Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Wilson Center Guitar Festival
Home Blog Page 126

Girls Got Rhythm – Constant Flow!


Wanna be a solid rhythm guitar player! Constant motion in your strumming hand equals amazing rhythm guitar playing! It equally applies to your soloing chops as well. Holding a guitar pick with a relaxed grip and keeping the pick parallel with the strings, tip of the pick sweeping across the strings. Using a thin or medium gauge pick with some flex is great to start out with. This will all factor into you developing solid rhythmic guitar chops.

Your strumming hand is a built in metronome. Constant down-up motion…never stopping, even when the pick doesn’t have to connect to the strings on that particular part of a rhythmic pattern. I’ve found this to be the downfall and shortcomings of some guitarists, when they do not allow that constant flow. Starting and stopping, hesitating. This will inevitably throw your timing off. A very vicious cycle any player can fall into.

Conditioning your strumming hand to be steady and constant is essential. You’ve got to start with the basics and be realistic about doing this at a reasonable tempo. I encourage you to tap your foot, as well, when you practice. Every time your foot hits the floor, that’s the beginning of the beat, the downbeat. Every time your foot comes up off the floor, that’s the offbeat.

Start with down strums while fretting a basic chord. This is a quarter note rhythmic pattern. Quarter notes are one beat each. Count in 4/4 time. Four beats per measure. On each count, 1, 2, 3, 4, strum a down strum. Down, down, down, down. Now, think about it. Your strumming hand has to come up before it can strum down again, even though it doesn’t make contact to the strings currently on the upstroke. Seems basic, right! Even and steady strokes, only connecting on each down stroke or on the beat, foot connecting to the floor, when tapping. Do this at a slow tempo, then gradually increase your speed, maintaining the constant motion, without hesitating.

Ok, let’s continue in 4/4 time and try an eighth note rhythmic pattern! Eighth notes are a half of a beat each. Strumming a down strum on counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and an up strum in between on what’s called the offbeat or the “and” of the count, when your foot is coming up off the floor, as its tapping out the beat. Counting, “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”. Constant motion, starting at a slow tempo, gradually increasing your speed as you become comfortable in doing this. Basic stuff, but, it’s so important.

I see it all the time. Players hesitating, putting their brakes on! This throws their timing off and makes it difficult; next to near impossible to execute more advanced rhythmic patterns. If you can condition your strumming hand to maintain that constant motion, I assure you, any and all rhythmic patterns you encounter down the road in your learning process will come more naturally to you. The stopping and hesitating when strumming, is a vicious cycle you want to avoid, if at all possible.

Let’s look at another rhythm in 4/4 time. Now, dealing with an eighth rest on the beginning of each beat. Missing on your down motion, when your foot is hitting the floor, while tapping out the beats. When encountering a rest in music, you have silence. So, an eighth rest is a half of a beat of silence in value. We’re going to strum and connect on the offbeat; the “and” of the count, connecting on an up strum, while your foot is coming up off the floor. So, your rhythm will be, rest, up, rest, up rest, up, rest, up. Counting, “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”. Missing on the down strum, connecting on the up strum. Constant motion established. Note that your fretting hand will have to assist by relaxing its fingering, leaning slightly over to mute strings on the beginning of the beat, where the eighth rest takes place. This is a great example of a basic reggae rhythm. Remember, start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the rhythm.

Onward, to sixteenth notes incorporated in rhythmic patterns. A single sixteenth note is a fourth of a beat. It takes four sixteenth notes to fill in one beat or to be equal to the value of one quarter note. Strumming, down up down up, down up down up, down up down up, down up down up, to fill in a measure of four beats with sixteenth notes. Counting, “1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a”. Establish a slow tempo, tapping your foot. When your foot hits the floor, you’re strumming down up. When your foot is lifted off the floor, you’re strumming down up. Practice slowly, maintaining that constant down up motion and counting, being aware of how you’re fractioning out each beat and filling in each measure.

Here’s an extra exercise you could try as you’re settling into quarter, eighth and sixteenth note rhythms. With your fretting hand resting lightly on the fretboard across the strings, strum a constant down up motion. Now, attack with more force with your strumming on certain strokes. Do you hear the unique rhythm you are establishing? Now, grab a basic chord and on the part of the pattern you are adding more emphasis on, make sure your fretting hand is pressing down. On the parts you’re strumming normally, relax your fretting hand and let your fingers lean just a little bit to muffle the sound. After doing that for a bit, then try the same pattern. But, this time, no muffling, just more attack in the same places of the rhythm where you initially applied it. It’s endless, the possibilities! You’ll have a blast experimenting with this, the more you explore it! We’re just getting started! There’s so much more to come!

