Musical Aspirations

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Betchya didn't know I was the fifth Beatle! Probably because the only place I was the fifth Beatle was in my head. Okay, so like every other young man growing up, I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star. I didn't arrive out of the womb with a driving desire to be an entertainer. It happened on February 9th, 1964. I was around eight. I heard about a new band that "must be heard" from my schoolmates. They were going to be on the Ed Sullivan show that evening. My family usually watched Ed Sullivan, but I made sure that I could stay up to watch the whole show if the new band came on after my bedtime. I don't remember what I had to promise for this weeknight "allowance", but it was pretty hefty. Somehow parent's know when they have you across a barrel. Anyway, that was the first night the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Things for me and America changed after that night.

I started with air guitar on my Dad's tennis racket, and moved to the toy plastic guitar that I wheedled out of my parents. It took another three years of daily begging to convince my parents that playing guitar wasn't just another passing fancy. Finally they gave in and Dad brought home a Harmony acoustic guitar. It was a Spanish style guitar with the arched top and F holes cut on the top and bottom of the front panel. That was okay, because it was a REAL guitar. Side by side, I think I only had two or three inches in height on my new prized possession at the age of eleven. To add icing on the cake, guitar lessons came along with the guitar.

The first song I ever learned was the note by note version of Tom Dooley. I can still hear the first lines playing in my mind. That progressed on to using chords to play Gloria and then House of the Rising Sun. Once the guitar teacher showed me how to translate those cryptic rectangles with lines and dots into chords on the guitar, there was no stopping me. I'm not talking about the sheet music, but about the chord boxes that are printed above the sheet music in most music books. The family money tree wasn't working at peak capacity, so when I showed my father how I could learn the songs without the teacher, he agreed to let me drop the lessons.

I think that I had put together my first band within three days of getting the guitar. Not everyone had instruments, but that didn't slow me down. I remember the first time we got together and tried to play, no one had any idea of how to play together. I was playing Tom Dooley on guitar. My cousin was playing some gospel song on piano, and I have no idea of what the kid with his Dad's saxophone was trying to do, other than dance. Somehow, it didn't mesh together into the symphonic masterpiece that was playing in my head. There weren't too many practice sessions after that disaster. I was afraid that it would follow the downward spiral of my combination Broadway and Ballet Dance Troupe from my age seven endeavor.

A year or two later my parents divorced and I ended up in North Mississippi during the school year and Detroit during the summer. In Mississippi I was forty miles from Elvis' home in Tupelo, and in Detroit I was only two miles from the infamous 8 mile road. I arrived at this crossroads in my life with a brand new Harmony electric guitar. This was the summer before I entered 9th grade and I actually found someone who really knew how to play in a band. I had gotten pretty good with chords, and knew a fair amount of songs. I was always doing the rhythm guitar parts, where you strum the strings, and Randy played the soaring leads. I often ended up having to do the bass parts on the top four strings, and eventually bought an electric bass guitar. That year a couple of rock bands were going to play at the Blue Mountain Girl's College. Blue Mountain, Mississippi in 2000 had a population of 670 people. Back in 1969, the population was considerably less. The college's auditorium could hold around 400 or 500 people at the most. The headliner band was the Strawberry Alarm Clock, many years after their one big hit, Incense & Peppermint, had faded from the charts. We got there early and snagged front row seats. The opening band was one we had never heard of called "Lemon skinners." Or so we thought. A few months later, with the release of Free Bird, we learned it was actually Lynyrd Skynyrd. They had to play an extra long time since the Strawberry Alarm Clock got lost trying to find Blue Mountain.

After 9th grade I moved twenty miles closer to Tupelo and soon after upgraded to a white Fender Telecaster guitar. Now I was playing with a real professional's instrument. My amplifier was from Beale Street in Memphis, the home of the blues. Randy and i would actually go and hang out with old blues men and learn licks from them. Like the songs say, a little bit o' wine and he'd play all day. In high school there was one other rock 'n' roll band, comprised of the school's rich kids clique. They had the best equipment and actually were better than us.

Although the members of my band changed over the years, almost as many times as we changed names, it was mainly the same bassist, drummer and myself. I could do a little back-up vocals, but my father would say I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. So times between singers were tough. In North Mississippi there weren't a whole lot of places for a rock band to get gigs. Especially one made up of teenagers too young to go into the honky tonks. We played parties, school dances, talent contest, a skating rink, and just about anywhere they would let us set up. We usually got paid, but not very much. I ended up buying a 1959 or 1960 blonde Fender Bassman amplifier. It supposedly belonged to Michael Bloomfield who was in a band called Electric Flag with Buddy Miles. I wish I had it now. That model is the most sought after guitarist's amp made. Fender even reissued it in the mid-ninety's, and still make the reissue today. My old original would have been worth $3500 to $4000. I kept having to work on it. Changing tubes, soldering wires and getting thrown across stage a couple of times made me give up on it.

In the summers I would stay with my Father at the Holiday Inn he was managing. Since I was a budding professional musician, my Dad agreed to buy guitar lessons for me. I ended up going to a music shop on 8 mile road, and taking lessons from Don McLean. He was a studio musician in Detroit doing work with people like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and other big name artists. For those of you who didn't pick up on the name, the words, "Bye bye miss American pie, drove my chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry...Good ole boys drinkin' whiskey and rye singing this will be the day that I die" might ring a bell. I don't know for sure it is the same guy, but he was a studio musician and certainly good enough to have done it. One small side story, is that he was looking to pick up some extra money, so he came to audition for my father and the assistant innkeeper. He played only one song for the audition, which was the full twenty minute version of Alice's Restaurant. He got the job. American Pie was released in 1971, so the timing could have been right. Hey Don, if you read this and remember, drop me an e-mail.

Around my senior year, I traded my Telecaster in on a Fender twelve string acoustic guitar. I learned finger picking and arpeggio styles. I was getting into groups like; Crosby, Stills & Nash, Loggins & Messina, Dan Fogelburg, and folksier music that was more complex. I still played the occasional gig when I got a chance, but it was more often than not just a bunch of people with guitars, tom toms, and tambourines that gathered for fun. I met my first love, when I was looking for a female vocalist to head up a folk band. She was also my nemesis for trust in a relationship, but we had a few good years.

All in all, I played regularly for twenty years or so and got to be relatively proficient. I never made it to the recording studios, and I didn't find fame and fortune. BUT, I had a really great time and met a lot of great people through my music. I still have a Fender acoustic guitar, but it has probably been ten years since I picked it up. I still do a little electronic composing for Flash portions of Web sites or presentations. I've even considered making an instrumental sound track to go with each of these stories. That would combine my art, literature and music. Would that make me an authormusiciartist?



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