Dave Mitchell's Guitar Orchestra

Once upon a time ...

Wait, do I really want to start that way?
Well, it does seem a long, long time ago. So ...

. . . . . . . . . . .

Once upon a time, I found myself bored listening to rock music. It wasn't the music itself - music had been the main focus of my life for years - but I was tired of hearing the same music over and over again on the radio. To show how that changed me and my music, maybe I better go back even further.

I guess I thought so at the time. This is me in high school at a band rehearsal with my first 'ultimate' guitar: a cherry red Fender Jaguar.

Once I started playing in a band, school went to the background. I knew it was something I had to do, and I was an ok student, but most of my time was spent learning to play the guitars in the music I was hearing.

Music was pretty much my entire social life in high school. Our band played fairly often, and those guys were also my best friends - we did most everything together.

In the summer of 1967 I first heard Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I'd sit with headphones or in one of the padded listening rooms at the University of Houston and experience that album again and again from start to finish.

It was indeed like taking a trip. But it wasn't just the different songs - I was fascinated by the atmosphere the Beatles created in the studio. I'd never heard anything like that album before.

Rock music had never been thought of as art, and the term concept album didn't even exist yet, but that's what this was. I appreciated that album as a whole; not just a collection of individual tracks. The Moody Blues and others created albums like that, too, but you always remember your first.

I was barely 19 when Josefus started coming together. By then I'd moved up to my all-time favorite 'ultimate' guitar - a black Les Paul Custom. I played with Doug Tull and Ray Turner in United Gas, but after several personnel changes we became Josefus and added Pete Bailey on vocals.

The change that affected me the most was when we stopped having a second guitarist in the band. I was forced to do a lot more on the guitar and my playing improved rapidly because of that.

It was also my first success performing original music. Reviewers have compared Josefus to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath (which I never really understood). But my style had begun with the guitarists of the Yardbirds, which is exactly where Led Zeppelin came from. The other band members brought their influences into the mix and Josefus created a sound of our own.

After Josefus broke up, I played in a few other groups looking for a situation where I could be writing original music. Playing guitar in a band was great, but creating music of your own was way better.

As I started a twenty-plus year marriage, we moved to Los Angeles for a few months, where I thought I'd find my big break. A few contacts showed promise, but nothing ever quite came together.

Then Pete called me from Houston with an opportunity for Josefus to reunite and record a new album. Even though it wasn't a sure thing, we moved back to Texas to give it a try, but that Josefus reunion failed to materialize. It wouldn't happen for five more years.

By this time I was pretty discouraged with the music business. I was beginning to realize that it wasn't going to be as easy to make a living playing music as it had seemed while I was in Josefus.

I took a job as a delivery driver, where I was spending about ten hours every day in my van. It wasn't long before I got tired of hearing the same songs over and over on the radio. As I kept scanning the dial for something different, I found the classical music station, and listening to that really did change the way I listened to myself.

I started writing new music again. That process for many people is part inspiration and part accident. It definitely is for me. When I'm playing guitar, I'll often stumble on something new; I'm experimenting or maybe my fingers just made a mistake, but I hear something that sounds new or different.

That's where my time listening to classical music had its influence. Often the new thing was a variation of something else that I already played. I began to hear these variations fitting together and played by a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars.

I came up with a grouping of guitars that I hoped to eventually put together and perform live. There would be sections of acoustic, classical and electric guitars. But only guitars. This would be my own concept album. I wanted to use the many different sounds that can come from a guitar. It can be melodic. It can be percussive. It can be gentle or it can be powerful.

I built a small home studio and started working with some people to develop a musicians co-op in Houston. My studio was a complete room built within a room so the neighbors wouldn't complain. It had a 12-channel mixer and a 4-track reel-to-reel tape deck.

We eventually released a 7 inch vinyl EP that included two tracks from the album I planned to make of this new guitar music. Assuming it was my own unique creation, I called it THE Guitar Orchestra, but as I explain later there were others who had pretty much the same idea.

The co-op produced a few local shows and an impromptu jam at one of these clubs led to the reforming of Josefus. This time we succeeded in staying together for a while. We practiced in my home studio and many of those rehearsals were caught on tape.

We also resurrected our Hookah label and released two 45 singles in 1979. Josefus eventually died a disco-related death. I moved out of the house where I had my studio and began to slowly let go of my musical dreams.

Entering the 80s it was obvious to me that my music career wasn't growing as fast as my family. I sold my studio gear, went back to school and looked for a real career. It was certainly an overreaction, but once I stopped trying to play music for a living, I pretty much stopped listening to music as well, and that lasted for quite a while.

I didn't realize it then, but those that followed were the most important years of my life. The times I value most now are those I spent with my family while my son and daughters were growing up.

My years with a normal job and family included another Josefus reunion during 1989 and 1990. We recorded our Son of Dead Man album over an extended period of weekends and late nights and performed live several times; some memorable, some not so memorable. But we weren't in a position to pursue it full-time and once the recording was finished the band drifted apart again.

Then, everything about my life changed suddenly with a family tragedy in 2000. Over time that led me back into music. I set out to finish recording the album I'd begun so long ago, but I was nowhere near the end of this marathon.

Once I was working on my project again, I discovered that maybe the orchestra itself wasn't such an original idea. Mick Grabham, guitarist with Procol Harum in the 70s, worked on a project called The Guitar Orchestra with Ray Fenwick, but it wasn't released until years later due to a rights dispute.

They say the idea came from an old American jazz album that used multiple guitars. Our cover designs are also amazingly similar, but each was created with no awareness of the other. I made the first sketch of mine in the mid-70s.

There are also a number of guitar orchestras affiliated with colleges and symphonies, but they are usually more classical than rock. The internet made it easy to see that I wasn't the only one, so I decided I should just use my name in place of THE.

Some of the music is exactly like it was in the 70s. Other parts have evolved during these many years. I think it still has the same overall flow from beginning to end that I originally wanted.

Guitars on this page and CD cover
courtesy of Rockin' Robin Guitars.
(Photography by Travis Snow)

Dave Mitchell's Guitar Orchestra

© Copyright 2002-2015 MVT
PO Box 2782
Bellaire, Texas 77402 - USA