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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

John Elliott (Part 3)

Vertical Truth: 2001-2013

 

In Part 1 I told of the years (1979-1986) that I studied with John Elliott. John was a formative influence; by far THE most important person in my musical development. He also proved to be a complicated and sometimes difficult individual.


In the first section of Part 2 I told of the post-lesson years from 1986 until 1991, when John retired, and of how I continued a relationship with him during those years, and how I used him as a positive as well as a negative model for my own teaching.


In the second section of Part 2 (1991-2001) I talked about the series of events that led to the publishing of my method book, Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar. John was retired and we had no contact during those years. But due to the fact that well over 50% of the book is directly attributable to him, our sometimes contentious relationship picked up again in 2001:

 

Through a series of circumstances detailed in the previous blog, I wound up with this book that I had originally intended to sell ONLY to my own students begin to be used by other teachers completely unsolicited on my part. When the first instance of this happened, I realized that I was looking at something that could potentially take off if I worked it right. I do have some issues with other teachers using it but that was already happening anyway. So I decided to work it and see what happened.


Over the space of the next few weeks I aggressively solicited every guitar player/teacher I knew who I thought could get something out of it by giving them a copy of the book. I had a problem however. I knew that sooner or later it would get back to John.


My debt to John is enormous. Units 4 and 5 I more-or-less got from Danny Embrey in 1978. He got it from John. By the time I started with John, I had figured out all the 9th chord inversions on my own, based on the implications that I deduced from the material Danny gave me. So counting the stuff that I got from Danny, which was John's, plus the 9th chord stuff I figured out on my own based on what I got from Danny, not to mention that John made me go back to root-position 7th chords to get my spelling together, most of Units 4 through 10 is John's material.


All the guitaristic stuff is mine, of course. The fretboard diagrams and graphics; things like that. I changed a thing here and there to make it more guitar-friendly and in a couple of places where I thought I had a better way to think about a certain thing added a page that I would call my own, or altered John's material slightly. The first 3 units are all mine, but I designed them to dovetail with John's material if the student makes it that far.


Concerning the copyright; you cannot copyright a concept; you copyright a specific expression of a concept. So, legally, I was in the clear. Even though the concept was John's, the expression of it (the book) was mine. Besides, John never copyrighted any of his stuff that I know of. However, I had too much gratitude and respect for John to do anything without his knowledge, and ideally, his approval. I've never ever tried to hide the fact that I'm standing on his shoulders.


I needed to be the first one to show the book to him. Personally, I needed resolution. Either he would get mad and yell at me about how I was ripping him off by selling the stuff I got from him, or he would give me his approval and blessing.


Yes, I’m selling books and downloads, but there’s not a lot of demand for the more advanced musical concepts presented in John’s content, especially among guitarists. My main motivation is simply to preserve the method in some kind of formal, codified way. It’s unique and I believe it’s superior to anything out there. John didn’t seem at all concerned about any kind of legacy.


In May of 2001 I called him up. I admit I threw him a curveball - I knew that IF he agreed to look at the book, he would ask that I send him a copy, but I wanted to see his face when he looked at it. I needed to know for sure what he thought - not that he was ever good at hiding his feelings!


At the same time, I had another, more personal reason to see John in person.


My youngest child (I have 5 kids) was 9 years old at the time. I had named him after John (Nathan Elliott). John and his wife were childless. Nathan had been asking about him, wanting to meet John.

 

So, I told John (over the phone) that I've got this series of books I'm selling. The latter half is the material that I got from him (I was very upfront about it). If he had a problem with that I'd be more than happy to cut him a check every quarter based on book sales. His response?


"You won't get rich selling my material. Kids today just want to learn that rock shit."


I told him he was right, 98% of my students are in Units 1 and 2 and very few of them get far enough into the method to even begin his material, but that I was still willing to pay him every quarter.


He said he wasn't interested in any money.


I then asked him if he would look at it.


"Yeah, sure," he said, "drop a copy in the mail, I'll take a look at it."


I played my trump card.


