The Axeman Shreddeth
Fret not: Neal Adams can teach you how to play guitar
Guitarist Neal Adams is a bona-fide musician, but he's happy to help you learn to play a Ramones song.
Do you mostly play jazz?
Yeah, most of the time. I do a few other things in rock, pop, singer-type stuff, but most of it's jazz, funky jazz/rock and standards gigs.
How did you become a jazz guitar player?
I started with the piano, and then the trumpet and guitar as a kid. I was really inspired first by Jimi Hendrix, and my brother bought me a Dizzy Gillespie record. I really love that Dizzy Gillespie record. Then I got really into '70s progressive rock, which also led me into jazz and people who were bridging the gap between jazz and rock. Then I wanted to focus on jazz, although I do try to be flexible. Then I attended community college and was accepted into Berklee [College of Music] in 1996. I went there and studied jazz composition and played as much as I could with different ensembles. I graduated and moved to Orange County to study with Ron Escheté—a jazz great who's played with everyone.
Did people try to talk you out of going to school to study music?
Sure, I got a lot of that. My brother gave me the guitar and, later on, was trying to get me into bio-tech. My mom was a high-school special-ed teacher, and she was ready to support anything I applied myself to. I wasn't focused on much. Once I started focusing on the guitar, I think she was relieved that it was keeping me out of trouble and that I was passionate about it. She was ready to support whatever dream I was going to think up . . . maybe out of frustration.
How did you transition to "the real world" after school?
I teach six days a week. I enjoy just nurturing students along. It's probably because I made a lot of mistakes over the years, and I still occasionally make mistakes—just to save them the time or maybe give them camaraderie about the struggles of playing the instrument. Maybe I value it so much because of the trouble I've had—gigs that come and go, bad habits in playing, things like that.
With all your training, is it tough when a student brings in a really simple song to learn?
No. It's all about the student having success with it. If it's something they're going to benefit from, like a clear-cut three-chord song, then it's going to help them. You need to do a lot of that. You need to play easy stuff before you can play hard stuff. To jump on it and have some success is great. If they learn from it, it's worth it to me.
How do feel aboutGuitar Hero?
Guitar Hero has done nothing but brought me students. They hear these great guitar players on there, and then want to play that stuff. I've never actually played the game myself, but that and the movie School of Rock have inspired a lot of students. It's kind of helped me, although I don't think it would help your guitar playing much.
You mentioned getting a Dizzy Gillespie record when you were a kid. That's not often the typical musical introduction anymore.
I always enjoyed the stuff that's off the beaten path. That's why, in high school, I was into a lot of '70s progressive rock. With that and the jam-band sound, I fell right into jazz. Maybe it's because there were melodies that were playable and I wasn't a singer. It led me into playing melody on the guitar . . . more than a rock guitar player would. But it's about being versatile. And jazz is a big world. It encompasses a whole lot of styles over the years.
Does it allow for music you find more engaging to play?
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A lot of guys just play their standards and don't take too many risks with it. Anything someone's taking more risk with makes it more fun because they're taking a chance of not sounding good . . . for the sake of sounding good.
How's Orange County as a base for what you do as a teacher and musician?
I find Orange County hard because everything's spread out. And it's hard getting the players you want to the gig or rehearsal. But it's great as far as teaching. There are so many families here and people who have the ability to give that to their kids. It's a luxury.