From the Braver Institute
I don’t mean that I was the discoverer of music, of course. What I mean is I remember when I discovered the music that would end up being my kind of music.
I remember when I discovered rock and roll.
Sure, I had listened to kiddie records from Walt Disney, and the records that my dad played, but there really hadn’t been any music that clicked with me until one day when we were hanging out at Shawn Longtine’s house, and we put a BTO album belonging to Shawn’s older brother on the record player. The guitar power chords that dominate the song Four Wheel Drive caught my ear and I was hooked. I wanted to play the guitar.
Not long after that I bought my very first record. I paid twentyfive cents for a 45 of The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz (coincidentally, I bought it from Shawn’s older brother).
This power-pop confection was played in heavy rotation on our record player at home because that is what kids do—they listen to the same song over and over—besides, it was the only song I had to play. I distinctly remember my dad yelling at me down in the basement to turn it down.
I knew that rock and roll was meant to be played loud. No one had ever told me that it should be played loud, it just seemed natural, and loud is exactly how I had been playing it.
During the writing of this piece I took a timeout to listen to Ballroom Blitz and now I can sympathize with my father. I am sure he was on the verge of insanity after hearing “It’s, it’s a ballroom blitz” over and over for the millionth time. Small wonder that he didn’t come down to the basement and smash it and me to tiny pieces. The angry “TURN THAT DOWN!” from the top of the stairs got his point across perfectly clear.
Anyway, I still wanted to learn how to play guitar.
Thinking back now, I wanted to play guitar even before that time. One Christmas, when I was four or five, I got a new guitar. It was a real guitar, or at least I thought so. It wasn’t a kiddie sized plastic toy. It was, at least in my mind, a fullsized acoustic guitar. I am sure that I would have learned to play it if my big sister, Sorta, hadn’t sat on it and crushed it later that evening.
Years later I found myself in a room full of guitar students, strumming away on what really was a real guitar, although it wasn’t quite how I imagined guitar playing to be. Instead of Four Wheel Drive and Ballroom Blitz, I was learning how to play what you could almost call anti-rock and roll in the form of Down in the Valley, and Tom Dooley. It would appear that I was being groomed for the Kingston Trio and not Foghat.
The acoustic guitar just didn’t seem to have the umph that an electric guitar did, and it was hard to get excited about playing it. Why didn’t my parents buy me an electric guitar?
I took guitar lessons for a few years, and then one day my dad broke all of my guitar strings in an attempt to replicate the sound of the Hawaiian guitars that he loved so much on his Marty Robbins records. If I had an electric guitar he would have had an easier time getting the right amount of twang out of the thing, and would probably not have broken my strings.
We never did replace the strings, and I forgot everything I had ever learned to play.
In the meantime I abandoned all plans of guitar playing, and for a number of years I focused on playing the drums.
Years after that I started to develop a desire to pick up the guitar again, and while I could have bought an electric guitar, I opted instead for a nice acoustic.
Messing around with it, I found that some of the chords I had learned as a youngster sort of came back to me without too much effort, and in a short time I was able to make a somewhat pleasant noise with the thing, although I still really didn’t know how to play it.
I really liked my acoustic guitar, but it still didn’t satisfy the need for the amplified electric crunch. The desire to have an electric guitar still haunted me like a childhood ghost.
Last year I had the opportunity to buy a Fender Telecaster (the original Fender guitar). The Telecaster, in its simplicity, has long been my favorite guitar and I couldn’t pass up the deal.
Once home, I quickly tuned it up, scrounged up a patch cord and a guitar pick, plugged it into my amplifier, cranked up the volume and hit a big, fat E chord.
From the bedrooms down the hall I heard my daughters angrily yell “TURN THAT DOWN!”
I have come full circle.
Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the Braver Institute at www.braverinsitute.com