As I write this, my little homemade video for my song, “The King of Rock and Roll” has, in the last two days, amassed 1900 plays on Facebook. When I saw that number, I got excited and started watching it again. Keep in mind that I spent just two afternoons putting that together, and it was meant to tell a story. The story of my teenage rock and roll dreams and how, in what I now see as part of God’s plan, my life unfurled in a completely different, but no less amazing, way. I dug up pictures from my high school years with my first band, “Storm,” all the way through my wonderful teaching career. I figured that, with a little careful nudge in the right direction, quite a few old friends and former students might be curious to see if they were in it - that’s about it. I certainly didn’t expect 2000 of them!
The 4th shot of the video is of “Storm:” me, Mike Daroche on drums and David Cutler on guitar. We were about to do our very first performance - in my parent’s living room! We (the band) had decided to throw a party and invite all our friends for our debut. Since I was in 10th grade and my friends and I had yet to discover alcohol, there was very little risk for my parents, and they agreed to host (and to disappear immediately).
What caught my attention tonight, as I looked at that picture, was the guitars. I have seen this picture, now and then, through the years and my eyes always went to my guitar. I LOVED that guitar! It was an Aspen Les Paul copy with a beautiful pale natural wood finish. I had saved a long time to buy it. It was the first thing that I had ever bought for over $100 with my own money. To be honest, I always had a hard time keeping that guitar in tune and I have always blamed the guitar for that. However, over 45 years of experience later, I now realize that I was doing lots of things myself that, more than likely, prevented the guitar from staying in tune. I’m sorry, Old Guitar, for blaming you - it was my fault. You were, and still are, I hope, the most beautiful guitar I have ever seen.
What caught my eye when I looked at that photo was David Cutler’s guitar.
I recognized it! A long-forgotten memory resurfaced: THAT WAS MY FIRST ELECTRIC GUITAR AND I HAD SOLD IT TO DAVE CUTLER WHEN I BOUGHT THE LES PAUL!
What was so special about that guitar? Nothing. It was a cheap, mass-produced, sold in the Sears Catalog, Tiesco Del Rey. A real piece of shit. Ace Frehley would NEVER play a Tiesco. Actually, nothing was special about it except two things.
First, it was my first electric guitar. That alone would be enough to make it a treasure to me, personally.
Second, was the memory of how I got it. When Bruce Springsteen talks about the overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude that he recalls at the moment he got his first electric guitar (his was purchased at the Western Auto store in Freehold, NJ - not Sears), I know EXACTLY the feeling he’s talking about.
When I was in the eighth grade, I desperately wanted an electric guitar. I had discovered Rock and Roll years ago, but I was learning to play, had discovered Alice Cooper and Kiss, and quickly realized that I could never truly rock on my cheapo acoustic guitar (which actually may have been purchased via the Sears Catalog). I needed an electric guitar. Like little Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” it became my obsession. The guitar was my BB gun.
And it was Christmastime! However, my parents cautioned me - and something about their tone and demeanor told me that they were serious and that this was not some kind of “Christmas fib” to throw me off the scent - that they were really sorry but there was just no way that they could afford an expensive gift like that this Christmas. Though I was disappointed, I understood. What did Ralphie Parker say? “I guess Tinker Toys would be ok.” I probably said something like that.
So, Christmas Eve is here, and I go to bed excited - even visions of Tinker Toys are exciting on Christmas Eve! I had a hard time falling asleep, so it must have been about four in the morning when my brother woke me up.
“Dave! You got an electric guitar!”
I rushed into the living room and there, hung on the wall, was the guitar! In my mind, I always see this moment with a brilliant spotlight on the guitar and with an angel chorus soundtrack, but that may be inaccurate. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I took it down, slowly, and took it to my room. I nervously tried to tune it, but I was too excited to get that right. No matter. It was perfect - tuned or not. There was no amp that I could see, and that was probably a good thing at 4:00 am.
After a few minutes, my brother cautiously reminded me that our parents would be awake soon and that I should probably put the guitar back where I found it, so that I could properly fake being surprised for them. That was a good idea - I certainly didn’t want to deprive them of that.
An hour or so later, we woke our parents up and I performed one of the greatest “surprised” acts of my life and everyone was happy. The act turned into actual surprise when my parents produced an amp that they had hidden behind a chair. I guess the joke was on me, after all.
I was really curious as to how they managed to pull it off after they had made such a big deal of not being able to afford it. It turns out that they had mentioned their dilemma to some of their friends at church and, in what I have always interpreted as divine intervention, it turns out that those friends had the guitar and amp and were eager to sell them both to my parents for $50. It was, most definitely, the greatest Christmas gift that I had ever received.
A few months ago, my wife suggested that I buy another guitar. I’ll repeat that: my wife suggested that I buy another guitar. Every guitar player knows that if this happens, and it is saddenly rare, you must obey. So I did. I ended up getting a Fender Newport Player acoustic guitar. Plays great. Sounds great. It’s even my favorite color. I love it.
When I first got it, I took it outside on the patio to try it out. My grandkids were here, so they rode their tricycles around crazily while I noodled on the guitar. Almost immediately, I stumbled onto a cool little riff. “Hm,” I thought, “there could be a song here…”
Eventually, that little riff turned into “The King of Rock and Roll,” the video that I am watching right now.
So tonight, as I watched that video, I thought about those three guitars and how each one had changed my life for the better. How each one had a story that was special to me. It also reminded me that I am incredibly blessed to be a musician, with all the ups and downs, successes and failures, and that I wouldn’t trade that for anything.