When a rock guitarist does a solo album, it generally falls into one of three camps. First there are the shredders, those who want to try and get as many notes as is (in)humanly possible into every minute of music. Then there are the experimentalists, those who want to use their instrument of choice to try and create strange and exotic soundscapes, pushing the boundaries of guitar based music. In both of these cases, the term music can sometimes be only loosely applied. Luckily there is a third style of instrumental music, the style that focuses on melody, songs without words, tunes, that kind of thing, and this is where Ed Dampier comes in.
Although American, Ed is currently based in London and has been playing guitar since he was 15 years old. His debut album “Blues Deluxe” is a mix of rock, blues and the occasional touch of funk. It shows Ed to be accomplished as both a musician and a song writer. I asked Ed how it all began.
“I started playing when I was around 15, 16 years old, and I can remember feeling at the time that I’d left it too late to start! I was inspired by hearing the music that was around at the time, mostly Britpop stuff. I knew virtually nothing about guitar so even quite simplistic players seemed impressive to me then. My Mom had a classical guitar, she used to play piano and sing, but she had never gotten around to learning the guitar, so I commandeered the classical until I got my first electric, an Epiphone Les Paul copy. As soon as I could afford one, I switched to a Fender, and these days I play a Strat almost exclusively.
”Ed’s album is a good mix of styles, you can hear a bit of Jeff beck in there, a bit of Satriani and in “When Two Worlds Collide” he’s managed to create that rarest of beasts, a listenable funk-rock song. I asked Ed how he would describe his music, and who his influences are.
“I listen to Rock, Blues, Folk, Funk, some Indie and some Jazz – mostly fusion. When I was starting out I was heavily influenced by classic rock bands, Led Zeppelin being a prime example. I was also listening to bands that drew on that style, but although they were drawing on that style, it seemed a bit reductive, I found it entertaining but limited. I didn’t want to be there cranking out big Les Paul riffs and solos. I see the aim of my own music as being to create a self-contained world within each song, and to write structures that don’t have to conform to the usual verse/chorus layout. Some of the more complex pieces have the drama and dynamic you would associate more with classical forms.”
Now, being a non-guitarist I was curious to know why there was a difference between playing a Strat and playing a Les Paul. A lot of blues players use Strats, but Jimmy Page always had a Les Paul didn’t he? Ed was kind enough to explain. “Strats have single coil pickups – which sound ‘thinner’ but perhaps more biting; the Les Paul humbucker pickups are ‘fatter’ sounding with more sustain – so might naturally tend towards rock. But there are no hard and fast rules – Ritchie Blackmore used a Strat for all the Deep Purple stuff, and Clapton used a Les Paul and SG on all his early blues stuff. Page did gravitate towards the Les Paul, true, but the first album and some of the stuff on “Presence” was done with Fender guitars; whatever the guitar used it was really the quality of imagination in the parts that shines through. I used my Strat on everything on the album but “Snowfall in Spring” which was played on a Les Paul.”
I asked Ed if had had lessons when he was starting out. “I’m almost entirely self-taught, the exception being the opposite extreme – one year at The Guitar Institute in London. Each approach has its advantages, but I feel that teaching myself was crucial to developing uniqueness in my style and ideas. I didn’t just learn to replicate existing players.”
The Guitar Institute sounds kind of intimidating, I asked Ed for more details “It’s a music college focusing in contemporary as opposed to Classical music, currently based in Kilburn but it was located near Turnham Green when I went there. It sounds flash but I don’t think the entry requirements are that demanding – I can remember early on one of the teachers tearing the cellophane wrapper off a student’s guitar midway through a performance! He’s obviously only just bought it. It was there that I had to take on a greater level of discipline and also I became more aware of the extremes people can go to – if you look at say the knowledge of a jazz player, or the technique of a metal guitarist, it’s inspiring but intimidating at the same time!”
