Texas Tech University
SUMMARY: THE ELECTRIC GUITAR IN AMERICAN CULTURE
The second iteration of The Electric Guitar in American Culture (EGAC) conference, only the fourth conference on this theme anywhere in the world, was convened on the campus of Texas Tech University and at Buddy Holly Hall by the TTU Vernacular Music Center on Oct 7-8 2022. EGAC is a flagship example of collaboration across the TTU campus and South Plains community, drawing together support from the Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts; the School of Music; the Vernacular Music Center; the College of Media and Mass Communications; the Office of the Provost, Creative Process Commons; South Plains College; Amusement Park Studio; Brandon Guitar Studio; Tarpley Music; and the Lubbock Cultural Arts Foundation. Conceived by Dr. Roger Landes (VMC/SOM), a delegate and presenter at the Bowling Green meeting, the conference was hosted by Landes and Dr. Christopher J. Smith (VMC/SOM/Musicology), joined on the Steering Committee by Jonathan Smither (Tarpley Music) and Scott Faris (Amusement Park Studios).
THE CONCERTS ROCKED
For the Friday and Saturday evening concerts at Crickets Theatre in Buddy Holly Hall, EGAC welcomed three distinguished Guest Artists/guitarists: D.J. Sparr (LSU), Andy Timmons (TX), Deke Dickerson (CA).
On the Friday evening we heard D.J. Sparr works, including I Can Hear Her Through the Thin Wall Singing, which featured Sparr as electric guitarist and TTU SOM faculty member Alice Anne Light as soprano soloist; in addition, SOM graduate student Stephanie Reyes led the TTU Contemporary Music Ensemble (dir., Eric Allen) in The World Within, for electric guitar, chamber ensemble, and electronic soundscape, with Sparr again as guitar soloist. This program was opened by South Plains College faculty members and jazz guitarists Emily & Brent Wheeler, introduced by SOM faculty members Dr Lisa Garner Santa and Fabio Augustino, in a celebration of the new Bachelor of Arts in Applied and Commercial Music partnership between SPC and TTU. After an intermission, in which the caliber of the Crickets Theater and the expertise of their crack production crew was much appreciated, we featured Lubbock's own The Square Waves surf trio (Landes, Jonathan Smither, Brian Tate) opening for guest artist, guitarist, and roots-music scholar Deke Dickerson, in a program of Texas-themed musics which also featured Smither and Tate.
Guest Artist Bio: “America's Roots Music Superhero,” Deke Dickerson was born in St. Louis, and grew up in Columbia, Missouri, forming his first rockabilly band there at the age of 13. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 22 and carved out a niche for himself in Tinseltown. A historian as well as a performer, Deke is the author of many magazine and journal articles and recording liner notes, as well as the classic tomes of guitar collecting The Strat in the Attic and The Strat in the Attic 2. His authorized biography of Merle Travis has just been published. Though a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, in his performances Deke harkens back to and conjures forth the spirit of America's vernacular entertainers of the mid-20th century like none other.
Saturday brought the Lubbock Guitarslingers concert, an annual event now resuming after the COVID-19 hiatus, whose programming ethos is epitomized by the opening line of its program notes: “Lubbock has always been a guitar town.” In an epic showcase of Lubbock talent, curated by Landes, Smither, and Faris, we heard Joy Harris & Jacob Nalle (both SOM alumni), Kelly Hastey, Doug Stapp, SOM adjunct instructor Jared Brandon, and John Sprott, several of whom were also featured panelists in the “Guitar Town” panel of Saturday afternoon. After a brief intermission, we returned with a storming set of virtuoso instrumental guitar rock fireworks from distinguished guest artist Andy Timmons, an internationally-known guitarist and composer.