Establishing this constant motion, will make for an excellent foundation for your rhythm guitar playing. The possibilities are endless, what you are able to play on the guitar. Remember, this will equally be a benefit to your lead guitar playing, soloing capability as well. These are some very basic examples I’ve shared with you. Practice these and this will prepare you for more slicing and dicing of the beats, incorporating quarter, half, whole, eighth, sixteenth notes and rests, plus tied notes combinations and dynamics! You’ll actually have a lot of fun with this, after you’ve gotten over that initial hump of establishing what your strumming hand needs to be doing! Constant Flow! Pick up your guitar and play!

Cover Photo Credit:  Aimee Ortiz Low of RadagunHi-Fi Media

Janis Ian And Audible Studios Win Grammy Award In Best Spoken Word Album Category For Society’s Child


Press Release:  Audible Studios, the production arm of Audible.com, has received its first-ever Grammy Award for its production of Janis Ian’s acclaimed memoir, Society’s Child: My Autobiography. The audiobook of Society’s Child, in which Ian performs every song she references in the course of her narration, was three years in the making and recorded entirely live. Announced yesterday at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the award was Ian’s second career Grammy in nine nominations that span 46 years.

“I believe this would be called a stunning upset,” said Ian, accepting her award. “My first Grammy nomination came when I was 15 years old. For better and for worse, I have watched my business become an industry—but one thing will never change. We don’t sell music. We sell dreams.”

Ian added, “I am so proud of this audiobook, a tremendous collaboration with Audible and my director, Stefan Rudnicki. The opportunity to sing and play while telling my story was terribly special, and I am grateful for the great skill and care Audible brought to the production.”

The other nominees in the Best Spoken Word Album category were First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. Quipped Ian, “I keep thinking there’s got to be a punchline here…an ex-president, the First Lady and three lesbians walk into a bar…”

In addition to her previous Grammy nominations and awards, Ian has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame on two separate occasions.

“We knew when we acquired this audiobook that it would be something very special, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that our first Grammy award has come as a result of this landmark spoken-word performance by the legendary Janis Ian,” said Audible.com founder and CEO Donald Katz. “Congratulations to Janis and to the stellar Audible Studios production team.”

In 2012, Audible Studios secured a record 37 nominations for the Audie Awards, which honor outstanding audiobooks and other spoken-word performances, and took home six awards in 17 applicable categories. Audible Studios Audie nominees in 2012 included performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Kenneth Branagh, Elijah Wood, Alan Cumming, Bronson Pinchot and Wil Wheaton; other 2012 Audie nominees included audiobook performances by DeGeneres, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Val Kilmer, Hope Davis, Rob Lowe, John Lithgow, Kathleen Turner and Sissy Spacek. Audible Studios received its first Grammy nomination in the Best Spoken Word Album category in 2010 for The Woody Allen Collection.

With Audible Studios, Audible.com has become the largest producer of audiobooks in the world.

Audible, the world’s leading provider of digital spoken-word entertainment, invented and commercialized the first digital audio player in 1997 and has since been at the forefront of the explosively growing audiobook download segment. In 2011, downloads by Audible members increased by more than 40% over 2010, with individual members downloading an average of more than 18 books over the course of a year. More than half of current Audible members are first-time audiobook buyers.

Audible, Inc., an Amazon.com, Inc., subsidiary (NASDAQ:AMZN), is the leading provider of premium digital spoken audio information and entertainment on the Internet, offering customers a new way to enhance and enrich their lives every day. Audible’s mission is to establish literate listening as a core tool for anyone seeking to be more productive, better informed, or more thoughtfully entertained. Audible content, which includes more than 100,000 audio programs from more than 1,800 content providers that include leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers, is digitally downloaded and played back on over 500 popular devices. Audible is also the preeminent provider of spoken-word audio products for Apple’s iTunes® Store.

Lisa Loeb’s release of Release of No Fairy Tale a Fairy Tale for Longtime Fans


Grammy-nominated and prolific singer-songwriter, Lisa Loeb, has come a long way with successful longevity of pure and authentic music since the day she debuted “Stay,” the single that would have people mentioning her name for years to come. Stay‘” was not only a #1 single, it was also the theme song to the indie-hit film, Reality Bites.With what is rare in an ever-evolving and cutthroat industry, Lisa has managed to stay true to her musical roots and continues to experiment with her sound. Even more incredible to have under her belt is that she is still the only artist to have a Number 1 single without having a signed recording contract. Her talent also extends to all areas of the arts, including film, television, voice-over work, and children’s recordings. With the release of her new album, 2013 is going to be a year of successful feats for Lisa. She is debuting her second children’s book, Lisa Loeb’s Songs For Moving and Shaking, which will release in April. Loeb is also debuting an eyewear line, in conjunction of her partnership with Classique Eyewear, which will aptly be titled Lisa Loeb Eyewear.

Kiyomi McCloskey: Lead Guitarist for Hunter Valentine


Over the last 8 years, the Toronto-based female band Hunter Valentine have proven themselves to be one of the hardest-working bands in the world, thanks to their no-nonsense, no-frills brand of rock ‘n roll.  And their stock only got bigger last year when they were featured on the third season of Showtime’s reality TV show “The Real L Word.”

The guitar-playing, singing and songwriting talents of co-founder Kiyomi McCloskey are certainly a big reason why Hunter Valentine rocks. Kiyomi is joined by the band’s other co-founder, drummer Laura Petracca, current bassist Veronica Sanchez and guitarist-keyboardist Aimee Bessada.

I asked Kiyomi a few quick questions while she was between stops on Hunter Valentine’s latest tour.

GGM: First, Kiyomi, you’ve played guitar since you were young.  Which guitars among those that you’ve played over the years would you consider to be your favorites, in terms of either performance or what could be called “sentimental value”?

Kiyomi:  My favourite guitar is definitely my 1961 Gibson 335.

GGM: Have there been any moments, good or bad, that have stood out for you during the 8 years or so that Hunter Valentine has been around?

Kiyomi: Great moments have been sharing a stage with Cyndi Lauper, selling out venues across  North America, and finally getting to play Japan.  Bad moments have been flaky labels, van breakdowns and screaming matches with band mates.

GGM: Last fall, you wrote a column for Huffington Post about how being on Showtime’s “The Real L Word” resulted in Hunter Valentine “reaching people in places that we never would have imagined.”  Are you continuing to experience that impact in your current tour with Sum 41 and I Am Dynamite?

Kiyomi: Yes! This tour has been amazing. Our fan base is growing every night right before our eyes. It really is a dream come true.

GGM: One of the tracks on your second album from 2010, “Lessons from the Late Night,” was “Revenge,” a hard-rocking tune you co-wrote with veteran songwriter Holly Knight.  How did you get to team up with the writer whose credits include “Love is a Battlefield” for Pat Benatar and “Never” for Heart?   

Kiyomi: Wow. Good research!  No one has ever asked that. I had a manager at the time who though that we would be a good match up for writing. I loved working with Holly. She is a true artist.  I hope we get to write together again in the future

GGM: As far as your most recent album “Collide and Conquer” is concerned, one of the tracks on that album, “Liar, Liar,” is quite a rocker.  I saw a video of it on YouTube.  Who came up with the idea for a craps table scene in the “Liar, Liar” video?

Kiyomi: It was actually the director, Kevin J. Custer. I plan on directing a couple of videos in the future.

GGM: Joan Jett is said to be one of your many influences.  Though she missed out on being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for this year, do you think she will eventually get her induction?

Kiyomi: She better!

GGM: Finally, with Hunter Valentine playing over 200 shows a year on average, will there come a time when you and the rest of the band decide to take it easy and play fewer shows?

Kiyomi: Definitely, I have plans to have a family and actually be able to live in a home that I own. I want to get married, have kids…the whole deal. Music will always be in my life though.


As mentioned in this interview, Hunter Valentine is currently on tour with Sum 41 and I Am Dynamite.  You can find out about their upcoming stops, and more, at www.huntervalentine.com.  They’re also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/huntervalentine, as well as on Twitter @huntervalentine.

Photo credits:  Leslie Van Stelten

Album Cover:  Left to right: Veronica Sanchez, Kiyomi McCloskey and Laura Petracca of Hunter Valentine, from the cover of their 2012 album “Collide and Conquer”

Product Review: Ampendage Amp Stand


How many times have you played a show and had a problem hearing, or wished that your amp was elevated somehow so you could hear better and reach it more easily? Probably enough times. There is an amp stand that I just tried out made by a company called Ampendage. I love that name, very clever…

I am not handy and am afraid of hammers, as all guitar players should be, so I was relieved when I opened the box and found I only needed a Phillips screwdriver and a flat head screwdriver. You also need an Allen wrench which was included.

If you are handy, it should only take about 10 minutes to assemble. I was able to put it together, but it took me a little longer.

The Ampendage amp stands come in three finishes – maple hardwood, teak hardwood, and black medium density fiberboard (MDF). The stand I have is teak, very pretty, and has a solid feel. According to their website, the stands can hold up to 200 pounds.

I put my practice amp on it and not only did it look cool, it was easy to reach which was helpful – no more bending over, and it sounded great, too! It’s lightweight and has a built-in handle which makes it easy for me to carry from gig to gig.

I think the Ampendage Amp Stand would make an excellent gift for the guitar player in your life and is very affordable starting at $59.95.


Width: 14″ (36 cm)
Depth: 12.5″ (32 cm)
Height: 12″ (30 cm)
Platform Width: 11″ (28 cm)
Weight: 8 lbs (3.6 kg)
Capacity: up to 200 lbs (90 kg)

Visit www.ampendage.com  for more information.

~Katrina Johannson

Disclaimer:  We were given this product for free to review.  We provided our honest opinion and were not influenced by the manufacturer.

