The name Jimmy Ryan will be familiar to those that have followed his career — both as a groundbreaking guitar technician, composer, solo artist and co-founder of the legendary jazz-rock fusion band The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers. With four solo albums and upwards of a dozen albums with The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers, Truth Squad and various other releases and session work, Jimmy has scaled the heights of the guitar summit, providing us with his unforgettable guitar melodies filled with powerful arrangements and studio wizardry.
Jimmy’s 2021 solo album Astral Café is still gaining glowing accolades, while a children’s picture book co-written by Jimmy and illustrated by his daughter Julie Ann Voigt called The Raindrop and The Bubble also came out in 2021. With 11 instrumental fusion arrangements, Astral Café is still being called the finest solo work by Jimmy and while he claims his future music will be digital, the CD artwork of Astral Café surely deserves a Grammy.
Despite the all the recent highlights of his musical output, life hasn’t been all that easy on Planet Earth these past couple years, making Jimmy yet another Earthling that has weathered the storm. Mercifully, an attack by the Covid virus that he overcame while dealing with cancer this past couple years has not diminished his talent one iota — if anything he’s more discerning now than ever.
As a way to compliment his more electrifying jazz-rock fusion sound and a way find solace in the face of his recent life challenges, Jimmy has released another heaven-sent album in mid-2022. Entitled The Healing Guitar, Jimmy’s new, 5-track, 51-minute album was released on CD by the Chicago-based Salvatori Productions.
For the release of The Healing Guitar, guitarist, producer and recording artist Tom Salvatori has brought together five guitar instrumental tracks recorded by Jimmy and his long time drummer & co-producer Dan Van Schindel and has connected them together in two distinctive sonic settings.
Leading off with four ‘New Age Meets Progressive’ instrumental tracks featuring Jimmy and Dan, The Healing Guitar features as its centerpiece a fifth track called “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite”, which as the album’s showpiece, clocks in at 28:33.
The lengthy “Nature Suite”, with five tracks merging into each other, includes the same four tracks played by Jimmy and Dan, plus a recently uncovered bonus track entitled “Continuum”. In creating “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite”, Tom Salvatori has mixed them together as part of 28+ minute piece of continuous music, complete with ambient nature sounds such as wild birds, ocean sounds, playground sounds, rainstorms and even crickets. Merging these five tracks seamlessly into one nearly 29-minute piece of music is a feat of conceptual and engineering brilliance. The first four tracks, preceding the “Nature Suite”, presents Jimmy and Dan in a very reflective and supremely relaxed setting.
The concept of The Healing Guitar is quite commendable, both as an immersive instrumental guitar experience as well as a salute to the healing powers of the guitar. In the face of his recent health struggles, Jimmy Ryan truly rises to the occasion on The Healing Guitar, with its many melodic inventions, superb guitar feel, inventive drumming and percussion by Dan Van Schindel and inspired production work by Tom Salvatori.
Shining a light on Jimmy Ryan’s ever-evolving compositional genius and guitar expertise, The Healing Guitar is an enlightening, invigorating and inspirational musical experience from guitar virtuoso Jimmy Ryan.
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: You’ve been doing a lot of traveling between Illinois and Wisconsin this summer. Tell us about your recent travels and also how your health is. You have cancer and have suffered from the Covid virus recently. How is everything with your health and your family?
Jimmy Ryan: We have a lake house on Dutch Hollow Lake, west of the Wisconsin "Dells" area. My parents built it in 1971, when I was just a teenager. Since then, my wife and I, my kids and their kids have spent a lot of time up there. My grandkids are the 4th generation up there, so there’s a lot of memories, legacy and heritage in that place.
My wife and I both got Covid and it really kicked our ass pretty hard, but since we were double-vaxxed and boostered we came through it okay.
