Gate's Special Blend

Sep 17, 2020

Somewhere in a box in the garage, there's a photo of me and Gatemouth Brown posing with his trademark Gibson Firebird, the one with the hand-tooled leather pickguard. Despite the fact that I was a huge Gatemouth Brown fan, I can't say it was one of the more awesome experiences I've had in the music business, but it was decidedly memorable. Booked for a daylong clinic, Gatemouth arrived at the lecture hall around ten in the morning. Once his roadies had set up his Super Reverb amp, put his guitar on a stand and faded into the background, Brown carefully lit his pipe, leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and looked out over the audience. "Alright," he drawled. "Any questions?"

So, clearly, not a lot of prep. I will say, Gatemouth was ultimately game enough to stand up and jam with anyone, kid or adult, who wanted to come up and play, and did so for a not-inconsiderable period of time, at one point even exclaiming "Let's play all night!" This was, of course, met with universal student enthusiasm, and I mentioned that if it met with the approval of my pedagogical overlords, it was certainly o.k. with me. But when was time to go, as a reward for my hospitality, I found myself in the hallway with one of Brown's six-foot-five, Charlie-Daniels-lookalike roadies looming over me, inquiring "what we were looking at" for his artist to stay beyond the appointed parameters of his contracted engagement. Or words to that effect.

So, exit Gatemouth stage left, pursued by the quickly-fading ghost of bent notes past. In his wake, beneath our guest's chair, we found an empty baggie bearing the handwritten label "Gate's Special Blend." Much speculation ensued, but since we never had the remains sent to a lab for spectral analysis, to this day it's unclear what exactly was fueling Mr. Brown's performance that morning.

I like to think that when it comes to teaching, what I lack in worldwide cultural significance is made up for by my preference for specific, step-by-step instruction over vague Socratic pontification. It doesn't get more linear than the lessons in my Fingerstyle Five membership, which, somewhat to my astonishment, is about to have its one-year anniversary in October. While I am working on new downloable, non-membership material this fall, it's also time for my semi-annual membership registration, which this year will involve several free live streams on Youtube. What follows is a head's up on how the next couple of weeks are going to look.

First, I'll be spending the next week or so teaching some of the core concepts from the membership live on Youtube, using actual lesson materials from the past year's archive. Whether you're down for the membership or not, you're more than welcome to check these out. I haven't added much to my Youtube channel since the spring, so think of this as making up for lost time, with at least three in-depth fingerstyle lessons on groove, improvisation and arrangement coming out over the next several days. They'll be live, but they'll be archived immediately as well, so you can always catch the replays later, and download the accompanying tab. The only thing you'll miss is a chance to ask questions during the stream, but if I can figure out a good way to collect questions ahead of time, you'll even be able do that, too.

In the name of transparency, yes, I am totally doing this to encourage participation in the membership. As Jimmie Vaughan said, "If you're gonna make records, you might as well sell some." So while registration won't actually open until September 25th, I'll lay out the basics right now: the membership is still just $20/month. It includes a new blues arrangement every month, weekly exercises, monthly live streams and a members-only forum for posting and discussing your work. And I'll be explaining more about how all that fits together and helps your playing during the live streams.

Finally, I get that this is not for everybody, and it's annoying to get a flood of promotional emails for something you know you're not going to do. So at the bottom of this email, I'll put a link to opt out of all the subsequent messages about this fall's membership registration. That means you won't necessarily know about the free live stream lessons, but it also means you'll be spared any emails squawking about how you've got only one day left before registration closes, and all that kind of showbiz. You'll still get the usual weekly email, now and forever, or at least until you unsubscribe from that.

I really appreciated all the feedback a couple of weeks ago about my plans to make the Six Steps material into a downloadable course. I heard from a lot of people saying some version of, "I would love to get more of your teaching materials, I just can't commit to the monthly membership schedule." Makes sense to me, and in the immortal words of Roy Book Binder, "Sellin' out? Whatever they're buyin', I'll be it!" So if the membership's not necessarily your cup of Darjeeling, the Six Steps and other downloadable new lessons are coming soon.

That said, I do believe the membership offers a valuable solution to a perennial issue: "What should I focus on, and how should I practice it?" To that end, in these upcoming live streams, I'll be explaining my take on that, through a series of lessons on how to:

  • solve your problems with right-hand coordination and develop a solid groove
  • reverse-engineer your practice routine to become a more fluent improvisor
  • use chord substitutions, intros and vamps, stop time and more to create complete instrumental arrangements

So whether you're a potential member or not, I hope you'll check these free lessons out. Do opt out below if too much email makes you bonkers; you'll still get the weekly Letter. And if you're ever in Louisiana, let me know if you run across anyplace selling Gate's Special Blend.