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Guitars R Us

They pick guitar as their instrument, and then they stick their necks out

I almost threw in the towel after my first lesson because of a demented s.o.b. I never even met, a guy whose name strikes terror in the hearts of fledgling guitarists everywhere: Mel Bay. For every kid who ever picked up a guitar - full of excitement because of some Chuck Berry or Ventures lick - there was a teacher, armed with instructional books from Mel Bay, intent on drilling "Skip to My Lou." Even UM's Dollahon is a Mel Bay survivor. I gutted out Mel's system for nearly two years because of that lingering image of Michael Nesmith surrounded by all those girls. I finally quit taking lessons after learning the secret of the universe - bar chords (or, as Mel Bay spelled it, "barre" chords) - which enabled me to play "Stepping Stone" just like the record. Free at last!

Shortly thereafter I penned my first original song - the lyrics were, "Cool water, fresh water" repeated ad nauseum - and I started taking the guitar with me everywhere. The prop's effect was magical. Girls, many of them a full year or two older than I, went wild at the mere sight of me carrying the Kent, which, when stood on end, was taller than I was. They asked who my favorite band was (the Monkees), who my favorite guitarist was (Nesmith), and what my favorite song was ("Valerie"). Thankfully, they almost never asked me to play the damn thing, because my fingers were tiny and soft, and the rigors of "Stepping Stone" always made them blister. Of course, "Cool Water, Fresh Water" had only one chord (open tuning). I wasn't about to inflict unnecessary pain upon myself.

Peeler once told New Times that the reason he started playing the guitar was to attract females. Now, however, he hastens to add that, "It didn't work! I only met one and she moved away." Peeler's a nice guy and all, but his problem isn't the guitar. It's the hair/attitude thing, which any fourteen-year-old can tell you is more important than actual musicianship, and always has been. Peeler's hair is usually, to be kind, unkempt, which, unless his girlfriend dresses him, often matches his wardrobe. Soloski, on the other hand, has great hair and rock star looks and allows as how he does meet lots of women, although they're "not necessarily the right ones." All together now: "Aww, poor Shane!"

When I had hair, after the discovery of fire but before the wheel, I used to walk around the campus at Southern Cal carrying a friend's acoustic guitar, and I rarely had to take it out of the case to attract attention. Granted, that was L.A., which has less in common with the rest of the world than the Papuan tribe of New Guinea does. Nowadays I wrestle with the possibility of becoming a Sy Sperling client, and the only woman who pays me any mind when I play my guitar is my wife, who's getting damn tired of "Cool Water, Fresh Water."

It's no secret that many guitar players take up the instrument to combat social awkwardness. Again, my good buddy Bruce is a prime example, stating on many occasions that music saved him from loneliness. Hendrix was a loner, as were Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, and I'd almost be willing to bet that Robert Johnson was not the most popular dude in the Delta prior to striking his deal with the devil. Starbuck was too skinny, Gibson was a chub, and Baumann and I were nerds before personal computers and Nintendo made it fashionable. Conversely, the more attractive guitar players often started out playing another instrument. Soloski wanted to play the sax, but his father told him, "Sax is for wimps." Diane Ward of the Wait started out as a drummer, switched to keyboards for awhile, and then took up guitar so that she could get out in front of the band and move more. Holt started playing in the kitchen with his father and his two older brothers at the age of six - but then again, he's from Texas, where the three main exports are crude oil, beef, and guitar players (not necessarily in that order).

Theorizes Gibson, "If you weren't shy or introverted, how could you stand to stay alone in your room long enough to learn the instrument, when everyone else was out having fun?"

Not surprisingly, most guitarists feel a sense of devotion to their tools that borders on true romance. Says Dollahon, "I fell totally in love with the instrument...there's always something new to learn." Gushes Starbuck, "They're just beautiful things to touch, feel, hold, and keep." Adds Barcala, "The first time I saw one in the house - my older sister used to play - I just flipped."

Scandariato clearly remembers the exact moment he first realized he wanted to play guitar - when he heard his brother's band playing "Taking Care of Business" in the garage. Scandariato crashed the gig and conned them into teaching him a couple of bar chords, and within two weeks he had a band of his own. "We sucked, of course," he admits, "but we were the only band in the neighborhood, so everyone came to see us."

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