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Ric Molina's Mental Guitardation

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Rick Kelly’s Cowboy Esquire

Cindy Hulej's exquisite wood burning pine veneer pick guard made by Rick Kelly for "Virgil" the Bowery Pine Esquire

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Cindy Hulej's exquisite wood burning pine veneer pick guard made by Rick Kelly for "Virgil" the Bowery Pine Esquire

Cindy Hulej’s exquisite wood burning pine veneer pick guard made by Rick Kelly for “Virgil” the Bowery Pine Esquire

 

This is a Rick Kelly Bowery Pine guitar in an Esquire configuration.  It has a shallow rout for the Frailin pickup and a Glendale steel half sized tele bridge.  Rick originally made this with the wood from the Chelsea Hotel in NYC for the neck and the body is culled from A bar down the street on Carmine that houses the Blue Dog Cafe.  These timbers are over 200 years old and the imperfections are what give the guitar such character.  This bare bones build sports a body that’s about a quarter inch thicker than a standard Telecaster and the neck is a big DD size.  It’s a comfortable boat oar neck and the sound of this guitar is enormous.

The pick guard was inscribed by Cindy Hulej.  Cindy is a real talent.  She does exquisite wood burning and illustration work that has a very personal feel and yet remains universal.  It’s like you’ve always seen her work around and on close inspection it reveals how much she cares for the details of the image.  Her shading and design is always balanced and somehow she puts beauty and wonder into the image.  She’s the real deal and I’m honored to have a guitar with her workmanship on show right up front.

My buddy Bruce Katz took these pictures this morning as we had some cappuccinos from the Indian Road Cafe up here in Inwood.

His Bowery Tele is another example of Rick Kelly’s evolving craftsmanship, also a killer guitar with a very real beating heart.

 

Rick Kelly Bowery Pine Telecaster

Virgil (for Virgil Thompson who lived at the Chelsea Hotel) on the left, and Bruce’s Cowtipper on the right.

Hanging with Bruce Katz

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#FreeRange #Organic #GrassFed

#FreeRange #Organic #GrassFed

 

I spent the morning yesterday with my friend Bruce Katz who is a celebrated architectural photographer and telecaster player.  Bruce’s work can be found in museums and collections all around the world and he loves to talk about and play telecasters.

So we got a couple coffees at the Indian Road Cafe in Inwood and sat by the water with two Rick Kelly Bowery Pine guitars and played some blues while taking in the gorgeous view of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

Bruce took this shot of the newly built Esquire on the left and the Telecaster on the right.  Both guitars are made from wood taken from the renovation of the famous Chelsea Hotel here in NYC.  The history of that place is legendary and both guitars have a lot of NYC mojo which I prefer since I am a native son of Manhattan.

 

Rick Kelly is a very humble guy who builds one-of-a-kind guitars from the beams of NYC buildings.  He studied sculpture in Baltimore and has spent the last forty years building guitars for a lot of great players.  His shop, Carmine Street Guitars is a time capsule of old New York, particularly Greenwich Village as I remember it when I was growing up.

He’s a kind low-key fellow who rides a road bike every weekend for six hours to stay in shape and has built guitars for people like Bob Dylan, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Robert Quine, Lou Reed, Jim Campilongo, G.E.Smith, Patty Smith, Walter Becker, Marc Ribot, Bill Kirchen and a host of others. It’s a thrill to play one of these beautiful guitars.

The little amp there by the Spuyten Duyvil is an Allen Champ which is no longer made.  The cabinet was built by another good friend and guitar freak named Jim Chambers.  He’s a great guy who can’t stop building amps and playing guitars for his own enjoyment.  I call the amp “The Jim Woody” because he uses fine tone woods to build the cabinet and I think it makes the amp sing.  Jim has built a mini stack Princeton Reverb that I use as my main gigging amp.  Of all the amps I own that’s the one I grab all the time.

The Cure for Perfection

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I’m a perfectionist. That’s why I haven’t recorded scores of music, promoted myself and followed through over and over.
Don’t get me wrong, I have written a lot of music in the forty some odd years since I started doing it. Some of it I have recorded, arranged and listened to.

