Laboring under the radar for 40 years and afflicted by Parkinson's, the improvising guitarist is riding a wave of new and reissue recordings that may finally bring his blues-, jazz-, and Rothko-inspired music to more listeners.
"Working with Loren is, in some ways, not really 'working with Loren.' It's more like you're entering a space that you both occupy—not a place for conversation or exchanging pleasantries," says experimental musician Jim O'Rourke, describing his longtime musical relationship with guitarist Loren Connors. "More so than anyone I have worked with, it is a place with its own logic, its own sense of time, and no road map." Anyone who has witnessed one of Connors' performances can understand what O'Rourke, who has partnered with Connors in duos and as an engineer, is talking about.
Oblique conversation about Connors' music is common because it's so hard to pin down. There are no real genres to refer to, no easy comparisons to be made, and those references that do exist only tell a small part of the story. Connors takes the raw elemental sounds of the guitar, from the most basic fundamentals of technique and harmony, and assembles them as no other player ever has to create his own world of sound.
This challenging approach has led Connors to spend his long and uncompromising career as an unsung, underground hero. Since the late 1970s, he has amassed an extensive discography of releases spread across mostly small boutique labels, though he's had occasional albums on bigger indies such as Drag City and Secretly Canadian. Connors prefers to perform solo, and his discography reflects that, but he's also a frequent collaborator—mostly in duos—with a long list of co-conspirators that includes Thurston Moore, Keiji Haino, and Bill Orcutt.
Connors always has a queue of projects in the works and, despite the pandemic, remains as prolific as ever. His current list of recently or soon-to-be released albums includes collaborations with Kim Gordon, Alan Licht, and Oren Ambarchi. Meanwhile, Feeding Tube Records has begun reissuing a nine-volume series of some of Connors' earliest and rarest releases.
"With Loren it's more that he opened up the feeling of blues guitar to a greater complexity."—Alan Licht
This bounty means there's never been a better time to be a fan of Loren Connors. Each of the new albums is a unique contribution to his body of work. And while the reissues offer an obviously insightful glimpse of his early beginnings as a rootsy and forward-thinking solo improvisor, his duo records are equally essential. Licht is one of Connors' longest-running collaborators, and on At the Top of the Stairs it can be hard to parse each musician's playing. Their guitars so well-acquainted that they seem to intersect into one slow and psychedelic sound source. Leone, meanwhile, offers a look at a first meeting between Ambarchi and Connors, where Ambarchi's computer-effected sounds are a contrast to Connors' more organic reverb and wah-soaked tone. Together, these two albums reveal Connors' focus and flexibility as a player in far-reaching musical situations.
Blues, Miles Davis, and Mark Rothko
While it may be easy to tie his music to the avant-garde, at his core Connors is a blues guitarist. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1949, he began playing as a teenager. "I was about 15 or so. Everyone played guitar back then," Connors explains. His early influences were Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but Connors dug deeper and discovered country blues, claiming Robert Johnson as one of his main influences. "All the Mississippi Delta bluesmen from the 1920s and '30s had a big effect on me—Son House and Johnson, even Skip James."
In 1970, Connors found an inspiration that would resonate through his music for the entirety of his career, when an artist friend took him to a museum to see the work of abstract painter Mark Rothko. "It took off from there," he says. "Right away, I felt a similarity between his paintings and my improvisations on guitar."
Around the same time, Connors was listening to Miles Davis' electric music, and the guitarist found another deep inspiration in the minimal psychedelia of "He Loved Him Madly," the opening track to Davis' 1974 Get Up With It. "Miles' two solos on that, they only last for a couple minutes apiece, but they affect me a whole lot," Connors says.
While he surely pulls inspiration from other places, it seems as though these three ingredients—Delta blues, Rothko, and "He Loved Him Madly"—lie at the source of Connors' sound, allowing him to explore the guitar with a unique personal perspective. Avant guitarist Alan Licht has played with Connors in duos and other assemblages for nearly three decades and explains the importance of Connor's sonic amalgam: "He really does for blues guitar what Derek Bailey did for jazz guitar, in a way. Derek opened it up harmonically, but with Loren it's more that he opened up the feeling of blues guitar to a greater complexity, even if it remained mostly tonal and relatively simple harmonically."
In this 2001 concert at New York City's Tonic, Loren Conners improvises with trumpeter/composer Rob Mazurak and drummer Chad Taylor. Conners often uses his thumb to attack the strings.
