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Chuck Anderson: Guitar Reemergence

By Published: April 20, 2010

Career Disruptions

AAJ: Now at some point you encountered two difficult crises in your life: the theft of your specially-crafted guitar, and your extended bout with obstructive sleep apnea that left you unable to perform. What transpired from the time you left the Latin Casino through those episodes, to your recent performance comeback?

CA: After the Latin Casino, I formed the Chuck Anderson Trio. I got tired of playing shows. I hired Al Stauffer on bass and Jimmy Paxton on drums, who was later replaced by Ray Deeley. We played mostly my originals and did concerts and recordings for four years. That group was on my CD, The Vintage Tracks. And after that, the music business shifted around, and I got the staff guitar job at the Valley Forge Music Fair. I played there for seven seasons. During that period, I founded what came to be known as the neo-classical guitar style. That style featured the solo guitar, but instead of the Segovia approach of acoustic finger-picked guitar, I took a jazz guitar with an amplifier and a pick, and created a unique repertoire for it. My Kaleidophon (Self Produced, 1999) CD represents the neo-classical style. There are two other CDs that have not been released, one called Timeless, and the other Virtuosity. They're sitting in the vault, mastered but have never been released. I carried on the neo-classical work for seven or eight years.

It was toward the twilight of that period that I was giving a concert and signing autographs, when someone got behind the stage and stole my guitar. For me, that was absolutely crushing. I had played that guitar every day from the time I studied with Sandole, through the Latin Casino years. Thousands of hours of practice had all gone into that instrument. I was devastated and unable to play. I tried to buy two other Gibson L-5 guitars but sold them after a few days. I was so disheartened, I really couldn't play.

However, I was always big time into education, and the education work never stopped. I've taught virtually every day for the last forty-five years. For example, yesterday, I taught continuously from 8am to midnight. I've written many books, have conducted master classes, and so on, so the teaching was a constant during this period.

AAJ: Your reaction to the loss of your guitar was quite different from what Pat Martino once said, that for him the guitar itself is only a tool. Yet I do believe that many guitarists feel a very strong closeness to the instrument: it becomes a part of them. You must have felt that way about your guitar.

CA: Yes, I did. I would have chosen to lose a leg rather than that guitar. It was an absolute extension of me. I've known Pat for many years, and he actually views the guitar as a toy. We talked about it recently. For him, the theft of a guitar would not have been so devastating. But for me, perhaps because of the enthusiasm with which I pursued it, it had become an absolute extension of myself.

AAJ: And during this rough period, in the 1980s, you also had the sleep apnea problem?

CA: I had a severe case of obstructive sleep apnea for over twenty years, but early on, nobody recognized what it was. I attributed feeling tired to my long hours of work, so it didn't seem remarkable to me that I was so tired. But it was getting worse and worse and it zapped the oxygen level in my blood. When they started testing me, it turned out that I had the most severe case of sleep apnea in medical history. The tests showed that I woke up 104 times per hour and that my breathing stopped 108 times every hour. It doesn't get much worse than that. It's called "the double one hundred club." This condition also turned my metabolism off and I gained 110 pounds. I could've played tackle for the Eagles. I had absolutely no energy as the result. So, once it was properly diagnosed, I began to get a grip on that whole set of problems I just described. Exercise, my wife, my doctor and diet certainly played a major role in my recovery.

AAJ: Did you use the C-PAP breathing device for the sleep apnea?

CA: Yes, I still do. It's a Bi-Pap machine. It worked for me. That doesn't mean it works for everybody, but it's phenomenal for me. And with the energy that came back to me, I felt exactly as I did when I was 24. With all the energy that returned, I decided to go back and fulfill what Sandole felt was my potential. So I started to rebuild my career. And I find it funny now at my advanced age that people now call me an "emerging artist" [laughter]. I don't feel like that, but I know what they mean. I spent last Friday at Jimmy Bruno's house, and he said, "Hey, they call me Old School!" So I said, "What are you complaining about? They call me an 'Emerging Artist'! Between the two of us, we could get one good modern jazz guitarist."

So my recovery led to all my recent compositions, my new CD Freefall and now I'm back into a heavy concert schedule. I'm an absolute maniac again. And I lost all the excess weight I had gained.

AAJ: Fantastic; what a story. And in addition, someone built a guitar for you to recreate the one that was stolen.

CA: Eric Schulte, who is one of the great luthiers [string instrument maker] in the world, had taken care of my original L5 from the beginning. One day after many years, I was over at his place, and he said, "Why don't you do concerts anymore?" I explained that my guitar was stolen, and he said, "Look, if you'll agree to go back and do concerts, I'll re-create your Gibson L5. I'll make you the guitar you lost." So he did. And that's the guitar we now call the "Green Hornet," the guitar you see on my videos. And because of that, I dedicated the Angel Blue (Self Produced, 2003) CD to him.

AAJ: Does he work for Gibson?

CA: He was a Gibson-authorized repair guy. He started with a Gibson instrument and then custom adapted all the little quirky things that were in my original guitar. He was more familiar with my guitar than anyone. And as a result of his efforts, I'm back to the jazz world, doing concerts and master classes, as driven as I was at age 24 [laughter].

AAJ: Schulte must have admired your guitar playing to do that work for you.

CA: He always said I was the greatest jazz guitarist in the world and his favorite. It was very sweet of him to say that.

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