Do You Want to Set a World Record?

That was what the voice on the other end of the phone asked. Local radio station KYYS was lining up an attempt to break the Guinness world record of 1,322 guitarists playing at one time and wanted me to lead the charge… and the band! My initial reaction was that this could be a mess! Most bands have a tough time getting two guitarists to play together, so what would close to 2000 be like!!???

Tanna from the station told me they had picked the Deep Purple classic “Smoke on the water” as the song, but they needed me to transcribe a version that was simple enough that everyone could play it, but still sounded like the original, and then be the spokesperson to go out and promote the event in the media. I wrote out the tab and notation and then also went to a local music store and recorded a video of myself playing it for their website.  This way anyone could play along to make sure they were practicing it right. With a couple thousand guitarists playing the same song it is somewhat crucial that they all are playing the same version!!

The radio station did tons of promo to get the word out and started signing people up online. I did various radio appearances and was on several TV shows as well playing and promoting the event. Like most guitarists that have been playing awhile, I had always thought that if I never had to play “Smoke on the water” again for the rest of my life that would be fine! And now here I was playing it on radio, TV, teaching it non-stop – kind of like a guitar player’s purgatory! But since it was a classic song and a cool event I swallowed my musical snobbery and jammed out. I am glad I did!

When the day came it was an incredible event. It was at a local minor league ball field and people were lining up to register and get a free T-shirt first thing in the morning. People came from all over – many surrounding states and some even flew in from Germany and London to be a part of it. There were several thousand people in the stadium. The vibe was really cool, lots of families, Moms and Dads with their little rockers all participating together. Several people had never played guitar before and had started off by learning this song to break the record (pretty cool if your first gig was breaking a world record in front of that many people).

Everyone lined up on the field with their axes – no place to plug in 2000 amps so you could either bring a battery operated practice amp or use no amp, or bring your acoustic. I would be leading a full band with a large sound system so once we started it would be easy for everyone to hear where we were at in the song. They had “officials” there from Guinness to check and make sure everyone was playing it and not faking, sort of like hall monitors. After some organizing and many photo ops it was time to start. Since I was leading the music I got to start it off. Shouting “1, 2, 3, 4” and hearing nearly 2000 guitarists start the opening riff was a surreal and amazing experience, and something I may never get another chance to do. While the station had told us we could make several attempts, everyone jammed right through it the first time. After the song finished, a celebratory roar from the crowd and guitars raised in the air in victory rang in the new record.

All the local TV stations were there and did stories, but it was also covered nationally on CNN, WGN, Headline news, the Colbert report, and most importantly it was the number 8 “Play of the Day” on ESPN’s SportsCenter. (And I always thought it was my jump shot that would get me on SportsCenter!)

Overall a great event that I am thankful I was a part of. I had a few friends who were professional guitarists that didn’t do the event because they thought it was going to be a little too “beneath” them… playing “Smoke on the Water” with a bunch of amateurs. They really missed out! It just goes to show you, when you have a chance to do something really unique and interesting, set your pride aside and just let yourself go and have fun – you will be glad you did!

So what’s next……..? Anyone for Louie, Louie???