He was kind enough to to take the time to answer some questions for me and become the first in what I hope will be a long line of interviewees. He is a great source of learning material and as I learned during the interview process, a very interesting guy. I urge all of you to check out his channel.
How long have you been posting videos on YouTube?
I started posting in July 2009.
What was your initial inspiration?
I didn’t start the channel with some grand desire to teach the world to play songs the way I play them. To be honest, I posted my first videos as demos for my brother, who wanted to see how to play a couple of guitar solos and a few other things. I posted those first few videos and I was surprised that a bunch of people watched them.
Then people started asking for more videos, and before long, I had a considerable list of requests. I try to post as many of the requested songs as I can, although there are some requests I just can’t accommodate. I get requests for Squeeze Box all the time, but there’s no way I’ll ever post that crap.
Does the number of subscribers surprise/overwhelm you?
The interest certainly surprised me, especially because I see so many guitarists on YouTube that are far better than I am.
Even beginner-level players would agree that I’m not the most precise guitarist, and there are loads of mistakes in my videos. I kind of take a “life’s too short” approach to mistakes. If they’re not completely awful, I’ll leave them in. I get all kinds of nasty e-mails from people pointing out my mistakes, but they don’t really get the point. Rock guitar isn’t supposed to be scientific. It’s supposed to be fun.
That’s the sort of playing I like best. I’d rather listen to Jimmy Page and his about-to-fly-off-the-rails approach than listen to a technician like Eric Johnson. He’s brilliant, but I like rough edges. And of course, being self-taught, I don’t really have any technique to speak of, so I couldn’t play anything like Eric Johnson even if I wanted to.
You seem to have a certain authenticity to your playing, a good natural sense of timing, especially with your rhythm and guitar riffs. Would you say this is from experience?
Yes, I think that’s mostly from experience — experience not only playing but also listening to music. You have to do a lot of listening to a lot of different kinds of music to get familiar with how songs are generally structured.
I also think some of it comes from learning by ear rather than being taught. When you’re figuring things out for yourself, you tend to listen to the music more intently.
Any idea how you got to 4,700 subscribers?
For starters, I think a lot of players who want to learn new songs probably start with online tablature sites. And once they learn those tab versions, they realize they don’t sound anything like the real songs. I’m not a big fan of tabs — I don’t have the patience to read them and they’re usually pretty awful. So I think they seek out other ways to learn songs, from people who don’t rely on tabs.
There are two other keys to my channel taking off: Lay Lady Lay and the Stones songs. I know the Stones are hugely popular, but I didn’t realize how many of their songs are must-learn songs for guitarists. It makes you realize just how influential Keith Richards really is. He’s not the greatest player ever, but you could make a strong argument that he’s the greatest riff writer.
And Keith has used different tunings over the years, so some of the songs are hard to figure out if you’re not in the right tuning. I sometimes forget that the people who watch my videos range from beginners who are just learning to form first-position chords all the way to people who’ve been playing for 30 years. I always have to remind myself of what it was like when I was 14 and struggling to figure out the I-IV-V progression. It’s hard to make videos that are relevant to beginners and advanced players at the same time.
As for Lay Lady Lay, I don’t have the faintest idea why that video is so popular. It’s nearing 700,000 hits and I can’t figure out why. I know some hip-hop guy had a hit that sampled Lay Lady Lay, so maybe people are seeking out the original version.
Have you done anything to promote your channel?
Not at all. But I think posting new material on a regular basis is important. I’ve averaged more than a video each day, and I think people like to see what song will be posted next. And there’s a core group of players who are very faithful viewers of my channel, which is really cool. I like having a dialogue with the people who watch the videos. And since I’m not in a band right now, YouTube is like a gig, in a way. It forces me to learn new songs and play in different styles. I didn’t already know the 800 songs I’ve posted. For the vast majority of them, I learned them right before I recorded the video. And then of course I forget them as soon as I’ve posted them!
YouTube is also designed to make embedding videos really simple, so I know there are a lot of guitar-related web sites that have posted my videos. That has a multiplier effect on the number of people who check out my channel.
Privettricker’s “Lay Lady Lay” video
“As for Lay Lady Lay, I don’t have the faintest idea why that video is so popular. It’s nearing 700,000 hits and I can’t figure out why. I know some hip-hop guy had a hit that sampled Lay Lady Lay, so maybe people are seeking out the original version.”
What kind of feedback do you get from channel viewers? Do you ever get into any heated arguments?
Most people are really appreciative, and they seem to understand the time that goes into building a channel. They “get it.”
But there are a lot of guitarists who think of it as a zero sum game. In other words, they can’t be good unless you suck. So they send me messages telling me how bad I am, all kinds of stuff. One guy said earlier this week that I have no business teaching because my technique is awful. Of course, I’m the first one to acknowledge I don’t have any technique.
Sometimes I get into it with people in the comments section. I shouldn’t, but some people are just so annoying, they need to be put in their place. But for the most part, I try to let things slide.
