Fretless Guitarist Tim Donahue and Producer David Evans

Back in February 2009 Tim Donahue described his relationship with the Producer David Evans and how he tirelessly promoted Tim and Fretless Guitar. Here we publish the article in full and the dialog between Tim and Ed DeGenaro discussing that article and some further ideas.

All the info was taken from the Unfretted Forum, but I believe it needs re-airing as it describes the faith that a good producer has in an artist and how it can boost that artist’s success. It also touches on how an artist can thrive in Japan, yet record in America.

Tim Donahue: In his own words….

Tim Donahue with Fretless Harp Guitar

A recent youtube post of “Watching A Movie” from the 1980’s certainly brought back a lot of memories, especially those of someone who changed my life, a great producer named David Evans, for whom I’m writing this about.

For those truly interested in a piece of fretless guitar history, read on and enjoy….

I was in Tokyo in 1983, furiously writing and recording ECM-style jazz on fretless electric & fretless classical guitars (my first harp guitar was in 1984). The music was otherworldly, and although I loved Japan, I remember thinking “I should be doing this music in Europe.” I ended up amassing countless hours of fretless recordings, some which were released on my 2006 album EARLYWORKS.

Also in 1983, someone suggested I send a tape to Mike Varney for inclusion in Guitar Player Magazine’s Spotlight column. I was reluctant to do so, because I had never sent a tape anywhere before. Besides, I didn’t think Mike would be interested because he was strictly a hard rock guy (so I thought…). I sent the tape anyway, with a short bio. Mike quickly responded and a few months later, I was in GP’s Spotlight column. Mike said such wonderful things, I couldn’t believe he was saying them about me!

Soon, letters came from people around the world who wanted to know about my fretless guitars & music. Among them was a producer in Los Angeles named David Evans. David had done marketing work for Windham Hill Records and had his own operation named Green Street Productions. Luckily, David read my Spotlight article and was interested in producing my first solo album for Avalon Records, his new record label. I couldn’t believe it!

A big nod to Mike Varney for starting the ball rolling…

One should remember – I was young and still very unknowledgable about the music industry. To be approached from out of the blue by a producer in the USA was as unbelievable as it was incredible, especially since I wanted to do my music overseas. David could have easily found an artist to work with in the USA. But his choice of me in Japan proved he was indeed serious. We started corresponding – the more tapes I sent him, the more his passion grew. This was late 1983…

At that time, I could never imagine the impact David Evans would eventually have on my career and life in general. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how one person’s vision can change a life. Being so young, it took time for me to realize that someone like David Evans comes along rarely, if ever, in an artist’s career.

1984: I built my first fretless harp guitar in Tokyo and recorded nonstop. Of course, the first person to hear this new music was David Evans. That material was more otherworldly than the other material I sent him. As before, David couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and with new material coming to him at a breakneck pace, he made final plans to bring me to Los Angeles to record my first album THE FIFTH SEASON.

Years later, Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer told me how Chas Chandler did exactly the same thing for Jimi, bringing him to the States to start his career. Like Chas was to Jimi, no one was more passionate about my music than David. And also like Chas, David followed through with his promises. I understood what Eddie meant, and I think Eddie knew how lucky I was to have David Evans supporting me.

Off to L.A. I went in 1985……

Working with David and engineer Bernie Kirsch at Chick Corea’s Mad Hatter Studio was a dream come true. David knew exactly what kind of album he wanted to make, with no compromises- a 100% fretless guitar record featuring fretless electric, fretless harp guitar, fretless synth guitar and fretless classical guitar pieces all on one album.

The Fifth Season - Vinyl
The Fifth Season – 12 inch vinyl LP

Looking back, out of the countless recording sessions I’ve done over the years, THE FIFTH SEASON sessions stand out as some of the most magical ones ever. I think this is due to the rapport David Evans and I shared. In and out of the studio, David made a point of listening to everything I played – every note passed through him. He was incredibly passionate, yet articulate about his musical tastes. He certainly let you know if something came on the radio that he liked or didn’t like. In the studio, his support was unwavering, but diplomatic at the same time. Eddie Kramer was this way too, which is why I cherish the music we all made together.

In short, David Evans was the consummate fretless guitar producer, a natural in the studio. Many producers get involved in the technical issues of recording. But David left the technical stuff to the engineers and focused on the artist’s music. I believe he was the first producer with unparalleled passion for fretless guitar, and thus produced the first world-scale 100% fretless guitar album, THE FIFTH SEASON.

