Guitarist Ed Gerhard takes his time to get it right

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Ed Gerhard says he usually ends up in an elaborate discussion when someone asks him what kind of music he plays.

"Finally they'll say something like, 'Is it like country?' And I'll go 'Yeah, yeah, it's like country!'"

Gerhard laughs.

Gerhard is an acoustic guitarist who happily lives without a genre.

"I'm not a new age guy. I'm not a folk guitar player. I'm not a blues guitar player. People don't know what to call it, so they kind of tend to leave me alone. My stuff is pretty straightforward. Nobody knows what to call it, but they know what it feels like when you're hearing it."

Over the course of Gerhard's long career he has released 10 albums, including the new "There and Gone."

"It always takes me a little too long to make records," says Gerhard. "I record digitally, but I don't like to put little nuggets together. I really like to do a single performance of this stuff. And the longer you play stuff the more it changes. You listen to something you recorded a year ago and you say 'Oh, man, it's so much better now!'"

He says some of the original songs took up to six years to finish composing.

"I threw multiple gigabytes of stuff away. It was a struggle, but I'm very happy with the results."

A native of Philadelphia, Gerhard says his first musical inspiration was probably hearing his dad play Bach on keyboards.

"I was really fascinated by harmony and he had such a sense of harmony and I recognized how harmonies made you feel differently. Then there was the first time I heard Segovia on television. That was the first time I'd heard guitar just all by itself and that just blew my mind. I felt something real deeply there."

Gerhard doesn't play pieces by Segovia or Bach, but he still feels that their influence is in his music.

Gerhard was 14 when he began playing guitar. Segovia was definitely an inspiration, but he also discovered the work of primitive-guitar revivalist John Fahey. Fahey often used nonstandard guitar tunings and Gerhard began experimenting with them as well. He was also drawn to fingerstyle blues master Mississippi John Hurt, whose easygoing style can also be heard in some of Gerhard's work.

He won acclaim in the mid-1980s and appeared on a sampler of great underheard guitarists issued by Windham Hill Records. It was through that disc that he met East Tennessean Bill Mize, who also appeared on the disc. The two loved each other's playing and became friends and occasionally played together. That led to a yearly Christmas concert at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, near Mize's Pittman Center home.

Gerhard says he still hears things from other players that inspire him.

"All the time. That'll never stop. People ask me sometimes 'If you could play like anybody who would you play like?' I like the way I play. I've worked my whole life on it and I wouldn't give that up for anything. But if I could play like anybody in addition to how I play it would probably be Jeff Beck. He's, to me, the most lyrical, expressive guy out there."

Like Beck, Gerhard is not as much about wowing his audience as playing what's right for the song.

"That's where it starts. Your commitment to it and your ability to make it personal. When I play a Beatles or Lennon tune I'm not trying to recreate the record or take a novelty style approach. I'm trying to make it personal. Of course I love all the weird psychedelic noises in Beatles tunes, but that's not what calls to me. It's the nature of the song."

While the music business has changed a lot in the past few years, Gerhard says his career really hasn't.

"The record business is, of course, on its way out, but I still sell the same amount of CDs that I've always sold. My audience is of that demographic that they still buy CDs and they'll put on a CD and listen to the whole thing. That means the world to me that people still listen to my stuff start to finish."

Ed Gerhard & Bill Mize

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg

Admission: $20

Guitarist Ed Gerhard says it's a great feeling to be comfortable enough as a guitarist to take chances:

"If you're curious, you will be rewarded. You stumble on the greatest stuff."

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