I have always loved the phrase, “Music is the lifeblood of existence.” Since I remember remembering, music has always touched my soul in a way nothing else can. It can evoke happiness, sadness, melancholy, hope, and peace. It can express feelings I cannot put into words.
My musical tastes are eclectic. While 60s and 70s rock is my go-to, I dig the Blues, Jazz, Soul, Motown, Folk, Classical, Big Band and everything in between. I just cannot get into Rap, but I like the passion in it. As with most things in life, not all music from any genre is good, nor is it all bad. That’s for the soul to discern.
In 1974 the late great John Denver wrote a song, “This Old Guitar,” which became an anthem for me. One line in particular stands out: “This old guitar gave me my lovely lady.”
Actually in my case it can be more accurately said, my lovely lady gave me this old guitar. I had always longed to play the axe, but my parents wouldn’t let me take lessons, saying I would give up on that like I had other ventures when I was a pup. They were right, and they unwittingly kept that fire burning inside me.
One of the first things Denise learned about me when and after we first met on New Year’s Eve 1976, was my passion for music, and my desire to play.
We were married in 1978 and shortly after, she gifted me with one of the most treasured items I own — a blonde, 1976 Gibson Epiphone FT-150BL, crafted in Japan. She told me as long as I worked at learning to play the guitar, it could stay.
A friend and axe-player himself gave me a couple of books with chord examples and simply said, “Learn these and you’ll be all set.”
For weeks and eventually months I practiced until my fingers literally bled. I learned the chords (not all, there are thousands) and became more and more adept and went from playing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” to my first rock song, Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Our House.”
I kept practicing and getting better and eventually joined a folk group and sang at a youth Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Fall River. I played in Notre Dame’s group as well, as well as at Cursillo and Emmaus retreats in the diocese.
My dreams of being a rock star remained just that, a dream. But I was playing guitar. I purchased a 12-string Yamaha that only enhanced the sound at Mass.
As time passed, with work and a growing family, the two guitars found themselves in cases that literally wouldn’t be opened for a few years! Bad on me!
When Emilie met her beau, he was a axeman. I mean, he could play lead like Clapton, Stevie Ray, and Robert Cray. No exaggeration.
Well he coaxed me into opening those cases and jamming with him several times each month. With his lead and my rhythm we didn’t sound half bad (I was the bad half). Eventually the tips of my fingers morphed from painful and sore into four nice hard callouses, exactly what is needed to play without hesitation.
I even added another axe to my collection: a beat up old used electric Fender Stratocaster and it was love at first play. The nicks and scratches only added character to that axe.
We would crank up the amps and play (always at a respectable hour so not to disturb the musically challenged in the neighborhood). Igor would nestle into our recliner next to me and fall asleep to some great rock ’n roll. My kind of dog!
My dream of rock stardom came true in a sense when Dan and I played with the band at my daughter Lauren’s and her husband Steve’s wedding. We played Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.” I had made it. I made the small time!
Unfortunately, Dan’s work schedule and mine caught up to us and back to the cases went the trio of instruments. The callouses faded and I guess I was back in my rut, letting others provide the music to my soul through CDs, albums (yes I still have a turntable), and MP3s.
Then the pandemic hit. Home became the place to be and the place to stay. One day I glanced at the blonde’s case and it beckoned to me to open it up. I did.
I started to play — every night before I went to bed, with Denise as my audience and groupie. Sadly, Iggy wasn’t here any longer to join us.
Since I was a teen, I had dabbled with the Blues Harp, and could belt out a couple of songs, but never while playing guitar. I broke out my case of harps and played an intro and then played the song on the axe. Well, that wasn’t good enough for Denise. She hopped on Amazon, the oasis during the pandemic, and bought a harmonica holder so I could play both at the same time.
I’m one who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so it was a struggle to get both instruments to sound like actual music. But since music is the lifeblood of my existence, I stuck to it. Voila — actual music!
As I mentioned, I now play mostly every night (except for those times when The Anchor tuckers me out during the day) and I have a mix of songs.
I always end the day with one in particular, Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” I know some of you will point out the drug references in the song, but that’s not why I play it. I do suffer from anxieties and sometimes I feel people really don’t know how it feels to be me, one of the lines in the song. It’s just a validation that others feel the same and it’s OK.
I’ll never be the rock star I had often hoped, but God knows that I most likely couldn’t have handled that lifestyle anyway.
I’m very content listening to and playing the sounds that reach my soul and comfort it.
Let me close by quoting the legendary Dobie Gray’s beautiful 1973 ballad “Drift Away.”
“And when my mind is free you know melody can move me.
“And when I’m feeling blue the guitar’s coming through to soothe me.
“Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me.”