Thursday, May 25, 2006

You Better Learn To Play Guitar...

I grew up around music. My parents were eclectic and voracious listeners. From Big Band to Be Bop, Dixieland to Free Jazz, Folk to Gospel, Pop to Rock, Motown to R & B, Delta Blues to Chicago, we had it all and heard it all. I now consider it a great privilege and realize what a thing they did for me, but back then, I just thought everybody knew who Odetta was, or Buck Clayton, Jean Jacques Mouret, the White Brothers, Bonnie Raitte, Henry Purcell, Van Morrison, Dizzie Gillespie, or Charlie Parker were...

My dad liked stereo equipment and bought good stuff. During parties, when real live working musicians would show up, he'd roll tape and record the whole thing. He commanded the turn table, generally, but he never objected when somebody else put something on if a record had ended. Saturday mornings were Big Band jazz, Sunday mornings were classical, followed by just about anything else. I loved it all.

Because my greatest saturation was jazz, I first picked the trumpet as the thing I wanted to play. I'd stand in the living room, pretending to be Sachmo, Dizzie, or Buck. Our band program was, however, uninspired; the Director was not a jazz guy, and that was that. Without inspiration, I lost motivation and... Along came the guitar. It was 1970. I started hearing Bonnie Raite playing slide, James Burton chickin pickin', Alvin Leah goin' home, Michael Bloomfield doing anything, Dickey Betts and Duane doin' the double lead thing... I was hooked.

My first guitar was a classical from Sears - Who made those in the late 60's / early 70's? I'm not sure - I'm sure it was crap, but it worked fine. I took lessons for a couple years. Then, of course I had to have an electric, so I worked some, and hit the want ads and found a used one for $15 - A no-name Strat knock off with a busted off headstock that had been repaired with glue and screws - Ugly, but it worked. First song played on an electric? Please - Smoke On The Water, of course!

In High School, I got a half-decent acoustic, a Yamaha, and a real live, genuine Strat. At some point after that, the Strat went away, (I probably traded it for dope, but I was stoned at the time and I don't really remember...), and so did the Yamaha. In '79, I bought my first brand-new, really nice American acoustic, a Guild D-25 with a one-piece, carved Mahogany back; I still have that guitar - It's the only one that has survived my entire adult playing life intact and in my possession. In my twenties and thirties, more guitars came and went than I can remember clearly - Strats, a '63 Tele Custom, Les Pauls, electric Guild, ES-335, Jazz Master, Martin dreadnaught, and on, and on, and on.

All that remains, now that I'm building my own, is a '97 Tex Mex Strat that I shielded and put a Fishman Power Bridge on, and the Guild. I now own a Steve Stevens small body, that I'll never part with, as well. I don't even own one of my electrics any more - I've sold 'em all. Sold my Les Paul Classic, which Monica still rides me about - The first time she heard it, I was playing Dwight Yoakum's 'Fast As You' as she walked in the house - I saw her, frozen in the hallway, just looking at me; she said, "Now I know what all the fuss is about." So, the next electric I make will be based on the 496R & 500T pickups, to get that sound back for Monica; she misses the growl.

They're fascinating, captivating, frustrating, and inspirational, and I'll never get over them or get enough of them, as long as I shall live. To paraphrase Segovia, 'The guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn to play, and one of the hardest to learn to play well." Sometimes you see or hear somebody good and are inspired to dig in and go places you've not been yet. Other times, you hear somebody so good they make you want to go home and sell 'em all.

Eric Clapton said of the first time he saw Stevie Ray play, 'The guy was so good, and I'd worked all that time, I was ready to give it up then and there..." The interviewer chuckled, and Clapton said, "I'm not joking, he was that good..."

I know just how you feel, Slowhand...

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