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Eclectic Guitarist Splits the Difference : Music: Muriel Anderson, a protege of Chet Atkins, divides her playing time between classical, ingeniously arranged pops and ethnic tunes, and original compositions.

January 18, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Muriel Anderson had achieved her high level of artistry and expression in pop music, she might be a household name by now. As it is, the 33-year-old Chet Atkins protege plays classical and finger-style steel-stringed guitar, choices that make for an inconstant fame.

"I'm at a unique point in my career, where one day I'll play a little concert in front of 35 people in a coffeehouse and the next day I'll do a TV show in front of millions of viewers, and both are satisfying," she says.

Though it won't reach the numbers of listeners that her appearances on TNN's "Nashville Now" or "Crook and Chase" do, Anderson will be playing for quite a demanding audience of fellow musicians, music retailers and educators at the National Assn. of Music Merchants confab in Anaheim beginning Saturday. At the four-day trade show, which will be attended by some 50,000 people, Anderson will be demonstrating Gibson guitars.

She'll also get a chance to play for that audience of 35, since that's just about the number held by Montana & Lace Vintage Musical Instruments, where she performs tonight and Wednesday with San Diego ragtime picker Richard Glick.

It's the first show to be held at the newly opened Huntington Beach shop, and there will be many more, according to managing co-owner Eddie Montana. A musician and longtime veteran of the Orange County bar band scene, Montana said: "After those gigs, you really start wishing for a place where an audience comes to listen. I used to go to McCabe's (the respected Santa Monica music store/concert hall) about once a week, and I'd like this to be like that, a listening room instead of one where people go to drink and talk."

Though he has no further shows booked at the moment, Montana hopes to start bringing in performers on a monthly or even weekly basis. The 50-seat Shade Tree Stringed Instruments in Laguna Niguel has held a similarly small but lively series of acoustic concerts for the past five years.

For the past two years, Montana organized the talent and staging at Huntington's Pierfest. He admits it may be difficult booking performers into such a small room, but he thinks some might be attracted by the prospect of an attentive audience. "Whatever else this place will be, it'll be intimate," he said.

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He's off to a good start with Anderson, inasmuch as she's a fairly breathtaking guitarist. Her three independently released albums reveal a player with a thorough command of her instrument, who, like her mentor Atkins, is able to approach a broad variety of material--including classical, ingeniously arranged pops and ethnic tunes, and original compositions--with passion and invention.

"You have to have almost a split personality to play such dissimilar styles of music," Anderson said, speaking by phone from her home in Elmhurst, Ill. "Going from one number to the next, you put yourself immediately into an entirely different place.

"For years I tried to decide what style of music I was going to play, and finally came to the determination that I had to play the music that I loved, and that was in many different styles. I played for six years with a bluegrass band, then five years with a jazz band, then got into classical guitar, then back to the finger-style I started with. Along the way, I've started to develop a little bit of personality in the music I play."

Anderson's first musical influence was the recently retired flat-picking great Doc Watson. Her parents gave her the "Doc Watson in Nashville" album when she was a youth, and when she got a castoff guitar at age 10, "I learned every song on side one, and then went to side two. He just plays with with so much feeling," she said.

She eventually got to perform with Watson a few times. Though that had been her dream since she was 10, she said it turned out to be anything but a daunting experience: "It was exhilarating and at the same time comforting, like playing with someone you'd known for a long time.

"It's also been a life's goal of mine to be able to play music with anyone, to sit down and have a great time with any player. That's started to happen. I've been able to sit with Doc Watson, Jimmy Page and Chet and other really great players, and to make music with them. That's really a special time for me."

She met Atkins through his brother-in-law, mandolinist Jethro Burns, who was giving her lessons.

"I'd played (Burns) this tune of mine called 'Nola,' and he said I had to play that for Chet. So I did get to meet him and played him a couple of things, and he said he'd send me a tape of a couple of things I might do for a gig I had playing at a hotel. I didn't think much of it, but then a couple of weeks later I got this tape in the mail of wonderful things he had recorded in his basement. Chet has taught me a lot about playing music, and he's been a great influence on my life."

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