Guitarist, solo artist, West Coast Editor for Guitar One magazine and GIT teacher, Dale speaks with us about his early years as a musician, transcribing professionally, present projects and more.
October 20, 2004
Guitarhoo!: Where are you from originally?
Dale Turner: I was born in Washington State–in the same town that produced Queensrÿche, among others. Luckily I was old enough–about 14–to see their first performance ever, back in 1983, when they opened for Dio. I also went to high school with Candlebox’s Peter Klett–in the same grade and everything. I have vivid memories of him telling me how much I sucked at guitar. Pretty inspiring!
G!: At what age did you pick up the guitar?
DT: I got a reduced size nylon-string when I was seven, but only played it for one day. Years later, a little bit before my 15th birthday, I picked it up again, playing it “lap-style” à la Jeff Healey. I guess I did that ’cause I’d already been playing piano for years. Lucky for me, my parents noticed I was motivated and, on my 15th birthday, got me a Washburn Flying-V, which my sister actually picked out! I pretty much started taking lessons right after that–no more “lap-style” for me!
G!: haha, cool! What exactly inspired you to play guitar?
DT: Hmmm… For some reason, before I started playing, I had been drawing pictures of electric guitars a lot. I liked the look of them, I guess. When I was really little, like maybe five, I saw an Elvis movie on TV and thought the guitar he was holding was really cool. I remember my dad and I cut out a guitar body shape from a hunk of plywood and made a fake guitar out of it–and I still have it! I guess I started getting “air guitar” experience early on with that.
But I guess really, I started to like hard rock a lot, and the instruments I was already playing–piano and trumpet–didn’t lend themselves to rockin’. Guitar seemed the way to go–and it looked so easy! Of course, it didn’t take long for me to discover I was wrong about the “easy” part.
G!: haha… Who were some of your musical influences early on?
DT: For music in general, the Beach Boys were all I listened too pretty much as a kid–till I discovered KISS! I also liked classical music a lot, from playing trumpet. But later, when the guitar entered the picture, Vivian Campbell, Jake E. Lee, Randy Rhoads, George Lynch, and those guys really inspired me. They’re still inspiring to listen to today. For some reason, I didn’t get into Van Halen till way later… But by around age 17, the list of influences beyond those guys grew pretty quickly as I got into other styles. Every form of music–as well as any player–has something to offer.
G!: Cool! That’s very true. Do you play any other instruments besides guitar?
DT: Not much anymore, just a little bit of piano, a little drums, some programming, and other instruments you normally hear in a rock rhythm section. I can yodel though! Actually, I’m not bad at the nose flute. And note I said “nose” and not “skin.” It’s a real instrument!
G!: hahahaha… You received your Bachelor’s degree in Studio Guitar Performance from the University of Southern California in 1991. What do you feel is the most valuable thing you’ve walked away with from that experience?
DT: Boy, there are so many things… Beyond the obvious musical education–getting solid in theory, ear training, fret-board note locations, etc. and getting to study with Joe Diorio, Duke Miller, and Steve Watson, among others–I just got exposed to the wealth of possibilities that exist in the world for trained musicians. I didn’t have to be a “rock star” to make a living doing something music related. To be self-sufficient as a musician for life, you kind of need to be able to adapt–and have numerous irons in the fire at all times. Not all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. For me, my “irons” became a little playing, a little recording, a little teaching, a little transcribing, a little editing (of other people’s transcriptions), a little writing, a little PR work (for a couple well-known LA-based studio guitar players/artists), and so on.
As for what else school offered, I’d say one of the other most significant things I walked a way with would be getting introduced to a lot of composers’ music at a time when I was receptive to their sounds–Chopin, Stravinsky, and Bartók, in particular.
G!: Great! Did you move into the recording session scene in L.A. after this? (If so, how would you describe the session scene at that time?)
