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Orange County Preview : Chris Proctor: 'The Only Baroque Finger-picker'

January 24, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

A mini-revolution has been quietly changing the intimate world of the non-electric guitar. What used to be called "folk" has a new name--"acoustic music."

Typified by artists on the Windham Hill record label, it's purely instrumental, rich in texture, complex in design, difficult in execution. And increasingly popular among audiences seeking relief from rock concerts that have Excedrin written all over them.

A leading non-Windham Hill member of this new movement is Chris Proctor, 34, a Utah resident who will be in Southern California the next few days giving concerts and workshops. He will stop off in Orange County on Saturday to give a workshop at 2 p.m. at Moody Music in Garden Grove. Tuesday at noon he will present a concert at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

"This is lower-profile type music," the soft-spoken musician pointed out during a phone conversation from his Salt Lake City home. "There's nobody in my genre who has become famous a la a rock star. It's purely a labor of love.

"My first record didn't sell well, but the new one ('The Delicate Dance' on Flying Fish) is doing fine. If it sells 15,000, that's considered successful."

While most of Proctor's tunes seem to have a fragile stream-of-consciousness feeling, they are in fact tightly--almost classically--designed, as opposed to many of the pieces from such Windham Hill players as Alex DeGrassi and Michael Hedges.

"You can't really hum the Windham Hill tunes," he said, "but with mine, well, melodies are what I write. I've taken a lot of classical theory, and that's influenced me a lot.

"My tunes are less free-form in structure. I'm the only Baroque finger-picker in the world.

"Most of my songs have a story to them. It's as much fun telling the story as it is playing the songs."

Unlike many players who begin as teen-agers wanting to imitate their rock-guitar heroes, Proctor began relatively late--in college, at the University of Utah. "I was 20 or so, and I saw someone pick something like 'Alice's Restaurant.' I then spent about eight hours a day practicing and learning.

"My big opportunity came after college, when I joined VISTA. They sent me to Indiana to work on this hopeless project. I was totally depressed, and all I did was play guitar. I was a government-sponsored finger-picker.

"Afterwards, I worked in bars, playing what people wanted to hear and slipping in my own stuff as an apologetic afterthought. About seven years ago I thought, 'Hey, I'm just as good as the pros. What's the difference?' The difference was, they were touring, out on the road. So I started."

In 1982, he "got lucky" and won the National Fingerpicking Championship in Kansas. Despite the instant label of "hot picker" associated with such a victory, Proctor downplays the technical side of his playing. "I try to keep a rein on my fast-and-furious stuff. I'm not into speed for its own sake. Virtuosity is not the same as speed."

After his Kansas win, Proctor's performing schedule began to fill.

"Touring is the bedrock of the business," he said. "I think of myself as a road warrior. During one stretch this year, I'll be gone from February to May--across the country and up to Alaska."

Proctor pointed out that his approach to teaching mirrors his approach to playing: divide and conquer. "I use an analogy: How would you teach someone to walk and whistle at the same time? First you teach them to walk so they don't have to think about it. Then you show them how to whistle. Finally, you combine the two.

"It's the same with my style of playing. The 'walking' is done by the right hand thumb on the bass strings. You get so steady, you don't even think about it. The 'whistling' is done by the other fingers on the high strings."

Of his experiences conducting workshops around the country, Proctor noted, "There are so many fine 'closet players.' They have the licks, but they can't master the non-musical aspects."

Such as? "The traveling. I've seen a lot of casualties on the road. It takes a lot of psychic and physical energy. I often sit and wonder how long I'll be a touring musician, especially at the end of a long road trip.

"But I figure, if I can do this and stay sane, and continue to grow as a musician, I'll want to continue indefinitely." And if success comes? "I'd like to sell enough records to buy me some leisure time--so I can make my next record better."

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