This is not my usual Huffington Post blog article. For the loyal and few that follow me, you probably have noticed that the majority of my posts have been about an environmental issue that I have a strong opinion on. With previous writings, I make an attempt to raise awareness and shine a light on the atrocities committed by the manufacturers of pesticides who then defy EPA bans, or governmental agencies doing horrible things to wildlife or the environment.
Now, for something very different. Instead of speaking out against one of the many environmental injustices that are happening daily and around the world, I want to bring attention to something that is positive and good. After being introduced to the music of Scott Law, I find myself inspired to tell the story of a consummate musician and songwriter who gives a gift to the world with his music.
I first heard Scott's music last June, when he performed at The Station House in West Marin, Calif. He was playing with bluegrass legend Peter Rowan, and I made a last-minute decision that night to head out with friends for an evening of drinks and live music. That evening, in the company of good friends, I was gifted with the soulful performance of several master musicians; one of them was Scott Law. Playing to a small crowd in a local tavern, I discovered the music of a versatile, talented guitarist who has been compared to Jerry Garcia, Doc Watson, Jerry Reed, Mike Bloomfield and Clarence White.
About a week ago Scott was in town again for a show at Iron Springs Brewery, and along with the same friend that first introduced me to Scott's music, I headed out to hear some great live music at a pub in downtown Fairfax. Playing that night, Scott led a trio of musicians that included Dennis Smith on bass and Michael Pinkham on drums. The musical collaboration and creative energy raised were a reminder that there are so many hidden treasures right in front of me. My job is to simply pay attention and listen. If I don't, I risk missing out on beauty and things that are very right in our world.
A few days after his most recent gig in town, I met up with Scott for breakfast at the Sleeping Lady, a small venue like many of the places you'll find Scott playing. Over coffee and good food, I got to know a little bit about him, and gained an understanding of the messenger behind the music. A troubadour and an accomplished musician, I learned that Scott has been sharing his gift of music for the last 20 years.
I discovered a musician who is intently focused on his art and the pursuit of musical freedom. Scott talked about his journey through music that began in high school. Influenced by the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Earl Scruggs, Scott had dedicated himself to the study and perfection of his craft and his goal to "just get better" as a musician, singer and songwriter. "My quest is about the music, to further understand, study, about how to access a musical expression, in the moment." I want to be a master improviser."
Scott talked about his performances onstage, and the many opportunities he's had playing with his personal heroes. This includes a personal invite from Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh to play Jerry Garcia's guitar, "Wolf" during a Red Rocks Amphitheater benefit concert in 2005; an experience that Scott called "amazing."
"To hear the tones emanate from my own fingers just as I had heard them on my first Grateful Dead albums and multitudes of bootlegs was a thrill and taught me some things. Holding that iconic guitar alone was also a mix of emotions. On one level, it's just oh well, lets see what's up with this cool guitar... while on another, it's holy shit, this is Jerry's guitar!"
"I'm doing OK and I'm very lucky. I have enormously cool experiences playing with my heroes; people like Peter Rowan, Daryl Anger, Tim O'Brien, Vassar Clements, Melvin Seals and Phil Lesh."
"Music helps me know myself"
What really left an impression on me that morning were Scott's words, "Music helps me to know myself." I asked him to further elaborate on this. His answer, rich in wisdom and heart is very much a teaching, and is something I would like to share in its entirety.
"For one thing so much of learning music is raw training... and at the end of the day, we can only train ourselves whether we have a "teacher" or not. We are responsible to do the homework and figure out what that even is. Especially trying to master improvisation. I mean how do you practice to be spontaneous??? I guess you prepare to know everything you can about music and your instrument. Regardless, it's endless hours of repetition and pursuit of conceptual understanding. Period. No shortcuts. We do this with our heads, hearts and hands. There's a raft of life lessons in that alone. Takes a boatload of time, discipline and balance.
I have learned the most from the people I have played onstage with and I figure I can learn something from everyone and every situation no matter what level... this happens to also be one of the joys and benefits of teaching -- all that you get back from the interaction.
My time playing regularly with pioneering fiddler, Darol Anger has been the most productive in terms of pulling all the elements into better focus for finding my deficits and improving them. He has a way of totally validating a person musically while still laying down the goods in measured doses so you can learn to operate on a much higher level. It's just who he is. Through him I managed to turn myself into a decently functional acoustic guitarist after a few years of digging real deep. He's pretty much a genius musician and I'm still getting better for it! I am very grateful for these experiences.
I have absorbed a great deal in finding out how my own brain works in these ways. It's a constant cycle of reflection. This guitar (and singing) business is a very physical endeavor and the tape don't lie. It's performance, kinda like learning to be a great pitcher in baseball. You have to throw strikes and you're only as good as your last game (show). The stats are right there in the recordings and etched in the faces of the audience.
So it's become a long journey of filing away little patterns and tricks so I know where to go to play what I hear in my head at any given moment if I'm lucky. That was always my goal: Play what you hear, hear good phrases. It's just weird how fast it all happens. Miraculous that humans can even do this stuff at all!
Still even more of it is learning how to relax your body when you might tend to tense up and figure out why that happens? Then there's the complexity of navigating the lifestyle and how to manage your energy on the road while metabolizing the brutality of listening back to recordings of your performances and stomach the reality of knowing there's still a long way to go... It's so much about perseverance. That's the stuff of self-knowledge."
Performing in small venues, house concerts and music festivals, Scott is on the road anywhere from 100 to 150 days a year. Over the years he has cultivated a growing, sustainable base of loyal followers that look forward to shows announced on social media, email distribution lists or just word of mouth. You can find a listing of upcoming performances on his web site.
A new acoustic album called Black Mountain is coming out this fall, and I had the chance to get a sneak peek at some unreleased material. I soon found that the act of writing this article, while listening to Black Mountain simultaneously, was impossible. I did make several attempts, but each time I found myself being pulled from behind my computer and onto my feet; dancing in my kitchen, and for that moment, not having a care in the world.
Often, I do find myself saddened by everything that is wrong with our world. However, I've also learned the importance of gratitude that our planet has musicians like Scott, who in pursuit of his own self-knowledge, shares his gift with us all.
To explore the music I'm talking about, check out Scott Law's YouTube Channel. You never know, you just may find yourself dancing in your kitchen.
Below is Scott performing, I'll Stay Around