The thing is that it has never been as good as it’s *supposed to be.
For whatever reason I obsess over the qualities that define the music.
Since it’s always a foreign sound the moment it leaves my imagination and comes back to me from out of the guitar box or the amp or the piano, it’s my duty to strangle it until I hate it and put it away in the file marked *unfinished.

So I still do this to some extent in my mind.

I just don’t follow through with the assassination. Instead of killing it I’ve learned only to pay attention to the first few seconds of that elusive sound in my head.
Philip Glass calls it an “underground river.” Yeah, you put your ear to the ground and there’s a river under the house, gurgling ghostly melodies that only I can hear.

Once I grab the first few notes I forget that I’m a musician and I pick up a paint brush and I start working. Three colors and I’m good for a painting. No matter how bizarre or plain the image forms, I can always add white or black and build layers.

And now the trick is to know when it’s finished.

The answer is never.

So I stop the moment I find myself looking for the next part or imagining what it’s going to be like to play it live. As long as I forget who I am and what I’m doing, I’m good.
When I wake up, I stop.

Miles Davis said, “I’ll play it first then I’ll tell you what it is.”

I go back, figure out what I did then I devise a way to put a space in there for my band mates to give the music their spirit.

The cure for perfection is trusting where the music came from, building a little fire and stepping back while we all fan the flame.

PRACTICING IS LIFE

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Bird and Trane.

The thing that everyone said without a doubt is that those guys were always practicing.

Like an obsession.

BIRD STORY

When I was twenty I worked in a little music shop on Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C. called Ardis Music. I was a broke kid trying to play jazz and I found a situation where I earned some cash while practicing scales all day behind the cash register.

There was an older gentleman, this dude wore a suit and a hat every day, who used to come into the shop as part of his daily rounds. He would sit listening to me practice, sometimes requesting a standard and he’d give me a word or two of encouragement.

I don’t remember his name but I’ll never forget the day he casually told me he went to high school with Charlie Parker. The curious thing is that he said Bird cut school most of the time. In fact this guy would walk past an old building on the way to school and he’d hear Bird practicing in there while everyone else went to class. The thing that impressed me about the story was that at the end of the school day when this guy walked home he’d get to that building and Bird would still be in there playing the same riff!

Whether or not this guy was making this up, I never asked if he was from Kansas City, that was all I needed to hear. I took it as license to obsess, zen out, and get way into repetition.

TRANE TALE

Last year when we were recording @DREAMLAND we had a visit from the great pianist Warren Bernhardt. Our pianist Ted Baker and Warren go back many years and it was a real treat to sit and listen to these two great musicians exchanging stories.

Among a few yarns, Warren recounted a story about Miles Davis and his group, which included John Coltrane, playing a week’s engagement at a venue in upstate New York. Warren was playing in the band that shared the bill with Miles and he said the entire week whenever he saw Trane he was playing his horn.

In the bathroom he was playing sub tones between sets, in the green room, on his back, on the couch playing softly and surrounded by a small group of silent followers, students, disciples.

THE MISSION

The stories of Bird cutting school to play one riff for the entire day in an abandoned building or tales of Trane taking his horn into the bathroom on the gig between sets; these are stories that free us to be self indulgent – to dive in over our heads knowing that a lifetime of that kind of dedication will yield the highest reward.

The reward is finding yourself on the other side of your doubts or fears about who you are or not. In other words there will come a time when you may find yourself in a foreign land surrounded by a surprising landscape more inspiring than anything you ever could have imagined.

Just A Little Loving performed by Ted Greene

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I can’t get enough of Ted Greene playing solo guitar.

Here’s a gem that has been around for a while and it surprises me that nobody has taken the time to write out what he’s up to in this private party throwdown of the Dusty Springfield ballad Just A Little Lovin’ written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Ted spent most of his life writing down everything he discovered about music and considering that he spent ALL his time thinking of music it’s no surprise that he flicks this deep subtle arrangement off in front of some folks at a birthday party.  I don’t know if it was a request or part of his program but it certainly feels like he’s fielding fodder from the gallery and he spins a beautiful yarn on this dusty little jewel.

I posted this on the Ted Greene site and here’s the introduction along with the file.

In the old days we used to labor over the turntable, listening to half speed recordings, picking the needle up and dropping it when we learned a phrase by ear.

