The Long Story
The Early Years
I was born in 1956 in Southern California and started playing guitar at age 8, my family had just moved to Los Gatos, in Northern California. I took lessons for about five years from two local teachers, Bill Munday and Al Beilharz. My early training consisted mostly of classical and fingerpicking styles.
As a teenager, I was influenced by rock & roll bands like The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Chicago; as well as may folk-rock artists like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Jim Croce, and Pentangle. Like many other young musicians, I spent my early years playing electric guitar with friends in our garages.
After hearing the acoustic playing of Jorma Kaukonen on the first Hot Tuna album, my interests turned in a blues direction. I started listening to Reverend Gary Davis and developed an appreciation of many other early country blues guitarists as well.
In high school, I started teaching guitar to the younger kids in junior high. Soon I had four or five students I would see once a week. The lessons were done at their homes, so compensation usually went to the local gas station.
I graduated from Leigh High School in 1973, and started teaching at the Village Guitar Shop in Los Gatos. The teaching faculty consisted of three classical guitarists and me. This gave me the catch-all title of "Instructors-Other," and kept me on top of many styles, "from Hank to Hendrix."
While at Village, I struck up a friendship with one of the other teachers, John Philip Dimick. This rekindled my interest in classical playing especially Renaissance and Baroque music. A little later, I even took up the lute and spent some of the summer of 1975 playing at the Renaissance Faire in Northern California.
Over the next few years, I gave lessons at Music Village in San Jose and Union Grove Music in Los Gatos. During this time I began arranging popular and rock songs for solo guitar. I always wanted to play songs people would recognize, but singing them usually made them unrecognizable. So I started to combine the melody with the chords in an effort to be a one-man-band.
In May of 1979, I returned from a trip to France (courtesy of Fred Luddy) only to find that Union Grove Music was closing their Los Gatos store. At the time, I had about 30 students and no place to give lessons. I spent the summer looking for a new studio and teaching on a cement picnic table at Bachman Park. This was when I met Greg Burger, another local teacher looking for a studio. In September of `79, Greg and I opened our own store, Joplin & Sweeney Music.
A year or two later, Macy's Department Store was looking for musicians to stroll and play Christmas carols for 5 hours a day, the 12 days before Christmas. Needless to say, after a few days, I knew a lot of carols. I began teaching these carols to my students and even recorded a few to make them easier to learn.
I made up a tape of roughly 30 or 40 songs and gave copies to the students who were working on them. All was well until a few started coming back requesting additional copies for their parents, grandparents, etc. This began to get rather costly!
My First Album
The next Christmas, I decided to try a real recording session to see if I could produce something that might sell somewhere other than my own store. However, this time I went to a place that specializes in duplication of tapes so I didn't have to do them all at home again. At the time I was scared to order 100 copies of A Christmas Collection not knowing what I would do with the leftovers after Christmas. Strangely enough, all 100 were gone in just a few days and I had to order more. I think I probably sold nearly 300 that year, mostly in local gift and book stores.
While I was picking up some unsold tapes at CapriTaurus (a small music store in Felton, CA), the proprietor, Michael Rugg, suggested that if I had a nice, colorful cover, I could probably get distribution outside the area. Coincidentally, he was an artist who could do album covers.
Armed with a new cover, a more professional recording, and a new loan (courtesy again of Fred Luddy), I sent out demos to distributors hoping someone would be interested in putting them in stores. Thankfully, Dan Gassoway at Lifedance was! We sold enough that year to either pay back Fred or make another album. I figured an album of Beatles tunes was in order (sorry Fred).
Back to the Recording Studio
The second album, A Beatles Collection, was a lot of fun, and a few years later I began thinking of a third. One thing I felt was missing from the first two albums was some personal information. Inspired by Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick, I decided to get a little more elaborate with the liner notes to my next album. If you've read this far, you might also enjoy the notes in Yesterday's News!
The Thrill of My Musical Life
Due to a chain of events starting with a phone call from Mark Hanson, I had the chance to have my biggest musical influence and favorite guitarist, John Renbourn come to our shop and do a couple of workshops for my students. We played a few duets for them and before he left, John graciously agreed to share the stage with me for a couple of concerts in the spring of 1999. With a big concert coming up, I felt inspired to write a few new pieces. The next summer I started working on an album of all original pieces that probably would still be on the "Drawing Board", if it weren't for John. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to meet my musical mentor, and he happened to be one of the friendliest and down to earth people in the world!
A New Direction
Inspired by the nod of approval from the master, I continued writing new guitar pieces and looking for other great musicians to perform with. The venue where John and I played, Villa-Montalvo in Saratoga, graciously asked me to start an annual series with a diffrent guest artist each year. I have been fortunate to do shows there with Keola Beamer (2002), Laurence Juber (2001), and Al Stewart (2000). The next show will be Friday, May 16, 2003 and once again Laurence Juber will join me. I have also finished enough pieces for a third album of originals. Watch for El Dorado coming soon.
I am currently teaching about 25 students a week at Joplin & Sweeney and assisting in the care and feeding of the Los Gatos Guitar Gallery. Now that the kids are getting a little older and somewhat more self-sufficient, I am planning to get out and perform a little further from home. Maybe the next website revision will include a concert schedule. Any suggestions along these lines are greatly appreciated.