Guitar Solos is the debut solo album of English guitarist, composer, and improviser Fred Frith. It was recorded while Frith was still a member of the English experimental rock group Henry Cow and was released in the United Kingdom on LP record by Caroline Records in October 1974. The album comprises eight tracks of unaccompanied and improvised music played on prepared guitars by Frith without any overdubbing.
Guitar Solos was voted one of the best albums of 1974 by NME critics. AllMusic called it a landmark album because of its innovative and experimental approach to guitar playing. It also attracted the attention of Brian Eno, resulting in Frith's playing guitar on two of Eno's albums, and spawned two follow-up albums, Guitar Solos 2 (1976) and Guitar Solos 3 (1979). Guitar Solos was remastered and released on CD on Frith's own record label, Fred Records, in 2002.
Fred Frith was a classically-trained violinist who turned to playing blues guitar while still at school. In 1967 he went to Cambridge University where he and fellow student, Tim Hodgkinson formed Henry Cow. While at University, Frith read John Cage's Silence: Lectures and Writings, which changed his attitude to music completely. He realised that "sound, in and of itself, can be as important as … melody and harmony and rhythm." This changed his approach to the guitar, "just to see what I could get out of it", and initiated a long period of experimentation that continued throughout Frith's musical career.
While the music of Henry Cow was highly orchestrated and structured, Frith also began to experiment with unstructured music, using prepared instruments and chance composition. In June 1974, after the release of Henry Cow's second album, Virgin Records (Henry Cow's record label) commissioned a solo record from Frith. They were impressed with his musical ability and gave him free rein to record whatever he wanted. In a 2001 radio interview, Frith said he used the opportunity as a challenge: "I said to myself … in two weeks time I'm going to go into the studio and I have no idea what I'm going to do and I'm going to kind of reinvent the instrument for myself." Frith spent four days in July 1974 recording at the Kaleidophon Studios in London, and the resulting experimentation and the process of galvanisation and pressure led to the "radical approach to the guitar" on the album. In October 1974, Virgin released the album as Guitar Solos on their budget label, Caroline Records.
Frith recorded the album at David Vorhaus's Kaleidophon Studios in London on 11–13 and 15 July 1974, where he played a modified 1936 Gibson K-11. He added an extra pickup over the strings at the nut, enabling him to amplify sound from both sides of the fretted note. He then split the fretboard in two with a capo, effectively giving him two guitars, each amplified separately that he could play independently with each hand. To split the sounds further he attached alligator clips at various positions on the strings. The net result was a guitar with multiple sound sources that could be channelled to a mixer and distributed across the stereo soundscape.
The album was recorded in four days without any overdubbing. All the pieces were improvised, some completely, some to a roughly preconceived idea, and sound as they were played, except for "No Birds", which was recorded in two parts, and "Not Forgotten", from which two notes were removed. The only sounds not produced 'naturally' by guitar are those of a fuzzbox used on "Out of Their Heads (On Locoweed)", "Heat c/w Moment" and "No Birds", an echo delay used on "No Birds", and ambient noise from Frith's breath and feet on "Heat c/w Moment"
On the longest track on the album, "No Birds", Frith played on two prepared guitars simultaneously, creating the timbre and range of an orchestra. He laid the two guitars flat on a table, neck to neck with the bodies of the guitars at opposite ends and the necks parallel to each other. He tuned the strings on both guitars to one note, and because they were stereo guitars with nut pickups, he had six separate sound sources coming from each guitar. Using volume pedals on some of the sound sources, he filtered sounds in and out of the mix without doing anything on the guitars.
Reception and influence
Guitar Solos was voted one of the best albums of 1974 by NME critics. Sean Westergaard of AllMusic called Guitar Solos a landmark album because of its innovative and experimental approach to guitar playing. Radio journalist Chris Comer said it was a "ground breaking guitar improvisation record." In the January 1983 edition of DownBeat magazine, Bill Milkowski wrote that on Guitar Solos "Frith unveiled a haunting collection of improvised music on prepared guitar which must have stunned listeners of the day. Even today that album stands up as uniquely innovative and undeniably daring." The album also attracted the attention of Brian Eno who was "excited by the timbral possibilities that been discovering." Eno asked Frith to record with him, and this resulted in Frith playing guitar on two of Eno's albums, Before and After Science (1977) and Music for Films (1978).
The table-top guitar setup Frith used on this album became a standard for many of his subsequent live solo performances, including those recorded on his 1982 live double album Live in Japan. He later extended his technique to include "found objects", which he used on his guitars to extract new sounds.
The success of Guitar Solos spawned two follow-up albums, Guitar Solos 2 (1976) and Guitar Solos 3 (1979), which featured Frith and other improvising guitarists, including Derek Bailey and Hans Reichel. Frith coordinated and produced these albums, and employed many of the same "unorthodox techniques" he had used on Guitar Solos. When a remastered edition of the original Guitar Solos was released 28 years later on Frith's own Fred Records label, it attracted further praise from critics. Westergaard wrote that "Guitar Solos' lasting legacy is that it radically redefined the way some people think about the guitar."
In 1991 RecRec Music (Switzerland) and East Side Digital Records (United States) re-issued Guitar Solos on CD comprising all the tracks from the original Guitar Solos LP, plus the Fred Frith tracks from the follow-up albums, Guitar Solos 2 and Guitar Solos 3, along with five previously unreleased tracks by Frith.
In 2002 Fred Records issued a remastered version of the original Guitar Solos LP with no extra tracks.
All tracks written by Fred Frith.
Original 1974 release
No. Title Length
1. "Hello Music" 1:30
2. "Glass c/w Steel" 5:33
3. "Ghosts" 3:07
4. "Out of Their Heads (On Locoweed)" 8:24
No. Title Length
5. "Not Forgotten" 1:42
6. "Hollow Music" 2:38
7. "Heat c/w Moment" 1:37
8. "No Birds"
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