I grew up listening to hard rock and metal, like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Accept, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, and similar bands. During 7th grade (1984), I saw a classmate play guitar at the talent show and became obsessed with knowing how people knew where to put their fingers. Before long, my parents got me an acoustic guitar for my birthday, followed by an electric and amp for Christmas. I’ve played both since.
I stumbled into composing by goofing around on the guitar and occasionally having something cool come out. Composition has been my focus ever since. In 9th grade, I built my first electric guitar for a science project, winning honorable mention. I built a second two years later and have seldom played a manufactured electric since. These are the guitars heard on my albums and pictured here.
I frequently wrote and recorded songs for the twin-guitar metal band I wanted to form but found few compatible musicians even after high school, but I formed a band anyway. Apparition recorded a 5-song demo amid a few shows and lots of in-fighting before grunge music arrived in 1991, destroying the rock and metal scene and killing the short-lived project.
Classical Music (1991-1996)
That same year, I became a serious classical composition major in college, but it’s hard to follow those rules when you haven’t taken the courses for them yet. While struggling, I took a semester of violin, flute, and classical guitar for amusement, which turned to dismay when transferring schools. I was forced to audition on classical guitar despite not majoring in it. To my surprise, the school accepted me as a guitar major instead of as a composition major. I now needed to acquire four years of playing skill in only two years. Practicing as much as ten hours a day, I succeeded, earning a Bachelors of Music, Magna Cum Laude, in 1995.
A few weeks later, in November of 1995, I recorded 19 classical guitar pieces at home, eventually releasing all but one as The Lost Art album. The remaining piece, “Fantasia Etude” is an original composition included on the Serenade of Strings album.
Back to Metal (1993-1996)
During the degree, in 1993, I became an instrumental guitarist after successfully merging classical composition techniques with my rock and acoustic guitar playing. I began writing and recording demos for the Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid album. By August 1996, I had 29 rock instrumentals and a half dozen acoustic ones, the latter inspiring the all-acoustic album (Serenade of Strings). I took a one year break from college before applying for a master’s program in music theory, intending to follow that with a doctorate and a life as a college professor of music, but fate intervened.
In August 1996, all of that classical guitar practice caught up with me and I developed severe tendonitis in both arms, losing all guitar and piano playing, plans, and the rest of my life. Temporarily crippled, I was unable to work or do much else. A full year passed with no guitar but I learned to play my drum machine with my feet, taping letter openers to a book so that stepping on one would depress the drum pad. All drums on the debut album, The Firebard were performed this way, and it allowed me to make music.
When I resumed playing guitar in August 1997, it was with severe limitations. It wasn’t until 2001 that I could play all of my own rock music again, a total of five years; acoustic was too hard on my arms and I seldom played it until 2006, ten years. Piano has largely remained gone, as has classical guitar and all classical music pursuits. There will be no master’s deree, doctorate, or life as a professor of music.
My Career Starts (2001-2008)
I built up my home studio and began recording The Firebard, which took a long time due to serious restrictions on my playing time. I released the debut in 2004 to good reviews and airplay in Canada, Australia, and the United States, earning endorsements with Peavey, Alvarez Guitars, and Morley Pedals and having several interviews. I also authored articles for guitar-related websites, wrote tablature, and created videos. I built a third custom guitar.
I soon recruited local players (including James Goetz on rhythm guitar) to perform live but found the local scene unsupportive despite getting invited to the local All-Star Jam in 2006. After a half-dozen shows, the band broke up in 2007 just before I released the follow up, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid, which featured session bassist Dave DeMarco and drummer Jeff Moos.
I finally returned to playing acoustic guitar in 2007 to resume writing the Serenade of Strings album, which slowed down due to joining James and Dave in an Iron Maiden tribute band that found little club support and broke up after a half-dozen shows. I finished recording Serenade of Strings in 2009, with Jeff on drums again, and released it with The Lost Art in 2010.
I’d decided to return to my roots, doing twin-guitar metal and a vocal metal album, which I thought would be the fifth Randy Ellefson release but instead became the debut album by a new band called Z-Order, with James on drums and Dave on bass (and me doing all guitars). With a mix of new songs and old Apparition ones, all backing tracks were recorded by 2011 when the singer quit with only half of the vocals done. After him came another five singers through 2016, each of them working on it for between one and eighteen months before quitting, forcing me to start over because Utopia is a concept album and the character couldn’t be changing over and over.
I’d finally had enough with amateur singers, leaving a paid singer as the only option, but my finances had changed, making this unfeasible. This has remained true but I’m hoping it will change.
Return to Instrumentals (2011-2014)
With Z-Order on hold, I returned to instrumentals and began playing drums in 2011, becoming the lone musician on Randy Ellefson albums from there on. By the end of 2012, I’d mostly cleared a big backlog of instrumentals., recording the next instrumental rock album (Now Weaponized!). I also recorded most of another acoustic one (sixth album), everything but the lead guitars for a seventh album (rock), and re-recorded The Firebard due to unhappiness with the original’s production. I even recorded all the stuff I’d written in the 1980s after some tweaks to song structures, resulting in a second possible Z-Order release with me doing everything (minus vocals because there’s still no singer).
At the end of 2012, with my backlog cleared, I inadvertently stopped playing guitar and haven’t really played since because I became a father and switched to focusing on fiction/non-fiction after putting that off for many years. It was time for music to take a back seat instead.
Now Weaponized! was released in November 2013 and The Firebard re-release came on the 10-year anniversary of the original, on June 29, 2014. Music videos for all 22 songs on both albums were filmed but I only completed editing and releasing a handful because, as with everything in my pursuit of music, I couldn’t get much traction on them, so I stopped.
Having turned 40, become a father, recouped less than 1% of the money spent on album releases (music is a hard sell, instrumental music is even worse, and instrumental guitar is probably worst of all!), and unwilling to deal with flaky singers anymore, I turned my attention to parenting and writing fiction (and even non-fiction), but I haven’t really retired from music. After all, I’m sitting on four albums I’d like released. Hell, I didn’t play acoustic guitar for a decade and still returned to finish Serenade of Strings, so you can never really count me out. I just need financials to change. Life happens, but it’s happened to me before with me returning, so stay tuned…