Role Models: Jeffrey Silverstein is Inspired By “Plain Old Ted Lucas”

How the master guitarist influenced his new EP, Roseway.

It’s so easy when you know what you’re doing
It’s so easy when you know how
— Ted Lucas 

2018 was a year of massive change. I moved across the country, married my best friend, and after a decade of being in bands, decided to have a go at being a “solo” artist. In March, I was invited to participate in a week-long artist residency program at the Sou’wester Lodge in Long Beach, WA, which culminated in an intimate performance of new material. I lived inside a vintage Ford motorhome turned recording studio and reveled in having both time and space to focus solely on writing. To my surprise, I cobbled together enough song-sketches for my set. I’d grown accustomed to sharing the stage with at least one other person. Being alone at the microphone felt scarier than anything in recent memory. 

I left the experience with lots of questions. What do I want my music to sound like? How will I communicate it? Should it have lyrics? All instrumental? Will anyone care? Three major factors helped manage my uncertainty: unwavering support from my wife, adapting a practice of beginner’s mind, and a vinyl reissue of the sole published, self-titled album by late singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ted Lucas. I’d first heard Ted’s music via a mixtape curated by Vetiver’s Andy Cabic for Aquarium Drunkard and was delighted to finally own a copy thanks to Yoga Records. Listening to the album, watching live clips, and learning more about Ted helped me begin to answer some of the aforementioned questions. 

I had been thinking in binary terms in regards to whether or not I should make solely instrumental music or not. I struggled to envision a set of songs that incorporated both. Often referred to as the OM album, Ted Lucas (1975) is a collection of plaintive folk ballads and far-out instrumental ragas. It encouraged me to think more yes, and rather than either/or. This has come to be a defining aspect of each of my releases. It’s disheartening to think that for Ted, this is what made the labels he approached consider him “unmarketable,” as they couldn’t fit him neatly into one genre, while for me it’s yielded a wider audience than I could have imagined. 

When it comes to lyrics, I’m staunchly in the less-is-more camp. I don’t need a story, I just need to be put in the artist’s universe for a while. There are very few instances where I want to know exactly what a song is about. Listeners deserve a chance to make their own interpretations and make it personal to them. Bands like Akron/Family set the stage for me with tunes like “Love and Space” or “Franny, You’re Human.” And it was another a-ha, holy shit moment for me to hear Lucas’s songs like “It’s So Easy” and “It Is So Nice to Get Stoned,” where the majority of each song contains the same phrase repeated. It freed up so much space in my mind and allowed me to not get too bogged down in crafting “perfect” lyrics. As someone who was beginning to find my voice as a singer, this also let me focus more on finding a range that felt natural, and begin to feel more confident on stage as a performer. Ted’s influence comes through directly on “Gassed Up” from my forthcoming EP Roseway.

You’re gassed up,
You gotta go,
You’re on time,
A metronome

Around this time, I was starting to listen to a lot of contemporary solo guitar music. Hearing Ted’s playing on the b-side of the record rearranged my brain. I wound up doing a deep dive into the world of open tunings because of it. This reinvigorated my love for playing guitar and songwriting. It helped me approach my instrument in new ways and become a better player. I’m 100% channeling Ted’s energy on my latest single “Headcleaner.” Lucas studied sitar under Ravi Shankar, and I love hearing that influence come through on “Love and Peace Raga.” And I could watch this clip of him performing “Love Took a New Twist” forever. 

I am beyond grateful for the music Ted left us with and I never tire of introducing friends to it. In 2021, I organized a tribute compilation for Perpetual Doom featuring some of my favorite current songwriters and deep Ted-Heads. It was amazing to bring folks together around Ted’s legacy and hear more about the ways his music continues to impact listeners. 

There is a moment in his interview with talk show host Tom Shannon where he is asked, “Well, how would you describe your music?” He replies, “Plain old Ted Lucas.” It’s perhaps the most pure answer I’ve ever heard to this question, one I’ve been asked and will continue to be asked for a long time to come. I always got the sense that while Ted was a well-studied, technically skilled player, he was simply chasing the sound in his mind. I feel like I’m in the room with him when listening to his music — something I’m always talking and thinking about when recording. 

Jeffrey Silverstein is a songwriter based in Portland, OR. His new EP, Roseway, is out June 14, 2024 via Arrowhawk Records.

(Photo Credit: Shade Standard)