Q&A with the former Dire Straits guitarist, who put together this spring’s Guitarmageddon at Guitar Center.
IE: Guitar Center’s Guitarmageddon contest is focused on finding the Next King Of The Blues?
Jack Sonni: It’s never been focused on a particular genre like this, something we decided to do because it had become an exercise in technique and gymnastics. We felt that it was intimidating to a lot of players who love to play guitar, but — by narrowing the focus on a single genre that’s probably the most universal genre — we widened the invitees. Suddenly, players who aren’t technicians in the sense of ’80s shred guys are like, “Yeah! I can do that. I can listen to these backing tracks, I do this with my band.”
IE: Chicago hosts the finals in June. We’re a big blues town, but Michael Angelo Batio also calls this home.
JS: Oh he does? I always thought he was from L.A. for some reason. When I moved to L.A., it was my first exposure to him. Wow. We’ve had some of those kind of guys win, which is an interesting thing, but it seemed important to me to also get the message out that guitar has a history and regardless what you learned to play, if you’ve got passion for the instrument it’s eventually going to lead you to the blues. Certainly Jack White understands that. That was the idea behind it.
IE: Guitar Center’s “Spin Off” DJ competiton played a part in this?
JS: At last year’s Spin Off finals Common played with Talib Kweli, and Kanye [West] showed up and did a guest set. The place was going nuts and I’m listening to it thinking, “He’s one of the first cats — outside of Nas, who did the thing on Street’s Disciple with his dad and the blues riff — O.K., they’re picking it up. This is going way back to the roots, they’ve sampled weird, funky stuff and the Parliament stuff and they’re weaving their way back. I thought, ‘This makes sense to me.” So Kanye and Nas, it’s kind of weird, brought it back for me to be able to think it could work, that there was enough awareness for it to work.
IE: Are we to expect a battle royale?
JS: Six guys will come to Chicago for the finals. We’ll use backing tracks that we’ve created with Pete Anderson — from Dwight Yoakam and The Meat Puppets. You’ll play with the band for four-five minutes, and you’ll have two minutes to play unaccompanied. This year those guys will play acoustic, because they win a Gibson acoustic at the regionals. It’s one thing to get up there and play a shuffle with a band, blaze, and have a good time. But then to sit down with an acoustic and play slide or something . . .
Former Dire Straits guitarist Jack Sonni will head Guitar Center’s spring Guitarmageddon: King Of The Blues finals this June in Chicago. Store finals are April 6th; district finals April 26th; and regional finals May 17th.
– Steve Forstneger
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