Diamonds Under Fire: Mining Their Way to Stardom


Last fall, I was listening to an episode of a webcast out of Pennsylvania entitled “On the Rocks.”  It was during that episode when I first found out about a Los Angeles-based, hard-rocking female trio called Diamonds Under Fire.

With a sound that has the feel of 1990’s grunge mixed with superb vocal delivery, Diamonds Under Fire are the kind of band that is mining its way toward rock stardom. Guitarist and lead singer Vanessa Silberman started Diamonds Under Fire back in 2005 as basically a solo project that played throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as toured the US, Canada and Britain.  Just last year, though, was when it went to the next level, as bassist Melinda Holm and drummer Jessica Goodwin joined Vanessa.

How did Diamonds Under Fire evolve to what they are today, and would they compromise what they’re about if they were to get signed by a major label? I put those and other interesting questions to the ladies themselves.

Steve: Let’s begin by asking where each of you are originally from.

Vanessa: I grew up moving around a bit, mainly living between the San Francisco Bay Area & Kauai, HI.

Jessica: I was born and raised in Sin City –Las Vegas, NV.

Melinda: Minneapolis, MN 

Steve:  My next question is for Vanessa.  Since Diamonds Under Fire have been compared to the likes of Nirvana, Pink, No Doubt, and such classic rockers as the Ramones and Chrissie Hynde, would you count any or all of the above artists as your musical influences, as well as explain the retro-grunge approach your band takes?

Vanessa: I would definitely consider everyone you mentioned as some sort of influence, if not musically then career-wise, music fashion icons or as people who I really respect –especially since they paved the way. Nirvana was the first band that caused me to pick up the guitar so maybe that explains some of the ‘retro grunge’ feel you hear. Though I always try to take the approach of focusing on the song writing, like a great song is a great song & you can produce it however you want. I just chose to produce the past music pretty raw because it naturally appeals to me and because I didn’t have a big budget to hire an “A-List” producer –I did it mainly myself.

We collectively as a band listen to everything from pop and punk to dance and hip-hop to electronic music. I think with the new songs we ended up digging really deep to bring out the spirit of all those different influences in the sound & feel so what you hear is a more varied approach but still Diamonds Under Fire.

Vanessa Silberman - Diamonds Under Fire                                                                 Vanessa Silberman [photo by Albert Patrick]

Steve: Vanessa, what did you do, as a musician, prior to starting Diamonds Under Fire literally by yourself?

Vanessa: As soon as I got my first guitar, I started writing my own songs immediately. I also jammed / played with friends & other bands growing up and in LA as a guitarist –but not that much. I even went out on a few Berry Squire auditions when I first moved to LA but I always felt better singing so I played solo and constantly tried to recruit band members, which always ended up being different incarnations of what Diamonds Under Fire would become.

Steve: Vanessa, I saw a YouTube clip from 2011 in which Diamonds Under Fire opened for Uh Huh Her [which features singer/actress Leisha Hailey].  If what I noticed on that clip was any indication, it was just you and a drummer.  How did you land that opening act slot, and who was your drummer back then?

Vanessa:  Before Jessica & Melinda joined the band, Diamonds Under Fire for a long time was just me (with the exception of Bryan Stage from My Satellite, who played bass for a short time in the band). I’d usually tour as a two-piece and not as a full band because economically it didn’t make sense. The drummer for that tour was a friend / session player by the name of Tim Spier. I met Uh Huh Her through their manager, Kerri Borsuk, who also was a mutual friend who helped manage me at the time. Uh Huh Her asked if I wanted to open up for them and I said, of course, yes. Uh Huh Her was a blast to tour with and are very talented.

Steve: Following up on that, my next question is for Melinda and Jessica.  How did you two join Vanessa to become the current Diamonds Under Fire lineup, and what did you each do prior to that?

Jessica: Prior to Diamonds Under Fire, I was in the rock/electronic duo Volcano Dolls. Vanessa and I met through a mutual acquaintance, Isaac Heymann, who knew I was in between bands. One day I got a call from him saying that he had a friend (Vanessa) that was looking for a drummer and thought she and I would be a perfect match. I got in touch with Vanessa, auditioned, and the rest is history!

Melinda: I had just moved to LA and was working on learning songs to go on tour with my friend Kim Talon’s band, JAN.  Vanessa heard about me through my cousin, Jamie Holm, and her band Sick of Sarah.  She pursued me online and via text for a while before we met.  It was very romantic. A true rock courtship – – – Before that, I toured with Har Mar Superstar, and played in a band called Fur Pillows with Har Mar, Jonny Kelson, and Charles Gehr. I think we’re still a band, we just haven’t gotten together for a while.

Steve: Any of you can answer this:  Diamonds Under Fire played L.A.’s famed Viper Room last December.  How did the crowd react to this current lineup?

Jessica: The word on the street is it’s their favorite DUF line-up yet! I didn’t actually see the crowd’s reactions on stage seeing how my hair was pretty much in my face the whole time, but after the show, we got a great response!

