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My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 7 Legendary Musicians
     

My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 7 Legendary Musicians

5.0 3
by Julia Crowe
 

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Famous guitarists reveal the stories behind their first six-string and their lifelong passion for music

Every guitarist remembers his or her first instrument, the guitar that was a gateway to a lifetime of passion and commitment. In My First Guitar, Julia Crowe presents original interviews with some of the world’s leading

Overview

Famous guitarists reveal the stories behind their first six-string and their lifelong passion for music

Every guitarist remembers his or her first instrument, the guitar that was a gateway to a lifetime of passion and commitment. In My First Guitar, Julia Crowe presents original interviews with some of the world’s leading guitarists across a variety of genres, including Les Paul, Dick Dale, Carlos Santana, Peter Frampton, Jimmie Vaughan, Alex Lifeson, Joe Satriani, Melissa Etheridge, Paco Peña, Lee Ranaldo, George Benson, and Jimmy Page. Each interview offers an intimate glimpse into the humble beginnings of real&ndashlife guitar heroes as they recall their first instrument and share the inspiration, challenges, and successes of their early days.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This entertaining collection of interviews addresses "how guitarists came into owning their first guitar." A broad range of famous, international artists representing almost every area of guitar music—Les Paul and George Benson in jazz; Lee Ranaldo and Peter Frampton in rock; David Russell in classical; Juan Martin in flamenco; and more—describe what Sonny Landreth calls "the magic I first felt with this instrument." The guitars themselves range from cheap Sears and Kay acoustics (Steve Lukather) and Teisco Del Ray electrics (Steve Vai) to classic models such as the Les Paul Standard (Pat Martino) and the Fender Stratocaster (Jonny Lang). But regardless of model, and the many variations on how and where musicians first got their guitars, Crowe captures what all of her interview subjects share: a love, sublime or offbeat, of the instruments that inspired them to make music. "hey're somewhat human," opines classical guitarist and composer Benjamin Verdery, "and memories of a particular time in your life come flooding right back." (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Ask a musician to talk about their first instrument and it seems they are off and running, full of anecdotes, joy, and poetic longing, describing those beat-up first guitars as if they were their first loves, which in many ways they undoubtedly were."  —Graham Parker, Singer/Songwriter

"This book is testament. It's not just about the first guitars or the players themselves, really. It's much more: the follow-up from that first chance meeting—that coming-of-age experience with music. This is life, told and celebrated through guitars."  —Premier Guitar (September 2012)

"Crowe captures what all of her interview subjects share: a love, sublime or offbeat, of the instruments that inspired them to make music." —Publishers Weekly (August 27, 2012)

"Anyone who loves guitars and guitar players (whether or not you're a player yourself) will love looking through this book." —American Songwriter (September 2012)

"The way My First Guitar is divided makes it a quick read, easy to refer back to for those certain favorites and easy to put down and start reading again no matter how much time has passed." —The Weekender (September 2012)

"The book is a rich vein of practical information from which one may extract a huge surplus of musical inspiration." —www.PopMatters.com

"Overall, this book is entertaining, and for the fan of the instrument, creates a very poignant picture of the rise of the guitar in pop culture." —San Francisco Book Review (December 2012)

"The first-person stories told here are as compelling for music fans as they are for non-guitar folk." —Vancouver Sun (December 15, 2012)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781770902756
Publisher:
ECW Press
Publication date:
09/01/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
File size:
6 MB

Read an Excerpt

My First Guitar

Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians


By Julia Crowe

ECW PRESS

Copyright © 2012 Julia Crowe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77090-275-6


CHAPTER 1

Traveling Seven Hours for a Cup of Coffee


Many years ago, during a hiatus from college, I arrived at London's Heathrow Airport wearing my sincerity and best dress with the misguided notion that I would be taken seriously for at least not looking like a grungy backpacker. I approached the stone-faced customs officer to explain the reason for my visit: I was a writer working on my first book. I planned to visit London for three days and spend the rest of my time hanging out with sheep in Ireland. The officer scrutinized the glaringly empty contents of my brand new passport, as blank as my unwritten book. She then sized up my youth and asked the fatal question: "What's the book about?" Jet lag is its own truth serum. I told her I had no idea because I had only started writing it. Anything could happen, just like life itself. How can you accurately plot what may happen before you arrive?

