By Lisa Shrewsberry
Musician Dan Bailey’s hands have cradled countless guitar picks since he first taught himself to strum. One hollow vessel he wouldn’t touch with pick or pick ax is the unanswerable question: Who’s the best guitarist of them all?
“How do you compare Andres Segovia to Wes Montgomery or Carlos Santana?,” he’d likely respond if one persisted.
His appreciation of the art of guitar has deepened from years of studying and playing, his passion not only maintaining, but increasing. Don’t confuse Bailey’s experience with string snobbery. Of all the names he could rattle off from memory, among the most meaningful to him are those of his students.
Having managed to remain self-employed in music for nearly a half century, he admits, quite in awe, to mentoring many great students, but only one real prodigy.
“David Shrewsbury. He played piano, but after picking up the guitar, he was improvising on jazz pieces within a couple of months,” Bailey explains, adding that Shrewsbury, the exception rather than the rule, is now a professional musician living in Boston.
He selects other names, some still in West Virginia and some not, each recited with equal enthusiasm.
The guitarist/teacher remembers giving lessons before receiving any himself.
“I taught at the Beckley YMCA … back when it was in the Soldiers Memorial building,” and when he was still in high school, he recollected. “I started playing at age 12 and was self-taught,” he said, describing in detail his first home study course on vinyl — Don Rainey’s “Read! Listen! Learn!” Rhythm Guitar series.
“Then, I would watch people who played.” He was frequently on the front row at local Beckley group The Teen Tones’ sets. The group hailing from Woodrow Wilson High School featured actor Chris Sarandon and others, those who went on to earn their chops in music, like Peanut Holly and Russ Hicks.
Bailey encountered formal instruction first at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and then at West Virginia University, Morgantown.
An obsession sufficiently planted, the timing for its fruits in Bailey’s life couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Guitar bloomed in the early ‘60s with the folk craze, with groups like Peter, Paul and Mary. Better amplification really made it take off.” Up to then, said Bailey, guitar had been relegated to background music. After amplification without distortion, the guitar-wielding rock star was born.
A jazz enthusiast at heart, Bailey’s most recent performance accolades include writing for and playing in another genre — country music with group Taylor Made. When he developed Elm Ridge Productions, a recording studio for music artists inside his home, he discovered yet another aspect of song to love.
“When you get in the studio you can make things be the way you want them to be. It’s the difference between taking a regular photo and having the ability to touch it up and make it perfect. I can really beautify music in the studio.”
There was a time, even in Bailey’s career, when guitar heroes were made articulating tricky riffs at accelerated speeds. Not these days, at least not to Bailey. Each measure is, to the master, an independent creation to be appreciated, savored.
“I see things differently now than I did 30 years ago. I appreciate beautiful tone, a simplistic melody. Any guitar player who comes up through the ranks is a little like a gunslinger — there’s always the pressure to play fast and flashy. That has very little to do with music.
“When you are alone and want to listen to music, you listen to something that has substance. My appreciation of music is what has changed for me over the years.”
(Bring Your Own Guitar)
Dan Bailey is eager to share his craft with anyone wanting to learn guitar through a series of introductory group classes at School of Harmony in Beaver, beginning Jan. 9, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
“I taught many students through the years, as many as 55 to 60 people per week. I’d say 40 percent were adults,” Bailey reveals, adding that group lessons like his endeavor at School of Harmony are often less intimidating to beginners than one-on-one lessons.
“In a group setting, you don’t feel like all of the attention is on you.” From those who participate, Bailey estimates 50 to 60 percent will go on to continue lessons. “This is a good way to wade into the waters without jumping.”
In addition to desire, all you need, says Bailey, is a guitar that’s “pretty easy to play.”
The cost for the six-week course is $150 and space is limited. Call School of Harmony at 304-253-3095 or visit www.schoolofharmony.com for more information.
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