DT: Not really, though I did do a few sessions–playing on a couple independent film soundtracks and stuff. A lot of what had motivated me to try going the “session guy” route totally changed when I realized I would be happier going the quasi “artist” route. Not to imply that I “could have been” a great session player or anything. I was just scared I’d get burnt out, I think, which probably sounds silly. I basically got a regular job during the day–doing publications and marketing for a chamber music concert presenter–and just played stuff I liked when I could, that was personal. While I had that job, I basically started getting everything else off the ground, working on stuff in the off hours–transcribing, teaching at USC in the evening, and other playing things. I also got way into solo guitar playing, joined David Pritchard’s acoustic guitar quartet (1992-97) and released a disc with them [Unassigned Territory on Zebra/WEA], and played in some original and cover bands. After two years of all that, I was able to quit my regular job and make ends meet doing all that other stuff.
G!: Cool… You also teach at GIT, which areas do you teach?
DT: I teach varying levels of Music Theory and Ear Training (levels I-III), an elective class I created called Guitar/Vocal Accompaniment, Private Lessons, and Open Counseling, which is essentially an instructional free-for-all where students just show up and we cover whatever topic they’re interested in. Usually though, much of my Open Counseling focuses on ear training topics, applying different approaches to the guitar, with “play what you hear” as the goal.
G!: Do you feel raw talent and expression from an artist is more important than having all the technical skills to play an instrument?
DT: I think the bottom line is the ideas themselves–the end result, regardless of how it’s arrived at. If it moves you, it’s valid. Whatever it takes for a player to be able to express him or herself accurately, that’s the path they should follow. And be prepared to have that path evolve as you continue playing. Early on, a lot of players find they can get by playing guitar parts/solos they’ve composed. And with most well-known rock bands, that’s often exactly what you’re hearing–composed parts and solos. But if you’re not in a situation where you can control the musical environment you’re in 100% of the time, you gotta be able to adapt and play stuff that’s at least stylistically in the ballpark. That’s where vocabulary comes in–having a bounty of rhythm guitar ideas and soloing ideas in your head that relate to the situation you find yourself playing in. At the very least, grow your own vocabulary in the one style you love.
This might sound like mad science, but for my money, vocabulary can grow at an exponential rate if you’re able to classify your phrases–theory is really just a way to label sounds, after all–play them on any string set, transpose them to other keys, and tweak them so they fit over other chord types. So I look at theory, ear training, and knowing the notes on the fret-board as three things all working together to help reduce the randomness of the creative process. If I’m hearing something in my head, I want to be able to play exactly that. Also, being equally together in those areas helps you teach yourself–assimilate things you hear quicker into your system and file them away. You can do that till you’re old and gray, constantly growing.
G!: What would you suggest to a player who is maybe caught up in too much technique and is trying to break back into just playing?
DT: First, I’d recommend they try to listen to music close to as much as they practice it, so they don’t lose touch with the reason they’re doing it in the first place. And listen to music that is melodic–stuff that, if you allow yourself to relax enough, will make you feel. Music is much more than just explosive energy, which, for people stuck in a “technique” mindset, that’s important they remember. Beautiful melodies can certainly be executed in a technical way–using phrasing techniques that are unusual and extra expressive. In those cases, technique helps get the human touch across–nuances that require technical control of the strings. Maybe try getting technical to reach new depths of expression with phrasing, and try blending those in within the high velocity lines you can already play? To downplay technical stuff–to try to avoid going on autopilot with pre-fab, speedy sequences, arpeggios, legato stuff, whatever–discipline yourself to not play anything you’re not able to sing in your head, first. Of course, that means you gotta have melodic ideas to begin with, which comes right back to listening–studying the vocabulary of melodic players and stuff. And try to make the actual sing-able phrases be the focal point of your solos, using the fast stuff as an intensity effect to “set up” your main ideas or themes. Put yourself in the perspective of the listener when you play–develop your solos to take the listener somewhere.
G!: With all of your studies and teaching do you find it easy to separate the left brain from the right, when you perform, record, write for yourself or others?
DT: Yeah. But I do remember having a hard time turning off the analytical side when I’d listen to music. In retrospect, it seemed like listening to, transcribing, and analyzing music for so long, in a way, sort of sucked some of the mystery and feeling out of the listening experience. I guess I was just burned out, or something–a first for me, at least as a listener of music. Oddly enough, a period spent listening to John Zorn, Chopin, Bobby McFerrin, Nirvana, and Billy Joel helped me through it!
