The guitar and I go back a long way. I think I was 11 when Dad and I first went to the pawn shop in Rome and looked at guitars. I wanted a Bass (wanted to be in the band y’know) but I came away with a Kay scroll side acoustical guitar, with strings that were about ½ inch above the fret.
Now anybody who has ever played a guitar knows that the “action” of the strings, i.e. the closer they are to the frets and the neck of the guitar, the easier they are to press down and get a sound out of, and thus the easier the instrument is to play. ½ inch is a LONG way for a beginner, especially with metal strings. I found out after I had owned the guitar for several weeks that the strings could be adjusted down. By that time, I had permanent calluses on ALL the fingers on my left hand…which have never, never gone away. This is the way you can tell a real guitarist though. Let somebody pick up a guitar and plunk away on it for a half hour and then they start looking at the tops of their fingers like “damn that hurts” NEWBIE! Either that, or they wienie out and go to a Spanish guitar with nylon strings and say “I want to be like Segovia” Well, if you want to be like Andres Segovia, you better plan on practicing 12 to 14 hours a day and have natural talent to begin with to boot. There are NOT many Segovia’s, or even Chet Atkins for that matter. Some people have it, and some people don’t. You can teach yourself, or be taught to play a guitar, but you can’t be taught to be a Segovia or an Atkins. That kind of talent has to be in the genes. But…in any case…as I was saying, the metal makes the man when it comes to guitars, and if you ain’t got the calluses, don’t whine!
I had three guitar lessons before my Dad figured out it was too much of a pain to take me all the way 6 miles down the road to Summerville, especially since I wasn’t much interested in learning how to finger pick “Red River Valley” or any other country tune from the 1940’s. I finally ended up doing it the way I have done almost everything else in my life…I learned it on my own. I looked at a book and got the chords down pat and then just started practicing them over and over again. I watch other people who knew how to play do their thing, and picked up some things from them. Mostly I did my own thing though.
I don’t pick up any of my guitars as often as I should. I have three or four of them sitting around. (And yes, one of them is a Spanish guitar that my wife got me for a Wedding present! Thing about it is, I HAD the calluses before I got this guitar so when I play it, I don’t feel like a wienie) This past week when I was feeling like crap, I picked my guitar up off the bed and just sat down and started to play. For me, at least right now, it’s still comes easy. My brain sends those long ago learned and practiced chords and notes down through the nerve endings in my fingers and the music starts to come out of the guitar. It’s like a small miracle really. I can’t remember what I had for supper last night, but I can still play “Down Yonder” or “Wildwood Flower” like it was 1963! Over forty years and my brain still remembers! I think the day I pick up the guitar and I can’t remember the chords or the notes that I learned so long ago is going to be a VERY sad day. I really hope it never happens. There is such a bond between a player and their instrument, that if that bond is broken, it would be almost like a death of dear friend. Oh how much you would mourn that loss! I know the look in my Grandfather’s eyes back years ago when he would pick up that banjo that he had played for years and couldn’t quite get the music to come out the way it did before. It was a sad and confused look. A pitiful look. It wasn’t too long after that when Grandpa had to go to the nursing home because he really couldn’t remember anything anymore. Or anybody. I pray to the creator that I don’t go that route. One of the first songs I wrote when I took up songwriting was about Grandpa and his banjo. It’s called “Blue Ridge Mountain Symphony.” I have a good demo of the song, maybe one of these days I will get it on the site so folks can listen to it.
I really think that the fact that man decided to pick up some pieces of wood and put cat guts on it, or thump on a hollow log and call it music, was one of the things that eventually differentiated us from all the other creatures that our creator made. I can’t recall seeing any animal but a human pick up a musical instrument and play it. (ok…they train chimps to do it…but that’s different, they don’t give a hoot….or perhaps that’s an ooh..ooh…ooh…about what they are doing! Man is the only creature who has made a connection with things musical, and I think that is one of the only real connections we have with divinity. I really think God enjoys music. He digs dancing too…remember when David danced before God, and he was pleased? We sell God short sometimes I think, imagining that ALL he is, is this stern and terrible judge sitting behind a judges bench with a big gavel, ready to convict us of all our sins and send us straight to blazes.
Anyway, I digress. So the other day when I continued to play, I also started humming some familiar tunes to the chords. Peter, Paul and Mary were remembered of course, with “Jet Plane,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” I covered Peter and Gordon with “I Go to Pieces” I stepped forward with “The Ones the Wolfs Brought Down” a song that Garth Brooks recorded which never made to the singles chart, but in my opinion certainly should have. I went through “Stepping Stone” which Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Monkees covered. I did “Friends in Low Places” because that’s just how I felt! Then I just sat there for half an hour more making up little runs and tunes from the Blues to Rock and Roll. I found a couple of riffs I really liked and just played them over and over, hoping I might remember them if I ever get near a recorder again, and want to put down something new. I really wish I had the time. I feel like I have cheated something or somebody sometimes because I haven’t been as “creative” as I should have been. When do you have time to be creative? Seems like back in the 80’s I had a hell of a lot more time to write and create and try to do things that might be some kind of “legacy” Now I’m not so sure about legacies anyway. Who’s really going to care? Is it something my children and grandchildren would REALLY want to sit down and take time to listen to, or will they get into the same rut as I seem to be in now, which leaves you with no time to do anything but work, eat and sleep and a few minutes on the weekend to catch up with your chores. I swear to goodness, I can never remember the days being so crammed full of stuff that the only time I pick my guitar up and play it is when I am at home sick, and my tooth and mouth are hurting like hell, and I need some solace from somewhere.
How I do go on about a piece of wood with some string pulled across it, don’t I? But yet, there IS something mystical in our relationship with our instruments, just like there is in our relationships with other people. I know for a fact, I pick up guitars at stores and flea markets and stuff and strum them and they seem like “strangers” to me. The sounds that come out are not as comforting as they are from my familiar instruments, especially my 40 year old Classical. The sounds I get from her are like recordings from years past of all the things, people and places that have I have experience while I have owned her. (yes the guitar is a she!) Those memories which are stored there could not come from some “newcomer” It’s like your family. I know we meet and enjoy new friends…especially those with common memories of things that we have experienced, but no one has the connections that your family has to you. That’s why my family is so special to me.
Well…I guess I may go pick up the guitar and plunk on it a while. I hope I haven’t bored everyone to death with my ramblings. I’ll leave you with this from the late George Harrison:
look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps
I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you.
I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps
I don’t know how you were diverted
You were perverted too
I don’t know how you were inverted
No one alerted you.
I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
Look at you all…
Still my guitar gently weeps.