One thing I absolutely don’t abide is personal attacks. You can’t believe how many people think homophobic insults are funny. I don’t tolerate that kind of stuff. It’s my channel and I make the rules. And my first rule is, my channel has to be fun for me, not aggravating. So I ban people who are nasty for the sake of being nasty.
The Internet isn’t a democracy, and I don’t have patience for people who don’t treat others with respect.
What was the first guitar you owned?
The guitar I started learning on was my father’s, an Emperador acoustic, a pretty cheap import. But it was good enough to learn on. Then my father bought me a Takamine 12-string for my birthday, back when Takamine was making dead-on Martin copies. Even the Takamine logo was in identical script to Martin’s logo back then. It was gorgeous, and a pretty cool guitar back in the days when 12-strings were hip.
Of course, I should have kept that guitar, but I traded up a few years later. That began a long period of guitar swapping. In 25 years, I’ve owned at least 50 guitars. I regret not keeping most of them.
I used to live in Rochester, NY, where the House of Guitars is located. For a guitarist, that place is like nirvana. I spent a lot of time and money there. I moved away and went back to visit Rochester, so I stopped at the House of Guitars. I walked in the door — I hadn’t been there in five years — and one of the owners said to me, “Ah, he came back. They always come back.”
What made you decide to play guitar?
My family is fairly musical, and my father is one of those people who can pick up any instrument, and within 5 minutes, he can play When the Saints Go Marching In. So he had guitars and mandolins around the house all the time.
Growing up with older brothers, they always listened to great rock in the late 70s, so I was hearing a lot of guitar-based music.
Did you take lessons?
I’ve never had a lesson, which I regret. It would be great to be able to read music. But I’ve always had pretty good luck in just figuring things out for myself.
What musicians and bands inspired you most as a budding musician?
When I first started, I was really into Zeppelin stuff. I still am, but back in the early 80s, I really only listened to Zeppelin. I would only have Zeppelin on in the car, because if I died in a car accident, I wanted the last sound I heard to be Zeppelin. I was a bit of a fanatic.
I eventually broadened out a bit, and I got really into Stones and Beatles stuff. The Stones were really influential, because once you learn the secret of open G, you can play half their catalog with only one or two chord shapes.
Do one of those stand out as THE inspiration?
Definitely Jimmy Page. I’ve stolen every lick he ever played. He’s the reason I started playing, he’s the reason I love Les Pauls, he’s really the reason for heavy riff-based rock.
Jimmy uses some unorthodox techniques and tunings, but his stuff always seemed possible for me to figure out. I could never hope to play like Eddie Van Halen or even Jimi Hendrix. I see video clips of Hendrix, and it’s hard to even tell what chords he’s playing. He was on a completely different planet from other guitar players. In a lot of ways, no one’s ever come close since he died.
But Jimmy Page’s playing always seemed within the realm of possibility, so I gravitated
toward Zeppelin stuff. Plus, they have such a great mix of electric and acoustic material.
The only drawback of Hendrix music is there’s precious little acoustic stuff.
Is there a band now that you can always go to for inspiration?
Probably the Beatles. I go through phases where I’ll be really into Stones or Free or Who, but I eventually get back into the Beatles. They really rewrote the book on pop song structure, establishing a format that virtually all pop music still uses today. And I’m also a huge fan of harmonies, and the Beatles’ harmonies are hard to top.
Do you have a favourite Album?
It’s gotta be the White Album. It has everything on it: country (Don’t Pass Me By, Rocky Raccoon), metal (Helter Skelter), blues rock (Birthday, Savoy Truffle), surf rock (Back in the USSR), ballads (Julia, I Will), avant-garde (Revolution No. 9), blues (Yer Blues), reggae (Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da), and there’s even a lullaby on it (Goodnight).
The only thing it doesn’t have is a disco track — and thank God for that!
Privettricker’s “The Ocean” Video
“Jimmy Page’s playing always seemed within the realm of possibility, so I gravitated
toward Zeppelin stuff.”
Are there any new artists/bands that you listen to regularly?
Not really. I listen to older bands who put out new material, but there aren’t a lot of new bands I listen to. I like the occasional new song, but I don’t really follow newer bands.
Are there any artists/bands or genres you listen to that you think would surprise your viewers?
I like bluegrass, and old-style country music like Hank Williams. I love gypsy jazz, guys like Joscho Stephan. I could never play like that, but it’s fantastic music. I adore Segovia, and that’s also a style I could never play.
What other instruments do you play?
I can play some simple mandolin stuff. And I could certainly get through a gig playing bass.
Could you give us a brief description of your main guitars?
I guess the main ones would be the ’03 Les Paul Standard. I’ve owned probably a dozen Les Pauls and that one’s my favorite. I actually prefer goldtops to sunburst tops, but the tone and the neck on my ‘burst are perfect for me. A nice round, fat neck. I don’t really like slim profile necks, I like the baseball-bat feel. I’ll keep that guitar forever.