Melinda: Our first show with this lineup was at Viper in August for the Sunset Strip Music Festival. People told me they were surprised it was our first show together. I kind of was, too.  I think we have a very natural chemistry between us just as people and that comes across on stage.  The crowd was totally still into it at our show there in December, so I guess we’ll stick together.

Steve: Again, for any of you to answer:  As a band that is out to “make [its] own rules and [its] own path,” would signing with a major label, and the rules that come with it, put that philosophy into question?

Band answer: Great question! When we say ‘own rules & own path’ we are talking about the music / message being created by us (artists) dictating which direction labels and listeners go in. We can steer the market place.  It’s in our hands to “make our own rules and own path.” We’re working hard to write great material, play amazing live shows, have identities, have developed ideas and opinions – we’re out here building our own image and brand – a label shouldn’t tell us who we are, we should tell them and it should be clear through our music.  Working with labels, management, etc. is collaboration and collaborations can be hard, but the rewards most often outweigh the challenges when you work as a team.

It’d be great to sign with a major label and we don’t see any reason we couldn’t have a great effective partnership with one who believes in our philosophy. We aren’t performers looking for a message, songs & someone to tell us who we are. We are a band: three professional musicians with personality, who want to help people through music, change the world, play for the rest of our lives, to reach a lot of people and make a living doing it. If there’s a major label out there that can get on board with that – and we believe there is – they’re welcome to join the team.

At the end of the day, Rock ’n Roll isn’t safe and doesn’t play by the rules to begin with –major labels know that. As an artist you get questioned every day but we didn’t come into to this life to have someone else tell us our own philosophy and how we are going to live it. Staying true to yourself and your beliefs is a constant challenge we all face in life.  It’s not unique to record deals. Instead of worrying about it and making more rules and obstacles, we’d rather grab the monster by the heart and live out loud.

Steve: Here’s a fun question for the three of you:  What was the first major rock concert you each went to?

Vanessa: My first major concert was a San Jose Kamp KOME Radio concert & No Doubt, Foo Fighters, Filter, Goo Goo Dolls, 7 Year Bitch & a bunch of other bands played. It was amazing.

Jessica: No Doubt, The Vandals, and Cake! I still remember the date –it was April 18, 1997.

Melinda: I saw Michael Jackson with my Dad’s best friend as a kid, but the first one on my own was The Cure. I wore that t-shirt every day for at least a year.

Steve: Back to Vanessa, I would like to ask about your upcoming album:  Who is producing it, have you come up with a title for it, and when are you expecting it to be released?

Vanessa:  John ‘Lou’ Lousteau is producing the EP with us right now at the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606. The title is to be announced and there isn’t an official release date yet, but we are shooting for early Spring and we are very excited to put the new music out.

Steve: Finally, for all three of you, since Diamonds Under Fire has that retro-grunge feel going on, would it be safe to say that you’re bringing grunge back?

Melinda: Maybe nodding to it in some small ways, but not bringing it back.  There are other things from the ‘90s I’d rather bring back.  Like Riot Grrrl.  Let’s bring that back instead.

Jessica: I wouldn’t go that far and say we are bringing it back. I would say that it’s a prominent influence in our sound, but I wouldn’t label ourselves a grunge band. Also, I don’t own any baggy flannel shirts. Ha!

Vanessa: Bringing it back maybe with a very 2013 twist… like in a sincere “[Smells Like] Teen Spirit,” “I Love Rock ’n Roll,” fun “Since You’ve Been Gone” kind of way. Ha. But honestly, as we grow and evolve as a band I hope we can offer people a new musical experience. Like something that sounds familiar yet is excitingly new & different.


And it’s an experience that you can look forward to when Diamonds Under Fire hit the road real soon.

Diamonds Under Fire are online at www.diamondsunderfire.com.  They’re also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dufmusic and on Twitter @dufmusic.

Photo credits as noted:
Cover Photo:  Left to right: Guitarist/lead singer Vanessa Silberman, bassist Melinda Holm and drummer Jessica Goodwin of Diamonds Under Fire [photo by Steve Dewall]


Life Lessons from Alana Stewart


Alana Stewart, international model, actress, talk-show host, filmmaker and bestselling author, lived a life of fame and fortune being involved with Hollywood’s elite and a rock and roll icon. But there is so much more to her story that she tells in her memoir Rearview Mirror that may be inspirational for females that may be struggling with difficult situations like depression, divorce, self-esteem, or drug addiction.

As Alana chronicles in her memoir, she was born in a small rural town in the state of Texas and lived in a one room shack with an outhouse. Her mother was a drug addict and emotionally unavailable for Alana and she was basically raised by her strict, religious grandmother- never knowing her father. At one point, Alana talks about being so poor that her grandmother made her a dress out of a potato sack. When her mother was available, she would move Alana to a different town and school, but she always ultimately ended up back with her grandmother.

