Session Guitar: It's All About Relationships

by Ron Zabrocki
Posted Jan 27, 2014 at 12:35pm

Greetings!

I've had some clients for a very long time. How long? Decades! Twenty to 30 years of regular work!

When you've "been there" for a person for 100-plus songs spread out over various incarnations of solo and band projects, well, let's just say friendships are born.

The session world isn't really about making money through music. It's mainly about relationships — how well can you understand the needs of the artist and help fill the vision they have of their art.

This is a very intimate path they've chosen — opening up a stranger to a very personal place in their hearts and minds. As you might expect, you have to go deep sometimes and join them in the basement area of their soul to truly see what you need to do! And in this deep, dark place, friendships are born. They are labored over with sweat and blood till the birth of the perfect part, the perfect note, the perfect song emerges.

Sounds a bit dramatic, right? Maybe it is, to the uninvited. The ones who don't walk the path, those who walk away from the battle instead of staying and fighting. (Even more drama.)

I'm constantly asked to share some sessions I'm working on, and that is usually impossible because who wants to show unfinished work? I'll do that with my own thing. But if you want to hear what this session rat does, look no further than one client.

Allow me to introduce the Guitar World readers to Walker Hornung. He may never earn a Grammy, but he deserves one. He may never be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he should.

In the 25 to 30 years I've worked for Mr. Hornung, he has taken my guitar down the path of indie rock, roots, blues, solo acoustic, soca, Christmas, jazz, pop, straight rock, etc. He's a pain in my a--. Crazy as a loon. Temperamental. Off his meds.

But he is also the type of guy who would do anything for you when you need it. He doesn't hold back. He lives with his heart right out for all to see. This is an artist. A true artist. He walks the talk. Old school before it was fashionable. The musical equivalent of Charles Bukowski. Yeah, he's that good.

It is rare when you meet the real deal in this superficial world. So you want to hang on to it when it comes your way. There is much to be learned from this gift. By the way: You won't hear me playing flash. He's not into that. He wants your f---ing soul, and if you give anything less, it doesn't belong on his music.

Some moments:

I was called in to play rhythm guitar in a very expensive studio. I was ghosting. There would be no credit given. They needed a session player who wouldn't f--- up. I played rhythm guitars on most of the songs in less than two hours. My coffee barely got cold. One take on 10-plus songs. (You figure out which one.)

Opened a CD with a song on an acoustic guitar played live that I never heard before. He trusted my abilities and instinct.

Played all the instruments with jazz guitar on a Christmas CD and had it completed and off to the manufacturer in less than 30 hours! All head arrangements, no charts and no time to think. Instinct and trust. One song is played regularly in the Caribbean every Christmas and another has been played in New York City for the Thanksgiving parade. Quality did not suffer. I would not allow it. Neither would Walker.

I hate playing slide. I'm not good at it. Every project with him I am asked to pull out the guitar I keep setup for this moment, and do a slide solo. Forces me to be creative in an uncomfortable environment. (Same strings for 11 years and counting!)

So this has been my way of thanking an artist and friend for so many great playing opportunities. And to let you players see how important one gifted client can become personally and professionally (Not to mention creatively).

And let's not forget the fact that knowing him has opened the door to countless other clients (one of which I had another hit with this year). Check out his projects. I'm playing on most of them. Hornung is a cross section of my musical life since the mid-Eighties. Visit brotherhoodofthegrape.com.

Listen to his music. Start with Q South and take the journey through his projects under the Brotherhood of the Grape name, and enjoy his latest work with the King's Heartbeat. As Walker would say, "Support Indie Artists."

Oh and Walker...I'm looking forward to the next bit of madness. Don't forget to bring the bisque. And the NY papers. And the tips from the track.

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.