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BLUES PLAYER

Are guitar heroes a thing of the past? Part II

Posted: June 20, 2023
This topic continues to intrigue me as the approach to guitar playing hasn’t changed in our modern age. In our previous mentioned in an interview, it seems there are some who believe all you need to learn is the basics to become a guitar player. I had a friend of mine once say, “All you need to learn is four chords to play the guitar.” While that may be true in some circles or genres of music, it certainly doesn’t hold water with many who consider playing the guitar an art form.

Photo by: Renee Jahnke

It has been a year since the statement was published in an interview. I have heard some levels of ``However, there are those who are still complacent with riffs and mimicking what another musician has done. The originality of past performers and heroes seem to be part of our past.

I mention the word “seem” because it gives the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality. Trust me, I keep track of the real players. There are hundreds of guitar players performing for the endorsements of guitar brands. This is extremely disappointing. I have even interviewed some of the most popular branded guitar players / digital creators. It is ugly to hear that they have no other purpose than to play riffs and provide reviews of guitar brands.

There are some musicians that are doing this while they pursue gigs or promote an upcoming release. They are trying to promote themselves, and this seems to be the best way of doing it. Not exactly a perfect means of self-promotion. However, it is the best way they know. Guitar heroes of our past use these same methods. The difference is that these guitar heroes have paid their dues. They have played live shows. They cut records and toured. At this point, self-promotion of any kind is acceptable. They are now allowed a FREE pass.

I totally get that we live in a world of fierce competition. However, nothing has changed from decades past, and those wanting to make it big as a guitarist. In fact, guitar players in the modern era have it easier due to technological advancement. Guitar heroes in the past had to play before live crowds. Many modern guitar players wouldn’t have what it takes to perform with type of dedication and work ethic.

Did you note that many of the riffs played today are from those guitarists that played in bands from decades ago? Angus Young, Steve Vai, George Thorogood, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, and Jeff Beck, to name a few. All these artists were Guitar Heroes and took the “road less traveled.”

You might be saying “Ok, Guitar Thrills Magazine, you made a great argument, but what is your point?”

The term Guitar Hero is used often, but without the understanding of what it truly means. The article has been written to show that there is more involved in playing a few chords and performing before followers on social media. Again, our modern era technology has benefits. However, modern guitar heroes (artists with a proven track record) don’t rely upon technology to accomplish something great. They are focused, determined, and accomplished. Technology is a complement, but not the foundation for their popularity or success. An artist with that was a perfect fit for this topic is Gretchen Menn. We felt so strongly about the guitarist back in 2022 that we had to follow up with her in 2023. Has her opinion changed? Is she relying upon different methods for success? Who are some of the modern guitarists that she finds striking? These are just some of the questions worth considering with Gretchen Menn.

When we first considered this topic in 9/8/22 it was with highly coveted guitarist Gretchen Menn. At the time we knew she was something special. However, we didn’t give her the cover at the time. It was a big mistake and we told her straight up, that it was an oversight. Gretchen Menn smiled and was always willing to accommodate us at a future date. Well, our time has come to make it right.

It is extremely important to follow up on a previous topic that was covered with her. The main question from this interview was to impart knowledge of her history, experience, and feel for her inspiration. This is what Gretchen Menn had to say:I became captivated by guitar-oriented music as a teenager—Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Extreme, Mr. Big, as well as classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. But it was when I heard Eric Johnson play that I knew I needed to pick up the guitar. I’m always uncovering just how much work anything takes if you want to do it well. Music is an endless path, but fortunately a beautiful one.

I think it’s as simple as my love of music and my fascination with it as a language. I have wide tastes and diverse interests, and I feel compelled to be constantly expanding my musical vocabulary to express what I want to express. Some people’s inclinations mean they only need four chords for that, and therein can be a lot of beauty and economy. But I think all of us would be well-advised to look honestly and openly at what our muses demand and do whatever work will mean genuine and fluent expression.

My music is instrumental—so no lyrics. Some of it has darkness, and some of it is lighter. The intention is to channel different aspects of my tastes and experiences into my music, and that is a whole spectrum. Compare “Scrap Metal” to “Fading” on my first album, Hale Souls, or “Beast” to “Grace” on Abandon All Hope. Though I haven’t consciously engineered a sound, I am continually developing my compositional and musical voice. As for everyone, my music is the culmination of my inspirations and influences, as filtered through my brain, perspective, and experiences. I listen to and study from rock musicians, jazz musicians, classical and modern composers… I find inspiration almost everywhere.

