But Who Was This Ted Greene? by Don Ayers
Way back in the mid to late seventies I wandered into a chain bookstore in North San Diego County and happened onto Chord Chemistry. A few years earlier I saw Pat Martino in a club in Cleveland, Ohio and had an epiphany... despite years of effort I knew absolutely nothing about playing guitar, but really wanted to learn. I sought out teachers and books but found little that helped me out. As I turned the pages to Chord Chemistry, I knew I found what I was looking for... I was incredibly excited, and from this gold mine of a book, I proceeded to create great sounds and to deepen my understanding of where those sounds came from, in theory and on the guitar. But who was this Ted Greene and how did he manage to produce and drop this fantastic volume on us all?
Shortly after I purchased the book, I headed up to Salt Lake City, Utah to study at the University there. I taught at Wagstaff Music, and Dale Wagstaff himself was a fine player who had studied with Johnny Smith, so stocked all the Zdenek items and hip jazz stuff, so I kept current with Ted's latest books, as well as the rest of the publications. Dale reported back on hearing Ted play at the NAMM show... and then Ted's album came out. It was a revelation for myself and my friends.... everything about it... the sound of the guitar, the low tuning... arrangements with an improvised feel yet equal in scope to classical transcriptions... and just full of soul and good feeling. I actually wore through three copies.
One of my fellow students, Mike Schmidt. came back to school after summer break. We were calling tunes, and he smoked me badly on every one. Finally, in the middle of one of them, he launched into a full blown Ted arrangement and started laughing uproariously... then admitted that after a year on Ted's waiting list he got the call and studied with him that summer. He showed me his lesson sheets and I realized that the books were the tip of the iceberg from Ted. I picked Mike's brain as much as I could about the lessons, and when he returned to L.A. he kindly consented to let me take one of his lesson spaces. Ted actually called me up long distance to confirm that I wasn't looking to learn Led Zeppelin stuff... not that there was anything wrong with that, but it wasn't what he did (I think he said that playing rock guitar was kind of like locking yourself in a small room and screaming for four hours... it left you depleted). I told him I had the books and record and knew what he did, so we were on.
After a visit with my Mom in San Diego, she drove me up to L.A. to what I believe was Ted's Grandmother's home... in my early twenties and my Mom still driving me to guitar lessons... pretty funny. Anyhow I was quite nervous, but went up to the door and Ted answered the door and asked me to wait while he finished his current lesson... he was very kind and wasn't wearing any shoes... his kindness was reassuring and I didn't think it was appropriate to be scared of a guy wearing socks, so I relaxed.
Anyhow... the lesson... he checked out my guitar and said nice things about it... then asked if I "minded" playing one of his low-tuned, radically modified, fifties Teles... mind? I would have paid extra. This guitar had a list of songs in two rows taped on the side from strap button to strap button (to remind him of tunes he knew on gigs) and humbuckers with the bobbins set low and the pole pieces really high (because that's where it sounded good) (I believe you can see pix of Ted playing this guitar on your site). Ted started playing his guitar (another similar Tele) to demonstrate some new switches he had installed and was improvising in a Baroque style. I got some serious giggles because it sounded so good, which happened repeatedly through the lesson, and I apologized for it... the sounds and notes coming from Ted were unbelievable: I was transported.
Ted had me play and was complimentary while pointing out some mistakes I might want to be aware of and correct. He took out a notebook and asked if I minded answering a few questions because he was interested in how people learn. When I mentioned that I took some lessons with Mike Miller he lit up and said he had been trying out a guitar at Norm's Rare Guitars and someone started playing some great stuff along with him from the next room, and it was Mike. I told him I wanted to learn about harmony, walking bass lines, a few other things, and he set to work pulling lesson sheets from different files... all great stuff, things I hadn't seen in the four books, right on point. We went through the materials, interrupted by my questions and giggling at Ted's tone... a fantastic lesson... work for the next year at the least. Ted was a warm, sweet, smart guy and a great teacher, not to mention a player without parallel. And crazy humble. After I started teaching at the University, I called and invited him to come up and do a seminar and his response was: "I would have to come up with a lot of new information to do it." All those books and files...
My friend Mike Schmidt picked me up and we hung out for a few days. Thanks again go Mike for giving up a lesson so that I could have one. It was a great experience.
And Dale: thanks for your work in getting Ted's materials and recording out there.
© Dale Zdenek 2007