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We are physically built to respond to certain tones, which helps explain why music means so much. Music, quite literally, has a power over us. And that gives it an almost mystical quality. Sure, there are scientific reasons why guitars make us feel the way they do, but what fun is that? Let miracles be miracles. Not to sound too new age-y/creepy, but guitar playing remains a religious experience for me. In one of his final interviews, Stevie Ray Vaughan summed up the religion of tone when he described recording the nine-minute instrumental “Riviera Paradise” to Larry Coryell in an interview in the nowdefunct magazine Musician:
VAUGHAN: To me, the song was a much-needed chance to turn the lights off in the studio and basically, I don’t know any other way to put it, pray through my guitar.
CORYELL: Ah. Man, that’s an excellent way to put it.
VAUGHAN: And be able to express some of the things to some of the people that l don’t know how to talk to right now about what l need to talk to them about, say the things that I wish I could say, to become willing. Okay? And that’s what I was doing. And it’s funny, everybody else was in a separate room. I was in an isolation booth so I could be with my amps. They were all in the big studio with a window. And I just turned the lights off in my room. They couldn’t see me. The drummer was tuning his drums while we were playing. I had my back to the engineer and the producer, Jim Gaines. They were in the control room going completely nuts because the tape was about to run out. And it was funny because none of this ever crossed my mind. I just knew we were gonna play the song once and it was all gonna be just fine.
Maybe music, like prayer, is our primitive attempt at expressing the ineffable—a way to let the notes say what we cannot. Maybe much of what we do is empty worship ritual, but I remain one of the faithful.