A Song I Love – The Stars and Stripes Forever – Guy Van Duser

Reblog from 2016

Yesterday was Independence Day in the US so we went to see a fireworks display. The orchestra played the usual fare of Broadway, Americana and such, and of course, invariably play the “1812 Overture” which kicks off the fireworks.

But for me that’s not the highlight. The highlight is John Philip Sousa’s, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” a song I find not only to be great but actually the rare song that’s thrilling. You don’t have to be American to love this purely as a great march.

Sousa did not compose this song to be any sort of anthem per se. According to Wikipedia, he actually did it on hearing of the death of his Sousa band’s leader. Interestingly, it was first performed in 1897 at Willow Grove Park outside Philadelphia, an amusement park that is no longer there but where I misspent at least some of my youth.

What I love about this song is not so much that it stirs patriotic feelings in me. Sure, I’m patriotic but I’m hardly a flag-waver. What I love about it is that it’s such a magnificent song. I think it’s one of the best songs ever written, almost perfect in its construction.

You may well be familiar with a standard orchestral version of it. But I will be willing to bet that many people have never heard it played entirely on acoustic guitar. (And no, not just strummed). Guy Van Duser is a Massachusetts-based fingerstyle guitarist and part-time instructor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a devout adherent of Chet Atkins, often mastering his complex playing style.

In 1977, he recorded an album called American Finger Style Guitar. Among other wonders, he recorded his solo version of “Stars and Stripes.” Most of the album is recorded in a studio but he did “Stars” live so people wouldn’t think he overdubbed it. Apparently he learned it by listening to a recording by the Michigan State marching band.

So, ladies and gentlemen. Prepare to be blown away. A little late for this year’s Independence Day but pretty damn early for next year’s. Here is Guy Van Duser performing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Spotify link

11 thoughts on “A Song I Love – The Stars and Stripes Forever – Guy Van Duser

  1. I love, love, love John Philip Sousa! Best part of the 4th of July for me is the playing of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as well. Growing up I used to watch the movie all the time. I love Sousa’s music but never heard it other than a marching band composition. Guy Van Duser’s guitar rendition is fantastic. I am glad he did it before a crowd because the song, for me, is all about spontaneous joy and enthusiasm. Great post!


    1. Isn’t it just awesome? I think the people in the audience were stunned at first. I would have been. How is it even possible to replicate an entire orchestra? Van Duser is so good that when he was copying licks off of Chet Atkins’ records, he was playing licks that had been overdubbed with two guitars! He didn’t know this and assumed it was all Atkins. Chet, who couldn’t believe it himself, told Van Duser this personally.

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  2. I went and listened to a Chet Atkins song to hear the overdubbing of two guitars and then listened to Guy Van Duser’s guitar work. Unbelievable! Duser is an incredible guitarist. Thanks for sharing the Chet Atkins story. It produces a whole another level of Duser’s guitar work for me. It also allowed me to enjoy Chet Atkins as well!


    1. Sure. And for the record, in case I muddle the story, Van Duser was an advocate of Chet Atkins.’ initially. But it was Van Duser who came up with the “Stars and Stripes” on guitar. And then Atkins covered Guy’s version.


      1. Yeah. I got that. Just to clarify on my end. I didn’t listen to Atkins version of “Stars and Stripes”. I just listened to a song of Atkins to remember his guitar work.


      1. It’s amazing! Searched YouTube and found a video of Chet Atkins playing it noticeably slower and seeming humbled by even trying it – says he learned it from Van Duser


        1. And Atkins was a great player. Van Duser returning a favor. Leaning a song that complex, boy, that’s a commitment of time right there.

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