A Father’s Gift


This Saturday, June 14th I celebrate my 59th birthday. But it’s a much bigger day to me, because it marks the 40th anniversary of getting my very first guitar; a Narada dreadnought my father gave me for my 19th birthday in 1974.  Interestingly enough I had planned on asking for a guitar for my high school graduation the year before, but after a friend showed me how to play a C chord on a classical guitar, something I found incredibly difficult, hell, impossible, I opted for something else. And it must have been inconsequential because I have NO idea what my graduation present was.

That fall I went off to college to SMU in Dallas, TX. That year was the first year without having music a daily part of my life. I’d been active in choirs for the previous 12 years, as well as having music class as part of a daily curriculum.  Those were the days. I can’t tell you how much I missed participating in making music.  Listening to music for me has always played less of a role in my day-to-day existence than making music has; it was true then and it’s true now. So I felt lost. But I was lucky enough to become friends with two classmates, Bill Glass and Mike Crane, who were very fine guitarists. I would hang out with them and listen while they played everything from the Beatles to James Taylor tunes to Allman Bros. staples like Midnight Rider. Mike was also a fine fingerstyle guitarist and was doing a credible job on tunes like Duane’s Little Martha, and Leo Kottke’s The Fisherman, two tunes I still perform to this day and are recorded on my albums Homecoming and Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard respectively.  The fact that I had two friends who were fine guitarists somehow proved to me that I too had what it took to play the guitar. Not sure why that was, but there’s something about watching peers do something that makes me think I can too. I started begging for a guitar as soon as I got back to my suburban Chicago home in mid-May after finals.  And my dad listened. Continue reading


Marijuana and Me: A musical romance


I know this blog is going to be a bit controversial so let’s first get a few things straight.  This is NOT a political post. If you know me, you know that I am an outspoken advocate for the legalization and taxation on the sale and distribution of cannabis to adults 21 and over in the US.  I believe this with ALL my heart because history has definitively taught us that prohibition doesn’t work.  IT DOESN’T WORK. And I’m not in ANY WAY advocating your use of Cannabis, nor do I condone its use by minors. While the evidence is sketchy (another casualty of prohibition) it doesn’t seem prudent for an immature, under-age brain. And I have friends who have had dependency issues with weed, and I’m sympathetic to their plight, but there plight doesn’t affect my belief in the freedom for me and others to indulge in a private, responsible way. If it doesn’t work for you, or it makes you sick, don’t use it. We’ve got enough problems to deal with in this country as it is; making things illegal through prohibition is like throwing gasoline on a fire.  This blog is about my experience and use of this humble plant; one I’ve enjoyed responsibly for decades. However, for those of you who are prohibitionists, here are a few quotes from folks way smarter than me on the subject for you to ponder upon.

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use…
― Jimmy Carter

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
― Abraham Lincoln

The legalization of marijuana is not a dangerous experiment – the prohibition is the experiment, and it has failed dramatically, with millions of victims all around the world.”
― Sebastian Marincolo Continue reading

A Rose by Any Other Name: What’s in a name?


At dinner this week while celebrating my father’s 88th birthday I was asked by one of his friends what I called my music. This person has a few of my CD’s, and loves them, but wanted to know what to call it so she could describe it to her friends and family.  It took me five minutes and hundreds of words to describe it, and I knew right then what my week’s blog post was going to be about.  Thanks Gay!

A little over two years ago I got a very interesting email from my friend and fellow instrumental guitarist Kinloch Nelson with the subject line “What’s in a name?”  It’s one of the best treatises I’ve ever read on the conundrum of what instrumental guitarists like me go through in what to call our music.  Think about it.  If someone says they’re going to a folk, jazz, blues, classical, rock, or punk concert we all have a pretty good idea what type of music we’re going to encounter. Bookers at venues know when one of these acts calls to book a gig what they’re booking.  And we know what genres we like and those we don’t, so we can support ‘our’ music and leave the rest to others. We know what bin to go to in a record store (yes they still exist), or what to look under at iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, or Pandora to listen or download our favorite music. For those of you who know my music, what would YOU call it. One word, no more, no less. What is it?  And you can’t be nice and say “Good” or “Great”, what GENRE is it? Okay, I’ll be nice and you can have two words. But no more. Continue reading

