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Adrian Legg

Date of birth : 1948-05-14
Date of death : -
Birthplace : London,England
Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-12-08

Adrian Legg is an English guitar player who has been called "impossible to categorize". He plays custom guitars that are a hybrid of electric and acoustic, and his fingerstyle picking technique has been acknowledged by the readers of Guitar Player who voted Legg the "best acoustic fingerstyle" player four years in a row (1993–1996).

Legg is a troubadour in the strongest sense of the word's medieval tradition--a gifted entertainer with wit cultivated through endless travel. He is an ardent fan of the acoustic guitar, coloring its electric cousin as an icon of adolescent machismo. Though he does not sing a note his compositions speak loudly to critics and devoted fans. Legg plays a complicated mixture of bluegrass, Cajun, and country, and has been known to flavor his records with waltzes and forays into a baroque/early-music hybrid. A critic for England's Audio described the middle-aged musician as a "kind of cross between Robert Fripp and Garrison Keillor," while giving his 1994 release, High Strung Tall Tales, the magazine's highest marks.

Though a classically trained oboist in grammar school, Legg left his London home at the age of 15 and picked up the guitar. A few years later, while still learning to play his new instrument, he joined a country band in Liverpool. "I learned guitar by stealing licks from local players, getting them wrong, and having the results stolen by other players who then got them wrong again. Consequently, through our failures, we each developed a distinct and recognizable musical character," Legg wrote in Guitar Player.

Legend has it that Legg, touring the American West with no supporting crew and lagging behind schedule, hung his wet clothes to dry from the radio antenna on the hood of his rental car as he sped toward his next gig. To document this and other experiences during his 1995 U.S. tour, National Public Radio (NPR) contracted Legg to provide a weekly commentary on his journeys for the program All Things Considered. His tales included a visit to one of Nevada's more lurid rest stops for coffee and a sardonic description of a run-in with the less than helpful staff in a cheap motel. In another installment, he described driving into Chicago behind an old cab. "I sat on its tail at a discreet distance, ready to dodge any rusty chunks of sheet metal it might shed. If anything was going to spook a traffic cop, this was it--there must have been half a dozen violations just around his rear fender. But he knew his area; not a light flashed nor siren wailed as we hurtled city-ward at ninety plus." In addition to a being a cultural critic-at-large, Legg has written on guitar technique and other subjects in Guitar Player magazine.

Legg's travels usually include guitar clinics, where he displays his virtuosity while demonstrating Ovation guitars to crowds of wide-eyed musicians. At a clinic in Florida covered by the St. Petersburg Times, Legg said of the acoustic guitar, "It's the original American instrument. It was born here and developed here.... The electric guitar has completely sold out; you go to school to learn it now. Frank Zappa said that rock and roll is no longer the voice of youth, it is the voice of corporate America."

Legg is adamant about the acoustic guitar as an instrument without equal and draws ever-growing legions of fans who agree. With performers such as Joan Baez and Leo Kottke who continue to make acoustic music, Legg helps bring attention to a commercial vein rarely explored by most record buyers. But while his peers name him yearly to the "best of" lists, sales of his five Relativity releases never matched the furor his playing raised among musicians and critics.

A typical Legg performance finds the guitarist talking with the audience between songs, delivering homespun witticisms mixed with bits of his eccentric philosophy. The vignettes are used to set an atmosphere for his music, to relay the personal experience behind a particular song. "If you haven't shared a laugh with someone," he was quoted as saying in Relativity promotional material, "you certainly can't share a tragedy."

Legg's typical deadpan British delivery connects him with an audience that otherwise hears only the strings of his guitar. "I think a lot of the acoustic guitar can get terribly serious, it really does rather destroy it. People sit there being terribly serious about something really rather boring. And I was always afraid that I would be taken so seriously that people would have a miserable time," he revealed in Memphis's Commercial Appeal.

The artist's acoustic guitar work covers a broad range of styles, and his playing has proved frustratingly difficult to categorize. For his part, Legg told the Rocky Mountain News, "When people hear that it (his music) can't be put in a category, they think that it's something from Mars. So I end up in New Age by default, which is scary, really because I think New Age is castrated music. Music has to convey emotions, and that's where New Age has gone very wrong. It has no feelings, thus it is not music."

To combat sterility in his recordings, Legg brings an invigorating country and bluegrass twang to his compositions while also showing technical command of both jazz phrasings and Cajun music's spirited meter. He wrote a four-part piece for Guitar Player to document his method for emulating the banjo with a guitar; he is also known for using the tuning pegs on his instrument's headstock to evoke the sustained tones usually achieved through use of a pedal steel.

Legg emerged as a dominant artist in the early 1980s after spending a few years away from the stage, working instead in instrument manufacture and repair. He recorded albums for Making Waves Records after returning to music--only to have Making Waves go out of business following his 1986 release, Lost for Words. Prior to that, Legg had passed ten years as a professional guitarist in British and Irish country and western bands, also touring occasionally as a solo artist. "I came out of the country music scene with an alcohol problem and a completely unwearable collection of shirts," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Relativity Records offered Legg a contract in the late 1980s, and he responded with five critically acclaimed albums that secured his reputation among guitarists worldwide. For his 1993 Relativity release, Wine, Women & Waltz, he received best overall guitar recording honors from Guitar Player in 1994--a category normally dominated by rock and blues artists--and he was also named the best acoustic fingerstyle guitarist for the third year in a row.

In early 1996 Relativity Records restructured its catalog, turning to an urban format and dropping its rock and roll and acoustic artists--Legg included. Though his 1996 U.S. spring tour was canceled, Legg planned to piece together a stretch of summer performances and continued shopping for a recording contract.

Selective Works:
-On Making Waves Records Requiem for a Hick, 1977.
-Lost for Words, 1986.
-On Spindrift Records Techno Picker, 1983.
-Fretmelt, 1984.
-On Relativity Records Guitars and Other Cathedrals, 1990.
-Guitar for Mortals, 1992.
-Mrs. Crowe's Blue Waltz, 1993.
-Wine, Women & Waltz, 1993.
-High Strung Tall Tales, 1994.

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