I still believe hard won battles are the best teachers.  The more you have to struggle to gain a foothold, the more solid that advancement becomes.  So this transcription goes only so far, the rest is up to the student’s desire to get as close to the rhythmic subtlety and soulful expression that Ted Greene provides us with in this video.  The more you get the performance in your ear the more Ted reveals his commitment to keeping the groove solid and although there are fascinating moments where he suspends the time, it reveals his lightning fast thought process and the seamless way he reharmonizes the tune to add variety and surprise.

Such displays are the things we live to experience and once again we have the opportunity to sit before a master who tosses off this complex harmonic yarn with beauty and grace, even finding the time to complement the host on his furniture.  Way to go Ted!

Download “Just A Little Loving”

Ted Greene’s Blues in Bb

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There’s a fascinating master class by the late great Ted Greene on YouTube. The astounding thing about Ted is that while he’s talking about music he’s usually noodling and this multitasking is most humbling considering the complexity of what he’s tossing off, always maintaining an impeccable groove.

This goes good with a cup of coffee and as always, every key and every possible string set…

I transcribed the swinging blues chorus that starts at 7:17.

You can watch the video here.

Download Blues in Bb

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This impromptu walking bass blues is a great study for filling in the chords under a melodic bass progression in the basic 12 bar blues style.

Ted begins with a D in the bass, the third of the tonic chord Bb9 as a spring board to a descending line.

The next chord movement to B7 is a common substitution for the one chord, known sometimes as a half step slip.  Many jazz players use this half step up or down device to add tension to a static harmonic event like four beats of the one chord.

On beat three he resolves back to the one chord and on beat four he anticipates the four chord (Eb9) with the same half step device, using E13 in this case.

Bar two is driven by the Eb7 arpeggio.  The melody notes are Bb, Eb, Db and Bb.  This spells out the Eb7 chord and he fills in the chord with the lower voices.  Notice how the lowest notes are descending in the same order as the melody notes.  This way Ted creates a shell that strongly states the four note chord across the whole bar.  In doing this he insures clarity of the intended chord and it gives him room to spice up the inner voices.  Many novice arrangers forget that the listener really only hears the highest and lowest notes of a chord and rather “feels” the inner voices.

Bar three uses the upper Bb note to contrast the movement of the I IV I IV progression contained within this bar.  In the transcription I called beat three an Ab6/9 chord but its function is actually as a Bb5 chord with the seventh (Ab) in the bass.  This is such a cool sound, like a bar band blues or an organ trio sound.

Bar four is a walkup to the IV chord but it begins on the fifth (F) of the tonic chord and resolves on the fifth (Bb) of the IV chord(!)  Here Ted is showing us the relationship between the tonic and the fifth and how often they are interchangeable.  This is the concept of “secondary dominants” or “five of five” in action.

Bars five and six are repeats of bar two, outlining the IV chord with the variation of adding the upper Bb note on beat one of bar 6.

Bar seven is back to the I chord with a common device.  The bass plays the tonic and walks up chromatically between II and III.  The first beat is a root position chord.  The target at beat three is a Bb chord with the third in the bass so he picks up that inversion at beat two by playing an Ab7 chord in the first inversion and slides it up in half steps.  Joe Pass employed this device all the time.

Beat four uses the half step slip again this time approaching the tonic from below.

Bar 8 is very cool.  The form traditionally has the I chord on this beat but Ted is already moving to the VI chord that will appear on beat three so he gives you the five of the Ab7#5 chord that appears on beat two.  He’s setting up the passing chord (Ab7) that will slip down to the VI chord (G7) by playing the Eb chord.  This is an example of how far in advance his mind worked.  Most players would play the I then move down to the VI but the subtlety of this move is what set Mr. Greene apart from the average player.  His depth is truly remarkable.

Bar nine is where he creates tension in what would normally be a simple ii V progression.  Here he not only plays the II with a MAJOR third but he sets up a melodic motif between the Db note and the D natural.  This is the b9 of the C7 chord resolving to the natural nine.

