I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. I’d tried playing the saxophone because I’d grown up listening to Charlie Parker, but I never really got the hang of it. All it did was make my lips bleed. Then one day I was listening to some surf rock and thought maybe I’d try my hands at the guitar instead.
I started lessons on a beat up used acoustic. The kind of guitar you find on the wall in a Mexican restaurant. I think my mom had found it for me at a thrift store. It wasn’t easy to learn on. The thing wouldn’t stay in tune. The strings were old and I didn’t know how to replace them. But I studied. After a while I was able to play “Jingle Bells” and a few blues riffs. Then I got my first electric. It was a no name electric that came with a little practice amp—nothing special—but to me it was a gift from the rock gods. I was done with that acoustic and not looking back.
My hands got used to stretching out to make bar chords and after a while I was jamming with the tunes on the radio. I started practicing all the time. And then I got good. Real good. I’d become obsessed. I’d sit on the edge of my bed practicing pentatonic and modes. I read every issue of Guitar World. At night I poured over catalogs of expensive Les Pauls, Flying Vs, and Stratocasters. I was going to be the next Eddie Van Halen or die trying.
But then something happened. Or, more like, didn’t happen. I was never able to find anyone to play with. It sounds a lot more sad when I say it aloud. But that was the truth. I lived in a small town. I didn’t get along well with the other kids at my school. And the students who played instruments wanted to play Christian rock. Still, I played alone; practicing my triads and arpeggios.
It wasn’t until my first year of college that I really got to play in a band. And on top of that I was the singer. Double Duty. We didn’t play the shredding metal I'd grown up on, but instead a mixture of blues-rock with folk style lyrics. A steady beat with a good old twelve bar shuffle. The drummer dubbed ourselves Extended Forefinger. Maybe not the best name but we were easily the best band on campus, and whenever we played a show everyone was shocked at just how good our little trio was.
And we were loud. I mean dinosaur loud. This one goes to eleven! Everyone else liked to play acoustic Tom Petty covers, love songs, college dorm room jams. We came to rock out, and everybody knew it when we took the stage. After a show or a practice session, my ears would ring for hours. We tried using cotton balls. I eventually bought some professional ear plugs. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we did some permanent damage.
At the last show we played people went nuts. Some people jumped up on stage. Others began moshing to our rockabilly rhythms. After we played our last song there was a near riot as we were escorted away like victorious boxers after a grueling match.
I have never been in another band since then. Part of me is sad about that. I had tons of fun making friends while playing Chuck Berry songs. And I’ll never forget that fistful of glory we all took away after our first show. We closed our set with a cover of "Roadhouse Blues" that still makes me want to pump my fist in celebration. But the truth is that I don’t thing I could handle all of that again. It was such a pain hauling huge amps all over the place, checking volumes, making sure there are enough outlets, finding a place for a drum set. It was all pretty exhausting. And loud.
I still play guitar. But these days it is mostly old rockabilly and some country/western tunes. Maybe a bit of jazz. The funny thing is that I’ve kind of come full circle, and now I prefer handling an acoustic.
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Writer living in Central Texas.