THE WATER IS WIDE
TRADITIONAL, ARRANGED BY ED GERHARD
‘Everything’s permissible if it results in something good.”
That’s how guitarist-composer Ed Gerhard explains his musical philosophy. “I think [we] guitar players and instructors have really done ourselves a disservice by imposing a lot of rules. If the result is good then it shouldn’t matter how we got there.
“The less we expect from music,” Gerhard continues, “and the more we try to perceive what’s there, the more of that magic and mystery we find. If we’re expecting something to be a certain way and it’s not, we tend to get disappointed. When in fact something truly awesome could be going on, we tend to ignore it because we’re paying more attention to our own opinions.” This simple and effective approach and attitude certainly have worked well for the 39-year-old musician, whose recordings and live performances have established him as one of the most exciting of the current crop of guitarist-composers, and whose new CD Count the Ways-a collection of love songs-includes this beautiful arrangement of “The Water Is Wide.”
Gerhard was born outside of Philadelphia and developed an interest in guitar playing as a young teenager after hearing Andres Segovia. But he couldn’t relate to the traditional method of learning guitar. He recalls, “I really had an ear for learning how to play classically, but I couldn’t find any good instruction. It was a real formal approach to learning guitar; it was all work.”
Luckily Gerhard found other inspiration. “Very shortly after I started playing guitar-within a week-I started hearing Mississippi John Hurt, [John] Fahey, and some really cool folk and blues stuff, and that got me off the classical thing right away,” he recalls. “This stuff was fun to play, and you didn’t need to know how to read those little notes to play it.”
Soon Gerhard was deeply involved in learning these styles, even though, as he remembers, “I was the only kid around who was into most of this stuff. I couldn’t talk to anybody else about it.” He turned to other outlets. “Gene Shay was doing a late Sunday night radio show on WMMR. He was real crucial in my hearing stuff for the first time. I didn’t hear guys like Robert Johnson except on his show. And the first time I ever heard Django Reinhardt was on his show.”
During the ’70s, Gerhard began to play guitar on stage. He dabbled briefly with different genres but “wasn’t particularly a good songwriter, wasn’t a convincing blues person, and was never too much into the band thing.” Soon “everything else just fell away” and Gerhard settled into performing as a guitarist-composer, looking to Fahey as “one of the few guys who was playing solo guitar. He was an influence,” says Gerhard, “and later he became an inspiration.”
After graduating from high school in 1974, Gerhard committed himself to the life of a professional musician. Soon he moved to New Hampshire and began to build up a reputation in New England.
In 1987 Gerhard released his first LP, Night Birds, a collection of guitar solos, duets, and ensemble pieces that the Boston Globe selected as one of the top ten albums of the year. At the same time, Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records got in touch. Gerhard remembers that Ackerman had heard an advance cassette of my Night Birds album and really liked the third movement of the suite. He called up and asked if I could rewrite that into a longer piece. He was looking for something that was about four minutes long, and as it stood on my album it was about a minute, forty-five. So I basically took the tune apart and rewrote it with an extended middle section. He liked it and flew out to Boston, and we recorded it.” As a result, Gerhard was included on The Windham Hill Guitar Sampler, the now-legendary 1988 album that featured so many excellent guitarists and continues to influence a new generation of up-and-comers. His momentum continued as he began to tour nationally, often opening for well-known acts in large halls. In 1990 he rereleased Night Birds on CD, which was followed in 1991 with the lovely CD Christmas, and in 1993 with Luna, another highly acclaimed CD of mostly guitar solos.
Along the way, Gerhard has become a favorite of audiophiles as well as guitar fanatics for the fabulous tone he has achieved on his recordings, released on his own Virtue Records
(PO Box 532, Newmarket, NH 03857;  332-0001). In an ad for its 12-channel mixer, Mackie Designs mentions Gerhard’s Luna as “a very impressive current example of just how good the MS1202’s mic preamps sound,” and Neumann has given away copies of the same CD at trade shows to show off its recording microphones.
Concerning recording technology, Gerhard comments, “To me it’s just a way to get the job done and get my work out there, but I do love all the toys.” He adds, “As long as I’m hearing something that I really like, I don’t care if it sounds artificial or if it sounds real, as long as it sounds good. There are a million ways to record a guitar. I hope I live long enough to try them all.” Gerhard’s latest CD, Counting the Ways, features some duets with other well known guitarists alongside solo pieces like “The Water Is Wide.” “I’m really having a great time working with guys like [Bob] Brozman, Martin Simpson, and Arlo [Guthrie],” says Gerhard. “There’s a lot of give and take in the playing.”
In the future, Gerhard plans to get more into slide guitar and dueting with other guitarists. “I try to keep my ears open for everything,” he says. “I really like melody, and I like the structure to sort of tell part of the story of a piece of music. So I try to use those two things to say what I want to say.”
Ed Gerhard recorded “The Water Is Wide” in dropped-D tuning (DAD G BE) with a capo at the third fret. He always tunes his guitar down a half step, so you’ll need to do the same or place a capo at the second fret to play along with the recording. The arrangement is sparse and subtle with a few surprises, such as the A7sus4jm in measure 7 and the C/D in measure 19, which add tension and drama. It is played mostly in first position and offers few technical difficulties, so you can focus your attention on infusing the melody with emotion and tone. Gerhard begins with a brief, syncopated introduction and sidles into the main melody in bar 9. Throughout, he anticipates many melody notes on the upbeat leading into the next measure.
To create a sense of depth and allow the melody to intensify as the song progresses, Gerhard suggests backing off on the accompaniment rather than playing the melody harder. “Each verse should build dynamically and convey a sense of drama and deepening conviction,” he says.
“Begin by playing the melody quietly and with restraint so you have somewhere to go dynamically.”