Sir Richard Bishop, a legendary figure in experimental guitar circles, embarked on his solo tour with a single, well-worn guitar in his luggage.

He found the small-bodied acoustic in a shop in Geneva and took such a liking to it that he recorded an entire solo album on it – "Tangier Sessions," out now on Drag City Records.

He's found little information on its provenance since he bought it in 2013.

"There's no indication of who made it that I can find, or that any luthiers can track down," he said in a phone interview last week.

He originally thought it might be from the 1890s, but recently a luthier told him it could be as old as 1850.

Whoever made it "knew what they were doing," he said, and so it remains anonymous in all but its tone.

"It's a small guitar, but it's very loud and I think that's because of the wood," he said. It's aged quite a bit and has been played a lot. He thinks that helps give it a distinctive "ring."

"It's just a tiny little thing, but like I said it has a big sound," he said.

Its size will pose some challenges – it has only 12 frets, limiting the instrument's range compared to, say, a 22-fret electric guitar.

"There are certain parts of my older material that don't translate well to the older guitar," he said.

On the solo tour, he'll be playing pieces from "Tangier Sessions," which were, by the way, largely improvised and recorded while on a tour in Morocco.

Improvisation, in fact, comprises about half of his live performances, so concert-goers can expect new material as well when he plays here on Sunday.

The seven-song, 40-minute record mines Bishop's wide interests to create a diverse, freewheeling set of acoustic work.

He freely and gracefully shifts through classical guitar, lightning-quick Middle Eastern scales, finger-picking and aggressive strumming in a way that never sounds forced. 

Mashing up diverse genres has been a part of his decades-long career since the very beginning.

Bishop was a member of the legendary group Sun City Girls, which he formed with his brother Alan in Phoenix. The cult band released a slew of material from 1984 to 2007.

Since then, Bishop began a prolific solo career – blink and he'll have two more albums out. It's also when he began using the title "Sir."

He hasn't been knighted by any empires, although Sun City Girls fans would likely argue he should be.

He's recorded numerous solo guitar sessions: 2012's "Intermezzo," 2007's "Polytheistic Fragments," 2006's "While My Guitar Violently Bleeds" and more.

He's also criss-crossed the United States and Europe on solo guitar tours many times before.


In 2009, he recorded "Freak of Araby" with the backing of a bass player and Middle Eastern percussion ensemble. The album paid tribute to influences such as Egyptian master guitarist Omar Khorshid and composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

Middle Eastern music runs deep in Bishop's background. He's half Lebanese on his mother's side, and grew up listening to traditional music from the Mideast, India and Southeast Asia "long before any plans to be a musician happened," he said.

Once he did pick up the guitar, he taught himself and learned all those scales by ear – he said "he never took any lessons at all."

"It's not easy, it's just determination," he said.

He adapts original material that was heavily improvised into a more solid form as plays it live again and again – something that was once quite loose will gain a set structure, within limits to keep it interesting.

They "could be played almost the exact same way," he said, "I try not to do that."

"If I get sick of it," he said, "you'll get sick of it."

One of the risks of solo guitar performance is maintaining audience attention over a 55-minute set without any backing.


In addition to "Tangier Sessions" and the accompanying tour, Bishop recently finished recording the third album by Rangda, an experimental psychedelic rock trio that employs the unusual instrumentation of two guitars and drums – no bass, no vocals.

The other six-string in Rangda is played by Ben Chasny, a guitarist renowned for his work on electric and acoustic in Six Organs of Admittance, his long-running band, that finds a middle ground between drone, 1960s psychedelic rock, and finger-pickers like John Fahey.

Backing the two behind the kit is Chris Corsano, who's played on avant-garde pop recordings by Bjork and free jazz albums with guitarist Nels Cline.

Bishop said the new album will likely be out before the end of the year on Drag City, the Chicago label that released its previous two records: "False Flag," (2010) and "Formerly Extinct" (2012).

He said the album will continue a gradual, audible progression from the first two.

This time, Corsano brought lots of material and guitar parts to the sessions.

"It's kind of refreshing to have that come from the drummer," Bishop said.

They all pitched in parts and ideas, and the way the songs come together is democratic.

"We also work together really well," and including the pressure of a recording deadline.

Which makes sense for someone who loves to improvise, or even set out on a 32-date North American tour with a guitar that hasn't been road-tested. ("I'm excited to see what it can do live," he said.)

After all, improvising, is "flying by the seat of your pants, making mistakes and just going for it," he said.

"It's just more real to me that way."

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