Passing It On

Passing It On

In 1978 I was a teenager working as a grill cook at a restaurant called Bill Knapps in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I got to know the janitor there who played some guitar and sang (he sounded a lot like Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull.) His name was Dave (I can’t remember his last name.) Dave lived in a house with three other guys who were all in local bands. Dave invited me over to do some jamming. I was expecting it to be just him and me, but when I got there, two of his roommates where there. One was a keyboard player, the other was a guitar player. Dave introduced me and told them we were going to do a little jamming. The keyboard player had to leave, but the guitar player said “Cool” and asked if he could jam with us.

Now, you have to remember, I was 17 and Dave was probably 18 or 19, we were just two guys with limited musical abilities getting together to play guitars for fun, and this guy was in a “real” band making a living playing guitar. Yet he was “cool” enough to offer to jam with us.

The guitar player (sorry, I can’t remember his name) had a Gold Top Les Paul with DiMarzio pickups and a coil splitter switch added to it. It was very impressive. As I opened the case to my brand new Les Paul Custom, which I had received for graduation from High School, the guitar player asked if he could check it out. He played it a little and asked me if I was planning on doing any modifications to it. I said I might put some hotter pickups in it (which was popular at the time.) He simply said, “I wouldn’t. You can get good distortion from these pickups, and the gold hardware looks really cool.” He was right. I never did change the pickups and am glad I didn’t.

Now needless to say, I was a bit nervous about jamming with this guy. But he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. He asked, “Do you know All Along The Watchtower?” Of course, I had heard the Jimi Hendrix version, but didn’t know how to play it. He told me what three chords to play and showed me the rhythm, and then Dave and I had a blast cranking out those three chords (Dave also sang) while he played Hendrix riffs and amazing solos. I made some feeble attempt at a solo, but I was way out of my league. We jammed on another song and then the guitar player had to leave. It was one of the coolest experiences I had making music up to that point – thanks to a "real" guitar player willing to jam with some “wannabes.”

I need to mention that this house looked more like a rehearsal hall or music studio then a house. There were more amps, keyboards, drums, and musical instruments then furniture. They also had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I was like a kid in a candy shop. After the roommates left, Dave said, “Let’s make a tape.” He put on reel of tape and we launched into a version of Evil Ways by Santana, on which I played a long solo. A few days later, Dave told me he played the tape for his guitar player roommate and his roommate said, “He is going to be a great lead guitar player someday.” You can imagine what a confidence booster that was.

Ever since that memorable day, I have always tried to encourage “less experienced” guitar players and show them a few things when I can. Passing it on.


Nerdy teenage photo of me taken at piano lessons by Betty Newcombe. 

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