How My Musical Journey Started – Part 4a

The Early College Years
(Note: This is a little longer than I originally thought it would be, so, in order to keep true to my intention of only five parts, part four will be split into two parts.)
 
My first year at college, I attended Southern Utah State College (now, Southern Utah University), and I poured over the course catalog until I found what I was looking for – Private Instrument Instruction, String Instruments.  I registered for the course and, a couple of weeks after fall quarter started, I had a meeting with the Dean of the school of music, C. David Nyman.  He needed more details to match me up with an appropriate instructor.  I believed that I would get snubbed if I asked about rock gutiar, and I wanted so badly to have a guitar teacher, so I told him I was looking for someone that taught classical guitar.
 
One of my favorite guitar players at the time was Randy Rhoads, and I knew that he had learned classical guitar before playing rock guitar, and I liked the ideas he spoke of in interviews about merging the two styles.  Randy had died a few years before in a plane crash and I remember thinking how cool it would be to, as I saw it, continue his work in this area.  But I needed to understand the world of classical guitar in order to do that, and although learning "Stairway To Heaven" in the classical style helped me realize that I could like it, I knew that I would need a more formal plan and instruction from someone who already knew what they were talking about.
 
In a few more weeks, I was contacted by Joe Costello, who had been referred as my new classical guitar teacher.  I bought a mid-line Yamaha classical guitar (or, rather, my mom bought it for me – I was a poor college student who didn’t have a job), and started taking lessons from Joe.  I found out that Joe had grown up on an army base in Germany where he first started playing electric bass.  He even had a record that his band made when he was living there.  He said he started taking classical guitar lessons to improve his bass playing (something about classical technique using four fingers and a bass guitar have four strings made sense to him – it made sense to me, too, at the time), and that his former classical guitar teacher had been a student of the late, great, Andres Segovia.
 
For nine months, Joe worked very hard at getting my fingers to do what they were supposed to do, especially my right hand.  I found classical technique to be, over all, much more challenging on a technical level than the rock technique that I was using.  Because of my basically lazy nature, this ended up making me a less outstanding student than I should have been.  Therefore, it seemed to take me forever to get the hang of that right hand technique.  But Joe patiently persevered and never let me feel like I failing.
 
After that school year ended, Joe got married (ironically, to a girl from Kanab that I had known in high school), graduated college, and then moved away from Cedar City in search of a location where he could make a decent living as a musician.  During this school year I played in the college jazz band (which doubled as the pep band sometimes) and learned a lot about reading chord charts and playing chord fingers other than just major, minor, and "5" chords (power chords).
 
I also met Mr. John Houtson in that jazz band.  John played piano/keyboards, but was also very good on guitar.  He taught me how to substitute chords when you could get away with it, and always made me feel better about my own playing.
 
Also during my first year at college, I hooked up with Shannon Otte and his wife, Tracy.  Shannon and Tracy were playing occasionally in town as a two piece (Shannon played bass, Tracy played keyboards, both of them sang, and they used a drum machine), but were interested in jamming with others in order to form a larger band.  I jammed with them a coule nights a week and at the end of the school year, we found out about a battle of the bands that was going to be hosted on campus.  I recruited a friend that played rhythm gutiar and nother friend that sang.  The gutiar player had a friend that played drums, and we all met in Shannon and Tracy’s basent apartment.  We picked four or five songs (don’t remember all of them), practiced together six or seven times, and then competed in the battle of the bands.  The other two bands were a jazz fusion band that John Houston had put together, and a locally known bar band called Crossroads, that played mostly country music.  Since I was neighbors with several football players, and our song list was all current top 40 pop hits, we got the most applause, which was how the contest was judged.  It was my first time playing electric guitar in front of an audience and I was hooked on it!  I had been playing gutiar for less than two years at this point, and I was blown away by having won the battle of the bands my first time entering one.
 
One other musically significant meeting during this first year was when I met Kevin Chronister in my music theory class.  Kevin was a drummer and we hit it off almost immediately.  He was only at SUSC for a quarter before he left to attend Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, but he and I are still good friends and keep in touch.
 
I met so many other people that influenced my musical life in some way or another, I’m not sure I can remember all of them to list them.  Rather than forget about someone, I’ll just say that they know who they are, and I am still glad to have met most of them (some not so much, but they are the exceptions, thankfully).
 
The next school year I answered an ad to audition for a metal cover band.  I actually answered other ads where I didn’t get the job, but I soon became the fifth member (and rhythm gutiarist) for the band Sceptor.  After a couple of months of rehearsals, we finally booked our first gig as a band and I played my first paying gig as a guitar player.  The rest of the band didn’t like my playing much, I guess, ’cause they decided to kick me out fo the band after that gig.  The bass player spent the night drinking enough beer for three people, the sound guy had my channel turned all the way down most of the time, and the bass player and singer were both doing a lot of drugs.  Eventually the band fell apart after the bass player and singer got into an argument about something to do with the dealer they both bought their drugs from.
 

