Musical History - The Very Early Years

Musical History - The Very Early Years (1952-1963)

My musical interests started very early but, since piano lessons for my sister Anne failed to produce positive results and my brother Chip's saxophone experiment ended badly, I was left on my own. I started playing with a harmonica when I was about 8 and our neighbor in Ohio heard me playing in the back yard. When he returned from his vacation in Germany later that summer, he presented me with a double-sided, double-key, double-reed Hohner harmonica that I still have today. It produces such wonderful tones, due to the double-reed design, that I started really caring about how I played it. (I still haven't figured out why he got me the harmonica as he was know as the neighborhood grouch. I figure either he thought I would sound better with a better harmonica or that, given a better harmonica, I might practice more and irritate him less. Either way, I am endebted to him still...)

Unfortunately, shortly after receiving this wonderful gift it was discovered that I was almost as near-sighted as my brother and once that was corrected I was MUCH better at playing baseball and other sports - this made my father truly happy! Subsequently, this was the path I pursued until my freshman year in high school (in Butler, PA) when I was suddenly way too small for football, too short for basketball and too slow for baseball as well. At that point I started springboard diving but had a lot of spare time on my hands as well. Coincidentally, my sister Anne came home from her first year in college with some albums by this group called "The Kingston Trio" - and thus, started my love affair with the guitar and music. Within 3 months I had weasled my dad into buying me a guitar (it was REALLY a terrible instrument but I loved it - my sister may still have it!) and had formed a "group" and actually booked a "gig" at a local tavern for one night. Mind you, at this point I didn't even know a single complete chord but that never stopped me... It was a humbling experience.

Fortunately, for us, there was a patron in the tavern who actually knew how to play the guitar (very well too) so after we had sung the three songs we knew (with more enthusiasm than musical talent, I fear) he filled the rest of the evening playing standards and some country tunes until one of the other singer's mom picked us up. That's another memory that has stayed with me all these years; that solitary, quiet soul in the tavern that stepped up and helped us out probably never knew how impressed I was that people could actually produce such glorious sounds out of that horrible guitar I was playing; it was my first experience with live music, close-up...

Anyway, I continued trying to learn the Kingston Trio songs and Anne continued to expose me to new musical influences every time she came home and the Folk Boom continued to grow. By the time I was a Junior in high school I actually knew some complete chords and people began to show me how some of the other things were done - I began to learn quicker. However, my diving practice and training always came first so music remained a hobby.

About this time my brother moved back home and brought his record collection with him. It was all "classic" rock & roll, Rhythm & Blues and early Motown. This got me into "electric" music so I saved up and bought a Gibson 3/4 scale Melody Maker and began learning some of tunes he was playing. This led to forming a couple of bands that played small venues including one of the local roller rinks and (later) a few of the local lounges. We played covers and some originals written by other members of the band who had more experience than I did. It was fun but it also taugh me about the amount of effort and real work required to make a band sound good consistently. Then Anne played me a record by Joan Baez ...

Whoa! Suddenly, the right hand was doing things on the guitar that I hadn't heard before! Now I had twice as much to learn and there weren't that many people around that knew how to do it (at least not that I knew...). This started a new phase of my education of the guitar and introduced me to other styles of playing like Les Paul and Chet Atkins - both were totally beyond my abilities but they presented the examples of what was possible. Now I wish I had given more time to learning their methods ... but that's another story for another time.

About the same time (1962) this freak named Bob Dylan appeared and started writing songs that actually challenged you to think about what was being said and what was going on in the world around you. I traded all my electric guitar gear in and bought my first 12-string acoustic - an Epiphone. It served me well... I formed a series of folk groups, some more eclectic than others and proceeded to lunge, headlong, into the folk ideom (sp?).

Unfortunately, I was also in the process of entering college so I had little time to devote to music between diving practice and the 18.5 hours of class credits I was taking as a Physics major. Although I kept current with the music, I had little, if any, time to play guitar during this period. Too little time to play and improve but enough time to listen and begin thinking about where I was going and why ...

As always, you can send your comments and suggestions (maybe other, related links I might enjoy) to the address below... Have fun!


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Changes last made on: Friday, December 24, 2010 at 7:09am