When I began playing guitar again in 2008, after more than a decade away, I had the idea of making solo music that would incorporate all my weird stuff—all my various oddball rhythms, tics, repetitions, stims, and stutters—and use them as the basis of a new idiom for the guitar. It seemed like a way to make something that would be truly personal.
I started working on an LP to explore these ideas in 2009, approaching the process like field recording—not suppressing any "extraneous" sounds, whether involuntary vocalizations I might make while I played or the noise coming in from the street outside my Mission District apartment—just letting things happen. I was inspired by Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing, Derek Bailey's "domestic" home-recorded CDs, certain Folkways releases, and the recordings of Alan Lomax, the intensity and obsessiveness of Cecil Taylor and Charlemagne Palestine, the solo guitar music of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Carlos Montoya, the writing of Christopher Knowles and Gertrude Stein, and especially videos by a small community of neurodivergent YouTubers self-documenting the way they experienced and interacted with the world.
One of the first things I recorded wasn't guitar at all, but a repetitive vocal phrase that had been running through my head for a couple of weeks—"Deal deed devil deed it." I had no idea what it meant, but the way the phrase felt significant to me, looping and halting, curling around itself in my head, pointing the way toward a new path for my guitar playing. I called the recording "Crossroads" because the words reminded me of Robert Johnson's apocryphal deal with the Devil.
In the end, I left it off the resulting album, A New Way To Pay Old Debts—it was just too weird for a solo guitar record—but it's remained a kind of touchstone for me and a point of reference for all the records I've made since. I'm including it here with a previously unreleased guitar recording made about a year later in a hotel room in Auckland, New Zealand before the start of a tour.
Bill Orcutt is a musician and engineer living in San Francisco. His new self-titled record of solo electric guitar work will be released on Palilalia on June 30, 2017.