“Are You Awake?”

First things first: Happy New Year!!!

Every December since 2011 I’ve put together a personal “Best of…” playlist that I call Discoveries & Resurrections.

The list draws from all of the music I’ve read about, written about, discovered, listened to, heard in concert, performed, taught and – if my Muse has been generous – created over the course of the year about-to-be gone by.

Usually, I get this done in time to burn the playlist to CD and include a copy among the Christmas gifts to each of my children.

However, the 2019 collection was not compiled until December 31st. Better late than not at all!

I like these playlists – as I like my set lists – to begin with an acoustic guitar instrumental.

“Are You Awake?” (Thank you, Muse) kicks off this year’s collection.

[The Best of 2014 started with “Sixstr (The sixstr stories Theme)” and “Before Breakfast” took the lead in 2016.]

“Are You Awake?” got its title from the fact that the opening phrase of the melody did indeed wake me up one morning this past November. Fortunately, I had a bit of time to not only find those notes on my guitar but also capture them in a voice memo recording on my phone. (Ah, the wonders of modern technology!)

Several days and many stolen moments later, my new piece was finished, mastered, properly recorded and transcribed.

So, ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, I give you “Are You Awake?”

I hope that helps to get your new musical year off to a good start.

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A Christmas Jazz Piano Sparkler: “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by Dave McKenna

I know.

My Sparklers category is supposed to feature: “Recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances.”

Oh, well! Not today.

Dave McKenna’s Christmas Ivory is very high on my list of all-time-favorite Christmas music albums.

This 16-track collection of unquestionably outstanding and noteworthy solo piano performances was recorded on February 18 & 19, 1997 at the Sound On Sound studio in New York, New York, and released later that year by Concord Jazz.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – written in 1934 by J. Fred Coots & Haven Gillespie – is the opening cut on this effervescent and infectiously joyous recording.

As is written on the back cover of the CD: “There is still no finer vehicle for beautiful music than an exceptional talent playing the sounds of the most wonderful time of the year.”

Sit back and listen for yourself.


Dave McKenna was a New England-based Jazz pianist. He was most highly regarded for his solo work in what came to be known as his “three-handed” swing style of playing.

Born May 30, 1930, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Dave joined the Musicians’ Union at the age of 15. His discography lists over 50 albums starting in 1955 with Solo Piano on Paramount Records and (nearly) concluding with the 2002 Arbors Records release, An Intimate Evening with Dave McKenna. Dave passed away on October 18, 2008.

Concord Jazz re-released Christmas Ivory in 2000 as the unfortunately titled Christmas Cocktail Party: Holiday Piano Spiked With Swing. Either way, it is well worth seeking out and highly recommended as an addition to your Christmas music collection/playlist.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at sixstrstories.

May your days be merry, bright and, of course, filled with music.

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‘Tis The Season…

…to reflect and share.

One day a couple of months ago, quite out of the blue, I started singing part of an old song of mine called “Pavement Ends.”

I located the complete lyrics of the song, undated, on page 170 in Volume 2 of my songwriting journals.

The first draft of the lyrics to “Pavement Ends” appeared on pages 5-7 in the same volume, sitting between one entry dated 9/7/93 and another marked 11/15/93.

Playing the song, however, proved to be a problem.

I (eventually) found my homemade demo recording of the song on the B-side of a 90-minute cassette tape labelled Recent Originals 1994. It was hiding in a very full storage box of cassettes marked “Work Tapes.”

Finally, after going through the odd process of listening to that recording and teaching myself the chords and fingerpicking to a song that I wrote, I’ve been playing and singing “Pavement Ends” quite a bit lately.

This past week, I had the good fortune to be invited to perform at a local art gallery. The “evening session” had been described as “an informal trade-off of talent” done in “round robin” or “songwriter circle” style. The folks who joined the circle that night included another singer/songwriter/guitarist, a trio of Celtic musicians, a poet, a short-story writer and a Jazz vibraphonist.

“Pavement Ends” was my first contribution.

A young man from the audience came up to me after and asked if the song was on my website. “It is not,” I answered.

Now it is.

I hope you enjoy it.

“Pavement Ends” – words & music, guitar & vocals by Eric Sinclair.

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This Historic Day In Music: Merle Travis

I first learned about Merle Travis in the September 1976 issue of Guitar Player magazine.

GP editor Jim Crockett began his introduction to Bob Baxter’s cover-story article/interview with Mr. Travis with this statement: “Countless guitarists, particularly in the country music field, owe a good deal of their picking to the finger style licks of Merle Travis.” Merle’s style of playing was so influential that, according to Mr. Crockett, it had actually been given a name: “Travis Picking.”

“Hmm,” I thought. “I’d like to hear some of this music.”

Fortunately, the article concluded with a “Selected Travis Discography.” The first disc listed was a 1956 solo album on Capitol Records simply titled The Merle Travis Guitar.

“That’s the one for me!”

Unfortunately, as Mr. Crockett also stated in his 1976 introduction, Mr. Travis’ older recordings were “all but extinct today.”

So, the quest to find a copy of The Merle Travis Guitar took many years.

