Since the age of 9 I have been completely mesmerized by the guitar. But my love for music started even before that. I used to travel with my family for summer vacations in Hilton Head Island. We would drive from Washington, D.C. in our station wagon. At roughly 4 years of age I would stand in the way back (I was short enough to even jump a little!) and dance to Saturday Night Fever and Billie Jean – these were the two songs my parents remember me groovin’ to the most. Music has always connected with me in a way that many musicians can understand, but like me, most cannot describe.
I always like to think I grew up during the best time to be a guitar student. Granted I’m not quite old enough to have experienced Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and guys like that in their prime so maybe I grew up in the second greatest era of guitar music. I know, I know, The Beatles revolutionized many things about the guitar as well. I mean no disrespect; I simply grew up during a different era of music that hit much closer to home for me. The Sunset Strip, need I say more? Motley Crue, Guns ‘N Roses, Skid Row, now we’re talkin’! LA Guns, Ratt, Metallica, Warrant. Jeez, this was so insane and I must thank Hairnation on Sirius/XM for reminding me how ridiculously amazing this time was for music... ehhemm, GUITAR music. Thank you Hairnation.
I was most strongly influenced by Joe Satriani, hands down. I even have a song on my CD titled “Satch-urated”. My admiration and respect for this man goes well beyond my ability to convey it properly using the English language. Satch taught me song structure, melody after melody after melody, and most importantly he taught how to convey soul, passion, and sincerity into each note. I could speak for weeks about the nuances of what I learned from listening to and watching him play.
My college years were nothing short of incredible. Dunston Ashe (the band I played in) was one of the biggest bands Penn State University ever saw. We were so incredibly fortunate to play fraternity shows, weekly bar shows, and on-campus shows for the three years we were a band there. In addition, the (now defunct) Grape Street Pub in Philadelphia became a second home for us and allowed us to connect with our fan base in Philly which has spilled-over from our days at PSU. What a tremendously amazing experience. In some ways, being able to experience that success at a Big Ten University will never be topped by anything else. Being 21 years old and playing in front of 300-600 people four-seven nights out of the week was simply unreal.
For the past eight years I have lived in Los Angeles and have been heavily immersed in the music scene. I have played guitar for legendary producer Richard Perry and have had the ultimate fortune of working with and learning from jazz great Joe Sample. His son, Nick Sample, is a very close friend and business partner of mine. To this day our company, SoundTrak Station®, has a catalogue of music we’re building with Joe Sample. His influence on my playing is indescribable. Every time I listen to the Crusaders I learn more about pulling the “hump” from my gut and putting into each note, rhythm, and groove I play.
© 2012 Joel Hellman