As if that were not enough, on beat three he introduces the secondary dominant of the C9 chord he’s fiddling with.  This F#7 chord (a tritone away) wants to go down to F and before it does, Ted gives you the traditional ii chord (with a MINOR third) on beat four, Cm7; but not without continuing the little melody he started. Look at beat 1 of the next bar.  The second eighth note and beat two continue the motif with the Db now as a C note moving to the D.  Beautiful.

Beats three and four of bar ten provide a strong melodic cadence and resolves in a no nonsense Bb5 chord at the start of bar eleven.  I can’t help but think of all that Baroque improvising Ted used to do. When it comes time to really spell out the end of a phrase Ted gives us the strongest simplest resolution, root, fifth, root.  A power chord.

On the second beat he’s already on the turnaround and he sets up the VI chord directly this time with D7#9, the root of which also happens to be the third of Bb7.  It’s common to hold the I chord for two beats in this bar of the blues form but Ted chooses to add color and lead the listener to the VI chord while still preserving the Bb arpeggio in the bass motion.

The rest of this bar along with the last is my own invention.  I was having trouble hearing the actual notes so I took the liberty of closing down the turn by echoing the melody that appears on beat four of bar ten leading to the II7 arpeggio of a C9 chord and lastly the V7 with a #5 (or b13.)

There’s no shortage of praise for Ted Greene’s staggering virtuosity.  It is a blessing that these precious examples of his work are available to us and to generations to come.  It is my belief that he was one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived.  This is magnified by his selfless dedication to illuminate the beautiful mysteries of music on the guitar.

The making of ProChannel from @Dreamland

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This is how Prochannel came about.

The tune began as I was goofing around with my EH POG pedal which is pictured below with a POCsticker across it.

I was playing my Bowery Pine Tele which was lovingly crafted from the support beams of the Chelsea Hotel renovation by the great semi-unknown luthier Rick Kelly.

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I iPhoned this riff in an email to myself so I wouldn’t forget it…  

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I developed the habit of recording anything remotely interesting and then forgetting about it.  Those were the days of tape and I had so many unmarked cassettes lying around that I put them in a couple of shoeboxes until the technology becameobsolete.  Good move.

Luckily there’s the iPhone and a million recording apps…

I brought the line to the band and they pounced on it but with no melody or changes it got boring so I went home and wrote a sax line and began developing the chords that were implied by the line.  

After a while I had an intro and a lot of music written so I recoorded a demo with midi sax to torment Samir Zarif with.  The rest of the tune appears as Prochannel_Part_2.

You can listen to the midi demo by clicking on the link below 

Download ProChannel_click

These are the scores to the intro and the body of the tune as we rehearsed it first.

Download ProChannel_intro

Download ProChannel_Part_2

That was cool but when we got to the studio the band had stripped it down and beefed it up so it got raw and a lot more fun to play.

Until next time, “what if I play it backwards, down the octave?”

Zen is the teacher, guitar is the preacher

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Bill Murphy – contributor to Time Out NY

If you’ve ever stumbled into a crowded Bleecker Street nightclub, then you already know the deal: New York City’s music scene is an ultra-competitive hotbed of gifted prodigies, unsung heroes and secret weapons. Ric Molina embodies elements of all three, but as a true musician’s musician, he’s never been about ego-tripping or showboating—why cop an attitude when it’s so much easier, if you’ve paid your dues and put in the work, to just lay back and let your music do the talking? (Or as Frank Zappa more famously said it: just shut up ‘n play yer guitar.)

Molina has made a lifelong quest out of being open-minded and versatile when it comes to music, morphing his way through multiple styles to create his own unique signature as a guitarist, composer and topflight producer. At 17, he hit the road with a Top 40 cover band, banging out learned-by-ear riffs and solos—as only a true fan of the instrument could do it—from the hits of the day by Steely Dan, David Bowie, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. He honed his chops under the wings of such jazz heavies as Lee Konitz, Joe Pass, Pat Martino and John Abercrombie, and he studied with Dr. Asher Zlotnik at the Peabody Conservatory in Washington, D.C. He’s shredded the lead guitar role in The Who’s Tommy, with Pete Townshend himself watching from the wings and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro in the audience. He’s toured the world and played packed stadiums as the guitarist and musical director for the pop/R&B boy band juggernaut 98 Degrees, and he’s worked with everyone from Mariah Carey to Roger Miller.

