The first memory I have is being on the floor of our mobile home. The windows are open and there is a crisp mountain breeze dancing with the curtains. Mom is in the kitchen making something sizzle, but it isn't her frying pan that has me captivated so much as the glorious timbre of guitars emanating from the record player. It is a soft seat on that brown/green/rust colored shag carpet. Likewise, those are smooth frequencies coming off of that vinyl, out through Dad's not-yet-vintage stereo speakers.
I know today that it was more than likely a) Doc Watson b) James Taylor c) Jim Croce or d) Gordon Lightfoot who was serenading me in those early years, maybe even a few others, but those are my chosen favorites from the era. They are still some of my favorites, even today- and wouldn't you know that Gordon and I share a birthday?! Yep, November the 17th.
Every single feeling that ever came to me between the shag carpet and those old guitar ballads still haunts me today. I don't mean haunt in a bad way. I just mean its something that never seems to leave me. It can be a "happy sound", as Doc said of Mississippi John Hurt's music, or it can be heavy; literally crushing, like fifteen feet of water at the bottom of a massive pool.
Feelings hit me hard sometimes. They even hit me some nights when its ME playing. That's why you gotta respect the power of music. It packs a wallop. Just like being hurt in-love makes your chest constricted and tight, like you can't draw a full breath. It's the same thing. There are nights that the sound waves come together into a perfect storm of emotion that is beyond tears. Normal people cry. But I feel so much that tears wouldn't even do the emotions justice. The beauty of what music can do, the love that music has for our ears, and the bewildered freedom that comes in connecting with others on that plane...That's why I play.
Love. I love it. And love is music- and music is the spirit- and the spirit is God- and the rest is history. Music is our gift for our time.
Dad probably still has those old stereo speakers out in his shop. I should hook them up for him. To his iPod... Life is a strange irony, isn't it?
At last count I had ___ guitars/stringed instruments. Each one with a unique voice and with something to say. Some instruments sound perfect on the porch. Like a Dobro; a Dobro sounds lonely and at home on a shady country porch. Did you know that I had an Americana band in Atlanta back in 2003/2004/2005-ish. This was back before every college kid hacked on a banjo. Back before Americana was ‘cool’ and even before it was really even called “Americana” at every pop-culture turn of opportunity. Our band was first named "Easy Pickins” by a close friend/fan, then became Dumas Newground (pronounced DOO-mus NEW-ground) just before we broke up. I mention it because I played the Dobro in that band. We practiced on the screened in porch of a house I rented in the Peachtree Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. The neighbors walking their dogs would stop momentarily, and you could see them listening and looking. We let the foliage grow up in front of all the windows (typical musician style) so that it wasn’t entirely clear to a passerby whether it was the radio playing loud or a bunch of rock-n-rollers-turned-bluegrass hippies making sound waves on actual stringed implements hahaha! That little porch was just the perfect size and acoustics for an upright bass, Martin guitar, mandolin, Dobro and 4 or 5 voices. Boy was that fun and relaxing, and gosh did we play some beautiful music together. Just for a couple of years, maybe, at the very most. Some things only happen for a beautifully short time until they are eclipsed by those unforeseeable and inevitable events know to most of us as LIFE. I'm serious when I say that I really need to prioritize far more porch time into my hectic schedule.
But alas, I digress...
Some strings sound perfect when unplugged, propped up in the bed working out a new melody. The old ’79 Stratocaster* I have seems to always be inspiring laying halfway on my lap. Can’t tell you how many songs I’ve discovered and written over these years in that very posture. Some guitars just have life to them and IN them. That Strat made me fall in love with her the first time I laid fingers into her- I knew she was special. I always tend to believe that it was put there by a previous owner- some unknown legend. Somebody with so much soul and so much love for the instrument- sitting hours in solitude, forsaking all others, reaching for the next level, hearing it and seeing it but always finding the prize slightly out of reach, so I keep working it. The ballad of the oft misunderstood guitar player. They say a dog is a man’s best friend. Ask any guitar player and they might tell you differently. Let it be known: when I pass from this life to the next, please make sure that my guitars wind up with somebody somewhere who will PLAY THEM. They will be great treasures of the soul, of melody, and of great great LOVE for music. I don’t imagine I’ve played too awful many groundbreaking or innovative licks on them, but I promise you the ones I have played into them were from the heart. And I know that my guitars have so many songs left inside of them. They keep giving to me and giving to me, more than I feel I deserve. But it seems that every time I go there in love, when I have 5 minutes, or when I just wanna see if that really was the Cm6 chord I thought I was hearing- every time I open myself up, they reward me with a new lick, an inspiring note, a vision for a new tune. And then there we go, off again into our own world. And Dad always wonders why I’m two minutes late. I blame it on whoever invented the guitar. If it wasn’t for them I’d be sitting out front, daydreaming, waiting on the rest of y’all so we can go eat ice cream.
*there a humorous and interesting story regarding the acquisition of this Strat- I will try to remember to tell you later*
Others strings sound the best plugged into electricity. Like a Les Paul plugged into a Fender Super Reverb Amp and cranked up so loud that it makes my pants legs vibrate when I stand in front of it. Yes! That, too, is the power of rock-n-roll.
The steel guitars are a different breed. In essence just a slide guitar in a strange tuning, played with a heavy metal bar called a "steel" (thus the name). Amplified with some ethereal reverb or spatial sound effects; making the slurring overtones of simple musical intervals collide against one another in a wash of texture that is intimidating and awe inspiring because of the inability to fully control or master it. Remember when Jimi played the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock? ...yeah, thats what I'm talking about. You can't harness everything, you just have to ride it when you can. It's beyond us... Many have used some variety of steel guitar in their worship/spiritual music over the last 100 years. It didn't surprise me at all to learn that. There is something else absolutely alive in those machines. It's just so much more than a hunk of wood with metal strung tightly across the face. So much more...
-to be continued