Acclaimed composer Chris Proctor at LTCC tonight
Chris Proctor recently attended a bluegrass show in his hometown of Salt Lake City, and he saw something that made him cringe: The band’s van had clean T-shirts hanging inside amid dirty laundry, fast-food wrappers and Pepsi cups.
It looked like it was just big enough to fit the entire band, with one who probably had to be behind the wheel during the entire nine-hour trek from Reno the night earlier.
Proctor also is a traveling musician, but one with a much different routine.
He drives his station wagon from gig to gig with his CDs, guitars and some electronics. Like in his stage show, he calls all the shots and has the ability to improvise without consulting anybody else. And his time alone is conducive to improving his art.
Post-9/11 air travel gave Proctor the notion that it would be a lot easier to travel by car within a 600- to 800-mile radius from his home. Transporting guitars, electronics, wires and batteries through airport security stations became increasingly difficult.
“It’s not quite as glamorous as playing in Baltimore, Boston and New York, but I’m enjoying it a lot more,” said Proctor, who has played 120-130 shows a year for the past half-decade. “The high-water mark was 200, but at that point you really don’t have a life beyond touring. I tell people my career’s first 15 years was proving I could make a living out at it. Now the last 10 is proving that I can still have a life.”
Proctor plays tonight, Feb. 23, in the Lake Tahoe Community College’s Duke Theater as part of a six-city tour; five other dates are in Nevada.
A typical night for Proctor is a two-set performance, then an evening in a motel room where, wound up with energy, he will think about his show what he might do differently in the future.
“The two sets is usually not enough,” he said. “After those two sets, I’m just zipping. Thoughts occur to me.”
So Proctor records his post-show motel room sessions and listens to them as he drives to other shows.
“Those tapes are the most valuable intellectual property I have,” said Proctor, who has recorded 10 albums. After he arrives home, he will work on them and create new tunes.
Eighty percent of Proctor’s material is original, and the rest is “arrangements from relatively esoteric sources,” said Proctor, who said his biggest challenge is describing his music.
“I use tunings that are all over the map, and I play six-string and I play 12-string, and I use techniques that they don’t teach you in school,” he said. “I use a little electrical device which makes the strings sustain magnetically so you get these volume swells and notes that just aren’t supposed to come out of a guitar.
“What is that, a paragraph? And that still doesn’t tell the reader what they want to hear. That’s my marketing dilemma I’ve had for 30 years.”
Critics have compared the fingerstyle guitarist to Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, and categorized him as “baroque folk.”
Proctor, the 1982 National Fingerstyle Guitar champion, has a folk and bluegrass base with an affection for Celtic sounds.
“The trick is to get somebody to come in and sit down,” he said. “If they come in and sit down, they like it. I’m not at all worried about that part. But my music can’t be described in a one or two word phrase like flamenco guitarist or classical guitarist or jazz guitarist.”
The versatile Proctor said he opens with a couple of predetermined songs, then goes in whatever stylistic direction he feels the audience likes. Improvisation comes naturally ” and in an instant ” from Proctor.
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