I had just learned a song called "Come On, Sunshine" which was written by my friend Ken Richards and decided to play that. It was a bouncy little song, probably written for a hippie chick named Sunshine who ran a small boutique in Mystic. She also did leather work and made a beautiful guitar strap for me that I still have. Anyway....
It was pretty terrifying to look out on such a big crowd who were waiting for me to play. I stepped up to the mic and took a deep breath and started strumming. I think they thought they were going to hear some protest song and I could see within one verse that a lot of them were losing interest. But I kept banging away.
When I finished there was polite applause and one of the leaders of the rally quickly reclaimed the mic. I knew my days of singing at peace rallies were probably over, at least in Wilkes Barre, but then something wonderful happened. A young woman walked up to me and with a smile said how much she had enjoyed the song and my performance. She also mentioned how it was nice to hear something positive in a format that was (naturally) very negative. Lesson learned: Even in depressing circumstances, a song that conveys hope and good feelings can strike something positive in people. That is no doubt the idea behind the brass players parading down the streets in New Orleans playing joyous music after a funeral. I've tried to remember this when constructing set lists ever since.
After leaving college I decided that I needed to move to Boston if I was ever going to reach a wider audience and meet other players. It was the classic "big fish from a small pond" experience, right off the bat. I began haunting the coffee houses and bars in Boston, Cambridge, Allston and other areas. There was plenty of opportunity to meet other musicians and also plenty of new music to hear.
One night at the Sword in the Stone (a wonderful little coffee house, now long gone) I heard a woman singer/songwriter named Elizabeth Kent. I asked her if she'd ever consider playing with another guitarist and she was all for it. We went on to play many places around the city, culminating in a week-long engagement at Passim, then and now one of the most important venues for acoustic music in the country.
As I sat in the tiny dressing room at Passim, tuning up before our opening performance I really felt the vibe of that tiny room. Who had sat here tuning their guitar? Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Tom Rush, James Taylor and many, many others. It was a heady experience. We went over well at Passim, opening for an interesting cult figure of the folk movement named Sandy Bull. He played guitar but also obscure string instruments like the oud. His bass player (whose name I've forgotten) and I got along famously and we even hung out with them one night after a performance.
At the same time I was still running an ad in the Boston Phoenix - "Lead guitarist available." One day I got a phone call.
"Hi. My name is Jon Pousette-Dart and I need a lead player. I have a major record contract and Don Law is my manager. I'm going to be famous. I want to hear you play."
Yikes. This was pretty intimidating to say the least! He came over to my apartment that day. When he walked in it was even more intimidating. With that West Coast look (very much like Jackson Browne) he sat down and pulled out his guitar. No smile, no how-are-ya, nothing. Just play something, he said and he began strumming one of his songs.
I don't think I'd played more than a minute when he abruptly stopped.
"No," he said. "You're not the one. I have Don Law's money behind me and a contract and I'm going to find the best lead player in Boston." And with that he shook his head, sneered, packed up hsi guitar and left.
A year or so later he did attain some measure of fame and yes, he did find a very fine lead player. But I had learned another lesson. There is absolutely no need to be a jerk, no matter how good you may be. Players who may not be up to your standards have feelings too. So cut them some slack, and try to remember why you're playing music.
Peace & good music,