Rich Severson, author, teacher, professional musician and Coarsegold resident, recently hosted a jazz guitar concert at the Queens Inn Wine & Beer Garden in Oakhurst. Twenty guitarists and 10 bass players from across the United States performed at the event. All of these musicians were participating in an annual five-day Yosemite Jazz Workshop at Evergreen Conference Center, hosted by Severson and sponsored by GuitarCollege.com, an online guitar study course created by this accomplished guitarist.
I caught up with Rich after the performance to find out just how he came to create GuitarCollege.com.
Q: How did the idea for a correspondence class start?
A: I was teaching at a music school in Hollywood, called GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology), and we decided to leave the L.A. area and move up to Coarsegold. I thought they had a great program, but very few guitar players would ever be able to attend due to the high cost and time commitment involved…
So in order to earn a living in my new location and offer a guitar/music education program, I started writing correspondence-type lessons with written material and audio instruction and explanations. After writing about 100 of these lessons they eventually evolved into my Guitar College course.
Q: How did you advertise the classes?
A: We originally ran small classified ads in guitar magazines and then began direct mailing from lists purchased from the magazines. At that time there was little or no competition.
Q: It seems like a big undertaking to have gotten this on the web in 1995. What made you think of doing it?
A: Interestingly, we had a guitar student who was also a computer science major and he originally got us on the internet very early in the game. Most people weren’t even using the internet at the time so we were a little ahead of ourselves, but the market soon caught up. Gail’s (Rich’s wife) brother was very computer savvy as well and in about 1996 he took over, and developed and ran our website for several years, selling our books, audio and video lessons. We have had to change with the technology, and in 2008 we started the 99centGuitarLessons.com website, which is all download video lessons with printable PDF music and Mp3 practice tracks.
Q: Have you always made a living with music?
A: Yes, I starting making money playing guitar and teaching at about 15 and have been fortunate enough to make a living at it since then.
Q: How long have you played the guitar; how did you get started?
A: I played piano from ages 5 to 10, and when I was 13, I started taking guitar lessons and got my first electric guitar and amp.
Q: What made you choose jazz guitar?
A: An older guitar player friend turned me on to jazz guitar. He played me a Tal Farlow record; I had never heard anything like that. He always wanted me to show him rock licks and then he’d show me a jazz lick. Then another friend gave me Wes Montgomery album which included the tune “Tear it Down.” I found the transcription in a Downbeat magazine, learned it and I was hooked on jazz from then on.
Q: Do you perform outside of our area?
A: Not much anymore. A few times a year we attend guitar shows and worship conferences that I play at. There just really isn’t a big market for jazz. I did some traveling when I was younger with the Dick Clark Oldies show playing fairs and events with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Anthony and many other great, old time rock and rollers.
Q: Do you play any other instruments?
A: Not really, as I said I played piano as a child and bass as a teenager but have stuck with the guitar since then.
Q: Are you secretly a member of a famous band and down-play yourself to avoid the Paparazzi?
A: Well I can’t tell you because you are the Paparazzi!