BACK IN 1979, Richard Daniels of Great Falls decided the world needed a new bible. And so he worked out the typography, the illustrations and the design and published it himself. It was "The Heavy Guitar Bible: A Rock Guitar Manual," and it grew and prospered after being noticed and then distributed by Cherry Lane Music, the largest music book publisher in America.
Four years later, Daniels has just published, also through Cherry Lane, his fourth guitar manual, a smaller book titled "Helpful Fretboard Dots," which is just what it sounds like--"a series of dots that go right on the fretboard. It's not strictly instructive, it's more a visual manual," Daniels says.
The bible, says Daniels, "hit the nail on the head for the time period, and has done quite well." The books between are "Jimi Hendrix: Note for Note" and "Blues Guitar Inside and Out."
The Hendrix, transcriptions of a dozen classic solos, "was a special thing," Daniels says, "and of course it outsold everything. It was made for exclusive use with the original studio recordings. Guitar players can study the transcriptions and refer to whatever album a particular song is on. I worked directly with the Hendrix estate, which gets the lion's share of the royalties. But there are no bad feelings because a lot of other guys ripped Jimi off."
Daniels, just past 30, is a dedicated guitarist. While at the University of Maryland, he found himself "going to the student center and playing guitar all day. I spent most of my time thinking about music, gravitating toward it." And while he played in several bands and taught guitar for a while, neither seemed to Daniels the way to go. "I couldn't see myself performing, it seemed too much like a flash in the pan. But college did teach me how to write well," which came in handy when the idea for "The Heavy Guitar Bible" graduated into an obsession. "I just had to get that book out."
A first effort, the "Heavy Guitar Bible" took three years: Soon after publication, Guitar Player Magazine, itself a monthly bible for pickers and pluckers of all stripes, gave it a glowing review, calling it "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Playing Guitar But Were Afraid To Ask" and praising the clarity and conciseness of its graphics, design and conception.
The inspiration for the bible, Daniels says, was simple. "There are a lot of manuals out there, but too many fail. I was naive. Mine was so direct. I just slowed the tapes of solos down, put them on paper and said 'Look, here are the notes, here's the pattern.' It was like talking across the table to some guy in a coffee shop. There's no reason to go into it any deeper than that. It's the raw facts. It's not really deep musically, just the basics that a 17-year-old kid needs to know in order to play the scale like Eddie Van Halen does."
Basically, Daniels worked with material from three players--Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, "the guys that really inspired me. I'd slow down the lead breaks and categorize technique and that apparently is what a lot of other manuals don't seem to do. They don't seem to be able to bare a fact; they want to teach guitar the way grandma used to teach the piano. I just struck a raw nerve in presenting it to them simply. That's what they want."
The Hendrix transcriptions and book took six months, while "Blues Guitar" took a year. "That was a concerted effort," Daniels says. "I'm most proud of that book . It puts the history of the blues in perspective for the student. I spent four months researching the opening chapter, a history of American blues."
The presentation is also novel--literally. Daniels wrote it as a blend of conversation and instruction, a kind of combination of "The Old Man and the Key of C" and a musical version of Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan books. "There are two characters in the book, a boy the student and The Old Man the teacher . What could be simpler or more direct than that? The Old Man is a real character: he's spiritual, has superpowers; he never sleeps, only the boy does. At the end after many lessons about life and blues guitar The Old Man locks the door of the house they've been living in, puts the key under the mat and tells the boy there are other houses, other places 'and now that I've taught you, I'm going on to teach others.' The boy falls asleep and when he wakes up, The Old Man's gone. It's a story but you also learn guitar, so much more than just the regular, 'finger-here' type thing."
Daniels also has two tapes that go with the book, one called "The Old Man Talks and Plays" ("I had fun with that one") and the other called "50 Blues Moves." "There are transcriptions, but music is also listening and people sometimes have an easier time actually hearing things, getting the feel that way. That's why I have the tapes."
The "Blues Guitar" book is about to go into its second printing and Daniels is already at work on a fifth book. It, too, is about guitar. "I like my work."