Why I perform: The Most Important Minimum Wage Job in the World

As has been the case for many of you the past couple of months, I’ve been going over 2013 income and expense for tax season.  Last year wasn’t a good year, not by a long shot. It was the worst revenue year I’ve had in over a decade. Simply put, I got my ass handed to me.  Last year I drove over 45,000 miles, booked, played and did the PR for 80 concerts, and played the guitar 2-3 hours every day. I spent 100 days on the road sometimes sleeping on couches, mattresses on the floor, and even a couple of nights in my car out in the middle of nowhere because they were charging $90 for a $40 hotel room.  After running the numbers I spent a minimum of 3000 hours working in 2013.  Let’s just say that after expenses my income was way under the PROPOSED minimum wage increase to $10/hr.   WAY LESS.

So it’s clear I’m not in this for the money.  And believe it or not, I’m one of the lucky ones. There are very few instrumental guitarists who get to do this for a living. Probably less than 100 or so on the planet.  And other than a couple of folks who we all know, none of us are getting rich doing it.  So why do it?  On a personal level I can’t NOT do it. I’ve tried.  I know for a fact that I won’t last long after my stage days are done, because that’s where I’m of service, that’s where I belong, and that’s where I can be an agent for change in a troubled world.

You see, in a world where people are leaving dogmatic religions and emptying churches I believe we need a place where people can come together and bond in a communal environment.  While listening to music on your own sound system can be a powerful experience, nothing has the impact of the shared musical experience with a room full of others.  I KNOW that people leave my concerts feeling better than they did when they came in, and I know that will carry over into the rest of their evenings and even the next day. Why? Because that’s what happens to ME every time I attend a concert.  And this affects the way we see and treat the world and the people  around us. Continue reading

Why I write music


Recently I’ve been playing lots of gigs at libraries in New England. They’re very interested in my 60 minute program that uses music, guitars, and lecture to discuss how the guitar has gone from parlors and homes to the largest concert stages on the planet as the world’s most popular instrument.  At the CD table after each show I’ve been surprised to hear people notice that I’ve composed most, if not all, of the evening’s music.  I keep forgetting that these folks are there for the information and to support their library not necessarily because they’re a fan of my music-most of my shows are ticketed events and the folks coming know who I am.  The folks that come to see me at the libraries think of me as a guitarist/lecturer while I’ve always thought of myself as a composer who plays the guitar, and that got me thinking about why I compose music.

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard music in my head; I hear it pretty much non-stop from the time I wake until the time I go to sleep.  It’s one of the reasons I rarely listen to music anymore as it’s akin to having two radios playing two different radio stations at the same time.   This is especially true when I’m in ‘writing’ mode and have one or more pieces of music in active composition mode.  When I was a kid I never told ANYONE I heard music in my head-I was a dumb kid but I wasn’t stupid enough to tell anyone I was hearing things that weren’t there.  And I honestly thought the music was stuff I’d subconsciously picked up over the years; I had no idea the music was ‘mine’. (Still not sure about that). Continue reading

Variety truly the spice of life

Lately I’ve been thinking about how important variety and change are to me as a person and artist.  I’ve always bored easily with the status quo, and not only embrace change, but I try to make change happen.  For those of you getting to know me, this is the first sign that a human being is eccentric. Most humans abhor change-just look what happens to Facebook when they change something. Most people freak out. I don’t.  I need my routine to vary, so it’s not all that routine. I’ve found that doing the same things over and over, in the exact same way turns my day into a factory-like setting, and while it’s incredibly efficient, it’s mind-numbingly boring for me. I actually get less done, and what I do get done isn’t always my best work. Change and variety energize me.  Continue reading


Fingerstyle Guitarist Ken Bonfield has performed throughout the United States for more than 20 years. Based in Massachusetts, Bonfield is a regular at guitar festivals and has released seven albums. His lately, Legacy, is a solo effort that focuses on harp and baritone guitars, with several new arrangements of original tunes Bonfield recorded on earlier albums. Although he came out of the 1960’s folk tradition, Bonfield was closely associated with the new-age music early in his career. Today, his sound is more akin to the American primitive tradition of John Fahey and Leo Kottke, with a solid dose of Celtic, jazz, and traditional folk influences.