Hendrix. Slash. The Edge. Eddie Van Halen. All great players. I wonder, did their fathers play guitar too? If so, were they any good? Some of the many things that never crossed my mind until I became one. A father, that is. Not a guitar player. When you watch your child somehow slide from the dinosaur in the sand phase to picking up a guitar and becoming rapidly very good at playing it, your mind strays to things like this. At least my mind did. Prone to stray as it undoubtedly is.
I suppose it was inevitable. After my son's love affair with the instrument reached critical mass and he declared his lifetime passion for it, it became perfectly obvious that the next natural step in the progression was that I too should have a guitar and learn to play. At least it became perfectly obvious to the Future Rock Star.
My prior brushes with instrumental music were somewhat spotty. A ten year course of instruction in piano which was enjoyable primarily due to a significant attraction to the minister's wife who gave the lessons. Our family moved at some point and the piano somehow did not make the trip. I guess my Dad did not see it in my future. He got his when I then became obsessed with the trombone. During a Wisconsin winter spent living in a mobile home. Although I was a diligent practicer, I had no "lip" at all and could not get consistent sound. Lots of squawks and blaring off-notes. In a mobile home. In the winter. And it was not a double-wide either. That lasted about six weeks before my family revolted against me and my trombone career reached its terminus. Thus ensued a long hiatus before Christmas of 2006. When Santa delivered a Taylor Big Baby acoustic guitar to my home. With my name on it.
I was at the same time thrilled and intimidated. I think I must have attempted the clarinet for about a week at some point because I recall that even when one can't play the clarinet you can make some pretty cool sounding noises. Even by accident. Strumming the guitar is like that. I found that I loved the sound. Which was immediately soothing. Even if I did not know how to play a song. So far, so good. Since the odds of my ever learning a song seemed long at best. Until a slip of paper fell from the package announcing that Santa, in his infinite wisdom and charity, had seen fit to provide me with guitar lessons. The game was now solidly afoot.
Instead of another appealing preacher's wife, my guitar instructor was instead a solid professional musician who decided to leave the road to raise his family. An Epic guy. And with the patience of a SAINT. During the extent of my lessons, I gained the utmost respect for my instructor, even though I consistently felt that I was letting him down with my "progress". After a bit he asked me what sort of guitar music I aspired to play. When I put forward James Taylor as an example he just looked at me for a moment. Then, no doubt considering my performance at the previous several lessons, he said in his ultra-mellow tone "well, that involves a lot of finger picking....you may be at this a LONG time". The greatest thing about these lessons was just getting the chance to watch my instructor play. He was very, very good.
I finished my introductory group of lessons. Learned a few basics. I can play "Red River Valley" like a regular cowboy. Or any other song that only requires three chords. If they don't change too fast. Or too often. My long-suffering instructor wrote out parts of "Blackbird" by the Beatles and I can play that. After a fashion. If I look at what he wrote. I doubt that you'll see me on YouTube any time soon.
The best thing about the guitar is that the instrument is art you can play with to make more art. At least in theory, in my case. Just holding the crafted wood in your hands is surprisingly comforting. It is very difficult to recall just what was bothering you at work all day when you are holding a guitar. And if you can squint (as I do) at some written notes and play a couple of them that just adds to the pleasure. Or, you can burst into a rousing rendition of Red River Valley.
It doesn't make any difference what sort of instrument it is. Or how much it cost. I'm buying a cheap harmonica to take with me on the road. I can't play that either, but my bet is that it will have a similar effect. And who knows what untapped musical talent may be revealed? It happened that way for the FRS. The Epic way is to pick up whatever instrument is lying about and just goof around with it. Or go get a cheap one somewhere. Pawn shops and huge national discount chains are great for this purpose. The type or provenance of the instrument doesn't matter. You'll see the beneficent effect right away.
Speaking of the FRS, another great thing about owning a guitar is the impromptu jam sessions we have now. Where he PLAYS and I PLUNK. During one such session not long ago, he asked me "Dad, what songs do you want to learn to play on your guitar?" I told him Blackbird (without looking at a crib sheet) and Little Martha by the Allman Brothers. He looked at me for some time. Then said..."Dad, you'll never make it." Gave me a wink. And that big neon grin. Inspiring me to (perhaps) great things. Again.
Little Martha is my favorite guitar instrumental of all time and the only Allman Brothers song written solely by Duane Allman (supposedly after a dream in which Jimi Hendrix told him the song in a hotel bath room). I share it with you here...(this is, unfortunately, not me, although it does look a bit like my knees)...
I may not ever be able to play Little Martha. But you never know. Hendrix may come to me in a dream and show me how. I don't really care. The trip has already been more than worth the price of the ticket...
Photos courtesy of Taylor Guitars.