Thursday, August 24, 2006
Linville - FINGER PICKIN'
When I got up to the UW in fall of '56, I heard a guy named Sonny James on the radio do a song called 'Young Love'. It was the first song I ever learned on a guitar. There was a guy in my fraternity that played Elvis' 'Don't Be Cruel' almost as well as Elvis did. So I got a 'Silvertone' guitar from Sears for about $10 and asked him to teach me how to play. He told me it's not really that easy and with secondary activities such as attending classes, studying, housework, hazing (including paddles in those days), pledge training, etc. there was very little time for sleep let alone learning how to play a somewhat difficult, chordal musical instrument. Well, sleep was deemed least important so that's what went first.
Music was a high priority activity in the Sigma Chi house then and there was an upper-classman named Jack Owens, who played a 4-string tenor guitar and he and 2 other Sigs, with bongo drums, played Calypso music at functions and they had a 3-nights-a-week gig at a place downtown called the Colony Club doing Harry Belefonte. I had been drafted as a member of our renowned 12-man-chorus by then, an acappella group, and we won many awards all up and down the west coast as well as at the UW for our presentations thanks to our musical director, John Iverson, a prominent Seattle attorney since about 1962. We had some exceptional vocal talent in all four voice parts, (they made me sing 2nd tenor and told me not to sing too loudly but I could reach the high notes in those days. Maybe my voice hadn't changed yet. I only had to shave about twice a week.) David Richdale, a member of the Calypso group, also a prominent Seattle attorney, and John Iverson had satin voices for the 1st tenor parts and we had a couple of deep, clear, bassos, and 'Ed Ames' baritones.
About that time, a guy named Buddy Knox came out with a song called 'Party Doll' and, by now, I had learned about 3 cowboy chords and, by beating a flat pick back and forth across the strings, I was rockin' and rollin', (or so I thought. It sounded good to me anyway and it got me a lot of attention at parties that I had never received before when I wasn't on a baseball field.) Not long afterward, the Kingston trio came on the scene and the folk era was born again. Everyone wanted to play their songs and we formed a group that could come pretty close. Then we heard those Fiji boys serenading our Kappas one night and realized, 'Wow, they're better than we are.' And they were. They became the Brothers Four. I knew them all and still catch their act once in a while although only one of the original members are left. I meant to ask Gordy Ringoen about them at the reunion but never got around to it. He and Roger Jenkins were Fijis at the UW.
I got busy trying to get a degree and get on with what I really wanted to do in flight school so, as a result, my music suffered. (Some people thought it had always suffered and still does.) After I had my wings, my first operational assignment was to McGuire AFB in NJ. One week-end Marilyn and I met some friends from pilot training in NYC and were strolling past a coffee house in Greenwich Village one summer afternoon when I heard some music coming from within that mesmerized me. Two guys and a blond girl were playing folk music and the guys were playing guitars with their fingers. It was the summer of 1962 and I had never heard anything that sounded that good. These guys could make two guitars sound like a whole orchestra. It wasn't long after that that I realized I had happened upon Peter, Paul and Mary. In those days, there weren't any books or music teachers that could show you how to play guitar finger-style unless you wanted to devote yourself to formal training in classical guitar or hang around Washington Square and smoke pot. My squadron commander would have frowned on the latter activity and I didn't have time for the former so it took me the next 20 years to figure out some semblance of finger style guitar. I'm still trying to figure it out as my fingers become more arthritic, my voice more crackly, and my memory less astute but, it keeps me entertained while, at the same time, it drives Marilyn up the wall.
When Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor were so popular, I wanted to learn as much of their material as I could. Their music wasn't just wonderful to listen to but it was all original. They not only performed it; they wrote it. Amazing! Croce was my favorite and he was really on his way up when he was killed in the plane crash in '73. Seems that happens to a lot of popular young musicians.
Clint Eastwood said in a rare interview, "When you get old, play some golf to develop patience, speak softly, and learn to play some music." I haven't mastered any of them yet, but I'm still working on it. I want to be just like him when I grow up.