The artists who first inspired me to play guitar and write songs

It wasn’t always about guitars, it started with music.

Jonathan Thomas
Jun 16, 2019 · 4 min read
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I sometimes feel like I’m somewhat narrow minded when it comes to music nowadays, but in truth, I listen to a very wide variety of things. I grew up on a concoction of rock, metal, gospel and theatrical music. Although I don’t listen to a lot of the things I used to, it’s nice to remember it and flick on some old school music to remember the good old days. This is my music inspired journey to playing guitar…

My dad was a pastor and we did a lot of travelling around to different churches, one of my ealiest memories of falling in love with music was in the early 90’s travelling with him whilst listening to old Christian records from Petra, Whiteheart, DC Talk and Stryper. Stryper were the first band I really connected with, the huge riffs and massive sounding distorted guitars had me hooked — dad didn’t like them too much though, they were a bit heavy for him.

We’d go from one extreme to the other though, and the next day it’d be Whitney Houston’s Bodyguard soundtrack or some Bruce Springsteen or Michael Bolton record, on a Gospel driven trip to London. Somewhat conversely, spending time with my mum and step father allowed me to experience the lighter sounds of E.L.O. or Meatloaf and even recordings of Les Misérables. So I had a varied upbringing in terms of music taste (not all good, I grant you that) and all of the above have lead me to a path where I’m more eclectic than I could have been.

My first memory of wanting to play an instrument was the saxophone, my mother had a clarinet and said that it was in inexpensive way to learn my way to playing one. I think it was the soulful nature and pure emotion that emanated from sax recordings I’d heard growing up. I’d always gravitated toward emotion in music, this formed the basis of my musical journey. However, I failed miserably with sight reading of music, I was too impatient and still am — so unfortunately, I quickly gave up on the clarinet.

I’d spent my early life listening to 80’s/90's rock/hair metal though, which was in some ways the antithesis of emotional music and more about glamour, hairstyles and lycra. Nevertheless, the sound of a screeching guitar solo, which I now know was likely drenched in chorus and delay, synonymous with that 80's sound, really resonated with me.

I forgot about it for a while and went through life thinking that music was something I loved and listened to, not something I could make and do myself. I was mad about music and I grabbed hold of everything I could. My life was music; my hobbies were collecting CDs, going to gigs, cataloging bootlegs and making mixtapes — my life wasn’t about guitars.

I remember skipping first lesson on a Monday to go to town to pickup the latest release from Muse, Coldplay or Feeder. It was a desire to feed myself full of “cool” music (at the time) and experience new sounds.

My main influences in high school were Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay and Feeder. I remember arriving home one day, tuning in to Donna Air’s MTV Select, to see Kurt Cobain in his Dennis the Menace style sweater with his head angled, staring me straight in the face whilst playing the coolest chord progression ever known to man, at least that’s how it felt to me at the time. Smells Like Teen Spirit and Radiohead’s Street Spirit piqued my interest in great guitar based music — if I could pick two songs, they were the soundtracks to my teenage years.

Running in tandem with my love for the heavier styles of Nirvana and Deftones at the time, along came the Indie train. An unstoppable movement of quintessential British-ness in the form of Blur and Oasis.

Unlike most fans, the album that affected me most was Be Here Now. Some Might Say, which came earlier than that, was the song that really got me thinking about songwriting, as did Stand By Me and All Around The World. The Gallagher brothers were poetic geniuses, there’s no denying their penchant for writing catchy songs with great lyrics that would make you smile and nod with agreement.

A little later, I fell in love with Urban Hymns, The Verve’s masterpiece. Richard Ashcroft was another magician (read, genius) I admired. Song’s like Sonnet and The Drugs Don’t Work formed the basis of how I would start writing my own songs, even though I’d not touched a drug in my life! It wasn’t the subject matter that inspired me, it was the way the lyrics swirled around the melody, and the way the vocals swooned around the guitar parts. Masterfully and beautiful. Again, it was this emotion that caught my attention.

If I could pick one song that made me want to play guitar, it would have to be Give In To Me, by Michael Jackson. Even with hindsight and modern revelations, I can’t deny that MJ’s music had a massive influence on me growing up, I had every album and loved everything he released, even the cheesy stuff. We all know the types of guitarists he would record with and Slash was the pinnacle, for me. This song, oozes class and the main riff was the one that got me thinking about emotion in guitar based music. Those few notes said so much, it was a riff that could make you break down and bring tears to your eyes, it really was that powerful for me.

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

Jonathan Thomas

Written by

User experience designer and guitarist

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

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