Photo by Peter Gannushkin
Approaching Blues As Art
The first volume of Feeding Tube's series of Connors reissues, 1979's Unaccompanied Acoustic Guitar Improvisations Vol. 1, shows early evidence that he was already forging unique ground at this early stage of his career. Writer and longtime Connors supporter Byron Coley coordinated the reissue series, and interprets Connors' early music as approaching the blues from a new direction: "Loren's sound on these records feels to be based in blues tonalities, but is bent way out of shape and approached as art music rather than folk music, as blues is usually approached. He was definitely following his painterly inclinations, trying to pare down the elements he used to create something with a surface that initially appears to be opaque, but becomes more deeply emotional the more you hear it."
Connors, meanwhile, plays down any notion of heady artistic concepts in his early work. "I couldn't't read music. I kind of improvised everything," he says. "Very free and open, I didn't't think about it that much."
"The Daggett LPs put him in the company of artists like John Fahey, Harry Partch, Sun Ra, Eugene Chadbourne, and other avant-gardists who realized their music would only be documented if they did it themselves."—Byron Coley
While his music has many enthusiastic supporters nowadays, it wasn't always the case. "I was kind of on my own back then," he says. The nine volumes that make up the reissue series were originally pressed in extremely small numbers that Connors self-released on his Daggett label, to no avail. "They didn't't sell good at all. I gave 'em all away. I gave them to radio stations and DJs. I sold very few. Maybe like 10 or so. I threw a bunch of them in the dumpster, maybe 50 or 100 even, in the big boxes they came in."
Coley offers this insight: "The fact he scraped his own money together to put out that series of LPs, despite his financial straits and the knowledge he was working in an area of sound creation that had very little audience, is testament to the strength of his creative drive. The Daggett LPs put him in the company of artists like John Fahey, Harry Partch, Sun Ra, Eugene Chadbourne, and other avant-gardists who realized their music would only be documented if they did it themselves."
Loren Conners' Gear
• Fender Stratocaster
• Squier Mini Stratocaster
• Various Fenders and Voxes
• Boss AW-2 Auto Wah
• Boss RV-3 Digital Reverb/Delay
• Dunlop Cry Baby Wah
• Ernie Ball light-gauge sets
The Sound of Near-Silence
Connors' instrumental approach has changed considerably throughout his career, and he's focused on playing his Stratocaster since the mid-1980s, in search of a more subtle sound. "You can get real quiet on electric guitar, which you can't really do on acoustic guitar," he says. That has led him to develop an "extremely light" touch, in his own words. And he feels as though he reached a tipping point in the last 20 or so years, as he's steered his playing toward a more delicate approach to tone and a greater use of space, and discovered what he refers to as his "new style."
"What I did before—a way of playing, a style, and everything—all that stuff went out the window. Now I just kind of, almost, don't play anything anymore," he explains. While that may seem a little cryptic, it's quite fitting. "It's like almost not there, even. Very few notes and very distant sound and very quiet sound."
Connors was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1990s but insists his playing choices have nothing to do with any physical limitations and that he's led purely by artistic decisions. "Parkinson's doesn't have anything to do with the way I sound now. I take pills to cover it all over. I play a little bit quieter now, I guess."
As O'Rourke sees it, Connors' sound is, however, tied to his overall physical approach to the instrument. "I think a big part of Loren's sound, besides, of course, it being him, is the way he holds the guitar, almost like he is cradling it—the way he extends his right hand supporting it with his thumb extended, suspended above the strings. If it could, his guitar would wrap itself into a ball."
Licht observes that Connors "is going to sound the same no matter what gear he's using." In the early days of their collaboration, the two guitarists would perform using the same Fender Princeton, maintaining distinct sounds and demonstrating that tone really is all in the fingers.
Connors takes a very practical approach to his gear. He has a few Stratocasters and these days prefers his Squier Mini Stratocaster, because of its light weight. He is happy to plug into any kind of Fender amp, though he also likes Voxes. While Connors' tone often seems quite effected, he gets all of his sounds using only a few pedals: a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah or Boss Auto Wah along with a Boss Digital Reverb/Delay.
Despite this austere approach, Connors is a playful collaborator whose duo improvisations reveal a lot about his personality. Eclectic guitarist Chris Forsyth shares this story from one of their first gigs together: "We're setting up and I say, 'Loren, what tuning are you using?' He mutters, 'standard.' But I can hear he's pitched way down. So I said, 'Play me an A?' And his A is like an E or something. Way down. But the strings were in standard-tuning relationships. Next time we played, at soundcheck I'm like 'Loren, give me an A?' And he looks over at me and plucks the A string, but out comes a 100 percent wet backwards reverb wash, like mist, 'shhaahhh!' And he smiles. So I'm like, 'Uh, one more time?' And I'm doing my best to tune to it. Then I look over and he's retuning. Trickster!"These days, Connors is, like most of us, at home and eagerly awaiting the return of live performances. He says he's not picking up the guitar much but is ready to get back out there. When I ask what he plays when he does pick up his guitar, he simply says, "Whatever's twirling around inside me."
