Jan 12 2007

Paul Richards: Crafty Guitarist

Published by at 9:14 am under Interview,Music

by Sander R Wolff
The Union
Published some time in the early 1990’s

As I sat, watching and listening to The League of Crafty Guitarists perform Sunday at Peppers in The City of Industry, I was struck by the eyes of the players; gazing into space, unfocused. They seemed the perfect example of calm assurance, sitting on folding stools, with perfect posture. When not playing, resting their left hands on their knees palm up and their right arms hanging at their sides.

I spoke at length with Paul Richards, a member of the L.C.G., and he told me of the Guitar Craft school, created by King Crimson founder Robert Fripp. Richards began the Level One course in ’86, and except for breaks to complete his college education, has continued studying and performing under the direction of Fripp.

“I knew that Robert had a different approach than a lot of other guitarists, more of an intellectual approach or maybe even a spiritual approach to playing the guitar,” Richards said. “The best thing [was] trying to let go of all that and just go for it, because actually when I came to the course it wasn’t anything like I could have imagined anyway.

“During that [first] week, the focus is on technique, on how to play the guitar rather than what to play, so there are a number of exercises that are presented, right and left hand techniques. In addition to that there are exercises in attention that are presented to develop and cultivate attention. It’s a beginning for developing a personal discipline in practice.”

The focusing of attention is central to the Guitar Craft training, and the work involved in learning the specific techniques moves beyond mere guitar playing.

“Everything is geared toward this type of work. Besides playing the guitar all day we each take our turn in helping prepare the meals and [taking] care of the house, things like that. This is also part of the course. Part of the Level Three course is to apply the same quality of attention and work we apply to our guitar playing to an ordinary mundane activity like cleaning the toilet or sweeping the floor or chopping onions for a meal. So it expands, in that sense, from just being a guitar player to doing things in general. At one point Guitar Craft becomes a way of life.”

I could see that the performance was a demonstration of these ideas, with eleven men playing complex, intricate parts in unusual time signatures, blending together so precisely that differentiating the individual parts became nearly impossible.

“It’s almost a mirror of sorts,” said Richards. “If we’re working on developing our quality of attention and being present in the moment I can’t think of a better way to do it than playing music in front of people, because if you’re caught up in something else, or if you’re thinking about what you had for lunch, you’re probably going to play a few bad notes. If someone’s not there, it’s pretty obvious. If I’m playing a section of a piece that has seven bars of five, and then switches to a different key, if I’m not there in that moment counting those bars, it’s pretty easy for me to lose my place and make a big mistake.”

But incredibly, there were no mistakes that I noticed, big or small. The audience was rapt during the performance, and except for the occasional tinkle of a beer bottle at the bar, the only sounds came from the musicians.

“It can be amazing, when everything is going our way, when we’re playing well and the audience is really listening, it can be… it’s indescribable. It’s extremely exciting, satisfying. I can’t really find the adjectives to describe what it’s like, but it makes it all worth while, all the long drives, all the dues that one pays in the music business, it makes it all worth while in that moment. To see so many people in the audience happy and touched by this musical event is very exciting.”

Richards stressed that the audience’s behavior and involvement are critical to any performance, adding or detracting from it.

“You can either take something or give something,” continued Richards. “If someone is there with the intent to listen they can give a lot to the performance. One way one could take something from the performance would be if they’re there taking photos and bootlegging the performances, and this makes our job really tough.”

But the audience was well behaved, attentive and enthusiastic, giving three standing ovations and receiving two encores. I look forward to the upcoming release of a compact disk by the League, and a possible tour by Fripp’s new rock band, Sunday All Over the World.

Hear A Brief Audio Clip From The Interview

The California Guitar Trio’s Home Page

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