And those are just the broad strokes. Since 2004, Molina has held the first guitar chair for Stephen Schwartz’s hit musical Wicked—not only one of the most technically demanding shows on Broadway, but along with The Lion King, Saturday Night Live and Late Show with David Letterman, it’s also one of the most coveted and exclusive musician’s gigs on the east coast. But no matter how high-profile the work might get (and there’s much more—read on), Molina goes out of his way to stress the importance of staying focused on improving his craft. Basically, you can’t move forward as an artist if you’re not willing to throw yourself into a constant cycle of learning.

“I never wanted to commit to a style or an era or a genre,” he explains. “In a way it’s like being a chameleon, to have enough mystery to where I can be painted in any color—to be pliable, to be like water, to be available at any level anywhere, behind the scenes or with a guitar in my hand. It doesn’t matter. It’s more about fluidity, and my concerns are to connect with the deepest part of one’s humanity—the part of music that heals, and the thing that needs healing.”

Sure, it sounds a lot like zen philosophy, and it’s likely Molina will cop to an intuitive connection, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s often a certain synaesthesia—a rewiring of the senses—that comes with creativity, where sounds can be seen and colors can be heard. For Molina, that heightened sensitivity manifested itself at an early age. “My dad took me to see Guernica when it was in New York,” he recalls. “It was on the third floor at the Museum of Modern Art. We walked up through this back entrance, and when he opened the door, the first thing I saw was this enormous painting. And I actually heard music—the sirens, the bell, the horse—all the sounds. The room was filled with this very modern, clashing kind of music. That’s when I remember thinking that I wanted to put music to pictures.”

Molina isn’t the first to claim Picasso as an influence, but over the years, he has managed to fold his childhood epiphany into his music in ways that paint an inspiring picture all its own. It started, of course, with jazz. While in college in Miami, he studied with local legend Del Staton and gigged with numerous ensembles, which opened him up to the wonders of improvisation. In search of edgier surroundings, he began a gradual migration north—first to Washington, D.C., where he lived with jazz guitarist Paul Bollenback and continued his music studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. He played without a net in front of hard-to-please audiences in the city’s Anacostia neighborhood, and won acceptance into a tight circle of talented artists that included Marshall Keys, James King, Charlie Young, Cheney Thomas and Curtis Lundy.

“One day, I went to Shirley Horn’s house with Paul and a bunch of these guys,” Molina recalls. “It was her birthday, and it turned into a gathering of these great jazz players. I was just a greenhorn, so I was hanging out in the kitchen, and she came in and took me aside and said to me, ‘You know, those guys in there, they talk a lot, but you’ve got something. I can see something in you.’ In a way, she was giving me this benediction.”

Molina took Horn’s encouraging words to heart. Before the year was out, he was back in New York and co-founded Current Events, a progressive fusion group, with keyboardist Darrell Grant, bassist Fima Ephron and drummer Kevin Clark. Their self-titled debut, produced by Onaje Allan Gumbs and released by Verve Forecast, won them the notoriety and excitement usually reserved for hungry young rebels on the jazz scene, but executive shake-ups at Verve quickly dimmed the possibility of a second album.

Undeterred, Molina threw himself into expanding his repertoire and transcribing professionally to pay the bills. He churned out a series of songbooks covering the music of Tom Petty, ZZ Top, Albert Lee, Alan Holdsworth and more, eventually reaching a point where he could fill a blank staff with sounds and rhythms of cars passing in the street. By the time he auditioned for the lead guitar role in the first national touring company of The Who’s Tommy, which opened on Broadway in 1993, Molina was practically a shoe-in based on his natural command of the book alone. 

“I think I really got the gig because I was the only one who brought an 8-by-10,” he jokes. “But getting the chance to hang out with Pete Townshend and do things that I’d never done before—that was awesome.” Opening night at the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. was especially memorable. “We’d just finished ‘Acid Queen,’ and Scott Totten, who went on to join the Beach Boys, was playing the acoustic intro for ‘Pinball Wizard,’ and I was getting ready to play “the note.” Out of the corner of my eye, through this open doorway, I see Pete bent over to listen, and he straightens up really quick and backs off. I guess he didn’t want to freak me out, but it’s indelibly etched in my memory, because at that moment, everything came together. I just felt a responsibility, and a rush of understanding about the significance of what I was doing. I really went gangbusters into writing music after that. It all just exploded.”

