Dan Crary is an imposing figure--both literally and figuratively. At over six feet tall, his eyes peering out behind tinted glasses, his thinned gray hair pulled back into a tight, small pony tail and his gray beard neatly trimmed, Crary speaks with a resonant baritone voice that commands attention. It's fitting then, that Crary spends much of his time teaching Communication Sciences at Cal State Fullerton.
As a guitarist, Crary, indeed casts a giant shadow. In 1970 Crary released the first bluegrass album built around the guitar aptly called Bluegrass Guitar. In the liner notes to the CD reissue of Bluegrass Guitar, Tony Rice states: "...the idea of lead guitar standing alongside mandolin, banjo and fiddle is relatively new and Dan (Crary) along with Doc Watson, Clarence White, Norman Blake, Larry Sparks, and others, made it happen...Crary's direct approach makes for a wonderful sound and fully developed aesthetic all it's own."
Crary's influence as a guitarist reverberates with any guitar tune picked at a jam session. As Rice so simply stated, Crary is among the founders of the form. Crary is one of the architects of flatpicking guitar. Listen to Bluegrass Guitar and one is struck with the selections--virtually all standards today. Many of them, "Gold Rush," for example, presented as guitar pieces for the first time.
One measure of Crary's influence might be the legion of fans he commands. In a recent concert, Pat Flynn, (formerly of the New Grass Revival and an award winning studio guitarist), dedicated a hot fiddle tune to Dan Crary and Doc Watson describing them as "two of the guys on the Mount Rushmore of bluegrass guitar." Steve Kaufman, himself an astounding guitarist who has also helped put the language of fiddle tunes in the hands of guitarists worldwide, credits Crary with "talent, genius and a genuinely kind soul" in his eloquent notes to the re-release of Crary's Lady's Fancy.
Talking to Crary, you get the feeling that his college lectures are as dynamic and fluid as his guitar playing. A passionate guitar advocate, Crary readily shares his opinions which are always carefully worded and constructed, and well thought out (much like his guitar playing). Crary has combined his academic background with his passion for guitar in his educational work, both at college and his workshops. He has contributed to various music publications and has researched the role of music as communication in society. He is fond to recall a Bill Monroe story about watching a circa '68 hippie and redneck jam on a fiddle tune. Good music bridges barriers. One hopes Crary will devote some time to a book, sharing his accumulated knowledge about the guitar and music in general. He has stories to tell.
In workshops--and as a Taylor endorsee, he's done many--Crary recounts his growing up in the musical void of Fifties era Kansas City. He animatedly covers the rise of the guitar, crediting Elvis Presley to the dominant position the instrument holds worldwide today. Crary possesses a midwestern work ethic and the need for social responsibility. He will talk guitar with anybody and love it. Crary prefers not to teach a specific version of one of his solos. Instead, he tells students, with a nod to Segovia, that they are all self taught. He then goes on to cover ways we can better teach ourselves. His main refrain is how to best structure a practice.
With concepts and the emotional delivery of a sales training or motivational seminar, Crary advises to define attainable goals for each practice session and write them down. Then go ahead and tackle the challenge--it can be the rhythm, the way you finger a particular note-- virtually any of the actions that create your music. Just running through repertoire does not constitute practicing Crary emphasizes.
Once you've reached a particular goal, Crary recommends you share your success with someone for positive reinforcement then define your next goal. He readily admits that this method was the way he finally over came some problems working out his famed version of "Lime Rock." The reasoning is simple, it's easier to conquer small hills than giant ones, and success feels good. Sounds trite, but it's true.
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