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Entry date: 1-23-2022 - Guitar led me down a path - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I wake up and the first thing I think about it playing guitar. It’s not all the time, of course, because my first thought these days is “I have to pee” more often than not. Getting older is fun, right?

But guitar was on my mind this morning and yet I haven’t picked it up yet.

Yesterday I was thinking about a song concept with a working title of “Double Standard.” I had a melody in my head to go with the idea and now it is gone. My hope is that it will find its way out through my fingers and the words I had in mind will somehow reappear.

Music is magic like that.

Initially, I wanted to play bass. In 1984 or so, my parents offered to buy me a bass and amp for Christmas or a computer and TV. The computer in question was the one that was all the rage at the time: the mighty Commodore 64. Sixty-four whole K of memory. Can you imagine the luxury of it all?

Sadly, and stupidly, I chose the computer which came along with a 13” color tv.

If I had only known what that bass would have brought me. It was a decade later when I bought my first bass. Somewhere in that decade I got the notion that I would be a singer/guitar player. The main reason for this is the frustration I felt in Religious Skid when I had an idea about how a song should go, and I had no real way of showing my bandmates.

So, my friend Tim L, may he rest in peace, hooked me up with my first acoustic guitar. I paid for it with some money I had saved from working at Easy Street and my side hustle at the time. Being a classical style acoustic, it was not the guitar I really wanted, but Tim thought it would be a good first guitar and, in a way, it was. I signed up guitar class at Phoenix College and learned how to play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” before a scheduling conflict came up and the teacher had to change the night of the class from Tuesday to Wednesday. I had intramural basketball on Wednesdays, so I chose basketball instead of continuing with the basics of guitar.

What I really wanted to do was play punk rock guitar and that was not happening in guitar class. Then my friend Bill loaned me a killer Telecaster and Fender amp to play around with for about a year and I started playing along with Cramps records, at first. When I moved to Berkeley in 1991 for an extended vacation (another story I must tell), my friend Jim gave me some more guitar tips, too. He was a pretty good song writer and I used to know one of his riffs, now that I think of it, that was cool.

I began to get more serious when I got back from Berkeley and when we started kicking around the idea of forming the band that would become Hillbilly Devilspeak, my initial plan was to be the singer and sometimes add a second guitar. I had bought my first electric guitar and amp by that time. It was a guitar I had fallen in love with at the pawn shop where a couple of my friends worked. A green Gibson Sonex that I could afford and loved the way it felt in my hands. It took me a while to save the money, but I still have the guitar to this day. I think I paid around $200 for it.

Cousin Ben pointed me in the direction of a little 50watt Peavey practice amp that had the punk rock sound I was looking for, so I bought that for $100, and I had enough juice to hang with the band at practice if I was going to add second guitar. I still have the amp, too. Weird to think I’ve had these two noisemakers for about 30 years.

I started playing guitar everyday for at least 30 minutes, if not longer. I would literally play until my fingers bled and started to come up with some riffs of my own. Some of these riffs ended up becoming Hillbilly songs and it made me feel pretty good that Terry, our guitar player, accepted and improved them. He was an excellent guitar player. I miss him.

With Hillbilly, though, I only played guitar at a few of the early practices before we even had a name. Terry, EJ, and I were jamming with a guy named Geoff who worked at Eastside Records. Geoff was a bass player and had great taste in music, but he and Terry just could not get along. I liked playing around with Geoff’s bass during our numerous breaks at practice so Geoff could smoke and realized pretty quickly that I could play the bass lines to our songs way better than Geoff could. It became clear to me that my desire to play bass was still there and when Geoff said he wasn’t down with continuing our project, I decided to buy a bass.

Eventually I got the cash together, thanks in part of extra student loans, to get my first bass and amp as we transitioned into the three-piece band we were from 1993 to 1997. I bought a 1981 Rickenbacker 4001, my Ampeg SVT3 head, and an Ampeg 8x10 cabinet. The Rick had Bartolini pickups so it had a heavier, noisier sound than most other Rickenbackers that suited Hillbilly really well. It also felt amazing in my hands.

I bought the Rick at The Bass Place in Glendale, which hasn’t been there for a long time. The amp and cabinet were from Noteworks, in Glendale, which is also long gone. I loved that store. In 1996 I bought my Fender P-Bass there and it will be pried from my cold dead hands when I die. Ironically enough, I now work right down the street from where Noteworks was and I’m just now realizing it. There was a time when working at Noteworks would have been a dream job for me, even though, if I am being honest, I am not a music gear guy.

At all.

I’ve been playing the same amp for almost 30 years except for about a month that I had an Orange amp after Cris Kirkwood blew my original bass head up. I forgave Cris, but still. He could have done something more than put me on a guest list or two. Either way, I like what I like and as long as it works, I’m going to use it.

That’s enough for today.

See you tomorrow.

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1 Comment

Steve Roberts
Steve Roberts
Feb 02, 2022

I remember the day you got that Gibson. You got it for cheap because it had been debranded. It was obviously a Gibson by the construction & the weight, but for some reason a previous owner had taken the logo off the headstock. You were so excited.

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