The bass player gives you a disapproving look, and the old guy in the front row tuts and heads to the bar. You couldn't care less though, because tonight you're Blind Cabbage and you can't see a thing!
The night is over and the same old guy comes up to you at the bar and in an effort to state some form of authority he says to you "you know, you play good, but hasn't anyone told you that it's not all about playing fast?"
That's it... persona dropped... I've had enough of this shit.
First of all, let's get a disclaimer out there for anyone who won't bother reading everything I have to say:
I don't fall on one side or the other. I don't think you have to pick one, I can tell you from experience that the two ideas coexist quite well together. I'm not having a go at people who play fast (I love playing fast!), and I'm certainly not having a go at people who choose to not play fast (again, there's plenty of places on the Hellcat album where I could have shredded it up, but chose a different approach because that said what I wanted to say better).
Let's start with the idea of "I don't play fast, I prefer to play with feel".
I make the same argument here time and time again. As an improviser, or composer we have a selection of tools at our disposal. "Feel" isn't one of them. "Feel" might be the result of all your musical ideas, but it won't be the basis of them. You may write long flowing passages played with slow vibrato. You might play aggressively and pick by the bridge. These are all tools you can use to create an effect, and speed is one of them.
The most important aspect of being a good "feel" player is being able to express yourself. Knowing the right approach for the song to put your emotions across as best you can.
Below I've put the video for my song "Fly Away". This is a song I wrote for my Nana, who sadly passed away suddenly right before I moved to Scotland. We were very close and it hit me hard. Lyrically the song is a tribute to her, but I didn't want to play on the tropes of "I'll see you again in heaven" bullshit because I don't buy into any of that, but the lyrics definitely ooze personality, as does the arrangement.
When it came to the solo, I absolutely could have played the shit out of the guitar. If I had, there's absolutely no way I could justify it from an emotional perspective. I wanted to give that feeling of flight, so the big bends which I hold, the singing vibrato etc, then an explosion at the end as the bird takes flight. I don't usually play that sort of fast lick, but I had to get it down because it was the only way a fast lick would fit. Picking was too abrasive, and the standard rock legato felt generic, I did some multi finger tapping stuff then tremolo picked up to a high bend. It's not a world changing solo, but I absolutely think it's right for the song.
In fairness, many of the great blues players could play something fitting here. I've not played a thinking mans solo, I completely ignored the Bb7#11 chord and just play the D blues scale throughout. Lydian dominant might have showcased my education, but part of having good feel is showcasing your ability to play what sounds right to the ear, not what will get the most marks on paper right?
What about your team winning the World Cup or Super Bowl? How about the feeling of winning the lottery? Or rocketing down an empty road in a Ferrari F40?
These are all totally valid things to express, and as a "feel player" you better be prepared to play them, because if you can't, you're not a feel player, you were just too lazy to get your shit together on the instrument and you justify it by trying to make out like your chosen style is somehow a little more artistically valid... spoilers, that's bullshit, and deep down, you know it.
Below is an instrumental cut of Good Time Girl from the Hellcat album. On this version of the track I'm playing with my good friend Jack Gardiner, and while we could get competitive and show off our chops, the relaity is that the song is about having a mad night of passion with someone you really shouldn't. That's easier to tell when listening to the vocal version, but that doesn't mean we ignore it when playing the instrumental.
If you're a feel player and you're telling me you could play something more fitting, something that would express yourself in that situation and it isn't an explosion of notes... then you're a liar.
Just remember that when you hear someone play fast, ask yourself... what are they trying to say? Sometimes there is something there. There's nothing more insulting than to walk up to someone who is playing their heat out and tell them they don't "feel" what they're playing. Especially as what you're really saying is "I don't like that, it makes me feel a little inadequate", that has absolutely no relevance to the person you're talking to - that's why they play their music, and you play yours.
Remember, all these "feel" players you look up to... played fast. Clapton played fast in Cream. Stevie Ray Vaughn played faster and faster the slower the songs got, as did Hendrix. You don't have a problem when they do it, and you certainly wouldn't talk down to them, so ask yourself why it's ok to do it with some young kid having the time of his life.
We should celebrate the fact that we're all different, not shit on each other because we don't all play the same shit over the same chord progression that's been done for almost a century.
And I shouldn't have to say thing, but we can take that with a grain of salt guys, I've been Premier Guitar's blues columnist for years now. I love the blues. I just don't like bad attitudes. I was that kid who played Racer X covers and Jason Becker stuff, and I still love all that, but this musical journey we're all on has more stops than you could ever visit, so don't be afraid to stop and check them out from time to time because you'll never reach the end of the yellow brick road.