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Terry Klein

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

Photo credit: Pete Holland

"Does the Fish Feel the Knife" - Terry Klein

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

I took my first lesson with a classical guitar player whose fingernails freaked me out, when I was ten I think. I took a couple more lessons, rock guitar lessons, when I was twelve after I got into Hendrix and Zeppelin. I got obsessed when I was 14, mostly because of Van Halen. Not very folky answers.

What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?

My first guitar was a small scale gut string guitar for those classical lessons. At a certain point I put a bunch of scotch tape on it in a crisscross pattern and tried to color it red to make it look like Eddie Van Halen's guitar but it didn't work at all. That guitar is in a landfill somewhere in the Los Angeles basin.

Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?

My grandmother, my dad's mom, played the organ and the piano beautifully. She loved Sinatra. My dad played the drums. I think I played once with my grandmother but never with my dad. He stopped playing when he was 16 or 17.

Terry with his dad, Joe Klein.

What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?

My standby, which I call Bruiser, is a 2014 Martin D-28. Lot of good songs in that guitar and it keeps sounding better as it ages. I just picked up a Collings OM1 with an Adirondack spruce top and I'm telling you it's the most beautiful instrument in every possible sense that I've ever played or seen. That one will stay at home, I suspect, though I guess I could insure it or something. I have a Taylor 310 that I bought in 1999 at a Guitar Center in Albany, CA after I saw the Buena Vista Social Club. And I have 1988 Strat plus that I bought at Matt Umanov Guitars on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village after I'd spent a summer working at a factory in New York.

Terry with his Martin D-28. Photo credit: Michael John Maestro Aurora

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?

Martin Mediums. I change my strings every 6 to 8 weeks. That'd drive some people crazy but I like strings with a little dirt on them.

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

I use Dunlop Tortex .60mm picks, the orange ones.

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?

Not on my acoustic, unless you count a Baggs preamp as an effect pedal.

For my electric I have a Tube Screamer and Carbon Copy.

Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?

I bring my guitars to Dick Dubois here in Austin. He's not taking much work these days so if I recommend him it'd probably just make him mad.

Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?

My favorite was Matt Umanov in Greenwich Village. I remember Aimee Mann was in there once when I was there in the 80's but it was mostly just that they were nice people who sold nice guitars. That's pretty rare and I haven't found it anywhere else.

At what age did you start writing songs?

40. No joke.

Photo credit: Tommy Lewis

What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

I often will come in with an idea, a phrase or a story I want to tell. The words and music come at the same time. Language has a natural rhythmic and melodic dimension so the shape of the melody should feel obvious when you speak the words. That's just my crazy philosophy. I write on paper.

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

Eddie Van Halen, Hayes Carll & Hank Williams.

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

I've agonized over this more than any of the other questions, by far. I'm maybe the rare songwriter who does like to jam, which is an artifact of the time when I wasn't a songwriter but did play a whole lot of music. Not to be sentimental, but I think I'd like to jam with my best friend growing up. He's still alive and kicking and playing the drums so this is a possibility.

Photo credit: Yolanda Haanskorf

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

Townes - Live at the Old Quarter

Waylon Jennings - Dreaming My Dreams

John Hiatt - Bring the Family

What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?

Ray Charles was the first, and that's a good one. I go to shows and play festivals all the time but I can't remember the last time I went to a proper concert as a civilian. Maybe PJ Harvey at Stubb's? I need to work on that.

The Beatles or the Stones?

The Beatles from 1963 to 1967. The Stones from 1968 to the present.

Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

I was in a band in LA the early 90s and I have no idea what we made on shows, but my first gig as a singer-songwriter was as the Open Mic Feature at the Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham, MA. I think I made $90.

Cassette of Terry's early 90's band Bubba Teakis.

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

Nothing exhilarates me more than when a really good song comes to find me. That's happened to me a handful of times and nothing, no fancy shows or great reviews or whatever, comes anywhere close to that feeling.

Photo credit: Kate Callahan

What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).

I played one show six years ago where literally nobody came. That'll mess with your head.

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?

I love Club Passim, The Blue Door, The Saxon Pub, The Old Quarter. It's a combination of being professionally run and also the history of the place.

Photo credit: Joni Lohr

Photo credit: Jim Carroll

How do you work out your setlist?

When I have a set list, which is rare, it's so that there are emotional dynamics during the show. A series of up-tempo songs, followed by some mid-tempo songs, soft fingerpicked songs, mixing it up enough to keep it interesting but also not having a super jarring transition.

Photo credit: Sue Young

Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

It's weird, I was pretty clear on all of the critical stuff. Once you have the art right, it's about putting yourself in position to get lucky. I think you're either a person who has an instinctive understanding of how the business works or you're not. A lot people make a lot of money, so much, getting you to pay them to teach you how the business works but, I'm sorry, you're either going to be able to feel your way through or you're not.

Photo credit: Rod Mcdonald

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

I have this technique that I call six couplets. I think of six random words and then I think of a rhyme for each of the six words. So that gets you twelve words, six couplets, twelve song line endings if you will. You write a verse with two of the couplets, you write a chorus with two of the couplets, and you write a second verse with two of the couplets. And you have a song! It might not be a good song. It might not make very much sense. But at least when you sit down tomorrow you won't have this internal narrative that you can't write a song.

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

I'd be a lawyer and I'd be unhappy to the point of desperation. It's what I did for 15 years before I started doing this.

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.

All of the shows are at You can find all of the merch at And you can find me on Spotify here.

Photo credit: Marian Krzyzowski

"Salinas" - Terry Klein

Photo credit: James Crowley (Texomatic Motor Media)

Photo credit: Yolanda Haanskorf


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