If there is any history to be written about fretless guitar music, David Evans certainly deserves acknowledgement. David’s professionalism set higher standards for me as an artist. Because of David, it’s clear to me that unless an artist works with a producer who shares that artist’s passion about his music, that artist may never reach their highest potential.

Little did I know that costs for THE FIFTH SEASON put an enormous strain on David. But if there was any reward, I hope Jazziz Magazine’s and other critic’s nomination of THE FIFTH SEASON in the top 5 1986 jazz albums verified David’s vision – and that his first production was received so well by established music critics.

THE FIFTH SEASON was just one of many TD works that David produced. It was David Evans who produced the promo video “Watching A Movie” and other TD videos that aired regularly on MTV’s VH-1 channel in the States.

And it was David Evans who got those early promo videos on VH-1. Just imagine – fretless guitar videos airing (on rotation!) on MTV’s AOR channel in 1986. There’s no denying this was another piece of fretless guitar history made possible by David Evans. I still get mail from people wanting to see those videos again.

It was David Evans who put together my fretless hard rock album VOICES IN THE WIND with Eddie Kramer and vocalist Paul Rodgers. I must say, it was an honour to make an album with such legends. Another piece of fretless guitar history that wouldn’t have been possible without David’s efforts….

And of course, it was David Evans who released the vintage fretless guitar fusion album EARLYWORKS on the BhuddaWax label in 2006, along with a few other TD albums.

Furthermore, besides getting involved in the creative process, David worked tirelessly to promote my work. He was more than a producer- he was a publicist, manager and agent. In the late 1980’s I did many live harp guitar performances in Southern California, made possible by David to get me in front of USA audiences. For sure, not every performance I gave was stellar, but David kept his faith nonetheless. And when the reviews were great, I was happy for him more than anything else.

An incredibly modest guy, David always worked behind the scenes, and made an enormous amount of contacts on my behalf. One of them was Windham Hill’s (then) president Will Ackerman, who voiced his support for my work in a very eloquent way. I appreciated Will’s open-door policy toward me, often keeping me informed of where I could personally contact him throughout the year. Again, this is a result of David Evans’ efforts. Because even though David had his own record label, I know he would have been happy to see me sign with Windham Hill (Windham Hill was the label for innovative guitar music at that time). Now that’s support…

How is the above relative to the original topic? If anything, I hope one gets an idea of the importance of David Evans efforts in producing, releasing and promoting early fretless guitar music. In this case, I have to say “my” fretless music, because I don’t know of any other fretless players David has ever worked with. The fact is – David Evans certainly put out a lot of FG work, more than any producer I’ve ever heard of.

That’s why I believe any history of fretless guitar recording and artist development wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging David’s Evans’ contributions. He is a visionary who forged ahead to bring new and unusual music to as many people as possible.

Thank you forever David,


Ed Degenaro and Tim Donahue chat about the above article.

Ed DeGenaro Vigier
Ed DeGenaro with Fretless Vigier Surfretter

Ed DeGenaro
Cool read!!!! Out of curiosity TD, do you think if you had lived in the US for the last 20 years you could have gotten more milage out of it, as in being the guy that kinda dragged Fretless Guitar into a more main stream, permanent usage…. I kinda think so.

Tim Donahue
Gee Ed, that question has never crossed my mind. But giving it some thought, it’s easy to think of what might have been different, but not necessarily better, had I stayed in the States. When I think about that, I come to the conclusion if I had stayed in the States, I would never, ever, in my wildest dreams, have gotten the kind of major label support that I got in Japan. Not in a thousand years! To what extent I’ve enjoyed such support is certainly unknown to someone living in the States or Europe, but I must say humbly that the support of Japanese record labels, the media and advertising companies far exceeded my dreams as an artist. I have been fortunate to record and release the music iwant to make, on my terms, on a large scale. And what USA company would have produced a TD model fretless guitar, true to my design, in 1986? Again, I believe that this would never have been possible in the States. If I thought it might have been possible, I may have stayed there after I finished promoting THE FIFTH SEASON in Southern California in 1988.

To bring something into the mainstream requires having a hit song- the States is certainly the place for that. But to be honest, having a hit song was (and is) the furthest thing from my mind.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not knocking the States. I’m just saying my level of support would have been quite different than what I’ve been accustomed to in Japan. Again, not to put down America at all – I love USA audiences, I really do miss performing in the States. It’s just that Japan has been good in other ways, and being here influences one’s music and life greatly. I love Japan… but that’s another story.