I was having a brand new panic attack now, reliving this episode now that I was going to be traveling again to London. Jimmy Page had invited me to meet him for coffee. This time, I told the customs officer that I was on holiday. It wasn't a complete lie. According to my friends, I was on holiday from all common sense to be traveling eight-plus hours from New York via Charlotte, North Carolina, to London to meet a rock star with a lurid reputation, who may or may not show, all for a dubious cup of coffee.

Two months earlier, I'd received an email from a lady, stating that Mr. Page would like to meet me over said cup of coffee to discuss a new book I was writing. He was keenly interested in being part of it. I had assumed this was a prank because a few friends knew I was compiling interviews with famous guitarists for a book proposal. I refused to bite. I mean, what self-respecting Englishman drinks coffee? Weeks later, a second email arrived from the same address. It was not a joke.

When the postal clerk at Church Street Station asked my reason for a passport renewal, I hesitated then told her the truth, thinking this might possibly seem a little more real if I confessed it to a complete stranger. I was excited but uncertain about what I was getting into with all this.

"No shit! Jimmy Page" was the clerk's response. "My brother made me listen to all those Led Zeppelin albums when they first came out. Drove me crazy, always saying, 'You've got to hear this.'" She waved my passport form up into the air, turned her head and bellowed to the rest of her coworkers, "Yo! We gotta process this on the double because this lady here is gonna be meeting Mistah Jimmy Page in London, ENGLAND!" I slinked away, aware of heads straining curiously from postal booths. I could hear some joker from the back singing the guitar lick from "Kashmir" so loudly it echoed off the stately marble walls: "DUN-na-nunt. NUNNA-nunt. DUH-na-nunt Nunna-nunt. NUNNA-nunt!"

Next, I visited the local bookstore to buy Led Zeppelin CDs. Sure I'd heard their music before but, as a classical musician, I knew it best in an indirect sense. For example, I knew that Matt Haimovitz plays his own cool rendition of "Kashmir" on cello. I wanted to absorb the original albums in their proper sequential order. I listened to them on a portable CD player stuffed into my coat pocket because I could not afford an iPod. In fact, I did not even know how I was going to pay for this trip.

Besides writing for peanuts for guitar magazines, I teach guitar and spend my days criss-crossing Manhattan on foot like a doctor making musical house calls to guitar students, realigning their hand positions upon the fretboard and curing phobias about playing barre chords. I was loping up to Union Square to one of these lessons when I realized just how good a guitarist Page truly is. Most guitar magazines will insist that I spell out the exact diatonic scale, mode and key signature in both notation and tab with a comprehensive sidebar on gear, but let's just set all the piranha-jock posturing on the anatomical and technical details of the music aside for a moment and say my realization had been simply like that scene from the film Easter Parade, when Fred Astaire suggests to Judy Garland that she walk ahead of him and prove she has the magical ability to turn men's heads. Garland pulls this off by making a cross-eyed, blowfish face. I swung along at a good clip, thoroughly spaced out in my own mental zone, until it dawned on me that strangers were rubbernecking at me on the sidewalk. I had not been making any face but I was plugged into the 12-bar blues song "Rock 'n' Roll," from Led Zeppelin IV. Let's just say that listening to classical guitar by headphones rarely alters one's gait. Nor does it cause strangers' heads to turn when one is walking innocently down the street. After this musical epiphany, I knew I had to go to London.

