Graduation from MI with Michael Hurwitz (drums) and Mark Von Zech (bass), performing a song written for my wife called "Angelica" on March 17, 1984 at the Odyssey in Granada Hills, CA
As a 1984 graduate of the famed Guitar Insititute of Technology program, I have been asked many times about my experience there. Since reconnecting with my old classmates and instructors on Facebook as well as the publication of co founder Pat Hicks book “Trading Fours,” I decided to take this opportunity to share my story about the school, now simply named Musicians Insititute, or MI.
Like all serious guitarists of the 1970's, I was a loyal subscriber to “Guitar Player” magazine. Begun in 1967 by a steel guitarist named Bud Eastman, GP, as it was referred to by its fans, helped enlighten guitarists about the instrument, its players, gear and trends. I became a big fan of jazz and studio giant Howard Roberts in late 1973, when I began playing professionally with a group from Dunn, NC. GP did a small profile on the school shortly after it opened in 1978, and for a predominantly self taught guitarist like myself, I often wondered about what it would be like to attend school there. By 1982, I was in a band playing hotel lounges over 300 nights a year. Without being able to read music, except a basic chord chart, I became extremely frustrated with my own playing. I couldn't play single note solos rapidly, read music or improvise and my sense of time was awful. I sent a tape of my live playing to Pat Hicks. Pat wrote me back saying that I was a fine player with potential, but that I needed to solidify and diversify my skills if I wanted to make a career as a musician. I got so unhappy with my playing that I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, a long time dream of mine, and attend GIT.
Pat Hicks, co- founder of MI
I wasn't making much money in the early 1980's, so I had to begin saving my cash and planning my trip out west. I had fallen in love with a beautiful girl in Houston, TX and made the decision to get married and attend GIT the same year. I arrived in Hollywood on March 20, 1983 and immediately went to the school on Hollywood Blvd. It took a couple weeks to find an apartment and for classes to begin on April 1. The April Fools joke was on me! I thought I was a pretty good guitarist, and that feeling lasted about three minutes the first day. There were abou 350 guitarists, bassists and drummers that began classes with me in April 1983. From that first week, I realized I had made the right decision to attend school there. Everyone was serious about their craft and I had never before seen so many outstanding musicians together in one place. First quarter was intense, with sight reading classes that terrified me. I was fortunate to be assigned Scott Henderson as my private teacher. Like me, Scott was a rock player from the East Coast who didn't read music all that well when he arrived. Scott blossomed during his time as a student at GIT and was given the ultimate carrot after graduation- the chance to teach at his alma mater. Scott was very encouraging of me and even helped me find a Top 40 band looking for a guitarist. I had just enough cash to last the first two months and then I had to find a gig. I drug along a very talented bassist named Mark Von Zech and we started playing gigs with a band named Images, which included fellow MI grad Deana Neves on drums. That helped ease the money crunch, at least for a while.
Mark Von Zech, accompanying me on his Fender bass
The program for guitarists was very thorough and I began making friends immediately. The staff understood what they were asking of students was incredible, so most of them were very helpful. Many breaks and connections came about as I attended school that would have been impossible anywhere else. As Pat himself pointed out in the April, 1983 feature in GP, “ it has to be done here in Hollywood, since that's where the music business is headquartered.” We attended class for six hours a day and were expected to practice another four hours daily on our own. The school was open 24 hours a day for people to come and go as they pleased, as long as they got their work done. That was a challenge and several students began dropping out of school. As a graduate of UNC, I knew how to survive and pass a tough college class- take excellent notes and try to recall as much as possible at test time. That enabled me to remain at GIT and make some progress in my own playing.
Me with one of my favorite guitarists- Larry Carlton at MI, Summer 1983
I was in the one year, Professional Guitarist program and the things I learned there from April 1, 1983 through graduation on March 17, 1984, had a profound impact on me as a musician and later, teacher and writer. I got where I could read a chart using formal notation, my speed improved and my understanding of music and the music business increased dramatically. I learned how to learn effectively and retain most of what I learned, instead of simply memorizing, regurgitating and then forgetting what I was tested on- the typical process in public school or college. I developed confidence and the belief in myself to help me accomplish whatever I wanted to do with music and the music business.
I was able to bring my own perspective to GIT. Virtually no other students had played the number of gigs I had done in the three years prior to attending MI. At age 27, I was older than many of the students and had been making money as a guitarist for a decade when I moved to Hollywood. I mentioned to Pat Hicks that perhaps I could share what I had learned with the students in a classroom setting, so he paid me $100 for the seminar on “How To Get and Keep Gigs.” I did a little handout and it seemed well received. Later on, Pat asked me to do it again for the camera, so I reprised my performance and the school videotaped it for subsequent students to watch and view. I got paid for that, too. Thanks again, Pat- you really helped me out! (This little lecture allowed me to claim that I taught at GIT while still enrolled as a student.)