Guitar Thrills Magazine still believes in the talents of Gretchen Menn. Just like millions of fans and a plethora of media outlets. Gretchen Menn is a modern day, Guitar Hero. What are some influential components to her methodology? There must be more to her success. We hope to find out in our latest interview. But before we move forward with the interview, let’s review some of her accomplishments:

ABOUT GRETCHEN MENN

Gretchen Menn once flew jets to support her six-string habit. She holds a BA in music from Smith College where she studied classical guitar under the tutelage of Phillip de Fremery. Her musical interests and inclinations span centuries and genres: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Page, Steve Morse, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck...

Her first solo album, Hale Souls (2011) is an offering of original, instrumental works. Her second release, Abandon All Hope (2016) blends modern and classical instruments in intricate, cinematic compositions that evoke a musical journey through Dante’s underworld. She is currently working on a third solo album.

She is the guitarist and a founding member of Zepparella, the acclaimed Led Zeppelin powerhouse, and has performed as a solo artist throughout the U.S. and in guitar festivals in Switzerland and Germany.

Gretchen is also passionate about sharing her love of music through education. She teaches masterclasses and clinics, contributes lessons for Premier Guitar and Acoustic Guitar Magazines, has a instructional course available on JamPlay.com, produces free YouTube lessons on the music of Led Zeppelin for The Zepparella Learning Channel, and recently had a book published by Stringletter Media, How Music Works.

Gretchen continues to study guitar, composition, and orchestration, and is currently working on a master’s degree in media composition (film/television/games). CLEARLY THERE ARE NO LIMITS FOR GRETCHEN MENN.

INTERVIEW WITH GRETCHEN MENN AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: First I would like to apologize for not having you on the cover sooner. However, I am glad that we were able to do a follow up interview and make things right. 😊 My mindset wasn’t let’s see when we have an opening for Gretchen Menn. It was always a matter of the right topic, and the right issue that would highlight your fantastic career. So welcome back to Guitar Thrills Magazine.

We would like to spend just a few moments on the topic above. Then we can talk about you as one of the nation’s leading guitar performers. When you think about Guitar Heroes, what comes to mind?

Gretchen: You are so kind. It’s an honor to be on the cover and thank you for having me! To me a guitar hero is anyone who inspires someone else musically—to pick up the instrument, of course, but it can also mean demonstrating a new or interesting way of playing or being an ambassador for a genre (almost anyone who insists they hate country music backs down when you remind them of Albert Lee or Johnny Cash). Of course, we have the guitar icons you mention, but many teachers are unsung heroes of guitar and music—those whom you may not know by name, but whose influence and encouragement of their students is significant.

Guitar Thrills: When I consider that title, there are many old school musicians that come to mind. In our modern era, there are not as many. However, there are guitarists that still hold that torch light, and represent what guitar playing is all about. Original, style, dynamics, energy, class, legendary are some of the words that come to mind. It appears some guitar players have reduced it to just riffs and copy. I get it when you begin guitar playing that is what you thrive on. The riffs. I remember the guitar sheets and picking out the most important part of the songs to play. However, after a while you must move on to something more technical to offer.

When do you recognize when you should be making more advancement if you want to become a professional guitar player?

Gretchen: I am certainly a proponent of learning from one’s heroes. I love transcribing, and there is much to learn in doing so. We become fluent in our native language by initially imitating, and the same can hold true for the language of music. But just as we don’t grow up to be parrots of our parents, the hope is that the vocabulary of our musical heroes will inform and enrich a voice that becomes our own. Writing as a way of internalizing a new musical concept can’t start too early, as far as I’m concerned. If you’re learning an Eddie Van Halen tapping line, also write one of your own. Learn a riff, write a riff. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Just write.

Guitar Thrills: As I mentioned previously that there is a time and place for promotion of brands, and solos. However, if your expectations for becoming a real guitar player is riffs and solos alone, then you will never reach your full potential. I know you do solos and promote brands. Which I am cool with. However, you have proved your abilities. For instance, you perform with a band called Zepparella. They are Led Zeppelin tribute group. I don’t think you could have selected a more dynamic group pay tribute too. Each time I hear Zeppelin it sends a high level of energy through me. There is a level of dynamics that know can duplicate. There will never be another Led Zeppelin.