Lisa Hoffman, the mother of my guitar student Alex, generously advanced me a couple months' worth of lesson fees to cover my airfare to London. On her living room wall, Lisa has a gigantic autographed "Born to Run" poster alongside a framed, coffee table photograph of her younger self gleefully embracing The Boss himself.

I informed my U.K. magazine publisher, Maurice Summerfield, that I was coming to London and asked if there might be any concert for me to review while I was there to help defray expenses. "Have you heard of the expression 'Carrying coals to Newcastle'?" he asked me. "I have twenty editors in London, which is why you're in New York. And Jimmy Page?" A hint of disdain inflected his voice. "Why not Brian May? Brian May performed for the Queen's Fiftieth Jubilee, you know."

I discovered that when it comes to Jimmy Page everyone has an opinion. Or a request.

"Didn't Page chew the head off a bat?" someone asked. "Or was that Ozzie? He did something, though. Occult stuff. I think the whole band worshipped the Devil."

"I hear Page likes young girls. And he's old now. Real old guy with real young girls. God, I wonder how old he has to be by now. I wish I was him."

"Shame on you. You call yourself a Chicagoan but then you go off to meet with the man who ripped off Willie Dixon! Shame!"

"He's the greatest. Can you have him autograph this CD for me?"

"He's overrated. Can you give him my CD?"

I had all this swirling through my jet-lagged brain as I lay exhausted upon the tiny bed inside my Bayswater hotel room, with its seasick floor and a staff left over from lost episodes of Fawlty Towers. I forced myself to sit upright and dial Jimmy's office. The lady who had emailed me, Sue Frankland-Haile, was very kind, asking me how I had fared on my trip.

"I'm afraid I have some rather disappointing news," she said.

Something had come up in Mr. Page's schedule and we could not be certain this meeting would happen after all. "Was it your main reason for coming out?" she asked. Lacking a swift response, I'd confessed that it was. She said she would check back with me later. I hung up and flopped over the concave mattress.

I was alone in London far away from home, with possibly nothing to show for the effort. I decided to make the best of it by visiting every possible guitar shop in London, starting with Hank's, where a line of guitars stood on floor stands like sentries guarding the tombs of more expensive guitars locked inside glass cases. I played Pujol's "El Abejorro" for an appreciative sales clerk who wore his hair like Steve McQueen and kept his tinted aviator glasses on inside the darkened shop. The kid behind the counter at Macari's had been a bit reluctant about showing me capos. A young schoolboy, still wearing his dark blue uniform jacket, played the beautiful acoustic instrumental intro to "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" on a cedar-top classical guitar in the basement of Ivor Mairants. At the Spanish Guitar Centre on Cranbourn Street in Soho, the sales clerk, who assumed I did not know any better, commanded me to remove my coat so that the buttons would not scratch the back of the fine spruce concert guitar I had picked up. He then returned to impressing a real customer with his tale of a recent visit by Sting, who had dropped a small fortune on one of their guitars. Once the customer departed, he looked back toward me and said curiously, "We do not see many American girls here."

When I returned to my hotel room, I found the red message light blinking on the phone. It was Sue Frankland-Haile from Page's office. I called back immediately. "Where have you been?" she asked. I told her that I had scoured every guitar shop I could find in Soho. She expressed shock that I had walked all the way from Bayswater to Soho but I assured her that perambulating halfway across town was a New York thing to do.

"There is a chance we might be able to make this work," she told me. "You must appear at this coffee shop. If Jimmy cannot make it, there will be a phone message waiting for you at the counter inside." Then she added, "Now you happen to know what he looks like but he does not know at all what you look like. Please tell me something identifying about yourself so I can let him know."

I told her that I have long auburn hair and would be wearing a brown silk scarf printed with red poppies.

Unable to sleep, I woke early the next morning and stepped out for a walk, passing by schoolchildren who were neatly lined up on Moscow Street in uniforms, bright red scarves tied at the necks of very long brown tweed coats clearly purchased oversized so they'd fit the following year. In Notting Hill, I overheard a mother sound like any mother the world over as she pushed her child along with an air of resigned exasperation, "If only we'd left a few minutes earlier, we wouldn't have to rush so!"