After high school, when Alana was living in her own apartment and had a job as a flight attendant, she was violently raped and left for dead. She was so devastated by this tragedy and to escape her unhappy childhood and the rape, she moved to New York City at the young age of 19 to pursue a career in modeling.

This was just the beginning of her career as a successful model and her journey through her glamorous lifestyle of modeling, traveling the world, and her marriages to Actor George Hamilton and Rock ‘n Roll icon Rod Stewart – living in mansions in Hollywood while partying with Hollywood’s elite and rock ‘n roll legends.

While this may seem like a fairy tale to most, her life was full of struggles that resulted in bulimia, divorce, and depression. Alana candidly speaks about her life challenges and her heartache from the divorce from two famous men, raising her three children on her own, financial hardships, drug addiction in her family, and the loss of her Mother and her dear friend Farrah Fawcett.

Alana’s strength and faith were able to help her deal with her struggles and become a better person today. Through her strong faith, which she credits to her grandmother, and her spiritual healing with Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson, Alana has persevered through the toughest of times and now wants to share her valuable life lessons with the hopes of inspiring any female experiencing tough times.

We had a chance to chat with Alana and gain some insight into her memoir Rearview Mirror and bring you some of her life lessons which she says are “unconditional love, faith, gratitude, perseverance, and the imporance of finding your hight purpose in life.”

What inspired you to write Rearview Mirror and what do you hope to accomplish with this story?

A few years ago, I read a book called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It was about her growing up in abject poverty in a very dysfunctional family and I found it very compelling. At the time, I thought that I would like to write about my own experiences. I’ve faced a lot of difficult challenges in my life and felt that by sharing them I might be able to encourage others going through similar situations. I’ve often gained help and insight by listening to or reading about how other people have overcome challenges.

Learning about your early years and the struggles you encountered was certainly compelling. Can you tell us if there was a turning point and when or what that was?

After I graduated from high school, I desperately wanted to escape from my unhappy childhood but wasn’t sure how. I became an airline stewardess for a local airline and soon afterward I moved into my first apartment, an intruder broke in and I was violently raped and left for dead. It’s was such a horrible, shameful experience that I knew I had to finally leave Texas and leave it all behind me. That’s when I moved to New York to try my luck at modeling.

You talked about some of the pressures that were put on you when you moved to New York City to become a model that apparently ultimately led to your bulimia. Can you share with our young female readers some secrets on how not to succumb to pressures to transform yourself into something you are not and still feel good about yourself?

What bothers me today is that a lot of young models and actresses are so bone thin and young impressionable girls think this is the way they have to look. That and low self esteem was what led to my bulimia. And, of course, I was told to lose weight for the job. If I had been able to do it in a healthy way that would have been alright. I could have lost the 5 lbs. by proper dieting and exercise. And it was a reasonable request because I weighted 130 lbs. Losing 5 lbs didn’t make me look emaciated. The problem was that I had a healthy self image so immediately started thinking I was “fat.”

There are a lot of female artists out there right now that might be struggling with difficulties of being accepted, living in a difficult family environment, or just financially strapped. This can lead to frustration and abandonment of the pursuit of their dreams. What advice can you give to young struggling artists?

Don’t give up on your dreams but perhaps get a part time job to pay the bills while you’re pursuing your dreams. And get involved in some kind of spiritual study or support group. 12 Step programs are great if any of them apply. Anything that helps us strengthen our faith and trust in a higher power is very helpful and actually can be life-changing.

When you found yourself in the world of rock, glitz and glamour with your marriage to Rod Stewart, how did that affect you as a person, I mean, your ideals, values and self-esteem? Were you able to hold on to who you were or did you struggle with identity, because this must have been an incredible, over-whelming life experience?

It was certainly a new world to me and we fell madly in love so quickly that it all seemed kind of like a fairy-tale. I’d been married to George Hamilton before and he and I had been together 10 years so I was used to a glamorous life, although we spent a lot of time at home after we had our son. The rock and roll world was exciting but Rod and I also spent a lot of time with my Hollywood friends. Then, I got pregnant and had two babies in a row plus my son Ashley, so we became a family quickly and our life was pretty normal for the most part. I had three little ones and my hands full, so we weren’t out partying like we were when we first met.

I lived with my grandmother out in the country in Texas when I was very young and she was a very religious woman with a strong set of values and I guess I inherited them from her, along with her strength of character. Fortunately, I’ve been able to retain them through the years and even through tough times, it’s helped me pull through. It’s not always easy living in the world I suddenly found myself in and keeping your identity and self esteem intact. I went through a few very difficult years until I started on a journey of my own recovery.

As a self-described country girl admiring Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, tell us what you think about country music’s evolution since those guys and how you feel artists like Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift have contributed to that great genre?

