The Cult of Tone
We are physically built to respond to certain
tones, which helps explain why music means so
much. Music, quite literally, has a power over
us. And that gives it an almost mystical quality.
Sure, there are scientific reasons why guitars
make us feel the way they do, but what fun is
that? Let miracles be miracles. Not to sound too
new age-y/creepy, but guitar playing remains a
religious experience for me. In one of his final
interviews, Stevie Ray Vaughan summed up the
religion of tone when he described recording
the nine-minute instrumental “Riviera Paradise”
to Larry Coryell in an interview in the now-defunct magazine Musician:
VAUGHAN: To me, the song was a
much-needed chance to turn the lights
off in the studio and basically, I don’t
know any other way to put it, pray
through my guitar.
CORYELL: Ah. Man, that’s an excellent
way to put it.
VAUGHAN: And be able to express
some of the things to some of the
people that l don’t know how to talk to
right now about what l need to talk to
them about, say the things that I wish
I could say, to become willing. Okay?
And that’s what I was doing. And it’s
funny, everybody else was in a separate
room. I was in an isolation booth so I
could be with my amps. They were all in
the big studio with a window. And I just
turned the lights off in my room. They
couldn’t see me. The drummer was tun-
ing his drums while we were playing. I
had my back to the engineer and the
producer, Jim Gaines. They were in the
control room going completely nuts
because the tape was about to run out.
And it was funny because none of this
ever crossed my mind. I just knew we
were gonna play the song once and it
was all gonna be just fine.
Maybe music, like prayer, is our primitive
attempt at expressing the ineffable—a way
to let the notes say what we cannot. Maybe
much of what we do is empty worship ritual,
but I remain one of the faithful.
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