I’ve been working on “Tamacun” by Rodrigo y Gabriela. In the process I watched a bunch of their live performances of this song, and I noted that Rodrigo’s picking ability has fallen way off over the years. He hasn’t played the “Tamacun” solo live as originally recorded in well over a decade, instead substituting a simple little legato lick for the most difficult picking passage. You see it in other areas of his playing as well. I don’t know if he developed physical problems with his hands or what, but he was still a pretty young guy when ability to pick fast and clean started noticeably diminishing.
It got me to thinking of other players who’ve lost a step with age. For example, Eric Johnson no longer picks like he used to, employing almost full legato in his playing now. Zakk Wylde still alternate picks, but it’s nowhere near as precise as it was in his prime. It seemed he picked more from the wrist when he was younger, whereas now it’s almost all from the elbow.
I think it’s similar to how many of those 1980s singers who made their bones screaming like banshees now find it impossible to reproduce those performances in their later years—if they can even perform at all, because many have trashed their vocal chords with their youthful vocal gymnastics.
I don’t know if I really have a point with all this. I’m certainly not trying to shame the cited guitarists, as playing at such a high level requires physical abilities that will inevitably degrade with age. Perhaps it can act as a seed for discussion on how to minimize the impact of age degradation as you grow older. Obviously having a relaxed technique will go a long way, same as it is with singers. I always kind of winced watching Steve Morse play, because he looks so tense, like he’s brute forcing his way through everything. I haven’t really followed his career, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s developed some problems directly related to his playing style.