The Multifaceted Mike Seal

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: What's that like for someone who plays dobro to play the slide? I imagine Jerry could probably play slide?

MS: Oh I'm sure he could. The mechanics of it are different of course, because a dobro is a horizontal instrument in your lap, and it actually fits very ergonomically with your natural wrist position. It's actually pretty comfortable. On a dobro you're using a heavy steel bar. On a guitar, you're likely using a glass or very light material. With a dobro you let gravity do all the work. The bar is heavy enough that you can just let the bar sit on the strings. Of course you have hand control, but holding a guitar upright your mechanics and technique would be a lot different. I do think there's a lot of translation between the two, the neck is fundamentally the same on both instruments, except a dobro has extremely high action. You can't actually fret those notes. You know I was watching a video the other day of somebody talking about Derek Trucks' slide technique and he was suggesting he actually frets notes with his slide some of the time. That was an eye opener for me, I'd never thought about that.

AAJ: Nor had I. Derek plays in open E all the time, even when he's playing straight guitar. How in the world do you get minor chords and stuff, I guess he must have transcribed all that and figured it out.

MS: Yeah, but even just from a music theory perspective, and it's similar with dobro because they play in open G or D most of the time, but you can find intervals within those strings that will make those minor chords, sometimes parts of the chord and not the whole voicing.

Jeff Healey & Django Reinhardt

AAJ: Did you ever watch videos of Jeff Healey playing guitar?

MS: I've heard more than I've seen. He's someone my wife is really into.

AAJ: The thing that's really fascinating about his approach is that he was blind and played on his lap. But it was fascinating to me because he used his thumb on his left hand. Of course people with good training use four fingers, but he was actually using five fingers. Tapping back and forth between his thumb and his fingers, that's how he was able to do some of the things he was doing. An amazing guy. I don't know if you know this, but he also had a Dixieland band that he was crazy about and he played trumpet in that.

MS: I did not know that. I'm going to have to go find that. You know the first time I saw Jeff Healey was in that Patrick Swayze movie "Roadhouse" where he's a bouncer and they've got chicken wire around the bandstand. And Jeff Healey was the house band in that movie. So at the time I saw it, I was living in a house in Knoxville with a bunch of musicians. I had a roommate who was playing music full time, and he said, "Oh you haven't heard this guy! You've gotta check him out and listen to his music." What a great player. That's cool with the technique that you mentioned. There's so many musicians out there who use totally unique mechanics to play their instruments. Like Django Reinhardt who lost fingers in a caravan fire accident. But how many guys have emulated his technique even though they have all their fingers, but were just so engrossed with his playing that they were playing as though they had lost fingers.

AAJ: I just can't fathom that he was able to play like that.

MS: So clean and precise.

Soloing / Influences

AAJ: Apart from guitarists, in terms of soloing, who are some of the musicians who influenced your approach to soloing?

MS: Oh, absolutely a lot of the jazz players. Now all kinds of instrumentalists, but at that time I was listening to a lot of jazz, post bop, bebop, free jazz—anything I could get my hands on. I felt like I was on a quest to know every record, which of course you can never do, but a lot of horn players, I was going through Charlie Parker's music, and the classic jazz albums from the 40s through the 70s and 80s. People like Chris Potter and Kenny Garrett were a major part of it, doing transcriptions, a lot of piano players, gosh Michel Camilo, who I transcribed a lot, more than I can remember. But a lot of horn players, piano players, and just anything I could get my ears around.

Jerry Douglas Band

AAJ: Now you're with the Jerry Douglas band, in case there is someone out there who is completely into jazz and doesn't know the name, Jerry Douglas is a virtuoso Dobro player, and I think he's got at least a dozen Grammy awards.

MS: It's hard to tell from reading the Internet, but I think the last total I heard him give was 15.

AAJ: Amazing! When did you first become aware of Jerry?

MS: My brother Rob got into bluegrass coming out of college, so for me that was leaving high school and coming into college. So my first exposure to Jerry's music was when I was probably 17 or 18, and I was completely blown away by it. If you listen to his solo records, he mixes so many styles of music. He comes from the tradition of bluegrass, and is renowned in that area of music, but his own records reflect so much more than just that style. His influences are coming from Weather Report and all kinds of jazz players, and he takes that back to acoustic instruments, and hearing that was really a mind blowing thing. Of course he's on so many records, it's kind of like the incestuous nature of jazz projects where you'll hear the same player on 15 different projects, and variations of groups. So I really dug that about the bluegrass players too.

AAJ: That's true what you said about Jerry, you really can't fix him to any one particular genre, it's great, working with him, what more could you want?

MS: Yeah, I have to pinch myself.

AAJ: It's got to be a challenge too, here's a guy who's played with Chet Atkins, Bill Frisell...

MS: Just a couple of months ago my buddy gave me a Ray Charles country album with extra unreleased cuts, and he had mentioned to me that he had heard a dobro on one of the tracks. So he called Jerry and asked if that was him, and Jerry said, "Yeah, I'd forgotten about that."

AAJ: I wondered too, he's played with so many guys who came out of the chicken pickin' tradition, so are you into that?

Trial by Fire

MS: I'm in awe of that whole style of guitar playing. I came to it late, so I wouldn't say I'm steeped in that tradition, but it is something that I work on. You known, just getting into Albert Lee and Johnny Highland, and watchin' videos of James Burton and these guys playing and trying to decipher what they're doing is a great joy and pastime for me. I think the expectation for me coming in, it was kind of a trail by fire, I got a phone call from Jerry, and I screened his call because I didn't know who it was. I heard the message and got really excited and called him right back, and he asked me to join his group, and the first gig would be Telluride Bluegrass Festival. A very famous festival for people who love that music. Some of my own musical idols were going on before and after us. As he described it, he said, "Man it will be a trial by fire, because there won't be a rehearsal."
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