This website hasn’t been a priority for me since 2011 when my Alvarez acoustic guitar was stolen. I’d acquired that guitar in 1973 and used it to write 99% of my songs since then. I performed with that guitar in hundreds of small concerts. I loved that guitar.
When my dreadnought 12-string Alvarez was stolen I decided it was time to change my musical life. I started out in 1966 as an electric guitarist at age 12. I had a cheap Stella guitar that I used to learn how to play guitar, but I never performed with it. I was performing songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Byrds, and many other classic rock artists on electric guitar.
I became a folk artist in 1970 after being exiled to Newfoundland that year. Until my Fender Mustang guitar was shipped to me in St John’s, I borrowed my uncle’s South American nylon string guitar. I was living on the 60-acre Oxen Pond Game Reserve created by my uncle with over 600 wildfowl that I had the job of feeding twice a day, before and after attending the Prince of Wales Collegiate high school.
While practicing and singing songs on the porch of the farmhouse at Oxen Pond, the hundreds of ducks and geese would gather around me. They would remain completely silent until I would end a song. Then they would raise their necks to the sky, flap their wings and cackle loudly. It actually frightened me at first. I couldn’t tell the difference between bird cussing and bird applause. After a few days, this became a wonderful event and also became my first folk music concerts as a solo singer-songwriter.
On another day I was practicing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. I was jamming my versions of blues songs, improvising and writing my own folk music and blues rock songs. On one of these ocean performances a graduate student of Memorial University of Newfoundland asked my permission to film me. I agreed and he filmed me for almost an hour. I’ve never seen that video, but since I was just learning to write music… I’m probably happier not seeing my self at this embryonic point of my composer evolution.
Over the next year, I would visit a MUN university professor’s house after school who had a Teac 1/4″ tape deck. I would play and record and jam and compose and listen to them back to improve my songwriting skills. I may still have at least one of those tapes.
The next thing I did was to get a cassette recorder. I have dozens of those early tapes, but I haven’t listened to them ever. I’m concerned they may be infantile… and told myself if I ever needed any song ideas I would access them for inspiration. However, since then, I have never been short of inspiration so I still have never listened to those cassettes. I even logged all the songs and created titles for them on index cards in about 1974. I’m certain there are some cool songs there, and someday, I would like to resurrect them because at that time I cataloged them, I was impressed with myself and my songs.
So this was the folk music period of my development with a lot of blues rock songs also. But without an amplifier, I played clean guitar and was not inspired to be a hard rocker or heavy metal guitarist yet.
From 1975 on I became amplified and no longer considered myself a folk artist or even a folk rock artist as I wrote songs on my Alvarez acoustic INTENDING them to be rock ‘n’ roll or pop songs. Some songs may have been mellow enough to be folk rock because they were ballads and I was performing solo acoustic sometimes… but I considered myself to be a “rocker” on an acoustic. I loved the album by David Bowie, Ziggie Stardust & The Spiders from Mars, which features an acoustic guitar on almost every song. But I doubt that David Bowie would call that “folk rock” music.
When Bob Dylan started playing electric guitar, he was no longer a folk artist. Was he folk rock? When Donovan had Jimi Page and Jeff Beck playing on his albums he considered himself to be “folk rock.”
So what is folk rock? No one knows. I was probably a folk rock artist that entire time whenever I performed on an acoustic guitar or played an acoustic guitar in the basic tracks. But I wasn’t concerned about the folk rock genre title. The Byrds were called folk rock and their biggest hits include “8 Miles High” which has a 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar in the forefront.
I point out all this back and forth information about the folk rock genre to explain how I eventually and finally came to the conclusion that I was a folk rock artist in 1992. Still composing every one of my songs on my Alvarez guitar, I decided to create a new band in Utah with myself fronting the band on acoustic guitar. Up to then I had performed solo acoustic gigs, but I had a loud rock band at the same time. I considered myself to be “unplugged” before that became a genre.
But in 1992 I decided my songs and songwriting were going to evolve beyond or above the sexual frustration of my 20-years of previous songwriting. I would write about government, religions, and family issues. I was a Mr. Mom, so the wild life of a rock ‘n’ roll romantic seemed to be behind me. This focus and reliance on my acoustic guitar as the primary instrument in the band and spiritual/social topics led me to believe I was now a FOLK ROCK ARTIST. This identity was comfortable to me. Many of the most famous “folk rock” songs of the 1960s were an acoustic guitar leading an electric guitar. I was definitely a CLASSIC ROCK ARTIST so this folk rock genre seemed accurate to me.
With the soul of a rocker and blues artist, my American Zen music pushed into rock music. Pop music is designed to make money and be “popular,” but I was composing songs to express my ideals or philosophical experiences. My social commentaries validated the folk rock genre of my songs, at least to me. Every song on my first album, LEVEL 1 = Peace Of Mind by American Zen, has my Alvarez acoustic recorded first with the drum track on a 4-track recorder. That left three tracks for electric guitar, bass and vocal. The songs with my Vox Jaguar organ were recorded by singing and playing the organ on the same track.
This new acoustic based rock band, American Zen, I decided to market as FOLK ROCK. Many people embraced this folk rock, and many other people said it had TOO MUCH rock in the folk rock…
The first two albums I believe are FOLK ROCK. The third album I decided to go more rock and pop. I no longer had any reason to want to be a folk rock artist since this genre had not been marketable from 1992 to 2002. This third album by American Zen, LEVEL 3 = I Want You To Love Me has some folk rock like, “In Dreams” and “I Want You To Love Me.”
On the fourth American Zen Album, LEVEL 4 = Kung Fu Cowboy I was pushing harder into my psychedelic hard rock origins of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and even Jimi Hendrix with “Dizzy, My Toxic Daughter.” But there are some folk rock songs…
The fifth and sixth albums by American Zen were recorded in the 1990s when I WAS a folk rock artist. These albums were also during my Lakota Sioux “Pipe Carrier” days, so the acoustic guitar is very prominent on those two albums. Those are folk and folk rock.
Then came LEVEL 7 = End Of The Line. My Alvarez acoustic had been stolen. I vowed to never again play any acoustic guitar in loyalty and love for my Alvarez which had been so good to me and provided so much for me. It was irreplaceable. I do play slide guitar and may consider getting a Dobro in the future. I sold my Martin bass ukulele also while I was homeless. So now I am an electric guitarist again. I don’t think, in my mind, I can call myself a folk rock artist in the current day. But I have a hundred unreleased songs that feature that Alvarez acoustic. So, there will be more folk music and folk rock music to be released on my Shaolin Records label.
Anytime in my new recordings I would’ve used an acoustic guitar, I will now use piano or a clean undistorted electric guitar.
But as I said, I have hundreds of unreleased acoustic guitar songs. Had I not been honest with you here–you might have presumed I was still a folk artist. But I was a folk artist and folk rock artist from 1974 to 2011. That’s a long career for any artist. That Alvarez needs more credit for all its accomplishments. With love and respect I look forward to releasing those recordings over the next decade.
So stay tuned.