I have prostate cancer, and currently it’s under control. I take my meds, I had a procedure last year to unclog the plumbing, per se, and keep a very close watch on it… if you’re over 65, there’s about a 50/50 chance you’ll be diagnosed with it. I’ve accepted it, I live with it and I’ll keep on doing what I do. In a visceral sense, it’s reaffirmed the value of living as full and rich a life as I can, and that includes the need to continue to create.
mwe3: You told me you originally recorded the tracks on what has now turned out to be the 2022 CD release of The Healing Guitar as TV music and soundtrack music, yet here we are writing about this same music as a tribute to both your guitar playing and songwriting as well as a testament to your ability to bounce back from illness, hence the healing part. Did you sense the healing nature of this music when you were writing it or was it coming from another side and what do you think about the overall concept of the guitar and guitar music as a healing force, not only in your life but in the lives of so many human beings? Can you compare The Healing Guitar to Astral Café or any of your earlier works, as your albums are usually quite rocked out.
Jimmy Ryan: I’ve always appreciated the calming nature of more open, contemplative compositions and was drawn to the idea of writing pieces that came from that place. I didn’t consider the potential healing force embodied in any of them directly at the time, as I wrote them before my cancer diagnosis.
My wife Katie had a bad bout of sciatica a while back and was stuck in bed for a while; I loaded these tracks into the iPhone and gave them to her to listen to. They definitely helped her through that, and I was really happy and quite surprised at the positive and therapeutic effect they had. That’s when I felt there was something special going on regarding the healing qualities in the contemplative genre in general and these tracks in particular.
Even though I play guitar-based music, the instrumentation is secondary to the vibe and flow of the style.
On every record I’ve ever done, there’s always been mellower tracks included, but not what I’d consider primarily meditative or considered to have healing properties. This is my first foray into that idiom.
mwe3: When were the tracks on The Healing Guitar written and recorded? Also tell us about working with your long time drummer and co-producer Dan Van Schindel on these recordings.
Jimmy Ryan: The original inspiration for these tracks go back to 2017. I was at a friend’s house that had a natural stream flowing through the back yard, and mentioned how mellow it was and suggested he throw a couple of mics on it and record it. He did exactly that and sent it off to me.
Dan and I were doing our TV sync work at the time, and I wrote 5 pieces over the next year and recorded them during those sessions. We’d dim the studio lights, crank up the water sounds and went at it. Also, I was playing guitar for a pretty large contemporary church at the time and got into the use of pads and ethereal soundscaping. I incorporated those into these compositions – my Axe-FX has a slew of very cool ambient patches that fit the mood of these pieces perfectly. Dan added drums and percussion, and as usual, his fabulous musicianship and sense of proportion took them to another level.
mwe3: What did you think about Tom Salvatori and his label releasing The Healing Guitar on CD? After Tom asked me to send him the music I was raving about, he must have put two and two together and thought this music had healing qualities; a tribute to the transcendent qualities of this music.
Jimmy Ryan: I am elated, grateful, humbled and couldn’t be happier with how this all came together. Tom is a fabulous person, passionate in his vision and committed to his craft. If everything in this world was as pleasant as working with Tom, we’d all be living in a paradise… fantastic… I am so happy and lucky to have you put me and Dan together with Tom at Salvatori Productions.
mwe3: The Healing Guitar album starts off with a track called “Walden”. Walden was a book written by Thoreau in 1854. It’s been said that book referred to an “experiment in transcendental pastoralism”. That sounds about right to me!
Jimmy Ryan: Now that’s something… I’ve never heard that phrase before. That’s a mouthful and a great encapsulation. This entire project is an experiment in transcendental pastoralism! Regarding the title of this one, and all the others as well, once the tracks were finished and I gave them a listen... the mood I was feeling during the listen evoked the title. I didn’t overthink it and just sort of let it happen.
mwe3: Track 2, “Twilight” has an ethereal feel to it and Dan’s drumming really kind of punctuates the vibe. Are there different parts to that track? The part where the guitar is double-tracked in the latter half has a unique cascading effect. It also has a kind of Christmas-like vibe to it.
Jimmy Ryan: I agree. It’s got a bit of a hypnotic effect that creates an atmosphere that’s palpable. When I listened to it, when it was finished, the sun was going down, and in that moment it just felt right; a perfect musical accompaniment to the end the day. The part you’re referring to was a question and answer counterpoint at the beginning of the end section that comes together as a harmony lead at the very end.
mwe3: I saw the video that Dave Snoble from PMMG did for “Alphaville”. Is that track specifically meant to put the listener in a kind of blissful state of being? There’s a 1965 Jean-Luc Godard movie of the same name, and the term was written up as meaning: “Alphaville is less about what the world will be like tomorrow than what it is like today and what it is gradually becoming before our very eyes without our realizing it.”
