Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Craig Dobbins - The Popjunkie Interview


Craig Dobbins
A Gentleman, a Scholar and a Picker

After decades of slinging an electric guitar through both the dives and divinities of the east-coast music scene, this author was in sore need of inspiration. While I kept myself on a varied diet of musical styles over the years; the New Wave, Rock, Pop, Funk, Experimental fusion that was part of my lexicon of tricks was no longer satisfying, no longer interesting to me. In short, I needed a radical departure from standard operating procedure in order to grow.

That meant diving into the one style of guitar playing that was near and dear but extremely elusive – country finger-style guitar. To be more concise, I wanted to get a few Jerry Reed licks under my fingers!

Having never made a tactile connection with the steel-string acoustic guitar and the fact that fingerpicking on a Stratocaster just seemed unnatural, my engine was stalled before getting to the starting line. Fortunately, things began to come together for me – the most important being my “discovery” of the nylon-string guitar. Like my beloved Fender, this was the instrument that could get me from point A to point D - if only I could learn how to play it! No easy feat.

With a little online research, I found Craig Dobbins and the Acoustic Guitar Workshop [AGW]. The Alabama-based Dobbins began publishing the AGW in 1993; teaching those curious about this style and accurately transcribing some of the works from the masters of the idiom. Having bought book after book looking for further insight into the works of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, the AGW was revelatory – finally, someone who knew what real “pickin’” was and could actually teach it!      

The AGW is now in its 20th year of publication and has lately been going digital – issue by issue, Dobbins has been making back issues available as PDF/mp3 downloads. Now all of Dobbins work can be made readily available to hungry students at any time. This is in addition to Dobbins’ current roster of private students, recordings, and Skype lessons!

How do you conceptualize or compile the songs/lesson for each issue of AGW?
It varies. Some issues have a theme, but most have a variety of music. I try to include something of classic Nashville fingerpicking (Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Paul Yandell, etc.) in each issue, and I decided from the beginning that I would always include a hymn or gospel song. Apart from that, it’s music that interests me and that I hope others will enjoy as well. I also include my own original tunes from time to time.

Much of the music that you transcribe is music that you are a fan of – does that make it easier when you break certain songs down into a lesson?
Oh certainly. The last thing I’d want to do is spend hours and hours preparing a piece of music that I didn’t even like!
I transcribe each song in notation/tab, with both left and right hand fingerings, and chord diagrams where applicable. I usually talk through the music and play it slowly and then up to tempo. When possible, I include the original recording by the artist. 
I’ve been able to transcribe the music of many of my heroes, and some of my friends too - people like Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Paul Yandell, Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel, Guy Van Duser, Richard Smith, Jim Croce, The Beatles - the list goes on.

You recently began offering back issues of AGW as downloads – how has that been going and will you be converting all issues to digital form?
It has been going well. You know, today people want everything now, so downloads are the way to go. We’ll be converting everything we can. Some tunes are controlled by publishers who don’t allow PDF downloads of music from their catalog at this time, so of course we’ll honor that. It all depends on licensing and permission. For now, some issues will be available as downloads or in print (or enhanced CD), and others only in print form. 

Also, it’s not just AGW - most of my books, book/CD sets, and CDs are also available as downloads now. And of course, there’s Lick of the Week, which is all digital. Each week we email a new lick in notation/tab, with performance notes, mp3 audio, and QuickTime video.

All available downloads are listed on the Downloads section of my website.  

What new projects are in the works for you?
Well, I’m always working on something. As Chet used to say, “Trying to keep a few simoleons coming in.” So I’m working on two new CDs - one is all Gospel, and the other is all original tunes.

You also collaborated on a new signature-model guitar…
Yes, Kirk Sand has just added the Craig Dobbins Signature Model guitar to his lineup. I’ve played a Sand since 1993, and I’ve owned the one you see and hear on most of my projects since 1996. So, it’s quite an honor to have this new signature model. I confess, sometimes I find myself just peering through the soundhole at my name on the label. You can read all about it on my construction blog: http://craigdobbins.blogspot.com/
[Attention guitar geeks – you should really check that blog out!]

I’ve also expanded my endorsement with TV Jones pickups and guitars. I’ve been using his pickups in my Gretsches for several years, and he recently sent me one of his Spectrasonic C Melody baritone guitars. It’s great fun, and I’ve been writing and recording with it quite a bit. There’s a clip of me demonstrating it on the TV Jones website

Thank you Craig for taking the time to chat with Popjunkie! Your work is truly inspiring – inspiring me to practice a lot harder!

The latest issue of the AGW (Vol 17 No 2) is #66. And for Jerry Reed fans, do not hesitate to check out Craig’s’ Jerry Reed transcriptions page. It is a must for any serious picker!