By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
A skilled artist makes their craft look easy, and that’s the impression you get when you watch Minier, Illinois musician David Berchtold play the guitar using his signature fingerpicking style. His right hand barely moves – appearing to simply hover over the strings; but he’s actually making quick, short plucking movements with his thumb and fingertips. The technique allows David to play several parts simultaneously – bass, harmony, accompaniment, melody and percussion, all playing at once from just one instrument.
David is a native of Groveland, Illinois, but moved to Lexington, Massachusetts to live with relatives after losing his parents in a car accident when he was 11 years old. He had never thought much about music until he started playing guitar with his best friend in Lexington. “He was very talented, playing and writing songs, and he taught me to play,” David said. “But it took many years for me to realize that this was becoming a big part of my life.”
After moving back to Central Illinois, David finished high school in Pekin, but he wasn’t playing as much then. “I’d hear some stuff I’d like, and I’d learn it,” he explained. “But it got to the point where I was frustrated because of my technique. I’d reached as far as I could get, so I stopped playing heavily. Mostly what I was doing was strumming and maybe pick a note here and there, and that just got to be old hat for me.”
Eventually he found a friend in Central Illinois who got him started playing again. That was when he became fascinated with the music of the old blues artists, and especially the music of Jorma Kaukonen, former lead guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and his current band, Hot Tuna. “I heard that and thought, “Oh my gosh, you can do that on a guitar?” I spent many frustrating, long hours trying to learn to do that.” He was further inspired by local musician Bob Applegate of Applegate and Company. “I heard he was playing at a Brown Bag Lunch, so I took off work to drive to Peoria to listen to him. He was doing fingerpicking and it just floored me!”
For the first time in his musical career, David signed up for formal lessons from Applegate, and drove from Minier to Peoria over two winters. “I learned enough theory and technique that it took my music to a whole new level. I’ve never looked back from there on. I can thank Bob Applegate for what I’ve accomplished because he got me going in a direction that music became thoroughly enjoyable.”
David performs music from a wide variety of genres, everything from Chet Atkins and Doc Watson to Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Doobie Brothers. He also writes some of his own music, including “Serenity” which David made available as the soundtrack for a video from ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. “But,” David said, “Every song I do is some style of fingerpicking.”
David plays solo as well as with small groups. “I’m basically a solo artist,” David said, “But in the last couple of years I’ve met some really talented people whom I play with also. There are some talented people out there, and being able to perform music with them is a real treat.”
“Learning to communicate came really late for me,” David said, “And playing the guitar was really the first way I could communicate in a way that meant something to me. I never would have believed that something so beautiful could come out of my hands.”
You can hear David perform in numerous local venues, including the Rhythm Kitchen Music Café (November 29 and December 13) and Old Towne Bar and Grille in Delavan (December 8). He also performs frequently at The Harvest Café (December 21) in Delavan. Visit David’s website at www.davidberchtold.com for more information and a complete list of upcoming performance dates.