Jimmy Ryan: Wow… I never heard of the movie, but that definition is awesome! That perfectly describes what I would like this piece to stand for. All the wonders we seek are right before us if only we would bother to look. This was the first song we recorded, and it really sets the pace for everything that came after. Dan’s understated percussion work is transcendent and fits the song like a glove. He did a masterful job on everything.
mwe3: Track 4 “Equinox” conjures so many images in my mind. It has a Celtic kind of melody and sound. As a part of “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite” it’s accompanied by kids playing on the beach that really evokes the fun and innocence of being a child.
Jimmy Ryan: The title represents a balance between opposites; between darkness and light, life and death, and by extension, youth and old age. When I first heard the “Nature Suite”, with the sound of the kids, it brought a tear to my eye. The combination of those two aspects created a deeply powerful emotional response from me. Tom did a masterful job of combining the right music over the right soundbed to create an effect that goes beyond the sum of its sonic parts, creating an exponential emotional synergy, if you will.
This one does have some Celtic DNA in it. Not to sound overly simplistic, but all I did on these pieces was extend the parts by slowing them all down and spreading them all out. A lot of long tones, a lot of holds. If you take the melody on this one and speed it up about 400%, you’ll have yourself an Irish jig!
mwe3: What did you think of the way Tom Salvatori reworked the first four pieces with you and Dan, adding in the bonus track “Continuum”, on “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite”, which he compiled and reworked as a single 28+ minute track. You told me when you first heard it, you listened to it outside in your backyard, that there was a mix of real birds along with the birds on the track! Maybe listening to The Healing Guitar is the new “cyber-vacation soundtrack” of the future.
Jimmy Ryan: What you said is true, and having these other natural sounds, birds and wind, contributing spontaneously to the vibe of that piece, was particularly striking. I’ve always felt that being surrounded by nature is good for the mind, body and spirit, and music that resonates nature only enhances the sensory experience.
A cybervacation soundtrack of the future! Robert, you should copyright that phrase. If you can’t take your physical body to an exotic locale, at least you can take your mind; just put on the headphones, dim the lights and put this on and crank it up. Have a nice trip; we’ll see you in a half hour!
mwe3: It sounds to my ears that “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite” is the optimum way to listen to these tracks. Is that the way you intended to have these tracks heard in the first place, bringing the listener to a more natural setting of peace and bliss? I remember your early versions of these tracks each had some type of rain sound.
Jimmy Ryan: Great question. I did 2 versions of each track: a “full” version that included Dan’s drum work and a “spa” version that didn’t, using just the stereo water sounds I spoke of earlier. I thought the “spa” edits were tailored to background music applications in quiet, relaxing and contemplative settings like spas, meditation retreats, yoga studios; those types of things.
mwe3: Do you have a specific part of “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite” that you like best? “Twilight”, with its ocean birds and crashing waves seems quite natural, and you can almost see the bright sun beaming down from a clear blue sky. The birds and surf sounds makes a pretty cool offset to Dan’s drumming on the “full” version heard here as track 2. Does the track take on a new dimension or significance as part of the “Nature Suite”?
Jimmy Ryan: After hearing all 28+ minutes of it, I’m not able to pick out a best part, per se. To my ears, it occupies its own unique space as a whole, and the listening experience would not be the same if any of the tracks were not there or reordered. There’s no doubt about that. That’s all Tom, and it’s a fully realized pastoral symphony. Everything fits; everything flows; everything works.
That said, each version that includes Dan’s drumming stands on its own. Liking one thing more than another is an individual choice and completely subjective, and I’m sure anyone who listens will have their own picks for their own reasons. I just hope people will listen!
mwe3: I was happy to see “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite” also includes your track “Continuum” as a bonus track that closes the “Suite”. The track really works well as a kind of closure to the “Nature Suite”. I know you said the “stem” track of “Continuum” was lost, but luckily there was a high quality mp3, with the original rain sounds, that works nevertheless to add the finishing touches to “The Healing Guitar In Nature Suite”.
