In 1976, I wanted to be a rock star. I was filled with energy and teenage angst and saw those Marshall Stacks and hard ear-splitting stretched E-strings as the only relief from it. Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Boston, Santana, Journey, and some punks from Pasadena named Van Halen. Rock and roll guitar was it. I was saved from a life of glum boredom. I loved the electric guitar, and still do! It is a very large part of who I am. But I'm not a rock star. I'm just a guy that plays guitar, IMHO pretty well. But I'm also a husband, a father, friend, member of the community, Technical Systems Architect...
I'm a rock and roll guitar player, and a rock and roll singer.
The reason I'm writing this seemingly disjointed soliloquy is that learning to play the guitar has been the single most important factor in my life. Period. Absolutely no doubt about it. It's the only thing I've done consistently for the last 25 years. Girls (and wives), children, jobs, cars, friends, houses have all passed away or have been replaced. But not my guitar.
"Never spend your guitar or your pen." was a line written by Pete Townshend. It is so true. For those of you that are new to this journey, vocation, skill, hobby, obsession that we call "playing the guitar", all I can say is you're in for quite a treat if you continue with it.
I travel a lot for work, and a guitar is a companion I take along with me whenever I can. Even when I'm too tired to play, it's just a comfort to have it around. Like a sentinel in the corner to remind me that my work is not all that I am. I was on a long weekend recently and my mother was along with us. In the evening I came out to the patio by the pool carrying my guitar, and then sat down and softly began to play "Norwegian Wood". She asked "Do you still play very often?" And I said something like "Well, whenever I can get a chance." She said "That's good. It's nice to see something that you learned as a child has meant so much to you and the people around you for so many years." Gee...Mom...don't get me all misty-eyed here.
But she is right. Even my mother, who stomped on the kitchen floor and yelled down the basement stairs "Turn that thing DOWN!" But also sat on the beach with me and the rest of the family and sang old Beatles songs until we were hoarse.
My guitar playing started out as a frantic obsession. Lessons, friends to jam with. I couldn't learn too much too fast. Songs to write and arrange and record. Songs to learn, bands to form. The bands turn into an extended family, albeit somewhat dysfunctional in nature. But family just the same. I did, for a short while, play professionally. My only job was to play guitar and sing. Those were some of the most memorable times of my life, and I don't regret it for a second.
But, life got in the way of all that, as it does with young men. And life begat school and girlfriends became wives and became young mothers and school became budding careers more profitable than playing guitar in bars. And yes, my mother did at times ask me when I was going to get a real job. And eventually I did, and I don't regret that I didn't become the next Gary Richrath or Ted Nugent. Well, not too much.
And the reason I don't regret it is that in spite of all the tumult that life throws at me, I still play guitar. I play with friends in little pick-up rock bands and blues jams. Open mic nights or jamming with friends from work. I play at church, accompanying myself, or the choir, or groups of little children singing like cherubs (see my Gibson EDS1275 review). I've played and sang at weddings and funerals, in lonely motel rooms and crowded airport concourses. I have played and sung love songs to a pregnant wife, then lullabys to a fussy infant. I've played guitar to accompany my young son's squawking on a harmonica, and my daughter's beautiful voice.
So, get your axe out of the case and grind it a while. Play a new song you learned for one of your friends. Get your kids to dance and sing. Make your spouse roll her eyes and shake her head while observing the expression on your face while trying to master a Satriani riff or something! Play guitar. It's always the best thing to do.
Bud Sloniger lives in the mountains of Colorado and loves old Gibson guitars and old tube amps.