As you can tell, I’m eternally grateful to David for all I wrote in the Fretless Guitar history post above. Working with David was an important part of my career – but to be fair, there are other producers as well, and other artists, many to mention, that I must tip my hat to for giving me their support. One was Larry Coryell (and I hope to tell that story someday!). So, David started the ball rolling for me, and others have picked it up along the way (if I may put it like that).

From a historical perspective, I just hope that folks interested in such historical matters will recognize David’s work as a true fretless guitar producer. But in a discussion of producers, I’m now working with Gregg Miner of Miner Music in L.A. Gregg is also a visionary, and an incredible musician. He is the world’s authority on harp guitar music, and I must say I’m humbled by his cherished support. He just released the comp CD HARP GUITAR DREAMS, which has a TD track “If You Were Here” on it. Gregg has been trying to get me to take a break from writing new harp guitar material all the time, in order to decide tracks for a TD solo album. Anyway, without going too far off topic, it is a real honor to have Gregg directing my music, much like David Evans did years ago.

BTW- David lives in L.A. and has quite a track record as producer. But as I said, he works behind the scenes, so there is not much info at all about him on the web.

Ed DeGenaro
Makes perfect sense. The reason why I asked… If I play hindsight 20/20 I likely would have made more money with playing the last 2 years had I stayed in Europe, but other benefits would’ve never happened if I didn’t move to the US 20 years ago.

As for the hit song…now that’s funny. I’m about as likely to have one of those as my wife enjoying Country music.

But I don’t think it means so much in terms of mainstream Top 40 success, but rather that your timing seemed to have been perfect for “Guitar Superstardom”, as in a Vai / Satriani type of thing. No worries I was merely thinking out loud.

Tim Donahue
Funny you mentioned the Vai / Satch thing. Another story:
Because what I do is so varied, every producer I’ve worked with did not want my music to be marketed in the Guitar-God vein. They wanted to put out my stuff with a different approach. As you know, putting your heart and soul into an album is a creative, but very draining experience. So I just get bored after an album and end up doing something different next time. As a result, it’s hard for record companies to market the music because each album is so varied. Don’t mean to ramble again, but David Evans and Eddie Kramer knew I’m always changing artistically, so they weren’t keen on promoting me in a Vai / Satch vein. I think they wanted a wider approach, which is what I wanted as well.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Guitar-God thing…don’t get me wrong!

I just don’t know if I’m the guitar-hero type, Ed. I remember vividly, during the making of VOICES IN THE WIND, I was inspired most of the time, having the opportunity to make a dream album come true. But I must admit, I got incredibly bored during some of the sessions… So much so, I was wondering if I was really worthy of the opportunity at hand. Thank God inspiration prevailed and the album turned out as it did. .

In otherwords, the guitar-hero thing is cool for artists who can stay focused on it. Gee, look at Yngwie…

Sorry, I didn’t mean to put you in a “pop” genre either, Ed…I meant to compliment you as someone who has what it takes to make that hit song. In any event, straight ahead mate!!!!!

Ed DeGenaro
That I can relate to. What I’m working on right now I got to play with guys I usually listen to, and half the time I feel like I should just mute the guitar since the rhythm section alone would make me happy as a listening experience. And I’ve heard my lines a gazillion times already (and that’s just last week). BTW, I took no offence at the pop thing.

While we’re talking I’m curious about something gear related-seeing that you’re a fellow Vigier endorser…wood or metal board, where’s your preference?

I never used to like wood boards since on the metal I was able to use round wound strings. But for the last year or so I’m preferring half wounds on wood boards.

Tim Donahue
Which board? That’s a hard question Ed- it’s basically an issue of tone for me. I generally prefer ebony, or plastic (as on my TD mahogany headless Fretless Guitar). I like Vigier’s Delta metal for some heavy tones (as on “The End” from the MADMEN album), but for me the Vigier’s clean tone is best for the jazzy stuff, which I rarely play these days.

Sustain-wise, again for the rock stuff I like ebony or plastic boards over the Delta metal. Again, the Delta metal’s sustain seems to suit the jazzier stuff. The track “Ambiguity” is a good example of my Vigier’s clean and distorted tones.

So in terms of priorities, for me it’s tone first, sustain second.
Round wounds all my guitars, changed once every 2 years (unless used on an album recording, at which they’re changed everyday).

Actually, I should send a picture of the new fretless Vigier made for me. It’s gorgeous, but not a production model, so no one has seen it yet. Maybe I’ll send a pic along if someone is interested.


More Youtube’s

Tim san speaks pretty good Japanese for a gaijin…

Tim plays Norwegian Wood on Japanese TV



Tim Donahue album reviews (Unfretted) (Official website)


More Tim Donahue More Ed Degenaro

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