This blog post is reprinted from a previous blog I kept at ofwg.net. I no longer have that blog, nor the domain. This post was resurrected because the “how did you get started” question came up in a conversation on the BGU members forum. This seemed more appropriate than rewriting from scratch!
No doubt about it, I’m not a kid anymore. You know that when people stop referring to you as “wet behind the ears.” I never really knew what the meant anyway.
LIfe started out for me with a definite bent towards music. I played accordion for a number of years, until the accordion joined most Americans’ most hated list, right up there with bagpipes. Dick Contino, Myron Floren and Frank Yankovic notwithstanding, the Beatles and the British invasion of the sixties was the death knell for the accordion. Other than John West, playing the Cordovox in Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the sixties were devoid of any accordion heroes. So who was I to fight progress? I switched from being an “accordionist” to being a “keyboard player.” In the mid-sixties, other than Mike Smith, who played a Vox Jaguar for The Dave Clark Five, and Alan Price for The Animals, there weren’t many mainstream rock and roll keyboard players to emulate. My roots with the Natural Music Studios gave me an entré into the world of six stringers, which I immediately loved! I beat my first guitar nearly to death. It was a mid-fifties Fender Esquire, which was given to me by the studio owner so I could learn (and teach) guitar. Along the way, I owned any number of other guitars and basses as I slowly transitioned myself to stringed instruments from the keyboards.
From my first band back in Junior High School, the Rubber Soulz (thanks, Larry Koliha, Dave Goudelock, Gary Case, Mike Sand, Chris Allison) where I played keyboards to my last, Spere, with Monty Spears, Ken McAfterty and Steve Biggs, with me on bass guitar, I had an absolute blast.
But my dad didn’t. He was one who loved music, but not musicians… at least not sixties musicians. He grew up on the big bands and musicians who wore suits. Don’t get me wrong, dad approved of each of my brothers and I learning music and playing instruments. But to him, being a musician was a parlor sport. He held professional musicians in pretty low regard. So while he encouraged me to learn and play “for fun,” when I decided I wanted to try and make money, playing dances, clubs and bars, that was another story.
“You’ll never make a living playing that thing,” referring to whatever stringed instrument I happened to have hanging off my shoulder at the moment. I heard that phrase probably a hundred times, as I was leaving for practice or heading out for a weekend gig. To my dad’s credit, he did co-sign a number of finance contracts or loan me the money to get the equipment I needed or wanted to play. I always felt it was begrudgingly given, but nonetheless, it was almost always given. My dad’s opinion and approval had always been important to me as a kid, so his sudden dislike for what I was consciously trying to turn into a chosen profession was very difficult for me to deal with.
I played and he harangued about how what I was playing wasn’t music. The big bands were music. Guitars were gutter instruments. “You’ll never make a living playing that thing.” It hurt, a lot, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
In February of 1972, Spere broke up. Our guitarist, Monty wanted to play Jazz. We were playing down and dirty power trio rock ala, Grank Funk, Black Sabbath, James Gang and as much Deep Purple as we could squeeze in without an organ. The rent was paid up in our practice hall for the rest of the month and I was confident that Steve, my drummer friend and I could put together another band, so we kept the rented practice space. I was working at my day job, at a hi-fi and electronics hobbyist store when the call came in from Steve. “Hey, how come you’re taking your stuff out of the practice room? I thought you wanted to start another band.”
Of course, I hadn’t removed anything, but apparently someone else had. My Acoustic 360/361 bass amp was gone, as was the amp head for the Plush guitar amp. Also on the missing list was my Fender Contempo organ that I had used to help pound out melodies for our lead guitarist for tunes he didn’t know. So I trudged down to the practice room to find the hasp gone from the door of the room. I went to a local hardware store and got a new lock and hasp and re-secured the room so as to save what I had left there, and safeguard Steve’s drums. The next day I got another call. This time everything they hadn’t taken the first day was gone as well. Steve’s drums were still there, but Steve’s set was pretty much a hodgepodge of different stuff he had picked up over the years and the thieves probably weren’t interested in the return on investment they would get from it. Gone was the rest of my gear, my fretless Precision Bass, another Telecaster I had picked up, our mics, stands and the crude PA I had cobbled together.
“You’ll never make a living playing that thing,” kept echoing through my head as I headed home to let my parents know I was no longer a working musician. In spite of feeling very sorry for me, my dad said, “Now you know it’s time to grow up and be a man.” That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but I figured he was right. After all, since I was old enough to remember, my dad was always right and always willing to share his wisdom. But that cold day in ’72 was probably the worst day of my life.
After that loss, the idea of ever playing again just didn’t make sense. There were probably people I knew from the 70’s through the 90’s who never even knew I played. I bought a few instruments over the years. I remember probably half a dozen different acoustic guitars, a couple of spinet pianos and a Fender Rhodes electric, but I never really got into playing any of them and they all got sold or traded for something else. I got married, had kids and worked at something where I could make a living, according to my dad’s advice.
For Christmas of 1994, I traded my last acoustic guitar in to a pawn shop as a down payment on an old used drum kit for my oldest son. He was 10 and really wanted to learn drums. I was not going to discourage it, because by this time I knew what a disservice my dad had done to me by not supporting my professional efforts.
Within a year or two my family figured it out before I did. On a birthday, I think it was my 45th, Maurette and the boys got me a Fender acoustic bass guitar. Nice guitar and it got me interested, so I picked up a Squier Telecaster also. But after a few weeks they ended up in cases in the closet. I was too busy and didn’t have any clear path.
Then, back in 2010 after both kids were gone and Maurette and I finally came to terms with being empty nesters, I decided to resume playing the guitar. I scoured the Internet looking for some material I could do as a home study. I just didn’t want to go in front of some 20 something guitar teacher who would make me look really awful in private lessons. I happened upon Griff Hamlin’s Blues Guitar Unleashed course and ordered it. The next Saturday I headed into town and came home with no less than 3 electric guitars (all pawn shop finds) and a new Epiphone EB-3 bass. I think I also picked up a couple small amplifiers that day as well. I made myself a promise that within a year, I would get back to where I was when I quit at 19.
After the year was up, I figured, either I wasn’t as good as I remembered at 19 or re-learning at age 57 is a real bitch! I’m inclined to believe the latter, because I’ve heard crude recordings of my bands from about age 16 through 19 and they weren’t too bad!
Now, I can’t wait to get home in the evening, kiss my wife and head into my practice room. I practice probably over a half hour a day and noodle for another hour or so every night. I’ve played a few jams, but no other public performances.
At 59 years, I know I’ll never be another Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani and that’s all right! I’m again doing something that I truly love. It makes me wonder how much different my life would have been had I never given it up. Whether I would have made a living at it or just had it as the “parlor entertainment” my dad always supported, I think my life to this point would have been considerably different. But that’s all spilled milk and I’m not going to look back and wonder what might have been.
With all the joys and pitfalls of career, raising a family and living a life that I have truly enjoyed, I can honestly say I have never enjoyed my life as much as I am doing right now! Most of the people I know well, wife, kids, friends all see the difference and they tell me it’s a good one. And I can’t disagree!
Update: As of March 2020, at the grand old age of 67, I’m still enjoying it as much as the day I first picked up a guitar in my teen years. A great deal of that satisfaction is from having met Griff Hamlin and adopted his methods of learning the instrument.