Falling Off a Log
At least I had my guitar back.
I'd brought it into Mike's Guitar Shop the previous Tuesday and expected it back by Friday. Mike was supposed to do a proper setup and fix a niggling problem I'd always had at the 13th fret, where the third string always made a kinda 'dink' sound. I'd saved a long time to come up with the 79 bucks he wanted to put things right.
It wasn't much of a guitar anyhow - just a Strat knockoff from China. It was all my Dad could swing when he bought it. He had three kids in college. They were my older twin brothers, Levi and Sam, and my sister Jen, who was a year older than them. I guess my parents made an okay income, but education bills were pretty well sucking it up at the time.
Then Friday Mike said that he wouldn't be able to finish up the guitar until Saturday night, but that he'd open up Sunday morning just for me if I could get there around 8 AM, which I did.
When I was younger, my brother Sam had an acoustic guitar that he never learned to play much, but his friend Ira was pretty good and had gotten me hooked on it. I was ten at the time. He showed me a few chords and I pretty well picked up on the basics. There was a chord book in the house, and he showed me how to use it. I got tied up in the guitar from that point on and learned things without much trouble. In a few years I was good enough that I could figure at least the chord patterns for about anything I heard.
And I heard a lot. Music was part of our house and our neighborhood. My mother was Scottish and had folk and bagpipe albums. My Dad grew up in a lot of places, and he loved the blues and (oddly enough) Judy Garland. My sister and brothers were pretty much into whatever was top 40 at the time. One Grandma liked classical piano and that Grandpa was into country. The other Grandparents liked about everything, but mostly quiet jazz.
I kinda liked most of it. The funny thing is that, once I'd gotten good at playing chords, the songs I tried to pick out the melodies to were Judy Garland and the country stuff Pops (my maternal grandfather) liked. Pops had a neighbor who played the banjo, and he taught me some finger-picking styles that could translate to the guitar.
By the time I was fourteen I could play about anything and sound good, but with all those influences and nobody else to really play guitar with, I guess I'd developed my own style. The only real problem was that nobody except my parents, my friend Scott, and Mike at the guitar shop ever heard me play.
Anyhow, my Dad dropped me off at the guitar shop that Sunday morning just when Mike was pulling in. Mike greeted me and said I'd like most of what he'd done, but there was no way he could fix the problem at the thirteenth fret without spending many hours and dollars at it. I should just try to play around it.
He let me in and set me up in the demo area (where all the really nice guitars were hanging) to let me try it through one of his practice amps. I'd plugged in and was pretty amazed at what he'd done - the guitar was easier to play and sounded a whole lot better. The pitch at the 12th fret was perfect, but the 'dink' was still there at the thirteenth. I started fooling around with a song Scott and I had been working on that happened to use that particular note, trying to find a key that wouldn't bring me there. I had my head way down with my chin resting on the edge of the guitar, probably my most familiar position to people who knew me.
I barely noticed a pair of hairy legs attached to sandaled feet go by talking to Mike. I'd just decided that if I did the song in F instead of E that Scott could still sing it and I wouldn't hit that 'dink'. I was fooling around with the lead for that key when another guitar joined in playing something between a perfect harmony and a perfect counterpoint rhythm. I looked up and the guy in the sandals was sitting on a stool in front of me. All I could see was his back with long, stringy dark brown hair hanging over a faded orange t-shirt.
I could make out that he was playing my dream - a new, green PRS (Paul Reed Smith) guitar that probably cost as much as a car! He didn't look back, but said "That's good kid - let me take your lead and you do something with the harmony."
He started playing exactly what I'd been doing, so I jumped in with a harmony that had always been in my head.
We kept at it for a while and I was, like, flying! I'd always imagined this with two guitars, but I didn't even have the equipment to record both parts by myself. Now here was somebody who could pick up on it JUST LIKE THAT and talk at the same time. I was so excited I hollered "HOLY SH... I mean WOW!"
He stopped playing and, without turning around, held the guitar he was playing out to the right, front side facing me, and said "Ya know, kid - I like these PRS jobs. Do you like this green one or the red one up there?"
He was pointing at another one that was hanging on the wall. The red one made my eyes bulge - it was gorgeous! Kind of an orangy-red with gold hardware, bird inlays on the fretboard, outstanding wood grain - I was panting! I was also thinking "only in my dreams."
"The RED ONE!," I cried, "definitely the red one."
