For Robert Farrell, the world of guitar just isn’t the same without the greats. Fire-fingered soloists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and the sort are long past their heyday, and there hasn’t been a new cohort that’s come to take their place.
The younger generation of guitarists – such as the ones Farrell teaches – would likely be hard pressed to name only a few six-stringed heroes of their time, instead tending to idolize mostly those of the ‘60s and ‘70s, before keyboards – and later, computers – took a firmer hold of mainstream music. Even the talented guitar players in today’s country music such as Keith Urban have mostly sidelined their “mind-blowing” skills.
Farrell would, of course, like to see that change.
“If I could be part of anything that starts to bring guitar back to the forefront, I want to be a part of that,” he says.
It’s one item on a fairly short bucket list for the 47-year-old Holland Cross local, who’s been practising his craft for more than four decades (to save you the math, he’s been playing since he was only five).
And it shows. Farrell weaves lightning-speed licks between bluesy rhythms and soulful singing throughout his six studio albums. He recently assembled a selection of his best tunes of the last 20 years into two separate compilations – XX 1994–2014 and Blues 1999–2014 – to accompany the release of three brand new tracks. And he was in the studio once again this month to lay down some more.
Also on that bucket list is a desire to do more travelling and see the world, having never found the time to visit places like Europe or South America amidst his day-to-day work and play. Farrell works as a professional painter and teaches guitar to between 60 and 100 kids and adults at a given time, who range from age six to 75.
On the side, he’s also been developing a guitar doodad called the Little Scorpion. The accessory looks like a small coat hook installed where the guitar body meets the neck, used to lightly bend the guitar so that notes slur upward to make for bigger bends and vibratos, like a reverse whammy bar. He plans to begin selling it on his website soon.
Above all else, Farrell wants to write his magnum opus, the album he can look back on and know he nailed it. “Even if nobody else particularly liked it,” he says, “I can go yeah, that was the best I ever did.”
It’s a goal that may be crucial to keeping the fire burning at a time when self-doubt more and more often creeps into the territory where creativity, passion and ambition used to hold full rule.
“Sometimes I go back and forth thinking, would I keep on recording music, would I keep on doing this?” he says. “At my age, I never made it in any big way. But then usually something happens and I think yeah, I’ll keep going.”
It’s not that he has regrets or feels unfulfilled; Farrell says he never held the notion that he was going to make it big at all. But with all the effort it takes to make music and get people to listen to it, there will come a time when he’s ready to say he did everything he wanted to do. Nowadays, it’s always at the back of his mind, but he’s not there yet.
“I might feel unfulfilled if I never record that CD that I can look back on and go yeah, that was perfect,” he says.
“Of course, then you wouldn’t want to quit anyway.”
Check out Robert Farrell’s website at robertfarrell.com.