After Joe left town, I started taking rock gutiar lessons from a friend of his, Mark Alger.  After three lessons Mark told me that I could not be taught by him because I didn’t practice enough.  Up to that point, he had not impressed me with his teaching abilities, so I didn’t really care to stay on as his student anyway.  Another friend of Joe’s (and Mark’s) became my next teacher – Adam Lamoreaux.  The interesting thing here is that Joe, John, Mark and Adam were all in a band together that fell apart before Joe left town.  It was called the Coallition (John use to refer to it as the "Gay Coallition", and was not really that sad about it ending).  I saw them play one gig, and thought they were all really good musicians.  I still have yet to see very many bands in this town that match the level of musicianship that was present when those four were on stage together.  The singer in that band was basically just a side-kick to the musical spectacle that the others brought.

Adam turned out to be a really good teacher.  Again, I was not as good of a student as I needed to be, but I did learn a lot from him before he, like so many others, moved away in search of the dream of making a good living as a musician.
 
Next time, Part 4b, Life After Sceptor.
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How My Musical Journey Started – Part 3

Well, more than a month later, here is part 3.  Life is finally settled down as much as it will, given the time of year (school year starting, soccer games, etc.), and my house is almost back to the state it was in before the water damage…
 
Although the Metal Method course was doing well to demystify the guitar for me, the guitar my mom bought at the swap meet was an incredibly inferior guitar.  To top it off, although the course was good, I was losing motivation because I couldn’t play anything that sounded like music.  Also, I was trying to tackle barre chords right off the bat, and that proved to be extremely difficult without a teacher’s advice.  My left hand was always in pain after practicing, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get the hang of it well enough to start making music.
 
I had a friend who played saxophone in the school band.  He was part of a very musical family (I think he had eight siblings, and everyone in the family played at least one instrument, including both parents).  One day he was visiting at my house and I was trying to get my hand to do a barre chord.  He said, "Hey, I can show you a couple of songs my brother taught me."
 
I handed him my guitar and he proceeded to play parts of "Livin’ After Midnight" by Judas Priest and "Rock You Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions.  The way he played it, I didn’t need to do a barre at all, and I was able to memorize the simple patterns quickly.  For the next few weeks, while I continued to struggle with the difficulties of barre chords, I was able to jam on some songs that actually sounded like something I wanted it to sound like.
 
This was my saving grace.  I began to buy a magazine called "Guitar For the Practicing Musician" because it had full songs transcribed in TAB, and they were songs that I was interested in learning.  If I had not achieved the limited success of being able to play a small part of those first two songs, I don’t think I would have stuck with it much longer at that point.
 
The first song I tried to learn from TAB in the magazines was "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.  Yes, it’s cliche.  Yes, I knew others who played that song all the time.  This transcription seemed more accurate, though.  Let’s be honest here.  This is one of the most popular rock songs ever recorded, especially back in the mid-1980s, and the reason most people are sick to death of hearing amatuers hack through it has very little to do with it being over-played on the radio, and much more to do with the fact that most gutiarists aren’t playing true to the original.
 
This is a concept that classical musicians not only embrace, but adamantly insist on.  The composer’s original intent is to be held in highest regard, and not strayed too far from.  I’m not a very big fan of the level of intensity many of them put into this ideal, but there it is, anyway.  for the most part, blues and rock musicians pretty much ignore such a concept.  But there are a few songs, and "Stairway" is one of them, where deviation is frowned upon, if it goes "too far."  The original is played as a fingerstyle piece, and most guitarists that I knew at the time played it with a flat pick, and missed about a quarter of the notes that were in the original.  That wouldn’t be so bad if they were hitting the melody notes, but it seems most of them chose to play the harmony notes instead.  It sounded fine when played along with the original recording, but not so much all by itself.
 
So I started learning this song that "everybody knows how to play," and my motivation increased as it started sounding better all the time.  One of my biggest inspirations at the time, Randy Rhoads, was known for his skill at playing classical guitar.  The fact that "Stairway" was played in a classical style (rather than a blues fingerstyle – very odd for a famous blues man like Jimmy Page, don’t you think?) only increased my motivation to learn it "properly."
 
By the end of that school year, I had learned 10 or 15 songs, I owned an electric guitar (from the Sears catalog…) and amplifier (a bass amp, from the same catalog…), and I found out that the band teacher in the next town over was taking private guitar students.  Finally I had a real, flesh-and-blood teacher.  He taught me quite a bit about adding musicality to what I was playing, rather than just being a slave to the "text" of the music, but after only three or four lessons he moved away.  This was to become a recurring theme in my gutiar playing development…
 
Next time, Part 4 – The Early College Years.
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More Delays

Well, the saga of the leaking shower has not come to an end yet, but last weekend was definitely a high point.
 