He just said "Follow me on this," and then started with some of the most stunning guitar work I'd ever heard. I listened for a bit to see where he was going, then I jumped in about an octave higher and tried to blend in with his playing. After a half-minute I was about floating. I'd gotten right into groove with this guy and we were sounding good together.
You have to realize, this was the first time EVER that I'd played with anyone who did anything besides strumming along with me.
And it was sounding GOOD! He was FANTASTIC! Then I thought to myself, "He's fantastic and it still sounds fantastic with me in there"
Then the guy stopped and said "Mike, I'm going to take this green one I'm playing."
So much for my taste, huh?
"Give the red one to Joey."
HUH??? I'm Joey! Give the red what to Joey? The red guitar?
Then the guy turned around and smiled with huge white teeth. "Enjoy it, Joey."
I knew that face! It was .... It was ....
Nope, not possible. I'm dreaming. No way. No how. Not here. Not me. I am really dreaming. A recurring dream!
"YOU?" "It can't be!" "Y-You're ......... @@@@@!"
"It's me, Joey," he said in a calm voice, "and I'm buying you that guitar. Right now. Today."
I think some sound may have squeaked out of me right then, but I can't remember, even though the rest of the events of that day are firmly rooted in my memory. No, not rooted. Burned! Lasered!
"How? ... who? ... huh?"
"You're good, kid. Real good."
"Don't be so nervous. Hand me your guitar before you drop it." He stood up and took the guitar out of my hands. I was still dumbstruck. He looked to be about seven feet tall.
"?" I thought, but still couldn't get my mind working, much less my mouth.
This was my idol. I can't think of anyone who has influenced my playing more than him. I had every single record he ever made. I could play everything he's ever recorded. Hum it. Walk to it. Dance to it. Eat to it. Ride my bike to it.
OK, BREATHE! "I can't. My Dad won't let me."
"Yes he will."
"Not something like this - it's too much money - too valuable."
"You can have it. He already knows."
"Yeah, Joey. You can take it." - my Dad's voice from behind me.
"It's me, Joe. You can have the guitar. You need the guitar. I'm not musical, but you seem to be turning a lot of people on - I don't know what. But the guitar's yours."
I turned around to look at Dad - he seemed to be just finishing a wink towards Mike and @@@@@.. Then he looked down to me with a look that he always reserved for when he was proudest of one of his kids. But why me? Why now? How did I deserve it? The klutz. The nerd. I wasn't a particularly good student and wasn't particularly athletic. I certainly wasn't outgoing. I played my guitar and dreamed, mostly. Dreamed of blowing away huge crowds with my playing. Of spotlights. Of the music. My music. The music that went round and round in my head even while I was sleeping. The music that was born of bagpipes, blues, banjos, electric guitars, piano jazz, and Judy Garland. Oh, God!
"I gotta pee!"
I ran to the back where Mike's little john was and let go. I had no clue as to what was going on, but I didn't want it to stop. How could Dad know @@@@@? How could @@@@@ know me?
I washed my face in cold water, then couldn't find a towel. I wiped off as well as I could with my hands, then wiped them on my pants. I looked in the little mirror. Still me. With a wet face.
I went back to the demo area and found the three men standing there waiting for me.
Mike said "You'll need a decent amp. I'd go with the Twin, if I were you."
"Twin's perfect," said @@@@@.
"Twin?" asked Dad.
"Fender Twin Reverb." Mike.
"Nice amp." @@@@@!
"Pick what you want." @@@@@!
"You heard him. Pick what you want."
"I can have a TWIN?" I guess that settled it.
"Mike, I gotta go. Set him up right. Guitar, case, amp, cords, straps, strings, picks - you know," said my idol.
"Bye, Joey. I'm really glad we met and I could do this for you."
"I hope I'll see you soon and we can have a proper jam."
"Talk to your Dad." He left.
Mike said, "Why don't you two go - I'll pack this stuff up and bring it right over."
"Can I bring the guitar now?"
"It's yours. Let me get the case."
He packed it up and handed it to me. I was so nervous, my dad finally grabbed it.
Mike looked me in the eye. "Joey, you're a nice kid. You got the talent to be one of the best guitar players ever. Go home and talk to your father. Keep your mind on the music. Don't let anything get in your way. You're good. Keep playing and let the music keep you happy. There's a lot of us pulling for you, but it's a tough world sometimes. Choose your friends."
I looked at my father. "Dad?"
"Let's go, Joey. We'll talk at home."
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