Fluent on both the electric and acoustic guitar, Pittsburgh native Rich Stein is a folk-rock instrumentalist who has brought a variety of influences to his work, such as the fingerpicker school of acoustic folk-rock guitar; that is, acoustic guitar-playing instrumentalists like John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Peter Lang. However, Stein can't be totally lumped in with the fingerpickers. While Kottke, Lang and the late Fahey are obvious influences, Stein has been quoted as saying that he is "equally influenced" by Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame) and Richard Thompson. And unlike full-time fingerpickers, Stein doesn't play the acoustic guitar exclusively; while the acoustic guitar is the instrument of choice for full-time pickers, Stein is just as comfortable on the electric guitar. So when you add all of these things up, it makes him one of the more individualistic performers in the world of instrumental folk-rock.
Stein was born in Mt. Lebanon, PA (a suburb of Pittsburgh), but he spent many of his pre-adult years in the Detroit area. The guitarist was a junior in high school when his family moved to a suburb of St. Louis, and as a young adult, he studied classical guitar with guitarist Douglas Niedt at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. After that, he spent two semesters at Ohio State University (where he continued to study the guitar) before moving to New York City and settling in the borough of Queens. Stein, who has taught music at a Long Island high school, got married in the Big Apple and had two kids (the first born in 1992, the second born in 1995). Stein has been quoted as saying that the tremendous responsibility of parenthood didn't interfere with his music; if anything, it inspired him to work harder and become even more focused as a musician and a composer. In 1998, Stein released Hands On, his debut EP, on his own label Clear Stear Music. While that 19-minute EP found an unaccompanied Stein sticking to the acoustic guitar and favoring a picker approach in the Fahey/Kottke/Lang/Stefan Grossman tradition, his next release, Unspoken, was something different. Released on Clear Steer in 2003, Unspoken employed various guest musicians and offered both acoustic and electric guitar playing. Stein was still a folk-rock instrumentalist, but Unspoken -- his first full-length album -- made it clear that not everything in his catalog would adhere to a traditional fingerpicker style. Fahey, Kottke and Lang influenced Unspoken, but so did various non-fingerpicker guitarists. Unspoken was produced by bassist Philip A. Jimenez, who Stein had played with in a late-'90s band called Jordan River. In addition to releasing Hands On and Unspoken on his Clear Steer label, Stein has appeared on albums by indie artists who include Sarah Haddock, Brian Sendrowitz, Seth Davis, Sonny Meadows, Akiva, Bill Ayers and Michael Clark. ~ Alex Henderson
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