Jazz had been a guiding force, but now everything was up for grabs. Molina continued to hone his chops as a composer, recording and mixing his own songs whenever he had time away from the road. Of course, his growing visibility as an ace guitarist meant the road kept calling him back. During a short tour with R&B singer Kelly Price, her drummer Gerald Heyward recommended Molina for the lead guitar spot with 98 Degrees—at the time one of Motown’s frontline acts, with a debut album, 98 Degrees and Rising, that had quickly gone multi-platinum. Suddenly Molina was thrust onto an international stage, and for the next two years, he ate, slept and breathed the life of an arena-style axe-slinger.

“Here I was, 40 years old, and I was playing for 70,000 people at Dodger Stadium and seeing myself on jumbotrons, with girls throwing themselves at the band—it was this whole bizarre thing. I did have moments where I must have had a look on my face like, ‘God, that poor girl is suffering.’ I guess it was the father in me.”

It was a wild ride, but it pulled back the curtain on a seldom-seen side of the business of music, and gave Molina a new perspective on the amount of raw courage and commitment it takes to be a hired gun in the music profession. From there, it was back to Bleecker Street, where he gigged hard, fast and furious for a year with a number of different groups, sometimes five nights a week until the wee hours of the morning. He also did a six-week stand just north of the city with a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, reinterpreting the book in marauding metal fashion at the encouragement of musical director Steven Oremus, who gave him free rein to go ballistic.

“Some people came up and said, ‘If Andrew Lloyd Webber heard what you guys are doing, he’d close the show,’” Molina laughs. “But it was a lot of fun, and it ended up creating a real opportunity for me.” Shortly after the production completed its run, Oremus teamed up with lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz, who was preparing to debut Wicked on Broadway and needed a guitarist. Oremus suggested Molina on the spot.

Thanks in part to Wicked’s breakout success, Molina soon became one of the in-demand guitarists in New York, and it’s been that way ever since. When PBS revived the popular kids show “The Electric Company” in 2009, Molina came on board as house guitarist, and composed and recorded underscores for hundreds of cues and special segments; that has led to more score and session work with a growing list of clients. He’s also coming into his own as a producer, collaborating with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Bit Chambers (a future Berklee grad and already a seasoned voice in the range of Beth Gibbons or Norah Jones) on a richly textured album that channels folk, jazz, classical and rock influences with a natural ease.

With the hard work and success comes respect, and Molina has certainly won that not only from his peers, but from instrument makers and innovators too. Classical guitarist Michael Lorimer helped recruit world famous Brazilian luthier Sergio Abreau to design and build a classical guitar to Molina’s specifications; meanwhile, local guitar builder Rick Kelly at Carmine Street Guitars has crafted a “real New York guitar” for Molina, made from a combination of aged woods salvaged from the Chelsea Hotel and the Bowery loft of film director Jim Jarmusch. 

Most recently, Molina has signed on as a sponsor for the EverTune guitar bridge, placing him in the elite company of such guitar heroes as Wayne Kramer, Scott Ian, Lyle Workman and more. As a guy who grew up with his own pantheon of heroes—one that includes everyone from Django Reinhardt to Jimi Hendrix to Pat Martino—Molina is humbled by the recognition, but he’s quick to point out that discipline, guidance and a little luck are the most important forces at play in any musician’s career trajectory.

“To be honest, I’ve never really had much desire to do the self-hyping game,” he says, “so I just tend to go with the face value of what I can do. The best way to experience my music is to see the video or the performance, or listen to the record. I’ve actually been working and toiling professionally since I was 13, so I’ve been doing a pretty good forty years of hittin’ it. And I’ve worked really hard. Not only did I play a billion gigs that didn’t pay money and some that did, but I’ve also studied with Juilliard fellows in composition and some great mentors who led me along the path. The fact is I do what I do, I get calls to do it, and I’ve got one of the best gigs in New York City. As a musician, that’s all that matters to me.”