Posted by: kubiakl | October 15, 2009

KWS

Does originality equal relevance?

A friend and I were talking about music and Kenny Wayne Shepherd came up.  Some background: in high school, when KWS first came out, I bought his first two albums as quickly as they could be found.  They were in heavy rotation as I entered my college days and I was excited when I heard that “Live On” was coming out soon.  If memory serves I bought it on release day (but my memory rarely serves, it usually line faults) and enjoyed it.  Not as much as his other albums, but still listened to it heavily.

A decade later and I have to be honest – it’s been years since I made an effort to listen to him.  Around the time of “Live On” I started researching more about the music I was hearing and so many reviews panned him as a completely unoriginal SRV clone who wears his influences on his sleeve.  This made me listen with a more critical ear and as soon as I heard what they were saying, I was turned off to his music.

As I explained this to my friend, he just kind of shrugged and said, “I dunno man, I can’t get enough Stevie Ray.  So anything that sounds close to that is alright by me.”

Which made me realize that it’s ridiculous to let the originality (or lack of it) sway my opinion of music.  After all, when you get right down to it Stevie Ray didn’t write most of his famous songs, borrowed heavily from Albert King and Lonnie Mack, and still managed (and still manages) to consistently be referred to as a benchmark for guitarists.

I’ve also been re-reading some books while I’m waiting on my new ones to arrive from Amazon.  One of those is Chuck Klosterman’s IV, and Klosterman is obsessed with dissecting how artists are perceived.  He talks about relevance quite a bit.  This, coupled with my Kenny Wayne conversation, made me wonder the question that started all this: Does originality equal relevance?

I’ve already said that Stevie Ray Vaughan wasn’t exactly original, but I would argue that he is certainly relevant.  Whereas Kenny Wayne Shepherd not only isn’t original, but also isn’t relevant.  He’s good – an amazing guitar player, and there’s been some great lyrics on his albums.  I just don’t think anyone will stand up and say that he’s relevant.

But now I’m not going to let that stop me from listening.

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Responses

  1. Interesting idea about relevance/originality! I think that blues players no matter how technically good they become can be very derivative. They can still play good blues and good music. Their influence or relevance might just be that they encourage or stimulate someone to pick up a guitar and learn a bit about playing and about music. I do believe that many blues players have their own little eccentric style that sets them apart. For example, check out Long John Hunter on Youtube sometime. He is in his ’70s now and has had a long career playing bars and has a big following in Europe, but very few Americans know of him. He is self-taught, but he is “real blues” and not just a copycat player. He puts his own weird, primitive stamp on blues. It is my belief that very, very few players are relevant if relevant means they influence and change and impact a musical genre or style of playing. Henrix, YES! Eddie Van Halen, YES! But, really, you could probably count the number who are profoundly relevant on one hand, or maybe two hands. BTW, Iam a retired teacher and played guitar and sang in bands and duos and such for over 40 years. I’m not relevant, but I sure have had a lot of joy and fun doing the music. I also really like your website and your enthusiasm and your writing is top notch. Take care, God bless, and keep on picking that geeetar!


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