My Story (Reader’s Digest Version)
I started out in the usual way.
I always loved music growing up and really wanted to play an instrument.
I would pluck on a guitar, bang on a mini (and I mean mini) piano at a babysitter’s house, and just about pick up any instrument I saw. Hell, I even thought about being a master at the recorder. You know the thing they start you on in kindergarten or something like that. Man I thought that was the coolest thing around, until I saw KISS on TV.
Then I really wanted to play DRUMS – like Peter Criss.
Here’s the challenge…we lived in an apartment, I had no money to buy cool equipment, didn’t know ANYBODY who could play drums or had a practice pad, and my parents weren’t about me banging on the drums all day.
Well that didn’t stop me.
I would get my little buddies together and I talked them into “jamming” with me. They had the air guitars and I would bang on pillows. I was about 10 years old and we rocked!
Well my parents saw the industrious little man their boy was and decided to get me an acoustic guitar and even a few lessons. So I trucked down to the local music store and saddled up to this dude who was at least 150 years old (I think he is still teaching!).
He had me going through the usual basic guitar lesson of the day by playing “Mary had a little lamb”, “When the Saints Go marching In”, “Love Me Tender” although it wasn’t called that, I can’t even remember what it was called.
Oh the boredom.
Oh the pain.
None the less, my parents sacrificed for me to have this guitar and these lessons so I carried on like a good soldier – for awhile. I think I only lasted about four lessons and got my self out of that situation somehow. I thought, “If this is the guitar forget about it. This is boring as HELL!”
Needless to say, I quite the guitar and went back to banging on my pillows.
Fast-forward a few years. I met up with an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in at least five years. He just so happened to come back to my hometown and I was in my gym class and science class.
Well I hadn’t seen him in so long that I didn’t recognize the dude standing around the locker room while we all got dressed. I thought it rather odd and wondered to myself why this dude was standing here while we’re all in our skivvies.
Then I saw him in my science class – SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO ME! I still didn’t recognize him until the teacher said his name. I looked at him with the most messed up face and asked, “Are you who I think you are?!?”
We proceeded to reminisce about the good old times right there in class, much to the dismay of the teacher who promptly threw me out of class.
Pretty soon she had to move me and threaten bodily harm to me so I would keep my mouth shut. Hey, the kid was my total best friend that I grew up with who moved, lost contact with me, and just happened to move back to the same small town – after I just moved there 6 months earlier. I was excited to see someone I knew and wasn’t about to let some craggily old teacher stop me from reconnecting.
Anyway, the reason I bring him up is that his dad, really his whole damn family, played guitar.
So I would go to his house and watch his dad play the most wicked music on his guitar that I have EVER seen in my life.
He played the freakin’ music and melody at the same time. It was unbelievable!!
I was enthralled and would watch him endlessly weave in and out of chords and melody. Singing harmonies. Fast runs. You name it this man cranked it!
He even tried a little Van Halen tapping. He wasn’t that good at that because he was at least in his 40’s at the time and it was beyond his years, but I didn’t care. The man was AWESOME!
I was hooked.
Next thing you know I am scouring the want ads looking for a guitar – an ELECTRIC guitar – one that I could make cry and sing just like my new hero.
I finally found one….for $5!!
Granted I had NO money at all (I was around 13 at the time), so I hit up my “rich” aunt and begged to do something to earn the money. Well that woman put me to work! Washing windows, washing cars, vacuuming the house, doing dishes, you name it and I did it.
I finally earned my $5, so I had my dad (I don’t know why he didn’t give me the money) drive me to the house where they were selling the guitar.
I fell in love with this guitar whose action was, I swear, 5 inches high. I needed a vice grip to play that thing, but I didn’t care – it was an electric, just like my “hero” played.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t have an amp. I jammed that sucker all day long. And by “jammed”, I mean I played one string up and down, didn’t even need to other five strings (high E of course).
Night and day, day and night that is all I played and when not playing that is all I thought about.
I listened to the radio and played that one string to death trying to emulate what I heard (which wasn’t much I guarantee).
I was in love. Then it finally happened, I got an amplifier.
One speaker. Three knobs. One plug for the guitar. No distortion. No effects. I didn’t care. Hell, I didn’t even know what effects were at the time. All I knew is that I MUST play.
I would go to my friend’s house all the time, not just to hear his dad play of course, but that was a BIG bonus.
His dad would try to teach me a few things but his method lacked a little something. He would go, “Here play this.” Brrrrrrrrr. And look at me like “Go on. What are you waiting for?”
Wow! This display was impressive for sure, but not conducive to me learning anything.
To top it off the man had HUGE hands the size of ham hocks. He could literally play two strings with one finger. Not something that I could duplicate, so I took whatever little nugget I could from him.
I had a propensity for playing lead since I was only playing one string up and down the neck, and really didn’t differentiate between what lead and rhythm was at the time.
Then it happened.
I heard Quiet Riot’s “Cum on feel the noise” and I was struck by the hand of the guitar gods.
Those notes cascading down on me like a warm summer rain. I felt alive. I felt vibrant.
I was such a dork that I would put that song on and run my fingers over the frets willy nilly. I’d look over at my dad like I had just painted the Sistine Chapel and he would look at me with a puzzled face wondering why his boy was making his guitar sound like a cat with it’s tail caught in a blender. To his credit he always encouraged me and never said anything about the awful noise emanating from my instrument.
Another key factor happened around this time.
Previously the only way to get music was through piano music, which you had to read music to understand, trying to figure out songs by playing the record (yes I am old) over and over and over, or having someone else who went through that torture teach you.
Then a miracle happened. The launch of “Guitar for the Practicing Musician” was born. Cue the Angels to sing – AHHHHHHHHH!!!!
I devoured that magazine like it was my last meal.
I even made my dad take me across town to the only store that sold it at the time, through 6 feet of snow at 10 pm at night, when I found out the newest issue was out. Again, obsessed!
Through this magazine, I learned how to read tablature, play chords (I tried them all, even if I didn’t like the song), how to play songs, and how to play solos. IT WAS AWESOME! Thank God for this magazine as it really boosted my playing.
Pretty soon playing by myself in my bedroom got boring. I needed more. I needed a BAND! But with whom?
Well I looked around at my resources, which were pretty slim, and decided that I needed to talk one of my best friends at the time into playing bass. But how would I do it? The guy has absolutely no desire to play bass and probably doesn’t even know what one is. That didn’t matter – I needed a band and he was going to help me, like it or not.
So I started by showing him picture after picture of cool bassists doing their thing.
Everyday I would inundate him with pictures of Geezer Butler with his black garb rocking away with the devil, or Billy Sheehan riding his bass high like a machine gun, or Michael Anthony keeping the beat with a party going on around him.
I would talk to him everyday about how awesome it would be to be in a band. How cool he would be. How women would flock to him. In reality I would think to myself, “Who would get all of that playing bass guitar? Everyone knew it was the singer and lead guitar player who got all the glory!” but I never told him this, I just pulled out all of the stops to get him to play bass.
I was on a mission. It took a little while but he got hooked. I had my bass player! Now I needed a drummer. Hmmm, who could fit the bill….?
Ha, got it, my other good buddy whose dad really inspired me to play guitar. That was an easy sell.
Eventually my little drummer buddy moved onto other pursuits and I needed to find a replacement fast and find one I did.
I ran into a classmate who was messing around with another bunch of dudes that I easily lured over to my dark side. Bonus: he had a garage and tolerant parents.
Cool!! I had my band. Now the fun and experimenting would begin. Granted, at this time I knew nothing. At least that’s how I started!
I remember we had this one kid playing with us at the time and he had all the latest gear, really top notch stuff, this kid’s equipment was awesome. Problem was – he played like crap. On the other hand, I had rudimentary equipment at best and was just learning how to rip that guitar up, if you know what I mean?
That was the day that I knew it wasn’t the equipment, but the player behind the equipment that made ALL of the difference. I was on to something.
I eventually had to replace the bass player, but another was found easily from our high school connections.
We constantly played in the drummer’s garage. Week after week. Month after month. Even in the dead of winter. 20 below zero didn’t even stop us as we huddled around a little space heater for a vestibule of warmth (I still have video of this).
We sucked so bad, but we loved every moment.
I shared lead vocal duties with the drummer and it must have been excruciating for the neighbors. To their credit they never called the cops or the drummer’s parents. I don’t think I would have been that tolerant.
I really started to get good and would get compliments all the time from people who stopped by to hear us jam. Little did they know that I had no idea what I was doing AT ALL!
My fingers were fast and I could play the songs, but I had no idea even what a key signature was. So if I ever improvised a solo, which I did often, I was WAY out of key. Jazz dudes might have been able to decipher what I was doing and thought it was avant garde and cool, but my drummer (whose mom taught piano and so knew something about music), didn’t.
He begged me to take lessons. Oh I so didn’t want to. All I could think of is how horrible it was to sit through “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Ugh the horror. But I knew something had to be done, so I sucked it up and went to the local music store.
I stepped in the room and there was this hippy throwaway looking dude who smelled like petruli oil, wore “John Lennon” circle glasses, curly hair, and the face of Frank Zappa. This was a little different than my first experience.
Just the same, I was strong enough willed to let the dude know that I was not about that baby stuff and wanted to get into what I needed to know at that point immediately. Fortunately he was open to it and started to teach me about keys and scales.
After two months, tons of practice on my part, and after he broke down a simple David Gilmore solo into this 5 key change mode induced score (I knew at the time that it was actually just the blues scale), I bid my little hippy buddy adieu and went on my own. I now literally had the keys to open my exploration.
Soon after, I found myself in a community college studying with Music as my Major. I didn’t finish the Music Major because I wanted to rock and they wanted to classical or jazz. So I said, “OUT!”
But I was there for two years, long enough to learn quite a bit (just so you know – ear training in college is a mutha!).
From there it was a whirlwind of bands, band members, promotion, gigs, mini tours around my area, mix of musical styles from big band to thrash metal, original music, new towns, new people, tons of jams and gigs, good times, bad times, band breakups, hurt feelings, lasting friendships, and a LOT of wild, crazy, and fun adventures – some of which I actually remember!
That’s me. That’s the gist of my journey so far.