American Guitar: An Instrumental EffortBy Linda Fahey
December 9, 2000
Listen to Novocaine*, the first track from American Guitar Pat Donohue's new CD, American Guitar, was released this past October on Bluesky Records. It features 16 instrumental, solo-guitar selections including 10 original compositions. Linda Fahey, Associate Producer for A Prairie Home Companion, talked with Pat about this new release on a recent trip in NYC.
LF: Your new CD, American Guitar, was just released this fall, but how many have you recorded prior to this one?
PD: I have four other CD's out on Bluesky Records - this makes the fifth. There are also two others on Red House Records.
LF: And, how is American Guitar different from your previously releases?
PD: This one is all instrumental and solo guitar. This is also true for Two Hand Band that came out in 1993, but there were no original tunes on that one. This one has quite a bit of original material, and has a continuity that perhaps isn't so obvious on my other CDs.
LF: Considering the tunes that are not your originals - did you have a particular reason for choosing the material you did?
PD: Well, the short answer is simply, because they're songs that I like. But in addition to that, they are also tunes in which the elements of my particular playing style are brought out. An example would be, Arkansas Traveler (short audio clip). Here's a simple song with a very strong melody. It suits my picking style particularly well.
LF: How would you describe your style?
PD: It's generally percussive…folk-based, but I also like to be harmonically adventurous. My style was born out of the styles of early blues and jazz musicians - even though this is not necessarily the repertoire of those players. The music on this CD reflects the sound of American guitar playing.
LF: You've included a wonderful version of the old Libba Cotten tune Freight Train…
PD: Yeah, Freight Train (short audio clip) is the quintessential American folk guitar finger picking tune. It's fun to play, and there's a lot of room for theme and variations. I have found that it's one that gets the biggest response when I perform it to a live audience.
LF: I also particularly enjoy your version of Hard Times (short audio clip). What was the inspiration for including that?
PD: Well, mainly because it's one of Stephen Foster's most memorable melodies. As great as the lyrics are to that song, it works just as well without them - that's the sign of a great song.
LF: Now you've also included Tears (short audio clip), which I know as a Django Reinhart tune. Some might say, "Hey - he wasn't American".
PD: Yes, Django Reinhart was a great French gypsy guitar player. He was famous for his hot swing guitar playing. My approach isn't like Django's at all. On the CD, I do it in an American finger picking style - which is probably closer to the way someone like Chet Atkins would do it, rather than Django.
LF: Two particularly enjoyable originals on the CD are Mudslide (short audio clip) and Rush Hour (short audio clip). Can you describe those a bit?
PD: They are both bottleneck/slide guitar tunes. Mudslide is in an open D tuning. It has sort of a Mississippi John Hurt groove. I put a bottleneck on it to combine the sounds of Blind Willy Johnson with M.J.H. And Rush Hour is in open G. It combines slide with Latin rhythms.
LF: Have most of the tunes on this recording been performed on A Prairie Home Companion?
PD: Yes, most have -except for Joe Fingers, Into the Garden, All Thumbs, and Hard Times.
LF: Those that listen to you on A Prairie Home Companion know that in addition to being a tremendous picker, you are also a brilliant and funny songwriter. Do you have plans for another CD with lyrics anytime soon?
PD: I'm not sure how soon it will be, but right now I have enough new material for ˝ a CD. I may have another on out in a year or so.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).