I am often asked by other musicians, “Should I attend MI?” I ask them why they feel this is something they want to do. If someone is serious about their craft, and they want to qualify to be a competent professional musician, then the answer is an unhesitating "Yes!" The program is second to none and the environment breeds excellence. A potential candidate must have the finances to go and preferably not gig during their time at school. I should have practiced the fours hours each day instead of gigging all over town for $40 a night! A tireless work ethic is mandatory. A belief in oneself is very helpful, but the program and the instructors help instill that, especially as graduation draws near. I made wonderful friends I keep I touch with and the curriculum had a major impact on me as a teacher and writer myself. In fact, my own guitar method, “Guitar Made Simpler,” draws heavily on my experience at GIT. I owe much of my musical success to my degree from MI. It enabled me to return to Raleigh NC in 1986 and begin a very busy teaching business. I used it again when I moved to Dallas, TX in 1996 and I have enjoyed much success since then.
Pat with studio giant Tommy Tedesco
A school is only as good as its staff and MI had the greatest staff in the world. Period. I learned so much from people like Scott, Pat, Kimbo Smith, Charlie Fecter, Danny Gilbert, Keith Wyatt, Eric Pascal, Chas Grasamke, Ron Eschete, Les Wise, Steve Trovato and of course, Tommy Tedesco. I think about my friends who inspired me, like Mark, Michael Hurwitz, John Montgomery, Tim Lerch, Ed Finn, Bart Samolis, Ben Rosow, Steve Ruff, Randy Hetlage, Jack DiFranco, Frank Marinello and many more whose names escape me in 2011.
my wife Angelica and I July 4, 1983
My year at MI brought a year of tremendous personal growth and challenges as I moved to a new town and state, attended and graduated school, became married and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was also a galvanizing year because I decided I wanted to teach the guitar privately. Thanks to people like Scott and Les Wise, I wanted badly to help potential guitarists avoid the pitfalls that I fell victim to. I began teaching a young man at my Church in 1986 before we moved back to Raleigh, NC that November. Within a year, I was teaching almost 60 students a week and have since taught over 3,000 private students in guitar, bass guitar and even voice. I became a writer and contributing editor with “Gig” magazine, and also wrote for “Electronic Musician,” “Guitar World,” “Guitar School” and wrote the Gigmeister column for “Vintage Guitar” magazine from 1993-2005. That same year, I finally codified and published the results of 20 years of private instruction with the publication of “Guitar Made Simpler.” I simply applied what I felt beginning guitarists had to learn, based on what I felt was missing in my own pre- MI background. I have continued to play gigs and now do solo, duo and trio shows all over Texas and the region.
My experience at MI ranks as the singular most important event in my musical life. Thanks to everyone involved who helped my year at MI the success it was!
March 23-24, 2012 was an opportunity to return to Hollywood and MI for a 25th Reunion of the classes from 1978-1994. It was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and say "thanks" to the fantastic instructors who helped shape us as music professionals. It was an incredible weekend and felt like we'd never left. We felt like we got our year at MI all over again, compacted into one powerful weekend. Here is a video link to this miraculous event for those of you unable to attend:
I had the opportunity to say "Thank you for everything" to people like Pat Hicks, Ron Benson, Ron Eschete, Les Wise, Roger Hutchinson, Danny Gilbert, Keith Wyatt, Steve Trovato, Larry Carlton, Pat Martino, Abe Laboriel, Chuck Rainey, Don Mock, Doug Perkins and Denny Tedesco. I reconnected with my classmates Ed Finn, Kirk Smart, Randy Hetlage, Jamie Lebish, Jack DiFranco, Tim Weber, Denise Kaufman, Steve Sage, Nisse Palm, Richard Gomez, Kris Oswald, Nelson Faria and many more than weren't able to make it. I realized just how special MI was, how fortunate and lucky I was to be there, how much I loved the school, the program and the instructors and how much I loved and missed my friends and classmates. I would be remiss if I didn't say what an incredible place the school continues to be and that it's still the most cutting edge musical education facility in the world. Finally, a huge shout out and thank you to Beth Marliss, who helped put the event together on behalf of MI. Simply put, if you want the highest quality musical instruction on guitar, bass, keys, drums or voice, either study at MI or study with someone who already has!