By KAYLEIGH ZYSKOWSKI Journal Gazette and Times-Courier
---- — CHARLESTON — For musician “The Reverend” Robert Reynolds, performing is all about finding a rhythm worth dancing to.
And his passion to learn different rhythmic styles will take him to India at the end of the month to study under a traditional Indian slide guitarist, Debashish Bhattacharya.
Reynolds, who picked up the guitar at the age of 15, plays what is known as “prewar” blues, jazz or folk music.
“Basically, ‘prewar’ is a term musicians use for the era before electric instruments,” he said.
Since discovering his taste for early 20th century styles including ragtime, early jazz, Hawaiian, African and Caribbean, Reynolds has been able to combine these styles to create his acoustic sound. He says he discovers new styles and artists online, during his travels and after purchasing new CDs; however, when Reynolds stumbled upon Bhattacharya’s music, he quickly discovered that his Indian rhythm and guitar technique would lend itself well to his own acoustic jazz, blues and folk style.
“(Bhattacharya) developed his innovative Hindustani slide guitars after years of research and experience,” according to his website. Bhattacharya traditionally plays the guitar while sitting cross legged, with the guitar held on the lap and played with a small steel bar, metal picks and a celluloid thumb pick.
In the Indian culture, lap steel guitar playing is a social practice, similar to traditional American jazz and blues.
“It caught the fancy of young Kolkatans due to its versatility as a pleasant solo and accompanying instrument,” the website says. “Bhattacharya, a prodigy, was drawn towards guitar and mastered the technique under the able wings of a maestro who brought the instrument in the Indian classical stream.”
Bhattacharya now has exhaustive syllabus he uses at his “Kolkata Gharana (school) of Steel Guitar.” Though Bhattacharya travels around the world, touring throughout most of the year, he hosts students at his guitar school in India about three months out of the year; he’s trained more than 1,000 students, according to his professional website.
Not surprisingly, Reynolds wanted the opportunity to study under Bhattacharya and eventually met him while he was at Ellnora — The Guitar Festival, hosted at the Krannert Center in Urbana, after emailing him for weeks.
“I introduced myself and said I was the one that had been emailing him for a while,” he said. “He ended up giving me a deal for the class really.”
Reynolds — who grew up in Mattoon and now lives in Charleston — will spend a month learning techniques from the traditional Indian lap guitarist, and though he’s traveled throughout the country and internationally — specifically in the United Kingdom — India will be a new adventure for him.
“I have no idea what to expect, but I know I’ll have a place to eat and sleep for a month,” he said.
The region is considered an English speaking area, however Reynolds says during his 40 hours of travel to Kolkata, he’ll be cramming Hindi — one of the languages in the city that’s considered the cultural capital of India.
Reynold’s ticket is purchased and his visa is in hand, however several musician friends decided to help fund his travels by hosting a benefit Saturday night at Top of the Roc’s in Charleston.
Several bands performed with some of the proceeds going into his pocket to help pay for his international excursion.
“Almost everybody playing are people I’ve played with myself,” he said.
The five acts were Motherlode, Resonation Station, Reynolds, Moondogs and Superbad — his own band.
“It’s exciting because I don’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I want to see what the culture is about, and the food — I love Indian food. I don’t know what to expect — that’s the fun of it.”
The Mattoon Arts Council has also offered support to the musician, and he plans to share what he’s learned with others once he’s returned home.
“I don’t think it will be so much of me playing examples of Indian music, since that would take months alone to accomplish, but more ideas and styles that I can apply to what I do,” Reynolds said.
His journey will be a change of pace from his usual international travels when he is typically asked to speak at different conferences about his music.
“I’ve traveled to Europe where I’ve given seminars,” he said. “Usually they want to hear about American blues or folk music. I know exactly what it is that draws me to it — it’s all very rhythmic.
“I love when I get to perform in areas like Mississippi. People will get up and dance when I play, and you don’t get that so much around here.”
Reynolds’ latest CD, “Shake That Thing,” is available for sale and his “tip jar” is open for donation on his website at revrobert.com.