“And so Galahad decided that it would be a disgrace to set off on a quest with the other knights. Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey” – Joseph Campbell
Every musician has a story to tell which usually starts by being inspired by one of their musical heroes. Heroes play an incredibly important role in our own development as musicians – they inspire us to begin our journey and provide us with a treasure trove of musical DNA which leads us on our way. When we’re inspired by our heroes something gets stirred deep within our souls. We stand in awe of what we’ve experienced in their music and we see – perhaps for the first time – a glimmer of those possibilities within ourselves. Part of what inspires us about our heroes is their uniqueness. The greatest musicians are completely authentic in every detail, with their own catalog of tunes, unique tone and signature licks. And while we may appreciate the skills of musicians who can imitate others – even with virtuosity – we are rarely inspired by them.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are” – C.J. Jung
Dobro superstar Rob Ickes – “As far as the evolution of it when I started my goal was to sound like Mike Auldridge; that was all I wanted to do. And then I got into Jerry Douglas, Josh Graves and Brother Oswald, those are my four main influences. As I got older I listed to those guys so much, absorbed a lot of it and started to wonder, “what do I sound like?” It felt funny to play a Jerry Douglas lick. I felt like I was stealing every time I played an Auldridge lick or Josh Graves and I really got curious about “what do I sound like” or “how would I play this.” And it helped me to make that switch. A lot of people don’t do it. They might get to where they can play like Jerry and they stop right there. That’s o.k. but I was always curious about what I sounded like and it’s been a continual search.”
Imagine all of the incredible music the dobro world would be missing if Rob Ickes had played if safe. After all, he was one of the best and brightest dobro players to come along in a long time. More importantly, what happens if we decide to play it safe and never begin the search for things of our own? Dobro/guitarist David Hamburger put it this way
“I once asked Gatemouth Brown when you should start working on having your own style, and without batting an eye he said, “as soon as you’ve got the basics down.” Now, what it means to have “the basics down” is kind of open ended, and of course one really good way to learn is to figure out how the musicians you love are making the sounds you want to be able to make on the instrument. But how is only half of the equation; the other half is why. You can never own someone else’s why, you have to come up with your own. If you just learn to play like other people, you’ll always only have half the picture. What do you want to play? What do you think it should sound like? What’s your personality, and how is it going to come out on the instrument? Once you start to get a handle on that, you’ll have something all your own, and that’s the bedrock every musician ultimately needs to find.”
“Every generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one” – Tim O’Brien
Developing basic skills, learning your musical ABC’s is an important first step in our development as musicians, but hopefully there comes a time where we step out of the well worn paths provided by our hero’s and begin to search for things of our own. You may just discover pure gold in the form of your own music and musical expression.
Rob Anderlik is a professional musician specializing in dobro and Weissenborn guitar. He is an active member of the music scene in Chicago and a frequent collaborator with players in a variety of musical genres and maintains an active schedule of gigs and studio projects. He can be found on the web at http://www.robanderlik.com
6 thoughts on “Chasing After Our Heroes by Rob Anderlik”
A bunch of truths here. At some point, after the basics are down, you have to let your inner voice take over and let “Rob be Rob”.
Just to clarify, I am not against learning from or quoting the work of your hero’s. I cut my musical teeth trying to absorb the music of my hero’s – Duane Allman, Jerry Douglas, Ry Cooder & David Lindley – I still play their music all the time. One of the main points I was trying to make is that once you’ve got the basics down you can begin to follow your own muse, try and write your music and/or compose your own solos, etc. There’s a great banjo player where I live – Greg Cahill – who once told me “you may find that what’s easy for someone else to play is impossible for you, and vice versa.” And I think he’s probably right about that. Now, obviously there will be a lot of variation from player to player but most of us can only absorb so much from one of our hero’s. We might come close, but we can never completely duplicate someone else’s tone and the way that they articulate their phrasing. Originality can come in many forms. It could be a simple little ditty or a riff, a song with lyrics or reworking an arrangement to make it your own. So, I’m not knocking the idea of playing someone else’s music. That’s a HUGE part of learning to play an instrument in the first place.
One side note on heros and dobros…I’m sure many of us have had the experience of meeting someone who had heroic status in our lives and then finding out that person was actually a pretty unpleasant or unsavory person behind the scenes. I can happily say that all the folks I’ve counted as dobro heros of mine that I’ve had the good fortune to meet and know have not let me down in that way. They’ve all, to a person, been kind and generous people who really care about their music and don’t mind sharing it. Thanks, dobro heros!
That’s been my experience too Orville!
My experience as well, present company included. Keep them coming Rob – good stuff!
Great article. BTW, “heroes” is the plural of hero – no apostrophe : )