Mr. Miyagi’s Guitar 101

steve150Do you remember the movie ‘The Karate Kid’? (Not the remake, the original with Arnold from Happy Days…).

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I’d like to start by saying “Congratulations on getting the internet under that rock that you’ve been living”.

Then, I’d explain a little of the movie to you:


An unassuming Japanese man (Mr. Miyagi) takes a young boy under his wing,and makes him do chores like waxing cars and painting fences.The kid finally gets angry enough to complain to the master about all the work that he’s been doing – when he thought that he going to be learning karate. Unbeknownst to him, the techniques for waxing and painting were his training…he had accidentally learned karate. What he thought he was learning ended up being something completely different.


I had one of these “Miyagi” moments this month, and it revolved around my friend Kevin. And Joe Bonamassa.

Everyone needs a friend like Kevin. He’s great to chat with, funny, and he can beat people up if he wants, because he has a black belt.

Kevin is also the kind of guy who says what’s on his mind. All the time. (Hey, not all babies can be cute…) And while the untrained ear would busy themselves with taking offence, I simply sit back and enjoy the honesty.

The other reason that everyone needs a friend like Kevin is that he is always up for a musical adventure. Mostly, this revolves around guitar players for him and I. So, when one of us calls the other and says “Dude, we’re going to this show”, it’s always seen as an adventure…and who can turn down an adventure?

Not us.

Our previous adventures have had us see Don Ross, Tony McManus, Robert Cray, Beppe Gambetta and Dave Restagno to name a few. We were slightly overdue for another guitar experience, when fate intervened.

I got the call saying that due to a scheduling conflict with one of my Loudguitars colleagues, I was getting the call to cover the Joe Bonamassa concert in Toronto. It was to be me plus one, with tickets to the show, a full interview with Joe beforehand, a photo pass for the pit for the first few songs and a VIP meet and greet afterward.

(How cool was this going to be?)

I should preface this by saying that I’ve had the privilege through to meet some amazing people, and interview a couple of legends. It’s interesting, but I still get excited about the prospect of meeting them. It’s not so much the celebrity of it, because at the end of the day, these are just people like you and I.

(You know, wealthy, phenomenally skilled musicians admired by millions that tour the world…)

The thing that’s exciting to me is that these are people who aren’t afraid to try. And if they are, they didn’t listen to the fear and put themselves out there – every night on stage and every time they create music. I find that inspiring. I still haven’t lost the wonder of it all, and I hope that I never do.

So, about a week before the show, when I heard that the interview portion of the day was canceled, I was quite disappointed. I still looked very forward to the concert and the meet and greet, as well as taking shots from the pit while Joe wailed on stage, but I really did have some questions that I wanted to ask him.

Questions such as: “Hey, which one of your guitars can I have?”, and “Do I look like I’m kidding?”, and “Why are you calling for security?”.

But alas, it was not in the cards. I was told that he would be able to give us a shout out (ie “Hey this is Joe Bonamassa and you’re watching” or some such awesomeness). I thought that perhaps I could sneak in a question or two before / after that. So I quietly prepped for that to happen.

The night of the concert, we drove the hour into Toronto, found a place to park and went right to the box office where we were to pick up our press passes, tickets and VIP wristbands. When we got there, we were handed our tickets.

That’s it.

Just tickets.

I told them that there must be a mistake, and was told that “If you’re not happy with what’s in your envelope, you have to talk to YOUR people”.

(Hey…wait..I DO have people! Cool!)

Now this is where it’s great to have a friend like Kevin. Whereas a lot of people would have voiced concern and made a scene, he calmly said “I’m sure you’ll be able to work it out. Where should we go get a burger?”

He was right. We’d work it out. There was no sense in getting riled up, we should just grab a burger and get to work sorting things out. Forty-five minutes, two Coronas and several serious burger farts later, we returned to the ticket booth, collected our VIP wristbands and went into the show.

The really nice thing is that we didn’t have to make a fuss, raise our voices or pull any other “Do you know who I am” dick-move. Respectfully, we appreciated that the people working there were acting as they had been instructed, and they did a great job. So when Brett came down with our passes, there was a real feeling of appreciation. I was happy to get what I came there for, and he was happy that I wasn’t a douchebag.


The show was stellar, and afterwards we took our trusty wristbands and went into the green room to wait for the band to come out. Tal (drums), Carmine (bass) and Rick (keys) came out and were lovely people to speak with. Sadly, there was no Joe, but we were able to speak with some wonderful people there who were very gracious and offered us some further contact with Joe so we can all look forward to an interview with him at some point in the future.

Throughout all of this, Kevin kept chatting with people, finding the opportunity in every situation. It was fun to watch, and to share this super cool time with a good friend.

After a couple of photos, we bid farewell to our new found bona-fide Bonamassa pals and set off for a pub to recap what just happened, and watch Georges St. Pierre’s triumphant return to the octagon.

“So”, asked the astute reader, “is there a point to any of this that will help me with my guitar playing?”

Yes there is, my friends. You see, much like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid, the lesson has been there all along. I just had to learn how to recognize it.

When it comes to guitar playing, we all need to be a bit more like Kevin.

  1. Be open to new adventures. When a call comes that will stretch you out of your comfort zone, be receptive to it. Run towards it, because adventures give our lives colour, and it’s those colours that come through our playing. We should always stay curious to learn new techniques, styles, genres, chords and songs. See your playing as an adventure that you can take to any place you want. There are no limits to what you can do.
  2. Be prepared to adapt. Things will not always go as planned. Whether it’s not getting your VIP passes or hitting the wrong note in a solo, we must always learn how to adapt and overcome. A great guitarist once told me his philosophy on soloing. He said “You’re always just one fret away from hitting the right note”. Oops, you hit the wrong one. Oh well, fly up to the right one and learn from it.
  3. Stay calm. When we’re learning a new song, a new solo, scale or anything else on the guitar, it’s best to learn how to relax and enjoy the process. Getting riled up when things don’t go your way will often make the situation worse. Breathe. Take a break. Grab a burger.
  4. Stay positive. It’s very easy to get down on ourselves when our playing starts to feel stagnant. Stay positive by appreciating the skill and the equipment that you have. Remember that you can change tones by toggling your pickup switch, and sometimes that slight change is enough to inspire something new.
  5. Make new friends. Increase your circle of people that you jam with. The best guitarists are influenced by many different people. If a new person asks you to play with them, do it, regardless of your skill level or theirs. I can assure you that both of you will gain something for the experience.

There you have it…my Miyagi moment. And it’s thanks to Joe Bonamassa and my friend Kevin.

Wax on, wax off.

Hammer on, pull off.


I don’t think so…

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