But finally, I got lucky.

While browsing in a local record store, I chanced upon a copy of the album as reissued by the Stetson Records label from England.

There were 12 tracks on The Merle Travis Guitar and Side 1 began with “Blue Smoke” – the very same piece that Bob Baxter had included a transcription of in his 1976 Guitar Player article.

The album’s uncredited liner notes offered the listener the following preparation: “When Merle plays, every phrase is fluent, every note is clean. Merle does not use his impressive technique merely for show, but always as a tool that helps to make his music as meaningful and clear as possible.”

I completely agree, but you should listen for yourself.


Merle Robert Travis was born on November 29, 1917 in the Muhlenberg County, Kentucky town of Rosewood. He passed away on October 20, 1983.

Over the course of his 46-year career, Merle Travis was a very popular performer in radio programs, stage shows, Hollywood feature films, television shows and in concerts. He recorded over a dozen LP’s (two of which earned 5-star ratings from Rolling Stone magazine) and a string of Hot Country chart-topping hit singles. His 1974 album The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show – with fellow guitarist Chet Atkins – received the Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

In 1970, Merle was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.

Finally, Merle Travis is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential American guitarists of the 20th Century.

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This Historic Day In Music: November 23, 1936, The Gunter Hotel, Rm.414, San Antonio, Texas – Take 2

They had travelled from Mississippi to Texas, the young black man with a guitar and the older, white business man. Years later, people along their route would still remember this unusual sight.

The business man was Ernie Oertle, a talent scout who covered the Southern region of the country for the American Record Company. The man with the guitar was Robert Johnson, a 25 year old Blues musician from Hazelhurst, Mississippi.

Johnson had been recommended to Oertle by H.C. Speir, a Jackson, Mississippi-based record store owner and well-regarded talent scout. Oertle heard Johnson play and offered to take him to San Antonio for a recording session with ARC.

In San Antonio, ARC recording producer Don Law, recording supervisor Art Satherley and recording engineer Vincent Liebler had set up a makeshift recording studio in two adjoining rooms at the Gunter Hotel. They had an electric phonograph that recorded directly onto lacquer-coated aluminum disks, with about three minutes of recording time per side.

Robert Johnson made his first recordings on November 23, 1936 in Rm.414 of The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

At that first session, the singer/guitarist recorded eight original songs in this order: “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” “When You Got a Good Friend,” “Come On In My Kitchen,” “Terraplane Blues” and “Phonograph Blues.” (He recorded 13 sides in all, including an alternate “safety” take of each song except for “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues.”)

Johnson also recorded at The Gunter Hotel on November 26 and 27.

The first record released from these sessions was “Terraplane Blues” b/w “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” – #03416 – on the Vocalion label, in March of 1937.

Listen for yourself.


That 78-rpm record sold well enough for ARC to book Johnson for another recording session; this time in Dallas, Texas, on June 19 & 20, 1937.

All told, Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs in his recording career.

But if the only recordings he’d ever made had been the ones he made at his first session on November 23, 1936, Robert Johnson would still be considered the King of the Delta Blues Singers.

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Sparklers: “Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt, featuring Ry Cooder

This is the fifth installment of this category featuring recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances. It is inspired by whatever god oversees the shuffle mode of my iPod classic during my morning walks.

So, without further ado, let me introduce to you…

“Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt, featuring Ry Cooder on electric slide guitar.

Give a listen. (Headphones highly recommended!)

Ry Cooder’s guitar slips into the mix in the left channel at the 54 second mark, right at the start of the second verse. His first solo starts at 1:34.


“Lipstick Sunset” was written by John Hiatt. It is from Bring The Family, Hiatt’s eighth album, released on A&M Records in May, 1987. The ten tracks on this superb album were recorded over the course of four days – February 17-20, 1987 – in Studio 2 of Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, California. John Chelew was the producer.

The musicians on that track are:

  • John Hiatt – Acoustic Guitar & Vocals
  • Ry Cooder – Electric Slide Guitar
  • Nick Lowe – Bass Guitar
  • Jim Keltner – Drums

In the All Music Guide to Rock (2002, Third Edition), Mark Deming writes that Bring The Family is “a rich and satisfying slice of grown-up Rock & Roll” and that “Ry Cooder’s guitar work is especially impressive, leaving no doubt of his singular gifts without ever overstepping its boundaries.”

I say that Ry Cooder’s contribution to “Lipstick Sunset” is among the most masterful electric slide guitar playing you will ever hear.

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This Historic Day In Music: Wanda Jackson

Wanda Jackson – the singer, guitarist & songwriter who became known as the “Queen of Rockabilly” – was born in Maud, Oklahoma on this day, October 20, in 1937.

In 1956, 19-year-old Wanda signed with Capitol Records and soon saw the release of her first single for the label: “I Gotta Know” b/w “Half As Good A Girl.”

Her first album for Capitol, Wanda Jackson, came out in July of 1958 and contained the song that – in 1960 – would become her biggest Top 40 Pop hit: “Let’s Have A Party.”