I asked Ed how he felt about the shredder brigade. “I’ve never really been sold on shredding. I definitely pursue technique but only because I see it as a tool in composition – it enables you to try different things out. If your music comes across as just a demonstration of your prowess, then you’re in trouble. I’ll be impressed first time round, but it won’t stand up to repeat listening.”
Although Ed cites several bands with singers as influences, his album is an all-instrumental affair. I asked Ed why he had decided to go down this road, and if it was a style he would be continuing with in the future. “It was actually the original intention to get in a vocalist, but although there were several suggestions, I could never see anyone who totally fitted in with the style I was doing. Also, a lot of the songs don’t have much ‘space’ for a conventional vocal; they would need someone who could totally think outside the box in their whole approach to it. I have considered singing myself, but my singing isn’t strong enough to sit alongside my guitar playing at present. I’m not ruling it out at some point though.”
I wondered if Ed had any desire to follow in the footsteps of Joe Satriani and join a band, and Joe did with Chickenfoot. “I’ve tried forming bands before, but never felt I could reach the full potential of my playing and writing in that format. I’m happy to play as a sideman now in various bands, but I’ll always have the desire to do this music as a solo artist.”
Ed’s album, “Blues Deluxe” has been released online through Abstract Logic. I asked Ed if it had been a problem not having label support. “It’s hard not having label backing, it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation really. Labels are looking to invest in a pre-existing fanbase but having the exposure a label can bring is the best way of getting your name out there I think. The album has done ok, I’ve had great feedback from people who have heard the record, but overall I haven’t got the level of exposure I’m content with yet.”
This is a shame as the album is one of the better examples on an instrumental guitar album I’ve heard lately. The opener, “Overture” has a bit of a Jeff Beck feel to it, catchy as hell, and with some excellent, complex playing on it. The other guys in the band also do a pretty good job. I asked Ed who else played on the album.
“Yves Fernandez of the group ‘Jurojin’ plays Bass. Ed Carlile is on Drums, and the record was co-produced by myself with Andre Antonio, who also played the Keys parts. ““Overture” is definitely my favourite song. The central riff is a bit of a jam, a blues boogie albeit at an unsafe tempo; but the progression just opened out and I worked hard to take it somewhere special. The chorus sections are an attempt to arrange guitars as you would instruments in an orchestra. When I was first in London I was working at the Albert Hall and all these trumpet blasts and crescendos were going round in my head, I wanted to capture that kind of majesty. It’s a bit grandiose maybe but, you know, first song on your first album, you want to arrive in style! The end riff is a real mind-twister, and had the band out-foxed temporarily. I tried to write out charts but had no idea how to notate it. All credit to Ed (Carlile) he worked out the timing – 4/4, 7/8, 9/8! I don’t count it like that, I just see it as moving from the 4 to the 1 without a pause for the full beat.”
I asked Ed if he had any other highlights from the album “A lot of the parts on these songs were pieced together from various other unfinished song ideas. It’s a miracle they cohere so well, I guess songs don’t always coalesce in a logical order. The bridge on “Archipelago” is the chord progression I’m most proud of; played on keys but written on the guitar using ‘stretch voicings’, basically chords formed with wide left hand finger stretches. The musicianship of the other guys is on another level here too. If you listen, all the parts are very busy but nothing clashes, everything has space. “Sidewinder Blues” is another favourite. It was fun to do something in a major key for a change! I was worried at the time it was turning out too country, but that’s its charm. I even put in a couple of clichéd country licks in towards the end just for a laugh.”
And finally, are we going to get any new material soon? “I’m writing new material as we speak, but my own standards are quite exacting, and I don’t want to commit to recording till I know the tunes I have are as strong as I can make them. I’ll be demoing material over the summer.”
Ed Dampier is definitely a name to watch. If you like tasteful, skilful guitar playing then “Blues Deluxe” is an album you need to check out. You can hear more at www.myspace.com/eddampier