"If you don't mind" I said, "I'd like to bring a copy to you. The reason for that is that I have a son that's named after you and he's been wanting to meet you. His brothers are named after their grandfathers but he's never met the man he's named after."


It was real quiet for a few seconds.


"Sure, bring him over, I'd love to meet him."


So it was with some trepidation (remember: John had a negative opinion about method books) that I took my book, and Nathan, over to John's house in May of 2001. I really didn't know how he would react.


Of course I wanted his approval. I was very conscious of that. But more than that, I just wanted some kind of resolution. I didn't want to procrastinate and never make the attempt to show John the book, and know for sure whether or not he would approve. That would have been a significant loose end to me, professionally as well as psychologically and emotionally, and I certainly didn't want him to find out about the book before I had shown it to him.


John answered the door.


"Well, you look good" I said.


He actually did. He'd had cancer 3 or 4 years before. He had surgery and according to the doctors they got it all. I was expecting him to not look so good.


"The hell I do." He replied.


That's the John I remember!


He shook hands with Nathan, introduced me to his wife, Betty, (I'd never met her) sat down at the kitchen table and for the next hour and a half looked at every page! I couldn't believe it. I was not expecting that.


He was very talkative and was giving advice now and then.


"Make sure they do this in 3 positions. Are you making sure they do this across the neck and not along one set of strings?" etc.


"Yeah, John. I studied with you for 7 years, I know how it works!"


He found a couple of mistakes in the music notation. I was amazed.


He asked a lot of questions about how I did this myself. It felt like he was grilling me. Was I a computer geek (I'm not!) or was this stuff typical of what you could do with a computer? How did I make the music notation and symbols? How did I make the fretboard diagrams? And so on.


I explained about music notation software and about hard disk recording and editing and the internet and how I was selling CD's and mp3's from a web site and things like that. He was very sharp and interested. We talked for quite awhile.


All this time my son Nathan was boppin' in and out, and playing outside. At one point he was up on the deck railing, balancing himself while walking along the precipice.


I could tell John was uptight and worried; he was distracted and kept glancing out the patio doors at Nathan. I instinctively knew he was thinking of his liability.


"Don't worry" I said, "He's just being a boy."


"Yeah, that's what I'm worried about!"


"Well" I said, "If he falls off the deck and hurts himself, I promise I won't sue you."


At one point I asked him,


"When you were teaching me Bitonals, you had a 3-ring binder of plastic page-protected pages that you would refer to when writing out my lessons. I was wondering if you would consider letting me have that book?"


"Oh I threw that away when I retired" he said.


I was speechless! I thought, "THE most unique method for applying music theory to the guitar - a method whose uniqueness and worth has been proven over and over again, and you simply THREW IT AWAY?!?!?"


This was just one more indication of Imposter Syndrome that I talked about in Part 1 - Undervaluing Contributions.


Or...maybe he just didn't want to give it to me.


Anyway, he told me he could tell I'd worked very hard on the book. Then he said,


"I'm glad someone has finally codified this material for the guitar."


Yes! Bingo! That's what I wanted to hear!


I thanked him and told him that his approval was very important to me. We talked some more about various things, and as Nathan and I were leaving, his wife, who had been in the room the whole time, said,


"You're important to John too, even if he doesn't say so." 


As John was walking us to the car he said,


"Give me a call every once in a while and let me know what's going on."


So I left John's home that afternoon, with relief and gratitude, having John's approval. I had again offered to pay him every quarter, based on book sales, which he refused.


"I don't need the money" he said. “I made a lot of money over the years selling that stuff to students.”


It's true that John had done well; his home was in an exclusive community out in the western part of Johnson County, Kansas. He once told me he thought compound interest was one of the greatest things ever.


John Elliott looking through Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar - May 2001
John Elliott looking through Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar - May 2001
John Elliott and my son, Nathan Elliott EuDaly - May 2001
John Elliott and my son, Nathan Elliott EuDaly - May 2001

After that meeting at John's home in 2001 I began discussing a review of the book, Vertical Truth - Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar with Mike Metheny (Pat's brother), who was at that time the editor of Jazz Ambassadors Magazine.