Rock journalist Ed Ward, writing in his excellent 2016 book, The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1, describes Wanda Jackson’s now-legendary talents: “Her powerful, brassy voice could – and did – belt out country music, but she also could – and did – rock like crazy.”

Listen for yourself!


“Let’s Have A Party” was written in 1957 by Jesse Mae Robinson and originally recorded by Elvis Presley for the movie Loving You.

Did you notice Wanda’s guitar in the picture above?

That’s a 1950 Martin D-18 acoustic guitar, hand painted and equipped with a sound-hole pick-up.

Here’s a close-up picture of that instrument, complete with Wanda’s guitar strap, from when it was on display as part of the recent Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


Happy Birthday, Wanda Jackson! Hope the party is still going strong!

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This Historic Day In Music: Chuck Berry

This songbook has been in my music library for many years.

Fred Sokolow’s excellent note-for-note transcriptions of 17 Chuck Berry classics have repeatedly proven themselves to be invaluable to me as a guitarist and as a teacher.

The Michael Ochs Archives photograph that graces the cover provides not only a fine portrait of Mr. Berry, but a tantalizing view of one of his guitars; a guitar that (thanks to my incredible children) I had the very good fortune to be able to see “in person” this past September.

Chuck Berry’s guitar – a 1958 Gibson ES-350T archtop thinline hollow-body electric guitar – was the opening act, the greeter, for Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll. 

Play It Loud was an absolutely amazing exhibition of more than 130 instruments that filled Exhibition Gallery 199 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this past Spring and Summer. (My daughter, son and I were there on Sunday, September 29.) To be able to stand just a few feet – often just a few inches – in front of so many famous and historically important musical instruments was a truly breathtaking and unforgettable experience.

According to the exhibition catalog – by Jayson Kerr Dobney & Craig J. Inciardi – that Gibson ES-350T was “Chuck Berry’s main guitar from 1958 until about 1963.”

That means that Chuck Berry most likely played that guitar on this recording.


“Carol” was recorded on May 2, 1958. The musicians accompanying both of Chuck Berry’s guitar parts (listen closely!) on that track were:

  • Johnnie Johnson – Piano
  • G. Smith – Bass
  • Ebby Hardy – Drums

“Carol” was released as a single – b/w “Hey Pedro” – by Chess Records in August, 1958.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri.

He passed away on March 18, 2017.

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The Beginning

The first time I gave a guitar lesson was on Monday, October 13, 1975.

My student’s name was Catherine. She was 13 years old.

Catherine’s Mom was a classroom teacher at the elementary school where I was the brand new, guitar-toting music teacher. She stopped me in the hall one morning to ask, “Would you be interested in giving my daughter guitar lessons?”

That first lesson was held in the living room of Catherine’s home.

My fee was $3.00.

I taught at that elementary school for four years, giving after-school guitar lessons to a growing roster of students.

I became a guitar teacher full-time, working mostly with high school-age students, in the Fall of 1979.

And that is still what I do.

This past Summer, I ran into Catherine’s Mom at the ice-cream shop downtown.

I took the opportunity to thank her for launching my career.


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One Thing Leads To Another

That’s me.

I’m standing in the middle of Jones Street, just off of West 4th Street, in Greenwich Village, the borough of Manhattan, in the city of New York.

The picture was taken by my son on a magical Saturday afternoon at the end of this past September.

Why there?

That is where, in February 1963, photographer Don Hunstein took the picture of Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo that was used on the cover of Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Pretty cool, don’t you think?

I’ve been listening to that album quite a bit since getting home from New York and the second track – “Girl From The North Country” – really stayed with me.

So, I decided to learn how to play it.

I could hear that Dylan was using the same Cotten-style fingerpicking patterns on “Girl From The North Country” that he used on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” – a song I know quite well. I recognized an open-position G major chord at the start of the intro and soon established that Dylan had his guitar capoed at the third fret.

But what was the chord he was playing behind the start of – and throughout – each verse?

It took me a few tries, but I finally identified the fingering as a two-finger Am7 moved two frets up the neck. With the open 6th string bass note his thumb plucks on the first and third beats of each four beat measure, that fingering sounds as an Em9 chord.

Dylan consistently followed the Em9 with a D7/F# chord before heading back into the G major. I located an occasional “plain” Em chord and many-more-than-a-few C/G’s, and – voila! – the chord progression was mine!

The lyrics to the song as they appear on bobdylan.com are not exactly the same as the ones he sings on the album, but I easily penciled in the corrections on my print-out.

Getting the way Dylan phrases those lyrics in his vocals is the hard part.

In my quest for some confirmation of my chordal discoveries, I found this video.

Take a look (and a listen).


That performance was filmed in March, 1964, for a Canadian television show called Quest.

Bob Dylan recorded the version of “Girl From The North Country” that appears on The Freewheelin’… on April 23, 1963 in Columbia Records’ Studio A, in New York City.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan LP was released by Columbia Records on May 27, 1963.

I’m definitely enjoying playing and singing “Girl From The North Country.” As Bob does in the video, I’m more comfortable doing it without a capo on my guitar.

Wouldn’t it be something to someday sing “Girl From The North Country” while standing again in the middle of Jones Street?

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