TAKE 5 Interview – Talking Guitars with George Winston


When anyone is asked about George Winston, the majority of folks may respond that they know Winston for his beautiful and unique piano music and extensive knowledge of the form. In truth, he’s also an incredibly accomplished guitarist as well as a harmonica player – and quite an authority on Hawaiian Slack Key playing. We were lucky enough to do a Take 5 interview with George in anticipation of his benefit solo guitar concert on Friday, October 30th at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City. Details of the upcoming concert follow the interview.

1. Some people might be surprised to know you’ve been such an active advocate for Hawaiian Slack Key music with your Dancing Cat Records label for over 21 years. I have several of the discs and didn’t realize you were the man behind the label! How did a pianist become such a Slack Key fan as to start a label?

GEORGE: Actually I am a solo instrumental player on the guitar and the harmonica as well as the piano. Many of the great Hawaiian Slack Key guitarists are influences and inspirations to my own playing, and about 40% of what I play on solo guitar is Hawaiian. I started the label to record much more of the music of these great players.

2. Has your interest in Slack Key influenced your playing of other instruments from acoustic guitar to piano and harmonica?

GEORGE: Very minimal on the piano and harmonica as far as a direct influence, but inspiring for everything I play.

3. You play an unusual Martin D-35 – can you tell us about that and why you had it modified as you have?

GEORGE: I play almost everything in Open G Major (C)-D-G-D-G-B-D from lowest pitched string to the highest and I had a low pitched 7th string added to the guitar which I tune to a low C note, and very occasionally to the A below that.  This actually combines two Hawaiian Slack Key tunings, the Open G mentioned above and a C tuning (C­-G-­D-­G-­B­-D). For more on tunings you can go to the   Slack Key Info Book (at www.dancingcat.com) – specifically section III (Slack Key Guitar Tunings Essay)—and the section IV (Summery of Recorded Tunings)—-and the section IVa (Chart of Recorded Tunings)—-and section V (Hawaiian Recordings in the Slack Key Tunings).

4. You list on your website Ted Greene as a main guitar mentor and influence. How did you initially hook up with Greene and what do you share with audiences today that you learned from him?

GEORGE: I heard about him when I was living in Los Angeles, CA in the 1970s. I immediately got his first album when it came out in 1977, Ted Greene: Solo Guitar (Art of Life Records). I met him shortly after, and we were good friends until he passed on in 2005. We talked about many, many aspects of music and I always took many notes and checked out everything he mentioned, and it was always inspirational and educational. I still learn things every time I hear his album,  and I always loved the beauty and soul of his playing and his use of chords. He was also very inspiring and influential to me personally, as well as musically. He’s best known for his great books, especially Chord Chemistry, and his longtime companion is making more information available on the website www.tedgreene.com.

5. You’ve done Slack Key duets with others on your label, but when can we expect a Winston Slack Key or acoustic guitar album?

GEORGE: Nothing is planned. The guitar music just likes to be played at certain moments, but I have no concept for an album. The two recordings I have with guitar are Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Liv Ullman [narration] & George Winston [solo guitar] – the guitar solos also appear alone), and Remembrance – A Memorial Benefit (a six song CD of piano, guitar and harmonica solos, to benefit those affected by 9/11). I do play a few solo guitar concerts each year, in which I play Hawaiian Slack Key pieces, Appalachian and Folk  pieces, some Doors songs, and more. For more information you can see the concert program that I use for the guitar concerts and the other concerts, on my site.

6. You have quite a fan base as a pianist – have you found your fans surprised to find out you’re also quite a guitar player?

GEORGE: No,  because I always play a couple of guitar pieces during the solo piano concerts.

7. You’ve explored so many instruments over the years – are there any you have not yet tried that you’d like to?

GEORGE: I only play guitar, piano and harmonica. The only other instrument I have played was organ, which I started on in 1967 after hearing the Doors. In 1971, I switched to solo piano after hearing Fats Waller’s recordings. I later started playing guitar after hearing the Hawaiian Slack Key guitarists Gaby Pahinui and Keola Beamer. I also later added solo harmonica after hearing Sam Hinton (we produced an album of Sam’s solo harmonica playing, Sam Hinton – Master of the Solo Diatonic Harmonica (Eagle’s Whistle Records).

Thank you George!

George’s Solo Acoustic Guitar Concert will be held on Friday, Oct. 30 at Kansas City’s Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 West 47th Street, Kansas City, Missouri at 7:30 p.m. and will benefit Guitars in the Classroom-Kansas City, a program that inspires, trains, and equips pre-kinder through 8th grade teachers to provide daily hands-on music integration that transforms classrooms into more vibrant, creative and effective learning environments. The first training class is forming now. For more information, visit www.guitarsintheclassroom.org. As with all of Winston’s concerts, concert goers are encouraged to bring a donation of non-perishable food to support Harvesters Food Bank. Collection barrels will be available in the lobby.

Concert tickets are $15.00 for Adults and $10.00 for Children in advance ($20.00 for adults and $15.00 for children at the door). Tickets are available at www.BrownPaperTickets.com, (800-838-3006), Good Book Book Store at Unity Temple (816-561-4466 x125), and Goodhart Shoes at 105th & Metcalf. For more information contact George (“Skip”) Voitik at 913-579-4908 or georgevoitik@mac.com. Check out www.massstreetmusic.com to enter to win tickets to this show!

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