Preston Reed, master guitarist and pioneer of the two-handed percussive technique, is a co-headliner of the winter 2013 instalment of Tony Cox‘s “International Guitar Night” series – but he’s not just coming to South Africa to play music.
This Interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of2013/06/09.
It’s a trans-Atlantic call with a man who’s been rated as “the world’s most gifted guitarist” (Total Guitar Magazine, UK), is credited with co-inventing the two-handed percussive style of playing acoustic guitar and has shared stages with folk legends like Bonnie Rait and Linda Rondstadt. Odd, then, that we’re talking about photography. Preston Reed was born in New York state and learned acoustic, classical and finger-style guitar. In 1987, he co-pioneered the “acoustic percussive” style that sees both hands playing melodies and rhythms on the guitar (rather than the strumming of chords), and the body of the guitar being used to create percussion and other sounds. Then, he met that special someone and, in 2000, moved to Scotland, where he still lives in the seaside town of Girvan, when he’s not on the road.
“I met a woman, that’s why I moved here, but I really do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he says. “Photography is becoming a serious hobby and might even turn into a second career. I have a similar feeling when I go after photos as I do with music. If something speaks to me, I explore it, and I’m never satisfied until I have done something that – to me at least – is new. Sometimes the response to these photographs are similar to the music as well; people will say, ‘I saw something new in what you did in something that I had thought was really ordinary’. I love to take photographs of something out of the ordinary in a recognisable or common scene, and to cause a new feeling. As with my music, I like to create something that evokes an emotional response, and to create a dialogue with the person who is experiencing it.”
Is there any risk, then, of this six-string master hanging up his guitar? “There’s no chance of that,” he says, quickly. “Photography fits well into my lifestyle as a guitarist and a touring musician – when I have a day off, or even a few hours off in a beautiful place – I like to see what I can find. It actually started with the social networks, and providing content to share with the fans that I have. I got so much positive feedback and, by doing it a lot, I got better and better.”
“I never would have invented the techniques I did if it were about technique or approach. The way I play was invented so I could bring out more sound from the guitar, a more orchestrated and bigger sound.”
– Preston Reed on his unique the two-handed integrated percussive style
The internet has entirely changed how Preston Reed engages with his following, for both his new passion, and the acoustic guitar music that he admits is a niched interest – although one that exists around the globe. “It’s totally revolutionised by paradigm of interacting with people, both professionally and personally. Now there is a large group of people who really are fans, who love to hear from me and I love to hear from them, whether it’s on the web or Facebook or Google+. It’s a group with whom there’s a wonderful feeling of commitment that is changing the face of the earth, and changing it for the better.”
Trying to convey in words what Reed manages to do with ten fingers and six strings is impossible, suffice to say that the melodies, harmonies and resonances he produces over a tapestry of polyrhythms often sound like there are at least three players on stage. It is worth closing one’s eyes so that you hear the sounds of the songs – rather than sitting, jaw agape, and marvelling at how a single person can produce them.
“I feel very lucky because most reviews that I’ve read of my work are positive, but occasionally I will read a review or get a comment from someone in the audience that what I do is all about technique – that makes me feel astounded, and taken aback,” he says. “I never would have invented the techniques I did if it were about technique or approach. The way I play, the two-handed integrated percussive style, it was invented so I could bring out more sound from the guitar, a more orchestrated and bigger sound. Some people aren’t reached by what I’m doing, and that’s fine, but it feels to me a bit like they’re looking at the door, not walking through it. You can view my music as a lot of technique but when I hear the tunes, I’m not hearing technique, I’m hearing the compositions.”
This Interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/06/09.
Preston Reed (New York / Scotland) plays the 2013 International Guitar Night (Winter Series) from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 July (JHB) and Thursday 11 to Saturday 13 July (CPT), with South African Music Award winning guitarists Tony Cox and Guy Buttery (Fringe Theatre, Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street, 8pm; tickets R165 from Joburgtheatre.com) and (Concert Hall, Baxter Theatre, Main Road, Rondebosch, 8pm; tickets R120 to R165 from Computicket.com). More on InternationalGuitarNight.co.za and PrestonReed.com.
- Read Evan Milton’s interview with Jon Gomm for International Guitar Night, 2013.
- Read about other International Guitar Night guitarists.
- Read more on Tony Cox.
- Read more on Guy Buttery.