Do you recall watching the Tribute to Led Zeppelin that was on broadcast T.V. years back? One of the best performers that paid tribute to Led Zeppelin was one of my favorite artists. Lenny Kravitz. Now, he is the quintessential guitar hero. The video here doesn’t show him playing the guitar, but if you ever watched Lenny Kravitz live or on video, you know he can play. You can tell by the response of Robert Plant and Jimmy Paige; they were totally stoked with admiration for Lenny Kravitz.

Their expressions were pretty much the way I felt after hearing Zepparella perform live. Zepparella performs the song “Whole Lotta Love.” How did this song inspire you? I know it sounds like a simple answer. Can you explain how it makes you feel to play lead guitar during this song? It must be an “outta” of this world experience.

Gretchen: “Whole Lotta Love” is a great example of the balance Zepparella tries to strike between honoring the letter of Zeppelin—the recorded version—and the spirit—their live journeys of improvisation. We play the verses and the iconic leads true to the album but stretch out in the middle section—where the Theremin solo is on the album version. It’s different every night and a wonderful opportunity to connect with my band, the audience, and the music in a way that is spontaneous.

Guitar Thrills: Nice. Are there other songs from Led Zeppelin that make you feel the same way?

Gretchen: In terms of journeys of Zeppelin-inspired improvisations, “Dazed and Confused” is another one in which we stretch out significantly. We always aim to be true to the parts of the recorded version, but then add the improvisations where Zeppelin did.

Guitar Thrills: Back in the day, the guitar heroes were the bands and artists that made it to the top of our desks at school. Their names and logos were sketched on top of our desks or on our books. Zeppelin, AC/DC, RUSH, and Van Halen were posted everywhere. No matter who you were, you had to give mad props for these bands. I can only imagine that Zepparella and Gretchen Menn would be written on top of desks in this modern age. 😊

Guitar Thrills: Do you recall every doing this as a young adult? If so, who were they and why?

Gretchen: My first heroes were Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse… so they didn’t really call out for logo scribbling the way the bands you mentioned might.

Guitar Thrills: Awesome.

Guitar Thrills: I would like to switch gears just a bit. When you first came out as a solo artist, you released a couple of records Abandon All Hope, released in December 2016. Then there was Hale Souls in 2011. What was your take on their releases? Did they meet or exceed your expectations?

Gretchen: I think it can be easy as an artist to feel constantly unworthy to release music. If the goal is to be learning and growing constantly, the temptation can be to keep waiting until you’re better to release anything. It was when I realized I would only learn the valuable lessons I needed to learn by going through the process that I set aside that attitude and just did my best. I had a great time and learned so much doing both albums.

Guitar Thrills: What kind of feedback did you receive from your fans?

Gretchen: Fans are the ones who give the good feedback, haha. I’m sure plenty of people don’t find my music interesting, but nothing is everyone’s cup of tea. My hope is that my music reaches the people who will enjoy or find meaning or inspiration in it.

Guitar Thrills: What do you want to accomplish with your career as a guitarist?

Gretchen: To be continually growing, learning, exploring, expanding.

Guitar Thrills: When will you know that your music dreams have been fulfilled? Are you still living your dreams or is there more that you desire from being a guitar hero?

Gretchen: For me the joy is in the path, not the destination. Musical fluency and expertise is a constantly receding horizon, and if I ever feel like I have arrived, I will know I’ve deviated from my true artistic course. The hope along the way, though, is to hold myself to ever-higher standards, and create music with honesty and integrity.

Guitar Thrills: That is great to hear.

Guitar Thrills: What does the future hold for Zepparella?

Gretchen: Keep playing show with people I adore. Like anything, it can’t last forever, so I’m working to enjoy as many moments as possible.

Guitar Thrills: Is there any collaborations coming up that you would like to tell us about?

Gretchen: Yes! A hero of mine, Steven Mackey, is composing a guitar concerto which I’ll be performing with the Utah Symphony in April of 2024. It would be difficult to overstate what an honor it is. Terrifying, too!

Guitar Thrills: That is honest.

Guitar Thrills: I have many questions for you, but I know time doesn’t always permit it. All I can ask is that you come back for another interview soon. How does that sound to you

Gretchen: Anytime! Thank you for having me!

GT: Awesome. Until then, I will continue to listen to the Zeppelin tribute band. Zepparella has made be a fan. I know Gretchen Menn had a lot to do with it. Continue proving that you are the guitar hero that you have proved to be. We will continue to keep our ears open and listening.

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