At New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art, Loren Connors performs a slow and meditative improvisation to create a reverb-soaked sonic reflection of Mark Rothko's Four Darks in Red.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Recreating the preamp in Silvertone’ssignature ’60s amp results in a surprisingly multifaceted overdrive.
Great drive sounds, ranging from characterful boost to low-gain overdrive. Unique personality. Powerful, flexible EQ.
Arguably a bit expensive for what it does.
Jackson Audio Silvertone 1484 Twin Twelve
Once harvested for peanuts at garage sales and pawn shops—or free for lucky dumpster divers—the Silvertone Model 1484 Twin Twelve amplifier of 1963-’67 graduated to legend status over the past couple decades. Like a lot of ’60s gear with department store catalog origins, Silvertone amps and guitars provided great bang for the buck when they were new. But perhaps no Silvertone product—apart from the company’s Danelectro-built guitars—is as revered as the Twin Twelve. Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and Steve Turner discovered their charms early in their career, and Twin Twelves and their siblings remained backline fixtures for punks, garage rockers, and indie kids. But once the likes of Jack White and Dan Auerbach got on board, the market heated up considerably.
Now a collaboration between the revived Silvertone Guitars and Jackson Audio brings us the Twin Twelve pedal, an overdrive/EQ/booster designed to replicate the tone of the original 1484 piggyback tube amp. To accomplish this, Jackson essentially recreated the topology of the 1484’s preamp, effectively replacing vacuum tubes with JFETs. This method is common for many amp-in-a-box-style pedals. But the result here is a drive of many personalities.
Listen to the demo: https://soundcloud.com/premierguitar/sets/twin-twelve-review
The 1484 pedal does a beautiful job of evoking the look of the original 1484 amplifier, including the silver control panel, simple and elegant black lettering, black knobs with silver insets and red indicator lines, red amp-style jewel light, and even the humorous “Foot Switch” legend over the footswitch. What’s more, this pedal seems built to fend off home invaders and stage divers. It’s notably hefty in its heavy-duty folded-steel chassis, which measures 5" x 4" x 2".
Controls include treble, bass, volume, and gain—the latter of which never appeared on the original amp. A look inside the enclosure reveals a lot of space and few components. Juice comes from 9V DC that hits an internal voltage-doubler to improve headroom.
I tested the Twin Twelve pedal with a Fender Princeton combo and a 65amps London head and 2x12 cab as well as a Gibson Les Paul with humbuckers and a ’50s-style Fender Telecaster, and the first impressions were surprising. Expecting a characterfully sludgy mud machine and grungy pawnshop sonics, I experienced instead a toothsome and impressively versatile overdrive that works in a broad range of genres and playing styles. Fundamentally speaking, the Twin Twelve adds lots of character via a combination of thickness and edgy harmonic content. There’s a barky midrange bite that calls to mind the voice of many catalog amps. But it also has a lot in common with low-gain overdrives, like the Klon and Tube Screamer. Those similarities aside, it has a flavor and sound all its own.
Expecting a characterfully sludgy mud machine and grungy pawnshop sonics, I experienced instead a toothsome and impressively versatile overdrive that works in a broad range of genres and playing styles.
Silvertone may talk a lot about the 1484 as an exact recreation of the Twin Twelve circuit. But in some ways that might sell this pedal short. It’s a great-sounding overdrive by any measure. And, interestingly, it is better at generating American-toned twang, bite, crunch, and lead tones than just about any pedal I’ve played in a while. Clarity and articulation are good, and it makes a great clean boost at lower drive settings while retaining amp-like personality and sensitivity. The pedal is made even more flexible thanks to the 2-band EQ, which provides a lot of room for cutting and boosting the low- and high-frequency bands to taste. It means you have a very flexible boost before you even push your amp into overdrive. It pays similar dividends in overdriven settings, enabling players to explore both the dirtier, thicker side of the American amp tone spectrum or more sparkling variations.
The 1484 Twin Twelve is a great overdrive pedal. And the fact that it doesn’t simply clone one of the already popular drive circuits is a major bonus. The EQ is a great asset, too. But while the 1484 excels at capturing the spirit of the amp that inspired it, I’d argue that with most decent tube amps it sounds better than many real Twin Twelves I’ve played. Certainly, it’s more versatile. And that combination of tone and flexibility make it a very appealing overdrive alternative.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.