I’m a huge country music fan. It’s all I listen to on my car radio. I was just listening to a Sirius station that plays all the old country classics and thinking how much it’s changed over the years. I’m getting to know the names and songs of some of the newer country stars like Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, and of course Blake Shelton and I really love their music. Maybe this is the wrong way to explain it but it’s got a much more main stream pop kind of feel to much of it. By the way, I’ve loved Toby Keith for years! Often, I think I should have married a country singer instead of a rock and roller. I think we would have had a lot in common. I’m a down home gal at heart.

You have had your share of ups and downs in your life. Where did the inner strength come from to make it through the “downs” and what advice would you have for young girls who are either aspiring musicians or just want to grow up to be great women?

As I said earlier, I think a lot of my inner strength came from my grandmother. She read the Bible to me and we went to church when we could get a ride, and I’ve always had faith that God would help me through whatever I might be facing. After Rod and I broke up I went through a terrible period and that’s when I started to really seek more spiritual support. I strongly recommend some kind of spiritual program or teaching for anyone who wants to be the best person they can be.

Let’s move on to Farrah Fawcett. Here’s an icon in her own right and you ended up being close friends with her. What did you have in common with Farrah and how did she inspire you in your life?

Farrah and I were both Texas girls and I think we really bonded because of that. We both had common sense and down home values even though we lived in Hollywood. She loved staying home and cooking a great Texas meal (like fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread, black-eyed peas, etc.) and so did I. We loved to make homemade pies together for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

I was so amazed and inspired by her courage when she went through her battle with cancer. She was so determined that she was going to beat this disease and she never wavered. Unfortunately, she didn’t in the end but she put up a valiant fight and inspired so many people.

Can you tell us a little more about the Farrah Fawcett Foundation and your role as President?

Farrah set up the foundation a couple of years before she passed away to help fund cancer research and to help people battling cancer in the present. She knew how essential research was in order to find a cure but she also wanted to help people who were struggling financially while getting cancer treatments. She realized how fortunate she was to be able to afford the best in care and really felt for those who couldn’t.

Looking back on your incredible life, did faith play any role in your ultimate triumph and, if so, when did it become a significant part of your life?

Faith has always played a big role in my life and even in the darkest times, I’ve clung onto my faith that God would get me through. I’m still working and growing spiritually. I don’t think we ever stop learning more about life. There’s a saying, “Faith is fear that’s said its prayers.”

One final question, what advice would you give to people of all ages about the secret to happiness in life, you know, what really matters?

I can’t say that I know one secret to happiness in life, but I have learned a lot about it. Happiness is not something that just randomly happens. We have to make our own happiness and much of it comes from the way we look at life. We can look at the glass half full or half empty. So much depends on our attitudes and making up our minds to focus on what is good in our lives instead of the negative. The more we can find to be grateful for, the more good that we attract into our lives. I make a gratitude list every night before I go to sleep. One of the things I’ve learned is that gratitude is a very attracting energy whereas if we focus on what’s wrong we just get more to complain about.

One thing I did learn from my experience with Farrah is that we should appreciate every day we’re alive and healthy and most importantly, love and cherish the people close to us and make sure they know how much we love and appreciate them. Live in the present and be grateful for every moment and every one in your life. It can change in a heartbeat.

Clare Free…and How She Rolls With the Blues


Clare Free once learned how to play instruments like piano and flute, and she even played some rock guitar, too.  But when she visited a blues jam session, Clare began a process that evolved her into one of Europe’s most unique blues guitarists.

Tips for Singers


Voice Coach ILana Martin is the founder of the Vocal Workout Singing School in New York City and has trained such high profile celebrities as Sean Garrett, P. Diddy and Dirty Money to name a few. ILana has an extensive background in music and offers a few tips for singers.

Interview with Classical Guitarist Heike Matthiesen

Heike Matthiesen

There have been many instances where musicianship runs in the family.  One such example would be German classical guitarist Heike Matthiesen.  Given that she’s been described by some of the media in her country as a charismatic guitarist who delivers “stupendous technical virtuosity,” Heike transcends those notions of growing up amongst musicians in her family.

Heike originally took up piano at the age of 4, but as sure as she was transitioning to adulthood, so, too, was Heike transitioning from playing classical piano to playing classical guitar, first through conservatory lessons in Frankfurt, followed by master classes that helped shape her into a talented guitarist who has traveled the world, and has performed both by herself and with chamber music ensembles.

I recently asked Heike about her piano-to-guitar transition, as well the instruction she got to help her in that transition, plus other topics like what inspired her to record a French guitarist’s works, and how she compares competitions with concerts, and playing solo versus playing with ensembles.

Steve: Heike, let me begin by asking how you transitioned from piano to guitar, particularly as you took up that instrument once you turned 18?

