Many of the greatest musicians are the greatest teachers. Professional musicians navigate a road wrought with twists, turns, bumps and dead end signs. A common stop on that road for many is teaching other aspiring musicians. I decided to talk with some professional musicians who have used their skills to train the next generation and get their perspective on performing, the road they traveled and how they teach their students.
To kick things off, I’ll be talking to Lou Musa. Lou grew up in Rockford, Il and started playing guitar at the ripe old age of 5. He studied classical guitar for 11 years and while in high school he started teaching and gigging in Chicago. He moved to Grand Rapids, MI in 1997, where he formed the hard rock group The Rockit King.
In 2008 he was asked to join a re-formed Verve Pipe which opened up an opportunity to play for audiences all over the world. If that wasn’t enough, he also records music for movies and commercials, produces albums for other artists and has picked up endorsements for Bugera Amplifiers and D’Addario Strings.
Anthony Nowack: You make your living through music. Millions of young musicians have aspirations of being rock stars but then settle for careers they think are more attainable. Was there a time when you thought you’d have to hang it up?
Lou Musa: Never! Though there’s been many times that I had to take on other jobs in addition to help pay the rent. If you stay realistic to your goals and expectations, you can survive pretty well in the industry.
AN: Seems that you’ve consistently worked your way up in your career. Much like an office worker might start in the mailroom and eventually keep getting promoted because of their skills and their work ethic. They don’t go straight to being the CEO. Is that how you’ve approached your career? Give us a little of your history in music.
LM: Well, I grew up with music constantly being played and performed in the home. There was always a get together for family and friends, where my dad and uncle would play music and entertain everyone. It would end up as a big jam session by the end of the night, and that totally caught my interest as a little kid. My dad eventually taught me some basics on guitar to accompany him at the parties. By the time I was a teenager I was hooked and I had that drive to spend hours upon hours to practice and study of the art form. I was just starting high school when I began making money playing gigs. It eventually grew into better gig’s and opportunities, that has led me to where I’m at now. I never had expectations of huge success, just wanted to make a decent living doing what I love.
AN: After playing music for so long, do you still find the guitar challenging?
LM: Yes! Guitar, like most instruments you can never master. There’s always room for improvement.
AN: What do you do to expand your skills or help keep things interesting as a player?
LM: I try to expose myself to as many forms of music and art that I can. You can find inspiration everywhere if you’re open to it.
AN: Can you give me an example of how an artist in a different genre that has influenced you?
LM: When I studied classical and flamenco guitar as a student. I was really influenced by composers such as, Mozart & Chopin, and guitar masters like, Paco de Lucia & Carlos Montoya. As I got older I really started getting into Jazz greats like Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. I’d even get inspired by other instrumentalist (even to this day) like, Andreas Vollenweider, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, just to name a few.
AN: Yeah, many of the great players picked up tools from other styles. Keith Richards has said he wanted the riff to “Satisfaction” to actually be recorded by a horn section. It’s a very R’n'B stabby kind of riff that way. Is that the kind of thing that a guitar player should take in when, for example, they listen to a jazz player like Miles or Coltrane that they can apply to their playing? Differences in phrasing or rhythm?
LM: For sure! Usually when I’m writing a song or working on an idea, I’ll hammer it out on guitar and/or piano. As the idea progresses, I begin to hear different timbres and elements that help the idea grow into something more complete. It usually ends up with totally different vibe, then what was originally envisioned.
AN: I know I’ve told you before how a photo I took of The Rockit King in that skanky club way back when made me want to be a music photographer. That’s also why I send you a portion of all my earnings. The second part’s not actually true, but did you ever have that kind of moment of clarity about being a musician?
LM: I do recall you telling me that. You know I love to hear that story. Lol…. Anyway, I’ve never really had that kind of moment probably cause I started playing so young. Everytime I see or hear a great performer I do get exited for them and picture myself involved somehow. So I guess that’s my moment.
AN: Sounds like you’re going to have plenty of those moments this year. You’ve got a busy summer coming up between your two bands. What’s on your schedule this year that you’re excited about?
LM: Yeah, it’s going to be a busy summer for shows! Really looking forward to playing the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI with Cheap Trick in June. Also, Lollapallooza should be a blast in August. Got a few cool show’s scheduled with The Rockit King too. Hopefully get some quality time to finish producing the next TRK record for a possible fall release.
AN: Thanks Lou. I think that’ll do it. Unless there’s anything else you’d like to add. Your favorite neo-classical metal guitarist maybe? Yngwie or Randy Rhoads? Also, would Steve Vai be as good without that fan blowing his hair back all the time?
LM: Randy Rhoads, though Yngwie can kick a guitar pick right at you while shredding a riff. Vai, regardless of the fan, the guy is a monster player and a real nice dude. Had the pleasure to hang out with him years ago at a NAMM show and he invited me and a friend out to one of his private party shows in LA. Though, the fan makes him look even cooler when he’s throwin’ down.
For the aspiring guitar players out there we recorded a mini guitar lesson with Lou where he showed us some of the exercises he teaches his students to help build their chops.