 

When Mike found out I had access to John he said,


"Man, I've been trying to get an interview with that guy for years. He just refuses to cooperate. Maybe you could put in a word for me. Or maybe you could do an interview with him for the magazine."

 

I told Mike, "I'm a guitar player, not a journalist, but I'll talk to him and see if I can change his mind about talking to you."


It’s kind of ironic; 20-some years later producing this blog has, in a way, made me a journalist!!


I knew John wouldn't change his mind and I proceeded to write Mike a rather lengthy and detailed email on the nature of my relationship with John, and why he was such an enigma. At least my theories as to why he was the way he was.


My tack with John about the interview was that it was frustrating to me that he was always complaining about how screwed-up the music business is; how Jazz used to be 70% of the market and now it's less than 3% - but he never does anything to help. Letting Mike interview him would be helping. John's response was as I predicted,


"Not interested. I'm a recluse and that's just the way it is!"


Once, when talking about Pat Metheny, John told me,


"I didn't treat Pat very good. I regret that."


Maybe that was a possible reason John refused to be interviewed by Mike. On the other hand, John refused all interviews as far as I can tell.


I've never met Pat; we certainly have a bunch of mutual friends. Publicly, I've seen nothing but praise and gratitude from Pat concerning John.


So it turns out that Danny Embrey was going to write the piece. Therefore I figured it was going to be a positive review, since it was Danny who referred me to John in the first place! I told Mike,


"As far as I'm concerned, Danny has complete freedom to write whatever he wants, but I want 2 things made very explicit. One is that the book is not designed to be self-teaching but requires a qualified instructor. The other is that I want it to be absolutely clear where this material comes from; I want John Elliott to get his due."


Mike agreed, and Danny complied. You can read the review here.


Shortly after the review was published (January of 2002), I got an angry phone call from John.


"That article makes it look like the stuff is coming from you, not me!"


"But John," I said. "Did you not see the 2 paragraphs that talk about you and about how I studied with you for 7 years and that that's where the material comes from?"


"But that picture of the book cover has your name on it, not mine! That makes it look like it's your stuff!"


"Ok, John" I said, "I'll redesign the covers. I'll put your name on them. They'll say something like, 'By John Elliott as given to Jay EuDaly' or, 'By Jay EuDaly as given by John Elliott' - something like that. I will send you the redesigned covers for your approval. From then on, all books manufactured will have those redesigned covers with your name on them. I'm even willing to resubmit the copyrights and share them with you. That way your name would be on the Notice of Copyright as well."


He mumbled something and hung up on me.


I redesigned the covers and sent him copies. After not hearing from him for 3 or 4 weeks, I called him.


"Did you get those redesigned book covers I sent you?"


"Yes."


"Well...? Do I have your approval?"


"Uhm...maybe it's not such a good idea for my name to be on there."


"John," I said with some exasperation, "I'm sensing that you're very conflicted about this.”


"Goddammit, yes I am!!!"


"Well, what is it? Talk to me. Can you tell me what the problem is?

"I shouldn't have done it, it was a mistake, but I'm contractually obligated. Back in the sixties I signed something that says if any of my stuff gets published somebody else gets half the money."


So giving John the benefit of the doubt, he was trying to protect me - that thought gave me the warm fuzzies!


Not giving him the benefit of the doubt, he was just trying to cover his ass - probably the more likely scenario.


I was the bluntest I've ever been with John. I said,


"Ok, John. First of all, this guy is a snake. Secondly, there isn't a contract in the world that can't be legally voided. But you fucked up by not getting out of it. Now it's too late for you; it's been too long and you're too old. Thirdly, I'm not afraid of this guy. If he comes after me I'll fight him. Who is it?"


"I don't wanna tell you."


"Is he still alive?" - "Yes."


"Is he local?" - "Yes."


"Who is it?" - "I'm not going to say."


"Ok. Well, whoever he is, I'm not afraid of him and, like I said, if he comes after me I'll fight him."