Heike: I was always fascinated by the sexiness of the sound of the guitar and loved especially Spanish music- and it was a spontaneous decision without remembering the trigger! Yes, I dreamt about [Isaac] Albeniz on the guitar, whom I could have played on the piano…It was an easy shift, both hands were trained and the movements of the hands are more similar than you’d expect. And, luckily, the guitar world is not so dominated by child prodigies, and there are more good players than one might guess who did not start, let’s say, at age 4!

Steve: One of your earliest guitar instructors was a Frankfurt professor named Heinz Teuchert [I hope I got his name right].  Was much of his teaching more about the classical style than about basic playing?

Heike: He was one of the great professors in German guitar history, as well as a writer of many guitar teaching books.  It was big, big luck that he became my first teacher.  He confessed later that it was like a present to him to have me as one of his last students before retiring, like he said “an already-ready musician, but not-at-all a guitarist’” so he was mostly working on the technique,  special to have a beginner who already played Chopin scherzos on the piano and knew all kind of classical music and biggest part of theory. I am from a family of musicians, so I grew up with listening to classical music all my life. And he said directly in the beginning, that he was planning my future to be a professional.

Steve: You were also taught for several years by one of Spain’s most honored classical guitarists, Pepe Romero.  How has his approach been such a formative influence in your work?

Heike: Pepe was teaching me all the so-called mental things–what to think and what not to while playing, how to practice, how to prepare, how to organize yourself in the world of a traveling artist’s rollercoaster. So he was doing more than teaching his incredible technique, it was really how to be a musician. And Pepe is very humble to music and respectful for the audience, so I learned that being a musician is not for your ego, but to be “a tool” for music to sound and “a medium” to give unforgettable time to your audience.

Steve: Your recordings and live performances over the years have been both solo and with chamber music ensembles.  Does playing with an ensemble enhance your guitar work just as much as you playing solo?

Heike: It is essential to play especially with other instruments to learn to overcome the limitations of the instrument you have. A non-guitar player does not accept an interrupted phrase because of a difficult position change – and asks you for a powerful sound! It is nice to play tons of nuances- if nobody hears them sitting further than row 3 in the audience.  I think of a guitar as a powerful instrument, even visualizing impossible things like a crescendo in one note- how can you develop this without getting the ideas from other instruments who might be able to do it easily? Think three-dimensional like a piano, phrase like a violin, have resonances like a cello, and have projection like a soprano.

Steve: One of the albums you recorded was “Tristemusette” back in 2002, in which you did compositions by French classical guitarist Roland Dyens.  Roland is known for his improvisational knack, but was that what led you to do this album? 

Heike: A combination of chance and, let’s call it destiny.  I had to play something by him in a competition and did not want to make a “normal” choice, so I tested a lot of his pieces and I fell in love with his music. Then I realized that, until then, nobody had done a CD of Dyens’ works other than Roland Dyens himself.  It is dangerous if you play a living composer, not just to try to copy him, so I tried to look at his music with my opera-pianist-Romero school-view and it is maybe the biggest compliment to a composer if there can be many different views, possible and logical.

Steve: Besides concerts, you’ve also participated in competitions.  Are those competitions any more “pressure-packed” for you than a concert would be?

Heike: Of course, an audience usually comes to a concert to like it, to have a great evening- and in competitions, the judges wait for mistakes to catch. Sometimes perfection gets to be more important than playing musically. If you think about a magic player like Julian Bream, he was a fascinating, heaven-and-hell, full-risk rollercoaster. That is my idol’s way, you must take risk, show emotions, a concert should not be competing with CD-perfection and a competition might not ask if you are an interesting concert player.  So I have mixed emotions about competitions, yet with so many competitions around the world, they can be very important as base for a long-lasting career.  It was an experience I would never want to miss. I met wonderful colleagues, heard new pieces (everywhere there are fashions!), styles of players, and learned to stand the incredible pressure.  Also it showed clearly how much the guitar pro world is a man’s world; the percentage of girls is still very low, but it is great that more and more great female players win!!

Steve: Finally, Heike, what do you have in the way of future recordings, tours or projects?

Heike: I just recorded a CD with lots of Mozart-related music, all 19th-century.  It will be released this spring.  Also, I started work on a contemporary classical program. I waited very long with that recording, but programs for the next 4 CDs are already done in my head and big parts in my fingers already, so a lot to come!  Concerts are planned mostly in Europe right now, including some with chamber musicians and with orchestra. I will do some tutorials for YouTube, continue to be present in social media, and, right now, enjoying 4 weeks of holidays at home!! Happy New Year!!

And a Happy New Year back at you, Heike.  You can check out video of some of her past performances, as well as her forthcoming tutorials, at www.youtube.com/guitarrina.  Heike’s website is multilingual, with pages in English, German, French and Spanish, at www.heikematthiesen.com.

You can also find Heike on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heikematthiesen, as well as on Twitter @gitarra.  Plus, look for samples of Heike’s music on Soundcloud, at www.soundcloud.com/heikematthiesen.

Photo credits:  (Cover Photo) Stock-Müller