It was the last day of November. At that time of year, the light fades quickly in London, just past mid-afternoon. I'd scouted out the neighborhood near the designated coffee shop and noted a bus stop where I could loiter with seeming purpose and not look like a complete idiot. The refuge also allowed me to sort out how I was going to approach the counterperson inside the coffee shop. I knew that if you dared to walk into a coffee shop in New York City and ask if there was a phone message waiting for you at the counter, you'd be tossed promptly to the curb with a sneer and a resounding "Geddouddaheeyah."

When I'd scraped up sufficient courage, I pushed my way through the front door and told the girl at the counter that I was about to ask her an odd question. Was there a phone message waiting for me at all? Me, Julia? She smiled, squinted strangely at me and assured me there was no such message.

I stepped outside, feeling joyously elated yet ill. I had been sick with anticipation along with the weight of knowing that at least half of the world — the half composed of diehard, lighter-waving Led Zeppelin fans — would probably tear me into bitty pieces if it meant they could trade places at this very moment. Here I was, an unworthy, uncool rock 'n' roll ignoramus of a classical guitar journalist about to meet the Wizard of All Rock Guitar. I decided in that very moment that I would shut out the swirl of preconceptions, hearsay and idle crap foisted upon me by well-meaning friends and stick to my interview questions.

CHAPTER 2

Les Paul


Les Paul is legendary for creating an amplified solid-body electric guitar that could play without distortion — the renowned Gibson Les Paul guitar. He realized that if the body of the guitar was solid and did not vibrate, it meant that the sound of the plucked strings would sustain longer. Les Paul also engineered the first 8-track recorder, marketed by Ampex. He won a Grammy for a 1976 album of instrumental duets with Chet Atkins, called Chester and Lester, and also for an album released in 2005, American Made, World Played, featuring guest spots with various Gibson-playing rock stars.


My first guitar came from a Sears-Roebuck catalog. I was seven years old when I sent away for it and it had cost $3.95. At first, I was interested in playing the piano but my mother criticized it. "With a piano, you've got your back turned to the audience," she told me. "How are you going to play a piano at the beach or in the back seat of a car? It's not convenient." So I switched to playing drums and she immediately ordered that out of the house. I got an accordion and that — I agree with everybody — is one instrument that should be in the city dump. I finally whittled it down: the best thing for me to do was play the guitar, my harmonica and sing.

I still have that Sears-Roebuck guitar. Mother was in the kitchen when it arrived and she told me, "Well, you can undo the box in the dining room." I was very anxious to tear this carton open, see the guitar and play it. As I took it out of the cardboard wrapping, one of the strings got caught in that cardboard and went ping! My mother came rushing through that swinging door of the kitchen and said, "Lester, you sound great on that thing already!"

In 1942, I was asked who my ten favorite guitar players were. My first was Andrés Segovia, the second was Django Reinhardt, the third one was Eddie Mack and my list went on to the top ten guitar players at that time. It was hard to find more than seven guitar players that you could rave about, who were popular and well known — ones who inspired you to learn how to play. That's how rare the guitar was in those days.

I only took one music lesson, from a lady named Miss Wilson. It was a piano lesson and she pinned a note on my lapel telling my mother to save her money and not have me come back. The reason for this was whenever she sat down and played something for me, I played it right after her. She said, "Oh, you're my number one pupil! This is terrific." She couldn't believe how fast I learned. But she did not realize that by listening and watching what she was doing, I could memorize and play it instantly. Of course, she found this out when she selected a piece of strange music for me to sight-read. Because she did not play it, I did not play it. That's when she realized I was a person who played by ear, not by reading music. So I was out.