John said, "I'm not sure that the contract applies to the guitar stuff, it might just be the piano stuff. But just to be safe, my name should probably not be on any of the covers."


I still couldn't tell if he was protecting me or was just thinking of himself! John was like that - enigmatic; it was always hard to tell exactly what he meant.


"Ok," I said. "The covers remain as they are, the copyrights remain as they are, and I'm moving forward."


Shortly after the "Book Cover Incident" with John, I was looking into the possibility of a major publishing deal with Mel Bay.


The short story is I turned away from a publishing deal when I learned that any major publisher (Mel Bay, Hal Leonard, etc.) would require the book to be tabbed out. As I've written elsewhere, I am not a fan of guitar tablature and tabbing out the book would completely gut one of the main purposes of the method; understanding the guitar fretboard and thus being able to spell. Using guitar tab inhibits learning the fretboard.


A secondary reason was that, based on the "Book Cover Incident," I couldn't trust John to not sabotage the deal if I got one. All it would take is one angry phone call about how the stuff was his and not mine to cause a publisher to back off. I decided that I wouldn't entertain the possibility as long as he was alive.


I continued to publish under my own publishing company, EuDaly's Music, and by the time John died in 2013, the Internet and file-sharing had rendered a major publishing deal irrelevant.


At some point during all the hullabaloo about my book, John told me,


"You know, out of all my students, you are the only one who's had the strength to do this."


I took that to mean not only the strength to put the book together, but also the strength to deal with him.


I had several other occasions to be out at his house during the following years.


Once he called me and wanted to know if the store where I was teaching would sell some of his gear on consignment. He had a bunch of stuff he didn't need, as he was no longer performing, and would I come out to his house to pick it up and take it to the store for him?


"Sure," I said.


He gave me a list with the items and the prices he wanted. Before he let me leave with the gear, he made me sign and date a document - a "declaration of responsibility" for the stuff! I laughed at him and signed it.


If he placed so much faith and significance in a "contract" maybe that's why he was so bent out of shape about the contract he signed in the sixties concerning his teaching content, and why - presumably - he allowed that to prevent him from publishing his method.


After a few months I made another trip out to his house to return the gear; he was asking too much and refused to lower his price.


John had me pegged as a "Rock Guy." I think this is because when I was studying with him, I was gigging 6 nights a week in Top 40 dance bands. So yeah, that's a lot of 70's and 80's Rock - which he detested. Also, I had mailed him a copy of my first CD, "Sound Tracks" when I released it in 1999. It was an instrumental thing that was the soundtrack to a documentary on the Santa Fe Railroad. It was fairly broad stylistically but leaned in the Rock direction; similar to something Joe Satriani might do.


In 2001 I released "Channeling Harold" which was the Jazz album I'd always wanted to make. It was mostly a Hammond Organ trio, and all but one of the tunes were Jazz Standards. I mailed John a copy.


One day I was over at John's house for some reason and asked,


"Hey man, did you get that CD I sent you a while back?"


"Yeah, I did," he said. "Yeah, man! You sound like you're pretty comfortable with your instrument. I didn't know you could play that way!"


Another backhanded compliment!


"I spent 7 years taking lessons from you to learn how to play that way!" I replied.


John died on June 24th, 2013 at age 87. Go here for an obituary. Below is his obituary in the August/September 2013 edition of Jazz Ambassadors Magazine:


John Elliott Obituary

At the time of his death, I had not talked to him for several years.


I'd always said that John would never allow a "Mr Holland's Opus" to take place as long as he was alive. It would take place at his funeral. John didn't even allow that. His official obituary read,


  • "Private services. He has asked that there be no flowers or other memorials."


Typical John.

 

Master Guitar School - Vertical Truth: 2013-2024


In 2014, the year after John's death, I was compelled to try and adapt John's method to the internet environment through MasterGuitarSchool.com. The story of how that began is here; it was quite dramatic and involved multiple synchronicities.


I have often wished I could talk to John about how to do this. I doubt he would be much help, but still, it would be interesting to get his reaction. His whole paradigm was based on one-on-one, in-person teaching. The internet environment is the opposite.


