Tuesday, March 02, 2010

How to Be a Screw-up and End Up a Musician, Pt. 2

His name was always Buddy
And he'd shrug and ask to stay

I barely remember my first guitar, but I did take a picture of it, setting all pretty against a tree. I used to climb up the hill on our property and sit beneath a tree and play. Nature, music, solitude: these things were becoming a part of a musical life that that was forming.

At this point, I did not see myself as a "guitarist." Nay, that was too lofty a title. I was a student. Period.

[One sidebar: We had apple trees and the like on our property and the "backyard" was about an acre. The backyard basically sloped uphill. I remember sitting up at the top of one tree one spring and the wind began to blow. I felt like I was floating. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. I told you I was weird.]

Time for big life change and a move to West Virginia. Goodbye rural PA.

Lessons continued once the family settled into our new lives. My neighbor, Donny, and I were chauffeured down to Herbert Music for our weekly lesson with Buddy Davis. Buddy had a local band that was pretty popular at the time. They even played my junior high dance.

Donny, or as we called him, Donny Lad, was not very successful in his lessons. Of course, this secretly pleased me. However, he did have an electric guitar complete with whammy bar. The very first time I tried his guitar, I did break into rock power chords. Nay. I wanted to hear feedback. Again, I'm weird. Donny eventually gave up on lessons and he loaned me his guitar. That poor guitar suffered much at my reckless and destructive hands. I used to bend that whammy bar to such extremes that the sound was comical. Extreme low to high sounded like someone saying "Whoah." The sound became kind of a repeated sound among my inner circle of friends as well the term Donny Lad Guitar.

My step-father loathed the electric guitar. Once, he burst in while I was playing along with some Neil Young and yelled, "If you call that music, then...nuts!" Needless to say, that was a bit of a blow to the old confidence machine and to rock music being played loud around our house. It didn't stop me from liking it nor playing it. Parents...sometimes they go too far.

[One quick diversion: Donny's father alternated with my stepfather with the chore of driving us to school. One morning, sitting in that back seat of his dad's huge Cadillac, he let us listen briefly to a racy 8-track of Red Foxx. On the way to junior high. Cool dad.]

Back to lessons-

Lessons with Buddy were very satisfying for me, although I think that he often used the time for practice. He played a number of instruments besides guitar and frequently used lesson time to catch up. After being ignored one lesson and watching him play flute, I had to speak up. Being a young lad with no "rude" boundaries, I stated flatly, "Aren't I paying you for a lesson?" He didn't take offence, he knew I was right. Although he was a totally clean-cut Christian guy and drugs were nothing he messed with, he was so lost in his own practice world.

I used to ask him about Jimi Hendrix and sometimes he would turn up the amp and let loose with some electric guitar fire. I would ask so many questions about the Jimi god, but I couldn't handle any advanced music like that. "Hendrix is the kind of guy who didn't care about nothin'." he once stated. A bit unfair, but this was the 70's and rock icons were dropping like flies.

Herbert Music had a student recital and I played duets with Buddy. Evidently my left foot was tapping a bit hard on the hollow stage and when it was over, the MC joked, "Looks like you brought your own rhythm section with you." People laughed. That public performance made quite the impression on me. I can remember the gray two-tone shoes I had on.

Buddy led me through more books with the music getting more progressively difficult to read, but there was one lesson that changed the course of my life forever. I walked in, there was Buddy, bent over his music stand, practicing away, not even noticing me come in (or was lost in concentration). He was playing a Carcassi etude on a classic or nylon string guitar. It was as if I was hearing music for the first time. Again, that becoming thing, the opening up of a new vista. After he finished, I eagerly asked, "What was that???" He explained who, what and how. I wanted a nylon string pronto.

BUT, and this is a huge but, there was no one teaching at that time who knew a damn thing about classical technique. (To this day, our fair small city has just a few who proclaim to have any knowledge.) So, while the reading of music was great, instruction on a technical level was nil.

A Yamaha nylon was added and I dug deep into "finger style." Happy as a clam.

[Side note: I saw Buddy, years later. We had pulled up next to each other in traffic. I told him I was a former student and I had gone to college and been a music/guitar major. He didn't say much, but smiled, nodded and wished me well. My impression these years later is that he was either processing the information or just didn't care. It certainly wasn't, "Wow! That's great! I had a hand in that? Fantastic!" I don't mean to disparage Buddy or make him out to be a dick, but I tells 'em as I remembers 'em.

Last I heard, Buddy was working in D.C., doing something with the Washington Cathedral. Looking on their web, I see no mention of Harold "Buddy" Davis. And for those who try to look him up, Buddy is black. Not that wacky fellow at buddydavisband.com]

Junior high went and high school came. A twelve-string guitar was added and I loved it. It was another life changing event. I was fascinated by the rich sound of that guitar. I would get lost in the sheer sound, making up pieces and playing them for friends.

One thing: My parents, though tremendously supportive, did not shower me with instrument upon instrument. I felt like I had to earn each instrument by becoming a better player. My step-father, a man of many contradictions and worth a long blog by himself, was always artistically and musically astute. he was instrumental (pun intended) in my development. I was a lucky guy to have such parents to be sure.

High School, Anyone?


hillbillybob said...

I have to say, after attempting to teach a number of students too depressing to count, only 3 have stood out. Parents of 2 of them made them quit as a form of discipline (huge ass mistake, mom and dad), and I recently found the third, tastefully picking away on his strat. You can bet your ass I immediately let him know how proud I was of him, hey strat pickin aint julliard, but it matters to me.

eclectic guy said...

You are absolutely right. We are veterans and have been in the trenches for years, so we have suffered through many a dreary student for the cash. I always figured that as long as I got some practice in, even the dullest of students was worth it. It's mindnumbingly boring at times, but better than actually having to work.

I can number my best students as two. Only two have had the discipline and were willing to make the sacrifice of practice. I have had some good ones, it seems none of them were willing to give what we gave. I just don't see it.