Ask Marc Ribot why he plays guitar the weird way he does and he'll blame his mother. And his guitar teacher, Frantz Casseus. Well, maybe a bit of both.

The odd thing about Ribot - a man who has added his touch to albums by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, The Black Keys, Diana Krall, Mike Patton and many more, as well as soundtracks and his own deep back catalogue of solo and group recordings - is that he's a left-hander playing the guitar right-handed.

"And, one might ask ... 'Why didn't you restring the guitar and learn to play left-handed like other people have done in the past', and the answer was by the time anyone - myself included - thought I was serious about playing guitar I had already been playing right-handed for four years.

"My guitar teacher did try this, but it was like having your arms wired with the nerves of your legs ... I was in tears in about five minutes.


"When I asked my teacher why he hadn't taught me left-handed originally he told me my mother had said I was not really left-handed - I was only doing it to annoy her.

"When I asked my mother whether this was true she said 'Oh no, Frantz was just too lazy to restring your guitar. He thought you would probably quit in a few weeks anyway.

"When I thought about it they were probably both correct."

Ribot is talking from New York while trying to figure out what instruments he should bring with him for his solo New Zealand-Australian tour.

Across the Tasman his shows include tribute concerts to the music of Casseus - who brought Haitian folk tunes into his classical guitar compositions - but he'll also be playing shows that touch upon the many points of his own career. That has taken in everything from New York No Wave improvisational art-noise to off-kilter blues and jazz, to Cuban and Haitian music.

Ribot grew up in the 1960s in New Jersey and was turned on to guitar by the likes of Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix, and his lessons from family friend Casseus. He soon developed his own lateral style, one influenced by avant-garde saxophone players such as Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy.

"There was a point when when I was starting out that if I could have been George Benson I would have been George Benson.

"One of my first gigs was with [soul-jazz band leader] Brother Jack McDuff and I would have given up some pretty important body parts to play like George Benson in that situation. Let's put it this way, in that scene I almost lost some because I couldn't."


But Ribot figured he was on to something with his own lateral style.

"I started to see a kind of an advantage. Maybe there were some real-world historical reasons why my playing always sounded nervous and crazy - beyond the fact that I am nervous and crazy - maybe some other nervous and crazy people out there would find it useful."

Along came Tom Waits, who made Ribot's guitar a major flavour in a run of albums starting with 1985's Rain Dogs.

Since then the sessions have kept coming. And soundtracks for films new and old - he has recently been playing with screenings of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid - and for films that only exist in his imagination, like those he soundtracked on his acclaimed 2010 album Silent Movies. Some of which he may play in Auckland tonight.

"Sometimes I do whatever comes into my head. Sometimes I free-improvise. So you never know."

Who: Marc Ribot
Where: The Tuning Fork at Vector Arena
When: Tonight

- TimeOut