As a teacher, it has been challenging to adapt; take remote lessons, for instance. By the time I had finished my studies with John, we had played hundreds of tunes together. That's impossible over Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.


Stuff keeps trickling in; in 2014, my good friend Rick Hendricks passed away. Rick was a blues guitarist who had studied with John Elliott in the late eighties. Most of the time whenever Rick and I crossed paths the conversation invariably turned to John. Rick felt John had greatly impacted his playing. I feel the same way about John's transformative effect on my own playing.

Myself and Rick Hendricks - January of 2013
Myself and Rick Hendricks - January of 2013

Denise, Rick's widow, gave me a bunch of Rick's music books. There was a pile of maybe a dozen books - books of scales, pieces of the Real Book, and handwritten chord charts to various and sundry standards, as well as a copy of my book that I had given to Rick many years ago.


Among the others was a blue, tattered 3-ring binder whose contents were in plastic page protectors. As soon as I opened it up I immediately recognized John's handwriting. It was all the lessons Rick had taken from John. John had started me at 7th chords. He had started Rick from the very beginning - I guess John considered me more advanced than Rick at the time I started.


Bottom line; there was stuff there - in John's handwriting - that I didn't have. I got to compare John's stuff - I was especially interested in how he presented triads - to the stuff I had come up with on my own and designed to dovetail with John's material in my own method book.


Denise Hendricks and myself with John Elliott material- July 26, 2014
Denise Hendricks and myself with John Elliott material- July 26, 2014

A year later Denise showed up at one of my gigs; she had discovered more books. Among them was a 3-ring binder of typewritten pages labeled in pencil, "By John Elliott 1950's." I have no idea who it belonged to or how Rick obtained it.


John Elliott 1950's material

Most people reading this aren't old enough to be familiar with typewriters but the pages appear to be done on a typewriter with spaces left where John would draw in a staff for notation or other graphics. The notation is not on printed staff paper. It looks to me like John created his own staff paper with a typewriter.


John Elliott 1950's material

It's fascinating to compare this material with the material I got from him from '79 - '86. You can see an evolution in the presentation - the later stuff is more concise and not as much explaining; he did a lot of the explaining verbally to me that is written here. But the basic method is fully formed.


John Elliott 1950's material

There were dozens of songs written out on John's presumably homemade, typewritten staff paper; apparently he was not using fake books in his teaching at this time:


John Elliott 1950's material

It's absolutely fascinating to me. I feel like a textual scholar studying ancient manuscripts. Unlike the scholars, I possess the originals, written by the author himself!


I now think I understand why John quizzed me so intently that May afternoon in 2001 about how I put my book together with a computer. Apparently he had attempted the same kind of thing in the 1950's with a typewriter!


Was he thinking of publishing back then - before he became "contractually obligated" in the sixties? Do I posses the only extant copy of that material?


Anyone?


So I am presently (2024) still working on rewriting and redesigning John's guitar material for the internet environment. I also have a ton of my own material; stuff that John would've never come up with because it's guitaristic in nature. However, the organization and methodology of my own stuff is informed by my studies with John, with few exceptions. All the lessons consist of PDF downloads containing textual explanation, fretboard diagrams, music notation and demonstration videos.


I launch each Unit of Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar through MasterGuitarSchool.com as I complete it. With each iteration, I get further and further from John's presentation, which renders any distant potential copyright issues even more remote.


In spite of the fact that John was a complicated and difficult individual, the result of which was that my relationship to him was very emotionally conflicted (at the risk of romanticizing his issues, I view him as a tortured, flawed genius), I loved the guy.


The stuff I got from him I use every day of my life. To a great degree, he enabled me to make a living with the guitar and for that I am immensely, eternally grateful. I consider it providential that his path and mine intersected and I'm thankful to God that I possessed the fortitude to deal with him.


I have benefited enormously by having known him.


John, if you're out there, I trust you're at peace. Perhaps I'll see you again by-and-by, and you can berate me and slam the door for writing all this crap about you.


Jay EuDaly

April, 2024


 

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