Tools of the Trade
When I began transcribing professionally in 1989 computers for music transcription and digital files were still over a decade away. I thought it fitting to note a few of the tools of the trade back then.
Notably, no.2 pencils, boom boxes, over-sized paper, cassette tapes and vinyl records. One of the boom boxes I used had a dubbing feature. This is where my trusting Akai DB4000 reel-to-reel entered the picture.
I worked from records and transferred them to the Akai where I then played the audio back at ½ speed onto cassette. The high speed playback on the boom-box made it easier to transcribe incredibly fast sections and back to tempo for notation. I went through a number of them and the last cassette player I used before going digital with a computer was a Yamaha MT120 4 track/½ speed recorder.
Warner Bros. Publishing and CPP/Belwin Inc. usually sent me oversized paper, 11” x 14”, by the box load over the years. And I still have some of it!
Note the old Koss headphones. I bought this pair in 1974 and they lasted well into the early ‘90s. Liquid paper, Staedtler erasers and UHU Stic really came in handy, too. But it’s those no. 2 pencils with the Boston pencil sharpener that I can still hear to this day!
FedEx was a regular delivery channel both for receiving new projects and for sending transcribed works. It all seems so long ago and can’t believe those of us who transcribed and created all those guitar/TAB books did it so labouriously compared to today’s fast and publishing ready transcripts created with a push of a key.
The only digital support I had in 1989 was the use of an Akai U4 Phrase Trainer which recorded about 10 seconds of audio for playback at ½ speed. All in mono! When you scrolled note-by-note it sounded like something out of an Alien movie.
But those were my “tools of the trade” 32 years ago!
A guitar book for Columbia Pictures/Belwin Inc. - “The Best of Albert Lee” and a book based on video instruction for DCI Music (Drummers Collective) in the early 1990s called “Virtuoso Techniques” featured one of my favourite country guitarists. A phone interview with Albert put a stamp on my transcription annotations and story of Albert in the prelude. The video book was equally fulfilling as I notated Albert in a live setting.
Albert has been a very influential player for many guitarists. In 1991 my wife and I attended an intimate show in Vancouver featuring the “Masters of Steel String” John Cephas, Jerry Douglas, Wayne Henderson, Ledward Kaapana, Albert Lee and Tal Farlow. During the after show meet ‘n greet I met Albert for the first time and asked him about his upcoming guitar video. He didn’t have any info about it at the time but it seems so surreal that I would be transcribing it as well as “Best of” book within a year.
Over the years we’ve touched base whenever he appeared in Vancouver or we’d see him at the NAMM show in L.A. He gave us great seats for his performance with the Everly Bros. show at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver. He was excited about the video book and wanted the “boys” to see it.
The Beatles “Live at the BBC”
In 1995 I co-transcribed The Beatles’ “Live at the BBC” book for Hal Leonard Publishing. It was a fun project to document one of my favourite bands – live! As I try to do with a lot of my books once they’re published is to secure the artist’s signature. But the Beatles seemed to be a hard one to acquire since John passed in 1980.
At the time I was a subscriber to a Beatles fan magazine called “Good Day Sunshine” and the editor kindly gave me a contact at Apple Corps. in London, England. I sent a copy of the book to Derek Taylor, their publicist and he agreed to try to have Paul, George and Ringo sign it.
In the interim (5 years since I sent the book to Apple) Paul’s wife, Linda had passed and so did Derek Taylor so I had given up any hope of attaining any autographs. But it was Neil Aspinall, Derek’s personal assistants Zoe Howard and Christian Downe who stepped up and helped secure them. Many thanks!
To make a long story short, I received a phone call from Apple, on my birthday no less, telling me the “lads” had indeed signed the book and they were FedExing it to me. It arrived two days later!
One of my first book projects for Music Sales Inc. was the “Jeff Beck Anthology” book released in 1991. I was awaiting arrival of the book and was completely surprised when a friend, who just returned from the January NAMM show in L.A., gave me a copy. I was blown away until I looked through it and realized it was a mock-up demo copy used for the show; pages were repeating every 20 pages. The book came out a month or two later.
Fast forward to 1999 to a Jeff Beck show in Vancouver. Jennifer Batten played with him. I contacted her since I took my rock final at GIT with her and she arranged a meet ‘n greet with Jeff. Our trade off was a copy of the Mike Stern book I transcribed. The show was amazing and Jeff was so personable walking around back stage with a glass of white wine. Photos courtesy of James Dittiger and Wanda McDonald.
Whitesnake - "Slip of the Tongue"
Word had traveled among music transcribers and publishing houses in the U.S. that I had just completed Mike Stern’s first two albums for Hal Leonard Publishing. After working on "Friday Night in San Francisco" for them Warner Bros. Publishing contracted me to transcribe Whitesnake’s “Slip of the Tongue” release, featuring Steve Vai on guitar. He used a 7 string Ibanez Jem so I rented one from a local music store. Lots of guitar!
The book was released in the spring of 1990 called, “Selections from Slip of the Tongue.” I notated everything on the disc but it proved to be too large because of all the signature guitar figures etc.
When the band played Vancouver June 6, 1990 I arranged to meet them after the show. However, I only managed to see their encore but they obliged by signing the book after the show.
Mike Stern Guitar Transcriptions Book
I met Mike Stern at a venue in Vancouver, November 1988. During sound check I gave Mike two of my transcriptions from his “Upside Downside” release, suggesting we should do a book. He loved my work, gave me both his home phone and manager’s number and agreed that I should continue working on both his albums; guitar and bass parts.
After contacting his manager and the powers-that-be at Hal Leonard Publishing I had my very first book deal. It finally came out but a transcription credit was unfortunately omitted.
Mike and I have been in touch since then. He even wrote a nice praise for my “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar Exercises” book!
Steve Morse - "Little Kids"
This was my first complete transcription. I was so pleased with the results, enough to send it to a magazine on a whim. I had forgotten about it until one day, while buying other magazines at a local book store, I saw the July 1983 GW issue with Steve Morse and bought it as well. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I saw my transcription in print for the first time. I was ecstatic! A few years later while attending GIT in L.A., Steve signed a copy and commented, "Great ears!"
I continued to transcribe for students feeling confident at tackling a myriad of styles etc., and knowing they were done well. Little did I know of the vocation I was to begin a few years later.