In all of my self-deprecating musings, I am not entirely sure if I have ever covered anything I ever did that I was good at. I will remedy that right now.
I decided that I wanted to be a guitarist shortly after my dad died in 1990. There were three albums released within a twelve month period that made me want -need- to become a guitarist. The three albums were Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction, Metallica’s Black Album, and Ozzy’s No More Tears. Those three albums have some amazing guitar work on them, yet it is also achievable by a relative NOOB. To a point, there are some solos on those albums that I could never touch even in my prime. I did have a bit of a flair for the guitar, a fact I found shortly after dropping 40 bucks on the crappiest piece of shit you could ever lay eyes on (bonus points for that guitar having the brand name “Memphis” while I was using it exclusively for heavy metal pursuits, which was oddly unprepared for).
My ambition to become a guitarist would likely have faded away rather quickly were it not for the fact that one of my best friends decided he wanted to be a drummer. We were instantly half of a band, not a very good one mind you. What we lacked in skill, however, we made up for in dreams and desire. We practiced voraciously. We both practiced a lot on our own, but whenever we got the chance we would actually set up in his mom’s living room and pound out our stuff. Which was damn loud. Another friend, Steve, would join up a lot of the time, he was also a guitarist, thus giving us everything except a bass player (bass the instrument, not the fish, we were not a country band).
For all the dreams and desires we had, we still had something lacking: money. When Steve, Dean, and I would get into a jam session we usually had to rent a second guitar amp. The guitars would both be sporting strings that had been on them for months, often breaking in a heavy riff and stopping the session for an hour or so as we tried to scrape up a buck to buy a new string, then had to go to the guitar store to get it. That said, there was a window where we were actually pretty good.
I would play the guitar for hours and hours every day. I had the guitar in my hand pretty much any time I was not at work, school, or sleeping. I got blisters on my fingers, which eventually turned to callouses. I was getting a lot better on the guitar, Dean was getting a lot better on the drums. In 1992 we got a huge equipment upgrade. I went from playing that piece of shit “Memphis” to playing a Jackson Charvel (fusion model. Can’t find a good link for it). Dean went from a beginner drum kit to a full blown, Double Bass, Tama drum kit (two bass drums, four toms, a floor tom, a top-hat, and cymbals galore. That was a 2,000 dollar drum kit). They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, it turns out that our weakest link was the equipment.
The change was instant. My new guitar didn’t just randomly go out of tune anymore, I didn’t have to force the strings onto the frets with Hulk-like force, I was able to actually just play the damn thing. The same was true of Dean’s new drum kit. Where he was previously using some janky double-pedal system to achieve the double-bass necessary for heavy metal, it was often faulty and the second bass hit was never in time. That was all changed by the new equipment. We went from sounding pretty crappy (even to us), to sounding pretty good (even to others) in very short order. In essence (while not quite literally), we went from the garage band that gets the police called on them a lot (which is true, it was damn loud), to the garage band that many other musicians in town wanted to be a part of (which is partially true, we only got the ones that were in the “stoner” demographic).
We still weren’t performing public shows, but the garage doors got opened (though we played in the living room). People would actually show up to watch and/or take a stab at playing a song with us. It was a really good time. The one thing that I can say definitively is that there would be no way that you could tell that we were not actually Metallica had you listened to any of our Metallica covers (that is very literal. I recorded tapes with actual Metallica songs on one track, while I played guitar on the other track (only had a normal tape deck), after adjusting the volume levels of the two tracks, recording it back to a single track, then playing it for anyone, they couldn’t tell the difference. That was just my guitar track, and I was always the weakest link, since I was not really good at keeping in time.)). Cover tunes do not the band make. We needed some orignal stuff.
I can remember the titles of exactly three songs that we created back then, it is probably no surprise that the three are all of my own creation. The first one, titled “Are You Afraid of the Dark”, was a really catchy riff, had a bit of bad poetry in it, and never really came to much. The second one, titled “Dungeon Majyk” (that was not a typo) had a really pounding intro riff, then petered out into nothing. I know I wrote some lyrics for the song but I can’t remember a single word, perhaps I should be thankful. The third one, titled “The Nature of the Beast”, has an intro riff that I can remember to this day, it is was a heavy song that builds up slowly before going completely insane. The one drawback is, I seem to remember that after each verse, the guitars would emulate the sound of the vocals. That is only a problem because the quote “it’s the nature of the beast”, when emulated on the guitar, sounds a lot like the “Oscar Mayer has a way with B O L O G N A”, but only the spelling of bologna part.” At any rate, the first time we played that song, while Dean’s mom was at home, she called up my brother to let him hear it as well.
We weren’t the best thing since sliced bread, but we could play our instruments, we had the cover tunes completely nailed, we could have eventually been the next one-hit-wonder. Sadly, the need of a paycheck can often shadow over the desire to follow your dreams. It is the way of life, I suppose. Had I resigned myself to living in a gutter in rural Oregon, all the while chasing this elusive dream, well, who knows. I would either have found success or failure. Since my actions led me down a different road, I suppose I will never know. Yet, the memories remain precious.
When I arrived in Arizona I tried to keep the dream alive. Not a dream about being rich and famous, just a dream about doing what I loved and getting paid for it. The first few paychecks that I got went on clothing, after that it was all about getting a new guitar (I had no guitar when I arrived here). I bought the first piece of shit guitar that I saw, once I could afford it, and it has gotten much better since then. Over the years I have accumulated more than one guitar, I have exactly three at this point. And these are not low dollar guitars.
A have a Samson 12-string acoustic guitar, I have a Jackson Charvel fusion (three pick-ups and a Floyd Rose tremolo, 24 frets. that thing is the bomb), I also have a Jackson Kelly (Marty Friedman plays the Kelly, though mine is not his signature model) which has 24 frets and sharkskin inlays on the fingerboard, Floyd Rose tremolo as well (don’t buy a guitar if it doesn’t have the Floyd). I also have a Peavy Mini stack (looks just like the two-box, one head stacks that most musicians use, but it is 1/4 the size), a nifty multi-effects pedal, a wireless system, and…Hell, let me just say that I have a hell of a lot of guitar equipment, most of which I haven’t touched in well over a year.
I think the dream ended for me a long time ago. To the right you will see a photo of me playing the guitar, in specific I was struggling with the quintuplets that Metallica happened to throw into the song “Disposable Heroes” (also, that is some nice framing). That is probably the only Metallica song (well, of the good ones, you know, prior to 1993 or so) that I actually couldn’t play all the way through. It just fucking hurts! Your hand was not meant to move that fast, I look like I am in pain because I am in pain, my brother clicked the little camera at just the right time.
I don’t really play the guitar much anymore. I do pick it up from time to time just to make sure that I will be able to remember how to use it, but other than that I really haven’t touched the damn things in several years. I think there is a window of opportunity where you can or can’t make it, I missed that window by, at this point, at least a decade.
My dream of doing what I love (playing guitar for a living) is totally dead. The question is will I ever sell off the equipment that I bought hoping/praying that I would be a musician. As the equipment sits in the disused back room, I just don’t know. What if I don’t have the equipment when the next “it” band is looking for an overweight, thirty-something guy to be their rhythm guitarist? Yeah, I really should cut my losses and call it a career, but I can’t.
Now I am off to make sure that all the dead bovine in the meat case is fresh. That was nowhere on my goal lists in high school.