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John Duncan

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My name is John Duncan. I am originally from Dallas, Texas, and I have been playing guitar since I was 15 years old in 1968 –hahaha, this almost sounds like the start of an AA meeting!

Up front, I agree with something that I heard Joe Pass say about music. there are two kinds of music –good and bad. I like good music regardless of the “genre.”

I started out like most kids my age playing top 40 stuff, classic rock and roll, and aspired to play like Clapton and Hendrix. It wasn’t long until I was in a little rock band, playing too loudly and sloppy. Like most kids my age, I had spent time studying and had a little background in trying to play in the styles of Cliff Gallop, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran. Mostly, I scratched up a lot of records back then trying to figure out how these guys made their sounds. I liked that rockabilly sound then and still do.

As a kid, my dad’s neighbor had played professionally in the 30s and 40s in big bands and he showed me what I later understood as the “Freddie Green” chunk-chunk style. I really liked making those old-school changes and playing those jazz chords.

Back in the 1970s, I went through a period of playing some bluegrass, particularly Doc Watson stuff, and played in a little bluegrass band in Dallas. In this phase, I learned how to do some Travis picking and learned how to play fast(er) runs and a little cross-picking. I feel like playing bluegrass solidified my alternate picking and helped me develop as a guitarist.

As a young man, I also really liked and got into playing jump blues in the style of Charlie Christian, Bill Jennings, Pee Wee Crayton, T-Bone walker, Lightning Hopkins, Tiny Grimes, Teddy Bunn, and others. I still love to play jump blues.

In high school, one of my friends and fellow guitarists was Anson Funderburgh, who has been a professional blues guitarist since the 70s –based out of Dallas and Austin. We also regularly saw Boz Skaggs when he was not touring. His little brother, Mark, was a high school classmate. He would sometimes show us things on the guitar that he learned from his brother.

In the late 1970s, I attended a Herb Ellis jazz guitar seminar at the University of North Texas (which has a great jazz program) I began studying jazz theory and playing guitar in local jazz trios and quartets. My love for jazz only deepened during this time and I could play chords for anyone. My lines took a lot longer to develop. When I moved to Oklahoma in 1978, I met and took some lessons from the famous jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. Most of what he taught me was so over my head that it took decades to unpack. Some of it is still a mystery to me!

In the 90s and into about 2010, I played occasionally with an 18 piece big band. I got pretty good at playing “orchestra chords” in the chunk-chunk Freddie Green style. I sure learned how to recognize chord progressions and play variations of rhythm changes. Back then, the entire band wore tuxedos and we always had a New Year’s Eve gig! It was fun but there is not much room for guitar with all of those horns –unless you’re Brian Setzer and hired the band.

Throughout the early 1990s into around 2005, I mostly played guitar in a jazz quartet along with a trumpet, bass, and drums. We played the standards, swing, bossa nova, some “cool jazz,” and bebop. Playing jazz was even more fun when I could find a good sax player to sit in –I have always enjoyed playing Charlie Parker songs, especially “Ornithology,” “Billie’s Bounce,” and “Donna Lee.” I think that my jazz guitar heroes were mostly Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and Pat Martino.

I have not played with a band since 2005 and have gotten a bit out of practice. Looking back, all of my playing has been avocational, even when I made money for gigs, I always had a “day job.” I am currently a professor at the University of Oklahoma and I am 65 years old. I believe that as long as I am learning new things I stay happy.

Best wishes to all guitarist who are learning with me.

John

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