A Band Of One

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

If you were to hear a recording of Preston Reed’s music, you’d probably say something along the lines of “Cool acoustic band.” The songs are a mixture of instrumentals in a variety of styles including jazz, funk and blues.  If you were to watch Reed in performance, however, your reaction is more likely to be along the lines of “But it’s only one guy!”  That’s because Preston Reed performs all the parts – chords, melody, bass line and percussion – himself, using just two hands and an acoustic guitar.  Don’t believe it?  Head to Monterey Live on Friday evening and see for yourself.

What is perhaps most astonishing about Preston Reed’s playing technique is that it is largely self-invented.  The son of a guitarist, Reed grew up in Armonk, NY.  As a boy, he learned a few chords from his father and used to try to play songs by his favorite bands, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  His father enrolled him in classical guitar lessons, but the young Reed did not enjoy the strict discipline of classical playing and soon gave up.

At age 16, he regained an interest in the guitar as a result of listening to blues band Hot Tuna.  The band’s acoustic sound led Reed to listen to fingerstyle guitarists like Leo Kottke and John Fahey and to learn to play in this style, which incorporates bass and melody lines into the same piece.  This would be the beginning of Reed developing his own distinctive style of playing.  Another influence was the emergence in the late 1970s and early 80s of guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen and Stanley Jordan, who brought the two-handed tapping technique, where notes are sounded by pressing the strings against the guitar neck rather than plucking them, to public notice.  Reed was quick to add these techniques to his repertoire.

“Tapping is one of the maybe twenty or thirty things I’m doing,” said Reed of his technique.   “I have my left hand doing a simple repeating rhythm vamp and have my right hand syncopate with that.   I’m doing a lot of impact-generated sounds on the guitar…you’re getting several different qualities and textures out of a single gesture. You’re getting the sound of the string, you’re getting the sound of your finger hitting the guitar neck as it slams the string down and that impact resonates through the body of the guitar. The whole effect of it is more ‘pianistic’ and more percussive.”

Since his first professional engagement at age 17, opening for beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, Reed has played at venues large and small all over the world.  His current tour includes the Kennedy Center in Washington DC as well as Monterey Live and several venues in the UK.

Reed regularly holds guitar workshops to teach his techniques and has released an instructional DVD.  He has also released fifteen CDs and several live videos and DVDs, including performances with artists such as Laurence Juber and Muriel Anderson. 

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, February 9, 2006

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