Big Jim Sullivan ponders the “forbidden zones” of the guitar



I wasn’t very familiar with the name Big Jim Sullivan until I started hearing it early last month, after the English session guitarist died on October 2 of complications from heart disease and diabetes at the age of 71. The name started popping up in the rock press, often with mention that Sullivan had given guitar lessons to a young Ritchie Blackmore. That was good enough for me. I was ready to check him out.

So I started scouting around on YouTube, and this one particular clip caught my interest. It shows the versatility that was Sullivan’s calling card in the studio, I expect, switching comfortably from jazz to country to blues to “even the old heavy rock.” I love his comment after a few moments of shredding: “Well that clears the brain out.” I wonder if he was thinking of his old student just then.

The thing I like best about the clip is when Sullivan starts talking about what he calls the “forbidden zones” of the guitar.

“If you look at fingerboards on guitarists’ instruments that they’ve been playing for a long time, you’ll see that there’s lots of parts of the fingerboard that have been worn out, and other parts of the fingerboard brand new. What’s this really mean? It shows me that the guitar player explores one facet of his instrument, whereas we’ve got all the rest of this instrument that we can cover.

“And I’ve talked about this to quite a few guitar players, and everybody’s agreed that we all have these forbidden zones–we all have these zones on the instrument that we don’t venture into. I think, actually, they’re a reflection of ourselves. Within ourselves we have things that we don’t own up to, and are forbidden to us. Little zones of our mind that we don’t venture into, and these are bound to show up in our instruments, you know, because they’re part of us, and our instrument is a part of us.

“I find music as a kind of a yoga, and the more I explore music, my instrument, the more I find out about myself, and my forbidden zones.”

I just find that whole concept of forbidden zones quite fascinating. R.I.P. Big Jim Sullivan. May your zones be forbidden no more.

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