Rewind a couple years. Not long after I refused to pick up the drum sticks any more I happened to be visiting my grandfather and one of the coolest places in his small home in Groton was his attic. Up there you could find various instruments lying around, a big wooden steamer trunk that held his WWI uniform, various other cool things. But what caught my eye was a dusty little Stella guitar in the corner. A few weeks before I had put down $10 of my paper route money on a no-name guitar at the local music store, with the hopes of paying it off soon (it cost about $40 I think). That was becoming increasingly unlikely though as I was in junior high school and buying cool clothes to impress the girls - a failed mission - was taking all my spare cash.
So I asked my grandfather if I could "borrow" the guitar. I had been introduced to folk music by a wonderful couple, Wes and Dori Rooker. Wes was the choir director at our church. He went on to become the purser of the Newport Folk Festival - more on that later. I really, really wanted to learn how to play the guitar, not only to play the Peter, Paul and Mary songs I was listening to, but also to prove to my dad that I was NOT a musical failure or a quitter.
My grandfather said sure, take the guitar. I was thrilled.
Now, I often tell parents of prospective students that the single most discouraging aspect of learning to play for a youngster is trying to make music with a bad guitar. And that Stella was the poster child of bad guitars. Rusty strings, and having spent many years up in that attic the neck was warped and the action so high that it was all but unplayable. However, I was determined and after putting on a new set of strings I dove into the struggle.
Fortunately, I had a couple friends who were also taking up the guitar and they and I supported each others' efforts (with of course the natural competitiveness of 13 year old boys!). I'm pretty sure the first song I could play beginning to end was "Five Hundred Miles" as played by my heros, Peter, Paul and Mary. I have no doubt that my family got really, really tired of hearing "Five Hundred Miles" for the 500th time!
That summer I had my first "gig." Well, it wasn't exactly a gig, but a performance. I was made to attend a summer camp (Episcopal of course!) which I HATED but my camp counselor saw that guitar and decided I was to represent our cabin in the talent show.
Terror. Pure Terror. "Five Hundred Miles" wouldn't do for some reason, so with another boy singing we decided to tackle the second song I knew, "Stewball." The problem was, I couldn't change chords. So on the evening of the performance, it went something like this. "Oh Stewball was a race horse," (stop, long pause while I changed chords) "and I wish he was..." (another long pause...damn that D minor!) "...mine, "He never drank..." (stop. Change to G7) "...water, he always drank...." (stop. back to C), "...wi..." (stop), "...iiiii..." (stop) "...ine!..." And then another FOUR painful verses. oh...my...god.
But when we finished, an amazing thing happened. The other kids and the councelors clapped! They actually clapped!. What the heck?! I think that was the moment that I knew I was going to be a guitarist.
We came in third, out of five acts. The winner was a kid who played trombone and could play a high note, slide down to a low note, then back up to the high note, which the assembled masses thought was hilarious. I have hated trombones ever since.
Peace & good music,