And for acoustics, the J200 is probably my favorite. I bought it new, I think around ’02. I lusted after a J200 for many years before I finally got one. The sound is enormous, and the maple back/sides give it some nice top end, which you wouldn’t expect for a guitar with such a huge body.
Those two are probably the ones I’d call my favorites. But I try to choose guitars that have different tones, so they’re like different tools for different jobs. They’re all great in different ways.
What do you use for amps and effects?
I only have one amp: a Marshall AVT 50H half-stack. The gain is pretty good, although I don’t really get the best possible tone out of it — because that requires volume, and I don’t want pictures to fall off the walls. I rarely use pedals, I like to hear each guitar’s unique tone. But when I need a pedal, I have a Crybaby wah pedal and an Electroharmonix Small Stone phase shifter. I also have a Danelectro talkbox to get the Do You Feel Like We Do/Rocky Mountain Way sounds, but I rarely use it because the feedback is overwhelming.
How do you choose what songs to cover?
At this point, almost everything I do is a request. But I still hear songs on the radio and jot them down so I’ll remember to record them. And I’ll occasionally search YouTube to see if anybody else has done a certain song, or if other people are playing it differently from the way I do. So people can see/hear different ways of playing a song and then decide which one they want to learn.
Do you ever have to look back and check if you’ve already covered a song?
I’ve actually recorded songs before realizing I’ve already done them.
In your “Soul Survivor” lesson, you took us through your song learning process. Is that typically how you figure out how to play things?
Yes, that’s really how I learn songs. Having a vocabulary of different guitarists’ styles in your head is helpful in learning new songs, so that’s one reason why I think it’s important to listen to a lot of music if you want to be able to play different styles.
Another good tip for people is to figure out the bass line first, and then work out the chords from there. In a lot of rock songs, the guitar parts kind of follow the bass line.
Are there any songs that still elude you, that you would like to be able to play?
There are loads of songs I’d love to be able to play. My slide playing is terrible, mostly because I just haven’t put in the time to improve. I’d love to play some Duane Allman licks competently, but I hold him in such high regard, I almost feel like I’m not worthy to play his stuff.
I’d also like to come to grips with some basic jazz licks and chords. I don’t really want to do Wes Montgomery material, but some simple jazz licks would be good to know.
Do you write your own music?
No, I don’t really have any interest in writing music. There are enough lousy songs being churned out these days without me adding to the problem.
Privettricker’s “Soul Survivor” video
“Yes, that’s really how I learn songs. Having a vocabulary of different guitarists’ styles in your head is helpful in learning new songs, so that’s one reason why I think it’s important to listen to a lot of music if you want to be able to play different styles.”
Any other hobbies besides music?
I don’t know if it counts as a hobby, but I collect bootleg audio and video. I’ve got hundreds, classic rock stuff: Zeppelin, Beatles, Who, Stones, Hendrix, just tons of stuff. I read a lot, mostly non-fiction. I love reading about World War II, American history, politics.
As a huge stones fan, I have to ask. Brian Jones, Mick Taylor or Ron Wood era?
I’ll go with the Mick Taylor era. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of his playing, particularly onstage. He never met a trill he didn’t love. But his years with the band coincided with their best albums, so it’s gotta be Mick T.
As for Ronnie, the worst thing that ever happened to his playing was joining the Stones. He was stellar with the Faces, but in order to mesh with Keith’s playing, he kind of throttled down a little bit.
Favourite stones bootleg?
Just about anything from the ’69 tour is outstanding. Charlie and Bill were really tight in that period, and Keith was still playing some lead back then.
Do you plan to keep on posting videos?
I’ll keep posting until I run out of decent songs to play. I don’t want to get to the point of posting things like Brown-Eyed Girl and the songs that every bar band plays.
On the other hand, the copyright police could shut me down at any minute, so maybe it’s not up to me how long I’ll keep posting songs!
Do you currently get any trouble from the copyright police?
I get notices of violations all the time from YouTube, but they don’t block as many songs as they used to. Eagles songs are really hard to get past them, so I’m probably not going to post more of theirs. For a long time, any Warner Music material would get rejected, but they’re allowing more of those these days.
I don’t know much about copyright laws, but I would argue that posting songs for instructional purposes is fair use. And there are people who have posted hundreds of songs, complete albums, without any alteration to them. That’s clearly a violation, but YouTube doesn’t take them down. Then on the other hand, I know people who only had a few videos posted and YouTube shut down their accounts.
So it’s kind of a crap shoot. I’ve assumed from the start that my account would be suspended at any minute, and I’m still thinking it’s going to happen.
When they do eventually shut me down, at least it was fun while it lasted. And I hope some players will have learned a few new licks along the way.
Again, I would like to thank Privettricker for the interview and I urge you all to check him out and subscribe if you haven’t already. Here’s the link again: