I’m teaching my niece Samantha how to play guitar. She’s busy with school activities and dance, but I think she will play well in time. In looking at this photo which sits on my desk, I decided to post this story which ran recently in the East West News.
My Dad never saw the value of music. He was a welder by trade and spent thirty years in an open-air tin shed in North Birmingham welding fans as big as Rhode Island. In the winter it could get freezing cold and in the summer it got as hot as Haiti. He wasn’t a whiner so I never really heard him complain.
When I started playing guitar at thirteen, I was hooked. I played every moment I could play. In fact, the only six weeks of school I ever failed was when I got my first guitar. My father and mother took a dim view of that failure and seized control of the guitar until my report card improved. Those six weeks were an eternity. The next report card, I was back on the A B Honor role. I got my guitar back, but I was mindful of the books.
My Dad could see that I loved music, but he never understood it. Even when I began to improve and started playing local bands, he would say “boy, if you spent as much time learnin’ a trade as you spend foolin’ with that guitar, you could make something of yourself.”
I’m not saying that he didn’t like music. I still recall my Dad sittin’ in our old Ford in the driveway listening to Ernest Tubb’s “I’m Walkin’ the Floor Over You”.
He’s dead now, victim of some weird form of cancer that I’m betting was related to inhaling welding rod fumes for all those years. The sad part to me is that he never saw how playing music enriched my life. He never knew all the people I’ve met, the places I’ve gone and the things my wife Jilda and I have gotten to do. I’ve always instinctively known that music was important, but I had a situation that happened to me that drove that point home.
Several years ago, Jilda and I did volunteer work at a local home for disadvantaged youth. We helped with their homework and with computer work and other things. But there was this one boy about 14 years old that was hyper and he was driving the counselors up the frigging wall. He was in to everything. I had an idea….I asked the director if it would be O.K. to teach guitar lessons to those kids that wanted to learn. He reluctantly agreed so we went out one Sunday and took my guitar and played a few songs for the kids. Most of them were captivated. When I asked if anyone wanted to learn, they all raised their hands.
We needed a practice guitar and that proved to be a challenge. The local music store declined to help, but I called around Birmingham to music stores without success until I got Herb Trotman and Rickey Stone at Fretted Instruments. They thought about the request for a short time and then agreed to donate a practice guitar. This was an act of generosity that I have never forgotten and I’m pretty sure they’ve made their money back on the many instruments that I have since bought from them. But I digress…
We set up lessons for several of the kids at the home, and the one hyper kid was drawn to the guitar. He caught on really fast. He directed all his hyperactivity towards learning guitar. The councilors were amazed. In fact, they were able to use access to the practice guitar as disciplinary action. If the kid misbehaved, he couldn’t practice on the guitar for two days. The kid turned into a model resident.
Less than a year later, he was much better than me. He could play country, heavy metal, and jazz and most any other type of music.
As time passed, we went less and less to the home and the kid reached an age and he went out on his own and we lost touch completely.
A while back, my phone rang and when I picked up. The voice asked, “Do you know who this is?” My mind raced…it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “It’s Jimmy (not his real name).” After he left the home, he went on to college, got a job and recently got married. I asked if he still played music, and he said “every day”. He’s currently in a Gospel Heavy Metal band playing all over. “I’m not sure I ever thanked you for teaching me how to play,” he said “it gave me direction during a time in my life when I needed it most.”
We talked for a while and I wished him well and we promised to stay in touch and as I hung up the phone, I would have given anything if my Dad had seen the impact music had on Jimmy’s life and realized the worth of music.