In the interest of replacing furniture in a room that is shared by two girls, and is barely large enough for one of them, we went to the specialists on living in small spaces, Ikea.  After getting what we needed from the store (and under budget, too!), we were treated to some delicious steaks and dutch oven potatoes at the home of our friends, Leighn & Jody.  We are not sure, but we’re guessing it’s been at least 12 years since we saw each other for more than 10 minutes, and it was definitely a highlight for us to just relax and catch up on life for a few hours (too few, but that’s how it works, sometimes).
 
So while the girls still don’t have a bedroom yet (cross your fingers for a Wednesday night goal), it was worth it to have an excuse to shop Ikea and visit with very dear old friends.
 
Ok, out of time for now.  Coming soon, the continuation of my little story.
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Life Delays

Well, obviously, Part 3 of my story is a bit delayed.  If you’re curious, it is planned to be 5 parts.  I’ll be resuming that in a day or so.
 
In the meantime, I’ve been very busy dealing with some water damage in my home.  And on top of that, our new kitten is not as healthy as we would like.
 
My son and one daughter are at their grandmother’s house, and the other daughter is at her friend’s house, because the girls’ bedroom is not livable in its current state.  The water leaking inside the wall went un-noticed until it caused a problem.  Thankfully the source of the leak has been identified.  But I can’t get in there to fix it yet, because there is a cahnce that not all of the damage has been located yet.  Fixing the leak, only to have the leaking line removed in teh search for more water damage, seems a little counter-productive right now.  So in the meantime, I sit and wait and do nothing to improve the situation, because I can’t do anything yet.
 
But the clean-up crews have come and removed some of the damage.  I want the fans and de-humidifiers out of my house.  I want the damage repaired and I want my daughters to have a safe, warm place to sleep that is in the same house I’m in.  I don’t care if I have to do the work myself, as long as I know that all the work necessary is getting done.
 
But mostly, I want my life to move forward without all this crap getting in the way any more.  And yet, I’m stuck at work because company policy prohibits me from taking time off to take care of this kind of thing.  Stupid "day" job.
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How My Musical Journey Started – Part 2

When I entered middle school, I dropped the flute.  I still owned the rent-to-own one that I started with, though, so when we moved to Utah the next year, I picked it up again for two more years.  I was able to earn first chair in junior band in 8th grade, but I was still not able to figure out how to play the guitar.

The summer between 8th and 9th grades was when I took my first piano lessons.  I had visions in my head of being just like Dennis DeYoung from Styx, singing and playing keyboards in a famous rock band!  I stopped because of football, planning to start up again in the spring, but I never did start those lessons again.  Nor did I continue with my flute.

Two more years went by and I attended my first rock concert, Van Halen on the 1984 tour.  All concerts after that had to measure up to the memory of "Diamond" David Lee Roth, Edward Van Halen, and Michael Anthony running around this huge stage, putting on a highly entertaining show, and Alex Van Halen in the back doing a fantastic job of keeping it all together.  But playing music still seemed like this distant, nebulous thing that only special people could do well.

I remember very vividly attending a school assembly my junior year in high school that would prove to be life changing for me.  I had pretty much decided that I was going to go to college and become a computer programmer, and I was thinking very seriously about using the Air Force ROTC program to pay for it.  I wanted to be a pilot, though, and the Air Force recruiter told me that they don’t give scholarships to pilots because "everybody" wants to be a pilot, so they give the scholarships for other jobs in order to attract more recruits to those jobs.

But, I digress.  Back to the assembly.

This assembly was presented by a regional university in the area.  They were students there that had formed a cover band, and they were there as recruiters.  They played a few songs, but when they played "Run To You" by Bryan Adams, something in my brain clicked back on.  Something that had been lying there, dormant, waiting for just the right stimulus.  The break, just after the guitar solo, was when it happened.  My love of the sound of a guitar, that I had gained from listening to "Serendipity" all those years ago (at this point, I still didn’t know what the song was called), came rushing back to me, and then the guitar player messed up one of the chords!!

I don’t think very many in the audience noticed it.  Like a good musician does, he kept on going, not stopping the song.  But I saw his head shake ever so slightly, chastising himself for the blunder.  But, rather than turning me off, this inspired me like nothing had before!  I realized that, as good as he was (and he wasn’t too bad), he was just as human as I was!  I suddenly felt this surge of confidence that "I can do that!"  I figured that surely, if he could do it, so could I.

That was near the very end of the school year, and I was suddenly obsessed with finding out how to play the guitar.  But those damn "Quick Pickin’ & Fun Strummin’" records still did not help me get very far.  Especially since, by now, I had no interest at all in those dusty old folk songs.  I needed something more my speed.