G!: Cool… Listening to some of your Boots of your web site, it’s so cool just hearing yourself solo in front of a crowd without a whole band behind you. So, do you find it challenging or artistically rewarding to be the lone soul who has to capture an audience?
DT: Both! And thanks for listening to them buggers! It’s totally fun trying to get as much of the original instrumentation of a tune across as possible, using only guitar and voice. In addition to me enjoying it, it seems like there’s something there for everyone–hopefully interesting guitar playing, hearing songs with a different slant applied to them, a voice that’s hopefully tolerable, and the appreciation for something that’s pretty difficult to do. People kind of trip out when they hear me solo with my voice, accompanying myself at the same time. I’m looking forward to doing more original stuff–instead of kooky covers–with those types of performances.
G!: hahaha… And when you are all by yourself there, do you find yourself slowly warming up to the tune you are playing, and then you slowly get lost in it as you get into it? You know what I mean? It’s just you, your voice, your guitar and the people, no one else to feed off of (except the audience)
DT: I guess it depends on how self-conscious I am to begin with! For starters, I just try to listen to what I’m doing and stay connected with that. That usually helps calm the nerves–just focusing on the sound you’re producing, sometimes to the point of tuning everything else out. When there’s no quivering left in my vocal vibrato, I know I’m gonna be okay! I also purposely try to not over-learn certain sections of songs I play, which might have room for guitar/vocal improvisation. If I can get “lost” in those moments, I’m happy. That definitely doesn’t always happen though!
G!: From all of the styles you can play very well, (from quick metal alternative picking, to twangy finger picking country styles, to melodic chord/solo line blues riffs), which styles gave you the most challenges and which came most easily to you?
DT: First off, thanks for making me feel like I don’t suck! I appreciate the compliment 🙂 Jazz was–and will always be–the most difficult, primarily due to the tempos and chord changes. But I haven’t “really” played jazz since college, only on duo gigs I used to do in the early ’90s, and with the few students I have now that dig jazz. Within that area, I’d say “solo jazz guitar”–or “chord melody” style–requires the most study.
G!: You are also the West Coast editor of Guitar One magazine and have interviewed over 200 guitar greats. How did that gig come about?
DT: I started getting regular work as a transcriber in January 1992. By the way, if anybody’s interested in learning how to go about that, I recently added a “How to Make a Living as a Guitar Music Transcriber/Arranger” article on my site. Somewhere around 1995, some of the companies I’d been transcribing for–Hal Leonard and Cherry Lane, in this case–also produced instructional books. They offered me the chance to write a few–Steve Morse and Eric Clapton guitar style books, in the beginning. By then, I’d already begun transcribing for Guitar World, and they’d sometimes have me write up little one-page things. Meanwhile, Wolf Marshall gave birth to Guitar One–at the time, a joint venture between Hal Leonard and Cherry Lane. I started writing for them in 1996, from their fourth issue onward. For a while, I worked freelance for Guitar World, Guitar One, and Guitar (for the Practicing Musician) until early 1998, when Guitar One–which had been growing rapidly, and I really liked–hired me as one of their exclusive writers. It’s been one of the coolest jobs possible–a constant learning experience that has also put me in touch with many of my heroes, and helped me pay tribute to them in a way.
G!: Awesome. Of all the interviews you have conducted, which ones had the most impact on you as a person and player?
DT: As a person, I’d have to say the several cover stories I’ve done with John Frusciante, as well as a non-guitar interview I got to do with Brian Wilson–my biggest musical inspiration–had the most personal impact. Being in the same room with guys responsible for such heavy, creative stuff, in my opinion, was the ultimate, for me.
As a player, I’ve been lucky enough to see up close and talk about all sorts of technical craziness–real specific stylistic things–with monsters like Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, Satriani, Vai, Zakk Wylde, Slash, Dimebag, Nuno, Marty Friedman, John Petrucci, George Lynch, Ty Tabor… Also genius pickers like Steve Morse, Lukather, Scott Henderson, Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, Ted Greene, and George Benson–even the dudes in KoRn! Over the years, that’s totally helped me develop vocabulary–even though I can’t use a lot of it–and teach/write about the stuff in a real specific way.
