Guitar champ Muriel Anderson loves Christopher Parkening, Chet Atkins and Les Paul



By Steve Newton

A lot of amazing guitarists have won the U.S. National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship since the annual contest at the Walnut Valley Festival near Wichita, Kansas, began in 1979. Champs include such acoustic-guitar stars as Peter Huttlinger, John Standefer, Steven King, and Canada’s own Don Ross, the only player to take the award twice, in 1988 and ’96. With her 1989 win, Chicago-raised Muriel Anderson became the only woman to garner the prize; or, as she is quick to point out, the only woman so far.

“There were a lot of great players that year,” says Anderson from her current home of Nashville, “so I really did feel very honoured to have won. That contest is judged by a blind jury, so my only concern there was when I played a Japanese piece, I hoped nobody had anything against the Japanese.”

As well as the aforementioned Japanese folksong, “Sakura Cherry Blossom”, and Felix Arndt’s preragtime classic, “Nola”, Anderson’s winning program included “Mister Chester”, a tune she wrote in the style of Chet Atkins. Anderson studied under the late country legend, as well as with Andrés Segovia disciple Christopher Parkening.

“Christopher was my big influence in classical,” she says. “When I first heard him play I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful tone could come out of the instrument. So he was my inspiration as far as finding a variety of tones. And from Chet I learned really more about the approach to music, the way that he integrated music into life, the way he became part of his music.”

Two days before the Straight called Anderson, she was in the studio with neck-tapping guitar wizard Stanley Jordan; two days after the interview, she was scheduled to fly to Japan for a string of concerts with Franco Morone and Isato Nakagawa. Then it’s back to the States before she travels up here for a show at the Langley campus of Kwantlen University College next Thursday (April 17).

“I do a lot of revisionals now,” she says of her current repertoire, “personal compositions that are based on music from really all around the world, so it’s a pretty international flavour, which applies different time signatures and unusual timbres. And some funny songs. I’ll do a John Philip Sousa march, where I imitate the sound of a marching band.”

The idea for the Sousa number came from the fact that Anderson had a grandfather who played saxophone in the American composer’s band. “He died when I was quite young,” she says, “but he was an inspiration to me, because he played music for a living, which I thought was a really cool thing to do.”

Cool indeed, and rewarding too. Anderson is the founder and director of the Music for Life Alliance, which gives musical instruments and lessons to underprivileged kids. She raises funds for the charity through her annual All Star Guitar Nights, with the 11th installment taking place in Nashville in July. Part of the huge National Association of Music Merchants trade show, the concert will feature performances by Seymour Duncan, Brent Mason, Phil Keaggy, Richard Smith, Suzy Bogguss, Alison Brown, and the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards. (Guitar freaks willing to travel can find details of the event—as well as clips of Anderson’s music—at Anderson is especially psyched about the July gig because the guest of honour is guitar icon Les Paul.

“I sat in with him several times in New York,” she notes, “and in addition to being a great legend, Les is just a wonderful guy. He’s just so involved in really the history of music, making the world of music the way it is now. He’s also a funny gentleman, very entertaining. And he still has his chops, of course.”

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