Guest Artist bio: As guitarist for pop-metal band Danger Danger, Andy Timmons toured the world opening for Kiss and Alice Cooper; as a session player, he's been extensively recorded; he served as music director for Olivia Newton-John on many tours. Born in Evansville Indiana, he studied jazz at the University of Miami, and joined Danger Danger in 1989. Known as a virtuoso player and composer both, he has been consistently voted a “Top 20 Favorite Guitarist” in most of Japan's rock music magazine's reader polls, as well as being voted “Musician of the Year” four years in a row in the acclaimed Dallas Observer Music Awards. He also has become one of the most respected and sought-after clinicians representing Ibanez Guitars, touring the world on their behalf.
THE CONFERENCE DID TOO!
The conference portion of the schedule included panels, research presentations, several plenaries, and additional scholarly conversations on the conference theme. Taking advantage of evolutions in hybrid modes, we had virtual presentations from scholars in New York, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Minnesota, Illinois and California, including Steve Waksman (Smith College), author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience, and This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk, a longtime friend and recurring presenter at EGAC. Guest artist Deke Dickerson provided the conference keynote: a fascinating, deeply-researched history of the development of the electric guitar from its “beginnings in a tiny California garage,” and the early crucial contributions of numerous Texas-based musicians, culminating in the most successful single instrument design in world history.
We also heard from Crossroads of Music Collection archivist Dr. Curtis Peoples, and museum experts and private scholars from across the country. A particular high point—and a central manifestation of EGAC's commitment to scholarship, oral history, and regional identity—was the Guitar Town panel, chaired by Dr. Chris Smith, with Scott Faris, Brandon, John Sprott, Joy Harris, Curtis Peoples, David Brandon, and Doug Stapp, in a thoughtful reflection on their combined experience of Lubbock as a center of vernacular creativity.
LOTS OF PEOPLE WORKED TOGETHER TO MAKE EGAC MK. II (2022) A REALITY!
EGAC received expert and generous artistic assistance from conductors Stephanie Reyes and Eric Allen. Humanities Center Director Dr. Michael Borshuk provided the formal opening of the conference on Saturday. The following staff members in the School of Music made essential contributions: Rob Farrer, Clark Preston, Kris Medrano, Maria Mendoza, and Karina Dozal, along with SOM grad students Steve Stallings and Heather Beltz. We received valuable early insights from Andy Wilkinson & Curtis Peoples, Southwest Collection & Crossroads of Texas Archive and the President's Creative Commons initiative. Local musicians Jonathan Smither (bass/Tarpley Music), Brian Tate (drums), & Justin Lentz (drums) made essential contributions in multiple performance situations. South Plains College audio engineering faculty Dolf Guardiola provided important support as stage manager as well as assisting members of the BHH crew (including former Guardiola SPC students).
EGAC was extensively photographed by VMC TA Heather Beltz, and those concert photos and videos have become part of the event's archive and are uploaded to video. The Saturday conference was streamed via Zoom and recorded to the cloud, and those recordings will likewise become part of the archive; we anticipate that those digital materials will elicit ongoing usage, visibility, and reach—for example, Deke Dickerson's photos from the concerts and plenary are already eliciting hundreds of interactions on his own social media streams.
Feedback from delegates, both during and since the Conference weekend, has been uniformly positive. We plan a regular recurrence of the Conference (biennial) and an annual feature of the Guitarslingers show; both virtual and in-person attendance confirm the value of this rotation.
AND THE DISTINGUISHED GUESTS WERE HAPPY TOO!
DJ Sparr commented (email of 10.10.22):
Thanks again for having me out for the amazing guitar conference. I came back refreshed and energized about music – and that isn't always the case, as you know! I'd like to “send a shout out” to the excellent crew you had via Scott, Tarpley, and The Buddy Holly Hall for sound and lights. That was the best sound check I've ever had, and then it worked perfectly with no snags during my set. Simply Outstanding! Your amplifiers worked great, and the ensemble mics were set up.
Christopher J. Smith is Professor of Musicology & Director of the Vernacular Music Center for the School of Music at Texas Tech University.
Photo Credit: Heather Beltz