G!: That’s great… Having interviewed so many talented guitarists, how do you like being on the other side of the table – right now?
DT: It bladdy rules! This is certainly a rare treat for me!
G!: haha… Which side of the table do you prefer being on?
DT: Well, this is definitely cool. I could certainly use more practice though!
G!: You have also done numerous guitar transcriptions for Hal Leonard and guitar magazines. When deciphering a very quick (or slurred) solo line, do you have a computer program which enables you to slow down the track (and/or clean out the background music) so you can more easily distinguish what the player has actually played note for note, or do you use your ear and theory skills to recognize and hear what happened at regular speed?
DT: In general, the more familiar you are with a player’s style, the easier it is to get inside their head and recognize–by ear–the things they’re doing. Also, the more experience you have playing certain types of “fast” vocabulary yourself–and actually hear each note you’re playing–the easier it is to hear the structure of fast lines. Most fast things you hear–especially when things are 100% picked–are very specific things. Recognizing/hearing all that stuff gets better with practice. Of course, with all that said, anything to help speed up the transcribing process is always welcome! Nowadays, it’s easy to record stuff into a computer, stretch the audio file’s waveform to slow things down, and hear everything slow while retaining the lick’s original pitch. I didn’t have that when I was doing this stuff a lot, so I set my four-track to record things at double speed, which when played back, would be at half speed, dropping the pitch an octave. That “How to Make a Living as a Guitar Music Transcriber/Arranger” article I mentioned earlier has a few more tips that might help in those areas.
The most time consuming stuff for me has always been transcribing rhythms that don’t really relate to the underlying pulse. Believe it or not, a super sloppy, raw as hell, totally out-of-the-pocket spazfest by George Thorogood was one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to write out!
G!: Wow, How do you distinguish which voicing (or string combination) the player you are transcribing, played on the original recording? (instinct, research of the players style, tone of the strings, or…)?
DT: Aaaaah yes! Nailing specific chord voicings is definitely the hardest–for anybody! For me, the timbre, or tone color of the strings in a chord, geographic convenience–based upon things you heard the person play a moment before that you were positive about–and guitar “logic”–chord types associated with that person’s style–all factor in equally. I usually listen to the bass guitar first, which will often be honing in on the implied chord’s root, then zero in on the highest note in the guitar’s chord voicing. I then try to listen to everything as it stacks up vertically from there to pick out what chord tones exist in any particular register. Obviously you get better with experience–and EQ manipulation–but I think I also got pretty good at that from transcribing vocal harmonies in songs, and just being a devout student of chords, in general.
G!: Cool. Do you feel every solo you have transcribed is “dead on” accurate, or is there times when you just cannot figure out what went on, or maybe you felt you figured it out the best you could, but went through with the printed version anyway?
DT: Well, given the super strict deadlines, it’s sometimes hard to nail things 100% in the time you have. I usually get the pitches right, but I’ve occasionally missed a tuning here and there, mislabeled an effect, had some chord voicings that weren’t exactly right, and stuff like that. And of course, it’s pretty tough to tab things in the exact location the original player used. There have been a few cases where, after transcribing stuff someone did, I saw that person play live and went “Nooooooooo!” Back in 1995 I did the entire Frank Gambale Best of book, and had seen him numerous times beforehand, studied his style, etc. But I saw him play shortly afterwards and noticed stuff fingered in different spots than I thought. On top of all that, believe it or not, I’ve also had editors change stuff I’ve tabbed, only to put it in the wrong spot–when I knew I was right! Other times, the person–called the “engraver”–enters your handwritten manuscript into the company’s computer notation program and accidentally puts things on the wrong string set. Everyone makes mistakes, though we all try our best not to.
G!: Do you spend a lot of time transcribing or have you done it so much that you can whip it off very quickly?