My brother thought my studying music was a boring waste of time. He didn't like music and he didn't particularly understand it. My mother loved music. She was very much an important part of my life for how she encouraged me. My brother would say, "He's at it again, Ma," as if to say, "Get rid of him!" Radio broadcasts always sounded like they were from a tight-sounding room. Back in those days, they used to broadcast from a hotel room. I began to practice in the bathroom, where there was tile, because it had a great echo. I figured out how to place my guitar halfway between the bedroom and the bathroom for the best sound. My brother was ready to place me in the outhouse.

From the very beginning, I was always interested in sound and music and finding out how things worked. Back then I couldn't go to Home Depot so I had to figure things out by myself. Mother wanted a piano, a Victrola, a telephone and a radio in the house and I was tempted to find out how these things worked. I'd performed a hysterectomy on the piano. Then I took the phone apart. I managed to rig the mouthpiece of Mom's phone and hook it up to the radio and heard myself talk and play the harmonica on it.

I had a lot of first gigs. The very first gig, we were on a truck — The Optimist Club, we were called. I wore a wig, blacked-out a tooth and I had my bass player — we called him Susie — dressed up like a girl. He also played the banjo. We had this truck all loaded up with all these people as Red Hot Red and the Optimists. I was about thirteen years old. This was in Springfield, Missouri, and these Chicago guys heard us. It was during the Depression era. Al Capone was at his peak of fame. We played at the WLS-Barn Dance. I had my dreams and set a goal, making sure it was not so difficult I'd give up. I was reasonably certain that I could succeed if I had courage and the willingness to practice.

During the night, I was Rhubarb Red, playing hillbilly songs, and from noon on I was Les Paul. Performing allowed me to be two people, and it was the best of all worlds. For my first job, I rigged the PA system with Mom's radio. I was playing at a BBQ stand in Waukesha, Wisconsin, when a music critic pulled up to order a hamburger. He wrote me a note from his rumble seat while ordering food, "Hey, Red, I can hear your jokes and singing but I can't hear the guitar." You see, the guitar was not loud enough.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from My First Guitar by Julia Crowe. Copyright © 2012 Julia Crowe. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Ask a musician to talk about their first instrument and it seems they are off and running, full of anecdotes, joy, and poetic longing, describing those beat-up first guitars as if they were their first loves, which in many ways they undoubtedly were."  —Graham Parker, Singer/Songwriter

"This book is testament. It's not just about the first guitars or the players themselves, really. It's much more: the follow-up from that first chance meeting—that coming-of-age experience with music. This is life, told and celebrated through guitars."  —Premier Guitar (September 2012)

"Crowe captures what all of her interview subjects share: a love, sublime or offbeat, of the instruments that inspired them to make music." —Publishers Weekly (August 27, 2012)

"Anyone who loves guitars and guitar players (whether or not you're a player yourself) will love looking through this book." —American Songwriter (September 2012)

"The way My First Guitar is divided makes it a quick read, easy to refer back to for those certain favorites and easy to put down and start reading again no matter how much time has passed." —The Weekender (September 2012)

"The book is a rich vein of practical information from which one may extract a huge surplus of musical inspiration." —www.PopMatters.com

"Overall, this book is entertaining, and for the fan of the instrument, creates a very poignant picture of the rise of the guitar in pop culture." —San Francisco Book Review (December 2012)

"The first-person stories told here are as compelling for music fans as they are for non-guitar folk." —Vancouver Sun (December 15, 2012)

Meet the Author

Julia Crowe is a guitarist and columnist for both Classical Guitar (U.K.) and Gendai Guitar (Japan). She has written numerous cover stories and features for several guitar magazines internationally. Her music has been featured on National Public Radio and she has written music for the feature film documentary Drop City, which saw its “sneak preview” this year at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. She lives in New York, New York.

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My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guitar_kid More than 1 year ago
Amazing book and inspiring read. My guitar teacher gave this to me and I hope to hang on to my first guitar AND this book together for years to come.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago