Back in the mid-70s I took it into my head that I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly why, but there was a great chance that my about to turn 15 year old brain was thinking… “How to attract the female sorts!”
Yeah, I wasn’t alone in that then or now. Watch a lot of “history of this or that band” programs and you’ll hear many guitarists agreeing with my motivation.
So I asked my mom if I could have one for… Christmas I think, or maybe my birthday, and she went off on a classic mom rant. “Oh sure! It’ll be like your clarinet and you’ll never practice.” etc. etc.
Mind you, she conveniently forgot that she’d forced me to take clarinet in the grade school band class, when I really wanted to play drums. Being a temperamental new teen I huffed, “Fine! I’ll get one myself!”
Cue the fresh mom rant about how I couldn’t keep a part time teener job long enough to afford such a thing. Blah, blah, blah. I stormed into my room in an even greater huff, with a side of raised dander. Why? Because that’s where my comic books were!
Gosh I’m glad you asked! I don’t know much about today’s comics, but in them days the the back covers often had splashy ads for a couple companies that did the same thing. I only recall one of the company names and I’m not sure it’s the one I went with, but to give you an idea of what they were about the name I do recall is Junior Sales Club of America.
Both of them sent you a starter sample pack and you went door-to-door selling general greeting and/or Christmas cards. For your efforts you could either keep a percentage of the cash or choose prizes from their catalog. And right there in all their glossy comic book cover glory were pictures of a selection from said catalog. Need I mention that one of those glorious prizes was an acoustic guitar, and it came with a really cheapo nylon carry bag? It was love at first sight.
I ordered the kit and, unlike nowadays, the Post Office had it to me post haste. I started going out every weekday evening and most of the weekend days, either flogging them or hand delivering them to the customers. (No drop shipping for these folk. They all came to me.) Thank goodness for my bicycle. I covered a hell of a lot of area in my quest.
And, much to mom’s astonishment, in a little under 2 months my guitar arrived. And what a guitar it was. It was what you might call “Parlor Guitar” sized. It’s action was absolutely execrable and I had no idea that it was even possible to make it any better. (Though it might actually not have been possible with this little gem.) The finish on the extremely cheap plywood top was so rough you could run your fingernail across the grain and it would make a sound reminiscent of running a stick along a picket fence. The tuning gears made it a struggle to get it anywhere near well tuned, but I persevered.
This was a terrible disappointment to mom, as she had a terrific sense of pitch and had actually taught herself how to play the piano at a very young age. Maybe I should share that little story here at a later date.
Anyways, she’d sing a note at me and want me to sing it back to her. I could never even get in the right neighborhood, and was sometimes in an entirely different town.
In any event, I got a book of chords and some sheet music with the guitar chords on them and set to work. There was some bleeding involved before I started developing the necessary callouses.
And then—cue angelic choirs—I was watching the local PBS station and found Tracy Newman teaching folk guitar. I used to take the school bus and it would deliver me several blocks from home, from whence I ran the rest of the way because Tracy was on shortly after school let out. You can find some of her stuff on the YouTubes. She also taught banjo but I only found out about that recently.
I’d madly dash into my room, kick my little brother out, and close the door for a half hour of learning how to do this thing. Plus I fell madly in love with her.
Near as I can tell, as of about 8 months ago, she was still alive, kicking, and even touring occasionally. You go, girlfriend!
I’ll end up here with a few updates.
First, my actual dedication to learning the thing impressed mom sufficiently that the following Christmas she bought me a genuine Sears dreadnought guitar, complete with one of those extremely cheapo cardboard “hard shell” cases. Nowadays I’d consider it at best OK, but back then it was such an improvement I was completely delighted. I played it for a number of years before moving along to something a bit better. Though damned if I can remember what it was now, nearly 50 years later.
Second, while I’m still not someone you’d want to hire for your opera company, I can mostly carry a tune without having it gift wrapped.
Third, I play a number of instruments now, to one degree of skill or another, but the guitar comes in second only to harmonica (which I’ve been playing for nearly 60 years). Perhaps I’ll relate that story here at some point.
While this post is hardly great literature, I hope you found in at least mildly amusing. Please consider dropping a tip into my Ko-fi tip bucket (the link is on my homepage) if you’d like to help support me in my various artistic endeavors.
Whether or not you can do that, please leave a comment here. I’m much more interested in relating with folks than I am with just shouting into the void.
Last, but certainly not least, thanks for reading this!