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Bill Frisell is an American guitarist and composer. One of the leading guitarists in jazz since the late '80s, Frisell's eclectic music touches on progressive folk, classical music, country music, noise[…]

An episode of the Mickey Mouse Club inspired Bill Frisell to build his first guitar out of cardboard and rubber bands.

Question: What were some of your early musical influences? 

Billrn Frisell: Nobody else in my family was a musician, but my parents rnloved music, my grandparents loved music. It was always around a little rnbit in my family... we had a record player. But I think just growing up rnduring that time in the ‘50s, as rock 'n' roll was starting to happen, Irn just sort of followed along with whatever was popular at the time. rnVery, very early on, I think I was four years old, or five years old rnwhen we first got a television, and I would watch the "Mickey Mouse rnClub" in the afternoon, and the leader of the Mouseketeers was this guy rnnamed Jimmy and he would play a guitar and I just thought that was rnreally cool. At that time I made myself a pretend guitar out of a piece rnof cardboard and rubber bands and somehow I just stuck with that my rnwhole life. You know. 

Question: What was your music rneducation like? 

Bill Frisell: Well, when I was in rnfourth grade, they would come around in the public schools and ask if rnanyone wanted to play an instrument, and at that time my father thought rnclarinet would be a good instrument. So, I started in the school music rnprogram playing clarinet, and then I got into this marching band and... rnlooking back on it, this fantastic teacher that led the marching band. rnAnd I also studied private with him. He was very strict, almost militaryrn kind of process I went through. I had to practice every day, and tap myrn foot in the right place, and you know, at the time it was kind of harshrn almost. 

I remember one time I was even crying at the end of onern of the lessons because I couldn’t do what he wanted me to do. But he rnjust kept on me and somehow I look back on that as being just so much ofrn the basis for what I do came from that. 

Question: rnWhat made you switch to guitar? 

Bill Frisell: A rnfriend of mine across the street had a guitar. There were guitars aroundrn at my friends' houses, and there was a friend of mine that lived acrossrn the street that was a little bit older than me that was... I really rnlooked up to this guy. He was kind of my hero from when I was maybe fivern years old. You know, I’d be in kindergarten and he’d be in second rngrade. So, anyway, he was the first one to get a real guitar and then rnhe started playing in a band and I would go sneaking around his house rnand looking in his window while they were practicing, and I just thoughtrn it was so cool. Then I’d get to play his guitar maybe a little bit, or rnanother friend had a guitar and I’d sort of mess around with it. I must rnhave been maybe 12 or 13, my parents got me just a $20 cheap guitar for rnChristmas. 

And I guess the point that I think where it really rnbegan was: I think I was 14 and I saved up money and bought an electric rnguitar. And I remember the day I told my mother I wanted to see all thisrn stuff in the ‘50’s, like hot rods and surfing and even though I lived rnin Colorado, I would by surf magazines and dinosaurs and outer space. I rnreally was into hot rods and I wanted to be a race car driver, and I hadrn a lawn mower engine that I would take apart and I had big plans to makern some sort of racing car. And then one day I thought, man, I think I rnwant to get a guitar instead of having this racing car. And I remember rnreally clearly one day coming home after school when I had made this rndecision and told my mother... I remember seeing her in the alleyway rnbehind our house and I said, “Mommy, I decided I don't want to be a racern car driver, I want to get an electric guitar.” And she said, "Oh this rnis wonderful!" She was so excited and relieved that I didn’t want to be arn race car driver.

So anyway, then I saved up my money and I got rnan electric guitar and at that time if you owned the instrument then yourn were automatically in a band. You didn’t really have to play. My friendrn got an electric guitar and then within a couple of weeks, we were rnplaying at parties on weekends. And it’s still kind of like that, that’srn my social... The music has been my whole social life. 
Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown