A mother who cared so much that her son wanted to play guitar that she attended music lessons with her eight-year-old (when the local music teacher refused to take on students of less than ten years of age) and then even sang the lessons along with her son to make sure he succeded ...
A Wisconsin high school music teacher, who had played cornet in the Milton Berle Show live TV broadcasts from New York, and who now encouraged his guitar student to expand his musical horizons by playing string bass in the orchestra and hand-writing Django Reinhardt-type tunes for him to play and learn from...
Bartenders who kept an eye on him so he could play gigs as a sixteen-year-old in a posh hotel downtown that had a jazz bar six nights a week...
A father who listened to 24/7 country radio... a brother who listened to Three Dog Night and Peter Frampton... a sister who played flute... a pair of South American in-laws... a stuttering Kentucky Colonel... bandleaders who hired him to play Dixieland banjo at gigs, and a president who back-spoke America into "the stupidest war of all time."
They may not sound like too many people you know (well, except for one, perhaps), but those characters are "most folks" to jazz guitarist, composer, and
educator Pete McCann, and they are some of the inspiration for this aptly-titled recording, his third as a leader and his first on OmniTone.
"I like music; I like all different types of jazz – jazz-rock, jazz fusion, old-school standard jazz, nylon-stringed Brazilian guitar styles – I love it all," explains the Wisconsin-born, New York-based guitarist and composer. "I don't like to be and I've never been really pigeonholed into one category. I don't even know why you should really have to be.
Just considering a select sampling of the folks Pete has performed or recorded with (on 50+ CDs) – Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, The Other Quartet, Kenny Garrett, Peter Erskine, Tom Varner, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Curtis Stigers, George Schuller, and the Mahavishnu Project – it's hard to pin Pete down musically, because he keeps himself involved in a variety of projects that extend far beyond his undergraduate music training in the renowned jazz program at North Texas State University. And though the big, tall, and unassumingly baby-faced guitarist now feels nearly as comfortable pluckin' some country music as he does roaring through Jimi Hendrix-drenched thrash, he managed to "steer clear" from the Country & Western scene around Dallas, though he did manage to play quite a few Dixieland banjo gigs. "Yes. I'm one of the few people who owns a Dixieland banjo," chuckles Pete.
Talking to Pete and hearing about his life makes clear that the husband and father of two values family as key folks in his life, perhaps because his family showed him so much support through the years. Most Folks contains dedications to his family, as do his previous two albums as a leader. Pete wrote "Jojo's Waltz" for his younger son, and "Las Tias" ("The Aunts") for Sara and Paca, his Ecuadorean wife's two "very proper, very Spanish" aunts, whom Pete has gotten to meet and become friends with over the years.
His earliest and biggest supporters werePete's "folks," especially his mother (who, incidentally, listened to the local classical radio station) who bought him a guitar at age eight "after pestering his mother for three or four months on end. When she tried get lessons for Pete, the teacher said he was only taking on students "ten and up." So, Pete's mother made a deal that "she would go to the lessons with me and sit there and make sure I didn't fool around or goof off, " recounts Pete, "and she would make sure that I would actually practice – almost every day. When you're learning those first tunes like 'Skip to My Lou,' it helps when your mom is whistling along in back."
It also helps when you have folks like high school band teacher Russ Moss, the former Milton Berle Show cornettist mentioned earlier, who also played guitar and exposed Pete to music he might not otherwise have gotten to play as an Eau Claire high school student. "He was a great cat," recalls Pete warmly. "We used to play duets, so I had a little advantage over the other students at that time.
Besides his family and "great teachers" who helped him find his musical voice, Pete is also quick to recognize two other folks– his two "guitar heroes," both of whom he pays tribute to on Most Folks. "JM" are the initials of John McLaughlin, whom Pete describes as "definitely one of the all-time-great guitar gods." And Pete penned "Worth" for guitarist Allan Holdsworth. "He didn't start playing guitar until he was
seventeen," notes Pete about the British guitar virtuoso, "but now he's pushing 60 and sounding just as great as ever. I'm still hoping there's hope for me."
"Most Folks" and "Third Wheel" honor another musician Pete admires, trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler. Both tunes exhibit a particular kind of harmony that Pete associates with Wheeler, allowing for chromatic movement "without really sounding chromatic." The album's title also comes from an advertising blooper where Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is trying unsuccessfully to spit out the slogan "Most folks like our chicken." "He keeps going, 'Moh, moh, moh-st, most, moh, mohst fohks, mohst fohks . . .'" imitates Pete, explaining that the imitating the bumbled phrase became, for a while, themessage of choice left on answering machines among his musical colleagues. "That would be all it would take, and we'd all be over the edge laughing hysterically."
Even the "occasional" folk in Pete's world, a New York City cab driver, get tribbed with "Yes, My Friend," the greeting one might get when entering a cab in the Big Apple. And, not coincidentally, "the melody and the vamp have a Middle Eastern 'tinge' to them," adds Pete.
"About Face" refers not to the military term, but to the song's melody that gets played backwards at a certain point, a technique known as "retrograde motion." In fact, Pete bristles at the suggestion of anything military, hastening to remind us that he titled "Hunter Gatherer" after an nearly unintelligible expression used by President George W Bush in a pre-Iraqi War speech: "gathering force."
So, there you have it – from hailing a teacher to hailing a cab to hailing the chief – there's something on Most Folks for, well, the title says it all. One might even say, "It's finger pickin' good."