Monday, February 28, 2011

The Blue Genes

Most of us have some kind of an idea where our love of guitar, or music in general comes from. I was extremely fortunate to have the exact information from the first memories I can recall. I got a double dose; my mom and dad both played and sang, as did several other members of my family. My brother, sister and I were around it so much that it was just a natural thing for us all - not to mention cheap entertainment.

It just doesn't get much better than inherited musical genes for learning the basics of melody and harmony. Take the sibling harmony of the Everly Brothers for example. Whether you like them or not, it would be very difficult to find a better suited singing duo. Then there is the original line-up of Allman Brothers Band. Not so much their vocals as just their ability to mesh a electric guitar, Hamond B-3 organ and a natural Blues voice together with four other exceptional musicians.

As a kid I knew what a guitar was before I was aware of nearly anything else. Why? I believe it was because my mother and father both played and sang and it was a fixture in our house before we even had a television. And yes, I'm that old and there actually was a time in history when households didn't all have televisions.

Most of the guys that I played guitar with in High School only became aware of the instrument because they had recently heard the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. (I was much more intrigued by the Rolling Stones, but that's another story for another day.) They all got Kay or Airline guitars from the Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogs and started taking music lessons at the one local music store. Then they got Silvertone or Airline amplifiers from the same catalog and beget the parental phrase, "Turn it down!"

Fortunately, I was blessed to have a guitar in my household that had strings which were less than 1" above the fretboard. I also had a head start since, when my dad and his friends would run out of beer, they would go get more, and in their absence I had taught myself things like Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser".

Pictured below are a couple shots of my dad with his early '50s Gibson ES-125T. (Notice the trapeze bridge/tailpiece - see earlier blog on ES-295.) His friend in the background is playing no less than a Gibson L5, one of the best made and most expensive guitars available at the time ...some say any time. Here in the blue light of Bert Johnson's Tavern, they are seen rocking out, probably for no more pay than the free Sterling beer sitting on the piano. This would have probably been on a typical Saturday night, which was always the evening I was "babysat" by my cousin, Terry & the folks would go out entertaining and being entertained.

The next shot is a little less formal (if possible) with a country band, this time playing a Gibson ES-125, no cutaway. Different club, same beer.

Then there was Mom and her family of singing brothers and sisters. That's her on the right with my Aunt Georgia singing together at home, as usual. They appeared on a TV show out of Bloomington, Indiana called "Uncle Bob Hardy and the Hayloft Frolic" along with two other sisters in the '50s. Georgia went on to have a brief recording career in the early '60s and all three of her kids played as well.

This all started a long road for me which has led to nearly circumnavigating the globe playing guitar and singing. Although I'm back to doing it for my own enjoyment (or torture, depending on the day) it is a gift I inherited through my genes and the experiences of being raised around people who loved to play and listen to music. It's a gift I can never pay back, except by giving bits of it away. If not by running all over the country and the world playing for others, then by some things I have recorded in the past ...or from sharing these little bits of myself with readers like you.

People often ask, "How did you learn?" "Can you teach me?" The answer to the second question is "No, I can't teach you, but you can." You can take lessons of course, but you have to teach yourself. The answer to the first question is something I'm forever grateful for, "Sitting on my grandma's lap, listening to my dad play guitar." You can barely make out the dark figure of him sitting to the right of this picture. The outline of the Gibson ES-150 is still there and it looks like Grandma and I are singing together.

If you play an instrument and have kids, share it with them. Encourage them to try playing. Don't treat a guitar as if it were more valuable than the child, it isn't. Teaching, or rather showing a young one what a guitar does is a gift that will outlive you.

I have sat at some very fine tables in exotic locations because I learned this from my family. OK, I've sat in some dives too but that's beside the point. Had I never been given the ability and the genetic code that it came from, chances are I would have seen more dives than exotic places.

Aunt Georgia recently passed away and my own dad died in 1970. Before they left though, they shared this gift with children, grand children nieces, nephews and probably much more than that. I hope that if you pass your gift on it will go as far or farther than theirs.

Thanks Curt for the pictures and the inspiration. By the way, I noticed they were drinking Wiedemanns in the earlier picture - what's up with that? :o)