For a couple of years I had been reading Circus and Hit Parader magazines pretty religiously.  They always had these ads in them for something called "The Metal Method":

That fall, when I got some money for my birthday, I sent away for the first three lessons.  I was now 18, almost 10 years after I first fell in love with the guitar, and I finally had found a way to learn the guitar that worked for me!  Finally, the guitar was not so mysterious.  The stuff in this method made a ton of sense to me, and I actually progressed!

Tomorrow, Part 3.

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How My Musical Journey Started – Part 1

I’ve decided to lay out the path that has brought me to where I am in my musical life.  Here is the first part, wherein the beginnings of my journey are revealed.
 
The first time I remember wanting to play music was in fourth grade.  I was 9 years old and attending Moffett Elementary School in Huntington Beach, CA.  It was my third year at the school, and, serendipitously, the third year of the school’s existence.  Our school just started a small band program that year, and I think there were all of five or six of us that volunteered to be the first ones.  I was the last one to choose an instrument.  It was often my preference to go against trends or pre-conceived notions, so I chose to play the flute.  Nobody else had chosen that one, and it was generally considered to be a "girl" instrument, so I decided that one sounded good to me.  I remember sitting in my bedroom, listening to the soundtrack music for the movie Star Wars, and imagining myself attaining the position of 1st flute in the London Symphony Orchestra, and doing nothing for my livelihood but playing music around the world.
 
During that school year I discovered a TV show that came on Sunday mornings after the Popeye cartoon show I loved to watch.  It was called Serendipity (interesting name, in hindsight), and I was enraptured by the music that was played during the opening credits.  The show held absolutely nothing of interest to a nine year old boy, but I would sit through it, half paying attention, for an hour, just so I could hear that theme song again.  I didn’t know anything about it, but I loved the sound of the acoustic guitar in it.  I used to call the song "Serendipity," because I had no idea that it was named something other than what the show title said, splashed across the TV screen (years later I learned it was "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams).
 
My school band teacher, Mrs. Brown, was also the "general" music teacher for all the grades, and she often played an acoustic guitar during those lessons, but she didn’t teach private guitar lessons, and the school didn’t offer to let her teach them there.  I desperately wanted to learn to make that music I heard in "Serendipity," so I asked the husband of one of my mother’s co-workers.  He had been the best male role-model I had known in my life at that point, and since they didn’t have children of their own, he would often take me fishing with him.  But he wouldn’t teach me how to play the guitar, even though he was a fairly good player himself.  He told me that it would hurt my fingers and that I wouldn’t stick with it.  I pleaded, but he would not relent.  My mother couldn’t afford to pay for private lessons for me, but she did pick up a 3/4 size classical for $20 at a swap meet and a "teach-yourself" course on vinyl LPs.  She intended to teach herself guitar to use in her classroom, since she didn’t play any musical instruments, and a guitar seemed portable and simple enough.
 
Although my mother never got around to learning the guitar, I tried several times to learn with the "Quick Pickin’ & Fun Strummin’" course that she bought.  Although I didn’t actively dislike "Tom Dooley" and "The Streets Of Laredo" (the first two songs taught in the course), and I was even somewhat of a fan of folk music, I could not get very far with that course.  Between being bored by the musical arrangements, frustrated at how hard it was to make a C and G chord (let alone a D chord), and the extremely poor quality of the instrument, I was just too young to motivate myself, and without a teacher to make it fun for me, I was lost.
 
Tomorrow, Part 2.
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Beginning A New Phase

Today I woke up, after my week-long attitude adjustment.  I got up on the first alarm ring (a true rarity for me), and felt quite rested, despite only getting 6 hours of sleep (I know some of you function quite well on 5 or 6 hours — I don’t function well on less than 7).  I manged to read through an entire newspaper (another rarity for me), or at least the articles that I was interested in.  When I finished the daily requirements for getting dressed for work, making my lunch, and the domestic chores that I choose to take care of before I leave in the morning, I found myself with 20 minutes to kill while I waited to turn off the sprinklers (yes, I have a timer, long story, don’t ask).
 
So I sat down by the sliding glass doors and played my classical guitar.  As I was playing, I looked out the doors to the horizon, and was greeted by a very pretty sunrise.  I’m almost always up before the sun to get to work on time, but I rarely have the chance to just sit and enjoy the sunrise because I’m usually either driving, or sitting in my windowless cubicle.
 
Today was not much more productive at work than the last several weeks have been; but my attitude was so much better than it’s been, that I still ended up feeling pretty good about the day.  At home, after dinner I sat down and started sorting all the piles of crap in my computer/office area.  I didn’t get anything filed in a permanent home, but I did get everything off the floor that doesn’t belong there, sorted it into groups that make sense, and even shredded a whole bunch of papers that I just don’t need hard copies of.
 
Today was the start of a new attitude and a new phase in my life, and it was a very good day. 😀
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