DT: I’m pretty fast, I guess, but maybe not as fast as I used to be. I pretty much stopped doing pure transcribing in 1999 to focus on instructional content for the magazine; now I only transcribe when I’m writing out the crazy licks of dudes I conduct interview/lessons with, or just studying things I’m listening to for enjoyment.
G!: On your web site, you received a passion felt letter from reader/player who was maybe a bit P.O.’d – whom felt you mis-interpreted a solo by Metallica. Did you dig back and find the guy was right, and if so, do you just let that shit slide or do you feel you need to go back and correct it?
DT: Ha! That letter was the coolest! And he actually wasn’t pissed, just concerned–at least I hope that’s the case, ’cause that dude actually wrote me from jail! But actually, the riff in question, our music editor tabbed that out; I just wrote text about Metallica to go with it. It was just something played on a different string–same pitches and phrasing.
G!: haha,. When you spend lots of time transcribing other players music, do you find it hard to get back to your own view of playing guitar on your original music or does it kind of open new doors to your own style, and make things more fresh for yourself?
DT: I think really getting inside the phrasing and vocabulary of other players can help more than almost anything, as far as giving you a fresh perspective, or inspiring you to follow a certain path to come up with your own stuff. Basically, it helps you become more familiar with different approaches you can use for expressing yourself. Also, the more able you are to get “inside” a player’s touch on the instrument–recognizing all the nuances in their playing, being able to execute them, and draw upon them–the wider range of “touch” expressivity you’ll have, yielding more “humanity” in your playing.
G!: You’ve performed with the likes of Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra/Miles Davis), Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell/Shawn Colvin), Eric “Bobo” Correa (Cypress Hill), and others. How did those gigs fall into place?
DT: Well, I realize these probably sound cooler on paper than they will after being explained–but they were all cool to me! Larry Klein played bass on a few gigs with us in David Pritchard’s acoustic guitar quartet, just local stuff in Los Angeles. Totally cool dude, with the loudest “tapping foot” I’ve ever heard! “Bobo” and I were friends in college and played some jazz trio gigs together–the most memorable of which was at a nun’s birthday party! He is a complete, total badass in every possible respect. I’m so glad he’s kicking as much ass as he is. As for Cobham, in 1990, a bunch of USC students–including myself–invaded Germany for a two-week blitzkrieg, touring around in different cities. At the Pink Jazz Festival, some of us were chosen to play with Cobham for his set. Basically, I lucked out and got picked! I’ve also jammed with Slash and a couple other guys, but that was just when I was interviewing them, so I reckon that doesn’t count!
G!: What were some of the things you learned or liked most playing with them?
DT: The coolest thing was jamming with Cobham, for sure. For whatever reason, we ended up playing my tunes and I got to be the announcer for the show. I remember I hadn’t slept at all from the night before (not due to the impending gig–female related!), and started saying some stuff to the audience with a fake German accent, like a total dumbass. I still have it on tape… Thank gawd they laughed!
Earlier that day, before the show, they broadcast a tape of us rehearsing with Cobham over the air–and the part they broadcast featured part of one of my tunes! That was the first time I ever heard myself on the radio. I know that’s not “real” radio, ’cause it was just in the background, but it was cool enough for me! All in all, that whole experience definitely helped me feel like I didn’t suck too horribly as a composer/guitar player. The more of those, the merrier!
G!: haha… cool… On your solo disc Interpretations, you dug back and did some truly amazing renditions of tunes from the 60’s and 70’s for acoustic guitar and voice. It’s both hilarious at times and just smooth and cool at other times. I take it those are some of the songs that meant the most to you as a musician and in life. Was it a challenging experience to cover your favorite songs and do you have plans to do more?
DT: Thanks man! Those were fun as heck! And yes, many of those songs are ones that I’d heard off and on for most of my life and are pretty special to me–” “Bohemian Rhapsody“, “God Only knows“, “Leader of the Band“, and stuff. Others– like “Hallelujah“, and “Castles Made of Sand” — I got into later, but thought they’d be fun to try playing. They were all pretty challenging, mostly in trying to figure out ways to do something a little quirky with them–or at least in dealing with adapting piano–based songs to guitar. If I ever record collection of covers again, it will be all jazz/vocal with guitar stuff–all solo.