Tell us about “Continuum”, both when you first recorded it and as a closure to “The Nature Suite”. It sounds like a Latin word meaning to continue or go on from here. Like all the cuts here, it has a kind of religious feel to it. Anyway, it will always be one of my favorites among your many great compositions.
Jimmy Ryan: That’s very kind of you to say, and thank you. The literal definition of continuum is “a unified collection of elements into a coherent whole”. I view it in a spiritual sense rather than a religious one. Everything is connected, and I look at that universal truth in a non-dogmatic way.
Ironically, not only was it the last track we recorded, but it also closes out the “Nature Suite”. I never shared with Tom the recording order of these songs, and the way it came together was spiritual serendipity in its most refined form.
Again, a credit to Tom here. He did the remix and the mastering, and I was not present at any of those sessions. He brought fresh ears and a fresh perspective to the music, and it definitely shows.
mwe3: Tell us your impressions of the cover art Tom Salvatori picked out for your approval for The Healing Guitar. You told me that you had a singing bowl similar to the one on the front cover of the album. Also, is that guitar on the CD cover the one you played and wrote the music with on The Healing Guitar? Tell us about Knaggs Guitars and why you like to play and record with them so much. How many different guitars did you use on The Healing Guitar tracks?
Jimmy Ryan: I’ve had a Tibetan singing bowl for many years at home. You to use a mallet in a circular motion against the outside edge to create a tone. There is a concept in cognitive science called neuroplasticity, and it’s your brain’s ability to change, even as an adult. I read that musicians who regularly use singing bowls agree that it trains their brain to be able to access peaceful states more easily every time they practice.
Since I have the mental metabolism of a hummingbird, it creates a state of focused calm in the present moment whenever I use it. Tom’s design team at Salvatori Productions sent me four cover art proofs they came up with, and one of them was a singing bowl with a guitar headstock as the mallet. They didn’t have any idea I had one… again, serendipity! That was really freaky. So, metaphorically, the guitar is the “mallet” that creates the calming tones.
I primarily used my Knaggs Kenai, as well as a couple of Strats for some rhythms and my old Epiphone Spirit for a couple of the leads. My Knaggs is the Swiss army knife of guitars, and I can’t say enough about it. It’s based on the Doug Rappoport version, and the combination of the wood, wiring and pickups is magic. It blooms like no other guitar I’ve ever owned.
mwe3: You said that Astral Café might be the last album that you release on CD, but here we are with a new CD for “The Healing Guitar”. Do you still feel like you have more melodies and guitar ideas in your head that need to come to the surface?
Jimmy Ryan: Absolutely! I write and play every day; it’s who I am and the need to create is becoming more intense as I’ve gotten older, probably because I intuitively realize that I have less time in front of me than I have behind me.
mwe3: Has this pandemic era given you any new inspiration from a musical perspective? There has been such a severe consternation and pending doom on our collective radars for so long now. Can mankind overcome this era and move forward again as a planetary collective? Moving forward into the future is not a multiple choice. The key word for this year and maybe this decade is: Continuum!
Jimmy Ryan: I hear you! With greater access to news on social media and the internet, humans are more deluged than they used to be by depressing stories; this is leading to a kind of perma-gloom about the state of the world, even as we attempt to maintain a certain resilience about the things that we have the most control over.
The path to liberating ourselves from this mental slavery is paved with understanding, not ignorance. To transcend notions of blame and responsibility is to foster empathy and compassion. When I realize that if had I lived someone else's life, I’d be doing exactly what they're doing, a profound equality emerges, and one that prevents me from putting myself above or below anyone else. I truly believe that this kind of empathy can be a revolutionary force for good, and its time has come. There is no Planet B.
Yet, our creative endeavors have the potential to be experienced by others, and I guess that’s where ambition is different than every other motivation. Ambition is usually associated with a desire to achieve something. Most people wouldn’t consider that a basic need, but I do. Even in my seventh decade, I am still driven by the need to create, and a desire to share that creative work with the world, even if my creative projects have no guarantee of ever being heard by others. That may be the Continuum we all exist within, and I’m going to make the best of it while I’m here…