My first musical memories are of Chet Atkins and Sons of the Pioneers on my parents’ big ole RCA Console stereo, me with my plastic Roy Rogers guitar.
Buying my first single, The Monkees' I’m a Believer -- really turned it up for me: I wanted to be like Mike Nesmith, and play a big ole Gretsch Guitar – like Mike. That hat was kinda cool too.
However, my first guitar, while very big and very old, was not a Gretsch. It was a Kay Super Jumbo Concert, which somehow, Santa squeezed down the chimney. I looked (and felt) like a regular sized guy playing an upright bass on his lap, but I was determined to play that thing. With the help of some Black Diamond strings, and evil prodding by my brother, I conquered that beast.
The music moved from the Monkees to the Beatles, and John Denver, and on to the music on my brother’s stereo: The Moody Blues, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears.
My musical tastes have always been open and there was no better time for me than when my Mom worked for the Public Library, where I spent hours every week between the reference section and the music section. I found some of my biggest influences there: Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore. The Library also introduced me to Jazz, (George Benson, Herbie Hancock, D’jango Rheinhardt, Al DiMeola) Blues and Bluegrass on vinyl records. And then there was Roy Clark and James Burton on Hee Haw a Saturday staple.
Even with all of this wonderful Eclectic Electric music running in my ears and brain, my acoustic guitar and I still leaned toward playing the "folkies" such as Dylan, The Eagles, James Taylor (and yes, still, John Denver) until the "Jazz Bug" bit hard and I began studying with Robbie Siemens in preparation to audition for (and join) the High School Jazz Band.
We worked diligently on theory and reading, which prepared me naught for the most frustrating and unfair "NO" that I had yet to experience. Armed with a head full of chords, my Univox Les Paul and some bizarre Pawn Shop Special Amp (complete with an accordion input!) I was paired with an even younger kid trying out on bass. My audition was over before it started when the kid leaned over to me and in a panicked whisper asked "What does the ‘B’ with a little ’b’ beside it mean?" (note: that is a B-Flat)
I immediately raised my hand to get a new audition partner, but was denied. Then, after the most atrocious musical moment that I have ever experienced, was summarily dismissed, with a "…Tough Luck… You may leave." Needless to say, I have been a little rough on bass players ever since.
Instead of throwing my guitar away in disgust, I doubled down with Robbie for almost another year (thanks for not going straight to college!) concentrating on theory, arrangements and improvisation.
The most important lessons: Owning an "out" note, and making it work in context -- Playing "in the moment," And the art of the "great song".
A great song can be played in any genre. Robbie taught me how to play "Stairway to Heaven" straight up. We worked for weeks on the nuances and phrasing, getting it nearly perfect. I was so proud when I reached an acceptable level of proficiency. On that day though, Robbie gave me his smile of approval, then told me he could not see me the following week, but I was to come back in two weeks and play "Stairway" as a Jazz Standard, a folk song and as a bluegrass number. My brain melted. But it worked, and I have been re-purposing songs ever since.
My days with Robbie were numbered, but my time with him allowed me to return to the Jazz Band auditions with a bit more ummm… attitude. There was only one problem… they were auditioning vocalists, not guitarists. So I sang. And played guitar (complete with chord solo.) Here is how that went:
Mr. L: You are really not a singer.
Me: I know.
Mr.L: But your guitar playing…
Me: I know.
Mr. L: Would you consider playing guitar in the Jazz Band?
Me: I’ll let you know.
Two days later…
Me: You realize why I auditioned for "vocalist," right?
Mr. L: So you could show me what I missed…
Me: Now you know.
Mr. L: So, you had no intention…
So, it was back to folk, and some bluegrass, but now re-purposing other songs to play on my new Fender Acoustic. The writing bug had bitten, but I applied most of my early writing to soundtracks for plays.
In college I mainly played in small student showcases and coffee houses, until a University Wide Talent Showcase, where I was the host and "time filler." (I worked there, couldn't compete) That is where I ran into Kim Polk, a big name on the local fern-bar circuit who said to me: "I’m putting a band together, and you are going to be my guitarist, and band leader. Get a Bassist and a Drummer, and we will start next month."
I used my last bit of student loan money to buy a Yamaha Electric Guitar, Amp, and PA in Richmond, as there were no pro gear shops in Charlottesville at the time. I got the Bassist, who secured the drummer, who brought with him a keyboardist, rehearsals commenced. Kim quit before her first practice, and we decided to go on without her. We liked the idea of a female singer, and "The Tease" – a new wave cover band, was born. Over the next two years "The Tease" went through several lead singers, two drummers and traded the keyboardist for a second guitar player, before morphing into a thrash band called "KGB Secret."
At the beginning of the Tease, I had never played a guitar solo with a band, and quickly found out that I could not learn a recorded solo either, because I had spent all of my "single note" practice time, working on scales and "shapes" and, unlike most everyone else, did not sit with a record player or tape machine playing solos over and over until I knew them by rote. By the end of KGB Secret, however, I could play leads REALLY FAST (I had to).
In the early 80’s I discovered the Edge, Andy Summers and Adrian Belew and dearly wanted to emulate the more ethereal textures and pop sensibilities of these masters. We re-purposed pop songs for KGB’s thrash, but the sonic bombast did not allow for nuance – ever. KGB didn't like the music that I had started writing; with nuanced textures and pop sensibilities, they were deemed too "lame." KGB Secret, the band that I started, fired me.
I was relieved that I didn’t have to quit. I hate quitting. Next came Circle 13, with bassist Chris Zuck and KGB’s Mike Johnson on drums, this trio specialized in ethereal textured pop songs, with lots of nuance. We had 13 songs and opened for whomever would have us. Chris left for school, but Derek Bond was waiting in the wings to take Circle 13 to the next stage: Modern Logic.
Modern Logic By the Numbers: 10 years, 1100+ shows, 6 Bassists (Counting Chris), 2 drummers, 6 Acoustic spin-off duos and trios, untold number of managers, agents, road managers, engineers, roadies, techs and general flunkies, 1 pilot, 2 trucks, 4 records (one unreleased), two movie tie-ins, one cancelled tour of the Soviet Union. One record contract that died with Freddy Mercury. The highlight of that decade was playing at President Clinton’s first inauguration. The low-light was my emotional breakdown when the band retired.
After Modern Logic, I was retired, and done. That is of course why I then played "texture guitar" with Yesterday’s Boy, bass and lead guitar Uncle Remus, and created (once again a poppy-jazzy-textured trio) CowGoMoo, and the "wall of sound" Neon Kings.
JR and Rob and I tried to play some music in another group, but it didn’t go very well. I wanted to play some music, but I really didn’t want to go back to the 80’s.
Then I saw IHR. They were struggling, but I could see the promise. I could feel the soul. They were bending genres, with some great songs. Great songs about Cowboys. They just needed a guitar player...
The Sons of the Pioneers for the 21st century. Except instead of my plastic Roy Rogers guitar, it’s a Paul Reed Smith.