Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Learning Guitar

It was the summer of 1965 and I was 14 years old. My neighbors had kinfolk visiting from Chicago. Among the crew that made the journey south were two teenage guys, Joe and Allen and both played guitar. They had Fender Telecasters with Fender Amps and what they lacked in skill, they made up for with volume. The thing I noticed right away was how the girls in the community watched them.
I was hooked. Joe and Allen were actually very cool. They let me strum on the Telecaster and even showed me a few chords. As I stood there on the front porch of that row house in that tiny mining community in rural Walker County, I made up my mind that I would play guitar.
I started the campaign immediately. I badgered my mother unmercifully. I whined, cajoled, gave her the silent treatment but she wouldn’t budge. There simply was no money in the budget for a guitar. Case Closed.
Not having a guitar of my own was made worse by the fact that both of my cousins who lived nearby got guitars for Christmas the year before and they never played them.
My friend Donnie Pinion asked me to go camping down at the Backwater which was a slough (pronounced Slew) that back up off the Warrior River below Dora. It was late in June and the days were warm and at night, skeeters big as bats swarmed like buzzards on road kill. You also had to watch out for Cottonmouth Moccasins that made their home in the warm shallow river water.
I met Donnie down there late that afternoon and we set out trotlines and baited them with night crawlers and crawfish. We were hoping to catch some big ol' honkin' catfish for supper.
We built a fire at dusk and he pulled his old flat top guitar out of his truck and we sat around the fire, and he played them old country songs. I asked Donnie if he would teach me how to play. Unlike the guys from up north, Donnie had a lot of patience and he showed me the chords over and over until I could crudely make them. He taught me “Green, Green Grass of Home.” I was fascinated by the sounds coming from that old cheap guitar.

I went home after a few days on the riverbank and I borrowed my cousin’s guitar for a few days and I practiced what Donnie had taught me.
The next Christmas, I asked my mom and dad for a guitar, but things had not improved that much for our family and I had little hope of getting one, but I did what the Bible told me to do and I asked. On Christmas Eve after I opened my presents which were school clothes and a box of shotgun shells, my mom brought out a large box. My spirits lifted dramatically. When I opened the box, I found inside a Tesco DelRey electric guitar from Sears and Roebuck. Looking back I realize that the guitar was not expensive as guitars go, but my mom had ironed many, many shirts to buy it for me and I was truly grateful.
For the next six weeks I played it every waking moment and promptly made poor grades in school. Punishment was quick and harsh. No guitar until the grades come up. I would have preferred a whipping with a rose bush but my mom was smart. That was the longest six weeks of my life (except for the Army).
I brought my grades up and was allowed to play the guitar but I never made the mistake of making bad grades again.
I learned to play the guitar and I am actually pretty good. I had the good fortune to marry a woman that loved music as much as me. We started playing together soon after we met and we continue to play today. Playing guitar is one thing I learned that has given me the opportunity to do things I would never have gotten to do.We have played all over this country as well as in Ireland. We have met remarkable people and we always get invited to fun parties…”by the way, y’all bring the guitar,” they always say.
Although I started playing young, it’s never too late to get started. I have taught people in their 50 to play. All it takes is a burning desire, a guitar and time each day to practice. If you’ve ever wanted to play, why not make it a New Year’s Resolution. I promise you will not regret it.

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