I had to do my research (and in all honesty, this should have been a telling sign of my future vocation in library science), but will every generation of aspiring female guitarists have to do the same? Do female guitarists who can competently play make people uncomfortable? I can’t remember who it was, but I remember reading a quote from a female guitarist that said a woman has to play twice as well as a man to be respected. That was years ago. Let’s move on.
4 Replies to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps…for Recognition”
I really enjoy your blogs, especially this one and the one on August 26th. We’d love to have you contribute to our music sites and share some of this knowledge. We currently have three:
DAMES of PA – http://www.damesofpa.com – run by my wife Karyn and her friend Brenda Brosius, this concentrates on Pennsylvania artists.
Classic Rock Review – classic.modernrockreview.com – classic album reviews and special features (NOTE: we just did a profile on Robert Johnson and will be reviewing Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album later this month)
Modern Rock Review – http://www.modernrockreview.com, which is still not fully developed, but will cover newer musical trends and artists.
We’re always looking to discover new artists and musical knowledge and we’d ceertainly like to do a profile on you in the near future. In any case, thanks for the insightful blog.
Elizabeth Cotton – A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as “Cotten picking”.
You probably know her, but if not, check out Ana Vidovic. She makes me feel terrible about myself in the best way.