Playing Guitar is Cool

I was a baby boomer, born in ’52. And like all kids of that era grew up listening to musical giants such as Elvis Presley and other “Rock and Rollers”. But it wasn’t until the early 1960’s the desire to play guitar became an obsession. Maybe it was because my older brother, Tom, had. He was my hero and I wanted to be just like him.

In those days, playing a guitar was the fastest way to become “cool”. Tom was already popular and didn’t need any help there, so that additional skill was just icing on the cake. He was in a local band which was making a name for itself in our small southern community. Then, they hit the “big time”. A local TV show invited them to perform. It was called “The Slim Mims Show” or something similar, and aired about 5:30 am. It wasn’t the “Ed Sullivan Show”, but to me I couldn’t have been more impressed if they had been voted into the musicians “Hall of Fame”.

Unfortunately, since we were “military brats”, we never stayed in one place very long. I say unfortunate because the leader of their small group eventually ended up in Nashville playing with a famous female country and western singer.

Not long afterwards Dad got stationed at Glasgow AFB, Montana. Cold and lots of snow, which brings me to the part of how I earned money for my first guitar. I had ample driveways to clear of snowbound cars there. At one lady's house as I was working, she came out to see how I was doing and conversation turned to my dream of getting a guitar.

As it so happens, she had an old beat up one in the garage she wanted to sell and went to fetch it. To anyone else, it might have been a laughable sight, but to me it was beautiful. She wanted $7.50 for it. That was a lot in 1964. I finished shoveling her driveway and scurried home with my treasure held high. I was in such a hurry I fell several times into snow banks but managed to keep the instrument high and dry.

Finally arriving home I proudly displayed the guitar to Mom and Brother Tom. Mom just shook her head, disappointed I would spend my hard earned money on “a piece of junk”. Tom just laughed at it. But I didn’t care. It was mine.

I went to my room polished the guitar and refitted it with new strings. It didn’t look much better and didn’t even sound that good. However, it was mine and I was determined to learn how to play it. I had to, seeing as how hard I worked for it. I studied and practiced for hours on end getting blisters on my finger tips. In time, hard calluses developed, my hands became stronger and what sounded a little like music began to come from the old instrument.

Tom saw I was beginning to show promise and began teaching me. From that point on we became fairly decent musicians. My older sister became our vocalist and younger brother Mike had been learning to play drums. Naturally, we formed an impromptu group.

But, our sister got married, and Tom joined the Army and we moved to Southern California. That left Mike and me, who could now play guitar also. Not enough for a band. But hope springs eternal and we enlisted several friends who had attained a measure of success as beginner musicians and “rocked on."

Like our teenage counterparts of today, we mainly just wanted to have fun and didn’t really want to work at it. But we did get a few small gigs at birthday parties, cookouts and such. Our routine consisted of about 30 tunes, mostly instrumental arrangements, since good vocalists were hard to find. We finally found a blonde haired boy, “Augie”, who could sing a few notes and we signed him on. He couldn’t play a guitar, but he was cool looking with his “shades” and surfer style attire. His “coolness” added certain flair to our image.

We had several six string electric guitars, a set of cheap “Remco” drums and several small amplifiers. It was with this equipment we were booked at a friends’ birthday party. We had performed for them once several weeks before.

The evening of our engagement arrived and we set up our meager assortment of equipment. Although Augie couldn’t play guitar, he grabbed one and “faked it” while singing. Unbeknownst to the audience we hadn’t plugged his guitar into an amplifier. Following our performance we received numerous comments on how much better our guitar playing sounded with Augie playing backup guitar. We hadn’t practiced for over a month, so how could we have gotten better? I guess image is everything.

Today, my two youngest brothers have also learned guitar. Tom, Mike and I, along with them, sometimes still get together for a “jam session”. But after years of practice we’re not the amateurs we once were. Not professionals either, but we do it for fun. And we no longer play with a cheap set of “Remco” drums or inexpensive equipment. As adults we now own all the equipment we dreamed of having as kids.

But somewhere out in my storage shed, sits a dusty, old, scratched weather beaten guitar. Maybe I’ll dig it out and polish it up. I have a great nephew who has expressed a strong interest in learning how to play one.

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