Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Talkin' them guitar blues...

To be perfectly honest...I have never been much of a musician.  Not in the true sense of the word.  I guess that kind of talent must skip a generation every so often.  My great-grandfather (Col. Elmer J. Kingsbury) played the coronet (which is sort of a small trumpet used in marching and other bands...he actually had his own band up in Skagway, Alaska back in the early 1900's - - when Skagway was still a part of something called the "Yukon Territory") 

I know that The Colonel also played the mandolin...I know this because I had his old Gibson round-back restrung when I was in college.  The wood must have been pretty old and dry becuse it sort of de-laminated and exploded in my lap while I was sitting and playing the only three mandolin chords I ever knew!! 

My Grandpa, (Orval Harley Kingsbury) ... well...he played the tenor banjo.  Not the "pickin' kind" ...the "strummin' kind"   Both of them were true music lovers...both of them were true musicians!

My father...???  Well.... not so much!!  When I was just a little nipper, I clearly remember Dad wanting to learn how to play the bagpipes.  This was all quite acceptable when he was just beginning to learn how to blow and finger the "chanter".  But when he got the whole set of bagpipes?  Let's just say that ol' Mom put a stop to his career as a piper!!  Mom was actually a fan of the bagpipes. For her Requiem Mass, I even had Eric Rigler play the processional dirge and "Amazing Grace" at the end.  This is a story all in itself, but I digress.  She said that dad's playing sounded like "somebody had stepped on a cat"!!

That reminds me of the old joke:

 Q. What's the definition of a gentleman?

A. Someone who knows how to play the bagpipes ... and doesn't!

As for me...except for the time I spent playing in a "home-church praise-band" during the 1980's (and the 3-4 times actually took the "stage" with the Sunday Worship Team at a church I attended for a time!) - - I could never exactly call myself a "guitar player".  Oh - - I'm sure thay my Amy Suzzanne still thinks I can play the guitar.  When we were first going-out, I used to impress her by writing and playing little songs about her horses.  One night, just fooling around with my guitar, I actually put one of her poems ("She Rides Wild Horses") to a simple set of chords.... and it made her cry.  My greatest work?? (which probably sealed-the-deal and got her to marry me!!)...  I re-wrote her favorite folk song, "Puff the Magic Dragon".  She had always thought that the original version was "just too sad" .  So, just for Amy, I added a final verse - one that had Puff going to night-school, graduating from USC and going on to teach kindergartners to read and write!

Why am I thinking about these things today?

I sold my guitar on Craigslist!

Yep.  Actually.... I sold my old Appalacian dulcimer on Craigslist.  But when this young (and quite destitute) musician came over to buy it...I felt moved to sell him my guitar, too.  He was beyond happy (it was a Yamaha D-250 that just needed strings!)...and I had one-less-thing to worry about packing!!

I've always loved thinking that I could actually play the guitar.  I may have not been able to play a lick (oh, sure...I knew the 5-to-7 chords one needed to play some basic Bob Dylan songs .... and those terribly repetitive "praise and worship" songs so popular with our Protestant brethren...although I could never properly master the F-chord!) - but I have always loved music.  Looking back over my life, there has always been a soundtrack to the different phases of my life.

To quote Joan Jett... "I love Rock n' Roll!"  (That song is pretty dated, isn't it??  ...since when can you get a jukebox to play a song for a dime!!??)  Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, The Who, Alice Cooper, T. Rex (my second concert ever...with Mary Ann Knox!  Hi, Mary Ann!), David Bowie, Humble Pie, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople...if you can name 'em, I saw 'em!  The 1970's were rich...and a wonderful time to grow up and go to concerts!

My brain has been flooded with these musical memories lately  So, today...I was out doing my errands in a rental car that has Sirrius Satillite Radio.  I've never had satillite radio before.  On the "dial" I found a station dedicated 100% to The Grateful Dead!!   Far out, man!!  While I was driving into West Hollywood from Pasadena... I heard a live version of Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree" .  A twenty-minute live, rambling version of "Bird Song" .  And one of my favorite Dead tunes: "Maybe It Was The Roses"  Songs like these made up the soundtrack for much of my formative years, thanks to a real brother and good friend, Steven John Wolff, (may he rest in peace!)

I don't want to sound like some sort of a burned-out Deadhead here - - but - man...Jerry Garcia was just freaking amazing!!  He was beyond incredible!!  It is true what they always say: "There is NOTHING like a Grateful Dead Concert!"  The way Jerry played always gave me visions of water casually running down-stream...smooth... bubbling...effortless - counting on the force of gravity to just..."flow".  Steven used to say that Garcia would sometimes actually miss a note... "...but Jerry always found a way to put one in that sounded even better !!"

He was a REAL guitar player!!  I'm glad we'll have this rental car until we leave...I may start wearing tie-dye again!

The soundtrack for my "preparing for India" mode has been as eclectic as my musical tastes have always been.  A little Ravi Shankar (he turned 90 this month, old do you feel now?), a little of his daughter, Anoushka Shankar , some Gregorian Chant, The Allman Brothers' Eat a Peach album...

And, lately - and probably most of all - some hauntingly beautiful Sikh kirtan (chanting) by Snatam Kaur .  What can I say about Snatam, except that I think she may just be an angel, in the truest sense of the word... "a messenger sent from God"  Her grace, her peaceful countenance, her devotion to God and her music... all just seem to glow from off of her face and flow from her voice!  I have virtually all of her CD's (now conveniently loaded onto my very first iPod for travel to India!)

In the latter weeks of Lent this year...I attended one of her concerts.  On a Sunday...after Mass!  It was in a perfect theater venue in Westwood.  I had a great seat... right near the front.  Accompanying her was another REAL guitar player named GuruGanesha Singh - a true heir to the playing styles of Jerry Garcia himself.  I could actually see the same flowing water in my mind's eye when he played... I think that GuruGanesha may even have effortlessly slipped in a few notes better than he intended, too!!  He's amazing, and his playing perfectly compliments Snatam's devotional chants!  There was a tabla player/percussionist with them...I didn't catch his name, but his playing was tight!!

This Friday...I hope to be able to attend a house-concert featuring a dear friend (and another REAL guitar player!) Willow Hale .  I've been her fan as well as her friend for many, many years.

I'd love to thank all of the people who have added to this soundtrack of my life....but I've rambled on far too long.  But you all know who you are!

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