“I got my first guitar when I was eight,” says Vancouver-based champion guitarist Don Alder. “It wasn’t playable, but I did wear one mean Beatles wig!”
A whimsical beginning for one of Canada’s most internationally-respected masters of the acoustic guitar, who performs live in concert at the Studio Stage Door Theatre this coming Saturday, June 22. This will be Alder’s first performance in the East Kootenay region.
With a career spanning over three decades, Don Alder has been prominently featured in Guitar Player magazine, and his awards and accolades are more than numerous.
“I got really sick when I was 15, and was bedridden for a few months … that’s when my Mom bought me my first electric guitar; a cheap one from the Simpson-Sears catalog,” Alder says. “I saw Jimi Hendrix’s set on the Woodstock movie and there was no turning back. Brian May of Queen was a pivotal mentor for me. Advanced acoustic-guitar players like Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell inspired my finger-style playing. Wishbone Ash is my favorite guitar-based band of all time. Then I began listening to Al DiMeola and Frank Zappa, and discovered Michael Hedges after that.”
Alder’s main instrument of choice is the Yamaha AC3R-OM model, although he also notably plays a vintage Dyer Harp guitar built in 1918. His arsenal also includes guitars custom-built by private luthiers to his standards.
“The only practice I get is through songwriting,” he says. “I don’t have formal technical skills, which can be problematic at times as I have to remember everything! As a kid, I didn’t want to practice; I only wanted to create, and that still remains the case today. That said, I do wish I had some formally-trained skills, as it makes music easier to understand, and to communicate with other musicians. It also helps you to problem-solve. If I had these skills, I could be much more time-efficient.”
“My creative process is actually fairly simple,” Alder says. “Songs come to me in many ways, and the best ones seem like gifts that happen quickly. I usually noodle about on the guitar, trying different off-the-cuff melodies and passages, which often leads to something which reveals itself as a few notes where I think: wow, what’s that? Then I’ll explore that.
“Many times, a melody will take its own path if you let it. When I fight with it, or try to work it too hard, then it takes a LONG time to complete a song. This is probably the one area where having traditional musical training could be useful to me as a writing tool. Because of my lack of understanding of the guitar fretboard, I can remain a little kid and just explore the music without any set rules or regulations.”
It’s interesting to learn of Alder’s other musical dabblings. “I also play a bit of drums and bass, and can write songs on keyboards. I’d like to be better on those instruments. I’d also like to play harp and saxophone, but seriously: the best instruments to play are cowbell, accordion, bagpipes, and the banjo … you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing them out of your car!”
As well as his Studio Stage Door show, Alder will also be hosting a free guitar clinic (sponsored by Yamaha Instruments and Ray’s Music) for any interested local acoustic guitarists wishing a close-range tutorial, to be held at AM Music (formerly Blastbeats Music in Specialty Lane) at 3 pm Saturday June 22.
Don Alder performs live at the Studio Stage Door Theatre (11-11th Ave.S., Cranbrook BC) Saturday June 22; 8 pm. Advance tickets for sale at Lotus Books. For more information call 250-426-3415. Those wishing to attend Alder’s free acoustic guitar clinic are cordially invited to AM Music (14-13th Ave.S., Cranbrook) 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22.