Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Screwup to Musician, Part4

(Hi Ed! I stole your pictures.)

My parents thought I was going quickly to hell and sent me to Staunton Military Academy from '74 to 75; right smack dab in the middle of my tender high school years. I have blogged about these rather insane times and so, I get to the guitar bits.

The guitar made me some great friends. Friends I still contact and guys I will never forget. It was at SMA that I began to see better players and since we were in a kind of prison, hours could be passed with the gentle aid of the instrument. And some recreational recreation as well.

Pete Bantz was hands-down the best player.

The texts previously blogged:

If there was one thing that helped us bridge the social gap to becoming friends, it was the guitar. I have written about the importance of the guitar in SMA life and this cannot be underestimated. He was easily the school’s most advanced player and when I saw that, I drew my sights on him. Pete soon realized that I was like a “sponge” (his term). Years later at a reunion, he told how I would come to his room, guitar in hand like a suitcase ready to move in, to pick his brain, watch his hands, ask endless questions and absorb every little tidbit he was willing to share.

Once inside what felt like a luxury hotel, Pete would be sitting in his non-regulation easy chair (no doubt the privilege of rank) with the air thick with cig smoke and Clapton on the stereo.

“That son-of-a-bitch! How does he do that?” Pete would exclaim in disbelief. “He’s plays all those blues licks…but he does it so fast!!!” He’d wave his hands in the air and his bracelet would jangle in agreement. I wasn’t hearing on the same musical level as Pete, so all of the finer points of Sir Slow Hand were beyond my comprehension.

Pete would bring out his beautiful 12 string. It was there that I fell in love with 12 strings and all their shimmering, chiming glory- a love undiminished to this day. Pete had the most fluid strumming and dazzled me with songs like Pinball Wizard, Layla and other songs of the times.

He would give me advice. “OK, OK, you’re fast (I wasn’t), but your rhythm is too wild. Even Zappa, who plays like a maniac, plays with some kind of rhythm!” He was right. I can't imagine what a wreck my playing must have been then. Even today, I wobble a bit rhythmically. His advice was honest and yet encouraging. He saw good things in my playing even when I failed to.

Being in Pete’s room was like being given a weekend pass. He was an officer and was therefore safe from the prying antics of most cadets and held the respect of other officers. If someone came to the door (which happened a lot), he could rudely send them on their way if he damn well felt like it. That was real power. Those hours spent in that room were wonderful.

Dave Noble

Dave jumped my shit every chance he had. I don't think he disliked me, he just loved to jump my ass over anything, but especially being from West Virginia. I heard "hillbilly" this and that almost on a daily basis.

Then, why did I tolerate, nay, hang with him? You guessed it. Because he was a better player than me (and held higher rank).

He had this steel string acoustic that had the thinnest electric guitar strings on it. It sounded like shit, but was it easy to play. You could bend the crap out of those strings. In fact, it sometimes had this comical, warbled, the-record-is off-center sound to it. He would get frustrated when it sounded like shit, letting out a red-faced stream of profanity, but never changed his strings. Go figure. Dave wasn't the most subtle of players and I think his somewhat caustic personality spilled over into his playing making it a bit of a struggle.

Dave knew some songs that I added to my collection. There again I was the traveling sponge with the logo: have smoke(s), will trade for lessons.

Boots and Ed

At one of my first meals in the mess hall, Boots and I discovered that we both played. One of my keenest memories was watching him play an E minor pentatonic scale on a nylon string guitar. He was using a pick I believe. Boots had a friend at home who was sort of a recluse guitar virtuoso who picked out leads on Jethro Tull records-something utterly impossible for me at the time.

I can't recall meeting Mr. Ed, but I do keenly remember watching him play Summer Breeze by ear and being very envious of his ability. I do think his musical ear was as good as anyone's there. Ed could also sing-something the rest of struggled with or just flat-out didn't do. It was with Ed and Boots (and Andy Blythe listening) that I spent long, long hours just strumming a steady chord progression and experimenting with leads. The Grateful Dead had nothing on us because we would play hour long jams until we all got sick of it. Again, being in 'prison,' stuck on campus with no car, no money and nowhere to go, what to do with your time?

Listening wise, we were in full swing. The Beatles, Allman Brothers, Frank Zappa, King Crimson. I took one sideroad which left others a bit puzzled: Beethoven.

I was 'downtown' Staunton in a five-and-dime store and saw an 8-track of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. I don't know what in the hell possessed me, but I do remember thinking: "Beethoven. Heard that name. Huh. What's the big deal?" So with a whim, I bought my first classical recording.

Cadets would often take it upon themselves to share their music with everyone else. We lived in a barracks where all the doors faced the "quad." During the summer, it was not uncommon to have students lounging in chairs, feet propped up on the railings and their stereo systems blaring from the room. You might have several rooms doing this at once, but one Saturday, I let old Ludwig fly.

No one said a word against it. One guy did call me "the Beethoven kid," but that moniker did not take. I didn't give a care whether or not it was high art, but only that it was different. What me and some of my pals discovered was that the longer you listened to it, the better it sounded. Holy shit. We got some cultere here buddy.

Back to Normalcy?

1 comment:

The Only Mister Ed said...

Still working on Summer Breeze. I now have a '74 Guild classical, an Epiphone FG160AB 6-string and a Martin DM-12 as my sweet 12-string. My 4 kids have all inherited the music gene thanks also to my wife, who plays classical piano and sings in local choruses. The Von Trapp Family of Concord, CA!!