G!: Do you find it challenging to play and sing simultaneously?
DT: For me, the best way to tackle super crazy guitar/vocal stuff is to write out both parts in score format–just their rhythms–so you can see, by their vertical alignment, how the parts interrelate. That way it becomes easy to see the tricky spots, isolate them, repeat them, and smooth them over. The more tunes you study or learn that have different syncopation relationships between the guitar and voice, the easier it gets. Usually, I’ll work a song up very deliberately, playing and singing both parts exactly at the right rhythmic moments, then relax with it to concentrate on more musical vocal delivery–phrasing and stuff. Before any of this, of course, you should be able to play and sing each part separately, with precision.
G!: Which guitars do you prefer playing and why?
DT: All of (Guitar One Associate Editor) Tom Kolb’s guitars! Once a month, Tom and I record all the instructional audio on the CD that comes with Guitar One magazine. Tom brings over his vintage axes–Les Paul, Telecaster, Strat–and we go nuts! Actually, I do have some cool guitars of my own: my white Tom Anderson Strat is my favorite electric for almost everything. I mainly play steel-string acoustic though, and for that I have a nice Larrivée from the early 90s, and a newer Martin. I have some jazzy guitars and stuff, but they’ve been hibernating for a while.
G!: What are some of your projects lined up for the coming year you can share with us?
DT: Hmmm… I guess in addition to just continuing cranking out stuff with Guitar One, teaching at GIT and doing the occasional book, the main “next” thing would be to try finishing an all original CD I’ve had in the works for a while. It’s full band stuff, but I’m playing and singing everything. Musically speaking, 75% of it is demoed and ready to be re-recorded (ugh!); what’s missing is lyrics, some tune endings, and drum ideas. I think the guitar parts are pretty cool and different–acoustic and electric on everything, with some abnormal vocal harmonies. The only recent stuff I’ve recorded that’s “out,” that’s remotely close, is THIS stuff (that’s just a scaled-down backing track). I’m hoping it all comes together by the middle of 2005! I might record some more weird à cappella vocal versions of Christmas songs as well, pretty darned soon. It’s been an annual tradition!
G!: Awesome, You have a really cool singing voice. Did you have to work very hard at it?
DT: Well, I always sang along with music I liked, ever since I was a kid–from the Beach Boys, to Bobby McFerrin, to totally gnarly metal and jazz stuff. I did take a group class though for a semester in college, which helped me learn to breathe correctly. I’d always breathed from my chest–the same way I’d breathed from playing trumpet so long–but needed to learn to breathe from my diaphragm for better support and vocal warmth. I always try to let it fly out, but put across some personality or character that seems to jive with the music. Thanks for thinking my voice is cool!
G!: What do you enjoy doing outside of music?
DT: I guess normal stuff like exercising, hanging out with buds, watching crazy films, stand-up comedy, watching some news and getting pissed, playing cards, watching fights and stuff… Depending on what else is going on at the time, I spend time screwing around on my web site.
G!: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
DT: I guess just try to be patient–as a listener of music and, hopefully, as a lifelong practitioner of the ol’ six-string. I think you’ll overlook a lot of the unique, personal things you might be able to contribute to your music and/or guitar style if you’re in a hurry all the time. It’s hard to respond to beautiful things if you’re always pumped with adrenalin. I reckon the old adage “haste makes waste” is kind of true. If I wasn’t impatient, which I definitely used to be, I never would’ve injured my hand, nor had a host of other stupid personal problems. Just try to chill and believe in yourself as an artist–always seeking things out to inspire you–and try to surround yourself with people who won’t suck the spirit out of you. At the same time though–and this is where the conflict comes in–being a musician takes hard work. That other adage “music is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” is also equally valid. Just strive for balance, I guess.
G!: Dale, thanks for taking out the time for this! You’re one talented dude! We all look forward to your future works!
DT: Thanks–and right back at ya! I love your site, and am honored, flattered, and just plain glad to rap with you! And thanks for the thoughtful questions 🙂
Interview © 2004 Guitarhoo!
Dale on the web